Conference Wrap-Up: Time to Value Health Over Weight

The conference I attended in St. Paul this past weekend was so interesting. It was called A New Paradigm for Weight: An Effective Model for Promoting Healthy Body Image, Eating, Fitness and Weight in Children, Teens and Adults. The four speakers provided some really useful information on how nutrition can be used to promote health, rather than weight. Too much emphasis is put on achieving a certain ideal look, often times at the expense of one’s health. Kids go to the doctor and hear that their BMI is in the “high” range, and immediately think they are fat. Moms are told to feed these kids less food, so they restrict portion sizes and meal times become a battle. From an early age, kids associate food and eating with stress, pressure and anxiety, and this can lead to things like emotional eating, low self-esteem, disordered eating, and other issues with food and weight.

I found a couple of speakers particularly interesting. One woman, Kathy Kater, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and focuses on people with eating disorders. She talked about our need for a new approach to health, since the current approach is too weight-focused and thus leads to the numerous eating-related problems we are seeing in today’s kids and adults.

Kathy identified four “toxic” myths that are at the root of almost all body image, eating, fitness and weight problems today:

1. Image is valued over substance: “How I look” is more important than “who I am.” Having the “right look” is essential to being acceptable.

2. Denial of biological diversity: Anyone can be slim if they work at it. Fatter people eat too much and/or are inactive. Fat is bad/wrong/unhealthy.

3. Denial of the effects of externally prescribed hunger regulation: Dieting is an effective weight loss strategy.

4. Discounting the value of health; complacency about lifestyle choices that do not result in the desired look: If I can’t be thin, what difference does it make what I eat? Healthy choices for health’s sake are too much work!

Some highlights of Kathy’s speech:

• Statistic that 80% of 3rd grade girls are very afraid of becoming fat (this shocked me – it’s awful)

• In the 1960s, 30% of females worried about their weight; today about 85% worry about their weight

• “The thinner we try to be, the fatter we have become” (proof that our current focus on weight, BMI, etc. is not healthy and is not working!)

• Body dissatisfaction does not motivate healthy behavior; rather, it leads to disordered eating

The genetic contribution to BMI is about 55% - 70%. Too many people are trying to “change” their bodies, and ignoring or in denial of their genes (I find this statistic very important for people to recognize; we need to STOP trying to be people we weren't meant to be!)

• We are too quick to make assumptions on one’s lifestyle based on their physical appearance. Weight is a result of many complex factors, many of which are out of one’s control. Overweight people are not necessarily unhealthy.

• There has been a significant rise in eating disorders in menopausal women in the past 10 years

• 95% of weight loss through dieting is regained

• Over 80% of people who lose weight with a low-calorie diet will regain it all (example: Oprah)

• Recently people are feeling a double-pressure to lose weight: for looks and also for health

• Overweight people who are physically active and fit are at less risk of disease than thin people who are not physically active and fit

Kathy’s bottom line: We need to value health, not size. We can do this by eating well, making fitness a priority, accepting the size and shape that is our natural predisposition, feeling good about who we are, and recognizing the harm we are doing to ourselves physically and emotionally when we continuously try new diets and lose and gain weight. I am not providing these statistics to scare or dishearten anyone; rather, I want to emphasize what I’ve always tried to focus on here at PWN: nutrition is important because it provides so many wonderful health benefits, and certain foods actually can make us feel good, while others can make us feel sick and lead to long-term health problems. If we focus on nutrition for health’s sake, we will ultimately be happier, healthier people.

When I consider how these items relate to my role as a nutritionist, I think about working with young children and their parents. I would love to help parents learn more about nutrition for their kids and how it can influence their behavior, learning and health. However, this conference reminded me that the method is just as important as the actual nutrition. Another speaker, Katja Rowell, MD, addressed how to approach feeding and eating with infants, toddlers and children. I found it extremely helpful and realized how important this process actually is. Tomorrow I will summarize what Katja spoke about.

Kathy’s website can be found here.


  1. So interesting Anne~I feel similarly to you in regard to eating for health and happiness and this has developed over the years. However its nice to be reminded of things that I find myself slipping back into. Looking forward to hearing about the little ones tomorrow :)

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