Health At Every Size- A New Perspective
Being "fearfully and wonderfully made" is a beautiful Truth that somehow seems to exclude our actual bodies. At least we seem to think it does. This blog post marks the beginning of a new series. I’ll be reviewing the book “Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight”, by Linda Bacon, PhD. We're going to go chapter by chapter.
Just to be clear, I agree with the majority of what is presented in the book Health At Every Size (HAES) (which shares a name with the broader HAES movement). Just in case you catch any pro-leaning tendencies… you are catching that right. If you’re not, I’m probably saying it wrong. I highly recommend this book to everybody. But I really want to be even more specific than that.
I think this should be required reading for anybody who considers themselves a student of (or professional in any field related to) health, nutrition, wellness, well-being, exercise, fitness, weight loss, body positivity or body acceptance. That much might seem obvious. So, just in case you’re thinking, “Oh, sure, they are really into this stuff. That’s not me.” I have a few more qualifying factors to throw out there. So don’t check out just yet.
Here is who else I think should read this book. And if you know me, you know I don’t say “should” lightly. I’d only say “should” to everybody if I really really believed that this resource was significantly helpful. In this case, I not only mean helpful to yourself but helpful to everybody, every body, that you come into contact with.
Here is who I think should read this book. I think you should read this book…
If you have an opinion about how bodies should look
If the number on the scale has great influence over you and your life
If you are constantly on the hunt for the diet that will work long term
If you don’t believe that you can trust your body to help you make food and exercise choices
If you have any relationship or influence over young girls and women
If you think thinner is always inherently obviously better and healthier
If you give advice to people about what foods are good or bad
If you think people with more fat on their bodies are somehow less worthy or less good than people with less
If you feel chronically stressed for not being or staying at your ideal weight
If you know how much you weigh at any given moment and/or you weigh yourself daily
If you blame yourself for your unwanted weight and/or failed diets
If you think other people should be able to get to and maintain their goal weight
If you are part of a society that thinks that fat is bad and that weight is a good measure of health
If you don’t believe you should accept your body as it is… if you can’t love your body until it is different
If you think God is disappointed with you when you fail your diet or eat “unhealthy” foods or have fat on your body
If you get believe all bodies are equal, but don't know what to say when people blanket-advise weight loss as the solution for everything
If you are waiting to joyfully live your life until after you have your weight and food under control
If you feel shame or embarrassment around your body shape, size or weight
Finally, if you work with bodies or have a body. So, yeah. Everybody.
Why am I writing about Health At Every Size?
While I’d clearly make Health At Every Size universal required reading if I could, I don’t think it is the end-all-be-all. I really appreciate that the author acknowledges this herself. It’s a vast dynamic topic with new research being conducted all the time. A good example is that Health At Every Size has an updated more condensed “sequel” called “Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight”, written by Linda Bacon, PhD and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD. I recommend that one too.
I’m focusing on the HAES book specifically, because I find the more in-depth expanded version helpful. Our brains are hardwired to automatically reject ideas that don’t fit in with our existing paradigm. Of course, this can be overcome. Being exposed to new and different ideas is an important part of being a mature adult. Plus, getting to know God more means having our paradigms rocked. Often. This is definitely not a bad thing. But while we consider being open to a new paradigm, I think it is helpful to have as much supporting evidence as possible. Especially, for a paradigm that is as entrenched in our culture and our minds as ideas about weight and body fat.
What do I think I can add?
The book itself is great. So why am I trying to add anything to the discussion? Well, I think as a Christian family, there are additional perspectives that need to be considered. For example, what might God have to say about this? What does Scripture say about this? And almost equally important, what does Scripture NOT say? How does God probably really feel about our weight? How does God feel about how we treat our bodies? What does God really think about our fierce aversion to "unhealthy" foods? How does God feel about us living under a fear (and marketing) driven shame cloud?
The answers to these questions are so dear to my heart. In large part because I’m continuing to see how dangerously diet-culture has bled over into the Church. Even more heartbreaking is how it has bled over into Scripture. Us putting pro-diet language into God’s mouth. Misspeaking for God is one thing in and of itself. But using these Scripture-based arguments to condemn fat and all “unhealthy” foods does immeasurable harm. Harm to whom? To us. To all of us. Whether you consider yourself fat or whether you are terrified of becoming fat or whether you are unintentionally shaming others for being fat.
If we really tried, we might be able to get a ball park figure on how it is hurting us. At least a framework for a lot of the ways that it is hurting us. Spiritually, relationally, financially, mentally, emotionally, physically, etc. But the immeasurable part really comes into play when we consider the effect this is having, and will continue to have, on our kids. On all the generations to come.
Even beyond that there is the loss of what could be. What I believe God dreams of doing with us. All the good stuff that He created us for. All the passions and gifts and desires He put into us from the beginning. I believe we are key players working with Holy Spirit as He does His life-giving, freeing, healing thing with everybody on Earth.
The distraction posed by the weight-shaming, number-chasing, fat-fearing movement (which is arguably leading most of our lives right now) is kicking our legs out from underneath us. We talk about how much more God has for us. More freedom, more joy, more peace, more love, more power, more impact. But we somehow forget, or just can’t believe, that God would mean more freedom in this area too. More freedom in our bodies, food and exercise. Freedom to live powerfully from a place of confidence in our bodies. From a place of loving (not just tolerating) our bodies. Where we take care of our bodies as a priority because… well... how could we not? How could we not take care of something that is both our primary stewardship responsibility and our joy to get to love?
How would America be different if we, as a whole army of Holy Spirit-empowered women, were awake to what was happening around us without the scale obscuring our vision? We are here for a purpose. And as my Pastor so wisely says, it sure isn’t for sin management. And I'd add it sure isn’t for weight-management either.
Last thing. At first glance this series might seem entirely different from what I usually write about… eating disorders, in particular Orthorexia and shame. It’s actually not that different. As HAES and Body Respect point out… “it is not a coincidence that eating disorders are so high in a climate of fat fearmongering.” The cultural ideals that praise thinness, fear fat and shame those who don’t comply is the perfect breeding ground for eating disorders. HAES just pulls the telescope back further to see the entire environment, the bigger picture and how all of us are and can be involved. We don’t all have eating disorders. We do all have a part to play. Even if it is just having our minds renewed and aligned with God’s so that we value all people, respect all people and rebel against the system of oppression going on all around us.
Here’s what you can look forward to in this series. Each post will focus on one chapter in the book. (I'm going to do my best to keep it to one post per chapter... there is just so much good stuff in here!) I’ll point out some of my favorite, most surprising and mind-boggling facts presented in the chapter. Then I’ll add any commentary based on my Christian perspective. Including any that relate to eating disorders.
I am beyond excited to be doing this with you! Annnndd… we’re off!