Lindork’s Lists – Q&A #32: Karly Watson
Note: this is the public version of my email newsletter Q&A that gets sent to paid subscriber inboxes first every other Sunday. You can get these Q&As in your inbox first by becoming a paid subscriber.
Originally published to newsletter subscribers on July 4, 2022
The 32nd person I’m profiling in my Q&A series for paid newsletter subscribers is:
Content Manager and Diet Culture Educator Karly Watson!
Getting to know Karly Watson:
Karly Watson is an Edmonton area social media content manager and diet culture educator who is regularly opening my eyes to how diet culture is so engrained in all aspects of society today.
A lot of what I know about diet culture, the need to eliminate it, and eating disorder recovery (ED recovery), is via social media posts I have seen from Karly over the years, though I’ll also add that as a Vietnamese woman I certainly have my own personal fair share of reflection and experience around the toxicity of thin / diet culture and how pervasive it is within Vietnamese (and other Asian) culture.
It simply shocks friends whenever I tell them stories of how casual and engrained fat shaming within Vietnamese families is, and the forms of which the shaming comes out, and there is certainly a lot of stuff within that that I am constantly grappling with (especially as someone who loves to eat), but it certainly is not unique to Vietnamese households.
Karly has a ton of insight on this topic and I am thrilled she is sharing it via this Q&A. She has also shared a number of podcast links on the topic below if you want to continue your learning on this topic after reading the Q&A.
Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with Karly Watson:
Can you talk about the work you do in the eating disorder recovery / mental health space? How you got into advocating / educating about these topics, why it’s important to you to speak about?
What started as something I used as an outlet (blogging) turned into a thriving passion, and strong will to make change with how we see/treat eating disorders, the fitness industry, and how we can recognize the harm and short falls of where diet culture fits into all of these pieces collectively.
I am continually reading studies, learning from professionals (dietitians, doctors, psychologists) within the space, and collecting resources for those wanting to step into ED (eating disorder) recovery or learn about how the complex layers of diet culture fester in our lives and how they too can make change.
It’s important to bring these issues to the surface because they affect everyone in some way. Every woman I know has seen their mom, aunt, or cousin, etc., on some diet and witnessed and internalized the idea that thin = healthy or thin = morally superior. These are a good example of where these ideas start to plant their roots, and eventually grow into disordered patterns, and more times than not full blown eating disorders.
Not only does diet culture have racist and anti-black roots, it is systematically harming fat persons everyday through the medical system, fitness industry, and society in general. Breaking down the barriers of eating disorders, diet culture, and fat-phobia is not an easy task being that these things are in fact normalized or down-played in many ways. In order to do better, we need to have these uncomfortable conversations and bring these social justice issues to light.
Every day we are surrounded by diet culture, and once you see it you can’t unsee it.
Can you talk more about what ED recovery is, what that means, looks like, and how you got out of your eating disorder, what diet culture is and why it’s harmful—where the fitness/health industry / space is moving based on what you’ve seen and are advocating for?
The harsh reality is eating disorder recovery is an ongoing battle, and there is no end point. But it’s all about taking small baby steps in order to overcome the many years of conditioning that we have held inside of ourselves. It’s important to recognize that EDs are mental illnesses, and not just “wanting to be skinny.” It is statistically speaking the highest mortality rate of any mental illness which speaks volumes.
My personal experience with my eating disorder stemmed from early childhood trauma that eventually led to wanting to feel a sense of control over my life in any way I could.
What started with disordered patterns through my early years eventually grew into full blown eating disorder habits. When I hit my early 20’s I was introduced to fitness, nutrition, and the wellness industry – wanting to get on track and “become healthy” I was soon sucked into an even darker phase of my ED. Without even knowing it, suddenly my ED behaviours were normalized, praised, and applauded publicly.
Losing weight suddenly put me on a pedestal I didn’t realize existed. Many may not know this today but I started growing my Instagram as a fitness influencer promoting the things I advocate against in present day. (Funny isn’t it)
Plummeting myself into body building, fitness modelling, and fitness brand promotion I was fully embedded in addiction to working out, orthorexia, body dysmorphia, bulimia, anorexia, and suffering greatly both physically and mentally.
On the outside I was a “fit” and “healthy” fitness persona, with a following of people who truly thought I was the peak of health and wellness. Not only was I applauded for my ED behaviours, I was rewarded, treated differently, and praised in society in general.
These things eventually caught up with me as I was sick constantly, health issues through the roof, without a period for three years, and completely exhausted and on the brink of writing myself out of life (not to mention almost 9ish years later I’m still dealing with the repercussions of this).
I reached out to professionals I thought could help me without any sort of ounce of proper assistance. I kept being told by doctors that I looked “normal” and “healthy” and dismissed everything else that was bringing me to my demise. I do have to mention I was very much in a privileged position as a white, small bodied woman – for those in marginalized bodies it is incredibly difficult to seek this sort of help without denial.
With running in circles, and being turned down when I was begging for help I started blogging. I wrote out all of my experiences – especially in the fitness industry – and it forced me to reflect on things I had never really looked deeper into. I opened up publicly about my ED, and decided to tell my story. From this came an overwhelming community of others who were going through similar journeys.
Over the years I’ve connected with incredible, smart, and resilient people who I have had the honour of learning from. I started reading studies, reading books, listening to podcasts, and taking in others stories to really see just where these issues were rooted from. This brought me straight into studying diet culture, its complex layers, and how it ties into eating disorders, the fitness industry, and society as a whole.
Diet Culture’s definition: “Diet culture is the pervasive belief that appearance and body shape are more important than physical, psychological, and general well-being. It’s the idea that controlling your body, particularly your diet—by limiting what and how much you eat—is normal.”
This sums up everything to do with how the fitness, wellness, and medical industry normalizes eating disorders and disordered habits. Dieting, in fact, is one of the leading causes of eating disorders.
Although diets fail 98% of the time, doctors are still prescribing them to almost all patients in fat bodies coming in with real medical concerns. Being turned away from medical professionals and put into the hands of personal trainers who are also being fed misinformation about what physical health actually entails.
It is a fact that many who go into ED recovery will more times than not gear towards fitness as a way to “healthify” their behaviours, to put it simply it’s moving from one ED to another ED form. This is where personal trainers need to be more educated to recognize when other professionals need to intervene. Personal trainers are also not qualified to make meal plans, give calorie guidelines, or any dietary advice—yet it is normalized that they can do this. I am telling you right now, if a personal trainer is doing this, they are not a professional looking out for your best interest. We see so much of this happening through social media, and although there are procedures put in place to mitigate this online, it rarely works the way it’s intended to.
It’s a vicious circle of breeding eating disorders over and over again. The diet industry is a 58 billion dollar money making machine that went up 21% since 2021. Health is not dictated by size, and health is not a measure of moral superiority. But yet it is continually fed to us this way.
The fitness and medical industry are still vastly behind and it’s because of the large continuon of misinformation, fat-phobia, and diet culture that keep this wheel turning. I’m working with a team of incredible professionals to make ground breaking changes in these industries so we can mitigate these issues, educate and bring forth harm reduction in these areas. Putting legalities, structure, and proper education in place is the only way to reduce the violence that diet culture and eating disorders breed in these industries and everyday life.
Can you talk about the social media work you do (for Kaden Ave, etc.)?
I’ve been with Kaden Ave Communications for a little over three years now and it has been an incredible honour to work with the best in the business. Working with a supportive, empathetic, and compassionate team has been life changing for me.
Avery and Kady have been nothing but supportive through my advocacy and passions, and I am forever grateful for the leadership they have provided our team with not just professionally but personally too.
Can you share a memorable moment or ‘successes’ in your career / life?
Having someone tell you your work/advocacy is important, and helping change their own perspective has been not only uplifting but completely shifted the way I see the world.
Being able to connect with so many like minded, creative, and brilliant people has truly brought me into finding my true self and that is what success means to me.
Can you share a challenging moment, obstacles or failure in your career / life? And perhaps what you learned from it or how you overcame it?
I think the most challenging hurdle in the last few years was taking on my diagnosis with ADHD. I always knew it was present and it was affecting my life in so many ways. Being treated and medicated truly helped me feel at home in my own brain and helped me conquer more mountains!
Can you talk about perhaps a common misconception about or something that might be surprising for people to learn about the work you do in ED/mental health space, as well as work as a content manager / someone who works in social media.
So we all know the saying “not everything on tv/internet is true” well this certainly applies well here. On social platforms there is a ton of misinformation fed to us on a daily basis, especially in the fitness/wellness industry. I think it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself “is this truly good for me” – block, unfollow, and curate your feed to what you need it to be in order to flourish.
Eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, gender identities, and walks of life. You cannot tell if someone has an ED by looking at them.
Currently children are 200x more likely to develop an eating disorder than type 2 diabetes. This is an epidemic of great proportions.
Most girls will start to recognize and develop poor self image, and have thoughts about dieting starting at age 6.
Disorder eating and eating disorders are on a spectrum – and it is very easy to slip from one side to the other if diet cycling is involved.
Can you share advice for others who might want to get into the content creation / social media space, and / or advice or something people should keep in mind when they’re talking about or thinking about things around losing weight, dieting, relationship with food and working out, etc. (Personally I hate the whole “calories in, calories out” guilt trip so many people make—if you eat food you MUST work out or the food is the reward for working out, I hate that lol).
It’s incredibly important to recognize that when we put information out there online, we need to be aware of how this is going to affect people on the other end. Is it helping or harming? Is there someone I should perhaps reach out to for a second opinion? What is my end goal with putting this information out? It is okay to take a step back if you’re not fully informed on something yet.
Can you tell me about your hobbies! What do you do for fun?
OH I love running, biking, dancing and gardening.
Anything outdoors with my dogs is where you can find me!
Wrapping up our Q&A:
What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix?
If you have the mental space, Euphoria on Crave is truly incredible. Not only depicting addiction in a true light, but the cinematography, acting, and music is a true work of art. Trigger warning, this show may not be for everyone so read into it first before diving in.
I also love any true crime documentaries HAHA.
Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?
This is my main list I tell everyone to listen to if they’re looking to do a deeper dive on diet culture.
Christy Harrison, MPH , RD, CEDS
Health at every size & intuitive eating:
Science behind weight inclusivity:
Eating disorders and the wellness industry:
Doctors without diet culture:
The truth about binge eating:
How diet culture is a life thief:
Why we can’t fight weight stigma while advocating for weight-loss:
Social justice, racism, and history of body positivity:
The Maintenance Phase
Is being fat bad for you?
The Obesity Epidemic:
Body Mass Index:
Dr. Joshua Wolrich
Nutrition and Stigma:
Medical weight stigma and the history of BMI:
The Papaya Podcast
The One About Our Weight with I Weigh Founder Jameela Jamil:
- What is one of your favourite local restaurants or stores you’d recommend?
I love Uccellino (shout out to their whipped ricotta)—not only incredible food, but the atmosphere is fabulous and service is ALWAYS on point. An Edmonton classic.
What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?
Thanks Karly, for sharing your story!
You can connect with Karly on:
Got a suggestion for an Interesting Person I should Interview?
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