New science on fat shaming

New science on fat shaming

The health care system in the UK is becoming overly expensive and overly burdened, almost to a tipping point.

So now – in an effort to stay afloat – nearly a third of UK hospitals are now denying health care to patients with a BMI over 30.

These hospitals have restricted knee, hip, and other lower body replacement surgeries from obese patients and active smokers, saying that the interventions are “wasted” on the obese.

There are so many unfortunate things about this scenario. One of them, however, is in my opinion the worst of all.

It’s that they might actually be making the problem worse.

Why? Because

Fat shaming causes overeating.

This is something we have been saying here at Paleo for Women for a very long time (read my book on it, here).

Four years ago, I wrote a post on what I call the ‘binge-restrict’ pattern of overeating. This is what happens to people who are fat shamed.

When fat shamed, you feel guilty about your body. This motivates you to starve yourself. You “eat clean.” You do a bunch of whole 30s. You might even “feel great.”

But after a while it wears on you. You begin to obsess over what you’re restricted from. You feel hungry and irritable all of the time, perhaps. And you develop very, very, very strong cravings.

So then you ultimately (and inevitably) fall off the wagon, and overeat.

This makes you feel guilty again, so you starve yourself again. Then you develop cravings again. Then you overeat again.

And again, and again.

Restricting food intake has drastic consequences, especially with an unhealthy mindset.

This is exactly what happens with “obesity awareness”

The more that our culture shames people for the size of their bodies, the more we doubt themselves.

The more we doubt themselves, the less capable we are of making changes that focus on health instead of weight loss.

And the more we doubt ourselves, the more we hate our bodies, and resent our bodies, and therefore develop unhealthy relationships with food. We fall into binge and restrict patterns.

Here at Paleo for Women, I often talked about this phenomenon as though it was definitively true. And I did believe that it was.

But now we know more certainly that it is, and that it affects our society on a broad scale. It didn’t just happen to me. It didn’t just happen to Noelle. It didn’t just happen to you. It happens to cultures as a whole.

It is happening to the world.

With such big players like the UK and US health care systems at bat, there is a lot at stake.

The science

This article interviews Researcher Eric Robinson regarding his study of obesity awareness. He says of obesity and the intentions behind it that:

““There is quite a substantial body of research showing it is not really very much fun being an overweight person in this climate,” said Robinson. “It is a stigmatised condition. Realising you are an overweight individual is in itself likely to be quite stressful and make making healthy choices in your lifestyle more difficult.

“It is a tricky finding for public health intervention work. You would hope that making a person aware they are overweight would result in them being more likely to change and lose some weight.”

 

What Robinson and others instead found is that, from a study of 14,000 adults in the US and the UK, perceiving yourself as overweight actually has the opposite effect. Thinking you are overweight doesn’t incentivize you to lose weight.

Instead, it is strongly associated with weight gain. And this is entirely independent of people’s actual size. It has everything to do, instead, with their own perceptions of themselves.

In the study, the authors write that, “Individuals who identified themselves as being ‘overweight’ were more likely to report overeating in response to stress and this predicted subsequent weight gain. These findings are in line with recent suggestions that the stress associated with being part of a stigmatised group may be detrimental to health.”

So now we know. This happens to people. It wasn’t just me. It isn’t just you. It’s all of us. It’s a part of how we work. It is basic human psychology – that we do, for any number of reasons, overeat in response to negative body image.

But what do you do about it?

You may find yourself then in a bit of a Catch 22. If you already have these feelings about yourself, what do you do?

Does this study actually help? Can it help you choose love, or self-acceptance, or weight loss for the sake of health or energy, instead of for validation?

I think that it can. It can affirm your humanity. It can provide proof for your suspicions. It can help you throw off the condemnations of people around you, and perhaps start looking for ways to stop thinking of yourself in a negative light.

You may want to sit down and think seriously about the relationship between your size and your health. “Health” is no longer a good excuse to starve one’s self. As it turns out, the relationship between health and weight is much more complex than we ever thought. It is totally possible to be healthy and to be overweight.

You may also want to think about the “health at every size” movement. Since it is possible to be healthy at any size, becoming a part of a community of people focused on living well instead of restricting food intake could be great for you. I wrote about  why I love Healthy At Every Size in this post.

You may also want to consider thinking about food intake in terms of setting minimums, not maximums. In this post, I describe the way that I like to do macronutrients. Instead of saying “only 100 grams of carbs a day” or “only 50 grams of fat a day” or “no more than 1800 calories a day” I set minimums: “at least 100 grams of carbs a day,” I say. “At least 50 grams of fat.” “At least 2000 calories.”

You might  also want to think about fitness in a new way. Many people do work outs because they have to, because that’s what you do in order to lose weight. But what if you engaged with fitness because it was fun…because you found an activity that makes you come alive? I talk about that a bit in this post on why I will never run a marathon.

I have provided a few of our resources in the paragraphs above that I think could be helpful for your relationship with your body fat percentage, whatever that may be. Of course it is all insufficient – our need for self-affirmation and love in this society is truly never ending. So perhaps I should just leave with this thought:

They may that you are not enough. You may sometimes feel like you are not enough. But what you are is beyond enough. You are acceptable, and then some. You are a powerful human being with a body that lives and breathes and thrives no matter how rocky your relationship has been in the past, no many how many hardships it has been through. You are a body that is strong and lovely and your home, and seriously screw any body, any resource, any lingerie company that may make you feel otherwise. You can be healthy at any size, and you deserve it as much as you might deserve anything. You deserve to be nourished more so than anything, to let food be your friend, to let your body be your friend. Your body really does love you. All you have to do is let yourself love it back.

<3

 

 

(“Your body is a natural body with natural needs, that, when loved properly, loves you right back” is actually the “golden rule” of our community’s best-selling manifesto, Sexy by Nature. Check it out on Amazon!)

 

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

The 7 Worst Reasons to Lose Weight

The 7 Worst Reasons to Lose Weight

Last week I published a post “My 6 Favorite Reasons to Lose Weight.”

I also, and importantly, began that post with a HUGE disclaimer:

“This post is intended to be very sensitive and also a bit in jest but not really.”

Yes, most certainly!

That post and this post are somewhat hyperbolic. I do not mean to say, at all, that anyone is acceptable or unacceptable based on the motivations they have for wanting to lose weight. Not at all. Your reasons are fine! I have no desire to cast judgment on people for the way that they feel. I personally have probably had just about every single motivation for losing weight out there — or at least all of the negative ones.

But I understand entirely why I had them, and I have so much empathy and sympathy for the woman I was.

And some days, I still feel like that.

So all of the reasons for wanting to lose weight are of course completely acceptable. Since I have a program out that helps women lose weight (Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution), I wanted to be clear why I think weight loss can be a good thing.

I wrote a post on that last week, which you can see here.

And on the flip side of that, sometimes wanting to lose weight can be a bad thing that negatively affects us.

To that end, today I bring you a somewhat flippant but also totally serious post: my definitive list of some of the worst reasons to want to lose weight.

1. Thigh gaps

Thigh gaps are a terrible reason to want to lose weight!

Whether a woman has a thigh gap – regardless of how little body fat she has – is entirely dependent upon her genes. Some women’s legs bow out more from the hips than others. That’s just a simple fact of genetics. Some women have very little body fat but  still have thighs that touch, simply because their knees are situated closer together, as a necessary fact of their skeletal structure.

So if you spend your days staring at yourself in the mirror, measuring the distance between your feet  on the floor, and measuring the distance between your thighs, stop it. Don’t. I did this for ten years of my life. I was enamored with the thigh gap before the official thigh gap even existed… back when I was around 12 or 13 years old. I had no idea that it was a physical impossibility for me, and if I had, it might have saved me years of anguish.

Of course, physically impossible is not the only reason a thigh gap is a bad reason to want to lose weight.

It is also a bad reason to want to lose weight because no particular socially-constructed idea of what a woman’s body should look like should ever be your motivation for losing weight.

Thigh gaps, six pack abs, hourglasses, bikini bridges, J Lo’s body, J Law’s body, any woman’s body… your body does not have to look any particular way in order to be sexy. It really, truly doesn’t.

(If you don’t trust me on this one, read my best-selling book on it, might change your mind ;))

2. Last Five Pounds

Please, someone, for the love of everything that is holy, tell me why any of us care about “the last five pounds.”

There is nothing healthy about losing the last five pounds, for one.

In fact, it seems as though it might be entirely unhealthy to lose those pounds. This is especially the case for women, whose bodies are extraordinarily sensitive to caloric restriction and intense efforts to lose weight.

So if it’s not about health… what’s it about?

Conformity to a standard ideal?

Demonstrating your level of discipline?

Demonstrating your level of moral superiority?

Showing off for your girlfriends?

I think the answer to all of these questions is “yes.”

Fortunately, they don’t have to be. You don’t have to be ideal to be attractive. In fact, I think the opposite is true, and being uniquely yourself is the most attractive thing you can do.

You don’t have to demonstrate your ‘discipline.’ Your diet may be disciplined, and that’s fine. If it is, good for you, you don’t have to be super slim to show that off. And if it isn’t, that’s fine, too. Mine certainly isn’t, and I’m personally proud of myself for escaping the trap of discipline I was stuck in my whole life.

You don’t have to demonstrate your moral superiority. No one is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ if they look a particular way or eat a particular way. That’s just straight up stupid. Don’t let your peers or the media make you think otherwise. Being a good person is about being compassionate, empathetic, kind, strong, proactive, and the like. Save your energy for the tasks that the world actually needs us to perform, not shaving off pounds to meet some random social standard.

We often feel like we need to lose weight because our friend groups put pressure on us. You don’t have to cave to this. You can either get new, better friends (I endorse this!) or you can stand up to your friends and feel proud of yourself for doing so. There’s no need to compete, here. You’re all beautiful and awesome in your own ways. If they disagree with you, tell them otherwise or kick them to the curb.

3. Because mom/friend/boyfriend/husband said so

No one else deserves to tell you what to do with your body, period.

I work with a lot of women who suffer under the scrutinizing gaze of their mothers. I find this to be more sad than I could possibly say.

I know a lot of women in the world who suffer under the scrutinizing gaze of their boyfriends, and who try to meet some ideal in order to please their boyfriends and get the validation they have promised.

This is terrible. There are a few ways to handle this: you could confront your aggressor and attempt to have a rational conversation about how your body is your own and not somebody else’s to judge, and explain why their words make you feel bad; you could tell your aggressor to piss off, that is, if they aren’t receptive to your concerns, it may be time to liberate yourself from them as much as you can; or you can ignore your aggressor whenever they make you feel judged. This isn’t the most permanent or helpful course of action, but it can be helpful in the interim while you try to figure out what to do.

The bottom line here is that your body is your own, and you are perfectly lovely and smart and kind and good and beautiful in all the ways, and the people in your life should see you as a whole person, rather than a collection of physical parts.

4. Popularity

For most of my life, I lived under the delusion that if I lost weight, people would find me more physically attractive, and like me more.

To a small extent, that is true, because we live in a society that so highly values thinness.

But that is really only to a tiny extent.

I learned this personally when, after starving myself for several months, I became quite thin. While I was thin, I gained confidence. When I behaved with confidence, men efflusively complimented me and asked me out. When I was having a “bad body day” on the other hand and had hardly any confidence at all, men kind of ignored me, even though my body was exactly the same.

Then, when I regained about fifteen pounds and kept my confidence, I found that men continued to compliment me and be enamored with me.

The moral of this story is that it wasn’t my particular body size that drew people to me, but the effervescent and fun person I became when I learned how to be confident. This applies to men, to women, to romantic interests, and to platonic friends. People love when others are confident and fun. They really, in the grand scheme of things, couldn’t care less about your body. The most important thing is that you are happy, and that you can share your happy delights with those around you.

5. Because overweight  people don’t “deserve”…

Buried deep in most of our subconsciousnesses are notions that overweight people don’t deserve to eat, don’t deserve to be happy, don’t deserve to be loved.

We think these things because society has rammed them down our throats. Corporations that sell weight loss products, clothing, make up, perfumes, and the like all make more money the worse we feel about ourselves. Advertisements promise us that if we buy a particular outfit we will be attractive and all our woes will go away…. corporations aren’t selling clothing to us per se, but rather the dream of all the positive qualities we might have if we decide to buy their stuff.

So they deliberately manipulate us to keep us feeling down on ourselves. This is a very, very real thing.

One thing you can do to help mitigate feeling this way is shutting yourself away from media, catalogs, and the like as much as possible. Ignoring them will help lessen the din they can create in your head.

And the rest of the time you simply need to remind yourself that your amount of body fat has nothing to do with how good of a person you are, how productive you are, how rich and full your life is, how much you have to be grateful for, and so much more. You are not your body size, and your body size does not mean you deserve less.

You deserve everything that is good and beautiful, because you are human.

6. Because being overweight  is “immoral” and “lazy”

Just like thinking we don’t deserve things, we tend to think that body fat is a signal that someone is lazy.

This could not be further from the truth.

I know plenty of super slothful, super lazy humans who eat crappy food and are quite thin.

I also know plenty of heavier people who are super hard workers, ambitious go-getters and world changers, who eat almost nothing but beautifully clean paleo diets.

No one’s body fat percentage reveals anything about their food habits. No one’s food choices say anything about how moral or lazy they are as a human being.

Period.

7. Because men think its hot

So lots of heterosexual women want to lose weight because of the opinion of men.

And I understand to an extent – our society does, for one, have a fair number of men who hate, who literally hate, overweight women. I don’t really understand why, except maybe these men just don’t like that overweight women haven’t conformed to the patriarchy demand that all women become as thin as possible.

But for men who are reasonably well educated and a part of your social groups, having a super slim body really doesn’t mean much of anything.

When it comes down to it, heterosexual men like women, and if anything particularly sways them to find them attractive, it’s the embodied, confident way in which women inhabit their bodies that excites them the most, not fitting into a perfect size. It’s the happy way in which women who are comfortable with who they are are more than happy to be themselves.

The race to super lean bodies is less driven by men than it is by women. Ask almost any man and he’ll say he’s more than happy to be with a woman who’s got some meat on her bones. It’s only we women who impose on ourselves the idea that we have to be thin in order to be attractive or loved.

So let go of that illusion, and see for yourself. I personally have been a reasonable slew of different body sizes, ranging from about a size 00 to a size 9 (though admittedly never a “plus size” so I can’t report on that end of the spectrum, and please take my apologies for my ignorance), and have found that I have literally zero difference in my reception from men in terms of attractiveness. Zero difference.

Zero.

And even if I did, your love for yourself and your body is worth so much more than that.

So much more than that. 

Men are not the answer. Validation on the street is not the answer. Knights in shining armor are not the answer.

You alive in your own skin – and happy – that’s the answer.

 

 

So that draws me to the end of my totally definitive list of less than awesome reasons to want to lose weight.

Obviously there are so many more out there! What do you think about my reasons? Do you have your own?

While you’re at it, head over to the post: My 6 Favorite Reasons to Lose Weight, and let me know how you think these stack up against those.

And, if you are on a weight loss journey but want to do it healthfully and while coming to love yourself and your body even more, check out my program for women’s weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution. If not, even better.

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My 7 Least Favorite Reasons to Lose Weight - Paleo for Women

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

My 6 Favorite Reasons to Lose Weight

My 6 Favorite Reasons to Lose Weight

First, let me just say: I hope you understand that this post is in part in jest – because obviously there is no definitive list of anything, and to call weight loss motivation “favorite” “positive” or “best” or not is egregious, presumptuous, and quite self-righteous.

But I also really do want to address the various motivations we might have for wanting to lose weight. While I will not condemn anyone for caring about any of the reasons, positive or negative, for losing weight, I do really believe that some motivations for losing weight are more mentally and physically healthy than others.

I consider it my duty to be honest about when I think that is probably the case and when it isn’t.

And I do definitely believe that weight loss can be a positive goal. People ask me about this a lot. They are curious: if I am such a big fan of the concept of being healthy at any size, how can I have a program designed for weight loss?

Well, because I think there are some solidly good reasons out there for wanting to lose weight.

To that end, I have written up a short list of (usually) healthier reasons to lose weight versus (usually) less than healthy reasons to lose weight. Today I am publishingly the “good” list. Next week is the less than awesome list.

And, of course, in the end, every single one of these motivations has everything to do with how positive a mind-set you have, and how at peace you are with yourself and your body while you do it.

So here we are, tada! The definitive list of better – or acceptable  – or really just my favorite, reasons for wanting to lose weight.

1. Health (or “health”)

I do believe it is possible to be healthy at any size, depending on your genes, your diet history, your health history, and the way in which you eat and live. I wrote an extensive post about how our believe that body fat causes poor health is a myth, which you can read at the post: Can Being Overweight Be Healthier than Normal Weight?

Nevertheless, it is possible for body fat to play a role in some health issues. For example, abdominal fat tends to secrete inflammatory molecules, which contribute to systemic inflammation, and which has been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Losing body fat also appears to help improve insulin resistance in studies. It is unclear whether it is the actual loss of fat itself or the improvement in diet and exercise that normally accompanies weight loss that is truly to be credited for improvements in health, though it is quite possible that weight loss is a direct influence in one way or another. I believe that both the dietary changes and the actual weight loss play a role.

Health is a good motivation to lose weight, so long as you are reasonably confident it’s a culprit in your symptoms or health risks. This can’t apply if you are shooting for the “last five pounds” however. It may not even apply the last 10, 20, or 30 pounds.

2. Energy

Most people who lose a significant amount of weight profess to feeling more energetic. This is in part because it requires less energy to maintain a smaller body, so your body spends less energy on a moment-to-moment basis after you lose a significant amount of weight.

This is also because you actually weigh less, which causes the pull of gravity on you to decrease slightly. This can make your muscles feel relatively stronger, and your step be relatively springier. People who lose significant weight often confess to feeling actually physically lighter, which can be a nice way to help leap out of bed in the morning.

3. Physical Fitness

When you become significantly lighter, it becomes easier to jump higher, to run longer, and to do pretty much anything that requires you to move your body. With a smaller amount of mass the body has more energy to perform stronger and longer.

Of course, it is entirely possible to be overweight or obese and be physically fit. There are plenty of amazing athletes with fat on their bones. But for people who really prioritize athletic performance and who are engaged in sports which are better for lighter people (like running, as opposed to shot-putting), physical fitness is an acceptable and healthy reason to lose weight.

Physical fitness is also a ccommon reason to want to gain body fat. Many people who lift weights ignore body fat percentages altogether. Their bodies need fuel in order to build muscle. They will eat heavily and frequently in order to make sure their bodies get the fuel they need, and they’ll say screw it with regards to body fat. Sometimes its just a part of the athletic package, so I simply wish to stress here that body fat and physical fitness can go both ways.

4. Joint pain

Being significantly obese can put extra stress on the joints, particularly in the lower body and the knees. Reducing body fat in order to alleviate joints is non-negotiably a good reason to want to lose weight.

5. Wardrobe maintenance

This reason is more practical than anything.

Sometimes, after a stressful period, or after pregnancy or what-not, women find that they have outgrown most of their clothes.

If you loved your old wardrobe and don’t want to spend a fortune replacing it, weight loss–done in a sustainable and self-loving manner–can be a great way to save yourself the trouble.

Now I don’t mean that if you have a whole closet full of “skinny” pants back from the days in which you starved yourself, then you should hurry up and drop the weight again. I certainly have one of these closets, but I keep it just in case that sort of weight loss accidentally happens. Rather, I mean: a wardrobe at which you happily sustained an intuitive diet and lifestyle may be worthwhile of such pursuits.

6. Intimacy

One reason for weight  loss I continue to feel emotionally moved by is physical intimacy.

This was something that never occurred to me, but was rather described to me by an amazing paleo friend of mine, who just so happens to be a best-selling author, and rather a big deal.

This friend of mine lost more than 100 pounds. She told me that one of the best things that happened when she lost weight was that she got to feel physically closer to her husband. When she hugged him, her head and her heart were closer to his. Weight loss made it easier for her to feel physically unified with her husband.

This was such an unexpected and beautiful aspect of her journey… I just had to share. Physical intimacy can be one particularly nice reason to want to lose weight. Obviously it is possible to be physically intimate and and close with body fat – obviously – but for some people this might feel like a pleasant part of the weight loss journey.

 

And with intimacy I draw my list of favorite reasons for wanting to lose weight to a close. This is not an exhaustive list by any means… I think really that no matter what your motivation is for losing weight, if you do so in a way that is in loving harmony with your body and never punish yourself or compare yourself to others, you’re doing all right. I know that is easier said than done, but in the end, your health and your body fat are yours and yours alone, and you deserve to feel awesome about your body all of the time. 

You will note that in most of these items I said they applied to “significant” weight loss. The “last five pounds” won’t make a difference for athletic performance, joint pain, health, or the ability to be physically close to another person. Of course I have no issues with women who would like to lose a few pounds here or there. I personally maintain a specific body composition (which is certainly a bit squishy and jiggly) on purpose… but I do find that most of us become neurotic about the way we look on our bad days.

If we can focus on things like health, energy, and intimacy, we may be able to increase the number of good days that we have. The best reasons for wanting to lose weight are those that you can’t see, because they make us feel and perform better, and have longer, healthier lives.

I do not expect perfection from anyone else in this regard, nor of myself. We live in a tough world, and it’s hard to feel comfortable in our bodies when we are so scrutinized and labeleld by the outside world.

But I encourage you to do your best, and to remember always that your weight loss journey is about the way that you feel in your body and the things you can physically do, not about the squishiness on your middle or your day dreams about a thigh gap.

 

If you so elect to lose weight and want to do so in a manner that is both physically and mentally health, I have a program specifically designed to make that easy for you: it’s Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution. You can check it out and see if its a good fit for you here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

5 Reasons to Stop Counting Calories Right Now

5 Reasons to Stop Counting Calories Right Now

Of all the ways in which people try to lose weight in America today, counting calories is probably the most popular.

It is also probably one of the most misguided.

Well, I’m not sure I can say that, given that I know that something called The Grapefruit Diet exists.

Nevertheless, so far as I am concerned, calorie counting is extremely flawed. It is bad for health. It’s bad for spirit. And it’s bad for weight loss. Here are some reasons why — though the list is by no means exhaustive.

1) Counting calories is time consuming

Counting calories is time consuming. You either have to search for calorie amounts on google for every food you eat, or carry around one of those little pocket calorie guides. I used to do that. Nothing like a good old-fashioned calorie counter in your back pocket.

Then you have to measure your food, and then do math. 

And you can’t simply weight in after the fact, but need to parcel out your food beforehand, so you can make your target goals. Of course, you may be one of the more loosey goosey calorie counters and simply tally how much you’ve eaten after the fact, but that’s time consuming too because after you’ve done all the math you will probably spend a fair bit of time worrying about it.

Moreover, one of the most obnoxious things about calorie counting (and body image issues in general) is that it’s such a mental time drain. You have so many creative, brilliant things to bring to the world! What a terrible drag it would be to dampen that light and energy so that it can be channeled toward grape rationing.

I can’t even.

2. Energy needs vary by day

Part of the reason calorie regimens are so dangerous is that they impose strict rules on daily eating, even though energy needs vary greatly day by day.

Energy needs vary for a whole slew of reasons: exercise, how much you’ve slept, whether you’ve worked out recently and are rebuilding muscle, how much stress you are under, how much time you spend standing or walking on any given day, if you are sick and how active your immune system is at the time, and even the time of the menstrual cycle are all important factors.

Each of these variables means that every day requires a different number of calories to be eaten.

When calorie counting, you will almost certainly, every single day, miss that mark.

This is a problem physically because it can teach you to ignore your body’s basic hunger drives. Doing so may signal to your body that you are starving yourself at times, or overeating at others. When you are out of sync with your body’s caloric needs, you open yourself up to stress hormone problems and sex hormone problems, which can lead to infertility, irregular periods, mood swings, low libido, and many other problems down the line.

This is also a problem mentally because any sort of leftover hunger or restrictive feelings can make you feel deprived, which can feed feelings of deprivation, frustration, yearning, and obsession.

Much easier than dealing with the physical and psychological problems that come from calorie counting is simply learning to interpret and eat in harmony with your body’s hunger drives. It may take time and patience to learn, but the rewards are great.

3. It’s controlling aspect is addictive

Most people who become serious calorie counters also have type A personalities. They are perfectionists. They like to have their worlds managed in particular little boxes which can be controlled and manipulated to their liking.

Sometimes, people start to get a high on this kind of control. I was definitely one of them. I loved when I could demonstrate my mastery of the world, my moral superiority, and my discipline. I felt the power in myself, and I delighted when I could demonstrate that kind of control in front of others, too. Counting calories was a great way for me to feel like I had  control over myself, my bood, and my body. I loved the feeling.

My humble advice in this regard is to be mindful about it. Do not let the obsession overtake you, and be wary of the ways in which it can. Avoiding calorie counting altogether is the best way to do this. Maybe knowing that type A perfectionism underlies your calorie counting habit can help you deconstruct it, and ultimately let go.

4. It can make you care more about weight than health

One of the major problems of calorie counting is that it prioritizes weight over health.

Calorie counting is all about weight loss (and that’s not to say it’s effective, more on which in the next point).

It gives priority to eating less. The smart, effective, and healthful way of eating would instead be to give priority to eating better. 

In fact, it can be actively detrimental to your health to make weight loss your focus over and above high quality eating. Our society thinks that skinnier people are healthier, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thin people regularly get diagnosed with diseases and die early deaths; overweight people regularly live long, healthy lives. Sometimes, being overweight actually increases your health.

5. It will in all likelihood make you gain weight in the long run

Calorie counting is inherently contradictory. It may make you think that you are going to lose weight, but  in actuality most people who lose weight by calorie counting eventually gain it back.

Why?

When you prioritize quantity over quality, it is nearly impossible to maintain. This is for a wide variety of reasons:

For one, high quality nutrition helps you feel full. The body sometimes feels hungry specifically because it is missing out on important nutrients. Focusing on high quality foods in this way will help you feel both healthier and more satisfied by your food.

For another, rigidly controlling food intake forces the body to be in a permanent state of hunger, to some degree or another. Doing this causes the body to up-regulate it’s production of hunger-stimulating hormones. The more of these hormones you have swimming in your blood, the hungrier you will feel, and the more you will feel like you need to eat. When you eventually cave to these increasingly pressing signals, you will in all likelihood overeat, since the hunger signals that have built up are so strong.

Once you overeat, if you are a calorie counter you will in all likelihood restrict your calorie allowance for the following day even more, which can further exacerbate the hunger hormone problem, thus sending you into a spiral of restriction and overeating.

This kind of pattern, in which the body is restricted and then overeats, causes weight gain. In a state of restriction, the metabolism slows down. Then when you overeat, you store even more fat than you would have before.

Slowed metabolisms are a very real problem for being who diet or have dieted in their past. It is very hard to overcome a slow metabolism once it sets in from calorie counting. The ideal situation would be to never restrict calories in the first place. If that can’t be avoided, you can help boost your metabolism by starting to eat as intuitively as possible, and relaxing the controlling grip you have on your diet and your body.

It is totally possible to lose weight without counting calories. In fact, it  is even more effective and permanent not to.

 

Also, If you want to lose weight, but are wary of calorie counting  (and for good reason!), I provide a great way for loosely keeping track of your food intake without counting calories in my program for weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution.  

 

And that’s a wrap for me! What do you think? There are plenty more reasons to never count calories again! What are yours?

 

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Why I Love Healthy at Every Size

Why I Love Healthy at Every Size

Healthy at Every Size is a movement. It asserts that the best way to be healthy is to stop caring about your body fat percentage and start caring about the food you eat and the life you live. Officially, HAES “supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being rather than weight control.”

Now this definition doesn’t mean exactly that HAES believes you can be healthy at every size. The official definition shies away from saying that. But the movement itself is closely associated with the idea. Most people in it really do believe that you can be healthy at every size.

Why I used to hate HAES

I used to really dislike HAES. I thought, for one, that it was basically wrong.

I thought that being overweight was unhealthy. Period. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

I also used to think that HAES was an excuse to be lazy.

I thought HAES adherents simply wanted to eat whatever they wanted, all the time. You can be “healthy” so long as you feel good about yourself.

I was so wrong

So, I know a lot of people in the paleosphere are on the side of the fence that I used to be on. A lot of people think that being overweight is unhealthy, at best, and immoral, at worst.

But I have since become more educated about these issues, and come to really love HAES. It turns out the movement is more about spreading awareness of the true ambiguity in the medical literature about body fatness, and about recommending a healthy diet and lifestyle no matter  someone’s size.

For HAES, the recommendation for everyone is eat well, de-stress, and live well. Love yourself. Here is a quote I pulled off of their website:

Health at Every Size® principles help us be at peace in our bodies, supporting people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves. It includes the following basic components:

  • Respect, including respect for body diversity.
  • Compassionate Self-care
    • Eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite;
    • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and being physically active.
  • Critical Awareness
    • Challenges scientific and cultural assumptions;
    • Values body knowledge and people’s lived experiences.

I think you could do a whole lot worse than that.

It is totally possible to be overweight and healthy

Contrary to popular dogma, it is totally possible to be “overweight” and healthy at the same time. In fact, there are many health conditions that extra weight can be explicitly helpful for.

Pneumonia, burns, general immune system health, stroke, many varieties of cancer, hypertension, and heart disease have all been shown to be overcome more easily — or survived at greater rates — in people who are overweight relative to people who are normal weight. People who are underweight or who are very obese fare the worst. In heart disease, there is actually a four times greater chance of dying if you are thin with heart disease than moderately overweight.

Moreover, the overweight and obese are up to 63 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, more likely to heal quickly following injuries, and 25% less likely to develop dementia.

Finally, fairly significant research has shown that people who are overweight tend to live longer than anybody else. Really, more than anybody else.

You can read my post about being healthy and overweight at: Can Being Overweight Be Healthier than Being Normal Weight?

Losing weight isn’t what makes people healthier; healthier living does.

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.

Time and time again we find that it isn’t weight loss that makes people healthier. Losing weight doesn’t suddenly improve someone’s nutritional status, blood markers, or risk for diseases. It really doesn’t. When people get healthier as they lose weight, it is typically because they are actually eating better food.

Of course, there are some things weight loss helps for. If you have a fair amount of abdominal fat, losing it may reduce your inflammation levels, since abdominal fat tends to secrete inflammatory molecules. Losing weight can also take a hefty burden off of your joints, and can certainly improve athletic performance.

But if it’s freedom from disease you are after, the real answer is to eat super well most of the time, sleep often, reduce stress, and be as happy and purposeful in your life as possible.

Why Healthy At Every Size is Successful

Healthy At Every Size is successful because it encourages people to think about their health, moreso than their weight.

It isn’t about being lazy. It isn’t about simple “acceptance” of where you are, and never striving towards greater wellness in your life.

Instead, it’s about prioritizing your wellbeing. You don’t have to stop caring about your weight. I think weight loss is a perfectly legitimate goal for a ton of reasons. I have a program for weight loss that I stand by proudly — it emphasizes health and love above all things, and still acknowledges that weight loss can be a worthwhile pursuit. It just has to happen with the right mindset.

Healthy At Every Size is successful because shifting your priorities away from aesthetics helps you stay loyal to a healthy diet.

When your happiness is yoked to the way that you look, you can’t help but have good days and bad (and usually more bad than good). You can’t help but be disappointed and frustrated with your progress. You can’t help but compare the way you look to others, and invariably feel like you are lacking in some regard. You can’t help but judge yourself, criticize yourself, and punish yourself.

Negative mentalities like this are terrible for weight loss. Negative feelings make people who diet want to eat. That’s just an inevitability that comes from being a human being. I read about it in the literature and I see it happen on a daily basis.

You might eat even if you are not ‘hungry’ because you feel deprived of your favorite foods. You might eat because you are stressed out. You might eat because your goal of “hourglass figure” seems hopeless. There’s a good chance you’ll eat more than you intended, and you’ll feel terrible about it. You’ll spiral even further into the black hole of negative self talk and unhealthy food choices, and keep cycling between guilt and over-eating.

When you choose health over the way that you look, choosing healthy food to eat stops being a battle. They stop being competitions. They stop being perfectly weighed and measured, controlled within an inch of your life. Prioritizing health doesn’t plummet you into a dark hole of despair. Quite the opposite, actually. Health is not a “lose or win” battle. Instead, health happens gradually–it “wins” gradually–over the course of days, weeks, and years.

Health is about being consistent in eating well most of the time, not being as strict as possible every second. Health is about caring about yourself and the world around you more than the numbers on a scale. Prioritizing health is liberating in the most true sense. It sets you free from the shackles of judgment and self-criticism, and enables you to truly be loyal to yourself and your happiness.

Sure, focusing on health might not make you a size zero. Then again, I’m willing to bet that focusing on your waistline isn’t going to either. And even if it does, it probably won’t last, since the vast majority of people who diet like that regain the weight they’ve lost.

The thing is, your weight status and your health are really genuinely not all that tied together. You can be overweight and perfectly healthy. So then why kill yourself trying to shed pounds?

Life is about love and energy and joy. Being in good health helps increase that. Punishing yourself with a low calorie, strictly-regimented diet? Not quite so much.

Healthy At Every Size asks us to reconsider our assumptions about  weight and health, and get our priorities in line. It’s totally fine and nice to lose weight, but  that has to happen in a context of love, in which health and happiness are the priority.

If you want to learn a bit more about how to accept your body and love yourself, you may want to check out my book Sexy by Nature or my blog post How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Weight Loss. If you want to lose weight in a super healthy and self-loving way, you may wish to check out my program for weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution.

 

What do you think of Healthy at Every Size? Do you think you can be healthy at every size? Do you think this movement has the right idea, or does it encourage people to be “lazy”? I’d love to hear what you think!!

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Can Being Overweight be Healthier than ‘Normal’ Weight?

Can Being Overweight be Healthier than ‘Normal’ Weight?

Popular wisdom says that fat is unhealthy. It is a plain and simple fact: the more fat you have on your body, the more likely you are to become ill, and to die sooner. This is something everyone in Western culture accepts as true from a very young age.

Nevertheless, just as the fat and cholesterol recommendations from the last few decades are beginning to crumble, so the dogma around body fatness and health are beginning to crumble, too.

As it turns out, there is no clear correlation between being “overweight,” which means having a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 30, and poor health.

In fact, out of all of the people who develop heart disease, those who are overweight have a much lower risk of death than those who are “normal” weight. Moreover, so far as nearly every systematic study conducted recently on mortality has shown, people with a BMI between 25 and 30 live longer than people in any other weight category.

The waters of body weight are much murkier than we (and certainly I) ever expected. So I decided to dig deep and find out what we do know.

What do we know about fat and health, to the best of our knowledge, today?

1) You can be thin and unhealthy

We often conflate the perfect body with perfect health, but that is a flawed concept.  The truth is that a fit body provides merely the assumption that an individual has good physical health.  What is her fasting insulin? Her C-reactive protein? Her triglycerides?  These three markers are perhaps the most important indicators of health, with a wide variety of metabolic indicators, hormones, and micronutrient levels all playing important roles. These are the first things we should think of when we want to evaluate physical health—not appearance.

There are plenty of people in the world who appear perfectly fit on the outside but who are dangerously unhealthy once you take a closer look. Now, these poor health markers are more likely in the significantly obese, but any sort of line between ‘thin’ and ‘obese’ that would demarcate which is at greater risk of disease is impossible to map. There are simply far too many variables at play for body fatness to be the only significant factor in health. People well into the “obese” category often test perfectly well.

Crucial influences on overall health include nutritional status, gut health, personal history, eating patterns, fitness level, sun exposure, alcohol consumption, sleep status, and stress. Just because someone’s body manages to store and burn fat faster than someone else’s does not mean they are healthier.

Period.

2) You can be overweight and perfectly healthy

Just because your body might not burn through fat as efficiently as someone else’s doesn’t mean they are more healthy than you. Of course, you need to be sure that there isn’t an underlying problem causing body fat storage like inflammation, leaky gut, or insulin resistance. That is entirely possible. But  it is by no means necessary.

If there isn’t an underlying health condition assocciated with fat storage, it may be a simple matter of genetics, the quality of nutrition anda body type you had as a child growing up, or of having a history of dieting (which so many of us do), which leads to slower fat burning mechanisms in the long run.

It is also incredibly important to bear in mind that fat cells don’t go away once created. They can shrink, but they never go away. This makes it much easier for people who have been overweight in the past to keep weight or to regain it once they’ve lost it. This has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with the biochemistry of fat storage.

3) For certain health conditions people who are overweight fare better

As it turns out, not only is it possible to be healthy while overweight, it also appears as though overcoming some specific health conditions is greatly helped by being overweight.

As more and more research is done in this area, the list of conditions grows.

Pneumonia, burns, general immune system health, stroke, many varieties of cancer, hypertension, and heart disease have all been shown to be overcome more easily — or survived at greater rates — in people who are overweight relative to people who are normal weight. People who are underweight or who are very obese fare the worst. In heart disease, there is actually a four times greater chance of dying if you are thin with heart disease than moderately overweight.

Moreover, the overweight and obese are up to 63 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, more likely to heal quickly following injuries, and 25% less likely to develop dementia.

4) There is a correlation between obesity and certain diseases

To be sure, there is a correlation between obesity and certain diseases, particularly when the body fat is located in the abdomen. Belly fat can release fatty acids and inflammatory compounds into the body which can increase “bad” cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and blood pressure.

This kind of body fatness is significantly correlated with incidences of heart disease.

Type 2 diabetes is another major category of disease associated with body fatness. It is estimated that 1 in 3 people born in the Western world after 2ooo will have type 2 diabetes. There is a clear increase in risk of type 2 diabetes with increasing body fatness.

However, we need to be careful because we do not know if body fatness is what causes the heart disease diabetes in itself, or if both of these conditions arise as a result of a different underlying factor, such as inflammation.

We tend to think that just because things occur at the same time that one of them causes the other. This is a common error found all over academia and the medical sciences. But it very well may be the case that these conditions are simple correlated, and that the body fatness is not specifically the problem that is  causing the health condition.

Moreover, we need to be careful because obesity researchers are notorious for their “clumping” biases. Pretty much of all of the data on body fatness groups people into four distinct categories (distinguished by BMI, which I discuss below): the underweight, “normal ” weight, overweight, and obese. There are pretty narrow margins between underweight, normal weight and overweight, but the “obese” category covers anyone above a BMI of 30. That is an extreme range and the nuances to be found within that range need to be attended to. Extreme obesity, like extreme thinness, is certainly a health concern, and may skew data for the rest of the people who are less obese but still fall within the obese category.

5) “Overweight” people appear to live longest of all body types

On one point the data is quite clear: generally speaking, the people who live the longest are those who are “overweight.” The underweight and significantly obese fare the worst in this regard, then followed by “normal weight” people, and finally the “overweight,” who fare the best.

In 2005, the scientific community heaped scorn on a paper published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by now famed epidemiologist Katherine Flegal. This was a seminal paper. It was a well-done statistical analysis… and it has really given the entire medical community a lot to think about.

Flegal’s study involved an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a long-term study into the health and diet of 33,000 Americans. Ranging from two-month-old babies to people aged 75, the subjects are chosen to give a representative snapshot of health and diet across the USA.

Flegal found, as I mentioned, that the severely obese (BMI over 35) and underweight (BMI under 19) were the most at risk.

But remarkably, those classified as mildly obese were at no greater risk of dying prematurely than their normal-weight counterparts.

And, more extraordinary still, those who were overweight were actually at a slightly reduced risk of dying compared to those in the normal weight range.

After conducting this study, Flegal realized that it wouldn’t be enough to sway anyone, so she extended the study to review 97 similar studies. Her new data comprised 2.9 million people and yielded the same results: the overweight live the longest of everybody.

Is all of this explainable because BMI is a poor measure of body fatness?

The most common reaction you might find to this “fat paradox” in the health blogger community is a denunciation of the BMI as a metric of body fatness or health at all.

BMI is calculated by dividing weight by height. This is a decently fair measure to approximate the size of a human being, but it actually says nothing about body composition. You may be particularly big boned, for example. Or, more commonly, you may be very lean but significantly muscled. This means you will be heavier but still have very little body fat. This is a really big problem for people who are fitness professionals and have to battle with insurance companies. Insurance companies want to stick them with higher premiums because they are “overweight,” when in reality they are so heavy because they have so much muscle.

Fitness gurus don’t like this one bit, and for good reason.

So yes, muscle mass does play a significant role in the inadequacy of the BMI.

However: most people in the world are not fitness junkies, there are many more people in the world with high BMIs due to body fatness. And more importantly, there are many other nuances that need to be taken into account.

For example: first, we need to recognize that there are different kinds of fat. Abdominal fat, like I pointed out earlier, can be pro-inflammatory and cause significant problems in terms of cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and inflammation and cardiovascular health.

Fat that sits on the hips and thighs, on the other hand, can be healthy in a number of ways. It helps protects a woman from malnutrition during pregnancy, for one.

Fat in the lower body can also trap potentially harmful fatty acids from travelling through the bloodstream and to the heart.

Visceral fat (so all fat in the lower body and otherwise stored under the skin, just not in the abdomen) can provide a crucial boost when the immune system needs energy to do hard work. This is in large part why burns, pneumonia, and cancer are often helped by additional body fat.

A kind of fat called omentum fat can perform a complementary function: instead of ramping up the immune response, it can calm down the body’s biological defense mechanism, and prevent the immune system from overcompensating or causing collateral damage. This is extremely important since an overactive immune response is often the true cause of death in response to illnesses.

So then, so far as we can best tell, muscle mass may be a confounding factor for the Body Mass Index, but there really does appear to be a slew of biologically important mechanisms at play here. And the research that is currently being conducted is relatively nascent. More studies obviously need to be conducted on the relationship between body fatness – not BMI – and disease, and specifically different kinds of body fatness.

Is this a “paradox” that just needs to be resolved in another fashion?

Researchers have attemtped to find many other explanations for the “fat paradox.”

One of the most popular explanations is that overweight people get more aggressive treatment than thin people, because their weight raises red flags at the doctor’s office. This doesn’t seem all that reliable: so far as we can tell, overweight and obese people tend to avoid doctors, get fewer preventive screenings, and receive worse treatment because they’re often misdiagnosed as “fat” rather than with a specific medical condition.

The paradox may also be because of smokers, some have hypothesized. Smoking makes people thinner and sicker. Yet Flegel removed smokers from her studies and found no difference in her results.

6) There are better markers for health

Taking a step back from body fatness, we  can see that there are a whole slew of factors that contribute to overall health, many of them which are most likely far  more important than actual body size.

Diet, for one, is incredibly important. The nutrients you get into your body and the toxins you keep out are at the top of the list of important factors in health. I don’t think I need to state this twice.

Fitness, for another, is incredibly important. 

Paul McAuley, a health education researcher at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, has been studying fitness for close to 20 years. He says most studies on weight and health fail to take it into account. “Or they ask one question about it,” he says, and don’t bother to go further. When McAuley collects data on fitness, he finds that it predicts health and longevity much more strongly than fatness.

Stress, for a third, is also incredibly important. Many studies show that stress, like fitness level, is more important than body fat percentage in promoting health and longevity. For example, some studies show that implementing Healthy At Every Size practices, which means ignoring weight regulation in favor of intuitive eating and living, significantly decreases mortality in overweight adults, and promotes better lab results, health behaviors, and self-esteem than weight loss treatment.

Stress up-regulates adrenal function—and chronically elevated cortisol levels cause a vast array of health problems, including reduced sleep quality, impaired immune function, and a higher risk for metabolic derangement and virtually all diseases of civilization.

Finally, neuroticism, defined by emotional sensitivity and negative emotions which include low self-esteem, is one of the greatest health risks and predictors of mortality of all.  Primate studies also show that animals lower on the hierarchy are more susceptible to diseases and a shorter life, simply because they are in a less secure station in life. Being unhappy, in the end, may be the single most important  risk factor for a short, unhealthy life.

Conclusion

Plenty of studies now other than Flegel’s have been released that demonstrate that people who are “overweight” live longer than anyone in any of the BMI categories, including “normal weight.” Researchers often find these results in their studies but rarely advertise them as such, for fear of being shunned as a heretic. You can read about a selection of them here.

It is quite clear to me that at the very least we need to take a step back and disassociate health  from body fatness. I know plenty of people who eat super well and are incredibly healthy but just so happen to have more body fat than others. This may be because of the environment in which they grew up, the types of diets they were on throughout their lives, or the genes they were born with.

When we look at a person, we never know what they have been through. We don’t know if certain health conditions have caused their body fatness or if they are incredibly fit but still overweight. By all appearances that is fine. The true test of health is a blood test. Or perhaps it is a stress test. Or a psychological questionnaire. Honestly I don’t know. The concept of health is complicated, and I really only think it can be measured in our last days, when we can look back on our lives and reflect on how fit and happy and capable we were throughout.

What do you think the greatest indicator of health is? What’s wrong with how we do it today? What can we do better? I would love nothing more thant ohear your thoughts!!

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.