I was intrigued by research discussed in February’s “One person’s healthy food is not another person’s healthy food” that the Healthy Foods, Healthy Living Institute is involved in, including growing food in northern Minnesota. However, I was troubled by statements around weight and weight-loss goals for older women. Full disclosure: I am a woman over 40, a family doctor, mom to a daughter and a specialist in childhood feeding.
As Prof. Mindy Kurzer’s self-described lifelong challenges with weight show, knowledge and determination (“… they have to be willing to change their lifestyle for the rest of their lives.”), as well as having the resources to shop for, transport, store nutritious foods, and hire a personal trainer, don’t guarantee weight loss. Can we expect that advice to work for the rest of us, for those working three jobs, relying on buses or struggling with housing, mental illness or stigma?
It’s been 13 years since my last diet (dieting “success” rates are single digits, with many chronic dieters gaining more than is lost). My husband lost 14 pounds and I lost 3, and all 17 were gained back. I wasted hours dreaming of the forbidden high-carb bowl of cereal. I have since researched the science and embraced the final words of the article, which seemed counter to the content: “If feeling better was the motivation rather than the figure on the scale, we’d all do better.”
Of the vibrant women I know in their 70s, 80s and 90s who “do better,” some are lean, others are round and soft. All have a passion, whether it is writing letters, painting, saving turtles, church or political activism. They have strong family and community connections, didn’t smoke and have financial resources and medical care. I hope to be among these women someday, and struggling to lose weight is not more likely to make that happen. I am weighed annually at the doctor and, yes, since 40, my weight has crept up a few pounds as it does for many women. I am thankful that through my work I learned that weight and poor health are not linearly related, as in every “extra” 5 pounds does not take additional months off your life.
With awareness of my privilege, I share that I may no longer fit into my wedding dress, but I cook often and prioritize family meals. I enjoy lentils and spinach, ice cream and the occasional fast food. I am grateful for my body, and move in joyful ways as often as I can, more some weeks than others. I aim for enough quality sleep and maintain meaningful social connections. I inherited genes that direct my body to do things with cholesterol that make my doctor swoon. I take breaks when I feel like my head and heart will explode from my Facebook feed. I had a secure, low-stress childhood (research shows a compelling link between cumulative childhood trauma and poor adult health outcomes). I have a loving partner, a healthy child and a warm home in a safe neighborhood.
I cherish the freedom from the tyranny of the pursuit of weight loss, where a bowl of cereal is just that, and I can dream of more enchanting things. I take care of myself with healthy behaviors and allow my weight to settle where it may. I encourage others to consider doing the same.
More at intuitiveeating.org and ASDAH.org and lindabacon.org
*Postmenopausal women suffer increasingly from eating disorders. The Emily Program is a resource in St. Anthony Park. If the pursuit of weight loss or negative body image are interfering with quality of life, there is help. (I have no financial stake in the Emily Program, and there are other programs in the Twin Cities.)
Katja Rowell, St. Anthony Park