I know that we all want to clutch onto every piece of evidence we find that Trump is a despicable human, hold them close, let them keep us warm at night, and build bomb shelters from them. I also know that society and popular media have taught us that “fat people” are the villains. That they are lazy and gluttonous and deserving of scorn. It’s incredibly difficult to set aside these biases, especially when we want to believe these things of a person, but that’s exactly what we need to do. Trump has given us ample reasons to believe that he is a garbage human. His objectification of and assaults on women, his racist comments and travel bans, his mockery of people with disabilities, his complete and utter lack of diplomacy, and on and on. His weight is not one of them.
Last week I saw my social media friend Bryan Chung (@DrBryanC if you want to follow him on twitter and you probably do because he also writes the excellent Evidence Based Fitness blog) tweeting at a writer for GQ. The writer had written a column and tweeted it out as: “Stop trying to get a six-pack – try being interesting instead”. Intriguing, no?
Unfortunately(?), the article was didn’t provide any pointers on how to be interesting or how to compensate for your lack of abs with a stellar personality. Instead, it was all about how visible abs are really far too much work for anyone other than a Ryan Gosling or a Zac Efron. Plus, apparently you can’t eat anything good if you want to have a six-pack. Now, I know that having chiseled abs is probably for the minority but they are not impossible to obtain. You don’t have to give up all food and drink and pleasure in life to have abs.
The article seemed to be trying to tell men that they should magically blind women to their absent abs by having charisma. Apparently if you tell some jokes, “By the time the T-shirt finally comes up, they’ll be too blown away by your mind to care.” As a woman, I can provide some inside information here: it’s true that most of us don’t give a damn if men have washboard abs or not. A great personality is essential but what defines a great personality (as evidenced by the taste of many of the women on the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise) is as unique as your body. There is no one perfect personality and there is no one perfect body.
This article reminded me of that meme I saw a while back. Why does it seem like to embrace one body type we have to shun others? Why can’t we be okay with bodies in all shapes and sizes?
If you want to have washboard abs then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that abs and personality are mutually exclusive traits. Just because you care about your physique doesn’t mean that you have a lacklustre personality. Conversely, just because you have a beer belly doesn’t mean you have a “perfectly toned personality”. You can have both abs and personality and you can have neither.
I was standing in line at the grocery store on the weekend and I noticed a magazine with a photo of Britney Spears in a bikini with the headline “How Britney Got Her Body Back!”. I didn’t take a photo of the magazine because I felt like that would be weird. Instead, I promptly googled it when I got to the car. I couldn’t find the current issue but I did discover that this wasn’t the first time Brit got her body back.
It would also seem that she’s not the first celeb to have lost and found her body.
Apparently, over the years, myriad celebrities have been losing their bodies and then having them returned. Someone should really get Scully and Mulder on this.
Seriously though, why do we tend to believe that we are less ourselves when there is more of ourselves? What a weird species/society we are. What a shame that we can’t celebrate and respect bodies of all shapes and sizes. What a pity that when a woman gains weight during pregnancy it’s as though she’s been invaded by body snatchers and not providing a nurturing environment to her child.
I know that it’s a difficult frame of mind to escape. It’s hard to “feel like yourself” when your body is different from the way it’s always been. But let’s start trying. Ladies (and gents) your body is always your own. Try to treat it with love and respect no matter what your weight may be.
A few days after my post about the insanity of some government workplace “wellness” initiatives I noticed that I was getting a lot of traffic from a subreddit. Out of curiosity (yes, I never learned from the cat’s misfortune) I clicked on the link to see what it was all about. I discovered a whole little world that I never knew existed. Something called “fatlogic”. Maybe I’m out of the loop (it’s been known to happen) but I’d never heard of fatlogic before.
As far as I can tell this fatlogic is basically the opposite of HAES (Health at Every Size). People who ascribe to this position seem to think that fat shaming is an acceptable way to “encourage” people to lose weight. It’s not just thin people who think this way, there seem to be a number of people who are overweight, or who were overweight, who are staunchly opposed to the notion that people can be healthy and overweight and believe that insulting people who are overweight (or who advocate for HAES) is appropriate.
It was nice of this group to keep their insults to themselves (i.e. voicing them on reddit rather than in the comments on my blog). I was pretty amazed at the vitriol of many of the members of the group. According to them, I clearly had no idea what I was talking about and was a brainwashed moron for believing that weight is not the best indicator of health. The subreddit also went off on a little tangent from what my primary point was. Everyone became fixated on my comments about BMI not being a very good measure of body fat. Herein is one of the clear flaws of their logic. I mean, besides the fact that it’s ignorant and discriminatory. One person mentioned that BMI is a measure of body fat, interpreting that a BMI of 18.5 equates to 18.5% body fat, below which one would be classified as “underweight” according to the BMI. The thing is, BMI doesn’t measure body fat. That 18.5 is not a percent; it’s technically kg/m2. BMI is a body mass index intended to classify people as underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese based on ranges of this index. Someone with a BMI of 18.5 could have 8% body fat or 30% body fat. This is one of the reasons why BMI is widely considered to be an inaccurate tool for measuring weight (and health). You could be very fit and lean and have the same BMI as someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle and has a significantly higher percentage of body fat.
I know that it goes against the basic tenets of the Internet but wouldn’t it be nice if people actually knew what they were talking about before they attacked others? Ever notice how it’s generally those who are the most vocal who know the least?
Thanks to Helen at Food & Nonsense starting the RD book club I finally got around to reading Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size. Unfortunately, due to time differences, the tweet-up to discuss the book is taking place at 6 am on a Sunday morning for me. I’ve scheduled this post to go live at that time as my feeble attempt at participating in the discussion without waking up ;) If you’d like to check out the discussion just search for the #RDBookclub hashtag (was that redundant? Probably) on twitter.
Helen was also kind enough to post some discussion questions so here goes…
1. Do you agree with the HAES assertion that health not weight should be the focus of nutrition interventions?
Absolutely. The focus should be on health and well being, never on numbers on a scale. That being said, weight management is one of the main reasons that people seek out advice from dietitians. I don’t think that we can just ignore this fact. As health care professionals it’s our job to help people to understand that the numbers on a scale don’t necessarily matter all that much when it comes to health. That being said, weight is often inextricably intertwined with health and nutrition.
2. Is a health approach practical in todays aesthetic focused society?
This is an excellent question and one that I found myself thinking about quite a bit as I was reading the book. It’s all well and good that we know that people can be healthy at many different weights but how do you translate that into acceptance and understanding? As much as we tell someone that they are healthy at their current weight, if they’re unhappy with that weight should we help them to lose weight or help them to accept themselves as they are? Oftentimes, neither of these options is feasible.
3. Do you feel that the main concepts in the book were adequately backed up by the research presented?
For the mist part I did. Although I must confess that I didn’t take the time to seek out all of the research Bacon used to back-up her arguments. A couple of things did bother me: One, I didn’t like how much she mentioned that if you do this or that you’ll probably end-up losing weight. If your book is about being healthy no matter what your size, and you’re preaching fat acceptance, then I don’t think that weight loss should be a frequently touted benefit of your approach. Two, I’m not sure how credible her evidence to support that overweight and obese people generally live longer than their lower-weight counterparts is. Weight loss is an extremely common side effect of many serious diseases. Thus, thinner people may be more prone to dying than larger people as a result of an underlying illness causing weight loss, not as a result of being thin. If we’re talking health at every size we need to be careful not to tip the scale in the other direction. People who are overweight, obese, average, or underweight may all be healthy. Also, death is not the only thing to look at. Obese and overweight people may be living for longer but how many of them are healthy during these extended life spans? Health span may be a more important consideration than life span.
4. How should nutrition professionals use this information in their day to day practice?
I think that nutrition professionals should use this information to help themselves overcome their personal biases and to educate their clients that weight is not the be all and end all when it comes to health. We should also use it to help clients realise that our own weight is not an indication of our health nor of our ability to do our jobs well. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had tell me that I’m a dietitian they might actually listen to because I’m slim, as though larger dietitians don’t have exactly the same knowledge and education as I do. As with any field, our weight is not an indication of our ability to perform our jobs well.
5. Were there any ideas in this book that you reject or find difficult to accept? Why?
I think I covered this in question three. Oops! I was also bothered with a very small point in which Bacon was advising people on how to choose whole grains (p.79). She says, “Look for the word “whole” in the ingredients list.” Not entirely accurate. This is the point where I pondered whether or not it was okay to write in a library book. You need to see the words “whole grain”. Unfortunately, “whole” on its own is not sufficient. Anyway… This is a very small quibble in the scheme of things.
I did also find it difficult to accept that there is no relationship between obesity and disease states. While I absolutely believe it’s possible to be healthy (and conversely unhealthy) at any weight I do still believe that there is increased risk of developing certain conditions such as heart disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes when you’re obese.
6. What is the main thing you took from this book? How has it been helpful to you?
The main thing I took from this book is the importance of self-worth and acceptance. We all need to stop aspiring to look like other people and learn to be happy being ourselves. Many of us also need to step away from the scale and stop letting the numbers on it define us. I also really enjoyed the chapters on food and fat politics.
For some more interesting perspectives on the HAES movement check out the following links: