Beyond appearance, there are many other determinants of health that we often don’t consider. Let’s explore what we’ve been missing in the bigger picture.
BY: JILL CLODFELTER-MASON, RDN, CD
Everyone in this world has their own unique genetic blueprint. This naturally results in a variety of different body types in this world, no matter what their health status may be.
However, size is often used as a misguided indicator of health.
There are people living in smaller bodies who engage in unhealthy behaviors, and there are people who are living in larger bodies who are living a healthy lifestyle.
Yet, focusing on the size of our bodies – versus what helps us feel well emotionally, physically, and mentally – can distract us from doing things that can actually empower our wellness on a long-term basis. In fact, there is emerging evidence that shows that the focus on weight and weight loss is linked to diminished health.
Here are a few reasons why our society’s focus on weight and size rarely give the full picture of health.
1. DIETS DON’T ACTUALLY WORK.
Typically when people want to lose weight, they go on a diet to drop down to a size that they deem as ‘healthy’. However, diets don’t work in the long-term for most people, and they can be harmful. In fact, a group of UCLA scientists evaluated 31 long-term studies on dieting, they determined that up to 2 out of 3 individuals featured in the studies gained back more pounds than they had originally shed – within five years or less.
The International Journal of Obesity also featured a study conducted on 4,000 individual twins which indicated that dieting may cause weight gain, “independent of genetic factors.” According to the American Journal of Public Health, as far back as 1992, “The American National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a consensus statement that dieting is an ineffective method to produce sustained weight loss.” Not to mention, weight cycling and yo-yo dieting are often associated with worsened cardiovascular health and premature death. It’s also worth noting that having a history of dieting is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder.
2. MENTAL HEALTH CANNOT BE IGNORED.
The sole focus around weight loss often ignores another important factor that needs to be supported: mental health. The number that we see on a scale does not indicate if we feel depleted emotionally, or if we’re moving our bodies in ways that bring us joy and help us feel energized. It also doesn’t convey if we’re experiencing an immense amount of stress over a long period of time, or reflect if we feel lonely from not having a positive, strong support system.
It does not communicate if we’re experiencing sleep deprivation, or if we’re obtaining at least 7 hours of shut-eye a night. Nor does it express if we’re experiencing disordered eating or if we have a healthy relationship with food and our body.
3. BE MINDFUL OF SOCIOECONOMIC AND OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS.
A number on a scale does not indicate the economic status of millions of people who are experiencing food insecurity. It doesn’t indicate if we’re able to provide our household with an ample supply of foods that offer us nourishment, pleasure, and the peace of mind that even if we’re hungry – we can honor it.
Nor does this number convey if we live in an area where it’s difficult to feel safe walking outside – or if we can easily ride our bikes in our neighborhood. This number also fails to indicate if we experience discrimination because of the color of our skin, our ethnicity, our gender, our sexual orientation, or our body size. All of these factors can affect both mental and physical health that have nothing to do with the number on the scale.
Remember, the size of a person’s body does not indicate if a person is “healthy.” Weight can easily be affected by fluid retention, perspiration, whether we’ve had a bowel movement, what we’re wearing, and so much more.
You are not obligated to work towards improving your health. This is your life – and your body. For those of you who want to prioritize your health and are able to do so, it’s more important to implement realistic health-promoting behaviors – which can range from eating a wide variety of delicious and nourishing foods to promoting better sleep and less stress – versus simply focusing on the scale.
Ultimately, we can empower our health at any size.
Adapted from the original article.
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Jill Clodfelter-Mason, RDN, CD, is a private practice dietitian, health coach, food blogger, and owner of Cultivate Joy Nutrition in central Indiana. She assists her clients with developing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. Jill’s mission is to help women overcome the ‘shoulds’ that rule their lives, so they can become fully present in celebrating delicious, nourishing foods and reconnecting with who they are – mind, body, and soul. To learn more about Jill, check out her website, www.cultivatejoynutrition.com, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook @cultivatejoynutrition.