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Being healthy at every size

Posted Mar 19 2010 12:00am
Today I'm thrilled to publish a guest post by Margarita Tartakovsky MS . Margarita writes a fantastic blog called Weightless on the website PsychCentral , where she offers tips for improving body image, losing the diet mentality, gaining self-acceptance, challenging the thin ideal and being healthy no matter what size you are. She also presents interviews with experts in the field of eating disorders as well as people who have overcome problems with food. Thanks so much, Margarita!

5 Things I Learned About Being Healthy At Every Size

I’ve been writing my body image blog Weightless since November and I’ve learned quite a bit about what it means to be healthy. Recently, I’ve discovered a movement called Health At Every Size (HAES), which emphasizes healthy habits, self-acceptance and pleasurable physical activity, not weight loss, dieting and calorie counting. Today, I’d like to share five facts that I’ve discovered with HAES and along my journey as a blogger thus far.

1. Everyone should love their bodies, no matter their weight. I used to think that I couldn’t be happy with my body until I became a slimmer size. I was a slave to women’s magazines and weight-loss tips . So many people think that they don’t deserve to accept or love bodies, because they don’t fit a certain societal ideal.

It also doesn’t help that we shame people who are overweight. In my interview with Linda Bacon, Ph.D., a nutrition professor, researcher and author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, she said:

The more we can celebrate and honor our bodies, the better we can take care of them. Everything starts with self-love and appreciation for who you are. When you start there, it allows you to make changes in your entire life. You want to eat so you feel good. It inspires you to make better choices and have better people around you who honor you for who you are, instead of people who will dump on you.

2. Our bodies are know-it-alls. So many of us rely on external influences to tell us what to eat and when, whether it’s Weight Watchers, the latest diet craze or a women’s magazine challenge. Rarely do we listen to what our bodies are saying.

I used to think that eavesdropping on my internal cues meant that I’d inevitably overeat. I felt like I needed rules and restrictions to keep my eating in line. But what I noticed is that when I listen to my body, it tells me exactly when it’s best to stop eating as I sense the feelings of fullness or when it’s best to start as I hear whispers of hunger.

In an interview on Weightless, Jon Robison, Ph.D, assistant professor at Michigan State University and author of The Spirit and Science of Holistic Health, told me:

... as a nutritionist, I think there are some basic guidelines that are good for everybody but they shouldn’t be very specific: Eat a wide variety of food and enjoy your food. Any time you start getting more prescriptive with people who aren’t in touch with their hunger or satiety, it ends up being another diet, based on external cues.
For more insight, Dr. Robison recommends Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family and Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel’s The Diet Survivor’s Handbook for readers and Beyond the Shadow of a Diet for health professionals. Registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch offer 10 principles of intuitive eating .

3. A person’s weight reveals little about their lifestyle. How many of you assume that an overweight person is clearly a couch potato who overeats? Or automatically think a thinner person is fit and healthy? These assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the larger person might be physically active and eat a healthful diet, while the thinner person might be utterly unhealthy, engaging in dangerous behaviors (using diet pills, starving, exercising compulsively). Our society underestimates the role of genetics on one’s weight.

It's like the Biggest Loser. Contestants have revealed that prior to the final weigh-in show, they do all sorts of horrible things to their bodies, including taking laxatives, exercising many hours a day and drastically cutting their calories. But viewers everywhere become blinded by their “incredible” transformations, where the contestants appear to be so "fit" and "slim." Yet their bodies are battered and suffering.

4.  The calorie balance equation is wrong. In our culture, we commonly hear that taking in fewer calories will help us shed pounds and maintain weight loss. Not true! According to Dr. Bacon :

If you try to diet to lose weight, you’ll see yourself losing weight initially because your body doesn’t react immediately; however, there’s a point when your body says, “This isn’t healthy for me.” So it may pump up your appetite to get you to eat more calories. But we all know that dieters can sometimes have strong willpower and resist the urge to eat. Then your body can get more aggressive, influencing processes beyond your personal control. It can compensate, for example, by slowing down your metabolism, the amount of energy your body spends.
You have this very minor slow down, which might not be perceptible to you, or you might find yourself with less get up and go. Your body is essentially trying to offset that you’ve eaten less. So your body just spends less in response and suddenly you aren’t losing any more or you might be losing less weight. The idea that we can control our weight is a myth. Your body does a lot to undermine weight loss.
The body can do the exact same thing as you exercise a lot. You may burn a lot of calories and your weight remains the same.
... your body is very effective at controlling your weight, much more effective than you are. ... One way your body tries to control your weight is to regulate your appetite and it also gives you feelings of fullness to let you know that it’s gotten its caloric intake met. ... learn to be sensitive to your body’s cues. The idea isn’t to trick your body, but to honor it, along with honoring your feelings of fullness. You body will support getting to the weight that’s healthy for you.

5. All exercise isn’t created equal. In our society, exercise is viewed as both punitive and compensatory. We exercise to compensate for the horrible activity of eating high-cal foods. And we exercise as a vehicle to weight loss.

For many years I adopted an all-or-nothing approach, either I worked out hard or didn’t work out at all, partly because I chose activities that I thought I should be doing and, and not surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy them. Plus, the pressure was just too much.

The key is to find something that you like doing. It doesn’t have to be rigorous, regimented physical activity – unless you genuinely enjoy that. Being healthy is about moving your body, whether that means practicing yoga , running, dancing, gardening or walking. If you don’t like traditional exercise, that’s OK. HAES encourages finding activities that are pleasurable and sustainable.

Find something that you like, that makes you feel good, that helps you reconnect with your body. Yoga helps me do that; so do the feel-good endorphins that pump through my body when I step on the elliptical machine. So I do a variety of activities. Find something you like that works with your life.

Not sure what that is? HAES advocate and eating disorder specialist Deb Burgard, Ph.D, created a great relaxation technique , which helps you reflect and figure out which type of movement you prefer.

What do you think about the Health At Every Size approach? Have you been stuck in a cycle of dieting and blaming your body?

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