The Healthy Size Lie

What a Load of CrapI was in a waiting room reading a supposed health magazine full of “the best diet tips.”  I started to read them out of morbid curiosity and they spanned the gap from completely disproved, to ridiculous, to patently offensive. One that stuck out at me was “Buy an outfit in your healthiest size and put it on the door for motivation.”

What with the who now?  Your healthiest size?

Of course the idea that there is a “healthy weight” – as if there is some weight at which you will be immortal until hit by a bus – is a ubiquitous myth.  But the idea that you know ahead of time what size clothes you’ll wear when you get to your “healthy weight” adds a charming air of the ludicrous to an already tired myth.

First of all, there are healthy and unhealthy people at every size, so reaching a certain body size can neither be a guarantee of health, nor a sure preventative or cure for health issues.  Body Size and health are two different things and people can, and often do, pursue one without the other.

This comes up sometimes in talks I give and people will tell me “Well, I know that when I’m a size x I’m healthier, my body is happiest at a size x”  When I ask them how they know that they will typically point to a time in their life when they were that size as proof.

Often they say it’s the size they were in high school and that’s when they felt the best they ever felt.  Ok, dude… in high school you were 17 years old – you could eat tupperware and your body would feel great, (10 points for the TV show reference) your body size was probably not the magic ticket to the fact that you felt better and healthier 30 years ago.  And therein lies the problem with this method of “evidence.” It assumes that the only reason someone felt healthier in the past is that their body size was different, and that’s a seriously shaky assumption

Sometimes it’s not high school but a specific time in their lives.  Often if I ask a few questions, people will talk about how their food or movement (or their entire relationship with food or movement) has changed since then, how they are under way more stress now than then, how they hate their body now, how they’ve had four kids since then, how they are treated poorly because of the weight they are at now. All of these things and more can affect health, especially when we are talking about how healthy we subjectively feel/felt.  There’s also the tendency to romanticize the past and that can certainly come into play here.

Regardless, I think that trying to attain a specific body size in a effort to be healthy/healthier is putting a middle man where no middle man needs to be.  I think that the research is pretty clear that, knowing that health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control, and not an obligation or barometer of worthiness, if we are interested in pursuing health then healthy habits are the best way to increase our odds for good health, rather than chasing a body size and hoping that we’ll find a bucket of health at the end of the weight loss rainbow.

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Published in: on June 11, 2015 at 8:12 am  Comments (20)  

20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Can I buy an outfit in your healthiest size and hang it on the door for inspiration? What are you, ’bout a 26? All I have to do is gain roughly 40 pounds and I can be as healthy as you are! Seriously, you’re way stronger and more flexible than I am and if health is all about the weight…

    • Aw, looks like someone’s already missing their shot of bile from the now-defunct fatpeoplehate subreddit! Boo hoo, so sorry for your loss. Also, Ragen just got done explaining how health is NOT about the weight. Maybe all the newly-exiled fatpeoplehaters can while away the empty hours working on their reading comprehension.

      • I think that Jenna is being sarcastic to illustrate the problem with this – after all, if they are going to say that size = health than if someone at a larger size is healthier or more athletic in some way it follows suit that it’s because of their size and therefore one should gain up to that size. I can do the splits and I’m a size 26/28 so, based on the size=health philosophy obviously the key to doing the splits is being a size 26/28.so Jenna’s weight gain plan is a solid strategy. But of course there would be a flurry of back pedaling and arguments to this from the “healthy size” people because “healthy size” is just a euphemism for thin for them and because they didn’t base this in any kind of logic so, as Jenna well knows, if she wants to do the splits she’ll need to start a stretching program and hope that it’s something her body can do (not all bodies can.).

        ~Ragen

        • Thank you for clarifying my point, Ragen. Sorry it got misunderstood!

  2. I am so confused! I’ve had a major increase in health in the last month. Better sleep, reduced need for Rx meds, marked reduction in chronic pain, brighter mood, getting out more, etc. I even gave away my mobility scooter and yesterday physical therapy said I could progress from walker to cane. And my weight hasn’t moved a bit from 350 where it’s been since the 20 lb rebound gain from my last (doctor coerced) weight loss attempt 4 years ago. Clearly 350 (and a shiny new hip replacement) is my new healthy weight🙂

    • Sincere congratulations. I know it’s only the internet, but just imagine me hanging the garment of your choice and hanging it on the door for you.🙂

  3. Well said! This “healthy weight” business is just more co-opting of health lingo designed to hide the fact that it’s still all about dieting and nothing about health. Like how “lifestyle changes” replaced “diet.” I feel like replacing “goal weight” with “healthy weight” is so much more nefarious – at least when people used to talk about weight loss it was more honest in that no one pretended it was about health, and it really was about looks (at least when I first started dieting in 1994). By the time I was dieting really restrictively in 2002 I was using that “health” language too, as though using artificial sweetners and starving myself was somehow healthier than eating real foods and honoring my hunger. Thanks for another excellent post Ragen!

  4. So… my “healthiest” weight… was it my senior year of high school, when I spent three hours a day doing physical activity? Or was it my senior year of high school, when I had mono?

    I’d like to tell you I was the same weight for both events. But I can’t, because I lost weight being sick with mono and not wanting to eat.

    So what exactly in the hell do my smallest size and my healthiest size have to do with each other, again? Very dangerous way of thinking.

  5. “Health” has taken over for “thin” and “skinny” since there’s been such push back on those words. How can you argue with health? Right. What a load of nonsense to sell things.

    • And if you ask “them” (whoever is using it) to actually define “health” their eyes usually glaze over…

  6. I’m the heaviest weight I’ve ever been but also the healthiest I’ve ever been. When I go in to get a check up the doctors are almost always shocked – and that pretty much pisses me off. They INSIST on taking my blood pressure and blood tests multiple times because they don’t believe that a person my size can have such good test results. The first couple times it was funny, not so much any more. Now it’s just insulting. Waste my time doing the same tests over again once or twice, sure I guess I can understand, but after that you’re just being a sizeist dick and wasting both our times.

    The tests always come back showing I’m perfectly healthy – and yet at the end of the visit I still get the “weight loss talk” and the “vague future health threat”. No “good job”, “whatever you’re doing is working – your test results are awesome”, “nice work” or anything like that to give me credit for the work I’ve put into keeping myself healthy. Just “Lose weight”. Sorry, Doctor Dickhead, I’ve both been there and done that, and focusing on weight loss makes my health actually DECREASE so kindly fuck off.

    • I know, it can be a pain in the ass and if you don’t have health insurance, it can really lead to problems, but I’ve just let them do all these unneccessary tests for a few years.
      Always smiling, always saying (as sweetly as I could) things like “Although I’m perfectly healthy now, I really appreciate all the work you are doing to monitor my numbers so closely. It is really good to see a doc taking the time, energy and money to follow-up the figures even for those patients not currently afflicted with any problems in that respect. I guess, people feel well treated in your care, when you make this effort to really get a complete picture of their overall health, even the bits of it that are currently fine? It’s very unusual nowadays to find a doc willing to do that, things are so problem-oriented and cost-focussed in the health business, aren’t they? It’s really a shame….”
      Now they stopped to test me for diabetes and high-blodd-pressure and all the other things…it’s really strange! *ironyoff*😉

    • I have to assume that you are not in the U.S. (or have some kind of atypically stellar health insurance) because if this were me I would have to be paying for all those extra rounds of blood tests, at high expense.

      • No, I live in Germany, where it is almost impossible NOT to have Health Insurance and Health Insurance must cover all those tests. I know that this is not the situation for most people in this world, so you are right to assume that my complecancy had a good deal to do with not having to pay for all this wasted time.
        Still, I guess, it drove home a point for my doc, because HE will have to justify himself to the insurance on why he did all those unneccessary tests and still wants to be paid – maybe he will think twice before he wastes money/time on unneccessary tests for someone else…🙂

        • you know that mention of “what you weighed when a teen” may be pertaint. Despite woe about childhood obesity,
          people tend to be their leanest when just leaving adolescent growth spurt. so how much of the search for thin is an unconscious search for eternal youth

          • I think Ragen has discussed that before, and it does hold true — to assume that thin = healthy is to ignore that healthy people get sick. And it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from there to the fantasy that thin = eternally young, immortal, or immune to disease. It’s certainly not the only example of “magical thinking” I’ve ever seen, but it’s one of the most pervasive and dangerous.

    • I’ve come up against the same, Stacy. I went to my doctor to try and find out why my right arm was so painful and stiff, and he insisted on taking blood from me and doing my blood pressure. BP was completely normal, and my blood test came back showing that my blood sugar was totally normal, I had no sign of rheumatoid arthritis and my cholesterol was what he considered to be “amazing”. So my arm? I had trapped a nerve in my neck, and the pain in my arm was referred pain – a course of physiotherapy helped sort it! He was a relatively new GP for me, and seemed stunned that I didn’t have Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I’m not sure how my painful arm might have been related to my weight, but hey! It MUST be somehow!

  7. Just imagine what those of us who DO have high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, etc., go through trying to get treatment for problems that aren’t related to those things. If those of you with “good” bloodwork find it almost impossible to get doctors to try to find the actual source of your problem and treat that, just thank your lucky stars you don’t face what I have to go through each time: “Yes, my cholesterol is high. It’s been that way since the first time it was tested when I was a lean, vegetarian teenager. Yes, my glucose is elevated. Yes, I’m fat. Now could we PLEASE talk about [fill in whatever completely unrelated problem has brought me in]?”

    This is so wearing, and usually so futile, that I have just not found a new primary care physician after my previous [reasonably okay] one retired. I have several problems that might be treatable, but I’d rather just deal with the pain than deal with the humiliation of the doctor’s visit. I live in a part of the country that doesn’t appear on the “fat friendly doctors” site, there aren’t very many doctors in my town, and I just haven’t been able to bring myself to be humiliated and vilified by all of them in the search for one who might just possibly treat me.

    • Yeah, as hard as it is for me to get decent treatment from a doctor (despite having excellent BP, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, etc), I can’t image how much MORE difficult it must be to get decent treatment when a fat person DOES have one more health issues that the doctors LOVE to blame on fat bodies.

      It’s just mind boggling to me; they give you shit treatment either way – I’m sure more so if you have an existing health problem. And they have the nerve to scratch their heads and wonder why fat people are WAY less likely to go to a doctor regularly or seek medical treatment.

      • They are not paid to think, they are paid only to write prescrips. 😦


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