The obesity epidemic is a hot topic. So is weight loss or the “battle of the bulge”. In fact, the idea that losing weight is good for your health is so widely accepted that most of us never question it. It’s normal to get weighed during a trip to the doctor and any weight gain could result in a stern Yet what’s the science behind all of this? Is being thin really better for our health?
There is a growing movement of body positivity that is embracing all body shapes and sizes, but before #bopo became a social media phenomenon there was the Health at Every Size movement. The Health at Every Size or HAES movement takes what is called a “weight neutral” approach and look skeptically at some of our assumptions about weight and the benefits of being thin. We are all aware that obesity rates are linked to type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke and a variety of other health problems. Yet the HAES movement asks us, is it the weight or our lifestyle choices that are causing these problems? And, if we know that diets don’t work for the majority of people (30-40% of people gain back all the weight they lost within 1 year and within 2-5 years 90+ percent of people regained all weight lost plus additional weight) why do we keep trying the same diets over and over again? Traditional weight-loss approaches suggest that losing weight is the only way to be healthy, that weight loss will prolong life and that obesity is a life-threatening condition. Yet traditional weight loss approaches are often not sustainable (do you really want to go without carbs for the rest of your life?”) and don’t consider teaching you how to care for your unique body or all of the factors contribute to health that has nothing to do with your weight.
When we focus on weight as an indication of health, we’re really missing the mark. Your weight is not an indication of your cardiovascular strength, stress levels, blood pressure or any of the other things that indicate “health”. It’s a number on a scale. To focus on health, we have to start looking at weight as a possible product of lifestyle choices not a goal unto itself. If a person loses weight by starving themselves or yo-yo dieting that’s not an indication of health, nor is it sustainable. Because the reality is that all of us have a “set point” weight. This means that our weight naturally wants to be at a certain number and just like your height it’s genetically predetermined. So, you could be “overweight” but have an active lifestyle, eat in a way that is healthy and sustainable and have great cholesterol levels. Does that mean you’re “unhealthy”? Should you start crash dieting to lose weight? Of course not. But when we focus on weight or body size as the only indication of health, we lose track of all the complex factors that make a person “healthy”.
Of course, I don’t want to deny the reality of the number of individuals who do struggle with their weight and associated health problems. I just don’t think that focusing on weight exclusively or shaming people improves health. We must start asking ourselves if the weight is the problem or our lifestyle choices. If a person loses weight because they begin moving their body and reducing binge-eating it’s the behaviors that are making them healthier, not just the weight loss. For a long term, sustainable health I truly believe we must stop focusing on controlling and hating our bodies (which often happens when we’re dieting or trying to control our weight) and start moving and feeding our bodies in ways that are respectful and loving to our bodies. This may seem like an impossible challenge if you’re struggling with accepting your body. Yet we can’t hate our bodies into health and it’s difficult to care for a body you don’t like. By starting to take small steps to start to listen to your body you’ll notice that your body wants to move and be fed in a way that can promote your best, healthiest body. Below is the contract for health Dr. Linda Bacon made from her book “Health At Every Size” I think it’s good food for thought for anyone who wants to have a better relationship with their body.
Today, I will try to feed myself when I am hungry.
Today, I will try to be attentive to how foods taste and make me feel.
Today, I will try to choose foods that I like and that make me feel good.
Today, I will try to honor my body’s signals of fullness.
Today, I will try to find an enjoyable way to move my body.
Today, I will try to look kindly at my body and to treat it with love and respect.
To learn more about HAES check out Dr. Linda Bacon’s book Health At Every Size or you can visit the Association for Size Diversity Website.
I’d love to hear your comments below!