Before we get to our list, let me just tell you that my book – Fat: The Owner’s Manual - is now officially available for order in soft copy and e-book. Get all the details and order here!
On to the blog…
If you are interested in being healthy/healthier and you start to do some research, you will find that there are currently two competing ideas when it comes to health. One judges health based on weight and believes that health problems can be solved through weight loss. The other says health should be the focus (rather than weight), and that health problems should be solved through health interventions.
Here are 11 reasons why I think a focus on health makes way more sense if someone is interested in pursuing health:
1. Simple observation
We know that there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people so “weight=health” does not hold up to simple observation.
2. Thin people get all the diseases that are correlated with fatness
And since thin people get all of these diseases, then being thin is neither a sure cure nor a certain preventative. Further, since we treat thin people for these diseases we have treatment protocols that do not involve weight loss. Those same protocols could be used on fat people who have these diseases – so that we are treating the actual disease and not just trying to change someone’s body size and hoping that solves their health problems.
3. Correlation does not equal causation
Just because a disease is correlated with obesity does not mean that it is caused by obesity. In some cases, sleep apnea for example, a condition is thought to cause obesity, which leads to a chicken and egg conundrum. By focusing on the health problem instead of the weight we avoid this issue altogether.
4. Confirmation bias
We seek evidence that confirms our existing beliefs. For example, doctors test obese people earlier and more often for diseases thought to be correlated with obesity; thin people who have the symptoms of diseases that are correlated with obesity are often ignored because the doctors assume that thin people are “safe” from these diseases. If you have two groups and you test one earlier and more often for a set of health problems, and subsequently ignore the symptoms of those health problems in the second group, of course the first group is more likely to have a higher diagnosis rate.
5. Third factor
One of the reasons that correlation does not imply causation is because the two things could both be caused by a third factor. It’s entirely possible that a third factor is responsible for both obesity and disease in which case weight loss attempts will do nothing to address the problem and may even exacerbate it.
6. The wrong measurements
When people set weight loss as a goal, they are typically assuming that along with that weight loss they’ll get a host of metabolic health benefits: good cholesterol, blood pressure, triglyceride and blood glucose numbers, etc. So when, like 95% of people, they fail at weight loss they assume that they failed at all of the health outcomes as well. But studies show that this isn’t the case. Had they measured their metabolic health rather than their weight they are likely to have seen health increases, even without weight loss.
7. Confusing the standard of beauty with health
As a culture we tend to have a single standard of beauty (which is a whole separate problem). Unfortunately, it is all too easy to assume that this single standard of beauty is also the single standard of health. That is simply not true.
8. Human diversity
We accept a huge amount of human diversity. Large variations in skin color, shapes and sizes of feet, hands, and noses, heights, hair colors and textures, etc. are all considered normal. However, we expect healthy bodies to conform to a narrow height weight ratio or we consider them “abnormal” or “unhealthy.”
9. The dieting effect
In studies, dieting (particularly dieting young and/or repeatedly) predicts weight gain and obesity. It makes sense then that as we have continued to diet younger and more often we see larger bodies. The solution is unlikely to be more dieting.
10. The unlikelihood of weight loss
In studies since 1959 weight loss has shown a success rate of only 5%. Doctors are prescribing a solution that only works 5% of the time to 60% of Americans. The diet industry makes 60 billion dollars a year taking credit for their successes, and blaming their clients for their failures. Would you use birth control that worked for the first year but gave you a 95% chance of getting pregnant years 2-5? Would you be okay with the company (and the world) blaming you if you were one of the 95% who got pregnant?
11. The likelihood of increased health
We know that health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control. That said, studies show that most people will get a health benefit from participating in healthy behaviors (healthy eating and movement). Studies also show that most of these people will not experience significant long term weight loss. But, again, they will be healthier.
So there you go, 11 reasons why I think that focusing on health and not weight makes the most sense if someone is interested in pursuing health.
What other reasons do you have for pursuing healthy behaviors rather than weight loss as a means towards health? Please post in the comments below!
Ragen Chastain is a dancer, choreographer, writer, speaker, and fat person. She has just authored the book Fat: The Owners Manual – Navigating a Thin-Obsessed World with Your Health, Happiness and Sense of Humor Intact, which is still available for pre-order. Her website, Dances With Fat, will inspire you to think, feel and take action towards creating a better world where all people truly are treated equally, regardless of their shape, size or weight.