Body Respect

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.

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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.

In solidarity,
Lucy & Linda

Reader Giveaway!
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.

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About eatingasapathtoyoga

Learning to savor food, yoga, & life.
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4 Responses to Body Respect

  1. Amanda says:

    I pursue HAES and body respect every day. I work to eat intuitively and move joyfully and advocate for myself in medical situations. I challenge others when they make weight-based statements or voice good food/bad food crap in my presence. I am a fat activist!
    Thanks for hosting an awesome interview and giveaway.

  2. Karyn E says:

    After having my baby, I realized quickly how out of shape I was. Holding him for more than a few minute was difficult, and walking around with him was a strain. I set off on a fitness journey to increase my strength and stamina, and have added yoga, Tai Chi, and other classes that challenge my balance and flexibility.
    My diet was still so-so until he started watching and reaching for what I ate. The first time he threw a fit because he wanted to watch tv while I fed him the bottle was when I put together his high chair so he could join me at the table and eat as a family (even if he wasn’t eating yet). I made a decision that I’d rather him see me have a smoothie in the morning than a donut – a handful of nuts instead of Cheetos.
    He turned 5 months last week, and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. I’m running a 5k this Saturday (with him in the jogging stroller) and can lift him and horse around with him with strong arms, despite him being almost 20 pounds. Have I lost weight? Yes. Will I continue to? Maybe. I’m happy to rest exactly where my body thinks it should be with a healthy lifestyle. I’m happy, I’m strong, and I’m getting healthier every day.

  3. mypeaceoffood says:

    Okay, trying this again as I keep having problems! The path to where I am now was through diet and fitness, but it took 10 years and 2 kids to finally stop caring about size and weight. It was at the checkout at the grocery store before my wedding where I started receiving the messages that there was something wrong with me and my body and I should diet and exercise to lose weight before my wedding. Now it’s all about HEALTH, but that can be a tricky line to walk when you have a past wonky relationship with food. Is it a hobby or an obsession? Is it about health or perfectionism? Someone I respect in the field recently told me it sounds like I have some stuck energy and should look at movement (specifically dance, which is scary to me!) to re-connect to my body, so that is how I plan to pursue it, as early as next week when I have some free time!!

  4. shannon dakin says:

    I identify as a recovering bulimic and self harmer. I spent years avoiding looking in the mirror and when I did it was only in pieces. The words body and acceptance rarely go together in my world. I try know everyday to see myself whole and accept what I do see in the mirror. It’s a struggle everyday. I know that I can easily relapse and that does happen sometimes. I wish it didn’t. I wish I had my sh*t together, but I don’t everyday. It’s been a steep learning curve to see myself and love what I see inside and out.

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