June 23, 2024
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Health, Worthiness and Respecting One Another

I recently engaged in what I can call a heated, respectful discussion with a group of students on the subject of the word “health.” Health typically comes to mind as an identifier of whether or not someone or something is OK; we breathe a sigh of relief when we hear that a new baby is healthy. We daven for the health of our loved ones, for individuals in the community. With this word comes the associations of expectations, high emotions, and for some, the idea that health should be automatic or is a determinant of status.

As a Health at Every Size Practitioner, I find that I am often battling these associations. There is research indicating that individuals can be healthy and pursue health at—as the title implies—every size. The research disproves the idea that size equals health, and calls upon practitioners as well as individuals to stop using the short-cut “If you’re over x weight, this must mean you’re unhealthy” or “Your ailment will be fixed if you lose weight,” without asking any questions, performing any tests or engaging with care and curiosity. Weight is used as a quick fix. When an individual who should be examined isn’t because of weight or is ignored because of size, it can lead to feelings of being unworthy, of invalidation and actual harm.

I am hoping, dear reader, that the idea that practitioners and lay people need to untangle weight and health is a familiar one—and that you are open to exploring it. You may have questions or have difficulty challenging preconceptions that have become ingrained, but I hope that you are, above all, interested in achieving acceptance and care for all individuals no matter their size.

Now, let’s add to this concept.

Let’s dive into the idea that people tend to feel more accepting of others, specifically those in bigger bodies, as long as “they are healthy” or are pursuing weight loss. People tend to respect others only when there is a clear marker that the individual—who really should be accepted no matter their size—is working on changing size or can give the evidence that she is healthy.

What if we respected each other regardless of health status? What if we supported individuals in their pursuits to accept themselves without needing to conform to societal standards? What if we embraced one another without casting judgment based on appearance and recognized just how dangerous and detrimental this can be?

And what if we recognized that “health”—this hot-button word, is actually quite loaded. We all define health differently and yet use this term so freely—and in my opinion, in the wrong contexts and with a lack of nuance.

I most often hear about health when people defend or maintain disordered eating, promoting restriction and unhealthy relationships with food under the guise of health. Health is absolutely a status that we all strive for. I am not making light of our desire to live long lives with our loved ones, pursuing efforts and practices that will allow our minds and bodies to stay strong to do so.

I am condemning the idea that this health is interchangeable with the defense of thinness: People tend to defend fat-phobia by explaining that it is about health.

And yet, the proof I have given before is that if one were to look at the habits of a thin person—one who smokes cigarettes and only eats one food category, they would likely care and judge less than if these were the behaviors of an individual in a larger body. This is evidence that it is not about a concern for health, it is about the way health has been fused with weight.

If one were to ask what the healthier option is at a meal, the quick response these days is to look for green, organic, or low-calorie foods. Why? Because these foods are synonymous with the diet-culture pursuit of a particular body type. We need to stop judging food as more or less healthy. If, given the option of whole wheat pasta or regular pasta, I do not enjoy the taste of whole wheat, and depriving myself of what I enjoy could lead to food preoccupation and self-judgment, then the healthier choice for me would be the regular pasta.

Health cannot be defined in one manner; what is healthy can be dependent on the person, the context, the intended outcomes. Just as we need to stop labeling food or bodies as good or bad, let’s move away from “what’s healthy” and instead focus on what we want, what can help us grow or be strong, what tastes good, what is accessible and what will promote variety and satiety.

We have so much work to do. So set a goal or intention, one that you can take with you and come back to. Challenge your judgments, reach out with compassion—whatever it may be. We can make a difference for our community and achieve respect for one another, regardless of status.

How will you begin?


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works in private practice with those in New York and New Jersey (virtually at this time) age 14+ struggling with their relationships, with their bodies, food and overall mental health concerns. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and speaks nationally on the subjects of eating disorder advocacy and body image awareness. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com

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