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How the Weight-inclusive Approach to Health Can Help You

I bet you haven’t heard of the weight-inclusive approach to health. Whereas a business-as-usual weight-normative approach puts “an emphasis on weight and weight loss when defining health and well-being,” a weight-inclusive approach puts “an emphasis on viewing health and well-being as multifaceted while directing efforts toward improving health access and reducing weight stigma.” (“The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss” by Tylka, et als., www.hindawi.com/journals/jobe/2014/983495/, 2014)

Here are the article’s conclusions: “The weight-normative approach is not improving health for the majority of individuals across the entire weight continuum. Weight is overemphasized for higher-weight individuals (i.e., assumptions are made that they are unhealthy) and underemphasized for lower- or ‘average’-weight individuals (i.e., assumptions are made that they are healthy). Furthermore, we know that weight loss through dieting is not sustainable over time for the vast majority of higher-weight individuals and is linked to harmful consequences…focus on weight is associated with adverse physical health and psychological well-being…Moreover, the weight-normative approach blames the individual rather than the process when weight-loss attempts fail, which is then tied to body blame, body shame, internalized weight stigma, and decreased psychology well-being…The weight-inclusive approach supports the health of people across the weight continuum and challenges weight stigma.”

Here are some things to consider regarding choosing a recovery focus: Which one of the above have you been using? Which one have your doctors and health care providers been using? My guess is that you will probably answer “weight normative,” that the focus has been on weight and how many pounds you’ve lost, gained, or need to lose. And that you’ve gone along with the assumption that a lower weight automatically means better health and a higher weight naturally means poorer health.

There are valid reasons for weight loss: to engage in activities that would be easier at a lower weight and to move more easily. But what price do you pay when you exclusively focus on weight and not on other health factors? What about your self-esteem when the weight creeps back on or doesn’t decline quickly enough? If you were focusing on a multitude of factors—lab outcomes, how food feels in your body when you eat, how empowered you feel when you manage your eating better—you’d have a stronger chance at succeeding and actually achieving the well-being you’ve been striving for.