TW: Weight Stigma, ED

I would see a stereotypically “healthy” slim person with a “healthy BMI” who was smoking 20 cigarettes a day, drinking several bottles of wine a week, with high stress levels and no time for exercise or self-care.

For decades, we’ve been convinced that we should look a certain way. In the 90s, ‘Heroin Chic’ was the aspirational look, and in the 00s, it was all ‘size zero’. Nowadays, we’re bombarded by filtered images of influencers and celebrities, selling us a version of reality that doesn’t even exist. I still remember the diet culture nonsense of my teenage years; the Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers, etc. I went to my GP as a teenager, concerned I was too heavy. I wasn’t, but I wasn’t a size zero either. And although I got a sensible and rational response from the GP, that didn’t stop me begging my Mum to buy me Slim Fast shakes to take to school for my packed lunch!

During my nurse training (2010-13) I was taught about the BMI chart and that obesity is a risk factor for pretty much every chronic medical condition. Years later, when I started to see patients for Weight Management support, I’d weigh them, calculate their BMI, measure their waist circumference and ask them to keep a food diary. Instinctively, I knew that hugely restrictive diets weren’t helpful. I would encourage them to look at what they could add to their diet to improve it rather than restricting foods or whole food groups. Sadly, I knew about binge cycles from personal experience after trying Intermittent Fasting in 2012.

I sought out training in Health and Nutrition so that I was better equipped to offer my patients support. As I learned more about diet culture, I grasped just how dangerous and immoral it was, preying on our insecurities. But still, I wanted to help my larger bodied patients lose weight and lower their risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and all of the other conditions I had been taught about.

When I became involved in screening patients for the NHS Health Check Programme in 2018, it quickly became apparent that body size wasn’t a great indicator of health, or indeed risk, hence the need for the programme. I would see a stereotypically “healthy” slim person with a “healthy BMI” who was smoking 20 cigarettes a day, drinking several bottles of wine a week, with high stress levels and no time for exercise or self-care. On the flip side, I might see a heavier patient with a blood pressure and blood results within the normal range, who was active and eating a fairly balanced diet, behaving in a health-promoting way. The more I screened patients and the more I learned, the more I questioned the narrative I had been fed about the sole impact of weight on overall health.

Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

The issue of weight and health is extremely nuanced, and while I’m not saying that the size of your body bears no impact on your health, it’s important to recognise the numerous other aspects that also have an influence. Do you smoke or consume alcohol? How sedentary is your lifestyle? What quality of sleep do you get and in what quantity? What is your family medical history? The list goes on, and so it should, because the human body is miraculous.

And on top of the incredibly complex reflexes and processes our body performs without conscious input, it is also at the mercy of the choices we make. That’s why you need to look after your body; nourish it, exercise it, protect it and care for it. Because as I teach my clients and patients, it’s possible to be healthy, or unhealthy, at any size. Which is why you should focus on the things you can do to promote health rather than concentrating on one aspect in isolation, such as the number on your bathroom scales.

Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

About the Author

Ona is a Registered Nurse, a Veteran and a Military Wife. She has a passion for promoting better health and has a Health Mentoring business. Ona supports people to improve their health through small and sustainable behaviour change. You can check out her website and services here.

Ona also is very active on social media spreading solid, BS free information and advice on all things health. You can check out her socials below 👇


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