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Fat and Dangerous

August 14, 2008

This comment from the “Dangers of FA” Post liked at EAC really struck me today:

Did it make sense because her arguments were persuasive or because it was what you wanted to hear all along?

This has actually been part of my FA journey. I am big on being skeptical, and evaluating evidence as dispassionately as possible. So when I found the fatosphere and started reading about how I didn’t have to hate myself because I was fat, and I wasn’t necessarily going to drop dead at any second, and maybe it was just genetics. Well, it still seems too good to be true sometimes.

I’ve read a lot and thought a lot. I try to be skeptical.  And I still feel like FA is right. We can be healthy and fit without focusing on being thin. We can eat food without needing to beat ourselves up.

Here is what the poster says:

On numerous occasions people write what can only be labeled as careless eating habits. Claiming that if you want something go ahead and have it. While I am not against the mentality of eating whatever one wants, one needs to realize that overeating never serves a good purpose.(1)

Many FA sites spew contradictions. I have observed people claiming that weight loss as an impossible, unreasonable goal.(2) Most argue that they live a fat but fit lifestyle exercising regularly and eating well. Yet they also take pride in reckless eating.(1) Some go further insisting that excess weight is harmless to health.(3)

FA sites urge acceptance of something that can be changed–excess weight (2)–while trying to change what they cannot: the reality of its health risks.(3) To be sure, some of us are born with larger bone structures, or lower metabolisms but few of us were born to be obese. We can change how much we exercise and what foods we choose. (2) Unlike acceptance, these choices require effort. Let’s put forth the effort and help each other.

They make a few assumptions in there that I think are not entirely valid so I will attempt to summarize them and address them.  The numbers in parenthesis show where I am getting the following points from(

Point one, A summary, FA advocates ‘overeating” and ‘reckless eating'”

Overeating and reckless eating are concepts based on the idea that food has a moral value. They are based on the idea that there is an amount of food that is appropriate and healthy, and beyond that lies obesity and eventually DOOM. The idea that food has a moral value is something that is generally rejected by the HAES/FA community. (I mean in a health conscious way, not a morally conscious way.)

That does not mean that we advocate eating in a way that is harmful to ones body. Read this post please. The idea that eating whatever you want will lead to endless binges on chocolate chip cookies, is simply false. And I think that’s what the poster was missing. Yes, We advocate eating whatever you want, because we know that whatever you want, if you’re really listening to your body, will include foods that are healthy for you and that fulfill a nutritional need. HAES advocates eating what you are hungry for when you are hungry for it and stopping when you feel full. Does that really sound like such a reckless and harmful idea?

Point two, Permanent Weight Loss is possible

Look, I’ve tried to lose weight, and so have a lot of people in the FA community. Now I supposed that the world at large would like for us to believe that we are bad bad fat fat failures for not being the skinniest us that we can be.  This article (linked from here) talks about how 70% of weight can be attributed to genes, and how difficult it is to make fat people thin and thin people fat.  It is clearly possible for some people but please excuse me if I decide not to continue torturing myself after having found out that it is not possible for me.

The poster asserts that “We can change how much we exercise and what foods we choose.”  And they are right, we can, and do.  I think the thing that she is missing here is that those changes may not result in any actual long term weight loss on our part.

Point three, Fat is really bad for you and all these FA people are delusional.

Ah, Compelling argument.  There are other arguments as well, that fitness and lifestyle are actually a larger part of determining health than the amount of fat tissue on ones body.  (But if you were fit and healthy you woulnd’t be fat?  Please see response to point 2.)  There was even a recent study that came out showing that SHOCK some thin people are just as unhealthy as some fat people and some fat people are actually healthy.

Is this idea really so Dangerous?  If there is evidence to back it up?  Is accepting ourselves and living our lives the way we want to really leaving us on the precipice of doom?   I doubt it.  Even in if it is I’d rather be happy on the precipice of doom than miserable and living forever.

Frankly I think this commentor, who has put so much thought and effort into his “total transformation,”  and the poster should reconsider the quote above. Is the reason you don’t like FA really because you think we are wrong? Or are you afraid that we are right?  That the diets, the desperate work outs, the fantasy that you will someday be thin and gorgeous and everything will be perfect are all a waste of time.

Who is really in danger here?  Us?  Or your limited “thin is in” worldview?

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27 Comments
  1. LilahMorgan permalink

    I just read through that thread and – yeah – that poster just seems to have a desperate fear of losing control and to be convinced that advocating eating one cookie means advocating eating a hundred. I posted over there, but what really struck me was the repeat of the idea that FA is dangerous because restaurant portions are too big. As if intuitive eating doesn’t specifically say that you CAN stop eating when you’re full, that you don’t have to eat someone else’s predetermined idea of a portion.

  2. April D permalink

    And I think an awesome point 4 would be: Also, quite frankly, someone else’s eating habits are really and truly none of anyone else’s business!

    “The poster asserts that “We can change how much we exercise and what foods we choose.” And they are right, we can, and do. I think the thing that she is missing here is that those changes may not result in any actual long term weight loss on our part.”

    Exactly. Movement and getting the nutrition your body needs is essential to EVERYONE; yet even with BOTH of those; getting thin is not a guarantee. Nor is it a panacea to amazing health; nothing will give a person a “get out of sickness or death free” card.

  3. Marste permalink

    I have to say, the first time I really, truly started to believe that just maybe, PERHAPS, I-know-it-sounds-crazy, but it might be true that some people really WERE just fat no matter what, was when someone pointed out to me, “You believe that there are people who are naturally slender, right? Who can eat like crap and not gain weight? [Why, yes. Yes, I do.] Then how can you statistically support the liklihood that people who defy ‘calories in, calories out’ exist on one end of the spectrum – that is, the thin spectrum – but not on the other end?”

    The glare from the lightbulb over my head was HUGE.

    The same thing for health: if fat is the boogeyman we’ve all been taught, then it would NOT BE POSSIBLE to have unhealthy thin people. So if there are unhealthy thin people, it follows that there must be healthy fat ones (and of course, vice versa on both sides, as well).

  4. Unlike acceptance, these choices require effort. Let’s put forth the effort and help each other.

    Are you fricking kidding me?? What world is s/he living in that acceptance doesn’t require any effort? If he’s actually read fatosphere blogs, s/he would know how much effort we have to put into accepting both ourselves and others. Every day. Not to mention the effort it takes to get other people to even CONSIDER trying to accept us the way we are.

    *sounds of utter disgust*

  5. nuckingfutz permalink

    I’ve read a lot and thought a lot. I try to be skeptical. And I still feel like FA is right. We can be healthy and fit without focusing on being thin. We can eat food without needing to beat ourselves up.

    I’d also like to point out that at least 90% of the people who write in the fatosphere give links to medical studies and/or articles (usually related to said studies) as PROOF that we are right.

    The fact is, these aren’t things that we’ve just pulled out of thin air. We didn’t produce these studies out of our rectal cavities – they are REAL studies, done by REAL researchers. (I freely admit that there are more studies published that come to different conclusions, but as we all know, these studies ARE being done.)

    The people that like to think we’re all delusional conveniently miss that point.

  6. Betarraga permalink

    “Then how can you statistically support the liklihood that people who defy ‘calories in, calories out’ exist on one end of the spectrum – that is, the thin spectrum – but not on the other end?””

    I have trouble with this because everyone’s body is different, that is, some people burn more calories e.g., while sitting still, than others. Therefore their caloric needs are bigger. Also, different people will metabolize food in a different way.

    Which just means that people are all *different* and have different needs to maintain their weight. But I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that weight could materialize out of thin air.

    Does that make sense?

  7. Hi there, I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds in posting here too. I’d just like to say this was really refreshing to read after a loooong, pointless debate. You articulated everything so much better than me. (I felt like I was failing an entire movement by ending the discussion between me and TT in there). I’m going to agree with April D here… I was feeling point 4 as the discussion turned towards restaraunt portions and calorie postings. You just gotta let people do their own thing and not make judgments against them. It’s none of our business what other people are eating or if they’re on the treadmill three hours a day–and even if we do and they’re not meeting our “expectations,” that’s no reason to cast judgment. We can only worry about ourselves.

    PS Shinobi, do you mind if I add your site to my blogroll?

  8. You are so not overstepping your bounds in any way shape or form. Welcome! I love comments!!!! I totally respect you for engaging with those guys. I just felt like I needed a whole post to really articulate what I felt was wrong with her post. I couldn’t even get GOING on the comments.

    Also, I would be honored to be on your blogroll.

  9. Marste permalink

    Betarraga, I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not sure it reconciles. I’m not sure how different metabolisms translates into weight “materializing out of thin air.” Some people (like my sister) can eat a lot, and still wear teeny-tiny clothes. Others (like me) eat less, but weigh more. Sometimes they weigh a lot more, just as my sister weighs a lot less. Those different metabolisms cut both ways.

    Also, the phrase “materializes our of thin air” is something I read as saying, “At some point, you must have eaten that weight on to your body.” I could be wrong in my interpretation, but if that were true, it wouldn’t explain people like my sister, who on the other (thin) end of the spectrum eats 4,000-5,000 calories a day (not all of them healthy) and wears a size 2. (And there’s nothing medically wrong with her; she’s had all the tests.) By the “calories in, calories out” standard, she should weight quite a bit more. But at 4,000 calories, she maintains her weight. (At 3500, she loses weight quite rapidly.)

    Now, I will grant you that she’s an extreme example. But by her very existence, she makes the case for the opposite extreme example. And there is a whole range in the middle, on both sides.

    That’s what I mean when I say that it’s illogical to admit the existence of one end of the spectrum and then deny that the other end exists. It just doesn’t make sense to admit one but not the other.

  10. Marste permalink

    Um. Shinobi, I’m sorry for that long comment. I didn’t realize how much it had gotten away from me. 🙂

  11. Marste, I think you made a good point. For future good points, write as much as you need to.

    Also…………………..

    *New Comments policy in place. Don’t freaking apologize for commenting when you actually have something to say!*

  12. Elizabeth Twist permalink

    Thanks for the post, Shinobi: it inspired me to go over to bentlyr and comment, although DollyAnn is right, the debate is getting pretty durned long. But my sense of bentlyr’s position is that there’s a lot of serious consideration going on there. It’s a case where I think gentle debate might actually be helpful. Doesn’t hurt to offer people an alternative perspective, right? Hopefully bentlyr will take the time to read posts like yours.

  13. That is an awesome response to that post. Very well put.

  14. I liked your comment about IE there as well Juliet. I made one of my own as well.

    Not to be snarky but it seems like someone has a lot of criticism for something they did not fully understand.

  15. Bree permalink

    It amazes me that so many continue to lump all fat people as lazy overeaters. And even if they do overeat and don’t exercise, they still should be treated like a human being. Unfortunately, those that don’t get it think they have every right to snark on fat bodies, they know automatically what our diet is, and what’s extremely irritating is that they do it under the guise of being concerned for our health. They aren’t. They just don’t like looking at or being around fat people.

    There are a million blogs and sites on the Internet for fat phobia. Why are they threatened by a tiny portion of the web that promotes big people actually being treated like people? Why do they need to come to FA blogs and shill diets and weight loss tips knowing for the most part they will not be listened to?

  16. Bettaraga, people are not bomb calorimeters. We can control what we put in our mouths and how much activity we get, but we can’t control much of the metabolic process, inlcluding (but not limited to):

    * how efficiently the body extract calories from our food (e.g. Person A’s body may extract 50 calories from and apple while Person B’s body extracts 100)

    * whether our bodies decide to burn those calories or store them

    * whether our bodies store fat or muscle first

    * whether our bodies burn fat or muscle first

    Person A may extract few calories from food, burn most of it immediately, store to muscle first, and burn fat first while Person B extracts a lot of calories from food, burn little of it immediately, store to fat first, and burn muscle first. All other things (food intake, exercise, height, etc.) being equal, Person A will be much slimmer than Person B, and Person C, with a mixture of their metabolic functions would weigh somewhere in the middle.

    I highly recommend reading Paul Campos’s “The Diet Myth” and Gina Kolata’s book “Rethinking Thin,” an excerpt of which is here.

  17. Oh, I also meant to add, the faux health concern doesn’t move me at all. I don’t owe it to anyone else to be healthy. The whole “it costs more in medical treatment” argument never takes into account sports injuries or the injuries/joint damage incurred by those who exercise obsessively, either.

  18. bentlyr permalink

    shinobi42 I am sorry that I unintentionally implied that FA people are delusional. That was never one of my goals. The post I made was really a learning tool for myself.

    In the end I realized that intuitive eating is very similar to what I have followed throughout my life, only I prearrange my portion size (I lack the discipline others apparently have). I imagine it doesn’t work for everyone but as long as it works for some it’s definitely a good thing. I will remain critical of the method until solid numbers in several studies have been established.

    As for FA, I will continue to read and hope to see some changes in the world as to the way people view people of different sizes. I have nothing against anyone here, I just have a few different views on health and well-being. In the end we all want is to live a healthy life, so as long as we get there we’ll all be in a better place.

  19. La di Da permalink

    Marste, of course the fat on naturally fat people didn’t appear “out of nowhere”. But where does all that supposedly excess energy consumed by naturally thin people go? People have extraordinarily little control over their metabolism. If your genes mean that your natural weight hovers around 300lbs, then your body will fight tooth and nail to get you to what your DNA says is correct weight. It might slow down your metabolism, running certain bodily processes slower than average, to use less energy, to direct what energy it receives to be stored in adipose tissue. It might trigger hunger hormones to get you to eat more. If you deliberately lose weight, or even unintentionally do so, it will probably go “Hey, that’s not right” and do its thing even more intensely to fight this perceived danger.

    Consider for a moment people who get gastric bypass surgery. Most of their stomach and small intestines are disconnected or removed. They simply no longer have the physical means to take in normal amounts of food, nor have the physical means to absorb a good deal of the nutrients from the food. It’s surgically-induced malnutrition. Yet there are quite a few people who do not lose any weight from this procedure. There are even more who lose hundreds of pounds and then regain it all and often more as on any other restrictive diet – while still not having the ability to “overeat” and sticking to their tiny amounts of food. Obviously this weight gain is not coming out of thin air either. Your metabolism is trickier than most people can imagine.

  20. “Why do they need to come to FA blogs and shill diets and weight loss tips knowing for the most part they will not be listened to?”

    According to TT: “While the FA folks make a big deal out of how they must “protect their space,” such seems to presume a certain amount of intellectual weakness on the part of their readers.”

    Because we’re trying to promote a viewpoint that is generally accepted by a very small number of people, they need to accuse us of being all totalitarian and anti-free speech for wanting to keep that small space. Riiiight. You don’t go to FA blogs if you don’t agree with them. You go to any other health/medical site, and they tell you what you want to hear: “Obesity kills, you’re a fatass, Fatty McFatty, lol your fat rawr rawr rawr.” If it weren’t a threatening movement, there’d be no point for these guys to be making a fight against it–it’d be like, “We’re the people for the advancement of Crayola markers over Roseart ones! Join us!” It wouldn’t be even worth your time.

    But, obviously, *something* is threatening if a small blog space and pro-FA-only omment policies are such a bad thing.

  21. Marste permalink

    La di Da, that’s exactly the point I was making. The “materialize out of nowhere” bit was a quote from Betarraga above me.

    Hence the (true) example of my sister. She is a tiny little person whose set point is very, very low. So low in fact, that she feels unhealthy if she doesn’t actively work to maintain her weight. And even with that work, she wears a size 2. I eat a LOT less than she does, and at a 12-14, I am a solid “in-betweener.” She and I are the same height, and although I freely admit she gets more exercise than I do, she is no Olympic athlete in training, nor am I a couch potato. Our metabolisms are just very different. That’s exactly what I was saying. 🙂

  22. La di Da permalink

    Marste> Oops, sorry. 🙂 I’ll learn reading comprehension one day!

  23. Elizabeth permalink

    As for weight materializing out of nowhere–obviously it doesn’t. If I weigh 300lbs, I ate food that created that fat (and muscle and bone and brain, and so on). However, I may have eaten the same amount of food per day as an “average” weight person, and just be much more efficient a machine (the thought implicit in the question is that of course I must have eaten more). Going below that caloric intake will have very real, and very unpleasant, consequences for me just as it would for a thin person despite my “reserves.”

    But maybe I do eat more. Maybe it’s natural for me to eat more, just as it may be natural for someone over 6′ to eat more than someone under 5′. If 4000 calories a day maintains my weight and my health, then, as above, going under it will have REAL consequences in how I function and the state of my health. And given the stubbornness of the human body it may, in fact, not cause me to lose much weight at all.

    In other words, even though we are physically created by what we eat (obviously), everyone’s body does it differently. Asking people to change that because you don’t like how they look, is asking people to suffer for no better reason than a futile attempt to eliminate difference.

    And joining the FA movement because it was “what I wanted to hear”? I literally wept when I first started to believe that dieting might be futile. Even after I got that far, I believed heartily in my own repulsiveness–I just realized I probably wasn’t going to be able to change it by more physical suffering. I don’t struggle with HAES and this point–it makes sense to me. I don’t try to make my body smaller, just healthier. But the part of FA that says I am not a sub-human nothing? I struggle with that EVERY day.

  24. Tiana permalink

    It might trigger hunger hormones to get you to eat more.

    Interesting thought. This is one of the most important points actually; that even if you ARE eating more than others, it doesn’t have to mean that you’re overeating. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the next discussion that comes up. *arms self*

  25. Tiana: *arms self*

    DollyAnn: *salutes her* 🙂

  26. Popoi permalink

    Marste: “Also, the phrase “materializes our of thin air” is something I read as saying, “At some point, you must have eaten that weight on to your body.” I could be wrong in my interpretation, but if that were true, it wouldn’t explain people like my sister, who on the other (thin) end of the spectrum eats 4,000-5,000 calories a day (not all of them healthy) and wears a size 2.”

    Calories out includes unused energy as well. To use the oft-maligned bunsen burner analogy, what gets burned might vary depending on what you give it and how, but you can’t possibly burn more than you put in to it.

    Elizabeth:”Going below that caloric intake will have very real, and very unpleasant, consequences for me just as it would for a thin person despite my “reserves.””

    The reason behind storing fat in the first place is to allow the body to keep functioning when energy is less plentiful. What kind of consequences are you talking about here?

  27. Natalie permalink

    The thread over there definitely requires sanity watchers points.

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