Written by: Vanessa Formato
The New Year can is a time for celebration for many, but for many more it is a time of intense anxiety. In the final days of each December, people contemplate what they will strive to accomplish in the upcoming year, and for millions of women the goals center on losing weight. But is this obsession with appearance damaging? There is a growing movement pushing back against diet resolutions, and the charge is being led by the Fatosphere, a tight-knit network of Fat Acceptance bloggers and activists.
Big Fat Blog promoted a new kind of weight resolution on New Year’s Eve, 2011. The blog encouraged readers to, instead of taking up a weight loss-based resolution, participate in a “ReVolution” of self-love and healthy living. The website directed readers to another blog that features supplemental reading suggestions, links to plus-size fashion blogs and “Action Items:” tasks that participants can perform to spread their message. Actions include changing one’s Facebook profile picture to reflect positive sentiments about one’s body and circulating a press release by Marilyn Wann, author of “FAT!SO?”
“Let’s kick off the New Year… by Ditching Dieting and move toward eating ‘happily ever after,’” wrote Sharon Haywood on acclaimed body image blog Adios, Barbie. Calls to action on my blogs included the promotion of the Health at Every Size lifestyle.
Health at Every Size (HAES) is an increasingly popular approach to health and weight management that emphasizes healthy habits, like eating intuitively and engaging in pleasurable physical activity, over actively attempting to lose weight. Essential tenets of HAES include the beliefs that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that happiness and self-love play a large role in the ability to treat those bodies properly. Fat Acceptance activists have embraced the holistic philosophy as a way to combat the misconception that weight and health are inextricably linked. Sometimes the HAES approach will result in losing weight and something it won’t, but what it will do is lead to a healthier lifestyle.
“We need to get the HAES message out there to counteract the torrent of disinformation being put out there by a 60 billion dollar per annum industry which is BUILT upon the knowledge that diets don’t work,” said AndyJo of Big Fat Blog in her call to arms.
There are increasingly many studies that suggest that diets are fundamentally ineffectual, as many dieters would guess. Yo-yo dieting—in which a person loses weight and subsequently gains it back, perhaps plus a number of pounds— may be more of a biological inevitability than it was once thought. In addition, science is casting doubt upon the idea that being “overweight” alone negatively impacts health. Instead, lifestyle factors are more important.
Pushback against the diet industry from today’s adults could spell a friendlier future for young people growing up in an image-obsessed culture. The stigmatization of fat does more harm than good for children according to leading psychologists and weight experts like Dr. Rebecca Puhl and Paul Ernsberger, a nutrition professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine in Cleveland.
“To declare we’re going to eliminate childhood obesity – that’s actually a very stigmatizing thing to say,” Ernsberger told the Seattle Times. “The overweight child hears that and thinks, ‘They wish I wasn’t here.’”
Parents of children introduced to a healthy eating program in a Canadian school found that some children quickly began displaying behavior indicative of eating disorders, such as sneaking food.
“In an effort to get kids to eat healthier, the school was inadvertently sending some very dangerous messages that were resulting in very dangerous behaviors,” wrote blogger Fitvsfiction of the incidents. “I began to hear from several parents who were noticing changes in how their kids were behaving around food and how stressful mealtimes were becoming. Where dinner used to be a time for families to catch up on events of the day, they were now sources of stress and fear over every calorie and fat gram being ingested.”
According statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association, 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of becoming fat, while 42 percent of first through third grade children say that they wish that they were thinner. More than half (51 percent) of nine- and 10-year-old girls say that they feel better about themselves when they are on diets.
When people resist the pressure to make another weight loss resolution this year, they are sending crucial messages to both their peers and the next generation, and this idea gets at the heart of the Fatosphere’s intent with their revolution. If more people resolved to love their bodies– to treat those bodies well– instead of just lose weight, we might not only be healthier, but happier, too.