How to Introduce People to SA/HAES

Reader Sabrina submitted the following question:

I know that you sometimes take questions from readers — I wonder what you think about how to introduce people to Size Acceptance (SA) and Health at Every Size (r) (HAES). There are [some people] who I think could really benefit from reading blogs like yours, and books on the topic. But I don’t know how to do it without being hurtful.

It’s a really good question.  Obviously this can be a sensitive subject and, at least for now, it may be an entirely new concept for the person to whom you are introducing it.  If you read this blog very often, you already know that I’m not into telling people what to do .  My approach (and recommendation) is always to couch it as something that I do, rather than something that someone else should do.  This post talks about how I specifically explain HAES so today I’ll talk more about how you might broach the subject.

Casual Exposure

We live in the age of Facebook and Twitter, and along with 400 comments you don’t care about on the post that you accidentally “liked”, it also allows us to offer our list of followers exposure to a new topic with relatively low risk.  Start posting blogs that you like about SA/HAES, or updates talking about how you are practicing it in your life or the how much you like it etc.

Work it In

When other people are talking about their diets, or participating in a rousing game of body hate, you can bring up your SA/HAES practice.  Remember that your choice is just as valid as anyone else’s choice – telling people what you are doing does not obligate you to seek their approval.  I recommend having a quick definition like”I practice Health at Every Size – so I focus on healthy behaviors rather than a number on a scale.”  You can answer questions if you want but remember that you aren’t required to “defend” your choices.

Bring it Up

You can also bring  it up in conversation. This works especially well if you are setting boundaries/asking for support.  For example “I’ve decided to practice Health at Every Size.  For me that means that I’ll be focusing on what I decide are healthy habits and not on a number on the scale, weight loss, or what other people think I should do with my body.  I would love your support in this but if you aren’t willing to support me then it is important that you respect my choice”.  Obviously you’ll want to modify the words for yourself but that’s the idea.

I really can’t stress enough how much more of a powerful position I’ve found myself in if I simply explain rather than trying to convince, persuade, defend or seek approval.

I am Not a Special Population

Reader Elizabeth sent me this gem.  It hit home because I used to be an AFAA Certified Fitness Professional and I was just thinking about renewing my certification.

AFAA would like to invite you to attend A Taste of… Biggest Loser® Live Training (Live Online Workshop)

Already my alarm bells are going off.  The invincible ego of Jillian Michaels, the physical and emotional abuse of fat people under the bs guise of “saving their lives”.  This does not bode well.

What is it?
This one-day, live online workshop is designed to provide fitness professionals with an introduction to the knowledge, tools, and fundamental skills necessary to successfully work with larger-sized, overweight and obese participants.

I was not aware that a fitness professional working with me would be required to possess special knowledge, tools and fundamental skills just because of my body size.  Also, I sort of thought that the point of fundamental skills was that they are, well… fundamental, so ostensibly someone who is already a Fitness Professional would have a working knowledge of those skills.

In addition, the workshop will introduce AFAA’s signature Complete 10™ Workout which is a key component of The Biggest Loser® Pro program*.  This signature workout series is comprised of highly effective training routines that fuse high-intensity interval training, compound/functional resistance exercises, core strengthening and stretching/deep breathing into 10-minute, power-packed workouts.

The Biggest Loser is built around the contestants working out 5 or more hours a day.  What does a series of 10 minute workouts have to do with The Biggest Loser?  Are we maybe just smearing ugly lipstick on a pig here?

Program highlights include:
Information, review and discussion of the obesity health crisis

Oh dear god, I can’t even imagine the misinformation-palooza that this will become.

Review of AFAA’s Exercise Standards and Guidelines for the larger-sized participant

Because not only can you tell how healthy someone is by their body size, you can also tell their level of physical fitness.  No wait, that’s not true at all.

Realities and challenges of working with this special population

Oh what in fat hell… I could not be more offended by this statement. There are realities and challenges for working with me? I guess if you consider the fact that I am happy with my body and demand respect a challenge then a case could be made – but you’d better make it quick because I’m out the door to find another fitness professional. And “special population”…really?  If I’m a “special population” it’s because I’m an athlete, not because of the size of my body.

I taught group exercise from step to spinning to boot camp for six years in big name National gyms and  I can tell you that as a fitness professional it is absolutely part of your job to be able to create and modify workouts to suit the people you teach.  I can also assure you that no fitness professional worth their salt does that by looking at the size of someone’s body and taking their best guess.  That 250 pound woman could be an athlete in great shape and the 110 pound woman could be dealing with osteoporosis. That’s why you’re supposed to ask intelligent questions.

Lest you think I am anti-exercise let me assure you that’s not true at all.  I am, in fact, a great fan of exercise.  I think it’s extremely important for people to have access to safe movement options that they enjoy, taught by fitness professionals who can meet their needs.  I just seriously doubt that the people who put a group of starving fatties in a room full of cupcakes to test their willpower are the ones to get it done.  If you’re new to exercise or looking for some cool professionals I would highly suggest that you check out Jeanette DePatie  author of The Fat Chick Works Out, Abby Lentz creator of Heavy Weight Yoga, and Anna Guest Jelley, creator of Curvy Yoga. (If you know of someone I’m missing by all means make a comment! No, none of these people pay me to talk about them – I just think they are awesome.)

Regardless of who you choose, your fitness professional should always:

  • Ask you about your goals and train to them (they should not make assumptions or hijack your agenda)
  • Know how to modify their class, program etc. to suit your needs, or be honest that they don’t
  • Respect your path to health, your choices, and your body
  • Leave you feeling great about yourself and your body

Anything less and I would say it’s time to think about hitting the road and finding a better instructor.  Now I’m off to find another organization to certify me because I suddenly find myself disinclined to give AFAA any of my big fat special population money.

Three Big Fat Dresses

A reader pointed out this this article today [major trigger warning – article is bad, comments are worse] http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/health/is-overweight-the-new-normal-weight-2545505, including the quote “In our country where the majority of individuals need to lose weight, it’s become too easy to live large, making it harder to motivate people to take steps to shed pounds. Vanity-sized apparel; Lycra (read: stretchy) clothing; larger plates, bowls, glasses and utensils; wider seats in cars and movie theaters; and bigger portions are all examples of ways the environment has changed to make it more comfy being overweight.”

There are plenty of idiotic things about this article. Confusing the concepts of clothes that fit us with larger plates, bowls and glasses strikes me as particularly assinine. Never mind the fact that we live in a society where we are constantly stigmatized, at least I can get a drink in a big ass glass.

Apparently, Julie thinks that since constant shame and stigma  aren’t working, we need to go one step further.  If we were just confined to our houses – too big to fit in cars or movie theaters, unable to find clothing that fits, we’d all be thin.  Riiiiiiiight..

A package arrived for me this morning.  In it were three stunning dresses from Igigi by Yulia Raquel. They are dressing me for the America the Beautiful 2- The Thin Commandments premieres in NYC, LA and Austin. 

First I have to take a minute to get over how crazy it is that I just typed that, about my life.

Ok I’m done (but they are absolutely gorgeous, I’m just sayin’)  I tried on the dresses and they fit perfectly.  And as a calm came over me I was realized the massive folly of my previous relationship with dress clothes:

Like a lot of fat people I know, I spent a lot of years either buying clothes that were too small, with the intention of losing weight before I had to wear them, or not buying clothes because I was going to lose weight and I was told that it would only encourage me to be fat if I bought myself nice clothes in my current size.

Trying on those beautiful dresses that fit me right now reminded me of something important.  My previous relationship (and Julie’s opinion of fat people and) clothes was BULLSHIT! Pure unadulterated bullshit.

When I bought special occasion clothes that were too small it meant that instead of eagerly anticipating the event I spent a ton of time stressing about whether or not the dress was going to fit. Eating a dangerously small amount, running on treadmills for hours with no thought about my health (mental or physical), just panicking about having a dress that would fit at the event.  At the event I was often busy trying to suck in parts of me that, based on human physiology, cannot be sucked in. Too preoccupied with my ill-fitting dress to enjoy the event. Miserable. And dumb.

And the idea that I shouldn’t have nice clothes in my every day wardrobe also doesn’t make any sense to me.  I seriously doubt that feeling frumpy, uncomfortable and unattractive in one’s clothes will inspire them to take great care of themselves.  I absolutely disagree with the idea that people hate themselves healthy or thin.  I can say for sure that it never worked for me.

I’m not talking about what other people think of your clothes.  We’ve already discussed the “true purpose” of clothes. What I’m talking about is owning clothes that you like to wear, that you are comfortable in.

Which brings me to another point – when I hear that 60% of women are “overweight” or “obese” I always wonder – What the hell are they all wearing?  Maybe Julie thinks that the world is over-run with *gasp* “stretchy” clothing that accommodates fat people but if so then I’d like to see her research material.

I think it’s ridiculous that people like Julie as so terrified of people having an opportunity to live a happy life regardless of their size.  I’m willing to be that as fat stigma goes down, our health would actually go up.  (I’m backed up by research a study from Purdue by Schafer and Ferraro who found that people who reported weight discrimination “were the individuals who had the sharpest decline over time in their functional abilities.” ) So, if you can find some, I invite you to experience the joy of buying clothes that fit and that you like right this minute. Regardless of what you want to do with your body, I recommend that you consider that any path will be easier with a firm base of appreciation for your body – and consider that appreciating your body might include making it comfortable.

What if I Get Sick?

I talk about the fact that my metabolic health indicators are all really good and so I get asked a lot “What if you get diabetes/heart disease/sick?” This is known as the Role Model Problem – the idea that if we hold someone up as a “role model” – proof that fat people can be healthy – then if that person gets sick it’s proof that fat people can’t be healthy.

The truth is that neither statement is true.  The fact that I am healthy is not proof that all fat people can be healthy.  If I were to get every obesity related disease tomorrow it would not be proof that no fat people can be healthy.  There are healthy and unhealthy people of every size.

The problem as I see it is that in our culture we’ve completed confused the concepts of weight and health. Somehow we’ve forgotten that body size is NOT a diagnosis.

There are exactly two things that you can tell from the size of someone’s body:

  1. What size they are.
  2. What your own prejudices and preconceived notions about that size are.

Health is multi-dimensional and not all facets are within our control: current behaviors, past behaviors, environment, stress, genetics, and access – including access to nourishing foods, movement options that are safe and enjoyable, and good health care which we know can be an issue for fat people.

Our numbers aren’t entirely the result of our behavior, in some cases they are primarily the result of factors outside of our control. We know that marathoners can drop dead of heart attacks.  Again – there are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size.

To answer the question, if I were to have a health issue then I would treat it from a health perspective. Somewhat unbelievably to me, that would likely be a controversial choice.  Consider this:

Typically if a 120 pound woman goes to the doctor with high blood sugar, she is given health interventions that are known to control blood sugar, then in subsequent visits her blood sugar will be measured to test the efficacy of the treatment.  The treatments that she is given will be proven effective before they are prescribed to her and if they fail her case will be re-evaluated and new interventions prescribed.

If a 300 pound woman goes to the doctor with high blood sugar, she is told to lose weight, and in subsequent visits her weight will be measured to determine her success.  Based on all available research this treatment fails 95% of the time.  If the treatment fails she will be blamed for not doing it right and assigned the same treatment again.

How does that make sense?  Why is a thin person given interventions that are related to their health problems, but a fat person is given interventions related to their size?  If a thin person can have diabetes then being thin can’t be the cure. Confusing weight and health does a disservice to everyone.

So if I get sick I’ll look for interventions that have a likelihood of making me well.  But for now, thin people aren’t required to prove that they will never get sick in order to celebrate their current good health and I won’t live by a double standard.  I’m 34, fat and healthy.  Yay!  Someday I will be dead.  In between I’ll do the best I can with my circumstances and my body.

But Wouldn’t Your Life Be Easier If You Were Thin?

I’m back from my trip to Los Angeles, it was amazing.  I got to meet a new friend (Hi Julianne!)  I also got to spend time with the awesome Jeanette DePatie (aka The Fat Chick and if you don’t know her you should totally check her out!) I walked on the beach and played in the water.  I now have some pretty severe beach envy.

I spent an afternoon with the always fun Darryl Roberts finishing up the filming for my part in his new movie – America the Beautiful II – The Thin Commandments. As part of that we climbed the famous Santa Monica Stairs.  This was made extra interesting because I was wearing a dress and some slip on shoes.  (This isn’t me in the picture, as soon as I have a picture I’ll be posting it):

This is only part of the stairs. Yes they are this steep.  I told Darryl that if this part doesn’t appear in the film I will have to hurt him.

I am a huge fan of Darryl’s work and I’m super excited about this film and the number of people who are going to be exposed to the idea of Health at Every Size because of it.

The trip was topped off by a talk at USC for their Love Your Body Week which was great fun and made me even more excited about the possibility of a Dances with Fat World Tour!

Now to the meat of the topic today.  One question that came up a bunch of times this weekend was “But wouldn’t your life be easier if you were thin?”

First, I really reject this question on it’s face.  There are a lot of things that might make my life easier – if I were taller some things would be easier (reaching stuff) but some things would be more difficult (standing up on a plane).  There are plenty of ways that I could change that would make my life easier but that doesn’t mean I should make those changes.  They may or may not be possible, easier doesn’t necessarily mean better, and there are typically trade-offs. For example, there is a freedom that comes from living completely outside the cultural beauty norm that I really enjoy.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the answer is “yes” – that my life would be easier if I did not have to live under the constant stigma that comes from not conforming (or trying to conform) to the social stereotype of beauty.  This is still highly problematic:

First, even if being thin would make my life easier, nobody has any proven method to get it done.  Currently the best that science can offer me is a 5% chance for success and a 95% chance of failure including ending up heavier and less healthy than when I started.  I’m going to pass on that.

But it goes beyond that for me.  Even if it was proven possible, the cure for social stigma is NOT  for the stigmatized group to change and gain provisional acceptance. To me respect for all sizes is absolutely a civil rights issue.  As a fat woman there are two layers to this.  The first is my realization that I’m never going to be thin.  I don’t believe that’s a choice for me – just a matter of facing reality. The second is the decision to stop trying to be thin. That is a choice and a difficult one because it takes me out of the “Good Fatty” category (people who are trying to be thin and therefore get some modicum of approval from the stigmatizing group), and puts me firmly in the “Bad Fatty” category- someone who opts out of the diet culture completely and so is subjected to the full vitriol of the stigmatizing group.  So although my life might be easier if I were thin, or if I were at least seen as trying to be thin, I’m not interested.

Because where does it end?  If someone else gets to tell me what my body should look like, what else do they get to decide for me?  What other power do I have to give away?  I got a fortune in a cookie once that said “The person who trims themself to suit everyone soon whittles away to nothing.”  I think that if I want social change (and I do) then the first step is to stand up and say

No. I won’t do what you want me to do just to gain your begrudging, conditional respect and humane treatment, that I will only enjoy until you want me to change myself again to suit you. I will demand my civil rights now, as I am, and if you don’t give them to me then I will fight for them.

And you don’t want to mess with me because I can climb a whole bunch of stairs in a dress.

Hot Hottie Manifesto

Why yes, I did glue all 4,000 (no seriously, 4,000) rhinestones to this bra myself.

Tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Los Angeles.  We’re wrapping up filming of my part of America the Beautiful II – The Thin Commandments (The trailer is at the bottom of this post, I’m the one dancing),  and I’m giving a talk at the University of Southern California about options for health, happiness and self-esteem. In thinking about giving that talk I was reflecting on how I got to where I am when I remembered this:

I posted this to my LiveJournal on 10/12/2005 (the day after my birthday, making this the best birthday present I’ve ever given myself). At the time I had just quit a weight loss program and, in trying to get me to stay, and employee had asked me “Aren’t you tired of hating your body?” I realized that I was tired of hating my body and so I went to see a counselor for some help. This is the day that my destination became clear.  I didn’t know that path yet (it turns out that the Health at Every Size (r) method is what worked for me) but on 10/12/2005 I realized that who I was, was who I wanted to be. The post was titled “Hot Hottie Manifesto” and here is is:

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

I had the most amazing life experience today. For a long time I’ve been struggling with issues surrounding my inability to lose weight. I started working with a new counselor and I was lamenting about my problems and suggesting reasons why I was holding onto extra weight etc. She looked at me almost quizzically for a few seconds and then said “Truth – do you love your body?” And the answer was right there. Yes, I do. I totally love my body.  In that one moment it was  clear – the shame issues that I’ve been dealing with are about loving my body when other people think that I should be ashamed of it or trying to change it or that I must be unhealthy.  They have nothing to do with the way that I actually feel about by body.

So, a bit shocked, I told her that yes, I totally love my body. She said that she was surprised that I thought I had issues with my weight because her sense of me immediately upon meeting me was that I love my body in a way that few people are ever able to. I can’t describe how delightfully happy I am about this. I’m not sure where I’ll go from here but this is what I know a few things.

Truth:
I fucking LOVE my body.  My body is amazing. I would totally shag me. There is nothing conceited about this and I hope someday I can help other people feel this way about their bodies.

Truth:
I am badass dancer in the exact body that I’m in. End of story.

Truth:
The whole dieting, trying to lose weight thing is over. I’m going to support my body on its path.

Truth:
I’ll not be having anymore discussions with my dance coach or anybody else about changing my weight or size.

Truth:
I have been taking on other people’s issues about weight as if they were mine. I won’t be doing that anymore.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

So that’s it.  My big epiphany day and thanks to LiveJournal I can remember exactly how I was feeling.  I think it’s the most important thing that I’ve ever done for my health and my quality of life – it’s the day I opted out of the story that the diet industry was telling me and opted into a decision to find a way to acknowledge my amazing body and find a path that supported it, instead of punishing it and hating it. I was a difficult road to get here and some days the path is still rocky but I would not change it for anything and I will never go back.

Here’s the premiere for the documentary (trigger warning – there is eating disorder talk and pictures as well as some non fat-friendly speech).

Some Things I Don’t Understand

There are some things about weight and health in our culture that confuse me:

Why is it accepted that some people who eat a ton of food can stay thin, but not accepted that some people who eat a small amount of food can be fat?

Since thin people get diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, why is becoming thin suggested as a cure?

Why bother using BMI as a substitute for metabolic health measures when we can easily test metabolic health measures?

Doctors treat thin people for joint pain with options other than weight loss, why don’t they give fat people those same treatments?

Why do we believe that doing unhealthy things (liquid diet, smoking, urine injections coupled with starvation, stomach amputation) will lead to a healthy body?

If the diet industry’s product actually “cured fatness”, wouldn’t their profits be going down instead of up as more and more people were permanently thin?

Isn’t it medically unethical to prescribe something without telling your patients that it works less than 5% of the time with a much greater chance at leaving you heavier and less healthy than when you started?

Why do people continue to think that shaming people will lead them to health?

Why do we accept wide variations in things like foot and hand size, nose and lip shape etc. but expect every body to fit into a very narrow proportion of height and weight?

If weight gain isn’t proven to cause diabetes, high blood pressure etc., why would weight loss be recommended as a cure?

Since weight loss ads have to carry a “results not typical” warning, shouldn’t doctors have to give patients a similar warning?

Why do people take the time to come to my blog and make death threats?

Does anyone really succeed at hating themselves healthy? If so is it worth it?

If we’ve been prescribing dieting since the 1800s and still can’t prove that it works, shouldn’t we be trying something else?

How is it possible that suggesting that healthy habits are the best chance for a healthy body is controversial?

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some but that seems like enough nonsense for now. Obviously some of these are oversimplified, but so is the relationship of health and weight in current culture and medical practice.  Sometimes things just aren’t simple. And at some point it’s time to say that what we’ve been trying is wrong, and it’s time to look at other options. It seems to me that it’s about time for some of that.