Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Obesity, Health, and Body Image

There are a lot of perspectives about obesity in society today. Personally, I think health care in general is focused too much on weight. There seems to be a common assumption that obesity causes illness, but I've read a lot of things that lead me to believe that obesity is a possible effect of unhealthy habits that also cause certain illnesses, and for the most part, not the cause itself. From this perspective, addressing health problems by focusing solely on getting someone's weight down is like treating a fever by putting someone in a tub of ice until their temperature is back to normal. The fever is actually often a good thing - it's the body's way of coping with certain infections. I have recently heard similar views presented about obesity and diabetes, from different sources like this Ted Talk and the book Health at Every Size - the view that extra fat actually protects people with diabetes from having complications. I don't know how true it is, but it reinforces my belief that weight loss is often just a band-aid solution to something, and that we could approach health in a more holistic way. I don't think weight loss itself is a bad thing if someone approaches it in a healthy way, I just think that its importance is over-stated, to a point where we sometimes don't even get to the root causes of it.

Another idea that I want to talk about is body image. I sometimes come across the message it's a bad idea for fat people to love their bodies because then they won't be motivated to lose weight. This idea is bass ackwards, if you ask me. Think of it this way: Your relationship with your body is somewhat like any other relationship. What if you said "I love my husband, but he smokes," and then your friend responded "If you love him, he'll never stop smoking." The solution is not to stop loving someone. You can love someone and not love their bad habits, just like you can love your body and not love your own unhealthy habits. Also, I think if someone loves their body it makes it easier for them to take care of it, and not the other way around. People often have unhealthy eating habits because they feel ashamed about themselves. I think this idea is important because I sometimes come across messages that overweight people need to feel ashamed of their bodies, and I think these messages are doing more harm than good, contributing to both mental and physical illness.

2 comments:

  1. What you say here really makes sense to me. I think that there have been many tendencies in Western health care and medicine to think in too reductionist a way, and focus on specific measures (like weight, cholesterol levels, etc.) instead of looking holistically and seeing imbalances in one particular measure as a sign of a systemic problem.

    I think it initially takes more time and effort and thought to see health holistically, but ultimately I think it saves time and leads to better health. I think that part of the problem may be a health care system which treats people as objects and doesn't have doctors getting to know patients on a deeper level (let alone giving doctors time to relax, ponder deep questions, and research things for themselves in an unstructured setting).

    I think a lot of the focus on weight comes from the fact that weight is easy to measure and outwardly visible. It's thus very easy to observe and research.

    But I think that the viewpoint you are putting forth here is much more constructive and healthy in the long-run. It is so common sense, I think, that when I read it it seems so true that I totally agree with you.

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