The body-positivity movement represents a growing effort to reframe how we understand differences in body size and weight. Being body positive can mean adopting beliefs and behaviors that reaffirm the inherent worth of people of all sizes or working to combat stigma associated with weight. For example, the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement seeks to prioritize the overall health of a person, rather than focusing on body weight and size.
Stigma surrounding weight is in part a product of society, often veiled as “science.” While many people today associate heavier weight with adverse health outcomes, this association does not always hold true. In fact, the science surrounding weight and health is much more nuanced. Consider the following facts backed by science:
• The Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement is not widely considered to be a reliable way to measure overall health.
• Weight is not a direct indicator of health; it is possible to be “overweight” or “obese” and metabolically healthy, or of “average” weight and subject to health issues like high cholesterol or hypertension.
• People who fall into the “overweight” BMI category statistically live longer than other groups.
• Weight stigma and discrimination can have detrimental physical effects and can cause psychological harm.
HAES is an approach to health that seeks to de-emphasize weight loss as a health goal, and to reduce stigma that is attached to higher weights. A core idea behind this movement is the recognition that healthy bodies come in all different shapes and sizes.
The HAES movement directly challenges the following traditional assumptions about weight management:
• Obesity poses a significant risk to mortality
• Weight loss always prolongs life
• Anyone can lose weight, or maintain weight loss, with traditional forms of diet and exercise
• Weight loss is always a positive and practical goal
• Losing weight will always improve a person’s health
• Costs related to obesity place an overlarge burden on the economic and health system of a given society but can be mitigated through preventive measures
The HAES philosophy instead embraces the idea that bodies and overall health outcomes are shaped by a number of factors, some of which can be addressed as needed to improve a person’s health and well-being. Some of these influencing factors include:
• Natural metabolic rate
• Environmental factors
• Cultural factors
• Socioeconomic status
• Stress levels
• Sleep patterns
• Diet and nutrition
• Physical activity and exercise
By shifting the focus to these factors, the HAES movement seeks to disconnect ideas about weight from ideas about health. The philosophy supports understanding health as influenced by many factors and prioritizing overall well-being. This strategy is often referred to as a weight-neutral approach to health and well-being.
A fundamental way to take care of your health is to establish a relationship with a primary care provider, who can help you with preventive care and screenings while also supporting you as you work toward your health goals. If you are struggling with the negative side effects of weight stigma, talking with your provider can help — as can embracing some body-positive practices. (Not feeling supported by your current doctor? Read “Switching Primary Care Providers: Everything You Need to Know” for advice on making a change.)
Here are some expert tips on embracing body positivity:
Your body is much more than its size or shape; it allows you to experience pleasure in many forms; it helps you realize your skills and talents, professionally and creatively; and it allows you to experience and express love. Focusing on the positive aspects of your body can help you address negative self-talk that may be making its way into your inner monologue, and can get you back on track to loving the body that you're in.
It can be important to differentiate between sound health advice and ideas that are rooted in weight stigma. You may want to lose weight for various reasons, but beware of fad diets or any weight-loss plans that treat weight as an enemy (or that treat weight loss as a goal in and of itself). Simply identifying where weight stigma arises around you can help you separate yourself from these harmful ideas.
One way to start to overcome negative feelings surrounding your body is to focus on your health. If you have struggled with body image or dieting to lose weight in the past, it can be hard to decouple the concept of weight from health. However, it is possible to rebuild trust with your body by reconnecting with your own sense of hunger and fullness, your designated mealtimes, the physical activities that you enjoy, your sleep patterns, your water intake, your stress levels, and more. Ask yourself, “What are my health goals?” — and focus on how you can reach them and on whether you can feel a difference in your body or mood as you adjust these routines to prioritize your health.
Your Carbon Health healthcare team can support you in reaching all your health goals — with care for your body, mind, and spirit. Download the Carbon Health app or visit carbonhealth.com to get in touch with a physician.