Confessions of a Pioneering Non-Diet Dietitian: 11 Ways I Stay Recovered


When I was asked to write about the You Are More Than You Know theme we’ve got going here at A Weight Lifted, I floundered. What in the world would I write about?

After a bit of thought, I gravitated to where I spent a lot of time in the past – in that space of not thinking that highly of myself.  Primarily because of my body.

Body concern is unfortunately all too human these days. I speculate that it reached the proportions it did in my life due to a genetic vulnerability towards self-doubt brought to life by being born into a round body among a family of thin ones. Nature, meet Nurture.

Anyone who sees me today might wonder why all the angst.

By many standards, I am not a larger person. And while I know that my self-image is often distorted, and that being larger is not a bad thing, I’ve got deeply engrained neural pathways that sometimes push me off balance around that issue in regard to myself.

Where My Body Concerns Led Me

My childhood nickname of Marshmallow surely gives you a clue of where those neural pathways came from.

The circumstances that dug them deep – teasing, bullying, being told I would be “so pretty” (read: acceptable) if I just lost weight — led to a number of years of extreme dieting, followed by a number of years of an eating disorder.

Those years were seriously painful. Because when I do something, I do it.

I am now at the lovely age of 66, and this occurred in my 20s. So you may understand that eating disorders were relatively unknown then. Indeed, they were relatively uncommon compared to today. Certainly, there weren’t the treatment centers and support communities that currently exist.

It was a shameful secret that isolated me as I abused my body in the name of its size.

Where I Am Today

Fortunately, after about 10 years of this torture, I stumbled to recovery through a French boyfriend who taught me how to feed myself well, eating what I want in a way that makes me feel well.

Gotta love that French paradox.

I was blessed to become a part of Green Mountain at Fox Run shortly thereafter. The personal value of the lessons I have learned here – from both the professional staff as well as the women who have come to us – are immeasurable.

Paying It Forward

 So what is the value in this story to readers of a blog for women who are tired of dieting?

Certainly, it offers a picture of dieting gone very wrong.

But unfortunately, I fear too many of us have been there, done that. Maybe not dropping into an eating disorder but becoming mired in long-standing distress over eating and our bodies.

What I hope is by sharing my story – that of a woman who many have shared with me seems to “have it all together” in this area in which I have worked for the last 35 years (ROFL double time. If only Hollywood had discovered me already) – you might be inspired to know that even in the face of sometimes crippling doubt, it is possible for a person to successfully change their basic way of being to support themselves instead of tear themselves down. And come out immensely better for it.

That is how I see that I am more than I know. Or at least what I used to know.

Because in my decades of recovery, to the present day where I can honestly say that while I often question how much I really know about the field of eating and weight, I do know I am recovered from both body loathing and disordered eating.

Being recovered doesn’t mean that you don’t sometimes have thoughts that still arise from your experience. What it means is that they don’t control your life anymore.

Still, I always hesitate with the word “never” (except when I’m telling my husband about his failure to do what I want him to do *more ROFL*).

So here’s what I know helps me stay recovered, and if you’re on that path, I hope it might help you, too.

1. I am the expert of my own body.

I listen to me now most of the time. I still pay attention to much of the conversation about food, eating, fitness and self-care. But if I try things on for size and they don’t fit, I know it’s about the idea, not me.

My husband would be thrilled if I could extend that to clothes shopping.

2. How I talk to myself means a lot.

I can honestly say that when those negative tapes start running – the ones that tortured me for years – I hit the stop button as fast as I can. I know where it will take me, and it’s not good. I don’t want to go there. The thought stopping technique helps me when it’s hard to do that. Self-compassion also works magic.

Additionally, I try to remind myself of what I do well. Rather than being prideful, it’s a way to, as Sharon Salzberg says, “remind us of all we are capable of being…[and] become galvanized to actualize it.”

3. Being neutral about my body size has helped me move forward.

I enjoy thin privilege, which theoretically should make it easier to be body positive. But like many of the women who come to Green Mountain, body positivity doesn’t feel as authentic to me as Body Neutrality, our method for people who for whatever reason don’t feel comfortable with “I love my body” but can still learn to treat it well.

4. Other people help me stay happy.

I’m essentially a loner but my mind can go to dark places when I spend too much time by myself.

5. I need to feed myself well to think straight.

I’m a registered dietitian so I hope I know that. But what has changed is my definition of feeding myself well. It’s a powerful blend of nutrition and pleasure that has helped big time to put an end to my struggles around eating.

6. Saying no to something I really want sets me up for wanting more.

Deprivation doesn’t work for me, especially when it comes to food.

These days, I know how to think about what I really want before I decide, though, and even sometimes stop when I’m in the middle of it and realize that it’s not fitting the bill. That ability extends beyond food choices, too.

Okay, maybe I need to work on that a bit more when it comes to clothes. Message heard.

7. Exercise keeps me sane.

I think it’s the pure fact that it makes me feel so good. Mind you, I’m not talking extreme. Walking and swimming are my current go-to’s. That changes at times, although walking always stays because it’s easy for me to do it.

8. Purpose keeps me going.

Although as I see friends my age who have retired and are living what appears to me an enviable life with much less stress, I wonder if you can have your cake and eat it, too. Except, wait, I tell people you can! I clearly need to work on this.

9. I try to practice gratefulness.

It’s easy for me to lose sight of all the good things in my life. I’m trying to dig some neural pathways that keep me aware of my enormous privilege. (Btw, that privilege likely played a big role in my recovery, which is an important realization for anyone working in this area. Read this blog for more insight on that.)

10. I try to be compassionate with myself and others.

Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist. But it doesn’t need to express itself destructively. 

11. Love expands my world.

Likely due to feelings of insecurity, I often hold myself back. Except when it comes to my family. They are my joy, my life, my heart. In spreading even a little bit of that feeling out to others, what I get in return is vast.

Okay, now I’m feeling vulnerable. So that’s what I’ll end on.

As Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”

I can live with that.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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