There is nothing safe about catalyzing the much-needed changes we need in our world today.
Speaking your truth feels loaded right now. I’m not talking about speaking your truth as a way to say whatever you feel whenever and wherever.
I’m talking about the deep knowing inside of you that is you without the armor, the spin. The you that doesn’t absorb the projections onto you from the world.
The pull to dim what you know to be true as a protective response is real.
Sitting on the fence is a protective response. It also keeps you small and led by the burdens of fear.
I have been rumbling with this truth in my own writing and speaking, noticing the years of protecting internally that push me to placate and keep things vague when there is a lot to lose or a chance to get hurt.
The more I unburden the hurts I have held for so long, the more my capacity to move through the vulnerability of leading from my truth and speaking my truth increases.
Sure, leading from your truth is scary... especially In a world that cancels and criticizes in a heartbeat.
My guest today knows a lot about the challenges and costs of leading from your truth.
With 25 years of experience, Chevese Turner is an internationally recognized eating disorders, weight discrimination, and social justice activist who founded the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) in 2008.
Chevese is dedicated to moving beyond the current dominant weight-focused paradigm in public health and healthcare delivery to one that is weight inclusive, promotes well-being free from weight stigma and discrimination, and views our understanding of the social determinants of health as an important way forward for individuals who find themselves at the intersection of oppressions and repeated denial of healthcare based on their body size, color, ethnicity, age, gender, socio-economic status, etc.
This is a conversation about so much more than food and body issues. It is about coming home to your truth. It’s about healing from your pain and the traumas of betrayal and constantly being misunderstood. It is about courageous leadership.
Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:
Chevese Turner: But I also had to tread carefully until I didn't, and I stopped treading carefully. I stopped giving into it. I stopped sitting on the fence, and I started just saying what my truth was and what the truth was from so many other people like me.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: You can't catalyze change while playing it safe and sitting on the fence. Now, these days, sitting on the fence and playing it safe may look like watching everything you do and say to avoid creating conflict in the community you lead, or it may look like your silence as a means to stay out of trouble from those you think can negatively impact your reputation and your livelihood. Playing it safe can also look like pleasing and appeasing others instead of holding them accountable.
So, if you want to catalyze change, it requires you to get off the fence and move from safety to vulnerability, and feeling vulnerable, well, it just plain sucks, [Laughs] and it makes speaking up and out so dang hard. Feeling vulnerable means you’ve left the space of certainty and entered into the unknown, and our brains hate the unknown. But there comes a point where the unknown feels more true and tolerable than the comforts of certainty.
Leading and living your truth requires taking a risk and sometimes doing something you’ve never done before. Saying your truth means you disrupt, simply by showing up and speaking up. It demands you stand up to the critics and the bullies regardless of the consequences. It requires also living your values, not just speaking them. Caution, neutrality, keeping everyone happy are illusions that give a false sense of safety. Now sure, caution can come from wisdom, but it can also keep you from taking needed action. To lead and never upset anyone is impossible, and there is absolutely no such thing as neutrality in leadership.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with leaders whose burdens have inspired their life's work. Our goal is to learn how they’ve addressed these burdens, how they rise from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
There is nothing safe about catalyzing the much-needed changes we need in our world today, and speaking your truth, gosh, it sure feels loaded right now. But now, speaking your truth does not equate to the entitlement to say whatever you feel whenever and wherever. I’m talking about the deep knowing inside of you that is without the armor, without the spin, or without absorbing the projections onto you from the world. The pull to dim what you know to be true as a protective response is so, so real. Sitting on the fence is a protective response, and it also keeps you small and led by the burdens of fear.
Now, I’ve been rumbling with this truth in my own writing and speaking (thank you, producers), noticing the years of protecting internally that push me to placate and keep things vague when there’s a lot to lose or a chance to get hurt, but the more I unburden the hurts I’ve held for so long, the more my capacity to move through the vulnerability of leading from my truth and speaking my truth increases. Sure, leading from your truth is scary, especially in a world that cancels and criticizes in a heartbeat, and my guest today knows a lot about the challenges and costs of leading from your truth.
With 25 years of experience, Chevese Turner is an internationally-recognized eating disorders, weight discrimination, and social justice activist who founded the Binge Eating Disorder Association in 2008. Chevese is dedicated to moving beyond the current dominant weight-focused paradigm in public health and healthcare delivery to one that is weight inclusive, promotes well-being free from weight stigma and discrimination, and views our understanding of the social determinants of health as an important way forward for individuals who find themselves at that intersection of oppression and repeated denial of healthcare based on their body size, color, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status, and more.
Now, this is a conversation about so much more than food and body issues. It is about coming home to your truth. It’s about healing from your pain and the traumas of betrayal and constantly being misunderstood. Pay attention to the insides Chevese shares on the pace of change (this was so good for me to hear) and listen carefully for how Chevese shares the pain many feel because they're misunderstood and devalued because of the body they inhabit and the responsibility all leaders have to make sure this does not happen. And don't miss what she shares about not censoring yourself. It took my breath away.
And now, I am so thrilled to welcome Chevese Turner to The Unburdened Leader. Chevese, welcome!
Chevese Turner: Thank you so much!
Rebecca Ching: We were chatting before I started recording. I was just sharing how excited I am for this conversation because it is so multi-layered, and I really hope those of you listening hang in there because there’s a lot of nuance that we’re gonna cover today and a lot of topics that impact leaders no matter where you’re leading from -- the living room to the board room to anywhere in between.
So, let me start off by talking a little bit about some of your professional history. You founded BEDA, which is called Binge Eating Disorder Association, back in 2008, which when I say that after all the year we’ve been through it feels like an eternity ago.
But you founded this in a space that was already crowded with all these associations (other -EDAs) addressing the advocacy treatment and education around eating disorders and disordered eating.
So, I’d love for you to share why did you choose to start BEDA.
Chevese Turner: Sure, I’m happy to, and I’ll note that I also decided during the year of one of the biggest financial crises -- [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Right!
Chevese Turner: -- to start a nonprofit. So, it was an interesting year. It was a year that I was really beginning to realize that there was no community for me, for the things that I was dealing with, and I was in a job in a large corporate industry, and I was fortunate enough to have some means that I could take and roll into a nonprofit, and I decided to do that. It was really following my passion, what we all hope to be able to do someday. And yes, there were many other organizations in this space, but there were no organizations that were focused on people with this particular eating disorder (binge eating disorder), which represents the greatest number of people with an eating disorder and people who are in higher-weight bodies. In our community we do use the word fat, and so, I may use that sometimes. That is not a derogatory term in my mind. It is just a statement of being. So, higher-weight or fat folks were not represented, and we’re talking so many individuals and so many issues and nuances.
And so, I decided that it was time. It was time for me in terms of what I needed as a community, and it was time for the greater eating disorders community to begin to recognize us and validate us.
Rebecca Ching: I mean, that’s a big shift, right, to go from a corporate, probably cushy, comfortable job, to starting a nonprofit. That’s a big leap. So, I’m curious, what are some of the biggest challenges you had starting and then running a nonprofit, because I know one thing is the startup phase, right, and then there’s the running of it. So, I’d love for you to share both parts. What were some of the challenges in that starting, and then as things were going, what were some of the challenges in running it?
Chevese Turner: Yeah, interestingly enough, I found the startup phase actually to be the easiest because, to some extent, there were checkboxes, you know? There were establish a board, governance, all of the things you sort of, “Check, check, check. Okay, we are ordered at this point.”
The other piece was networking, and that was something -- I have a background in the political realm and in sales and marketing and communications, and so, fortunately, I’m an extrovert, and that came easily for me. I started just traveling around to all of the eating disorder conferences and treatment centers, and, you know, mapped the lay of the land and where the power centers were, where the financial is or was, even though that is a whole other story, but just discovering what was out there and what the politics were, what I was gonna have to deal with, and being met with a lot of skepticism and a lot of sort of the question of, “Why do we need another organization,” kind of thing, and acknowledge that, yeah, nobody knows anything about this community that I was representing.
So, that was easy for me. I’m not saying it would be easy for everybody, but I did find it the easiest part.
The sort of second phase was that, at that point, binge eating disorder was not represented in the diagnostic and statistical manual, which is the American Psychiatric Association’s bible, essentially, of mental health diagnoses. That was part of my consideration in founding the organization as well. I just couldn't believe that the most common eating disorder did not have a proper diagnosis. And so, I knew that the APA was considering the diagnosis and that there was a subcommittee that was working on it, which housed many of the prominent eating disorder researchers. And so, we tried to influence that and to let it be known that there was a community out there that was suffering, and that of course there was utility to having that diagnosis.
Rebecca Ching: Just to jump in --
Chevese Turner: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: -- more than utility, as someone who has 18 years of clinical experience treating this, remembering that, for those who are fortunate to have health insurance, they can check a box of “anorexia” or “bulimia,” and then there was this old catch-all phrase “ED NOS” (not otherwise specified), which wasn't always covered by insurance. It was less likely for people to get treatment and get their treatment covered. So, they could get it if they could pay out of pocket, but it was so cumbersome. And so, your work fundamentally shifted the reach of people suffering and shifted the whole treatment field.
So, I want to make sure to note that. I remember there was such a huge shift in many spaces and exhale for people to be able to have access to more care.
Chevese Turner: Yes, it was critical to access to care, and I had worked on those issues in the oncology field, so with that experience, I knew that was the first order of business that we had to attend to, and it really did shift. And I also knew that with that shift, there would be a lot of education required, not just to the general public, but to the treating community because there were few and far between clinicians (that I met, anyway) who really understood the disorder and really understood the nuances of it, and to this day, most people aren't happy with most of what’s in the DSM, but the thing about the BED diagnosis is it doesn’t include restriction, when in fact restriction is a really big part of the disorder. And so, there is still a lot of work to do on this and so many other areas.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely, yeah. The cycle of -- you're right, and you’ve written a lot about that extensively and spoken about that extensively, and you're absolutely right, this cycle of restriction and just the whole spectrum of symptoms. Unfortunately, that book, which helps people get access to care, doesn't pick up the nuances of each individual. It’s been frustrating for providers for a long time.
Shifting a little bit, I’m curious, what did your experience of starting -- and I really relate with you on starting. I like starting. It’s the [Laughs] maintaining that’s stretched me. But what did the experience of starting and running your nonprofit teach you about leadership and leading, not just the organization of BEDA, but also really what you've turned into a movement?
Chevese Turner: Mm-hmm. You know, it’s interesting because I really am a movement maker at heart. It’s just who I am, which I didn't know about myself, or I wasn't able to define that about myself when I went down this road. I know it now. [Laughs] If I see it clearly, and we can talk more about where I plan to take that, but I think that, at the beginning, I didn't realize how many people were not going to like me because of what I did. As I’m sure you can relate to. As someone with a history of an eating disorder, and I’m sure you see this in your clients, we all want to be loved. We’re the good girls. We’re people pleasers, many of us who have a history of BED, and especially those of us who have internalized weight stigma and live in higher-weight bodies and so forth, we’re always trying to do the right things because we want to be loved.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Chevese Turner: And so, as time went by and I saw that people in the field didn't agree with me, they were irritated by my advocacy, they wanted to correct me and silence me, and that wasn't everybody, of course, but these are the things that we encounter so often when we’re in leadership positions that are about big, big change. There are concerted efforts to slow that change and sometimes to stop it, and that was very hurtful for me, but I also learned how to deal with it, and I learned that it wasn't about me. It was about the ideas and the change that I was trying to make.
So, I think that was the most difficult thing for me on an emotional basis as a leader, but I think that the other piece that was difficult was really helping people understand why -- and I’ll be very frank here -- it’s important that we support people who are in higher-weight bodies with eating disorders in a way that may be separate from the remainder of the field, and that’s very nuanced as well. But it really spoke to the difficulty of raising money and building a following that was willing to give of their time and their resources because there’s so much shame around being fat, and when you don't want to put that out there publicly, you're not going to be involved or give your money to an organization like that.
Rebecca Ching: Ugh, okay. There are a couple things I want to circle back to. You dropped some juicy nuggets of wisdom here.
Chevese Turner: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: For me, clinical eating disorder isn't a part of my story, but my goodness, I’ve grown up in America, you know? I’m a child of the eighties, and I breathed in what the idea of beauty was, and I was a short, curvy, redhead who grew up in Minnesota, so I was around these tall, long-legged, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, beautiful people and felt very different always. And so, that is something that took me a long time to embrace.
It’s amazing how when we don't feel like the other, it’s hard to connect. I think so many of us have our “other” story. Not everybody, but many of us, when I do that work. And you touched on this point of the surprise (and this is a theme I hear a lot with the leaders I work with) of how many people wouldn't like you and how that tapped into your stuff. I just felt that when you were saying it. Like, “Yes!” We want to belong.
Chevese Turner: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: We want to have that love. It’s literally our oxygen, that connection to people. So, to have that attacked, not overtly or maliciously maybe. Well, sometimes, but…
Chevese Turner: Sometimes. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Sometimes, you're right. Yeah, but there’s something about our relationship with our body and our idea of beauty and health that has permeated all aspects of how we do life and enoughness.
Chevese Turner: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: And it’s insidious, and again, there’s so much nuance in this conversation because there are people that are carrying more weight that don't have an eating disorder, but often just wear the stigma of how people are misunderstanding who they are because of how they show up in the world.
Chevese Turner: Right.
Rebecca Ching: And you are actually coming into the treatment capacity for those that are struggling with their relationship with food and body on a more severe level, and there’s money in that. There is so much money.
Chevese, I don't know if I told you this story ever, but I was brand spankin’ new as a therapist. I was still an associate at the time, and I went to my first IAEDP conference, which is the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. It was here in San Diego where I live, and I went up to someone who works at a program that’s based here in San Diego that I knew that I had interviewed for the Certified Eating Disorder Specialist Certification I was working on, and this room was full of all these different treatment centers around the whole country, Chevese, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh! All these different places are helping people heal!”
This is an issue I was so passionate about because I thought, “If I want to help women, where do I need to work?” And I thought, “Trauma and eating disorders,” is where I found out.
Chevese Turner: [Laughs] Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So that’s what I focused my clinical career on. And at the heart of that ended up being shame and perfectionism, too. And so, I spoke to this person. I shared my story in awe and wonder, and she looks at me, and she’s like, “More than half these programs used to be drug and alcohol treatment centers,” and she was deadpan. And I’m like, “Okay, well, why did they change?” She’s like, “The money. It was better money to treat eating disorders.” I was like, “Womp, womp, womp.”
Chevese Turner: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: But that conversation’s embedded in my brain, and that was in 2007. Yeah, 2007 is when I think it was. And I’ve been watching the field since. And so, knowing the work that you’ve done in shifting the powers that be and seeing a field that’s supposed to help people, often the tension of a business of helping people and forgetting the souls that they're treating. You bringing in this whole new dynamic of treatment rocked the status quo of power, of how money was made, and I think that’s something worth noting, in terms of this work that you've been doing.
Chevese Turner: Yeah, and I was fortunate enough to -- it really was pure luck. [Laughs] I think that being the extrovert and just talking to lots of people, I was able to stumble into a group of people who were really coming to treatment of higher-weight bodies from an eating disorder space, and I don't believe that higher-weight bodies need to be treated if they don't have an eating disorder.
I come to this from a very different perspective than some members of your audience may think about, but I see that there is a natural diversity of sizes and that we all live in an environment that is difficult in terms of, for some people, navigating food, and for some people, navigating how they feel about their bodies.
There is such a large spectrum between disordered eating and eating disorder, and I did not see my own recovery as going well, up until I really found this place where I could come to accept where my body was and that it was fat and that it was always going to be fat. And that’s when I was able to heal, and when you live in a fat body, you are exposed to microaggressions (which are a form of trauma) every day, whether you're watching TV, whether you're sitting at the table with family, whether you go to your doctor. Fat is a very political thing, and when I say political, I mean that people have opinions about it. They want to control it, and it says something about us according to how we feel about fatness. And so, it’s a really difficult thing to navigate.
Within the eating disorders field, I thought that entering the eating disorders field that I would be surrounded by people who understood, that these were clinicians and researchers who would be like, “Of course, we understand what you're going through, Chevese. This makes total sense. We understand eating disorders,” and I found just the opposite, that because I was in a fat body, the eating disorders community was afraid of me, they thought I was disgusting.
All of the things that we think about in the general public were just exacerbated in the field of eating disorders, and that is what I was always trying to change. The pushback from different parts of the community and whether or not to accept people in fat bodies, how to treat them, that we were getting some sort of favoritism by demanding a voice and demanding access to care and saying exactly what we had been through. [Laughs] I think the worst to me was on social media when I would see someone who was struggling with anorexia, and they would claim that we fat folks were hurting them by stating what our concerns were, that was really difficult.
So, as a leader navigating all this, because I had the lived experience and I could speak to it, but I also had to tread carefully until I didn't, and I stopped treading carefully. I stopped giving in to it. I stopped sitting on the fence, and I started just saying what my truth was and what the truth was from so many other people like me.
Rebecca Ching: [Deep breath] I’m just pausing here because there’s such power when we stop editing and speak truth. But man, it’s dangerous.
Chevese Turner: It is.
Rebecca Ching: I just want to pause here and ask how you care for yourself, personally. You said, “It’s not about me. It’s about the movement and the issue,” and I’m like and I also know, with the leaders I work with, you are sometimes the representation of it. You're holding that. So, how are you caring for yourself, personally, since this work and movement are so inspired by your own story, which I know you’ve touched on a little bit in our conversation.
Chevese Turner: Yeah, you know, I’m getting teary.
Rebecca Ching: It happens on The Unburdened Leader.
Chevese Turner: Yeah. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: We get teary often. [Laughs]
Chevese Turner: [Laughs] Yeah, you know, recently, I did separate from the National Eating Disorders Association (which BEDA and NEDA merged about two years ago), and that was extremely difficult for me. I still am dealing with the trauma of it because this was my life’s work, right? This was what I felt I was meant to do, and so, self-care when something happens like this, and even prior to this because I’m working in a highly emotional and important area, I feel. To me, it’s very important, and there’s a lot of emotions around it. I care a lot about the people in the field, and I care about the issues.
They're really important, and I think that the more people understand what the issues are, the more important they become to an individual.
Rebecca Ching: Mm, yeah.
Chevese Turner: So, you know, people hear eating disorders and they’re like, “Oh, anorexia,” and, “That’s terrible,” but it’s not that common, and they don't realize that it’s not just anorexia and it is all around us. It is everywhere. It is in your family. It is in your group of friends. It is men. It is women. It is any gender, any weight, any orientation. It doesn't matter how much money you make, it’s there. These eating disorders and disordered eating are there. So, it’s important to me, and self-care really is -- I don't think of taking a bubble bath or getting a pedicure. I mean, it’s self-care, but to me, it feels great for a little while, and I definitely don't want people to think that I’m saying don't do that because I think it is absolutely necessary, but self-care for me is really about still going to therapy. It’s about finding and participating in my community. It’s about doing things that morally and ethically feel right to me with regard to my community and how I conduct myself. It’s saying how I feel, you know, and not censoring myself. Those things are all self-care. And it’s turning to the people who are around me. It’s turning to my husband. It’s turning to my friends. That is really how I get support and self-care.
Rebecca Ching: Saying how I feel is self-care.
Chevese Turner: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: Dang.
Chevese Turner: [Laughs] Remarkable, right?
Rebecca Ching: Well, yeah, I mean, we edit. We try and edit our outsides and our insides, right?
Chevese Turner: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, I have a couple of questions I want to stem from this, but I want to just step back. You mentioned the merger with BEDA and NEDA, and it happened back in 2018.
Chevese Turner: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: I’d love for you to share with the audience just from a high level, strategically, what were the factors that led to the decision? Because I know sometimes it’s better to have these separate organizations that collaborate, and sometimes mergers are helpful, and I’d love for you to share with my audience why you decided -- what were the strategic influences behind that decision?
Chevese Turner: Yeah, BEDA was always, for me, a third child, and it was a labor of love, but part of taking care of myself in that was, after ten years, really wanting to be -- not just wanting but deserving to be paid a salary and wanting to have help, you know, being able to hire folks to help do more and expand the mission and keep the movement going. Because my background was in policy and nonprofit and so forth, I really wanted to do the policy work that we just never had time or funding to do.
And so, along with the board, we started discussing what are the next steps, strategically. We’ve been around ten years. We’ve made a really big impact. It has been a labor of love. But there isn't a lot of funding out there for eating disorders for some of the reasons I mentioned earlier, and also because there are quite a few organizations doing work who’ve been around longer and have a funding base.
And so, I was having discussions about it with NEDA’s CEO, and I always say we dated for a while. [Laughs] But at some point, we decided it was time to go forward, and I was informing my board, and she was informing her board, and we felt, together, that it was time to bring these communities together -- the traditional NEDA community, which was primarily individuals with anorexia and their families, and then people who were in higher-weight bodies who might have binge eating disorder, of course, but also atypical anorexia, bulimia, all of the disorders that usually have a binge component to them. And we felt that with the resources of NEDA and my leadership within the BED and the higher-weight community that we could really come together and start getting to understand one another and start, at some point, speaking as one. Obviously, there are nuances and many differences as well, but we can handle that by having a general message that was about the importance of treating all eating disorders and prevention and so forth.
So, that was the intent, and for me, the piece of that that was also very important was the recognition of not just fat bodies as marginalized, but anyone, despite color, age, gender, and so forth.
Because we knew that when you have one or more marginalizations, meaning you are not a white, thin person or identifying as female, for that matter, that you are more likely not to get care and get access to care. And so, that was really, really important to us.
And so, yeah, those are the reasons we came together.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and you've touched on this a little bit. A few years ago (I’m late to the party, but I’m here) I was introduced to the term intersectionality, and my mind was just exploded, and it all kind of clicked and made sense of these issues. Yes, if I care about women, I have to care about race. And then I’ve always cared about how people view and heal and talk about their relationship with food and their body, and so, the issue around weight and weight stigma, that’s part of their -- and sexual orientation and physical ability. I worked for the senator who is the author of the ADA, and so learned so much there and just saw, all of a sudden, these concentric circles and went it’s not just this little lane of, “I’m for women!” No. If I am for these issues, I’m for all of these issues, and I’m still waking up to this and learning and integrating and rumbling with so much.
But I’ve seen that in your work where, for you, this issue around decreasing the stigma around people who are in larger bodies is not just this narrow issue. It’s connected to and it’s an interaction of all these issues, and you’ve really brought that into your voice and into your platform and into your leadership. Can you share a little bit more about that?
Chevese Turner: Yeah, you know, I think I was born with the social justice gene. [Laughs] And really, my mother definitely was a big part of that, and I love her for that and who she is. I grew up with lots of LGBTQ folks around and people of all different colors, and I heard their issues. It was something that went in and it stayed there for me. And so, I remember years and years -- well, at the beginning of BEDA I was noticing how white the field was, just that the majority of the people in power in the field making the decisions, having the loudest voices were all white, and I knew part of the reason I was there was because I was white, and that bothered me. It bothered me that all of the airtime was taken up by a white perspective, and it made it seem like only white, thin girls get eating disorders. And so, while we don't want to take any of the attention away from them, we want to add to it so that we see the field as it really is and who gets these disorders. So, that’s what’s always been the driver for me. Yes, it’s political, and that just has to do with my own political orientation, but everything is political. [Laughs]
The definition of politics is who gets what, and so, what I wanted our field to get was everybody being included, you know, and our piece of the pie when it came to research dollars and treatment dollars and everything. That was what was at the foundation of all of my work, and it was very important to me that people were seen and included at the table, and unfortunately for our field, that was too much too far for some people in the field.
Rebecca Ching: And you mentioned that you are no longer with NEDA, and last fall is when you left. What are you able to share about your departure?
Chevese Turner: I can't share a lot, so I’ll speak in terms of the greater community because what happened at NEDA really is what’s happening in the greater community and what is going on even on a national level in terms of our politics. That wonderful coming together that I so badly wanted to see, I don't think that everybody understood what that coming together actually meant.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Chevese Turner: At the end of the day in the field, as we already talked about, there was a power center in terms of who had what, and because anorexia was the first focus in terms of eating disorders and because it’s so deadly, it has received the bulk of the attention in terms of what the general public knows about it, and it deserves every bit of that. But when we started really bringing the culture of BEDA and the culture of the higher-weight community together with the traditional eating disorders community, there were a lot of people who were very, very uncomfortable with that.
And it does take some time to adjust. It does take some time to really understand others and to get up close and personal with them in order to understand, and I think that at the end of the day, what we have not done in this community is gotten really up close and personal with one another. We don't know one another’s stories.
In the case of NEDA, I think at the end of the day, there were a lot of really great people trying to do really good work, but not quite understanding one another. I definitely have a platform, and I have followers, and I have people who really support me, and I really try to support them as much as possible, and I think they all really know my heart and just how important all aspects of what need to be done in the eating disorders community are to me. They showed up big time when I left NEDA. And so, I know that that’s the direction we’re going. I know that this field may not be ready to come together right now, may not be ready to actually listen to one another, and may not be willing to be uncomfortable and step out of their own place that they hold in the community and really see and hear and understand others.
And so, I think that, unfortunately, the merger was probably too early in the life cycle of both the organizations in the field, and so, it didn't work. BEDA is officially a part of NEDA. I’m on the founder’s council of the organization, but having me there was too soon, too fast. It just wasn't gonna work, and so, we go on.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, in thinking about what you said about the culture of the traditional kind of advocacy and education and treatment work and the culture of BEDA, and thinking, too, that culture is such a powerful thing in organizations, in families, in communities, wherever, and what are some of the -- I’m filling in the blanks myself just because I have been around both of these organizations for several years, but can you articulate what some of the culture challenges are? If you were to say, in hindsight, what were some of the culture challenges? You touched on homeostasis, status quo, wasn't ready for the change and the pace that you were ready for. You’re like, “Let’s do this.” I hear that, but what were some of the culture, I don't know if I want to say barriers, but contrasts that really were hard to breach or hard to integrate?
Chevese Turner: Yeah, I think the way that advocates and activists talk about this idea about intersectionality was a big piece because if you're a student of social justice -- in the last several years, I’ve really dove into a lot of reading and working with some prominent teachers out there and have been very humbled by how much I don't know, and yeah. [Laughs]
But trying to help others understand that, I think that I was a bit further down the road. And so, when I talked about something, for instance, like white supremacy, I wasn't talking about a person showing up with a Klan outfit on, I was talking about a system and a system in which white folks were centered.
Rebecca Ching: Right.
Chevese Turner: And what we know is that Black and brown and Indigenous folks are getting eating disorders, too, and they're not fitting into that white culture and white system. Some of them are navigating better than others, but it’s just there. We can't deny it because it is our culture. We live in a white culture, and so, how do we help folks navigate this culture? It does mean that we, as white people, need to be the ones who are helping, and I take that very seriously. And so, I think some of the language that was used, like white supremacy, questioning how capitalism plays a role in our field in terms of all of those treatment centers that you’ve talked about, I mean, we’re so thankful for treatment.
Rebecca Ching: Totally.
Chevese Turner: And yet folks with BED still can't get treatment at that higher level most often because insurers will not pay for it, and that’s because they don't see it as serious. We all know the insurers will try to get out of treatment, and so, it is a capitalist system. We can't deny that. Money is being censored based on what eating disorder you have.
And so, naming those things were really important to me because they are things that we have to contend with, and I was doing policy work, too. I was thinking about how to get people access to care and how do we navigate these systems so that a Black, trans, fat woman with BED can get help as easily as I can. I mean, these are huge, huge barriers. But if we don't talk about them, we’re never going to navigate them.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Chevese Turner: That was my position, and it was very much taken as if I was saying, “Every clinician needs to sit in a room with their client and name their privileges.” It really was not understood.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Chevese Turner: And that falls to me, partly, as a leader. Definitely it falls to me because I need to find out how to communicate in ways that actually reach people, and that’s why I say too fast too soon.
Rebecca Ching: You know, I appreciate that, Chevese, and I appreciate your ownership here, but I’m just thinking, systemically, the capacity -- this is what I’ve been watching -- for people to really look, and the fear of being seen as racist or anything -ist or -ism, and so, the defensiveness is an emotional bandwidth response, it’s often a trauma response, and pace is tricky on that stuff because when do you rip the band-aid off? I’m wondering what history will show for you because did you begin the process -- and while there are a lot of hearts that are deeply hurt in the process, you’re on the frontlines of this. I’m just wondering is this tension of do we rip the band-aid off or is it just this delicate pacing, I’m with you.
I’m finding myself frustrated with the patience of some of these conversations I’m having on a much more local level. That’s where I’m feeling called to have these conversations. I’m like [Sigh]. But this is long-game work regardless.
So, I appreciate you noting the pace, and I think that’s a lesson for all of us to think about, yet it’s hard when there’s that enthusiasm and that vision and the heart was in the right place for you and the president of NEDA. I could see the two of you come together like, “Let’s do this! This is what we’re here for,” and then the deeper stuff of the darkness of what we’re wrestling with as a country and as a world right now, it just lashed out. And so, I’m just curious, as we have more time, how this is gonna unfurl and what you’ve started with that.
I do want you to talk a little bit more about weight stigma in particular because I think this is a phrase -- you know, #weightstigma. It’s thrown around a lot, but I actually think this is a really important issue for leaders and business owners and entrepreneurs to understand granularly how maybe they're colluding with it or how they can actually help not collude with it and help create spaces that are both brave and safe for people that are in all sizes of bodies. So, I’m wondering if you could unpack weight stigma a little bit for our audience.
Chevese Turner: Sure. Weight stigma, I think people use different words to describe it. It is fatphobia (it’s fear of fat), but weight stigma is a bit more of the systemic issue. It’s how it plays out in our systems.
When we individualize it, we say it’s weight bias (we’re biased against fat bodies). If we think about all of the -isms, this is a big one because about 75% of our population in the US live in a -- I don't use the words overweight and obese. I don't like them, but they're in those categories. And so, weight stigma essentially, as it’s performed, becomes weight discrimination.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Chevese Turner: And we have that fear of being fat, and people who are already living in fat bodies are probably the most fearful of it. They're always trying to lose weight. You’ve internalized that weight stigma and have taken it on. You believe those things about yourself and about other higher-weight folks. And so, sometimes fat people are the biggest perpetrators of weight stigma because they're trying to fit in. It’s just like in other areas of discrimination.
It probably, while it is in no way the last remaining place where people are stigmatized, it’s probably the least recognized because we all just kind of go about our day and think it’s completely normal to, as people identifying as women, sit in a group and talk about everything you’ve eaten for the last week and how you're being bad now because you're having a sandwich with french fries instead of a salad, and you're going to work off those calories tomorrow. And then when you go to the doctor, the doctor tells you that you really need to lose 10 pounds or 100 pounds, and they don't diagnose you with things that may be going on because they're so focused on your weight, and you can't fit into the chair at the doctor’s office.
And then you go home and you turn on the TV and you're barraged by weight-loss programs, and everyone’s telling you at the dinner table that you really shouldn't eat that. And you go out and you decide, “I’m gonna lose some weight,” and you go out and take a walk around the neighborhood, and somebody rolls down their window and says, “Hey, fat pig!” And you go to school, and you're experiencing an obesity program, you're weighed, you're made fun of in line to get weighed because everybody knows you're fatter than most of the other kids. It just goes on and on and on.
And so, every day you are facing the stigma of living in your body, and for most of us, especially women, but really it’s everyone now, we’ve been taught that we should be smaller (we should always be smaller no matter what size we are, unless we are grossly underweight), we should be striving to look a certain way, we should be exercising constantly, we should be eating only certain foods. I don't know how we have time for anything else, frankly. We’re navigating this, and for me, as a white woman who has pretty much every privilege in the world except my body size, I don't know how people do it who have more oppressions because this is just something that we are reminded of at every turn, and even people who are supposed to be helping those of us with eating disorders are stigmatizing us. They're putting us on diets. They think the disorder is that you're fat. So, it goes on and on, and it really is one long continual trauma.
Rebecca Ching: So, thank you for unpacking that and, gosh, just listening to you rattling off different experiences that I know so many people could at least relate to one, if not all of those. I’m curious to hear from you what do you think leaders and business owners can do to keep their businesses and communities from colluding with the pervasiveness of weight stigma? Because I’m even thinking we’ve got some of these -- in the tech industry right now, all the rage is intermittent fasting, and they're talking about this stuff. I mean, I’m all for people getting curious about their health, and I know there are a lot of different paths to being well, but it’s just masking some tough stuff there. I mean, you and I know this, and I’m not gonna diagnose anybody because they're not my client (it’s not ethical), but I do think that I’d really love for leaders listening to this podcast to have some tangible things to rumble with on how they can be aware of how maybe they're unintentionally colluding with weight stigma and what they can do to counter it.
Chevese Turner: I think that one of the messages for leaders in all of those industries is that the folks who are working with you, their mental health is just as important as their physical. And I see it all as one.
Rebecca Ching: Yes, me too. [Laughs]
Chevese Turner: [Laughs] You know, what we know, the harm that some of these practices are doing to people’s mental health, it really does not warrant the approaches that are being taken. So, for instance, if you have a workplace wellness program, you really need to look at are you bringing weight-loss programs into your organization?
If you are, you may want to rethink that. The long-term efficacy of weight loss is that about five to seven percent of people will lose the weight and keep it off. The remainder will gain it back plus some. So, what you're doing is really setting up a cycle of lose weight, gain weight. What that does psychologically and physically to people over the long term is devastating. I can tell you, at the age of 35, I had congestive heart failure after my first son was born, and that was from years of weight cycling. My heart was weakened.
Rebecca Ching: Wow.
Chevese Turner: And that doesn't happen to a 35-year-old unless there’s a hereditary issue. So, we really know that social determinants of health are just as important as other health markers, you know? I mean, looking at people’s blood and helping them take their medications, be okay with medications -- I hear so often people are like, “Well, I just don't want to be on medications,” but that’s why we have them. I understand that, but in the long term, your weight loss is not going to take care of that if you gain it back plus some.
So, there are all these -- and we could do a whole podcast just on reasons not to bring weight loss in, but at the end of the day, you really need to be looking at the discrimination that happens to people in higher-weight bodies in organizations when you’re doing Biggest Loser’s campaigns, when you are asking people, basically putting pressure on them not to eat donuts in the lunchroom when donuts are brought in and comments are made.
Having a healthy workplace environment is great. Of course we want that, but we need to have a variety of things so that people aren't feeling like they're being singled out because there’s not a reason to single them out. There are so many environmental determinants, health determinants that are going on that you're insisting that everybody eat a plant-based diet is not going to help everybody.
So, it is complicated, but at the core of it is not discriminating against fat people, not putting them in a separate group or approaching them in a way that you wouldn't approach everybody else. It is really important that the messages that come across are inclusive and not exclusive and that people are made to feel like humans. At the end of the day, many organizations will bring in a consultant to help them do consulting around race and other aspects of social justice and discrimination and equity/inclusion, weight stigma needs to be a part of that. We need to always think of that as one of the pieces, and there are people out there doing that, and it needs to be, going forward, a part of what we do.
Rebecca Ching: Thank you for that. Yeah, and I think it’s a lot to rumble with, especially -- we’re recording this in the month of December, which I purposely wanted to have you on at the beginning of the year because the dial’s always turned up. ‘Tis the season, and the desire to be well is a wonderful one, but the path to it is so nuanced, and we don't want to take good intentions and unintentionally have people be unhealthy because of what we’re trying to do.
There’s a lot of these different things. We’ve really demonized food and weight and created these polarizations. It’s not helping with our mental well-being. Really, behind a lot of how we feed is our mental well-being, our relational well-being, and what’s gone on.
Chevese Turner: We’ve created an environment of healthism, which sometimes I’m like, “Oh, one more -ism,” but it really is. It’s like if you're not completely healthy, you're meant to feel less than, and that’s not helpful. That’s not actually going to help create health, and we do know that at any sized body, you can use health behaviors. I definitely have health issues, but I live a very healthy life, you know? Everybody's individual, and we have to assess what is right for each person, not lump it into a group and say, “Everyone has to do this.”
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely, and that message can transcend for so much of what we’re dealing with and addressing right now in our country. Just as we wrap up, you recently wrote you're no longer going to dedicate your time to the eating disorder community. I saw you make a post about that, and that caught my eye, and I’d love for you to share what was behind this decision and what’s next for you.
Chevese Turner: Yeah, thank you. It’s still very much in the works, and I’m not sure of the exact direction, but as I really stopped and took inventory and thought about all of the people that had been along for the ride with me and where my heart really belongs, it really is in the higher-weight community, and that’s whether someone has an eating disorder or not.
And one of the things that I, along with my colleague Joslyn Smith, had started at NEDA (we were running the policy shop there), we were in conversation with some actually very big corporate partners who were very interested in changing or adding to existing legislation around discrimination for weight. And so, what I’m looking at right now is I don't know if that’s going to be an organization or how that’s going to play out exactly, but I am going to refocus my time on making sure that people cannot be discriminated according to their body size in the law, and I see this as this is marriage equality for fat folks. This is being recognized that we’re human and that we have rights and that we deserve to not be discriminated against. We deserve not to be traumatized every day.
And so, that’s what I’m going to focus on, and as a movement maker, I am very fortunate because there are already so many amazing people out there who have been, for the last 70 years, working on this issue and have brought it to where it is now, and I hope that I can take my policy expertise and take it to the next level. I think it’s time. This is the one thing that I feel like, yeah, it is time because the conversation is already happening, and when you have large corporations who are willing to be there with you in this fight, I know that they see it too, and that is encouraging.
So, it is a big social justice endeavor, and I have no idea where it’s going to take me or all of those who are a part of this, but it should be interesting, and I think I’m probably gonna have to get really used to not being liked, [Laughs] because this is no longer just within the eating disorders community. It’s a whole other level. So, it should be interesting.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, it’s a tough time right now where it’s bullying and othering and dehumanizing has been so normalized, but as you so wisely said, speaking your truth is your self-care, so I am going to remind myself of that often, and when I know you're speaking your truth, I know that while those may be throwing daggers, your heart is growing bigger because you're being true to you.
Chevese, this has been a really important conversation, and I really appreciate your vulnerability and your time and just sharing your body of work and the intersection of so much that so many of us, how we live our lives, personally and professionally, we’ve got a lot to sift through from this conversation. So, thank you for your time. Thank you for continuing to show up. I’m really grateful for you and your leadership.
Chevese Turner: Thank you. This has been lovely. I appreciate it.
Rebecca Ching: You can't cultivate change while playing it safe and sitting on the fence. Now, you’ll feel the most alive and aligned when you stop editing your life, and you’ll also experience loneliness on this path to liberation. Chevese addressed important truths about the dangerous biases we have around size, weight, and looks.
This is an intersectional leadership issue we must all rumble with and address in ourselves and in the communities we lead. It is such a nuanced and important topic because if you care about people, then you need to care about the bodies they inhabit, along with the biases you have towards weight and size. She also reminded us the pace of change can be hard and a lot slower than we want, and it took my breath away when she spoke about speaking and leading our truth as the ultimate self-care. That is totally a new mantra of mine.
So, I want to ask you, where are you editing your life and playing it safe? I want to challenge you to get honest with yourself and look at your biases around size and weight and beauty and ask yourself how these biases are impacting how you lead. What truth is brewing inside of you that the world needs to hear and you need to share? Rumble with your answers to these questions. Talk to your peers, those you lead, those who have a different lived experience than you do. And do the work to increase your capacity for vulnerability so your life, your work, your truth can truly be a catalyst for change.
Leading is hard, and leading is also, often, controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. Now, you do not mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action. Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leadership in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small.
Leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights. It is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up.
Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to help the protector of cynicism stay at bay and foster a hope that is actionable and aligned. When the stakes are high and you don't want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader Coaching is for you and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than the status quo
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Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, and free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to work with me www.rebeccaching.com.