Yesterday, in part one of our interview, Linda Bacon, Ph.D, author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, recounted the various reactions she encountered on her speaking tour.
I was thrilled to learn that people were generally welcoming, open to and excited about Health At Every Size (HAES).
Even though there’s still a great hysteria about the obesity epidemic and a ballooning focus on dieting, it’s reassuring to know that many people aren’t buying into the idea that one’s weight (or their BMI) is indicative of their health.
People are starting to abandon dieting and engage in enjoyable physical activities. And that’s great news!
Below, Linda addresses one of the most common cited dangers of obesity. Plus, she talks about where we can actually find reputable information on food (hint: the answer isn’t what you think).
Please stay tuned tomorrow for the last part of our interview. Linda discusses HAES myths and more!
Q: Can you talk more about the idea that obesity is killing us?
A: At my talks, I show a lot of evidence that data shows the opposite. That is, people who are in that category called “overweight” tend to live longer. This seemed to threaten a lot of people. We always hear the opposite.
People bring up other studies they have read and ask how I can say the opposite when there is so much press given to the idea that obesity is killing us.
For instance, not long ago The New England Journal of Medicine published an analysis of 19 different studies saying that being even a little overweight is damaging – this got incredible press attention and many people were familiar with the sound bites.
It was easy for me to use that study as an example of researcher bias. The analysis looked at a huge population, and many people had died over the course of the study so they had a lot of data.
But when they did the analysis, the researchers stated that they couldn’t use many of these people because their data didn’t give valuable information. By the time they finished with all of their exclusions, they had thrown out 78 percent of the people that died.
The only people left were the ones who proved the researchers’ hypothesis!
I understand why it’s hard to believe this, especially because of the constant media attention on the obesity epidemic. But if you actually look at research studies – that one and most others – you find that researcher bias influences how they interpret the data.
The press reports don’t publish the actual data. Whatever spin the researchers put out is the only thing that the public sees.
But I don’t want to make this seem like a conspiracy. I think that researchers are generally well intended and not even aware of their bias. When everyone shares the same bias, it’s not even recognized as bias – it just goes unnoticed as “fact.”
Q: So how can we find good information?
A: The basic rule to remember is that when it comes to your body, you’re a much better expert that anyone else. It’s not helpful to look at things like calorie charts, for example, because there’s a wide margin of error in assessing the calorie content of food and what happens to those calories as they are used in each of our bodies.
All ideas about appropriate numbers of calories are completely bogus. You are a much better judge of what your body needs.
Hunger and fullness, for example, can do a better job of telling you the amounts that best nourish your body. In most cases, you don’t have to rely on experts – in fact, you’ll do much better without them.
It’s the same with figuring out what to eat. Sure, experts can tell you that eating foods high in fiber is valuable. But your body can give you all these messages much more effectively than any outside scientist.
If you have a low fiber diet, you’re probably constipated and have energy swings throughout the day. A lot of it is trusting yourself or getting to know yourself, instead of relying on an outside source.
If you have a specific disease, this can be more complicated, and it’s difficult to get good health information. So much of what we publish in science and discuss in the news have been tainted by people with economic interests, which adds to the difficulties I mentioned before about unacknowledged bias.
I think it is a difficult place we’re in. I wish that there were easy answers on finding good information, but it’s often hard to do.
Again, it’s important to recognize that for the majority of our health concerns, we don’t need the experts. We’re too quick to think we need something outside of ourselves.
Even with type 2 diabetes, you can still get all the information from your body pretty effectively without memorizing or consulting glycemic charts or the other ideas promoted around diabetes.
(I co-authored an article with psychotherapist Judith Matz to help people with diabetes read and learn from their bodies, which can be found as a free download on my website.) [MT: Here’s the direct link to the PDF. I highly recommend reading it!]
Thank you, Linda, for your pioneering work and insight!
Part three on HAES myths is tomorrow!