Sunday, February 21, 2016

Q&A with Kelsey Miller

Kelsey Miller is the author of the new book Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got a Life. A senior features writer at Refinery29, she created the column The Anti-Diet Project. She lives in Brooklyn.

Q: At what point did you decide to write a book about your experiences, and how did you recreate the stories you tell in the book?

A: When my column, The Anti-Diet Project, took off, I was lucky enough to get this opportunity to write a book. I'd been writing about my experiences after quitting dieting but I knew there was a side of the story to tell: how I got into this mess in the first place.

The memoir was a chance to tell the big picture story of my messed up relationship to food and my body, because so much of my life has been lived through that lens. So many of the stories I tell in that book are the stories I felt defined me.

Of course, I now know that isn't true (phew!) but it [was] easy to recall them as I wrote. Well, not "easy" — it sucked at times. But it was cetainly cathartic to re-tell them in this way. 

Q: In the book, you discuss intuitive eating vs. mindful eating. What is the relationship between the two, and how difficult was it to achieve the goal of intuitive eating?

A: Intuitive eating is an approach that I think of as diet-deprogramming (it's also used in many eating disorder treatment programs). It involves a number of principles that help you un-cross all those wires around food, fitness, and body image, and just get back to eating with your own instincts and common sense.

Mindful eating plays a role in this process for most people, simply because it gives you so much intel on your relationship to food.

For me, the practice is basically eating without distraction (which I try to do for at least one meal a day). No phone, no TV, no other person — just you and the plate.

When you eat like that, you're obviously more conscious of what's going on in your body and in your brain. Are you enjoying this? How's your fullness level? Are you making any judgments about this food and if so, what's that about?

I can't tell you what an invaluable tool this habit is. It can be a huge pain in the ass, don't get me wrong. But it really is worth it. 

Q: You write, “The more real my life became around me, the harder I read, sang, watched, and, of course, ate.” What allowed you to recognize that pattern, and how did you move on from there?

A: Well, that's the other pain in the ass about mindfulness. Once you start doing it, it's hard to stop. What began with one un-distracted meal became a much bigger shift in my entire life.

I became so much more aware of how constantly distracted I was, and worse — how dependent I was on that distraction. If I walked out the door without my headphones by accident, I'd become a twitchy, fussy mess! And, listen, headphones aren't black tar heroin. I realize it could be worse.

But still, I realized I didn't want to live my entire life constantly trying to escape it. I had to learn to practice living without distraction in a bigger way. I had to set boundaries between me and all those little escape hatches I used to jump out of reality.

Honestly, I still probably look at my phone way too much, and I can binge-watch with the best of them. But am conscious of not wanting to be dependent on those things just to get through the day. 

Q: How did you pick the book’s title, and what does it signify for you?

A: Let me just say that picking your book title is one of those things that you daydream about your whole life, thinking it would be the most fun part of the whole process.

When I actually had to do it, oh my God, I just wanted to cry. I had to pick The Best Title Ever, In The World. Not a great mindset for creative thought, by the way.

Anyway, after weeks of spitballing every possible word combination, I hit upon Big Girl and it felt right. The double meaning was really ideal: I'm a big girl, and this is also my own kind of coming-of-age story.

I also thought it would be fairly easy to remember, which is funny because I get emails every day from folks telling me how much they love my book, Fat Girl

Q: What are you working on now?

A: So many things! I have a few big features coming up for Refinery29, which I'm excited about. Plus, I still do The Anti-Diet Project every week.

I'm also getting into the world of public speaking, which I love (once a theater kid, always a theater kid). I'm really hoping to get a chance to speak at some high schools and colleges, simply because I wish I'd learned these lessons myself when I was younger. I wish someone had told me, in a big loud way, just how not broken and not alone I was.

But my primary goal is hashing out my new book idea, which I'm so excited about. Stay tuned (please!).

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If you dig the book, you'll probably dig The Anti-Diet Project, which runs every Monday on Refinery29. You can find me on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook), where I also probably spend a little too much time distracting myself. Other than that, you should know how psyched I am that you read this far. Thank you and high five!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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