Does Your Weight Determine Your Health?

Can you tell someone’s health by their body size?

Is shrinking your waistline the key to being “healthier?”

Many would say an emphatic “yes!” to these two questions.

Unfortunately, weight loss and fitness has become synonymous with health, and diet culture has sneakily infiltrated itself into integrative and conventional medicine. This has many dangerous implications. These include:

The fact is that all people with all body sizes can experience all ranges of health on the wellness continuum. Disease is not selective based on external appearances, but results from a combination of various aspects that influence well-being.

In my previous posts, I explored the concept of health and how the focus on nutrition and fitness is too narrow. I believe we should be viewing all aspects of health (physical, psychological, social, community, spiritual, and economical) on a scale of wellness.

In this article, I will continue to offer you resources on how to obtain health and wellness from an integrative viewpoint, beyond the obsession with food and fitness. For many, this will likely involve an important shift in mindset and perspective. After all, the lure and fake promises that diet culture presents are powerful, seductive, and often not questioned.

I am well aware that this is a heated topic, and a very lucrative one. It may trigger some and anger others.

I invite you to keep an open mind. Accepting your body and treating it well, without trying to manipulate its shape and size relentlessly, may provide you with the rewards you thought you could find in dieting, but never did.

What follows is a summary of several of my previous articles on how the cultural obsession with thinness can negatively impact our health and even sabotage our efforts to obtain it.

Being Healthy in Your Body, At Every Size Vs. Seeking Societal Approval

Weaved through the definitions of health from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other authorities is that it is more than the absence of disease or the lack of symptoms. It is a “resource” for living. In other words, being healthy is meant to help one more fully live their values, pursue their passions, and promote better social connections.

This view of health is in alignment with Health at Every Size (HAES), in which healthful behaviors are aimed to enhance one’s life. Whereas diet culture views diet and lifestyle as a means to an end point for a certain body size, or, a societal ideal that is almost impossible to achieve in the long-term, HAES moves beyond the damaging messages of body shaming and food morality.

HAES takes a weight inclusive approach and offers wellness practices for living more healthfully. These interventions are not meant to control someone’s life, but are meant to promote healthy outcomes so one can participate more fully in their life without being bogged down by body woes.

If you have experienced the relentless march of diet hopping, macronutrient shaming, and exercise endlessly, you know that being healthy has more to it than food and fitness. You probably are also well aware that pursuing health can backlash into extremely stressful nutritional and exercise habits that rob you of time and energy.

Yet, many still are striving and seeking out the perfect diet and movement routine to shape their bodies into a societal normal or cultural image that is distorted at best. Pursuing this idealized body and reaching for sustained weight loss is often unattainable and can be very damaging.

The Dangers of the Pursuit of Thinness

I have seen in my practice how restrictive diets can strain relationships, make people “hangry,” lead one to be obsessed with food, and deprive many of living their true values and enjoyment in life. This is not only damaging to mental and physical health but can also negatively impact relationships and overall well-being.

For example, some may avoid “unhealthy friends” or events where “unhealthy foods” are served in order to be “healthy”, but at what cost? Loneliness and social isolation are one of the top predictors of mortality and mental health issues.

Even if one does attain the optimal and idealized body size unnaturally, the stress to keep it off and the mental and cognitive strain from macro or calorie arithmetic acrobatics can really wear on emotional wellbeing. It can also make one’s world very small if the only people one accepts into it are those who also subscribe to the same lifestyle and dietary rules.

Furthermore, taken to the extreme, eating disorders and orthorexia could result. Orthorexia is an evolving term that surfaced in the late 90s that is still not well-defined. Yet, it is becoming more pervasive and is being classified as “an eating disorder not specified.” According to one review, many agree on the following characteristics of it:

(a) obsessional or pathological preoccupation with healthy nutrition;

(b) emotional consequences (e.g. distress, anxieties) of non-adherence to self-imposed nutritional rules;

(c) psychosocial impairments in relevant areas of life as well as malnutrition and weight loss. (source)

In a 2017 perspective article in Federal Practitioner, the author clarifies this concept as follows:

Orthorexia nervosa is perhaps best summarized as an obsession with healthy eating with associated restrictive behaviors. However, the attempt to attain optimum health through attention to diet may lead to malnourishment, loss of relationships, and poor quality of life.11 It is a little-understood disorder with uncertain etiology, imprecise assessment tools, and no formal diagnostic criteria or classification.

Focusing with a Widened Lens on Healthy Bodies

Rather than focus on weight-loss, I adhere to teaching nutrition, lifestyle practices, and wellness solutions to promote well-being and to provide nourishment to the brain and body.

I am also NOT denying that weight may be linked to various disease processes and risk factors. However, what I am arguing it that we cannot continue to confuse association with causation. It may be that body size is a bystander versus the perpetrator of disease manifestation. After all, there are so many factors that determine one’s body shape that weeding out all lurking variables can be cumbersome.

Furthermore, even if losing weight is an end goal to achieve optimal health, it feels unethical for me to promise it. Not just for the reasons above, but because it is more often ineffective and counterproductive than keeping weight at a set point. Diets often only provide temporary results and fail 97-99% of the time in the long-term. Often, they lead to the negative consequences of weight cycling and more weight gain. (R, R)

On the emotional end of all this, even if a diet does work, and one is not naturally thin, they will likely have to dedicate their whole life to maintaining it. They may even remove important relationships that were once nourishing in other aspects of their lives in order to stay small. This seems an unfair trade.

Conclusion: Living Your Own Life in Your Own Body

If you’ve gotten to the end of this, you may feel stirred up a bit.

In fact, you may feel upset or even have some grief for the body you thought you could achieve to be accepted by others. This is understandable. Most of today’s marketing is based around the message that who you are and what you look like isn’t good enough. This sells products, but does a number on one’s self-esteem.

Now, I invite you to sit with all you just read for a quiet moment.

It could be a catalyst for you to stay curious as you move forward and it may open the door for you to explore more self-acceptance and self-love.

Perhaps contemplate which road you will continue to go down?

  1. The one with the shiny objects to an unspecified destination that is based on other’s approval and unfulfilled promises. (Note: This comes with an endless cycle of trying new diets and fitness programs, going off them, then finding another one… only to “fail” again. Hint: It wasn’t you that failed, it was the diet.)
  2. The one where you can pick your own path and veer off to smell the roses any time you desire.

Road one or two?

It truly is YOUR choice.

You CAN be healthy in your body, right now!

You CAN say no to the temptation to try to change yourself into what others think you should be, and choose to shine out who you really are.

I truly KNOW this.

My wish and desire for you is to be happy, healthy, and emotionally free.

Please comment on this article and feel free to share it with those who would benefit from it.

Stay tuned for additional supportive resources as I continue my theme on how to live a truly well life from all aspects of health.

Also, be on the lookout for an upcoming program in the near future that incorporates all these aspects of health. I’m excited to offer it to you live for a limited time.

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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)

This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.

Thanks Pixabay and Canva.