How to Cultivate Body Respect (+ Two Common Weight Myths Busted)

You already know I'm a believer in the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach. For newbies to HAES, it is "based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control)."It empowers people to honor their health and respect their bodies, rather than feeling discouraged about their weight and following diets that lead them hungry, frustrated, and feeling like a failure. Often, clients come to me stuck and upset that they can't seem to lose weight. They feel disappointed in themselves and are sick of being shamed by their doctors and judged by society. By leaving weight out of the equation, we focus on improving their health and wellbeing with a whole-person approach.

I had the wonderful chance to read the newest book about HAES - Body Respect - by Linda Bacon, PhD (author of Health at Every Size) and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD, which shares encouraging science that conventional health books leave out and helps cultivate body respect.

It starts by digging into the science behind common weight myths and the politics around weight. The last half of the book leaves you empowered to create your own health journey, the importance of self-care, and creating body respect as an individual and professional. This is essential knowledge, and I wish health programs taught dietitians, doctors, nurses, and other wellness professionals the importance of self-care, emotional and mental wellbeing, and how to cultivate a positive mindset and body image with clients.

Here is what I want you to know about weight and health.

1. BMI is not a valuable and accurate health measure.

The standard overweight (BMI of 25) and obese (BMI of 30) levels are not supported by research, which the committee establishing levels clearly saw. They found the health didn't decline until after a BMI of 40. However, the committee had pressure to conform to international standards. These international standards were largely influenced by pharmaceutical companies who funded - weight loss drugs. Hmm, a conflict of interest, perhaps?

2. Weight is not Calories in Calories Out

The theory of energy balance and counting calories does not really apply as well as we think, in real life. It's not as simple as calories in and calories out. If you're curious, here's a (short) list of what may impact your weight more than simply food:

  • Genetics! Certain genes may make you more efficient at building muscle mass, burning fat, and more.
  • Medications may cause people to lose or gain weight.
  • Health conditions, like diabetes, insulin resistance, hormone imbalances, blood sugar imbalance, all affect your appetite, hormones, and metabolism.
  • Your gut flora! Your gut flora may cause you to absorb more or less calories from your food.
  • Environmental toxins from plastics, cleaning products, or self-care products are known hormone disrupters.
  • Stress!
  • Dieting - a big one! It can impact your hormones to increase appetite and decrease metabolism.
  • Your body's setpoint weight. Your body is happiest within a 10-20 pound weight range, which isn't something you can 'control.' Body diversity is a wonderful and real thing, and we aren't all meant to be model-thin or within a "normal" BMI. This is typically the weight you are healthiest and happiest, and you eat based on your body's signals, move, manage stress, and don't obsess on food or weight.

3. Your body knows BEST.

Trust your body. It's wise. Media and the diet industry tells us that we have to control our weight and watch every bite we eat. What if you were to trust that you can listen to your hunger levels, know when to stop eating, and nourish your body based on your literal gut feeling? Yes, it's intuitive and mindful eating. It's our natural state of eating.

Tuning into nourishing your body, finding movement that feels good, relaxation, and attuning into your emotional wellbeing are all essential parts. Self-care is not selfish. It's essential to take care of yourself in order to show up fully and give to others. If you spend your life helping others in work, family life, relationships in more, taking time for YOU is top priority.

4. Build Respect for Your Body

Embrace your journey - no matter how messy or full of struggles it has been. Throw out your scale. Treat your body with the utmost kindness by pampering yourself with massages, soothing baths, intimacy, and self-love. Recognize that media images often do not promote body diversity. Start to look for and appreciate all body sizes and shapes.

Stop putting off activities until you've lost weight or are fit. Do them now. Often, you're seeking the feeling behind the activity. If you want to lose weight in order to feel confident, happy, or energized, start to find ways to feel that way now. 

The Paradigm Switch to HAES.

"Health at Every Size replaces this old, discredited paradigm. It seeks to help people treat themselves well in the body they have right now, whether or not it is their optimal weight. For some people, following HAES will lead to weight gain; in others it will lead to weight loss, according to their setpoint weight...HAES practice recognizes the value of size diversity and leads us toward a world where people of all shapes and sizes feel respected and are supported in taking care of their bodies...HAES does not claim that everyone is at a healthy weight. What it does do is ask for respect and help people shift their focus away from changing their size to enhancing their self-care behaviors - so they let weight fall where it may naturally. It also keeps the role of lifestyle as a risk factor for disease in perspective." (Body Respect, page 28)

To wrap up, empower yourself towards a healthy lifestyle that works for you. Respect your body - it's not here for you to control, and you certainly won't find health or happiness with a mindset of self-hate.

These four ideas are just a few of many, amazing ideas presented in this book. If you want to dig deeper, I highly encourage you to pick up this new book. Read the book, and take the Body Respect Pledge!

I'd love to know in the comments below!

  • Have you heard of Health at Every Size? Did any of these facts surprise you? 
  • How will you cultivate body respect, starting today?
  • If you're a health professional, how can you cultivate body respect with clients?

*Just to note, my approach to nutrition is very close to the topics discussed in the book, such as individualization and a whole foods approach. However, I use a slightly different approach, especially with particular health concerns, but of course, highly encourage mindful and intuitive eating, as do the authors.

Disclaimer: I received the book Body Respect in exchange to participate in a review.