Is your definition of health keeping you unhealthy?
I had the chance last weekend to meet Jess Weiner, a self-esteem and body-acceptance expert. It was a real treat to meet her as I have been aware of her advocacy work for some time and I have come to really respect her voice on issues dear to my heart. She authored an article published in Glamour that hit the stands on Monday in the states that is bold, courageous and honest. I encourage you to check it out.
Jess expressed some trepidation with being so transparent about her shift in ideology that involved a newly focused attention to her weight and her labs. I could see she was bracing for criticism and comments of betrayal by many as she boldly stated her previous definition of health was keeping her very unhealthy. Personally, I think Jess’s story brings up some important issues around health and numbers.
As an eating disorder treatment expert, I have worked for years helping men and women detox from the diet mentality and the shaming effect of our “thin” obsessed culture. Part of their recovery journey is the process of letting go of the stronghold of numbers (on the scale, sizes on their clothes, calorie counting) which have become entrenched in their identity. For many, the Healthy at any Size movement created a space to seek true health while not focusing exclusively on scales and charts, such as the antiquated BMI.
I speak and advocate to my clients and large groups on theses principles of the HAES model:
1. Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes.
2. Recognizing that health and well-being are multi-dimensional and that they include
physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects.
3. Promoting all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes.
4. Promoting eating in a manner which balances individual nutritional needs, hunger,
satiety, appetite, and pleasure.
5. Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather
than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss.
Yet, discussing numbers is a touchy zone for those of us treating those struggling food and body issues. On one hand, there is an importance to letting go of the numbers that can plague us and rob us of our peace and true worth. But for many, if and when the individual is ready to manage this information appropriately, gaining awareness of how one’s body is functioning and performing ( ie: knowing labs and weight) can often be an important part of recovery in healing one’s relationship with food and their body. Truly empowered body acceptance involves making sure your body is operating at it’s best.
This can be a scary place for many who spent years obsessing about the number of calories they ate or burned at the gym. Many people, like Jess, who are in recovery from an eating disorder, understandably swing to the other direction and want to avoid numbers and doctors as they were a significant trigger and source of shame. It comes as a welcome break to not think about the numbers and many end up avoiding good health care for fear their brain will grab onto the numbers like the jaws of life if they go there.
Yet, denial is not a part of true health.
Neglecting your health is not true health. It may take a while, but finding the right doctor, as Jess did, who is knowledgeable and not shame based about such matters may be an effort but is necessary.
I remember when I was first asked by a client, “Is it ok for me to want to lose weight?”. I have since heard this question frequently in my office from women and men of all shapes and sizes. I respond by asking “What are your motivations and what is the meaning for you if you lost some weight?” Flushing through the answers to these questions is important to assess as you seek to make sure your definition of health is not going to keep you stuck or do your body harm.
The sole focus on weight in regards to health has and continues to be harmful. Shaming someone for being overweight does not motivate someone to make true change and reduces the chance of someone hearing important information about their body.
I still despise the scale. It really is a trap. Yet, totally neglecting our physical health in the name of health is not wise or recommended. For many, if their labs are ok, it gives them a reason to still engage in their eating disorder behavior. I see this a lot. If an individual is using numbers as a reason to avoid doing important deep soul work, than it is time to re-think this approach to living life because it will eventually spiral to a dark place.
I believe Jess is adding an important and much needed dynamic to the size-acceptance discussion. She is taking ownership of her choices and putting herself out there sharing what she has learned. I also believe she is doing this responsibly by giving out information with full disclosure and context. I am excited for a provocative discussion to follow up as a result of her leadership.
This is a nuanced and highly personal topic for many. I am always inspired when I meet someone who walks their talk. I especially admire those who have put themselves out there and adjust previous held beliefs while holding their head high and standing strong. The journey towards true health in the public eye is a gutsy one and I thank you, Jess, for being you.