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Enough with the War on our Bodies

Image: Peace Sign by Candice Seplow

We’re suffering from another health crisis.

“Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat,” says Lindo Bacon, author, researcher, and professor, Ph.D., MA, MA.

So what’s driving this war on our bodies?

It’s diet culture’s weight-centric portrayal of wellness — thin equals healthy and it’s solution… dieting.

The Body Hate/Diet Cycle

It begins when you compare your body to health and fitness culture’s perfectionist and unrealistic body ideals. You “feel” unhealthy, dislike your body, and/or feel “fat.”

Then, when you most likely don’t measure up (because only 5% of women naturally possess the body type diet culture models as healthy), you fall prey to diet culture’s solution to fix it: the latest fad eating plan to “fix” your body.

You choose a diet that restricts what, when, or how much to eat.

At first you “feel better” - lose weight. It’s “working!”

Until it’s not.

Eventually, you feel deprived and struggle.

Then, the “diet backlash” kicks in and you crave – the “bad” and “forbidden” foods or you just feel hungry.

You “fall off the wagon” and “cheat.”

You feel guilt, shame, frustration for not having enough willpower judging yourself as the failure, not the restrictive approach.

The months pass and you regain some, all, or even more weight than when you began.

Then, back in body hate, you repeat - hoping the newest plan will work and you’ll be one of the 5% of dieters (the unicorns) that can change your body size permanently — sustain it.

Thus, you remain stuck in the body hate/diet cycle, year after year, passing it down, generation after generation — leading to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough, unhealthy.

It’s a helluva business plan. By 2025, the worldwide weight management market profits are expected to reach $442.3 billion according to Grandviewresearch.com.

The good news is there’s an antidote to this body hate/diet madness.

We stop believing thin is always healthy and fat is always bad and explore new health paradigms.

Re-examine weight science

In Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight – and What We Can Do About It by Harriet Brown, we are encouraged to think critically about the scientific research on weight science as “some of the contradictory findings on weight reflect our incomplete understanding of highly complex mechanisms and systems.”

The “complexity doesn’t come across very well in headlines or sound bites,” thus the “nuances of the research on weight and health often get lost in the rhetoric,” says Brown.

In her book, Brown breaks downs the “Four Big Fat Lies About Weight and Health” - Americans are getting fatter and fatter; Obesity can take a decade or more off your life; Being fat causes heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other serious illnesses; and Dieting makes us thinner and healthier.

Dr. Bacon concurs, “the misconceptions around weight science are astounding.” In Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD detail how our current weight-centric model of health is ineffective at producing healthier bodies. And it may have unintended consequences “contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distractions from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrements, and weight stigmatization and discrimination.” If you think your body is the problem and that diets are the solution, I ask you to think critically and remember that it’s diet culture that is driving and profiting off of these assumptions, and to explore alternative approaches to wellness.

A New Wellness Approach to Consider

“What If Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss” by Virginia Sole-Smith, also breaks down how focusing on body size isn’t making people healthier.

Because “research has shown that it is the behaviors people practice—not the size of their bodies—that have the biggest impact on mortality,” some clinicians are trying a weight-neutral approach called Health at Every Size (HAES).

Health at Every Size, trademarked and founded by the Association of Size Diversity and Health, is an anti-diet approach to healthcare. It’s known as the “new peace movement” because it strives to end the war on bodies and defines health in a more inclusive way.

It eliminates weight stigma, respects diversity and focuses on compassionate self-care such as “finding the joy in one’s body and being physically active and eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, while respecting the social conditions that frame eating options,” says Bacon and Aphramor in Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight.

Sole-Smith describes the impact of having a doctor who removes weight from health care as “literally life-changing.”

You can heal from this health crisis.

You don’t have to be at war with your body — stuck in the body hate/restriction cycle to take care of your health.

You deserve peace and food and body freedom.

Be critical of weight science.

Be open to new health paradigms.

Be a rebel.

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Health at Every Size Intuitive Eating Weight Science Dieting Healthy Eating