Why We Have to Stop Equating Body Size with Health
Last night, I saw Fattitude –a documentary about how popular culture fosters fat prejudice. It offers an alternative way of thinking.
In a word, it was amazing. Although I have been immersed in research and information around Health at Every Size and the non-diet approach to nutrition for some time now, this documentary was still eye-opening for me.
It reminded me that we have all been programmed, from childhood, to believe the size of our bodies determines many things in life – our health, our success, our worth. And always that smaller is better, and being fat is bad, sloppy and “unhealthy.” My entire extended family seems to believe this (only because they too are a product of our culture) and pretty much everyone I’ve ever met — up until recently — believes this.
In Fattitude, one of the many examples of this was Disney characters. Take Ariel—the tiny, sweet mermaid who ends up with her prince, and then Ursula, the big mean monstrous, octopus lady who scares everyone. Ariel ended up with the prince out in the world, and Ursula ends up by herself at the bottom of the ocean.
This translates to this message: To be fat means to be mean and scary, and to be thin means to be kind and love-able.
At the end of the documentary, the creator of the film, Lindsey Averill, said she was surprised that no one asked her the “health question.” She said most audiences have someone who asks – “But what about health? Isn’t being fat bad for your health?”
Well, the answer’s no. And this isn’t just my opinion. This is rooted in and based on evidence-based science (Read Health at Every Size if you don’t believe me).
That health question is one I get from people in my everyday life, especially when I explain to them that I am a registered dietitian and yoga teacher, and do not support weight loss as a goal, and will literally never include dieting and/or weight loss as a goal or recommendation for anyone — regardless of size.
And here’s several reasons why:
Every single person has his/her own genetic blueprint – some of us are here in smaller bodies and some of us are here in larger bodies, just like some of us are here with light skin and some of us are here with dark skin. We don’t have control over any of it. If we try to fight our genetics, our bodies will literally fight back, like hell, to be at the weight they were biologically pre-dispositioned to be. This is scientifically factual — it’s called our set-point weight.
Sustained weight loss through dieting is not possible for most people, and the pursuit of it usually leads to weight-cycling and/or a destroyed metabolism. There is ample and strong research to support this.
The pursuit of weight loss and dieting is unhealthier (physically and psychologically) than being fat. A health-centered approach to living life is much more beneficial and healthier than a weight-centered approach. There is strong research to support this.
Dieting behaviors steal and stifle the joy of being alive. It causes rigidity and shame, among other unenjoyable things. And food restriction literally changes our brains on a physiological level, by altering hormones necessary for stable moods and mental functioning.
It can lead to disordered eating behaviors (i.e. excessive exercise, social isolation and preoccupation with food) and full-blown eating disorders. Eating disorders lead to death – literally and/or figuratively.
True health cannot be determined by body size. It is impossible to look at someone and know if they are truly “healthy” or not. There are many facets to the health of a human being, including mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health. Someone can be very mentally/emotionally sick and look “healthy” physically. Eating disorders are actually a perfect example of this — someone can have an eating disorder and be in a larger body, or in a “normal” body.
We fail to step into our power, and to live the lives we truly want to live, if we are distracted by trying to change/control our bodies. We fail to hear and honor the yearnings of our souls. Achieving a certain body size cannot bring us lasting happiness, and it is not interesting or fulfilling (at least not for long).
We can’t feel at home or safe in our bodies if we are always trying to change/control them. Instead, we distrust the body’s innate ability to self-regulate and settle where it’s meant to. When we can’t trust our bodies, how can we trust ourselves in general? If we can’t trust our body’s physical hunger and fullness signals, how can we do the same for our emotional, relational and spiritual hungers and boundaries? How will we be able to hear our intuitions if we spend so much time denouncing and trying to override them?
It perpetuates the false belief that happiness start from the outside, instead of fostering the truth that lasting happiness must come from within.
It feeds into the fucked up cultural idea that being fat means being unhappy, inferior and less beautiful, that being thin means being happy, superior and more beautiful, and that the size of our bodies (or appearance in general) has anything to do with our worth, or who we are as human beings.
I know I’ll keep finding out and realizing more reasons to support the health-centered versus weight-centered approach, but these are what I have for you today. Thanks for reading, and please share your questions, thoughts and insights via my Contact page or in the comments below.
In true health,