by Christine on February 18th, 2011
This week I learned that there is a formal movement and approach to health called Health At Every Size (HAES). The movement focuses on self-acceptance regardless of the number on the scale; it focuses on pleasurable physical activity and “normal” eating (as opposed to being on a “diet” all the time). The emphasis is on being healthy at any size, rather than on weight loss; weight loss, of course, as we all know, is riddled with heartache, hard work, failures big and small, and a lot of anguish. I really don’t think that it is possible to be in dieting mode and be sane and happy at every step along the way.
In this movement, HAES (often also called “fat acceptance” although HAES takes on a broader meaning) members do not believe that the narrow weight range (the BMI chart) is healthy for every individual. Rather, each individual person needs to find their own healthy range and eat in response to physical cues rather than emotional cues.
A lot of my readers also read Allan’s blog over at Almost Gastric Bypass. Allan is a firm critic of the “intuitive eating” movement, claiming that it is this inability to eat intuitively that has lead our nation into an obesity epidemic in the first place. In my own experience, most people who attempt to embrace “intuitive eating” almost always fail; it seems that our brains and our bodies are clearly at odds when it comes to understanding what we as individuals need to consume to fuel ourselves. Other bloggers (importantly: many medical professionals who also blog) point out that being overweight leads to a myriad of physical issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, increased heart attack risk, depression, tiredness, joint point, and the list can go on and on. These bloggers all claim that it is not healthy to accept obesity.
Benefits of the HAES Movement:
As for me, I guess I can see both sides of the argument. I’ve been through the mental anguish of trying—and failing time and time again—to diet and lose weight. There is nothing more disheartening, frustrating, and depressing than trying your hardest to lose weight and continuing to fail, despite your best efforts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “Screw it, I can’t do this; I should just accept myself the way that I am.” I think that if we learned more self-acceptance, I think that a lot of medical issues would disappear as well. While I think that obesity really does lead to serious medical problems (as listed above), I also think that many obesity-related problems are psychosomatic: I hate being fat, therefore I am depressed. I’m depressed, so I’m tired all the time. If you embraced yourself and said, “I am okay just being ME” without need to change yourself constantly, I think the depression would evaporate, and consequently the tiredness (and stress, maybe even the high blood pressure) would also go away. (Read more about Compassion and Understanding in an overweight world.)
Furthermore, I think that a lot of the pressure to be thin is created by social pressure. It’s not you and me that want us to be thin, but the outside media that push anorexic models (or big, beefy, muscly men) on the cover of magazines, with encouragement of how to diet, dress, and live life just like them. These physiques are impossible for most individuals to achieve, even at “perfect” weights. I can definitely see the benefit of accepting our bodies as they are, rather than striving for a physique that is impossible to achieve.
I am a huge proponent of finding your own “calorie setpoint,” which is the number of calories you need to sustain your body. I believe that this number varies wildly from individual to individual—I do not believe it is possible to rely on a generic doctor’s chart or generic BMR/RMR calculators because each person has a vastly different genetic makeup. Similarly, I don’t think it’s healthy to assume that every individual who has a BMI of 28 is overweight and therefore unhealthy. I definitely think that there’s something to be said about finding your own comfort zone. I know numerous women that are very comfortable—and look fantastic!—at a Size 14/200 pounds, while I looked unhealthfully overweight at that size. It is important for each individual to discover what works best their bodies and to use that as a guideline.
Downsides to the HAES movement
So while I can see the benefit of the HAES movement, I think it can also be harmful to us. Obesity is unhealthy for all the health reasons listed above. I am pretty sure that HAES refers to those who are only sort-of-kind-of-overweight, not the 600 or 700 hundred pound folks. But, HAES has enough ambiguity in its language that it implies that a 700 pound person should embrace their size and eat “intuitively.” Clearly this would be a terribly unhealthy way to live at that size, but again—the HAES movement doesn’t clarify this point. Granted, there’s a lot of grey area as to “how big is too big?” Doctors try to quantify this grey area by using BMI charts, and while I think that BMI charts can be faulty, they DO work as a guideline for the vast majority of people.
Furthermore, I think that the HAES movement excuses their behavior by placing blame on everyone else except for themselves and their own actions. Rather than saying, “I’m overweight because I eat too much” they say, “I’m overweight because I can’t live up to the standards in society.” You can blame genetics, medical problems, society’s standards, the way you were brought up, etc., but in the end it’s ultimately your fault that you are overweight. Whether you want to embrace or your size or lose weight, the first step needs to be stepping up and accepting your role in your size. Nobody made you the size you are at except for you. It’s been my experience that those that attempt to embrace their size do so at the expense of everyone/everything else that has made them the way that they are.
We are not victims of our own bodies. You may not understand how to control your body or understand the needs that it has, but we are not victims of our bodies. With proper learning and experimentation, we can gain control of our bodies and achieve the weight loss goals that we set out for ourselves.
What do you think about the HAES movement? Do you believe you should accept yourself at any size, or should you stick with the battle of weight loss until you have achieved a medically-approved healthy body?
by Christine on August 12th, 2010
I’ve already talked about my journey climbing to the top of the volcano, Mount Fuji. That happened on my second trip to Japan, when I was in college. When I was in high school, I went to Japan for the first time. I befriended an exchange student in my high school who was from Nara. She said to me one day, “You should come home with me for the summer.” I was 16 years old and live in the cornfields in Illinois. I thought, “Fat chance!”
But..nothing ventured, nothing gained. That night I asked my parents if I could go home with Aiko for the summer, and they looked at themselves, shrugged their shoulders, and said, “Sure, why not?”
Off I went to Japan for four weeks, for the entire month of July. In Japan, I think that’s the middle of the hot/rainy season. I remember it being hotter than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It was hot and wet, the kind of humidity that hangs on you and doesn’t let go. I was overweight, which means I was more suceptible to the heat than a thinner person, and it was really uncomfortable. I think I set records in Japan for how much a person can sweat.
Going to a foreign country as a 16 year old girl was, in some ways, easier than I ever expected, and in some ways, harder than I ever expected. It was easy because I grew up in a family (my mother’s) that spoke Russian. I don’t speak Russian except for some basic words and phrases, and it didn’t phase me much to be around people jibber-jabbering in a language I don’t understand. It was like an ordinary Saturday afternoon at my house. If I needed to convey any information, it came completely natural to me to use body language or hand movements. I never felt a struggle to communicate with the people around me, even though I didn’t speak a word of Japanese.
In some ways, the trip was harder than I imagined. I stayed with Aiko’s family, who were wonderful people. However, the moment we set foot on Japanese soil, Aiko decided to stop translating. She told me, “I’m on vacation. I’m taking it easy.” I had expected more support from her, but because of my background, I didn’t find it too hard when she turned off the communication with me entirely.
Aiko’s parents (especially her mom, Micky) were wonderful and took me to see many of Japan’s beautiful sights. Micky spoke very limited English, but did her best to explain to me where we were and what we were doing. She was eager to try to speak English with me, even though it had been more than 20 years since she had practiced her language skills.
One day she motioned to me to get dressed and get in the car. “Car trip,” she informed me, moving her hands like she was gripping a steering wheel.
Japanese cars are so cool. Even in 1994, which was the year I stayed with Aiko and her family, the cars were so much more advanced than the USA’s! Their Mercedes had a build-in refrigerator in the back seat of the car, located between the two backseat car speakers. That way you could get fresh fish and produce and put it in the refrigerator and not worry about the food spoiling in the oppressive heat. Brilliant idea! One day we went to the market and bought fresh shrimp. The shrimp were still alive, and were wiggling around in their plastic bag! Micky put them in the back seat refrigerator. They made the fridge lid go “thump thump thump!” the whole way home. I kept turning around backwards, wondering when the shrimps were going to leap out and land on my head!
This day we put some water in the fridge and headed out on the road. It was a longer drive than usual. I couldn’t read the signs; I couldn’t speak the language. I had no idea where we were going.
We ended up at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. It was 1994, and unbenonced to me (I’ve never been very good with dates), it was the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing. I only realized this fact as we walked in the doors, and the signs told me about the anniversary.
I never felt more out of place, more humiliated, more utterly American in my entire life. The moment I walked through the door, I felt all the beautiful slanted eyes staring at me, staring at my white skin and blue eyes and overweightedness that clearly identified me as American. I fidgeted. I watched for the exits. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get attacked for merely being there, on the 50th anniversary of the USA’s slaughter of millions of Japanese citizens.
Visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, for multiple reasons. The biggest reason is because my grandparents on my mother’s side — both Russian — were concentration camp survivors. Born in Russia, both grandparents were put into not one, but two concentration camps. They escaped from both of them and lived a life trying to avoid capture from the Nazis. My mother was born in a converted concentration camp (after the war these places were called “displacement camps”) in Germany, for 10 years until they were able to come to the country. I am a first-generation American, but I was raised hearing stories about my small family, where they came from, the horrors they faced during the war.
That day, looking at the photos lining the wall, there was so much horror and anger and violence. I teared up, my vision blurred. In every photo I kept seeing my grandmother’s face looking back at me. It didn’t matter that it was a different country, different people. They were human — they didn’t deserve what happened to them. My grandmother was there, in every photo. All of those faces were someone’s mother, father, uncle, brother, grandmother. The room started to spin, and I felt sick to my stomach.
I went outside to sit on the bench, in the 100 degree humid weather. It was a beautiful outdoor area, with a beautiful view of the temple post that had been halfway destroyed by the bomb 50 years prior (standing on one leg of the post). The area was surrounded by trillions of multi-colored paper cranes, a symbol of peace, hope, and love. (If you don’t know about the history of “A thousand cranes,” you can start by reading here.)
I put my head in my hands and cried. I cried for my family. I cried for all the families that were hurt by the bomb. I cried for being American, for being a part of such a horrifying history.
As I sat there, a little old Japanese lady came up to me and made herself at home next to me on my bench. She was probably my grandmother’s age, not quite five feet tall, with a crooked back. She had a lifetime of wrinkles on her beautiful face. She sat down next to me and held my hand as I sat sobbing. She sat patiently with me until I caught my breath, then she looked into my eyes. Speaking in very broken English she pointed to me.
“Peace starts here. Today. With me. With you.”
She reminded me so much of my grandmother. When I was younger and my grandmother told me stories about the War, I was always astounded when she said, “The German people are the kindest, most wonderful people I ever met.”
“How can that be, Grandma?” I would ask her. “They put you in the prison. They killed your family. They tried to kill you.”
She would shake her head and say firmly, “NO. It was a poltician’s war. When I needed a place to sleep, the Germans gave me a bed. When I was hungry, the Germans gave me food. When I was lost, the Germans gave me love. The killers, those were politicians. The people, they are family.”
The Japanese lady holding my hand clearly shared the same ideology as my grandmother. I know this, even though we did not share the same language and could not speak to one another.
Love and compassion is powerful enough to transcend all cultures. All religion. All geographies. All prejudice. All you have to do is open your heart and let the love come through.
Peace does indeed start today, and it starts right here, today, between me and you.
by Christine on August 6th, 2010
filed under Christine's Life Updates
Well, my camera is, anyway. My nice, new camera! Same model, different color. It’s a Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, this time in cherry red. That’s-sa niiiice! The minute I got home last night I busted that bad boy out of its box, popped in my old SD card and battery, and gave it the good old thumbs up!
(Then I looked at the picture and said, “Jesus! Look at how skinny my face and arms look! But holy crap look at those stretch marks on the arm! Yeah I cropped that out of this picture. That’s another post for another day.)
Yesterday I had the case of the non-appetite. That’s one of those recent phenomena that I’ve never really experience prior to weight loss surgery. Non-appetite? WTF does that even mean? Before, I’d eat a horse, just because I could. Now…I’m like, “Food? Meh.” I had my usual almonds for breakfast, nothing for a snack (strange), then heated up my usual soup for lunch. Except my appetite completely left me, so I just sipped on the broth and threw the “meat” of the soup away! No snack. Dinner at my friend’s house, and I didn’t even feel like eating anything (but knew I had to), so we just munched on some leftovers. I forced myself to eat half a grilled pork chop and a little bit of rice. I threw some salt on the rice (I didn’t want any sauce of any kind) and today my fingers are all bloated up. No wonder, Sherlock.
This morning the scale was 138.0. So close to a new low! Provided that I don’t blow it in NYC this weekend, I feel confident that I’ll see 137 next week. Since I was about 175 or so, my weight has been coming off in chunks. I’ll get 2-3 weeks of a plateau, and then my body will drop 2-3 pounds in one day. That drop has been slowing down, too, to only 1 pound every 2 weeks, but that’s okay. I’m close to my goal, I’m still doing well, and I’m still seeing a drop. I’ll take it!
This morning I thought my appetite was back with a vengeance! I had 1 cup of cheerios that I devoured, but when I tried to drink the leftover milk, I nearly barfed on myself. Fickle tummy today, eh?
I had no workout this week, can you believe it? This weekend I plan on getting a LOT of walking in, in NYC. Then, next week is a much slower (aka: not busy) week THANK GOD!! I’ll have plenty of time to get gymming in. S’all good. Heavens knows that I need a few calm days to just kick back and relax a bit!
This week in blogland, there’s all kind of “scuttlebutt” (great word, Allan) going on about the proper way to lose weight, people getting all up in shit about people’s diets and exercise and stuff. My general thought is this: People come to the decision to lose weight at different points in their life. Some people are wholly committed, right away. Others approach it a little more trepidatiously. Some people are totally knowledgeable about how weight loss works; others are utterly clueless and need to do some educating in the process. The point is: when I read blogs about people that are doing stuff that I know won’t help them achieve their goals, I just chalk it up to the fact that they are at a different point in their process than me, or are seeking a different way to lose weight than me. There’s not one way to lose weight. There are many paths that can get you there, and I’m not going to say that my path is the best way, fastest way, or only way to get there. My path has worked for me, and for that I’m entirely grateful! Furthermore, I eat crap foods periodically. I know I do. I don’t like that I’m weak-willed and have emotional breakdowns, but I’m learning. I’m getting better. This is a process for me, too. Either way, I’m not about to cast stones at anyone else out there and yell at them for making a dumb decision because, if we didn’t make mistakes, we wouldn’t learn quite so comprehensively as we would without the mistakes.
That’s a little bit rambling, and perhaps a little vague too (sorry about that). I just wanted to say: I hope that I approach all of you and all of your blogs with an open heart, an open mind, and with compassion. If there’s any way that I can help you, please just ask. I don’t have all the answers, and there are certainly more educated people than me out there that know about weight loss. But don’t hesitate to stop by and ask a question, ask for support, whatever. I know that we’re all different people, with different personalities, at different stages in this whole weight-loss “game.” ‘Tis okay because I love reading about your own journeys and explorations. That’s how I learn — from reading about your experiences, too. I love you guys!