The desire to be thin is so ingrained in our culture (thanks, $58.6 billion diet industry) that we don’t often ask the question—Why do you want to be thin? But what does being thin really mean? What would being thin mean to you?
People often talk about thinness and the desire for thinness as a given. We are taught to equate thinness with health, attractiveness, ease of dating, etc. We’re taught that being thin is a worthy goal, the holy grail of a life well-lived.
So I want to break apart this thinness myth right now. I want to look at the reality of our collective desire to be thinner, how we’re taught to achieve it, and how using a Health At Every Size approach (the one I use with my clients) can help you achieve the vision underpinning your thinness desires.
|Supposed Benefit Of Being Thin||Dieting Approach||Health At Every Size (SM) Approach|
|Better Health||More and more evidence is showing that the supposed detrimental health effects of being fat are actually the result of dieting and the incredible strain that dieting puts on the body. Dieting wreaks havoc on the body, affecting everything from your immune system, to your cardiovascular system, to your mental health.||Participants in studies of the Health At Every Size approach, which includes intuitive eating skills, joyful body movement, and body acceptance, actually show more long term improvement in health indicators, such as decreased LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, more consistent activity levels, and feeling empowered and less depressed.|
|More Attractive||A 2004 study of chronic dieters found that they had lower self esteem and a lower appearance evaluation than non-dieters. In other words, even if temporary thinness is achieved with dieting, it doesn’t mean that the dieter feels any more attractive.||On the other hand, participants in HAES programs learn to love and accept their bodies, increasing their self esteem and acknowledgment of their attractiveness. When you feel attractive, others respond to it, and see you as attractive.|
|More Active||For dieters, activity is often connected with weight loss. The focus is not on joyful movement of your body, but on calories burned. This focus on activity as a means to an end often leads to abandonment of exercise programs when desired results aren’t achieved.||With the HAES approach, participants are encouraged to find movement that they like. Because it’s enjoyable, they’re automatically encouraged to continue. Linda Bacon’s study has borne this out.|
|Live Longer||A recent study found that people who lost 15% or more of their body weight had an increased risk of death compared to people of the same size who didn’t lose weight. Our common knowledge on this topic is completely off base. Studies indicate that fat people live longer than thin people.||HAES does not involve this intentional manipulation of body weight, and therefore doesn’t create these detrimental effects.|
|Eating Better or Healthier||It all depends on your conception of healthy eating. Dieting often involves a disconnection from your body, and an implicit agreement to adhere to the dictates of the diet no matter what sort of cues your body gives you. So while you may be eating more reasonable portions and more vegetables you’re also learning to ignore your body’s signals, which usually leads to some bingeing behavior when your body calls bullshit. Also, most diets involve some low-fat or low-cal processed foods which are full of chemicals that probably should not be ingested by anyone.||With HAES, you learn about real nutrition, you eat real food, you reconnect with your body, you learn how to listen to its cues and feed it in a way that makes sense for you. You learn to trust yourself and your body. You have bigger portions when you need them and smaller portions when you need them. You let go of restrictions in a new way, so that food loses its power and becomes what it is—nutrition, fuel, pleasure.|
|Easier To Find Clothes||It is true that, if you diet down to a size 14 or under, it is easier to find and buy clothes. However, because diets don’t work in the long term (I’m sorry, but they really don’t), dieting leads to size fluctuation, which means that you end up with a wardrobe of lots of different sizes, costing you more money, time, and aggravation.||It’s true that it’s still harder to buy plus-sized clothes, mainly because so many retailers are online only. However, learning to trust your body raises your chances for staying a consistent size, which means that those pants that you loved and bought two years ago may still fit you for a while. Plus, plus-sized fashion has come a loooong way in recent years.|
|Easier To Date||It’s true that it may be easier to date when you’re a smaller size. I don’t know the statistics, but it may be true. But, again, because weight loss via dieting is temporary, you may be feeling the stress of trying to stay thin to stay with a particular partner. And because dieting has a negative impact on body image and feeling attractive, you might not enjoy dating so much anyway.||With HAES, you learn to trust and love your body. You appreciate it. You approve of it. You come to terms with your imperfections, and you locate and connect with your attractiveness. When you feel good in your body, you feel more attractive, and the more attractive you feel, the easier it is to date and really enjoy yourself.|
|Less Judgment By Others||It’s true that society judges fat dieters as doing the right thing by “doing something” about their weight. However, society is wrong. Plus, dieting to improve other people’s judgment of you is a detrimental, approval-seeking behavior. Over-emphasis on others’ opinions of you is a key factor in low self-esteem.||When you operate from a HAES perspective, you become empowered. Your self-esteem stabilizes, because you provide your own approval of yourself. Other people’s judgments of you based on your size become less important to you.|
|Less Discrimination/Benefits Of Thin Privilege||It’s true. Fat people are discriminated against and it’s getting worse all the time. But dieting down to temporary thinness to avoid discrimination is not the answer. Discrimination based on your size is not okay.||The more people who adopt a HAES approach, the more we will have empowered people of all shapes and sizes who won’t find discrimination acceptable. The more that we are educated on the realities of fatness, the more we’ll be able to effect change.|
Please continue reading and learning more about the benefits of a HAES-approach to life and behavior. Question the cult of thinness created by our culture, and learn to love and embrace yourself at every size.
What other misconceptions are there about the benefits of being thin? Please share other thoughts below in the comments!
Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness. She counsels women and men throughout the country on how to get off the dieting roller coaster, give their bodies what they really crave, and love their bodies and themselves. Golda's counseling and activism work have been featured on CBS's The Early Show, ABC's Nightline and Time Out New York. For more support with healing your relationship with food and your body, get your free copy of Golda's Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining by clicking here.
To learn more about Golda, click here.