Hi guys! Brit here, chiming in with a brand new guest post from registered dietician Abbie Scott. I invited Abbie to write this post after she wrote me a super thoughtful email about a recent Brit + Co newsletter centering around pandemic-era fitness, in which I talked about my own weight gain during COVID. Abbie, who works with women with eating disorders, called me out (in the nicest way) on how I approached the topic and urged me to be more inclusive. That is, of course, 100% our goal here at Brit + Co. As women, we are far too critical of our bodies and my writing was proof of it. Abbie reminded me that there are more important things to care about, namely our mental health and our body confidence, no matter what we look like. I'm thrilled to represent her thoughts as a dietitian during this pandemic and hope we can all learn to go easy on ourselves and each other during this time and beyond.
I am honored to be asked by the Brit + Co team to write a guest blog. The truth is, you don't have to work in healthcare to know we are all constantly subjected to body-focused messages in the media. And yet in the midst of a global pandemic, I am now more than ever seeing phrases such as "Staying fit during COVID" or "Avoiding the Quarantine 15." While these may be catchy, they are actually very harmful problematic (and here's why):
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), eating disorders are actually just as common in America as Type 2 diabetes (yet, I'd like you to reflect, which one is your doctor more likely to warn you about)? Eating disorders also have the highest mortality risk compared to all other mental health disorders, but unfortunately healthcare providers often aren't screening or taking the same preventative measures as they do with other chronic illnesses.
It's true that many of us may never have a diagnosed eating disorder, but this does not make us immune to disordered eating, which is just another term for an unhealthy relationship with our food and body. And if you ask me, our world's fixation on weight loss as a sole indicator for health is in fact very disordered. The research and science is out there: restrictive calorie diets or other forms of dieting to lose weight do not work to achieve sustainable weight loss long-term in the majority of people. In fact, statistics show that 95 percent of dieters will regain weight back within one to five years, resulting in a direct correlation with weight cycling (this is, in fact, actually more harmful than weight itself).
While none of us could have ever predicted what 2020 would bring, I was honestly not surprised when I started seeing diet companies advertise ways to "control" our weight during a global pandemic. I have written many posts on my blog about topics such as weight stigma, fat phobia, and normalizing body changes throughout our lives (because hey, we should)! Our bodies are not meant to stay one size for our entire life; if that were the case, we would look like infants throughout our entire lifespan.
The truth is, there will naturally be times in our lives when food and exercise take a backseat (ex: right now when we need to stay safe/healthy to ward off a life-threatening virus). The belief that we are only worthy because we are attempting to lose weight is actually very unhealthy in the long term. Now don't get me wrong: I am not discrediting an overall desire for health, because that can be a value people hold - I mean, hey! I am a dietitian after all. But my ultimate message is that we as a society need to stop equating our worth AND our health with just what our bodies look like. People of all shapes and sizes can be healthy, and we really need to unpack the harmful messages we've been fed our entire lives.
This year has especially brought important social justice issues to the forefront of our minds, such as racism, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ rights, but we still have a long way to go to end weight stigma.
The Association for Size, Diversity, and Health is a non-profit organization whose mission is to end body-based oppression and educate that people of all shapes and sizes deserve a life without discrimination. They created the Health at Every Size principles, including weight inclusivity, supporting health policies that improve and equalize access to information, acknowledging biases and end weight discriminiation and more. I encourage you to view them here.
Here are also a few small steps we all can take to promote healthier body-positive environments.
- Stop focusing on weight. Weight can fluctuate day-to-day, even hour to hour. If you eat a meal and step onto a scale, OF COURSE your weight will be higher than normal! (It would be the same as you stepping onto a scale with the plate of food you just consumed). My general rule of thumb is to avoid the scale altogether; if you do find yourself weighing frequently, ask the questions "Will knowing this number affect my attitude, mood, or self- esteem?" and "What am I truly looking for when I step onto the scale?" The answer to these may give you insight on whether you are zoning in too much on that number.
- FOOD = FUEL. There is no such thing as a "good" or "bad" food. All food provides calories (energy), which we need to function; and all food has different ranges of nutrition content. A healthy intake requires a variety of foods/food groups. While it's true that only eating fried or fast-food is not considered "healthy," neither is surviving on fruits and veggies alone. Every food group (including fat and carbohydrates)! has a purpose.
- Watch what you say. It's important to steer clear from appearance-based compliments. "You look so skinny!" or "You've lost so much weight!" may sound harmless, but you NEVER know what that person may be going through. There are many health issues where weight loss is NOT ideal: stress, anxiety, depression, cancer, an eating disorder, cystic fibrosis...just to name a few. Also refrain from commenting on a person's food choices, because how someone chooses to nourish themselves is quite frankly none of your business.
- (And I think the most important): Beauty (and health) aren't measured in pounds. I can't stress this one enough. We are so quick to judge a person's health based on their waist size, when that gives almost NO indicator on actual health. ZERO. ZILCH. NADA. A person can have a BMI within the "normal" range and still suffer from high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, etc....just as a person with an "overweight" or "obese" BMI can have normal blood chemistry. We shouldn't judge a book by its cover, nor should we judge human beings that way. (*Note: while I have many critiques against using BMI scale as a health measure, it is useful in this explanation for context).
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