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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

At the start of the secular new year we often hear the buzzword “resolution.” Individuals post collages of memorable photographs from the past year, a caption highlighting the highs and lows and then an intention set for the upcoming calendar year. These resolutions may include a way of tending to and fostering the progress and growth of the individual or “soul self.” They may appear as proclaiming to find more time for self-care or to create more space for helping others. More often than not, though, these resolutions include some type of commitment toward the self around the body or food.

On January 1, 2018, Buzzfeed published a revolutionary and fantastic piece titled “13 Experts Explain Why Diets Don’t Work And What To Do Instead.” The piece features some extraordinary men and women, some of whom I’ve had the honor to meet at various conferences and through my work. Many people wrongly assume that health is reflected in weight and that being unhealthy is also reflected in weight, shape or size. Linda Bacon put forth the scientifically sound understanding of health and shape called “Health at Every Size,” which I’ve mentioned before and utilize not only as an eating-disorder clinician working with individuals toward recovery, but as a human being with a body.

Health at Every Size focuses on the fact—yes fact—that health is not dependent on weight and that health issues are often overlooked and judged in those who are in a bigger body. Read: bigger body—not overweight, as this implies that there is one set weight. While I’m fully aware that doctors use growth charts to identify someone’s weight range, please note that this does not mean an individual should be confined to one particular number or else. The layman’s understanding—and even understanding by some in the medical field—is that if an individual should weigh above the “magic” number, any type of medical ailment would be “solved” if the person would just lose weight. And also, outside the medical field, any issue, whether it be job related, or dating related or personality related would also be “solved” should the person just fall right at or below that ideal number.

This is not how the world works. Or perhaps, it is how the world works; a world that looks only through weight-focused glasses to notice whether someone should be accepted or rejected dependent on his/her weight. A world that promotes weight phobia and fatism, a notion on which we must all reflect and ponder in terms of how it has impacted the way we see and understand others. A world that states that in order for an individual to “do well” they must be fit and restrict him/herself of food and enjoyment and connection in order to achieve enjoyment and connection, thereby perpetuating a cycle where the individual feels that “if only my weight were one way, I would be loved.”

This Buzzfeed piece shows why diets don’t work and why our approach to diets can be toxic for ourselves and the future generations.

Oftentimes, when I speak in schools or teach the eating disorder course to graduate students it takes quite a while for a “buy-in” around Health At Every Size and the rejection of dieting. I bring in the scientific facts around diets and weight and the ways research has shown the lack of correlation between health and weight, while understanding that some health conditions relate to weight but that this is over-emphasized and not well understood.

I share that it is more difficult to challenge this and accept the research because weightism allows us to categorize in a black or white way as much as dieting allows us to understand ourselves and others in this dichotomous manner: thin = good, fat = bad. We talk about breaking the mold and emphasizing the gray, in-between black or white, and the value of individuals and the importance of connecting with others based on who they are as people, and yet we get so caught up in self-worth relating to the amount of sugar we eat and what types of food we’re not eating and how much we’ve exercised this week.

As I am sure to, I note my usual disclaimer around how exercise and movement are not inherently bad. In fact, it is encouraged to promote a greater connect between the body and mind, but not when done in a way to “burn off food.” Additionally, some individuals need to be mindful of eating habits related to biological/medical conditions. But this is not the majority of individuals I meet proclaiming their new diets and making sour faces when I mention my love of doughnuts or offer a new pasta dish.

I am not judging you based on your diet. And I hope you do not judge others based on their lack of diets. I hope instead that we can understand the truth about the multi-billion-dollar diet industry and how it impacts individuals’ relationships with self and self-worth, and move instead into understanding how we feel about ourselves and not how we feel about our bodies. I hope that by taking a moment to pause and think and reflect we can promote growth and understanding of our own values and challenges and not be defined or define others based on how they look or what they do not eat. Because this type of limitation is not simply what contributes to rampant disordered eating and eating disorders, it also leads to a multitude of men and women looking toward a number or to a reflection to note how they should feel about themselves. It is time to look to our connections with that which we care about, and those with whom we connect, and finally to look inward, to determine what makes us the people we are. Not a number on a scale or a size on an article of clothing.

By Temimah Zucker, LMSW

 Temimah Zucker, LMSW, is the assistant clinical director of Monte Nido Manhattan and also works in private practice in Manhattan, and is a national speaker on the subjects of mental health, body image, self-esteem and eating disorders. For inquiries or questions please email her at [email protected] or visit her  website, www.temimah.com.