Health at Every Size and Body Respect—a Discussion with Dr. Linda Bacon
By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD
Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian
Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
Photo Credit: Michael Newton via Compfight cc
With the ever-present discussion of the “childhood obesity epidemic,” I asked Dr. Linda Bacon[i], an internationally recognized authority on topics related to nutrition, weight, and health metabolism, to describe exactly how best to approach weight concerns among parents and practitioners alike. Dr. Bacon proposes a major paradigm shift from conventional weight management practices to what is now referred to as “Health at Every Size.”
According to Dr. Bacon, the Health at Every Size message starts from respect.
She summarized it by saying, “This respect is for our own personal lived experiences as well as those of our children, as there is no objective truth to what we are ‘supposed’ to eat or ‘how’ to eat it. What is going to work best for our bodies can be learned by developing a critical awareness of our own bodily sensations [emphasis added].”
She offered the following examples of this concept: “‘Eat your fruits and vegetables because they are ‘good for you,’ and stay away from junk foods’ is a parenting message that takes the child’s inner body trust and awareness away from him/her. Instead, allow your child to discover the positive benefits of added fiber (from fruits and veggies) such as easier digestion.”
Another common example of body respect that she discussed with me is insisting that your child or teen eat breakfast. “With body respect,” Bacon says, “we allow our children to discover on their own what the consequences of missed breakfasts are. They may notice difficulty concentrating in school and have low energy. Rather than nagging, we can allow our children to keep checking in with their bodies and connect eating with improved energy.”Photo Credit: John-Morgan via Compfight cc
What Does “Healthy Weight” Actually Mean?
“‘Healthy weight’ means different things to different people,” according to Bacon. “There is natural weight diversity across the spectrum.” According to Dr. Bacon’s most recent book, Body Respect, research shows that trying to control or manage weight (through caloric restriction or dieting), may work in the short term but more often results in rebound weight gain. Our bodies can undermine efforts at weight control because the body is enormously successful at regulating its weight. It’s not something we need to “work at”—in fact, this “control” approach ends up being counterproductive.
She explained that diets affect self-esteem as we eventually blame ourselves for not being able to maintain a restrictive diet or not losing weight. Her “Health at Every Size” philosophy is based on the idea that a better way to reach a good state of health is to manage behaviors that favor health, for example, good self-care, meaning learning to eat according to hunger and fullness cues, as well as satisfaction, choosing physical activities that are pleasurable, managing our levels of stress, and getting enough sleep. With better self-care, our bodies are more likely to stabilize at their own natural healthy weight. Bacon stated, “often the parents with the best of intentions blame themselves when things go wrong. This helps no one. Recognize that you can’t control your kids—you can only practice and model good self-care for yourself, so you can in turn support your child.”
Help for Big Kids
When asked how best to help bigger kids, Dr. Bacon explained that “weight tells us little about kids’ health or health habits, but it does tell us a lot about how that kid will get treated in the world. The best way to help kids is provide support: let them know that the problem is in society, not their bodies. The perpetual stereotyping of fatness affects children of all sizes with fat children as the direct targets. When fatter kids are bullied, and many of them are, there may be nobody in their lives telling them that the bully is wrong and that everyone everywhere is loveable just as they are. It takes a strong sense of self-worth to feel safe in your skin in a world where some bodies are dubbed ‘good and acceptable’ and others are dubbed ‘bad and unacceptable’.”
She summarized her overall philosophy: “We need to make this a world where all bodies are good bodies, where children can feel good about themselves in their own unique and precious bodies in all of their glorious diversity. We have the opportunity to stop this self/body hatred and to help kids learn to respect and celebrate body diversity.”
[i] Dr. Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight and Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, is changing lives through her teaching, research, writing, public speaking, and the transformative “Passing the Message On” multi-day Health at Every Size® (HAES) workshops. Dr. Bacon combines academic expertise and compassionate clinical experience to bring together scientific research and practical application. She shifts the focus from weight to well-being, giving doctors, dietitians, therapists, and people of all shapes the tools for achieving better fitness, health, and even happiness—all without dieting.