We must stop pathologising people in bigger bodies.

Not everybody in a larger body is unhealthy and calling people “obese” does nothing to help people care for their health.

For example, a few weeks back on the radio, the headline “Obese men have worse sperm quality” was read out by one of the presenters.

When (many) people hear the word “obese”, they hear unacceptable, bad, undesirable, disgraceful or serious problem. Having a high BMI does not mean you are any of these things.

People can be classified “obese” as per the BMI scale and have perfectly good health and for men, good sperm quality.

In fact there is not one health issue that only larger people get. Thin people can suffer all the same health issues, including low sperm count, but we don’t pathologise all thin people – we don’t even have a word equivalent to “obese” for thinner people. Or if thin is the antonym, it doesn’t carry the stigma that the word “obese” does.

Yes there are people in larger bodies who have behaviours that may adversely influence their health, but there are thinner people who fit this bill too.

How do we know these men with low sperm quality have low quality sperm because of their weight and not because of a lifestyle factor such as diet or activity levels? We don’t.

If we, as a population, really care about helping people live healthy lives, we need to stop making people in larger bodies feel awful about themselves (weight stigma). How does making people feel shame about their body and terrible about themselves motivate people to change? It doesn’t. In fact, this study published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows how the public health implications of weight stigma are widely ignored and how this adversely affects health.

Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health – www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866597/

Tackling weight stigma is one of the tenets of the Health At Every Size (HAES) Movement. You can learn more about HAES and other resources that back up why we must stop with the “war on obesity” here

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When the people close to you think this intuitive eating thing, or your dietitian, is just bananas!

Making the decision to stop dieting and stop pursuing weight loss is tough. It’s tough for many reasons including, but not limited too:

  • We are constantly being told this is what we should be doing to look better and feel better
  • It’s (almost) impossible to get through the day without seeing an ad, post, article, blog that mentions some dietary fix or cleanse or some kind of body transformation
  • Many of your friends and work colleagues are talking about it
  • If you have a health issue, the advice is often lose weight, even though there’s no evidence losing weight improves any health condition long term
  • People in fatter bodies are hardly ever represented as happy, healthy, successful or even normal, or even just represented!
  • Our culture’s extreme weight stigma and fat shaming
  • We are all conditioned to believe and feel that being thinner is better

Non-Diet Approach dietitians

I was compelled to write this after one of my clients mentioned yesterday how his partner just doesn’t get the non-diet process and how their comments around food make things that much tougher.

We talked about how it’s completely understandable that his partner doesn’t understand the process. After all, the common wisdom in our culture is change your diet and you’ll lose weight and if you’re paying a dietitian, then that’s what should be happening. Or that if you’re seeing a dietitian, or doing something to improve your health, you’ll eat a certain way. Therefore, the idea that you could choose to eat perceived “unhealthy” food and still be looking after your health, or doing the “right thing”, would seem completely absurd. 

So while my client has actually seen some significant progress in terms of his relationship with food, the ability to practise self compassion, finding new pleasure with cooking and discovering he’s not actually “addicted” to fast food; the partner voiced concern when my client bought some chips at the supermarket. As the chips were being scanned, the partner asked “so how are things going with the dietitian?”

Not for a second am I suggesting the partner was meaning harm by this, but the truth is that such a comment is harmful. My client felt a sense of shame and disappointment that his partner seemed more interested in how things were going with the dietitian, or that they weren’t producing the “results”, than how things going with him.

This reminded me of a something I heard on a podcast recently and that’s how small our conversations become when the focus is on food choices and numbers, be that calories or the scales. How much richer would our conversations be if we talked about how we can change our brains to change our thinking and how we relate to things, the power of self compassion and what it truly means to self-care? Woven into this conversation could be how taking pleasure from food enhances our quality of life.

An important step to navigating comments from others is to pause and and remember they simply don’t understand (yet) what they are saying. They are simply saying, or doing, all the things that our culture has conditioned them to say and do. I used to be that person too. I used to judge others for their food choices and make what I thought were helpful comments around food choices and weight. Being compassionate toward the person who is not understanding, or any judgement, can help you to not get as caught up in the dialogue.

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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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Why is our definition of attractive so narrow?

The construct of physical attractiveness sold to us, and that we are all deeply conditioned to believe is beautiful, is unattainable to most people.

I’ve often heard people say they need to be physically attracted to someone to find them a suitable mate. For many people this poses no issue and they find beauty and attraction in people not conventionally attractive. But for many, it severely limits their choices!

I’m reasonably confident everyone reading this knows attractiveness is more than just skin deep – cliches are cliches for a reason – so why then do we hold on to the idea of “good looking” (insert not fat, not bald, not old, flawless skin, tanned, good teeth etc) being so important? Because every day of our lives we are sold an idea of attractiveness that is none of these things, almost exclusively we see the construct of beauty every time we go online, watch TV, a movie, flip through a magazine, go shopping, drive on the freeway, sit through a presentation… I have been guilty of this (am still am at times) when I used to only use pictures of the current construct of beauty.

I could make the excuse that the images I used are all that was available with stock photos, but part of me knows that I chose those images as people would be more likely to look if it was a “conventionally” attractive person. You might have noticed Jodie and I don’t often include people in our pictures anymore. Now not for a second am I saying there is anything wrong with being conventionally attractive and yes it’s ok to post pictures of yourself when you think you look lovely! What I’m saying is we need to diversify what we see in the media and in our social media feeds.

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Diversifying what we see in media will potentially never change unless there is a revolt where we stop…

    • Following the “ideal” image of beauty on social media – relatively easy to do, go on start doing it now by unfollowing anything or  anyone who makes you question or criticise your appearance 
    • Stop walking into shops that only have very thin mannequins or pictures of the “ideal” image of beauty painted on shop windows – harder to do, I know I struggle with this
    • Stop buying or reading magazines with “beautiful” people – relatively easy to do
    • Stop dieting to lose weight – it’s like everyone knows this doesn’t work, but virtually no one wants to accept this (completely understandable and beyond the scope of this piece, check these resources
    • Stop judging and start paying more attention to anyone who happens to enter your world – not difficult to do and I am guilty of not paying attention to some truly beautiful people simply because they didn’t match my (aka societies) standards… fuck, for much of my of life I was victim to the Western patriarchal capitalism construct of beauty. This is changing.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all fallen victim, at least in some small way. This is nothing to feel shame about, as we are all conditioned – you might even say “carefully conditioned” – to aspire to the Western construct of beauty. Funny thing is, many of us don’t even realise this, we simply think what we want is a certain physical look because that is what we taught. I wonder what would happen if everywhere we started to see more human diversity in terms of body shape and size, age, skin colours and skin complexion (aka acne, wrinkles, pigmentation)? I’m pretty sure my struggle with acne scars and now skin discolouration (ironically from tanning to supposedly help my acne and not listening to my mum) would lessen. The more I immerse myself in this conversation, the better it gets, truly it does.

For my fellow Game of Thrones lovers, who doesn’t find Peter Dinklage one of the most compelling, and therefore attractive, characters in the series? Tyrion is obviously not a real person, but he has been made to be desirable through the power of media and many of us now desire to see him.

Way too many of us feel deeply unhappy with how we perceive we look and no amount of expensive products we buy will truly allow us to feel content within. So rather than buying more products for the body, or paying other people to change our bodies, we need to smash the perception of what we think we need to be. Even if you just do one of the 5 suggestions above, you’ll be on the right path.

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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today for $9.95

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Why a healthy relationship with food and body often needs to take precedence over nutrition knowledge.

Meet Rebecca. Rebecca has T2 diabetes and high blood sugars. Rebecca knows that eating a balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat at meals helps manage her sugars better, however she often finds herself eating mostly carbohydrate rich, low protein food.

Why does she do this?

Rebecca has struggled with her eating and weight since she was 10, her mum took her to weight watchers and a dietitian as a teenager and she has done a variety of weight loss programs and 12 week challenges in her 20s and 30s. Most times Rebecca lost weight but was unable to stick with any long-term (as rarely anyone can), she felt miserable – hungry, tired, anxious about food, avoiding social eating – with the food and calorie restrictions and each diet would end in a 2-3 week eating binge of mostly carbohydrate rich food, the very food she was trying so hard to limit.

As a teenager Rebecca received sensible advice from the dietitian and she knew how she “should” be eating to manage her blood sugars and weight. However, when she did this, despite her blood sugars improving, she didn’t lose weight and therefore felt she was doing something wrong and that she must need to restrict her food more, which of course lead to the dieting. This on-going battle with food and her weight, meant Rebecca developed a love/hate relationship with food, especially carbohydrates, and felt frustrated and unhappy with her body, she could lose weight but she always gained it back and now at age 41, she is the heaviest she’s ever been. Her love/hate relationship with carbs meant she was either restricting them or going nuts on them. The irony is that Rebecca actually felt better eating a more balanced meal of carbohydrate, protein and fat and she really enjoyed such meals, however, she continually felt driven to over-eat the carbs. The restricting of food followed by over-eating that food is something dietitians see in clinic over and over.

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Now, what if Rebecca felt ok about her body and had never gone down the dieting path, how different might things look for her? As mentioned, she enjoyed eating in a more balanced way and her blood sugars were better managed. What if she hadn’t been told to “watch” her carbs, but rather experiment with eating in a way that felt good for her body, didn’t leave her feeling hungry, and enabled her to eat food she enjoyed. There’s a strong possibility that if Rebecca hadn’t spent the last 30 years trying to restrict her carbs and food she enjoyed eating, she wouldn’t have the love/hate relationship and she wouldn’t feel driven to over-eat carb rich food.

Think of someone you know who doesn’t diet or restrict food they enjoy, do they struggle with their food? You might be thinking “but they don’t need to as they don’t have a health concern”; what I want you to reflect on is the possibility that Rebecca’s T2DM and health could be managed well too if she wasn’t restricting food or struggling with food. If Rebecca hadn’t been told repeatedly by society that her weight was an issue, perhaps she never would have dieted, she would be eating in a balanced and enjoyable way and her blood sugars may be controlled well enough. There’s also every chance that if Rebecca had a sound relationship with her body that she would feel less shame exercising and take more pleasure in being active, numerous studies have shown fitness is more important than fatness when it comes to health.

All the nutrition knowledge in the world is, for many people, unconstructive if a person has a poor relationship with food and their body. So how do you change your relationship with food and your body? This is precisely what we non-diet (intuitive eating) approach dietitians who work within the Health At Every Size ® (HAES) paradigm do. HAES fact sheet

You can find us here:

HAES dietitians Australia

HAES dietitians worldwide

I have also just released an ebook which includes tips and steps to improve your relationship with food. Click the banner to purchase your copy today for $9.95 AUD

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5 ways to feel good about yourself and make a real difference to your health without the weight loss focus.

Feel good about yourself this summer and give your health a boost without needing to focus on your weight. Focusing on weight often leads to dieting or more extreme changes which are usually impossible to maintain, any weight lost in the beginning is nearly always eventually regained. You feel euphoric initially as you’re losing weight and then totally defeated and a failure when the weight comes back on.

What if there was a way to feel better about yourself and improve your health without falling into the weight loss/diet trap? Now, not focusing on weight doesn’t mean your weight won’t change, for some people it will, it’s just that any weight change is simply a side effect of changing health behaviours.

Note: For some people these change may be relatively straight forward. For others, some of these changes will be tougher, and you might require support from a skilled practitioner.

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5 things you can do improve your health that don’t require a weight loss focus.

Doing any of these can also help you start to feel better about yourself.

1. Have a look at your eating habits.

  • Is there anything you eat too much of or too little of?
  • Do you ever find yourself over-eating or eating when you’re not hungry?
  • Do you eat in response to stress, boredom or emotions?

Starting to explore and manage any of these has the potential to significantly change your eating. Any weight loss that may occur is a side effect.

2. Have a look at how active you are.

  • Do you spend most of your time sitting down?
  • Could you move more?
  • If you don’t like formal exercise, what do you enjoy doing that doesn’t involve sitting down (or lying down)… could you do this more often?

Starting to explore any of these and move your body more has the potential to significantly increase your activity level. Remember, any weight loss that may occur is just a side effect.

3. Do you have enough connection with other people?

The relationships we have with other humans is a key determinant of health and social isolation is correlated with poorer health outcomes.

  • Could you join a book club, bridge club, bowling club or walking group?
  • Could you take an adult learning class or take up a hobby?
  • Could you own a dog? Dogs themselves make great companions, but you can meet many people at your local dog park and become walking buddies.

Becoming more socially connected has the potential to make you feel much better about yourself and this increases your motivation to eat well and move more. Any weight loss that may occur is again, a side effect.

4. Are you getting enough sleep and rest?

Lack of sleep and rest can increase stress on its own or in addition to other stress you may be experiencing in your life.

Chronic stress can adversely affect health through effects to emotional health, brain function, immunity (more prone to viral infections e.g. colds and flus), and overtime can increase risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorders, and other illnesses.

For many people getting more sleep or rest is easier said than done, especially if you’ve got young kids or babies.

Whatever your situation, if you know you’re under stress, taking steps to address this is a fundamental part of managing your health. Try this fact sheet as a starting point for more information https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/stress

5. Are you too hard on yourself?

  • Do you get mad at yourself when things go as you’d intended?
  • Do you engage in negative self talk or body bashing (body hate talk)?

Practising self compassion can help you change this and actually motivate you to do make better choices. Whereas being hard on yourself often leads to the “Stuff it” mentality.

Example: You planned to go to the supermarket after work to buy food for dinner. You get caught with some last minute difficult work and by the time you finish work you’re exhausted and hungry and so you order take-away.

No self compassion: “It’s way too late to cook my own dinner, I’ve failed again, I couldn’t even manage to do this one thing!”

“I’ll have to get take-away again and it’s always too much food and I over-eat, but given I’ve stuffed up anyway may as well just eat it, plus I’m starving and so tired that I deserve it.”

Self compassion: “I’m exhausted, today was a tough day, but I got through it!” “It’s late now and I’m starving, going to the supermarket and cooking dinner will mean I’m not eating until 9pm. I’m just going to have to order in again tonight, but that’s ok, I’ll choose something with more veggies and I’ll put half aside for lunch tomorrow as they’re always such big serves.”

Feel you need help with any of these?

You might be wondering what type of health professional can help you with these aspects of health? While there are many practitioners who address these factors, choosing a health professional who works under the HAES® (Health At Every Size) paradigm is a good starting point. HAES professionals work with you to change health behaviours and address other factors that influence health without focusing on body weight.

You can find various HAES professionals here:

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“But surely some people need to lose weight?”

If you ever find yourself thinking “but surely some people need to lose weight”, read this.

Meet Jennifer. Jennifer is fat. She struggles to get up stairs and avoids going to the gym because she ashamed of her body. She generally eats well, but has a habit of snacking in the evening whilst watching TV. She is often lonely.

The common wisdom shaped by diet culture and supported by the medical world, is that Jennifer would benefit from losing weight.

But Jennifer does not need to lose weight. Mic drop. For many people, this may seem like a radical statement, so hear me out.

Let’s assume that Jennifer wants to be more active and to be able to climb stairs more easily. She also wants more social connection and to go out more.

What would happen if Jennifer didn’t try to lose weight, but instead focused on moving more (and in ways she enjoys) to increase fitness. Let’s say she joins a dance class or walking group, now she’s also getting out more and making social connections. She finds herself spending less time home alone and snacking.

A large part of what stops Jennifer from being more active and socially connected, is our culture’s weight stigma and bias. We live in a culture that says fat is bad and thin is good. A strong message sent by the diet industry, the fashion industry, the health industry and upheld by friends, family and loved ones, is this idea that we need to lose weight to be more acceptable. By acceptable, I mean healthier, fitter, more attractive, more successful, or a better person.

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At this point I should add that Jennifer has tried every diet known to woman, done boot camps, 12 week challenges, you name it. She lost weight with each, then regained and each of them left her feeling more ashamed about herself. She gave up a few years ago and stopped “trying”. Weight loss clearly wasn’t the answer.

By taking weight out of the equation, we give people a chance to focus on health behaviours and feel better in the body they have right now, both physically and emotionally. The research shows that when people feel better about themselves they are more likely to continue to engage in healthy behaviours.

I am not even going to mention whether Jennifer lost weight once she started being more active and more socially connected. The point is that Jennifer’s health improved, she could climb stairs easily, she felt strong and fit, she was more connected to her community and she felt good within herself. How much she weighs is a moot point.

I am hyper aware that I am writing this as a thin woman and I do not know what it is like to be fat. However, Jennifer could be one of my clients and therefore I have the experience through their eyes of the effect of weight stigma on people of larger size.

I would also like to acknowledge that thin people also experience lack of fitness, issues with eating and social isolation. Finally, I am not anti-weight loss, if weight loss occurs with changes to health behaviours, then that’s what is meant to be for that individual. I also believe a person has the right to focus on weight loss if they want to, what I am against is the blanket advice of weight loss as a means to improve health, because in the vast majority of cases it doesn’t. If you would like to understand more about this, you can access many references here lovewhatyoueat.com.au/the-non-diet-approach-research/

If you would like to help shift the conversation from weight, to something that may actually promote health, please share this.

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