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Body Respect

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Disclaimer — one author of this book is named Linda Bacon, PH.D. Chuckle chuckle…

To all my friends who are wearers of white coats — in and out of med school, residency, you name it, I encourage you to give Body Respect a gander. It will expand and challenge your thinking on the much-ingrained “obesity epidemic” and the most authentic, productive definitions of health, whether or not you ultimately choose to accept some of its rather radical suggestions. For the average citizen, it puts forth a lot of radical information about what it means to have a healthy relationship to food. I found much of the information comforting and affirming, some it a little scary, but always grounded in solid research. Here are a few tidbits of what surprised me:

According to this source, BMI — Body Mass Index — is not the end-all, be all health indicator that it’s cracked up to be. Currently anything above 25 is categorized as overweight, when health risks don’t really kick in until much higher than that. The U.S. set its standards for overweight and obese according to international standards, which were heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies selling prescription weight loss pills.

This article recently published in The New York Times about the Biggest Loser corroborates a lot of what Body Respect says about weight management. Essentially, there are a lot of unconscious forces at work in your body — for example, gut bacteria — that keep your body working to maintain a certain weight, a weight that may not match your desire for your high school figure or what you see in airbrushed magazines. So, treating your body like a machine — calories in, calories out — works in the short term, but then your body will react and try to recalibrate to its desired weight by increasing your appetite, slowing your metabolism, etc. This isn’t to say don’t cut calories to try to lose weight, but it does help explain why our weight loss efforts are often so short-lived. And it’s good to keep in mind when pursuing that ever-elusive weight loss goal in a healthy way.

Perhaps the most radical suggestion put forth by the authors of Body Respect is that health is achievable at a variety of weights and a variety of sizes. The authors view fatness as a form of diversity that deserves the same respect as race or ethnicity. They also delve into some interesting explanations of why “fatness” is their preferred term for describing large people with respect. My mind immediately hearkens to a picture of a very fat teenager dressed to the nines to celebrate her prom, which recently made the rounds on social media. I happened to have just finished Body Respect when I overheard several of my students throwing in their two cents about the photo — “At some point if you’re that fat you deserve to get heat; you need to do something about it” “Well, sometimes it’s a thyroid issue…” and I found myself struck by the overhaul of cultural beliefs that would need to take place if I tried to articulate the more accepting perspective of these authors…

The authors also have some pretty radical research findings to combat the view that America is suffering from an unprecedented “obesity epidemic.” Like I said, radical — all kinds of public platforms teach us that a lower body weight = good health. And fat bodies being an accepted form of body diversity? That can be a hard pill to swallow. I encourage you to read the book for yourself to make your own sense of these claims, but for now, I think it’s a healthy step forward to develop respect for our bodies, as they are, and to distinguish between being healthy and a size [insert your preference].

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One response »

  1. Ginger, I read both of your blog posts and as always they are thoughtful and thought provoking. Love you, Mom

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply

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