I counsel a lot of women with many digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, and hormonal imbalances. Underlying many of their health concerns, I’ve found, are hidden eating disorders and shame-based behaviors around how they nourish their bodies.
If food is medicine, which I do believe it can be, then the message that the public is getting at large is that they can poison themselves with one bite of a “forbidden” fruit.
As a result, I’ve been diving into learning more about the HAES movement (Health At Every Size).
Although I am still learning about the science of this approach, I do have clinical experience and direct observation of people of all different shapes and sizes eating the same amount of food with different results in weight regulation and health outcomes. Furthermore, I’ve seen how body size determined whether the same dietary behavior pattern was deemed acceptable or unacceptable.
Let me illustrate with an example.
Cousin Karen and Aunt Betty- The Size Decides the Response
You probably know the type…the “skin-and-bones” person that can’t gain a pound and devours every morsel of food that isn’t pinned down. Let’s call one of these “lucky ones” cousin Karen. She is not only gifted with a slim ideal body, but also applauded and envied for eating enormous quantities of food.
At the other end of the table is Aunt Betty. She is a chronic dieter who has will powered through several borderline starvation diets and keeps restricting more and more. She eyes Karen with curiosity and confusion as she stares at her salad, not able to lose a pound.
Some may say the difference is that Betty is going home to secretly eat while watching “The Real House Wives.” In the past I may have made the same error of judgement, now I feel it is highly unlikely the cause of aunt Betty’s body size. I will get into the science of that more in a future blog.
Furthermore, if “skin-and-bones” Karen were to go on a food plan of 1200 calories, like aunt Betty, many would be concerned.
Bottom line is this: Same behavior, different body types, different societal judgements.
If Aunt Betty was engaged in the same behavior as Karen, she would be scolded, not applauded.
If Karen was engaged in Betty’s behavior, she may be confronted with an eating disorder….
I tend to get the Betty’s in my practice.
Working with them reminds me every day that there are so many aspects to body size and health. For example, genetics plays a role on weight. If you want an alphabet-soup load of fun with the genetic polymorphisms involved, check out this article! There’s also environmental toxin influences, hormones, and more. I’ve explained many of the factors affecting weight here. Furthermore, underlying problems with nutrient depletion can occur in the obese, contributing to metabolic dysregulation.
Many of the same risk factors above occur in those who are “skinny fat.” These are individuals who are “metabolically obese normal weight.” In other words, they look fit and healthy, but aren’t. These individuals, because of their thinness, are not ostracized and penalized for their food choices.
This is why I’ve started to look into how our obsession for thinness is not only shaping our nation’s dietary industry, but also influencing medicine.
I have found that a lot of my clients have very disordered relationships with food and intense fear of doing something “wrong.” This is creating a fixation on food as harmful not a means of nourishment and health.
Many have heard of the placebo effect, but have you heard of the nocebo effect? According to a 2016 article in the Journal of the Society for the Advancement of Anaesthesia in Dentistry:
A growing body of evidence is emerging for a phenomenon known as the nocebo effect. This is when a person is conditioned to expect a negative response, or to anticipate negative effects from an experience. These findings highlight the importance of effective communication with patients and the influence that good anxiety and pain management control can have in improving treatment outcomes. The placebo effect has been widely researched, but new studies have shown that nocebo can have a greater effect than placebo. The nocebo effect is prevalent in interactions between patients and healthcare workers. Research has demonstrated that if a patient deems a healthcare professional not to understand or believe them, this can cause distress, and the physiological effect can reduce the prognosis of treatment. It has also been demonstrated that patients who are anxious or expect pain during a procedure, feel more pain because of this negative expectation.
Another concern I have with our preoccupation with food perfection is many eager and “compliant” clients will literally isolate themselves from social affairs or hide in shame during a family dinner with their fermented pickles and broccoli dish.
Being in community has many health benefits. It boosts oxytocin and makes us feel more at ease, while decreasing stress. Other research shows that connections have positive effects on cognition, health, and emotional well-being, as shown in these articles:
- Loneliness, depression and sociability in old age
- Social and Emotional Aging
- Social Engagement and Cognition
To the make this point more poignant, research recently stated that loneliness can be more hazardous to your health than obesity or smoking!
I’m afraid that in medicine and health’s attempt to “help” people get “healthier” we’ve perpetuated the very cycle we hoped to alleviate, by causing fear of food, distorted eating patterns, and body image issues.
In the upcoming articles, I will provide more examples of demonizing food choices for the general population and the science behind HAES.
New On My Homepage:
The Conclusion of Fennel Oil
In my first two posts on fennel oil, I discussed its many versatile actions. Last week, I highlighted its medicinal use across the continents and discussed the safety of ingesting essential oils. Here, I conclude my series with some of the factors to keep in mind when consuming essential oils, while explaining some specifics about fennel oil.
Thanks for the pictures Pixabay!