What Rachel Hollis Gets Wrong
And how diet culture and fat-phobia might be keeping you from achieving your dreams.
Let me start this with a big, fat disclaimer: I LOVE Rachel Hollis. Seriously! I have recommended my friends, family, and acquaintances to her books since I have finished them. I would not even be writing this if it wasn’t for her. She has been a HUGE inspiration to me in following my dreams, and I can’t thank her enough for that. I have read and reread her wisdom through her writing, YouTube channels, and social media platforms. I am a Rachel Hollis fan. There is just one issue I have about her message that I cannot get on board with. So just know when I am discussing what I think Rachel gets wrong, it is coming from a place of love and genuine concern. I wouldn’t even feel compelled to write this if I didn’t feel that this particular message she puts out could actually be harmful. Because the fact is, Rachel Hollis is drowning in diet culture and fatphobia.
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that totes thinness as the epitome of all health, assigns a moral weight to certain foods or ways of eating, and oppresses those who do not follow or fit that mold. I don’t think Rachel Hollis is purposefully trying to promote these things. I just think she is ill-informed about this topic. In both of her most recent books, Rachel tells women that one can not fully reach their potential unless they achieve a certain weight. I understand that she does this because she wants to promote healthful habits, but shifting that focus specifically to weight-loss can be harmful, especially for women who have an eating disordered past. Also, no one should have to lose weight to be worthy of achieving their life's goals.
Weight is not a great indicator of overall health. In fact, evidence suggests using weight as a health marker can cause more harm than good. For starters, intentional weight loss is not effective long-term. Of the small percentage of people that can keep the weight off long-term, it is believed that the majority of them maintain the weight loss using behaviors that would be diagnosed as eating disorders were these folks in smaller bodies. For the rest of us that aren’t able to maintain weight loss long-term, we oftentimes end up in a restrict-binge cycle that leads to weight cycling, which can lead to the exact health problems we are trying to avoid in pursuing weight loss
Rachel says that weight loss is simple. This statement is incredibly harmful because it puts the blame entirely on the reader. Our relationships with food, our bodies, and movement are incredibly complex. She has mentioned herself that it took years of therapy to unpack all of this, and I think this is a point she does not hit on enough in her discussions of food and weight. She mentions that diet companies prey on the general population to confuse their relationships with food in order to sell more products, but then turn the blame back on the individual with a “calories-in-calories-out” mentality. There are so many factors that play a role in the food we eat and how that food affects our bodies, from government regulations to food access to culture to socioeconomic status. This, along with genetics, medical history, and disordered eating history, has a great impact on body size and health outcomes.
On top of this, the kind of restriction dieting to lose weight entails can trigger the body's starvation response, meaning we are literally fighting our biology. The Minnesota Starvation Experiment is a perfect example of this. In short, the deprivation these men experienced caused them to become obsessive over food. A few of them even changed careers to work in the food industry after this experiment. They became emaciated, irritable, and non-compliant, to say the least. These were men that were determined to be the most physically and mentally fit prior to the experiment. How did they reach this level of starvation? By restricting down to 1600 calories a day. 1600 calories!! Many diets today recommend much lower calorie counts today, and then blame the consumer for not trying hard enough.
The body's starvation response is not just activated by caloric restriction, though. It can be activated by elimination diets and even mental restrictions. The only way to recover is to eat food, as much of it as your body tells you that you need. In Rachel’s most recent book, Girl, Stop Apologizing, she actually uses the stand-alone phrase, “I want you to give up food.” It made me sick to my stomach to see that. I know she intended this to be about eliminating certain types of food, which is still problematic, but as someone who has spoken about their proclivity for word choice AND has their own eating disordered past, I was so disappointed that she chose those words, especially considering how common eating disorders are among her audience demographic.
If you somehow end up reading this, Rachel, if you take nothing else away from this article, please, keep those of us who have and are struggling with eating disorders in mind the next time you go to write something like this. If you can’t see why this is harmful, just imagine you are on the brink of an eating disorder, and you hear someone you look up to and admire telling you to give up food. Think of how your mind will twist that statement. Think of how that statement against the backdrop of a “go all-in” and “push yourself harder” attitude would land on someone who is struggling in this way. These attitudes are not inherently a bad thing. This mentality has pushed me towards pursuing my true career goals and creating so many awesome things. When using statements like the one I have mentioned here against these ideas though, it sets the stage for something completely harmful.
Another statement that didn’t sit well with me from Girl, Stop Apologizing is when Rachel states the reason we aren’t meant to be “overweight” is that there are no overweight animals in the wild. Only “pets” are overweight. This statement is so stigmatizing on a number of levels. It really shows how uneducated Rachel is about her own thin privilege. It belittles all readers who are “overweight” (or believe that they are) by comparing them to just “pets.” A book that claims to be, “A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals,” seems to somehow draw the line at fat-shaming.
This comment also shows that Rachel has not spent much time near the comment section of any plus-size folks in her same arena of work. The idea that animals in the wild are not “overweight” was almost laughable to me, because I’ve seen so many fat-folks consistently being compared to wild animals all the time! They just happen to be whales, elephants, and cattle instead of cheetas. Jes Baker even has a book titled after this very phenomenon. If the animals she wants to compare us to are in reality size diverse, why can we be? Elephants are badass and smart. I’d be perfectly happy swimming in the ocean all day as Earth’s largest mammal, not giving a good goddamn.
The reason stigmatizing fat folks in this way is a big deal is that it actually causes damage to people’s health, which is the exact opposite of what you were trying to accomplish by shaming them. Fat-shaming has never lead anyone to healthful behaviors. Instead, it leads to harmful behaviors such as eating disorders, weight cycling, and an obsession with food and body, which will deter them from noticing wider, more holistic health concerns. Marginalization, in general, has been proven to lead to poor health outcomes, such as high blood pressure and heart problems. Both things you are actively trying to fight against when you are giving the ill advice to plus-size folks to lose weight.
It is so important for me to talk about this because I worry that your work is going to cause someone harm. I think your stigmatizing language and your praise for weight loss as a means of achieving health against the backdrop of your overall message of perseverance is going to lead your audience down an eating disordered path. You say that we shouldn’t draw lines in the sand, and yet you have drawn one for people in larger bodies, which has kept you from truly understanding the experiences and stigmatization fat folks experience in their lives through media, medical professionals, and from those closest to us (well-meaning or not). I urge you to listen to our stories. You might even realize something new about your own story. Also, next time you go to write something like this, have someone in your circle who is eating disorder and fat-positively informed look over it for stigmatizing and/or harmful language. It could save someone’s life.
Another reason I am writing this, though not as serious as the last, is that I think people have a tendency to use the pursuit of weight loss as a crutch to avoid doing scary things to achieve their true dreams. I know I once did. I am afraid that your weight loss rhetoric will cloud your audience from seeing what they really want to achieve in life, including truly achieving better health. As mentioned before, aside from what I have mentioned above, I truly love your work, as it has brought a lot of good into my life. You can still promote healthy habits without promoting weight loss, diet culture, or fat-phobia. Think of all the amazing work your readers could do if they stopped pursuing diet culture and instead pursued the desires of their hearts.
If you believe you may have an eating disorder find help at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis or is thinking of committing suicide, call 1-800-784-8433.
If this is an emergency, call 911.