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Wanting to lose weight isn’t shameful.

By Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC

I’ve been hearing this recently:

People want to be able to talk about losing weight and not be shamed because of it.”

Yes. Agreed.

It is a misconception to believe that everyone comes to a weight-neutral practitioner or organization on-board with body acceptance. Our offices are full of people who feel they must speak in whispers about how, underneath all their liberal feminism, they really still want to lose weight.

In fact, many of our clients over the years ABSOLUTELY want body liberation for everyone else but hesitate when it comes to themselves (this body acceptance stuff doesn’t come easy). The truth is, most people we work with at Be Nourished want to lose XX pounds before they work on accepting their bodies.

“Good feminists” aren’t required to love their bodies. If you feel bad about not loving your body you are actually in a big feminist club. But it also doesn’t make weight loss the answer.

Practitioners who offer weight loss may not understand the necessity to heal relationship with food and body in order to create the conditions that make body acceptance possible. Once you heal that stuff, the concept of weight loss is way too tiny to fit all the radical self-care you will employ to honor all that you are.

But, if you are anticipating shame from the Body Pos/HAES/Fat Liberation movement for desiring weight loss, let’s talk.

Some folks believe there is a problem with the Body Pos, Fat Liberation and HAES movements—they are just going too far! Why are they so extreme? So prickily?  What’s the big deal if someone wants to lose a few pounds? Where truly is the liberation in this movement? Shouldn’t people have sovereignty over their own bodies, including wanting to lose weight?

If this has been your question then you have named what feels complicated to many about this movement. Some days I would rather not enter into this debate at all. These are tough conversations. I know folks are feeling alienated on both sides.

I do believe the shared desire for progress, safety, consent and liberation for people’s bodies requires us not to stop here but to go deeper and challenge ourselves in some of the places where we would like to rest and be comfortable. Frankly, for many, it is hard to believe that healing relationship with food and body will reap more rewards than the familiar hope for weight loss will. Weight is (inaccurately) implicated in almost all discomfort and disease in our bodies. Our understanding of what weight loss “cures” is shrouded in science that is steeped in weight bias. We have yet to untangle the sensation of feeling better when one loses weight from how we feel when weight stigma reduces.

Weight-inclusive approaches emphasize healing your relationship with food and body and reclaiming trust in a body that has been appropriated by diet and rape culture. This is a reason our approach moves away from weight loss language. Delineation is a must. The emphasis on healing relationship with food and body needs to be louder than the idea that losing a few pounds is an example of liberation.

The weight loss industry is what has made controlling the size of our bodies feel like a consistent and viable choice. This is an invented concept. These industries have created plans that do not work in the long term, and have made that your fault. Let’s take this a step further to assert that weight loss itself is not consistently and regularly accessible to those who “play their cards” right. Weight loss is an occasionally sustainable side effect of healing relationship with food and body for some people. Everything you have been told about what you should weigh is not scientific, true or accurate. The idea that weight loss is a choice is firmly imbedded in a dieting culture.

And, you still might feel bad because you really want to lose some weight? Why wouldn’t you given the culture we live in? Everything we’ve been taught about weight is inaccurate. Everything we’ve been taught about how much control we have over our size is also likely wrong. The dissonance this creates can certainly put us in touch with a feeling of shame. However, scapegoating Body Positivity, HAES and/or Fat Liberation discourse is not emotionally honest. Instead, name the shit storm of feelings that accompanies acknowledging that you have been duped by weight loss culture. Be frustrated by the way weight loss hope cyclically returns to your life and lets you down. Bang down the doors of all the “integrative weight loss approaches” and let them know they aren’t so different. Tell everyone to stop colluding with the part of your mind that believes that parts of you are unacceptable.

You do not have to agree on everything in the body liberation movement to be a part of it but if you are part of this movement, you must include all bodies. In order to include all bodies we must use language to question and denounce the levity we bring to weight loss conversations. Understand that living in a fat body in our society is significantly and consistently challenging and frequently harmful. When weight loss is casually laid on the table, weight bias continues and eating disorders persist. If your feminism is to be intersectional then know that our weight discussions have roots in racism, ableism, sizeism and a binary view of gender. If we tried to keep this light and easy it would only include white, cis-gendered, able-bodied women. We know this isn’t your fault or intention AND this isn’t light and easy no matter how you spin it. As with any other social justice issue, your stance has impact. And the middle path will not change the world.

So, how do you go forward and have this much needed conversation about weight?  Find someone who is willing to listen deeply and de-center their own expertise and personal experience when they are with you. Tell them the whole story.  Ask that person to gently, lovingly, and skillfully challenge your comfort zone.   Let your body story remain complex – not easily solved with a plan to make you smaller.  Ambivalence and fear will likely be along for the ride when you speak your truth.  Don’t let them act as stop signs.

Comments

  1. Thank you for writing about this. The concept (quietly thinking about losing weight at times with shame) while working on my recovery and embracing the Body Positivity movement has been something I struggle with. Often I think, “I will not be recovered if I still have thoughts of weight loss.” But is that really true? I wonder….There is a lot of room for gray in this world and this is may be one more area.

  2. I needed this today.

    I had a very long, drawn out, conversation with body positive people who include weight loss and weight loss surgery as an option.

    They made me feel small (in my big body) when I started stating that weight loss surgery just perpetuates the idea that we need to be smaller.

    Many said I wasn’t being body positive, because “everyone had a right to their bodies”‘. I never disputed that. I disputed weight loss surgery as a viable option for someone who was big and had a healthy stomach.

    The response was “if she can’t move and play with her kids, then weight loss should be ok”. My response…We need to redefine what movement and playing with our kids looks like.

    I feel really alone in using my voice, and I’m combatted a lot for my views. I’m told that I’m not body accepting, unless it’s a fat body. That’s not my truth, but I’m pushed into a corner by many who still believe weight loss is a viable option for people who want/need it.

    It is hard being the only one who is spreading the message. I’m big and it triggers me, a lot. I feel the need to hide and go away, when I say something that is so far off from diet culture that we live in.

    Thank you for what you’re doing! I feel so fortunate to read your posts.

    • Hi Laura-
      I really appreciate that you took the time to comment. This work is still emerging and it’s hard to feel alone and also have the adequate language to dismantle the dominant paradigm. Thank you for your work.
      Hilary

  3. Yes, yes, and yes! I agree with everything here. Thank you for putting it out so eloquently. It’s very difficult to help people sit with the two opposing forces but as complex human beings with complex brains and interactions and wavering thoughts, it’s not only necessary that we hold the space for the two opposing views, but that we normalize it and accept it all. Body acceptance includes accepting the brain and the thoughts that come with it with all it’s complexities and disillusionment.

  4. Hi There, I am so grateful for this article and yet still hopeful for more validation in ways but still am contemplating the concept. I am a therapist and went to a training for HEAS one week before my bariatric surgery. I also noticed I was the heaviest person in the room and a few comments did come up about HEAS not being aligned with surgery. I am so passionate about the culture’s injurious attitudes toward women and weight. At the same time, I have not been able to overcome that love and limitations in society do feel limiting because of my weight (in my social context) It is hard to hold this as my truth in the world and to feel acceptance in myself while knowing that the culture will not be able to change as I change. The world will not be more loving or accepting of me, even if I can do this. Those injuries will still occur to myself and to my clients. This is one thing that I have not found any answer from either side because both movements seem to create hostilities that enrage the culture further. So, I wonder who I can be as a provider to clients who are in the middle of the culture war? People who are so well-informed from my medical teams to the HEAS movements, but could not understand the visceral need to have less weight in order to accept that love is more available in the world. Again, I have met people of size that do not feel this way. Some, including myself, do and have had this feeling all of their lives and maybe the safest place in the culture we live in is to play by those rules in some form while being supported by groups like yours that can accept the complexity of it all. Thank you for listening and I would love to have any direction into any therapist or providers that specialize in this work from a framework in the Seattle area.

  5. It’s complicated, I agree. Any healing starts with acceptance and self-love. On that, I also agree. However … I do not agree that all desires to carry less excess weight (and yes, I am implying a norm, but I will get to that in a moment) are only socially constructed. I carry a lot of excess fat. I know this because my body doesn’t work as well as it did when I didn’t. My midsection fat helps push my body out of alignment because my arms can’t hang down fully. My visceral fat leads my belly to stick far out enough that it gets cold (which, oddly enough, causes me migraines). My excess weight causes extra wear and tear on my knees, which act up. I dramatically notice the difference between being over and under a certain weight (which happens to be already in the “morbidly obese” category, but is still a fixed number). So … yes, there are terrible problems with most of us think we “should weigh,” that are created by false science and a body-shaming and anti-woman culture (that also affects men, I should point out). However, the idea of health at any size (at least on its surface–I have not dug into any political agenda, I just read a book about it) says “listen to your body, learn to trust it, and learn to pay attention to its signals to find out what it needs.” My body keeps telling me it needs to be lighter and thinner, for the reasons mentioned above. Insulin resistance is also a real thing. And can often be fixed with exercise and healthy eating regardless of how much one ways … which gets back to the point I want to make about “health at any size.” Focus on being healthy–eating lightly enough so you are not overloading your food processing system, exercising (for health if the exercise itself never brings you delight or joy or calm), and practicing consistent self-care in the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual realms, pay off immediately, whether or not weight loss results. Just as some people fight their bodies to stay think, some people fight their bodies to stay fat. I have been guilty of it millions of times. Each of our bodies does have a preferred operational weight. It may be much larger and heavier than what the BMI and insurance charts claim, but it is there. And getting to know and love each of our own bodies enough to find it, or at least experience where we stand in relation to it, is a powerful and loving act that should not be rejected out of hand in the name of “resisting” outside opinion. What does your body tell you? What is it asking for? Are you loving it in how you treat it? If your body were your pet, would you love it enough to take it for a walk every day? (or whatever exercise you are capable of if walking is not possible)

  6. Wow, Hilary what a powerful article. I am learning more and more from you, your writing how much knowledge you hold and perhaps wonder how many people you must have met, must have listened to and ready their stories that give me a sense that without a doubt this is the way forward and talk about David and Golaith. I am so grateful that you and Dana have each other and Be Nourished that I am a tiny stone and we are getting many. So powerful for me to come back to when I get a bit lost. Thank you. xx