• These are the Fat FAQs

    I just couldn’t resist that title. Say “Fat FAQs” fast a couple of times!

    Thanks to those of you who replied in the “rude questions” thread. I’ve taken ideas from that thread, cleaned up some of the concepts from the rude comments the other night, and pulled ideas from other conversations I’ve had and questions I’ve been asked privately. I’ve strung them all together into a single chain of questions and given you a wealth of links if you want to learn more. If you have more questions, let me know. It’s a big topic, but let’s help each other spread more good information!

    Are you really saying that it’s okay to be fat?

    Yes. I like the phrase “fat acceptance”, because at the end of the day all the science and the studies don’t really matter. It’s really just okay to be fat. Even if being fat is caused by eating too many cookies (which it isn’t) and it dooms you to ill health (which it doesn’t), people are allowed to make decisions about their bodies and their health all on their own, and it’s none of anyone else’s business.

    You aren’t serious about this “diets don’t work” thing, are you?

    Completely serious. Diets don’t work. By diet, I mean anything you are doing to fuck with your eating habits in order to lose weight. Even if you’re fucking with your food to lose weight “for your health”, that’s still a diet. If you’re calling your attempt to lose weight a “lifestyle change” or “eating better and exercising”, it’s still a diet. Whenever attempted weight-loss is studied, the results are a resounding failure. The researchers say things like, “It is only the rate of weight regain, not the fact of weight regain, that appears open to debate.”

    If you truly want to learn about the failure of anyone, anywhere to find a way to make people lose weight and keep it off, there is plenty out there. You can’t just read the headlines, because headlines are written to sell things rather to inform people. But scratch the surface on the available information, and you’ll find a world of evidence. Evidence of failure. 6-10 pounds lost over two years. 3-10 pounds over a year. 4 pounds after 18 months. No change in weight after 3 years. No change after 8 years. A review of 31 different studies with various levels of failure. A narrative literature review of journal articles on weight management concludes that it “fails to meet the standards of evidence based medicine” and questions the ethics of continuing to promote failed treatments.

    And exercise? Yeah, that doesn’t make people lose weight, either.

    But what about calories in/calories out, thermodynamics, or how losing weight is obviously SO SIMPLE?

    First, if you’re using the word “thermodynamics” in your argument about losing weight, you’re talking out your ass.

    Second, if you’re using a “calories in/calories out” argument, you don’t understand how bodies work and what metabolism means. I recommend reading about set point theory and thinking about the ways that limiting your “calories in” is actually just cheating your body. The bottom line is that your body is complicated, and it’s working just fine, thank you, without you getting your thinking involved with your calories and messing up the program.

    At the end of the day, we have no idea how to make fat people into thin people or thin people into fat people. No amount of sputtering about laws of physics or what you think is “simple” and “obvious” will change the fact that who is fat and who is thin is largely about genetics. Oh, and also, dieting seems to cause weight gain. I don’t have any studies to back me up on this, but I’ll wager a guess that if you want a culprit for some of the uptick in weight in this culture, it’s the diet industry itself.

    Aren’t fat people just lazy/not trying hard enough/not motivated enough?

    Dieting is basically self-imposed slow starvation. During the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, the men were on a “diet” that many would consider modest these days. During the experiment they became “nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical…depressed…obsessed with food.” Sounds an awful lot like how a lot of dieters feel. As a result of this experiment, we got the term “semi-starvation neurosis”.

    When you understand that dieting is self-imposed starvation, calling it lazy or a lack of effort or motivation is revealed as a really callous thing to say. It’s not a demonstration of poor moral character to be unable to starve yourself for very long. Imagine being tasked with holding your hand over an open flame for as long as you can. Some people could do it for longer than others, but whenever it is that you snatch your hand back, it hardly makes sense to chide you for not trying hard enough. How about trying to breathe 20% less than you currently do? Again, different people would be more or less successful at this task, but when you gasp and go back to taking in enough air, it’s not because you’re lazy.

    If you think fat people aren’t motivated enough, you have a serious misperception of how much it can suck to be fat in this culture. Trust me. We are motivated. The “willpower” nonsense is truly nonsense. Almost every fat woman in this culture has actually performed many acts of extraordinary willpower in her lifetime, by voluntarily starving herself over and over and over again.

    What about me/my sister/coworker/friend who lost X amount of weight in the last X amount of time just by doing X.

    Almost anyone can lose some weight using any number of popular methods. However, the research and the odds overwhelmingly say that you will gain that weight back. The more recently someone has lost weight, the more enthusiastic they are about explaining how everyone can do it, but they’re still wrong.

    This is an area where I’m taking a really strong stand. Promoting weight-loss attempts is at best highly misguided and at worst unethical and cruel. Almost no one can lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off long-term. Of the few who can, many do so by adopting obsessive eating habits and essentially making weight-loss their full time job. Suggesting that significant, long term, intentional weight-loss is simple, easy, or even possible is itself a hateful thing to do. Don’t do it.

    Then how do you explain the starving children in Africa?

    No one is arguing that starvation doesn’t lead to weight loss. It does. However, purposefully starving yourself long-term, voluntarily, is a ludicrous proposition. A person who is stuck underwater will eventually run out of air and die. That doesn’t mean that I should be expected to hold my breath for an unlimited amount of time. That’s just silly.

    Even if losing weight is hard and most people don’t succeed, shouldn’t you still try? For your health?

    No. The whole fat and health thing is way more complicated than than you’ve been led to believe. Oh, it sounds all dire when the media gets going, but the truth is that being fat is NOT an indicator of bad health, does NOT increase your risk of death, is NOT a risk factor for heart disease, and “NONE of the 21 diseases popularly attributed to obesity…are actually associated with excess deaths at any BMI category, including obese.”

    Want more? Fat people don’t go to the doctor more or have more medical procedures or hospitalizations. They don’t take more sick days from work. The are no more likely to have chronic diseases than thinner people.

    Still more? Fatter cardiac patients are more likely to survive. Fatter dialysis patients are more likely to survive. Fat people have better outcomes with blood transfusions. And then there’s this: Fatness is protective and beneficial for health issues that include infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and fat people are more likely to survive a hospitalization at all than thinner people.

    On the other hand, dieting may very well be bad for your heath. Intentional weight-loss is associated with increased aggressiveness, loss of lean muscle, kidney stones, decreased immune function, disordered eating, negative self-image, increased mortality, and increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal.

    If/when your size does affect your health, what can you do about it?

    Whether you’re skinny or fat or somewhere in between, you should address your health concerns by addressing your health concerns. Type II diabetes should be treated, regardless of what size you are. Sore knees should be addressed, regardless of what size you are. Weight-loss should not be prescribed as a medical intervention, since we have no idea how weight-loss can actually happen, and the attempt itself has negative health consequences.

    Aren’t you just looking for a way to justify not exercising/being fat/not working hard enough/eating whatever you want?

    No one needs a justification for that. I don’t have to exercise, and I can eat whatever I want. You don’t have to exercise, and you can eat whatever you want. You’re in charge of you, and I’m in charge of me, forever and ever, amen.

    If that makes you uncomfortable, then we may be getting closer to the root of the problem. It’s not the fat people; it’s the desire to own and police the bodies of other people.

    Are you saying that eating like shit and not exercising aren’t bad for you?

    Nope. I’m saying that being fat isn’t bad for you. How you eat and how much you move around are separate topics. Eating well and moving around more are good for you, whether you’re fat or thin. This is a really important point: weight and health are two separate things. Your weight and how much you eat and how much you exercise are all different things.

    So it’s true! Fat people eat like shit and don’t exercise.

    Where did you get that idea? Think about it for a minute. Is it possible that you don’t really notice when you see a skinny person eating a cheeseburger, but when you see a fat person eating the same thing, you think, “Hmm, well, there ya go.” Some fat people have great, nutritious, modest diets and exercise their butts off. Some fat people are Cheetos-dust-covered couch potatoes. Some skinny people have great, nutritious, modest diets and exercise their butts off. Some skinny people are Cheetos-dust-covered couch potatoes. It turns out that fat people don’t generally eat more or exercise less than thinner people. It’s just that our collective narrative renders fit fat people invisible.

    Aren’t you promoting fat/encouraging people to be fat/making people fat?

    It doesn’t really matter if I am, because you can’t make thin people fat any more than you can make fat people thin, and by the way, remember, it’s okay to be fat. So maybe I am promoting it. I’m saying it’s okay to have a body like mine. What of it?

    But obesity epidemic! 

    Please drop the scary words attached to obesity from your vocabulary. Obesity isn’t an epidemic, a crisis, or a nightmare. “Obesity” is simply a description of a ratio between height and weight. It isn’t any scarier than tall people. Besides, when you read about how obesity is on the rampage, apparently going to take over the world, you’re being misinformed, since obesity rates have been steady for about a decade.

    But the children!

    Just no. Children being fat is not related to negative health outcomes. What is a negative outcome is shaming children about their weight. When everyone from the First Lady on down is convinced they’re at war against your body, that has to take a toll on a kid.

    How can you be healthy or get healthier as a fat person?

    The same way everyone else gets healthier. Many of the things that we hear as weight-loss advice is shit, of course. But some of the basic stuff in there – eat more whole grains, fruits, and veggies, get your heartrate up a few times a week, find ways to move around that are enjoyable to you – these things will positively affect your health, even though they don’t lead to weight loss.

    This is one of the great tragedies of our focus on weight. It makes eating well and exercising a means to an unattainable end. There are lots of great reasons to eat nutritious foods and move your body around more that have nothing to do with weight-loss, but fat people who have tried to lose weight and failed may give up on these activities. Anyone can pursue greater fitness. This includes thin people. Thin people don’t benefit from the false equation of health and fat, either. Moving around more and eating better can improve the health of everyone, regardless of their size.

    Also, let’s keep in mind that there is no moral imperative to be healthy. No one has an obligation to be healthy, to value health, or to do anything in particular about their health. We can focus on our own health, but the health of other people is none of our business.

    In pursuing fat acceptance, are you also pursuing a fitness/exercise/workout routine?

    I’m not. I promised myself years ago never to “exercise” again, because doing so is always an act of hatred against myself. Other fat people do exercise, for fun, for fitness, or to build certain skills. Fitness and fatness are two separate things. Some fat people work out, some don’t. Some thin people work out, some don’t.

    Does being fat accepting assume that the doctor says you are in good health and you feel good and have the energy to participate in all the activities you want?

    No, it doesn’t. Most people don’t get a doctor’s permission to live their lives. Being fat accepting is for fat healthy people. It’s also for fat unhealthy people. It’s for fat people who exercise. It’s for fat people who don’t. It’s for fat people who get winded easily. It’s for fat people who run marathons. It’s for fat people who go in for twice-yearly physical checkups. It’s for fat people who haven’t seen a doctor in years. It’s for fat people who are pursuing fitness. It’s for fat people who aren’t.

    What are your thoughts on all the different ways people are fucked up about what to eat?

    I think it’s no surprise. The weight-cycling industry has been marching on largely unchallenged for decades now. Who cam blame us for being a bit confused? Almost everything you read about food is framed as a pressing moral concern, an intricate puzzle to be solved, or a battle to be waged. Advice about what to eat and what not to eat is scattered, contradictory, and sometimes downright incomprehensible.

    When it comes to GMOs or organic or whatever, I mostly try to avoid putting too much attention there, because it’s too easy for me to get sucked back into attaching moral issues to food. It’s more important to me to release that need for control over which foods are “right” and which are “wrong” and just eat what seems desirable to me in the moment.

    Why are you so rude/aggressive?

    (Yes, I really got this question.)

    I get pretty worked up about this stuff sometimes, because the lies and the social pressure aren’t just interesting. They are actively harmful to real people. Over 60% of the adults in the US are categorized as overweight or obese, and we face discrimination, abuse, and in many cases extreme self-loathing as a result of the rampant moral panic about our bodies. I hope that I can muster up more aggressiveness and more energy to battle this issue. As Ragen Chastain has pointed out, our culture has declared war against us. It’s time to fight back.

    And forward:

    This post has 50 some-odd links in it. It took me a week to put my research in order and then write this post. I don’t expect you to read and absorb everything here immediately. I’ve been studying this topic for almost two years. And I’d love to hear your comments and questions! If you are going to comment, though, I do expect you to have a basic grasp of what I’m saying here and have accepted that at the very least, what you have “always heard” or what “everyone knows” is much more complicated.

    It’s okay to be fat. Almost no one can lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off. Dieting is bad for you. You can’t make fat people thin or thin people fat. Genetics mostly decides who is who, and your bodily processes take care of the rest. It’s not unhealthy to be fat. Eating well and moving around more are good for everyone but don’t cause weight loss. No one is obligated to pursue health.

    I’m interested in examining fat from a more personal perspective, and writing about how to change your relationship with yourself and your size. I feel like I needed to get this basic, factual, foundational stuff out of the way first. These are my premises. I’m excited to explore what comes next, after some of the bullshit about fat as been cast aside.

    (Edited to add: I don’t post most of the hateful comments I get on this post. If your comment is one of those, I’ve added a new page where you can bring your arguments – The Fat Backtalk Zone. If I won’t publish your comment here, there’s a possibility I’ll post it and reply over there.)

110 Responsesso far.

  1. Joshua says:

    Dear idiots on the Internet who are already leaving unapproved comments telling Issa how stupid she is. Please. For fuck’s sake. READ THE GOD DAMNED LINKS SHE PROVIDED. These are not her ideas. These are the results of scientific studies. FOR FUCK’S SAKE AT LEAST TRY TO EDUCATE YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SPEW MORE OF THIS “HOOKED ON PHONICS WORKED FOR ME” BULLSHIT.

    I mean, this article was a direct response to people who say things like, “You’re just trying to justify being fat,” and, “It worked for me. You’re wrong.” And the first fucking comment to come out of the ether is someone saying EXACTLY THAT, again. Did you even bother to read ANY of the links backing up these claims? No. Fuck you. I hate you so much.

  2. Issa says:

    Someone has already tried to leave a comment on this post, which I will not be approving for publication. It went something like this:

    (name-calling)
    (declaring things without backing them up)
    (using the “trying to justify” line)
    (personal weight-loss testimony)
    (more angry declarations)

    Come on internets, you’re going to have to try harder than that.

  3. deb jacobs says:

    i am fat. i also have an immune system disease. i also had severe allergies. i changed my diet to help these things. my weight has exacerbated my illness. i quit eating sugar, wheat, yeast, and dairy(except greek yogurt). i eat lean beef and chicken and fish, fresh veggies and fruit and whole grains. i rarely eat anything processed. i am losing weight. also, my allergies WENT AWAY. i still have an immune system disease(i will have it the rest of my life), but i am happy knowing that i’m not putting crap into my body. also spiritually, i feel that’s right. i STILL support all my FA friends. i just think some of these things have grey areas and are not black and white like you say. changing your eating habits and excersizing DOES help you lose weight, if that’s what you want. you can’t say it never does, that’s untrue. you could say a lot of the time it doesn;’t, which IS true. people like me feel like outcasts because i’m not a big diet advocate but have questions about the FA movement. i love my fat body. i love other people’s fat bodies too. let us exist, okay?

    • Issa says:

      I have not spoken against changing your diet to address medical issues like a disease or allergies, for spiritual reasons, or simply because that’s what feels right to you. I have only spoken against promoting dieting as a route to weight-loss.

      “changing your eating habits and excersizing DOES help you lose weight,”

      You can’t just say this without qualifications. You can say that a few people will lose weight this way, but those people are either statistical anomalies or simply have not yet regained that weight.

    • Joshua says:

      changing your eating habits and excersizing DOES help you lose weight, if that’s what you want.

      For the vast majority of people, changing their eating habits and exercising does help them lose weight. Over a time period of, perhaps 6 months to a year, or maybe 2 years at the outside. Then, the vast majority of them gain the weight back, and often times more than they lost. That’s not my opinion, or conjecture. That’s what study after study has found.

      you can’t say it never does, that’s untrue.

      Please read more carefully what Issa actually wrote. If you can find a place where she says that dieting never results in long-term weight loss, I will give you a virtual cookie. I will bet you that what she actually said was something like, “Dieting does not result in long-term weight reduction for the majority of people, and for those who do achieve long-term weight reduction, maintaining their weight becomes a full-time obsession, on par with eating disorders.” That’s not the same as, “dieting never works.”

  4. Mary W says:

    Thank you so much for this. I’ll be keeping it bookmarked for the references.

    I especially appreciate the mention that people who have successfully kept weight off basically make it their life’s work (do you have a reference?). A colleague of mine recently lost a lot of weight with a national program and this is her mindset. However, even though she made her goal weight, her doctor is encouraging her to lose 5 pounds more so she’s in the middle of her range. 83 pounds wasn’t enough, she needs to lose more! No matter how thin we are, there’s always someone (many times ourselves) who say we can be thinner.

    • Issa says:

      I originally got that “life’s work” idea from this article that talks about Jules Hirsch’s work in 1959: “There were a very few who did not get fat again, but they made staying thin their life’s work, becoming Weight Watchers lecturers, for example, and, always, counting calories and maintaining themselves in a permanent state of starvation.”

      And then this article talks about the National Weight Control Registry, saying about the people who have kept weight off: “You find these people are incredibly vigilant about maintaining their weight. Years later they are paying attention to every calorie, spending an hour a day on exercise. They never don’t think about their weight.”

      • Joshua says:

        They never don’t think about their weight.”

        I think this is a key thing to understand about “successful” dieting. If you want to make weight-management your life’s work, and spend the rest of your life in a state of semi-starvation, then I support that. I also support people who pierce their noses and get tattoos on their faces. I also support people who fast for days on end, or meditate. I support a person’s right to do with ou’s body what ou wants to. Where I get upset is when people try to pass off “dieting” as some normal, healthy activity, instead of a radical form of body modification, and then put down those who fail to accomplish it.

        • Mary W says:

          Agreed. This particular aspect of Issa’s post is why I gave up dieting. It really struck a chord with me.

        • Ashley says:

          I love the idea of dieting as a radical form of body modification. I’m going to have to use that. I already say that I have better things to do with my life than be thin.

          • Issa says:

            I tried to use that as my justification for dieting once. I said since I have tattoos and whatnot, why couldn’t making my body skinnier just be another body modification? That failed. Most body modifications – even really radical ones – are basically one-time deals, or even mods that take a lot of maintenance like suntanning or shaving daily, they’re still pretty damn easy and not very time consuming compared to weight-loss. And remember that you don’t have an entire biological system in place to prevent you from doing those things.

    • Heidi says:

      Although the blog is no longer active, Debra’s Just Maintaining (http://justmaintaining.com/) is a really wonderful, very FA-positive (surprisingly!) place to find real-life experiences of long-term weight loss maintenance and how much work it takes. She describes it as her 1/3 to 1/2-time job.

  5. Tammy says:

    Thank you for this. I will be sharing it with others. I was put on my first diet at around 9 years of age. I’m large. No matter how many ways I’ve changed my eating habits (I had a personal goal to eat healthier foods more often than not), it has not resulted in significant weight loss. Increased exercise has changed my shape somewhat but I’m still pretty much the same size/weight. I determined awhile back that I would have to make exercise my only hobby to make significant change and I decided I didn’t want to do that.

    Body acceptance at any size is something I’m going to be working on all the rest of my life. Too many negative messages during my childhood and beyond have made it very difficult, if not downright impossible, for me to truly be okay. I still battle with an underlying self hatred that I have not been any more successful in eradicating than I have been at being thin.

  6. Sara says:

    You’re blowing my mind! It will take a lot of reading and processing and time for it to sink in, but I’m working on it. It’s an entire shift in thinking and self-talk but you’ve armed me with facts and studies, so my power to deflect my mother’s (and the world’s) disapproval is increasing. Thanks so much for this!

  7. domi says:

    Thank you for this.

  8. Maggie S. says:

    Thanks for answering my question, Issa.

    • Issa says:

      I had to go back and remind myself which question was yours. I hope you don’t mind the blunt way I answered it. I think your question isn’t that unusual, because we are trained to view weight in relation to health. But it’s important to get away from that association and let people be who they are without looking over their medical shoulder, so to speak.

  9. Lee says:

    You are really my goddamn hero. Thank you.

    I’m 33 years old.
    I weigh about 260 and am 5’5″. By the chart on the wall in high school, I am morbidly obese (which has still yet to kill me).
    My blood pressure is 120/82.
    My pulse rate is usually about 89.
    I don’t run unless bears are chasing me.
    I’m fat. Belly roll fat, thighs rubbing together fat.
    I’m also healthy.

    My issues with my weight are not in my body, they are all in my head. And they got put there by assholes who want to judge and control based on my dress size.

    Having dieted my whole life, I finally stopped. What dieting my whole life got me- nothing but an eating disorder, damage to my reproductive system and the awful admittance that when I look in the mirror I still hate myself. I *couldn’t* lose the weight and that made me some kind of failure. I still carry that guilt, even though I am a generally happy person who has no reason to give a shit what anyone else thinks about my weight. Everyday, in my head, I pass little judgement on myself because I am sure that perfect strangers are passing them on me.

    So, fuck you if you think you get to judge me. Fuck you if you think that being fat makes me less human. Fuck you if you don’t want to see me. I am not invisible.

    Thanks Issa, I book marked this post so I could come back to it when I forget that they can all go fuck themselves.

    • Joshua says:

      If you have the time and inclination, I would highly encourage you to read the links Issa provides in the post. The degree to which we have been misinformed by fat bigotry is simply stunning, and it really takes some time to begin to internalize it.

      • Lee says:

        I am moving through them slowly, partly because of time, partly because of the fact that I find it emotionally really hard to get through, the little nagging voice in the back of my head telling me this is liberal media PC bias bullshit…. it’s intense to still have this much bad patterning.

        • Joshua says:

          I totally get that. I think you should apply as much skepticism as possible to this information. That way, if and when you end up convinced, it will for reals. The key thing, to me, is that the studies Issa is linking to seem, to me at least, to be pretty robust. Try to find methodological flaws in them, and if you do, I’ll be the first to want to hear about them–not because I want to disbelieve, but because I want to be sure this case is as strong as possible.

    • Issa says:

      It makes me so fucking angry that we feel this way! It’s such a waste! It’s so fucked up. I’m not letting go of this topic until we all stop feeling this way. And fuck you, indeed, to anyone who tries to hold that back.

      If you’re going through the links, please do ask me if you have any questions about how I drew such-and-such conclusions. I linked to a lot of abstracts, and if it’s not clear where I got my line of thinking, let me know, and I’ll dig up more in the particular direction you’re looking.

  10. Laura P. says:

    Society’s attitude about so many things has changed dramatically in the past century, it’s often hard to tell where we’ve come from. The attitude about weight is among those issues. Before World War II women were expected to ‘thicken’ as they got older; it was considered a sign of robust health. You were expected to put on a little weight, and keep it, with each child you bore, and women knew that extra pounds would make menopause a smoother process (we now know that fat itself generates estrogen).

    I began studying the health effects of fat when I was busy with my naturopathic and herbal practice 15-20 years ago. Few of my overweight clients had any health problems related to their weight (mostly joint issues already present but exacerbated by carrying extra weight) and the ones who had blood pressure issues continued to have those issues even after they lost weight. I eventually concluded that, except for people whose weight caused mechanical problems like sleep apnea from excess tissue pressing on their airways during sleep (and this can happen to thin people, too), weight really has very little bearing on health. What does have a LOT of bearing, in my experience, is a person’s happiness with themselves, and it’s damn hard to be happy with yourself when society says you suck because you’re not the right size.

    I’m a living history demonstrator as a hobby and have studied lifestyles and attitudes in the 18th and 19th centuries so I can present an accurate depiction of historical time periods. Before the first World War most of the US was rural or lived in small towns – an agriculture-based economy. Weight was considered a sign of health. Being thin was considered unhealthy. There were many, many products advertised to help people gain weight so they would be healthy. Children were supposed to be plump; women were supposed to be round; men were supposed to be stocky. If you think about it, these are signs of a successful farm family – you’re good enough at farming to have extra to eat. If a woman wasn’t plump enough she could buy pads for her bust, hips and derriere to go under her clothes and fill things out. Fashions were designed to emphasize plumpness (except for the crazy-tiny waist during a period of about 30 years of late Victorian insanity, but even then, everything about you EXCEPT your waist was supposed to be plump).

    I have found that the shift from a rural/agricultural population to an urban/industrial population directly correlates with the change in attitude about weight, to the point that now, the people who would have been considered repulsively thin 150 years ago are fashionable.

    I also find it interesting that, both now and 150 years ago, the medical community made studies and came up with statistics to support the prevailing popular opinion. In both cases, I think it comes down to profit. Lots of doctors and businesses made money back then selling goods and services to people who wanted to gain weight. Now they make money selling to people who want to lose weight. It’s nothing but fashion.

    My ultimate take-away from my naturopathic practice was this: If you feel good about yourself and are generally happy in your life then you’ll most likely be healthy regardless of your weight and often in complete contradiction to genetic risk factors. I have to wonder to what extent the terrible negative pressure on people about their weight is causing health issues – not the weight itself but the psychological trauma people experience navigating our weight-hating culture. To me, that’s the real health risk.

  11. DebraSY says:

    Saw on my stat page a little jump and a link here. I owe Heidi a thank you. Hope to go through your links at some point. I bet I already know most of them, but I may be able to give you additional links or better ones. In my blogging days, I was a science junkie and accumulated a lot links. Actually, only a week to assemble this? Not bad. You’re pretty darn quick.

    I hope this is a page and not just a post, and that you continue to build it and polish it. This is FaceBook and forward-to-a-friend worthy. A lot of good information compiled in one convenient place. Toward the end of making it FB and forward-worthy, you still have a couple of type-Os, and I’d consider removing the F bombs. Yes, it’s your voice and it’s legit and fine for most of us, but I think it would be a shame to alienate the cursing-sensitive crowd from this important content simply for the joy of throwing an F-bomb.

    • Issa says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Debra. It took me a week to put the post together, but I had already collected the links over the last couple of years. It just took me a week to sort through everything and lay it out in order.

      I’m not sure I’ll put much more work into this kind of information. Going forward I’m less interested in the science/facts/arguments and more interested in focusing on helping myself and others be comfortable, confident, and happy in our bodies. I would definitely appreciate any additional links you’d like to point me towards, though, because I will continue to build on my own knowledge. And I might tackle the typos, but the cussing is there to stay. :-)

      • DebraSY says:

        Hookay. Gotta go where your heart leads. At my blog, for a time, many people wanted to push me toward the sociology of weight-loss maintenance and systems bias, and my heart wanted to explore the endocrine imbalance, and I had to put my foot down.

        It’s a good post, tho.

  12. DebraSY says:

    Here’s a link to the full Mann et. al. article (not just the abstract): http://motivatedandfit.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Diets_dont_work.pdf

    Matter of prioritizing/preference, but I’d give Mann more prominence in your 50 links. Garner and Wooley is classic and well done but shot down often for being dated. (1991, doncha know, and we’ve learned so much since then. Hey, we didn’t even have the NWCR then. Yeesh.). Mann et. al. is the new Garner and Wooley.

  13. mitsy says:

    I think not watching television/movies or paying attention to fashion magazines or just avoiding media in general goes a long way toward accepting oneself regardless of size. Not everyone can do that completely, but it’s not very hard to cut a lot out when you put your mind to it. My husband likes me and likes the way I look, and I realized a long time ago that that’s all I really care about (I know he would like me regardless, but I suppose it’s still important to me). Bookmarking this for future reference, not because it’s really something of interest to me (I found your blog originally by searching for homesteading blogs in eastern TN) but because I think what you’re doing is important. Happy Friday!

    • Issa says:

      I completely agree that cutting out media is really helpful! I stopped watching TV about 10 years ago. Now, I get some TV from the internet, but all commercials are cut out. I don’t buy magazines unless it’s explicitly to mock them for a blog post. After having avoided advertising for so long, sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of a magazine or a commercial on a TV in a restaurant or something, and I think I MUST be seeing a parody. I just cannot believe some of the things that are passed off as reasonable things to say in public!

  14. Elena says:

    Well done. I’m impressed with the way you’ve juggled the facts as well as the emotions of this topic.

    Sometimes I wonder which is harder – torturing oneself with a diet or facing our internal demons of body hate that we’ve learned from our culture and our community/family. Our deep need to be accepted is so strong, and when we’re taught that being fat is wrong, then if dieting doesn’t work, we have to accept that there might be people out there who will judge and condemn us for the rest of our lives. That’s a hard place to be, so the incentive to continue to pretend that dieting is the answer is very compelling.

    I hope lots of people who are struggling will read this post and get some relief from your lovingly rational approach to health.

  15. Thank you so much for gathering all these resources and answers in one place. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this, and your whole series.

  16. Miz Trish says:

    Thank you for this! I’m almost a little glad you got such stupid responses and comments to help you write such an awesome rebuttal. We all get these comments in real life and I need material to rebuttal it and here it is. :) Thank you!

    I have so much experience with the diet cycle. I have a long way to go on body acceptance. But I feel like finally at 35 I “get it” and I know how to feel good and have a better personal body image for myself and how to feel pretty at any size. (I know this in my head, I still battle it regularly).

    Thank you for all your research and encouragement. I hope you don’t get anymore stupid comments, I think you have answered all of them already.

  17. em says:

    I just came across your blog and i really agree on a lot of things, but i have some serious issues with this post. this seems to be a place for discussion, i’m not being rude, and i will disappointed if you don’t allow this (and other polite but disagreeing comments). saying “diets don’t work” = eating less and moving more will not make you lose weight. it will. whether you cheat, under count calories, fall off the wagon, or skip workouts… that’s not a failure of the diet, it’s a failure to remain on it as an individual.

    dieting isn’t easy, but slow, realistic weight loss is possible. fat doesn’t mean unhealthy, but if you’re obese and lose 50 lbs, your health improves if only a little (blood pressure, less pressure on joints, etc).

    it’s inaccurate to claim that a fat person can eat and exercise the exact same amount as a thin person and nothing will change. if they both eat the same amount of calories and burn the same amount of calories via exercise, a change will be seen. one will lose and/or the other will gain/maintain.

    yo yo dieting and food issues are unhealthy, but it’s a little scary to me for you to preach that fat people “can’t lose weight with a diet”, “that’s just their body’s size,” “if you try you’ll end up the same or worse.” of course it’s a mental battle too. if someone is unhappy being fat, with effort they can become healthier, fitter and lighter. and there’s nothing wrong or impossible about that, either.

    so basically, yes, i agree with you. but this is an extreme. you can love your fat body and you could also succeed in changing it (and love it then too). that’s all. i look forward to reading some of your other hot topic posts!

    • Issa says:

      I have no problem publishing this post because you are polite and don’t hit the major fat-hate points or dive into “diet porn” (describing in great detail your favorite way to lose weight). However, it seems from your reply that you just aren’t as educated on this topic as I am, and if you want to continue to disagree, you should probably do more research (starting with the links in this post!) I’d address your comments one by one.

      “saying “diets don’t work” = eating less and moving more will not make you lose weight. it will. whether you cheat, under count calories, fall off the wagon, or skip workouts… that’s not a failure of the diet, it’s a failure to remain on it as an individual.”

      This is basically the “willpower” argument. When you attempt to deprive your body of calories, your body fights back with an array of physiological processes designed to keep you at the weight you are. Yes, some people can “try hard enough” to keep themselves in a constant state of battle with their own bodies, but it’s certainly not any kind of “failure” if they don’t do so. You can’t chalk it up to individual failure any more than a person failing to breathe 20% less each day is a failure in any real sense.

      “dieting isn’t easy, but slow, realistic weight loss is possible. fat doesn’t mean unhealthy, but if you’re obese and lose 50 lbs, your health improves if only a little (blood pressure, less pressure on joints, etc).”

      This whole bit is just completely false. There is no evidence whatsoever that ANY meaningful weight loss is possible to maintain over the long term. There is no guarantee that weight loss would make a person healthier even if it were possible. And intentional weight loss itself is harmful and unhealthy.

      “it’s inaccurate to claim that a fat person can eat and exercise the exact same amount as a thin person and nothing will change. if they both eat the same amount of calories and burn the same amount of calories via exercise, a change will be seen. one will lose and/or the other will gain/maintain.”

      This whole part is also completely false. You don’t understand metabolism. It is an extremely individual and complex thing.

      “yo yo dieting and food issues are unhealthy, but it’s a little scary to me for you to preach that fat people “can’t lose weight with a diet”, “that’s just their body’s size,” “if you try you’ll end up the same or worse.””

      I’m not preaching. I’m talking about science. Fat people cannot lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off. Attempting to do so has negative health effects. Genetics plays a large role in size. These things have a lot of research behind them, and I linked to lots of sources in this post.

      “if someone is unhappy being fat, with effort they can become healthier, fitter and lighter.”

      They CAN’T become lighter. They CAN become healthier and fitter. Mixing these things up leads to a lot of problems for fat people. Don’t do it.

      “so basically, yes, i agree with you.”

      I don’t think you agree with me. I’m not even sure you read the whole post. I’m really not sure you looked into the links.

      • em says:

        there’s no need to be condescending. I’ve also done my own research and disagreeing with you doesn’t mean i don’t understand your argument. i took the time to look through the first slew of sources, and i found a large quantity with little quality.

        a psych study that’s 20 years old
        a blog run by a nurse with no nutritional certification, in fact she’s neonatal/trauma
        another psych study from 95
        multiple other blogs
        a study demonstrating that you’ll lose weight if you exercise
        an article explaining exercise’s impact on your metabolism, as well as it’s other health benefits (regardless of weight loss)
        an online newspaper article claiming exercise won’t help overweight children, it suggests diet instead

        i stopped reading there. whether or not they’re right/valid, they’re not a comprehensive look at the issue. luckily science isn’t zero sum, my understanding doesn’t negate yours (or vice versa)

        • Issa says:

          There is EVERY reason to be condescending. People are accustomed to basically saying whatever they want about weight loss and going completely unchallenged. You can’t just come here spouting the same diet, exercise, “realistic weight loss”, calories in calories out nonsense as everyone else all while saying you “agree with me” without some some pushback.

          20 years old? Study from 95? It just doesn’t matter. You can go back to Hirsch in 1959 or you can look at Mann et al in 2007. It doesn’t matter. No one, anywhere, any time has found a way to make more than tiny numbers of fat people lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off long term. The date on the study doesn’t matter because when you go looking for that info, there are NONE.

          Junkfood Science, the “blog run by a nurse with no nutritional certification”, is seriously worth not overlooking. I tend to link there when I want to link to more than one study at once. Those posts cover lots of different research, tie them together in meaningful ways, and include lots of extra explanation. I highly recommend that whole blog, even if it’s just for help digging into particular studies.

          Honestly, I’m never sure what commenters like you are after. You just want to disagree without adding anything of substance. Your comment is the party fucking line. You think I’ve never heard it before? You don’t add anything of substance. You don’t ask clarifying questions. You don’t offer a different way of looking at things. You don’t provide other research to see if I’ve considered it. What are you doing? What do you want? It looks like you just want to make sure us fat people don’t get to say these things out loud without you getting your say.

    • Joshua says:

      saying “diets don’t work” = eating less and moving more will not make you lose weight.

      I don’t understand why, no matter how many times we say this, no matter how carefully we word it, and how clear we try to be, people continue to misunderstand what we are saying. It is like there is a giant blind spot. Let me try again.

      1. There is a point where if you restrict calories enough and/or exercise enough, everyone will lose weight. No one is disputing that. Obviously, everyone will starve or be worked to death eventually. Please stop acting like I am claiming people will not starve to death if you restrict their caloric intake sufficiently.
      2. The amount of calorie deficit that a given person will need varies widely. You can’t just say that if you eat X number of calories less a day, you will lose weight. This is empirically untrue.
      3. For many people, losing weight requires consuming a level of calories that is so low that it counts as semi-starvation. This is not a healthy state to be in, and it is perverse that supporters of dieting suggest that it is.

      it will. whether you cheat, under count calories, fall off the wagon, or skip workouts… that’s not a failure of the diet, it’s a failure to remain on it as an individual.

      Are you familiar with a tautology? It’s a statement that is constructed to as to be always true. So what you’re saying is that diets work, and if you cheat, under-count calories, fall of the wagon, or what have you, then you have failed, not the diet. Okay. I guess diets always work then, because you have taken all of the ways in which diets fail and defined them as “not-diets-failing”. When the vast majority of people who attempt to diet fail in the ways that you have described, it is perverse to suggest that the problem is all with the people, and not with the dieting. It is victim-blaming. You are correct that if you consistently starve yourself, you will lose weight. But when you frame it that way–and make no mistake, dieting is, for most people, the intentional induction of semi-starvation–it’s not so damning when people fail at it. OMG. I tried to starve myself today, and I couldn’t do it.

      dieting isn’t easy, but slow, realistic weight loss is possible.

      Not over the long term, not for the vast majority of people, not without a near-obsessive effort, and not without inducing a state of semi-starvation. If you are capable of living in a state of semi-starvation for the rest of your life, more power to you, but don’t act like it’s some virtue. It’s just another form of extreme body modification. Condemning people for failing to diet is like condemning them for not wanting to stretch their ears or get their labia pierced.

      fat doesn’t mean unhealthy, but if you’re obese and lose 50 lbs, your health improves if only a little (blood pressure, less pressure on joints, etc).

      Science disagrees. Please read the section of Issa’s post titled, “Even if losing weight is hard and most people don’t succeed, shouldn’t you still try? For your health?”

      it’s inaccurate to claim that a fat person can eat and exercise the exact same amount as a thin person and nothing will change. if they both eat the same amount of calories and burn the same amount of calories via exercise, a change will be seen. one will lose and/or the other will gain/maintain.

      What you seem to be saying here is that everyone has the exact same metabolism. This is patently untrue.

      yo yo dieting and food issues are unhealthy, but it’s a little scary to me for you to preach that fat people “can’t lose weight with a diet”

      I’m sorry that is scary for you. It is hard to come to terms with these things. I blame the world that has told you that being fat is a bad thing, and so naturally you are scared to hear that it may be inevitable. Unfortunately, the evidence is overwhelming. Hopefully, you can get through the stages of grief, from Denial (where you currently seem to be) to Acceptance.

  18. jlj says:

    I hope you don’t delete. I’m just expressing my viewpoint. I hope that’s allowed. :)

    I do believe that dieting does not work. It’s too hard, and it creates slower metabolism through muscle loss. However, changing one’s lifestyle can make a difference. I know at least thirty people who changed their lifestyle completely and lost weight and continue to keep it off many, many years later. That bucks the statistics and makes me question the veracity of those statistics. It can’t really be that I just know thirty people who did that.

    Are they incredibly thin, with long, lovely legs and terrifically muscular arms and perfect figures? Er, no. They are usually normal-sized individuals, on the higher end of their weight allowance or somewhere between twenty or even thirty pounds over their recommended weight. But, not more than that. They’ve lost weight from 20 to 100 pounds and kept it off for many years.

    All of them did a few similar things. They didn’t diet at all, first. They all found something fun they liked to do that made them move. (My cousin did yoga and ballet. For fun. My friend went hiking. For fun.) They didn’t try to lose quickly or even lose weight at all. They simply started eating healthier foods with smaller portions.

    Did they lose quickly? No. One of my friends took eight years to lose thirty pounds, but she’s more physically comfortable at her new weight. All of them are more physically comfortable. It’s isn’t just about the social stigma, which I find repulsive, incidentally.

    I do understand what you are saying about comfort and being happy with your body. Many people who are considered obese are actually healthier than their skinny counterparts. There is an incredible misconception about what makes a healthy person. The stigma for fat people is highly stupid. No argument there.

    But, people should also be where they are physically comfortable, and telling those people that are not that there is no way to get there, when they are not, is not accurate. It is possible to find your physical comfort level, whether that be fifty pounds overweight or ten pounds under it. You eat healthy food, because processed food will freaking kill you eventually, and you move in a way that you like to move. Screw exercise. Just do something you like that requires walking around some.

    Okay, well, that’s what I had to say. I like much of what you say, but you need to be aware that there are people who will weep at your declarations as well as cheer. To them, you just served up a heaping helping of despair, because they do feel bad, not mentally because of society, but physically because they are carrying too much weight.

    The main thing I think one must remember is there is never only one way to be. We have to acknowledge other peoples’ experiences as well. That’s all. Thanks. Again, I hope you allow me to speak my piece.

    • Issa says:

      “Changing one’s lifestyle” is usually just code for “diet and exercise”. Doing it is a complicated matter, and it just isn’t appropriate to taunt people with “just change your lifestyle”. Do you think that the people who are trying so hard to lose weight that they pour 60 BILLION dollars into the diet industry every year have never tried “lifestyle changes”?

      You know that your 30 people don’t make for science, right? The most glaring problem is selection bias. Next up is controlling for certain variables. What kinds of people are these? What other things affect them? What medical conditions have they been treated for? And you mention weight loss amounts from 20 to 100 pounds. 20 pounds is well within the set point swing and doesn’t count at all. Anyway, even if we trust their word and your re-telling, their experiences don’t really matter in this context when we have 50 years of science to look at.

      Then you talk about being more physically comfortable. If a person takes up yoga and ballet, loses 30 pounds, and feels great in her body these days, how come you’re focusing on the weight loss? Why haven’t you come here to let us all know that you really recommend yoga as a way to be more comfortable with your body? Why is it weight loss, weight loss, weight loss. The VAST MAJORITY of people CANNOT lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off long term. That’s just a fact.

      “But, people should also be where they are physically comfortable, and telling those people that are not that there is no way to get there, when they are not, is not accurate. It is possible to find your physical comfort level, whether that be fifty pounds overweight or ten pounds under it. You eat healthy food, because processed food will freaking kill you eventually, and you move in a way that you like to move. Screw exercise. Just do something you like that requires walking around some.”

      I basically agree with this paragraph. Eat healthy food (if you want to), move around in fun ways (if you want to), and find your physical comfort level. These’s nothing wrong with that message. There’s only something wrong with it if you make intentional weight-loss part of the goal or the process. Are you familiar with Health At Every Size? You might want to look into it, because you are almost there in your message here.

      • jlj says:

        Thank you so much for keeping the post. By changing lifestyle, I absolutely do not mean dieting. To me, dieting is about counting calories, often so far below our set point that our body thinks we are starving. That is, per the studies and statistics, not very effective, and let’s be honest, downright miserable. I mention the weight loss because what I noticed among my friends who just changed their habits was a tendency to end up happiest at a particular weight, whether they were still considered overweight by insurance charts or not. I had one friend that, without meaning to do it, lost too much weight. She was very uncomfortable at that weight and felt unhealthy. She added more Omega 3 fats (nuts, avocado) and is fifteen pounds above her supposed healthiest weight and feels best there. That’s why I mention weight loss.

        But, I get your main point and agree. Fat shaming is bullshit. It should be about general comfort, happiness, and health. Period.

        • Joshua says:

          That is, per the studies and statistics, not very effective, and let’s be honest, downright miserable

          But it’s even broader than that. There is not one single method of intentional weight loss that has been clinically shown to help people lose weight and keep it off over the long term. You’re right that counting calories doesn’t work. Neither does anything else, though. When I say, “diets don’t work,” I mean any form of intentional weight loss that involves a conscious attempt to modify one’s eating and exercise habits. This can work over a short time period (see Christain Bale in “The Machinist,” if you want proof) but eventually the person’s metabolism asserts itself. For most (but not all) people this is true.

  19. Grace says:

    I absolutely agree with you that it’s okay to be fat, regardless of your level of fitness, eating habits, etc. Fat people are entitled to respect, kindness and non-discrimination, just as every human being is.

    However, you are completely wrong that fatness is inevitable. I live in Asia (I’ve lived in different countries here off and on since 2003), and have traveled widely. Every time I come back to the US I am shocked by how fat everyone is. There just aren’t many fat (especially obese) people elsewhere. And this isn’t because they don’t eat, or are poor (the country I live in now, Singapore, actually has a higher GDP than the US does, and the national hobby is basically eating).

    This is because the US has an incredibly toxic food environment. Every time I return I gain weight, because life is sedentary (since you have to drive everywhere, unless you live somewhere unusual), portions are enormous, and everyone eats constantly (as in snacking instead of actual meals). People are not ‘naturally’ fat, they are fat because of their environment, and if we moved them elsewhere their weight would change.

    A successful ‘diet’ really means redesigning one’s environment to be more healthy. This is difficult (especially as the rest of society is against you) but not impossible as you seem to think. Since you seem to defy the rest of society’s toxic rules, why are you accepting the ones which urge Americans to be fat, out of shape, and unhealthy?

    (I know you argue that fatness does not cause health problems, but an unbiased review of the medical literature will clearly show the opposite. Your links do not prove what you think they do, perhaps because most of them are not studies but articles by non-experts/journalists. Here’s a link with more accurate information: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/89/6/2583.full)

    All of this doesn’t mean I think you need to lose weight, or that anyone does (it’s your body and your decision). I just want the facts to be clear.

    • Issa says:

      Hmm. I don’t think I’ve said that fatness is inevitable. Did I say that?

      I agree with you that environment is extremely relevant to being fat. It’s hard to be sure what all the causes are (portion sizes, car culture, chemicals in the food/air/water, corn subsidies, etc) because it’s hard to get unbiased information about well, almost anything. But I absolutely agree with you that people get fat in the US (and increasingly in other industrialized countries) and they don’t get fat in other countries.

      I disagree that it is the responsibility (or even ability) of the individual to address this. When we talk about the environment of the US, we’re talking about the everything, or Daniel Quinn’s “mother culture”. Eating is highly cultural. Eating is sustenance and community and therapy and in-group/out-group signals and celebratory and religious and ritualistic and on and on. Expecting someone to eat entirely differently than the customs of their people is completely unrealistic. Likewise the “sedentary lifestyle”. An individual can’t do much about whether their city is bike friendly or their job is walking distance from home.

      “Since you seem to defy the rest of society’s toxic rules, why are you accepting the ones which urge Americans to be fat, out of shape, and unhealthy?”

      That’s an insightful question. I’m certainly devoted to doing things differently in many areas. I am interested in changing many aspects of the “toxic environment” in the US, from food law reform to chemicals in the water to bringing back recess in grade school. These are big, institutional problems, but they are ones worth fighting.

      What matters on an individual level is that my whole culture strongly encourages us to hate ourselves. Capitalism is about creating the problem of self-hate and then selling us the fake, non-working solutions. That is the most important thing for me to fight. Being “out of shape” (I happen to like my shape) and being “unhealthy” (by the current definition) is nowhere near as important as accepting myself, my body, my mind, and the selves of the people around me.

      The medical literature DOES NOT show that fatness causes health problems. It shows that fatness is CORRELATED with health problems. The link you provided doesn’t seem to say otherwise, although I admit I just skimmed it after it said some silly things at the beginning (like promoting the calories in/calories out explanation of weight gain). If you think that it says otherwise, I would like for you to elaborate and help me see what you’re seeing.

      • Grace says:

        You seem to be arguing that because Americans live in an environment where it’s easy to gain weight and not exercise, they have to just give up and go with it. I can’t agree.

        Of course it makes living healthfully much more difficult (and if someone DOES decide it is too difficult for them, then I completely understand). But eating small portions of grains and vegetables is inexpensive and completely attainable. And while making time for exercise (which is free!) is impossible for some, since the average American watches TV for five hours a day, these people are a small minority. There’s nothing morally wrong with choosing to eat mostly junk food and be sedentary, but claiming that you MUST do this, just because the majority of Americans choose to, is silly.

        As far as the medical literature goes, I think you might be getting confused by the way scientists tend to talk. There’s basically no way to definitely know for sure that X causes Y (since we don’t have perfect knowledge). Instead, when X is correlated with Y to a high degree (like that 90% of people with lung cancer smoked), then one is assumed to cause the other (smoking causes cancer). They then check this assumption with studies (comparing lung cancer rates of smokers and non-smokers, or ex-smokers and smokers).

        So when the overweight/obese have many more health problems than average, and then studies show 1. the normal weight do not have these problems at the same rate and 2. losing weight improves these problems, it’s pretty clear evidence that being fat is bad for you. The link I posted definitely states both, with plenty of evidence provided.

        Here’s an example: in the diabetes section we learn that:
        1. The fat are much more likely to have diabetes, and the fatter you are, the more likely (while the normal weight are at low risk).
        2. First you get fat, THEN you get diabetes (meaning that diabetes is not the cause of the fatness).
        3. Losing weight gets rid of diabetes (or at least its symptoms/ill effects) for the majority of people.
        4. Fat people who do not yet have diabetes and who lose weight are very unlikely to develop it. If they do not lose weight, they are fairly likely to.
        5. The same phenomenon can be seen in obese animals.

        Now, none of this has any relevance on how fat people should be treated (which is with respect, like everyone else). It just means that being fat is bad for your health, like many other things that people do, like smoking and drinking and unprotected sex and not wearing sunscreen. What I object to in your post is that you seem to be making important decisions about your health based on incorrect information.

        • Joshua says:

          You seem to be arguing that because Americans live in an environment where it’s easy to gain weight and not exercise, they have to just give up and go with it. I can’t agree. Of course it makes living healthfully much more difficult (and if someone DOES decide it is too difficult for them, then I completely understand).

          I think the mistake you’re making here is conflating healthy behavior with weight loss. These are two different topics. I think there may be a good conversation to be had about what people can do to eat healthier. I haven’t studied the literature on “healthy eating” as much as I have studied the literature on dieting, so I don’t actually have an informed opinion on whether it’s feasible for people to modify their diets so as to, for example, reduce cholesterol, or raise triglycerides, over the long term. In other words, if the body has a weight “set point” that it defends vigorously, does it also have a cholesterol or triglyceride “set point”? I don’t know, and anyway, that question is ancillary to the topic at hand. But my point is that if we are talking about dieting or weight loss, we shouldn’t use “eat healthy” as a euphemism for that, because “healthy eating”, by whatever definition we choose to assign, does not necessarily lead to weight loss, and eating that leads to weight loss is not necessarily healthy.

          But eating small portions of grains and vegetables is inexpensive and completely attainable.

          Sure. But for most people, it will not lead to long-term weight loss. Which doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t do it, or that it won’t have other benefits. And that’s one of the tragic consequences of the focus on weight loss. There are all these benefits to healthy eating and exercise that fat people lose out on, because when they fail to lose weight, they often give up on the healthy eating and exercise entirely.

          There’s nothing morally wrong with choosing to eat mostly junk food and be sedentary, but claiming that you MUST do this, just because the majority of Americans choose to, is silly.

          I hate it when, in conversations like this, the person I’m talking to uses “eating junk food and being sedentary” in reference to fat people, as if that was what was causing them to be fat. The vast majority of Americans eat junk food and don’t exercise. Some of them are fat. Some of them aren’t. If everyone in a population shares a behavior, and some of them share a characteristic, and others don’t, isn’t it sloppy reasoning to attribute the characteristic to the behavior? I realize that science is seldom absolute. If 95% of people who ate fast food and were sedentary were also obese, then we could look at the 5% as outliers. But approximately 2/3 of people in the US are overweight or obese. What percentage of people in the US eat junk food and don’t exercise very much? I speculate that it’s far more than 2/3. Bottom line: let’s stop acting like fat people are the only ones going to McDonalds and sitting on the couch after work.

          As far as the medical literature goes, I think you might be getting confused by the way scientists tend to talk.

          Having given basically this same speech to others, I get where you’re coming from, but let me reassure you that Issa and I have a strong foundation in the language of scientific literature. Don’t ask me to calculate a confidence interval, but I know what correlation/causation, “risk factor,” the null hypothesis, “can’t prove a negative,” and other such ideas are.

          Instead, when X is correlated with Y to a high degree (like that 90% of people with lung cancer smoked), then one is assumed to cause the other (smoking causes cancer).

          Well, no. You’re making a basic correlation/causation error there. Umbrellas are highly correlated with rain, but we can’t conclude that umbrellas cause rain. When two things are correlated, it just means that they tend to happen together. And there is ample evidence that simple correlation/causation relationships are often wrong when it comes to human physiology, because so much in the human body is interrelated. Another way that the correlation/causation relationship fails is when there is a third confounding factor. E.g. Miners spend all day underground AND tend to get black lung, therefore being underground causes black lung.

          So when the overweight/obese have many more health problems than average, and then studies show 1. the normal weight do not have these problems at the same rate and 2. losing weight improves these problems, it’s pretty clear evidence that being fat is bad for you.

          I refer you to the section of the above post, “Even if losing weight is hard and most people don’t succeed, shouldn’t you still try? For your health?” As Issa says, the whole picture is way more complicated than you may think. Fat people may be more likely to be diagnosed with these diseases, for example, but this presumes that the diagnoses are non-biased. Do you think a doctor is going to be more or less likely to diagnose an obese person with diabetes, compared to a thin person, given the cultural biases we have about diabetes? So, there’s that. Also, if overweight/obese people are more likely to have these diseases, but do not have increased rates of mortality, or what have you, as a result of them, then who cares?

          But, when you get right down to it, this is all a distraction, because the pressure to lose weight and be thin has nothing to do with anything so rational as a desire to improve health outcomes. If that were so, we would encourage cancer and cardiac patients to gain weight before treatment, since that improves outcomes. But we don’t. The message is always, “THINNER IS BETTER,” and the monotone nature of that message belies any attempt to rationalize it with evidence.

        • Issa says:

          Your paragraph about how it’s attainable to eat vegetables and whole grains and exercise is ableist and classist – it assumes a lot about the people in question and what makes something “attainable” or what problems can get in the way. Also, when we talk about the US environment, how many vegetables you eat and whether or not you exercise are not the only two considerations. The “environment” in which a person is fat or not fat is a complex system that isn’t addressed just by eating more veggies. And finally, eating more vegetables and whole grains and exercising DOES NOT lead to significant permanent weight loss for almost all people. So EVEN IF it were “attainable” for everyone to eat better food and get more exercise, that wouldn’t lead to weight loss. Study after study after study shows that we have NO IDEA how to turn fat people into not fat people. You’re also mixing up this idea of “healthful living” with weight itself, which is inappropriate. There are RIGHT NOW, fat people who have beautifully balanced diets of whole foods and who exercise daily. There are RIGHT NOW skinny people who eat all junk food and spend those 5 hours a day watching television. Most people could make some different choices and improve their health, but most people cannot intentionally lower their weight.

          I don’t think I’m confused about correlation and causation, but I appreciate your breakdown. I agree, for instance, that smoking is well supported as a cause of lung cancer. My read of the medical literature just does not make that clear when it comes to the so-called “obesity-related illnesses”, especially since we do such a poor job of thinking clearly about fatness in the midst of this moral panic, and that confusion extends to researchers, too. For example, I rarely see research that takes into account the effects of weight-related social stigma on health. Most research also fails to separate the health effects of weight loss from the effects of diet and exercise changes.

          There is a big difference between smoking, drinking, unprotected sex, not wearing sunscreen and being fat. Those first four are behaviors and being fat is simply a body type. BMI is just a ratio of height and weight. I can stop drinking, but I cannot stop being fat. I see where you got the “fat is inevitable thing now”. No, not everyone in our culture will (or even can!) become fat, but fatness is largely determined by genetics. We don’t know how to make people fat or make people thin (other than moving them to another culture, which will have some effect on some people). Decisions about health HAVE TO be separate from judgments about weight, EVEN IF they are related, because we have yet to discover any way to make fat people into a thin person.

          Also, if you reply here again, please do not refer to people as “the fat”. You can say “fat people” or “obese people” or “people with obesity”, but PEOPLE does have to be in there somewhere.

          I apologize if this comment rambles or seems disjointed. I’ve taken all day to write this in little snippets in between playing with Dylan.

    • Joshua says:

      I absolutely agree with you that it’s okay to be fat, regardless of your level of fitness, eating habits, etc. Fat people are entitled to respect, kindness and non-discrimination, just as every human being is.

      AWESOME! I wish comments like this stopped here. Nevertheless, I really appreciate you saying this. That you can go even this far is commendable.

      However, you are completely wrong that fatness is inevitable.

      Nobody said that fatness is inevitable. There are subtle nuances in the message here, and it’s important to be sure that we’re not missing them. Fatness is not inevitable. All you have to do is point to one single skinny ninety-year-old to disprove that claim. Voila! Done.

      So what are we actually saying?

      1. People who are fat, and who attempt to lose weight, usually succeed in the short or medium term, and then fail in the long term. Most of these people gain back more weight than they lost. Notice that this does not say that fatness is inevitable or that nobody at all can lose weight and keep it off. Some people will never become fat at all. Some people who are fat will lose weight and keep it off for the rest of their life. And some people can run a six-minute mile. These are extraordinary physical feats that, while within the reach of human potential, are not attainable by most people.
      2. People who are fat, and who lose weight and keep it off in the long term, generally have to exert significant and ongoing effort to do so. They basically never stop thinking about and managing their eating and exercise. For the rest. of. their. life. Or until they become fat again.
      3. People who are fat, and who lose weight and keep it off in the long term, do not become skinny people. They become semi-starving fat people. Their health outcomes, in large part, do not improve, and in some cases get worse. In many cases, some metrics of their health do improve, such as blood pressure or blood sugar, but it turns out that these metrics can be improved by diet and exercise independent of weight loss, so it’s inaccurate to attribute the improvement to the weight loss.

      I live in Asia (I’ve lived in different countries here off and on since 2003), and have traveled widely. Every time I come back to the US I am shocked by how fat everyone is. There just aren’t many fat (especially obese) people elsewhere.

      You have come upon an aspect of this conversation that I’m not sure Issa has discussed very deeply. Obesity is a function of both genetics and environment. To a much lesser degree, it is a function of individual behavior. When one’s environment changes, such as if one moves to a different country, one’s weight may change too. However, it is misleading to suggest that one can simulate a change in one’s environment through conscious behaviors, such as adopting a “Mediterranean diet,” or what have you. It seems that one’s environment is very influential on one’s eating habits, and any attempt to consciously circumvent that is, most likely, doomed to fail, especially when, as with dieting, it requires a near-total substitution of one’s cultural eating habits. In other words, if you decided to eat fish once a week, or make sure you ate one serving of vegetables a day, you would probably be able to accomplish that. But removing one’s self from one’s cultural paradigm in the way that dieting requires is such a drastic change that it is unlikely to succeed for very long.

      People are not ‘naturally’ fat, they are fat because of their environment, and if we moved them elsewhere their weight would change.

      I think you’re more or less right here, but I don’t think you can ignore the effect of genetics. Not everyone will lose weight if they are moved to a different food culture. Or they will lose weight, but they will not lose as much weight as someone else would, and they will still be obese or overweight.

      A successful ‘diet’ really means redesigning one’s environment to be more healthy. This is difficult (especially as the rest of society is against you) but not impossible as you seem to think.

      First, let’s agree on the premise that, for the last 40 years or so, since the weight loss fad started, the vast majority of people who have dieted have failed to accomplish the whatever it takes to lose weight and keep it off. So, there are two possibilities here. One is that dieting simply doesn’t work, no matter what you call it (“lifestyle change”, “redesigning one’s environment”). The other is that you have stumbled upon the one thing that actually does work. If the former, then there is nothing more for us to talk about. If the latter, then I suggest you get started becoming very, very wealthy. Because if you have a diet plan that actually causes permanent weight loss, that is worth billions of dollars.

      My money is on the former.

      (I know you argue that fatness does not cause health problems, but an unbiased review of the medical literature will clearly show the opposite. Your links do not prove what you think they do, perhaps because most of them are not studies but articles by non-experts/journalists. Here’s a link with more accurate information: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/89/6/2583.full)

      First of all, many of Issa’s links are, in fact, to abstracts of actual studies. But the ones that are to articles, are to articles writing about actual studies. So, instead of linking to the actual study, Issa linked to a more readable article that summarized the results of many studies, after confirming that the article accurately represented the results of those studies. If you want to find the actual studies behind the articles, I don’t think it will be too hard, and I think you will find that they support her conclusions.

      As for the journal you linked to. Here’s the thing: let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’re right, and obesity does cause all of these conditions. There are still several steps that we have to go through before we conclude that weight loss is the appropriate response.

      1. Is it possible to lose weight and keep it off?
      2. If it is possible to lose weight and keep it off, does that alleviate the conditions that we are concerned about.
      3. Does losing weight cause other negative outcomes that might counterbalance the benefits of the weight loss?

      These are basic questions that are asked about any medical procedure: is it achievable; is it effective; does it alleviate the condition; does it have any side effects? But do we ask these questions about obesity? No. Because if we did, we would conclude that the answer to question #1 is, “Not for most people, given what we currently know about weight management.” The answer to question #2 is, surprisingly, “Not in many cases.” And the answer to question #3 is, “Unquestionably, yes.” Given all this, and especially given that there are valid questions about whether obesity actually causes all of the conditions that are associated with it (note: associated with, not caused by), the advice to lose weight for one’s health can only be viewed in the most skeptical of lights.

      • Grace says:

        Issa said similar things to you, and so my comment to her addresses many of the points that you make.

        For your final three questions, I do think they are excellent ones to ask. But my answers would differ from yours.

        For #1, it IS possible to lose weight and keep it off (since many people have done this), especially when we are talking about 5-10% of body weight (the link I provided suggests this is enough to reduce many of the problems associated with being fat).

        For #2, I suggest re-reading the section entitled Benefits of weight loss (or the section on diabetes).

        For #3, almost all of the negative effects of weight loss are due to very rapid loss (like having gastric bypass surgery or going on a starvation diet). Medical professionals rarely recommend such a course, except for very obese people with significant and serious health problems (the sort of person eligible for gastric bypass surgery). For this small group the benefits really do outweigh the risks; for everyone else, losing weight slowly and sensibly will mean very few health drawbacks.

        • Issa says:

          Grace, I will reply to your comments later today when I have more time at the keyboard, but I wanted to let you know that for now I have placed you back on comment moderation. I will not allow people to state “It is possible to lose weight and keep it off” since the overwhelming evidence says that is absolutely untrue for the vast majority of people. Claiming otherwise is harmful.

        • Joshua says:

          For #1, it IS possible to lose weight and keep it off (since many people have done this), especially when we are talking about 5-10% of body weight (the link I provided suggests this is enough to reduce many of the problems associated with being fat).

          I’m very skeptical of this claim, since all of the evidence I have found indicates that most people gain back the weight within a few years, and about 2/3 of them gain back more weight than they lost. Can you cite this claim? Simply put, if so many people find it so possible to lose weight and keep it off, why are there still so many obese people, given the enormous pressure to be thin?

          For #3, almost all of the negative effects of weight loss are due to very rapid loss (like having gastric bypass surgery or going on a starvation diet).

          I disagree. Dieting amounts to a perpetual state of semi-starvation. Even moderate dieting has negative effects on cognition and mood, for example. I also remember reading about negative effects on immune function, but I did some brief searching and can’t find the cite, so you’re welcome to withhold judgment on that.

          • Grace says:

            I wrote that it is possible to lose weight and keep it off. This is absolutely true, since people exist who’ve done it. But Issa is also absolutely correct, because the number of people who have done so is very very small (despite what seems like the overwhelming incentives to do so).

            For me this is really the interesting part of this debate. I don’t really believe in dieting (unless you just need to lose weight temporarily), and based on anecdotal evidence (as in, people I know personally), I haven’t seen someone diet to successfully change their body weight significantly, at least in the long term.

            Partly I wrote #1 because it seems too harsh to say, being fat will take years off your life (which sadly seems to be true based on all evidence), without being able to offer some cheerful solution (like, just eat more veggies! or take long walks!). Otherwise it’s kind of like diagnosing someone with a chronic, incurable disease.

            One problem is that often weight is a symptom, rather than the actual problem. For instance, depression can make you gain weight: a person in that situation may be fat, but since their real issue is a psychological one, focusing on calorie counting isn’t very helpful. The fact that obese people have much higher rates of sexual abuse (as minors, so not as a result of fatness) is another example of this phenomenon.

            I kind of feel like the so-called obesity epidemic is really pretty similar, in that yes being fat is bad for you, but focusing just on Americans’ weight pretty much ignores the real problems causing obesity. (Personally I would name ignorance (about health, nutrition and food), bad city planning, too-long work hours, the lack of decent jobs for those without college degrees, and bad parenting as major factors, but I imagine answers would vary.)

            Anyway, I appreciate the opportunity to think more about this topic, which is a very interesting one to them. Thanks for all your carefully thought-out responses: they provided me with a lot to mull over!

            • Issa says:

              My desire to continue this back and forth is wrapping up. We see this issue very differently and interpret the available information very differently. This comment contains another serious example of this, which is whether fat takes “years off your life”. There is plenty of room for debate and choosing your sources when it comes to various health concerns and how they relate to weight. But mortality is pretty cut and dried: Fatness does not take years off your life. Overweight people appear to live longer. Obese people live about as long as normal weight people.

            • Joshua says:

              I wrote that it is possible to lose weight and keep it off. This is absolutely true, since people exist who’ve done it.

              I think this reply is a little disingenuous. I have acknowledged, explicitly, that it is possible to lose weight and keep it off–just not for most people, and not without extraordinary effort. I don’t think I was at all unclear in what I meant when I said that I was skeptical of your claim. In short, I think you are splitting a mighty fine hair here, to the detriment of the discussion.

              Partly I wrote #1 because it seems too harsh to say, being fat will take years off your life (which sadly seems to be true based on all evidence), without being able to offer some cheerful solution (like, just eat more veggies! or take long walks!). Otherwise it’s kind of like diagnosing someone with a chronic, incurable disease.

              If obesity is like a chronic, incurable disease (which I don’t believe it is) then the right thing to do is to acknowledge that. Making up fantasies to help people feel better is just cruel. We don’t, as a society, lie about treatments for other incurable diseases, just to help the people who have those diseases feel better about their prognosis. And if we did, it would be wrong.

              As Issa points out, there is ample evidence to refute your claim that obesity results in earlier death. Again, refer to the section of the post, “Even if losing weight is hard and most people don’t succeed, shouldn’t you still try? For your health?”

              One problem is that often weight is a symptom, rather than the actual problem. For instance, depression can make you gain weight: a person in that situation may be fat, but since their real issue is a psychological one, focusing on calorie counting isn’t very helpful. The fact that obese people have much higher rates of sexual abuse (as minors, so not as a result of fatness) is another example of this phenomenon.

              Well, now I think you’re speaking my language. I agree that we would do well to look for external causes of obesity.

        • Issa says:

          Grace,

          You say that losing 5-10% of body weight “is enough to reduce many of the problems associated with being fat.” I’m familiar with this claim, but it has some serious issues. First, no study has ever shown that it’s possible for people to lose even that little amount of weight AND KEEP IT OFF LONG TERM. But, even if we set that aside, when we’re talking about obese people, 5-10% of body weight isn’t enough to make them into thin people. They are still fat. If a 5’6″ 250 pound woman loses 10% of her body weight – 25 pounds – she will now weigh 225 pounds and still be obese. Are you seriously suggesting that this will make a significant difference in whatever you think the health consequences of fatness are? Once that woman weighs 225 she will weigh the same amount that I do. Does that mean I’ve already dodged the health risks? Or do I ALSO have to lose 10% of my weight? Surely you can see that that makes no sense. The bullet points of our fat-panic sound so reasonable, “Just lose a few pounds, and you’ll improve your health!” but what’s really being said is that whoever you are, whatever you weigh, if you’ve been deemed to be over the magic line of fatness, you have to change yourself. This isn’t about science. This is just about oppression.

          The negative effects of intentional weight loss are not simply about “rapid loss” as near as I can tell. It’s about intentional loss, period. In this post, under the question, “Even if losing weight is hard and most people don’t succeed, shouldn’t you still try? For your health?” there are lots of starting links about the risks of intentional weight loss.

          • Joshua says:

            I think this is a really good point, Issa. Can we just all pretend that we used to weigh 10% more than we do, and that we lost that weight, and have therefore met this arbitrary goal that is being laid out before us?

            • Issa says:

              I think Jo made a comment like this somewhere around here, too. Something about imagining that you used to weigh more and you lost a bunch and this is the skinniest you’ve been in years! Yay!

              It’s all so arbitrary. It’s nice to be able to laugh at it.

  20. lynsey says:

    Hi Issa,
    I’m new here & just read your “Fat FAQ’s”. Very interesting. I see your point clearly, but would like to play “Devil’s Advocate” if I could. I have lost 100lbs and kept it off for over 5 years now. It is indeed a lifestyle change, and I can NEVER go back to the way I ate before. The thing is, I really don’t WANT to. Yes, I have to exercise 7 days a week. Yes, I have to be mindful of what I put in my mouth, however, I will gladly do this every day for the REST of my life to never ever again have the uncomfortable feeling of my thighs rubbing together on a hot summer day, giving me heat rash. To never ever have my large rear hang over the sides of a chair or go shopping for clothing and not have many options in the “bigger girl” section. To never ever be told “you have SUCH a pretty face”. To never ever feel incomplete and unsatisfied after finishing a Big Mac, fries and a milkshake. I don’t feel like people treat me differently at 140lbs as opposed to 240lbs, I feel better, I love moving and exercising, challenging myself and looking in the mirror again. While I do know that not every bigger person is going to share my views, I think it’s important for you to convey this to your readers, if not for their health (which may or may not be affected by extra weight) if just for the reasons I’ve stated.

    • Issa says:

      I was really hesitant to publish your comment, because you say some things that are really close to fat-hate, like that you love looking in the mirror again. Does that mean that other fat people should not enjoy looking in the mirror? I assure you that some of us do, and that weight loss isn’t necessary to achieve that.

      But you say something interesting that I really want to address. You say, “I don’t feel like people treat me differently at 140lbs as opposed to 240lbs”, but I think you’re wrong about this. From your other statements, it sounds like people design chairs that fit you when they did not design chairs for your 240lb body. It sounds like lots more people are interested in designing clothes for you than they were for you before. It sounds like people no longer make backhanded compliments about your face. It sounds like your hygiene needs are popular and their treatments are widely available now that you are smaller. These kinds of problems are not caused by fat. They are caused by fat stigma.

      I don’t want to exercise 7 days a week and be mindful of everything I put in my mouth for the rest of my life on the off chance that I’m one of the lucky ones who can succeed at that, just to let my society off the hook for my existence.

      Believe me, I don’t blame other fat people who do. But I am done apologizing for myself and trying to mold myself into someone else’s shape. Fuck that.

      • lynsey says:

        By no means did I mean anything I posted to come across as “fat hate”. I apologize if it did. Again, I see your point (fitting into chairs, no comments about face etc). For me, losing weight and working to maintain that weight loss is for me and me only. I don’t judge others who choose not to. I can only speak for myself and say that if someone offered me a million dollars to gain that 100lbs back I would tell THEM to fuck off. I feel better, I’m more confident and I love to move and exercise. Does the confidence boost come from the fact that when I was 100lbs heavier I felt exposed and stared at by those that thought I was “gross”? Probably. We can’t change others, but if we feel better about ourselves, that’s all that really matters. Thanks for being so blunt and honest in your blog Issa. I enjoy reading it

    • Joshua says:

      Lynsey,

      I will say this, at least you are being honest about what it takes for most people to lose weight and keep it off: CONSTANT VIGILANCE. What bugs me is when people act like everyone who doesn’t want to or is unable to meet that standard is a weak-willed slob.

  21. Rachael says:

    My mother took me to a dietitian when I was 2. And so began my first diet. There has never been a time in my life when I have been told it’s okay to be fat. I’m constantly being bombarded by the message that to be fat is akin to having leprosy. I was terrified about falling pregnant while I was obese, because of all the messages that I would harm my baby and myself by being a fat pregnant lady. But you know what? My pregnancy went better than those of many other skinny women I know. I carried my baby to full term. None of the myriad negative health outcomes that the media attributes to being overweight and pregnant happened to me. Thank you for this post. I can’t say that it has cured my body issues completely. I can’t say that it has made me comfortable being fat. But I can say it helps a little to have opinions like this out there.

  22. Christa says:

    I fell into anorexia when I was 15, and it took me a few years to climb out of that. I’m now 31, and in the past couple of years have come to dwell in an ever-increasing amount of acceptance when it comes to my body (I am not overweight, but one doesn’t even have to be chubby to feel the shame of body issues promoted by unrealistic expectations). I just read this post for the first time, and while I would have to go through all your links to know if I agree 100% with your scientific claims, I think your heart in this matter is very much on and I LOVE your response: “No one needs a justification for that. I don’t have to exercise, and I can eat whatever I want. You don’t have to exercise, and you can eat whatever you want. You’re in charge of you, and I’m in charge of me, forever and ever, amen.”

    YES. An especially poignant truth for women to remember.

  23. Jenn says:

    Disclaimer: I had weight loss surgery almost three years ago, so I am no longer the 331 lb woman I once was, though mentally she is still with me many days.

    I am very pro fat-acceptance, but more than anything I am pro-HEALTH. It is possible to be fat and healthy, just as it is possible to skinny and unhealthy. I despise fat shaming. I despise children being ridiculed for their weight – or anyone being ridiculed for their weight, for that matter.

    In the end, I’m all for health and happiness.

    And on a related note, I do like the informative links you included with this post. Definitely some food for thought (no pun intended). :)

  24. Jackie says:

    The haters are always so excited when they find something that confirms their beliefs. You can just imagine them clapping their hands happily like a baby, and marching off to tell their friends like a proud toddler. Most people would be ashamed of being so immature, but haters have no shame.

  25. [...] LoveLiveGrow has a nice FA 101 post. (I ran across it when I was looking to see if Stef still had the alt.support.big-folks FAQs online in one of my “yes I have proof fat acceptance predates the web” moments. ;) Share this:TwitterFacebookRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  26. [...] at the end of the slideshow are amazing. -A great overview of Health at Every Size. -Similarly: a wonderful, comprehensive Fat Acceptance 101 post (by a pink-haired lady, no less!) The window display at So Good, my go-to jewelry [...]

  27. This is wonderful–thank you so much!

  28. I found this lovely site via the Fat Nutritionist. I just want to run through the halls screaming WU-TANG, MUTHA FUCKAHS! I love this post so much. Ahhhh.

    Anyhoo, as an aside, I have found (via personal experience, which should never, ever be confused with universal truth) that folks who are overly concerned with the bodies and (presumed) behaviors of strangers are generally externalizing inner shame. As in, the guy who is cheating on his wife (usually with a man) rants on and on about the immorality of homosexuality; the woman whose relationship with her partner is in the shitter rants about fat people’s behavior and choices, blah blah blah, on and on. Sane, secure people who are comfortable in their own skin just don’t get a case of the vapors over the choices and bodies of strangers. Deal with your own bullshit, and the amount of cake I do or do not consume will no longer be of concern. Just sayin’.

    • Issa says:

      Welcome! MUTHA FUCKAHS, indeed! :-)

      It’s temping to me to think of these judgmental people as having serious issues of their own, but that lets our overarching toxic culture off the hook. Of course, our culture is made up of the actions of individual people, but… Our culture is SO hateful to fat people (and many other kinds of people, of course), that I think it’s possible for someone to be a perfectly happy, life’s-going-good kind of person and still hate on fat people, because that’s just what you do. On another hand, ARE there any people who are “sane, secure people who are comfortable in their own skin”? I mean, the diet industry ALONE is a 60 BILLION dollar industry, not to mention exercise, makeup, fashion, teeth whitening, hair dye, etc. We aren’t allowed to be secure. We aren’t allowed to be sane. Fuck. What a mess.

      • All good points, no doubt. As I said, this is an opinion I’ve gained through personal experience, which is limited, natch. I’m sure there are lovely, sane, happy people who behave like d-bags around fat folk. I just haven’t met them yet! I will color myself lucky. :)

        But I would offer up that yes, there are people who are sane, secure and comfortable in their own skin. Granted, we all experience insecurity (as you duly note, how the fuck could we not with the onslaught of horseshit we have to endure?), but I think it’s entirely possible to live in this culture and still have a strong and healthy sense of self. Maybe I’m an anomaly in that regard? Dunno. I was raised by hippies, and I remember my father telling me as a child, in response to a weight loss informercial, “If someone tries to tell you you’re not okay exactly as you are, especially if that person has a ‘cure’ for $19.95, that person is full of shit. DON’T EVER HATE YOURSELF TO MAKE SOME ASSHOLE RICH.” That one burned in my brain, and I set my compass to it.

  29. JohnH says:

    Joshua, I’ve lost 100lbs and have kept it off for 6 years now. I can send you photos if you require proof.

    I would like to know why bariatric surgery works but you believe calorie restriction doesn’t. Bariatric surgery is nothing more than enforced calorie restriction. Can you please answer this? (If you have before and I missed it, can you point me to it?)

    • Joshua says:

      John,

      I’m perfectly willing to take you at your word regarding your weight loss. I have never, nor has Issa, ever said that nobody can lose weight and keep it off over the long term. I try to always say that almost nobody can lose weight and keep it off over the long term. And furthermore, if pressed, I will say that voluntary caloric restriction almost never results in long-term weight loss.

      Look, I’m not an idiot. Take a mouse and put it in a cage and reduce the food that you give it until it starts to lose weight, and you can keep doing that until it is any weight you like, up to starvation. I raise pigs, for goodness’ sake. Don’t think that I don’t have an intimate understanding of the relationship between calorie intake and weight gain. I know, to the pound, how much feed it takes to make my pigs gain a pound of weight.

      In short: I have never argued that people cannot be starved into weight loss. What I have argued is that most people (not all) cannot voluntarily starve themselves into significant weight loss for more than a limited period of time–perhaps a year or so. And the extraordinary number of fat people who have attempted to diet and who have failed is all the evidence I need to support that claim, although there is also a heaping load of science behind it as well. You can read about some of it in the sections of this post titled, “You aren’t serious about this “diets don’t work” thing, are you?” and “But what about calories in/calories out, thermodynamics, or how losing weight is obviously SO SIMPLE?”

      Are you really going to compare voluntary caloric restriction (dieting) to bariatric surgery as if the two were equivalent? I’ll tell you what: I’ll sew your lips together and feed you kale smoothies through a straw, and we’ll see if you lose weight. A HA! DIETS WORK! But seriously. No. How does that even make sense? If it makes you feel better, I will concede now and for all time that surgically removing a large section of the stomach can apparently lead to long-term, significant weight loss. Congratulations. You win. All we have to do is cut out our own stomachs and we can all be thin and healthy and attractive. All this time of counting calories and going to the gym, and the answer was right before me. You know, I have these things called castration bands. They’re like a big thick rubber band and they’re used to castrate sheep. I bet they’re pretty much exactly like the bands used in bariatric surgery. I’M GOING OUT TO THE BARN AND I’M GOING TO GET THIN AND BEAUTIFUL RIGHT NOW! FETCH ME THE HYDROGEN PEROXIDE AND A BONING KNIFE! WEIGHT LOSS HERE I COME!!!!

      • JohnH says:

        You chose not to post my very reasonable reply. I honestly don’t know what to conclude from that.

        • Issa says:

          JohnH, you can conclude that sometimes I get tired of dealing with the shit. Just because you think your reply was reasonable doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s the same, tired crap that I answer over and over and over again without making much difference. This is an older post, which means I dump most of the argumentative comments straight into the trash.

  30. Sandra says:

    My mom is twenty years older than I am. She has spent her whole life dieting, counting calories, losing then gaining, going to Weight Watchers, etc. etc. and most of all feeling like she is “bad” all the time for being fat.

    I eat whatever I want to. I love food, and I do eat a nutrient dense, whole foods diet. I also eat ice cream, bacon, and occasionally a big pile of french fries.

    And you know what? My mom and I are exactly the same size. We are both, genetically, fat people. I am just a sexy, life loving, happy fat person rather than a self-punishing, grumpy, pleasure-denying person.

    Your blog is awesome. Thank you for speaking your truth!

  31. Chloe Grey says:

    I’ll admit that my gut reaction was to disagree. Even to get mad. But now that I’ve looked at your information and really stopped to think, I see just how right you are. Focusing on the number on the scale is exactly why we have so many people who are sick with heart disease and diabetes. That back-and-forth dieting and gaining does damage to the heart, far more than just being the size you are supposed to be. Healthy people come at all sizes. Confidence and happiness (lack of stress) really makes more difference at the end of the day.

    As a nurse I want to say that I’m sorry about the way medicine jumps onto weight as opposed to healthy eating and exercise that does not result in weightloss. I’m happy I found your site because I’ve always grouped healthy lifestyle and “healthy” weights but if I’m honest with myself that is not the natural trends we see everyday.

    Thank you for making this site! It’s always good to have brave people willing to stand up to privileged people, like me, who need some slaps of reality across the face from time to time. :) We don’t get these often enough.

  32. Barton Oliver says:

    I agree with (almost) all of the evidence that you’re citing, but I dislike your rhetoric. There’s a difference between being forward and having the energy to fight the good fight, and just being plain old-fashioned profane.

    You’re entitled to communicate in whatever way you choose, of course, and if the sassy riot grrl approach works for you, then so be it. I just wanted to let you know that as one interested reader, I started to tune out once you started dropping F-bombs.

    You make excellent points. For me, the vulgarity distracts from them.

    Best wishes.

    • Issa says:

      A topic this serious, this profound to the lives of so many people, a topic about which we’re entitled to some anger, to some emotion, a post full of interesting links and different ways to think about things… and all you can say is that you were bothered by the word fuck? Which was used all of twice? Fuck you.

      • Barton Oliver says:

        Did you read my comment in its entirety? To be clear: I agree that this is a serious and profound issue. I agree that the links are interesting and found them informative, and appreciate your time and attention in providing and curating them, as well as (most of) your commentary. I was not trying to undermine the positive things I found in your post, only to convey my subjective thoughts. I wasn’t keeping a particular tally of the number of “fuck”s or “shit”s in your post, just pointing out that I found it distracting.

        I intended my criticism to be constructive.

        > Fuck you.

        You go, girl.

        Best wishes.

        • Sporky says:

          I can’t help but wonder…were you actually offended by the word “fuck” or by the fact that a woman was saying it? Personally, I’ve never met a man who disliked profanity, or shamed another man for using it. Smells like sexism to me.

          • Barton Oliver says:

            You’ve met your first, then. If a man were writing this way about fat acceptance/awareness, my observations would be the same. I wasn’t offended (I don’t use the term in colloquial speech myself, but tolerate it from men and women who do), but was offering an opinion that a “topic this serious” perhaps deserved to be treated more seriously.

            Best wishes.

  33. [...] because it won’t help you lose weight.  See, for example, this NYMag article or this blog.  A lot of people also think that you can be healthy when you’re overweight or obese (which [...]

  34. Philip Tacupis says:

    Hello Issa and Joshua,

    Very empowering article and great references to make your point!

    I have been overweight for the majority of my adult life. Though I had not normally watched what I ate in the past, I lived quite an active lifestyle by playing cabbage ball and playing Wii Fit in attempts to make up for my prior bad eating habits.

    I’ve recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and am learning to manage my new condition with a new life style and eating habits. I have been struggling with this new eating habits with symptoms similar to the subjects in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. According to my doctor, the result of my condition has been due to my eating habits and sedentary lifestyle. I am rather new to nutritional research and have been recommended by my doctor to a few useful sites with nutritional and exercise advice.

    I am troubled because it seems some of this advice seems to not allow me to accept my body for what it is and what you are advocating. Though he is a medical doctor, should I heed his advice and continue restricting my calories?

    • Issa says:

      I can’t tell you how to manage your diabetes, and I can’t evaluate your doctor or make judgments about your personal physical and emotional health. It is 100% up to you to determine what makes the most sense for you. You mention eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, and calorie restriction. It’s only the last one that I would question. Healthy eating habits and regular physical activity are generally good for all people of all physical conditions, and they are especially recommended for managing diabetes. Calorie restriction is pretty much just about getting smaller. Has your doctor specifically recommended calorie restriction? If you are having serious symptoms like depression or difficulty concentrating these are things you should also bring up with your doctor. In a perfect world you could find a doctor who wanted to treat you for diabetes while NOT setting you up for failure by recommending weight loss, but I know we’re sometimes stuck with limited available doctors. I wish you well in finding a path for your health that works for you.

  35. DebraSY says:

    Popped back over because my email notified me of a comment that had come in over here, and I read it and it was disgusting. Some vulgar person who has only recently lost weight and thinks they have it all figured out because, well, this time it’s a “lifestyle change” and not a fad diet. I’m glad to see you deleted it. That wise acre has no idea what lies ahead. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Issa.

    • Issa says:

      I’m getting a whole new avalanche of terrible comments on this post. When I try to manage them from my phone the tiny approve button is right next to the tiny trash button. Hit the wrong button on one of them this morning.

  36. Christina says:

    Hello!
    I really like your site and its full of stuff I’ve never thought of or seen before. I wanted to find something like this for a really long time. I’m in high school and I’ve been picked on A LOT for being fat. I go to a private school with really rich and mostly super thin kids so I don’t have anyone else around who looks like me. I’m not obese and my regular doctors say I’m normal, but I still get picked on and made fun of a lot. What’s worse is that my weight really upsets my mom. She’s put me on diets, takes me to the gym and took me to this guy who gave me pills for a while when I was thirteen. It made me lose a lot at first but then I passed out in class because my blood sugar went super low. I can never stick to anything, guess I have poor self control so I usually don’t even lose anything before I quit. I am worried about getting bigger and I think about it all the time. She says she’s worried about my health and doesn’t want me to be like her – she’s overweight herself. What can I do? I want to show my mom that it’s okay for me to be bigger but I’m worried she won’t listen. I am worried everyday about gaining more. If life sucks so much because I’m chubby, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like if I do become my mom’s size. Why is thin such a big deal, especially for girls my age? Sorry for the ranting, just glad I found this place. :D

    • Issa says:

      Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear all of that! I was put on my first diet as a teen (SlimFast) and I ended up anemic and had to take iron pills for years. What a mess. I’m sorry you’re getting so much pressure from your mom. You probably can’t do anything to change her mind – you just have to try to get through these years with her without hurting yourself with horrible diets. You don’t have poor self control – that is your body WORKING to take care of you. I know that it sucks for you right now, but that’s not your fault and it’s not your body’s fault. It’s other people’s fault – it’s THEM that suck. Even if you get fatter and fatter, there’s no reason you can’t have an awesome healthy life if only the haters would shut up! Well, you can have an awesome life in spite of them! Finding good supportive online resources will make it much easier for you. I recommend http://redefiningbodyimage.tumblr.com/ as a really good place to start. Good luck!

      • Christina says:

        Thank you so much!

      • Christina says:

        Thank you so much! It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Slim Fast SUCKS! Thank you for the advice, I’m really going to try to remember all this. Only a few more years until I can be on my own and buy food with actual food in it. I’m definitely gonna stay a fan. Thanks for all you do!

  37. Gloria says:

    I believe in fat acceptance. I believe that people should love themselves no matter what size they are. I believe that the media all too often paints a picture of an ideal body type that most people cannot attain unless it is their full time job to do so (a la actors, models, personal fitness trainers, etc.). I believe that much of the way that we gain/lose weight has to do with genetics. I don’t believe that diets work, because the moment you stop dieting, your body reverts back to its original shape/size. I believe that there are food deserts in this country that make it difficult, if not impossible for people to eat fruits, veggies, and who grains. I even believe that exercise has some economic obstacles that can hinder people (we like to say that exercise is free, but many classes/gyms cost money. Most people will only be able to run in “safe” neighborhoods. Even workout videos, shoes, sweats, etc., are a small investment). I believe that everyone has the right to not exercise and not eat healthy if they don’t want to.

    I have one major problem with this post, though: the part where you equated exercise with self hate. I know that you meant for that statement to be personal and not universal, but I still think that it can be taken to mean that exercise is somehow inherently bad. I think we can agree that not everyone has the opportunity or the ability to exercise, but I don’t think anyone should be avoiding it. Ditto in regards to healthy food. Nearly everyone is going to feel better and be physically healthier if they cut out the processed foods from their diets and replace them with REAL foods (fruits, veggies, dairy, nuts, meat, whole grains, etc.) and if they exercise regularly. I agree that they might not lead to weight loss/gain, and I definitely believe that the end game should always be health, not a number on a scale. I just don’t want people to look at this article and say “Well, in order to really, truly accept myself, I must accept my unhealthy lifestyle as well.” Health is important. Always. I believe that if you have the means and the ability to live a healthy lifestyle, you should.

    Someone used a smoking example in one of the comments above, and I think it is a decent comparison. You always have the option to smoke, if that’s what you want, but you should recognize that smoking is bad for your health. In the same way, you always have the option to not exercise and eat junk food, but, again, you should recognize that a sedentary, over-processed lifestyle is bad for your health. In the same way that Fat =/= Unhealthy, Fat Acceptance =/= Unhealthy Lifestyle Acceptance.

    • Issa says:

      In the same way that Fat =/= Unhealthy, Fat Acceptance =/= Unhealthy Lifestyle Acceptance.

      Of course not. I don’t think my little sentence there about my fucked up relationship with exercise is going to hurt the FA movement. In fact, a lot of FA people really bend over backwards to make sure everyone knows they’re eating their broccoli and doing their jumping jacks. More power to them. In this case, I was asked, “In pursuing fat acceptance, are you also pursuing a fitness/exercise/workout routine?” My answer is no. Isn’t it okay if some of us just say no? Apparently not, because you say:

      Health is important. Always. I believe that if you have the means and the ability to live a healthy lifestyle, you should.

      To which I’d just like to say, fuck you. You know who gets to decide what’s important to me? Me. Always.

      • Gloria says:

        Fair enough. People should be able to choose how they want to live their lives. I think I got caught up on the sentence “I promised myself years ago never to ‘exercise’ again, because doing so is always an act of hatred against myself,” without considering that you meant exercise is an act of hate for you personally, and not universally. It’s still a lot for me to grapple with, especially since I believe that exercise is one of the most confusing concepts in American society: it’s demonized for children (when running, push-ups, etc. are used as forms of punishment), and then when we get older, we are magically supposed to want to do it everyday.

        Thanks for responding. I know that this blog (and this particular post) is really busy, so I wasn’t sure if you would get back to me. I appreciate your taking the time. Not gonna lie, the “fuck you” threw me off a little bit, but hey, it’s your blog.

        I just found you through another blog that I follow. I think a lot of your posts are very interesting and offer perspectives that are absent from general public discourse on body image. I don’t like to subscribe to blogs, so I probably won’t be subscribing to yours, but I will be coming back to visit and read more of your posts.

  38. [...] turns out to have another really awesome post up, These Are the Fat FAQs, with a ton of handy link to resources and studies. Highly recommended. Share [...]

  39. Amanda says:

    I just came across this post via Pinterest, and I just wanted to say that I love it. I will send someone here the next time I am speechless with anger over the mistreatment of us fatties.

    Thanks for compiling all this stuff in one place!

  40. [...] I gave the readers of my regular blog my permission to submit their rude questions about fat to me, several came in that were pretty similar, and I think this sums things up well: [...]

  41. Rochelle says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have never heard of Fat Acceptance before today but I want to print this out and frame it on my wall. Thank you for deconstructing the notion that fat = unhealthiness. I used to be a very thin person and I ate terribly and never exercised but funnily enough no one eye rolled at me when I tucked into more fried food or shrugged off exercising. If anything, I was concern trolled for being a possible anorexic (my body was “unpleasantly” thin) even though I ate like a horse. It was just my genes and age! Luckily, I had the self confidence and the support of my family, so I didn’t care about what other people thought.

    Now I’m older, I’ve unfortunately fell into ill health. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (the new term for ME) and Treatment Resistant Depression. These twin conditions can sometimes make doing normal, daily tasks very hard, as I have both a mental and physical gravity weighing me down, wanting me to either fall asleep, or despair or both.

    It seemed to me that the notion of weight “loss” as a prescribed treatment to being fat, thus weight is something pathologised by society (we should lose FAT because then we will be HEALTHY) reminds me of what I go through as a chronically ill person (I should do certain tasks – exercise, take medication, practice positive mental attitude, in order to make myself better and magically become not ill anymore, despite that this is statistically impossible.)

    ( N.B. I’d just like to clarify, I am not saying being fat is bad, in the way that being ill is obviously bad. I am just comparing how a fat person and an ill person are seen by society and how they are made to feel by society.)

    The notion of being fat, because it is pathologised as if it were an illness, is treated in the same way in our society as being ill. They are both thought of as bad things, that it is your moral duty to get rid of because otherwise you are not worthwhile to society, and they reflect badly on the person and shame the person. For fat people, their fat “illness” is seen as something brought on by their laziness and over indulgence. In this I see parallels with my actual illnesses, ignorant people (sometimes even general practitioners who don’t really understand my condition) have told me to “snap out of it”, “pull” myself “together” (as if I am overindulging in my emotions), and to be less lazy. I really have very little control over my depression and fatigue, they are both genetic illnesses that have been suffered in my family for generations. For me to function as someone “worthwhile to society” (attractive, child rearing, money earning, consuming etc.) I really am asked to do the impossible, cure my illness (depression is something which will come and go across the span of my life in cycles, chronic fatigue is a condition which rarely ever gets significantly better or goes away completely). The best and most positive thing I can do for myself is alleviate those symptoms that stop me functioning and enjoying my life, not because I am not worthwhile to society as a disabled or chronically ill person, but because that is my choice and I think it will give me a better quality of life. The equivalent for a fat person would be that they are asked to do the impossible also, not out of necessity (they aren’t ill like I am), but out of society’s bigotry and investment in the fashion and weight cycling industries. Society demands them to permanently transform themselves into a thin person, something not written in their genes, not because it will make them happier or healthier but because then they will be of value to society (because they are as thing people they will be conventionally attractive – whoopee!)

    A lot of the time, I feel bad, ashamed and guilty about my illness (I can’t get up, I can’t exercise, I can’t do normal things), in the same way a fat person shamed by society would feel negatively and guilty about their weight, (I can’t lose weight, I can’t starve myself consistently, I can’t push myself to exercise excessively consistently). There is a social stigma attached to both, though fatness is always visible, in the way that illness and disability can be visible or invisible, and both represent different challenges. But I am getting off track!

    The “TL;DR” version is that, I think there are parallels in the way that fat people and disabled/ill people are shamed, and if anything, this provides further evidence for the argument that fatness is pathologised and fat and unhealthiness is conflated. Also, Fat acceptance and pride has a friend and an ally in the disabled and the chronically ill because we can’t help who we are (why should we anyway? Am I less worthwhile because I am chronically ill or fat?) and we are allowed to be proud of who we are, however much society tries to shame us.

    I would love, love, LOVE to know your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

    • Issa says:

      Rochelle, I identify with a lot of what you wrote, and I definitely agree with your assessment of the overlap and comparisons between fat and disability. I’m curious if you’d be willing to write about this for the new site I’m working with, GLORIFY. I’m emailing you now! :-)

  42. Len says:

    I adore this site and have really enjoyed the discussions. Just wanted to add a little personal anecdote about the concept of weight and ‘health’.

    A few years ago I went for a simple surgical procedure that went wrong, due to an accidental slip by the surgeon (it happens). A little procedure turned into major emergency bowel surgery and months of slow, painful healing.

    Again and again, nurses told me I was lucky to be fat. A thinner person may not have survived, or ended up suffering more and suffering a lot longer. My fat protected me. It may well have saved my life.

    This is not me saying people should race out and get fat to save them from emergency surgical procedures, because that would be ridiculous. This is me saying that ‘health’ is a relative term. I might yet develop a medical condition that is correlated with my weight – none so far – but were it not for my weight I might not be around to develop it. Given the choice, I am glad to be fat, alive and fairly healthy.

    This is just my story, but the fact that health is relative, not absolute, applies to everybody. That is why I cringe when health becomes the default context in which to discuss weight. Health is relative, and it includes concepts such as mental and emotional health, is strongly impacted by things like social stigma, it included intersectionality: it is complex. Using weight as proxy for health gives neither topic the (sorry) ‘weight’ they deserve

  43. Lori says:

    Whoa.

    Here I was, thinking that I was well informed, that I accepted people with open arms, that I had pretty much succeeded in eliminating all the ugly social “-isms” with which I grew up… and then I read this. I don’t think I agree with everything (yet) because I don’t think I understand everything (yet). But thanks so much for putting it out there. I’m already forwarding it to like-minded folks.

    (Upon review: I think part of the reason that some of what you say is so hard to swallow is because it touches on some really tender spots, which leads me to believe that I need to work on why those spots are so sensitive for me — and others — in the first place.)

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