I am a big, fat nerd, in every sense of that phrase.
I research everything, I read a ton, I look up words I don’t know and use them until they are part of my vocabulary – call me perspicacious.
I am also a person who takes her health seriously, while understanding that health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, or entirely within any of our control.
So, when it came time to decide on a path to health, I didn’t select randomly, or base my choice on a motivational commercial, or on what a newly thin actress had to say. As much as some people would have you believe, I also didn’t choose a path to health that I thought would “justify my fatness” or “permit bad behavior”. In fact when I started looking for a path to health decisions, based on everything I had seen and heard I assumed it would involve losing weight.
My research of diets found that the conclusion of diet studies that looked at long-term success was basically: “this hardly ever works, but it’s still worth trying because of all the health problems caused by obesity.” Further research showed that the “health problems” had never been shown to be caused by obesity and weight loss had never been proven to solve any health problem. In fact the only thing that weight loss had been proven to do was, well, make you weigh less. But even that was a short term effect, with long-term success rates so small that they were within the studies’ margins of error in most cases. (Here is an article that researched weight management articles and found the same things that I found.)
I also started to notice the small print on every single diet ad: “Results Not Typical”. Hmmmm. I pondered this question: If I went to the doctor because I was sick and she said “Take this medicine, it worked for Tammy. Of course, her results aren’t typical. In fact, it only works about 5% of the time, the other 95% people end up more sick than when they started…” what would I do? I determined pretty quickly that I would absolutely NOT take the medicine.
My previous history with dieting matched what the research showed me I should expect. I would lose weight at first, then plateau, then gain it back plus more. So if it wasn’t dieting, what was it?
I found Health at Every Size (that’s the term I’ve come to know it as now) and Intuitive Eating by accident. I starting researching further and I chose it for five main reasons:
1. It suggested that to be healthy, one should concentrate on healthy habits.
That seems like a big flaming sack of duh now, but back then it was revolutionary. It was a face-palm moment. I had been thinking that the best way to improve my health was to change my body size because being thin was proven to be correlated with health. But being trained in research I knew that correlation never EVER implies causation. So from a scientific perspective, trying to be healthy by losing weight is like trying to heal a broken ankle by cutting your hair because you’ve heard that people with short hair have been shown to have less broken bones. It seemed to me that if you want to heal a broken ankle you choose behaviors that will facilitate healing (get a cast, stay off it etc.) If you want to be more healthy, choose actions that facilitate health.
2. It suggested that I should check my health to begin with.
Another no brainer that had never occurred to me. I started to look into it and it turns out that the doctors who had told me that I NEEDED to lose weight for my health had neglected to tell me that the health I had was damn near perfect. When confronted they gave me the Vague Future Health Threat and the same lines that I had heard in diet ads,which was a HUGE red flag for me since it meant that they were either giving medical advice without having studied the research, or they were medical professionals who don’t understand the difference between correlation and causation which, as far as I’m concerned, makes them unqualified to pull a splinter out of my toe.
3. It meant that I could maintain a good relationship with my body.
I think that the biggest lie that we’re sold is that our “weight” is somehow different from, or separate from, our body. In truth it seems pretty clear to me that our weight is part of the body that we inhabit 100% of the time. So if I am fighting a war with my weight, then I’m at war with my own body. If I’m struggling with my weight, then I’m struggling with my own body. If I’m motivated to lose my “embarrassing, ugly fat” then I am embarrassed by my own body and think it is ugly. It is unacceptable to me to be in a bad relationship with the body whose heartbeat and breathing keep me alive, whose limbs get me where I want to go, and whose brain allows me to do pretty much everything.
I grew up believing that my body was a limitation to be overcome through mental toughness. Through my journey I had learned that my body is a partner and friend that deserves respect and good treatment. Health at Every Size was the only program that allowed me to treat my body with respect instead of viewing it as broken, flawed, and something to be disgusted by, embarrassed of, battled against, struggled with, and changed by whatever means necessary.
4. It made allowances for the multi-dimensionality of health
All of the diets that I had researched seemed to assert that to be healthy you should focus on your weight, and that your weight is all a matter of behavior. Considering the complexity of the human body, that seemed pretty doubtful. Based on my research I believe that health is some combination of: Genetics. Environment. Behaviors. Access. Health at Every Size taught that I could focus on the aspects of my health that I could control, rather than feeling like a guilty failure for things that were beyond my control.
5. I could be wrong
Every good scientist will tell you that they might be wrong. It’s a basic tenet of science (another reason that I found all those diet ads pretty fishy). So I knew that whatever path I chose, I could be wrong and would have to live with the consequences. Having spent most of my life dieting and hating my body, I had a pretty good sense of what a lifetime of that would entail. At the point in my life that I was making this decision, I could just start to imagine a life that wasn’t dictated by a scale, calorie counting, hating my body, and yo-yo dieting. I realized that even if my choice was so wrong that it caused me to die in 40 years instead of 60, I would rather have 40 years living a Health at Every Size life than 70 years living a diet/weight loss lifestyle.
So here I am, many years later still healthy, still “Type 3: Super Obese” (and where the hell is my cape?!). I was going to compare it to my life of dieting, struggling with my weight and hating my body, but the difference is so sharp that there simply is no comparison.
I would never go back. And now that I’m on the other side, I want reach as many people as I possibly can and tell them that that this life is an option for them to. To be clear, just as I demand respect for my choices, I respect the choices of others. I don’t believe that anyone has to make the same choice as me, and I’m not trying to convince anyone, but I do believe that everyone should know that the option exists.
For more information I recommend you check out Linda Bacon, who literally wrote the book on HAES:
And this fantastic post by Golda Poretsky that answers some basic questions that people new to Health at Every Size tend to have:
You can also see more people who blog about these things over on the Blogs I Love page. No guarantee that you will love them, but I do!