OH. MY. If you are a member of the general public reading this you probably won’t understand my joy. If you are a health professional interested in a non-diet approach to life, then you just might.
I’m running a series of interviews with a range of folk from all fields – nutritionists, the media, psychologists and the food industry. All in the name of hearing their thoughts on diets – Why they (diets) don’t work and what might be kinder more happier ways of living.
I am continually blown away by the support interviewees have given. As many busy people know, having the time to do something voluntarily (just for a good cause) is extremely difficult – even if it is something you are passionate about. Last time around it was Australian food icon Stephanie Alexander who answered my questions. This time it is Dr Linda Bacon.
Before I get to Dr Bacon’s interview I need to give you more background info
Having trained as a Dietitian, I was “taught”, measurements (weight, height, blood results etc) are central to our assessment and in the interests of transparency I have helped many many people lose weight with as balanced dietary approach as possible. To be clear, nothing overtly strict or fad diet-ish. Just common sense balanced eating. If friends had to describe my eating I’d say I’d be known as “an all in moderation” kind of person. Although I have helped a lot of people to lose weight short term , I don’t have “success” figures for these people long term. If I hazarded a guess, I’d say most have regained the weight after a year or two.
IMPORTANTLY (AND IT MIGHT SURPRISE YOU TO KNOW) – Over the past 15 years I have practised, I never ever once felt comfortable measuring a patient or client’s body weight. Whenever people (clients or just people I know) have discussed diets for weight loss I have always had a “deep down” feeling that it wasn’t important and that we should be focusing on other health aspects related to nutrition. But you know “I was a Dietitian”, helping people to lose weight was part of it (well so I thought). So I kept going with this weight loss caper as part of my work. After all that’s what clients wanted and what “research” was telling us was important. The obesity rates were rising. Blah blah blah.
Over recent years I have shifted focus away from weight focused strategies. Instead I have gravitated towards health focused ones and the psychology of eating. In essence this approach has made me feel happier (and my clients too!). Watching the weight of the world be lifted off someone’s shoulders when they realise I don’t want to weigh them and when they hear the words…”let’s look at what else is going on in your life – what about how you are sleeping, your gut health?…” is much more rewarding to me.
And so this week brings me back to our VERY SPECIAL GUEST Dr Linda Bacon. Dr Bacon is someone I truly admire. She is leading the way on body respect and a shift away from weight as an indicator for good health. Hell. It’s so obvious. I’ve got no idea why we haven’t been doing this from the start!!!
Introducing Dr Linda Bacon, researcher, professor and author of Health at Every Size, and Body Respect.
Just to give you a tiny snapshot of Dr Bacon’s credentials I have taken a direct quote from her website:
….An internationally-recognised authority on topics related to nutrition, weight and health. A nutrition professor and researcher, she holds graduate degrees in physiology, psychology, and exercise metabolism, with a specialty in nutrition, has conducted federally funded studies on diet and health, and is well-published in top scientific journals. With Dr. Lucy Aphramor, she offers the powerful Passing the Message On HAES facilitators’ training workshop, helping people become change agents in three countries and around the U.S. Linda’s advocacy for Health at Every Size® has generated a large following on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, health and nutrition lists. Well known for her political and social commentary, Linda writes a regular column on the healthateverysizeblog and frequently guest posts elsewhere. Her first book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, called the “Bible” of the alternative health movement by Prevention Magazine and others, ranks consistently high in Amazon’s health titles, four years after first publication, and consistently garners laudatory reviews. Her recent Nutrition Journal article, co-authored with Lucy Aphramor, ranks as “most-highly accessed” and has been widely discussed. Bacon has a large fan following and is considered an icon in the alternative health and size acceptance communities. She is also a dynamic and compelling public speaker, consistently drawing large and enthusiastic crowds.
OK – that says it all. So let’s meet Dr Linda Bacon….
Was there one moment you decided you would work in nutrition – and more importantly develop your initial thoughts on the Health at Every Size ® Approach.
There was a deciding moment when I knew that I had to be a “translator” of weight science, and dedicate myself to education on these issues. It was a scary night in June of 1998 when twenty-nine million Americans went to bed with “normal” figures and woke up fat, which included a government prescription for weight loss. Of course, it wasn’t because people gained weight overnight. The U.S. had simply lowered obesity standards. I was a PhD candidate at the time, and my mentor was a member of the NIH Obesity Task Force which had written this recommendation. When I expressed my surprise at the standards being lowered, she encouraged me, as an academic exercise, to conduct a review and make recommendations as if I were sitting in her place on the task force. A careful review confirmed my suspicions: There was significant evidence in support of raising the standards, not lowering them. I presented my review to my mentor, who laughed and congratulated me on my insightful analysis. I asked the obvious question of why the NIH Obesity Task Force recommended lowering the standards in the absence of supporting data. I paraphrase her response: “We were pressured to make the standards conform to those already accepted by the World Health Organization.” In other words, this decision was made for political reasons, not because it was supported by science or for the betterment of public health.
Again and again, throughout my career, I’ve been hit hard with the understanding that politics and bias mar our ability to understand weight.
With three graduate degrees in different fields related to weight science, I’m in a unique position to speak the language of the different disciplines and help name and undo the damage. That was the incident that pushed me over the edge and helped me find my calling.
In any bookshop in any western country, there are countless books on health (including weight loss). In your opinion, where do these books go wrong?
They all start from the premise that there is something wrong with the individual. What if we instead start from the idea that YOU ARE AMAZING – or even, YOU’RE OKAY? The research is clear: when you start from self-acceptance make better choices. This shouldn’t be too shocking: we take better care of things we like. And endless good things flow from this.
You can move more towards self-trust, paying attention to body signals that help regulate weight – rather than relying on the “experts” to tell you what to eat and how much. And once again, the research is clear: our bodies do a much better job of regulating our weight than we do we fight and try to control them through dieting.
My ultimate goal is to champion a paradigm shift—from weight to respect.
In your newest book, ‘Body Respect’, you discuss some of the myths behind body weight. Can you share with our community members some of these common misconceptions about body weight?
This is just going to be a teaser; you’ll have to go to the book to read the dirt. But here are the major myths we take on, separating scientific fact from panicked assumption, unraveling the tangle our modern culture has made of weight and body shape:
1. Fatness leads to decreased longevity.
2. BMI is a valuable and accurate health measure.
3. Fat plays a substantive role in causing disease.
4. Exercise and dietary restriction are effective weight-loss techniques.
5. We have evidence that weight loss improves health.
6. Health is largely determined by health behaviors.
7. Science is value-free.
What is clear: The campaign against fat is not supported by sound science and does not promote health. Practicing the alternative, Body Respect, on the other hand, is well supported – whether we consider science or social justice.
What are you working on in 2015 – what exciting things should we look out for?
One exciting thing to look for is my next book, Eat Well: For Your Self, For the World. I’m working on it now, though it won’t come to press this calendar year. I will be shooting out some excerpts along the way, so do follow me on social media if you’re interested. Also, I’ve been having a great time traveling around the world delivering this message of hope and will continue to do this. Anyone connected with an organization that may be open to hosting me, do get in touch.
I had a particularly fun speaking tour of Australia a few years back and would love an invite to return to your lovely country. Though your government – like the U.S. – continues with its toxic weight hate messages, it’s exciting to see the growing Health at Every Size community and the hunger for a compassionate, “Body Respect” message.
Dr Bacon has graciously given her time to answer these questions. I find her thoughts compelling (I hope you do too?) and I can’t wait for the next book to be published.
For community members who might find this information new, I hope it opens your mind to thinking of your health in a different way. Next time a health professional asks to weigh you or asks what your weight is…maybe ask them..why do you need to know?
P.S – To my Australian health professional colleagues, let’s spread the word – can we organise an invite for Dr Linda Bacon to Australia? . Please share this blog post if you can.