We may or may not admit it, but we tend to judge people based on their appearance, particularly their body weight/size. Well, there is nothing in any appearance that should be used singularly to determine one’s health.
Back in 1975, I began developing a short, two-credit class about obesity. It was held on summer weekends at a camp that Northern Michigan University owned at the time. The paradigm I developed and taught turned out to be embarrassingly erroneous. Admittedly, I had fallen into the misperception that “if one is fat, everything is wrong about that one.”
A common bias that exists is to judge the entire personality of another human by their body weight, pretending we are simply worried about their health. Worse is the agonizing psychological pain that the overweight person must endure, believing it is all their fault. Admittedly, this is practiced far more fiercely against females than it is against males.
Fast forward to 1978, when I was attending a conference on the subject of obesity and eating disorders. One day, I wandered inside a room where the presenter’s talk convinced me that I had been wrong for so long. Her presentation stopped me dead in my tracks. I felt like I was perceiving the world through a new pair of soul lenses.
She was introducing a brand-new concept—that of “Health at Every Size,” a term later trademarked by the Association for Size Diversity and Health in 2003. Health at Every Size (HAES) opposes the idea that a person’s body weight and size is an accurate, full-picture representation of their health status. Naturally, I formed the NMU student organization “Good Health for All Sizes.” Yup, got the T-shirt to prove it! The concept rests on an enlightened assumption: A person’s health is much more nuanced than one single calculation.
Because we all have an internalized weight bias (applying negative stereotypes to ourselves and/or others),….
….ask yourself what “kind” of images of people you see in ads, on billboards, and in most of our films and series. Large folks are never portrayed as desirable. Yes, we have been doing better more recently. But how many people do you know who dismiss generous-size folks as far less than “okay”? Most of us believe that those who do not fit the “ideal” image have only themselves to blame because they must be lazy and gluttonous. Well, this might be true of some, but I assure you, not all. No wonder those with large sizes also adopt such a devastating belief! I was an obese child; I know.
Think of someone you know who has struggled with her/his weight all of their life, then ask yourself this question: Why is it that every time they starve themselves on a diet, they gain all the weight back plus a little more? Heaven knows, I tried to convince my sisters not to follow the unenlightened crowds, to no avail.
In my classes, or in any presentation to any group about this subject, I use a moment from the movie Gone with the Wind. When Scarlett went back to Tara, hungry and with no food in the mansion, she had to dig a potato from the ground. She swore “As God is my witness, I shall never be hungry again.” That is what our body tells us when we starve it. My stock answer when anyone asks me about a diet they want to follow to lose weight is this—“if you can live on it the rest of your life, go for it.”
So, if going on a diet is something we always do but it always fails us, or we fail it (96% of those who attempt to lose weight by “going on a diet” regain it, plus a few more pounds), consider a new possibility. The answer will not sound “conventional” to you, I am afraid. Try this to liberate your mind by considering a far more realistic paradigm to be healthy and yes, spunky. I have always asked my students to add to the list of health measurements one that I call “spunk.” Well, academically, it is called “activity.” It simply requires muscle movement, which the muscles were born to love. Seriously, when we are reasonably active, our muscles not only work, they work better, and they just love it! Science has shown that our muscles do not just move us around; they are also potent metabolic regulators on a cellular and sub-cellular level.
Moving our muscles need not be called exercise.
It’s okay if the word doesn’t frighten you. But if it does, just don’t call it anything. Moving need not be a chore and certainly oes not dictate a gym membership. My personal favorite now (or perhaps I should add, at my age), is walking. Yes, just walking. Ask those who walk. They not only feel alive, they have a special relationship with themselves (including their emotional/psychological/spiritual selves).
How about just dancing, even when no one is watching? It is much more fun when we act silly on purpose. And, how about finding some simple movements that you can do at home even while you are sitting if you need to? The idea of “use it or lose it” may apply very well here.
Finally, I would like to clarify that I am not advocating obesity if it is not a person’s normal state. Yes, it can be helpful to calculate Body Mass Index and waist size as a measurement of general health. But how we go about “fixing” it needs to become more enlightened than what has been typical so far.
Mohey Mowafy is a retired Northern Michigan University Professor. He graduated from the University Wisconsin (Graduate work at the Muscle Biology Institute and the Biochemistry Departments). He is married to Kristen Mowafy, and is the father of Adam Mowafy.
Excerpted from the Summer 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.