Health at Every Size

I’m reading a book, by Dr. Linda Bacon, called Health at Every Size.  I’m only about half through, and I promise a more comprehensive review when I’m finished with it. But I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had as I’m reading.

The book goes a long way towards dispelling the myth that being fat is a death sentence. It’s one of those real eye-openers. The kind full of information you can’t unknow. Reading it reminds me of my experience with Food, Inc. All of these ideas you’ve always had–just gone.

So, as I’ve been reading, and especially since I’ve been on this journey the last few weeks toward — something — I checked in with some blogs I haven’t looked at in a while. Four blogs, four women who lost an impressive amount of weight and documented every pound, and who all wrote books about it.

All four have gained at least 50 pounds back (this represents between half and a quarter of the total weight they lost for three, and about two-thirds for the fourth.) All four are embarking on new and improved attempts to lose the weight they’ve already lost once. Two have written new books talking about either their regain and the reason for it, or how they can still be athletes regardless of the regain (this is one of my favorite books and I’ll be reviewing it soon, too.)

In their blogs, three of these writers talk about their motivation. They all talk about how illness (from chronic fatigue to an ongoing headache to depression) was the cause of their regain.

Anyway, the combination of these sources–the book and the blogs–has me thinking.

Is it possible to go from fat to thin? To lose weight and keep it off without a kind of militant strangle-hold on diet and exercise that people who don’t have to think about their weight aren’t obligated to subject themselves to? I mean, if someone who was never fat gets a never-ending headache or depressed or hurts their back or whatever, do they pack 50 pounds onto their bodies before they know what’s happening?

One of the most amazing things I’m learning is how dedicated the human body is to homeostasis. Our bodies do not like change. Especially when it comes to weight. We have all of these built in systems to keep it from happening. The same kind of automatic wonders that let our hearts pump without us consciously asking them to, or our breaths to come steady and regular, even when we’re asleep. What happens if our hearts or lungs won’t work automatically anymore? Real bad stuff, right? So what makes anyone think that the myriad, intricate systems that keep our weight steady are any different?

Think about it with me.

If you let yourself get hungry by skipping a few meals (and not too many, either), your whole body steps in to put a stop to that shizzle. You get weak, you hurt, your stomach actually talks to you in a very stern voice, you get lightheaded, you might find it difficult to think straight. Those are the physical symptoms, right? But other stuff happens under the surface. Your metabolism slows down to hold on to energy that your body needs for life. (And I don’t mean, needs to get your kids to soccer practice. I mean, needs to continue to be one of the living.) I’m not a doctor, I don’t know all of the ins and outs. I do know that weight loss isn’t as simple as calories in and calories out–because your body doesn’t want those calories going out. And almost always, when you force the issue, your body will regain whatever you’ve lost and often even more.

So what does that mean? It means that I’ve got a high weight set point. Decades of dieting helped get me there. My own body’s foibles, which include losing significant weight during pregnancy and gaining twice as much afterward, helped too. So did an undiagnosed food intolerance that has made it impossible for my body to properly digest food for most of my life. Giving up exercise entirely in my late teens, having a baby at 21, emotional eating, binging, stress-induced cortisol overproduction –these are all part of my history. So doesn’t it make sense that they are visible on my body?

Maybe you’re genetically fat. I’m not. My siblings and parents are all within normal weights. I weight more than 100 pounds more than my mother at her fattest, and she was the fat one before me. Maybe you’re on medication that affects your metabolism or you have an autoimmune disease that causes your body to hold on to fat stores. Who knows?

We all have our mixed bag of emotional, physical and genetic tricks. And it really makes sense to me today that those tricks aren’t hidden. They are reflected on our bodies. Some of them can be corrected. There are medicines for thyroid problems, diets for food intolerance, yoga for stress reduction.

It’s pretty clear that dieting and exercising for weight loss isn’t effective overtime. Ninety percent of people who lose weight gain it all back within 5 years. They aren’t lazy or stupid. For the most part, they aren’t eating enough to feed a small village.

Will a joyful return to athleticism and learning to eat intuitively reset my set point somewhere south of 300 pounds? I have no idea. Right now the biggest challenge is doing those two things anyway. Even if I never lose an ounce. Because–did you know that it isn’t fat that makes you sick? It’s the lifestyle that is often associated with being fat that does. And sometimes fat is a symptom of a problem, not the cause of it. Some scientists believe this is the case for type 2 diabetes.

Do I hope that living in a way that supports my health also results in a somewhat smaller body? I admit that I do. I’ve had a goal weight in my head since I was a teenager (even when I was hyper-fit) and I find myself drifting off into daydreams of reaching it, even though A) I didn’t even weigh that little when I was a hyper-fit teenager who hadn’t give birth three times and B) I know better.

I’m struggling to break my own mind/body connection between health and weight. I have 30-ish years of adding two and two together and getting ‘fat’ as the reason for all my problems. I don’t expect to stop that in three weeks.

 

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