Linda Bacon

Privilege can affect your health

I mentioned last week that I want to address how to deal with thin privilege. 

Privilege is when, for a reason that is out of your control, you have an advantage. Thin privilege refers to the privilege that people who are considered thin have. For example, I am white and middle class. In the world I live in, this provides me with advantages that I might not have if I was not white or middle class. Thin privilege specifically refers to people the advantages one gets just for being thin. 

In last week's post with Melissa Fabello, she lays out the definition of thin privilege pretty clearly. Click here to check it out. 

(Disclaimer: I benefit from thin privilege. As such, I know that I am not the expert on living with a body that does not have thin privilege. )

The real problem with thin privilege is that it elevates one body type while silently disadvantaging another type. If you feel discriminated against, it's hard to feel good in your body. It's hard to fit it in when you physically can't fit in. 

People feel size discrimination in a visceral way. 

It turns out that it's not great for your health if you struggle every time you try on a dress or sit in a chair. It's not great for your health if you can't find a date on the most popular dating app. It's not great for your health if someone looks down on you every time you order french fries.

This everyday experience of straight-up discrimination can be rough. In fact, research shows that disempowerment leads to poor health. 

I learned this recently on a new podcast. created by Caroline Dooner, creator of the Fuck it Diet. She interviewed Linda Bacon. Linda Bacon is the brilliant researcher behind Health at Every Size and Body Respect. Everybody loves Linda Bacon because she is the go-to source for all things Health at Every Size.

In Linda's conversation with Caroline, she emphasized the effect privilege has on health. 

She says social positioning in the world really has the most impact on health. She points out that people who feel disempowered often struggle with staying healthy.  

She remarks that even the CDC says that behavior plays less than a 1/4 of a role in health outcome. The biggest contributors are race, sex and money. The more resources and support you have in the world, the easier it is to live a healthy life. 

She mentions a study about diabetes. In the study, they gave people with diabetes and were lower income housing vouchers. This alone reduced diabetic symptoms. This means that changing a person's social environment has an enormous impact on that person's health. 

People talk about the war on obesity as if it's so simple. They make it sound like it's just calories in and calories out. It's not. 

The CDC says that behavior only affects health outcomes less than 1/4 of the time. This means that the best way to fight thin privilege is to not treat people who don't have it like they don't deserve it. 

Instead of jumping on another diet, the best thing to do is create a culture where people have more resources and support.

And you can do your part by joining this list or sharing it with your friends! 


The DANGER of Focusing on Weight Loss

The DANGER of Focusing on Weight Loss

You've heard from me before about the dubious links between weight loss and health. 

It's how we psychologically twist a need to be skinny or good looking into "self-care." It's also how we mix up "concern" with discrimination. But, sometimes, focusing on weight loss can be unsafe. .

The best example of this is...pregnancy. 

Changing your Body

I need to start off this post with an apology. I'm sorry. I wrote a sentence a little flippantly that really needs A LOT of context, caveats, and 'splainin'.

"So really changing your body is not attainable," wrote myself last week. 

A friend I respect pointed out how this sentence by itself could be off-putting. I'm sorry because I often say inflammatory things that are really designed to mean something else. I call it Kanye syndrome.  

So, what's wrong with this sentence? 

1. It's factually inaccurate. 

Our bodies change constantly over time. If bodies didn't change we'd all be a bunch of squiggly babies walking around. Also, surgery exists. 

2. It dismisses the impact that other healthy habits can have in changing your body beyond weight loss. 

You can temporarily lose weight by restricting your calories no matter the content. In other words, you can just eat Snickers all day but as long as you eat fewer Snickers than calories required to keep your body at its current weight, you will lose weight, at least temporarily. 

Food is just one component of our health. And calorie restriction is just one way to lose weight. Environmental, social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual factors all play into our health.  Generally, eating lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, limiting alcohol, not smoking, and getting regular exercise and sleep all help to increase longevity. These things do not even include mental, social, emotional, and spiritual health that might be impacting your body's ability to fight disease. 

As Linda Bacon has referenced in her book (and Isabel Foxen Duke has quote her many times), curing heart disease by treating weight loss is like curing lung cancer by treating yellow teeth.  Health issues are often correlated with having a higher weight but weight only "weakly predicts longevity." Again, skinny does not necessarily mean healthy. Skinny people can eat crappy foods, take bad care of themselves and get sick too. 

Changing your diet might change your biochemistry and physiology but it may not change your weight. 

3. I'm not accounting for the people who have changed their body weight.

I know people who have lost significant amounts of weight and have been able to keep it off. To you, kudos. If you dieted to get there, you're especially rare because about 3-5 people of 100 are able to pull that off. 

This, as my homegirl Isabel (have I mentioned she's got a really amazing FREE video series out?) puts it in her latest podcast with Kaila Prins, is a bad bet. If somebody told you to make an investment of $10,000 and there's a 3% chance you'll get paid $200,000 but if you lose, you could actually end up in debt, would you take that wager? Call me Mr. Wonderful, but I don't like those odds. 

So, now that I've clarified a few inaccuracies, here's what I meant to say: 

1. Even if you are able to permanently lose weight, you might not lose so much weight that you finally look like a Greek statue or the cover of a magazine.

If you are truly doing it in a sustainable way, it probably consists of slow and steady changes that happen gradually over time. You might lose 10 pounds permanently but never the 30 you were hoping for to get back to your high school karate fighting weight. 

2. You might be able to lose so much weight that you look like a Greek statue but it requires more than what diet companies advertise. 

Changing your body permanently is not as easy as diet companies would like you to believe. It's not just eat just eat these weird kale cookies for 30 days and look like Halle Berry.

Look at, say, an Olympic athlete. Having swum for many years, I knew even at age 11 that I did not have what it took to get to the Olympic level of swimming. I straight up didn't have the dedication. Getting to the Olympic level would have required 5-6+hours of training per day ALL YEAR LONG. This would have meant relinquishing academics, piano lessons, snowboarding on the weekends, having friends and even just watching old episodes of Wings on USA. 

For me, this was too much to give up. I had to know what was happening in that Nantucket airport. What would you have to give up in your life to get your body to this "level?"

It's just a lot of time and you have to do it FOREVER. FOR-EV-ER! 

3. You might be able to lose so much weight that you look like a Greek statue but it makes you crazy and obsessive around food and exercise. Your whole life, including your career and relationships, might be consumed by it. If it gets really bad, you can develop an eating disorder that requires years of expensive treatment and causes long-term health problems.

One can look at other women in my field, like Maddy Moon, to see how what seems like a healthy pursuit of a goal can spiral into obsession. Eating disorders are really hard on people's lives. I saw that and heard about it during the time that I worked for an eating disorder treatment center. Bad eating disorders can cause bone issues like osteoporosis. Purging behaviors can cause digestive distress and tooth decay. And, having worked in the billing department, I know it is EXPENSIVE. 

One final disclaimer: I'm not trying to dismiss anyone who was ever interested in weight loss as frivolous or foolish. 

I'm saying this because there's a lot of misinformation out there that has real consequences for people in their lives. I care about giving people accurate information so we can make informed decisions about how we want to spend our lives. 

Thanks for reading this super long post. I hope it was useful.

Do you think this clarifies things? Does this resonate with you? Anything problematic? In the comments or via email, let me know!

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