Eating healthy, being fat
Warning for some talk of disordered eating.
One of the things that those who set themselves up as ‘the voices of reason’ in the conversation on fat, science and health love to claim is that there are quick and simple answers. “Stop eating so much junk food.” “Stop drinking gallons of soda!” These priceless and original pieces of advice are almost always accompanied by a variation on the phrase “No one is fat because they eat too much broccoli.”
This is one of those things that make me feel super stabby. Not least because I once believed it and it led me to the worst disordered eating in my entire life. See, I developed an interest in nutrition soon after I became vegan. Everyone was always so worried about me not getting enough nutrients or not eating enough protein and I wanted to be able to answer their questions (both to ease their minds and because it’s good PR for veganism.) The more I learned, the more I realized that my diet was sorely lacking. I had grown up in a house where vegetables were generally microwaved and seasoned with a pat of butter and some salt. Not terrible, but definitely they were something you had to ‘get through’ during the meal. You ate them because you were supposed too. So as an adult living on my own, I didn’t really cook non-potato veggies very much at all. I also pretty much never at fruit. I was slightly better about eating whole grains, but not much. My diet was pretty starchy/simple carby/sugary with lots of fat.
I decided to make a change. Switching from being an omnivore to being a vegan probably made this transition easier because I was already feeling pretty open and adventurous when it came to food. And, surprise surprise, I found that I really liked these formerly only tolerated foods. Roasted brussel sprouts with garlic and olive oil? Yum. Savory sweet potatoes with thyme? Yes! I loved quinoa and fruit smoothies and making my own salad dressings with olive and flaxseed oil.
Not terribly surprisingly, these changes in my diet made me feel physically really good and the daily walks I took with my dogs increased in length. With all of this, I lost weight, about 30lbs without any effort at all. I was happy. I felt good. I had energy and, even though it hadn’t been a goal, I had lost some weight.
Of course, this is when the weight loss stopped. I didn’t understand. I was doing everything ‘right.’ I was a friggin’ vegan who always had at least 6 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I exercised. What was wrong with me?
Nothing was wrong, looking back. I had lost a good amount of weight, my metabolism had likely slowed down to a level in line with my body’s changing energy needs, but I hadn’t changed my diet after the initial set of healthy changes.
But what I believed was that I must not be eating ‘healthy’ because you can’t be fat and eat really ‘healthy.’ It’s just not possible. So I looked at my diet and decided that fats were bad and that carbs were bad and that sugar was evil. I spent several months eating lettuce with low-fat/low-sugar dressing as the main part of every lunch and dinner (and I do NOT recommend this.) I stocked up on low-fat hummus and dipped raw veggies in it and tried to pretend it didn’t taste like ass. I added 30 minutes on the elliptical five days a week to my dog walking. And at least one night a week I totally broke down and would order enough take out to feed 3 people and eat every last bite of it. I bought a scale for the first time in years and I was utterly miserable. In 5 months of this, I managed to eek out a 12lb weight loss. Eventually, I gained a bit of perspective, unpacked my copy of “Fat!So?” and put my scale away.
What’s my point? Well, it’s this: I ate a very healthy diet 8 months ago. I ate a very healthy diet 6 months ago. I eat a very healthy diet today. I get all of my nutrients. I get a lot of fiber. I eat healthy fats and never miss my “five a day.” The concept that it’s not possible to sustain a larger body on these foods is both illogical and a perpetuation of the myth that you can know a person’s habits by their weight. Anti-fat bloggers and websites love to talk about fat people they see eating at fast food restaurants. Look! A fat person daring to eat some fries and a burger! Those have 650 calories combined!!!!! Yes, well so does a plate of scrambled tofu, roasted sweet poatoes and a spinach salad with garlic olive-oil dressing. Energy is energy.
You can support any size body on a diet mainly consisting of whole, nutritious foods. But we don’t want to hear that because it complicates the easy fat=lazy-lard-and-sugar-swiller thing that people cling to.
Encouraging people to eat well and giving them access to healthy foods is a great thing that doesn’t need to have anything to do with weight. Telling people that swapping a small fry to a sweet potato or adding a bit of fiber to a cookie will result in easy weight loss is irresponsible and simply not true.