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It’s that time of year again. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, love is in the air. But regardless of your Facebook relationship status, as Whitney Houston reminds us in her 1986 hit song, “learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” A healthy relationship with our bodies contributes more to our wellbeing than any other relationship in our lives. Despite this, it can often be a struggle for everyone to have the confidence to truly love themselves and to develop a good, strong relationship with food.

“In a society where we’re constantly under bombardment from so many sources seeking to dictate our self-worth and our relationship with food, I think having a healthy relationship with food is an uphill battle,” says Kelly Bennett, Ottawa Squad Leader of the Fat Girl Food Squad blog community. “I think each person’s version of a ‘healthy’ relationship will be different; and I don’t think it’s up to anyone else to dictate what is, and isn’t the appropriate relationship.”

The pressure to look a certain way is overwhelming. Everywhere we go, we face advertisements for dieting, a flatter stomach, and new ways to lose weight. Obsessing over a diet and imposing restrictions on ourselves can gravely affect our wellbeing and happiness. A lack of self- esteem can affect our relationship with food in terms of over-eating, to compensate for rejection or as a means of stress avoidance, and under-eating, to compensate for body image insecurities. Eating disorders are considered the most fatal of any psychiatric illness; it is estimated that ten per cent of individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa will die within ten years of their diagnosis. (NEDIC).

Despite knowing the airbrushed nature of the models we see in tabloids and on TV, we cannot help but be affected, perhaps even subconsciously. “Fat oppression and marginalization is a systemic problem,” says Bennett. “I think it’s important to seek spaces where we feel safe and be aware of our language when we speak to and about others.”

A healthy relationship with food and body does not look one certain way, nor is it directly reflected in physical appearance. The right amount of food will be different for everyone and many factors are beyond our control. “People think they know everything about health and weight and that they are just ‘trying to be helpful’,” says Bennett. “We can’t make people’s decisions for them, and presuming we know more about them and their specific relationship with food is wrong.” A healthy relationship with food and with our bodies entails being confident in what we choose to eat and enjoying our chosen lifestyle. What matters is the mindset we choose to eat and exercise in: not to lose weight to aim for a specific ideal image, but to be healthy. Consider the way our bodies may look as a side effect of whatever lifestyle we choose.

Acceptance of ourselves can be a long and hard process. No one wakes up one day and suddenly loves their body. “Feeling bad for being fat one day doesn’t undo fat pride, or fat activism. It’s important to understand that these are systemic things that we’re socialized to feel, and undoing that socialization is incredibly difficult.” But a personal balance of health will bring happiness. Striving for a good relationship with food and our bodies can improve our moods, confidence, and relationship with others, as well as further our individual growth and experience.

So as red and pink hearts dominate store-front windows this week, and chocolate goes on sale, remember to “eat what you want, spread fat love, spread healthy love, spread love. Spread it really good and thick.”

Interview Disclaimer: “My name is Kelly Bennett, and I write for Fat Girl Food Squad. I’d like to put a disclaimer up for my answers to these questions: Many of the questions and my answers could be triggering for people suffering from an eating disorder. Please practice self-care. I am not a medical professional, and I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder. My answers reflect my own opinions and experiences, and everyone’s lived experience is individual and personal to them. I would also like to acknowledge that I benefit from white privilege, and intersections of fat and other oppressions are something I try to keep in mind, but cannot speak to them as lived experiences.”

Fat Girl Food Squad is a community of writers advocating for eating good food and feeling good inside our bodies. Founded in Toronto, FGFS now has bases in 9 different locations. Check out their blog posts at fatgirlfoodsquad.com.