Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The fat acceptance movement


A couple of days ago I was doing some blog-hopping -- where one blog you follow recommends another and that leads you to another etc -- and I ended up reading some posts (and lots of follow-up comments) about fat acceptance. It started with one woman's experience of being discriminated against because she was too big to fit in the airplane seat.

I will say first of all that at my heaviest weight I was about 25 kg (50 pounds or so) overweight so I have never been big enough to have an issue like this. The only seat I have failed to fit into is the swing at the local park. I have bought things in specialty clothing stores a couple of times because they seemed to fit better (always the smallest size they had) but generally I shop in normal stores. I have certainly felt unattractive at times but I have never felt discriminated against in any way due to being overweight.

What I got from the fat acceptance posts were these points.
1. People shouldn't be discriminated against due to their weight.
2. Don't assume overweight people are unhealthy, you can be healthy at any weight.
3. You should love yourself no matter your size.
4. Dieting doesn't work, so don't even try.

Points 1 and 3 are fine, but I found point 2 a bit dubious and assertion 4 really depressing. It made me want to go and eat a whole packet of chocolate biscuits. Many commenters said that 95% of people regain all the weight they have lost within 5 years (plus extra) so well-meaning doctors, friends, and complete strangers in the street who tell you to diet and exercise are completely misinformed and stupid and counter-productive. They said that being obese does not cause diabetes, cancer or heart disease (and quoted studies) and seemed to be strongly suggesting that we just all stay fat and anyone who tries to lose weight is the product of society's brain-washing and is a moron. And doomed to failure anyway.

It has honestly taken me a couple of days to recover from this onslaught. Of course I have heard lots of times that most people who lose weight put it all back on again, so should I just give up and resign myself to being pudgy for the rest of my life? Today I started tackling this logically.

Regarding point 2; even if it is true that being overweight does not have serious health risks (which goes against everything authorities are saying, I don't claim that "authorities" aren't often proved wrong but that also puts the fat-acceptance scientific studies into just as much doubt as the other ones) -- even if it is true, I personally feel much healthier when I am less fat. When I was thinner I had much more energy, less joint pain, less illness. At my heaviest, a year ago, I was always tired and bloated and uncomfortable. I am currently somewhere in between; but I still often feel lethargic, my thighs rub together if I wear a skirt, and my feet get tired quickly. I get a pain in the muscles under my breasts when I bend over. Even when not taking into account emotional pain (which would presumably be removed by my learning to love myself at any size), I feel much better when thinner.

And of course I don't actually believe this assertion that obesity doesn't contribute to various medical conditions. There is heart disease in my family and I had gestational diabeties, I need to take action to reduce my risk. Not everyone who is overweight is unhealthy, but I believe it is a major contributing factor.

Point 4 was the one that really got to me as I found it more believable based on a lot of anectodal evidence. Lots of peole do put the weight back on. But:
a) "Diets" are restrictive and unsustainable and may indeed cause rebound weight gain; but making changes towards a healthy lifestyle including improved food choices and more exercise is a viable way to gradually lose weight and improve fitness. You have to do it in a way you can live with long term.
b) If I gave up and stopped trying to control my weight; I wouldn't just stay pudgy, I would rapidly expand. "Not dieting" would end up with me much bigger even than a restrictive diet that rebounded on me. So I need to make some changes even if I just want to stay the weight I currently am.
c) I read lots of blogs where people have kept the weight off, or at least most of it; and have gone from morbidly obese to merely overweight. I call that a win.

So I am not telling healthy happy obese people that they have to lose weight if they don't want to. That is entirely up to them. But I don't agree that it isn't possible for them to. I will try not to judge them as lazy and uncooperative as the common perception goes (I know that isn't true -- being overweight does not make you a bad person). I will most likely still see them as fairly unattractive. And I am not healthy or happy when overweight, so I am going to slowly and sustainably lose weight and get fit.

And please don't tell me I can't.

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