A few months ago, I read – or more precisely listened to – a book which I found fascinating: Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon Ph.D. Before I proceed further, I must admit I couldn’t hold in a chuckle when I saw the last name of the author, Ms. Bacon was destined to write a book about diets (or lack thereof), but I digress.
I appreciate the maxim: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I have found it to be uncannily accurate especially of late. Health at Every Size resonated with me on so many levels. Linda’s book was the perfect read at the perfect time on my healing journey. These are some of the themes Ms. Bacon touched on which reverberated with me:
- Body shaming
- Wisdom of our bodies
- Intuitive eating
- Body size
What Health at Every Size is Not!
Health at Every Size is not a diet book. As a matter of fact, the author makes the point to demonstrate very clearly that diets (all of them) don’t work. A matter which is well documented and no longer up for debate.
Instead, Doctor Bacon expounds on the wisdom of our bodies. She thoroughly demonstrates the intelligence of various body mechanisms including our set-points which function magnificently when trusted and left alone to do their job. Sadly, these systems do not fail us even though we do fail them.
Let me tell you my story. No worries, not my entire life story (as thrilling as it may be, just kidding), only the pertinent part applicable this post.
My parents and grandparents (except for one) were about the same size their entire life. They did not diet nor did they avoid any major food groups.
Good genes you might say?
However, I think blaming their stature solely on their genes would be a mistake.
You see, I was raised in a world in which diets were not discussed and where food (all foods) was celebrated. I never met a morbidly obese person until I came to the United States. Likewise, I hadn’t …..been exposed to diets until I came to this country. Fast food restaurants were unknown to me as well.
My Set Point
I used to say I didn’t diet and I ate pretty much what I wanted. My weight remained within the same range of about five pounds for decades. Even after my pregnancies, when I gained 40 pounds per baby and 80 with twins, I gradually lost the weight after giving birth without dieting.
This no-dieting lifestyle doesn’t mean I indulged in a junk diet and, at the same time, maintained my set point. I didn’t. Nor were my eating habits stellar. I can’t I honestly say that every food item which passed my lips was natural and untouched. I ate when hungry, stopped when full and indulged here and there.
My weight was a non-issue until some individuals started making off the cuff comments. I remember in particular the “Wow! Your stomach must be made out of concrete,” which one lady loudly proclaimed during a seminar.
Why did this one particular comment stick? I am not entirely sure. However, I started to feel a tad self-conscious.
My body had masterfully defended its set point all these years. I would gain a couple of pounds after an excess and lose them when resuming a more standard way of eating, just as my body was designed to do.
The real crux of my insecurities was that I still was not happy with my body. I lamented its shape; that it didn’t have more of this and less of that, etc. I am sure – especially if you are female – that you are familiar with this train of thought.
I saw myself as much larger than I really was. My mental image was distorted by what I saw around me and what I been unconsciously brainwashed to perceive as beautiful. And, in my mind, I was missing the mark by a few miles.
When my oldest son announced his wedding, I became determined to “look good” in the pictures which is really a joke because, in truth, I was going to lament my appearance no matter what. I was good at this negative rhetoric having practiced it since my teen years. It was during that time I realized 1) my body looked nothing like the Barbies I was so fond off and 2) I took to heart some comments my father had made about my legs.
Now, all these years later, I was on a mission to lose at least three pounds.
Why three pounds?
While not going as far as counting calories (too much work), I started to watch what I ate.
The scale moved down one pound.
It went back one pound.
I tried harder.
One month away from the big day, my weight was unchanged. I was now convinced I was “pudgy” and “everyone” was bound to notice my “pouch.” I now wish the “plump” body I think I had back then was still hanging around.
In hindsight, what I should have done is leave my body alone and buy some Spanx. Even better, I should have proudly rocked my dress no matter the ridiculous number displayed on manufacturer’s tag or my bathroom scale. THAT would have been the smartest decision by far.
Instead, undaunted and undeterred by my moronic goal, I dieted and, drumroll please, lost the three pounds just in time for my son’s nuptials.
I went on to lose three more after the festivities.
Oh yeah, baby!
I stayed on my diet from May until December.
Was I happier? Not really. I still saw myself as “fat.”
Then, Christmas came along with my new daughter-in-law’s white chocolate truffles.
I ate them all!
In the back of my head, prideful-me thought: “I’ll lose the weight…I got this diet down!”
Boy, was I WRONG!
The New Year came, and my bathroom scale tipped at: “Back-a-your-regular-weight-PLUS -one-pound” (a seven pound gain).
Easy I thought, I’ve got this, I’ll try harder which translates to “I will make this body submit to my wishes.”
Much easier said than done.
The weight did not come off.
I tried harder.
In frustration, I decided to stop stepping on my scale for two months.
Two months passed.
I gingerly stepped back on the scale on day 61 to plus four pounds!
On a side note, isn’t it “funny” how much power we give to an inanimate object which is often grossly inaccurate? (aka THE scale).
Aside from being pregnant or just having given birth, I had never seen such weight gain.
Fast forward to today…and seventeen more pounds of me to love.
Incidentally, my weight did not stabilize until I stopped fighting my body and started eating from every food groups. This in itself was a victory. I worked with a nutritional therapist who determined I had damaged my metabolism. A conclusion I had already reached during the course of my research and my reason for working with her in the first place.
I decided I needed to go back to being an intuitive eater. I have since discarded five pounds. Yes, I had gained almost twenty-five pounds while “dieting.”
One time, for two and a half months, (when I thought) I was eating a “perfect” diet: vegetables, lean meats, AND some fruits, I only lost a whopping 1.5 pounds…with a rebound of ten pounds in one month. Obviously, diets were NOT working for me.
Dieting is one of the reasons we are getting fatter and sicker.
Our bodies are smart; we can’t trick them for long (if at all).
I was tired of treating my body as the enemy. What had it done to deserve such punishment? If I treated my husband as I have my own body, we would have divorced long ago.
My body had faithfully enabled me to walk, sit, stand, carry life, feed life, smile, hug, listen to marvelous sounds, talk, I could go on, but you get my point. Was I grateful for all I was able to accomplish because of it?
It didn’t look like it.
Instead, I concentrated my attention on what I perceived was wrong with it. Sadly and regretfully, I must admit that my views were based on some faulty beliefs acquired from some silly and ever-changing worldview given by a sex-crazed society.
These my friends are the reasons why I decided to give up all diets as well as why I was so taken by “Health at Every Size.” I was going to nourish myself and escape diet prison.
No one should be shamed for who they are nor for the shape of their body. A body is a shell which houses a person with feelings. Words do hurt and whoever said they don’t isn’t too bright.
A “pretty” body (whatever that truly means) does not guaranty a pretty soul nor a giving heart, incidentally, nor does it guaranty health. Our compassion for humanity should first involve self-compassion, acceptance, and gratitude toward our beautiful bodies.
These are the reasons why I decided to become a coach. I yearned to help others be free of the shame about bodies they deem inadequate but must inhabit nonetheless.
Dieting is not living, far from it!
To this day, thinness has never been equaled with health. The scientific literature does validate this point. You can be thin and unhealthy.
Judgements (self-imposed or not), shame, and criticisms are also far from healthy and yet, most women (as well as young girls) feed themselves a daily dose of such drivel.
Please, no more.
What is Health at Every Size?
HAES (as many refer to it) is more than a book; it is a movement which adheres to certain guiding principles:
- Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
- Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that enhance human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
- Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma and support environments that address these inequities.
- Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
- Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.
Will you join me and be nourished now?
I must preface that I am not advocating eating a junky diet nor being content with being obese. There are health risks inherent in being overweight, and indeed most of us should strive to work with our bodies to maintain our set-points through life (if possible).
What I readily embrace about the HAES movement are the principles mentioned above. I take a stand against unrealistic body shapes and sizes, dieting, body shaming, and the faulty assumption that thin equals healthy.