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I feel better when I’m…..

May 9, 2008

I was reading the comments over at Big Fat Deal’s interview with Pasta Queen and I started arguing a bit with a commentor named Mary. I am not going to address her comments in great detail.  So think of her not as someone I am responding to here, but as someone whose words inspired this post.  Please go read her comments for yourself if you would like.

She made a comment about how some people feel physically and emotionally uncomfortable when they are overweight.  My response, and indeed the FA 101 response to physical discomfort when it comes to being overweight is that these people’s bodies are not strong enough to support them.  The solution to this is to engage in fun physical activity that helps them feel stronger and be healthier.  This may or may not result in weight loss.  But the goal should be overall physical health.

However Emotional discomfort because one is overweight is an entirely different issue.  Fat does not make you sad.  Fat does not make you feel bad about yourself. I do not think anyone has yet proved a chemical link between fat and depression.  (They have however found correlations between attempted weight loss and depression.  Source.)  Fat is a perfectly natural process that the body engages in to store excess energy against times when it may be needed.  Feeling sad about getting fat is technically about as rational as feeling sad about putting money in a savings account.  We gain weight as we age to protect our bodies, and sick people lose weight because their body is burning its stores.  Getting fat in and of itself is not a negative thing.

There are some negative behaviors that can result in gaining weight, people with Binge Eating Disorder are a classic example of them.  But these are not again because the fat is bad, they are because of negative and destructive behaviors that result in fat.  Getting rid of those negative behaviors may OR MAY NOT result in getting rid of the fat.

People feel bad about themselves when they get fat because society has told them that it is wrong.  They have told people that being fat or even gaining a few pounds makes them, ugly, unattractive, lazy, stupid, worthless and a million other negative adjectives.  While simultaneously thinness is held up as this golden glowing standard.  Everyone fantasizes about how their life will be when they are thin, the fabulous things they will do when they are thin.  Thinness is the answer.

So here is the problem.  Not everyone CAN be thin.  Not everyone is going to be able to lose all their excess weight and keep it off.  For some people this is just not physically possible.  For other people it is an extremely difficult lifestyle to maintain.  Some people go up and down and up and down.  Some people gain weight for medical reasons, pregnancy, medication, or even thyroid problems.

So if an individual’s emotional comfort is tied so closely to their weight, they may be setting themselves up for a miserable life.

If you feel better when you’re thin, then you’re really unhappy when you’re pregnant.

If you feel better when you’re thin, then you’ll be miserable during and after menopause.

If you feel better when you’re thin, then you will be seriously depressed when you’re on steroids.

(sorry for assuming everyone reading this was female)

However, if we make attempts to tie our happiness to things that we do, things we can control and that are lasting we will have a better chance at happiness.

I feel better when I walk my dog.

I feel better when I go dancing.

I feel better when I take a Karate class.

I feel better when I eat an amazing spinach salad for lunch.

I feel better when I sing.

These are things that I can control, that I can chose to do that make me happy.  And even if I get pregnant (oh god please no) or have to go on steroids, or if I never lose another pound again, I have these actions that make my body and my mind feel good.  I don’t have to rely on a number on a scale or a label in my pants.

“But I can’t change how I FEEEEEEEL.”  That’s probably true.  I mean, I’m still unhappy a lot.  Like when I try on a stupid bridesmaids dress that makes me look like a pyramid and needs 16″ taken in around the top and barely fits my hips.  Or when people make rude comments about my weight.  That freaking sucks.

You can’t make it so you’re never unhappy about your weight and how you look.  But you can recognize that your dislike of your body is not rooted in you.  It is rooted in societal pressures.  You can say “Look brain, I know, you’re unhappy that we don’t look like catherine zeta jones like the TV says we should.  But you know what, I can’t fix that, it’s society that has trained you to feel this way.  So lets go do [yoga, water arobics, volunteer work, some baking, needlepoint, etc].  Lets feel good about ourselves for that, and forget about this whole thin thing, because that’s probably not happening.”

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13 Comments
  1. Miriam Heddy permalink

    Thank you. Seriously, reading both the interview and some of the replies, my head was starting to explode.

    You note that our feelings are, “rooted in societal pressures.” And that phrase–that notion of society and its pressures is entirely missing from that interview. The closest the author manages to recognizing societal pressures is her impressions of whatever part of the fatosphere she visited, somehow missing that this teeny tiny virtual world of fat activists in no way reflects the larger fleshspace in which being fat is regularly and consistently equated with gluttony, disease, ugliness, stupidity, weakness of will and mind, and finally death.

    The idea that recognizing these things and contextualizing people’s “choices” within them seems infinitely threatening to people who so value the idea of the self-driven, entirely autonomous “individual” who makes decisions about his/her self and weight without being influenced by anyone (and yet who somehow still needs to be protected from the radical FA meanies who fail to embrace him/her when he/she pursues thinness.)

  2. Thanks Miriam. I was really confused about the desire of the non FA people in the comments to be validated by us.

  3. Er – yeah I third (or fourth) the sentiment. My gaskets were popping.

    I don’t much have the fantasy of being thin, since I grew up skinny and my life sucked in pretty much every way imaginable. That doesn’t stop me from feeling bad about being fat sometimes – how could anyone not in this society? But I know that thinness isn’t happy-making. I’ve also successfully dieted (when I wasn’t very fat – about size 14) and become thin again, and there was a definite rush, and a “high” there…that’s not the same as happiness either. It was fun and exciting, but it certainly doesn’t carry you through longterm. It also doesn’t feel good enough long enough to make always being hungry worth it. I figure I was hungry most of the time as a kid (miserably so) and I was hungry when I was dieting, and when I got thin again, and when I tried to diet and eventually it failed to work altogether, and I’m done. Food also makes me happy, and when I do stop and bother to figure out how many “calories” I’m eating it’s quite normal (sometimes even below normal) amounts yet it’s enough that I enjoy cooking, and eating very much. I enjoy not being hungry. It is a nice feeling not to always be hungry. Being hungry is unhappy-making, though being thin isn’t really happy-making. The tradeoff isn’t worth it if you ask me.

    But then I’m shrill and rude and envious. Apparently. You know, one of *those* fat people. 😉

  4. She responded at BFD

    Nice to go read you turned a whole post into what I see as a very intentional misreading of pretty much everything I was saying. Plus I didn’t think we were “arguing,” but, whatever. Trying to convey one’s feelings to someone who refuses to listen or hear because their agenda is screaming too loudly in their heads is futile, I guess. Good bye.

    :-/

  5. And something totally absent from the discussion is the fact/theory (depending where you are) that weight loss dieting causes weight gain ultimately. You can bet your old booty that a 400-lb. person has dieted *extensively* in her/his lifetime.

  6. Becky permalink

    The mentality of the commenters on BFD has always seemed to me to be less: “I accept myself the way I am” and more: “I’m trying to change my size, but in the meantime I’m trying not to hate myself so much.” Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. I think it’s a good place for people who want to stop hating themselves, but aren’t ready to give up the fantasy of being thin. And I’ve seen more than one person say BFD was a “gateway drug” for them, that they started there and moved on to full-blown fat acceptance. So I do think BFD is a good site, but I don’t really consider it fat acceptance.

  7. Caitlin permalink

    What gets me is the belief that by not smiling beatifically on someone’s attempts to diet themselves down to half their bodyweight, FA advocates are somehow being both mean and uninclusive. There is a whole WORLD of people out there who will champion someone’s attempts to lose weight. There is an entire CULTURE geared up to reward that effort, and remind the newly thin every day how superior they are to all those fat people they left behind when they decided they “preferred” not to be one of them. (Because that’s all there is to it, dontcha know.)

    So why is it such a big deal that the FA crew (yo) aren’t behind PQ? Why does she need to be validated by a movement that, by its very definition, is not conducive to weight-loss dieting? “I refused to accept my fat and the fat acceptance people seemed to have some kind of problem with me!” Well, yes. What exactly is confusing you?

    But hey, being anything but an echo chamber is apparently rude, whiny, shrieky and hysterical (though that was retracted), and whatever else I can’t remember. Don’t have thoughts, folks. It’s bad for everyone.

  8. Feeling sad about getting fat is technically about as rational as feeling sad about putting money in a savings account.

    Thank you for that. 🙂

    I’ll have to grind some of your points into my head until I know them by heart so that I finally have a few smart responses at hand, the next time my boyfriend gives me the “but but but I feel uncomfortable in my body!” card.

  9. I absolutely agree that we all need ways of finding our happy without relying on outside validation. Here are some of the things that make me feel better:

    Baking (particularly pies, which I so utterly rock at)
    Making lace (it’s a zen thing which results in pretty at the end; what’s not to love?)
    Cuddling my cat
    Cuddling my husband
    Watching lots of sci fi shows
    Taking a walk
    Going to my favorite neighborhood bistro and joining in on random discussions (it’s that sort of place, and I love it!)
    Bubble baths
    Rubber duckies
    Singing
    Cooking a special meal from scratch
    Reading a good book (Anthony Trollope is a particular favorite)
    Having a really goooooood cup of coffee
    Putting on a kickass outfit and heading for the theater
    Daydreaming about my perfect kitchen.

    Nope, losing weight is not on that list. I did lose a lot of weight over the course of a couple years in the wake of getting past a streak of bingeing for several years. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy seeing those pounds go away or buying new clothes in smaller sizes. On the other hand, the weight loss was an effect of getting past an unhealthy behavior and becoming a happier person. After about the first dress size, I stopped worrying about it so much and decided whatever size I ended up at was fine with me. Yes, that included the concept that I’d be all right if I wound up bigger than ever and able to enjoy my life.

    I did happen to lose a lot of weight. I do like me better now than I did when I started. The thing is, I don’t delude myself into thinking that the weight loss is the direct cause of me feeling better about who I am. They just happened to come along at the same time. Correlation is not causality, after all. If I couldn’t love my fat self, I’d still have a long way to go, because I’m sure as hell not thin. But the fact is I do like me. I like me in large part because I do nice things for me and don’t stress about the weight. And I treat myself nicely because I like me.

    It’s a damn good feeling.

  10. BStu permalink

    Becky, I think that’s the perfect description of a certain subset of diet blogs. The issue I have is when those blogs are called fat acceptance. They aren’t. They just aren’t. That’s not saying that they are the most evil thing on the planet. Its just saying they aren’t fat acceptance. Which is fine. What concerns me is that the desire to brand that mentality as fat acceptance dilutes FA past meaning anything and that’s something I think is harmful. Its not that these sites are bad, but that FA is something different. If it isn’t, then what kind of a gateway is that community really going to be? If there isn’t something more, what can they be lead into? Fat acceptance needs to be something different. We’re trying to change the way fat people are treated. By society and by themselves. We can’t do that if we try to make sure everyone feels comfortable and unchallenged. We just can’t.

  11. Twistie, I totally forgot to include cat cuddling in my post, good call. mmm Kitties.

  12. I’ve been trying to lose weight, but the weight keeps find me. However, I’m losing fat tissue and gaining muscle tissue and becoming stronger. I don’t think it’s the weight that matters, but the attitude. I walk long distance now without fear. I can jog 30 minutes straight. I can ride my bike an hour. I have energy to do housework and yardwork. I have more patience.

    I think exercise and eating healthy are good in their own right. I think ‘dieting’ takes away from the value of exercising and eating a healthy diet. I hear that too many people stop exercising and eat healthy when the weight stops coming off. It shouldn’t be about the weight, but about feeling good. I think because of this that dieters should be part of FA. They need to know that doing the right things for their health may not always lead to weight loss but it still leads to feeling better. It feels good to eat when I’m hungry. It feels good to go to sleep on an empty stomach sometimes. It feels good to eat food that will give me energy.

    I’ve never cared for the taste of overly sweet food. I rather eat an apple than a piece of cheesecake. The apple tastes better and is more satisfying. I’ve recall the last time I had cheesecake I had this feeling like it was tasteless and with each bite I hope that it would have flavor. My memory told me that cheesecake had flavor and my tastebuds didn’t agree. I kept eating it hoping that there would be flavor and there never was. I’ve had the same type of feeling why eating chocolate and other overly sweet foods. Now, I go into the pastry shop, but I look and not buy. It’s cheaper and more satisfying.

    Just because I’m overweight doesn’t mean that I’m on a diet if I don’t want to eat something sweet when it’s offered.

  13. Anwen permalink

    Man, I saw some of the responses to That Post on the weekend, but the blog was down so I’m only just able to read the original thing… I just mostly want to say that you and Caitlin and AnnieMcPhee and ooh, just SO MANY people involved rock in an almighty fashion. Also, I am slightly bemused that Mo asked PQ a question which said something about ‘well, you lost weight and kept it off!!!’ when a cursory glance at the book’s page on Amazon shows that PQ reached her goal weight in, er, Feb 07. So basically she’s not even a statistical anomaly yet – she’s got another four years of maintaining to go before she can claim those dizzy heights.

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