11 Reasons Why I Focus On Health and Not Weight

Success and DietsI got the following e-mail today:

This whole Health at Every Size thing is nothing more than fat people justifying being fat and being too lazy to diet. It simply makes no sense in any other context.

Setting aside the fact that my body needs no justification,  I came to a Health at Every Size practice based on the evidence.  This person is confused – based on the research dieting is the thing that makes no sense.

Before we get too far into this, just a reminder of the usual disclaimers:  health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, guaranteed under any circumstances, and not anybody else’s business unless we ask them. The right to be treated with basic human respect is not size, health, or “healthy habit” dependent by any definition thereof. Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame stigma, bullying and oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could (or want to) be thin. Fat people’s health is not your business unless they ask you to make it your business. Anyone wishing to make a hand-wringing “But my tax dollars blah blah blah” argument can head over to this post.

But since they asked, here are 11 reasons why I think a focus on health rather than weight makes way more sense for my personal health goals:

1.  Simple Observation

We know that there are healthy fat people an unhealthy thin people so weight=health does not hold up to simple observation.

2.  Thin people get all the health issues that are correlated with fatness

And since thin people get all of these health issues, then being thin is neither a sure cure nor a certain preventative. Further, since we treat thin people for these health issues  we have treatment protocols that do not involve weight loss.  Those same protocols could be used on fat people who have these health issues – so that we are treating the actual health issue and not just trying to change someone’s body size and hoping that health comes along for the ride.

3.  Correlation does not equal causation

Just because a disease is correlated with being fat does not mean that it is caused by being fat.  In some cases, sleep apnea for example, a condition is thought to cause weight gain, leading to a chicken and the egg problem. By focusing on the health problem instead of the weight we avoid this issue altogether.

4. Confirmation Bias

We seek evidence that confirms our existing beliefs.  For example doctors test fat people earlier and more often for health issues thought to be correlated with being fat, thin people who have the symptoms of diseases that are correlated with being fat are often ignored because the doctors assume that thin people are “safe” from these diseases.  If you have two groups and you test one earlier and more often for a set of health problems, and subsequently ignore the symptoms of those health problems in the second group, of course the first group is likely to have a higher diagnosis rate.

5.  Third Factor

One of the reasons that correlation does not imply causation is because the two things could both be caused by a third factor.  It’s entirely possible that a third factor is responsible for both body size and health issues, in which case weight loss attempts will do nothing to address the problem and may even exacerbate it.

6.  The Wrong Measurements

When people set weight loss as a goal, they are typically assuming that along with that weight loss they’ll get a host of metabolic health benefits: good cholesterol, blood pressure, triglyceride and blood glucose numbers etc.  So when, like 95% of people, they fail at weight loss they assume that they failed at all of the health outcomes as well.  But studies show that this isn’t the case.  Had they measured their metabolic health rather than their weight they are likely to have seen health increases, even without weight loss.

7.  Confusing the standard of beauty with health

As a culture we tend to have a single standard of beauty (which is a whole other problem).  Unfortunately it is all too easy to assume that this single standard of beauty is also the single standard of health. That is simply not true.

8. Human Diversity

We accept a huge amount of human diversity.  Large variations in shapes and sizes of feet, hands, and noses, heights, hair colors etc. are all considered normal.  And yet we expect healthy bodies to conform to a narrow height weight ratio or we consider them “abnormal” or “unhealthy”

9.  The Dieting Effect

In studies dieting (particularly dieting young and/or repeatedly) predicts weight gain.  So even if I bought into the idea that “fat” is “bad,”  dieting is the last thing that I would do since the most likely outcome is that I would end up more fat than when I started (which was certainly my personal experience of dieting.)

10. The Unlikelihood of Weight Loss

In studies since 1959 weight loss has shown a success rate of only a tiny minority.  Doctors are prescribing a intervention that almost never works (and has the opposite of the intended effect the majority of the time) to 60% of Americans. The diet industry makes 60 Billion dollars a year taking credit for their successes, and blaming their clients for their failures.

11.  The likelihood of increased health

We know that health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control.  That said, studies show that most people will get a health benefit from participating in healthy behaviors (movement, getting enough sleep, having a strong social network, getting enough food etc.).  Studies also show that most of these people will not experience significant long term weight loss but, again, will increase their odds for health.

12:  Bonus Reason: 

This whole thing is based on the (completely untested) hypothesis that if you make fat people look like thin people, they will have the same health outcomes.  For now, I’ll set aside the fact that when researchers claim to be studying health and body size they are actually study a bunch of things that they rarely talk about or even attempt to control for.

Research found that men with certain baldness patterns have a much higher risk of cardiac incidents.  Additional research found that the baldness and cardiac incidents likely have the same root cause.

Thank goodness the weight loss people weren’t in charge of this or instead of the additional research and actual interventions, we’d have a government-sponsored War on Baldness and a sixty billion dollar industry telling men that they have to  grow their hair back to be healthy and that if they don’t it’s their fault, accompanied by reporters whipping everyone into a frenzy with articles about how much bald men who get heart disease are costing society.

The bottom line here is that, even if a large body is a “risk factor” for health issues, it does not follow that manipulating the size of that body will change health or risk factors, and it may actually make it worse.  Making one group of people look like another group of people to try to duplicate health outcomes is not solid science.

So there you go, 11 reasons (and a bonus reason!) why I choose to focus on health rather than body size manipulation. Your get to make choices for you, and your mileage may vary, but let’s not pretend that dieting is the only choice that “makes sense.”

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8 thoughts on “11 Reasons Why I Focus On Health and Not Weight

  1. might i ask you a related question? i think other people may have a similar problem, that is why i’m asking it here & not in email. if you want to take it out and answer in email, that is okay by me.

    i am seriously ED’d. i have been for more than three decades. i also don’t have a lot of money, but i like to be polite. so when my friend comes over i buy her food. i recognized YEARS ago that she, who is very very thin but absolutely not ED’d, cannot eat on my ED schedule, or live even a day on my primary ED foods [mostly grapes, potato pieces, & pretzels once in awhile], so i always make sure to buy her delivery food so she can have something to eat. i do NOT buy it for me. i can, and do, live on the bits of food i normally buy, mixed in with a little of the largely health food delivery.

    lately she has been LIMITING what she eats of the food i buy her. ie: i buy potatoes at the market; they arent fried, in general i wont eat fried food. i like them, which is good, because they arent terribly bad for me. even more importantly they don’t scare me, so i’m willing to eat them. if i ask her if she wants any she says she’ll take TWO. these are PIECES of potatoes. i usually eat FOUR. i COUNT them, i count everything i eat obsessively, other than things like carrots. i’ve been ED’d since before 1980, almost all of my life. if she takes two pieces of potato it does NOT make me feel like i’m saving money. instead it makes me feel like i should only eat ONE, then feel horribly guilty about the one. or she’ll refuse the potatoes AT ALL, and bring out a tiny container of apple slices and tell me that it is enough for her.

    she says she is doing this so i will have food in the house, and does not want to take my food so she can save me money, which i believe is truly what she thinks she’s doing. i think it is, absolutely, beyond doubt, her intention. this is not a mean or self-righteous person AT ALL.

    as per” we’ve all had people do this sort of thing out of self-righteousness or cold selfish meanness, we’ve all had one or another variation of it, no question. she’s NOT doing that, and i KNOW it. but i am at a complete loss as to what to do now. yesterday i told her to take whatever she wanted and she took exactly what i would take, an amount i know to be severely short, severely ED’d. we have been working on MY streaming project so i bought HER dinner. i had eaten almost nothing and was passing out from exhaustion or i would have served her up a normal serving. i KNOW what i eat is not normal. when she left i ended up eating twice as much as she did because i’d eaten all but nothing ALL DAY. i’m used to that, but she mustve been famished.

    yr blog is the ONLY thing that ever truly helps me. might you have an answer for what i should do before i, once again, start drinking soap? i just told her a shortened version, maybe that will do it, i dont know. there are two conflicting issues here: not enough money and an ED that has contributed to my getting so sick i cant work well enough to raise the kind of money i once did.

    i am at a pure loss.

    gratefully yrs,
    yr weariest friend+subscriber,

    1. I’m not the blogger but I do fight the ED monster. Can you tell her that her limiting her intake is detrimental to your ED, and that your disorder forces you to eat less than you see her taking?

      Otherwise, well, you can’t force her to change. Hugs.

    2. Is this a friend coming from out of town and so staying for days at a time? If not, would it be possible to avoid the issue somewhat by finding hanging-out times/activities that don’t so clearly involve food?

  2. I love the baldness analogy. PERFECT.

    I think we need to stop focusing on “healthy” as an absolute- it’s more of a spectrum. ALL of us can be healthIER. We can exercise, we can nourish ourselves with quality food, we can get checkups, and we can keep an eye on our mental health.

    But trying to throw out a “you’re not healthy!” is laying down the impossible standard. We can’t be Jesus. We can each improve, though.

    We do biometric screenings yearly and every year there’s at least one shocked thin person coming out who had no idea they were a walking time bomb. (And a few who “fail” the BMI but have other numbers just perfect. Our plan doesn’t require ALL healthy numbers, just an “overall healthy” score)

  3. When someone says fat people are too lazy to diet, I can’t help thinking about all the times I hear something like 2/3rds of the population is fat. Following the lazy argument, that means 2/3rds of the population is lazy, but clearly most of those people are holding down jobs, raising families and living their lives, not just sitting around eating bon bons and getting fat.

    I’m always amazed at the failure of reason.

    1. It’s not logic fail, it’s demonization. Fat people aren’t considered people anymore, but an amorphous mass of pigs and whales with no individual identity. There’s this set of esoteric, dangerous rules with changing goalposts we’re expected to follow to “earn” our basic human rights and second-class citizenship, and as you can see, any questioning or refusing to comply is taken as more proof we’re evil doo-doo-headed pigwhale demon-monsters.

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