I was delighted to receive a free copy of the book Body Respect by Dr. Linda Bacon and Dr. Lucy Aphramor. The two doctors take to task the idea that we have an obesity epidemic in our society. However, the truth is we have a weight stigma epidemic. Body insecurity is actually more harmful than being overweight. The books shares scientific evidence as to why this is the case. The message is clear -show respect for your body as it is right now, and pursue health. It may or may not lead to weight loss.
I asked the authors, Linda and Lucy some questions about this profound work.
1.) What are obstacles many women face when trying to incorporate the HAES philosophy into their lives and what can we do to overcome them?
Possibly one of the biggest obstacles is that we’re going against the grain culturally. It’s more common and accepted in industrialized countries for women to bond over dieting and self-deprecation. Yet, we need community and relationships to thrive. So we need to create those communities intentionally, seek out others who are supportive. And fortunately, that’s not too hard to find: there is a thriving Health at Every Size and body-acceptance counter-culture. Witness the HAES Community Resources (www.haescommunity.org), HAES UK (www.healthateverysize.org.uk) and ASDAH (www.sizediversityandhealth.org) as examples and places to find other resources, like books and blogs.
2.) Women may read Body Respect & agree with the research behind it. They may even start enjoying movement and become more attuned with their eating. However, some may still have desires to lose weight and be thin. What advice would you give them?
Self-acceptance is rarely available to us as an overnight wonder pill where we wake up unconditionally loving ourselves. In real life, the forward journey is not that smooth, and is likely punctuated with the trips and stumbles of painful emotions and conflicting positions. There’s no rule that says that you’re okay only if you love your body. Readers will find much more than research in Body Respect: they’ll also find safety in honoring conflicted feelings. We’d be surprised if readers don’t have conflicted feelings about accepting their bodies. What the HAES journey does though is make it easier to sit with these difficult emotions without judging them or getting caught up in them. Everyone deserves respect, and when someone is struggling they can use an extra bit of kindness.
3.) Why do medical professionals continue to use weight as an indicator of health? Why is our medical community so adamant about prescribing diets to their patients?
Many medical professionals believe they’re doing what’s best by focusing on weight. They’re just following the path that’s been laid out for them. While we don’t want to absolve them of responsibility for their actions, we can certainly understand how they got there.
For some practitioners it takes courage to apply critical thinking and to just say no to the dogma of their professions. It can be particularly difficult for educated health professionals to consider Health at Every Size (HAES) seriously as our education can get in the way of our ability to learn. The more experienced and “expert” we are in a particular field, the more likely we are to apply our “knowledge.” This can prevent us from giving serious consideration to innovative ideas.
Also, it can also be scary when we consider the ramifications that may come if we adopt HAES: Would it threaten our career to stop promoting weight loss? Would we lose the respect of colleagues if we adopted such a contrarian view? What would it feel like to assume a position that provokes considerable resistance? It takes a lot of courage to open our minds to a challenge when the stakes are so high.
Indeed, with stakes this high, it may not be a conscious choice to avoid fully engaging with the HAES challenge. Many of us have strong defense mechanisms that keep us rooted to the safe and familiar. Defense mechanisms frequently operate below the level of conscious thought, allowing us to dismiss information before it threatens our worldview.
That said, more and more, professionals are feeling a sense of disquiet. They know things aren’t working even if they may not know a different path yet. We’re hopeful that as these ideas get out more, there is greater support for professionals to challenge conventional thought and ride the HAES bandwagon. Their position can only be maintained by ignoring actual outcomes of dieting, its ineffectiveness and the harm done and the way the anti-obesity agenda eclipses wider social determinants of health and disease. It also means being deaf to the distress and shame that accompanies chronic dieting. It’s getting harder and harder to live in that bubble. Part of why we wrote Body Respect was to give individuals and health care practitioners the tools, support and confidence to walk a more respectful – and successful – path.
4.) Why do you believe the media continues to push weight loss schemes on its viewers? What can we do to push back?
There’s no money to be made off self-acceptance! Billions of dollars are made off of our self-hatred. A person who is content in their body – fat or thin – disempowers the industries that prey on us, telling us we are unacceptable and need their products to gain acceptance. That’s why self-love is such a revolutionary act.
And again, many people selling the products will still believe they’re offering a real chance at health at happiness –and that’s a seductive promise for someone caught in the cycle of shame and/or living with size stigma. If we want to push back we need to get more stories out there that challenge the belief that weight loss works. And more stories of the joys that come from abandoning dieting and reclaiming the pleasure in eating.
5.) What is the connection between mindfulness and body respect?
Mindfulness practice can improve our critical-awareness skills and enable us to make better sense of our emotional life and life experiences, helping us to ride out the rollercoaster of our internal and external worlds. There are many ways this then transfers over into better self-care and body respect. Consider as an example someone who struggles with binge eating. The binge is often a way of comforting or distracting herself when she experiences difficult emotions. A mindfulness practice can help her develop the ability to ride out the emotions, or take care of herself in ways that feel more nourishing.
6.) Final words?
We love the tie-in to yoga in this blog and in your practice. It feeds us to know that there are so many of us on this journey, to feel our community growing and getting richer.
Lucy & Linda
Would you like a copy of Body Respect for yourself? I’m hosting a giveaway of this book. Leave a valid email address where asked to in the comment form and share how you see yourself pursuing body respect and health, as opposed to weight loss. Winners will be chosen at random. Continental United States only.
May the odds be ever in your favor.