Overcoming Obesity Series 2 of 4: Body Acceptance
As overweight and obese body shapes are becoming more the norm in North America, there is a corresponding shift in perception: “overweight” is increasingly perceived as normal. But many people with obesity still live with deep shame. A controversial movement around Fat Acceptance is challenging anti-obesity bias. Protective factors show the importance of body acceptance. There are times when focusing on weight loss and dieting is bad for people over time.
It can be healthier to shift the focus from unrealistic ideals of being thin to health. With body acceptance, we are all encouraged to let go of shame and form a positive, caring relationship with our bodies.
Can an obese body still be the right body for someone?
No matter your size, it’s critical to stay active. Take inspiration from Whitney Way Thore a woman who gained over 100 pounds in one year from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is now known as Anovulatory Androgen Excess (AAE). Whitney became a body acceptance advocate after gaining internet fame for her amazing dance routine.
Our reality is that we live in an obesogenic environment and it is difficult for all people – with or without endocrine problems like Whitney’s – to maintain a healthy weight. Do we need to?
Dr. Tom Warshawski of the Childhood Obesity Foundation weighs in:
I think that there is good evidence that up to 20% of obese adults live a long and healthy life. Obesity obviously has not harmed them. However the majority of obese adults do suffer ill health and we can’t tell who will be healthy obese from those who will develop chronic disease from obesity. Also keep in mind that 20% of pack a day smokers will also show no ill effects and live a normal lifespan. So an obese body is not the right body about 80% of the time.
Regardless, the first stage of obesity treatment begins with children and youth getting the habits right. That means the 5-2-1-0 rule, getting enough sleep and staying away from white flour, white rice, potatoes and sugar. If you have all those habits incorporated into your lifestyle you will likely stay healthy. But everyone still needs to be careful of portion size.”
In recognition of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, or #NEDAwareness, we reframe the idea of building the ideal body to getting the right body for you!
A healthy weight for most people does not mean being thin. In fact idealizing thinness is a root cause not only for anorexia but for bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder as described in this powerful autobiographical post by Chani Coady:
Growing up in predominantly white areas, it was always forced upon me that I absolutely needed to be thin to be pretty. To be successful. To be desired. Sometimes it was overt, sometimes it was stealthy, in the form of a “do you really need seconds?” from a concerned family member. As a naturally larger-than-average person, it hit home. I went on my first diet when I was 11 and I lost weight, only to promptly regain it. I tried both healthy and unhealthy ways of losing weight and thankfully have no lasting health problems from the unhealthy ways.
Hard Truth: A Waistline Below 35 Inches Is Healthier
The Nurses’ Health Study looked at 44,000 healthy women over time to study, among other things, the relationship of abdominal obesity (from visceral fat), waist size and death from diseases like cancer, heart disease and metabolic syndrome. The study found that reducing waist size should be a health priority. Here’s why:
• Women who had waist sizes of 35 inches or higher doubled their likelihood of dying from heart disease, compared to women with small waists (less than 28 inches).
• Women with waists of 35 inches had a double the risk of death from cancer compared with women with small waists and the risks increased further with every additional inch of waistline.
• Normal weight women with a BMI less than 25 but with a waist of 35 inches or higher had 3X the risk of death from heart disease, compared to normal-weight women whose waists were smaller than 35 inches.
What is it about abdominal fat that makes it so unhealthy? Visceral fat surrounding the liver and other abdominal organs is metabolically active, triggering inflammation and releasing fatty acids and hormones related to high LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
3 Ways to Maintain a Positive Self Concept for Body Acceptance in Overcoming Obesity
1. Focus on great nutrition and appropriate portion size but avoid low calorie diets because starvation tricks you into a slower burning metabolism. The Nuval nutrition rating (NuVal app available) helps you assess the nutrition quality of foods.
2. Avoid weight-related compliments. Find other qualities to praise in yourself, your friends and family. If you feel hurt by weight-related comments, be kind and clear that you prefer your looks not be a topic of discussion. While it may feel great when someone notices your weight loss, it’s an unhealthy topic and best avoided.
3. Weight is just a number. But if you wish to focus on reducing visceral fat, try high intensity resistance training to move (or keep) your waistline size under 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.