Proud2Bme | Dear KJ: How Can I Separate Body Size from Health?

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Dear KJ: How Can I Separate Body Size from Health?

"Dear KJ" is a weekly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist.  She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012). Her work and writing have been featured by Good Morning America, 20/20The Colbert Report, USA Today, People, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, NPR's "Tell Me More" and "On Air with Ryan Seacrest," among others. Find her at

How do we de-link thinking of body sizesmall, "normal" or largefrom being a complete indication of mental or physical health?

The best way to de-link body size from mental or physical health is to keep up with mounting scientific evidence showing that health has much more to do with how you treat your body than what it looks like, what it weighs or your body mass index (BMI—calculated based on weight and height). For example, a study published just last week from UCLA—my alma mater!—found that around 54 million Americans who have been labeled obese or overweight according to their body mass index (BMI) are actually HEALTHY! Here’s a direct quote about this study from the L.A. Times:

“They found that nearly half (47.4%) of overweight people and 29% of obese people were, from a metabolic standpoint, quite healthy. On the flip side, more than 30% of individuals with “normal” weights were metabolically unhealthy.”  

In total, the results of this study showed that using BMI as a primary indicator of health causes almost 75 million adults in the U.S. to be miscategorized as either healthy or unhealthy! SEVENTY FIVE MILLION PEOPLE IN THE U.S. ALONE!

This research, and many other studies like it, reveal that to understand any individual person’s health we need to look beyond body size and/or weight. One great resource for this is the literature on Health At Every Size (HAES), which I’ve written about previously. Below, I’ve copied 4 HAES principles, which I try to remember for my own health and happiness. Best of luck on your own journey!

1. Accept your size.

Love and appreciate the body you have. Self-acceptance empowers you to move on and make positive changes.

2. Trust yourself.

We all have internal systems designed to keep us healthy—and at a healthy weight. Support your body in naturally finding its appropriate weight by honoring its signals of hunger, fullness and appetite.

3. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits.

Develop and nurture connections with others and look for purpose and meaning in your life. Fulfilling your social, emotional and spiritual needs restores food to its rightful place as a source of nourishment and pleasure.

  • Find the joy in moving your body and becoming more physically vital in your everyday life.
  • Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full and seek out pleasurable and satisfying foods.
  • Tailor your tastes so that you enjoy more nutritious foods, staying mindful that there is plenty of room for less nutritious choices in the context of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.

4. Embrace size diversity.

Humans come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Open to the beauty found across the spectrum and support others in recognizing their unique attractiveness.

Have questions for Dr. KJ? Post them in the comments below!

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