Wednesday, October 5, 2011


While 20 or 30 years ago, people (OK, let's be honest, women mostly) dieted because they felt that slim equalled beautiful and sexy, in today's world no one openly admits to dieting for such a shallow reason...even though I suspect that it still remains the REAL reason most people/women diet.

Today, people say they diet because of their health. Many people are convinced that they are on the verge of dropping dead because they have a BMI of 30. Many people will ignore anything good about their health--perfect blood pressure, glucose levels, etc.--if their BMI is over 25. This is the only number that counts for them and they will not consider themselves healthy unless this BMI number is reached, or ideally, until it drops below 25.

For the vast majority of people, slimness (or its proxy, the BMI) and health are synonymous.

Losing your hair due to food restriction and the resulting poor nutrition? That's OK, you're losing weight. Developing osteopenia or worse yet, osteoporosis? That's OK, you're "healthy" because your weight is down. Carrying around fat while losing muscle? That's OK, as long as the scale (which doesn't distinguish between fat and muscle) says you've lost some poundage.

On the other hand, have you become depressed because despite exercising regularly and reasonably, and eating like a healthy human being (in other words, without bingeing or scrupulously restricting calories or the types of food you "allow" yourself) you have lost no weight or just a few measly pounds? Do improved numbers (for instance, blood pressure), more energy, better sleep patterns etc. seem a poor substitute for a size 6? Have you decided to give up these healthy habits because they're not really healthy habits, since you haven't lost weight?

If you are depressed and desperately want to lose weight; if you feel that you are intrinsically unhealthy because you don't wear a size 6, then please stop reading this blog.

I've been blogging for almost two years now and I have slowly come to the realization that my weight and my health are not siamese twins. I now realize that what I do to improve or maintain my health may or may not have an effect on my weight.

My goal is to be as healthy as I can. For me, this means many things:
  • making peace with food; realizing that I do not have to eat a piece of chocolate cake because I know that I won't have the opportunity to eat any for weeks, months or years to come because I will be on a diet; realizing that healthy eating includes a wide variety of foods, and that neither restriction nor gorging lead anywhere good;
  • exercising to the best of my abilities and taking steps to help my body return to better orthopedic health;
  • in other words, practising what Dr. Linda Bacon terms Health at Every Size.
In my opinion, the "war on obesity" has nothing to do with good health. It has a lot to do with blaming and shaming. When you realize the truth in the joke "Q: What's the best way to gain 25 pounds? A: Lose 20.", you begin to see that weight loss hysteria is making our Western world fatter and fatter and encouraging people to engage in behaviours that do much to negatively impact both their physical and their mental health.

I am convinced that if we lived in a world where we lost the emphasis on weight loss and put the emphasis on health gain through normal eating and regular, reasonable exercise, we would still see a variety of body types. There would still be thinner than average people, lots of "average weight" people and heavy people. However, there would be far fewer Victoria Beckhams--in other words, people who starve themselves for "beauty"--or headless fatties, many of whom have dieted themselves up the scale.

Don't get me wrong: there will always be people who eat a lot, sit on their duffs all day and stay slim, just as there are people who eat reasonably and exercise faithfully and still carry a great deal of weight on their bodies (and are stamped with the scarlet "O" for [morbidly] obese). It's due to the amazing beauty of human diversity. Furthermore, there will always be a certain percentage of the population whose heights fall either significantly below or significantly above what is found in the general population. What's worse, there will always be red-heads, and even people with two different eye colours! The horror!

Let it go, people. It's called diversity.

And please put me down as a proponent of Health at Every Size. And that means every size.


  1. I think it comes down to the fact that western society has been raised with poor eating habits. Food is becoming more processed and we often skip breakfast or lunch and then eat a huge dinner and go to bed, while all that food is just sitting there in our bellies. And we are workaholics, sitting in office chairs all it any wonder why over half of Americans are considered overweight? It's really not surprising to me at all. Our whole attitude towards food and being active is so messed up. We don't understand how to do things in moderation and keep it at's always extremes with us.

    Certain other countries do it differently. They eat more fruits and veggies. They eat smaller portions and breakfast is their big meal and they work it off through the day.
    That's why they are slimmer, don't need as much health care, and they are living longer. We need to take notes.

  2. Ashley,

    I agree with you, but only to a point. I think that one of the things that is holding us back from collectively living healthier lives is our obsession with conformity (BMI less than 25) and inability to accept that health comes in different shapes and sizes.

  3. I totally agree with you about our obsession with conformity. And I'm glad that Rescue Remedy worked for you!

  4. Awesome post. Glad to see you taking on this change in perspective. As much as I love the attention to my ideas, just want to give the heads up that Health at Every Size (HAES) is much bigger than me - and was around long before I published my research or book. If you want more info and a place to register your voice, visit the HAES Community Resources ( You can also get great information from the Association for Size Diversity and Health (, which is the HAES professionals organization. My book, Health at Every Size (, also provides info and support. You'll also find plenty of educational material on the book's website and my personal website ( Enjoy the HAES journey!

  5. Dr. Bacon,

    I'm thrilled you dropped by!

  6. I get so fed up of hearing about the 'war on obesity' we have over here in the UK. Obesity is seen as the cause of diabetes, heart disease etc. But obesity is a SYMPTOM of the unhealthy lifestyles so many people lead. Te important thing is to correct that. If you lose weight great. if you don't it shouldn't matter

  7. ...and this is what I love about your blog. You tell it like it is. And you're absolutely right.

  8. I think that you are absolutely right that this is about aesthetics,not health. That being said, I don't think health is possible at literally every size. At some point, the stress on the body from being very overweight will have an effect on the heart, circulatory system, etc. People who have never lived life over 300 lbs. for any long period of time can't possibly understand the stress it places on the body. I know you've been chubby all of your life, but it is nothing compared to what people like me have lived with.

    Most of the FA who are talking about being healthy at large sizes aren't yet 40. Trust me, as someone who has lived most of her adult life over 300 lbs. and topped out near 400, your body will tolerate it a lot better when you're young. You start to develop problems as the years go by. For quality of life, most people could use some help in dealing with their relationship with food (which often results in weight loss). Denying this does nothing for the bodily acceptance movement except make it look willfully ignorant and therefore disingenuous.

    This in now way means that I have a problem with people being fat, even grossly so. After all, *I'm* still fat and expect that to some extent I always will be. My feeling is "your body, your business". However, I think we need to stop even addressing health as if it were equally possible at every size. It is not. Sure, you can be fat and healthy, but you can't be healthy at every weight (that includes extreme thinness as well as extreme fatness). However, that doesn't matter either. We don't "owe" health to anyone, not even to ourselves.

  9. First, quite the awesome post!!
    @ screaming fatgirl: wow, you spoke the main contents of my yet to be published next blog post! Brilliantly said, every part including that it is not possible to have health at EVERY size; my anorexic patients can't be healthy at their low weight (trust me, it effects their bones, BP, hormones--you name it--in addition to their mental health) and the same could be said for many in the extremely obese range.

    Also, unfortunately, any criticism by me along the lines of your comment tends to be attacked by HAES proponents because I am a)slim and fit and b)an RD.

    I won't hog the rest of your comment page with the rest of my thoughts. Just want to say that we all do deserve to feel well and to treat our bodies with respect.And regardless of our size, we all deserve to be treated for who we are, not the size of our clothes or our BMI.

  10. Ok. Finally did the post!