Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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How pregnancy has made me confront my own weight bias

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Two months to go! Photo credit: Randall Andrews

I have a confession to make and I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to write about it because I’m not proud of this. However, I’m taking a deep breath and going for it because I think that it’s important to acknowledge these things.

During the first trimester as I started to gain weight but wasn’t yet obviously pregnant I found myself struggling with the thought that people might think I was *gasp* fat. As someone who has always had a small body I have lived a life rich in thin privilege. Despite my support of HAES and firm belief that people should not be judged by their weight I realized that I wasn’t comfortable extending this mindset to my own body. My body is small, my body has always been small, and therefore, my body should remain small. It’s great for other people to accept their own larger bodies but I, I am ashamed to admit, am not willing to accept that my own body could be anything other than small.

When I would go running at the local indoor track, as my clothes became a little tighter around my belly, I imagined people thinking “good for her, trying to lose weight”. I also imagined people who knew me thinking “looks like she’s not running as much these days”. or passing other judgements on my physique. I was pissed at these people for judging my body. I wanted to wear a sign to tell the world that my imperceptible weight gain was due to the fetus growing inside of me, not because I’m incapable of taming my unruly body. And then I was ashamed and disappointed in myself for not extending the courtesy of body acceptance to my own body as it changed. I was also ashamed because this was how I envisioned others thinking about strangers bodies. Do people really pass these judgements on each other? On themselves? Why did I care what people were (or weren’t) thinking about my body? How have I allowed so much of my identity to be tied to my size? And how self-absorbed of me to presume that others are spending any time judging my body – given the number of people who expressed surprise upon learning I was pregnant when I thought it was pretty obvious people are not nearly as attuned to my body as I imagined. 

As my belly grew and it became more obvious that it contained a tiny human and not just one too many cheeseburgers I became physically less comfortable but mentally more comfortable. People started to compliment me on my “adorable bump”. It feels good to have an acceptable larger body but I’m still carrying that extra guilt around too. It’s not right that women in larger bodies should be shamed while I’m praised for my belly. I truly have no more control over the shape and size of my “bump” as this fetus grows inside me than I have over my height or the size of my feet. 

I truly believe that we do people, particularly women, a disservice by not talking more about how our bodies change over time. It’s as though we all expect to reach a certain size and then remain there permanently. This is not realistic. Our sizes and shapes changes over time for myriad reasons. This is part of being a human in possession of a body. Some people may remain a similar size and shape for decades while others will evolve by the season (winterspeck anyone?). This is all natural.

As I previously wrote, women don’t need to “get their bodies back” after pregnancy. Our bodies have not gone anywhere, they have simply adapted to meet current demands. My new philosophy (during pregnancy and postpartum): my body is going to be the size it wants and needs to be right now.


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A bit about that working mums make kids fat study

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This article: The Impact of Maternal Employment on Children’s Weight: Evidence from the UK came out a couple of weeks ago and I was appalled. Essentially, the article is blaming working mothers for making their children fat. As if working mums don’t have enough guilt dished out to them already. As if there’s a simple causal relationship between obesity and maternal employment. And as if there isn’t already enough unhelpful fat-shaming going on in our society. I was going to blog about it but a number of other people already have so why reinvent the wheel. Instead, check-out these pieces:

Working Mothers Don’t Make Children Obese by Gid M-K; Health Nerd on Medium explains why the reporting on this study was all wrong.

Aiming the Obesity Blame Game at Working Moms by Ted Kyle on ConscienHealth reminds us that correlation is not causation.

A TL;DR thread from Sean Harrison breaking down the many limitations of the study.

If you’ve come across any other great criticisms of the research (and media surrounding it) please share in the comments. I would especially love to see some from a weight-neutral perspective as the majority of the criticism has been around the study methods and sexism but I think that sizeism is a major problem with the research as well.

 

 


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What obesity and homosexuality have in common

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A couple of weeks ago I was listening to an episode of Radiolab on which they shared an episode of the short podcast series Unerased titled: Dr Davison and the Gay Cure. They were talking about the former perception of homosexuality as a disorder and the rise of conversion therapy. As I was listening what they were saying really struck a chord with me. I found myself thinking “this is exactly how people are going to think about weight loss counselling one day”.

On the podcast, they were saying, essentially, it doesn’t matter if people come to us wanting to change. What does it actually mean to help them? “The problem that these people are asking us to solve is a problem we created. That we labeled as a problem.” Even if we could effect certain changes, there is the more important question as to whether we should… It makes no difference how successful the treatment is, it is immoral.” And I was like “YES, this exact same thing could be said about weight loss treatment!”

This belief in relation to homosexuality was considered to be fringe and most people weren’t in support of it initially. This parallels the Health at Every Size/body diversity/weight acceptance movement. There is a lot of push-back from people in the medical community and the general public when it’s suggested that weight is not a condition that needs to be treated. Just as with the acceptance of homosexuality as a normal state, there were a few outspoken pioneers leading the movement and with time, it became more accepted by the mainstream. I feel that this is beginning to happen now with weight. More of us RDs who were always taught that “overweight” and “obesity” are unhealthy are coming to realize that people can be healthy at many different sizes.

Of course, there are still hold-outs and there is still conversion therapy happening in some places. Similarly, there will likely continue to be hold-outs who believe that only thin people can be healthy and that BMI is indicative of health. However, I’m hopeful that we’re reaching a turning point and that one day the medical community will agree that weight is not a “problem” and that weight loss treatments are unethical.


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What does “healthy” look like?

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A little while ago I wrote about the importance of representation and how the health care industry is failing at it. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as saying “we’re going to use more diverse images in our marketing and materials”. Most organizations don’t take their own photos. Instead, most use stock photography sites from which staff select images. It’s not just health care that has a problem, it’s all media, and it’s the sites from which we source our images.

So many of the images I come across on the stock photo site we use at work are problematic. I’m not going to name the site because it really doesn’t matter which one it is, they’re all the same. Search the word “healthy” and you’ll likely come up with a lot of smiling, slim, glowing, youthful white people outdoors wearing athletic clothing or eating salad. Of course there might be one older person, a black person, and a “normal” (i.e. not model thin) person in the mix but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Fitness returns more of the same, minus the salad shots. On the other hand, when you search “fat” you come back with a bunch of headless torsos clutching their bellies, larger people drooling over fries, large people looking miserable, and a few “good” fat people engaging in physical activity – again, the exceptions that prove the rule. Then there’s the images of “healthy choices” in which the ubiquitous glowing youthful white woman is weighing a doughnut in one hand and an apple in the other as if this is all that healthy eating is about. Or how about the images of large women kicking “junk food” solidly away? How virtuous. Or the woman literally taking a pair of scissors to her stomach? Horrifying.

All these images do is serve to reinforce the popular beliefs that we hold around body size, health, and personal responsibility. To reinforce the stigma against larger bodies and the false assumption that smaller bodies are always healthy bodies and the result of healthy personal choices. It takes a lot of effort and consideration for people to choose images from these stock photo sites that don’t contribute to stereotypes. It’s worth that extra effort though to show that all bodies are good bodies and that your organization is for everyone, not just people who look a certain way.


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Representation matters and the health care industry is failing miserably at it

Source: UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

In relation to my recent posts about how a dietitian’s weight is not indicative of their professional capability, I’ve been thinking a lot about weight bias. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we portray (or don’t portray, as the case may be) people who are considered to be overweight or obese.

At work, I often find myself advocating for more diversity in our images of people. But by that I always mean “maybe we should include images of some people who aren’t young and white”. It actually kind of blows my mind that every time a draft comes back from a graphic designer that EVERYONE is youthful and white. Anyway… That’s not what I wanted to write about today. It’s the fact that they are also ALWAYS thin. I get it, we’re in the business of promoting health and what would you picture if I asked you to picture someone healthy. You’d probably envision someone who’s trim, youthful, smiling. The fact of the matter is though that health comes in all shapes and sizes.

Representation matters. If you don’t see yourself in an organization’s images, or a magazine’s, or in the media, you’re not likely to relate to the messages they’re sharing. I’m not talking about showing pictures of headless obese bodies when we’re talking about obesity, as a matter of fact, I’d rather we all just stopped talking about obesity altogether but that’s another rant. I’m talking about when we choose an image for a campaign for oral health, or a social media post about sexual health, or a banner promoting your services. Whatever the case may be. Think about it, with more than half the population falling into the category of overweight, our healthy living (and really ALL promotional) messages are missing out on a huge proportion of the population. If we truly want to promote healthy lifestyles for all then we need to include everyone in our messages. Don’t make it about weight though. Weight loss should not be the message. The message should be that everyone, regardless of size, age, ability, or race is deserving of good health and can enjoy a healthy active lifestyle. That everyone is deserving of health care services. That regardless of size, your voice should be heard. It really stuck with me how in Hunger, Roxanne Gay wrote about becoming more invisible the larger her body became. This is not how things should be. Your worth should not be inversely proportionate to your weight.

If you want to start including more positive non-stereotypical images of people with obesity in your work, check out Obesity Canada’s image bank or Yale Rudd Centre’s image gallery.