My final blog post series would not be complete if I didn’t include today’s topic. I’m going to be exposing an idea that chances are, if you are a reader of Healthy Girl’s Kitchen, you may not even be aware of: Health at Every Size.
When I began blogging almost a decade ago, weight loss/maintenance was the only thing that concerned me when it came to my body.
But that quickly changed as I discovered the whole food, plant-based diet, the doctors and other folks that promote it, and the communities of people embracing it.
I vividly remember a lot, and I mean A LOT, of discussion in certain online message boards and Facebook groups about how much people weighed. It seemed that there was a pretty tight range, depending on your height, in which your body needed to stay in order for you to be at an ideal place for long-term health.
It never occurred to me to question any of this.
It never occurred to me to just admit that dieting (going hungry in an effort to lose weight) sucked, for a variety of complex reasons.
I just saw these charts, the one in Dr. Fuhrman’s books being the most prominent in my memory, and I thought they were The Gospel According to Joel.
And whole food-plant based very quickly became my religion.
I was sold.
Only my body weight didn’t fit into the part of the chart that was “correct.”
When I looked at “the numbers” I just thought, “there is no way that my body could ever be that low weight.”
And I was so right about that.
Only that didn’t make me feel okay about it. I just internalized this feeling that there might be something wrong with me and my body and that I would probably not live as long as someone my height who had less poundage on their frame.
For almost a decade, I never questioned any of this.
My weight went up, my weight went down, my health was (luckily) stable, and I felt terrible-horrible about this thing that I perceived to be the only giant failure in my otherwise very successful life-I couldn’t stay thin.
“What the eff is wrong with me?” I thought. “I must be so out of control.”
But, I later discovered, it wasn’t me that was out of control, it was the whole messed up ideal that this system is built upon.
To say that I was living in a bubble (or a cult) is an understatement.
I swear to you as I write this that I never once considered that my body was okay, even healthy, at different weights. I had somehow internalized a narrative that if I wasn’t in a specific part of the height/weight chart that the following things were wrong:
- I was most certainly going to get diabetes.
- I was most certainly going to get cancer.
- I was most certainly going to have a heart attack.
- I was gross.
- I was weak.
- I was inferior to those that were in the correct part of the height/weight chart.
- I was failing society because I was probably going to cost the system a bunch of money someday.
- I was failing the animals because I wasn’t a stellar (ie thin) representative of the health benefits of a whole food-plant based diet.
Now I think I may have been wrong about all of it.
I’mm pretty sure I was just fine, healthy even, even at my highest weight.
Do you know the number one factor for long life iaccording to the Blue Zone researchers? Close personal relationships.
Here are the 9 Lifestyle Habits shared by people who live the longest according to the Blue Zones:
- Move Naturally. The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
- Purpose. The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy
- Down Shift. Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
- 80% Rule. “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
- Plant Slant. Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of deck or cards.
- Wine. @ 5People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
- Belong. All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
- Loved Ones First. Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).
- Right Tribe. The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors. source
What I have also sadly come to understand is that yo-yoing your weight is worse for your long-term health outcomes than it is to be “overweight” to begin with. source
But even more profound than all of this is what I have now come to understand-
I can have Health At Every Size [HAES].
Have you heard the term “health at every size?”
It was very, very new to me just a few short months ago. Here’s a description:
“Although evidence links obesity and being overweight to a number of health problems, HAES advocates argue that traditional interventions focused on weight loss, such as dieting, do not reliably produce positive health outcomes. The benefits of lifestyle interventions such as nutritious eating and exercise are presumed to be real, but independent of any weight loss they may cause. At the same time, HAES advocates espouse that sustained, large-scale weight loss is difficult to the point of effective impossibility for the majority of obese people. Evidence to support the view that some obese people eat little yet gain weight due to a slow metabolism is limited, and often false, as studies have shown that obese individuals incorrectly self-report calories consumed; on average, obese people have a greater energy expenditure than their healthy-weight counterparts due to the energy required to maintain an increased body mass. HAES proponents believe that health is a result of behaviors that are independent of body weight and that favouring being thin discriminates against the overweight and the obese. Efforts towards such weight loss are instead held to cause rapid swings in size that inflict far worse physical and psychological damage than would obesity itself.” source
And I find this, from the HAES website, to be especially sad, yet true in my case:
“Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health, etc. Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Health at Every Size is the new peace movement.It supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors. It is an inclusive movement, recognizing that our social characteristics, such as our size, race, national origin, sexuality, gender, disability status, and other attributes, are assets, and acknowledges and challenges the structural and systemic forces that impinge on living well.” source
I think it could be easily argued that I am in a far worse place, both physically and emotionally, because of the years of my life that I have spent trying to shape shift into a smaller, stronger body. I probably would have fared far better had my weight never been interfered with (aka dieting), first by my parents and later, by myself.
Because I know from personal experience that I was healthy with a larger body and that getting into and staying in a smaller body caused me personally a tremendous amount of stress, anxiety and chronic physical pain, I now completely understand and appreciate the message from the HAES community.
Personally, I am much happier now that I am not starving and I am moving my body in a way that feels good for me, and not in any effort to try to change my shape or size.
I’m guessing that my health is going to benefit from letting go.
But there are no guarantees. I can only do my best given the information that I have at any moment, my current understanding of the science and more importantly, my own experiences.
At this time, I am choosing to honor my hunger and personal preferences and end this herculean effort to stay in a thinner body. I can eat delicious, nutritious, mostly plant-based foods because I love them and they fill me up, because I respect animals and cherish our planet. I can engage only in exercise as it feels good to me. And I can just relax about the rest (including eating whatever else I feel like eating, simply because I want to). I can be perfectly, completely, and totally IMPERFECT.
I highly recommend reading or listening to the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon. The author goes through, in great detail, how diets mess up the human body and how it’s not even true that your weight is the cause of health problems (this was total news to me). You can actually be “overweight” and be perfectly healthy! WHO THE EFF KNEW???
“I think this book is a must read for everyone who has ever gone on a diet or has considered it. Some of it is even a bit hard to swallow since we live in a world where everyone is supposed to fit in one size and of course the reality is nowhere near that idea. I love this book and hate it at the same time because it tells you the truth.” Amazon Reviewer
I’m curious if you have heard of the Health at Every Size movement? Have you already read the book? What are you thinking about these ideas? Has dieting gotten you where you want to go? Or has it caused you irreparable damage?
Catch my next blog post where I reveal the secret to being 1000% happier with your body in a matter of hours! I promise (or your money back! LOL).