The existing movement known as Health At Every Size is inspirational to many and controversial to those who vehemently deny that overweight or obese people can be healthy. Both sides of the discussion make excellent points and can provide scientific evidence to support their beliefs. But wellness is not the same as health. In calling my blog Well At Any Size I am explicitly not suggesting that fat is healthy but rather that individuals can face towards wellness no matter where they are at this point in time. My much revered teacher (one of them) Professor Jack Travis illustrates this with his Wellness Continuum. The idea that a person who is wheelchair bound can experience high level wellness should come as no surprise. In my work with cancer survivors there is growing acceptance that you can be well even when diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness. The same applies to different body shapes and sizes. Yes there’s some proof that abdominal fat and certainly visceral fat is a health risk but having one physical measure of health out of whack does not negate the entirety of a person’s wellness potential. Just as the jogger in Jack’s diagram is heading away from wellness, so too can people who neglect all the mental, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions of wellbeing, even if they are in excellent physical health. During my Masters degree I have taken a bunch of Wellness Assessments and always scored highly, however some HRA’s (Health Risk Appraisals) emphasise BMI/weight and therefore put me at risk of heart disease, diabetes and due to my family history, cancer. My point is that whether or not someone has a disease that fits a diagnostic criteria, or has high risk for a disease, their actions, thoughts and feelings can lead them towards ill health or towards wellness. And just like the wellness programs for cancer, my chosen lifestyle interventions are not aimed at treating the physical disease but rather at increasing subjective wellbeing amongst other measures. If in that process of living well, the disease also goes into remission, fantastic, but that is not the main aim. I choose wellness.
This blog is a space to explore all the dimensions of wellness. For me personally I am committed to exercising, eating well and investing in positive relationships. However one stumbling block I keep stubbing my toe on is the issue of self-concept and body image. As a yoga teacher I see the beauty in my students efforts no matter what their external form. As a therapist I am interested in people’s internal lives. Yet everytime a client cancels or does a ‘no show’ on me or the turn out at yoga is smaller than expected, I take it as a personal affront and my thoughts run to self-criticism, specifically ‘I’m too fat’. In the majority of my life and thoughts I am positive, focused and constructive but living large (and the fact is I am overweight) and working to enhance the wellbeing of others might just be a little contradictory. When I turn on myself I ponder why anyone would take my advice about healthy living, I condemn myself as a failure as a teacher and when the chips are really down, as a human being. So what to do? Should I quit lecturing, consulting and teaching yoga until I drop 20kgs? Should I give up on my yogic lifestyle and take up binge eating cos’ what the hell, I’m fat anyway? I simply don’t accept either of those options. Instead I believe I can be an advocate for making the most of what you’ve got, enjoying moving your body whatever the size or shape and feeding that body with nutritious, nurturing food like you love it because it’s yours for this lifetime. And how about finding meaning and purpose in your life, loving wholeheartedly, being vulnerable, creative and adventurous?