Why You Should Stop Assuming Size Has Anything to Do with Health

Learn to embrace the Health at Every Size principles, and stop judging people based on their size.

Photo via Getty Images

When it comes to the representation of bodies in health and fitness, we’ve come a long way. Granted, we have some work to do, but we’re finally seeing all shapes, sizes, and colors embody what it means to be healthy in their own way.

Unfortunately, we still have some nonbelievers.

Let’s take this back a few weeks, when Jillian Michaels received intense criticism for her comments about Lizzo’s body in a BuzzFeed video. To recap: Michaels said it won’t be awesome when the singer gets diabetes, claimed she was glorifying obesity, and that we shouldn’t be celebrating her body. Which is a shame, because Lizzo brings nothing but light and positivity to her fans, and inspires people in all kinds of bodies to love themselves unapologetically. She’s shaking up the notion of what celebrities should look like, in the best way possible.

It seems pretty obvious, but apparently it must be stated: It’s really no one’s right to judge someone based on their size, much less do so with a huge public platform. Illnesses like diabetes can be connected to weight problems. But it isn’t always the case—sometimes, people just get it.

You never know what someone’s health situation is, and overweight people get the lion’s share of unqualified, unwanted advice. Which brings me to the principles of Health at Every Size.

The concept was first developed in 2003 by the Association for Size Diversity and Health as a way to approach both health policy and individual decision-making with a non-weight approach. The ASDAH website says it was created based on discussions among healthcare workers, consumers, and activists who reject the use of weight, size, or BMI as a proxy for health. Thanks to a popular 2008 book by the same name written by health and nutrition professor and public speaker Dr. Lindo Bacon, the movement continues to gain traction.

To quote an excerpt from Bacon’s book, “We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier.” A healthier attitude about your body starts from within, which is exactly what people like Lizzo, Lindy West, and plenty of local activists are saying.

And while the conversation may have gained renewed attention thanks to Michaels’ comments, plenty of Boston’s fitness professionals say they’ve been incorporating the Health at Every Size principles into their work for a long time.

Local registered dietitian and personal trainer Jessi Haggerty instills the Health at Every Size principles into her practice with her clients so they can work to build better relationships with food, exercise, and their own bodies.

“I take a more behavioral approach to health,” she tells me. “Which means we’re not using weight as a proxy for health or using it as a health status for their body.” She helps clients to find what works for them regarding nutrition and exercise through counseling and coaching. And that’s what the Health at Every Size principles really hone in on. They are:

  1. Accept your size.
  2. Trust yourself.
  3. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
  4. Find the joy in moving your body and becoming more physically vital in your everyday life.
  5. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, seeking out pleasurable and satisfying foods.
  6. Stay mindful of food choices—realizing that everything “fits” within a balanced diet.
  7. Embrace size diversity.

Haggerty adds that it’s important to realize that someone can be making behavior changes to improve health markers and the number on the scale won’t change at all. This is important for health practitioners and personal trainers to note as well. It’s also about access. “From a public health standpoint, some people just don’t have access to a trainer or healthy food options,” she says. Any efforts to help people improve their health should plan to work around those issues as well.

She adds that from a social justice standpoint, everyone has the right to pursue health as much or as little as they want. “To tie it into the conversation around Jillian Michaels, Lizzo never asked for her advice and Jillian is not her health care provider. It’s just concern trolling.”

Our local government is also making strides to not only protect young people from eating disorders, but to work on changing the messages people are receiving about body types. Back in May, state representative Kay Khan proposed a bill to incentivize corporations in the state to avoid digitally altering models’ appearances in their advertisements. And for Eating Disorder Prevention Day, actress Jameela Jamil even swung by the State House to show her support for the legislation.

At the end of the day we’re talking about human beings, Haggerty says. “Size exists as a problem of our culture. We are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist.” So, how exactly do we change the narrative and begin to right the “wrong” we’ve created? Haggerty says it begins with adjusting what you’re reading, listening to, and who you’re following on social media channels. Unfollow accounts that promote diet culture, stop reading books that reinforce societal beauty standards, and fill your mind with body positive and self-love promoting messages. Why not just turn on a Lizzo album? That’s a great place to start.