Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of using my social media platforms to promote the idea that there is an alternative to spending your life devoted to dieting and shrinking your body. When I talk about the concepts of Health At Every Size, body liberation, and intuitive eating, I get the same few questions again and again. Today I’m going to be answering the most frequently asked questions. I hope you find this helpful!
What if my doctor is telling me to lose weight for health reasons?
Every single medical condition that exists happens to people in thin bodies AND fat bodies. A doctor telling you that weight loss is the answer is a lazy answer and also pretty concerning considering that there is not a single study out there proven to help people lose weight long term. The majority of people (on ANY diet) gain the weight back plus more by the 2-5 year mark. And yo-yo fluctuations cause all the medical concerns we associate with fat people. Weight cycling, one of the most common outcomes of dieting, causes diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. If you were to stay consistently at a higher weight rather than diet again and again, you’d likely be a lot healthier.
You CAN choose to pursue improved health SEPARATE from weight loss and a number on the scale. You want to add movement and exercise into your life? Add more vegetables and fruits? Decrease the stress in your life? Cool. Those are all health improving behaviors that you can do that have nothing to do with the number on a scale.
There is no safe way to diet and none that actually works long-term. It’s like the doctor telling you, “I have a medication to help you and it has a 5% success rate.” Would you feel comfortable or would you run like hell? I’d personally run!
Here are some blog posts with tips for dealing with the doctor. And by the way, doctors take ONE class on nutrition throughout their entire schooling so you should most definitely not be comfortable taking nutrition advice from a doctor. See a (non diet) registered dietitian as they’re the ones who actually went to school for it.
Is body positivity promoting the “obesity epidemic”?
Body positivity is a social justice movement designed to make the world safer for people in marginalized bodies. Fat people receiving representation (being on the cover of a magazine for example) is literally just about them deserving to be seen and represented just like any other human being. Fat people do not need to hide in their bedrooms because their bodies make you uncomfortable. If they want to post a picture of themselves in a bikini or enjoying pizza, they should be able to do that safely and freely like anyone else. They’re not telling you to be fat like them, they’re literally just doing what thin people do every single day so I’d challenge you to dig deep and examine your own fatphobia which is usually disguised by faux “health concerns” when in actuality, you’re just uncomfortable with fat people because we live in a world that teaches us fat=bad.
We need to stop assuming that being fat= unhealthy. How many thin people do you know who eat fast food daily and never exercise but no one is so terrified for their health because they’re thin. Stop. And no one ever owes you “health.” People, healthy or unhealthy, deserve respect.
But I’m addicted to sugar and I can’t stop eating it when I start. Don’t I have to avoid it?
This is the research that “proved” sugar addiction was real: they starved a bunch of rodents and then gave them sugar. Guess what happened? They couldn’t stop eating the sugar. Surprise! When they actually fed the rodents, they were totally fine when presented with sugar. In a culture where we are taught that sugar is bad and poisonous, it’s no wonder people feel out of control around it. The best way to ensure someone will feel out of control around a food is by restricting it.
Another way people decided that sugar was addicting was they found the pleasure receptors light up in the brain when we eat sugar, just like people on cocaine. But those same receptors light up when mothers hold their children or when people listen to music. And I’m pretty sure no one will claim mothers are addicted to holding their children or you can be addicted to listening to music. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying food and receiving pleasure from it. It helps us survive and get the energy we need to live our best lives.
Here are some articles linking to research and more information around the myth of sugar addiction.
Isn’t it so unhealthy to eat xxxxx (insert latest vilified food here)?
No single food has the power to kill you unless you’re allergic to it or it’s poisoned. When you tune into your body, you might notice that certain foods will make you feel better than others but if you’re eating a variety of foods, you are probably just fine. Having a set of guidelines and rules telling us what we can and cannot eat can feel soothing. We turn to diets to feel better about ourselves. To make us feel like we’re fixing something and isn’t it nice and safe when we have a set of clear-cut rules to follow? It often seems easier to do that then work on trusting ourselves and our bodies. But your body isn’t a problem and the wellness industry has us obsessing over every little thing and all that worry and stress is likely what’s actually unhealthy!
Isn’t being fat unhealthy?
Studies can link negative health to being “obese” all they want but you can’t separate weight stigma from health. Fat people are subjected to discrimination on a regular basis; via employment, the healthcare system, and education, just to name a few areas. Of course that will impact health!
Even if we knew for certain that being fat was unhealthy (but remember that correlation does NOT equal causation), we still know that diets don’t work for the vast majority and often cause more weight gain by the 5 year mark.
And remember that so much of what we’ve learned about weight is funded by diet companies and the $70 billion diet industry (read Body of Truth or Health At Every Size for more information). But what does it really mean to be healthy? Our definition of health is pretty different than the diet industry’s version. Diet culture wants us to think that health is about cleanses, detoxes, abstinence from entire food groups and if you achieve the “success” of thinness, than somehow you are healthy. But diet culture doesn’t take into account mental health, connection, and relationships which are all essential parts of health. If you find that you’re constantly prioritizing your workout to earn permission to eat over seeing friends, unable to eat at social events because the food isn’t “clean” enough, or counting calories, grams, points and macros instead of tuning into your body’s cues, I would question how those things are healthy.
Health means flexibility, feeling comfortable eating a variety of foods, not feeling guilt or anxiety over food choices, exercising because it improves quality of life rather than it being about earning permission to eat, and tuning into your body and making decisions from a place of wanting to feel good as opposed to making decisions from an outside diet source telling you that you shouldn’t be trusting yourself.
And let’s not forget that we come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes- health is not a specific BMI or a number on the scale- it’s so much more complex than that. We cannot determine how healthy someone is based on their body size. More importantly, health is not a moral obligation and people deal with all kinds of health issues in all kinds of bodies.
What terms should we use to describe bodies?
I don’t use the word “obese” here to describe bodies because it’s a stigmatizing word and literally translates to “having eaten until fat” in Latin. The BMI is also complete garbage (I talk more about that here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BrL8B5BBocs/). Overweight is also another word that’s problematic because over what weight? Larger bodied or fat are the words I prefer. Fat is a neutral descriptor like tall or short, even in a world that likes to make fat into an evil, curse word. That’s not to say that you need to be comfortable describing yourself as fat but other people are working toward reclaiming the word “fat.”
View at Medium.com
If you’re looking for more in depth research and information on any of these topics, here’s a blog post I wrote sharing some of my favorite podcasts, books, and websites on the subject.