We’re suffering from another health crisis.
“Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat,” says Lindo Bacon, an author, researcher and professor.
So what’s driving this war on our bodies?
It’s diet culture’s weight-centric portrayal of wellness: Thin equals healthy and its solution is “dieting.”
The body hate/diet cycle
It begins when you compare your body with health and fitness culture’s unrealistic, perfectionist body ideals. You “feel unhealthy,” dislike your body and/or “feel fat.”
Then, when you most likely don’t measure up (because only 5% of women naturally possess the body type that diet culture models as healthy), you fall prey to diet culture’s solution: the latest eating plan to “fix” your body. You choose a diet that restricts what, when or how much to eat.
At first you “feel better” — lose weight. It’s “working.” Until it’s not. Eventually you feel deprived and struggle.
Then the “diet backlash” kicks in, and you crave the “bad” and “forbidden” foods or you just feel hungry. You “fall off the wagon” and “cheat.” You feel guilt, shame, frustration for not having enough willpower, and you judge yourself as the failure, rather than the restrictive approach.
The months pass and you regain some, all or even more weight than you began with. Then it’s back in body hate. You repeat, hoping the next newest plan will work and you’ll be one of the 5% of dieters (the unicorns) who can change your body size permanently — sustain it.
Thus, you remain stuck in the body hate/diet cycle, year after year, passing it down, generation after generation, leading you to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough, unhealthy.
It’s a helluva business plan. By 2025 the worldwide weight management market profits are expected to reach $442.3 billion, according to GrandViewResearch.com.
The good news is there’s an antidote to this body hate/diet madness. We stop believing thin is always healthy and fat is always bad and explore new health paradigms.
Reexamine the evidence
In “Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight — and What We Can Do About It,” author Harriet Brown encourages us to think critically about the scientific research on weight science, because “some of the contradictory findings on weight reflect our incomplete understanding of highly complex mechanisms and systems.”
The “complexity doesn’t come across very well in headlines or sound bites,” she writes, so the “nuances of the research on weight and health often get lost in the rhetoric.”
In her book, Brown breaks downs the “Four Big Fat Lies About Weight and Health”: Americans are getting fatter and fatter; obesity can take a decade or more off your life; being fat causes heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and other serious illnesses; and dieting makes us thinner and healthier.”
Dr. Bacon concurs: “The misconceptions around weight science are astounding.”
In “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift,” published in Nutrition Journal, Bacon and Lucy Aphramor detail how our current weight-centric model of health is ineffective in producing healthier bodies.
And not only that, it may have unintended consequences, they write, “contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrement, and weight stigmatization and discrimination.”
If you think your body is the problem and diets are the solution, I ask you to think critically and to remember that it’s diet culture that’s driving and profiting off these assumptions and to explore alternate approaches to wellness.
A new wellness approach to consider
In “What If Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss,” published July 1 on ScientificAmerican.com, Virginia Sole-Smith breaks down how focusing on body size isn’t making people healthier. Because “research has shown that it is the behaviors people practice — not the size of their bodies — that have the biggest impact on mortality,” some clinicians are trying a weight-neutral approach called Health at Every Size, or HAES.
Health at Every Size, trademarked and founded by the Association of Size Diversity and Health, is an anti-diet approach to health care. It’s known as the “new peace movement,” because it stops the war on bodies and defines health in a more inclusive way.
HAES eliminates weight stigma, respects diversity and focuses on compassionate self-care, such as “finding the joy in one’s body and being physically active and eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, while respecting the social conditions that frame eating options,” according to Bacon and Aphramor in “Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight.”
Sole-Smith describes the impact of having a doctor who removes weight from health care as “literally life-changing.”
You can heal from this health crisis.
You don’t have to be at war with your body — stuck in the body hate/restriction cycle — to take care of your health.
You deserve peace and food and body freedom.
Be critical of weight science. Be open to new health paradigms.
Be a rebel.