Welcome to another installment of "10 Words or Less," in which I put brief questions to interesting people and ask for brief answers in return. To be blunt, today's participant failed miserably — "I told you Michael, diets of any kind, even word diets, probably not going to work with me," she said afterward — but she has interesting things to say, and I'll take form over format any time. She is a northern California psychologist who works often with clients who have eating disorders. She is a leading voice in the Health at Every Size movement, which might be considered a response to body-focused America.
Note: An unedited (considerably longer) video version of this interview is at the FatBoyThinMan YouTube channel.
Name: Deb Burgard
Born when, where "New Haven, I'm 55. I didn't live there very long, I actually grew up in St. Louis."
Any notable circumstance for that? "I was born on my dad's birthday."
Reside now "San Jose, and I work in Los Altos."
Family status "I just got married the whole way. I had been married in my state, and now, the feds recognize my marriage too."
First paying job "I worked at the counter in a Howard Johnson's when I was in high school. Chuck Berry came in one time."
Was he a good tipper? Really good! I think he had a cup of coffee and he tipped me another whole cost of a cup."
You're a Ph.D. Have you had too much school, or not enough? "I have no complaints about the amount of school I've had."
What's your hobby, or the closest thing to it? "I really love discovering ways of moving that bring back the good memories of recess. So I like discovering hula hoops, and before my knees started going, double dutch jump ropes. Now I'm exploring dancing in a pool."
Can you share some wisdom from that? "Try to find a way of moving that brings you joy. And when that fades, find another way."
Overcome weight or weight stigma? Pick one. "For sure, overcome weight stigma."
Is stigma only levied, or can it be taken on as well? "I think it's obvious that people internalize stigma quite often, and it's quite often a source of suffering."
Is stigma the principle problem about fatness? "I don't consider fatness a problem."
Are you saying, 'no stigma, no problem?' "I don't believe that everybody's weight is healthy for them, or that only healthy processes created their weight, in either direction. But healthy processes create people of all different sizes, and given that, I don't see how we can take a particular weight and say, that everybody at that weight has a problem. I think the processes are the problem, not the person's body."
Three things a fat individual ought to do, in your opinion
1) "Find community, especially people who are fighting for their entitlement to a good life."
2) "Develop a theory of why people can be mean to you, because it gives you some understanding of what's going on so you're not just personally harmed every time."
3) "Do things now that support your wellbeing and make you feel nurtured, because if you wait to do that, you're giving yourself the experience of not being worthy."
Three things policy ought to do, regarding fatness
1) "Stop trying to eliminate fat people."
2) "Focus on the environments that are good for human bodies of every size."
3) "If you are a decision maker about this issue, investigate your own bias and try to correct those experiences before you make decisions for this population."
Does food addiction exist? "Hmm. … My mind is open. I'm watching as the research unfolds, and I want to honor the lived experience of a lot of people who feel that fits their experience. I also want to honor people who kind of change their minds about that after they work on how they have been psychologically restrictive about using food."
Would you have the same answer for alcohol? "That's a good question. This is where we get into how much is the substance itself. I do think that people who have trouble with alcohol aren't all addicted."
Can you identify a star in the making? "Ragen Chastain, who writes the blog Dances with Fat. Every single day, she's doing a blog and creating a community. She's one of the young people taking on this work, and is doing amazing things in her life."
A major goal you've accomplished "One thing I'm very proud of is being part of the activism that led to height and weight being added to the city of San Francisco's anti-discrimination law. The law's been able to protect several people that I know."
A major goal you have "I would like to see the whole weight-cycling industry disappear, and I would like to see the people in it who are often well-meaning get a whole different job and whole different passion. People come in all different sizes, and we need to work for environments that support all humans at all these different sizes."