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What Diet Culture Does NOT Tell You About Health

Did you know that your weight actually does not impact your health in the way our culture tells you? Often our society has a “picture of health” and the media we consume often implies there is a certain “look” to a healthy body. Often, we imagine people in smaller bodies who are muscular and eat/move a certain way as healthy. In reality, health and wellness is too complicated to ever be determined by weight or appearance. One of the biggest questions I get working with people who struggle with their body image along with disordered eating, is the fear of body acceptance impacting their health because of how impactful fat-phobia is in our society. People are often told they need to be within a certain weight range to be considered medically healthy from doctors, family, or community members. Health is actually largely impacted by many factors that are not linked to body size. Here are some of the main factors which impact health more than weight and movement.

Health is ACCTUALLY MORE Impacted By:

  • Mental Health: There is so much evidence and research to support that someone’s mental health has a larger effect on someone’s physical health, longevity of health, and overall life satisfaction compared to diet/ exercise. Diet culture often simplifies health into what you eat and how you move your body. Mental health is actually a large factor in someone’s well-being and can largely impact overall physical wellness.

  • Discrimination/Stigma: Often individuals in bodies of marginalized populations (people of color, larger bodies, trans bodies, sexuality, etc.) avoid medical care due to fear of discrimination. In particular, people who are in larger bodies often wait approximately 7 years in between medical visits due to the fears of their medical issues not being taken seriously and fear of weight discrimination from medical staff members. Many health ailments are largely preventable/ treatable if someone has early access to interventions for these medical issues. Most of the research we see about “higher weight people” having medical issues does not account for this measure within these research studies, which only furthers weight discrimination and biases within the medical community, thus continuing the cycle of individuals having weight related discrimination against them within their medical appointments.

  • Finances: If people do not have financial needs met, it is difficult for them to go to medical appointments (especially if they do not have health insurance). If individuals are unable to get access to medical care, it largely impacts their physical health. Preventative screenings, proper medication and diagnosis can largely impact the longevity of individuals along with their overall health and wellness.

  • Stress: If someone has a large amount of stress and not enough balance within their life, they are likely to have health effects from this (if this is ongoing). Stress has been proven to heightened blood pressure, headaches, irritability, muscle weakness and overall physical health impacts. Stress also has short-term effects on individuals which can exacerbate into long-term problems. People who suffer with long-term stress levels can experience issues sleeping, appetite abnormalities, and issues with basic care.

  • Spirituality: Spirituality (not to be confused with someone being religious!) Is defined as someone’s understanding of their sense of purpose and their own meaning of life. Spirituality can largely impact someone’s health by impacting their life choices, and their overall satisfaction of life.

  • Creative Health: Ensuring someone has a creative outlet, hobbies, and overall intellectual health factors. Individuals tend to feel the most balanced and flexible within their health and wellness if they are feeling creatively fulfilled and do not feel boredom or complacency.

  • Social Wellness: How many people have felt as if their world is crumbling apart when a romantic relationship doesn’t work? Or when a friendship ends? Social wellness largely impacts someone’s wellness. There is a large amount of research that shows when people are isolated it impacts their mental health, physical health and overall improvement of self-esteem and health factors.

  • Emotional Wellness: Individuals who are struggling holding difficult emotions often report higher stress, isolation and overall impacts on their basic life needs. Individuals struggling with their emotional health often have a difficult time feeding themselves, getting enough sleep, and enough social interaction. They often also report low satisfaction in life and overall struggling with managing stressful situations.

  • Environmental Wellness: Environmental factors can largely impact a person’s life due to things like air pollution, access to water, or access to a safe/clean home can largely impact someone’s overall wellness. Not having a basic need met such as a safe environment can largely impact someone’s health and happiness.

  • Occupational Wellness: If someone is unhappy within their work or unfulfilled it largely impacts their overall happiness, mental health, and physical health. Occupational unwellness largely impacts their health and life.

  • Physical Wellness: So many people believe this has to be a disordered rule of how much they should exercise and how many days they should be moving. In reality, so many individuals have such high expectations of what movement should look like, they become overwhelmed and are unable to allow themselves to move in a flexible manner that is not disordered. Movement is important for health, but not in a disordered rigid way. Often people have the “all-or-nothing” mentality with exercise, which often creates a disordered excessive relationship with movement, or avoidance all together. Both are disordered and often lead to different physical problems because of it either related to under or over use.

  • Genetics: This is the largest impact on people’s health is their genetic make-up. Genetics play THE LARGEST factor in health and wellness. This is one of the main issues that makes health one of the most complicated issues to study due to the complexities of each person’s genetic footprint and the impacts this has on someone’s health and well-being.

Our society largely wants to simplify what health actually embodies. This indicates the largest influences on health is connected to diet and exercise, but the reality is that health is vastly more complicated, and fundamentally influenced by many aspects of life. It is vital to remember this perspective when you view the wellness of yourself and others, as we cannot as a society judge someone’s health and wellness based by their weight or outward appearance. So many individuals do not believe they are healthy until their weight reaches a certain range or number. Next time you think of wanting to “get healthy” by exploring trendy diets or workout regimens, remember how much of your health and wellness is impacted from areas of life. Also know that diets cannot change things like your genetics, and often impact health in the long-run in a negative manner. There is a large amount of research that indicates that chronic dieting such as: increased risk of heart disease, long-lasting negative impacts on metabolism, reduce energy, and a depletion of important nutrients that could impact bone strength, heart rate and increase potential risks of developing an eating disorder. Remember that health is more about living a flexible life and prioritizing all the aspects of your health and well-being instead of focusing so heavily on diet and exercise.

Deanna Smith, LCSW

This blog is not meant as therapeutic advice, rather to provide education. If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, or body image issues know that there are many educated qualified mental health therapists and dieticians who are well-versed in these complicated issues. Please seek therapeutic & nutritional support if disordered eating or body image concerns are impacting your life.

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