I was browsing headlines on my phone on Sunday morning and came across this one – Fat? Why your body is not a problem to be fixed.
I’m overweight or fat or whatever you want to call it, so I took the bait and read the article. I was hit by so many conflicting emotions as I read it – guilt, fear, anger, validation, sadness, futility and more. It really packed a wallop.
’We see those pictures on the news, in the papers all the time: fat people’s bottoms walking along a street, fat people in the mall, and the Holy Grail: fat people eating and drinking. (Because, how dare they?) The photos are snapped sneakily, to avoid the need for permission, and to avoid embarrassment. (Because they should be embarrassed, right?)’
That part right there reminded me of a conversation Steve and I have had several times, most recently about a week ago. It’s incredibly easy to see a fat person eating ice cream, chocolate, a burger or similar, and judge them. “Well, no wonder they’re fat if that’s what they eat. They should be eating a salad.” And yet you have no idea what has brought that person to that moment. Maybe that’s what they eat on a regular basis and maybe that is why they’re fat. But maybe they’ve lost a shit ton of weight and this is their reward. Maybe it’s a small indulgence after a week of restraint. You don’t fucking know, and what’s more, it’s none of your fucking business. Stop fucking judging fat people for eating. You don’t judge a skinny bitch for eating McDonalds, why do you judge a fat person? Skinny people aren’t necessarily healthy, they just hide their health problems better.
‘Many of us are likely to have inbuilt negative attitudes towards bigger people, deeply if unconsciously believing they are lazy, greedy, or lacking willpower.’
Then the article moves on to how the constant negative treatment and discrimination against fat people affects the health of fat people. Which was, of course, something I had never considered. Fat people are unhealthy people, right? We all know that. Skinny people are not necessary healthy, but fat people are necessarily unhealthy. Or are they?
’Fat stigma has a powerful effect on your mental and physical health; research shows that just like experiencing racism, living in a larger body in this thin-obsessed society can make you sick. Furthermore, discrimination against fat people actually increases the likelihood of weight gain.’
’In 2017, a review of 33 published studies into the link between fat stigma and physiological and psychological health, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, found weight stigma resulted in worse health outcomes. It was positively associated with obesity, diabetes risk, cortisol level, oxidative stress level, C-reactive protein level (a blood marker for acute inflammation and infection), eating disturbances, depression, anxiety, body image dissatisfaction, and negatively associated with self-esteem among overweight and obese adults.’
Then there was something that really hit close to home for me.
’Medical professionals are not exempt from perpetrating this. Fat people delay both urgent and routine healthcare checks because their GP fat-shames them. Research shows that not only do doctors spend less time with fat patients, but, as a study in Obesity Review found, many healthcare providers hold strong negative attitudes and stereotypes about them.
“There is considerable evidence that such attitudes influence person-perceptions, judgment, interpersonal behaviour and decision-making. These attitudes may impact on the care they provide,” the study’s authors said.
Sometimes, doctors miss health problems because they attribute all issues to weight.’
I’ve seen this happen. My husband went to the doctor about his sleep apnoea, and was told that he had narrow nasal passages and something else that was causing it, but they wouldn’t consider treating him unless he lost weight. Um, what the fuck? You’ve identified the causes, none of which have anything to do with his weight, but you won’t treat him unless he loses weight? And let me be clear, it’s not because the treatment was too dangerous at his weight or anything. It was insane, and so hard to understand and accept.
I’ve definitely seen it happen to my husband far more than myself, but that’s partly because I don’t tend to go to the doctor. I am one of those fat people who thinks ‘Why should I bother, they’ll just tell me to lose weight and not deal with the actual problem, so why should I waste my time and money?’
Then I got to the part that made me feel powerless.
’But we have known for years that diets don’t work; the overwhelming majority of diets fail, and the biggest predictor for weight gain is, in fact, dieting to try to lose it. In fact, your first diet is where many eating disorders begin.
The American Journal of Public Heath published a study which found long-term weight loss is all but impossible for most people. In fact, researchers from Kings College Cambridge have quantified this; they looked at 10 years’ worth of data from 278,982 people in the UK health records and found women in the “obese” BMI category have a one-in-124 chance of reducing their BMI to the “healthy” BMI range, or a one-in-677 chance if they are “severely obese”. It’s worse for men. A man with an “obese” BMI has a one-in-210 chance of achieving a BMI in the “healthy” range. This becomes a one-in-1290 chance if he’s “severely obese”.
“Overall, the evidence seems clear,” New Zealand endocrinologist Dr Robyn Toomath said in her 2016 book Fat Science. “For the great majority, dieting as a means of achieving lasting weight reduction just doesn’t work.”
What the dieting process does achieve is shame, disordered eating, and a lack of trust in your body, its needs, and its cues.’
What the actual fuck? I have a one in 677 chance of ever getting to a healthy BMI? ONE in 677?? Fuck! I think I’ve actually got more chance of winning the fucking lottery! It fucking feels like it, anyway. Fuck!
I mentioned this article to my mother when I saw her on Sunday afternoon and read those stats to her. It was only afterwards that I realised that I did my first diet when I was a teenager, with my mum. Before I was 17, although I can’t pinpoint it any better than that. My dad thought I needed to lose weight, and I ended up doing the ‘bread diet’ with my mother, which meant eating only dry bread every second day. It didn’t work.
Then I started with the guilt and the panic. Have I already put my daughter on this path of futile self-loathing? I have tried so fucking hard not to, but it’s not fucking easy. She’s way curvier than her friends are. She has these twig-skinny friends and she’s never going to look twig-skinny. I have never suggested or recommended to her that she diet though. I have definitely recommended that she exercise more (usually in a fun way, like with her gymnastics or cheerleading) and I have definitely recommended that she eat healthy. I have been nagging my son to eat healthy for some time, even before his recent weight gain, and again, have not recommended that he diet. It’s instinctive though, to recommend they diet. Maybe not my daughter, but my son has just recently gained a little belly and my instinct (and I think my husband’s too because he commented on our son’s weight gain to me) is to recommend that he exercise and eat healthy until he loses it.
My husband and I are currently on a ‘healthy eating’ endeavour. We’re not doing any fad diet, or indeed any diet at all. We’re not counting calories or tracking what we eat or anything like that. We’re just trying to make good choices and eat healthy. But we’re definitely judging our success by the results on the scales. Every Tuesday morning (it’s on a Tuesday since January 1st was a Tuesday) we weigh in. If we’ve lost weight, we’ve been healthy. If we gain weight, obviously we haven’t. Yet that’s such bullshit. Yes, it’s probably been good for my husband to lose some weight, but weight loss shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be on being healthy, not on being slim!
For several years prior to 2019, I didn’t weigh myself, I didn’t diet, and I didn’t give a fuck about my weight. I also didn’t gain weight. I stayed the same size in clothes for years without doing anything special in regards to my eating. In that time, I went to the doctors a couple of times for various minor things and had my bloods checked and each time, I was pronounced healthy. No cholesterol issues, no high blood pressure, no nothing. I was healthy. But I was fat. And fat people can’t be healthy, can they?
My husband started nagging me to lose weight with him. Not because he wanted me to be slimmer necessarily, but because he wanted to lose weight and he knew he couldn’t do it by himself. So I agreed to do so from January 1st 2019. And he has been losing weight, slowly. So far he’s lost about 5kg (10lb). I’m losing it even more slowly, but I’m definitely not making healthy choices as often as he is. Just today I went and bought a fucking chocolate bar at the convenience store at lunchtime. I have gone down slightly since the beginning of the year. And well, they say slow is best when it comes to weight loss. You’re more likely to keep it off if you lose it slowly than if you lose it fast.
I know that doing it this way, with a focus on healthy choices, healthy eating, instead of counting calories or cutting out huge groups of foods, is the best possible way to do it. But how do you turn off a lifetime of judging your health by what your scales say? I don’t know how to do that. But I really REALLY fucking hope I’ve broken the cycle with my daughter. I’m trying. I’m trying so fucking hard.
Even when I tell her ‘You shouldn’t wear that because it’s not flattering to your body shape’, I don’t tell her that she’s fat, overweight, chubby or any of those other negative words. She’s the fittest fucking person in our family anyway! Probably fitter than half her skinny friends too. And she’s not fat. But she’s definitely curvy, and I’m sorry, but midriff tops are so unflattering to her. I make a point of saying things like ‘See, your skinny friend so-and-so shouldn’t wear these because they’re unflattering to her body shape, but they look amazing on you!’ It’s not about being fat or being skinny or weight in any shape or form, but about dressing for your body shape. That includes your height. And I hope I’m doing the right thing. I tell her she looks amazing and she’s pretty, and all those things. She definitely has more self-esteem than I have ever had. I remember once when she was little she said something to me about her ‘beautiful hair’ that made me realise just how often I commented on it. I really do try and make her feel beautiful. And I try to teach her about healthy eating at the same time. And I definitely point out that being skinny is not healthy either and that’s it’s all about being a healthy weight for your body shape and height.
But it’s so scary. I’m so afraid I’m going to fuck it up for her and leave her with this lifetime of hating her body, just because she’s not naturally skinny like some of her friends. I don’t want that for her. I really don’t want that for her.
’As for how we can individually address fat stigma, Kerr suggests simply not talking about yours or other people’s bodies. Ever. Particularly to children.
“If you are catching yourself saying or thinking things about your body or about other people’s bodies, take time to examine why you’re doing that and what you can do differently,” she says.
Thomas echoes this. “The idea that big bodies are bad can be extremely triggering for others with their own body insecurities, and we may be inadvertently reaffirming their own eating disorder behaviour. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.
“And what I would say to people living in larger bodies and feeling shame about that is: Your body is not your fault. Your body is not a problem to be fixed.”
Your relationship with food and your body image might need help, she adds — but your body is simply doing what it does best. Surviving.’
I feel like there are so many simple ways to fuck this up, and it’s so terrifying.
Right now, my parents-in-law and several other family members and friends are doing the Keto diet. My sister is doing the 5:2 fast diet. My mother is doing Weight Watchers. I’ve done a number myself, since that first bread diet in my teens – I did Weight Watchers for years, especially after the birth of my son, and I did the Atkins diet before my wedding. Nothing ever lasted. I always ultimately ended up bigger than when I started. But you know what? The happiest I’ve ever been is those years when I accepted my body and wasn’t trying to change it. I wasn’t dieting, I wasn’t weighing myself, I was just living and being happy. There’s a fucking lesson there.
I know I’ve said the word fuck in this entry a lot, but this is a really stressful, emotive topic for me. I’ve actually been near tears several times while writing this entry. It is what it is. You’ll just have to deal with the fucks.