I recently got word that my proposal for the 2015 Kids Health Conference for Voices of Ohio’s Children was accepted. My session, Growing Healthy Kids: Looking Beyond Weight as a Measure of Health, will share research about supporting kids’ health without relying on anti-obesity rhetoric. I will share the recent research about what we know about kids, weight, and health along with ways families can support kids in both their physical and mental health.
This is a hard sell for a lot of people who believe that obesity is the enemy and that kids need to be protected from that enemy at all costs. The problem is that the “obesity epidemic” is a lot more complicated and recent research shows that our well-intentioned efforts may be doing more harm than good.
Some of you may have read the article I wrote about this a few years back (you can find it here: Weighing Down Our Children) and I’ll be sharing some of that info but updated and with more information about things we can do to help our kids be healthy without demonizing differently sized bodies.
The conference is May 6th and 7th and my session is on the second day. The conference will take place at The Westin Columbus and there are CEUs available for social workers (but not counselors — frustrating! maybe that’ll change).
You can register by going here.
I may offer the same workshop in my office at some point so let me know if you might be interested. (You can contact me here.)
I don’t know if you’ve seen the picture. I’m not going to post it here because it’s not mine to post but it’s raised a ruckus. The picture is of fitness blogger Maria Kang with her three kids, who are three, two and 8-months. Maria is wearing an abs-bearing crop top and booty shorts and she looks very fit. She’s toned, she has visible abs and across the top she’s written, “What’s your excuse?”
Maria says she’s fought eating disorders and bad genetics and says she is super fit and super healthy and you should be, too, because if she can do it (with her three little kids and her bad genetics), you should be able to do it, too.
Ok. I don’t know Maria and I don’t know much about her story (her site is overloaded so I can’t read up on it) but I don’t need to read it to know that it’s her story and your story is yours. I don’t need to critique her story to know that it won’t cover any of the reasons why you might not look like her (then again, you might, it’s all good — you look however you look and the rest of us will work on minding our own business).
Let me frame it this way.
Let’s imagine a Facebook post of a Super Important biology professor standing behind a desk full of Super Important Papers about Super Important Discoveries. “What’s your excuse?” is across the top because the professor wants to know why you haven’t been making discoveries. Well, you haven’t because you’re not a biology professor, right? You’ve been doing other stuff. In fact, maybe you don’t even like biology. Are you supposed to feel bad about that?
Imagine a picture of J. K. Rowling surrounded by piles of money, her bestselling Harry Potter books, and posters of the movie franchise. Across the top is, “What’s your excuse?”
You know what your excuse is already — you’re not J. K. Rowling. She’s not better than you because she’s sold more books (assuming that you’re not John Grisham or Danielle Steel although maybe they haven’t sold more books, I’m not sure about that). She’s J. K. Rowling and that’s her life and this one is yours.
Here’s one more.
Imagine a picture of the Dalai Lama who is looking way more at peace than you ever will. Across the top is, “What’s your excuse?”
Well, that’s ridiculous, isn’t it, because the Dalai Lama would never do something so silly but still wouldn’t you laugh and think, “Ummm, I’m not the Dalai freaking Lama, that’s my excuse!”
Maria is really good at doing whatever it is that she does to look great in a crop top and booty shorts. You might look just as good or you might not. You might spend your time getting really good at other things. Probably some of those things — being a quality friend, listening to your kids, writing amazing letters, making Very Important Scientific Discoveries, etc. — don’t photograph all that well.
That’s not to say that Maria isn’t good at other things, too, just that we privilege a particular kind of body type because we can see it and think we know what it means. We think we can look at someone’s muscle definition and know something about them even though we don’t really know anything.
We really can’t know Maria by looking at that photograph. We don’t know if she uses healthy means to get that body or unhealthy means. We don’t know the state of her inner life or her relationships. We don’t know if she goes to bed peacefully and without a care in the world or if she lies in bed at night staring at the ceiling with a sense of existential dread. We don’t know anything about Maria and conversely she doesn’t know anything about us.
You don’t have to make any excuses for not having three little kids or not having visible abs or not having a fitness blog or even for not having a fitness routine like Maria’s. You don’t have to feel ashamed of not being her anymore than she ought to be ashamed of not being you. Her life has nothing to do with you and neither does yours with her.
Lots of studies show that people treat themselves well when they feel good about themselves. Photos like Maria might inspire enough shame to make people attempt to make changes but those changes — whatever their results — are unlikely to be long-term, healthy and nurturing changes.
Life is a process. Life is a journey. You are allowed to sit on the sidelines once in awhile. You’re allowed to let your exercise routine lapse without feeling defensive. And you’re also allowed to come back to it not for the abs and booty shorts but because you want to move your body again. You’re also allowed to come back for abs and booty shorts, mind you, because it’s your body and you can do what you want with it. But do me a favor and pay attention to yourself and see what really works for you long-term and makes you happy whether that be following Maria Kang or Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga or worn out Stop the Insanity VHS tapes.
You don’t need any excuses for not being someone other than who you are.
Today’s Therapeutic Moment brought to you by the artist Moolist. Here‘s the original piece, which you can download and make your desktop background if you’re so inclined, and here‘s more of her work. You can also subscribe to her Tumblr here.
Doctor and feeding specialist Katja Rowell shared this article about teens and dieting on her Facebook page:
The problem here is that “when a child is obese and starts to lose weight, we think it’s a really great thing and we applaud it and reinforce it and say it’s so wonderful and now you’re healthy,” says Sim. Meanwhile, some kids are “very unhealthy, with many physical and psychological problems as a result of their behaviors. They are just not being identified because of their weight history.”
from Teens who beat obesity at risk for eating disorders
This is the problem with “beating obesity.” When we believe that we must conquer obesity no matter what, we end up causing harm instead of creating health.
We’ve had the fat = unhealthy equation drilled into our heads since we were very small people so by extension we’ve internalized that weightloss = healthy no matter how that weightloss happens.
This thinking creates disordered eating.
But weightloss in and of itself is not a health goal. Health goals include but are not limited to:
- Learning how to recognize and respond to our hunger and satiety signals;
- Learning how to enjoy food instead of being afraid of it;
- Learning how to see ALL foods as morally neutral instead of good or bad;
- Learning how to see ourselves without shame and disappointment.
We are more than our bodies. We are hearts, minds and souls. Dieting to lose weight may address one state of body but will it heal body, heart, mind and soul? Will it address every state of our being? Can you look at someone and by the state of their body measure their happiness or mental health?
No, of course not.
For some people, trying new fruits or vegetables is a health goal. Meeting this goal may (or may not) lead to weightloss but it will certainly give that person insight into their wants, wishes and will expand their nutritional horizons.
For some people, learning to eat a cupcake without becoming mired in fear, anger, regret and guilt is a health goal. Meeting this goal may (or may not) lead to weightloss but it will certainly give that person relief, freedom and will expand their self-acceptance.
When we talk about diets and health we need to go beyond the idea of restriction and weightloss. We need to talk about tuning in to all of our appetites. We need to talk about working to understand our physical and emotional needs.
As Linda Bacon said in Weighing Down Our Children, “People take good care of things that they like.”
Let’s work on helping our kids with the liking and combat the culture of Special K challenges.
If you’re exercising to lose weight, please stop. No, not the exercise part, the exercising to lose weight part.
It’s a change in mindset.
We all have bodies that respond to life choices by coming to a particular weight set point and sometimes when we begin or increase an exercise routine that means weightloss. But not for every one of us because some of us have naturally fat bodies. Check out this Daily Beast gallery and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
What if you could have:
- Lower blood pressure and a stronger heart;
- Better flexibility and stamina;
- Lots of busy endorphins, nature’s way of making you happier, calmer and more even-keeled;
- More energy;
- Higher chances of catching a good night’s sleep; and
But you weren’t going to lose any weight. Would you do it anyway? You probably would if you had no expectations that you were going to lose weight but the minute you add that into the mix it becomes a win/lose proposition. Either you’re doing it right (and losing weight) or you’re pounding away at the pavement and what do you have to show for it? Nothing. (Except for the lower blood pressure, stronger heart, more energy, etc.)
What if you decided to exercise just for the fun of it? What if you decided to do it to get off your high blood pressure medication? Or because you don’t snap at your kids as often when you’ve got a regular running routine? Those are great, fantastic and worthy reasons and hopefully they’re good enough reasons to keep you going.
You might be tempted to step on the scale, especially if you notice your jeans are fitting a little differently. But try to skip it, ok? Because sometimes our body shapes change but our pounds don’t. And if you’re used to using weight as a yardstick, seeing the “wrong” number there can really send you into a tailspin.
Let me be clear — weightloss in itself isn’t a problem. The problem is when we use weightloss to determine the value of our accomplishments and our self-worth.
There is absolutely no reason to measure your progress by your scale. You can measure your progress by running further; holding a yoga pose longer; finishing a class without taking a break; racing a friend and so on and so on.
For inspiration and community support in starting and sticking to an exercise routine for health, you can join the Fit Fatties forum.