Can we be "fat" & happy?

  Pablo Picasso, 'The acrobat,' January 18, 1930

Pablo Picasso, 'The acrobat,' January 18, 1930

Let's start with the easier part of the question: Can we be fat and healthy?

The dominant belief in our culture is that anyone who's fat is necessarily unhealthy. That's what we've been taught.

It's only natural that we assume that in order to be healthy and energized we must be skinny, right?

This idea is very ingrained in our minds and has hurt who we are as eaters, and how we relate to food and perceive those who don't fall into the "ideal body" bucket. I know this was my case. It's an idea that I began to question when I started my own journey towards food freedom, that state in which you enjoy food, your body and people around you. The truth is you don't have to be skinny to be healthy.  

Numerous studies and books (this one and this one are two of those), show that the relationship between health and weight is one of association, not causation. That means that while there's a correlation between weight loss and health, there's no causal relationship.

I like Linda Bacon's example: "Consider this: It is well established through epidemiological research that bald men have a higher incidence of heart disease than men with a full head of hair. However, this doesn’t mean that baldness promotes heart disease or that hair protects against heart disease. Nor is it recommended that bald men try to grow hair or buy toupees in order to lessen their disease risk."

The same goes to the relationship between health and weight found in studies.

Instead of obsessing about your body shape and size, and eating or restricting out of fear of dying at age 45 (which only hurts your self-esteem), I invite you to consider other indicators such as your energy levels, the quality of your sleep and digestion, your skin, your mood, as well as your bio-markers, resting heart rate and blood pressure.

Remember: we all come in different shapes and sizes! It doesn't make sense to determine if a person is healthy by solely looking at her/his weight.


Fat and happy?

The second part of the question is tricky because of its subjective nature.

There are women like Joni Edelman, the Editor in Chief of Ravishly, who shares she's is fat and happy (and healthy!). When she was thin (and unhappy), she was obsessed about every detail of her body, ate foods she hated and avoided foods she loved. Her journey has taught her "that being thin is not: A. A cure for sadness or B. A guarantee of happiness."

On the other side of the coin there's women like Camille Claybaugh, with a very real argument to why she was unhappy as a fat woman and why she worked hard to change that. "Being clothed and fat is unhappiness. Dressing rooms are not happy places for a fat girl. Of course you shouldn’t have to change, but clothes makers aren’t changing. (...) Happy people don’t continue to subject themselves to unhappy circumstances they can help", she writes.

Both stories are legitimate and allow me to conclude that the question should rather be can we be happy in OUR OWN body, no matter what size it is?

When they describe their experience, Joni and Camille highlight that their weight gain or loss was accompanied by their capacity to let go, to relax, to welcome relationships that were good to them, to love food, to identify the source of low self-esteem and to work on harmful thought patterns. It wasn't the weight gain or loss that did the miracle of happiness. It was the switch in their minds.

My own experience shows me that happiness happens when we detach (even a bit) from rooted beliefs, work on limiting thoughts and harsh self-judgment, and we eat to nourish ourselves (physically and emotionally), not to achieve a number on the scale.

Can you be fat and healthy? Yes. Can you be happy in your own body? It's up to you.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lina Salazar is a regular contributor to The Thirlby. She is a certified Health Educator & Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York. Through her company LiveWell, she supports women who desire to make peace with food and their bodies.Motivated by her passion for consumer education and promoting healthy lifestyles, she also works on consumer education and offer services to companies, government agencies and non-profits.