Is it possible to be fat and healthy? Frances Lockie investigates the finer points of health at every size.
The fact is you can’t figure out how healthy someone is just by looking at them
I am here with a revolutionary message: There’s nothing wrong with being fat.
Did I wrinkle your brain? I don’t blame you. We receive the ‘fat = bad’ message loudly and clearly every day; whether implicit, like the lack of positive fat characters in TV shows, or explicit, like the entire diet industry. (It’s because of this I use the word ‘fat’ very deliberately, to rid it of its negative connotations and strip it back to the adjective it is.)
Though we all feel pressured living in a society obsessed with physical perfection, it’s particularly hard going for fat people. Because for larger people, it’s not just about how they look, it’s about their Health with a capital H. Because OF COURSE fat people are unhealthy, right? They’re on the verge of death, right? We’re rude to fat people for their own good, riiiiiight?!
Well, no. Not really.
First of all, rudeness is just rude even if it’s painted in good intentions. Being mean and hurtful is a terrible and really ineffective way to encourage someone to change their behaviour. Fat people are people and deserve to be treated with respect.
Secondly, research has shown that fat people aren’t at a greater risk of dying (which is a great relief to chubby ol’ me because I plan on being alive when someone finally invents hoverboards - HURRY UP, SCIENCE). And while there is a correlation between obesity and some chronic diseases (meaning there is a relationship between the two), except in the most extreme of cases, fatness doesn’t cause illness.
Even if it was absolutely necessary to turn all fat people thin, we’d be in a spot of bother as dieting doesn’t always equal weight loss. When I say ‘dieting’, I don’t mean the food eaten each day or foods that can’t be eaten for medical reasons, I mean deliberately reducing calorie intake for the purpose of losing weight. Only a tiny percentage of people who diet maintain their weight loss even if the diet is maintained. This is a problem, because weight cycling (repeatedly losing and regaining weight) can put serious strain on the body.
The fact is you can’t figure out how healthy someone is just by looking at them. It’s possible for someone to be fat and healthy, just as it’s possible for someone to be thin and unhealthy. That’s because health is a result of our behaviours: eating well, exercising, and having a positive outlook is good for all of us, regardless of our size.
Which is the philosophy behind ‘health at every size’, or HAES. This approach doesn’t mean that an individual can be healthy at every size, but that health can exist at every size in a community. HAES recognises that well-being, rather than weight, is the key to living the good life.
If you’re keen, HAES involves…
Accepting your body and the bodies of others.
Recognise that we all come in different shapes and sizes and that all people are inherently valuable regardless of the way they look.
Once you stop critiquing the bodies of others it’s much easier to be kinder to your own.
Stop worrying about the numbers on the scale or on your clothing tags.
Appreciate the body you have, be thankful for all it is capable of and be excited by its potential. It’s much easier to take care of your wellbeing when you think about yourself positively.
Once you’ve made peace with your body, it’s time to…
Trust yourself and trust food.
Some people believe that if they stop dieting and counting calories, they will snap and eat all the cake in all the universe. But our bodies are invested in keeping us alive; even if you did try to eat all the cake, I reckon after a day or two you’d have a hardcore craving for some vegetables. Try to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Variety makes eating interesting, so if you can, give new foods a chance (I recommend brussels sprouts… no, seriously, they’re really good).
Finally, you’ll feel really good if you…
Find a form of movement that you enjoy.
Just as eating for the purpose of losing weight takes all the fun out of eating, exercising out of obligation is a massive drag. Find a kind of exercise that makes you feel good. You don’t need to pay for an expensive gym membership to do it, either; take your dog for a walk in the park, ride your bike somewhere new, or go out dancing. Pro-tip: jump rope and games of bullrush never stop being fun.
In a nutshell, I am here with a revolutionary message: Don’t let your body hold you back. Have fun, eat food, be happy. That goes for everyone, big or small. The way we look is held in such high regard when it is so boring compared to the myriad of ways in which we are awesome.