“I get that you love your body as it is and you aren’t concerned about the weight you’re gaining. But, what if you hypothetically kept gaining weight until you were obese? Because that isn’t healthy?”
^ This question, (sometimes worded differently) gets asked of me, and a lot of other people, often. There are murmurs of it whenever you mention that you are choosing not to diet, that you’re eating what you want to, that you’re celebrating your body. People are happy to applaud your “brave” decision but there is always that concern that this is only “okay” up to a certain point. That it is all well and good to love your bod, to eat the cake but ONLY if you’re “healthy” and when they use the term “healthy” they, of course mean as long as you look healthy, and to look healthy, you definitely can’t be fat.
Firstly – let’s talk about: Fatphobia. Noun. fear and dislike of obese people and/or obesity.
I was going to write here a paragraph about what fatphobia means and the treatment of fat people in society and then I realised that I should be handing the microphone to someone who lives that experience. So instead, I’m going to direct you to this incredible article: Fatphobia: A guide for the Disbeliever, which is full of amazing resources and information on how, why and where Fatphobia exists. Spoiler – it’s EVERYWHERE.
Next up – Surely eating what you want to = eating foods deemed “unhealthy” = putting on weight = eternal unhappiness?
I am a whole hearted believer in Intuitive Eating – listening to how your body feels physically and considering it’s needs in your decision making process around food. In a practical sense, if I decided to eat something “unhealthy” (e.g. my want to eat something my body won’t love outweighs the consequence of not feeling good) it is my right to make the choice. My mental health requires that I feel able to make these decisions for myself, to be empowered to make whatever choices feel right for me in any given moment. However my desires around food have changed since I’ve stopped trying to control how my body looks and instead connected with how my body feels.
“When I stopped looking at my body like a home improvement project—like an ornament to be molded to my liking (or the liking of others) and started looking at my body like the human person that she is: the child of someone, the sister of someone, a living, breathing animal that feels things, this shift in perspective, from self-loathing to self-care, slowly but surely, began to influence my “wants.” Food stopped being about what I could get away with eating, or what I should or shouldn’t have, and started being about would make me feel good—physically, emotionally, holistically, not just on my tongue, but in my body, not just in my body, but in my soul” – Isobel Foxen Duke
Therefore, if I am following the path of true Intuitive eating then eating what I want to = eating what feels good physically, emotionally, holistically = reaching my weight set point = eternal happiness (in terms of a deep rooted love of your body and whole hearted acceptance for her whatever size her weight set point is).
Which leads me to, weight set point theory. Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Everyone has a set point and, you have no control over what your set point will be. Your body is both biologically and genetically determined to weigh within a certain weight range.
The only way to know your set point is to develop a healthful relationship with food, both physically and mentally. It’s really important not to try and guess your set point whilst struggling with food as guessing evolves into expectation which turns into self-judgment and emotional restriction which can perpetuate the binge cycle. Also, your set point can change over time. So, even if you were a certain weight before you started dieting or restricting, it doesn’t mean that when you decide to stop, that you will go back to this weight after years of restriction. Things like age, pregnancy, hormones and diet history can all affect this. Dieting can increase your set weight point over time as the temporary weight loss that comes from food restriction can also make permanent changes to your metabolism in the other direction. Don’t believe me? Check out this article about weight-gain of “Biggest Loser” contestants which reports metabolic damage was the primary factor.
Your body is constantly fighting to get to it’s set point and this fight is a lot stronger than your willpower but it’s your decision as to whether you embrace this set point and stop the dieting and binge cycles or if you want to continue to try and take control of something that physically cannot be controlled? I know what I’m choosing, allowing my body to settle at where it’s naturally meant to be and yes SHOCK HORROR this could be a weight that the BMI scale deems to be obese. But you know the BMI scale is bullshit, right?
Ok..ok.. but WHAT ABOUT HEALTH?
The following response is paraphrased from a series of incredible emails from Isobel Foxen Duke. She explains so eloquently that it would be foolish of me to rehash the same information in a no doubt babbling way.
It’s important to remember that “weight-related” doesn’t necessarily mean “weight-caused’ and weight loss in and of itself is not the be-all-fixer. It is generally believed that body fat in itself is probably not the primary cause for many health concerns that get pinned to obesity – such as diabetes. So, although body fat isn’t the cause of diabetes, it is correlated with diabetes – by the fact that poor blood sugar regulation could cause both e.g. “People who have diabetes often have more fat on their bodies”. The fat on their bodies isn’t the root cause of the diabetes. But poor blood sugar regulation may increase your risk of both. Therefore weight loss won’t cure diabetes because it doesn’t address the root cause. So, considering the low success rates of diets (and the high chance of long-term weight gain) it’s better to manage health whilst leaving weight out of it and focusing instead on health producing behaviours such as managing your sugar intake. In the same way, someone struggling with high blood pressure may want to work on getting more exercise. These behavioural changes may or may not lead to weight loss – but whether they do or not – they have a much better chance of improving your actual health condition long term rather than a full fledged attempt on weight control.. which is doomed to fail.. because diets don’t work.
To conclude, as long as we continue to refuse to accept that body diversity exists, that we are not made to look like carbon copies of each other, disordered relationships around food will continue to thrive. There is so much work to be done. Challenging fatphobia in our society, campaigning for body diversity in all media including adverts, TV programmes and films and cluing up on who is funding the studies that we are taking for truth on the “obesity crisis” – It’s diet companies who directly make billion pound turnovers off the back of the findings. This is why the body positivity movement is so important. To give representation and space to people living in marginalised bodies and not for women who have bodies which are accepted by society and represented freely to take centre stage.
So, I’ve put on weight and what am I going to do? Nothing. Because as long as you are consumed by a fear of putting on weight, you cannot have a neutral relationship with food. I’m going to continue tuning in to my body, moment to moment.. and I’m gonna buy some new skirts.