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Health and a Full Life at Every Size.

Do no harm: an alternative to dieting. When we perpetuate a myth, when we suggest or support our client's wish for an outcome that is unsupported in the literature, we violate the basic tenet of our profession, to do no harm.

More than sixty percent of the population of the United States is overweight according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is true despite diet plans, exercise options, shaming messages, and medical warnings on the dangers of being overweight (whether supported by research or not).

As psychologists, we are frequently asked by our patients to help them lose weight. Many people believe that is the only choice if they are to have a good, positive, whole life. Acceptable, desirable size is time bound and culture bound. If we do not have an alternative, we are simply supporting the value of the culture, at this moment. Psychologist and client alike get "high jacked" by the focus on weight loss and miss the critical message of having a healthy lifestyle without focus on the number on the scale.

The media present us with thinner and thinner models of what is good, right, desirable for our bodies. The current goal is size zero! What should therapists do to disavow the culture, the self hatred, the demoralizing dance and depressing messages our clients are immersed in day by day? What many of us think about, prescribe or discuss with our clients is what would be called an eating disorder.

To diet, one must spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the process of eating, while limiting intake, ignoring hunger and satiety cues, and reinforcing the idea that the body and food are the enemies. Dieting does not make people thinner! When the diet necessarily ends, the nearly universal experience--95 percent of people--is to regain the weight that was lost, sometimes more--90 percent of people.

The dieter is left with less muscle tissue and more fat, less confidence and more shame. And, we continue to support weight loss as the goal!

The question then becomes what solutions do we have to offer if not a focus on dieting and weight loss? As psychologists we are responsible for learning about interventions that actually help people of any size live the healthiest life. There are services and supports specifically designed for large people such as fitness programs, social organizations, problem solving resources (e.g., finding clothing that fits, securing adequate medical care, handling job discrimination), and political groups.

To have a full life means having choices. Many people with more weight than they wish to have are subjected to intrusive and negative comments.

Many assumptions are made about who they are and how they conduct their lives. If we perpetuate those assumptions, in overt and covert ways, we fail to offer our clients choices that can and do lead to a more fulfilling life.

Our own learning about being fit and fat, healthy lifestyle alternatives, what is actually possible, what interventions are efficacious is our responsibility, as is true for any clinical service we offer. We must challenge our own thoughts when we "read" a client's issues from the size of her body.

Many of us, in whatever words we use, say to our clients that what matters are the modest changes that can be sustained over a lifetime. To have a healthy life, where the number on the scale is not the accurate measure of health, we must all do the same things: move for fun; eat a variety of foods for fuel and taste without avoiding preferred and delicious ranges of choices; drink sufficient water; breathe; get enough sleep; and be with people who cherish us. So basic.

We must look at process goals--what anyone can do today--rather than unattainable outcome goals. If we support the view that life must "weight" or be delayed until someone's weight reaches a certain number, we are doing harm.

The answer that may sound radical is that living your life in a healthy way leads to a good weight for each of us. If watching the number on a scale would lead to people being lighter/thinner over time, the world would have smaller people. As psychologists, we need to address the unique issues a client brings. Ask yourself, "If this client was thin, what would you focus on?"

Health Tips for Bountiful Women

Did you know it's possible to be healthy at any size? A new study confirms that you don't have to be thin to be fit. Steven Blair, director of research at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas claims "there is a misdirected obsession with weight and weight loss. The focus is all wrong.

It's fitness that is the key." Blair's study shows that trim people who don't exercise have double the death rate than larger people who do exercise.

You don't need to lose one pound to be healthy, but you will need to:

Move: Take your eyes off your scale and move your body in enjoyable ways. Dance. Stretch. Garden. Park a few extra steps away. Walk for five minutes a day. Start where you are, begin slowly and increase as your fitness level grows. Make a one percent change and in 100 days, you'll be at a dramatically different fitness level than today. Drink. Drink water--not coffee, wine, soda--just water.  Water intake makes a huge difference for your energy level--experiment for yourself. Here's the formula--divide your weight in half and that's the number of ounces of water you need each day. If you weigh 200 lbs., you need about 100 ounces; that is about eight, 12 ounce glasses.

Rest: Most of us are sleep deprived, needing a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night.  One way to tell if you are getting good sleep is if you dream. Dreaming requires deep sleep to occur. 

Eat:  Do not deprive yourself of foods you especially want. Remember, there are no bad foods. Nourish yourself with nutritious choices of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein. When you crave chocolate, try eating something good for you, like an apple, and then eat chocolate. You may eat less, you may not, but you will become more aware of your choices.

Be current: Get excellent medical care in a timely way.  If your physician sees fat and does not see you, try asking, "if I were a thin person, what would you do next?"  If he or she cannot see the entire you, immediately go elsewhere. Do not avoid routine check ups.  Bodies of every size need more tender loving care as we pass forty!  Check out the link for fat-friendly professionals at

Be loved: Invest your time in people who cherish you. Who you spend time with matters.

Make the choice to live a full, fit and bountiful life.

On Passion and Love

We come into the world seeking and enjoying pleasure.  All healthy babies do. Unfortunately, many of us learn to ignore what we feel, what we sense, and to avoid pleasure. Consequently, many women believe they must "weight" until they are good enough, right enough, and thin enough to be sexy and sensual.  Oo oo baby, not so.

Sensuality is when you . . .

• deliberately savor the taste of every food and drink.

• actively explore the aroma of whatever you encounter.

• touch all sorts of things, noting the textures and temperature.

• listen for even the softest, unnoticed sounds--this may require you to be still for some moments.

• see life as if you are an artist, appreciating light, dark, color, shape, and illusion--what do you see that you didn't see before?  Look at the spaces between the leaves and find the patterns . . . .

• embrace love. At times we say we want a relationship but then do everything to avoid it.

At every moment our bodies are experiencing sensual stimulation. We can either pay attention to them or cut ourselves off from these pleasure. Many of us have a set of rules who we are to be and how we are to act that tell us to neglect our sensual selves. Can you think of some of your own rules, right now?  The length of the list might surprise you. 

Here are some of my old rules: Don't wear sexy underwear. Don't flirt. Don't see your curvy soft body as delicious. Don't notice attractive people. Don't sing out loud whether or not you can carry a tune. Don't be noisy or messy or too alluring. And whatever you do, don't let them see you naked.

Since you made up your rules to begin with, perhaps you can make up new rules! How do you like some of my current rules? Always get your feet rubbed.

Flirt, whenever, wherever you feel like. Sing out loud. Move around, jump up and down, hop, skip, jump. Be big and flashy and seductive. Light some candles, put on romantic music, dance. Luxuriate in bath water. Treat yourself to a massage. Be lusty, voluptuous and naked.

Sensuality is a way of life based of choices we make each day. We need to tune into the sensual experiences that are already happening by enjoying our surroundings, our loved ones and our bodies.

Expect to Be Accepted/Don't Accept Anything Less!

No one wants to be hurt. No one wants to be hurt, again. The only way to avoid every possibility of one more disappointing encounter is to avoid all relationships. What an empty life that can be.

Yes, there are risks in life. The challenge for each of us is to choose wisely, chose carefully, and be sure you choose. If any of us tries to "play it safe," you must face that you are making a choice, a choice to be separate from others.

What is important is to chose to be with people who cherish, honor, and value you. Sometimes, you don't know exactly who those people will be until you get to know them. You are attracted to a certain person because she or he is warm, interesting, around in your day-to-day lives. As you get to know that person, rather than scanning for danger, rather than watching and monitoring the other person's behavior and way of being with you, what is most essential is paying attention to how you feel when you are with that person and after the time with them is over.

If you find yourself relaxed, laughing, sharing whatever is important to you and leave feeling refreshed, that sounds like a good person with whom to share time and experiences--friendship, romance or whatever. If, on the other hand, you feel otherwise, feel that you are struggling to talk, censoring what you say, on guard, worried about what you said, there are two questions to ask yourself. First, is this the feeling you mostly have when you are with other people? If so, it might help to talk to a wise friend, a loving family member, a therapist, a religious or spiritual person in your life and explore why you are so unsettled with yourself.

If the answer to the first question is, "no, this is not how I mostly feel," then ask yourself the second question, What is it that I am enjoying/receiving in this relationship that keeps me coming back to spend time with this person? Be brutally frank and honest with yourself. If you are saying things to yourself, such as, no one will want me so I have to accept what I am receiving or be alone, or, he/she is so terrific . . . (fill in the blank), I must be worthwhile if they want to be with me, or, I feel loved, cared about, appreciated by this person. Clearly determine your feelings so you are honoring yourself, being loyal to yourself. You deserve it. We all do.

Who you spend time with really really matters. Many bountiful women have taken emotional hits because our bodies have not measured up to what some people feel is right/better/good for us. Healing those wounds, developing our self esteem is our work, as it is the work of many women who believe there is something not quite right about them. Do that work. Get whatever help you need to heal the past. The other half of the equation is to be only with people who cherish you when you have the choice. If you must be with someone who is toxic/harmful to you, limit the contact, have a friend with you, but know you will have to take care of yourself after you have spent time with that person.

When you select people who honor you, respect you, care about you, want to know you, life will be bountiful, full and rich.

Bonnie Bernell

Bountiful Women
Bonnie Bernell

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