Sorry the blog is a bit late today (I’ve been traveling and I’m a bit behind on everything!), but I think you’ll find it’s totally worth the wait. I had the opportunity to interview Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor about their new book Body Respect. This is super exciting for me, because Dr. Bacon and Dr. Aphramor are at the forefront of the research on weight and health and if you read the blog regularly you know them because I often refer to their work. Without further ado, here’s the interview:
How did the book come about?
It started off destined for the classroom. Linda was teaching a health class and didn’t feel comfortable using a conventional textbook, as all of them have damaging misinformation about weight and also fail miserably both in their recommendations for improving health habits and in drawing attention to inequality as a health hazard. As we worked on it together it morphed into a more generalized book that enables people to re-think health, and we made it more suitable for a wider audience.
What makes this book different than other health books?
Many readers of this blog are probably familiar with our previous writings and/or our reputations and know to expect a critical examination of weight science and sensitivity to social justice concerns. Those, of course, are hallmarks of this book.
And here’s another huge difference: we challenge the value of a focus on lifestyle change that ignores the context of people’s lives. Note that in saying this, we are not suggesting that taking good care of ourselves is misplaced – far from it. Instead, we show how the current lifestyle conversation makes it hard for people to sustain self-care for two reasons. One, it arises from a partial view of the science that ignores data on social determinants. It’s not a coincidence that less advantaged people have poorer health, and this can lead to confusion over health outcomes for both clients and practitioners and frustration when treatment is less effective than expected. And second, this partial reading means lifestyle advice is too often given in a way that inadvertently leads to victim blaming and self-blame. When we instead take people’s stories seriously, including their experiences of advantage and disadvantage, we can find new ways of understanding health outcomes and why people make the health choices they do. We can also better envision what’s required for change.
What we’ve done in Body Respect is draw on findings at the intersection of science and social theory to help people make sense of their health practices and see options for improving self-care. We also argue for politically aware relationships with health care practitioners that foster resilience and self-care, keeping health care practitioners relevant in an inequitable world.
What is the dream? If the book is as successful as you can imagine, how would it change the world?
If readership reaches a tipping point then there will be enough of us insisting on relationships of mutuality and respect, in and beyond healthcare, to destabilize the thinking and change the behaviours that shore up the status quo. Those who pick up the book looking to end the misery of dieting will get that, and more besides. People looking to factor rights, oppression and privilege into a health culture that inevitably has to start from where we are will find out how to do so. We would be incited to live by a politics of justice where our default response is more often one of compassion than it is judgment, where children grew up secure in their self-worth, and where the daily abuses of power that lead to stereotype, silencing and inequity were recognized for what they are and challenged.
What was it like working as a team?
We’re both very passionate about this work. We’ve got a real connection and it’s great to have the opportunity to work on projects together and fun to see things taking shape as we pool our concerns and perspectives. When differences of opinion surface it of course leads to vulnerability, which can be painful at times, though we recognize that it’s an important part of the collaborative connection and one which keeps the writing process meaningful as well as generating still more views . Being in close contact is also invaluable for the support we can give each other with other areas, and has real a spin off in terms of resilience.
What’s next for the two of you?
We’re just finishing a training video to help eating disorders professionals integrate the concepts of Body Respect into their work, and we’re also working on two further book collaborations. One is a revised version of Linda’s first book which is updated with new data, more explicitly integrates the social determinants of health, and is more of a step by step how-to manual. The second book is tentatively called Eat Well: For Yourself and for the World. This delves deeply into nutritional science with chapter headings much along the lines of a typical undergraduate dietetic text book. No prizes for guessing for some of the things that make it different from comparable mainstream books are a weight science chapter from a HAES perspective, plus attention to sustainability. We’re also concerned with how oppression directly affects individual metabolism and therefore contributes to avoidable discrepancies in health outcomes from conditions misleadingly referred to as “lifestyle” diseases. And again, it also moves more consciously to use a relational and embodied framework to talk about nutrients and bodies and how we make food choices rather than the reductionist and prescriptive framework commonly adopted in nutrition and dietetic text books.
How can people acquire the book?
From your local independent bookseller … from BenBella books http://shop.benbellabooks.com/Body-Respect.html … Amazon and all the usual places. Why not ask your local or academic library to stock a copy?
My great thanks to Dr. Bacon and Dr. Aphramor for the amazing work that they do!
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