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Question about dieting and fat activism

May 11, 2008

This isn’t some kind of set-up or anything. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but haven’t come to any solid conclusion so I thought I’d ask you folks.

If the general consensus is that any attempt to lose fat (whether thru dieting, WLS or wish magic) is antithetical to fat acceptance, then does it follow that in order to be part of fat acceptance, one must also accept the premise that body fat is health-neutral?

My thoughts are kind of all over the map on this one. It’s tempting for me to dismiss the question since I don’t think diets work, but I also think that’s a bit of a cop-out. I don’t think there is a safe/effective way to turn fat people into thin people (which, due to fat-hatred has long been the goal of most fat dieters) but otherwise I’m not sure. And honestly I think the common response of “dieting to lose fat is bad, but practicing HAES is good” is a bit too simplistic especially given the possible problems that might actually be connected to excess fat. However, I also think people who say “well, I don’t want to be fat, but if you do, then that’s fine” are generally full of crap as well. We don’t live in a value-neutral society when it comes to fat so no decision about it can be made in a vacuum.

To be clear, this isn’t a prelude to a Why-I-Love-Dieting post, but these are the kind of questions I’ve long been asking myself. 

Also, I’m well aware that some people *don’t* think dieting is going against the spirit of fat acceptance. And I’m aware that no one person can decide what is and isn’t real fat acceptance so lets not have that debate here.

ETA: Do you think that the movement would be better served by having more separation of the movement for fat rights and the HAES ideals?

  1. squid permalink
    May 11, 2008 10:57 pm

    I think perhaps the problem here is that you’re mixing sterotypicl thoughts about fat people with the issue of fat and its connections to health.

    In general we all know that a thinner person is healthier than a fat person. If you deny that then you deny what numerous studies have said. Now, I do know that when an elderly person has the flu it does not hurt for them to have a FEW extra pounds. A LITTLE extra meat gives people a buffer between the world and diseases just the way a healthier immune system can.

    However, this is all a but beside the point I’m trying to make here in talking about very large people. unhealthy-type large people. We all know who we are. The 5’4″ size 24 girls/boys out there. It’s unhealthy. BUT (my point being) this has nothing to do with how society as a whole should treat people size 24, size 6, with cerebral palsey, with brown hair, etc.

    Body fat is not health neutral but health should have nothing to do with the acceptance of a person or a group of people. The correlation between large ammts. of fat and poor health is as strong as the correlations between cigarette smoke and lung cancer and boxing and brain damage. While some obese people will remain relatively healthy most will not be.

    People see this connection with fat and poor health. Being unhealthy is something no one wants to be so a fat person is the thin person’s perfect opportunity to point out the positive attributes they have. “Look at fatty, I’m not like that so I must be healthy. Let’s not let fatty be acceptable because no one wants to be unhealthy.” Anyway, I could obviously keep going because there are reasons upon reasons that people don’t like others who are not like themselves.

    (As a side note: let’s go to “I ❤ Huckabees. How am I not like myself? H0w, am I not like myself?…….. When you don’t fit the image you have of yourself you begin to hate yourself just as much as you would hate anyone else who isn’t the way you want them to be.)

    Anyway, this whole situation needs to bifurcated into the education on fat/health and accepting people regardless of what they look like. Because, frankly, the connection between the overly fat and poor health is undeniable and that will never leave people’s minds due to it’s truth. But we all know it’ also rediclous to make fun of someone because they are a but unhealthy. So, no, I don’t think you should attack fat activism through a leans of a body fat = neutral stance because it is a lie and everyone will assume spittle of garbage.

    And even though our biology says no to this: unhealthy does not equal unattractive. Unhealthy people all over the place love their bodies and overweight people should be no exception.

  2. May 11, 2008 11:09 pm

    Those who want to deny fat people their rights do so based on the assumptions promoted by the weight loss industry. So no, I don’t think we do ourselves any good by divorcing fat rights from HAES. Those who deny us fat rights don’t, so we just won’t be responding to the actual problems in front of us.

    Fat health is doubtlessly complex, and being anti-dieting and pro-HAES does not equal a declaration that being fat is completely health-neutral. But it does recognize that being thin isn’t health-neutral, either. There are negative and positive correlations with thinness. Being male isn’t “health neutral” in the strictest sense, either. Indeed, there are a lot of ways in which being male is more health negative that the most hostile interpretations of fatness. Something doesn’t have to be purely neutral to be targeted. Fat people surely do have unique health concerns. I’d like to see those addressed rather than the constant drum beat of “LOSE WEIGHT” being used to deny fat people a chance at better health and well being. Fat hatred is not good for our health, and that’s the issue here. It has held sway for decades and its “results” are so awful that in any other context we’d be trying to bring its perpetrators to account for this failure. Fat hatred has been a dismal calamity on every measure it has made for itself. We no one a service by trying to bargain with it to give it peace and comfort.

  3. May 11, 2008 11:44 pm

    For me, the FA movement hinges on the fact that fat people are no different from thin people — except in the most superficial of ways, i.e., amount of body fat.

    Some thin people are healthy. Some are not.
    Some fat people are healthy. Some are not.

    Fat and thin people, on the whole, eat the same amounts of food and for the same reasons, including dealing with emotions at times.

    If the idea is ridiculous that thin people should diet, so should it be for fat people. It’s a variation of body type…like tall versus short.

    Fat itself is pretty benign. There was a great quote I wish I’d saved about how it’s a harmless helpful tissue — some 19th century doctor, IIRC.

    But, health has been incorrectly tied to fat for over a century now. So BStu is right that that has to be addressed because that is one of the weapons used against us.

    squid said:
    “In general we all know that a thinner person is healthier than a fat person. If you deny that then you deny what numerous studies have said.”

    This is 100 percent false. I stopped reading your comment there. So I don’t know if you later retracted the statement or not. If you deny that we all *don’t* know that a thinner person is healthier than a fat person, then YOU deny what numerous studies have said. See how that works? There are studies that support both viewpoints. The real question is who funded the studies and what do they have to profit from concluding fat is unhealthy?

    Please see Junkfood Science (website), Obesity Myth (book), Big Fat Lies (book), Rethinking Thin (book).

  4. May 12, 2008 12:03 am

    The problem is, it’s almost impossible to sort out fat alone as an independent cause of any health issue, when so many potential co-factors can accompany a fat body. Among them: Sedentary lifestyle due both to fear of being ostracized while being seen exercising and cultural meme that exercise is of no benefit unless it makes you thin; yo-yo dieting and weight cycling; the ongoing stress of being discriminated against and socially shunned (which has been proven to have deleterious health effects on all stigmatized groups of people); unequal access to health care (both in terms of being able to get health insurance and being treated for the actual problem you go in for instead of letting it fester while health professionals obsess about your weight); and lower socioeconomic status (rich people live longer than poor people, and fat people tend to be poorer).

    Therefore, we won’t know if fat itself is an independent cause of ill health until all those other problems are solved. I do seem to remember reading about societies in which fat people are loved and celebrated rather than shunned and how in those communities so-called “fat related comorbid conditions” are much lower — and yes, right here in America, too. Google “Roseto effect” and prepare to learn something huge.

  5. May 12, 2008 12:18 am

    I’m a fat activist. I’ve also lost 50 pounds. I would like to lose another 70 pounds or so (if the number I have in mind matches my mental image of my goal, that is).

    I was out of shape and not taking care of myself. So I changed my diet and started exercising. It didn’t take long for me to notice a difference.

    I get really annoyed with the FA movement sometimes when people imply that being size-positive and dieting are mutually exclusive. Also when people imply (or say outright) that dieters are *obviously* only doing so to fit some social construct of beauty. Consider the fact that my goal size is still considered fat by a lot of people.

    I want to be happy, healthy and comfortable with myself. I shouldn’t have to apologize or explain myself to an entire movement of people to do that.

  6. May 12, 2008 12:20 am

    It’s pretty late so these are just a few quick thoughts I’m having based on the comments so far.

    I’m curious about your stance on dieting. If you believe that the connection between fat and health problems is undeniable, then do you see dieting as an activity that can comfortably exist within the fat acceptance movement? If not, why not? (sorry, that sounded like a school essay assignment, but I am curious.)

    Very good point about thinness or maleness not being health neutral either. Definitely something to think on more.
    You talk about dieting and fat hatred as somewhat synonymous (or at least the former being inspired by the latter if I’m reading you correctly.) Do you think the two are related just in a fat-hating society or can dieting (or any purposeful attempt to lose fat) only exist in a fat-hating society?

    So, for you, fat acceptance as a movement is predicated on a certain base of assumptions wrt science – like that fat doesn’t have much effect on health or that fat people and thin people generally eat the same way?

    BTW, cuz I think I’m tired and not being clear, I’m not asking you to police the movement or anything (gah, with all the drama lately I’m trying to be extra careful to be really clear 🙂 ) but I want to make sure I’m reading you correctly.

  7. vesta44 permalink
    May 12, 2008 12:31 am

    I think that “fat rights” and “HAES” are parts of fat activism that are needed and to separate them isn’t going to make anything better. HAES means different things to different people, and that’s the way it should be, it’s health at everysize, no matter what that size happens to be, and no matter what your definition of health is (and it’s a very individual thing).
    What bothers me is that society seems to think that having “good” health is a moral imperative (and who gets to decide what is “good”?). It would be nice if everyone could have “good” health, but since “good” health isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition, and means different things to different people, we aren’t all going to be on the exact same page in that book. We don’t all have the same genetic make-up, we don’t all have the same environmental factors, we don’t all have the same experiences, and we don’t all have the same socio-economic backgrounds, and how boring would it be if we did? All of those things, and myriads more, shape us into the unique human beings that we are. Now, if we could just get society to understand that and accept it, the world would be a better place for us all. That’s why the fat acceptance/fat rights/fat activism/fat liberation movement is here, imo.

  8. May 12, 2008 12:47 am

    I’ve read about the Roseto effect. While it’s an interesting phenomenon and certainly points to the complex nature of what effects human health, I think the effect could be interpreted in hundreds of ways. The people often did hard manual labor for instance which could account for increased physical/cardio health. They ate a more traditional diet which would generally mean low processed foods and lower sugar (someone call Gary Taubes!!! :p ) Or, as suggested in the original research, it could be mostly their familial ties and lower-stress life.

    I agree that the full effect fat has on health cannot be easily identified, but I’m not sure it could be in a perfect world either. Genetics, environment etc… all play a part, but I think we can still look at trends and we can still learn a lot from laboratory research (like that fat gives off hormones and its location can determine its effects etc…) So while I completely agree that demonizing fat as the sole or main cause of any condition is bullshit, the question I’m asking myself is what place, if any, does the potential (and we all might come to different conclusions on that potential) negative effect of fat on health have in the FA movment’s stance on setting out to lose fat?

    What do you say to the idea that improving health through lifestyle changes (Health At Every Size) is better because it doesn’t 1) put the pressure of an ideal outcome (weight loss) on a person and 2) it focuses on health rather than an arbitrary number? Do you feel that having a goal weight automatically puts some level of judgement on people who are heavier than that weight? Do you think that other people who are at your original height/weight can be perfectly healthy?

    FWIW, I think there is enough difference of opinion in the FA movment for you to be welcome although I know it can suck when you feel unwelcome.

  9. May 12, 2008 12:50 am

    Great post. I’ll probably have something more coherent tomorrow, but AMEN to people needing to understand that ‘health’ is both individual and totally separate from individual worth.

  10. May 12, 2008 12:52 am

    Quick Note:

    I’ve been messing around trying to get the comment filter working the way I want it to, but your post might end up in moderation.

    I’m going to bed now so if your post doesn’t show up right away, it could just be caught. I’ll be sure to check the queue in the morning.

  11. Arwen permalink
    May 12, 2008 3:21 am

    My family is fat, always has been, and is prone to diabetes. I imagine the research shows these things are correlated, and I’m not sure that my fat is health-neutral. I think it’s probably a sign of a particular body type – one that lives into its 70s and dies of diabetes, (which is pretty long lived for most of history), but I *am* wearing my disease. I will get diabetes. I have to manage my propensity to mishandle sugar with attention to diet and exercise – but this attention has never caused me, or my mother, or either of my grandmothers, to be thin.

    For someone like me – who beyond a shadow of a doubt, after 20 years of dieting, am “trapped” at this size and will not go lower — then what does “fat is unhealthy” mean one way or the other? It is the way I work. Either part of the profile, or a side effect. Like my white skin is more likely to get skin cancer in the sun – it’s a trait. My fat family does NOT have a predisposition to cardiac disease and my bp is incredibly low – so the fat profile of my family is not the fat profile of every fat person. So it’s not a one-fat-fits-all diagnosis, either.

    I’m just starting on FA: this is new to me, and I have not yet learned fat *pride* – although I need that and I’m trying to learn. But if weight loss diets worked and were sustainable, I’d be there in a New York minute. I’ve been “making lifestyle choices” for 20 years. I do and have done all the things that promise thin thighs, and I’ve never had them. I’ve worked very, very hard. Frankly, my family’s health profile (diabetes definitely there!) is good enough for me that it’s mainly vanity; but I will be taken out by the fatz, right?

    I have no doubt that there are some who can lose weight and keep it off. But if for some percentage – it doesn’t even have to be a majority – it’s futile, regardless of the possible health benefits – that is where I get frustrated.

    I don’t care if other people diet, I really don’t. It just really, for me, has gotten to be like saying females get cervical cancer so female is a health risk.

    Life is a health risk!

  12. Caitlin permalink
    May 12, 2008 6:22 am

    I can’t tell you if fat is health-neutral. I can tell you (as I’m sure you know) that there are many studies that show it is, or that it is even beneficial for some conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. (Yes, you read that right.)

    I can also tell you that that doesn’t sodding well matter. We keep getting dragged into this “can you be fat and healthy” argument over and over (I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past few days) and it’s just a distraction from the truth of the issue: it doesn’t matter whether fat people are healthier or unhealthier or more prone to being unable to play the tuba, because we do not know how to make fat people thin, so we are (almost) all stuck with the bodies we have, regardless of what the dieters would like to think. What we need is an end to discrimination, hatred and shame based on those bodies, and whether the bodies themselves are “healthy” by some arbitrary social standard is an irrelevant distraction.

    My family is fat, always has been, and is prone to diabetes.

    Arwen, both those factors are likely to be genetic. I spent last summer working on a research project investigating genetic markers for susceptibility to type 2 diabetes: I can TELL you it is. If you get diabetes it is unlikely to be because you have excess adipose tissue, or even because your diet and exercise are not aligned to some supposed “ideal” — as noted in that article, any number of thin people have a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle and don’t get diabetes. Just as many fat people don’t get it either. Maybe excess adipose tissue is a risk factor for diabetes, or maybe it’s just correlated, but either way it is definitely not the whole story. So society needs to stop trying to make fat people feel guilty for giving themselves teh diabetes; that guilt is unhelpful, and moreover, in a family with a probable genetic history of diabetes, just plain wrong.

    Liza, I was out of shape and not taking care of myself. So I changed my diet and started exercising. It didn’t take long for me to notice a difference.

    I’m happy for you that you feel you are happier and healthier at your new weight. I’d just like to ask you: what if your efforts had not resulted in weight loss? Would you still feel this way? And if not, why not? Surely eating more healthily and exercising more (which I’m going to assume are the way you’re “getting in shape”, please excuse me if I’m wrong) are pleasurable activities that will make you feel better regardless? Why does the number on the scale have to change to make them worthwhile? My concern is that if the weight comes back on, you might forget the joy of treating your body right and seeing how much better that feels. Seeing sustainable weight loss as your ultimate goal means you are very probably setting yourself up for failure, whereas by concentrating on being healthy at whatever size you are, you set yourself up to win.

    I want to be happy, healthy and comfortable with myself. I shouldn’t have to apologize or explain myself to an entire movement of people to do that.

    That’s cool. But when that movement is Fat Acceptance or HAES and you’re telling us you feel you have to lose weight to achieve those things, you shouldn’t expect the support or encouragement of an entire movement of people either.

  13. May 12, 2008 7:26 am

    Liza, you are experiencing health benefits because you are getting fit and eating more healthily. You don’t have to go on a diet to do that. If you are actively focused on getting rid of your fat, you don’t accept it – quite the opposite.

    And squid, while I am quite a cephalophile, you’re full of shit. It’s too early in the morning for me to be polite about this. We don’t “all” know it, and you can keep your arbitrary upper limits and suck on them.

    I am 5’4″ tall. I weigh (according to the scale at the gym, which I attend because I enjoy it) 314 pounds. I am a healthy woman by any standard my doctor can devise.

    But, even so, it doesn’t really matter. Because HEALTH IS NOT A MORAL ISSUE. You are not my goddamn mother and so even if I WERE unhealthy, it would not entitle you to belittle and degrade me and my body.

    Attrice, fat is a complex issue and there are a lot of studies coming out that get no coverage in the media. The diet industry, meanwhile, is a multi-billion dollar industry that would like to keep us all obsessed with dieting.

    Diets are antithetical to Fat Acceptance not because experiencing weight loss is itself a bad thing but because a) seeking to eradicate fat is the opposite of accepting it and b) dieting is harmful both physically and mentally. Dieting is self-harm.

    If there were some way to safely and successfully diet, I think things would be different. But all of these “well, what about dieting under these circumstances” questions fail to take into consideration the very basic fact that most diets do not work and most dieters wind up gaining back more weight than they lost.

  14. bookwyrm permalink
    May 12, 2008 8:34 am

    To be entirely honest, the idea that health is a political issue makes me want to cry. The best things to do about your health should not, ever, be decided by someone who knows neither your body, nor anything about biology. Yet here we have it.

    Squid, here, is a classic example of how the FA movement is trying to fight rumor with truth. I dearly want it to work out, but I don’t know that its going as far as we’d like. Also, I’d like to point out that there have been various times in history that “we all could accept” something that “we all now know” to be blatantly untrue, like the flat earth, the finite universe, the indivisibility of the atom, and global cooling of the 70’s.

    The biggest single problem we have with weight, diet, and health is that we have no notion what is actually healthy. In the above examples, we didn’t then have enough information. In the matter of health, we still don’t. We have information that conflicts, and we can’t resolve it. If higher BMI gives you increased likelihood of hypertension, but an increased likelihood of surviving a cardiac event, what do you do? What is a naturally thinner person to do? We know that yo-yo dieting is harmful, yet we also know that 70% of normal weight teenage girls diet. We have our “common wisdom” that fat is bad, yet we have an obesity paradox that says more fat is a pretty good indicator of survival. If such a large portion of our society diets that Self magazine is reporting that 75% of women have some form of disordered eating, does any study that has come out in the last 80 years (when the thin thing really came into fashion in the ’20s) actually tell us anything at all, except about those who have probably dieted? Would any of the conclusions still be valid if we got a generation that didn’t try to diet for weight loss?

    Is health a moral imperative? If not, then why do are smoking and drinking to excess while pregnant condemned even by the pro-choice crowd? If health is a moral imperative, then why is anything but the purest science (or prayer if you go that direction) permitted to decide what is healthy? If health is not a moral imperative, why are drugs illegal? If it is, why are any carcinogenic materials permissible in any industry for any reason? If health is a moral imperative, how can we determine who is morally superior when we don’t know how to achieve good health? And if it isn’t, why are we angry at relatives and friends who engage in unhealthy behaviors where their children can see them?

  15. May 12, 2008 9:14 am

    I’ve read about the Roseto effect. While it’s an interesting phenomenon and certainly points to the complex nature of what effects human health, I think the effect could be interpreted in hundreds of ways. The people often did hard manual labor for instance which could account for increased physical/cardio health. They ate a more traditional diet which would generally mean low processed foods and lower sugar (someone call Gary Taubes!!! :p )

    So… you’re saying they ate well, exercised, were still fat, and were healthy? Hey, maybe we should change the definition of HAES to be exactly that!

  16. May 12, 2008 9:31 am

    My response to meowser was based on her comment that Roseto was an example of how lack of social stigma affected the health of fat people. I was only pointing out that it could be interpreted in other ways as well.

  17. May 12, 2008 10:14 am

    I started writing a response about how dieting and being pro-fat rights can be paralleled to a “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) point of view, but it went very long and so I just made a post about it on my blog:

    Summary: The “I support fat rights but personally want to lose X lbs” is similar to alternative energy activists petitioning to not have windmills mar the view from their summer beachhouses. Perhaps they are great alternative energy activists, and do wonderful things for their community, donate money to great charitable causes promoting alternative energy, go to marches and protests &etc.

    But certainly one can see how the NIMBY argument is ultimately hypocrisy and thus ultimately harmful to the alternative energy movement as a whole. Those windmills have to go somewhere. Similarly, to state in one breath that for virtually all people fat is not a choice, therefore they should not be treated as moral outcasts and share equal rights with thinner individuals, and in the next breath engage in diet-talk, is ultimately hypocrisy and does *not* ultimately help the FA/FR movement.

    Those fat people have to go somewhere. They’re not getting anywhere on good intentions; your dollars further bloating the coffers of the diet industry, your support of anti-obesity initiatives in what has been turned into the experimental laboratory of public school, your desire to shed fat from your own body for whatever reason, are all silent judgments as fat(ter) people as disgusting/unhealthy/morally inferior to thin(ner) people.

    That’s why diet talk is incompatible with FA/FR, and why dieters cannot ultimately help further the fat rights movement. Quite simply, one cannot allow that kind of hypocrisy in a movement and expect it to survive.

    That’s not to say that dieters shouldn’t read FA blogs, or comment, as long as they understand the purpose of the blogs and each blog’s individual rules. In fact, I wish every dieter that exists read FA blogs. But a dieter cannot be a fat rights activist, in the true sense, and though well-intentioned they have the potential to harm the movement to a far greater degree than whatever they’re doing to ostensibly further it.

  18. Caitlin permalink
    May 12, 2008 11:04 am

    So… you’re saying they ate well, exercised, were still fat, and were healthy? Hey, maybe we should change the definition of HAES to be exactly that!


  19. May 12, 2008 11:33 am

    I feel like I should repeat that I’m not looking for a way to work dieting into a FA framework nor am I saying that positive diet talk should be welcome in our communities.

    If someone had asked me 6 months ago why I was against dieting, my main argument would have been something like: Since fat itself is not unhealthy, there is no reason to try to lose/remove fat that is not connected to our society’s hatred of fat.

    Now, being in a place where my opinion on the science has become less certain, I still believe that the diet industry is a scam and that focusing on numbers is damaging. So I’m in the process of personally reframing my position and was honestly just seeking people’s thoughts.

  20. Sandy permalink
    May 12, 2008 11:54 am

    Misinterpreting the Roseto study to fit popular beliefs about healthy lifestyles and diets does not make it true. These immigrant people did the exact same manual labor (even working in the same mines) and ate the same diets (rich in fats and carbs) as their neighboring immigrant communities (as well as smoked and drank) — scientists were unable to find that their better health was related in any way to their diets or activities.

    The fact of life is that healthism is a belief, but not scientific reality. People have been trying to find some perfect diet or lifestyle to guarantee health and longevity for eons and there isn’t one. (There have been as many different ideas over the years as people, and the same ideas have come and gone over and over again.) The idea that by eating or living some way you can prevent chronic diseases is a myth and a way to point blame and feel guilty — none of which helps people BE healthier, but it does sell a LOT of diets, pills and programs. We all grow old (just wait!) and people of ALL sizes have health problems. Poverty, crime, discrimination/oppression, quality healthcare for real health problems, educational opportunities, etc are issues for all sizes. The marketing that fatness is inherently deadly has been greatly overblown and based on a lot of bad science, and spreading such scaremongering doesn’t help people’s health or help them feel better about themselves, since the bodies we’re born with aren’t a choice or a measure of good behavior or moral superiority. Weight loss interventions not only lack efficacy, but their costs and the harm they cause most people in actual health problems far outweighs the temporary feelings of being thin. FA could help people move past this and live their lives to the fullest, rather than become mired in the fear propaganda and condemnation that society inflicts. IMHO.

  21. May 12, 2008 12:38 pm

    I don’t have any great attachment to any one interpretation of the Roseto study. In fact, I’m quite willing to believe that the main factor for their superior health was lower stress and a close and supportive community.

    However, I’d also be curious if there are a lot of other communities where we could observe a similar phenomenon. If not, why? Was Roseto that unique or could there be another unidentified factor. I know there exists some gene traced back to one family in Italy that seemed to protect against CVD. I have no idea if people in Roseto carried the gene, but I did read (maybe in a post at your blog?) that up to 95% of the Rosetans were related to a single family from Italy so maybe they shared some genetic protection.

    I agree with most of your post, Sandy. I’m not looking for or promoting a magical healthy lifestyle. And I think the case for fat being the cause of (seemingly) all ills is overblown and damaging to people’s health. But I remain unconvinced that it’s totally unrelated and my original question was and still is about all the different approaches one can take to FA.

  22. Sandy permalink
    May 12, 2008 12:42 pm

    PS. They actually ruled out the genetic thing, finding, for example, that when the people moved away from Roseto that the health protection disappeared. That even surprised me.

  23. May 12, 2008 8:38 pm

    Well, I’ve only read these blogs for a few months and don’t comment much, and also don’t consider myself to be fat, so this is coming from a sort of new-outsider-looking-in perspective. But one of the things that’s bothered me a little about the recent “diets: acceptable or not” discussion is that no one seems to be actually defining what they mean by “diet”, or if they have I’ve missed it. I mean, by itself the word doesn’t mean much to me.

    Are we only talking about temporary, get-results-quick fad diets?
    Do we mean any conscious reduction in food intake?
    Or any conscious reduction in food intake with the intent of losing weight?
    Or eating less entirely for aesthetic reasons (to look pret-tay)?
    Is it changing your diet to include less “unhealthy” foods and more “healthy” foods even if you really don’t want to, but because you think you should?

    It could be because I’m just new to this (sorry if that’s the case!) but I guess I don’t know what people are really referring to when they say they’re “against” diets. And if I don’t know that, I can’t decide whether I agree or not. As of now, though, I have to think that it’s probably a little dangerous for the FA movement to announce it’s “against” diets, just because I do believe they’re appropriate for some people, particularly people who are legitimately overeating, or who gained excess weight during a particularly unhealthy period in their lives and are actually above their set range.

    So, sorry if I rambled a bit. I guess I’m just saying there could be some more clarification of this whole issue, especially if people are going to start using absolutes.

  24. maggishness permalink
    May 12, 2008 10:40 pm

    Tuesday: thankyouthankyouthankyou for putting into words something that I too (also as a newish reader and commenter) have been wondering about.
    My understanding from reading the fatosphere and other FA blogs (and it may be totally not what was intended), is that FAers tend to be against diet defined as any change in lifestyle for the purpose of losing weight. Please do feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, folks.
    I don’t know the answers to Tuesday’s questions and am really looking forward to hopefully get ome opinions on them.

  25. May 12, 2008 10:49 pm

    For the most part, I think diet is defined as any change in eating made with the express purpose to lose weight. Sometimes you’ll see people in FA use the term ‘weight loss diet’ (WLD) to specify what kind of eating change they’re talking about.

  26. squid permalink
    May 13, 2008 1:08 am

    I love what Tuesday said.

    attrice, you asked me about my opinion on dieting and its role in fat activism. I think that it plays no role because the very idea of the contemporary meaning of “diet” is soooooo subjective. Think of what you have said before about your vegan diet (the old school meaning of diet). Some people treat it as a fad to quickly lose some chunky from their monkey. Others like you see it as just the way you eat and not as some sort of sacrifice from what they would normally do. Veganism is the norm for you and a fad for others.

    These people who treat the way they eat as something less than the ideal of what they would really like to eat are the dieters. They are the majority of your nutrition class who chose just the orange over the orange AND the candy bar. This all spins around the idea of nutrition education and big business interests.

    Up until recent history a good meal had lost of meat because meat was a hard to come by once a week, month, perhaps year special treat. The same thing goes for candy, soda-pop, and other such treats. These things are such common place now and part of the the every day diet that when people eat what the human body was evolved to eat (lots of veggies with very little meat) they feel as if they are denying themselves something. These high calorie goodies which the body crave to build up fat stores are now working against us in these times of cheap and easy food.

    Not only are our bodies suffering but so are the animals which are viewed as commodities and things rather than thinking, feeling, sentient beings and so is the environment which much continue to produce through factories endless supplies of organic nitrogen to produce even bigger crops of nutrient poor food for animals which produce massive amounts of unsinkable food.

    My guess is that 90% (made up number) of Americans believe that a diet which is right and healthy for their bodies would be considered a “diet”. It would be a sacrifice from the lux life of food that most have. What kind of a world is it where a hamburger is the cheapest, easiest, and most filling thing a person can buy? When did something reserved for 4th of July barbecue specialty become common place? Why is eating the way a human should eat called a “diet”? It makes me sad that the ideal dinner plate is comprised of 1/2 veggetables, 1/4 grains, and 1/4 meat.

    I would also venture to guess that about 95% of overly fat people think this way as well. That eating healthy is a step away from the norm instead of the standard way of eating. That these “diets” are meant for weight loss instead of health.

    This is why before I said that dieting should be separated from the FA movement. Because the term “diet” has nothing to do with being healthy but more to do with what is eaten and the depravation of food with a focus on weight loss. In a healthy lifestyle including good diet weight loss to a body happy weight will be almost like a side effect to that lifestyle instead of the main focus.

    Maybe instead of diets in FA could tackle the question of “what is healthy anyway?” Because I don’t think that a person who runs several marathons a year has the same concept of health as someone who enjoys going to the movies several times a year. The runner may need several knee replacements in her lifetime and the movie watcher will think that’s crazy and unhealthy. However, the runner may see the movie-goer having a hard time with a couple of flights of stairs and think that is very unhealthy. Maybe what people need to realize when it comes to fat and health that not all overly fat people want to run a marathon.

    So I guessed I am very biased in that way because of what I said in my earlier comment. I think that a healthy person can take a couple of floor of stairs without becoming completely winded and I have rarely, if ever, seen an overly fat person who is able to do that. More weight = more work for muscles = more oxygen/less CO2 needed = less anaerobic dependency by muscles for energy.

    Rotund, I bet you’re young still. I bet being overly overweight hasn’t yet taken its toll on all if any of your systems. But I would say that this health you have is due to youth much like the way a young smoker does not yet have lung cancer or how a fresh boxer doesn’t yet have any brain damage. It will catch up with you and you will regret it, this fat.

    Why are fat people picked on? The same reason why anyone who is considered ugly is picked on and the same reason why beautiful people tend to have an easier time in life. It all comes down to attraction. The better you attract the more people want you positive attention. The more they want to single you out as not one of the uglies. Health is attractive as well. People want their children to be able to take those stairs and not get winded just as much as they want their kids (genes) to be able to run away from a rampaging saber-toothed tiger. Fat takes away from both those attractions. Body proportions are skewed and blurred with too much fat. Are those good birthing hips? I can’t tell because there is too much fat to see them.

    Anyway, health is for everyone not just fat activists. Dieting doesn’t belong in FA because health is subjective.

  27. squid permalink
    May 13, 2008 1:11 am

    4th paragraph “unsinkable food” no. instead “unsinkable waste”

  28. May 13, 2008 5:04 am

    Sorry to butt in so randomly, but this:

    … when people eat what the human body was evolved to eat (lots of veggies with very little meat)

    Is not true as far as I know. There have always been vegetarian folks, there have always been folks who would eat ONLY meat, and anything inbetween. Why do you assume that we’re supposed to eat lots of veggies and very little meat? There are millions of opinions out there as to what is “healthy” eating, and no one has found the ultimate answer yet. We don’t know what’s right. I don’t want to waste my time trying to adher to rules that might just as well turn out to be wrong AGAIN. Perhaps in a few thousand years it will be established that we should have been eating nothing but fish, cheese and oatmeal for all this time, or something equally unexpected.

    In a healthy lifestyle including good diet weight loss to a body happy weight will be almost like a side effect to that lifestyle instead of the main focus.

    Yes, sometimes. But sometimes not. And that’s not what we call a weight loss diet, that’s what we call healthy living. That’s not what this is about. It’s a common misunderstanding.

    I have to think that it’s probably a little dangerous for the FA movement to announce it’s “against” diets, just because I do believe they’re appropriate for some people, particularly people who are legitimately overeating, or who gained excess weight during a particularly unhealthy period in their lives and are actually above their set range.

    Again, I don’t think this is what we’re talking about. Someone who is overeating should stop overeating. I wouldn’t call that a diet in the way that we use the word. But we can’t know for sure whether we’re above our setpoint ranges or not, so it’s best not to make assumptions.

    I hope that’s understandable.

  29. May 13, 2008 9:44 am

    I think you made a few interesting points about dieting being subjective, but I have to say you totally lost me with the evo-psych ‘it’s just evolution to find fat gross and unattractive!’ stuff.

    Also, unless you have a crystal ball or a TARDIS, you need to back off telling people what kind of health problems they’re fated to get. That kind of stuff is not okay here.

    I honestly have no idea what to make of your post. Health is subjective, but fat people are picked on because they’re unhealthy (and unattractive) and none of them can walk up the stairs without being winded? I can almost completely fill in a fat bingo card, yet I’m not sure if you’re trolling or not.

  30. May 13, 2008 4:08 pm

    My FA philosophy — what is personally helping me accept my own fat and the way I approach talking about general fat acceptance with others — is that fat people and thin people are only as different as blue-eyed people are from brown-eyed people. Weight should be viewed like height, eye color, etc.

    Dieting (in FA circles, it means anything — including over-exercise — with the intention to lose weight) is about as successful *in the long-term* as trying to will one’s eyes a different color.

    Thin people overeat. Sometimes. Sometimes all of the time. For whatever reason (most likely genetics), they do not get fat from it. Neither do fat people. Fat people are born to be fat. Just how fat, from everything I’ve learned from this movement, has more to do with restricting eating, which then leads the body to readjust its set point upwards, than having anything whatsoever to do with “overeating.”

    Btw, set point theory is that one cannot eat one’s weight more than 20 or 30 pounds over one’s set point. Cf. Ancel Keys. There are quite a few binge eating disorder recoverers who believe one can eat oneself hundreds of pounds above one’s set point, but there is also a theory that weight loss dieting causes BED.

  31. May 13, 2008 6:39 pm

    I’d like to clarify that

    a) I believe the vast majority of people have more or less the same eating habits (in other words, fat people aren’t eating much differently from thin people), and I don’t think that overeating is what makes people fat. Sorry if it came off that way.

    b) When I say “dangerous” I don’t mean that anti-dieting posts can be harmful to readers – I was referring the the effects of those posts on the FA movement itself.

    Thanks for the responses on what a “diet” is and isn’t in FA 🙂

  32. squid permalink
    May 14, 2008 5:22 pm

    sorry about the ting I said to Rotund. you’re right it was uncalled for.

    Our brains are built to make connections and associations just like most animals with highly organized nervous systems. This makes stereotyping easy and often true. Dieting in connection to the FA movement only helps reinforce the “fat people must WANT to be thin” stereotype. Though, it may be true for most it is not true for all and I think that any movement, for any minority, have a purposeful goal in removing its people from the stereotype. When the minds of everyone are removed from those stereotypes then the people within the minority are then free to truly become whoever they want to be without conforming and falling into their set place in society.


    I really want to say this nicely but I’m not good with words (obviously and due to a saturation in science classes rather than liberal arts). So, I know that a lot of people have disagreed with me here but that does not mean that I am trolling or that my comments are just parody. ‘Cause I think you all are super smart and I have agreed with a lot of your rebuttals to my comments.

  33. wriggles permalink
    May 15, 2008 5:31 am

    ‘I’d also be curious if there are a lot of other communities where we could observe a similar phenomenon.’


  34. wriggles permalink
    May 15, 2008 5:55 am

    I think your post is very good Attrice, it’s interesting to hear the different ways that people come to being anti diet as you’ve demonstrated, this affects how we see the wider FA movement. For me I came to FA through accepting that diets don’t work.
    This was a personal thing for me as it had been already explained to me clearly why they didn’t work, and I still carried on trying to lose weight. Why? First of all, I didn’t think of myself as a dieter as I was a believer in healthy diet= slimness.
    I tried dieting first off, I discovered that it wouldn’t work after six months (age 11) so I ‘switched’ to healthy eating. My conviction about FA is through my realisation of the full effects and cost of both attempting consistently to lose weight and internalisation of the obesity personnae as pushed to us. In my view, it is unntenable psychologically and well as physiologically. That is both the dieting and the personnae. So what difference does it make what the health implications of fat may or may not be?
    I do not personally object to people wanting to make fat people slim, but it actually has to work and not worsen people’s wellbeing. So if people want to save us fatties, come up with something that works, or allow us to do our duty by ourselves which is to be as mentally and physically healthy as we can be. Damaging our mental and therefore often our mental wellbeing to try and ‘prove’ a discredited hypothesis may be effective, but it doesn’t make it true.

  35. Piper permalink
    May 18, 2008 4:29 pm

    I personally don’t have a problem with dieting but I think that it’s stuffed down our throats to promote an agenda. However, I have to say that people who diet aren’t fat positive. The person that wrote that they are a fat activist but lost 50 pounds isn’t a true fat activist.

    It is what it is: dieting means you want to change.
    If you can’t handle it, then you probably don’t
    belong in the movement. As long as dieters and
    people who are okay with WLS call themselves
    fat activists, then the movement won’t get

    Why? Because it’s like the gay person who
    hides in the closet, married and living a lie.
    Or the black person who bleaches their
    skin. It’s pretending to be something they
    are not. I think the first poster that said
    that being fat is unhealthy is wrong.

    They obviously haven’t visited or read
    The Obesity Myth. That poster along with
    the 50-pound weight-loss troll don’t belong
    here. It’s time for fat people to fight back
    and stop apologizing for their size and stop
    accepting these wishy-washy in-betweens
    that are okay with OTHERS being fat as
    long as they can continue to diet and try
    to fit into some absurd “ideal.” It’s nonsense.

  36. May 18, 2008 10:14 pm

    I think the analogy to gay rights is interesting because I (surprise surprise) have a problem with so many GLBT groups basing their arguments on sexual preference being totally inborn. I don’t agree it’s that simple. I think the variety and fluidity of human sexual expression throughout history points to a much much more complicated basis for human sexuality than that.

    That doesn’t mean that I think ex-gay therapy is ok though. But it does mean that I never argue for GLBT rights from a ‘it’s totally inborn’ perspective.

    Likewise, the argument you’re making makes sense to me from a specific scientific perspective: Fat is almost completely genetic and is not, itself, the cause of health problems. But my question was, and still is, can the same conclusion (dieting is antithetical to fat acceptance) make sense without that specific scientific perspective?

    Although, after reading lots of different perspectives on the issue, maybe the question I should have asked isn’t about dieting, but about the movement as a whole?

    I’m rambling a bit, but here’s what I definitely wanted to say. I believe you can support rights for fat people based on nothing but acknowledgement of their humanity. Whether fat acceptance can exist outside certain scientific parameters isn’t something I’ve figured out yet.

    Also (and this is not just in reply to you, Piper), I totally support recommending books, websites, articles etc… to people in order to expose them to new ideas, but I am curious about people’s assumptions that, if someone expresses a contrary opinion wrt the health implications of fat, that they must not have read these things yet. I’m not sure where that comes from.

  37. May 23, 2008 7:58 am

    I think that a healthy person can take a couple of floor of stairs without becoming completely winded and I have rarely, if ever, seen an overly fat person who is able to do that.

    5’3″, 185-ishlbs, (UK) size 22, and 49 years old, squid. Want to race me up those stairs? ‘cos I can take you.

  38. misha permalink
    May 26, 2008 6:49 pm

    I think dieting is a hopeless endeavour and I stopped doing it years ago; I define dieting as eating (or not eating) with the primary goal being weight loss without regard for one’s health. If a person is actually trying to change the way they eat in order to be healthier and take better care of one’s body that is not dieting in my opinion that is just good self-care. People have different ideas about what good self-care looks like. I don’t think there is one right way to eat that would work for every person. But the main thing is to separate weight from health; weight is not a way to measure or assess health. Weight is an epiphenomenon; it is meaningless in most cases. I believe people can be healthy at any size.

  39. meerkat permalink
    June 1, 2008 10:48 am

    The point that jumps out to me is that if you are dieting, you are saying that you believe you can and should lose weight, and this implies to everyone fatter than you that they should also be dieting.

    However, I think fat acceptance can accept people who are not yet able to resist the pressure to diet. But dieters can’t be consistently fat-accepting by virtue of being dieters. FA that diets is a flawed FA but it could develop into a more perfect FA.

    Except, I don’t want hypothetically to tell people what to do if they find themselves on the extreme far end of the bell curve, where their fat is actually severely hindering them, rather than society’s shaming of it hindering them. Kind of the opposite side of the coin (the “I don’t want to tell people fatter than me that they are too fat” coin), I feel I don’t have a right to tell anyone fatter than me how fat is too fat, because I have never been fatter than me and can’t judge. I don’t know if this makes a difference in how feasible weight loss actually is, and I still think it’s important that they examine whether it’s the fat or the discrimination that’s the problem.


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