Interview with Emily Brown, from BodyLove

Once Valentine's Day, or any other of these (very distracting) Hallmark celebrations pass, and we are left with ourselves, we have no choice but to go back to love who we are. And if you feel you have an alternative you are just lying to yourself, escaping the day when you will have to face that truth. For some of us it is easier than to others to stop running. People like Emily are here (in Laramie, in the world, in your corner) to hold your hand through this acceptance, whenever you are ready.

Can I let you in on a secret?............................................................................... {you are ready}...........................................................

Emily Brown is an Intuitive Eating Counselor, Body Image Activist, and Yoga Teacher working and living in Laramie, WY. She graduated from the Nutrition Therapy Institute of Colorado and, a few years later, the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. She has been involved with the body positivity movement for over 7 years. She spends her days writing and teaching and enjoys as much time as possible exploring the outdoors with her husband, Heath, and her children Bloom 5, Anjali 4, and their foster daughter Sierra, 16. 


Tell me about your journey to where you stand today on your relationship with your body.

I grew up in a pretty typical American family: middle class, evangelical Christian, between Colorado and South Dakota. On one of my parent’s sides, there was a very appearance-based understanding of the world. My grandparents would keep appearances and make sure they were showing the world the version of themselves they wanted to be seen as. They would body-check me and my sister and comment on our body size, etc. I internalized all this in a very strong way, to the point that at the age of 8 I remember going into a restaurant and scanning the room to see what the “cool” kids were ordering and then ordering the same thing. I wanted to be cool but that meant being perceived as cool.

When I was in high school I started to question things that I had taken for granted. I would read books about what it meant to be a strong woman and I had to reconcile what I read with some of the realities I grew up with, like women in our church not being allowed to be pastors. I kept running into this message that to be heard as a woman you have to look a certain way. You have to be thin and beautiful.

In college I was completely immersed into this view and started studying to become a nutrition therapist. I saw my obsessive eating and regimented exercising as equivalent to healthy: I got up at 6am to run 6 miles, I counted the calories content in everything I ate, I had this “perfect body” and this “healthy life” and I couldn’t see how consumed I was by it. My family and friends glorified my lifestyle and supported it. I had the body size that fit the expected standard of beauty, but I had no time or energy to devote to love, society, and creating change.

So, at some point, the realization hit me: I was imprisoned by this mind. I was in a dressing room with my mother trying on dresses for a wedding, and as I put one gown on it hung on my bones. I saw my mom’s face in the mirror and froze. I have never been diagnosed or hospitalized for an eating disorder, but I was a coat hanger and I didn’t see it until I saw it on my mother’s eyes. I was lifeless.

I wrote my final project for my degree in “Disordered Eating”, and that is when my healing process started. In retrospect, my struggle with body is a struggle to gain my place as a woman in the society we live in.

How did yoga enter your life?

My beginning with yoga was a rigorous, sweaty program in a room full of mirrors, that didn’t particularly promoted body positivity or supported my healing process. I wanted to be fit. I went through a teacher training and my interest in the healing aspects of yoga spiked. You see, you don’t have to know intentionally what yoga is doing to help you along the path of healing and loving your body for it to happen. It happens, very subtly.

It must work, because now you run BodyLove, a program to empower women to love their body. Can you talk about it and when it started?

I created the program 7 years after the realization that my life needed to change. I attended the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, which offers a holistic, mind-body oriented program that is geared to understanding our relationship with our world and everything around us rather than focusing on what we eat as an isolated paradigm, and that’s where it started.

I used to offer the BodyLove program in person but this was limiting how widespread my message could be. I traveled across the state one summer, putting on the program in a weekend format, but that was not sustainable either energetically or financially. Now it is a six-week, online format. Every week you get a lecture on a different topic, like how our systems responds to our beliefs about food, how we digest and process food, how are thoughts affected, etc. You also get a yoga video and a group coaching call, where you can ask questions and share experiences.

BodyLove is a part of the Body Positivity movement, which is a movement that strives to have a positive view of our own bodies and love them as they are. But we are so attached to what we think we know about food and its relationship with our body and its health, that many people don’t know where to start. Before we can have a positive view of ourselves, there are many things that need to be unlearned, and that we have to untie ourselves from. The majority of the messages about food and health that are reaching us through mainstream media are not scientifically backed up, but there are people behind them who have a financial interest in us believing these messages. For example, we believe that being “overweight” is dangerous and unhealthy. However, many studies have proved that although it is true that “obesity” can be correlated to some diseases, there are other diseases that “obesity” actually protects you from.

Why the quotation marks?

These are terms society uses to refer to weight, but they are misleading. A new study was recently released about the BMI and how people that are labeled as "overweight" and even "obese" are living longer, healthier lives than those of "normal" weight. Now that seems off! Why would we call people “overweight” when they are actually healthy? I would like to use a word like “fat” simply as a descriptor without any negative connotation. The same way we use “tall” or mention someones brown hair. There are actually people who are trying to reclaim the word "fat". It will take a lot of work to untie that word from what most people mean when they say it...

So does BodyLove help people accept their body regardless of their size?

I think it is important to remember that the key is to take the focus off body size. People sometimes think they are being “body positive” when they push messages like “Curvy is beautiful” or glorify any one body size over another. Those messages still bring the attention back to the size. Size is not relevant per se, although our society may disagree. Through BodyLove I invite people to look away from size and standards for what a body is expected to look like, and instead connect to it through its functionality. I want the participants of the program to untie themselves from the idea of good food and bad food, or that there is a way we should or shouldn’t eat, because they are for the most part making those decisions from a place that has internalized confusing messages and “facts” that are not supported by science. My intention is to shift participant’s to a trust relationship with their bodies, so they stop listening to all the voices outside themselves and start listening to what’s coming from within: hunger cues, fullness cues, everything that has been gifted to you that can help keep you healthy and alive. It’s about food, but it’s much more than that.

Our western lifestyle is, for the most part, full of stress. And as women, we keep hearing the message that to matter we have to look a certain way and have a certain lifestyle; we feel like if we want to be healthy we need to eat a certain way, “what, when, how, how much do I eat?”, we need to exercise more, we need to go to the gym 5 days a week, we need to be on top of our weight, “what’s my BMI?”…. Our obsession with “health” adds more stress and hormonal imbalance to an already stressful life. It keeps us in the fight/flight response, and under these conditions our bodies don’t digest food. The body needs to preserve energy to defend itself from what it perceives as the danger that is stressing us out. If we were really concerned with body health in our society, and not merely its appearance, we would be talking about stress, and its effects. Stress would be mainstream. But it’s not. And so ideas and facts that can help with that problem aren’t mainstream either.

I follow you on Facebook and something that shocked me was finding that some people have had negative responses to some of the things you say. Talk to me about that

When I decided to turn my own healing journey into a program to help others, I thought that my message was the least controversial message in the world: who is going to argue with teaching women to love themselves? Well, apparently, a lot of people. Including other women. Let’s back up for a minute. I have been very intentional about not including conversations regarding weight loss in my program. I could have. I would have sold a lot more if I had, because weight is what the mainstream media is selling, that is what people are used to hearing about, that is what people have been taught to fight against. I didn’t want my message to get diluted. My message is simple:

Whatever your body is, whatever you struggle with, right now you are loveable, right now you deserve to love yourself, you are worthy, you have something to offer, you are enough.

In the last couple of months I realized that some people not only think that message is controversial, they violently attack it. They fight the idea of telling people that it’s okay to be how they are, if they are “overweight”, because it seems to go against what they know: “if I am “overweight”, I am unhealthy; how can I love my body if it is unhealthy?”. They don’t even question the preconceived notions about food, health, and body size, and where these notions come from.

How does this “pushback” make you feel?

At first it was hard to be on the receiving end. But more and more it is turning to be a positive measure of being on the right track. You see, I am realizing that I am an activist, fighting for social justice. I am not big, I have a body that fits the expected standard of beauty, and I still had to battle these messages and how they affected my life. So I have decided to become a voice and an ally for people who are not only being discriminated against due to their bodies being bigger than the norm, but they are also internalizing that discrimination and what they say about them as people: they also believe they are lazy, they also believe they are ugly, they are being shamed by an entire society based on something that they may not have any control over. After generations of unhealthy dieting, the 3rd or 4th generation has a much harder time regulating weight. But the way this person looks is not saying anything about his or her health.

I guess whenever you want to radically change the system, you will find haters. But haters are a good sign: it means you have something to say that make people think and challenge what they thought was true. They keep you in track, and I have to be prepared to the notion that the bigger my activism gets, the more voices I’ll hear against it. That’s a good thing. At first I used to ask myself: “Do I want to be an activist? Do I want my life to be disrupted in this way? Do I have the courage to fight this fight?”. I left that question open but the more I follow this path were I am still healing and I am also empowering others to heal I find more signs and people and messages that tell me: “Yes! This is what you are in for and this is your path”.

What kind of influence do you think one person can have? Do you feel like you can change the world?

I have come to terms with the fact that a change like this is slow, and I will never see the effects of it on a global scale. The shift won’t happen in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime. It will take generations. But I notice the changes in my own life and those around me. I have gone from having a circle of friends were all our conversations revolved around food and weight and what our bodies look like to now, 12 years later, being part of a loving and supportive group of women where, if the conversation was to start revolving around those topics, there would be blank looks around. Because of the shift I have made in myself, the people that I attract into my life have shifted. My children are growing in a community of friends whose moms will never have something to say about the way their kids’ bodies look. I know I can’t protect them from it, but in these formative years at least, they are not exposed to that message daily. So my shift is creating a ripple that is not just about body and food, but about creating a community that shares my values. And I see it with the women who take my program too. They are each creating a ripple around them.

We are in the beginning of this revolution. Right now it takes a lot of courage and gumption to stand to the current state of affairs and step out of the mold. I have tremendous empathy and compassion for the women who have gone through the BodyLove program and are out there, in another state, all on their own riding that ripple and creating a community for themselves and their children in which to walk their path to healing. It will get better and easier generation after generation. It has to start somewhere. And it already has.


Intrigued? Interested? Join Emily on March 2nd for a FREE teleclass. For more information, click here


Post a Comment


Blogger news