Interview has been edited for clarity.
Being body positive means loving your body no matter what it looks like. Dr. Kahan says that it’s important for all of us to feel comfortable in our body and to love it no matter what size it is. “Our body is a part of us — it gives us an opportunity to live our lives and interact with our families and so forth. And that is very important, and loving it is something that also frequently requires some work.”
Unfortunately, says Dr. Kahan, there is a lot of shame and stigma around carrying excess weight and around obesity. Many people even hate their bodies.
“Body positivity is very important. The problem I think is that some people think of it in black and white: on one side you manage your weight, and it doesn’t matter what you think about your body because weight is the only thing that matters. That’s what some people say.”
On the other end of the spectrum, he explains that there are people who say weight doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is feeling good in your body and feeling body positivity. By losing weight or by focusing on your weight, you will hate your body.
“In reality, we need to manage our physical health and our weight but in a way that does not lead to feeling bad about our bodies or buying into societal stigma around obesity.
“And that, I believe, should be the aim for people who are trying to manage their health and their weight. And especially for health care providers who want to help their patients. It’s important for them to appreciate those two things that we have to find a common ground on.”
Dr. Kahan says that weight and health are not synonyms, but they are frequently related and many times closely related. On average, as people gain weight, they also start to have health problems. And, on average, when people lose weight in a healthy way, their health tends to improve.
“But there are some people who don’t fit into those averages. There are certainly some people that carry excess weight and fit into the obesity category who are quite healthy,” says Dr. Kahan.
“They exercise and eat healthy, and they have good cholesterol, and their blood sugar is very good. They are fit and active in their life and feel good about themselves, even though they have more weight than what is considered normal. And that’s OK.”
He says that for those people, being healthy and living a life that they enjoy has nothing to do with carrying some extra weight. But for most people, most of the time, excess weight comes with health problems.
According to Dr. Kahan, there is an important relation between weight and health that needs to be considered.
If you're planning a family, check out how extra weight may impact your baby's health.