5 Truths I've Learned About Health, Wellness and Bodies
TW: Discusses health, body image, weight, and other body-related topics.
I wish I could go back in time and share with my younger self all the things I now know and am still learning. I’d go back to that moment when I was an elementary age kid sitting in a nutritionist’s office learning that my only dessert should be a low-fat vanilla wafer. Or all those pool parties where I was either too scared to wear my bathing suit or covered up with a t-shirt. I’d tell her that being fat is not the worst thing she can be and to go live your life my darling.
These past several years have truly been transformative for me in how I view health, wellness and my body. I’m thankful for books and resources like The Body Is Not An Apology, The Fuck It Diet, Health At Every Size, and so many women who have been teachers for me in this space and conversation. So, I’m sharing these 5 truths that I’ve learned from studying and absorbing all that I could over these past few years. I hope these will resonate with you as well and maybe help in some way to bring you more peace, joy and acceptance.
I do not owe anyone, including myself, health. This was something I was deeply struggling with last year, and, to be honest, continue to struggle with because of having chronic back pain. I’ve been so fixated on healing myself and thinking “I’m too young to have these problems” because I felt like I owed health to myself and the world around me. I felt, and still feel, some shame with having limited mobility, endurance and strength from suffering from back conditions that are outside of my control. But when I’m being too hard on myself, I remember this truth. I do not have to be healthy to be whole. I do not have to be healthy to be worthy. Health is a subjective construct that is beyond our control. We cannot choose our genetics. We cannot choose how our body forms and develops internally. The systems of health, diet culture and wellness industries try to trick us into thinking otherwise. Don’t be tricked. Health is not what we owe the world to exist in it.
We are all supposed to look different. I know this may sound elementary, but we obviously don’t all believe this or else the diet industry wouldn’t be making billions of dollars a year. What do I mean by that? Well, diet culture tells us that if we all “eat right” and “exercise” that we should all be thin, fit and healthy. It’s based on the notion that if we were to all eat the same things and do the same exercises, that we would all achieve the same results. That’s obviously a huge lie, but we all still fall for it. No matter how much I change the way I eat and move my body, I will still be fat. I’m genetically dispositioned to be fat. I have larger hips, carry more fat on my body, and internal factors that affect my weight like hormone imbalances. There are so many factors that affect how our bodies look and feel than just food and exercise. And instead of believing that we should all shrink ourselves to some sort of thin ideal, we should instead value and love body diversity because it’s the natural order of things. We should not all look the same.
Trust and listen to your body. Being a fat person my whole life, it was ingrained in me to not trust my body because my lack of discipline, impulses and cravings were why I was fat. When in actuality, depriving myself of the things I was craving or wanted is what led to feeling out of control around food. The Fuck It Diet so brilliantly explains why dieting is just sending our brains into its biological state of starvation, so in response, we crave more food. Our bodies are correcting and healing itself because it knows better. Our bodies will always find balance if we allow it too. So you are not out of control, undisciplined or addicted to food. Your body just needs food. Once you allow your body to eat, fill full and train your brain to realize you’re not starving your body, you’ll find balance. This can often be a hard truth because letting go of dieting means weight gain in many cases. Which leads me to my next truth.
Being fat is not the worst thing I can be in life. We are taught to fear weight gain. We’re taught to fear being fat. Why? Because there’s a $70+ billion dollar industry that needs you to be scared of it. Diet culture, the beauty industry and often the wellness sector depend on you feeling bad about yourself so that you spend money to fix who you are. Sonya Renee Taylor breaks all this down so beautifully in The Body Is Not An Apology to show how these systems and constructs are what keep us from radical self love. Think about it. What if we had no idea what “being fat” meant? There was no body ideal set, weight stigma, or beauty standard that we had any awareness of in our life. How beautiful would that be!? From an early age, we’re taught what fat is and that we should fear it, work our hardest to not be it, and to shame others who are. Friend, fat is normal and not the thing we should waste our lives focusing on. Go live in joy, happiness and do the damn thing, whatever that thing may be.
Weight and health are not the same thing. This was something I sort of already knew before really starting my body journey. But, it has become a deeper and more educated truth for me. I’ve always been fat, but other than my back, I’ve been fairly health. All my health indicators have been good at check ups, and one doctor even asked if I ran marathons because of my resting heart rate. A very laughable moment considering I do not run at all. Health will look different for each person, and it is subjective. Working in healthcare has also been a huge eye-opener for me. The way healthcare works and what their determinants are for what is considered healthy really takes no consideration of individualism. What I mean by that is the “normal range” you’re compared to at the doctor’s office may not be what is your normal range. If all the rhetoric about weight being “bad for your health” were true, every person considered over weight would have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. And we know this is not true. You can be thin and healthy. You can be thin and unhealthy. You can be fat and healthy. You can be fat and unhealthy. But just remember, health is totally subjective, and you don’t owe it to anyone.
So, those are some truths I’ve learned and hold onto when struggling with my body image or being bombarded with diet culture. They’ve really helped me have an eye-opening experience to why I felt so bad about myself for far too long when I didn’t need to. Knowing that the lies I told myself were part of a money-making and fear-mongering scheme freed me. I hope these truths are helpful, and of course, everyone is at a different place with their body journey. If you’re new to these concepts, they will seem radical. If you’re well-seasoned with them, they may feel familiar and basic to your own core truths. Wherever you may be on your journey, know that you are whole just as you are.