It’s always important to reassess how a relationship is working out for you, and the one you have with food and your body is no different. Let’s examine the weight-centric relationships in our mainstream health, and why it’s time to let go.
BY: VINCCI TSUI, RD
Do you remember the collective eye rolls that happened when Gwyneth Paltrow used the phrase “conscious uncoupling”?
As it turns out, it is a phrase coined by author and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas to describe how to end a relationship in a honorable, gracious way.
When it comes to any unhealthy relationship with food and your body, this concept can be applied in a similar way. Here’s how you can explore the idea of breaking up ‘couplings’ of health ideals to unlearn old, unhelpful (and possibly harmful) associations in order to make way for new ones.
1. Weight & Health
Just as the first principle of intuitive eating is “reject the diet mentality”, it makes sense here that the first conscious uncoupling is weight and health. Specifically, it’s the idea that thin + weight loss = healthy, and fat + weight gain = unhealthy.
A person’s body size says little, if anything, about their health, well-being, and quality of life. We can all think of someone who is in a larger body who is perfectly healthy, and someone in a smaller body who is struggling with their health. While higher weights are often associated with negative health outcomes, there is no definitive proof that they are the cause of poor health.
Most weight studies ignore the confounding factors of weight stigma and disordered eating, which have both been shown to independently lead to poor health. There are no safe and reliable interventions that result in long-term weight loss for most people, so we don’t have definitive proof that weight loss actually improves health. On the other hand, there is evidence that weight loss interventions can cause harm by increasing the risk of disordered eating, weight cycling, and malnutrition.
2. Weight & Self-Care
Some people have argued that although they understand that weight is a poor indicator of health, they still see weight gain as a sign that they’re “not taking care of themselves.” They believe that “trying to lose weight” is really shorthand for practicing in self-care behaviors like changing their eating habits, engaging in activity, getting more sleep, or managing their stress.
While we can all absolutely get behind the idea of practicing self-care, it’s problematic to include weight in the conversation. Many self-care behaviors don’t directly result in weight changes, so weight can only be a temporary motivator at best. Additionally, using weight as a measure of “how well you’re taking care of yourself” narrows the definition of what is considered self-care.
In fact, sometimes weight loss can be a result of disordered behaviours, an illness, or factors outside of a person’s control. Praising weight loss can thus be reinforcing a negative behavior or situation. Using weight loss as a measure of self-care implies that people of higher weight “aren’t taking care of themselves properly,” which is fatphobia in a nutshell.
3. Weight & Self-Worth
Our worth should not be defined by our health, productivity, or achievements; however, this statement is completely counterintuitive to what we’re taught in our culture. While it’s absolutely normal to value those things and want to have more of those things, you are not any less if you don’t have, or don’t value them.
The fact is, people of all sizes are deserving of respect and dignity, so including health in the conversation of one’s self-worth creates a false hierarchy. A higher-weight person who is struggling with health concerns, or is not engaging in “healthy” behaviours shouldn’t be considered less worthy than a higher-weight person who doesn’t have health problems, or lives a “healthy lifestyle.” Remember, we are worthy simply by existing.
Remember, our brains love efficiency, and why it appears we’re on “autopilot” with our thoughts. It’s why we like to use stereotypes, put things in categories, and make associations that don’t truly have a causal relationship. Consider challenging these thoughts, and notice the ways that you find yourself thinking in absolutes.
And when you do, you’ll free yourself from what’s actually holding you back.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: KELLY SIKKEMA
Vincci Tsui, RD is a former bariatric dietitian turned certified Intuitive Eating counselor and Health At Every Size(r) advocate. Based in Calgary, Canada, Vincci specializes in helping people untangle their messy relationships with food and their body, and works with individuals in-person and virtually through her private practice. Read more from Vincci at www.vinccitsui.com.