Why the anti-diet, Health at Every Size, body acceptance philosophy can feel so confusing…..using GOOP’s newest article on "busting diet myths" as a prime example.

I know that it’s terribly fashionable to shit all over whatever Gwyneth Paltrow publishes on GOOP. I have no interest in jumping on that bandwagon. I mean, for starters, I kind of love her. Yes, my stomach sinks every time I see the site publish an 800 calorie a day detox but (conveniently ignoring that tiny fact) I admire her. She’s an innovator and a boss. She knows what she stands for and she’s willing to take a lot of heat for it. To me, that’s true leadership, whether I always agree or not. 

What I really want to discuss though is The Health at Every Size (HAES) philosophy and how Gwyneth's site GOOP has really muddled a beautiful message. Founded by the incredible Linda Bacon, the HAES movement has long been encouraging women to understand that “thinness” as a beauty and health ideal has been fabricated and is the foundation for the disordered relationship that so many of us have with food and movement, not to mention the body loathing mindsets we find in humans aged 6 to 86. Beyond that, the movement has provided a framework for health improving policies and non-stigmatizing care for ALL bodies that truly has the potential to revolutionize health, the world over.

So when I saw the newest article on GOOP, reporting all of the research findings those of us in the body positive world have been obsessively (LOUDLY) discussing for years, I was pretty excited. It’s a big deal when a mainstream publication starts reporting evidence that has long been considered fringe. I mean, if Gwyneth can get the general public excited about divorce and vaginal steaming, maybe she can get them excited about size acceptance?!

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Here are some of the (long known) facts reported in the article by researcher Dr Traci Mann:

  • Diets Don’t Work
  • We have no formula for knowing what your set point is (and it’s likely higher than you’d like – because the weight you’ve likely decided is your best weight is born of the standards of a weight-hating culture that stigmatizes most human bodies. Admittedly, it didn’t say all of that but you get the picture….).
  • Willpower is not your problem. Your physiology will overpower your willpower pretty much any day of the week (As it should. Or toddlers would be able to hold their breaths until death in a tantrum, for example. Our bodies are designed to keep us alive. They’re good like that.).
  • You don’t need to be thin to be healthy. Bodies of all shapes and sizes can be well.

But here’s where it gets confusing for the public:

Despite Dr. Mann being very clear that we are NOT in control of our weight and that we have all the power to be well in any size of body, she decides to go on to promote ways to be at our “leanest liveable weight” and she gives food strategies to get there.

Hmmmm…..

This is what often happens. The message gets muddled:

  • Love your body and accept it – but keep trying to be leaner.
  • Love your body and accept it – but eat these portions of these pre-approved foods in “this” way.
  • Love your body and accept it – even though no one is making clothes that fit you.
  • Love your body and accept it – as long as you exercise the way we recommend.
  • Love your body and accept it – as long as you are healthy, as defined by “the experts”, which usually includes weight and/or body shape management.

It’s SO confusing.

One minute you’re reading an article about busting diet myths and body acceptance and then – BAM – you’re not. You get sucker-punched with oppressive, THIN-IS-BEST, fatphobic, BS with no foundation and no purpose, other than to make people feel that, despite the fact that there is no known way to make our bodies smaller long-term – we should keep trying.

WT actual F, you ask? Allow me to un-confuse things for you:

You can’t do both. You can’t accept your body and give up dieting and start pursuing health for health’s sake while actively trying to get to your “leanest liveable weight”.

Here are a couple of other known facts about weight and dieting that Mann did not report:

  • In addition to the fact that there is no formula to determine any human’s healthiest set-point, there is also NO FORMULA to tell us what our set point RANGE is. In other words, some people may have a wide set-point range within which they move easily (10lbs, 15lbs, who knows amount of lbs?) while others have tight set-point ranges (5 lbs, maybe less). It is un-knowable AND
  • Actively trying to manipulate our bodies to be smaller (AKA being in DIET MENTALITY) is THE trigger for binge eating, THE underlying factor that has shown to increase emotional eating, and quite possibly THE thing that is affecting health in the western world negatively….way more than weight ever has.
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To summarize: your “leanest liveable weight” is a fabrication of diet culture and the process of pursuing your “leanest liveable weight” is exactly the same thing as dieting, yielding the same results (aka big fat failure with a ton of collateral damage).

Anytime someone suggests that you need to start altering your food/exercise/supplements/meditation practice IN ANY WAY in order to get "leaner", they are selling you a diet - it doesn't matter how they dress it up. When someone decides to make "lean-ness" or "leaner" or any variation of that word, the ideal, they are stigmatizing bigger bodies (which is completely subjective anyway) and we all suffer for it.

The research is clear:

  • We aren’t in control of our set point.
  • There is no formula to tell us where our set point should be.
  • Our set point range in un-knowable.
  • Diets don’t work. Our bodies actively fight weight loss.
  • Depriving ourselves for any reason triggers negative food behaviours.
  • Health is not dependent on weight. Health is dependent on health behaviours.

So instead of trying to get to our “leanest liveable weight” why not just promote healthy behaviours. Behaviours that people in all bodies can adapt and enjoy. That kind of message is clear. And evidence-based. And helpful. And not one bit confusing.