the HAES® files: Looking through HAES-colored glasses for Rosie

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Deb Lemire

As you have no doubt heard, earlier this month Rosie O’Donnell had a heart attack. I am a big fan of Rosie’s, always have been. She is a big, powerful woman, compassionate and real in a Hollywood world where that is rare—even if it gets her in trouble sometimes. I have been compared to her when on stage, a great compliment to me. We are physically similar. I can be funny at times and it’s a no brainer if I pull out the Brooklyn dialect. Heck, we are even the same age.


Up until the end of last year Rosie had a radio show on Satellite radio. I listened to it whenever I could. Her friend who co-hosted the show was always on a diet and weight loss was often a topic of conversation. Rosie would share her struggle with weight, dieting and food. I wrote in and called in several times and tried, without much luck, to introduce the Health At Every Size® model to the conversation.

Now Rosie has had a heart attack. Her left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery was 99% blocked. She was lucky. Blockage of this artery is often called the ‘widow maker’ because it is the primary feed of oxygen to the heart and if the heart doesn’t get oxygen, NO body part gets oxygen! So very often this blockage proves fatal even when help is sought immediately.

One of my fears that sneaks up on me when things like this hit the news is that I will become very ill, or have a cardiac event and everyone will KNOW that it was my own fault because I am fat and I should have known it was coming, should have taken better care of myself, I deserved it, etc. Then, in a panic, I think about jumping back into the diet cycling that likely contributed to my health crisis in the first place, because… am I nuts?! A Health At Every Size approach?!  Loving my body, intuitive eating, fun exercise?! What was I thinking?!

While I would love to think this is an unreasonable train of thought, the comments surrounding the story of Rosie’s health crisis only substantiate my fears.

Bysabniz posts: she’s overweight, which would be the main cause for heart problem. anyone who thinks weight is not a problem, should think twice.

Aries1979 charms us with: why don’t you try 30 minutes on a treadmill you fat bitch!

Arnie Buckethead has it all figured out: maybe it was her fat, gluttonous eating habits !!!! Idiots !!!

Sfd at least isn’t outright rude: I don’t want to be mean, but when you’re overweight, what do you expect?

And Muddbuddy1111 makes sure it is clear: obese is not cool, no matter how pc America becomes. her size is not to be accepted by anyone, including herself.

No doubt Rosie’s brush with death will cause her to do some serious rethinking of how she lives her life, as it would for any of us. Before she hops on that runaway train of self blame and recrimination, I would like to look at this through a Health At Every Size lens, for all of our sakes.

First of all Bysabniz, overweight is NOT the main cause for heart problems. Even according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a group firmly mired in the weight-based paradigm, the major risk factors for a heart attack are “smoking, overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, an unhealthy diet, and lack of physical activity along with family history and increasing age.” Although the data suggests that each of these factors may be correlated with heart disease, no one risk factor causes heart disease in itself. People of all shapes and sizes, famous and not, deal with heart disease. The HAES® model recognizes our responsibility to take good care of ourselves; therefore, a HAES practitioner would look at all of these possible contributing factors and facilitate improvements in areas of self-care that are possible and appropriate.

Name calling, Aries1979 and Arnie? Nice. I will go out on a limb here and assume these two and Rosie are not pals, so really there is no way they have any idea what or how Rosie eats on a daily basis, or how much physical activity she gets. Research tells us that the average larger person doesn’t eat any more than the average smaller person and that physical activity improves health outcomes whether or not it results in weight loss. The HAES model encourages us to eat and move in a way that best serves our body; providing necessary nutrition and enjoyable physical activity. If you have specific needs because of allergies, sensitivities, disease, physical limitations or say you are recovering from a heart attack, then the HAES model expands to meet those needs.

And SFD…what should any one expect? Respect. That being said, larger people should not automatically expect to experience disease at a greater rate than smaller people. In fact, research sponsored by the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC found that the lowest mortality rate is found in the overweight BMI category. And in studies of those 55 and older, both overweight and obesity confer a significant decreased risk of mortality. The HAES model is an excellent tool for addressing wellness in people of all sizes by focusing on health rather than weight. Focusing on weight can lead to under treatment of those with a lower weights and over-treatment of those with higher weights (see the chart below prepared by Deb Burgard based on data from this article). This is not cost effective and it leaves a great many people receiving inadequate health care.

Source: Deb Burgard, “The War on Obesity: The Eating Disorders Community at a Crossroads.” Keynote at 2012 conference of Eating Disorder Recovery Support, Inc.

And Muddbuddy, Muddbuddy, Muddbuddy. Not to be accepted by anyone? Really? People don’t take care of things they hate. Our current cultural environment that condemns people for body size, whether deemed too fat or too thin, only supports the diet industry’s bottom line. Weight discrimination in the United States has increased by 66% over the past decade, and is comparable to rates of racial discrimination, especially among women. Discrimination has never led to improvement in our society. A Health At Every Size approach teaches us to recognize and respect the diversity of bodies and emboldens us to take good care of ourselves and each other.

So Rosie, I wish you a speedy recovery my friend. And I hope you are able to love yourself enough to take good care and find health at your own size.

7 Comments to “the HAES® files: Looking through HAES-colored glasses for Rosie”

  1. Fantastic blog post! I only hope she gets a chance to read this.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, Deb. I love how you countered each point with the common sense of the HAES(R) approach and I hope you revisit your own words whenever you find yourself experiencing that fear that you mentioned early in the post, which has its roots in the weight-centered paradigm. It’s good to remind ourselves why the HAES principles work so that we don’t wind up thinking and behaving in old, unhelpful ways.

  3. I am always surprised by people who are stuck in old science of calories in calories out. And how threatened it makes them. As a practitioner treating compulsive eating through brain chemistry I know that it’s a brain problem not a body one and that the disconnected diet interventions make it so much worse. We get crazy about it and try to diet, because those graced with healthy brains keep preaching the calories in calories out method and it works for them. May judgemental people never have to face this difficult experience.

  4. Great posts. Actually, I don’t believe there is any age you can live to where people won’t blame your weight if you get sick and die while you are fat. So just live as well as you can, and you will probably outlive lots of your critics…

  5. I prefer listening to you than Rosie, but even more keen to have Rosie listen to YOU!!

  6. Rosie is so awesome! I hope she recovers soon and doesn’t blame herself for her heart trouble. So many other factors are at play with heart disease, as you wisely note, besides the choices or behaviors of individuals. We don’t know for example, the toll on health from social stigma–and Rosie certain has experienced stigma both weight related stigma and sexual identity stigma. A double whammy, over many years. I once wrote a piece about Frances Bavier (the actress who played Aunt Bee on Andy Griffith’s show). She was a large woman during most of her career, and as an actress she probably confronted significant pressure to lose weight. But to me she was perfect. Beautiful and unique. Crooked front teeth and all. So much of this nastiness directed at weight as a so-called health issue seems to be an excuse, a way to justify self-righteous notions of superiority, a way to feel a little “superior” at someone else’s expense. Aunt Bee died at 86 of a heart condition–by then she lived mostly in isolation and apparently didn’t seek regular medical care. I don’t know why we can’t look to women like her as examples of people who lived long lives and refused to punish themselves with weight loss goals.
    Thanks for an interesting article!

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