As National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2019 continues, I want to share with you some wisdom from the Health at Every Size movement. It has been over a decade since Linda Bacon, PhD published her eye-opening book, “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight“. She has been criticized left and right for revealing that the obesity myth (pushed by healthcare, big pharma, and the diet and fitness industries and which tells us that obesity kills) “gives us permission to call our fear of fat a health concern, rather than naming it as the cultural oppression it is” (p.125). That’s right. She names the obesity myth as a cultural oppression.
And it truly is. In my own recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder and in my counseling practice with clients in recovery, “fat is bad” is a firmly entrenched thought that inflicts significant pain and suffering. This thought contributes to attempts to diet and to persistent self-loathing when the attempts fail. (Click here to learn more about why diets don’t work.) As long as the healthcare, diet, and fitness industries are running the show, they will continue to push their agenda: “Fat is bad. Obesity kills. So, lose weight or die”. And when groups with that much money and influence tell us we will die unless we lose weight, (unfortunately) most of us listen.
As Dr. Bacon puts it, “Encouraging weight loss as our first line of defense or attack is just bad science. Weight loss is not effective for prolonging life or managing many diseases. Furthermore, we don’t have effective methods for maintenance of weight loss, and health may worsen as people lose and regain weight repeatedly. Ironically, the admonition to lose weight may actually have contributed to the very diseases it is prescribed to cure” (pp.156-157). Her take-away message is this: “Let’s switch our emphasis to encouraging health-promoting behaviors for all, and let the fat fall where it may. Everyone, fat and thin, can reduce their risk for health problems by making good lifestyle choices. It’s time for a new peace movement: one that supports people in developing healthy lifestyle habits, regardless of their size. It’s called Health at Every Size” (p.157).
So, how can we support this movement?
We can notice and become aware of our own fat phobia and prejudice.
We can educate ourselves and others about the obesity myth and lack of scientific evidence to support weight loss as a way of preventing or managing disease.
We can remind ourselves again and again that size, shape, and weight are not definitive indicators of health. (Many of us know someone really thin who has high cholesterol or someone considered overweight or obese whose blood glucose and cholesterol are great.)
We can welcome all people into our lives, regardless of size, shape, or weight.
We can promote positive body talk and confront fat shaming when we hear it.
We can show compassion to ourselves and others.
We can teach children how to notice and tend to their emotional needs.
We can learn to exercise in ways that honor our body’s ever-changing physical needs.
We can work within our neighborhoods and communities to make fresh produce and nutrient-rich food accessible for all.
We can contact politicians and make our voices heard when legislation is proposed that contributes to the obesity myth or to “food deserts”.
I’m sure there are many other ways to confront fat phobia and its stigma. Come As You Are…we have a lot of work to do!
Peace, joy, and health,
For more information on the Health At Every Size movement, how to respect your body, and how to support others, check out Dr. Linda Bacon’s Self-Help Resources.