Monday, June 20, 2011

Embracing the Paradox: Fat and Healthy

Embracing the Paradox: Fat and Healthy by Tina Phillips
February 17, 2011
Previously published The Pioneer

If America truly wants to promote health, it should stop focusing on weight management. How many of us hear the message “lose weight” everywhere we go, whether it is on TV, in a magazine, or even at the doctor’s office? We are told to “go on a diet,” “restrict your calorie intake,” and “exercise more.” We are told if we want to be healthy and live a long life, we better get thin.

However, there have been studies that show that losing weight does not necessarily correlate to a longer life. In fact, there is no study that has ever proven that. Furthermore, dieting can lead to major health consequences.

Diets do not work for many reasons. One reason is because when a person restricts calories their metabolism slows down and they can go into starvation mode—where the body resists energy depletion. A person who diets and loses weight is likely to gain the weight back, and in many cases more weight than before. Doing this over and over—a repeat process of losing and gaining is what is called “yo-yo dieting.” Yo-yo dieting causes long term health problems. Some people may say that people only gain the weight back because they give up on the diet and go back to eating the way they did before and if they would just stick with it they would lose all the weight and keep it off forever. Even those who can remain on diets will often gain weight back because weight has more to do with biology and genetics than people would like to admit. Science tells us that people’s natural weight is in our genes. So we should not fight against our natural inclinations since it is usually futile and counter-productive.

Moreover, weight loss aids—such as pills, powders, surgeries etc.—are actually damaging to one’s health. The diet, cosmetic, fitness, fashion, and pharmaceutical industries make a ton of money off of people who are convinced by shrewd marketing they must lose weight to be healthy. Focusing and obsessing about food, exercise, and weight loss all the time is not healthy either. It can lead to eating disorders. It can also cause guilt, shame, and self-hate— which can prompt people to punish themselves for “cheating” on their diet or telling themselves they are a “fat slob” because they did not exercise today. Self-esteem suffers for the never-ending quest for the American beauty ideal—thinness. This ideal cannot be obtained by most people and people should not be expected to either.

Fat people are told they are ugly, lazy, stupid, and undisciplined. They are discriminated against in our society, passed over for jobs, told they are not attractive and could never get a date, and looked down upon in our culture. They are told constantly there is something wrong with them and that they are inadequate. The number one reason children are bullied and teased is their weight. Weight is one of the last acceptable reasons for people to hate another because a person is judged based on the concept that “fat is just not healthy.” There are many studies on both sides of this debate but one thing is clear—many do whatever it takes to lose weight and they still cannot do it and keep it off long term. So why should they be punished by society? Why should they continue to punish themselves? Fat bias, sizeism, and fat phobia leads to direct consequences for most people and seeing as more and more Americans are being labeled as “overweight”—that is likely you and I.

There must be a paradigm shift in terms of people’s attitudes towards weight in our society if we are ever going to become a more healthy country. People must accept and love themselves unconditionally the way they are at any given moment. This means accepting that our bodies are beautiful the way they are and that we are not “bad” for being a different shape or size than anyone else. People just naturally come in different body forms—and that is okay!

In addition, the focus should be placed on health and not weight loss. Health comes in all sizes! The prescription for true health includes: eating healthy food that makes you feel good, listening to your body’s natural cues for hunger and fullness, and getting your body moving in ways that make sense to you, is fun, and enjoyable—like taking a walk with a friend or going out dancing. Do this in an effort to be healthier and feel better, not to lose weight.

This is part of new way of thinking about these issues and is called Health at Every Size (HAES). It was developed by Dr. Linda Bacon, a nutrition professor at City College of San Francisco. A clinical trial showed that the HAES approach proved statistically significant in increasing health—such as lowering blood pressure, while at the same time increasing participant’s body image concept and self-esteem in comparison to the calorie restrictive diet method. In both cases no one in the study lost weight and kept it off long term, but one group improved their health both body and mind—and that was with the Health at Every Size method.

In order for this paradigm shift to take place, people are going to have to change the way they live. This shift will take the support of our government, work places, schools, and community. As a society we need to slow down, work less, and have more free or low cost access to healthy food and modes to exercise. As long as healthy food costs too much money, is not in our local stores, our communities do not have farmer’s markets or spaces and places to exercise, and our pace of life and work demands remain so high, our society cannot be healthy. Our well-being suffers when we are stressed out and time crunched—the convenience and affordability of fast food, microwaves, and crashing on our couch after a long day at work becomes inevitable. Exhausted people do not feel like exercising or making a healthy slow cooked meal. It is time we changed the way we do business in this country so people can devote time and energy in self-care and true health.

We need to end the war on fat people and reject dangerous myths about beauty, weight, and health. We must begin a new way of life of self-acceptance and self-love, slower pace, and a higher quality life filled with abundance of good food and physical activity. It is time to stop blaming people for failing to meet an impossible standard and give people the opportunities they need to live more healthy lives. Only then will we be able to become a happy and healthy society.

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