People like easy answers. We prefer things to be black or white, right or wrong, and good or bad. It either is or it isn’t. We also like to extrapolate that because we had a certain experience, others must have had the same experience. When someone has a contradictory experience, sometimes we find it threatening when in reality, it needn’t be. My experience does not invalidate yours, even if they are polar opposites.
I consider myself to have complex views on weight and health that are not easily condensed into short phrases. Sometimes, this makes it rather difficult to write for my Facebook page because I cannot say everything in every status. Twitter is off the table for me. I need a lot more letters to say most things I care to say. My views are very nuanced, not the same as what they were last year, and constantly evolving.
This blog recently passed its third year of existence, so it seems like a good time to write this down in words instead of just keeping it in my head.
Health and Weight are Not the Same Thing
This is at the very core of what I believe about our society’s health issues related to lifestyle. Because we put the focus so keenly upon weight, i.e. the “obesity epidemic,” we are missing the point. There is something amiss with the foods we eat and our sedentary lifestyles but it is much more complex than simply battling weight gain. When you tell someone they are too fat and they should lose weight, generally, they go on a diet. This does not usually mean anything positive; a temporary restrictive plan, weight lost, and quickly regained. Rather than approaching the root issues, this focus treats one symptom. To top it off, it’s a symptom that is not easily overcome. In fact, we know very clearly that the usual methods people use to reduce their weight generally lead to gain not loss in the long run.
By focusing so much on weight, I believe we do everyone a disservice, large and small. Thin people may feel complacent about their lifestyle choices since they are thin while heavy people who are in good health may feel compelled to try weight loss methods that actually harm them.
I believe that everyone can benefit from shifting our focus to the causes, not the symptoms.
Our Perception of Weight is Skewed
There is a difference between being 10 pounds “overweight” and being 300 pounds overweight. If you happen to be 20 pounds overweight according to the out-dated and arbitrary categories of the BMI chart, you may in fact be at a very healthy and natural weight for your particular body. If you are carrying so much excess weight it makes it difficult to go about your daily activities, that is an entirely different situation. Yet when we speak about weight, there’s generally no distinction made between these two scenarios or any of the many variations between them. It almost seems as though every single person I meet wants to, thinks about, talks about, or is trying to lose weight – regardless of their size.
I am positive that from a health perspective, there is genuinely no reason for many of these people to lose weight at all except for the expectation put forth that we ought all look a certain way. If people want to lose weight to look a certain way, it’s their life and I do not begrudge them that. But let’s call this what it is and not pretend our desire to see our abs or ribs, whichever your preference be, has anything at all to do with health.
Healthy Habits Can Benefit Everyone
No matter what you look like, I firmly believe your life can benefit from consuming nutritious food in quantities appropriate to your activity level and from leading a more active life. It just seems to me that if we celebrated actions like learning to cook our own food again, concentrating on real foods with nutritious value, and regular exercise or physical activity, people would know what to do. Instead, we say “Lose Weight” and people are really confused about how to do that. If it were so easy, wouldn’t everyone have done it by now? Clearly this line of advising does not work very well for people.
Our Health Problem is Bigger than Personal Responsibility
It’s easy to point fingers and blame each other for poor choices, but the truth of the matter is, it is the social norm to eat a lot of processed nutrition-less junk, to not cook your own dinner, to eat in the car, to drink sugary beverages, to sit at a desk all day and to watch a lot of TV. Expecting all of society to miraculously become rebels against what we have been taught is normal is expecting the impossible. On an individual level, we can absolutely each change our own lifestyle. If we want to tackle this problem on a social level, we need social and political change. Some of the causes of the lifestyle epidemic aside from personal choices are:
- Food manufacturers want to make a profit. It is not in their interest for people to eat less. Food products are designed to encourage you to eat more of them, from the way they are packaged to the way they taste and smell to the way they are advertised.
- The diet industry wants to make a profit. It is not in their interest for you to lose weight and keep it off. Dieting, in the long run, causes weight gain and the maintenance rate for weight loss is dismal.
- The medical community is behind the times on the science of weight and weight loss. It’s a big business. Surgeries, procedures and medications are a big money maker for pharmaceutical companies, but again they treat the symptom not the underlying issues. We need a complete shift from treatment after the fact to prevention. As consumers, we also need a shift of expectation from thinking there’s a pill that can “fix” us to taking a more active role in our health care.
- The media uses our dissatisfaction with our bodies to sell us stuff. Keeping you convinced you need to lose weight and look different to be happy is a surefire way to sell you products. I often wonder if our obsession with our weight is actually worse for our health than our weight. For a lot of people I think it is.
My Weight Loss Journey
I lost a lot of weight myself. I did this by calorie counting and exercise. I am very glad I am now the smaller size version of me. I do believe that people can be fat and fit. However, I was not. I guess now I am, since technically I am overweight according to the medical community. I have come to think that body weight is such a personal thing, it really shouldn’t be up to other people how we approach it. I don’t advocate anyone doing what I did, it’s not for me to say what’s right for you. You have to figure that out yourself.
This used to be all about me, but it’s not anymore. Soon enough, over 20,000 people will be following me on Facebook. Those who have been with me for a long time have probably noticed the change. It’s coincidental with a change in my own life focus, so it worked out well for me.
I don’t post or write about weight loss anymore. I post about healthy eating. I post about loving yourself. I post about exercise. I post pictures of my cooking. I post articles about weight and health. But I don’t advise people on how to lose weight or encourage them to anymore. The way I see it, we are bombarded with that crap every single day from every avenue. I want to encourage what I see as positive for everyone whether you’re recovering from anorexia or working on losing half your body weight or you’re healthy and happy just the way you are.