Weight Science from Linda Bacon’s Body Respect – HAES Book Summary

We are constantly warned about the dangers of obesity and urged to manage our weight. These messages come from all directions, including authorities we trust and peers who judge us. But consider for a moment that our accepted assumptions may not represent fully what we know from scientific evidence.

To begin with, the following facts are from Body Respect by Linda Bacon, and you can confirm them in the peer-reviewed article at http://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

  • People who are categorized as overweight or moderately obese have shown time and time again to live as long as or longer than people with weight in the normal category (confirmed even by the CDC)
  • BMI standards were written by the pharmaceutical industry to increase weight loss drug profits, ignoring that health decrement hasn’t shown to occur until a BMI of 40 (they funded the international obesity task force that determined the WHO’s standards and therefore the U.S. standards)
  • Larger people are more likely to develop several diseases but fatness is not the cause – there are many confounding factors like fitness, stress from discrimination, and inflammation from calorie-restriction dieting and weight cycling – “blaming fatness for heart disease is a lot like blaming yellow teeth for lung cancer”
  • “There has never been a research study that has demonstrated long-term maintenance of weight loss from lifestyle change for any but a small minority” – the rare person who does maintain weight loss is as lucky as the smoker who lives to be ninety
  • Health can improve when diet and/or exercise improve – not as a result of weight loss – yet at the same time, health behaviours account for less than 1/4 of differences in health outcomes, while social differences (i.e. poverty and discrimination) are the main determinants (again confirmed by the CDC)

If you’re like me, you’re probably tempted to object to the above sample of facts because we fear fat so strongly. However, ignorance has hurt us through lifetime yo-yo dieting, obsession with food and body, disordered eating, weight discrimination, and even poor health, the very thing we think we’re helping by stigmatizing fatness.

Honestly, though… even if I can be healthy at my current weight, I still deep down really want to look the way I did when I was slimmer. In the past I was able to lose weight by manipulating calories – if only I’d just tried harder and longer! Mind you, I’m still stuck with these feelings years after I learned exactly why the belief that I can just force a caloric deficit long-term is, well, unfounded. So let’s forgive each other for not being without bias and just open ourselves up a little more to the possibility that there may be a better way than constantly forcing an attempt to lose weight.


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Why Diets Don’t Work & How to Naturally Reach a Healthy Weight

Almost any calorie restriction leads to weight loss in the short-term but 95% of the time, the weight (and then some) returns within 2-5 years. The few who do maintain long-term weight loss through dieting must continue adhering to strict restriction. And even they are an anomaly like the smoker who lives until 90 – it doesn’t prove that smoking doesn’t kill.

Why Diets Don’t Work

  • Just as with height, 50-80% of weight is determined by genetics – even the distribution of fat is 40% due to our genes. And just as there are average heights but no “ideal” heights, average or typical weights are likewise neither good nor bad.
  • Nobody would diet without negative thoughts about one’s body, which perpetuates the diet-binge cycle. Fuelled by shame, dieters experience depression, fatigue, weakness, irritability, social withdrawal, reduced sex drive, low sex-drive, low self-esteem, and low ability to concentrate and think clearly.
  • Though a “typical” woman generally expends around 2,000 calories per day to sustain basic life functions, perform physical activities, and digest food, the “caloric deficit” approach to dieting does not work because there are so many other factors at play, i.e. genetics, age, weight, body composition, stimulants like caffeine, exposure to cold, exercise, nutrient absorption, gut bacteria, environmental toxins like plastic, etc. Not to mention, reported calorie content is an approximation – food labels in the US are allowed a 20% margin of error.
  • Twin studies prove that, even given the same weight-loss program and full compliance, different people show different results.
  • Food restrictions almost always lead to overeating “forbidden foods” because (1) just a taste of forbidden foods disinhibits restrains, even when deprivation is only perceived, and (2) restriction leads the body to increase hunger and make high calorie foods (especially carbohydrates) more enticing for evolutionary purposes – this is proven by increased “hunger hormone” gherlin and decreased peptide YY and leptin’s hunger suppression. Chronic dieting leads to chronically less leptin release, which may explain why yo-yo dieters usually gain weight over time. Overeating after dieting is akin to breathing deeply after physical exertion – a natural response, not a sign of weakness.
  • Our ancestors were able to reproduce because their – and now our – bodies hold onto more fat after famine.
  • Within 24-48 hours of restriction, metabolism (i.e. fat burning) slows 15-30% and it stays low for as long as the body is at a lower weight. As restriction continues or repeats, this reaction is quicker and more severe each time.
  • While both fat and muscle are burned in total weight loss, only fat is put on from weight gain – meaning body size is larger and metabolism is slower.
  • If you constantly try to override your body’s natural ability to maintain weight with diets and binges, your body fights harder by setting a higher weight to maintain, i.e. a “settling point.”
  • Yo-yo dieters are at higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, regardless of current weight, and are 25-100% more likely to die prematurely.
  • Calorie restriction increases inflammation, even more so with cycles of weight loss and gain.
  • Dieting can lead to fatigue, poor sleep, mood changes, depression, obstructed menstrual cycle, reduced mental acuity, and obsession over food and weight loss, as demonstrated in Keys’ study.

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