The Midlife Feast

#103 - Story Session: From Flaws to Features: Embracing Body Acceptance with Christina Testut

March 11, 2024 Jenn Salib Huber RD ND Season 4 Episode 103
#103 - Story Session: From Flaws to Features: Embracing Body Acceptance with Christina Testut
The Midlife Feast
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The Midlife Feast
#103 - Story Session: From Flaws to Features: Embracing Body Acceptance with Christina Testut
Mar 11, 2024 Season 4 Episode 103
Jenn Salib Huber RD ND

What did you think of this episode? Send me a text message and let me know!

In this special story session, Christina Testut—a kindergarten teacher and champion of body acceptance—joins us this week on The Midlife Feast to share her inspiring un-dieting journey and the lessons that quarantine taught her about embracing body diversity. 

She shares why her weight-loss “success story”  became unsustainable, physically, mentally, and emotionally. As a mother and educator, she recognized the urgent need to redefine beauty standards for impressionable young people and took a powerful stand by transforming her epiphany into a children's book celebrating all body shapes and sizes.

You can grab the book Embrace Your Features, learn more about Christina and her work on her website, www.christinarunstheworld.com, and follow her on IG @christina_runstheworld or Facebook @christina.testut.

Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs. https://www.menopausenutritionist.ca/links

Show Notes Transcript

What did you think of this episode? Send me a text message and let me know!

In this special story session, Christina Testut—a kindergarten teacher and champion of body acceptance—joins us this week on The Midlife Feast to share her inspiring un-dieting journey and the lessons that quarantine taught her about embracing body diversity. 

She shares why her weight-loss “success story”  became unsustainable, physically, mentally, and emotionally. As a mother and educator, she recognized the urgent need to redefine beauty standards for impressionable young people and took a powerful stand by transforming her epiphany into a children's book celebrating all body shapes and sizes.

You can grab the book Embrace Your Features, learn more about Christina and her work on her website, www.christinarunstheworld.com, and follow her on IG @christina_runstheworld or Facebook @christina.testut.

Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs. https://www.menopausenutritionist.ca/links

Jenn Salib Huber:

Hi and welcome to the Midlife Feast, the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Salib Huber. I'm an intuitive eating dietitian and naturopathic doctor, and I help women manage menopause without dieting and food rules. Come to my table, listen and learn from me trusted guest experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. And if you're looking for more information about menopause, nutrition and intuitive eating, check out the Midlife Feast community, my monthly membership that combines my no-nonsense approach that you all love to nutrition with community, so that you can learn from me and others who can relate to the cheers and challenges of midlife.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Hi everyone, welcome to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast, and I'm very excited to bring you this week's story session, and so story sessions are one of my favorites and they're just really getting to know people through their stories, whether that's around midlife or body acceptance or just kind of anything related to the journey that we go through as people, really as we learn about different aspects of life, and so my guest today is Christina Testet, who is a kindergarten teacher I think is. You know what your profession is, but you have been an advocate for body acceptance and body diversity personally, professionally, and I think that that's a really interesting story that I'm excited to hear more about, so welcome.

Christina Testut:

Thank you for having me. I feel like I've known you forever. I followed you when I started to really need you know, some menopause information and education, and you've helped me so much just by following you on Instagram and I don't even know if you even realize that, but thank you for all the work that you do in having me here today.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Thank you, and yeah, instagram has been such a great place to connect with people and that's how we connected, I think, when your book was first coming out, which we'll talk about in a second. But I think that the voices around inclusion you know whatever that looks like need amplifying in whatever ways we can, and so I think that that's at least from my perspective. That's a big part of your. You know work in the big picture work. So tell us a little bit about you and how you got to do all of this.

Christina Testut:

Sure. So, like you said, I'm a kindergarten teacher. I'm also a mom of two teenagers, a boy and a girl, my son's 13 and my daughter is 16. And I'm married to my high school sweetheart and we live in New York. And so pretty much my whole life I can remember struggling with body image. I remember every word, name, label that was put on me from classmates in elementary school, things that were said in health class about my body and how my body was different and quote unquote, wrong, and you know, even comments from family members throughout my life and I always took blame for that.

Christina Testut:

So my whole life I was trying to find something to fix me, particularly my outward appearance, and I've been on every diet you can imagine from a young age, and the most recent experience that kind of shed light on how I needed to shift my mindset was in 2016,. I decided to try another diet with my mom and all, because I saw a picture of myself on the internet and felt this deep amount of shame. And I went on this diet and I found out that I was really good at losing weight quickly because of all the comments I got from people and how I must all of a sudden be better Because of me losing weight. I became like a spokesperson for this weight loss company. I was put in a commercial, I was put on their member materials for other members to see and read about me, and I made an Instagram all about my weight loss success story and was inundated with transformation photos and really it became my job, next to teaching. I posted side by side and before and afters like it was my job and people that never spoke to me before at work started to speak to me now because I lost weight and they all wanted to know how I did it and they started joining the program as well and I just felt that external validation and I finally felt accepted and just like I was you know enough and worthy because I lost weight and I was the beauty standard now and I did this for about seven years straight and it wasn't until like 2020 happened and you know, I started to reflect, like I think most of us did when we were stuck in our house, quarantining and everything, and I started to reflect a lot about a lot of different things and I realized that I wanted you know more for myself and I wanted what I was doing now just didn't feel right anymore. It felt like there was so much more important things in the world and my daughter started becoming a teenager at that time and she was saying things about herself and her appearance and her weight and her stomach and I wanted to do better for her. I didn't want her to go through what I went through and so I made this Instagram post.

Christina Testut:

Believe it or not, my book came out of an Instagram post about how we constantly calling our body parts flaws and I always heard people say embrace your flaws. And I started to really think about like what are we calling flaws here? Like like a stomach, my chubby cheeks, you know your nose? Like these are body parts, normal parts of us that are different on everybody, that make us who we are.

Christina Testut:

And I started, you know, trying to like dissect the definitions of flaw versus features and I would make these Instagram posts about this and it really wasn't, you know, getting anywhere because I was a weight loss success story Instagram. Nobody who was following me really wanted to hear that and I just decided what better way to make an impact on children and you know, my own children and to actually help me in the process of healing and recovery was to like, try to change, make this into a book, and so that started me trying to find somebody to help me publish my book, embrace your Features, and you know, throughout all this, the book has helped me with my healing and recovery. You know I started therapy. I got a diagnosis of an eating disorder and I've been working on healing. You know from that and you know, just trying to make my book and my new life my legacy for my children and not the weight loss success story that I was Like. I don't want that to be my legacy, you know.

Jenn Salib Huber:

You're redefining your story, which is amazing. It's so interesting. You know, one of the things that you said about that you were, you know, a weight loss advocate, a coach or you know whatever it is. I can't tell you the number of people who were in a very similar position you know, had, quote, unquote, success. You know, were recruited as leaders, coaches, whatever you want to call them, and very quickly realized that they were part of a very disordered culture and that the validation is very validating and it always will feel good to feel validated, always. It doesn't matter what it is like. There's safety in that. That's part of like our human brain wiring is. If you know, if other humans tell us that we're good, that feels good, but it feels, I think, at least from what I've heard from other people.

Jenn Salib Huber:

You know it feels almost like it's this unsustainable. You know it's unsustainable even when you're in the thick of the success. You know that it's not going to last and so it quickly becomes a how do I escape with myself still intact? You know I had one person who was a Weight Watchers leader for, I think, 20 years. You know who said that really about 10 years in knew that she had to find a way out. But it was constantly feeling like so much of her identity had become caught up in that she was a weight loss success story. People looked up to, people were counting on her. She felt this really strong pull to try and make it work, even though she knew it was never going to work in the long term.

Jenn Salib Huber:

So very relatable, so thank you for sharing that. Of course, one of the things that I've really appreciated on your Instagram has been how you're sharing your, your body acceptance journey. You know you're posting pictures and you're saying I wouldn't have posted this five years ago, but I'm doing it because I want you know this is who I am. Can you tell me a bit about that process, because that's, I think, some of the hardest?

Jenn Salib Huber:

It is, the hardest part, I think, is to just show up right and to put it publicly in a space like this. So how did that all happen for you?

Christina Testut:

Yeah, that was very difficult.

Christina Testut:

One of the things that I worked on in therapy is like I have to change the narrative for myself.

Christina Testut:

I had to, like rewire my brain and posting those things, posting myself now and how I show up in the world is important to me and, yes, I want to show others that you know who are might be feeling the same way as me, that you know there's a light at the end of the tunnel. But it's helpful to me because my, like I said, my whole account was look at me, look at how you know much smaller I am, look at how much work I've done to do this and I was called an inspiration constantly just for shrinking. And when you start to gain weight in your recovery and realize that the diet, what you know, doesn't work anymore after seven years you know doing everything possible to make it try to work, I need to see myself on the screen how the way I am to accept myself you know to. It's okay that I'm not that other version, I'm not that smaller version. I'm still worthy and enough exactly as I am.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And one of the hardest things to convince people when I'm doing body image work with people is that you have to put yourself in the pictures and you have to normalize and habituate to seeing pictures of yourself, reflections, and especially the ones that aren't quote-unquote, showing your good side right. It's when we hide from ourselves that any picture, any photo, any reflection is jarring because it doesn't meet up with who we want to look like. It is keeping us out of that present moment of who we are and holding, you know, this unattainable standard as the goal. So I think it's really brave and really inspirational that you're doing it and that you're also explaining it Like I really love how you know. Usually in your caption you'll say I'm posting this. Even I think you've even said a couple of times like I don't like this picture, but I'm posting it because I know that I need to do this Right and I think that it's that that's really helpful.

Jenn Salib Huber:

How do you see your work as a kindergarten teacher? How do you see this work around body diversity and inclusion showing up in younger children? Like, is it? Is it any different than when we were young? I'm assuming we're about the same age. Is it any different than when we were young, or is it the same?

Christina Testut:

I think it shows up in different ways maybe than when we were younger, you know, but the diet culture is still very, you know, running rampant, rampant and very it's there. And something that I noticed ever since I tried to step away from diet culture is that I am more aware of it more than I ever was before. Like, in the very beginning, I couldn't listen to certain commercials on the radio. I would have to turn the volume down because it would like trigger me, because it was a weight loss commercial about you know how bad you probably look right now you need to get to fix yourself, you know. Or a commercial on TV I would have to change the channel. Like, now I'm to the point where I don't have to do those things. I'm just able to say that's BS and I don't need to listen to that, you know, whatever it's the background noise, you know. But I'm so aware of it in everything now that I know when I was deep into diet culture I would have never realized it before. So I see it in books and never would have realized that before.

Christina Testut:

I see it in children's books, you know.

Christina Testut:

Most recently, I'm sure you saw on my Instagram there was a book in the curriculum for kindergarten a new curriculum for us so I never saw the book before, I never heard of it before until I got to this unit.

Christina Testut:

We were in about being a happy, healthier me and I just I couldn't believe that this book was in here talking about how you should do aerobic exercise to burn calories. And I had to read this to four and five year olds and it upset me that, even though my admin is supportive and they understood and you know they gave me permission to, you know, leave pages out or give my own comments about things, what other schools all around the city who are using this program in other states, whose teachers may not be hearing the message because they were like me several years ago, who never would have heard the message either? Those children are sitting and listening to this and I know not every child is going to be affected by it, but it only takes one child to hear that message and you know, let it stick with them and messages stuck with me when I was younger. It's possible.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And we know that schools, peers, home media when all of the messages are being reinforced, it really does become a core belief. Right, you know, and four and five year olds are incredibly impressionable, which can be wonderful, but it can also mean that you know their sense of right, wrong, good, bad might extend to things like their bodies.

Christina Testut:

Yeah.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And it's. You know it's very difficult, I think, in this day and age, with media especially and social media and all of the different sources of information you know, for one voice to stand above the rest, which you know, in some ways that's what we want. We want messages to be reinforced from home and school and peers and media. But when those messages are potentially damaging and that's what I think people don't realize is that when we're talking about calories and it's why so many nutrition professionals are generally against things like calorie counts on restaurants and then things like that is because they don't motivate people to make quote unquote better decisions as a long term health strategy. Yeah, they simply shame them into making what they think is the best decision in that moment, right, but it's not actually a health promotion strategy. So when we're teaching kids about calories, it has no context for them, right, it has. They have no idea what that actually means. It's just a word, but that word becomes internalized and they all of a sudden then hear mom or dad talking about calories and they now see calorie counts on, you know, restaurants, menus, and they start to realize that, oh, maybe less is more, and that's how we we indoctrinate kids, unfortunately into diet culture. Yeah.

Jenn Salib Huber:

So how do we change it? Because that's kind of one of your missions, right is that you want to start changing the narrative. So how are you? How do you? Where do you see a window? As a teacher, as a parent, where do you see that window? I?

Christina Testut:

mean just to keep using my voice, like I don't think it's something that can be fixed alone, just by me, and I don't think that I can do it overnight. But I do think that the more I use my voice, at least I can make change in my own community and then that maybe would be a ripple effect. You know, also using my voice in front of my children, or teaching my children differently and showing them you know that fat isn't bad and there's all different types of bodies and you know health does not equal a body size. Like all those messages I was never taught and that I didn't really learn until in my 40s. You know I don't want my kids to wait till their 40s to learn this message.

Christina Testut:

So my hope is that by me using my voice to my students, to my colleagues, to my own children, that they'll be a ripple effect and they will go on and share the message. You know, even if it's one child sharing the message and another child shares the message. You know, and that's my hope for my book to you know, my book. Speaking to children about my book, I always try to give some of these you know messages when they ask me questions About the pictures or the illustrations or what does feature mean and all those things like. I'm hoping my book is a way to try to make some change somewhere.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, well, tell us about the book. So you mentioned that it came out of this. Yeah, this Instagram post.

Christina Testut:

But tell us more about it here. I love it. So I wanted children to see themselves inside the book with all the different features like so we talk about hair and nose and eyes and skin and body type, and I wanted them to be able to say, oh, I have that feature or I have a feature similar to that and yeah, I like my feature. Or yeah, I sometimes feel that way about my feature too. But hopefully the book teaches them that they don't need to feel that negative feeling anymore. As much as it's for children, it's a colorful picture book. You know the words try to interest the children, you know, and make them understand. It's for adults too, like I really truly believe that when an adult hears the words, reading it alongside their children, that there's some kind of inner healing being done. So the message in the book is basically that nothing, no part of us, is a flaw. They're features that make us one of a kind and make us who we are. And I also make a point of saying but our features are not the most important thing about us either. The most important thing about us is the way we treat other people. Kindness, empathy, compassion, those are the things that make you truly glow, and one of my favorite pages is this page.

Christina Testut:

I know some people may not be seeing it when you post it, but you see it. It says embracing your features can change the world. It teaches others that it's okay to be themselves too, just like you. You are enough, you are worthy exactly as you are. And that's my whole point of writing the book. My whole point of posting things on social media is I'm hoping that when people see me embrace my features, especially after being put on a pedestal for losing weight, and they see that now I'm embracing who I am, even though I'm not that weight loss success story that I am showing them they could do it too, that they can embrace their features too. And again, hopefully there's that ripple effect.

Jenn Salib Huber:

That's wonderful. Well, I think that that is the perfect place for us to land. So if people want to buy your book, where is the best place for them to look? And we'll put that in the show notes, but you can also just share it now.

Christina Testut:

Sure, I have a website, wwwembraceyourfeaturescom, and there's a direct link to buy the book there. But they can find it on Amazon, BarnesandNoblecom basically anywhere where books are sold online. If they just put Embrace your Features into the search, they'll be able to find it.

Jenn Salib Huber:

That's amazing. Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for writing the book, and I think that one story at a time is how we make that change. So what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?

Christina Testut:

Definitely grace, definitely acceptance. I was told my whole life wait till you get to menopause. If you think losing weight and maintaining weight is hard, now wait till you get to menopause. So it was always something to fear. I felt Like when you hit menopause, your life is over, basically. And I think that if we go into menopause embracing all that comes our way, accepting ourselves and giving ourselves grace, I think that we could go through it in a much more, you know, peaceful, calm way, instead of fearing it. You know, that's another thing that I say in my book too. Your body's meant to change and grow. That's a message for kids and adults alike.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And adults.

Christina Testut:

Right, yeah, that was one of the reasons why I put it in there, because I knew that children and adults can relate to it Children going into puberty, getting taller, gaining weight and then menopause, body changing. You know, I feel like if there was more acceptance to you know getting older and appreciation for getting older, that we would all just be a little bit more at peace with ourselves.

Jenn Salib Huber:

I agree wholeheartedly. So thank you for that, thank you for this conversation, thank you for writing the book, and I'm sure that your story will inspire lots of people who are listening, so thanks for your time.

Christina Testut:

Thanks so much, thank you.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast. For more non-diet, health, hormone and general midlife support, click the link in the show notes to learn how you can work and learn from me. And if you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful, please consider leaving a review or subscribing, because it helps other women just like you find us and feel supported in midlife.