Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thin or happy? It might really be a choice

A book called Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon is causing big shifts for me. It promotes accepting all bodies regardless of size and making health the priority instead of thinness. One of my favorite parts of her book is the description of a study that took two groups of women and put them on different programs.

The conventional program included:
  • Restricting fat and calorie intake
  • Keeping a food diary
  • Weekly weigh-ins
  • Walking and other exercise
  • Counting fat grams
  • Learning to read food labels
The Health At Every Size (HAES) program included:
  • Learning to accept their bodies just as they were
  • Exercising in ways that were fun
  • Embracing intuitive eating:  eat whatever you want, whenever you want, without restriction or guilt, but also listen to your body and only eat what your body is truly asking for. Eat when hungry, stop when full. 
  • Self-nurture with the focus on health, not weight.
After six months, the conventionally dieting group
  • Lost weight
  • Gained that weight back
  • Felt much lower self esteem than at the beginning of the study
The HAES group
  • No longer struggled with food issues
  • Had moved from dieting to intuitive eating (free to eat what they wanted, when they wanted it)
  • Had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Had increased energy and felt much better about their bodies. 
The women in both studies were pretty much the same size as when they started, but the HAES women were much happier. I'm taking that story to heart.

Health At Every Size, as the title suggests, promotes feeling happy and healthy no matter what size you are. It encourages us to let go of the goal of thinness and accept our bodies exactly as they are today. Yes, that means a hell of a lot of self-esteem building for many of us, but that's the point. This book makes the case that permanent, significant weight loss is a myth, so choose happiness over chasing the weight on your drivers license (for me that's 125 pounds - ridiculous).

I never would have read this book and would still be mucking around in my self-loathing and no-wheat obsession, if I hadn't had a major breakthough in healing my low self-esteem last year. Doing that is different for everyone (for me it involved years of various kinds of mind, body and mind-body therapies), but if you're ready to break the belief that your body needs major improvement and always will, I strongly recommend books like Linda Bacon's Health At Every Size and Kate Harding's Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Stop Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body."

Many of us say, "It's unfair that the weight goes on so much more easily than it comes off." I say, no, it's NOT unfair that the weight goes on more easily than it comes off. It's unfair that American culture has vilified that natural tendency and taught us to hate our bodies for doing it. It's unfair that Americans market sugar and fat to each other and get ourselves hooked on it just to make a buck. And it's unfair that powerful, beautiful, brilliant people are hampered by the fear that we're fat and ugly. We burn so much precious energy worrying about our weight when there's nothing wrong with our weight. We've been brainwashed from childhood to believe our bodies are flawed.

For anyone who wants to argue that being fatter means being less healthy, see the following links (being so fat that you have mobility issues is another story, but the majority of Americans are not in danger of disease and death because of their size alone):

Recipe for a long life: overweight people have LOWER death risk
Obese and healthy: not all overweight people need to worry
Top Ten Reasons Why the BMI is Bogus
Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic? (PDF)
Et cetera...

For those of us who happen to have health challenges AND are fat, I don't believe the fat is the cause of the disease. I believe there's no causative relationship between, say fatness and diabetes or fatness and heart disease. I believe a problem with glucose regulation underlies diabetes, fatness and heart disease. The problems are correlative, not causative.

The scientific data to back up the assertion that fat can be healthy is there, we just have to be willing to listen. Now that I'm listening, I'm able to consider a question like, "What if there really were a choice between thin-and-miserable or chubby-and-happy? How would I want to live?" If I take off my American thin-is-superior goggles and realize that all bodies are equally good, the answer is stupidly clear: I'd rather be happy! All bodies being equal (and they are), take the happy option, people! Here's the HAES website.

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