The Truth About Your Weight

Your body isn't meant to be at a weight that it can only sustain through restriction

Your body isn't meant to be at a weight that it can only sustain through restriction. 

Intentional weight loss was invented by diet culture, which I define as a system of beliefs that equates thinness to health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, and demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others.

Not only is intentional weight loss a product of this toxic belief system, it also doesn’t actually jibe with how the human body *works.*

We’ve all heard that statistic that 95% (or more) of people who pursue intentional weight loss gain back all the weight they lost within five years, and the majority of those people will gain back *more* weight than they had initially lost—and that’s because our bodies were designed to protect us from famine. None of us would even BE here if it weren’t for this mechanism that kept our ancestors from dying when food was scarce.

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that equates thinness to health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, and demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others.
— Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN

So what about that other 5% (or less) of people who do seem to maintain intentional weight loss, you might ask? Unfortunately, the research indicates that they do so through disordered means that, if diet culture didn’t deem them "success" stories, could be diagnosed as an eating disorder.

They’re not meant to be weight-suppressed—none of us are. Our bodies aren't meant to live in perpetual restriction, which wreaks havoc on our mental and physical health.

This post was originally published on my Instagram feed.

How to reject diet-culture marketing

In the body-acceptance and anti-diet world, we talk a lot about media literacy—the ability to recognize and be critical of the unrealistic, impossibly Photoshopped images that are littered throughout our magazines, advertisements, and Instagram photos. 

But we almost never talk about marketing literacy—and it's just as important for being a critical consumer of diet culture's messages. 

Diet-culture marketing is bigger than just the images; it's also the insidious messages associated with those images. 

It's the messages that tell you how bright and shiny your life will be if you just do whatever it is that the diet du jour is telling you to do. (Spoiler alert: Dieting is actually more likely to make you miserable in the long run.)

It's the messages that make you believe there's something wrong with your body size and shape, and that you need to change them in order to be happy. (Spoiler alert: Accepting the size and shape of your body and giving up trying to change them has actually been shown to lead to greater happiness and well-being.) 

It's the messages that make you feel like you *can't live without* the latest diet plan or "lifestyle change," because THIS is finally the one that will change your body for good. (Spoiler alert: It's not. None of them are.)  

Marketing is one of the biggest ways diet culture keeps its claws in us, and it can be really hard to spot. 

That's why I'm so psyched to share this week's episode of Food Psych, which is all about how to recognize and reject diet-culture marketing. 

My guest, Kaila Prins, is a fellow body-liberation activist who for many years had a day job as a professional marketer. 

She shares how diet-culture marketing targets vulnerable people, how to recognize triggers and call them out, how the body-positive movement has also fallen prey to some problematic marketing strategies, how professionals and activists can market themselves ethically and avoid pitfalls, and lots more. 

It's a fantastic episode, and I can't wait for you to check it out!

I'm also SO psyched to announce that I'm launching a BRAND NEW online course to help fellow health and wellness pros avoid unintentional diet-culture messages in their work! 🙌

It's called Master Your Anti-Diet Message, and it's for professionals who know that diet culture has controlled the conversation in our field for WAY too long.

If you’re ready to stop taking part in diet culture’s version of “health,” start advocating for non-diet approaches that *truly* help your clients’ well-being, build a thriving brand that magnetizes clients who are ready for change, and help them break free from dieting and disordered eating for good, this course is for you! Learn more and join Master Your Anti-Diet Message now to join this great community. 

I hope you enjoy these resources, and I'll be in touch again next week with more support for your anti-diet, body-acceptance journey!

xo,
Christy


P.S. If you're a fellow health pro interested in aligning yourself more fully with the anti-diet, Health at Every Size movement, you won't want to miss my Master Your Anti-Diet Message mini-course

 

This post was originally published in my weekly email newsletter

How to recognize sneaky forms of the diet mentality

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Over the weekend, some of my listeners in the Food Psych Podcast Listener Crew Facebook group had a really lively discussion about whether intuitive eating can include intentionally controlling your eating in order to maintain the same clothing size, and whether that kind of thinking could fall under the umbrella of eating for self-care.

Can you guess my response, as an intuitive eating coach and anti-diet activist?

With tons of respect and compassion for the person who posted this question, this kind of thinking is NOT intuitive eating and NOT self-care—it's one of the sneakier forms of the diet mentality.

Thinking about how your eating is going to affect your size in any way, shape, or form is diet mentality, and if you let it govern your eating choices, you're dieting—even if you don't think of it as dieting, and even if it's very, very subtle. The diet mentality is crafty like that.

Intuitive eaters don't think, "I should only have X amount of food because otherwise I'll outgrow my clothes" (which is dieting, and also not even true, since we can't control our body size the way diet culture tells us we can). Instead we think, "how much do I want right now? Am I still hungry/not satisfied yet?" And "I'm full," or "I'm all set on the cookies [or chicken, or veggies, or pasta, or whatever] for now."

If you haven't yet made peace with food and given yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods in whatever amounts feel good to you—or if you haven't yet recovered enough from the physical effects of disordered eating to be able to notice subtle hunger and fullness cues—you might not be able to feel the signals of "I'm full" or "I'm all set on the cookies" just yet. But trust that with recovery, support, time, and practice, it will come.

Once we rid ourselves of the diet mentality, we also rid ourselves of the need to control our weight in any way—including efforts to *maintain* our weight.

Trying to maintain your weight is a sneaky form of the diet mentality.

If it tells you what to eat, when to eat, or how much to eat, it's a diet—even if you're not officially "on a diet."

When we're free from the diet mentality, we trust our bodies to be whatever size they're meant to be at this stage in our lives, and we buy clothes to fit them as needed.

It's like I always say: It's the clothes' job to fit YOU, not your job to fit the clothes. 

Make the clothes do their job. If you're eating less of something to try to avoid needing new clothes, you're treating it like it's your job to fit the clothes, and that's the diet mentality at work.

This week on Food Psych, I talked to body-acceptance activist and yoga teacher Amber Karnes about many of these same topics.

We discussed the process of mourning the thin ideal and accepting your body size and shape, how you can overcome internalized weight stigma and diet mentality, finding clothes that fit YOUR body, and lots more. 

Check it out right here, or wherever you get your podcasts! 
 

Diet Culture Is a Life Thief

Diet Culture Is a Life Thief

Diet culture is a life thief; when we’re caught up in it, food and body preoccupation take up so much real estate in our brains that pursuing any other life goal can feel nearly impossible.

Diet culture takes away our passion and drive.

It prevents us from being fully present in our relationships and our work, because thoughts of food and body are constantly humming in the background.

It keeps us from being social around food for fear of "falling off the wagon.”

Diet culture tells us we aren't good enough day in and day out, and sells us products to “fix” ourselves—products that research has demonstrated fail 95% or more of the time.

And yet somehow we still feel we’re the ones to blame. That's the most insidious thing about diet culture—making us feel like failures, when in reality the system is rigged so that no one ever actually “succeeds."

Diet culture drives us to passively restrict our eating and our pleasure, and can even push us into disordered eating and eating disorders.

Do we really want to spend our entire lives fighting against our bodies and trying to force them into a certain shape or size through restriction and deprivation?

Do we want dieting to steal any more of our precious time on this planet?

Do we want our life’s work to be the pursuit of weight loss?

Or do we have more important, fulfilling, and fun things to do with our time here?

From where I sit, the answer is clear. We all deserve SO much better than to have our lives stolen by diet culture.

 

The Truth About That New "Fat But Fit" Study

I got an email this morning from a reporter at The Daily Meal, asking me to give my thoughts on a new study. News outlets are claiming this new research is evidence that "fat but fit is a myth" and "there's no such thing as metabolically healthy obesity." 

I won't link to the study or those articles here because they reinforce weight stigma, which is bad for your health (more on that below). But the study is called "Metabolically Healthy Obese and Incident Cardiovascular Disease Events Among 3.5 Million Men and Women," and it just came out this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (after being widely covered in the media before publication).

The Daily Meal reporter, Holly Van Hare, did a lovely job with the story, so be sure to check it out (trigger warning for this and all the study links below). But of course I have a lot more to say about this issue than could fit there, so here are my unabridged thoughts: 

First of all, the study didn’t control for two likely risk factors for heart disease, independent of body size: weight stigma and weight cycling.

People in larger bodies are more likely to be stigmatized for their size—bullied and shamed in school, at home, walking down the street, and in the doctor’s office, and paid lower salaries than their thin peers in the working world—and when people internalize weight stigma, it has profoundly negative effects on their mental health.

Experiencing this stigma also raises people’s risk of chronic diseases including heart disease—regardless of actual body size. What's more, weight stigma results in people delaying or avoiding going to the doctor, which can lead to poorer health outcomes down the line. 

People in larger bodies are also more likely to have weight cycled or “yo-yo dieted” in the past, and weight cycling has also been associated with a greater risk of heart disease.

Weight cycling tends to drive people’s weight up over time; up to 2/3 of people who embark on intentional weight loss actually end up heavier than when they started. (For more on these underreported aspects of weight science, see Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor’s great paper “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift.”) 

Until weight science can control for weight cycling and weight stigma, we can't say that being at the higher end of the BMI spectrum causes any health conditions—even if higher weights are associated with these health conditions. Correlation does not equal causation, y'all.

Moreover, *even if* weight did have some causal effect on people’s health (which is possible, but again we can’t actually know until we control for weight stigma and weight cycling), we DON’T HAVE a known way for more than a tiny fraction of people to lose weight and keep it off permanently.

The success rate of intentional weight-loss efforts is 5% or less, by most researchers’ accounts. So for 95% or more of people, ALL diets are yo-yo diets.

And we know yo-yo diets negatively affect people’s health outcomes from the research I mentioned above!

So EVEN IF weight itself were partially to blame for the heart disease outcomes, medicine doesn’t actually have a known way for people to lose weight and keep it off. Prescribing weight loss just is NOT ethical healthcare. 

There has to be a better way. 

That’s where Health at Every Size® (HAES) comes in. HAES is about engaging in health-promoting behaviors without pursuing weight loss, as well as working to change society to reduce weight stigma and other forms of social injustice that harm people's health. HAES approaches have been shown to have better health outcomes than the traditional weight paradigm. 

That's what I mean by ethical healthcare.

BTW, the new study also doesn’t say what the larger-bodied participants were doing or not doing to support their health during the follow-up period. The researchers only controlled for the potential confounding variables of "age, sex, self-reported smoking status, and social deprivation" (a measure of socioeconomic status, education, and employment).

The researchers didn’t determine whether the study participants were restricting their food intake and experiencing rebound bingeing during the study period, versus eating intuitively.

They didn’t determine whether participants were engaging in (and enjoying) physical activity, versus having lack of access to accommodating and welcoming spaces for movement. 

The researchers also didn’t control for whether the participants had access to compassionate healthcare providers who supported their *actual health* instead of focusing on their weight and reinforcing weight stigma.

And all three of those things can affect people’s health outcomes, again *independently of body size.*

A few other thoughts: study subjects who were in the underweight category with zero metabolic abnormalities also had greater heart-related risks (e.g. elevated risk of heart failure) than the people in the "normal-weight" BMI category. Why don’t those results get reported by the media? Why aren’t newspapers and websites trumpeting “the risks of underweight for cerebrovascular disease"? Weight bias much?!? 

The vast majority of media don’t report the nuances of these scientific studies because most reporters don’t actually know how to parse them—and I was one of them before I got a master’s in public health, so I know how it goes. Many reporters just use the press release or the abstract to report scientific studies, and others might give a cursory glance at the actual study but are just looking for confirmation of what they already believe it says.

I don’t know the exact stats, but I’m willing to bet a very small percentage of reporters who covered this story even SAW the study’s finding that people in the “underweight" category have a higher risk of heart failure than people in the “overweight” category, or that the study didn’t control for nutritional intake, physical activity level, weight stigma, or weight cycling. (I know Van Hare was one of this small percentage who did see the full study, which is awesome.) 

Mainstream health media needs to do better. But that's a story for another time.