If you want to lose weight, achieve health, and live the life of your dreams—have I got a book for you! Many books offer that promise: just follow THIS diet and workout routine and you’ll magically shed pounds. The reality is it’s not that easy, to which I can personally attest.
I went on my first diet in third grade when my parents sent me to Weight Watchers. Never mind that both my parents are heavy themselves, as were all four of my grandparents. I suppose they thought they were too old to change their habits, but if I could be educated and encouraged to diet and exercise, there might be hope for me. So I dutifully went to weekly meetings. Probably fifteen to fifty years younger than everyone else, I self-consciously stood on the scale and had my weight announced to the group. If I had lost weight, I felt proud, but if I had gained weight, I felt defeated in front of grownups I barely knew. I compared my progress to others’, thinking “I bet if I work harder next week I can be the best in the group.”
Instead of eating popcorn, drinking Pepsi, and watching TV with my family, I’d hide in my bedroom, drinking Tab, poring over my food diary, counting calories to see how I could lower the daily total. The days I met my goal of just 500 calories I felt exhilarated with power. I’d run up and down the stairs to our basement for forty-five minutes at a time. I’d ignore my friends playing Barbies so I could go on hours-long walks by myself.
Then in fifth grade, I visited the doctor. His diagnosis: anorexia nervosa. I was sent to a therapist. After a few rough patches—being threatened with hospitalization and force-fed by my raging father—I began eating again. And eating and eating and eating. I quit running up and down the stairs and going for long walks because I knew I’d get in trouble. By seventh grade, another doctor pointed to a chart and admonished me for being twenty pounds overweight.
Fast forward twenty-three years, and I’m visiting a fertility specialist to conceive my second child. The doctor announces he can’t treat me until I lose weight. I argue that two of my “normal” weight sisters also had fertility problems and that our mom took DES when she was pregnant with us. He shrugs off the effects of DES as scientifically inconclusive. I point out that he had helped me conceive my first child. He argues that I’ve gained fifty pounds since then. I inspect the chart and see a glaring typo. The nurse had transposed two numbers and I was only twenty pounds heavier than I had been the first go round, and since I had just had a baby a few months before, I figured he’d cut me some slack. He didn’t and told me to come back when I’d lost weight. I joined a gym. I follow a low-glycemic index diet. I didn’t lose weight.
A few months later it was time for the health-risk assessment at work. The BMI chart categorizes me as obese, but my blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol have always been normal, and this time, my good cholesterol elevated eleven points from the previous year and was now in the “excellent” range. But I still hadn’t lost weight.
Then I stumble upon the book Heath at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon and things start to click. In twelve accessibly written chapters with 419 references to scientific studies, Dr. Bacon disproves the myth that fat is not conducive to health. She shows us that much weight loss research, which doctors and the media reference, is funded by people who work for the diet industry. “At least seven of the nine members on the National Institute of Health’s Obesity Task Force were directors of weight-loss clinics, and most had multiple financial relationships with private industry.” She points out that from 1970-2004, during the so called “obesity epidemic” the average lifespan rose from 70.8 to 77.8. She addresses the issue that many diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease associated with overweight are found in thin people too. She raises our awareness of the vast diversity of size among the human population, and proves that health can be achieved for all sizes.
But how? Her advice is simple. Give up trying to lose weight. Regardless of your size, “enjoy a variety of real food, primarily plants.” Move your body in pleasurable ways, which she calls “active living.” And most of all, love yourself. This health manual is not going to raise profits for the multi-billion dollar diet industry. But it raises awareness that health comes in all sizes and it has raised my self-esteem immeasurably.