Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"You're Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!"

Last week I posted this article on Facebook: "Obesity Research Confirms Long-Term Weight Loss Almost Impossible" by Kelly Crowe

I included this blurb: "Traci Mann says the emphasis should be on measuring health, not weight. 'You should still eat right, you should still exercise, doing healthy stuff is still healthy,' she said. 'It just doesn't make you thin."' ‪#‎haes‬

My post triggered the expected comments of a troll I don't know, but I answered his questions as civilly as I could. No sweat. Then, an actual friend of mine, Jennifer, chimed in:

Jennifer said, "I'm just gonna say it, because it seems like a good week to feel the backlash. If you do those things in the right ratio, it does indeed make you thin and healthier for it."

Another friend commented: "Can you provide some links to peer-reviewed studies indicating that "those things in the right ratio" lead to long-term weight loss? I'd be extremely interested to see them. TIA!"

Jennifer replied, "Nope, but all I hear is justifications to stay fat. Calories burned (you gave to get off your ass and move) versus calories in (eat less). Oh, I been there, passing the 200+ mark. I'm not talking from a chronically-needs-to-eat-a-cheeseburger skinny girl perspective. Can I love myself when I'm fat? I damn well better, but I don't love how I feel physically. It's not acceptable, and I do something about it. I'm certainly not going to post studies about how it's okay to be fat and somehow healthy. It is clinically proven that fluffy middle is potential for diabetes. Common knowledge if you ever cared about your weight ever.  Omg, I feel much better. I've been holding in my opinion for months."

My first instinct was to sulk about it. But then I remembered a similar incident between Jennifer and me back when we were teenagers. I handled it by sulking away. This time, I decided to write about it to get it off my chest.

Here's my response to Jennifer:

I'm impressed that you held back your opinion for months, Jennifer. I didn't know you were capable. I always thought of you as the kind of person who just says whatever's on her mind, without regard to how others might feel.

I have a very distinct memory of one night when we were teenagers running around the Liberty Memorial. You pointed at me and said, "You're faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!" and then laughed maniacally, as if my fat body made me a monstrosity.

It was so bizarre. I didn't know what to say. I couldn't figure out what instigated that comment. I don't recall having initiated any sort of fight with you. So I walked away and sulked over it.

Now, at 43, I'm way more mature than I was as a 17 year old girl. I understand that walking away and sulking is not always the best way to deal with negative emotions. I don't blame myself for having done so. Our society is really good at keeping women down by feeding them messages that they MUST LOSE WEIGHT, or change this or that about their bodies. It's difficult to overcome. It's difficult to realize that the so-called experts are sometimes wrong, and that in order to feel the healthiest, the strongest, the happiest, the most authentic, we must do our own research and listen to ourselves. We must remember that our bodies belong to us and no one else.

In my research, I encountered a book by the ironically named Linda Bacon called Health at Every Size. It changed my life. It felt like years of fat oppression had been lifted off my chest.

It had always been easy for me to know that when Then Man was keeping down black folks, that was wrong, and even as a white person I should fight for the rights of African-Americans to live in peace.

It had always been easy for me to know that religious conservatives oppressing people in the LGBTQ community in the name of Scripture was wrong, and that I, as a bisexual woman, should fight for the rights of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, Transgendered People, and Queer folks to live in peace.

But I had never thought much about how fat people are oppressed in our society--even though I've been fat for the majority of my life--until I read Health at Every Size. In twelve chapters, written for a layperson but including 419 references to solid scientific studies, Bacon disproves the myth that fat and health are mutually exclusive.  She shows us that a big chunk of weight loss research, which doctors and the media refer to when they start lecturing us to lose weight, is funded by people who work for the diet industry.

Bacon writes, “At least seven of the nine members on the National Institutes of Health’s Obesity Task Force were directors of weight-loss clinics, and most had multiple financial relationships with private industry.” Bacon points out that from 1970-2004, during the so called “obesity epidemic” the average lifespan rose from 70.8 to 77.8. She addresses the issue that many diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease associated with "obesity" are found in thin people too. She raises our awareness of the vast diversity of size among the human population, and proves that good health can be achieved for people of all sizes.

Here's her advice: give up trying to lose weight. Many fad diets promote weight loss at the expense of overall health. She advises to “enjoy a variety of real food, primarily plants” no matter where your body falls on the size spectrum.  Engage in "active living".  Move your body in pleasurable ways.  And most of all, love yourself.

Love yourself not just because it feels good to do so, but because it's healthy. Living with chronic stress is just as unhealthy as downing a bag of potato chips every night. And, huh, maybe if you love yourself you will find other pleasurable ways to experience life rather than downing a bag of chips every night, leading to an improvement in your overall health, regardless of whether or not you see "results" on the scale.

Linda Bacon's book is not designed to raise profits for the multi-billion dollar diet industry. It raises awareness that health comes in all sizes, and it has raised my self-worth immeasurably. Since then I've been following others in the Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance communities. Abigail Saguy's book What's Wrong with Fat is also an incredible read, well researched, and eye-opening.

So I guess what I'm saying, Jennifer, is that it shouldn't surprise me that you've changed your ways. You were once a young girl who gave the impression that you would say anything without thought. Now you've matured into a woman who gives it a few months before you let go. Bravo!

That's what impresses me the most about human beings. Our capacity to open our minds and change.

You're right, Jennifer. I am fat. And I am healthy. And I love myself. And I feel free.