Health Toolkit Part Two: Health and Weight are Not the Same Thing
The narrow image of “health” that mainstream culture promotes did not work for me. Instead, I have discovered a health which allows for more flexibility and nuance. One of the first steps in this journey was realizing that health and weight are not the same thing.
Weight and health have become so intertwined that this statement might seem radical or extreme. However, focusing on weight for the sake of “health” is damaging.
First, this perpetuates terrible fatphobia and weight stigma. Secondly, it puts the focus on something largely out of a person’s control and distracts from practices that could truly benefit a person’s ability to engage in and enjoy life.
Fatphobia is a devastating problem in healthcare and many people in larger bodies may avoid seeking medical attention due to the stigma they face. Someone in a fat body who comes to the doctor with a health concern may only be told to lose weight while a person in a thin body with the same concern may be given a variety of different treatment options to consider.
We need to stop thinking of fat as a problem that needs to be fixed or a disease that needs to be cured.
While a heavier weight correlates with some health issues, correlation is not causation. Plus, maintaining weight loss is nearly impossible.
Multiple studies show that the majority of individuals who intentionally lose weight are unable to maintain weight loss over the long term. Further, there is scientific evidence that this weight regain is not a lack of willpower but rather the body trying to protect itself (Bacon, Aphramor, “Weight Science”).
Believing weight loss is the necessary for health is harmful and inaccurate.
For most of my life, I believed the “if I just lose weight than I will be happy” lie. As I said have before, losing weight did not make me happy or healthy. It made me miserable and anxious. Now that I have let go of any weight loss goals, I have the freedom to truly take care of my body.
My hope is for individuals to stop focusing on weight and instead engage in other activities and practices that actually promote health.
For example, if someone is struggling with joint pain, there are so many options for them to try to find relief. This is true in a fat body or thin body. There is massage, physical therapy, and gentle movement like swimming and tai chi. Other general practices that might improve quality of life include counseling, meditation, intuitive eating, learning gentle nutrition and if medically necessary medications and/ or surgery.
By letting go of weight loss as necessary for health, there is freedom to build health toolkits that promote balanced health and wellbeing. I believe by focusing on what makes my body feel good and being aware of what makes my body feel bad, I have the ability to lead a healthy lifestyle- no matter my weight.
Simply put, health and weight are not the same thing.
Thanks for reading.
Reference and Recommended Reading
1. “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift.” Lindo Bacon and Lucy Aphramor. If you are still skeptical, please read this research article!
2. I highly encourage following #FatActivism and #FatAcceptance on Instagram and other social media. Fat people are the experts on fatphobia and weight stigma. I am so grateful for the expertise, wisdom and vulnerability of @nic.mcdermid, @meg.boggs, and @ragenchastain just to name a few.
3. “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia” by Sabrina Strings. The author traces the history of fatphobia, racism, morality and religion over the past 500 years to see how we have arrived at this version of “healthy.” The historical context is helpful to understand that the thin ideal was not always what “healthy” looked like.