Fat acceptance might help your ego, but it could kill you
There was some interesting opinion ping-pong going on between The Punch and the ABC’s The Drum opinion site this week. On The Punch, dietician Susie Burrell advised ditching friends who “drink too much, eat too much and are overweight” and who encouraged the same unhealthy habits in us.
Over on the ABC site, an outraged Lydia Jade Turner, clinical director at BodyMatters Australasia, hit back at Burrell’s take on obesity point for point.
The two made interesting reading, and I was happily making my way to the end of Turner’s piece when one sentence gave me pause. She stated: “The best thing we can do for our health is focus on health-giving behaviours, and allow our weight to fall where it will.”
I agree on the focus about health, but allow our weight “to fall where it will”? What a slippery slope.
Yes, we need to accept that healthy bodies do not just come in skinny packages, but allowing our weight to fall where it will can be a dangerous attitude if it is taken too far and tempts us to normalise what is essentially a preventable risk factor for so many diseases.
The growing rate of obesity and related illnesses - and our tendency to underestimate our true weight, and believe that we fall within a healthy BMI even when we don’t - suggests a few too many people run with the second half of that sentence and conveniently gloss over the first part.
Accepting the person you are genetically meant to be does not mean giving up on your weight.
While I’m sure this isn’t what Turner is trying to encourage, I’ve heard and read such attitudes espoused before and it has always left me a little incredulous at the laissez faire approach these people have towards their well-being.
None of this is about judging on looks.
Excess weight does not have to mean unhealthy ... though it too often does. Why else is the medical profession tearing its hair out over our obesity “epidemic”? And that is the worrying tipping point of the message.
The “big is beautiful” mantra is fine if you are active and eat well. Not so much if your internal organs are slowly choking or becoming an inflamed mess.
Someone who eats too much of the wrong foods and moves too little should not seek misguided refuge in “fat acceptance”.
Of course overweight people should never be made to feel belittled because of their size, but but by the same token it would be irresponsible, even deluded, for family and friends to think the most loving act is to ignore the kilos piling up and say I support you no matter what size you are ... let your weight fall where it will.
Love them, yes, but look away while another can of coke hisses open? No.
Because, literally, their life may be at stake.
It’s not news that diets are the tough route. There has been some fascinating research to show that the bodies of overweight people work against them shedding fat and maintaining their weight loss (and that the microbes in their gut are actually more efficient at extracting energy from food than the microbes in the guts of skinny people - talk about a double whammy!) but you can’t throw up your hands and say don’t try.
I feel I’m stating the obvious here - that obese people and those sliding towards that category need to be encouraged to shed a least some weight because there is a myriad host of health problems that come with being severely overweight. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer to start.
According to numbers crunched by the Australian Bureau of Statistics “excessive weight poses a major risk for diseases of the circulatory system, with the risk increasing the longer a person remains overweight or obese” .... so for how long should we let it “fall where it will”?
I remember a talk by SA cardiologist Stephen Worthley in which he said losing as few as 5kg or 6kg could avert the risk of a heart attack in people carrying excess body fat. A big payoff for a little extra effort.
So for well-meaning people to even tacitly suggest that it’s acceptable for the scales to fall where they will, that excess weight can go unchecked because diets don’t work, is to pretty much consign someone to an early grave and say “that’s ok”.
It’s always going to matter to your health.
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