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Week in Review + Why I Support HAES

It’s been a quiet week.

I’m tempted to say it’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone, but then you’d know exactly how dorky I am.

(Random: one time I was on a long road trip with a bunch of other college students and suggested we turn on “Garrison.” Someone turned around and hollered, “Are you 85??!!”)

Anyway….

This has been my last week in Kansas before I fly back to grad school in Colorado, and I’ve mostly been doing quiet things. It snowed a lot, and it’s been very, very cold; one day I didn’t even leave the house except to go on a long walk in the snow.

Recycled picture, but you get the idea

I had to wear my long wool coat–one that comes all the way to my ankles–plus a hat, my mom’s warmest mittens, and I borrowed the cashmere scarf that I brought my dad from Scotland a few years ago.

It finally warmed up enough for mom and I to go out for an outing to downtown Lawrence on Wednesday, where I enjoyed being in my home town for a few more days before I have to go back to Colorado.We even stopped for hot drinks and treats at the local bakery, Wheatfields. Coffee and a chocolate chip cookie for Mom, rooibos chai and a coconut macaroon for me!And I just had to get a shot of this guy:

My Jayhawk pride runs deep. Rock Chalk!

Other highlights of the week included:

  • Getting to see my old friends at the gym I went to in high school and college.
  • Going out for lunch with my dad.
  • Checking out some literary journals at the library and reading some great nonfiction.
  • Going to see Rogue One with my oldest friend. (Oldest in terms of how long we’ve known each other, not…never mind.)
  • Researching and writing an essay for my thesis.

The essay, as it were, is about a topic I feel very strongly about but haven’t broached much at all here on the blog: the weight loss industry, weight science, and the Health at Every Size movement.

I haven’t talked much about my feelings about Health at Every Size because I’m afraid that if I write about it, I’ll piss people off, and honestly, I really don’t like pissing people off. Even people I’ve never met. Already, I’m imagining scores of angry trolls telling me I’m endangering the health of the western world merely by suggesting that health is, indeed, possible at every size.

But honestly, the more I research and write about this topic, the more I’m getting pissed off, and for that reason, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you today.

I’d first heard about the Health at Every Size movement when I was in the early stages of recovery from anorexia and I read extensively about the Homeodynamic Recovery Method (formerly known as the Minnie Maude Method.) I’ve been thinking more about it recently since I started reading The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos, which was sitting out on the “free books” table in the English department.

I read The Obesity Myth with a grain of salt. After all, claiming that obesity itself is a “myth” seemed to me like an awfully dramatic claim. But, even then, I thought he made a strong argument, with a lot of strong scientific evidence to support his claims. So I thought I might do a little more investigation and possibly write an essay for my master’s thesis in creative nonfiction writing.

In my research, I found that a lot of what Campos argues in his book has been re-affirmed (in some cases, strongly re-affirmed) by studies that have come out since its publication.

Yes, there are some health risks associated with being obese, especially very obese. Obesity is definitely related to diabetes, and more modestly correlated with heart disease and high blood pressure and some other diseases. (Campos does take a hard look at the studies that have produced some of these results, as well as points out that there are comparable health risks associated with being underweight, such as increased risk for osteoporosis and some forms of cancer.) 

However, many studies have shown that those health risks don’t strongly impact people who are in the BMI range from 25 to 35 (overweight to what’s called “grade 1 obese.”) For instance, this meta-analysis of nearly 100 separate studies, which accounted for 2.88 million people, found that people who are grade 1 obese (BMI of 30 to 35) are at no greater risk for all-cause mortality than people of so-called “normal weight,” and that people who were “overweight” (BMI 25 to 30) actually had lower mortality risk than “normal weight” individuals.

Who would guess, based on dire public health warnings suggesting that obesity is the greatest public health crisis of our time, citing statistics that supposedly over 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, that in fact, the majority of people who fit in this category are at no greater risk of dying earlier than those whose weight is described as “healthy”?

In fact, many studies have shown that among elderly people, “normal weight” was a greater predictor of mortality than obesity (the largest of which is this one).

What’s more, studies have consistently shown that it’s very difficult for anyone–including people who are obese–to lose weight and keep it off. I found quite a few studies insisting that weight loss is possible and therefore the best treatment for obesity, but when I read them more closely, I found the even most generous studies estimated the chances of someone being able to lose weight and successfully keep off the weight at about 20%, with many citing even lower success rates of 1 in 7 to 1 in 8 (like this one and this one.) A number of studies–like this one and this one–selected only those who had lost 10% of their body weight and kept it off for a year to even participate in the study, suggesting that a high percentage of people who attempt weight loss were automatically excluded from their research!

I was also distressed by how little the participants in these two above studies had to eat and how much they had to exercise to keep off the weight. They both found that women had to eat about 1300 calories per day and exercise about 7 hours a week to keep off the weight–presumably for the rest of their lives! (As someone who has eaten and exercised around that much, I will attest that yes, it’s possible, but it’s also pretty miserable.)

Finally (and I think this is by far the most compelling piece of evidence), numerous studies have consistently shown the tremendous benefit that exercising has on health, including the health risks associated with being obese, such as diabetes and heart disease–regardless of BMI or whether the person exercising actually loses any weight. This meta-analysis of 10 studies, for instance, found that people who are physically fit and do even a fairly moderate amount of exercise are at much lesser risk for illness and mortality compared with people who are unfit, and that people who are overweight or obese and physically fit are, on average, just as healthy as people who are normal weight and physically fit. If you’re overweight or obese and in shape, these studies suggest, you’re actually at considerably lower risk than people who are normal weight and out of shape!

So here’s what I take away from all of this (if you’ve waded through all this evidence, or even if you haven’t and just skipped to the end.)

I’m not going to suggest that the Health at Every Size movement is above critique. Any scientific theory can and should be critiqued.

I also don’t want to hurt or estrange readers who have been successful with weight loss. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re doing something and it truly increases your quality of life, it makes you truly feel good physically, and it helps you truly feel good about yourself–whether that means losing weight, gaining weight, exercising, taking a break from exercise, following a special diet, eating whatever you want–do it! Unless it’s illegal. 😛 I mean this sincerely.

But I do think that for the many people who don’t have a great deal of success with weight loss, it makes them feel lousy physically, or it makes them feel lousy about themselves, doctors need to more often say, “Let’s focus on things that will benefit your health tremendously, such as exercising, eating healthy foods, and reducing stress,” rather than coming at everyone with the universal prescription: “Lose weight! Lose weight! Lose weight!”

So that’s what my week’s largely consisted of: wading through these articles, thinking through them, and trying to create a meaningful essay out of them. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it through to the end, and thanks to Meghan and her awesome Week in Review linkup.

Have you ever heard of Health at Every Size? Do any of these findings startle you as much as they startled me at first?

Has it been as cold where you are as it is where I am?

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13 comments

  1. Those are some interesting arguments. I always say the weight only matters if it impacts your health. 🙂 Also I know the best and most powerful drug out there is exercise. It’s incredible what a little movement can do for one’s mental and physical health.

    I’m glad you’re soaking up your time at home with family. It’s always good to have those moments.

    Happy Monday and thanks for linking up.

    P.S. There’s nothing wrong with being an old soul. In fact, I think I’ll start a puzzle today.

    1. Joyce says:

      Lol. Enjoy your puzzle.

  2. Cora says:

    Very, very interesting. Huh. I’d be interested to real Paul Campo’s book.
    Your second last paragraph is a stand out here. It can not be repeated enough that WEIGHT is not the sole dictator of health. And like you said, I also agree that someone has the right to do anything for their health if it truly is going to make them feel better – physically, mentally, whatever.
    Your essay is going to rock. In your words we can not only read your intellect and objective knowledge about this topic, but also your passion and desire to send forth a very important message. I’m glad you chose this as your topic…. I think your professor and classmates are all going to benefit. Congrats on all the research you accomplished this week.
    Also yay for mother-daughter coffee dates. We need those. Keep warm!!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Cora. I sure hope my essay turns out well and helps inform people of some interesting things. Also, mother-daughter coffee dates are wonderful. I think it’s been a blessing for both of us to get to spend time with family this holiday.

  3. Alyssa says:

    hmm- those are some interesting arguments. I never thought about HAES in that way. But you are definitely valid in what you are saying.

    And as far as the weather, it’s brutally cold in MA. Like 15 degrees cold, and I’m not happy about it 😛

    1. Joyce says:

      Brrrr! Stay warm, Lyss!

  4. Evangeline says:

    Quiet weeks can be some of the best. Your ‘highlights’ list looks lovely. This topic is intriguing. I want to learn more before I make any concrete decisions on how I feel about it. I do agree with you, 110%, that doctors should shift their focus away from encouraging weight loss and instead encourage patients to find a lifestyle that focuses on health holistically. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks, Vangie. The book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon is a great resource if you’re interested in learning more.

  5. I’ve never heard of Health at Every Size… but I think health is very personal. Not everyone is meant to be a size 2, but we can all exercise and eat good, wholesome foods. Whatever that looks like on your body is for you to determine. I also really hate the BMI measurement. If we go by that alone, most bodybuilders are obese. I just wish that as a society we’d do better at looking at a bigger picture.

    1. Joyce says:

      Yeah–the BMI chart is really oversimplistic, especially since muscle weighs more than fat!

  6. Sounds like a lovely last weekend at home. It’s been super cold in PA too 🙁
    Interesting essay! I know very little about this topic and would be interested in reading that book for more info too.
    I do think that when a person is focused on health as a whole (mental and physical) it would lead them to make better choices regarding food, activity levels, and overall body health. I’d think that by making those better choices, they’d eventually be at a healthy weight and have a lower BMI, and probably be overall healthier. Those are just my thoughts though. I’d love to read this book–thanks for the recommendation! This topic sounds fascinating!

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