For the rest of us.

Just a heads-up, in this post I reveal specific details of how I eat and exercise.

I wrote this post several months ago, but didn’t post it. Here it is now.


I don’t usually talk too much about how or what I eat, because I’m uncomfortable with the often performative, status-grubbing nature of doing so on the internet. I also don’t want to give the impression that the way I eat is the only right way to eat, or that anyone should compare what they do with what I do, because there is no such thing as one, true way to eat.

But it seems like people may have gotten the wrong idea about how I actually live and eat, to the point where I now joke with my husband in the grocery store that I am required by law to only purchase foods packed in syrup.

I am not a fan of stereotype-busting, either, because it seems to throw people under the bus. So that is not what this post is about. Rather, this post is about my lived experience and the reality of my relationship with food. This is what is true for me about eating and exercise. I want to be able to write about that openly.

So: it’s come to my attention that I’ve become a person who eats 5-8 fruits and vegetables a day and who exercises, on purpose, almost daily.

I feel zero angst about either of those things.

The snack food I eat, at this point, is mainly with my clients. I enjoy it, but it’s not as compelling as I remember it once being. Sometimes I’ll have a bigger treat, but not as often as I did when I was preoccupied with those foods (chips, brownies, ice cream, chocolates) because they were “forbidden.” For the most part, I fall within the serving guidelines recommended by Canada’s Food Guide — and not entirely on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either.

I don’t choose to limit myself to a certain ceiling, but I do try to ensure I reach my minimums, and in doing so, I mostly stick to the ceiling without trying. (If that makes sense.) Ellyn Satter calls this “add on, don’t take away” nutrition. It works for me. I eat in a way that I think is pretty moderate. It does not look like a diet — my weight is stable, I eat the amount of energy my hunger and fullness cues lead me to eat, I use fat and sugar in things, and I am afraid of neither cheese nor carbs.

But it also is not the free-for-all that many people assume.

I’m not particularly fussed about seeking out fancy food, though I like it when I have it, and I’m not a perfectionist about eating or exercise — not by a long shot. I used to be. I used to be so rigid about my eating and exercise that it made my life miserable with constant hunger and constant soreness and a constant, sinister euphoria. I believe that the way I got here, to this place where I can eat nourishing food in a way that is satisfying, with zero pressure or angst, was through permission and structure.

This is really, really hard for many people to believe or understand. They believe that permission can only result in a free-fall into endless binge eating, and that structure can only mean very rigid, restrained rules about eating that feel burdensome and unnatural. (Naturally, most of them also believe that the latter is the Right way to eat, the former is Wrong.)

People also seem to believe that, if fat people aren’t being told their weight is bad, and being threatened with ostracization and disease and death, they will have no motivation to care for their health. I am living proof that this is not true. Maybe some people need threats to motivate them, but I rejected the idea that I had to lose weight or else well over a decade ago. I am perhaps lucky that I did this at a young enough age that I was able to take time to fumble around and find my way with eating and movement – not an easy task in a culture that is increasingly disordered about both of these things.

Now that I’m 35, doing things to feel good on a daily basis, that also happen to reduce my long-term risk, are salient rewards for me. I care about my health, and I’m convinced it’s because I learned to care about myself, rather than to denigrate myself. I’m convinced it’s because I refused to internalize the stigma that wants me to believe I am less-than, a burden on society, an eyesore, an unattractive nuisance; because I learned that my body belongs to me, that I don’t owe my looks or my health to anyone else, and that my body is my home.

I’m also convinced it’s because I gave myself permission to eat food, while supporting myself with structured meals and snacks. Eventually, I moved from having random snack food for lunch to having meals that incorporated multiple food groups. Then I started adding on more fruits and vegetables because I learned to like them more, and noticed that they made me feel good.

I also started playing around with exercise — first, as basic transportation to work, which took all notions of choice or resentment out of the equation. Then, as fun things I voluntarily chose to do, like snorkeling, and underwater headstands, and finding the secret beach, because they were fun and made life worth living. When old, disordered thoughts cropped up (and they did, reader), I noticed them, labelled them crap, and refocused on having fun. Finally, I’ve learned to incorporate movement as a basic part of my daily maintenance. My daily walking recess makes me stronger and gives me that wonderful sweaty, heart-pounding, lung-stretching, slight-muscle-burning sensation that I used to find so uncomfortable, but now crave.

Maybe the permissive, autonomy-building approach doesn’t work for everyone, but those of us for whom paternalism and coercion don’t work deserve to have healthy, peaceful relationships with food and movement, too.

That’s who this blog is for. That’s who my whole life’s work is for: the rest of us.


Proof of life in comments.



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42 responses to “For the rest of us.”

  1. Bronwyn Avatar

    Awesome. I too came through the place of living in the belief that health was only achieved through rigid structure and unenjoyable eating and exercising. Of course I know that’s not true, my eating like yours mimics a lot of recommendations now without it being strenuous or unenjoyable. And exercise is just a part of life. I love seeing how many people are beginning to embrace health as something (dare I say?) “easy” and “enjoyable”.

  2. Amy Avatar

    Thank you. This made me cry. I’m sorry I missed your funding of your internship, I would have loved to contribute. Hope it’s going well.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thank you. It’s going well. Four more months!

  3. Virago Avatar

    Oh, Michelle, you are amazing. Thank you, thank you. And I freaking _love_ that this is also a radical, subversive approach. People are not, in this society, “supposed” to belong to ourselves. Women especially are not supposed to belong to ourselves. It is a radical act to say we can be trusted to belong to ourselves.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Mich Avatar

    Nice to see that you are still going. I guess you are just too busy to update the blog, and the comments seem to close after a certain time limit, so there have been no new comments for months.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes, I think that is what happened. Sorry about that!

  5. Sidhuriel Avatar

    I reckognize what you say in my own life, and it’s working out great for me. So well in fact, that I’ve lost all the vitamin deficiencies I used to have, and after years and years of being fat still don’t have insulin resistance or high blood pressure or anything like that.

    I eat what I want to eat, when I want to eat it. And surprisingly, I usually just want whole foods. But when I feel like eating a bounty, I eat a bounty. With zero regrets and much satisfaction :)

    Thank you Michelle for helping me start this yourney years ago :)

  6. Katie Avatar

    Thanks for another outstanding post, Michelle. This was really grounding to read in the midst of a flare up of old disordered thoughts. You do really important work, and you do it well. I hope you get as much support as you give.

  7. Phoebe Avatar

    Great post. Letting you know your hire me link isn’t available from your get help page

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks, Phoebe. I keep forgetting to address that. I had to close the sign-ups since my schedule is full right now, but I accidentally left a bunch of dead links.

  8. Chris Avatar

    I’m one of the rest of us too. Love your work. Love this: “When old, disordered thoughts cropped up (and they did, reader), I noticed them, labelled them crap, and refocused on having fun”

  9. Lori Lieberman, RD, Avatar

    Beautifully stated! While my approach is quite similar, readers of my blog might believe that I’m all about baked goods. Perhaps in an attempt to help others have permission to legalize all foods, a disportionate number of my posts embrace such items. There needs to be some order to your eating to have the balance. It’s impossible to take charge of binging when you’re feeling deprived. Permission is key, but we also need to ensure that we don’t eat JUST because we can.

    1. Courtney Avatar

      Doesn’t permission mean just that though, allowing ourselves to eat just because we can, if we want to? I don’t mean to imply that that’s the ideal way to eat all of the time, however.

  10. julie Avatar

    I think this is very important. I used to spend my life obsessing about everything I ate, which led to all kinds of bingeing and starving and craziness. I just couldn’t take it, couldn’t care any more. Now I’m apparently one of those rare birds who really does eat 6 servings out of a pint of ice cream, one or two girl scout cookies, a single slice of pizza. I think since I refuse to feel guilt about food (though my mom keeps trying), it has lost that power.

    Of course, being Berkeley, I do get scolded by strangers or acquaintences for wheat, meat, gluten, sugar, and occasionally fruits or veggies that they heard somewhere are bad for you, based on no evidence. I ask them if they want me to critique their shopping cart or meal, oddly enough, they never want that.

  11. Angie Wordelman Avatar
    Angie Wordelman

    Love this so much. Once or twice a year I start focusing on my health and trying to move towards more supportive eating/exercise patterns, but I find it so easy to get carried away and begin obsessing. I’ve been doing that lately, and reading things like this helps to keep me grounded. Wellness is a long haul kind of thing, and really, my deepest goal is to remove all the anxiety around my health choices.

    I love the additive eating approach. The balance of structure/freedom that you describe is exactly what I want for myself. I’ve had brief glimpses of it – when I thought I was pregnant recently, I found it so easy to focus on eating *enough* healthy nourishing foods like fruits/veggies, then round out my hunger with more indulgent foods if I wished. (I was surprised by how few treats I wanted.) But I was doing that with a very loving, permissive, supportive disposition towards the theoretical baby inside. After years absorbing all the disordered thinking around my own body, I find it so much harder to do with myself.

  12. […] health. I recommend her to anyone the has any kind of issue with those topics. Her piece this week For The Rest of Us is as amazing as anything I have read from […]

  13. Kathy Avatar

    Because of tests that showed multiple digestive issues, I saw a dietitian in my area who helped me make some changes to the way I was eating bringing more food/ nutritional balance to my meals. This involved including more of some foods (fruits/veggies) and less of others (carbs/protein).

    I feel better eating this way.

    Since last spring, I’ve lost over 25 lbs. This too feels better to me–I have less chronic pain, the arthritis is less painful, I feel lighter in general.

    I know for the most part that weight and health are not associated per se in any way. So I don’t really get why I feel better at a lesser weight?
    This is causing me to struggle with the Health At Any Size model. It seems to me that how I was eating before was not “health” at any size, otherwise why would I have felt so terrible then & so much better now?

    Please do not vilify me for this next question, I am genuinely at a loss – would one not truly be able to say that weights at either end of the spectrum pose health challenges? I am speaking of the anorexic and someone who is extremely, extremely, extremely overweight such as a patient my friend saw at the hospital who was 700 lbs.

    1. CraftyLuna Avatar

      I’m not Michelle, but mind if I take a stab at this?

      From what I understand, HAES is a weight-neutral approach to health, meaning that one would pursue better health through other means than intentional weight loss. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever lose weight, or that being very thin or very fat never causes any health problems. It just means that weight loss isn’t the only, or even most effective, way to pursue better health.

      And remember, “health” is a spectrum, not some end goal you achieve one day. Just because you feel better now, that doesn’t mean you had absolutely no health before when you were heavier.

      Also, you don’t know if your health has improved because of the weight loss, or the food changes. It’s possible you’ll continue eating in your new mode, gain the weight back, and still feel good. Think about it: if you lost 25 pounds because you took up smoking, do you think you’d still feel an overall improvement in your health? Probably not. So it’s probably not weight loss and only weight loss making you feel better.

      1. Kathy Avatar

        Could be the food changes,helping IBS GERD etc. Dietitian recommended less carbs/protein & about 50% diet is fruit & veggies..keeps me going lol. I feel much less uncomfortable in my stomach region, less bloating, and so forth. Michelle I was worried about making a co-relation between health & weight w/ my questions, esp. when I referenced the two examples.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I think weight and health are connected, or certainly can be connected — I guess I just feel like that doesn’t change the fact that 1) intentional weight loss attempts don’t work permanently and safely for 80-95% of the people who attempt them, and 2) that also doesn’t make anyone a less worthy person, and 3) that doesn’t mean a person can’t improve their health through means other than pursuing intentional weight loss.

          The funny thing about HAES being a weight-neutral philosophy is that, sometimes when people prioritize eating well (which, yes, one approach is intuitive eating, but really to me any approach that is not a weight loss diet can fit here) and moving well, they lose weight as a side-effect, and they also feel better. It’s possible some of that feeling better is directly attributable to weight loss, and it’s also likely that a lot of it comes just from feeling healthier in general. But it tends to set up immediate cognitive dissonance like, “Oh no, I lost weight! And I feel better! Am I now a traitor?” To me, that’s just another example of the black-and-white thinking we’ve all internalized on the topic of weight and health.

          To me, HAES is doing things to improve your health that are not intentional weight loss. And yes, sometimes you lose weight as a side-effect of doing those things (which feels ironic as hell, and yes, it has happened to me…I am currently below my highest weight and I got here unintentionally, while using a HAES approach), and yes, sometimes that weight change may contribute* to better health. I feel pretty comfortable with that, and with the other parts of HAES: that permanent weight loss (particularly intentional weight loss) is rare, that there are many other ways to seek improved health, that weight is not the ONLY contributor to one’s health, and that regardless of whether your weight is a symptom of, or contributor to, your own personal health struggles, you are still a worthy and good person at any size, in any state of health, and with any set of habits.

          I hope that makes sense. And I am genuinely glad you feel good and are doing things that are good for you.

          *Some people report less joint pain, though I have also heard from people who’ve lost weight and found their joint pain remained, for example, so it’s quite individual.

          1. Kathy Avatar

            Thank you Michelle. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I’d guess for me the weight loss is a by product of dietary changes. I’m hoping though that the loss is permanent despite all evidence that suggest otherwise. I was concerned about approaching the weight & health association, as it can be a bit of a “hot button” topic and was in no way suggestion I would automatically be vilified just concerned that I might.

    2. Mich Avatar

      Some digestive problems cause weight gain. I know from personal experience and a friend that lactose intolerance causes massive weight gain due to nutrients not being absorbed and malaise. You may have been eating that didn’t agree with you, and now that you have eliminated the offending material, your body is able to recover. Losing weight is just a side effect of this. It does not mean that the weight loss is the primary end game, or the key to your good health, but that is a side effect.

      By contrast, I’ve changed my diet, cut out gluten, and take an iron supplement, and I’ve gained 30 pounds. And I feel better than at any other point in my life!

      1. Kathy Avatar

        Sounds good, thanks Mich. Happy for you!

    3. Michelle Avatar

      Hi Kathy – I don’t have the bandwidth for a full response just now, but I did just want to say 1) I’m happy you sorted some things out, healthwise, and that you’re feeling better, and 2) I’m sorry if anyone’s given you the impression that you would be villified (here or anywhere else online) for this kind of discussion. I think these discussions are crucial, and I think CraftyLuna hit a lot of the main points I would.

      This might also express some of my opinions on this topic –

      1. Kathy Avatar

        Thanks Michelle, that links super-helpful.

  14. […] No such thing as one way to eat: For the rest of us […]

  15. Mich Avatar


    I was at Superstore and they have now added a PC brand lactose free cheese to their line (marble and old cheddar). It costs $6 for 400g in Calgary. Cheaper than going to the specialty cheese shop where it costs more than double that.

    Seems like Loblaw’s is leading the way in LF products. They are the only ones with sour cream.

    1. Kathy Avatar

      Brilliant Mich. Liberte yogurt makes a LF variety by the way. If lactose was my only problem w/ dairy I’d be golden.

      1. Genevieve Avatar

        May I ask what your other problems with dairy are? Is it casein? I am having the damnedest time trying to identify my food sensitivity issues and after a borderline-positive lactose tolerance test, I assumed that was the culprit…but alas. Curious to know how one is able to identify things besides lactose in dairy causing issues.

        1. Kathy Avatar

          I’m not totally sure Genevieve to be honest. I just know eating LF dairy does little for my dairy issues. (I have IBS so I think it’s just food in general some days lol). I’ve never been formally tested for anything dairy related however a naturopath told me years ago I had a milk protein allergy.

          1. Genevieve Avatar

            Okay, thanks. It might explain why LF dairy doesn’t necessarily help me, but it could be something beyond dairy entirely. I’m going to have to experiment :/

      2. Mich Avatar

        I have seen and bought the Liberté yogurt, but alas it is fat free. I contacted them to see if they will consider making a full fat version, but I never heard back. Contrast with iögo who got back to me next day with my question.

    2. lynn Avatar

      I’m so glad I stopped by here today and found this new post! Been missing you, Michelle!

      Also I have a comment about lactose intolerance. Another way to get dairy yet avoid lactose is to stick to fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir. Lactose is food for the cultures — they don’t necessarily eat 100% of the lactose but they do generally consume enough of it not to bring on digestive issues. Also there’s the probiotic bonus.

      Of course the taste isn’t for everyone but speaking just for myself, I not only like kefir but always enjoy a boost in my feeling of well-being shortly after drinking it.

      1. Laina Avatar

        Greek yogurt works especially well for me!

  16. Jane Avatar

    First time commenter here. Thanks for this post! I come back to your blog a few times a year and browse around and usually find something very helpful. :)

    The thing I’m getting frustrated with is . . . sort of. . . waiting for the effect of “permisison to eat” to work? I keep thinking that since I am no longer interested in tightly controlling my calories, my eating should reach a natural equilibrium, but it hasn’t really done so yet. I gave up dieting as a Thing to Do about four or five years ago. But once the “food is a bad thing that must be controlled” thought process was banished, the “I have to eat all the food NOW or I WON’T GET ANY MORE” thought process could rampage freely. Food is still a thing I kind of obsess about, even though I know and am okay with the fact that if I am hungry I can go get a snack from the store/cupboard/fridge/whatever.

    When I don’t have some kind of inbuilt portion control (like “it came packaged as a sandwich,”) I struggle very much to eat an amount less than what makes me feel kind of sick. My fullness cue is not very strong and even less strong when you compare it to my “having anxiety, must cope” cue. I also am unreasonably worried about not having food I like on hand at the unspecified later time when I want to eat again.

    I don’t know. Maybe my expectations were just too high for how much I could manage intuitively — I kind of thought my body would give me clearer messages about what I wanted to eat and how much, but I seem to be always getting it wrong.

  17. moseyonby Avatar

    I LOVE your blog! I discovered it for the first time a year or so ago, but have in the past few days come back and re-read a ton of posts. Today in celebration of this post I gave myself permission to eat several slices of sharp cheddar cheese and a diet Coke. Yummm!

    I want to spread the word about what you call the “permissive, autonomy-building approach” to food and movement! Especially to my dad. He is a very fat man, with solid muscles and a solid great round belly–often called a beer belly, though typically most beer bellies jiggle–my dad doesn’t jiggle at all! He is very strong, wheezes a lot, and struggles to put on his shoes in the morning not just because of the size of his girth, but also because of its incredible hardness.

    He really wants to lose weight. I want to share with him the wonderful thoughts on your blog and others but sadly I don’t think he would deeply accept ideas of permission, mindfulness, all eating as emotional eating, food doesn’t have moral content stuff you talk about.

    He has some health problems, but he takes medications and visits the doctor. I know he has struggled with disordered eating in the past–bingeing on food and alcohol and throwing up (I know because as a kid I used to hear him do it). He often goes on these really strict, unsustainable diets (well, as I’ve learned and had confirmed from you, ALL diets are unsustainable). These diets involve rigorous calorie-counting, charts and tables, constant talk, and constant anxiety (thinly veiled as “enthusiasm for change”) about eating.

    As a thin person who nevertheless has found such joy, rationality, and freedom in Fat Acceptance and HAES blogs, I really, really wish for my dad that he could come to believe that dieting and being thinner are not the answers to his discomfort and various problems, but rather that giving himself PERMISSION to eat and enjoy food, to get himself a shoehorn and be unembarrassed about it, as well as to exercise easily, will give him pleasure and peace.

    I thought of this idea: that he and I could make a list of foods we love no matter if societally deemed healthy/not, a list of foods we like and feel good about eating, and a list of foods that we really don’t care for whether or not they’re good for us. And then maybe I could send him a couple of links about HAES.

    I just really want to share this all with him because I feel like he could forgive himself so much. He loves food and celebrates so much around food, and yet I can see his guilt–I want to share this with him!

    Anyway, thank you for your wonderful writing and for the reminder to give ourselves permission in this most recent post.

    1. Mich Avatar

      Sounds like my dad with the hard belly. He went on WW many yrs ago and it reduced, then grew again because that is his setpoint. He still believes weightloss is the almighty aim of humanity though.

  18. moseyonby Avatar

    Btw–I only mentioned being thin to indicate that I don’t have experience being fat or the discrimination that comes with it. I guess I was kind of acknowledging my privilege. Although I have experienced the internal shaming/restricting monologue that my dad goes through, and because I recognize that he’s still in that cycle I empathize so much with him and want to share with him my joy at HAES discovery.

  19. moseyonby Avatar

    Okay I think this will be the last comment: at the same time as I share these ideas with him and as it hopefully goes well, I also don’t want to discredit or disbelieve the discomfort he feels at his current size. It certainly must be annoying not to be able to reach your feet to cut your toenails, or to have to get winded while climbing unusually into the car.

    Obviously it is not my job to help him, though I really want to (and I shouldn’t be an evangelist about all that I’ve learned on your blog haha)… But I guess I want to honor the fact that he wants to lose weight while being supportive and hint-hinting about eating what he likes and craves and feels good about eating and letting shame and guilt loosen their holds on his psyche–even if this take some practice. Then seeing where he falls into place which may well be a few pounds lighter and a few inches less round, but may also not at all, in which case I really hope he doesn’t feel frustrated with a shoehorn or about the small loveliness of his asking for help in cutting his toenails or putting lotion on his feet.

    What I’m trying to say overall is that I feel so much better about myself and my life and eating habits and in my work on my body image as a result of my readings on your blog and elsewhere, and I wish I could share these feelings with him. And I wish these readings and feelings could transform his inner world as they have mine.


  20. Natalie Avatar

    Hi Michelle,

    Let me just say that you have just become my hero!! I am in the same exact boat as you. You have totally echoed my sentiments about this blessing and curse of a non-RD nutrition field. I, too, earned a bachelor of science in nutrition 4 years ago, and applied to several internships, only to be rejected by every one of them. I even took an entry level clerical position at a world-renowned healthcare facility in hopes that it would improve my chances to get into their internship. But when I considered the fact that I would basically have to not work for a year, I knew there was no way I could do it, unless someone hit the lottery, which they did not. I’ve even gone as far as to complete a master’s degree in human behavior. Most people ask me what one degree has to do with the other, and I tell them EVERYTHING! I’m hoping to bridge the two fields together to offer people a more holistic approach to nutrition and wellness for every day life. So I’ve recently made a terrifying decision to start my own business. It’s scary, I think, for obvious reasons, but the legal aspect of everything terrifies me the most. Obviously I can’t practice clinical nutritional. But can’t I still have clients that I can advise on how to use nutrition to benefit their everyday lives? You seem to be on a very similar track and doing very well. Your blogs have given me LIFE!!! Thank you for sharing my pain!


    Fellow non-RD

  21. Tammy Morgan Avatar

    I love your blog. It took me until I turned 50 to get a more relaxed view of food and exercise. I watch what I eat and try to make healthy choices, but I don’t tear myself up when I fail nor do I give in.

  22. John Avatar

    Saw your raspberry and pickled herring videos and found them beguiling. Kudos to you for being the person you want to be. Whether the world is ready to accept the notion that one doesn’t have to be thin to be healthy – here you are with that message. Keep being you.