This happens to me all the time: I’m in a conversation with someone who thought it was appropriate to make random guesses about my health based only on my size. I’ve quelled my rage, given them the benefit of the doubt, and asked permission to suggest another point of view – to which they’ve agreed. I’ve explained that there are other beliefs out there, I’ve explained about the science. I’ve explained Health at Every Size. I’ve explained that there are plenty of people with the same food and lifestyle choices who have vastly different body sizes – both healthy and unhealthy.
Then it happens. The VFHT: The Vague Future Health Threat. Today’s post is an oldie but goodie about what to do with the old “Your fat will catch up with you” cliche.
It sounds like this “Well, you may be healthy now, but it will catch up to you someday”. They look triumphant because the VFHT is indefensible.
Now instead of completely quelling my rage and giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’m just fighting the urge to set this person on fire. It’s not just the person I’m talking to - it’s also that this is the the 10 zillionth time I’ve heard this over the past 13years. I’m still healthy and I’m starting to wonder if I’ll be 102 years old and still pressured to diet so that it doesn’t “catch up to me”.
I find this to be paternalist, ignorant, unsupported, and annoying for the following reasons:
1. Typically this person has already inaccurately assessed my current health (ie “Nobody can be healthy at your weight”) but now they want me to believe that they can accurately predict my future health.
2. What is this “it” that will catch up to me? I am not outrunning my fat – it’s all right here – I am not a thin woman covered in fat, I am a fat woman who is also a very fit athlete. So what’s going to catch up with me: my perfect blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and triglycerides? My working out and eating healthy? My strength, stamina, and flexibility?
3. Everyone is going to die. There is a 100% chance. I just happen to live in a culture where it almost doesn’t matter why I die – someone will blame it on my fat. That doesn’t make it true. This “it will catch up to you” claim is just not supported by the available science, and of all the people who’ve VFHT’d me in my life, NOT ONE has accepted my invitation to cite his/her research (including doctors).
4. What if I changed the rules of the lottery so that if you lost, you had to pay the lottery money as a penalty? Now not only is your chance of winning infintesimmaly small, but there is a near 100% chance that you’ll end up with LESS money than you had after you bought the ticket. Would you play? Now imagine that this isn’t your money we’re talking about – it’s your long term health. There is not a single study that proves that any weight loss method is effective long term, but many studies indicate that weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) is less healthy than being obese. Since diets have such an abysmal failure rate over statistically significant sample sizes, if I go on just 2 diets where I lose weight and gain it back (and I have a very high chance of doing just that both times), then I’ve likely damaged my current good health and endangered my future health on a roll of the dice that was obviously a losing bet from the beginning. The person VFHTing me is asking that I do something they can’t prove is possible, for a reason they can’t prove is valid, with a very high percentage that I’ll end up less healthy at the end. I’ll pass.
So what do you say to the VFHT?
Here are some possible responses broken down by category. (As always, I never try to change someone else’s behavior. I ask for qualification and/or I set my boundaries and consequences. )
Quick and simple:
- I find it inappropriate for you to make guesses about my future health.
- My health is not your business. (If, at this point, they bring up tax payer dollars or health care costs, I ask them for an itemized list of things for which their local, state, and federal taxes pay, or health problems that people develop for which causation cannot be proven; broken down into categories of things they are happy to pay for, and things they don’t want to pay for. If they don’t happen to have that list on hand, I let them know that I’ll be happy to discuss it once they do.)
- I don’t know of a single statistically significant, properly controlled scientific study that supports that statement. So, either cite your research or I’m going to assume that I know more about this than you do and you are just talking without actually knowing what you’re talking about. (Or “talking out of your ass”, depending on my mood).
- You have no way to know that. Cite your research or I will assume that you are putting my health at risk by talking about things for which you have no actual knowledge or qualifications. That is completely unacceptable to me.
The pointed response (feel free to mix and match questions/responses with boundary statements)
- How dare you make assumptions about my health? You may not discuss my health with me.
- I find you completely unqualified to make that statement. Please keep your opinions about my health to yourself.
- My health is not your business and you are not allowed to comment on it.
- You will immediately stop making guesses and assumptions about my future health or this conversation is over.
The snarky responses (I don’t actually recommend these because I prefer some kind of productive conversation if possible, but it’s fun to think about)
- I had no idea you could predict the future! Would you mind giving me tomorrow’s lottery numbers?
- Actually the fat doesn’t have to catch up with me – I keep it right here…unless you saw some back there that I lost?
- I totally forgot that being thin makes me immortal – thank god you told me or I might have died some day.
- I meant to tell you that I’m actually worried about you. I read on a website that we are about to experience another ice age and without fat stores to keep you alive and warm, you’re absolutely going to freeze to death. I know it sounds crazy but it was on the internet so you know it must be true and I’m going to tell everyone!
Remember that you get to choose how people treat you. If you decide that they don’t get to VFHT you, then you just need to put that plan into action, set boundaries and consequences and get after it.
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