For Health Reasons

I blogged yesterday about Jess Weiner’s “change of heart”  in Glamour Magazine in which she spent years in the Fat Acceptance/Health at Every Size communities (in fact calling herself a leader of the movement) and somehow came away with the idea that our message is that loving your body means not practicing any other habit to support health (obviously, health and healthy habits by any definition are never an obligation, but I don’t know anyone who would have given Jess the message that body love precludes participating in any other healthy habits.)  Now Jess thinks that taking care of her body and health means focusing on weight loss. Since the idea of losing weight “for health reasons” is so prevalent, I want to look a little more deeply into that today because I think that Jess’s story represents everything problematic about the idea of losing weight “for health reasons”.

To be quite honest, I’ve been going through a lot of feelings around this issue. Yesterday I supported Jess in her claim that she was telling her experience from her truth.  Yesterday I tried to push aside my frustration that someone who calls herself a leader of the Fat Acceptance movement would so thoroughly misrepresent it in a major media outlet. Instead, I tried to focus on how sad it was that this woman, who considers herself a leader of this movement, missed the point by so much. I pushed aside my frustration because I felt that some way, somehow, we in the Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size movement had failed her.

I felt that way, right up until I found out that the Glamour article is part of a marketing push for a weight loss program she’s peddling:

“This interactive session helps you obtain conscious weight wellness… Self-esteem expert Jess Weiner and Dr.James Beckerman create a dynamic duo that explores the psychological and scientific aspects to foster steady weight loss. Together we will learn how moderate exercise, nutrition and self-awareness can give you a fullness you’ve never known.” http://www.paconferenceforwomen.org/conference/agenda/

So now I’m a little more suspicious about a Glamour article that looks like it could be a ham-fisted attempt to grossly misrepresent a movement built on common sense and good evidence  so that she can vilify it for her own monetary gain. At the very least, I feel that instead of asking to be praised for her courage she should apologize for calling herself the leader of a movement that, based on her article, she never understood.

While I respect people’s choice to attempt weight loss “for health reasons”,  I do have some questions.  I’ve always wondered what it really means.  Since weight isn’t proven to cause any health issues, how would losing weight be a way to cure health issues? Ms. Weiner is a great example of this.  Her numbers before her weight loss (when she was loving her body but ostensibly not practicing healthy habits) were in the normal to high normal range.  She uses her blood sugar as an example: it was on the high side of normal, not even in the range for the scientifically questionable “pre-diabetes” diagnosis. Yet her doctor told her that if she didn’t lose weight she would get diabetes.  What with the who now?

After she started practicing healthy habits her numbers moved into the low to mid normal range.  She also lost some weight.  This isn’t surprising, since we know that weight loss is a possible, and 95% of the time short-term, side effect of healthy behavior changes.  Still I have to ask why, when behavior change leads to health improvements and weight loss, do we credit the weight loss for the health improvements and not credit the behavior changes, noting that both the health changes and the weight loss are side effects.

So Jess brought her numbers into the normal range and, for the time being, lost 25 pounds.  Success!  But not for Jess, and here is where “weight loss for health reasons” so often goes awry.

She says about the weight loss “I thought declining desserts and exercising when exhausted would have brought me a more dramatic verdict.”

Verdict?  Is this an episode of The People’s Fat Court?  It seems pretty negative to view your health as a trial of food restriction and “exercising when exhausted” all to get judged at the end by the scale. At any rate, she got healthy by every measure of actual health, but that still wasn’t enough for her.

She says “I’m still focused on losing more weight—30 more pounds is my goal—so I can stay out of the diabetes danger zone.”   If you want health, why would you not focus on health?  And what the hell is the diabetes danger zone? And how would being 195 pounds keep her out of it? If she is 6’3 that weight would put her in the “normal” BMI range, so maybe that’s what she’s looking at? Or maybe she’s just doing the arbitrary “50 pounds” thing?

Either way, despite a huge media push, there’s no such thing as “diabesity“. Diabetes risk in measured using blood glucose and Jess’s is already out of the diabetes danger zone.

If she truly believes that it’s weight-related then Jess might consider gaining 59 pounds because, at 5’4 284, my blood glucose is lower than hers by 16 points. In fact, I’ll make an exception to my normal rule of not comparing numbers to say that all of my health markers are farther into the “healthy” range than hers.  But I would never suggest that the path to health is to weigh what I weigh.  Because that wouldn’t make any damn sense and because health is not entirely within our control.

And that’s exactly why I don’t think that losing weight “for health reasons” makes sense.  Yesterday commenters Emerald and Sunflower put it beautifully with a car analogy:

“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.”

“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.”

Health is not completely within our control, it’s not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness, nor should it be. I’m suggesting that if we’re talking about health then we actually measure, report, and work with health.  It seems to me that “losing weight for health reasons” tries to use body size as a substitute for information that we can fairly easily acquire through actual measures of health and tries to use weight loss as a stand in for healthy behaviors.

To paraphrase from a beautiful comment yesterday by Karen Reeves: There is no healthier habit than loving your body.

I would never be so foolish as to say that loving our body should mean that we don’t pursue other healthy habits.  But I also don’t think that people tend to take care of things that they hate, and bodies are no exception. Of course you can make any choice that you want for your body, and none of them comes with any guarantee.  I am simply suggesting that if you want to be healthy, consider instead of manipulating your body size and hoping that health comes along for the ride,  practice healthy habits, focus on actual measures of health, and let your body size sort itself out.

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Published in: on August 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm  Comments (16)  

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OMG. Wow, thanks for all of your tireless research and clarity of thought. Weight loss is always about selling something, not actually making healthy choices and rejecting body shame. Glamour is disappointing, and that is understatement.

  2. I certainly can’t see where it was loving my body when in desperation to be thin I was sticking my finger down my throat. Sure, I was thinner than I am now. I also think I was running a lot more health risks.
    This woman makes me sad. It’s like she’s saying that being okay with your body the way it is leads to poor health unless that body happens to be thin. In many ways she’s no better than the evil “thinspirationist” rhetoric encouraging young girls to be anorexic.

  3. This is beautifully written and it captures my frustrations as well. I am concerned now that this person who so clearly misunderstood the basic premise of HEALTH at every size now has the mainstream media’s ear, where she will likely spread this misunderstanding and do more harm.

  4. Interesting! I’m still learning more about “health at every size” and it always interests me, because I am one who has lost weight “for health reasons”.

    But I was never unhealthy. I did gain weight in an unhealthy way (lots of binge-eating and little to no exercise for over a year) so naturally when I decided to start eating healthier and exercising, I lost the weight.

    But now…? I’m still trying to lose the last 10 pounds, and I may as well admit that it’s for purely vain reasons. I’m in a healthy weight range. I eat healthy foods and I exercise a good amount. But I’m still just not happy with the way my body looks, and that is why I want to lose the last 10, and then focus on getting more and more lean and firm.

    Your posts always make me think! Thanks.

  5. It is no wonder that the mainstream media is dare I say…Eating this story up! She is reinforcing all of their talking points and will no doubt reap financial rewards and “lots o attention.” I have no ill will toward Ms W and hope she does find health and happiness, but connecting it to her weight and even worse to mine, yours or anyone else’s weight..that is just not o.k.

  6. Seriously, I don’t even know who Jess Weiner is. But a “leader” of the HAES movement? Her name has never come up in my very new acquaintance with the philosophy.

    It makes me sad that her article coincides with her new diet plan. Kinda like seeing Kirstie Alley claiming her new diet concoction helped her lose weight on DWTS. After reading your blog I feel like they are just modern-day snake oil salesman. Peddling their wares to the desperate villagers. Taking money without really giving anything of value.

    I’m glad I stopped reading Glamour ages ago, BTW

  7. My ongoing issue is that I have high cholesterol, which is something I inherited and have been aware of for years. I am doing my best to be responsible about it, which isn’t easy, of course, but whenever I get my cholesterol checked I dread being told to lose weight to improve my numbers. I worked briefly with a nutritionist, and tried to be stricter with myself, and I never lost more than 5-7 pounds, which would just come back when I stopped being so strict. While I am not considered fat (and I call myself curvy), I am quite short so I am definitely considered overweight for my height. I do really wonder though if there is actually truth in losing weight leading to improved cholesterol and it’s hard to get answers I can appreciate. I feel like all the data I can find is automatically biased in favor of weight loss.

  8. There’s a follow up interview in this story on Jezebel: http://jezebel.com/5829193/how-one-womans-weight-loss-story-went-awry

    I read the article, and honestly, I’m confused. Why is she going to see an ob-gyn as her primary care physician? First she quotes her doctor as saying “If you don’t lose some weight and watch your sugar intake, you will get diabetes.” Later, the same doctor tells her that she’s “focusing on the wrong number. Health is more than just your weight.” So what happened? Is the doctor talking out of both sides of her mouth, or did she suddenly wise up? Is Glamour doing some creative editing to stir up controversy? The title would seem to suggest that, especially since the journal entry that inspired seems to be referring to thin pressure. At times, Weiner seems to understand that health and weight loss aren’t the same thing, and yet she still talks about “weight wellness” as though her weight is what needs to be fixed.

    The doublespeak is making my head spin.

    • Not to mention Jess is going on a media tour talking about the article and hawking a diet plan at a seminar at the PA Conference for Women: “Creating Conscious Weight Wellness”. Her cospeaker is the author of “The Flex Diet”.

      It makes me hard to believe that she feels her story was misrepresented in Glamour when she’s profiting from it.

      • Plus I now understand that she got a copyright on “Conscious Weight Wellness”. It takes a long time to get a copyright (according to the US Patent office 3-10 months at least and that’s after you complete all the research and forms) so this isn’t something that just happened, I feel pretty strongly at this point that it’s all about marketing.

        ~Ragen

        ~Ragen

  9. I also read the Jezebel story and watched her Today Show appearance and I still call shenanigans. Some sites that were down on her yesterday are hailing her as a hero after her Today Show appearance this morning. What did she say that was so different? She’s still equating health with losing weight, no? Would have been a whole different story if she talked about nutrition, movement, and working with a therapist to get to the right place for her without mentioning losing weight (and continuing to want to lose weight) at all.

  10. I had my first moment of true insight a couple of weeks ago, while listening to my mother going about her usual body shaming ways. She was commenting on a recent photograph of my grandmother, saying something along the lines of “she must have gained weight, you see, there are rolls that weren’t there before”. That’s when it dawned on me: it just NEVER ends, does it? My grandma is 90 years old (come September), for f**k’s sake. She has already had a long and active life. She has survived a war. She has beaten all the “odds”, lived through all the vague future health threats, nursed her children and grandchildren and grand-grandchildren, and yet for some people it is still not enough, because she fails the beauty ideals. Health or aesthetics, it doesn’t even matter. If you are subjected to the idea that thinner = better, no amount of qualification will EVER do.

    Phew, sorry about the (slightly even off-topic) ventilation! It’s just, I’m very upset about this recent epiphany. In fact, I’m furious. Which, I guess, is also good. We’ll see.

  11. Like you I am disappointed that someone who is clearly on a journey and who is in the process of learning what body acceptance, HAES and fat acceptance actually are, can call herself a thought leader? That this person can take it upon herself to define these movements and that it is accepted without checking with anyone else. But that is how the media roll, why interupt a great headline with balance and perspective and input and discussion from qualified persons. Many people when they first comes across these movements do erroneously believe it’s just an excuse to be fat and is often their first objection, well in my experience anyways. Sadly her message will just reinforce that thinking for some people. I am grateful that she is only one and there are many many more of us sharing the message and I know it is getting through, albeit slowly. There are also many great researchers and true throught leaders blazing a trail and this combined effort will turn the tide.

  12. I love your blog, Ragen, and I’ve never commented before, but I read the article in Glamour first and immediately felt it was shady. My first thought was, I can’t wait to see how danceswithfat destroys this bullcrap! So thank you for articulating my objections and doing the extra research as well!
    The first tip-off for me was that a single negative commenter made her realize she was omgunhealthy–fatties be gettin told they’re gonna die all the freaing time, so her anecdote sounds way too shady and simplistic right from the start.
    The second tip-off was that she calls herself an FA leader but apparently hadn’t heard of HAES–or even, that she calls herself a leader, but has no problem portraying the movement as a bunch of fatties in denial, and implying that “loving your body and being healthy” are incompatible with being a leader of FA. I call major shenanigans.
    Finally, the biggest one for me was that “pre-diabetic” bull. Glucose testing is so shady, and there are different kinds– did she do fasting glucose? did she do longitudinal tests? Nope, she had one test (who knows if it was fasting or not) and then another one 18 MONTHS later! Ridiculous! Unfortunately a lot of doctors roll that way–I had one tell me I was pre-diabetic and gave me pamphlets on losing weight and cutting refined carbs… which I immediately threw away because not only did she not bother to ask about my current exercise and eating habits, she didn’t even ask to perform a follow-up fasting glucose to confirm. What a load. Being in the pre-diabetic range (or, actually for Jess, the pre-pre-diabetic range) does NOT mean your pancreas is about to explode. Shocker: when I went to a different doctor and got another blood panel done, my glucose was fine. Glucose goes up and down a lot, that’s kind of how it works biologically. Anyway, the point is, the fact that she quotes her doctor’s words as biblically true, presents no research and apparently didn’t do any research herself, then goes on to slap the old “now I’m loving my body! take that diabetes!” sticker across the whole farcical simplistic article, makes me sick.
    Thank you so much Ragen for deconstructing these issues and holding people like Jess Weiner responsible!

    • Hi Nicole,

      Thanks, you made really excellent points here! I also found out that she had already trademarked Conscious Weight Wellness. It takes a while to get a trademark so this wasn’t spur of the moment, it was part of a concerted marketing effort. (Excellent first comment🙂 )

      ~Ragen

  13. Emerald and Sunflower’s analogy is excellent.

    >> If she truly believes that it’s weight-related then Jess might consider gaining 59 pounds because, at 5’4 284, my blood glucose is lower than hers by 16 points.<<

    LOL!

    I nipped over to the Jezebel article you mentioned and had another good laugh at the concept of Ms Weiner being 'pre-pre-diabetic.' Pre-diabetic and pre-pre-diabetic are such total unmitigated BS. If you acept pre-pre-diabetic as a real thing and not just a hater's delusion and a stick to beat fat people with, you must also describe Summer as pre-pre-Winter, forever more.


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