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Fat “Enablers”?

February 26, 2008

I was talking to my friend who is a medical Resident the other day for the first time in a long while. We eventually started touching on some fat acceptance type topics. She generally agrees that metabolism is going to keep most people from getting permanantly to a “healthy” weight.  But the one thing she invariably brings up when we talk about this is this concept of Enablers.

According to her, there are people out there who are immobilized by fat, whose family will cook and then feed them up to 7 meals a day.

I think she probably met 1 person like this and has extrapolated, because she always refers to the fat person as the man and the enabler as a woman. I guess my question is, is this really common? Are there fat people out there who have their very own personal chef there to enable what I can only assume is some kind of binge eating disorder? (And where can I sign up? – sans binge eating)

It just seems like the oddest story to me. I find it hard to believe that in this fatphobic world someone would continually overfeed feed their stationary relative. But then, I’ve been watching the show “Intervention” a lot lately, and I also find it hard to believe that people would still provide free food and lodging for their meth addicted alchoholic stripper daughter.

So yeah, has anyone heard of this? Or do we think it is just another straw-fatty.

Updated to rephrase some stuff cause I didn’t like how it sounded.

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27 Comments
  1. thoughtracer permalink

    There are always enablers out there for everything. From drug abuse, to alcoholism, to fatness, to pure laziness (e.g., a kid not getting a job and playing video games, despite them being like, 25 or whatever).

    I would have to say though, that sitting around being waited on in bed and eating 7 times a day is pretty rare. Furthermore, I eat probably 7 times a day. Lots of people do. Not full meals, but if you count things like, snacks, a piece of candy, etc etc, the number of how many times we eat is pretty high. I think 7 is actually quite low.

    Also, I question the concept of “permanently healthy” that your friend was talking about. I am not sure that fat and permament health are mutually exclusive, nor is thin and permanent health mutually inclusive. Also, health isn’t permanent.

  2. vesta44 permalink

    I think your friend is probably talking about the fat people on those Discovery Health/A&E stories that show the people who weigh upwards of 600 lbs and are confined to bed. A lot of them have spouses/SOs who cook for them and/or provide the massive amounts of food that they eat. But, if you watch those programs often enough, you see that they’re repeats (they show the same 4 or 5 people over and over and over). Maybe they think we have the memory of a goldfish and won’t realize that this is the exception for fat people, not the rule? Or maybe this is their way of stoking thin people’s fears of fat people “eating the world” so that they can continue to advance their agenda of eradicating fat while at the same time telling all the fatties of the world that we are gluttons who just don’t know when to stop eating. It’s an overworked/overused generalization that uses exceptions to prove the rule (these 4 or 5 are super-morbidly obese and eat this way, therefore all overweight/obese people eat this way or some fat people worked hard to lose weight and kept it off, therefore if all fat people worked that hard they could also lose weight and keep it off). Just like any generalization, they’re mostly less true than their advocates would have you believe.

  3. I think she was specifically talking about 7 full meals a day. I agree with you on the eating things 7 times a day being fairly common.

    Permanantly healthy was actually supposed to be permanantly thin. Brainwashed Much? I so am. I rephrased it. That’s what I get from posting before I’ve had any coffee.

  4. BStu permalink

    They “exist” but are still big fat strawman just the same. The number of people in situations like this are profoundly limited and also more complex than it might seem at first glance. (the fat person may be unable to feel satiated, they may have an abnormal metabolism to begin with, they may be victims of feeders, etc) They get a disproportionate amount of attention because of their exposure on talk shows, but in truth they are an incredibly small percentage of the fat population and are only trotted out to justify cultural prejudice.

  5. Rebecca permalink

    I don’t have a whole lot to add, but wouldn’t it be nice if this “fat enabler” aspect of the panic came into public awareness? Then we could make the obvious connection to Phelps rhetoric.

  6. There’s such a thing as true but still a strawperson.

    Yes, there are a few – a very few – documented cases of this sort of dynamic/dysfunction, but it’s still a strawman because it’s so very rare. People have a way of using these incredibly abnormal cases to illustrate everyone rated overweight or obese on the BMI. They assume because there are a handful of people so fat they can’t get out of bed being fed massive amounts of food by a spouse, parent, or staff that all fat people simply lie around having their faces stuffed by others all day.

    Get real, folks! Most of us who are fat work for a living, have families, and may in fact be the ones doing the cooking. I’m fat. My husband doesn’t bring me entire batches of chocolate chip cookies to eat in one sitting anymore than he roasts half a dozen chickens for me every day. I do the cooking and base most of it around what my diabetic husband needs to keep his blood sugar levels at a reasonable level.

    The six hundred pound person being fed seven huge meals a day is a sad oddity, not a map for how people get fat.

  7. sistercoyote permalink

    There’s Feederism, but I don’t know how common it is.

  8. I’m sure there are people like that out there. As you and thoughtracer said, there are enablers of all types out there. The first thing that came to my mind upon reading this is the phenomenon of chubby chasers. I don’t know much about this, and I’m not sure if chubby chasers actually “enable” their partner’s weight gain/maintenance or just are initially attracted to larger people. But she may be thinking of something like this.

    On a personal note, I had an experience kind of like this. I was dating a guy during one of my heavily diet-and-exercise-obsessed periods, and he would get very jealous of any male attention that I received. He wouldn’t go so far as to cook 7 meals a day for me, but he would regularly bring home my favorite high-calorie snack foods, cook high-fat meals, and encourage me to eat more and stop going to the gym so often, usually said and done in the context of fear that if I got any skinnier I’d get more attention and dump him for another man. I did end up dumping him, but for the jealousy (and other problems), not because of any extra attention!

  9. iiii permalink

    If you can imagine it, someone has done it. So, yeah, sure, such people exist.

    But you may want to ask her, how common is this is, really? How many people actually enact this scenario? Push *her* for numbers. She’s the one who keeps bringing it up, after all. And if she doesn’t have numbers, you might ask her why she keeps recurring to a scenario in which fat is both immobilizing and the result of deliberate behavior.

    If she wants to talk about specific people engaged in behavior she finds problematic, encourage her to do that. Generalizing from that single datum is unscientific nonsense, though, and unworthy of her intended profession.

  10. anwen permalink

    In addition to what has been said above, if you think about it, surely someone who weighs 600lb, which is potentially the equivalent of four or five ‘normal weight’ people NEEDS more food than someone of average weight? I mean, I’m on board with the general concept that fat and thin people actually eat similar amounts, and calorie theory is bollocks. But at the same time, just as I need, on an average day, significantly more food than my eight year old daughter, who is a foot shorter than I am and weighs probably a little over a quarter of what I do, someone who weighs three or four times as me is bound to need more food than I do.

  11. littlem permalink

    Thank goodness kira brought up another example so I wouldn’t be the only one out there (as seems to happen all to frequently) disputing majority opinion in this sphere.

    I think your friend was exaggerating to make a point (although that’s just my opinion; she may have meant it literally, in which case I do believe it’s a strawperson).

    What I’ve frequently seen, in addition to sexual-jealousy-based sabotage like kira described, is wanna-be enablers who attempt to harrass and shame people into eating what the WBEs think the person “should” be eating – regardless of whether the eating person is diabetic, lactose intolerant, or facing some other health challenge related in some way (at minimum in part) to nutrition, and is trying to make dietary changes to improve his/her health.

    I’ve seen it in my own family and friends. I’ve seen it in various parts of the country and elsewhere in the Americas. I’ve had it happen to me.

    I’ve seen “Intervention” too; I found it so horrific I had to stop watching it. I’ve read in pscyhological articles that when a person attempts to alter a behavior pattern in a relationship it disturbs the relationship status quo, and so in an unhealthy relationship, no matter how positive the behavioral change might be, the enabler(s) in the relationship will try everything they can to get the person to “change back”.

    The really chilling thing IMO is that there are enabler types who don’t even realize they’re doing that, and will vehemently deny that they’re doing it because they’re unable to get outside themselves to assess their own behavior. And then there are the types who do it — e.g., the “thin” girl who thinks, and has articulated, that if the “fat” girl slims down she will have “more competition” — who are completely aware of what they’re doing (if not completely cognizant of their motives) and who rationalize and justify their behavior and think they’re entirely in the right.

    So, in sum, I think it’s not something that’s restricted to the world of eating and people with larger body weights — which is one of the reasons why I think that, in its less exaggerated state, it’s a more frequent phenomenon, as opposed to less common.

  12. littlem permalink

    Whoa. Sorry, long post.

    Nothing like an issue hitting a personal nerve to loosen the old tongue (or typing fingers, as the case may be).

  13. Bee permalink

    Well, you could describe my BF as a fat enabler of sorts, too. He’s always encouraging me to eat, eat lots, eat well. Thing is, he’s acutely aware of my ED history (anorexia, mostly) and is scared I might relapse if I didn’t eat properly…

  14. But at the same time, just as I need, on an average day, significantly more food than my eight year old daughter, who is a foot shorter than I am and weighs probably a little over a quarter of what I do, someone who weighs three or four times as me is bound to need more food than I do.

    Which makes me wonder why we’ve been running around for at least the last 50 years telling adult women that they shouldn’t “need” any more calories than a 1-year-old baby does, and that if they do they are greedy pigs.

  15. BStu permalink

    Feeders exist but are exceedingly rare when observed on the scale of how many fat people there are in the country. It is possible that many of the “enablers” seen on TV are feeders, though, because you are talking about such a microscopic subset either way.

    It shouldn’t be defined as “enabling” though if a partner withholds support for weight loss. Irregardless of motive, such a construction presupposes the state of being fat as a state of failure and that hostility towards that state is mandatory. Even if one’s reasons for withholding such hostility actually play into that conceit as a means of “damaging” a mate with fatness, its a different issue than “enabling”.

  16. lillian64 permalink

    Most people that are ‘fat’ aren’t extremely obese, but just a little overweight. The largest number of ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ people are in the overweight category. My older boy that is now 16 is on border of overweight and obese. If you look at the BMI pictures on Kate Harding’s site you’ll see that most ‘overweight’ people look healthy and a number of ‘normal’ weight people look rather thin.

    Seven meals a day. When my ex-mother-in-law lived with us, she claimed that I ate one meal a day from the time I woke up to the time I went to work. Anyway, she was more than twice my size. It isn’t the frequency of what you eat, but what you are eating. My honey is ‘morbidly obese’ by BMI charts and he has lots of energy. He works a very high stress job and has to support two households: ours and his ex-wife’s. He makes good money, but doesn’t have a dime to spare.

    Fat people need support like the rest of us. As his new wife, I cook his meals, clean his house, etc. I’m not enabling him to be fat by having food ready when he comes home. I make rather low-fat, vegan meals. I don’t enable him to stay fat by having lots of olive oil, bread, rice and other higher density foods to eat when he is hungry. I also have lots of veggies and fruit in the refrigerator and he can make a snack of those if he so desired, but he doesn’t. I can’t stop him from buying vegan ‘junk’ food (fake meat products) although they’re bad for his diabetes. I can’t even convince him to measure his sugar occasionally.

  17. Personal chef? If only! 😉

  18. Forgot to add that I love cooking too much to ever have a personal chef. Although, having said that, a night off once or twice a week would be okay…

  19. Most people do not realise that metabolism actually is not static — as you exercise, your overall metabolism increases. The more fit you become, the more you metabolise energy. The more weight you lose — and as long as you keep exercise as a major component of you life — the higher your base metabolism becomes. (This is how much energy your body produces if you otherwise live a sedentary lifestyle.)

    I come from a family — as do many cousins — who live in households who produce a potluck-style dinner, where you can have as much — or as little, in some people’s cases, such picky eaters 😛 — as you want. You know what? Do as the Okinawans do: eat only 80% of what your stomach considers to fill itself up, and you’ll lose weight and (maybe!!) live longer as well.

    In some families, giving heapful helpings of food is one way a mother (or parent, if you want to be gender-neutral) shows the love for the child.

  20. anwenwenwenwen permalink

    Which makes me wonder why we’ve been running around for at least the last 50 years telling adult women that they shouldn’t “need” any more calories than a 1-year-old baby does, and that if they do they are greedy pigs.

    Ooh, ooh, I know! It’s because humanity can be unbelievably stupid and fvcked up! Do I get a prize?

    I am pretty convinced that a large part of it is a conscious or (if I’m being charitable) unconscious desire to keep the women in their place – “damn, the women want to have lives of their own! quick, let’s convince them that they have to spend vast amounts of time and energy trying to avoid eating ‘too much’!”

  21. Bee permalink

    Wow, Jersey, I don’t want to be a bitch but I can’t help it: your post seems awfully trollish… but hey, I guess that if it’s been approved by shinobi, then, uh… nevermind *scarpers*

  22. anwenwenwenwen permalink

    eat only 80% of what your stomach considers to fill itself up, and you’ll lose weight and (maybe!!) live longer as well.

    Gee, it’s just THAT SIMPLE! *rolleyes*

    I think I’ll take eating what my body needs, probably staying a stable weight and (hopefully) avoiding making the ill effects from the last eight years of dieting any worse – did you know that the supposed ‘health risks of obesity’ are basically all actually health risks of dieting? The body does not wish to be starved, and as far as I can work out, it’s gotta be healthier to give the body what it needs.

  23. Bee, I thought it was kinda trolly too. But it was on the fence and I don’t have an Anti-Troll policy yet. Actually, I’m kindof excited about my first potential troll!

  24. littlem permalink

    Which makes me wonder why we’ve been running around for at least the last 50 years telling adult women that they shouldn’t “need” any more calories than a 1-year-old baby does, and that if they do they are greedy pigs.

    Patriarchal sub-tenet (although secondary, it’s required, not optional).

    So small men can always feel big.

    No matter who else it hurts. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about teh menz, really.

    Next question?

  25. littlem permalink

    You know, BStu, I admire you greatly, and having read you, I’m perceiving that your FA stance is a bit militant. So I’m not going to tangle with you over your definition of “enabling” other than to say

    1) that perhaps it reads as a bit … absolutist? Didactic? From someone who hasn’t experienced the phenomenon and so isn’t familiar with the myriad of shades in which it can present itself?

    2) that “irregardless” has never been a word. I believe that the phrase you were looking for is either “regardless of” OR “irrespective of”.

  26. anniemcphee permalink

    Vesta I’m glad you said this, and it’s a question that’s bugged me a bit. There was a woman on Dr. Phil (I think) who had a boyfriend (seemed like a dick, actually) who would live in her tiny apartment on her SSI money, and spent his days cooking and cleaning – cooking a pretty large amount of food for her. I have also seen several other shows (at least five come to mind) where there was a hugely fat woman and a man *or* a son or occasionally a daughter cooking for her constantly, feeding her and taking care of her. One was on Maury Povich (she eventually died after going on the Richard Simmons’ diet – his complaint was that her family kept enabling her and bringing her whatever she wanted) and the others were probably mostly on the all-fat-hate channel (DHC.) Yes, men who have women who do the same seem to exist as well.

    In the end I think BStu is probably right. These really are just a tiny percentage of the “super-morbidly-obese” people, but they get the tv shows. Wonder why?

    And littlem…is absolutely everything about male privilege and patriarchy? Do you really see the world in those terms all the time? That sounds confrontational (it’s not meant to be), but it’s genuinely just *really* hard for me to comprehend in the face of my own life experience and those of others I know.

  27. Milton permalink

    I’m 780lbs I’ve been immobile for 3 years now, I’m 20 years old I met my girlfriend on a feeder website and we moved in together, I used to be really active, I rode motorbikes but one day had a accident and got hit by a lorry and fractured my spine and my leg, I almost died but I was lucky and got discharged, I never saw my girlfriend cry so much when she saw the state I was in.

    She took care of me at home but eventually I piled the weight on, I think it broke her emotionally the fact she nearly lost me, now I’m to fat to leave my bed she’s happy as she can look after me all the time, the doctors said my health is fine so I see no problem.

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