Imagine for a moment a "healthy person". What does he or she look like? What kind of lifestyle does he or she live? What does he or she eat?
If you’re like most Americans, you’ve likely pictured a young, thin, “fit” person. Also like most Americans, you’ve likely given hundreds of dollars, countless hours at the gym, and precious mental energy pursuing this “lifestyle”. Some people dedicate their lives to this pursuit, only to fall short of their goals and expectations, leading to low self esteem and an inner dialogue constantly berating us for having “no self control”. Now go back to that mental image of a “healthy person”. How is their emotional health? How much of their time are the spending away from friends and family in order to get that “fit” physique? How much of their mental energy is being occupied by thoughts about food, weight, and working out? If you’ve attempted this “lifestyle” before, you know for yourself how much your relationships with other people (and yourself) can suffer.
Research shows that for most people, dieting and the endless pursuit of the thin ideal just doesn’t work. Diets don’t work in the long term. Diet culture has invaded our homes, schools, and doctor's offices. People who live in larger bodies face discrimination and marginalization. Weight-related bullying is at an all-time high. We need a new perspective.
So get this: it is possible to be healthy no matter your size, weight, or shape. Your weight is just one measure of your health. Diet culture has fed us the idea that in order to be healthy, one must be thin. This is simply not true. Healthy and unhealthy people come in all shapes and sizes. If you’ve been told you’re “overweight” (over what weight, exactly??) you may feel some sense of urgency to lose weight, believing your health is at risk. But let’s look at it logically -- what does it actually mean to be healthy? Not having any infections or diseases. Living in a body that functions within normal limits. Living in a body that allows you to actually live your life, whatever that means for you. This is theoretically possible at any size.
Does living in a larger body carry some health risks? Yes, for some people it does. But for some people, so does living in a thin body. The “war on obesity” has taken a toll on all of us: from an ever-increasing number of people with eating disorders, to children as young as 5 wishing to go on diets, to the marginalization of entire populations. Let’s not forget that emotional health matters just as much as your physical health. Not only are people with all types of eating disorders at risk for heart attack, Osteoporosis, and other health problems, they often find that the eating disorder causes them to feel worthless, isolated, and obsessed. If that’s not “unhealthy”, I don’t know what is.
Recent research indicates that interpersonal connections, that is, the meaningful relationships we have with other people, are the biggest predictor of longevity -- not weight status. If you’re spending all your free time planning your meals and working out, or engaging in eating disorder behaviors, are you really healthy after all?
Let’s move our bodies in ways that feel good. Let’s remember that all foods have a place in our lives. Let’s treat ourselves with a little more kindness and grace. Let’s thank our bodies for what they do for us, instead of punishing ourselves for not fitting society’s mold.
Health At Every Size is a registered trademark of the Association for Size Diversity and Health. It is a movement rooted in social justice that promotes equal access to quality healthcare for people of all sizes, an end to society’s obsession with diet culture, balanced eating, and life-enhancing movement. For more information and resources, you can visit www.sizediversityandhealth.org. Or join me in signing the HAES Pledge at https://haescommunity.com