Does body acceptance affect health?

No, but this became a question for Jess Weiner, author, self-esteem expert, and leading activist in the body acceptance movement after a “weigh-in” (no pun intended) with her doc.  In a recent article in the September issue of Glamour magazine, Jess Weiner bravely shared the results of her medical “weigh in” that left her questioning whether loving her body was affecting her health.

After struggling with an eating disorder, Jess, like many individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, replaced the scale with other more important factors to measure her self-worth. She fully embraced the body acceptance movement, loving her size 18 body and successfully advocating for others to do the same. However, during a talk, after an audience member questioned, “How can you be healthy looking like that?” she realized that in addition to avoiding the scale, she had been avoiding the doc’s office and all medical markers of health and wellness (e.g., cholesterol, blood pressure). She had no idea how healthy she really was!

Our own Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D. weighed in on the issue regarding underlying motivations for avoiding the doc. She discussed the issues of provider bias and stereotyping of heavier women that occurs in the medical setting and can lead to “simplistic thinking” regarding women’s health and an immediate response of “you need to lose weight.” Check out what else she had to say at:

The article discusses how a trip to the doctor’s office informed Jess that her physical health was not great and that she was close to the pre-diabetic danger zone. With a family history of heart disease and diabetes, this propelled her to make lifestyle changes in order to achieve not just mental, but physical health. Simultaneously, she began to question whether accepting and loving her body was putting her at risk physically (hence the provocative title, “Loving my body almost killed me”).

Through the course of this journey, Jess found that it was not body acceptance that was leading her down a potentially dangerous health path, but some extreme thinking that might have put blinders on her. In the cognitive-behavioral world, she (like many of us) fell prey to what we call all or nothing thinking and generalization. Her body acceptance generalized beyond not focusing on weight to the point where she was eschewing basic health care behaviors such as visiting the doctor and monitoring her health—not her weight.

Even our great leaders and thought provokers today fall into “thinking traps.” It is those who share their experiences and admit their “errors” that evoke the type of discussion and self-reflection that propels our field forward.

Jess’s messages came across even more clearly in follow-up interviews with NBC and Kate Harding. She emphasized that weight loss and body acceptance can co-exist and that loving your body means treating it well on the inside and out. During her appearance on NBC, she stated, “I didn’t just set out to lose weight…it was a part of my health awakening, but not my sole purpose…it was about how I wanted to feel.” She learned that for her weight loss did not equal bad or represent acceptance of society’s thin ideal, but that it was a means to an end in line with over-arching core values of health and full physical functionality, not appearance. She needed to clarify what body acceptance and loving her body meant to her.

While there are some controversial points brought up in the Glamour article, there were important messages and questions worthy of consideration and reflection for all. A couple that stood out to me: One, accepting and loving our body does not mean disregarding our health; in fact quite the opposite. Two, weight loss and gain may be secondary to engaging in health-oriented behaviors that are appropriate for sustaining optimal health and physical function. Three, living our value-driven life feels best – it is important for us to step back and reflect on whether our current behaviors are in line with our core values in life. Four, challenging ourselves by asking questions is important to move ourselves and our field forward. Lastly, and most importantly, if Jess got each of all to have a hard think about what acceptance and loving your body means to us, and helped us to appreciate that it might mean different things to different people, then her courageous article was a success!

My definition of body acceptance: viewing my body and the bodies of others in a non-judgmental and non-critical way, while also accepting the changes that may need to occur externally in order to maintain health, wellness, and optimal physical functionality.

Loving my body means: engaging in behaviors that show respect, kindness, and acceptance for my body, including providing my body with the nourishment, rest, and care it needs to function and treat me well. It means considering all aspects of health that affect my body including physical, psychological, and mental health.

You can view the NBC interview at:

By: Cristin Runfola, M.S.