Last month I read this article in the New York Times titled, “Losing it in the Anti-Diet Age – the agonies of being overweight in a culture that likes to pretend it only cares about health, not size”
It’s a good article, worthy of reading. The article is a long one that took me several days to read, but it's one I’m glad I made time for. The author, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, does a deep dive into weight loss culture as it has shifted over time, chronicling her own experiences as a fat person, and following the many formulations of Weight Watchers as the company has adapted to changing paradigms.
And here’s where we are today: pushing back against diet mentality, eating “clean”, sugar-phobic, knee-deep in healthy fats, and working hard on intuitive eating… but we don’t talk about weight loss.
I don’t talk about weight loss, and I’m a nutritionist whose MSc research was through Sweden’s national obesity centre. I don’t talk about weight loss because I want The Muffin Myth to be a size-positive space, and I don’t want to risk fat shaming or have people think they *should* lose weight to be healthy. But, where does that leave those who are looking to be supported on a weight loss journey?
Of the nutrition clients I see, a clear majority come with some sort of weight loss goal in mind. It’s usually framed within the context of wanting to eat well and put some strategies into place that work with their busy lives. But more often than not, shrinking into a smaller body is also on the agenda.
Here are some things I believe to be true:
Size does not equal health
Just so we’ve got a working definition, the WHO defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
There are people of every shape and size who are perfectly healthy. And there are people of every shape and size who are unhealthy. Research has shown that it is more dangerous to be of “normal weight” and unfit than to be “overweight” and fit, and that fatness may actually be protective in some cases of critical illness.
Size does not equal happiness
Only happiness equals happiness, y’all, and it comes from within. If you’re thinking that achieving a smaller body size will bring you joy, it’s time to re-evaluate. This is something society tells us – that thinner people are happier / more successful / more motivated / more disciplined and frankly, that’s a crock of shit.
We need to push back against this and acknowledge that these are unfair stereotypes that often lead to cruel behaviours (fat shaming) and unhealthy behaviours (disordered eating and exercising). That doesn’t even begin to address the stigma that people in larger bodies encounter leading to reduced access to quality health care (Brodesser-Akner shares some of these experiences in the above article), discrimination in job interviews leading to fewer employment opportunities, and lower incomes.
We all deserve to be supported
For some folks, making a shift towards a healthier lifestyle – eating more plants, moving their bodies more – is linked with shrinking into a smaller body size. For me personally, it meant moving from a lifestyle that involved a lot (a lot!) of junk food and very little exercise, to a lifestyle with a lot (a lot!) of vegetables, mostly plant-based proteins, healthy whole grains, a little bit of well-placed junk food (celebrations!), and considerably more meaningful exercise.
In the spirit of full transparency, I think it’s important to mention that I definitely began my own weight loss journey because I wasn’t comfortable at the size I was. The gradual shift towards a healthier lifestyle (and the start of my formal education in nutrition!) was a result of my weight loss efforts, not the other way around.
Wanting to be in a smaller body is a complicated thing, because we have to consider the reason why. Is it outside forces? Is it society telling us that thinner is better? Is a smaller body a healthier body? And how does one talk about wanting to be in a smaller body without implying that larger bodies are unattractive? Because all bodies are beautiful, yo!
Other things to consider
I think it’s also important to address that not all weight loss efforts are motivated by a desire for attractiveness, or even by a person’s health. It’s not uncommon for a larger person to be denied health care (including surgery, fertility treatments, etc) until they have lost substantial weight. Often the reasons are complicated, personal, and emotional. Other reasons include athletic performance, whether aiming to compete in a certain weight category or looking to improve performance with a lighter body.
Let’s also keep in mind that there are plenty of reasons for a person to *not* want to lose weight. Maybe they’re fit and healthy and comfortable in their own skin. Maybe they’re not fit and healthy but they’re still comfortable in their own skin. And know that encouraging someone towards weight loss doesn’t always yield positive results. Statistically, 90% of weight loss has a 2-year outcome of a return to the starting weight, or surpassing it, with poorer health markers.
To be perfectly clear, I’m not trying to position myself as for or against weight loss. I'd rather be known as a nutrition professional who is open to supporting those who are body positive, and who is also open to supporting those who have ambition to lose weight.
So what do we do?
Existing in a space with simultaneous fat shaming and push-back against diet mentality is complicated. You shouldn’t want to diet! You should be a clean eating, intuitive eating, zen garden of body positivity, munching on your unicorn toast and sipping on your MCT-oil enhanced dairy-free latte, right?
Well, that’s tough. So, can we open our minds and support one another? Can we create a healthy space for everyone whether they are body-positive or aiming to change their body? That, friends, is my goal here.
Now I'd like to ask you some specific questions: Can The Muffin Myth serve both body-positive followers AND those who are looking to lose weight for one reason or another? Has the body-positive aspect of The Muffin Myth been a draw for you over other sites with an overt focus on weight loss? I’d love to hear from you all - respectfully - in the comments section.