VFHT: The Vague Future Health Threat

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.  I’ve explained that health is not entirely within our control, that it is neither an obligation nor a barometer of worthiness.  I say that I’m happy with the prioritization of my health and the path I’ve chosen to support my health.

Then it happens.  The VFHT:  The Vague Future Health Threat.

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 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.  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).

3.  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:

 

  • It’s not your place 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.)

More detailed/scientific

  • 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?  it’s not your place to 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.
  • I appreciate what I assume are good intentions, but I’m simply not interested in your opinions about my health.

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 weird but it was on the internet so you know it must be true and I think you should immediately go and tell everyone.

Remember that in many cases 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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One Size Fits Most – The Halloween Version

My blog gang is blogging about Halloween today. Fair warning – this  starts and ends with Halloween but the middle bits strayed a little…

I was shopping for Halloween Costumes yesterday.  There was one that said “One Size Fits Most”.  In small print it said that it fit women’s sizes up to 14.

That really made me think.  Every time I turn around, I hear that 60+% of Americans are overweight or obese, so shouldn’ t the tag read  “One Size Fits Less than One Third”.

Let’s be clear, I seriously question the validity of the percentage of overweight and obese Americans  because the standard for what constitutes “overweight” was set by diet companies.  But let’s pretend that it’s a true statistic.  In that case, we’re the majority in this country and yet we’re still not treated very well.

If we’re really 60+%, then why don’t lobby the media:  We want to see more positive representations of ourselves and less body hating and photoshopping or they’ll lose 60+ % of their customers?  This doesn’t just affect fat people either, studies show that 8 out of 10 women are dissatisfied with their bodies.  As the majority, I think it’s time we stand up for our thin body-dissatisfied sisters and say that enough is enough – we aren’t buying any more magazines that promise “our best bikini body in 15 minutes”.

At 60+%, we control to vote in the United States, but 25+ states have considered or are considering taxes on fat people –  despite the fact that nobody has any proven way to lose weight.  It doesn’t even matter that I have perfect health at my current size.  My picture of health doesn’t fit my state’s frame so I could get taxed for my size. (Someone’s now thinking about commenting with the VFHT – Vague Future Health Threat  – that although I’m healthy now “it” will catch up with me “someday”, don’t worry I’ll cover that tomorrow).

At the end of the day, if we want change then we have to take responsibility for claiming our power as the majority. Many people of size choose to buy into the idea that their size determines their worth and that they don’t deserve to be treated well.  It’s an easy thing to do –  we are constantly told that we are lazy, we are unhealthy, we are costing billions in healthcare and lost work.  When you look into those studies you’ll find that there are some serious questions as to their validity.  For example, the Congressional Budget Office released a report saying that Obesity WAS NOT the reason for the rise in health care costs  Using that article as a basis, the Boston Globe published an article called “Obesity’s Punch to the Gut” where they said that Obesity WAS the cause of the rise in health care costs.  How did they get from point A to point B?  They left out words in quotes, and they used those partial quotes to construct a message that was polar opposite from the source material.  I have no idea why they would do that, but they weren’t the only ones who did.

As I talked about yesterday there is no such thing as a “healthy weight” . We know that two people can fit the same profile – sedentary, non-nutritious diet, health problems – and one can be fat while the other stays thin. It’s a big, flaming sack of duh that it’s absolutely unfair to single out the one who is fat for higher taxes, workplace discrimination and poor treatment, while the person who remains thin doesn’t suffer any of those consequences despite the same lifestyle and choices.  You could say that’s all trick and no treat (you might especially say that if you were trying to fit this blog into the Halloween theme of your blog gang).

Remember that regardless of what your situation is as a fat person, there is a thin person in the same situation who just happens to have a different body size.  If you want to become healthier, I suggest that you consider the idea of Health at Every Size and make healthy behaviors your goal rather than a particular weight or size.   (You can check out Linda Bacon’s site on the subject here)

No matter what, you deserve to be treated well with respect and equality.  If those stats are right and we are the majority of the population in this country, then we have a powerful tool to implement change. So have a fun, happy and safe Halloween and while you’re searching for that perfect costume and going to those parties, know that the only thing that someone can tell by your weight is how much you weigh.

Check out the rest of the gang’s blogs:

Motherhoot

Kernut the Blond

Holly B

Elisa Croatia

There Is No Healthy Weight

There is no such thing as a “Healthy Weight”.  People have a certain level of health (which can be judged through metabolic tests or physical fitness etc) and people have a weight (which can be judged in pounds, kilos, stone etc.).  These are two separate measurements.

The idea of combining them has a lot to do with the use of  Body Mass Index (BMI) (a ratio of weight and height) as a measure of health by  insurance companies who wanted to save money by not having to perform actual tests. Helping them out were diet and pharmaceutical companies who found that if they could convince people that anyone over a certain BMI would have dire health consequences, it was easier to convince them to buy their stuff.

They got on committees within the CDC,  and soon 3 people with ties to pharmaceutical companies that create diet drugs, in concert with the chief “scientist” at weight watchers,  managed to convince the CDC to lower what was considered a healthy BMI and then recommend their products as a solution to the problem that they had just created.  This process meant that about 60% of Americans became “overweight” overnight and we were off to the races. The next day newspapers ran the story “Millions of Americans Don’t Know They’re Fat”, but failed to mention it was because less than 24 hours ago those 25 million Americans had been “normal weight”.

Now despite having perfect health by any measurement, many fat people (including me) can’t get health insurance.  Healthy fat people who do have health insurance are encouraged to undergo a risky major surgery with an extremely poor success rate at 20K a pop so that their bodies can be smaller, and the diet industry makes over 60 Billion Dollars a year. Meanwhile plenty of sedentary thin people who eat a poor diet are constantly sold the idea that they are healthy simply because of the ratio of their weight and height.

And we are hearing from everyone and their dog that we need to get to a “healthy weight”.  Often it’s suggested that we should do this by any means necessary, the implication being that it doesn’t matter what crazy unhealthy things we do to get thin, because once we get there we’ll be automatically healthy just because our bodies are smaller.

Except it doesn’t work that way.  The best suggestion that doctors can give us is that healthy behaviors have the best chance of creating a healthy body, but even that’s not guaranteed.  Most of us know someone who followed every health guideline and got sick.  Most of us know someone who eats like crap, never exercises and is as healthy as a horse. Marathon runners drop dead of heart attacks at 45 and sedentary.  Grandmas eat frozen dinners, smoke unfiltered cigarettes, and live to be 102.   There are healthy and unhealthy people of every weight, shape and size and I think that the medically responsible thing would be to look at each person as an individual and recommend scientifically proven solutions for specific issues, instead of trying to stereotype people based on how they look and then try to find a way to blame them for their health conditions instead of treating them.

If doctors were honest with us, they would say that the human body is extremely complex and they haven’t yet scratched the surface of everything that is involved in being “healthy”.  They would also ‘fess up that even if they could prove that weight loss makes you healthier (which they can’t) they don’t have a single proven method of weight loss.  They would tell us that the caloric restriction method (aka “eat less and exercise more”) has an abhorrently poor success record.  Were it a prescription, doctors would be forced to remove dieting from the shelves for its complete lack of efficacy and all of its safety concerns. But it’s not, so they just keep recommending the same thing, even though it just doesn’t work. More and more we are finding that physical fitness is a much better indicator of health than is weight.

There are so many things to be improved in this system, but let’s do one simple thing today:  Let’s decide to eliminate the phrase “healthy weight”.

As always, this is your decision.  If you’re in for this then I suggest that we start with ourselves – check our own assumptions about people’s health based on their size, including people who are very thin.

Then I suggest the following scripting as an example when this comes up:

Person who still buys into the healthy weight myth:  “blah blah blah healthy weight blah blah blah”

Enlightened person (that’s us!) “Actually, there is no such thing as a healthy weight, and I wish people would stop spreading that myth.  There are people who are healthy and people who are unhealthy at every shape and size.”

Now, this can often lead to the VFHT:  Vague Future Health Threat.  This is when someone suggests that even if I, as a fat person, am  healthy now (and it doesn’t seem to matter how old I happen to be) “it”  will catch up to me “someday”.

For now:  No more saying “healthy weight”:  Never ever, never ever, never ever.

We Interrupt this Body Positivity…

To bring you stand up comedy!  I did my second open mic night and a friend recorded it for me.  It went ok, there’s a lot that I will improve. and yes I’ll consider slowing my speech a little.  Until then, I am marking the occasion here (fair warning – there is definitely some swearing).  It does contains the story of my mom selling me for air conditioners…)

Fit, Fat, Angry and Resentful?

I want to thank K Robinson for his/her comment on my post “Side Effects May Include Weight Loss”

Part of the comment stated:

You appear by your writing to have a very angry and resentful attitude. Is that a fact?

I responded – in part:
If I seem angry and resentful, (and I may well be at times) it is perhaps because I am an extensively well-read, fat professional dancer who enjoys perfect metabolic health, can do ten 2-min on, 1 minute off 95% heart rate intervals, press 1,000 pounds with her legs, and do the splits, who is forever being lectured on weight and health by people far less fit than she, who have done far less research about the subject.  It can certainly grow tiresome.

I prefer to choose happiness and for the most part I succeed.  But sometimes I just spend some time being pissed.  Being a super fit  fat person is a weird place to be in our culture:

The best of it is that I walk through the world knowing that I am extremely fit.  Whether judged on the basis of metabolic health, strength, stamina, or flexibility I am in the tippy-top percentiles.  Plus I can do 24 double time chainee turns in a row and end in a perfect standing backbend without breaking a sweat.  So when someone gives me a hard time, I can generally assume that they cannot do what I can do, which definitely helps get me through idiotic exchanges about weight and health.

The worst of it is that many, many people make assumptions about me.  Often if I tell them what is true, they DO NOT BELIEVE ME, or I spend so much time saying how healthy that I am (as I have been doing in this post) that I sound like a braggart and/or a nuisance.  My friends who are thin but sedentary and unhealthy seem to never be assumed to be unhealthy and would probably not be challenged if they said that they can do what I can do. It can get a little frustrating.

In the end, I don’t think that I’m angry and resentful that often, sometimes I think people misunderstand:

I’m not afraid of conflict – I’m an honest and direct communicator and some people mistake that to be anger or resentment.

I speak out strongly against common myths and misconceptions about weight and health, and when you do that people sometimes think that you’re just some angry fat girl with a chip on her shoulder.

Of course sometimes I just tire of it or I get too much bs at one time and that leads to a brief period of anger and/or resentment – which sometimes occurs on this blog.  I don’t deny that and I don’t apologize for it – I think that anyone who walks the path that Body Positive fat people walk may be prone to those episodes but even if it’s just me, I’m still ok with that.  As I tell my dance team when we’re doing our 6 minute wall sit:  it’s not about falling down – it’s only about getting back up.

There’s a quote I really like and I can’t find who said it but I often think of it when I’m slogging through something like this:

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.  But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.”

So thanks K Robinson for helping me get clarity and giving me a chance to  stand back up.  I find myself neither angry nor resentful.  It turns out that I am grateful.  I’m grateful to K Robinson.  I am also grateful for my ongoing great health, and I am especially grateful for my life which is just about perfect.

What to Say When You’re a Thin Ally

I received an e-mail from Mel yesterday with some really good questions about how to be a thin ally to the fat community.  Here are the relevant bits with my thoughts and answers.  Please note that the scripting I use is generic,  I totally encourage rephrasing into something that is authentic to you.  I that the bottom line is that anything you say as an ally has to be authentic – if you think something sounds cheesy, don’t say it!

I’m not someone who is going to preach to you about thin privilege or insist that you should feel bad because you are treated well – frankly it drives me crazy when people do that.  I really appreciate anyone who wants to be an ally in the fight for my being treated respectfully and not judged on my size.  Thanks for jumping into an ugly fight when you don’t have to!  Without further adieu:

I’ve been trying, both explicitly and more subtly, to spread the word about fat not equaling unhealthy, diet claims being bogus, etc. – plus spreading body positivity – through conversations, Facebook links and so on.

Awesome, you totally rock.  Thank you very much!


But, I’ve run into situations where I’m with other “thin” people and I think they assume some kind of solidarity. So, they make uneducated or insulting comments about people who are fat or the “obesity problem”. Many times, I can respond with an alternative point of view, but sometimes I don’t know what to say that’s diplomatic and gets the point across.

I hear this from a lot of thin allies – the assumption that  if you share a body size you will have the same prejudices of other body sizes.  If it makes you feel any better (and it probably won’t) it happens both ways.  I get strange looks and push back when I defend a model that someone says is “obviously too thin” etc.  (Don’t believe me – take a look at some of the comments to my Things I’ve Heard about Thin Women post on Jezebel“) When it happens to me with another fat person, there are two options.  the first is the “dumb question”

“Oh, do you know her?”

“Um, no”

“Wait, so how do you know anything about her health?”

“I can see she’s fat”

“There are plenty of healthy fat people, and plenty of unhealthy thin ones.  Either way nobody deserves to be called names – this isn’t Junior High.”

Or, I’ll  try to point out that it is an assumption, then try to get them to feel some empathy, using myself as an example.

For example:  “Interesting that you should make that assumption about her.  You know, I’ve been trying really hard not to make guesses about people based on their appearance – It makes me so angry when people assume that I’m lazy and unhealthy because of my size, and I don’t want to turn around and do the same thing to someone else.”

I wonder if this could be used on someone of “normal” or “thin” body size, using a stereotype that fits you. – For example, if you are blond “Interesting that you should make that assumption about them.  I try not to make assumptions about people based on their appearance – it drives me crazy when people assume that I’m a ditz because I’m blond, I wouldn’t want to make the same mistake”.  Etc.

This is where it gets tricky because people will get defensive/give you push back and you have to decide how much teaching you want to do in this teachable moment – do you want to go into the science of it or just assert that you believe that people should be treated with respect – it’s totally up to you.

One creed that I live by is that I don’t try to control anyone else’s behavior, I simply control my reaction.  So you might try something like:   “You know, I’m really not comfortable with talk like that.  I think it’s shameful that in our society there is so much pressure to hate our bodies or fit into some ideal body type.  I doubt making people feel bad about themselves will help them be healthy (AND/OR) People can be healthy and happy at any size.  I’m going to [remove myself from this situation] until you’re done with this conversation.  When you’re done just come find me [at the place I’m going to].   I would probably add a bit of science to this because I’m a big giant nerd but that’s entirely up to you.

Some examples:

  • At dance class, where an unknown neighbor always complains about the music being too loud, new acquaintance says laughing, “What’s their problem? Maybe they should get off their fat butts and do some exercise.”

This seems a bit non sequitur  and I would likely point that out “I guess I can see how our music would be loud to someone nearby who is trying to work.  Of course they moved in knowing we were here so it’s pretty much their problem.  I never felt the urge to call them names though.”

  • I mention how our Zumba class was such a crazy workout and had me sweating my butt off, and she says something about now I have permission to eat whatever I want afterwards.

On this one I would go with something like “You know, I was just thinking about how we have this culture where people label foods as good or bad, or they starve themselves and just have really weird relationships with food.  I use the health at every size method and always give myself permission to eat whatever I want, that way I stay in touch with my body and make sure that I have a healthy relationship with food.”

  • She discusses a Zumba class she took in another part of the country where it was so great to see those people out there instead of eating potato chips in front of the television (something else about getting fat here, I think).

This is one of those situations where I would typically let her know that this conversation doesn’t work for me “You know, I’m sorry if this seems rude but that kind of stereotyping really bothers me.  It’s totally cool if that’s how you feel but I’m going to head out.  I’ll see you next week”.

The reason these comments are weird to me is b/c it’s implied that fatness is bad rather than when people say, “well, obesity is such a problem, people need to be less fat and lazy”.

So my response to this is mostly that I’m the boss of my underpants and nobody else’s:   “It actually really bothers me when someone guesses about other people’s habits or health by looking at their size.  There are plenty of healthy people and plenty of unhealthy people of all sizes.”  and/or”I don’t have the right to tell other people how to live.  I can’t make people look both ways before they cross the street, or not talk on the cellphone when they are trying to drive and I can’t make people eat healthy and exercise – I try to concentrate on myself and let other people make their own choices”.

I guess my main point is – people assume incorrectly that b/c they think I fit a thin ideal that I’ve never had body image issues or that I don’t truly believe in body positivity. Or that b/c of my genes, I have some kind of “right” to eat whatever I want b/c I won’t gain as much weight as the next person. And that I’m OK with “fat talk”.  None of these things are true – but I don’t how to point that out exactly.

I think that what you said right there is genius.  When something like this comes up, say just that “I don’t know if you are doing this but  I notice that a lot of times people assume that because I’m thin I’ve never had body issues, or I am ok with people saying nasty things about other people’s bodies, or that Health at Every Size doesn’t apply to me.  None of that is true and that kind of thing really bothers me.

Coda:

In the end, you have to be ready for backlash.  Being an ally isn’t always easy.  You’re going to get the “everybody knows that fat is unhealthy” argument (not only doesn’t everybody know that, but not one shred of science can prove it).  You’re going to get “Well they cost so much money in healthcare or at the workplace” (to this I would say “Did you know those studies were funded by the companies that sell diets and weight loss surgery.  The way that they collected data and skewed statistics was ridiculous.”)  Again, you have to decide how much teaching you want to do in any given teachable moment, and that means you have to decide how much information you want to be armed with.

One that works in almost every situation “You know, I think that people of all shapes and sizes deserve to be treated with respect and I don’t feel like you are doing that now.  If you’re going to continue to act this way, I’m just going to end the conversation.”

Thanks a zillion for asking about this and thanks a zillion zillion for being an ally. You made my day!!!

~Ragen



Independence vs. Being Supported

I locked myself out of the house.  I came home from the gym, kicked off my shoes, turned on my toaster oven to warm it up, and ran outside to put some jeans in the dryer.  Roughly a minute later I was standing outside a locked house in smelly gym clothes and socks with no wallet, phone, keys, or shoes.  Awesome.

I knocked on my neighbor’s door but the one who has the necessary tools was gone.  His roommate took a look at the situation and we realized that it was futile. I remembered that I had given a key to my friend Amy who lives just a few blocks away and I asked my neighbor for a ride.  He offered to let me borrow his car.  I got to Amy’s and told her what happened.  She immediately said “come hang out with me!”.  It turns out that after I changed the locks I neglected to give her a key.  So she let me use her phone to call a locksmith and then followed me back home so that I would have someone to talk to while I waited.  The locksmith came, unlocked the door and fifty bucks later my problems were solved.

I used to be one of those people who thought that I had to do everything myself.  I would NEVER ask for help, NEVER accept it if it was offered.  I wore it like a badge of honor, I pretended that my inability to accept support was actually a sign of strength.  I didn’t need anything from anybody.  I was fine on my own. I was clearly superior to all of those people who needed help and support.  I fooled myself into believing that they were weak and I was strong.

I’m not sure when I learned about the joy of accepting support (and I don’t mean the kind that comes from pantyhose) but I can tell you that it completely changed my life.  The realization that there was no weakness in asking for or accepting support was a revelation.  Had this little key incident happened a few years ago, I would have ended up breaking a window to get in and then having to pay way more than $50 to replace it and probably getting a nasty cut in the process.  Plus, I wouldn’t have known how many people there were willing to support me and that is an awesome feeling.

To me, the ability to accept support is HUGE when it comes to living a Body Positive life.  Yesterday Virginia from Beauty Schooled kicked a whole bunch of ass letting people know about the whole Steve Seiebold thing. Tons of people got on board to expose this guy as the hack he is (including the always awesome bloggers at Jezebel).  All because she got a press release that she found disgusting and she asked for support from her fellow bloggers.

Of course, my experience may not be your experience but I submit that in living a Body Positive life, trying to go it alone can be a long, difficult road when we have misinformation coming at us from every direction:  the news media, the doctor, and let’s not even talk about our families. If you believe that healthy behaviors lead to a healthy body, then maybe consider surrounding yourself with people who believe that too: enlist your friends to support you, set boundaries and decide how people are allowed to treat you, get the support of your friends in keeping those boundaries.  If you’re not sure what “healthy behaviors” means for you – how much activity to do, what healthy eating is etc. then consider asking for professional support.

Of course if you want to be independent that’s your option.  If you decide you want to give help a chance, then find professionals, books,  blogs, whatever you need to be supported and live the life that you want.  You can start on my Blogs I Love page if you’d like but whatever you do, there are tons of resources out there – go get them and experience the joy of being supported in your choices!