On Women & Weight: A Manifesto

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Mindset » On Women & Weight: A Manifesto

This post will be a departure from my usual writing about recipes, natural living, how to make lotion bars, and cloth diapering. Certainly, I think all these things are incredibly important, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among some of my readers and others, and felt compelled to write this post. Today, we’re getting personal….

A Disturbing Trend…

In short, while there are a lot of good things going on in the health/paleo/primal/grain free movements, I’m disturbed by the focus on women having six pack abs and extremely low body fat. Certainly there are women who have this type of physique naturally and others who make it a goal and commendably work toward it, but the underlying expectation and pressure that all women should look like this is disturbing to me.

Additionally, many of the paleo/primal/health sites are male dominated and focus on things that will improve the male physique, though many of these things can be damaging to the female physique. While rock hard abs and low body fat percentage can be signs of optimal health in men (as it reflects healthy testosterone levels), this is not the case for women!

Any woman who has tried knows that obtaining six pack abs takes a lot of dedication and daily hard work. Many women, to obtain this (not all…) have to drop below a healthy body fat and can stop menstruating. As fertility is a sign of HEALTH in women, jeopardizing this to obtain a certain physique can be very harmful to overall health! I’m personally a member of an online all-women heavy lifting group because I enjoy the strength aspects of this, but there are women in the group who (despite having great strength and overall health) go to extreme measures, fast constantly, and get down to 12% body fat or less for the aesthetics even though they stop menstruating.

It’s no secret that there is societal pressure to be thin in our society, and while I do think it is highly important to eat a high nutrient diet and maintain a healthy weight, the 15-18% body fat that many celebrities and models have is NOT a healthy weight for many women (especially those in child-bearing years)!

Of all the emails I get, the most tend to be about fertility struggles, with weight related issues coming in a close second. These emails are almost exclusively from women, and while some are from women with genuine health/weight struggles and severe leptin/insulin problems, others are from women who are a few pounds (less than 20) over what they consider to be a healthy weight despite eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and trying to improve lifestyle factors.

At the risk of sounding crass, perhaps this is the weight that your body wants to maintain. Hips are normal and healthy for women! Curves are normal and healthy for women! A feminine figure is healthy for women! Personally, while I can dead lift over 200 pounds, do a pull-up or climb a tree, my “abs” are masked by a little loose skin from my four pregnancies and a scar from my c-section and I’m ok with that…

A Recent Notion

It’s a fairly recent notion that women should be stick thin and not curvy, and I think this has done damage to many women. In the past, the waist to hip ratio was more important than the objective size to many women. Studies have shown that men prefer (and women prefer to have) a waist to hip ratio of .70, or a waist measurement that is approximately 70% of the hip measurement.

Other famous women who have had the .70 Waist to Hip Ratio (and who ooze femininity): Marilyn Monroe (.69), Sophia Loren, Venus di Milo, and Jessica Alba. Interestingly, this ratio is also correlated with less risk of certain diseases and higher health markers. In fact, the WHR (Waist Hip Ratio) was a better predictor of disease than BMI or other health markers.

In women, weight stored in the hips, buttocks, and breasts is typically higher in beneficial Omega-3 fats (and higher stores of these can mean healthier babies…) while abdominal fat is typically higher in Omega-6 fats. This is one reason many women report getting curves for the first time when switching to a higher fat, real food diet. Excess abdominal fat in women can signal more visceral fat (which is linked to disease) and higher stress and male hormones.

Cortisol and androgens (which can both be harmful for fertility) both increase abdominal and visceral fat.

What is “Ideal”

How many women think and obsess about the extra weight they’d like to lose ever day, or even every hour? How many dislike themselves because of their extra weight? This stress alone is unhealthy for women. When the focus is solely about the looks, then we are always on a “diet” and focusing on depravation. On the other hand, when we focus on trying to eat more healthy whole foods, the focus is on the benefit and the nutrients.

Let’s focus on eating healthy foods and nourishing our bodies rather than maintaining the weight we had in high school.

Let’s focus on exercise for the health and strength benefits rather than the weight loss goals! (Sarah Fragoso makes some excellent points about functional strength)

Let’s focus on optimizing sleep and stress levels rather than obsessing about an ideal weight!

On a very personal level, I’ll publicly admit that after having 4 kids in the last 5 years, I am NOT the same size or shape I was in my athletic high school days, and I am OK with that! I wouldn’t trade my four gorgeous kids and the stretch marks and saggy boobs that came with them for all the size two jeans in the world or the ability to fit into them! My body has been doing a great job and nourishing my little ones in utero and providing nutrient dense milk for them. I don’t care that my ab muscles and core strength are masked by my tiger stripes and c-section scar because I’ve earned those stripes.

I’m not the size (or shape) I was in high school (when I was eating utter junk daily), but thanks to a healthy diet, I have healthier hair, skin, muscle tone, and overall health than I ever have.

Instead of trying to obtain the 16% body fat of a Victoria’s Secret Model, let’s change the “normal” for women and bring back the days when the feminine figure of Marilyn Monroe or Betty Page was considered beautiful!

Now, before the comments begin, I want to clarify that I am not advocating that women overeat, eat unhealthy food, give up trying to maintain a healthy body and weight through diet and exercise, I am simply claiming that perhaps what we consider the ideal needs to change. Perhaps we should be comfortable and happy as sizes 8, 10 or 12 and not strive for the 2 or 4 if we aren’t naturally that body type.

I’m suggesting that we consider stopping the endless cardio which can be hard on our bodies and lift some heavy weights which are not only good for our bones, muscles and insulin levels, but also help build a feminine figure and good waist to hip ratio.

I’m suggesting that we forever eschew the low-fat and low-calorie craze and focus on eating the most nutrient dense diet we can, including all the healthy proteins, fats and natural starches (not from grains) that we need.

I’m not promoting a specific body type or exact body fat level, I’m just humbly suggesting that we focus on health and not an arbitrary weight number as the ideal…. that we focus more on eating real food and nourishing our bodies than cutting calories to reach a specific weight. I’m also not in any way putting down women who are blessed to naturally have a slender figure or muscular abs…

What’s a Woman To Do?

So to recap: Don’t obsess about the scale, eat a healthy, grain free, nutrient dense diet and eat when you are hungry! Avoid foods that are harmful and eat your fill of real foods. Develop a healthy relationship with food and don’t obsess over a number on a scale! Let health be the priority and accept that with gorgeous skin and hair and optimal health/fertility may come an extra 5-10 pounds from your ideal weight…

Live this way because it is healthy, not because you want to lose weight because, at the end of the day, the aesthetics will only get you so far, but an overall feeling of health and increased energy will keep you motivated.

Exercise, but do it to be healthy and for functional strength, not just for visible ab muscles. Realize that often we (women) are tougher on ourselves than others are and learn to love who you are before you try to become someone else. If you aren’t happy with yourself, just losing weight won’t change that! Women won’t be as able to easily obtain or maintain a very low body fat as men will, and that is ok!

If you want to improve your waist to hip ratio with exercise, stop the cardio and lift weights! Deadlifts, squats, kettlebells, lunges and other weight related exercises will help tone the waist, hips, buttocks and thighs without adding bulk. Eat a quality, whole food diet and get enough Omega-3 fats. Oh, and get enough sleep to keep your cortisol levels in check!

Two other posts from around the web that promote the same idea and which I found inspiring are “Paleo women are phat” and “The fattest people in paleo.”

Your turn to “weigh in”… Are you happy with your weight/body type/waist to hip ratio? Have you noticed a difference in your body composition after lifting heavy weights or changing to a higher fat/whole food diet? Share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


49 responses to “On Women & Weight: A Manifesto”

  1. HannahB Avatar

    This post is great. I absolutely needed to see all these women agreeing that curves are WONDERFUL. I think they’re amazing. They make us WOMEN. I’m a super health conscious person and I’ve been trying to get every ounce of visible fat off of me for 2 years and I’ve lost 30 lbs of fat and gained muscle which is GREAT but now I’m at a place where I’m healthy, the perfect weight for my height and yes, that includes visible fat (tummy, hips, thighs.) and I’m finally HAPPY with myself. I’ve spent enough of my life beating myself up for not looking like a VS model and then binge eating stress away only to be more depressed afterward. So stupid…

    I heard a statistic that has stuck with me for awhile now. It’s that a solid 75% of women prefer their men to have a little bit of a tummy rather than ROCK HARD ABS. I found this shocking because I thought I was the only one? I like my mans tummy. He doesn’t have a beer gut but hes not super fit.. and I love him for HIM. SO LETS FLIP THE ROLES HERE… If most women like men with a little bit a fat, whose to say men don’t like a little bit of curves? Most men do. EMBRACE IT LADIES. We’re beautiful, no matter what shape or size.

    The only thing that counts is that we’re healthy and happy! 🙂

  2. Virginia Miner Avatar
    Virginia Miner

    I thought this was a great post, too.
    Maybe you can help me; I have the opposite problem of most women: I can’t seem to put on weight! Before my first was conceived, I weighed around 130 (I am 5′ 8″) but it wasn’t a very healthy 130… I didn’t have much muscle mass or stamina and I kept growing out of my jeans. I wasn’t eating a real food diet, and I was sick all the time. Then my first was conceived, I gained about 25 lbs with the pregnancy, and then got down to about 115 after he was born and started breast feeding like crazy 🙂 around then I discovered real food eating and I think that also contributed to weight loss. Then I conceived my second, gained about 20lbs with that pregnancy, and now, with a toddler and a breast feeding baby I weigh about 105. Yikes! I feel generally healthy, but I would really like more reserves, if you know what I mean. I am not strong and don’t have a ton of physical stamina, and I would really like to improve both those things so that I can keep up with my boys without ruining myself! Any advice? I would really like to gain 10 or 15lbs, but I don’t know where to start, and I am not willing to compromise on my real food diet.

  3. Becka Avatar

    Great perspective – I would just add a note (from personal experience) about the vitality of prayer and surrender to God in dealing with the physical, emotional and spiritual aspect of this very “weighty” issue! 🙂

  4. Sarah Jacobsen Avatar
    Sarah Jacobsen

    very good post. i’ve had 2 babies and will never get back to a size 6. and i’m ok with that.
    i feel like the fashion trend of all the stretchy knit pants and skirts also don’t help our mindset because those clothes show off every imperfection. why not give ourselves a break and wear something that flatters rather than shows flaws?

    also, i would like to point out that age, not just having babies, can be a cause of our bodies changing. i have some friends that have never been pregnant, yet they find themselves “wider” or more curvy than they once were. and, in my opinion, they now look like beautiful women, not just skinny girls.

  5. Leslie Clark Avatar
    Leslie Clark

    I am bigger than most women, I am 5’9 wear size 11 shoes, and have big, healthy bones. I started eating paleo about 1 and 1/2 years ago and it has helped me immensely. A blood test revealed high levels of adrenal testosterone, and even with paleo, the symptoms have not improved. Any tips or credible resources for balancing hormones naturally?

  6. DeAnna Avatar

    What a great post. I am just beginning to re-think the things I have been taught. The biggest thing for me is to accept my body the way that God made me and to realize that being a size 10/12 is not fat. Thanks again for the post.

  7. Rachael Avatar

    Absolutely awesome post! Thanks for sharing it on your FB page again since I hadn’t seen it before. I 100% agree with what you posted here. There are things that I don’t love about my body – but only because others have told me not to. It’s a daily struggle to accept the cellulite and the curvy hips but it’s absolutely vital to loving myself completely and deeply. I know I am healthy so the body I have is the body I should be proud to have. Thanks again!

  8. Fleur De Lishy Avatar
    Fleur De Lishy

    I totally agree with this post! Thanks for writing it 😀

  9. Michele G Avatar

    Amen, sister! I am so tired of being “sold” a nearly unobtainable image as being the desirable shape and form! I’ve struggled with this since adolescence. I have always been a gal with curves (32 DDD & hips to match!) but never able to embrace that. I’ve always felt “fat” even though I am not overweight. Finding clothes that fit is an exercise in frustration. Fits in the hips? Then it’s 2 inches to big in the waistline. Fit in the shoulders & waist, then it’s pulling in the bustline. Argh! Why do clothing manufacturers not realize that women come in LOTS of shapes & sizes?

    And just to add my personal survey. As the wife of 1 man and the mother of 4 adult males, I can tell you that every time we see a low-fat, runway model-thin or musclebound female in pictures or on TV, they all say, “Ewww!” They all want a woman to look like a woman and I am pretty sure most men feel that way. 🙂

  10. Marisa Haugen Avatar
    Marisa Haugen

    After reading this article I looked up pictures of Betty Page. I actually think she looks too skinny.

  11. Nana Morken Avatar
    Nana Morken

    I totally agree with you – great post.  Just curious though – why do you say grain free?  Do you disagree with the advice of many (including Weston A Price and Nourishing Traditions Cookbook) that advocate consuming some grains, but only if they are properly prepared (like authentic sourdough or sprouted)?  There can be a lot of nourishment in a good organic heritage grain that has been traditionally prepared.  

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      I’ve seen enough evidence that many people suffer from grain intolerance without even knowing it and that it is one of the foods most likely to spur intestinal issues and even autoimmune disease if consumed by certain people. There is no nutrient in grains that isn’t present in higher amounts in other foods like vegetables, meats, eggs and healthy fats. There is simply no nutritional need to consume them, and since they can cause problems for many people, it’s safer to just avoid entirely. Certainly, I don’t think everyone will follow a complete grain free lifestyle (though I try to) but since I’ve seen the greatest benefit in clients from doing so, it is what I recommend… Thanks for reading 🙂

  12. Kristin Jones Avatar
    Kristin Jones

    I absolutely love this post! I completely agree with everything you wrote, and it’s so difficult to find people who believe this. I have larger thighs and a rounded tummy, but I’m in amazing shape and while society tells me I should lose another 5 pounds, I’m so happy at this size that I don’t care. Hopefully other women will read this and learn not to be so hard on themselves!

  13. Anyah Brittain Martinez Avatar
    Anyah Brittain Martinez

    I was heavy growing up, and when I was 25 I decided I”d had enough. I was about 160 pounds and only 5’4″. I lost weight very quickly, 40+pounds, doing it the healthy way eating less and exercising more. However, I became obsessed and found myself with a too-thin look for my frame, and had many people concerned, while I was in denial. A couple years later I realized I couldn’t get pregnant. Even after some oral treatments and gaining back a little weight, the damage was done. I had to undergo a surgery, then injections and be inseminated in order to conceive. Lesson learned. Much healthier now, and still weigh less than I did in high school. AND I was able to get pregnant a second time more recently without intervention. I have realized that a size 6/8 is right for me, and 130 pounds is light enough. I can deal with my belly flab, as it is symbolic of my struggle, my pregnancies, and generally being female. 🙂

  14. Ruth Avatar

    My children have long ago flown the coop, and it wasn’t until menopause that I started gaining the weight around the middle (and added another chin).  I suppose I was lucky back then, because it sure wasn’t because I ate healthy.  Nevertheless, I started, albeit slowly, about 6 months ago by introducing healthier foods to my diet and cutting out on a few culprits (soft drinks, for one).  I’ll probably never be a size 8 again (nor a size 10, for that matter), but I’m feeling better and my doctor is quite pleased with the results of recent blood tests.   I want to be as healthy as possible as I grow even older … 🙂

  15. Andreina Avatar

    I love your blog since I randomly found it a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoy your look on healthy living. Ive been thinking about this healthy not skinny deal partly because of your posts… They have inspired me to look for healthy and not just fat, calorie or whatever free. I am going for a healthier lifestyle (and dragging as many as I can with me) and I already feel better about myself and life. I still have a long long way but I thank you for the support an inspiration that you are.

  16. jenn Avatar

      I don’t care that my ab muscles and core strength are masked by my tiger stripes and c-section scar because I’ve earned those stripes. – AMEN!  I also feel that way about my increasingly greying hair which bugs my teenagers to no end…but I tell them each hair has a name and I’m not changing them 😉

    I really appreciate your blog and the info you give. I’ve been struggling to get a diagnosis on an autoimmune issue for several years and I’m recommitting to a paleo lifestyle today to see if things improve.  Thanks again!

  17. Bean Avatar

    My husband and I honeymooned in Paris five years ago (actually left for the trip five years ago tomorrow).  Anyway, he acquired a new found appreciation for my womanly curves after seeing all of the art there (venus di Milo included).  YEAH for curves and thanks for the post.  We need to start endorsing womanly curves as good, healthy and acceptable.  
    @ Cassandra, thanks for your story. I am just starting that journey and it is so encouraging to hear about others and their success,  Congratulations on yours.  Would love to hear more from you and others.  

  18. Swen Avatar

    This is an awesome and much needed post. Thank you! I’m a very health conscious 44 yr old female. I watch my diet closely and work out (primarily strength train) 4-5 times a week. Over the span of 2 years I have probably trimmed 56 pounds from my frame. I’m quite lean and satisfied with my body for the most part but find myself (even) more self-conscious about my curves or where they are lacking. I have the badge of motherhood too – a bit of a saggy tummy after 3 children. I realize all of the training in the world will not erase those stretch marks. Still I feel blessed to have trimmed my body with hard work and diet. Rather than being completely satisfied with my accomplishments I still tend to think of my negatives. Where does this come from? I think from the constant intrusion of media celebs who are nipped, tucked and augmented to the point that they do have “perfect” curves. We are constantly fed a fake image to live up to and it is becoming a mental stumbling block for many women. You can’t go on the internet without having these images thrust at you in every ad. Very sad! You are so right, we need to embrace who we are and how we are made. Eat healthy and exercise and let your body get to it’s natural weight and curves and be proud and comfortable in your skin. We need to stop comparing ourselves to fake, Photoshopped images. Look back at some old movies from the 40’s-50’s…women were curvy, they did not all sport large bustlines – they were natural and that dirty word “AVERAGE” looking. The beauty hype of today is fed by a multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry and one of their jobs is to make us feel “less than”. I see this disturbing trend among teen girls as well. Body image should not be dictated by fake and false advertising. Let’s be healthy and happy with who God made us to be. As my husband has said there are beautiful women in all shapes and sizes. Also, as you said and I read in a recent article, these fitness models that sport the six pack abs are on extremely restrictive diets to achieve that body fat level, they quit menstruating, they are often dizzy and irritable because they are forcing their body to a level that is NOT natural. Taking it to the extreme either way is horrible for your body. We all need to wake up to reality. What an excellent post and great reminder for all of us women trying to fit that mold of cultural perfection.

  19. Roku Avatar

    I totally agree, and also appreciate how you worded it to make room for everybody to feel comfortable! I’m naturally puny, so most of the time when people talk about women’s weight, they seem to make it sound like small people like me don’t exist or aren’t real or something. 

    I’m glad you mentioned that some women get more curvy when they switch to this diet, because the same thing happened to me! I was afraid I was eating too much fat or something. Honestly, I would not ever trade the extra body fat for my old diet, because I absolutely love not having random stomach ailments anymore. 

    I actually just started exercising this week, too. Most of the things I do require sitting down, and I don’t want to get to the point where I’m putting on unhealthy fat. Maybe it’ll give me nice abs too, but I swear it’s a secondary desire! ;D

  20. Jennifer Avatar

    Thanks for writing this! I get so frustrated by what is considered “normal” in our society these days. I wish women would realize that overall health is much more important than overall size.

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