“We have to take the whole big picture of somebody's life in mind whenever we're trying to support people in good health.” - Dr. Lindo Bacon
On this episode of the Yumlish Podcast, Dr. Lindo Bacon joins Shireen to discuss fatphobia, body confidence, and navigating health information online. They touch on the ideas of body confidence and fatphobia.
Dr. Lindo Bacon is a scientist and former professor who has mined their deep academic proficiency, their clinical expertise, and their personal experience to write the groundbreaking books, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight and the co-authored Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight. Their newly released book, Radical Belonging: How to Survive and Thrive in an Unjust World (While Transforming it for the Better), takes their inspiring message beyond size, to shaping a culture of empathy, equity, and true belonging.
We are giving away 3 physical copies of Radical Belonging! See our social media for more information!
Shireen: In this episode Dr. Lindo Bacon explores the intersectional effects of fatphobia, especially within the health space. They also discuss how the health space can be reimagined to manage body confidence, fatphobia, and health concerns, especially for individuals with chronic illnesses. Tune in to learn how you can regain body confidence and better navigate health, wellness and diet information online. Podcasting from Dallas, Texas, I am Shireen, and this is the Yumlish Podcast.
Shireen: Yumlish is working to empower you to take charge of your health through diet and exercise and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type two diabetes and heart disease. We hope to share a unique perspective and a culturally relevant approach to managing these chronic conditions with you each week.
Shireen: Dr. Lindo Bacon is a scientist and former professor who has mined their deep academic proficiency, their clinical expertise and their personal experience to write the three paradigm-shifting books, Health at Every Size, the co-authored Body Respect, and Radical Belonging: How to Survive and Thrive in an Unjust World While Transforming it for the Better. Welcome, Dr. Bacon, how are you doing?
Dr. Lindo Bacon: I’m doing great today. How about you, Shireen?
Shireen: Doing well, excited to get this conversation started. So Dr. Bacon, how did you become interested in the science of health, nutrition and exercise?
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Well, I’d love to be able to say it was because I wanted to save the world and help other people. But the truth is, it was a lot more selfish than all that I got into these fields, because as a young kid, food was a really challenging, difficult issue for me. And I wasn’t comfortable in my body, I felt like I was too fat, there was something wrong with fat. And I had this idea that I was supposed to exercise all the time that I was supposed to avoid certain foods and restrict myself. And this triggered an eating disorder and a lot of pain.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: And I tried all the traditional ways of trying to heal an eating disorder and nothing was working for me. And given how academically oriented I was, I figured I can solve this through learning in science. And so that started me on an academic education in the field. And I started with psychology. And after I realized that there’s a lot of really interesting and important stuff here. But this wasn’t all about emotional eating, right? And there there had to be something much deeper that was going to help me to solve this problem. Then I studied it and got another master’s degree, this time in exercise science, trying to look at it from that vantage point.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: And there I found the same kinds of disconnects, I found around eating, that there is no evidence to show that exercising regularly is going to help people to lose weight and keep it off. Well, of course, there’s a lot of research to show it will help us in our health, but not around weight. And so then I decided to jump into it even further. And then I got a Ph.D. in physiology with an emphasis on nutrition. So I can learn how all of the different things came together in our body. And so that’s why I got into the field. And I’m happy to say that I had some success with the ends that I now really can appreciate food, appreciate my body. And I feel like I’ve come through and I write books now to try to show other people the path that I discovered through science and did research on and actually published on, and to support other people in ways that they might learn how to appreciate their body.
Shireen: Tell us a little bit about fatphobia help us understand what it is and how does it present itself in our lives and society, especially within the health and nutrition space.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Yeah, well, it’s easy for me to understand it in the context of my history. I was taught just like most people in our world, that fat is a bad thing. That the only way to be attractive to other people. The only way to be healthy is to be thin. And that and I saw that fatter, people don’t get treated well at all. It’s a hard world to live in. So that’s what fatphobia is all about. And I know that when you hear the word, like prejudice and oppression, we like, like a lot of people think, Oh, that’s a bad person, right. But really, most of the people that are practicing fatphobia are doing it because it’s what they’re taught is actually a good and healthy thing. Like, for example, the wellness and nutrition field. They believe so deeply that thinness is a good thing that they think they’re being helpful to people when they promote it.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: And they don’t recognize that when you actually look at the data, that thinness doesn’t actually improve health, that most people can never achieve fitness even when they have good healthful practices. And that telling people that thinness is better is a form of oppression and keeping a lot of people in pain. And so I think that the biggest purveyors of fatphobia, are the people that we looked to take care of us. It’s the healthcare industry. And again, I want to say it’s not because they’re bad people doing this intentionally. It’s because we have this very warped idea of what health is. And it’s not actually based on an understanding of science.
Shireen: How does the intersectionality affect the experience of our bodies and fatphobia?
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Sure, well, first, it’s probably helpful to define the term intersectionality. And if you just break it down, you can see the root intersection. And basically what that means is that we have a lot of different social identities, and who we are exists at the intersection of all of those. So for example, someone could not just be slender, but they could also they may also be African American, they may also be of higher economic standing, right, and they have multiple identities within their body. And what we know is that fatphobia affects us differently based on those other identities.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: So for example, it may combine with in women who are judged more on their appearance than men. And I should also in the category, not just women, but people who don’t gender conform as well. But people who have marginalized gender identities, get judged more based on their appearance. And so fatphobia might have a more intense effect on them. And so we can’t just look at any of our social identities separate from the whole big picture. And that’s what intersectionality tells us.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: So it’s really helpful for us to understand the meaning of fat for people in a lot of different categories. So for example, to give you another example, if you’re wealthy, you can better afford to to buy better foods, foods that you like, you might have more agency at work, so you can take food breaks when you need them. And that’s a very different experience than someone who is less economically fortunate. So they have a very different relationship to food. So we have to take the whole big picture of somebody’s life in mind whenever we’re trying to support people in good health.
Shireen: And tell us a little bit about how one – how individuals regained body confidence in this, you know, and just the world, but what does it take?
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Okay, well, I think the end of that question is what’s most important in understanding the answer, recognizing that this is an unjust world, that our bodies have meaning to other people and to ourselves, people are constantly judging us, they may give us opportunities or take opportunities away from us, based on what our bodies look like. And we too have a very intimate and relationship with our bodies based on the ways in which it’s served us in this world and the ways in which we know it’s had an impact on how people treat us.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: So in light of that, the challenge that most of us have about appreciating our bodies is a lot about it. it intersects very much with what our bodies mean in the world. So I think that one of the most important things that people can do if they want to develop more body confidence is to recognize that, hey, your body is never a problem. The problem is in the culture, which may not value or treat your body very well. And the better you get at separating that and putting the blame where it belongs, the more you recognize that there’s nothing wrong with you. And that can help you on the whole journey of figuring out how to take good care of yourself. But that’s not an easy thing, when you’re constantly getting messages from the outside that your body isn’t Okay.
Shireen: Do you have a story or example along this lines that you can share with us?
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Sure, an example right now that’s very front and center for me, is a good friend of mine, who is fat, and I use that word fat, stripped of all of its pejorative connotations, I want to help destigmatize the word and just let people know that this is just another way of being in our bodies. And there’s a whole social justice movement, the fat acceptance movement that’s happening, which is why I feel better about using that word. But anyway, so my friend is fat. And every time she goes to the doctors, she gets the weight loss lecture. And when she’s gone for a sore throat, the doctors never dealt with her sore throat, they just gave her the weight loss lecture. But everything seems to come down to weight. And now she’s having problems in her knees. And the VA, doctors told her lose weight, and that’ll help.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Now, here’s my personal experience with understanding that I’m actually slender. And I had the same exact knee problems that she did. And I went to the doctor, and they prescribed for me stretching and strengthening, which was helpful for a while. But then when that had its limits, they suggested surgery, which was also helpful. They’re not even mentioning that stuff to my friend, or giving her the option of surgery, when she asked for surgery. They say they don’t give surgery to people in her weight class, which has no scientific value or merit whatsoever. And what I know is that her situation is identical to my father’s. My father was also fat. And when he sought treatment from an orthopedic surgeon, and he got the same message she got, and he went to his death with knee pain, it never helped his knee pain. That advice basically just triggered his eating disorder. And it wasn’t at all helpful for his needs. So it did damage didn’t help. And so that’s an example of fatphobia. And just how powerful is in the healthcare industry, and how detrimental it is to helping people with their health.
Shireen: And so what I’m hearing from you, Dr. Bacon is that essentially, that the weight, the fat itself is looked at, and it differentiates the way care is provided from one person to the other, to where you had one experience to where they told you to do one set of things, but someone else, the fat and the weight sort of becomes the center of the conversation. Until that is dealt with, anything else is just secondary to that it seems.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Exactly, although it’s also very well established in the research that they could have benefited from the same advice that was given to me.
Shireen: Absolutely. How can the health and nutrition space balanced body confidence fatphobia and health concerns? And I want to be specific for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease?
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Well, the first thing I’d look at is, I would I don’t think that that word balance should be in the question because it’s not as if body comp and confidence acts against health right there. You can have both, you don’t need to balance them. And in fact, I think it’s necessary to have body confidence if you want to help improve people’s health. So for all of those diseases, what we know is that weight is very much blown out of proportion as a participant in it.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: So for example, with diabetes, what we know is that and I know this is quite controversial, and so perhaps people are going to have to be reading my books or find some of the free information that I’ve published on my website. Or check out your local library. I’m not trying to self promote here. But I’ve done a lot of work to try to help people to separate the idea of weight from health. And what we know is that we have no evidence that losing that losing weight actually improves diabetes. Now, we do have a few research studies that show that the few people who we told to lose weight and actually kept it off, may have improved diabetes.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: But we also know is that in all of those studies, they were doing something to lose weight, like they might have been exercising more. So that doesn’t mean that weight loss itself was what cured their or helped their diabetes. And so in fact, when we start to look at all of those research studies in more depth, we can tease out those issues. And when we do tease out those issues, what we know is there’s a very strong case, that supporting people in eating better and exercising regularly can improve diabetes tremendously. But we don’t have the evidence that weight loss itself actually improves diabetes. So let’s support people in those kinds of behaviors. And I also want to say is a very important corollary to that, that I know with diabetes, the first thing we think about is personal health behaviors. You know, usually people think about sugar.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: And here’s another thing we know from the research, but we don’t talk about that those personal health behaviors pale in comparison to what we call the social determinants of health, that diabetes, for example, tends to congregate in people who are less privileged socio economically. And what we find from research is that when you improve the conditions of people’s lives, so for example, if you just give people vouchers, so that being able to afford a nice home, is easier for them. That improves diabetes tremendously. So I think our whole public health, emphasis on personal behavior change diverts us from what’s really, really important in diabetes care.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: And that’s that we need a more equitable and fair world, we need to figure out how to support people in good health habits. And all of that is really going to be what’s most helpful for us in improving diabetes. And what is least helpful for us is telling people to diet and restrict their calories. Because what we know is that the vast majority, people are not going to maintain that weight loss. And we also know that there’s a lot of damage that’s promoted by that. But on the other hand, it’s really easy to be able to support people in just taking good care of their bodies, and not putting the emphasis on weight. And we know that can be helpful.
Shireen: And so if I’m understanding correctly, if we if we take out weight from the conversation, we focus on those socioeconomic factors, if we focus on the nutrition, the exercise, weight aside, essentially, health outcomes will be proven and diabetes, cardiovascular, all of these related illnesses, essentially, by focusing on those determinants and nutrition and exercise.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Exactly. And I think that we need to start looking at the science differently. Because right now, people are so biased in their belief that thinness is better, that they look at all the research with that in mind, and then that colors their interpretation. So for example, we know that diabetes is much more common among larger people. And so then that gives people an excuse to blame it on the weight. But if you take away your assumption, that a high weight is damaging, and you look at other factors, you can find that there’s a lot of other things that these people have in common that might be contributing to their diabetes.
Dr. Lindo Bacon:And when you do all of that, you realize that that was a red herring. And we were interpreting the data that we have wrong. So we have phenomenal data right now. What’s where we’re going wrong, is in how we interpret the data. So if we lose our bias, and in our assumption that sad is bad, and we look at the data with a more objective eye, we can determine some of the other contributors and what is actually more helpful. And that’s what I do in the work that I do is I help people to lose their bias, so that they can then do a better job of understanding the data and how we can be supportive of people.
Shireen: And weight then, just becomes a symptom rather than a cause of the of the illness itself.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Well, sometimes it’s a symptom, right? So in diabetes, we know that’s true. When people have insulin resistance, it causes them to gain weight that that we know. But it’s not always a symptom or a sign of disease. There are a lot of people in fatter bodies that live long, healthy disease free bodies – er – live long, healthy disease free lives. So I don’t want us to look at fat as an indicator necessarily of poor health.
Shireen: Gotcha. What – What tips do you have for our listeners here as they try to navigate their health, their own wellness and then just diet information online?
Dr. Lindo Bacon: Yeah, it’s a hard thing, because we can’t know everything independently. And so we’re taught to look to experts who have studied different fields, and rely on them for information. And sadly, what I think we have to recognize is that because there is such a strong cultural bias, and particularly a strong bias within the healthcare field, to interpret everything within this fatphobic lens, that we can no longer trust our healthcare providers to be providing us with valuable information around weight. So I really encourage people to learn more about this, like, I know that there’s not like, I’m not gonna say, trust me over another person, like, you’re gonna have to figure out what makes more sense to you. But what I am saying is that challenge this because what you’ve been taught, may not be valid.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: And so that’s what the Health at Every Size movement is all about. It’s about educating people to look at the idea of wait on a more objective basis, and challenge those assumptions. So that we can look at health in a different way. And so I really want to encourage everyone, both consumers of healthcare, and the healthcare practitioners themselves, to learn more about how to challenge their own biases, and what else might be possible. And that’s why I write that’s why I wrote my three books. And that’s why I’m so actively involved in the health and nutrition and weight fields, to help support others in challenging those myths, and coming up with new understandings that are actually helpful, and supporting people and being able to appreciate their bodies, which I think is something that has been taken away from them by healthcare professionals.
Shireen: And with that, Dr. Bacon, unfortunately, we’re toward the end of the episode. What a -what a remarkable conversation and thank you for all the work that you are doing. For our listeners out there, we have a special treat for you Dr. Bacon’s offered to provide their book called Radical Belonging out to three lucky listeners. If you are interested, head over to our social media, and learn how you can you know how you can participate in this giveaway. And with that, Dr. Bacon, thank you so very much for your time with us today.
Dr. Lindo Bacon: It was great to talk with you, Shireen, and thank you.
Shireen: Thank you, and also, listeners, head over to our social media and tell us when do you feel most confident in yourself and your body. Head over to our Facebook, our Instagram. Start the conversation there. We will see you here after the episode.
Shireen: Thank you for listening to the Yumlish Podcast. Make sure to follow us on social media @Yumlish_ on Instagram and Twitter and @Yumlish on Facebook and LinkedIn. For tips about managing your diabetes and other chronic conditions and to chat and connect with us about your journey and perspectives. You can also visit our website Yumlish.com for more recipes advice and to get involved with all of the exciting opportunities Yumlish has to offer. If you like this week’s show, make sure to subscribe so you can hear more from us every time we post. Thank you again, and we’ll see you next time. Remember your health always comes first. Stay well.