Body Positivity, Diet Culture, and Why Obesity is a Policy Failure

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Body Positivity

I just wanted to share my thoughts on a post I’ve been seeing on Instagram lately:

The circle of people in the health sphere that I follow had some strong opinions about the notion that this person could be healthy, and naturally the comment section got heated. I’m not here to speculate on the subject’s overall health as it’s quite a complex picture that should be observed by a medical professional who understands their bloodwork and test results, lifestyle factors, nutritional intake, and genetic predispositions.

Here are my thoughts on the matter:

  1. People need to stop focusing on unrealistic body standards
    • Beauty is subjective. We all know the dangers of trying to fit a certain mold of what you’re conditioned to believe is a “perfect body”. It’s important for people to feel comfortable in their own skin and not judge their worth by their appearance or other’s perception of their appearance.
  2. The fitness industry and diet industry typically are toxic
    • Didn’t expect me to say that one, huh? I’m lucky to be a part of some great communities at Dreamland Boxing at PerformanceGaines (actually all the gyms I have ever been a part of were great), but I know a lot of gyms push short-term 30 day weight-loss challenges and really outdated ways of thinking like counting calories and staying in a deficit at all times, instead of addressing underlying issues like insulin resistance or other underlying problems. Overall, I’ve spoken against the notion of vanity goals, like training for that summer bod. Now my focus is overall well-being, with fitness (movement in general) being only one component of the entire picture along with nutrition, recovery, strong relationships, etc.
  3. Be Focused on Health, Not Image
    • There are some graphics of how the perception of the ideal body type changes every decade. More recently, there’s been a push amongst women for “Strong Is the New Skinny”. At first glance, it may seem like a positive development that women are embracing getting stronger. It certainly can be, if that’s their goal, but once again we shouldn’t fall into the trap that any person should be chasing any image.
    • I think the ultimate goal is overall health, and there are so many different ways to achieve it. If running marathons is your thing, go for it. If Crossfit is your thing, go for it. Be you and feel comfortable in the body you have while working for it.
      • What isn’t healthy: Training for a strict weight-loss goal. Trying to stay in a 500 calorie/week deficit over a prolonged period of time, without restriction of the quality of foods eaten. Pounding sugar-loaded energy drinks to over-exert. Underestimating the body’s recalibration to undereating by slowing down essential body functions like body temperature regulation and your immune system. Not allowing your body to recover during sleep because “sleep is for the weak.” Not listening to your body’s cues. Not periodizing. But hey, you’re losing weight right?
      • Why I set Weight Loss goals: I’m not saying never to have a weight loss goal, I just don’t ever set one for the sake of vanity. I typically keep my weight goals within the scope of performance. For example, I currently am losing 5lbs to be at an ideal running weight. Later in the year, I’ll put back on 5-10lbs as I progress with some kettlebell workouts. I’m also used to tracking my weight to compete in boxing and fight in the weight class I felt the strongest in. This makes me keenly aware of what’s actually healthy and what isn’t. Anyone who’s done the last minute weight cut knows, and anyone who dropped too much weight knows as well.
        • Another lens that I look at my weight loss goal is by not focusing on restricting food or overtraining, but by ramping up my BMR (basal or resting metabolic rate). I never want to be in an overtrained state where my immune system is suppressed or I feel burnt out. There’s a reason why this toxic culture of weight-loss and calorie counting typically lead to yo-yo dieters and body dysmorphia.
  4. The Obesity Epidemic is a Policy Failure, Not a Moral Failure
    • The biggest issue starts far beyond any of the topics discussed above. We have a food system where:
      • Wheat, soy, and corn are heavily subsidized
      • Big Sugar has funneled millions of dollars for scientists to conclude that sugar is harmless and to just eat less and exercise more
        • From 2008 – 2016, Coke funded 389 articles in 169 journals concluding that physical activity was more important than diet and that soft drinks an sugar are essentially harmless. Source
        • Sugar has terrible impacts on our health and has left 34 Million Americans diabetic and 1 in 3 Americans pre-diabetic. Instead, fat has been villainized.
      • Poor education has had most Americans eating:
        • Highly processed foods designed to be overconsumed
        • A low fat, high sugar diet that has a high number of Americans diabetic or pre-diabetic.
      • Food policies make it difficult for equal access to healthy food
        • 23 million Americans live in food deserts, which make it nearly impossible to eat anything other than fast food and make it nearly impossible to have access to fruits and vegetables Source
        • SNAP recipients are often given empty calories, processed foods, sodas, and processed meats and are selectively targeted in advertisement by junk food companies
        • In some cases, water is 4x more expensive than soda
        • Big Ag and Big Sugar has lobbied for the wrong information to be taught, which impacts dietary decisions by those trying to be healthy
        • Lobbyists and the Revolving Door between Politics and Industry:
          • Kailee Tkacz, sugar lobbyist, works as an adviser for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines
    • The biggest issue here are our choices to subsidize the wrong foods and policy issues which have led to a decline in our health. It is not a moral failure and can’t just be solved by telling someone to “eat less and move more”. Our whole national food policy needs to be reformed.

On one side of the coin we have people unable to lose weight. On the other side of the coin, we have equally unhealthy people who appear fit, but are stuck in a toxic culture of yo-yo dieting, calorie counting, and poor body image. But we constantly look at the entire issue through the wrong lens before trying to solve the problem. There is no ideal body type but a healthy one. And the solution isn’t crash-diets with harmful underlying concepts. Nor is it ignoring the important biomarkers that signal health issues in the name of body positivity. The only way we can truly tackle the obesity epidemic in America is by having sound nutritional policy and embracing health over appearance or body type.

Suggested read: Food Fix, Mark Hyman

About the Author:

Coach Ian is an ultra-marathon runner and a volunteer coach at the non-profit boxing organization, Dreamland Boxing, in San Jose, CA. He competed in boxing for both Dreamland and collegiately at UCLA. His goal is to empower all to be the best that they can be, in boxing and in life. You can find Coach Ian on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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