Loving Your Body Will NOT Kill You

Jess Weiner is getting a lot of publicity for the Glamour Magazine article Jess Weiner’s Weight Struggle: “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me” (Thanks to reader Kim for pointing it out to me)

In the article she tells her personal story which would be fine, except, as with the NPR article that we spoke about a few days ago, there is no balance to the story.  I’ll attempt to provide my own balance here, because loving my body saved my life and I didn’t lose any weight at all.

Jess and I have similarities in our backgrounds: We recovered from under eating disorders in our teens and ended up as obese adults.  We write and speak about self-esteem and body image.

But our stories diverge.  Jess was challenged by someone at a talk about her health. She got tested and her metabolic health indicators (blood pressure, triglycerides, blood glucose etc.) were on the high side of normal. I don’t claim to know all about her habits, but it from the article it sounds like she was not making healthy habits a priority at that time.

Jess seems to have confused loving her body with making healthy choices.  This makes me think that she might have been practicing Fat Acceptance but not Health at Every Size, which is a completely valid choice.  But just in case this article mislead some people, I want to be clear that I don’t know anyone in the Fat Acceptance movement, let alone someone who considers herself a leader, who is saying that loving your body without practicing healthy behaviors is your best chance for health.

I don’t believe that health is a moral, social, or personal obligation (you can choose to prioritize things other than your health just like professional bull riders, X Games participants, stressed-out sleepless executives, those who have elective plastic surgery, sky divers, and people who don’t look both ways before they cross the street). Also, our health isn’t completely within our control.  Health is multi-dimensional and includes genetics, access, stress, environment, and behaviors.

So Health at Every Size says that, although health is never guaranteed, if you want health then your best chance is to focus on healthy behaviors.  And to me Ms. Weiner is a shining example of that working. When she started practicing healthy behaviors, her numbers moved into even farther into the normal range.  She also happened to experience weight loss.  I would note that they never mention the possibility that the improved numbers and the weight loss were both side effects of the behaviors -which is to say that it wasn’t the weight loss that made her healthier, it was the becoming active and/or making better food choices.  Statistically she has a 95% chance of gaining the weight back but that doesn’t mean that she can’t continue the healthy behaviors regardless.

Here’s that balance that I promised.  I was caught in a vicious cycle of thinking that I couldn’t be healthy until I was thin, and having trouble achieving either.  When healthy behaviors failed to make me thin I moved on to unhealthy behaviors (extreme food restriction, compulsive exercise etc.)  I had bought into the diet industry’s marketing that doing unhealthy things to get thin would lead to a body that was healthy, and that I couldn’t be healthy until I was thin.  Looking back is doesn’t make any sense to me but at the time somehow it did. Eventually I did my research and chose Health at Every Size.  My story is that I practice healthy behaviors and my number are all in the healthy range (“healthier” than Ms. Weiners post weight loss numbers), but my body weight stays consistent at 284. I love my body, I have great health, and I am obese. I’ve maintained this health and weight for years and I know lots of healthy fat people who are older than I, so I do not buy the vague future health threat – VFHT.

Loving your body and choosing healthy behaviors are two separate things.  You don’t have to choose to make health a priority but if you do, (and even if you want to change the size and shape of your body) I think it’s easier to make choices that nurture your body if you start by loving and appreciating the body you have now.  It’s pretty difficult to hate yourself healthy. I believe that those healthy habits are the best chance for health, whether or not they lead to long-term weight loss.  If health isn’t a priority for you, there’s no reason that you can’t appreciate and love the body that you have and all the things that it does. In fact, I can’t think of a single circumstance in which hating my body would improve my situation.

So the moral of my story is that while a great many things may kill me, loving my body never will.

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 5:20 am  Comments (39)  

39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. HEAR, HEAR!

  2. Awesome post! Just FYI though, I think you left a “not” out of this sentence: “so I do buy the vague future health threat – VFHT.”

    • Thanks for the kudos and the FYI.  I suck at proofreading!

      ~Ragen

  3. Great post! That is the one thing I often repeat when people talk to me about dieting, restriction and body image. You can’t hate yourself happy. Or thin. Or healthy.
    The only way to change anything in your life is to accept and love yourself the way you are now.

  4. OH.MY.GOD.

    I Just got it!! I just made the connection!! Can it really be THAT simple? That healthy choices make a healthy body regardless of it’s size and/or shape? IT MAKES SOOO MUCH SENSE!! AND YET IT’S SIMPLE!!!

    May I be so bold as to make one more (obvious) connection? :

    There is no more healthier habit than you can make, but to love your body.

    I am sitting here, gob-smacked.

    Thank-you!

    • “There is no more healthier habit than you can make, but to love your body” I love that and you are so right! (I also love the phrase gob-smacked but that’s kind of beside the point).

      To be clear, healthy choices don’t guarantee a healthy body since things like genetics, access, and environment come into play, but I think that they are the best possible chance.

      ~Ragen

      • And it’s kinda like coming across some random statement that ‘shorter pedestrians are more likely to be hit by a car’ and then going out in the world cursing yourself, living in fear and restricting your life choices because you are ‘too short’ by societies ‘norms’, isn’t it?

  5. I read the article. I think it’s a real shame that she mixed up different topics. She had health problems. She sorted them out. She is now healthy. But… she is still overweight, too. The real lesson that came out of the article for me is, you can sort your health out and you still might be fat.

  6. The conflation of health and weight in that article is so frustrating! “Its not ok to be any size if your size has health implications” and “Health is more than your weight.” These two ideas are not consistent with each other.

    This is the problem, we need doctors that can educate people on healthy habits without the pressure to lose weight… and that type of advice should be applied to everyone, regardless of weight! Whether they choose to follow it should be up to the individual patient, but everyone should get the same counseling.

    • Doctors need to get that first. It didn’t matter to my OB that I didn’t gain any weight during my pregnancy, that I had no weight related complications during my pregnancy, and that I had lost 21 lbs in the six weeks following the pregnancy. He didn’t ask me personally about my habits, just assumed I had bad ones based on my weight and kept telling me I needed to see a dietitian (which I refused to do because the ones I’ve seen don’t know crap about honest to goodness healthy eating). At my six week check-up, he lectured me on my weight, told me I needed to start dieting and exercising (I was living in a gluten free household, I already WAS watching what I ate because I couldn’t bring any gluten into the house!) to lose weight (not be healthy, LOSE weight). If I couldn’t lose weight from dieting or exercising, then I needed to look into bariatric surgery. Then, he wanted me to look into going on antidepressants (which causes weight gain for me most of the time) and the Mirena (which can also cause weight gain). I was not impressed. For many doctors, health does NOT matter, losing weight does. I could lose weight by being on crack and that would be just fine! Because it’s the weight loss that matters and I do think it matters to doctors more than healthy habits do.

  7. I did like the fact her doctor seemed more interested in her health than her weight when she was disappointed at having not lost as much as she felt she should. That doctor seems less interested in having skinny patients as having healthy ones.

    • That was the point at which I went “huh?”. She (Weiner) seemed to wilfully confuse health and weight, even though her doctor was RIGHT THERE telling her she was doing fine, and not to worry about her weight.
      *sigh*

      • That was AFTER he doctor told Jess on her first visit that she must do something about her weight. So even the doctor is being inconsistent!

  8. I don’t know when that article came out, but has anyone responded in the Letters to the Editor section?? Seems like that department would be flooded with people saying, FINALLY…something that makes sense.

    And I like your statement: it’s pretty difficult to hate yourself healthy. Like you, I grew up thinking the same thing. I recently came across a picture of myself when I had just met my husband 14 years ago. I was a size 10 and felt fantastic about how I looked, mainly because people no longer said horrible things to me in public. I had been doing Jenny Craig for about 8 months and lost 40 pounds. It was fantastic to be able to go into a store and look for a smaller size after a lifetime of bigger sizes.

    But to be completely honest, I was about as unhealthy as you could get. I barely ate. My morning snack, after a tiny breakfast of one little muffin with fat-free butter, was a piece of toast and a handful of carrots. I was living alone and teaching at the time, barely making ends meet, and I lived on a pint of coffee a day. Mid-day I’d get the coffee shakes. I’d come home in the afternoon and sleep for 2.5 hours, get up, correct papers, eat dinner, and be in bed ASLEEP at 10 pm. If I tried to exercise, I got really tired, really fast. When I spent the weekends with my fiance, I slept almost the whole time from pure exhaustion and caffeine withdrawal.

    I was thin, but in no way was I healthy. As much as I like how I looked back then, there’s no way I’d put myself through it again. I’m very active now and 4 sizes bigger, but I am more confident in myself NOW than when I was a 10. I have no idea how that works, but there it is…

  9. Ragan: I have been reading your blog for about a month–and this is the first time I have written—because I have been taking lots of time to think about what you are saying–it is profound to me–your message speaks to my heart and my lived experience. I think that as an obese woman who happens to be in a partnership with another woman (for 23 years I might add:):) the world really is threatened by me—I just don’t “fit” (literally and figuratively sp??) in what much of the world thinks I should be…and I have struggled with being ok with “not fitting” for most of my life. Reading your blog has really inspired me/connected me to my love of myself being healthy and obese…being powerful in who I am because I don’t fit…and it is society that needs to change not me!!! THANK YOU!!!
    Karen

    • Hi Karen,

      Your comment really touched me. Trust me that you are not alone on the road of not fitting in. There are plenty of us whose pictures do not fit societies frames. I, too am a queer fat woman and so I understand where you are coming from. Congratulations on your 23 year relationship, that is a beautiful thing. I’m glad that you are finding support on the internet and thank you for being an inspiration to me today!

      ~Ragen

  10. Loving my body saved my livelihood. Before I saw the light (thanks to a psychiatrist while I was in an in-patient clinic because my hatred for myself set off a breakdown for the second time!), I would spend the day curled up in a ball in an armchair watching TV while wearing baggy sweatpants and sweatshirts. In the summer. I’d pull the hood up around my face because I hated my face, too. Even though there was no one home, I still hid myself. Two years later, I have a great job and I’ve dated several men (unsuccessfuly, but that has more to do with them being idiots than my body) and I regularly go out and wear cute clothing with confidence. Had I kept resisting self-love, I’d probably still be curled up in a ball at my mom’s house.

    The article disgusts me and I plan on writing to Glamour. And boycotting them. Glamour was the last magazine that I hadn’t boycotted because I thought they still tried to present a message of “it’s good to love yourself”, what with all their “Jeans for EVERY Body!” and “Bikinis for EVERY Body!” articles and featuring plus-sized models. Guess they’ve hopped on the Body Hatin’ Bandwagon.

  11. I couldn’t read the whole thing. These sorts of “I’ve seen the light!” articles take too many of my small ration of sanity points. I may be paranoid but I feel that such articles are a form of propaganda. They attack HAES and FA by showing someone who once practiced some form of one or both and how it “damaged” their lives.

    While I think that questioning things is always good, I feel that the way these articles make me question HAES and FA are not in my best interests. The questions raised are really not new questions at all. They are just the same old message about how being fat is bad for you no matter how you “lie” to yourself. The article tells me that I shouldn’t love my body nor cultivate self-esteem but rather contine to hate myself and my body both.

    • Several years back I would buy a magazine devoted to nothing but these “I got thin now my life is wonderful” stories as inspiration. It led to nothing but more self-hate, which I have enough of a problem with anyway. I didn’t see anything wrong with my behavior or the messages of these magazines. Now I see that it’s so very simple I feel stupid for not figuring it out before. I was brainwashed. Hate is no way to take care of your mind or your body.

  12. thanks, great post! :)

  13. You may have seen this but just in case, thought you’d be interested in this Huffington Post article about Thin not equallying health.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oz-garcia/thin-health_b_918942.html?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=080911&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

    • This is great, thanks a bunch!

      ~Ragen

  14. Crazy. She’s now showing all the signs of being stupidly healthy, even though her weight is still in the range that many people would call ‘unhealthy’, and she figures it was the weight loss what dunnit? It’s like the diabetes study a while ago that found that physical activity and healthy food lowered participants’ blood sugar levels; most of them hardly lost any weight, some none at all, yet all the coverage focused on ‘Even losing only 10lb can reduce diabetes risk!!!’.

    I haven’t made healthy habits much of a priority, so I’m perhaps in the place where Jess was before she got her checkup. I’m perfectly OK with finding out my BP, cholesterol and so forth – in fact, I’m actually kind of concerned, since I’ve had isolated incidences of borderline BP, and my mother and aunt (who were thin BTW) both had hypertension, high cholesterol and a history of TIAs, and if I’m at risk I obviously would like to reduce that as far as is practicable.

    I actually own a BP monitor, and cholesterol tests are available at drugstores these days. but I want and deserve a professional talking me through the results, what they mean, and my options (not least because I get a over-nervous when using the BP monitor anyway!). Taking my body for a full checkup would be loving it, just like breast exams, Pap smears and dental appointments are, practically, loving your body. And, the NHS now offers yearly checkups to all over-40s. But that includes weighing, even at my surgery, which has never in the past ten years weighed me for anything. And in the current obesity hysteria, to weigh is to judge, and that’s the very opposite of love. It’d be like taking your much loved car for an MOT, being perfectly happy to pay for any necessary work, only for the mechanic to tell you it needs all those crappy body panels replaced at enormous inconvenience and cost before they can pump up the tyres or service the brakes.

    So, no, unfortunately, until HAES doctors become the norm in the UK, I can’t care for my body in one way it deserves, because I love it. Does that make any sense?

    • Totally. It’s avoiding a trigger which can, in turn, cause more self hate and body loathing due to doctor’s using weight as more than a number but as the window to your ENTIRE health (which is just BS).

      I think Well-Rounded Mama talked about the right to request not being weighed at appointments and some arguments towards that right to use with doctors. I don’t have a link to it though. She has a lot of great information on her blog. Granted, a lot of it is pregnancy based but sadly, when you think about it, it’s probably the one time women of size DO get seen by a doctor.

    • “It’d be like taking your much loved car for an MOT, being perfectly happy to pay for any necessary work, only for the mechanic to tell you it needs all those crappy body panels replaced at enormous inconvenience and cost before they can pump up the tyres or service the brakes.”

      !!!!

      Excellent parallel! Because, whether what you need is a minor as an oil change or as major as rebuilding the engine, you’ll neither meet those needs nor improve their outcomes by getting extensive body work first.

      Hmm, we in FA could get a lot of mileage out of that analogy:-).

      Sunflower

      • Points for the analogy and the pun. I’ll be using this in the blog today and crediting you!

        ~Ragen

    • It absolutely makes sense. I see non-traditional practitioners for this reason (I live in The States and I can’t get insurance because of my BMI and in spite of my perfect health so there’s no real monetary different). I love the way that you compared doctors to mechanics, I’m using it in today’s blog and crediting you.

      ~Ragen

      • Hey, thanks, Ragen! :) (It came into my head from the fact that the NHS are actually calling their checkup the ‘over-40s MOT’. Sometimes I think using machines as an analogy for the human body is useful – sometimes less so. We’re one heck of a lot more complex.)

  15. I LOVE this post. Jess’ article just made me go “WTF? WTF? WTF?” and made me want to find someway to undo it. While yes, her story is valid because it’s her story, the headline is so misleading and … augh.

    I don’t know anyone in the Fat Acceptance movement who is saying that loving your body without practicing healthy behaviors is your best chance for health.
    Yess, I agree!

    In MY personal definition of loving your body, loving your body means honoring your body’s hungers. Love is doing YOUR best to do what’s best for someone… in this case, for your body.

    And in my personal definition of health, health includes love. Health isn’t just physical, but it’s about how you feel about yourself + your body too.

  16. Jess Weiner got things twisted and missed the point about body love. Loving your body does not mean making choices that make you physically ill or bring about disease. It does not mean incorporating practices and consciously taking actions that raise your cholesterol, cause diabetes, damage your joints, give you digestive problems, etc, etc. It means a) give love to your cells, your atoms, your tissues, your fibers as they are RIGHT NOW b) make choices that nourish your cells, your atoms, your tissues, your fibers – both physically and emotionally.

  17. Thought you might appreciate some backup.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oz-garcia/thin-health_b_918942.html?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=080911&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

    Follow this link for a nutritionist’s article that states slim people aren’t necessarily healthier.

  18. Kind of like saying that your children turned out poorly because you loved them too much, only by loved you mean spoiled. “Love” wasn’t the issue. You just missed a key part of the technique.

    They’ve written two more stories for the “obesity series” on NPR. One of them is really good:

    http://www.npr.org/2011/08/08/138958386/big-fat-stereotypes-play-out-on-the-small-screen

    The other has some familiar kinks:

    http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/139238924/tackling-obesity-amid-poverty-in-a-mississippi-county

    They’re asking for readers’ experiences with the issue now. I think the blogosphere could give them some:

    http://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/apm/0d2dd143dca7/what-does-it-mean-to-live-in-a-nation-where-one-out-of-every-three-people-is-obese

  19. Ragen,

    I loved this post. It speaks so STRONGLY as to what I truly believe – that it’s not about how you look, but about being healthy. It’s what I’ve tried to convince my husband about for 10 years. He’s overweight, and he makes derogatory comments about the way he looks. I think he’s totally hot, no matter how much he weighs. However, he’s put on some more weight over the years, and more concerning, he makes complaints about the way his body feels, so I’ve started nudging him to get more healthy. I’ve tried to put it in terms of health rather than weight, but sometimes it’s so hard to get it across to him – he *hears* “you’re fat” whether that’s what I’m saying or not.

    It’s not helped by the fact that I lost 50 pounds last year. I used to weigh a bit over 200 (I’m not sure if I weighed quite that much when you and I were friends, though I was at least 180), and now I’m stable in my target range of between 150-60. I was embarrassed and *frustrated* by the number of compliments on how I *looked*, and how hard I must have worked “to lose that weight!” I am ever thankful that I inherited an excellent metabolism from my father, as all three of my sisters have more of my mother’s metabolism and have difficulties with their weight and health (they all three have diabetes, as she did, among other things), and I, at 41, do not. With that ever-present worry in the background, though, it prompted me to get back to making healthy eating choices, and get off my butt and exercise regularly, which automatically prompted the weight loss down to my optimum range (which is still “overweight” by the BMI charts, but it’s *my* optimum weight, nonetheless). It’s very awkward to have people compliment me on my weight loss, when what I’m happy about is that I *feel* better. There are women in my office who look *great* and I’ve heard nothing about any health issues…they just want to lose 10 or 20 pounds to look better, as far as I can tell, or because it’s the “right” weight to be at… These are already skinny women from my point of view! But how do I tell them that they shouldn’t be so obsessed about losing weight, when I just did lose weight? That it was a side effect, and not my goal, is really not understood.

    Anyway, I haven’t emailed you in a while, and I did want to post about how wonderful I thought this essay was. I read your blog semi-regularly, both because I like to keep up on how your life is going, and because you’re a good author, but I don’t know why I don’t keep in touch. Ah, well.

    Iroshi

    • Hi Iroshi,

      Awesome to hear from you. Glad to hear that you’ve found path that’s working for your health and thank you so much for your honesty about your journey – especially about how the reactions made you feel. In response to your question I think that you have to decide how much you want to talk to people, I don’t think that you can probably tell them what they should focus on, but you can tell them that weight was not your focus and that you’ve loved your body at lots of sizes maybe? It sounds like you are doing the best you can to support your husband which makes you awesome :) Thank you for your kind words about the blog!

      ~Ragen

  20. Confession #1: I haven’t read the article. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Mentally I’m just not in a place where something like this isn’t going to make me scream and cry and howl like a rabid dog.

    Confession #2: She was just on the Today Show. As in her interview just ended while I started typing this. Something I am truly truly TRULY shocked about is that she said that at 37 she had no idea she was supposed to be looking at health indicators such as triglycerides, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc. This just shocks me. I just don’t understand how you could not know about such things. Yes, I realize the diet industry tries its hardest to make us think that being thin is the only thing that really matters, but the amount of hiding under a rock that it takes to not hear about other health indicators is amazing. I just…wow. Either I’m just unable to fully wake up this morning, or my brain has seriously broken because of this, because I just can’t wrap my head around it.

    Loving myself has meant that I not only love myself the way I am RIGHT NOW, but it has also meant that I find ways to treat myself kindly, including tending to keeping an eye on my true health indicators, and not focusing only on my weight. Of course, this is my own personal choice, and I’m not asking her to take up my path, but loving myself has caused me to be healthier, not the other way around.

    • Oh noes, I got behind in approving comments and you got stuck in moderation because you changed the name you post under. I hope that you can forgive me :)

      ~Ragen

      • Bah! No forgiveness needed, dear Ragen. This is what happens when I try to be “helpful” and add my last initial because there is someone else with the same name (a somewhat common name) posting comments as well. Heck, there’s a good chance while re-reading comments that if I come across someone with the same name that I may say to myself, “That’s odd. I don’t remember posting that.” lol Yeah, I’m a spaz like that. No hard feelings. :-)

  21. I read Jess’s article and it really really aggravated me! “Thin” and “healthy” are NOT THE SAME THING but the article uses them as if they are interchangable! Arrrgh! Her health had nothing to do with her weight! And that quote from Dr. Katz and the overall tone of the article is “you can be fat, but not *too* fat (becauseitwillkillyourhealthboogabooga) and um, really you should just try and be skinny so you don’t have to deal with all of this.”

    IMHO, Ms. Weiner went from talking the talk to walking the walk – she went from merely ‘accepting’ her body as it was (after unhealthy choices had brought it to a less than ideal place health-wise) to *actively loving* her body by making health choices that would benefit it. She just decided to start taking better care of herself! And if you love yourself shouldn’t you take care of yourself?

    I think the problem that keeps tripping up the SA/HAES issue is there are two different aspects of self evaluation at work that keep blurring together: vanity and physical well-being. How you feel when you look in the mirror is not the same as how you feel inside when you get out of bed in the morning. Wanting to change your body for aesthetic reasons is not the same as wanting to change your physical health and abilities. It’s about expectations and intent: doing crunches to get a flat stomach (which is a myth anyway :-P) is not the same as doing crunches to strengthen your core, or so you have fewer aches and pains, or to help prevent injury etc.
    Towards the end of her article, what I think Jess Weiner was trying to say (but didn’t quite articulate as well as she could have) was that you can love you body, *AND* work to take better care of it while you are loving it.

  22. The only way I could see loving your body as dangerous would be if you, er, pleasured yourself while driving. That could cause an accident.


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