I usually reserve this blog for techie geek stuff. I don’t generally write about personal things on this blog, or anywhere online for that matter. Talking about this is hard for me. I moved my political posts to a separate blog but since I don’t plan to write a lot of “lifestyle” posts, I’m just putting this here. Please excuse the diversion.
I recently saw Brittany Runs a Marathon a heartwarming movie that takes us on Brittany’s journey toward running in the New York marathon. One scene in the movie has Brittany’s roommate tell her “Don’t throw away your ‘fat clothes’.” This moment touched me. I’m sure a lot of people can relate.
Some readers may be aware that I recently lost some weight. I hit my target weight a little less than a year ago and have been just trying to maintain since then. It hasn’t even been a year, but so far so good. But the numbers are not in my favor. Somewhere between 80%-95% of people that achieve substantial weight loss, gain all the weight back within a few years. Only five in 100 keep the weight off. We probably all think somehow we’ll be one of those special ones, just like everybody thinks they’re above average.
It’s actually sort of terrifying. It’s terrifying because of the stigmatization. I get treated better now than when I was heavier; it’s simply true. I fear that if I gain the weight back, I’ll be treated worse again. This is part of what’s portrayed in Brittany’s journey in the movie.
Anti-obesity campaigns are so common and normalized these days that some readers might consider our claim as the outrageous one. Yet, consider this: stigmatizing and imposing shame on bodies, whether individually or as a group of people, is hurtful both to the vilified fat people and to the thinner people who are taught size prejudice and instilled with a fear of becoming fat.
– Fat Is Not the Problem—Fat Stigma Is – Scientific American July 2019.
Everybody has their advice for lifestyle, diet etc. I’m not going to add to that here. If anyone wants to know what I’m doing, feel free to ask, but I’m not going to preach to that. What I am going to say is that much of this advice is useless and sometimes downright insulting. The CDC website says that the best way to avoid the yo-yo problem is to not gain the weight in the first place.
Who is that written for? How does that help? You wouldn’t be reading the article if you weren’t interested in losing weight and keeping it off. But they’re telling you right out of the gate that it’s too late for you.
The guidelines for exercise are, likewise, a joke. Nobody is really going to be able to meet that bar. No matter how much exercise you do, your doctor can tell you that you need more. It will always be your fault. It’s lazy.
Thin equals healthy. Fat equals lazy.
And they tell us that those who lose weight will usually enjoy meaningful reductions in blood pressure, blood sugar levels and inflammation. Well, not for me. Sure, I feel better. I don’t get winded as easily and it’s a lot more comfortable bending over to tie my shoes. But my blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are the same.
It was never your fault.
There are movements now that suggest the focus on weight is ineffective.
“Health experts” are sending incorrect and destructive messages about the relationship between weight and wellness
Some are leaning towards the idea that fat is not the cause but a symptom. It’s not that you’re predisposed to diabetes because you’re heavy, but you’re heavy because you’re predisposed for diabetes.
But these counter-opinions take a lot of heat. It is so ingrained in us that thin equals healthy and fat equals lazy.
From my (Linda Bacon, PhD, researcher and author) decades of challenging the pervasive “fat is bad” rhetoric, I know that every time I assert that the problem for fat people isn’t their bodies, but abuse from society, bigotry fights back. It’s not just the outright haters who populate the comments section, but worse, the self-righteous who see their stance as caring. It’s all about health, their argument goes, not bias.
No, it’s not. Intent does not negate impact. You cannot wage war on obesity without waging war on the people who live in those “obese” bodies. Moreover, the dignity of a group should not be contingent on whether its members are deemed healthy, eating “right,” or exercising regularly. It should be obvious, but weight stigma does not reduce “obesity”—and health care should be about self-care and promoting the health of the person in all its forms.
There are certainly negative health aspects of being heavy. But not all thin people are healthy. There are thin people that cannot walk up a few flights of stairs without getting winded, say particularly a heavy smoker. The CDC’s own studies repeatedly find the lowest mortality rates among people whose body mass index puts them in the “overweight” and “mildly obese” categories. Other research suggests that losing weight doesn’t actually improve health biomarkers such as blood pressure, fasting glucose, or triglyceride levels for most people, as in my case.
It doesn’t have to be this way
The other thing that’s worrying for me in this is that I don’t want to unconsciously become one of those self-righteous people, the fat-bigot society wants me to be.
It’s hard to change such deeply held beliefs, especially when backed by a $61 billion dollar weight-loss industry. But we’re seeing a small shift with efforts like the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach, focusing on improving health habits, self-esteem and well-being—all without focusing on weight loss or using weight as a metric.
For my part, I want to focus on staying grounded. Those that know me, know I can be obsessive.