This post brought to you by yet another ‘it’s just calories in calories out’ article. I’m not giving them the linky love.
This whole ‘war on obesity’ really really shits me. Yes I am a fat woman. Yes I need to eat more fruit and vegetables. Yes I am at risk of a range of health issues as I age. It’s called the ageing process and it gets you whether you are fat or thin. The only thing that makes a difference is your health – and you don’t automatically get healthy points for being thin. I know it’s controversial, but the evidence is in – thin people die from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and all those other nasty things that you only ever hear linked to obesity, too. In fact, thin people are more likely to go about their daily business completely unaware that they are at risk of nasty life shortening diseases – if they live a sedentary existence, just the same as overweight people who live a sedentary existence. It is living the sedentary existence that is the killer, not the amount of adipose tissue you have. The killer fat, the stuff that really does stuff you up, hides around your internal organs and fills you up on the inside so you can look thin on the outside and still be dying of some nasty disease that no one thinks to look for because you are thin. But even if you are active and thin then death can still sneak up on you. Every so often someone makes it to the papers for the wrong reasons – dropped dead on the squash court, on their morning jog, while playing their weekly tennis match. When we were talking about blood pressure (mine) my Dr let slip that the people most likely to die of undiagnosed high blood pressure were fit men because your blood pressure can get to really high, at doing lots of damage levels, without you feeling a thing. Fit men who rarely get sick don’t go to the Dr and never check their blood pressure and then bang it is too late. But is there a war on high blood pressure? Is there any indication that someone otherwise fit and healthy could have a ticking timebomb running through their veins? Don’t be ridiculous, we all know fat people are the ones at risk.
Because I am fat I am seen as slothful, unhealthy, unintelligent, ugly and wrong by people who refuse to believe that you can be fat and healthy and by a diet industry who knows that 95-98% of diets fail because the people on them don’t end up as thin and beautiful and successful as advertised*, yet still blame the consumer for doing something wrong. It is a perfect business model – sell fast weight loss knowing that your customers will put on more weight once they have finished your program then sell them another one ad infinitum. Anyone can lose weight, just the same as anyone can starve to death, you just stop eating. But the weight loss from restricted calorie intake is short term and short lived, and chances are you will put back on more than you lost in the first place. Yes, as a population we are getting bigger. We have been getting bigger for years, that’s what happens when nutrition improves which is why we are taller and larger than our ancestors.
But this doesn’t stop everyone and their dog from having a go at blaming fat people for being fat. Need to throw out a few hundred words for a column? Talk about how fat people, and maybe you even include yourself in this, just need to eat less and exercise more. Your editor will lap it up. Ignore the Health at Every Size movement which encourages people of all sizes – hence the name - to eat a healthy selection of foods and get moderate exercise, because that isn’t peddling weight loss and fat shame. Ignore the lived experience of people who live and love fat healthy lives because that doesn’t fit with the image you want to project. Pretend that if you just lost those X number of kilos that your life would be perfect – although if you are a woman you probably would find that your career prospects improved – not because you are thin now, but because the society we live in is fucked. This does not correlate for fat men. How surprising.
The best way to get along in this thin worshipping western society? Don’t get fat, ever. But don’t diet either because that will make you fat. Don’t have fat grandparents or you are completely fucked. What your grandmothers ate will affect the person you become. Better hope that she never had to eat whatever she could to survive, or whatever was put on her plate as a child. Or if you can’t control that, better make sure as an adult that you have the time and money to spend all your time weighing out your carefully calorie controlled meals, exercising daily for up to two hours, or more if the kilos start creeping back on. You won’t have time for work or children or socialising outside of exercise but hey you will be thin. I’m not being sarcastic about the last bit – a recent study looked at the 2% who kept their weight off after significant weight loss and that is exactly what they did – exercised for hours a day and obsessed about their food. One couple, retired, that they interviewed said they never would be able to manage it if they still had children living at home or had to go to work each day because maintaining the weightloss took up a considerable amount of their day and had to be factored in to everything they did including going on holidays. They rarely eat out because calculating the calorific content of meals they didn’t prepare themselves was too difficult. Sounds like a dreamy lifestyle doesn’t it.
One thing that really made me sad was someone writing on their tumblr that they had a cold and that while normally the suggested treatment would be to keep up fluids and get bed rest, when you are obese the suggested treatment is more likely to be eat a calorie controlled diet and get moderate exercise. The author was joking, but there is a large element of truth in that. More recently a person I followed on twitter said that her partner’s ear infection was not caused by him being fat – but that is what the Dr had said anyway. You heard it here second – fat causes ear infections now. FFS.
So I say fuck dieting, I am embracing the HAES movement. I am finding, slowly but I’m getting there, ways to move that I enjoy. I have all the things that I always thought would be the one thing to get me motivated to get fit and lose weight and they are sitting gathering dust, although I am using my new walking shoes and the iPod once a week when I walk while my daughter goes to gym. I’m still working on the other six days. I am eating more vegetables and menu planning (most weeks) so that when we drag ourselves through the door at the end of a long work day there is something quick easy and nutritious waiting to be quickly cooked or heated up for dinner. We are cooking more interesting and tempting food. I am overcoming a lifelong vegetable aversion and finding that some of those things I have disliked for years are actually quite nice when cooked differently. (cue eyerolling from vegetarian and non-vegetable averse friends who have known this like forever) I am still arguing with my Dr about weight loss, because I tell him that I am working on my fitness and eating habits and he is still focussed on weight loss. But maybe if I become the fit fatty, with perfect blood pressure and blood glucose levels I know I can be, that will shut him up. I might lose a bit of adipose tissue along the way, I might not. But if I am healthy at the end of it then what does it matter?
There are also a couple of elephants in the room I should address. As a person without a disability, currently, I can’t address the issue of not being able to exercise and I haven’t looked into HAES enough to know if it does address this issue. Also, there is the factor that you don’t owe it to anyone to be healthy, that your health is no one else’s business but your own. How you choose to live your life is your choice. For everyone saying ‘but you are a drain on the health system/my taxes pay for your choices’ etc. that is part of living in society. The choice of the majority of Australians to live on the Eastern seaboard means that roads where I choose to live don’t get the funding they need because there is greater demand in the cities, and more voter pressure. My taxes pay for things I will probably never use, just as a tiny proportion of your taxes pay for things that I do use. To quote Tony – it just is.
ETA: I should also have mentioned food deserts. How can you eat a diet high in vegetables when you don’t have access to them? When the food easiest for you to purchase is highly processed, high in fat, salt and sugar or corn syrup? When something nice to eat might be the only nice thing you get all day? When maybe this is the stuff that you eat but you are still thin?
And now for the link love. Many of these will be familiar already to Hoydens, but you might find something new:
http://aww.ninemsn.com.au/news/inthemag/8475009/why-obesity-is-not-your-fault (Kath isn’t much impressed with the headline, but says the article is okay except for the bit with the Dr spruiking gastric banding. The hard copy magazine has the whole article)
http://www.ajcn.org/content/82/1/222S.full *An interesting article on long term weight loss (defined as 10% or more of body weight kept off for over 12 months). To meet this I would have to lose 11 kg approx and keep it off for over 1 year. Guess what, I would still be fat and successful at long term weight loss. Ha. You don’t hear much about that.
http://www.healthymagination.com/blog/best-strategies-for-maintaining-long-term-weight-loss/ Maintaining weight loss – weigh yourself every day, and exercise more if you start to put weight back on. Or, my version, find an activity you enjoy and enjoy it , eat well and watch the things that do make a difference like blood glucose level and blood pressure – whether you are fat or thin. This article does have some interesting things in it about what happens to chemicals in the blood that make you feel hungry or satiated and why this can affect your success at weight loss. For me that shows why weight loss as a goal in and of itself is a bit pointless because you are fighting against your own body’s natural processes.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/mariannekirby Marianne Kirby is just all round awesome.
Just a short note on the recent Bigges Loser: “Fat People are Unloveable” series. Firstly, fuck you BL producers. Secondly, I was fat when I got married, I have put on and lost weight during my marriage, had two kids and am still fat and still married. It’s been 15+ years now. Being fat has not and does not make me or anyone else unloveable. Making people think that they are unloveable because they are fat just sucks. There are plenty of thin single people out there. There are plenty of single fat people out there. Maybe if both groups didn’t believe the fat ones were unloveable there might be fewer single people altogether?
Categories: Culture, culture wars, education, gender & feminism, health, Life, linkfest, medicine
Bravo! Society needs to start caring much less about weight (and a lot more about health!). A BMI is like the least informative thing about a person.
Fucking BRILLIANT, Mindy! And the Biggest Loser franchise always has this middle-aged, fat single crip roaring with fury when I see an advert on telly for it. It’s sheer poison.
Sadly, that doesn’t work. When the tests come out good, but you’re overweight, the doctors just refuse to believe it, and continue their standard story, I know, because that’s me.
I went to the doctor to have some chest-pains investigated. He performed the usual tests. Blood-pressure 105/70. Resting-pulse: 51. Cholesterol 4. EKG normal. Loaded EKG normal. VO2-max 50. Basically, not a single reading out of the ideal range, except for the weight itself, I’ve got a BMI of 30. He tested the resting-pulse 3 times offcourse, before he’d even believe the numbers, then looked at me in astonishment and asked if I do sports. (apparently fat people never do sports in his world)
Didn’t stop him from recommending weight-loss. I asked if there was *actually* any reason to believe that the pains I where experiencing where related to my weight at all. Best he could do was “they might be”, but he was unable to give any specifics.
I ended up going to another doctor, who diagnosed the cause, which turned out to be entirely unrelated to weight, I could’ve lost weigth until I was underweight and it’d not have made any difference whatsoever to the actual health-problem I was having.
I’m overweight. I think my BMI puts me down as “obese”, but I haven’t checked it lately (mostly because the BMI is possibly the least useful public health metric known to humanity). I put at least part of the blame for this on the fact that I dieted pretty damn steadily for ten years between the ages of about twelve and twenty-three. Another part of the blame goes to the happy truth that my thyroid gland has been under-active for a large chunk of my life (it was diagnosed when I was twenty-six, although I suspect the actual problem may well have been triggered in those years between ages twelve and twenty-three, as a result of the dieting).
But then again, three out of my four grandparents survived past the age of ninety, and of those three, at least two of them were fine well into their late eighties. I’ve apparently inherited the family tendency toward low blood pressure from my mother’s side of the family (never quite as spectacularly low as my mother’s – she could feel faint while hanging out laundry or dusting light fixtures sometimes). My blood sugar levels are fine (my partner, meanwhile, has a mild tendency toward stress-induced type II diabetes). My cholesterol is okay. My heart rate is pretty low, too, for someone my size and with my lack of physical fitness. Given my genes, I’ve a fair chance of living out my threescore and ten, and even if I don’t, well… my three ninety-plus grandparents each died slowly. The one who didn’t live to ninety died very quickly – heart attack one morning, dead almost before he knew it. I know which I’d prefer.
In answer to Mindy’s question about disability, some HAES advocates forget that “health” is not a yes/no proposition and think “wide range of foods, plenty of exercise” is perfect (and available) for everyone. Most HAES advocates have more flexibility, though, and realise that health and ability are relative states and that mental health is also health. Which is more than most medical practitioners manage.
I thought I had my doctor trained to behave himself about weight (I have a magnificently awful cancer-related story of fat-related medical mistreatment in my past which tends to get doctors off the “lose weight and your sinuses will clear up!” track in record speed) but apparently not. There is no blood pressure cuff at the clinic that fits me (they don’t have the big hospital-style machines, just the cheapo personal use ones, so bigger cuffs aren’t available) but the doctor was so determined to take my blood pressure that he ran out into the waiting room while I was leaving and strapped a cuff on me. That’s not on, doctor.