“Dear KJ” is a monthly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin “KJ” Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012). Her work and writing have been featured by Good Morning America, 20/20, The Colbert Report, USA Today, People, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, NPR‘s “Tell Me More,” and “On Air with Ryan Seacrest,” among others. Find her at kjerstingruys.com.
Michelle asks: How can you reconcile needing to lose weight for health reasons with learning to love your body? Can they be done at the same time?
Paying mindful attention to what your body needs to be healthy is a critical aspect of loving it. Few things are worse for your health than feeling hatred towards your body, which is associated with all sorts of unhealthy behaviors.
So, the simple answer to your question is, YES, you can learn to love your body—an emotional and psychological process—while taking care of it, physiologically. Indeed, showing kindness to your body is often the first step to loving it, rather than the other way around. If we waited to be 100% in love with our bodies before treating them well, we’d be waiting a long time!
That said, I am curious to know why you think that you need to “lose weight for health reasons.” You see, our culture is quite obsessed with thinness, not only in an aesthetic sense, but in a medical sense as well. We are often told that it is impossible to be healthy at higher weights, which simply isn’t true. In fact, research shows that people who are categorized as “overweight” on the BMI scale have a LOWER risk of mortality than people in the “normal” weight category.
This finding is based on data collected on thousands and thousands of people, and it is statistically sound. That said, I’m not bringing it up to tell you that you should find a way to get yourself into the “overweight” BMI category, but because I want you to question some of the assumptions you may have about the relationship between health and body size/weight.
I’m a sociologist, not a medical doctor, so I cannot make determinations about your individual physiological health, but I encourage you to learn more about the Health At Every Size philosophy (which you can read about HERE), which contends that healthful habits are more important than the number on the scale. Below, I’ve copied 4 HAES principles, which I try to remember for my own health and happiness. Best of luck on your own journey!
1. Accept your size. Love and appreciate the body you have. Self-acceptance empowers you to move on and make positive changes.
2. Trust yourself. We all have internal systems designed to keep us healthy—and at a healthy weight. Support your body in naturally finding its appropriate weight by honoring its signals of hunger, fullness and appetite.
3. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Develop and nurture connections with others and look for purpose and meaning in your life. Fulfilling your social, emotional and spiritual needs restores food to its rightful place as a source of nourishment and pleasure.
- Find the joy in moving your body and becoming more physically vital in your everyday life.
- Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full and seek out pleasurable and satisfying foods.
- Tailor your tastes so that you enjoy more nutritious foods, staying mindful that there is plenty of room for less nutritious choices in the context of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.
4. Embrace size diversity. Humans come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Be open to the beauty found across the spectrum and support others in recognizing their unique attractiveness.