Weighing In on the Importance of Weight

This may or may not be one of those posts where I just argue with myself. I notice these are getting more frequent.

The catalyst for my career as a nutrition advocate (which is still in its infancy) was my positive experience with weight loss. I consider it a major turning point in my life. I decided in my career I would use nutrition to reduce and prevent obesity so as to reduce and prevent weight-related chronic diseases. I think my understanding of the food system has grown much broader and clearer since then, but my feelings about weight have gotten murkier. I continue to believe that if food policies were radically changed in this country to support a healthy (not to mention sustainable, humane, and fair) diet, that in itself would prevent an obesity epidemic. But, as this sort of radical change may be quite far away, I recognize that we have to address obesity in our current system. Or do we? This is essentially the train of thought about weight that drives me crazy:

Obesity increases one’s risk of all of the most common chronic diseases in the developed world.

But plenty of people have those diseases who are not overweight, and plenty of people who are overweight are very healthy.

Poor diet is largely responsible for excess weight gain and for all of those chronic diseases.

Is obesity just a symptom of poor diet, which is the actual problem, or is it an independent risk factor?

Even thin people who eat poorly can be much worse off than heavy people who eat healthfully.

Diet, in a societal sense, is not a matter of personal responsibility. Farm policy and food processing and marketing determines what types of foods are most accessible and desirable.

A lot of other factors besides diet can make a person more susceptible to excess weight gain.

Who are we to decide how much weight gain is “excess?” Why is there so much weight stigma?

Weight stigma doesn’t help anyone lose weight. It puts heavier people at a disadvantage in the work force and in their social lives.

Even if it did, should the focus of public health be on weight loss?

Is the problem the weight, or is it more just the diet?

People should love themselves and accept each other no matter what their bodies look like.

But accepting your body shouldn’t make you complicit in your poor health.

But it’s not really your fault in the first place!

Is weight gain a “fault”? Isn’t that just stigmatizing obesity even more?

I know we should encourage everyone to eat better, especially people who are getting sick from their diet.

Is it necessary or productive to also encourage weight loss for sick, overweight people?

Is it necessary to encourage weight loss for people who aren’t sick as a preventative measure?

Would merely facilitating healthy eating without the associated weight stigma be just as effective in preventing disease?

My writing has moved away from promoting nutrition and exercise for slimness to promoting nutrition and exercise for health.

You shouldn’t worry about the number on the scale, but how you feel.

But losing excess weight really does help people reduce their risk for chronic disease.

I’m a hypocrite because I’m obsessed with the number on my scale.

Do you get a sense of the internal debate I’m having? Comments appreciated.

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2 thoughts on “Weighing In on the Importance of Weight

  1. Great thoughts. I love that you are not swayed by the health media and sensationalism, rather motivated by the true desire to understand what constitutes health for any given person. Research has been done that does support the fact that obesity causes issues. Being over weight is not the same as being obese though. To answer your question, -“Who are we to decide how much weight gain is “excess?” Why is there so much weight stigma?-” I would say that health professionals who have studied the effects of weight gain on the body in multiple systems should decide how much weight gain is excess, based on scientific research and outcomes. There is weight stigma for two reasons, one is that it is a cultural shift based on desire and exploited by media, and two, it is a serious health concern. Even being overweight, under the obese category, is terrible for your physical body in the fact that it puts more stress on joints and ligaments. Excess weight increases arthritis and joint damage causing chronic pain.

    One thing that I struggle with is the responsibility issue. Who’s responsibility is it actually? I am inclined to think that it is our personal responsibility to vet, research and decide for ourselves when it comes to our health choices. Unfortunately that is a loaded question because we don’t necessarily have the correct tools or vet or research. What we do have is mass media and the food industry pushing toxic and misleading products. We have food labels absent of actual necessary information and prices of quality food too high to afford. It is both a social and a personal issue. It is so multifaceted.

    Should we be worried about weight, yes. Should we let it be the only deciding factor, no. Life is a balance and is different for everyone. I believe that health will be a grass roots effort where we build up each other, educate each other, stand up for our rights to have real nutrition together. Health reform is going to be built on blog posts like this, I believe it!

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