Clarity About Health At Every Size

October 23rd, 2012 by Sara Upson

I recently attended the professional conference for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Philadelphia.  This conference, known as the Food & Nutrition Expo and Conference (FNCE), hosts about 10,000 dietitians annually.  This year in Philadelphia it was no different and a large group of dietitians converged on the area for the opportunity to network, increase our knowledge, hone our practice as dietitians, and- let’s not forget the expo- pick up some nutrition related swag.  Now the purpose of this post is not to write about this conference; the purpose of this post is to address a question presented in a session that I attended.  The topic of the session was something along the lines of the importance of happiness and satisfaction with your diet.  The comment that spurred this post was:  “I am a dietitian for the depart of health and human services and I am really concerned about the fat acceptance movement.  I am concerned that if people feel too good about themselves that they will not try to lose weight.”

Needless to say I was shocked!  I support the philosophy of Health At Every Size and could not believe my ears that someone was concerned that people would feel too good about themselves!  Mind you, we just sat through a 90-minute seminar on the importance of happiness and satisfaction related to our health and nutrition.  In fact, multiple times throughout the presentation information was presented on the impact of happiness and health:

  • Happy people live longer.
  • Happiness causes better health and decreases mortality.
  • Happy people have stronger immune function and get sick less.

At the end of the session there was time for comments/questions and that was when this comment was presented.  A small debate ensued about health at every size, which I did not have the opportunity to participate in.   I would like to counter the comment made by that one dietitian and present evidence in support of size acceptance.

1.  People take better care of things they like.  Plain and simple.  It is one of the reasons why shame based campaigns do not work.  If you like your body/yourself and feel good about your body/yourself, you are more likely to take care of your body/yourself.  You are more likely to make choices that are supportive to your health like going to the doctor regularly, participating in physical activity, and making healthful nutrition selections.

  1. Look at the research.  I have presented this information elsewhere in my original post on Health At Every Size, but the research consistently shows that individuals who focus on health regardless of size have lower morbidity and mortality rates.  This research comes from a variety of different areas including work from the CDC.

  2. Look at Behaviors. Size acceptance is a component of health at every size but with that acceptance also comes a willingness to embrace health regardless of size.  People can be unhealthy at any size and people can be healthy at any size.  You cannot tell someone’s level of health just by looking at him or her.  Health at every size has a size acceptance piece but it also looks at health behaviors (physical activity, nutrition, and well-being).  This is where I think that dietitian was confused, and did NOT understand the concept of health at every size.

So for all you individuals, who do not understand health at every size and believe that the fat acceptance movement will cause people to feel “too good about themselves,” listen up.  If we focused on health at every size instead of “being thin,” our messages related to health and nutrition would reach all people.  We could help all people to become healthier- not just those individuals who are judged to be unhealthy.  Does this make sense?  This means that someone regardless of size- whether they are morbidly obese, underweight, or anywhere in between- could focus on improved health behaviors instead of a weight goal.  This means that everyone would be encouraged to engage in joyful movement, to eat in a balanced and flexible manner, and to respect themselves.  This means that everyone would be healthier regardless of his or her size.  Instead of a ‘War on Obesity’ or an ‘Anti-Obesity’ campaign that only focuses on one group in a shameful manner, we should have a strengths based, health promotion campaign for everyone.   This campaign should focus on a holistic view of health that includes self-acceptance, eating in response to internal cues, joyful movement, and the contribution of social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.   This is exactly what Health At Every Size does.  If we could all understand and embrace this campaign we could encourage health for everyone and decrease weight discrimination while promoting size acceptance & self-respect.

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