The Michael Moore Walking Thing

Public HealthMore than 300 readers have sent me Michael Moore’s facebook post about walking, many asking what I think about it.  First of all, I am absolutely thrilled that he has kept a mostly Health at Every Size perspective on this, and that he is making an effort to speak to include people with disabilities.  For the most part I think it’s a really positive piece and there is good evidence that shows the general positive effect of moderate activity.  And it’s a relief to see a celebrity maintain a HAES perspective even after weight loss.

I would like to add to, and suggest some clarifications of, what he said:

First, nobody is under any obligation to exercise – even if there was definitive proof that 2 minutes of walking a day makes everyone immortal, nobody has to walk 2 minutes a day.  Someone’s prioritization of their health and the path they choose to get their is entirely up to them, they do not need to justify those decisions to anyone and the decisions should not be up for public comment or debate.

Next, if you decide that movement is something you are interested in, it doesn’t have to be walking.  Maybe you have a disability or health issue that makes walking not feasible or optimal. Maybe you just don’t like walking.  Feel free to choose an activity that you really love and that accommodates you in every way.  If there is no such activity then you get to make decisions about how to proceed – for example, you get to decide if you believe that the health benefits of movement are worth doing something you don’t love to do. Whatever choice you make is valid. It can change from day to day.

It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes.  You get to choose your goals around movement/fitness (if any), and how to pursue them.  I’ve definitely heard a lot that evidence suggests that 150 minutes of movement a week  is the “magic number,” but research has found health benefits with just 20 minutes a week.  Even the research that suggests 150 minutes also finds that you can break it up into smaller workouts (10 minutes at a time etc.) and there are still benefits.

I think it’s very important to realize that this is not the magical secret to weight loss or, necessarily,  the secret to changing your whole life. One of the things that concerns me about the Michael Moore piece is where he says (Trigger warning – food restriction talk, food moralizing skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid it) “Going for a walk every day will change your thinking and have a ripple effect. You’ll find yourself only eating when you’re truly hungry. And if you’re not hungry, go clean your room, or have sex, or call a friend on the phone. Without knowing it, you’ll starting eating like the French (there is no French word for “fast-food”) — and you will feel better…”

That’s not necessarily true.  There is no guarantee that movement will produce anything but the movement itself.  Your other behaviors may not change at all. And to be clear, evidence shows that movement is really good at increasing health and healthy outcomes, and really bad at producing long-term weight loss.  Marathoners drop dead of heart attacks – there is nothing that makes anyone immortal or immune to health issues. Healthy habits help us play the odds, but we must not forget that health is multidimensional and not entirely within our control – and there are no guarantees.

Mr. Moore mentions that now he sometimes walks twice a day and he’s starting other activities as well.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and I won’t attempt speak for anyone else but I personally have to be careful to avoid the trap that suggests that if doing something is good then doing more must be better.  I think that a lot of this comes from the mistaken, but often repeated, idea that movement should lead to weight loss – so if you’re not losing weight then you’re not doing “enough” movement, combined with the corollary that no amount of weight loss is ever enough so workout more and more and more.

If you find yourself getting caught up in trying to do the “exact right” thing  for the “exact right” time to get the “exact right” result, I suggest a different approach.  When I first started my career as an operations consultant, I got the following advice from a consultant who had been doing it for years:  “If you’re dealing with a mess and you just don’t know what to do, try something.  If it gets better, do more of that.  If it gets worse, do something else.”  I suggest a similar approach to movement – find a type of movement that you think you’ll like, that works for your situation, and try it for a duration with which you are comfortable.  If you continue to enjoy it and feel good – keep going.  If you don’t enjoy it or it doesn’t feel good, try something else.

While I generally like Mr. Moore’s post and agree with a lot of it, there’s a little bit too much breaking of the Underpants Rule for my taste in his post – a little bit too much telling people what to do  “get off the treadmill, ” stop eating this or that, don’t walk with me for these reasons etc.  I’m for a world where we each get to pick our goals and priorities, and we each of get to choose how to get there.

And if you’re doing movement, maybe you want to join the “Fit Fatties Across America” project – people of all sizes from all over the world who are doing fitness from a weight neutral  perspective are pooling our minutes and miles of activity to see how fast we can get from NYC to LA.  In the first 3 days we’ve gone 167 miles and we’ve got a way to go!  To participate, just log your activity on this form (if you’re not a member of the Fit Fatties Forum you’ll be prompted to join – it’s free and doesn’t commit you to anything) and then check the Fit Fatties Forum every Friday to see how far we’ve traveled.

While we’re on the subject of activism projects, the project to create the Guinness World Record paper mache sculpture – made entirely out of pages from diet books – is on!  There are  tons of ways to help (even if you don’t have diet books to donate)  Check it out here!

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs (hint:  Free shipping was supposed to end on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to make the changes to the pricing so there’s still free shipping until I get it done)!  Click here for the details

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I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

Published in: on January 5, 2013 at 1:08 pm  Comments (34)  

34 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was waiting for your response to this post. It’s probably the only thing Michael Moore has ever said that I agree with, and I found it heartening. I liked how he suggested movement over exercise. And I really like how he didn’t say, “Hey, if a busy guy like me can do it, you can too…”

    Very encouraging.

  2. Awesome post Ragen. Great way to break it all down! oxoxox

  3. Brain twins!

    It would seem that you and I winced at the same things, and that we appreciated the same things.

    Is it perfect? No. Is it a big step in the right direction in public discourse about exercise? Yes, I believe it is.

    Am I going to take a walk today? Probably. I like to walk. I like how it makes me feel both physically and mentally. Is it for everyone? No, it isn’t. Will I take a walk in the evening like Michael Moore? Definitely not. I’m nightblind and I don’t like to run into things. I’ll do my walking while it’s light outside, thank you very much.

    And while the French ‘have no word for fast food’ they do have Mickey D’s, and I’m guessing they don’t sell every single Big Mac to homesick tourists who do have words for fast food. Just a thought.

    But finding a way to move that makes you feel good? Yeah, I’m in favor as a general rule. I’m in favor of people finding lots of things that make them feel good and feel good about themselves. Walking is definitely one of those things for me, and I’m always happy to see it mentioned as a potential positive. Just so long as people remember it isn’t a universal panacea.

    • Well said!

      I did like how he said he wasn’t interested in “what he lost” and he does mention that he has ice cream and a real coke every day.

      Why can’t food just be about enjoyment? Oh! It can! Movement too. Whoda thunk it.

  4. I am really weary of Americans’ fetishization of the French. It’s weird and silly and objectifying in a really uncomfortable way, and to me it looks like transparent status-grubbing. “Oh, those Frenchies are so SOPHISTICATED! With their berets and their cigarette holders and their wine and baguettes! Me too!” It’s a stereotype, even if it is ostensibly a positive one, and it’s callow and dumb.

    Yes I am cranky.

    • Thank you! My thoughts exactly.

      And the French do too eat fast food, even if they don’t have a special word for it.

    • Yes! Too true.

      I lived in Paris many moons ago for a little over a yr. I lived with a “baroness” in the 16th arrondisment (the ritzy part of town). The Champs Elysee was a 15 min walk away. The baroness’s daughter (an editor for Paris Home and Garden) and her husband (a fashion photographer) used to love to walk to the Burger King on the Champs Elysee for a whop-aire and french fries…. It was the “cool” thing to do.

      • er ….Elysees….meh.

  5. The French have no word for fast-food eh? Funny, seeing as I bought a Happy Meal at a McDonald’s in Paris my senior year of high school. And it was NOT loaded with tourists. It was full of French people, including the guys who tried to pick up me and my best friend. 😉

    • I meant the McDonalds was full of locals, not that my Happy Meal was. Lol

      • Aw, Ameliajade, I find myself strangely disappointed that your Happy Meal wasn’t full of friendly Frenchmen! That image kind of made my day.

  6. Agree with your sentiments about Michael’s post, positive and negative.

    As a side note I don’t know why certain people who like to exercise outdoors like to trash talk treadmills/gyms so much. I actually really like using treadmills – I feel safer than walking or jogging around the area I live in and also because the climate here has very cold winters and very hot summers that I’d rather not endure any more than I have to. It doesn’t mean that I’m miserable or that I’m on a diet. Neither does drinking diet soda. When people who say they endorse HAES also act as the food/exercise police, it gets annoying. It makes me feel there is nowhere safe at all.

    • Hi Lindsay,

      Really well said, thank you.



    • Agreed, why would someone care if I like walking on a treadmill more than walking outside or like aerobics more walking or swimming or anything else? Jeez, as long as I’m not walking on you, why should you care at all?

      • Do what works for you, I always say. I’m constantly amazed by how many people there are who seem to live to get up in other people’s business. They need to get a life, obviously.

    • Agreed. When I deliberately exercise (as opposed to exercise related to work or chores) it is indoors. I am allergic to…the planet…and sunburn easily even with sunscreen. There are no unfriendly dogs indoors and while there might be a jerk in the gym it’s at least more predictable that the random driveby jerk outside.

      • Same here. When I find time to exercise, I use the reclining stationary bike we saved up for years ago. I am not puffing around in sight of jackasses in pickup trucks, I am not fighting the weather, and there are no dogs in here. Also I can read a book, because I feel great after I get a chance to use the bike, but actually using it is a giant screaming bore.

        Is a reclining stationary bike a cop-out according to some people? Why yes. Do I give a frack? Why no.

    • Well said. Activity is a lot more worthwhile if you find it fun, whether you’d rather jog on a treadmill watching entertaining TV, walking around the neighborhood, or play team sports. I personally dislike all of the non competitive sports, and I’ve really gotten into curling. But I’d never suggest that my weird Canadian sport is a universally wonderful thing everyone should do.

      • Bbeck310 – I’d like to get in touch. Sorry to put this here but not sure how else to contact you. Could you drop me a line angela at neverdietagain dot co dot uk. Thanks, Ang 🙂

  7. In general, I loved Michael’s post, though I did send him a Twitter message that one won’t necessarily lose weight by walking every day. I’ve been reaching or exceeding 10,000 steps per day quite regularly for the past few years and while I am sure that it’s good for me, it has absolutely no effect on my weight.

    As for the French not having an expression for fast food, permettez-moi de vous en suggérer deux (allow me to suggest two):

    mal bouffe (literally, bad food)
    restauration rapide (literally fast restaurant services)

    I love Michael, I basically agree with his message, but no one’s perfect!

  8. One of the things I have taken away from your blog posts is to be aware of when I make blanket statements. If something has completely changed my life and made me happier, healthier and lighter, that doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else nor would anyone else necessarily desire those actions or outcomes. Just saying what I did and what it did for me is enough. These are my underpants and I like how they fit. Then people are free to take away what they want and leave the rest… and find their own awesome fitting underpants. 🙂

  9. I liked Michael Moore’s original post, but the points made here are totally valid, and I missed them when I read his post because I was so blown away by its HAES-ishness. Thanks for writing this.
    Some people on Facebook are saying he should do an expose of the diet industry next. I wish he would.

    • I would be so down with that. He is one of the few who dares to address the tough questions. I like that about him.

  10. There is a lot of good in Moore’s post, & it does look as if he is heading in the right direction, but he is not there yet. He was dieting & hating his fat body & fat bodies in general within the last couple of years. I think that right now he is where I spent over 20 years, since I have been aware of & thought I was part of fat acceptance for over 32 years, but have only been completely & unequivocally fat accepting, most particularly of my own fat, within the past ten years or so. Right now, it seems as if Mr. Moore has found what I found 30 years ago, what I now call ‘the exercise diet.’ I have always been active, will exercise to some extent as long as I am able, even if someday that means chair exercise, &, since I have neither car nor driver’s license, walking is not just my means of exercise, it is my usual means of transportation. But for years & lived in that head space which it seems Mr. Moore now occupies, the space which says that one will not count calories & diet, but one will exercise &, as it sounds like he may be doing, keep steadily increasing the amount of exercise to compensate for everything eaten. For me, that ended up being four hours of exercise daily, lifting weights, putting over 4000 miles on two exercise machines until they fell apart, doing 1500 crunches every day until I reached the point where it is now difficult for me to get down on the floor & back up again, etc.

    His statement about once you start exercising, you will want to eat less is a dead give-away. Mr. Moore still wants/hopes to lose weight. A diet by any other name is still a diet. He is getting the bare inkling of the right idea & someday he may come to fat acceptance, but he is not there yet. And he certainly doesn’t understand yet about only being in charge of only his underpants, & he wants to tell the rest of us how to live too. And I am also totally fed up with this worship of the French, as if they know much better than the rest of us how to live.

    • “… once you start exercising, you will want to eat less.” Not true for everyone. Exercise makes me ravenous. ^^

      • Especially SWIMMING – I don’t know why. I can spend an hour on the treadmill or whatever i’m doing, but 15 minutes in the pool and i’m absolutely starving. :-/ weird.

      • When I actually belonged to an exercise club (I still would if they hadn’t closed–it was fat friendly and I loved it), I woke up at night with huge cravings for meat. Best I can figure, I was building muscle and my body needed protein.

      • It honestly doesn’t effect me one way or another. I must be an oddball. Oh…I am!

    • Much better to worship the Belgians. The Liege waffle and the Brussels waffle are the two cultural items I’d export AND they do fruity beers!

    • hang on, if he WANTS to lose weight who are we to say he’s wrong? Isn’t that getting into HIS underpants?

  11. Great commentary as always. Sorry to be the nitpicker, but there are two super-minor issues I spotted:

    • The link to the facebook post in the very first line is broken, and

    • In the quote from the consultant is probably supposed to be ‘if YOU’RE dealing with a mess…’

  12. I started exercising again with the rule that the goal can never be weight loss. I always enjoyed exercising but ended up hating myself because I never lost weight. My weight cannot enter into my perception of progress–ever. The only things I allow myself to take into account are things like improved strength and flexibility.

  13. I didn’t see the MM post until it already had a zillion comments – please tell me ONE of them was that scene from “Pulp Fiction” about how a Quarter-Pounder in Paris is called a Royale with cheese.

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