What are the common myths about weight loss?
For me, the biggest myth is that weight loss will make you healthier. Here’s the thing – people may get healthier if they lose weight, but there are so many other factors that affect health that may have been implemented or realized when someone lost weight, but it’s the weight that is seen as the reason for the improved health. For example – if someone pursues weight loss they may start exercising, eat more nutritiously, are sleeping better, become part of a community and have social support (like at a gym or group meetings), receive compliments from others and hence feel better about themselves. All these things I listed can help someone become healthier regardless of weight loss.
What can society do to dismantle those myths?
For me, it started by becoming educated on the facts about weight and health. One of the main books I recommend to people is Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor. Another is to start to challenge our beliefs and assumptions about people who are fat and their health. Currently, we pretty much only see images and reports in the media of fatness associated with poor health. One of the best things I did for myself was to start following people on social media who were defying what a “fit” and “healthy” body looked like. I started following people on Instagram like Louise Green (@louisegreen_bigfitgirl), Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) and Dana Falsetti (@nolatrees) who are all women in large bodies who are also very active and fit. We just don’t see this kind of representation. I also challenge in my mind whenever I make an assumption about someone and their health – even if I see a thin person and I assume they’re healthy I remind myself “I know nothing about their health”. Then I also follow up with “it’s none of my business!” Starting to challenge these assumptions we have will help change the way we view and treat people.
What is about the BMI? And is it a current way to determine health?
The BMI – Body Mass Index was created in the 1800’s by a Belgian Statistician as a way to categorize population size. It was never intended to be used as an individual marker of health. But because we like to have neat little boxes to categorize people, (which is easier for health insurance companies) it’s still being used – despite the fact that it’s inaccurate. And despite the fact that it falsely categorizes people as unhealthy, and worse, denies people health care who need it because they don’t fall into a certain BMI category. I’d like to see a ban on the BMI, and the medical community to altogether stop using weight as a factor in assessing and treating people for their health. The fact is fat people can be healthy and thin people can be unhealthy, and the cause of illness is not the weight itself, but a host of intertwining socio-economic factors that cannot be determined by a number.
What are your thoughts on the so-called ‘Obesity epidemic ‘and how should society be tackling this issue?
I believe that pathologizing bodies and putting the sole blame on the individual for not meeting a size that society deems acceptable is harmful. Is it true that some people are bigger than what their natural size may be? Yes. But it’s also true that our fixation on thinness has caused many people to be under what their nature size may be – and that is actually more dangerous to health than being “overweight”.
In order to tackle this “problem” I believe a few things need to happen: 1) we as a culture need to dismantle fatphobia and weight stigma. We simply cannot promote health in a population when we treat the bodies of the very people we claim to be “helping” as a problem – and at its worst, with disdain and contempt. If we truly want to help the “obesity epidemic”, we need to do the opposite of what we are taught – to stop focusing on weight as the problem. Instead – we need to view people’s health holistically. I challenge health professionals to treat someone without focusing on their size. What would they do? What tests would they run? What questions would they ask? The reality is there isn’t an ailment a fat person has that a thin person doesn’t also struggle with. By doing this we’ll tackle the root cause of the issue. By helping someone improve their overall health, their weight will either go down on its own or up if that’s needed.
How do fat accepting parents deal with fat phobia and self-esteem issues with their kids?
I really feel for parents and kids around this issue, it’s challenging. Firstly I think what parents can do it educate themselves about weight stigma and fatphobia that exists in our culture. Parents are just as much a part of diet culture as kids, so understanding the negative impact that diet culture has on everyone is important. A book I can recommend is Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women. Although this book focuses on girls and women, it’s an eye-opening book.
Secondly, reinforce with kids that their size is not a problem. Remind them that their worth and value has nothing to do with how they look or their size. Also to note that for girls, they will naturally gain between 10-30 lbs at puberty, so do not be alarmed. I would also be mindful to stop any weight talk that is happening at home or any negative body talk that the parents might be engaging in themselves. Demonstrating body acceptance is a great way to be a role model.
What do you think of the current practice of weight shaming as a way to battle the so-called obesity epidemic?
I think it’s a terrible, damaging practice. Sure shame “works” to some degree, but it causes a host of self-esteem issues and in the long run, fails. It’s really difficult to care for something that we are taught to hate, and if we are taught to hate and be ashamed of our bodies, we will ultimately engage in unhealthy practices to lose weight at any cost. It’s also very stressful to be shamed, and chronic stress is fertile ground for illness. There is research showing that people who are shamed are more likely to be unhealthy due to the stress they experience, not the weight itself.