I recently ran into a Facebook post that showed a video animation with images like the ones above. The video is titled, “You are what you eat”.
Five years ago, I would have found the video made sense: “I am what I eat; and if I eat hamburgers and doughnuts, I’ll get fat. And fat is undesirable and unhealthy. Period”.
Today, I see the video as a barrier to a productive discussion on how to live a healthy life. Here’s why:
1. It denies the reality of body diversity.
Look around you. We come in different shapes and sizes. Our genes influence our bone structure, where we store fat, and our weight. Even our organs weigh differently! This has been the case since the origins of Homo sapiens over two million years ago.
As coach Ivy Felicia said recently, “why can we accept that some people are naturally thin, but not that some are naturally fat?”.
2. It perpetuates the belief that fat is necessarily unhealthy.
Numerous studies (see some references here and here) show that the relationship between health and weight is one of association, not causation. The causal links between fatness and disease remain hypothetical.
Weight is a marker for health, but not the only one, and its relevance has been exaggerated.
Studies show that an active large person is likely to be healthier than someone who’s thin but sedentary, and that poverty and marginalization are more strongly associated with type 2 diabetes that conventionally accepted factors like weight.
There’s also the “obesity paradox“, a body of epidemiological literature that shows that overweight and obesity are associated with longer survival in many diseases.
Fatness is not necessarily unhealthy, just as thinness isn’t necessarily healthy.
3. It reinforces weight bias and weight discrimination in our society.
We are weight-biased when we have “negative attitudes towards, and beliefs about, others because of their weight”.
People in larger bodies face discrimination in the workplace, the media, educational institutions, and the health system (and Facebook!).
Weight bias and stigmatization don’t make people healthy. Quite the opposite. Stigmatization and weight bias lead to poor health outcomes and increase mortality risk.
Research shows that doctors spend less time with patients in larger bodies. Medical students report mocking obese patients, and fat women are less likely than women in lower weights to have a recent pap test or cervical cancer screening.
Paradoxically, weight stigma can lead people to eat more food. A 2008 study showed that 79% of participants in a weight-loss program reported coping with weight stigma by overeating.
4. It demonizes “hamburgers and doughnuts”.
I’m not denying that there are problems with the food system and that there are foods that are more conducive to health than others. I’m not suggesting you have pizza for breakfast either!
But I do see, every day, that demonizing “bad” foods leads people to bounce between depriving themselves and dieting, to overeating and bingeing. Losing control around food is a natural biological response to restriction.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, giving yourself permission to eat “hamburgers and doughnuts” leads to a more relaxed relationship with these foods—as well as a decrease in consumption.
I’ll leave you with two thoughts:
Be curious about how the content you consume and spread on social media could affect yours and other people’s mental and physical health.
The mistake of our culture is declaring the war on fatness instead of the war on a lifestyle characterized by high levels of stress, sedentarism, too much time in front of screens, little sleep, and a diet loaded in foods that aren’t conducive to health.
This way of living is harmful to anyone, regardless of their weight.
Written by Lina Salazar.