We’ve been taught since the day we were born that being fat is unhealthy. Conveniently, the diet industry is over $70 billion right now and invested in us believing that, however, the truth is a lot more complicated.
Studies can link negative health to being “obese” from here to tomorrow, but we can’t separate weight stigma from health. Fat people are subjected to discrimination on a regular basis: via employment, the healthcare system, and education, just to name a few areas. Of course, that will impact health! And when someone experiences constant stress, it can lead to increased cortisol levels, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease – all the physical problems we tend to associate with being at a higher weight.
If that sounds hard to believe, here are some stats to back up the realities of weight stigma, particularly in the medical field. Doctors develop less rapport with larger patients, spending less time with them, according to researchers at Rice University.
In a 2003 University of Pennsylvania study, more than 50% of physicians described fat patients as, “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.” A cross-sectional study published in 2009 in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that among the 352 student nurses and 198 registered nurses who took part in the survey, the majority of them thought that fat patients, “liked food, overate, and were shapeless, slow and unattractive.”
There are too many stories about people going to the doctor because they weren’t feeling well, only to have their symptoms dismissed and attributed to their body size. By the time doctors took these larger patients seriously, their very real medical conditions had progressed too much for the patients to be saved.
Even if we knew for certain that being fat was unhealthy (remember that correlation does NOT equal causation), there is not a single diet proven to work long term for the vast majority and those diets often cause more weight gain by the 5 year mark.
Remember, so much of what we’ve learned about weight is funded by diet companies and the $70 billion diet industry.
What does it really mean to be healthy? Diet culture wants us to believe that health is about cleanses, detoxes, abstinence from entire food groups, and that if you achieve the “success” of thinness you are healthy. However, the diet culture doesn’t take into account mental health, connection, and relationships, which are all essential parts of health. If you find that you’re constantly prioritizing your workout over seeing friends to earn permission to eat, that you are unable to eat at social events because the food isn’t “clean” enough, or counting calories, grams, points and macros instead of tuning into your body’s cues, I would question how those things are healthy.
Health means flexibility, feeling comfortable eating a variety of foods, not feeling guilt or anxiety over food choices, exercising because it improves quality of life rather than it being about earning permission to eat, and tuning into your body and making decisions from a place of wanting to feel good as opposed to making decisions from an outside diet source telling you that you shouldn’t be trusting yourself.
Let’s not forget that we come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Health is not a specific BMI or a number on the scale; it’s so much more complex than that. We cannot determine how healthy someone is based on his or her body size. More importantly, health is not a moral obligation and people deal with all kinds of health issues in all kinds of bodies.
If you want to learn more, there are some great books that can help get you started. I recommend “Body of Truth,” “Body Respect,” “Intuitive Eating” (latest edition) and “Anti Diet.” And next time we chat, I’ll be sharing the alternative to a lifetime of dieting.