Sunday, October 26, 2008
Health at Every Size
Right now I am reading Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon. Apparently Health at Every Size (HAES) is a general movement, of which Bacon is a part. The book essentially argues that you are unlikely to succeed at intentional weight loss over the long term, and that trying to do so might harm rather than improve your health, but that you can improve your health regardless of your size by other measures.
I haven't finished the book, so I won't try a full review, but although it's written at a fairly low level (similar to diet books in general) and is slightly polemical, I have only minor quibbles with what I've read so far. Bacon is an actual researcher with the kind of credentials you'd want to see. There are hundreds of citations throughout the text so that if she asserts something, you can easily investigate if you're so inclined. I think the book is worth reading whether you end up agreeing with its conclusions or not.
Bacon and some other researchers who are much more supportive of weight loss did a study in which they enrolled 78 (I think) overweight women and put them into two groups. Both groups met once per week for six months (divided into smaller support groups of 9 or 10 people), and then once a month for six months. One group followed a HAES approach and the other was a standard diet and exercise group.
After two years, neither group had lost any weight, but the HAES group had several measurable health improvements (things like fitness, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure), while the only statistically significant change among the dieting group was self-esteem, which went down.
This was, of course, only one study.
Overall, I find this approach appealing. I have lost a lot of weight (over 60 lbs) intentionally in the past, but I've regained a lot of it over time. I know that the key to maintaining the loss is to get a lot of exercise and maintain a constant focus on it, and I can't seem to do that at all right now - especially the "maintain focus" part. I can't seem to do anything systematic about my weight for more than about a week at a time.
What I can do (and I'm just starting the actual recommendations part of the book, so I'm now just writing about my own experience) is exercise and include more fruits and vegetables in my diet regardless of what or how much I am eating in general. And for now that's working out pretty well. I've got Ed going to the gym with me three times a week (which I generally enjoy a lot even though it's easier not to go) and I'm regularly eating pretty high amounts of fruits and veggies. (I'd say I average about 5 or 6 servings a day, which is not super high, but is at least within recommendations.)
I don't know. If I continue to inexorably gain weight I may have to revisit the idea of intentional weight loss. But if I can maintain some weight or other and increase my fitness to a normal level while eating a somewhat healthy diet, that might be a better approach for me.