This is a letter to the editor written by a student at the University of Utah. To submit a letter to the editor, email email@example.com
Health takes many forms and cannot be predicted by body size.
On April 4, the University of Utah hosted the “Body of Evidence” workshop created by Paige Smathers, RDN and Jessie Hoffman, Ph.D. from Positive Nutrition in Salt Lake City. Lindsay Kite, Ph.D. and Lexie Kite, Ph.D. — co-directors of the non-profit Beauty Redefined — also spoke about their work.
During the workshop, they presented research-backed information about nutrition myths and body image resilience. Beauty Redefined has a motto — “You are more than a body.” This workshop meant a lot to me because, over the past three years, I’ve had many struggles trying to figure out my relationship to food, my body and my health. Attending that night helped me realize how far I’ve come in the last six months and inspired me to continue on the path I’m on.
A few years ago, my body changed. It wasn’t intentional weight loss. About a year and a half prior, I began struggling with anxiety. I felt stressed out, never good enough and physical symptoms like headaches and nausea became more frequent. Instead of addressing these difficult emotions by finding a trained therapist or counselor, I made the common decision that I could get a handle on this thing on my own.
Like most people who use the internet, I started seeing articles about gluten causing X, Y or Z health problems and I thought, “Wait, I have X, Y and Z. Maybe I should try eliminating gluten from my diet.” Thus I began my slow descent into an eating disorder. But no one knew this, of course. To the world — and in my own mind back then — I was just trying to get healthy. I was sure that there was enough research out there that I could use to piece together the exact right way to eat for optimal health.
Those who have been down this path will attest that once you start looking, there are so many conflicting messages out there. Elimination diets were how it began for me. I tried to cut out major food groups, and I would feel like a failure if I couldn’t keep it up for more than a few days. I became obsessed with sugar and carbs. I was duped into thinking that a ketogenic diet should be applied to the general public when really all the research that has been done with this diet are in patients with epilepsy.
There are multiple books written on this subject and there is much to learn. However, the important takeaway is that trying to control my health through my food led to more anxiety than I had before. Mentally, I was exhausted. Physically, I was hungry. However terrible I felt on the inside, though, was not considered when I encountered people that immediately wanted to comment on my body.
“Wow, have you lost weight? You look so great!”
Me, (in my head): “Thanks, I guess? Even though that implies I didn’t look great before.”
“What have you been doing?”
Me, (again in my head): “Uhh, obsessing over every little thing I eat because I’m worried it will make me sick, but subsequently shaming myself when I inevitably crave brownies and French fries?”
The truth is, I don’t know how or why my body changed. In reality, when faced with these questions, I usually muttered a weird “thank you but I didn’t really do anything” and changed the subject. I didn’t feel like saying thank you to those comments was genuine. The weight loss wasn’t an achievement others should’ve congratulated me for. For all they knew, it was from a serious health issue.
The way you are treated in society if you lose weight and your body changes to fit a more “ideal” image is wholly positive, whether you are healthy or not. This is dangerous.
Mental and emotional health are equally important to physical health, and these people commenting on my body didn’t even know the status of my physical health. They were just assuming that skinnier equals healthier. And it is just not true.
When I was repeatedly told that I looked “great” when I knew that person only meant skinnier, I began to internalize fatphobia. My thoughts around controlling my diet and body size became worse because I feared that if my body changed back to how it looked before, I would be judged and treated differently.
This is a vicious cycle, and thankfully, I have found my way out of it. Once I was faced with what it truly meant to fear to gain weight, I knew I couldn’t keep thinking in the same way.
Health At Every Size is a paradigm, developed by Dr. Linda Bacon, that is evidence-based and explains that weight has nothing to do with health. Fat is neutral. Medical care that promotes weight loss is not ethical and diets do not work.
It may sound counterintuitive to almost everything you see today about weight and food, but for those struggling with the exhaustive efforts of trying to control your appearance and your health, there is a way out.
I believe in Beauty Redefined’s motto that we are more than bodies. Our well-being is about so much more than our outside appearance, and if we change the conversation to how we feel and what we can do, we will all be able to have more fulfilled lives.
— Paij Chavez, University of Utah student