Friday, March 2, 2018

Health at Every Size

I’ve decided to write on a personal, yet controversial topic – weight stigma and the diet culture in our society. As a plus size woman, some people might disregard this because they feel I am writing this to justify my size. Actually, I am writing this because I am worried about young girls and women and the messages we give them day after day that they just aren’t good enough! And here’s the thing, while I know I don’t exercise enough, or I my eating patterns aren’t as healthy as they can be because of too many late night meals from working crazy hours, or fast food snacks because I don’t make the time to prepare something that my body really needs, that makes up only a part of who I am! When you look at me, do you hold a bias that because of my size, I am not healthy? Because actually, I am!

When we tell our young girls and teens that their body mass index or weight is not in the ‘zone’, we aren’t considering the whole picture. People of all shapes and sizes get sick. I have seen thin women suffer greatly with medical issues just as I have seen larger women with medical problems. And I have seen thin women who don’t exercise, and fat women who are quite athletic and physically fit! Size isn’t a reliable measure of health! Body health is not one dimensional, determined only by the number on the scale compared to our height and age! If we can instead teach girls to love themselves, move in healthy ways, eat foods that feel good and nourish them in a balanced way, then we can expect them to grow into happy, self-esteemed women who take care of themselves! Dieting teaches a person to restrict certain foods labeled as bad, which results in a deprivation mentality, followed by a break from the plan, then feeling a sense of failure, and retreating into the negative messages associated with falling off the diet.

Think about those messages we hear every day! “Oh my goodness, I gained three pounds…I feel horrible!” “I can’t eat that, I have to keep my weight down for the ‘fill in the event’!” When someone has dieted and taken some pounds off, she might hear, “You lost weight! You look beautiful!” As if by implication before the weight loss, she wasn’t? Or at the next meeting, there is no reflection on how she looks, and maybe she gained a few pounds, so then she feels the weight equals less value, less beauty, less self-worth. I know girls and women who won’t wear bathing suits or shorts because they are embarrassed of their body type. I know girls and women who hide at pictures, afraid that they wouldn’t look their best in pictures because of their size. We are so tuned in to size and looks as a culture that we have lost the true beauty of an individual, and chiseled it down to only be reflected as a size 0 or 2 model. 

What would it feel like if we raised a generation of girls who could dance like no one was looking, wear what felt good and comfortable because she liked it, eat what felt great, view exercise as fun and energizing for her body, and could encourage her fellow ‘sisters’ to do the same? We are finally encouraging girls that they can do anything they set their sights on; girls can excel in math and science, for example. We must also teach them that they are beautiful in every shape and size they come in. If a diet program like Weight Watchers wants to invite teens to participate in a summer program of health and fitness for free, that would be exciting, as long as BMI and weight loss are not part of the plan, and they took ‘diet’ out of their equation! Deprived eating and shameful feelings around choosing carbs or grains don’t help teens develop a love for their bodies that will last a lifetime; rather it teaches them to feel they are never good enough, never thin enough, and need to practice self-deprivation at all costs. Instead let’s teach them that all food groups are ok and they can have a healthy relationship with food! Health can come at every size! Listening to what your body wants, be it salty or sweet, chewy or crunchy, hot or cold, and learning to stop when the body feels the first signs of full would be awesome! Helping teens to move for the pleasure of it; whether dancing, swimming, walking, running, or playing out in the fresh air would be glorious! Teaching teen girls that they should love themselves first, be proud of who they are and what they can do, and feel good from the inside out will lead to young women who can enjoy life without hesitation.

So for me, while I want to get into some better habits as I continue this aging process in my 50s, it won’t be about losing weight. It will be about keeping my joints and muscles as healthy and lubricated as they can be to protect me as I get older. It will be about making sure I plan my meals better so I don’t feel so hungry at 9:30 at night that I need to stay up late after finishing a meal, and then feel too tired the next morning. And I will enjoy my chocolate because I love the creamy goodness as it swirls in my mouth as much as I love that crunchy, juicy pear, the savory chicken soup with that fluffy matzoh ball or that delicious king crab dipped in butter. When you look at me, I hope you see that I am healthy, smart, funny, creative, helpful, caring, and, by the way, I happen to come in a plus size body.