Unboxing Bodyism, Part Two

I'll never try to give my life meaningBy demeaning youBut let me just say for the recordI did everything that I could doI'm not saying that I am a saintI just don't want to live that wayI will never be a saintBut you can always hear me say:

“So squint your eyes and look a bit closerI'm not between you and your ambitionI am a poster girl with no posterI am 32 flavors and then some,I am beyond your peripheral vision,so you might as well turn your head,’cuz one day you’re gonna get hungry,and eat all the words you just said.” (Dianne Reeves’ version of Ani diFranco’s “32 Flavors”)

The Myth of “Health” Do you believe that you know whether or not someone is healthy by looking at their body? A lot of people do. Our automatic biases run deep. Most people, including nearly 75% of doctors, assume that thinner people are healthier and heavier people are less healthy. It’s logical, right?

Except that it isn’t.

But isn't being overweight associated with all kinds of illnesses? Maybe so, maybe not. Correlation is not causality. It could be that people who perceive themselves as overweight diet more, and that dieting is to blame for lessened resistance to certain diseases. It could be some other factor common to many people in larger bodies. We really don’t know, and the medical establishment is not currently helping much.

Oh, Those Doctors! I have a naturally thin cousin who’s cancer went undetected for more than a year because her doctor assumed, based on her thin appearance, that she was fine. The doctor attributed her symptoms to indigestion, Chronic Fatigue and stress. She couldn’t possibly be sick-sick, right? She’s so… “healthy” looking. Had her cancer been detected earlier, she wouldn’t have needed chemotherapy.

When those of us who are larger than a doctor assumes we “should” be, disclose our symptoms in appointments, everything from joint inflammation to headaches to insomnia are routinely attributed to our perceived “excess” weight. I have had these kinds of assumptions hurled at me before the doctor took a single blood test, or even looked at my nearly always perfect blood pressure and pulse-ox numbers. Clearly my fatness is to blame for whatever ails me. With that dismissal, doctors stop looking for real

causes that need true attention.

Even doctors cannot tell how healthy we are or aren’t by how we look.

The “BSMI” The terms “overweight” and “underweight,” along with “obese” and my personal non-favorite, “morbidly obese” all come from the BMI. The BMI is used by everyone from the medical establishment to insurance companies as a supposed measure of a person’s health. Except that it does no such thing. That measure affects what we pay for insurance, how our doctors treat us, whether or not we qualify for certain surgeries and goddess knows what else, and yet, it only tells us how we compare to the least disease prone males that a single statistician named Adolphe Quetelet could find. In Belgium.

In the 1830’s

The (BS)MI does not tell you anything about your fat to muscle ratio, and takes no consideration of the fact that healthy human bodies demonstrate dramatic diversity in body composition. There is no evidence that substantiates higher rates of disease for bodies predisposed to dense musculature over medium or slight musculature. (Dense musculature comes up as overweight to obese on the BMI even in professional athletes.)

The BMI has been misused by doctors to convince diabetic patients deemed “overweight” or higher to lose weight in order to decrease their likelihood of premature death. Sounds good, right? Except that weight loss has been shown to have no effect on mortality outcomes in that population.

Broken Trust You know what profoundly affects physical and psychological health in an adverse way? Dieting. Depriving our bodies of the calories and nutrition we need, especially when we do it again and again, puts our bodies in a state of stress that can result in adrenal fatigue, metabolic syndrome, eating disorders, and slowed metabolism. These conditions can trigger less resistance to serious illnesses, cause us to gain weight, and also seriously confound our ability to lose weight in the future.

From a psychological perspective, we break trust with our bodies when we force them to comply with repeated unhealthy choices like dieting. We can start to think that our bodies are our enemies because they tell us with both how we feel and how they respond that what we are doing is not good for us. The whole mess can feed the lie that we should be ashamed of how we look if we don’t conform to arbitrary measures and ill-informed opinions.

No, You Don’t Know There is no way to determine by looking at someone, how often or how effectively they exercise. There is no way to know whether or not someone is eating in a way that is healthiest for them. You won’t know the state of their cholesterol, their cardiovascular health, their resting heart rate, their blood pressure, or any of their body stats, based on your opinion of their weight. Oddly, you don’t even have a reason to know those things most of the time.

These are helpful things to remember when others level those assumptions at us as well. The more we release our own Bodyism, the more ridiculous Bodyism projected onto us will become. If those accusations don’t have an insecurity to tap into within us, they will bounce off and away into the obscurity to which they belong.

Acceptance, Change and Freedom Let’s look at the Acceptance v. Change piece of the Bodyism puzzle next week. In the meantime, I encourage you to conscientiously dump the lie that there is only one way to be a healthy human. May freedom be yours!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ For those of you who would like more structured support in unlearning Bodyism, I will be offering 6-session, 12-week virtual “Unboxing Bodyism” coaching groups in the very near future. If you or anyone else you know is interested in participating, drop me a line. I’ll get you on the list. More details to come!