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If you live in the U.S. you are absolutely bombarded with the idea that being overweight is bad for your health. This repetition leaves one with the idea that being overweight is the same thing as being unhealthy, something that is simply not true. In fact, people of all weights can be either healthy or unhealthy; overweight people (defined by BMI) may actually have a lower risk of premature death than “normal” weight people. Being fat is simply not the same thing as being unhealthy.
The Health At Every Size (HAES) movement attempts to interrupt the conflation of health and thinness by arguing that, instead of using one’s girth as an indicator of one’s health, we should be focusing on eating/exercising habits and more direct health measures (like blood pressure and cholesterol).
A recent study offered the HAES movement some interesting ammunition in this battle. The study recruited almost 12,000 people of varying BMIs and followed them for 170 months as they adopted healthier habits. Their conclusion? “ Healthy lifestyle habits are associated with a significant decrease in mortality regardless of baseline body mass index.”
Take a look. The “hazard ratio” refers to the risk of dying early, with 1 being the baseline. The “habits” along the bottom count how many healthy habits a person reported. The shaded bars represent people of different BMIs from “healthy weight” (18.5-24.9) to “overweight” (25-29.9), to “obese” (over 30).
The three bars on the far left show the relative risk of premature death for people with zero healthy habits. It suggests that being overweight increases that risk, and being obese much more so. The three bars on the far right show the relative risk for people with four healthy habits; the differential risk among them is essentially zero; for people with healthy habits, then, being fatter is not correlated with an increased relative risk of premature death. For everyone else in between, we more-or-less see the expected reduction in mortality risk given those two poles.
This data doesn’t refute the idea that fat matters. In fact, it shows clearly that thinness is protective if people are doing absolutely nothing to enhance their health. It also suggests, though, that healthy habits can make all the difference. Overweight and obese people can have the same mortality risk as “normal” weight people; therefore, we should reject the idea that fat people are “killing themselves” with their extra pounds. It’s simply not true.
Stopping dieting is a lot like breaking up with an actual person. When you’ve dieted, your dreams of how your life will look are a lot like your dreams of what your life will look like with a particular person in it. For example, if you’re dating someone, you might be dreaming of going on a vacation with them. Similarly, if you’re dieting, your vacation dreams may involve imagining yourself at your goal weight.
Whether you’re breaking up with a person or diet, you have to acknowledge the fact that some of your dreams may not come true and you have to make room for new ones. I hope these five steps will help you in that process. This actually would be a good note to write to yourself.
Step 1: It’s Not You, It’s Your Diet
The old “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup line does not apply when it comes to you in your diet. If you lost weight with this diet only to gain it back or to endlessly plateau, you didn’t fail at your diet–your diet failed you. About 95% of dieters gain back all of the weight they lost (often plus more) within 3 to 5 years. So obviously, diets are total crap and they don’t deserve you. Plus, diets never treated you right anyway, which brings me to my next point.
Step 2: Remember The Bad Times
Just like with any breakup, it’s important to remember the bad times and not dwell on the good. If you keep remembering a particular day, perhaps early on in your diet, when you were feeling super attractive and someone commented on how skinny you looked and it made you feel good, you may find yourself back in a Weight Watchers meeting before you know it. But I challenge you to instead remember all the reasons why you broke up with your diet. And I have a feeling that you’ll have more reasons to break up than to stay together. Remember that day you weighed yourself after being so careful sticking to your diet all week and your weight went up and you felt like crap about yourself for days. Remember all the guilt and stress you felt any time you had to decide what to eat when you weren’t sure how the food fit into your diet. Remember that diets aren’t actually good for you at all. When you remember to focus on how stressful and difficult your relationship with your diet was, it’ll be easier to not get back together. But I will say this…
Step 3: You May Temporarily Get Back Together With Your Diet
Look, it happens. Change is hard. You may lose resolve and go back to that Weight Watchers meeting once or twice. You may stress out that you ate something fatty and the guilt washes over you. It happens. When it happens, it’s important to revert to step two, and remember the bad times. Sometimes I think this moment or two of getting back together with your diet is almost necessary to process – usually you start to remember right away all the things you hated about being on a diet. So if you get caught in this step, do not worry. Just revert to step two and your breakup will be official again in no time.
Step 4: There Are Other (Delicious) Fish in the Sea
Exploring the other fish in the sea can be a little scary in the beginning. It can be nerve-racking to go from a dieting paradigm, with all of its rules and structure, to a non-dieting paradigm where the only rules are dictated by you. To me, this is the perfect time to start exploring Health at Every Size, particularly the intuitive eating aspects of it. With Health at Every Size principles, you learn to connect with your body’s own signals in terms of hunger and fullness, and get to explore what foods are really best for your body and your needs. Explaining how this works is really beyond the scope of this post, but if you want to learn more about it and how to incorporate it into your life in an in-depth way, you should definitely check out The Big Beautiful Goddess Academy.
Step 5: One Day You’ll Barely Remember It’s Name
It’s been five years since my last diet, and I have to say, it does get better. All the stress and guilt I used to experience around food and my body are truly gone. Now I eat from a completely different place–one where my focus is on nourishment and what my body needs and desires, not some rules that somebody made up because it led to some temporary weight loss and sold a few books. It is a much happier place, I’m so glad I made that choice to break up with dieting forever.