Whoo boy! That’s a loaded question isn’t it?
We live in a wacky society where bodies are not just a physical manifestation of self – but a perceived yardstick for so much more.
None of this will be new to you.
Diet culture and the deluge of social media influencers that we’re exposed to on the daily reinforces the idea that we are never enough and always need to hustle and strive for greater success in how we look, what size dress we wear, and how we can drive just a bit harder to perfect that bikini body.
No matter what age you are or how famous or successful you might be, you can still fall into the trap of harshly judging yourself or feeling like everyone else in the world is judging you. Incessantly.
I was recently struck by a tweet by Camila Cabello, arguably one of the most admired and flourishing young pop stars today, which highlighted that even she can be exhausted and crushed by the constant scrutiny and comments about her body and the need to conform to some arbitrary standard of perfection.
Valerie Bertinelli, everyone’s little sister from the 1970s sitcom era, has also been very public about her struggles with weight and body image over the years. In particular, she posted this poignant and raw comment on Instagram a few months ago.
I seriously just wanted to hug her and pour her a cup of tea. Just goes to show that it matters not how a celebrity life might look from the outside, the vulnerabilities remain.
I can 100% relate to both of these women and their thoughts. Not that I am a celebrity, but as someone who works in the area of food and fitness, I am also left feeling judged and vulnerable sometimes about my own image and what it means to be a wellness professional.
The flip side – the BoPo (body positivity) movement – says ‘screw it’ – love your body as it is no matter what, celebrate the lumps, bumps and shifting shapes, accept body diversity and reject the need to change, no matter how the trolls (and sometimes well-meaning family and friends) try to shame you.
BoPo can be a powerful approach to overcome the slings and arrows of stigma and reinforce feelings of self love and self acceptance. And if you have a tough enough or confident enough constitution (maybe like Adele who swears that she was body positive before her enormous weight loss and remains so today) then you might fare ok, even if the trolls (or some other uncaring or unthinking person in your life) continue to badger you.
But in my experience, you definitely need to be made of tough stuff to do that. And have a strong circle of loving support around you to help you with the inner work and mindset you need to nurture in order to believe you are A-OK no matter what.
It is definitely something to work toward – and a combination of mindfulness, gratitude and just plain ‘f#ck it – my life ain’t none of your bizness’ has helped me love who I am and how I look and how my beautiful and human body performs for me every single day.
But it’s a work in progress for sure.
Somewhere in between falls the HAES (health at every size) movement, which focuses on the concept of a weight-inclusive approach to health.
This philosophy says people have the “right to pursue health in personally meaningful ways”, no matter what size your body might be. And to be respectfully acknowledged and treated no matter what your choices. It also promotes a flexible, individualized approach to eating for health that is based not only on nutritional needs and hunger, but on pleasure as well.
I love that.
It’s such a powerful foundation of overall wellness – rooted in diversity and self acceptance, inclusivity and anti-fat bias among other things. It’s a vote against diet culture. And most importantly, it reinforces that every human body – every single one – is worthy and beautiful.
But is it healthful not to pay attention to your weight?
And if you do choose to pay attention to it – does that mean you don’t love and accept yourself, your body? And that you are a victim of diet culture?
Yes – weight matters.
My professional opinion on this: no – it’s not smart or good for you to completely ignore your weight.
Your body and all its functions and foibles is a map that can lead us to vitality or to disease.
I believe it’s critical that we pay attention to the road we are travelling because only then – when we tune into our own physical and emotional feels – can we do what’s best for ourselves.
You absolutely do need to pay attention to your weight – or any other symptom or issue that might arise physically, mentally or emotionally – as a potential signpost for your overall health.
This is only a means for understanding and not a measure of your worth as a person. Be really clear on this.
But also know this: whether you feel you weigh too much or too little (and as a nutritionist and transformation mentor, I work with people who experience both), body size, shape and composition can have an impact on multiple health risks and conditions. And on your quality of life.
First off – it’s important to pay attention to an unexplained weight loss. There are so many potential reasons for that outcome and all of them need to be investigated. The body does not shed weight for no reason, so if you have not changed your eating habits or other habits (like activity, sleep, pooping, etc) and your weight is dropping – see someone about it. You may have other unexplained symptoms and you may not. But this is serious stuff, so seek some help and insist on getting to the root cause, not just being placated with meds that might alleviate some symptoms.
In terms of carrying too much weight – whether you have recently gained it or whether you have always struggled to get to or stay at your best weight – there are things to take seriously.
There is a ton of research to confirm that obesity is a risk factor and a contributor to increased morbidity and mortality, most importantly from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes, but also from cancer and chronic diseases, including osteoarthritis, liver and kidney disease, sleep apnea, and depression.
Inflammation exacerbated by obesity can influence your joints and increase the discomfort from movement or intensify inflammatory conditions. It can impede healing and immunity, and it can contribute to lack of confidence or other emotional overlays.
Please understand though – I am not saying that just because you carry some extra pounds, you are automatically unhealthy. That is an overstatement and a judgment that no one should make simply by looking at a person.
Yes – you can be fat and fit. And no, being overweight does not automatically mean you have unhealthy habits and are not taking care of yourself.
Body size is not the ultimate measure of health. Far from it. There are people of ‘normal’ weight and people who are even very very thin who may be perceived from the outside as healthy and awesome while inside, their bodies (and sometimes their minds) are crying out for help.
Healthy from the inside out
Where we need to put our focus is on metabolic health. These are the internal markers that measure how well our body is functioning and set up for keeping us vital and alive for the long term.
Some of these markers include blood sugar levels (which has a direct relationship to insulin resistance and a whole host of other health concerns), lipid levels (our triglycerides in particular, as they can tell us a lot about our fat metabolism, but also the HDL to LDL ratio in our cholesterol levels), blood pressure, uric acid, and C-reactive protein (CRP), which measures levels of inflammation throughout the body. And you know how I feel about inflammation and its impact on your health, right?
A key marker that can be overlooked is your waist measurement. Indeed, it does make a difference about where you store fat on your body in terms of your risks to overall health. I wrote about it here.
So for sure – the number on the scale – and the image in the mirror – is not the way for you to gauge whether you are at your best weight or not.
And that’s the way I look at it – for myself and for my clients. Not what the height and weight charts tell you that you must weigh. Not what you used to weigh when you were a teenager or when you were working out for an hour 7 days a week and living on celery and diet pop.
But – are you feeling good? Energetic? Able to do all the things in your life that you love without negative impact? Are you sleeping well? How’s your digestion? Your skin? And what about the biomarkers of metabolic health that we can assess and start to work toward optimizing?
So pay attention to your weight. And take action if it is of concern to you or is a barrier that is holding you back from living your life to the fullest.
By action – I definitely do not mean radical dieting. No good can come of that – physically or mentally. And it’s not my role to tell you to lose weight or gain weight.
It is only my role to say: pay attention to your weight because it is a message that your body wants you to hear.
The self-love/change conundrum
So that brings me to whether you can claim to love yourself and embrace the HAES or BoPo movements and still want to make changes in how you look or in the size or shape your body?
Absolutely you can. And I support you wanting to make changes if they are realistic and are rooted in the right reasons.
I coach and support lots of people who are exploring ways to feel better – by changing how they eat among other habits. They often come to me and say “I want to lose weight” and sometimes even “I have to lose weight” – but that imperative is a conversation for another time.
What I’ve observed is that the story they are telling themselves almost always shifts from weight to health, and hate to love, as the understanding of why they want to make changes becomes more clear.
In fact, you can’t hate your body into good health, so making any changes to habits that affect your weight or your fitness or your physical or mental resilience has to come from a place of body love and not body hate.
If the essence of your desire to change is because you want to improve your health by taking realistic steps and elevating the way you care and support and nourish your body and your body-mind connection, then go for it.
Weight loss (or gain) may be the happy by-product of the changes or a secondary goal. But if you keep your eyes on the prize of long-term health – you will ultimately be rewarded. And not just with a different pant size but with metabolic improvements that will pay off in multiple ways.
What’s your next best move?
You absolutely need a plan. One that does not include severe restrictions or fad ideas related to willpower, control, punishment or shame/guilt. And one that is sustainable – because whatever you do today to make the changes is what you will need to do in the future to maintain them.
Get the expertise you need, from a professional who will not demonize you or your choices now or ever, who can teach you ways to consistently make a difference in your daily habits so you feel better, look better and can live better, and who is there to help you look at your health and your life through a different lens than just the size of your pants or the number on the scale.
Be patient and go step by step. And you will be demonstrating self love and body kindness and still finding your path to your best weight.
As always, if I can be of help as you talk through your concerns or your goals or figure out what plan you want to embark on, you’re welcome to book a no-cost, no-obligation clarity call with me.