Health at Every Size: Why Being “Obese” Is Not the Issue

There is A LOT of focus in today’s society on this “obesity epidemic.” Plenty of doctors and health professionals focus on reducing the  35.7% statistic of Americans who are obese. HOWEVER, there is little to no research backing up that obesity actually CAUSES heart disease, certain types of cancer and early death.

Now, stay with me, OK? I know this will offset A LOT of criticism, I’m asking you to keep your mind open and think. It’s about being a critical reader and viewer – questioning the validity and reliability of research studies done in the past. There is actually a plethora of research out there over the past 20 years that go against what is so popular today about obesity. Studies that found no relationship between weight and health, or those correlating a high weight with height, far outnumber the thinner-is-better studies.

“The Body Wars industries simplify and scapegoat the issue of weight in order to promote dieting, but the myths they have promoted are from from the truth.”

“The evil view of obesity has come from four places: the insurance industry, the medical moralizers, the drug industry and the docile, unquestioned nutritionists who are too often dupes of faddists and hucksters.” – George Mann, Physician

According to Rothblum, E.D., Studies to determine the causes of obesity are often based on limited research and a blindness to obvious factors. For example, socioeconomic status (SES) is rarely examined, despite that obesity and poverty are closely linked in the US. Non-obese Americans tend to be in higher economic strata, and are more likely be more educated and have greater access to dietary and health information, while obese people from lower SES groups have less access to such information.

“The establishment clings to the belief that weight causes disease and death just as people once insisted that the world was flat.” – Susan Woolsey, Co-editor, Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders

As described in her book “Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies,” Margo Maine, Ph.D. said “one powerful stereotype implies that all obese people causes their own “weight problems” by uncontrolled eating. Research over the past 30 years has not confirmed this… In 12 of 13 studies reviewed by one author, obese people ate the SAME amount or less food than non-obese people. Other studies have examined more specific eating habits and found NO major difference in food choice, the amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, or fat consumed, or other food-related behaviors.”

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….Obesity myths ignore genetic contributions. Genetics affect weight, distribution of body fat, frame metabolism and appetite. Contrary to popular belief, weight is NOT a reliable measure of mortality or character strength. It is a complex mix of biological, social and psychological issues as well as lifestyle influences (Maine, 2000).”

As found in much research, “extra” weight can actually be an advantage against the onset and mortality associated with some diseases (Margo, 2000). Larger men and women have have a lower risk for lung cancer (regardless of smoking) and osteoporosis.  Studies repeatedly demonstrate that underweight people are most at risk for health problems. The American Cancer Society found in 1969 that weight loss, whether voluntary or involuntary, dramatically increases the risk of premature death by heart disease or stroke. This study followed 800,000 mean and women ages 40-79 for six years and found no connection between weight gain and mortality. Only weight loss was associated with mortality (Garner & Wooley, 1991).

“The kinds of disease we see in overweight people are the same diseases we see in sedentary and unfit people of EVERY weight. How can we be so sure it’s weight that kills? Maybe it’s just inactivity.” – Steven Blair, Epidemiologist and Exercise Physiologist

Dispelling the Obesity Myths (Maine, 2000):

1. Weight is NOT a reliable predictor of health and health risk.

2. Being slightly above average weight does NOT put you at health risk.

3. There are no found significant differences between the eating habits of “normal” and “obese” people.

4. When it comes to weight, genetics is more important than environment or learned behavior.

5. Being underweight DOES present health risks.

6. The health problems associated with obesity actual are a results of dieting.

7. The weights recommended by the Metropolitan Tables are unreliable, non-universal standard for people.

8. Weight should NOT be stable after the age of 25. Especially for women – women gain more weight upon menopause.

9. Fat on the body is NOT always a predictor of dangerous fat in the body, such as clogged arteries.

Health at Every Size

This brings me to a pretty new public health philosophy, Health at Every Size (HAES). It’s considered the new peace movement. HAES is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.

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Here is another excerpt from the HAES website:

Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health… Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat.

Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people—of all sizes—in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.

– An excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD

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Once I found this philosophy as well as read Maine’s book, I decided that I will not only be an advocate/activist for body acceptance, but also for the push for the incorporation of HAES in EVERY health setting. I am starting training and one-on-one coaching at my employer with our clients.

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It’s time we stop being so obsessed and preoccupied with diets, “fatness,” self-hatred, and striving to be the “thin ideal.” Of course you still want to encourage eating fruits and vegetables and getting enough protein and being physically active – it’s a matter of doing away with discrimination of size and start accepting our bodies as they are. Because, in reality, they’re pretty darn amazing! So let’s start treating them so.

 

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