Body Dissatisfaction & Preoccupation With Body Size, Shape & Weight
Unfortunately, body dissatisfaction and preoccupation with size, shape and weight is normal in Western Society. Unrealistic socio-cultural standards are heavily reinforced by mass media saturation and diet/health/fitness/beauty/wellness industries who have a vested interest in keeping people dissatisfied and preoccupied. Thin/fit privilege, weight prejudice and fear of fatness is endemic and many people wrongly assume that fatness is the primary indicator of health status, which makes it easy to medicalise, pathologise, stigmatise and make moral judgments about bodies that do not reflect thin/fit cultural ideals (which is most of the western population!). It is true that westerners are fatter than previous generations but there are complex reasons for this that are not necessarily under an individual’s control.
Fatter people experience unrelenting criticism, shaming and discrimination, often cloaked as “health” concerns; thinner people are idealised and experience unjustified praise and privileges but are also bullied and accused of having eating disorders due to envy/jealousy; and average sized people often mistakenly believe they are unhealthy because they are not thin or fit enough. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable due to their value being based primarily on physical appearance within patriarchal society but many males are now suffering too.
The Truth About Diets, Weight & Health
Even well-meaning health professionals can be weight prejudiced, make weight a primary focus and recommend weight loss diets. HOWEVER, substantial, peer-reviewed scientific research indicates that:
- Restrictive weight loss diets DO NOT WORK for the vast majority of people (95%).
- Restrictive dieters may lose weight initially but this is not maintained over time. Most regain the weight and many gain even more weight so end up heavier than when they started.
- Chronic weight loss dieting causes serious physical and psychological harm, such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, and appetite dysregulation, increases in appetite and decreases in metabolism that leads to weight gain over time.
- Body Mass Index (BMI), is not an accurate health measure. People categorised as “underweight”, “overweight” or “obese” can be healthy.
- There are many indicators of physical and mental health. You can’t judge a person’s overall health status by their weight.
- On average, “overweight” people actually live longer than “normal” weight people.
- There is a protective effect of fatness and fat is an exaggerated health risk.
- Weight and body related criticism, shaming and discrimination are seriously physically and psychologically harmful and DO NOT promote desired behaviour or weight changes.
- Health improvements can occur in people of all sizes, independent of weight changes.
- The pursuit of weight loss is more likely to lead to health decrements in most people.
The Non-Diet/Weight Neutral Approach
I have a holistic view of health and well-being, which recognises that there is a lot more to a person and to health than body size, shape and weight. I accept the natural diversity of body sizes, shapes and weights and view cultural idealising and pathologising of particular body types as operating on the same principles as racism. I use a scientific evidence-based, non-diet approach to assisting people with body image and weight concerns. This is a gentle approach that focuses on teaching people mindful and intuitive eating to enjoy a wide variety of foods and honour internal cues of hunger and satiation; joyful physical activity, self-respect and acceptance; compassionate self-care; and resilience. This approach recognises that not everyone is at a healthy weight, but it shifts the focus away from weight control (because research shows this doesn’t help and actually causes harm), and towards enhancing overall physical and psychological health, well-being and quality of life.
I approach eating, body shape and weight concerns from a *Health at Every Size® (HAES) perspective (I am a Verified Provider with HAES Australia – http://haesaustraliainc.wildapricot.org) I will not encourage and support you to lose weight (or gain weight if you are wanting to be more muscular). I will encourage and support you to increase health enhancing thinking and behaviour, without focusing on weight. Weight or body shape change is not a goal of therapy. (This approach is not suitable for some eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, as weight restoration and maintenance is a primary goal of treatment.)
Most non-diet approach interventions have shown positive physical and psychological outcomes and stable or decreased Body Mass Index (BMI) after treatment. Many health professionals are now aware of the scientific evidence and using this approach but they are still considered “alternative” and criticised due to the the weight prejudice and fear of fat that is endemic in mainstream society.
To address your body image and weight concerns with a Health at Every Size® Psychologist using the Non-Diet Approach, contact Lesley Russell on 0412 638 749, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete my enquiry form.
For more information about HAES, non-diet approaches, scientific evidence, and body size diversity see:
Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out And Just Plain Fail To Understand About Weight (2014) by Professor Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How To Break Your Eat, Repent, Repeat Cycle (2013) by Dr Michelle May
Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works (2012) by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch
Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight (2010) by Professor Linda Bacon
If Not Dieting Then What (2004) by Dr Rick Kausman
*Health at Every Size and HAES are registered trademarks of the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) and used with permission.