October 30, 2013

Is "overweight" a judgement rather than a fact?

True, it's hard, but letting
go is an important part
of personal and professional
growth (and change).
During the 25 years of my career in health and fitness, I have been passionately involved in weight loss programs, exercise classes, nutrition briefs, and other such pursuits all in the name of weight loss.  Over the course of the last few years, I have exposed myself (the other kind of exposed) to research, books, and a schwak (is that a word) of documentaries that challenge the common belief that being overweight is unhealthy and obese is just plain hazardous.

From "The Obesity Myth" (Paul Campos) and "Health at Every Size" (Linda Bacon...I know...ironic isn't it?) to my latest eye opener (causing me nothing but pain and agony over the fact I may be a part of the problem and not the solution) "Education, Disordered Eating and Obesity Discourse" (Evans, Rich, Davies, and Allwood), my beliefs around weight have morphed into something more frustrating.

The overarching theme of my readings and watchings (there are some fabulous documentaries on Netflix) is that being overweight, and even obese, is not a health issue but one of judgement.  Over and over again, the message is clear; fat doesn't hurt you (physically at least). Unfortunately, our preoccupation with weight is hurting our young people.  Kids are being exposed to diet and health talks and warnings repeatedly resulting in disordered eating from all ends of the spectrum. From eating disorders to overeating to incredibly body image issues, these poor children are bearing the brunt of our society's fear of fat. It makes me so angry to see a "health promoter" talk about healthy eating and the evils of fat to a bunch of preschoolers. Or to see a teacher without any education or awareness of the topic talk about the benefits of fruits and vegetables. It appears benign, but the results may be the opposite.

By focusing on the weight (i.e. fat) we take the focus off health.  I don't know how many times I have written in this blog the importance of a health focus as it relates to permanent weight loss. I understand, completely, the desire to lose fat and fit into a certain size again. I understand the desire to look like the people in the magazines. BUT...is this desire making us fatter? Moreover, what other factors may be influencing this population "growth"?

Research suggests chronic sleeplessness and stress not only influence our weight gain but where we deposit our fat (around the middle). Research has suggested environmental pollution may be to blame.  Perhaps it is related to the neighbourhoods we live in?  At any rate, being overweight is not the cause of health issues.

What is you ask? Poor health and chronic illness has been linked to the following factors (or determinants of health)....

Chronic stress, isolation or lack of social connectivity, lack of sleep, anger and emotion mismanagement, environmental pollution, neighbourhoods, TV, mental illness, depression, abuse, addictions, education levels, economic status, where you work, how you work, personality, and toxins in the products we eat, live with, wear, and use (just to name a few).

So if "overweight", "fat", or "obese" are not words to describe health status are they words of judgement? I think so. These words are dripping with assumptions including; lazy, lack of control, stupid, unclean, slow, and many more that just bring a tear to my eye. People "of size" assume these labels over time and will do anything to lose the fat (just look at the increasing rates of bariatric surgery). 

I know I will not be using these words to describe my courses any longer. It will be hard to find words to replace them and harder to find people who will register for them, but knowing what I know now, I cannot be a part of the problem. I would rather be a part of the solution (even though it may mean no one reads my blog because it doesn't offer weight loss strategies or no one signs up for my classes).  My instincts are telling me we are ready for a shift in thinking, but I've been wrong before (I also thought cell phones were a fad).


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