Christy Harrison and I have known each other for a few years now. I have designed a few things for her, but today we’re going to be talking about podcasting. Christy Harrison is the creator of the Food Psych podcast. In each episode, Christy talks with inspiring guests—including health and psychology professionals, anti-diet activists, and leaders in the body-positive movement—about their relationships with food, journeys to body image healing and fat acceptance, and experiences of recovery from weight stigma and eating disorders. This podcast calls out diet culture for the life thief that it is, and challenges it in all its sneaky forms—including the restrictive behaviors that often masquerade as wellness and fitness.
Christy: I’m so happy to be here. I am Christy Harrison. I am an intuitive eating coach and anti-diet dietitian. That means I help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies, make peace with food, give up dieting, come off this disordered eating rollercoaster that so many of us are on in this culture and really break free from all that and reclaim their lives for bigger and better things. I do that through my podcast, which is called Food Psych, and I also do that through one-on-one coaching and online courses. I’m not doing as much as the one-on-one coaching anymore. Actually now, it’s mostly group work with the online courses that I teach. I wrote a book as well, and that’s going to be coming out in January of 2020. My first career was as a journalist and I started doing all this work in a journalistic capacity and then went back to school to become a dietitian. Now I have bridged the two careers in my podcast and in my other work.
Jess: I love it. I don’t think I knew that you used to be a journalist. That’s so cool to see now how you’ve married the two with the podcast. I love that. I’d love to start with what made you want to start a podcast? Were you blogging before that and then decided, I needed to do something else or what was that kickoff like?
Christy: That’s actually interesting that you ask whether I was blogging because I was a journalist so I worked for other magazines, newspapers, websites and got paid to do that work and writing was my job and editing as well is my job. I was doing that from about 2002 onward professionally. As the internet started to become more and more of a thing, some of my editors at places I worked were like, “Oh, you got to blog. We got to have a blog.” Everyone on staff has to blog. It was just the bane of my existence, and I and many other journalists I knew were just like, “Oh, this blogging thing is terrible. Why is everybody forcing us to blog?” I adamantly did not want to blog. Writing is work for me. It’s not fun. I don’t see the point in starting my own blog because I already have all these clips and background as a journalist. I don’t need to prove myself so no point in blogging.
I just had such a block against it, but then I went back to school to become a dietitian, and I was still freelancing, doing freelance writing and editing on the side while I was in school. I also started working at a city agency, the local health department doing nutrition policy work. Suddenly, most of my days were taken up with all these numbers and spreadsheets and looking at really detailed scientific research, doing literature reviews and stuff like that to help implement or craft policy for this agency. Suddenly the creative aspect of my life and career was just completely nonexistent. I didn’t feel, even though I was doing occasional freelance writing at that point, but I think when I first started working for the agency, I didn’t really put much time into that because I was trying to do this career change and shift over into new being a nutritionist and getting up to speed on what it was like to work for the city agency and stuff so I let that go a little bit.
I started to feel really creatively unfulfilled and had this longing to do something creative again. Meanwhile, I was listening to a lot of podcasts at the time. I had a long commute. I would listen to podcasts on the subway there and back. I would listen to podcasts at my desk, sometimes all day long at work because I’d be doing spreadsheet and number type work that lent itself well to having something going in the background. I was really digging podcast, and they were helping me a lot not only that dose of creativity and fun comes with listening to a lot of comedy podcasts, but a lot of those comedy podcasts actually deal with really deep stuff like WTF with Marc Maron, You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes. Comedy Bang! Bang! even was not really a deep one but had some really interesting stuff.
I just started to get the bug of I want to do this, and especially the interview podcast really inspired me. I have the skills to do this as a journalist. I know how to talk to people. I know how to interview. I think I’d be good at this. The aspect of my writing career that was missing at the time was this idea of food culture, people’s relationships with food, connecting over food, but also the weird issues that we all have with food in this culture. I myself had struggled with disordered eating for many years and was not really out about it or even open about it with anyone other than my therapist at the time. I had this idea that just as …
I don’t know if people are familiar with Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, but he talks to people about really deep issues and a lot of times addiction that they’ve gone through because he’s also a recovering addict and has stories about that so he connects with people over that. I really resonated with that way of talking about deeper issues than I thought. Maybe I can be like the Marc Maron of food podcasts. I can do this, take this format, and create a food podcast around it, a podcast talking to people about their food issues. That’s how Food Psych was born, was just as a side project while I was working for the city department of health in my spare time trying to get that creative outlet that I really needed.
What would you say was the hardest part of getting started with the Food Psych podcast and how did you deal with it?
Christy: I think for me, the hardest part, and I think probably for a lot of people assigned female at birth as well, was getting over my own self-consciousness, getting the self-confidence to do it, really just hearing myself speak and having to listen back to myself. I did my own editing at the beginning because I wasn’t paying anyone to do it. I wasn’t making this a business or anything at first. I was like, okay, I’m going to teach myself to record these. I’m going to teach myself to edit them, which took a million hours a week. It was so exhausting. Through that process of having to listen to myself, I got really self-conscious.
I banked a bunch of episodes for six months before I even started releasing them because I wanted to get good at recording, get good at editing and stuff. I had this six-month period before the launch where I was editing these things and listening to myself constantly and feeling like, oh my, God, do I even want to start this podcast? Do I even have what it takes? Just really critical of myself, really down on my vocal ticks and whatever, perceived lack of confidence and stuff. I think going through that process, I actually ended up working with a vocal coach because not only was I down on myself about my vocal ticks, but I also was having a lot of pain in my voice, my throat and stuff. It would get very sore and tired at the end of interviewing or doing a long intro or outro. I need some help with the vocal technique, but also maybe this will give me more confidence in my podcasting.
Thankfully, I stumbled on this amazing vocal coach, who is a total feminist, ended up becoming a friend, really resonated with what I was trying to do with the podcast and has her own whole story about her own relationship with food that she ended up sharing on my podcast later. She had a lot of insight into why women and people assigned female at birth really silence ourselves and why we have these certain vocal ticks and things that we do to undercut ourselves and to track from our power because that’s what we’re taught, because that’s what we learned growing up in this patriarchal culture. Working with her was really helpful in just not only helping me have less pain in my voice but helping me come into my own and appreciate my vocal stylings and appreciate what I had to say and not get in my own way as much with speaking.
Jess: I love that you weren’t afraid to reach out for help. Instead of being like, well, my voice really hurts and so I’m going to stop podcasting. You were like, I want to do this so I’m going to figure out a way to make it better and make it work. I especially love when you said you were doing a lot of episodes at first because you wanted to get better and banking all that content because, one, you were working ahead. My type A personality loves that. Also, practice, I don’t want to say practice makes perfect but it helps us make progress. When I was early on in my video journey with my YouTube channel, I at first did some videos. I would do maybe one or two at a time. I wasn’t really batching that far ahead, but then about three months in, I did this challenge where you’re supposed to make a video every single day for an entire month. I was crazy and took it on and decided, okay, I’m going to make all these videos.
Jess: It was a drastic difference from the first day of the challenge to the 31st day. I didn’t realize how much doing something so much in just a short amount of time was going to help me get better. Obviously, I thought like, oh, the more I do this, obviously the longer I have my YouTube channel, the better I will get. I didn’t consider the fact that doing 30 or 31 videos in one month was going to make such a big difference. It would have taken me even longer to get better at video if I hadn’t done that challenge. I think that’s something we have to consider, whether it’s podcasting or video, is practicing a lot. That’s something even I tell my clients and my students, if you just want to practice, record videos and don’t post them. Just practice if you … I just post them on my YouTube channel. I didn’t care. I wasn’t just practicing. I was actually teaching stuff. If you just want to practice podcasting or YouTube, there’s nothing that says you actually have to share it. Interview a friend or someone and don’t even post it for anybody. Just practice interviewing people.
Christy: Yeah. It’s so powerful, that practice, totally. I feel the same way. That summer, whatever it was, spring and summer that I spent getting ready for the podcast to launch was so instructive and so helpful so that by the time I launched, yes, I was sharing a lot of those early ones still because I had them ready. I had to have them come out, but by the time I actually had launched and was starting to record new episodes, I feel like I was so far ahead of where I had started because I just gave myself that time to practice, gave myself that time to refine what I had and figured out a format and figure out what worked for me.
I think when I started out, I had these grand ideas of being this American life where there are multiple segments and interstitials in between and it was just so ambitious and just ridiculous. I learned that through doing it. I was like, oh, I can’t actually record hour-long interviews and edit them down into 20 minutes and have two of them and do all the intro and outro and interstitial stuff every single week because I’m going to die. That was just not possible. I think people probably would have told me I was ambitious when I first started it, but I had a couple of friends who were radio professionals who were like, yeah, it sounds great. I’m like, oh, I get now why they thought it was great, but probably other people would have thought I was totally bananas.
Jess: It’s important I think to figure out what works for you and trying different things. Whatever format works for you, roll with that. There’s nothing that says you have to do it a certain way for a certain amount of time or whatever. I would love to hear how it’s impacted you personally and your business, whether it’s your email list, your course, or clients.
Christy: Absolutely. It’s been so amazing to see the transformation with it because I started in 2013. March of 2013 is when I started recording and doing all this behind the scenes work, and then I launched it in September of 2013. We’re now talking in the summer of 2019 so it’s been about six years, almost six years since I launched it, and six and a half since I started it. It was a completely different animal when I first started it. Like I said, it was really for a creative outlet and it was to try to talk to people about these issues that I had experienced that I was curious about and interested in.
I actually also had a book proposal that I was working on before this, back in 2010, that I never ended up doing anything with. I never ended up finishing the proposal, but it was about a cultural history of emotional eating. All that those ideas and that research was still in my mind, and I thought maybe the podcast could be a home for flushing this out, discussing this. Maybe eventually I would end up writing that book or get some more research for that book or whatever through the podcast. That was the main impetus for starting. It was a journalistic and creative pursuit.
As time went on and I was becoming a dietitian at this point, I started the podcast I think at the end of my training. I was in my internship semester and then I was going to be done and go out into the world as a dietitian. Soon thereafter, I started my private practice. A year into my podcast, I started my private practice and realized that the podcast could be a great adjunct to the practice, both as a way to market my services and tell people about myself and have little ads for my business on the podcast and also as a way for people who are already seeing me as clients to get more support between sessions. I started to think of it in that way, which was a very different thing.
Actually, in the second season, I also started to focus more specifically on eating disorder recovery as opposed to just general relationships with food. Because I noticed in the first season, a lot of people talked about disordered eating, talked about issues they had with food, but I wasn’t gearing it towards recovery specific messages or picking guests who were recovery professionals or people who had already recovered or were recovering. It was more people who are in it, which was a bit problematic as I started to see when I started working with eating disorders. I wanted it to shift in this direction of more service oriented, something that my clients could benefit from. I made that the theme in the second season.
In the third season, I ended up focusing on health at every size because that was something that I was learning a lot about and going to conferences for eating disorders, eating disorder conferences and trainings and realizing that that was a missing piece in a lot of eating disorder treatment and wanting to put the word out about it because what I saw in some of the eating disorder treatment centers that I worked with was that while health at every size … and for people who don’t know. That’s a philosophy that is weight inclusive, weight neutral. It doesn’t say that people need to lose weight for their health or that there’s anything wrong with being at a higher weight. It’s that people of all sizes can take care of their health through evidence-based behaviors and practices if they have the capacity and the resources to do so. Actually telling people to lose weight and dieting is actually worse for people’s health than staying at a higher weight and learning these self-care behaviors.
I was learning all this evidence for health at every size and as to why that was a best practice philosophy in the treatment of eating disorders, but then seeing in the treatment centers that I worked with that a lot of professionals were not practicing that way. There’s a lot of weight stigma that people were … and as the outpatient dietitian where I’d be coordinating care with these intensive outpatient facilities or partial hospitalization programs. Working with their in-house dietitian, sometimes I’d hear the most fat phobic things said, like ask her if she really needs that evening snack about a person in a larger body. Can you steer him towards less calorically dense foods? These are people who are recovering from eating disorders driven by restrictive eating that were caused by dieting.
To hear these dietitians saying this stuff was jaw dropping to me as someone who was relatively new in the field but was absorbing all this science and had all this journalism background too to know how to read the research. I have a master’s in public health as well. Reading the research and like, okay, this is really solid research and the research on dieting and calorie counting is just not there. There’s also a huge body of research showing that dieting is a huge predictor of eating disorders and disordered eating, and that if people are trying to diet or restrict their eating in any way, their recovery rates are much lower, their rates of relapse are much higher.
I really became galvanized, I think, to talk about health at every size in the third season of the podcast because of what I was seeing in these treatment centers and thinking, okay, people need to know about health at every size. I want to help get the word out about it to other providers and also to potential clients who might want to work with me because now this was a way that I was starting to work in my practice and really felt it was important to switch my entire practice completely towards that. That’s when I think the inflection point really happened for my podcast when suddenly it went from a few thousand people to tens of thousands of people listening because it was starting to get shared among eating disorder treatment professionals and people recovering. I think it became … just because I became so much more rooted in health at every size and the anti-diet approach, the messages I was sending were more helpful for people’s recovery, a resource that people would recommend.
That’s when it really became more of a business that I actually started being able to sell ads on the podcast. I started my online course because my private practice actually filled up and I had a waiting list, which was awesome, largely thanks to the podcast. I started this online course and started bringing people in through the podcast. Now four years later or five years later from that, the podcast is the main driver of my business. It’s the starting point where people engage with my work for the first time. They get to know me through the podcast and then they come into my online course or they read my work, my journalistic work or they work with me one on one.
It’s been the fact that the podcast has grown so much and has such a big audience now was a factor in my getting the book deal that I got to write this book. I’m so glad I decided to start the podcast back in the day and that I stuck with it through some of the hard times when it was just so much work and I didn’t have a lot of free time because I never could have expected it to turn into what it is now. It’s such a resource both for my listeners and clients, but also for me too. I feel like it’s been such a great gift to my career and taking me in this direction that resonates with me so much.
Jess: I love that you essentially niched down in that third season and that’s where you saw things start to take off. You were providing value to your clients and your audience and other professionals so that helped also grow the podcast. As I always say on this podcast and on my blog and YouTube channel, providing value through content, whether it’s blog, podcast or video or even just Instagram, that’s what’s going to help you grow the most is when you’re actually providing value and people want to share it and like resonate with what you’re saying. Really it builds that know, like and trust factor, which is super, super important.
What would you say over the last six years has been your favorite part of running the Food Psych podcast?
Christy: I think it’s been connecting with people, connecting with listeners and connecting with my guests too because I don’t get to talk to people in person about these issues all the time. We’re definitely … My community of health at every size and anti-diet advocates is spread out across the country and around the world. We connect a lot online, but getting to have conversations and these one-on-one in-depth conversations. I usually talk to people for an hour, hour and 15 minutes. It’s really juicy and it’s really fun and just getting to know people, colleagues in my field like that has been such a gift, and getting to know listeners and having listeners come into my courses or work with me one on one has been amazing too because I feel like as you mentioned that niching down factor.
I think it has been so helpful for me in terms of finding people who really resonate with me specifically and what I do and what my approach is. Like you said, you don’t have to chase people. I don’t have to feel like I’m shaking down people to come work with me. I have people coming in and saying like, yes, I get what you’re doing. I get what you’re about. I want you to help me with this. I’m ready to work with you. That’s just been so amazing as opposed to the one on one, the in-person practice that I had before with eating disorder recovery. There was a lot more pulling people along and trying to get them to see things from my perspective and a lot more difficulty with that and challenge with that because people weren’t getting into my world through this vehicle of the podcast first.
Jess: It’s so cool to see when we get to connect with people. I don’t think we always think through how much … Obviously, we want to impact people, but I think sometimes we underestimate how much our content can really, really help people. It’s always cool to see that. For all the dietitians and health professionals that are listening and are like, okay, well, maybe I want to start a podcast. Maybe Christy and Jessica have inspired me. What advice would you give to them before they start a podcast?
Christy: I would say just know that it is a lot of work. I’m sure you can attest to that too. A lot of friends of mine have started podcasting and have been like, “Oh, I get it now. Wow, it’s amazing that you’ve been doing it this long because it is so much work.” Yeah, I think just being aware that it’s probably going to be more work and take more time than you think it’s going to take. Try a budget … Budget time accordingly for it. If you can budget for an editor as well, budget for someone to help you with the technical side of things, especially if it’s going to be a part of your business. If you see it as part of your marketing budget, I think that is totally doable. O
On the content side of things, I would say make sure that your topic is something that you feel really excited about and passionate about. Not something that you feel like I have to do this because this is going to bring in business but your heart really isn’t in it. Because I think (a) people can tell. I think the reason that maybe podcasts that are successful and podcasts that bring people in, I don’t know if you feel this way, but certainly for me, I feel like the fact that … The reason that it resonates with people is because of the fact that I care about this content so much and I started it for that reason. I wasn’t even thinking about it as a business at first. It was purely just because I enjoyed it and because I thought this was rich material to delve into.
Jess: Yeah, exactly. You really do have to choose something that you’re passionate about and don’t go into it like, oh, I’m going to make a ton of money from this. I’m going to start a podcast just so I can make money. There are definitely ways to make it easier. If you’re like me, I’m definitely one of those people that if I’m going to do something, I want to do it the right way and get the most mileage out of it. I always tell people, if you just want to be super simple, you can just start with the Anchor app and record your podcast that way, and then that’s it. You don’t even have to worry about editing. I think you can have guests with Anchor, but then there’s also like you have to promote it and put it on your website. These things are optional.
Jess: I have a friend who has a podcast, and she’s been doing it for three or four months now and she doesn’t post her podcast episodes like her show notes and such on her website. She will eventually. She knows she needs to, but right now, it’s just about getting into a rhythm of doing it and that kind of thing. While I would strongly suggest putting your podcast on your website so it reaches more people, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. I think that’s something to think about. How much work you put into it is going to help it go further.
Christy: Yeah, that’s such a good point too that all the collateral stuff you have to do with it like putting it on your website, doing show notes, doing social media around it to promote it, maybe doing a newsletter. All of that is so much extra work. That’s a huge part of the time budget that I’m talking about too. Not just recording or scheduling time to record with people, finding … If you have guests, finding guests you want or if you just do solo episodes, finding topics you want to talk about and then researching those and creating outlines and stuff, but also all the promotional pieces outside of that.
Jess: You mentioned briefly at the beginning of the episode, we’re taking a left turn away from podcasts for a second, that you have a book coming out. Before we wrap up, I’d just love to hear a little bit about the book. You said it’s coming out in January 2020. We have to wait a few months, but at least we can be excited about it. Tell us all about it.
Christy: Yes, we can be excited about and we can pre-order it too. Yeah, it’s exciting. I’m so psyched about the book. It’s really the culmination of so much of the stuff that I’ve been talking about in terms of the anti-diet movement. The book is called Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating. It’s really looking at the problems with dieting, the science behind why diets don’t work and the creation and dissemination of diet culture. I talked to lots of people in the anti-diet and health at every size movement, lots of my colleagues and friends, as well as clients of mine, people that I know who have recovered and more everyday folks. It’s a great resource I think for anyone who’s interested in this movement and maybe struggling in their own relationship with food and wants to heal.
Jess: I love it. I’m so excited. Can’t wait to pre-order. I’d love if you could tell us where we can connect with you, obviously where we can pre-order.
Christy: Yeah, totally. The hub for all my stuff is my website, which is christyharrison.com. You can find my Food Psych podcast on there. There’s a podcast tab. It’s christyharrison.com/foodpsych. To pre-order the book is a little book tab in the navigation or christyharrison.com/book. There I have links to all the different retailers that have it. You can pretty much pre-order it with any major bookseller, and it’ll be in bookstores everywhere on January 7th if you want to pick it up in person. Pre-orders are great because it gets shipped right to your door either the day it drops or sometimes a few days before. I’ve definitely had friends who’ve had books come out that their fans will say, “Oh my, God, I just got mine. Your pub date is not for a couple more days or whatever.” Pre-orders are good for that too, getting a little headstart.
Jess: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here today and sharing your journey as a podcaster.