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I am not the enemy

October 31, 2008

I was clicking around today doing my best to find some weight-loss blogs that I might start linking to. I actually don’t read any dieting blogs and as I sat reading different blogs I was trying to put my finger on exactly what was bothering me about them enough to make me not want to link to them. Some of the problems were obvious: people promoting unhealthy and dangerous behaviors, people using ultra-thin models as inspiration and just about every other bad-yet-common diet idea out there. But others seemed, superficially, to be much more in line with my own ideas. Here were people, women mostly, enjoying exercise and eating real food in good amounts. They were mostly losing weight very slowly and not using gimmicks or pills to do it. But still, something rankled and they left me a little squicky.

Then I was reading Rachel’s great post on director Kevin Smith’s relationship with his body and his weight and I had a great big *click* moment when I read this:

My point here as it relates to Kevin Smith is that sustained weight-loss is most achievable when you begin thinking of your body positively as an ally and not a foreign entity to be conquered, whittled and tamed into submission. Self-respect rarely flows from the wellspring of self-hatred.

Often even people who are doing their best to lose weight in a way that isn’t punishing or unsustainable see losing weight as a constant battle with themselves. There is the knowing self which says that there are simple rules to follow. And then there is the fat self who is there only to refuse to follow those rules. Fat self refuses to be satisfied with less food. Fat self refuses to drop weight even during caloric deficits. And you have to beat fat self. You have to ignore fat self. Fat self is your enemy and must not be allowed to ‘win.’

It’s all horseshit of course. Your body is not fighting with you. It’s not sabotaging you. The more you see yourself at war with your body, the more likely you are to punish it, to ignore health in favor of weight loss. And, in the end, that’s both ineffective for weight loss and damaging to your physical and mental health.

I was listening to a fitness podcast a while back where the host talked about the body’s reaction to a calorie-deficit. People are furious with their bodies over it, she said. Some outdated response, so useless in modern western society, interferes with their desire to lose weight? Argh! And they often have one of two responses: 1) Put their hands over their ears and go ‘LALALALALALALALA.’ 2) They punish their body for it. They drop their calories too low. They overexercise. And they feel miserable all the time.

But, as she pointed out, we should be happy that our bodies work hard to not let us starve to death. We should be ecstatic that our ancestors had this same response. And that by understanding our body and working with it, we’re going to be a helluva lot happier and probably more likely to achieve whatever fitness/body goals we have.

And you know, regardless of goals or weight, it’s just a good idea to, as Rachel put it, see your body as an ally. It’s hard to focus on the health of your body when you’re busy casting it as the villain in the epic battle of you against your fat self.

And that’s what was bothering me about so many blogs- this theme of disconnect, of the body as enemy. As if you are and your body are separate. As if you can punish one and not the other.

This is why I’m much more likely to read a website dedicated to fitness than weight loss. Fitness blogs aren’t always fat-positive unfortunately, but the focus is always on working with your body. Giving it the calories and nutrients it needs. Giving it the rest it needs. And working with biology, not uselessly shaking your fist at it, to reach your goals.

Do you read any weight loss blogs that don’t fall into this way of thinking? If you’re trying to lose weight do you see it as a struggle against yourself?

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 31, 2008 11:00 am

    I have been reading your posts on this with interest. I have no problem with size generally (according to those Harvard tests that Rachel linked to, I have a preference for fat people over thin people, which was lovely because I assumed that they would reveal some deep-buried fatist tendency), but I have trouble accepting the size that I currently am. At this weight, my knees hurt, I hyperventilate after climbing stairs and I’m just generally hot, tired and uncomfortable.

    I fully support everyone’s right to live in their body and I support the part of FA that is about respecting other people’s bodily autonomy and treating them with respect and dignity regardless of their size – but I’m not going to make myself a martyr to fat acceptance if it means that I’m in daily discomfort as a result.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 31, 2008 11:01 am

    … but to answer your question, I find it very hard to find any weight loss resources at all that manage to be body-positive. I like to think that I am working with my body, not against it, but it’s very hard to find anyone who’s taking a sensible approach to doing so.

  3. October 31, 2008 1:28 pm

    “And that’s what was bothering me about so many blogs- this theme of disconnect, of the body as enemy. As if you are and your body are separate. As if you can punish one and not the other.”
    I absolutely agree with this – the idea that the body and the self are somehow separate and at war with each other is very damaging.

    I also think this feeds strongly into the whole fantasy of being thin – you have this idea of your “real” self (a thin self, natch), trapped inside a lumbering fat body which has nothing to do with the “real” you.

    But I often hear people in FA talk about “giving the body the food it needs” or “moving your body” and I find it problematic. I find the language used, even in consciously body-positive spaces, still ends up describing our bodies as though they are separate from us. Even in this post, you use the same construction (this is not meant to be a dig, by the way – I can totally understand how hard it is to get away from this idea). To be honest, the language of “giving your body what it needs” makes your body sound rather like a pet – it’s unable to communicate with you so you have to try to interpret what it wants, because it knows what it needs but can’t tell you. But it’s still treating it like a pet, not part of you – it’s just that it’s a good dog on FA sites, not a bad dog as it is on weight-loss sites.

    I’m enjoying your blog and you’ve articulated some of the problems I’ve been having with FA myself. Thanks!

  4. October 31, 2008 1:29 pm

    I don’t actively read or follow any weight-loss or fitness centric blogs, but I would recommend Leslie Goldman’s The Weighting Game blog at ivillage.com. Leslie is a women’s health writer and author who also recovered from anorexia, so she is very sensitive to issues of disordered eating and body image. Her blog discusses a wide range of topics, including weight, fitness, nutrition, etc… From time to time, I’ve also come across good articles at FitSugar on fitness, nutrition and new research and studies on food and weight.

    If you’re looking for body-positive workout DVDs, I can’t say enough about Gilad Janklowicz. I follow his show on FitTV sometimes and bought his express workout DVDS a few months ago and I’ve yet to hear him mention weight or weight loss in either. The emphasis is always on how you feel and improving health overall.

  5. October 31, 2008 1:30 pm

    Oops, looks like I messed up the html on the Goldman link. Can you fix, please?

  6. julie permalink
    October 31, 2008 8:49 pm

    I found a good one from one of the women on the Weight Control Registry, it hasn’t been updated since June, but some good reads on there.

    http://www.dropthefork.net/2005/03/index_of_posts.html

    I think there are sane people who do weight loss in a loving way, but it’s a hard, slow road, and people want quicker and more glamorous. There’s also one just called diet blog which isn’t so bad, though some of the commenters are schmucks. Maybe I should start one.

  7. October 31, 2008 10:19 pm

    Hi attrice, I’m adding you to my reader! Blogroll when I get that sorted technically (not hard, I’m just lazy).

    I also want to lose some fat (weight optional) and get fitter, but not while hating myself and other fat people. I love food, and I write about it. I am deeply sceptical of the weight-loss industry. I’m horrified by the prejudice I read about on the FA sites. I know that some people find it extremely difficult to lose weight, and that these people are not donut-bingeing liars.

    A resource that I have personally found useful is Dr Amanda’s “Don’t Go Hungry Diet” – she talks a lot about not starving yourself, enjoying your food, and taking up activity that you love, regardless of your size (don’t wait to be thin!) And about how our bodies do have a weight set-point which is hard to vary – but it can be done. I know mine has changed down.

    Her popular website is http://www.dramandaonline.com/ I find the site a bit excessively chirpy and gung-ho, but the overall message is very useful, and the book is worthwhile. She is a scientist: here’s her professional info. http://www.garvan.org.au/about-us/our-people/dr-amanda-sainsbury-salis

    I’m not associated with her at all, I just like her work and suspect you might too.

  8. October 31, 2008 10:26 pm

    That was an interesting post. I don’t consider weight loss a struggle against my body any more than I consider organizing my finances a struggle against my bank account. (This is going to sound silly, but I’m going to try it anyways…) I’m fond of my bank account: it helps me live my life the way I want to live it, and it is supportive in times of emergencies or unexpected demands. At the same time, I am going to organize it differently and demand slightly different things from it depending on what I want its balance to be in 10 years’ time.
    That said, I prefer training blogs to WL blogs, simply because I find them more interesting. Of the 17 “training &/or WL” blogs I currently link to, I would classify 9 as training-focused and 8 as WL focused, and of those 8, there are a number that devote time to both training and WL.

  9. November 1, 2008 5:55 am

    Mich, I like your analogy. I don’t consider it self-punishment or self-hating to look at my money to see if buying a new dress or toy can be fit into the budget before I buy it. My wants and needs–physical or fiscal–have to fit in with my whole life.

  10. November 1, 2008 9:31 am

    Often even people who are doing their best to lose weight in a way that isn’t punishing or unsustainable see losing weight as a constant battle with themselves.

    That’s because this is the truth and the longer you tend to maintain artificially induced weight loss, the more aware people seem to become of this, or the more it wears them down.

    It is also true that your body is sabotaging your efforts and fighting you, it almost always wins sooner or later, which is why most people remain more or less the same weight despite their best efforts.

    It may well be the case as rachel said that if you treat your body lovingly and as a friend that long-term weight loss is more likely and or more sustainable, but it is also more likely that you will accept your body, yourself in fact as you are.

    I know what I’m saying to some may seem hard or ideological to some, but you have to remember that we didn’t create our bodies, therefore they are going to work according to their own design, not ours, no matter how much we wish it. The more we go against the way are bodies work-it’s the same with nature- the less we will get out of them.

  11. November 1, 2008 11:19 am

    Honestly, wriggles, I think that is total ideology. Interpreting current data as proof that our bodies have some kind of genetic setpoint that they fight to maintain is, imnsho, just as problematic as assuming that any woman who eats a healthy diet and exercises should fall precisely into a 10lb range.

    For example, this study showed that, for a group of post-menopausal women, weight loss did not lead to a permanent lowering of metabolism when compared to women at the same weight who had never lost weight. However, after four years, the weight-loss group had gained most of the weight back.

    Now forgetting for a moment that science never rests on a single study, let’s look at possible interpretations of this evidence. Now, someone coming from a FA perspective might point to the weight gain as proof that, no matter what happened to metabolism, the body seeks its old weight. Someone who believes that weight is almost completely a consequence of lifestyle might say that since the weight gain was not due to a slowing of metabolism, then that is proof that lifestyle is the culprit.

    And so it goes with a lot of the science surrounding weight loss. Someone points to drops in leptin during dieting and someone else points to evidence that the obese may have low leptin-sensitivity. Someone points to the low rates of success in weight loss studies and someone else points to the national weight control registry as evidence that many people who lose weight do it on their own.

    To be frank, I think anyone who takes a hard stance on either ‘side’ of these debates and doesn’t admit to at least some ideology and/or cherry picking of data is not being honest.

  12. November 1, 2008 11:43 am

    Anonymous, I hear you. I fully support the movement remaining anti-weight loss if that’s the general consensus, but I do think people like you and I are out there. And I see no reason why there can’t be more body-positive approaches to losing weight.

  13. November 1, 2008 4:33 pm

    I fully support the movement remaining anti-weight loss if that’s the general consensus, but I do think people like you and I are out there.

    This is one of the reasons I choose not to identify as a fat acceptance activist (I prefer the term fat rights instead). I am not pro-fat; I am not pro-thin — I am pro-healthy. I encounter women (and men) frequently who have gained incredible amounts of weight from binge eating disorder or compulsive overeating, bulimia or emotional eating and this emotionally-induced high weight does pose health risks — people like my father, who weight is demonstrably related to his negative health and depressed quality of life. Insisting that my father “accept” his fat is like insisting that he “accept” a heart attack or stroke. Absolutely no one, whether they be a FA activist or an anti-obesity activist, has that right to tell my father how to feel or what to do about his weight and health.

    I think that we need the hard-line anti-weight-loss’ers to maintain a healthy balance, but I agree that there is a need for more places for those of us in the middle.

  14. November 1, 2008 9:47 pm

    Wriggles, you assume that “weight loss” equals “self abuse.” It can if you assume any message from your body needs to be disregarded, but that’s not always so. Previous to this, I did cut down my body size to something that would be universally approved in our society, and I was wretched. I was hungry every waking hour. It was the worst time in my life. Now I’m not “single digit size,” but in good shape. I’m hungry when it’s time for meals. I eat a little of everything I really want. When I’m really hungry–and I make sure I’m physically hungry, not bored or pissed off–I eat some food that will “hit the spot” (intuitive eating?).

    My hips don’t hurt every time I get off a nonhandicapped toilet, I can walk up stairs, etc. Life is good. It’s a constant conversation with my body, but it’s worth it.

  15. November 3, 2008 3:54 pm

    Linda,

    I’m not assuming, it’s something I’ve observed in myself, I described it to myself as feeling like I was at war with myself, before I heard other people say it.

    Let me try to make this clear, I’m not saying whoop-de doo, it’s not my triumph, I’m not taunting anyone with it, I feel like you are shooting the messenger here, I’ll repeat, I didn’t design the body, I can only go by what I can understand of how it actually works, not how people say it should work.

    Attrice,

    I am not by nature an ideologue, if I was, I wouldn’t constantly be told that I am indecipherable (at the same time as telling me exactly what I said, and almost always being wrong about it). Ideology you can look up, what you said I said, is not the case, I’m pretty sure I even said that I don’t and have never bought the the set point theory. It starts off with a correct observation-the body tends to return to more or less it’s weight prior to weight loss. And then goes on from there to say that this means that whatever weight we are is the weight we are genetically predestined to be, that I do not agree with at all, as I’ve said, our emotions form part of the energy needs of our body, it’s clear to me that if certain issues that drain us emotionally are not resolved, they not only can affect health quite drastically, but our energy needs and the way our body stores fat.
    I think that our organs are affected by stress in that they become stressed and tighten up and this affects their function. If you think of this in terms of the digestive organs, it can and does affect the digestion determentally, again I noticed this after practising meditation for quite a time. Over that period, the first thing that happened was the tension that I was carrying around reduced, after that, my digestion appetite -as well as other things- were affected.

    There is a innate connection between mind and body, that we are aware of, but not yet able to appreciate fully it’s impact on every part of us.

    I use observation, a tremendous amount of experience. I’ve dieted, tried for years to become slim through healthy eating. I’ve read tons of newspaper articles on people who’ve lost weight through slimming, articles on scientific studies, studies themselves, books. I’ve studied a bit of physiology, brain anatomy and the functioning of the nervous system.
    I don’t have a degree or anything, which maybe why you can’t understand me much, I don’t speak your language.

    But I think we can communicate if we try to read each other carefully, which I suppose we don’t always have time to do.

  16. November 4, 2008 10:18 pm

    Wriggles,

    I just wanted you to know that I’m not ignoring your comment. I’m kind of scattered and busy due to the election though so I haven’t had as much time to reply to comments.

    I am sorry if I misread your earlier comment though and will have a longer reply later.

  17. November 5, 2008 9:48 am

    Thank you attrice, you’ve no need to apologise, I wasn’t offended, I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea about where I stand. My desire above all else is to examine and discuss received opinion, whatever that opinion is, including my own.

    I don’t seek to persuade people to do anything but listen to not simply another point of view, but another way of looking at these issues, because I for one have had enough of having ill-thought out ugliness thrust at me over the years.

    I’m not trying to impose. I speak with passion because I say what I truly believe but I don’t want to believe that which cannot stand up to proper scrutiny.

    What I like about what you’re doing, is your genuine ability to be open to thoughtful opinions other than your own.

    Cognito ergo sum, (I think therefore, I am).

  18. julie permalink
    November 19, 2008 9:09 am

    I have started a blog. I have two posts, one a half-asleep one from this morning, and I’m hoping people start to read it and comment. I’m just figuring stuff out along the way, trying to get my life to be something worth living.

    It’s at justjuliebean.wordpress.com, and right now it’s called “smoke yourself thin”, because I’m irritated how the overwhelming desire to lose weight trumps everything else in this crazy culture of ours.

  19. January 6, 2009 11:28 am

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    Personal trainer for 5yrs. Check out my sig for more tip you can use to shed that extra fat.

    http://healthylivingtricks.blogspot.com

    Jacob

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