Health not weight
We live in a diet culture that can be harmful to our body image. Messaging around health and weight is especially narrow, often endorsing thin and muscular body ideals that may or may not be realistic for your unique body.
Messaging, sadly, doesn’t allow for diversity in body size and incorrectly tells us that a higher body weight is a problem that needs to be fixed with restrictive and rigid diets and exercise regimes. Your body is not wrong and is not a problem to be fixed.
We’re here to tell you that health can exist on a spectrum of body sizes, which will vary with time and circumstance for every individual.
Over a million Australians are currently experiencing an eating disorder, and less than a quarter are getting treatment or support. We’re here to change that.
What does the evidence say about health and weight?
Studies tell us that weight centric approaches to health aren’t helpful. In fact, addressing weight rather than overall health for people of higher weight can intensify:
- Body dissatisfaction
- Feelings of shame
- A person’s risk to developing disordered eating or an eating disorder
- A person’s risk to maintaining an active relationship with disordered eating or an eating disorder
- A person’s risk to relapsing from disordered eating or an eating disorder
Health and wellbeing are multi-faceted and determined by so much more than your body weight. A person’s health, eating and exercise behaviours should not be assumed based on their size or appearance.
While having a higher body weight may place a person at risk of experiencing a range of metabolic health problems, it’s also important to note that if a person is engaged in healthy and balanced behaviours, they can be healthy in a larger body.
Conversely, it should not be assumed that a person of a lower body weight is healthy. In fact, for someone with an eating disorder the very opposite may be true and they can be at real risk of physical and mental health implications.
Why is weight stigma so detrimental?
Weight stigma, discrimination, weight-based bullying and teasing can have a sometimes life-long negative impact on a person’s mental health, their body image and also the relationship they have with food and exercise. Weight stigma is also a real barrier to many people seeking support.
What does a healthy relationship with eating and exercise look like?
How you feel about eating and exercise are influenced by many things and begin developing in early childhood, with parental influence the strongest influence during these formative years.
As people grow, these attitudes and behaviours are then influenced by many other environmental factors, such as who you spend time with and the media you might consume.
Establishing a healthy relationship to eating and exercise is a powerful protective factor against disordered eating behaviours. It also supports a range of positive mental and physical health benefits, including:
- Feeling comfortable in your body, most of the time
- Being flexible with food choices and choosing foods for nourishment and enjoyment
- Eating intuitively by listening and responding to your body’s cues around satiety, hunger and what it needs in that moment
- Eating mindfully by separating eating from other activities, eating slowly and using the senses so as to be aware during the eating experience
- Participating consistently in healthy physical movement and non-competitive sports for physical and mental health gains, as well as fun
- Allowing sufficient rest and recovery from training and exercise
- Making food and activity choices that are not driven by emotions, weight, shape or build
- For those who are involved in a competitive or high-level sport, they will train, fuel and rest as scheduled and take the advice of their coaching and support staff when it comes to performance goals
If you want to encourage a positive eating and healthy activity attitude, we recommend:
- Encouraging eating and exercise behaviours for health gains, instead of weight or shape change
- Adopting zero tolerance for weight-based bullying and teasing – in all settings, across all ages
- Challenging messaging and language that reinforces weight stigma and diet culture
- Ensuring health information comes from a balanced, reputable and evidence-based source
- Discouraging restrictive or fad dieting as they are a significant risk factor for eating disorders
- Using positive and morally neutral language when describing foods (i.e. sometimes, everyday)
- Encouraging a flexible approach to eating and movement