I am a subscriber to an awesome blog called zen habits. More often than not, there are topics discussed that really interest me and are relevant to my life, hence my subscription. As is to be expected, occasionally there are posts that don’t really hit home with me, and I just take them in stride. There was a new post on Friday, which was entitled: “Get Started: From Overweight to Healthy”. This was the first time that I saw a post that not only didn’t really mesh with my personal beliefs, but also upset me a bit.
I saw the title and closed the e-mail. I sat quietly, and felt frustrated. I examined why it bothered me:
- Normally, this blog resonates with a lot of things that are important to me: minimalist living, healthy eating, working out in innovative ways, traveling, doing less, enjoying life more, non-consumerism. All good stuff. But to me, this post was against what I am working hard to share with people. Maybe I felt like it was somehow an attack against me and my beliefs (I know it is not, but first reaction comes across that way sometimes).
- It’s presumptuous. It assumes that overweight people are unhealthy, just because they are overweight. This is not true, and usually zen habits is a very open minded blog, so this caught me off guard. Leo has described before his personal struggles with health, and smoking, and a sedentary/junk food filled lifestyle. But to me, this is going far beyond that and making assumptions about others that are not anyone’s to make.
- That blog has hundreds of thousands of followers, where as I have like, 3. His reach extends far beyond mine, and the message he is spreading is going to reach tons of people, where as mine might reach a handful. This makes me feel frustrated that those of us trying to talk about health at every size are being far outnumbered by those spreading around this stuff.
Basically, I feel like a crap load of people are going to get smacked upside the inbox with yet another reminder that they are perceived as unhealthy, when in reality they might be perfectly fine. I can totally appreciate the sentiment behind what he was going for here. Help people see small ways in which they can improve their health. Great idea! There are probably a lot of ‘unhealthy’ people who could benefit from this post. BUT: I think it was a gross oversight to go at it from this stand point. There are TONS of overweight people (most of the ones I know) that perceive themselves as unhealthy even if they are not. This perception is based solely on the fact that they are overweight. Unfortunately, we beat this so far into people’s whole being that they don’t know that weight and health are not the same thing. I am overweight. I am healthy. A real brain teaser, I know.
So, after I sat with this topic for a bit, I actually went back and opened the e-mail. I hoped that it would not be as condescending and presumptuous as the title implied it to be. Unfortunately, it was. Again, I felt so sad upon reading the whole thing because I LOVE Zen Habits. I am sure the best intentions went into this post, but I just think that it’s damaging. I always like to assume the best, and I’m sure he meant nothing harmful here. Based on numbers alone, even if only a small percentage of the people who read it believe that what he is implying (that weight = health), then it’s dangerous. Our culture already has a really tough time differentiating between the two, and the more things like this that go out to unassuming people, the further we will imply that this myth is a reality.
There ARE overweight people who are unhealthy. BUT, there are also normal weight and underweight people who are also unhealthy. In the same light, there are people of all sizes who are in fact healthy. It has nothing to do with how much you weigh. I can argue this until I’m blue in the face, but there will always be people who don’t understand this so I am letting it go for now. I can speak from personal experience though. I have been the person who is a normal weight, and I was nowhere near as healthy as I am now. I have been the person who was overweight and unhealthy. My eating, drinking, and workout habits have all changed, and my health has improved while my weight stays about the same.
So, to just take a tiny glimpse into the offerings of this post, without re-hashing the whole thing here (you can click the link and read it if you’d like), here are some of the parts that stand out to me that I would change to make it more accessible to anyone who is interested in improving their health.
First, I’d change the title to “Get Started: From Unhealthy to Healthy” or maybe something less awkward, but similar train of thought.
The beginning starts off by saying that all you have to do to start is make a tiny change, and that being overweight doesn’t feel good. I’d like to think that what he really means to say is that if you’re eating junk and not moving your body, sometimes that doesn’t feel good. Being overweight doesn’t automatically make you feel gross or unhealthy. If you are eating what your body needs, and you are getting some movement that you love, you probably feel pretty good.
The next 2 paragraphs are what really made me sad. He goes on to say that it’s usually a situation of denial. People think they are healthier than they are, when in reality, being overweight is making them hate themselves and their lives. He explains that he’s for positive self image and disregarding the media’s portrayal of beauty, EXCEPT in this case, because being overweight is actually putting you at health risks. Except that it’s not really. Being overweight alone is not putting you at any health risks. Being unhealthy and having risk factors in your health history/lifestyle may put you in that category, but not being overweight.
This strikes me as really close minded: “But how do you start getting healthier and fitter? How do you change a whole slew of habits, from eating too much to eating fried and sweet and fatty foods to drinking sodas and sweet coffee drinks to being sedentary?” Again, this makes the assumption that because you are overweight you lazy, and eating and drinking crap. So frustrating! I don’t eat too much, I don’t eat a diet solely of fried/sweet/fatty foods and soda. I am also far from sedentary.
From here, he offers his gentle guidance on how to take some small steps toward health. I appreciate where he’s coming from. He offers some easy changes, ones we’ve all heard before, but changes that we can each implement. No big deal.
The thing is, I already do all of these things, and more. And so do plenty of other overweight people. Guess what? We’re perfectly healthy. Here are summaries of the changes he recommends (and my thoughts on each):
1. Eat more veggies. – Yup, definitely eat plenty of veggies, ate plenty when I was a vegetarian, ate plenty when I was a vegan, and eat plenty now. My weight has not changed and my health hasn’t actually changed much either dependent on my veggie intake. What has changed is how I feel in my body, but that is all. Not health, not weight. I think eating veggies is great, if you like them. If you don’t, eat what you like. Your body knows what it needs, and the more you ignore your body, the further you are from true health.
2. Walk. – Mmmhmmm. I definitely do a lot of walking. And running, and biking, and yoga, and weight training, and hula hooping, and anything else that I enjoy. I cannot advocate exercise enough, as it keeps me sane and helps me sleep at night, as well as fighting off depression and anxiety. If you don’t get any exercise, definitely try walking. The fresh air alone is great. Maybe that’s not for you though. If you can find some sort of movement that makes you feel good, or helps you blow off some steam, I’d stick with that. I have definitely been down the road of exercising my butt off for 3 hours a day, every day, no exercise at all, and everything in between. When I don’t work out, I don’t feel good physically or mentally. When I work out too much, I don’t feel good physically or mentally. When I get about 45-120 minutes per day of exercise, I feel pretty good.
3. Drink water. – I definitely drink my share of water. I carry my water bottle with me everywhere, and typically drink 64-128 oz. a day. Your body needs water, and you will get sick if you don’t drink it. You have systems inside that require it for breaking down food, and for staying alive. The more activity I partake in, the more water my body craves.
4. Get rid of the junk. – Of course. I should give up my candy bar and potato chip diet. That’s the secret! The junkiest food we have in our house right now is probably a thing of chocolate syrup in the fridge. But when I crave something, I eat it. I’ve lived in a world where I deprived myself of foods I liked, and it was not pleasant. I may have been a couple of pounds lighter, but living in deprivation is not worth it. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. There are foods I personally avoid, because I don’t like the way they are made or make me feel, but on occasion, I still crave them, and I eat them. Again, listen to your body. It knows what it needs. If you aren’t used to this, at first it can look like “pizza brownies burgers ice cream candy pizza chips chocolate pasta cookies…” or even weight gain. But it evens out. Your body will eventually start to feel and perform in a not so optimal way, and you will crave some fruit or veggies or whatever your body thinks will help clear out the system. But you have to listen to it, really, listen.
His post finishes with:
“You’re on the road to healthy.”
I’m already a resident of healthy-town. I’ve lived here for a while now, and I feel sad when I see people wandering off the trail towards deprivation forest, or misleading valley. I am standing on top of the hill, waving a ‘welcome’ sign, but people keep getting lost. I know that there are lots of people who already are healthy, and are letting themselves feel like they aren’t, just because they don’t fit within some ridiculous height/weight body mass index scale.
If you’re unhealthy, and you want to find your way to healthy, those tips are a great starting point. If you are already healthy but are over or under weight, learning to love yourself, and see that body weight is not an indicator of health is a great starting point.
I didn’t write this post to make myself feel right, or to make people who believe that weight = health feel inferior or wrong. I didn’t even write it to vent (though it may come across that way), I wrote it as an alternative to that whole philosophy. To show some people that there is another way to go about this. You can live a measured and managed life, and put all of your energy into losing a little bit of weight, so you feel like you are becoming healthier. Or, you can live your life, enjoy it while you can, feed your body what it wants/needs, and do fun things for exercise without obsessing over a number. It doesn’t have to be a chore. When you don’t look at it as a to-do list, and you just incorporate things into your life that you like, you can actually enjoy your time on earth. That is my main goal. To make it to the end of my life, whenever it may be, and really smile, knowing that I had a great time. Not to look back and think about how proud I am of my dedication to fit into a smaller size of clothing. For lots of people that is a priority, but feeling good and being happy is my priority. I invite you to join me!
If you have any thoughts on the subject, this is a completely open space to share them and start a discussion.
[As I said, I did not write this to pick apart other people, just to break down that barrier of beliefs, and show another way. I appreciate receiving that same in return. Thanks!]