Weight Loss – Forsaking All Others

Reality and PerceptionDancing with the Stars is back and I can’t decide if I’m more irritated about the gross misrepresentation of Contemporary Dance or the fact that it’s somehow become a weight loss show.  Since this is a blog about Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, let’s talk about the latter and I’ll save my dance rants for the More Cabaret Blog.

The new season includes Wynonna Judd.  She is talking about getting healthy but many media outlets are discussing weight loss – “will she beat Kirstie Allies’ record?”  (Like almost everyone, Kirstie has gained the weight back.)

It makes me remember Kirstie’s season where they blamed all of her initial issues with dancing on her weight, and credited her dancing improvement to her weight loss.

This is a thing that we do. Have you noticed the way that we talk about the “miracle” of weight loss? It slices, it dices, it improves health, fashion sense, penmanship, and ballroom dancing!

This happens because our society’s preoccupation with thin has elevated weight loss from what it is –  a side effect that almost never lasts longterm – to this era’s snake oil. Weight loss happens in the short term for lots of people for lots of reasons.  Weight loss hardly ever lasts long term for anybody – only a tiny percentage of people maintain weight loss, regardless of the circumstances that lead to the loss or what they do in the long term.  And yet weight loss is constantly credited with all good things – forsaking all other reasons.

Someone starts practicing ballroom dancing 8 hours day 5 days a week with a professional ballroom dancer.  This person loses weight and their dancing improves. Who in their right mind credits the weight loss, and not the 40 hours of week of practice, for improving the dancing?

It’s the same when someone makes changes to the amount of movement they do and what they eat.  They lose weight and their health numbers improve.   Why do we credit the weight loss, and not the change in habits, to the health improvement?  Especially when research tells us that if the behavior changes are continued the weight will almost always come back but the health changes will remain.

Weight loss is a possible – but never certain – side effect, and typically a temporary one at that.  We need to stop suggesting that it is a cause, because it confuses people and leads to the mistaken belief that things that lead to weight loss are the same as things that lead to health.

That is why thin people get told to eat a predominantly whole foods diet and a variety of food in moderation, and fat people are told to drink 5 reconstituted soy protein shakes a day. 

It is why people measure the success of their movement program on weight loss, which is a shame since studies show that movement is fantastic for health, but lousy for weight loss.

It is why, when one of my blog readers returned to work after a bout of intense chemotherarpy, a co-worker actually thought it was ok to say “Wow, cancer looks great on you!”

It is why people glibly tell those dealing with anorexia – the most deadly mental illness – “I wish I could be just a little anorexic!”

It is what has created a “thin by any means necessary” mentality that makes me surprised that they don’t just hand out cocaine to fat people.  Then I realize that the diet drugs that get pushed at us, that not only don’t work long term, but have the pesky habit of killing people, aren’t far off.

We have made weight loss a thing of legend – the magic bullet that we are supposed to believe solves everything (including social stigma, which is convenient for those who enjoy stigmatizing us and don’t want it pointed out that the cure for social stigma is ending social stigma and not for the stigmatized to change themselves.) Weight loss is not the magical solution to all the things, let’s stop pretending that it is anything other than a highly profitable pipe dream.  Taking weight loss out of the health discussion removes a middle man that we don’t need, leaves room for conversations about actual health for those who are interested, and stops the mythologizing that lies to us and says that a side effect is a solution.

Then people can make their personal choice about how highly to prioritize their health and what path they want to try to get there within the realities of health.  They can make their choices and let their weight settle where it will instead of desperately trying to create a side effect that may actually lead them away from their goals.  Instead of forsaking everything for weight loss, let’s do ourselves a favor and forsake weight loss so that we can actually have a shot at everything.

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Published in: on March 22, 2013 at 9:30 am  Comments (33)  

33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I just wanted to say that this is a fantastic post, and you hit the nail on the head.

  2. I never comment, but I just went to my Dr yesterday for a diabetes/arthritis checkup and of course was treated to the “You really have well controlled diabetes, If you would just lose some weight you wouldn’t have diabetes at all.” talk. “I have lost some, and may lose more.” I replied. “Yes, it’s a LIFELONG effort.” she responded. I was then quizzed about my diet–I eat low carb, high fat to control my diabetes (a side effect is I have lost about 35lbs). Then my exercise–I spend 45 min to an hour a day walking my 2 large dogs, I garden, I do my own house work etc. Well I was told, with a sigh, at least you are moving. Then again she asked if I follow a diabetic diet. I responded again, that I eat low carb. Finally we were able to move on to why I was there and I got my scripts, xrays and referrals. Why do they have to do that? She knows I have lost weight, not on purpose, but I did lose it and I still have diabetes. The whole exercise thing really bites as part of the reason I was there is because I need a hip replacement. Walking gently is about the only thing I can do without putting myself to bed for 3 days. Her parting words were, “Keep moving.” I guess it could have been much worse, but really does she think my life is such a wasteland that the focus of my LIFELONG efforts should be on weight loss? I dread seeing the orthopedist as I am sure I will be treated to more medical wisdom. Why don’t I respond back the way I want to? For fear it will get worse, so I just stay away from DRs until I can’t ignore it anymore. Then grit my teeth and take it.
    Rant over.

    • Personally I think it’s time to find a new doctor if that’s possible for you. *hugs* You shouldn’t have to be told that you need to “keep moving,” as if, without that advice, you would root into the carpet while you slept. Good grief.

    • I’m with Helena.

      I mean, what would she say if you *gasp* gained the 35 pounds back plus a few? What would she say if your movement levels decreased due to increased pain? Would she tell you to buck up and endure the pain? Not to mention if both situations happened at the same time. Egads!

      I have chronic conditions that cause pretty horrible pain from time to time. When I’m in the most pain I move the least–funny how that works.

      • Thanks for your imput, I have already changed Drs once due to fat shaming and bias– this is how I was told by another Dr that I have diabetes –“Some people care enough about themselves to make a the effort to lose 50 pounds so they don’t have to take another pill–(sweeping look over my body) you will apparently need metformin.” Never mind the fact that they had me on 2 meds that are known to contribute not only to weight gain but to diabetes. Somehow if I could pull a miracle out my hat and lose “the weight” I would be cured. I stopped all my meds except the Metformin and pain control, fired the DR. and started eating LCHF, and lo and behold I do now have my Diabetes under control with a minimal dose of the met. All the dire predictions about what would happen if I discontinued the other meds never materialized and so far deathfat has not taken me. If I gain the 35 lbs back, (most likely) I will still be better off than I was. And yeah, some days walking the dogs is about all I can manage. Actually this Dr is SOOO much better, that I am hesitant to try another.

      • Yes, funny that. My physio, instead of properly assessing me as is appropriate for my condition, told me that my pain is due to “being very unfit and overweight”, to “do cardio and lose weight” and gave me a sheet of basic strength training exercises identical to what I was doing before I gave them up due to increased pain and fatigue. No matter what I said, both times I saw her, she wouldn’t listen. Well, she wowed at everything I said about how I had been doing the exercises, swimming 45mins at a time and so on, but still carried on treating me as if I am having problems because I am very inactive.

        • Likely she didn’t believe you. You see fatties NEVER EXERCISE, so clearly you were lying. *eyeroll* What a faildoc.

          • I think she did believe me, especailly as she clearly recognised a certain level of knowledge of fitness from what I was telling her, but that didn’t get me anywhere as she just turned that into more supporting evidence that I don’t really need help and can just get up and start doing more exercise again and all will be well. Um, so why did I reduce my activity level in the first place??? Because I just felt like becoming an invalid after working hard at keeping fit and active all my adult life through 4 pregnancies and so on….? Ah yes, I just woke up one day and decided “I’d like to double my body weight, give up on keeping fit and active, and spend the rest of my life in pain and exhausted”.

            My size does contribute to my symptoms, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get the same help as anyone else with the same condition, so I can be as well as I can be, regardless of size. Having said that, the problem is also her lack of expertise in dealing with my condition. At least I know I am not missing out due to my weight, as she has no idea how to properly assess and treat me anyway!

      • Well I just got back from the orthopedist. I cried all the way home and I am still weepy. As bad as I had feared. First thing he asked? “How much do you weigh?” Of course he had that info, but I guess it’s part of his therapy to get me to say it. Good news is he verified I don’t need a new hip YET–(with dire warnings of years to come) That my pain problems–Fibro, tendonitis, bursitis in multiple joints are all because of my weight. I explained to him that I had found a way of eating that controls my BG and consequently lost 30-35 lbs and still have pain. He asked me how much I should weigh–I said by the charts 180 tops–he agreed and told me to work on it. I told him I have a whole big life and I will not be focusing my time money or energy in a fruitless quest for weight loss. He asked me what it would take for me to lose more weight. I explained that it would require starvation. HE said “well, calorie control, every day for the rest of your life. Do you think you can lose some more?” I told him I did not have a crystal ball so I have no idea. He did not ask what I eat or if I exercise, if I have hobbies, nothing. No drug history, work history or even weight history. Just an admonition that as long as I make my bones carry around more weight than they were designed to, I could expect problems. I left with a script for nsaids and a sheaf of stretching exercises and a chip on my shoulder–just more weight to carry around I guess

        • I am so, so sorry. What a horrible little man. He has no bedside manner at all. *HUGS*

        • Noxious. Do you have Ehlers Danlos/ hypermobility syndrome Vic? All sounds sadly very familiar.

          • I had never heard of it, I googled it and really don’t think it applies to me. But thanks for the suggestion, I would love some kind of explanation. If the Dr had let me tell my story I could have let him know I haven’t always been fat, but I have always had pain, (even as a child) joint problems and arthritis started when I was in my 20s and weighed between 112 pounds and 134 pounds. (yo-yo) Oh well, I guess I will try chiropractor again. At least they have always been respectful, and I do get some relief.

    • Oh yeah, THIN people NEVER struggle with diabetes. *rolls eyes* I hope you get your hip replacement. *HUGS*

  3. Did you know weight loss can even improve your piano playing? When I was a piano major at Oberlin Conservatory, I got a ‘C’ on my junior year ‘juries,’ which are basically a graded recital you give for only the faculty. I weighed 190 lbs then. Over the summer, I lost 60 lbs, and lo and behold, when I did my senior juries, I got an ‘A’. That was 8 months after the ‘C.’

    Cuz, you know, I just improved SO MUCH in such a short time, no anti-fat bias here, no sir.

    • Huh. Then I guess weight gain has improved both my running and yoga practice over the years, right?😉

      I mean, I know it’s the doing of it and the paying attention to how I do it that’s improved both of those activities. But I do think it’s funny that since they’re correlated with weight gain for me, no one has ever tried to credit that weight change with the improvement. In fact, they keep telling me how I’d improve more if I lost weight.:/

  4. A good friend of mine recently went gluten-free when she got the diagnosis of Celiac’s. A few weeks later, she was telling me and two of her other friends about how much better she was doing. I was thrilled for her, because as long as I’ve known her she’s had hideous digestion issues. For the first time since I’ve known her (and that’s been roughly thirty years) having a meal didn’t set off a marathon session of belching for her.

    So there I was telling her how glad I was that she’d finally found the answer and was feeling better when one of her other two friends piped up with a query about the ‘benefits’ of gluten-free living.

    It took both me and my friend a minute to understand that what she was asking was ‘how much weight have you lost.’ She – and the other friend who was nodding and grinning at the idea of weight loss – didn’t seem to get that this wasn’t – for once – an attempt to lose weight, but getting free of long-term medical issues that have made her life miserable for DECADES.

    For the record. my friend lost precisely as much weight as she lost on a loooong succession of trendy weight-loss diets: not an ounce. Also for the record, this is the first time since I met her that she doesn’t give a fig about not losing weight. For once, it’s about feeling healthier and more comfortable. This, incidentally, from a woman who crowed about her two pound weight loss on chemotherapy when she had breast cancer just five years ago.

    So not only is her body feeling better, for once she’s put her priorities in the right place. I’m doing my best to encourage that.

    Yes, I imagine that the vast majority of celebrities who join the cast of Dancing With the Stars do lose some weight. Take the body out of its usual habits, and it usually reacts by changing in some measurable way… at least temporarily. But getting better at dancing?Yeah, that’s about the fact that suddenly they’re spending their entire days dancing. I could also get a hell of a lot better at math if I spent eight hour days on it for weeks with a good tutor. Probably wouldn’t make a big change one way or the other with my waistline, but I might finally manage to comprehend those confusing formulae I couldn’t wrap my head around in high school with teachers who mostly assumed that anyone who didn’t get the first explanation would learn it if the same precise words were repeated a little louder and with a couple insults to my intelligence thrown in for good measure.

    Funny how halfway decent instruction and practice make a lot of things easier… whether or not one loses weight while practicing.

  5. I love your blog and this one just REALLY hit home for me. Thank you thank you!!

  6. It’s quite apt that I read this post today as while out and getting my free coffee, from one of the places I go to, as I had enough stamps on my loyalty card, the only thing to read was a trashy daily newspaper. In this one of the short articles, with a photo, was off some celebrity female who had been in a UK dance contest and who had lost weight from “all the dancing/whatever” and now had put some back on! i almost choked on my lovely coffee, it was written by a female author, surprise, surprise! They had photographed this celebrity going to some party in an unfortunate short dress, which showed a lot of her thighs etc., and this reporter took great delight in this.

    There are many awful things going on in the UK at the moment and it’s getting worse and this is all some of these people have to write about!!

    Marion, UK

  7. The twin ideologies of sizeism and healthism continue to function as hegemonic forces of social domination that legitimate and strengthen their mutual power to obscure and to discount our personal powerlessness—as separate individuals—to control the outcomes of social injustices (including, for example, fat stigma, ableism, and health inequities.)

    In other words, maintaining the dominant social illusion (or consensus reality)—that individuals have control over (and, hence, MUST be held responsible for managing) complex, intersecting social/biological/environmental.processes (such as body weight, health and socioeconomic status)—serves the interests of the status quo and offers false promises of freedom and hope to all who keep believing in the power of the INDIVIDUAL to overcome damn near anything (but ONLY IF she’s willing to apply enough effort, tenacity, smarts, faith, self-esteem, etc.)

    And so, our dominant cultural mythology insists, there’s no real NEED or PURPOSE for attempting to organize—and work together—in solidarity and mutual recognition of our common human interests; indeed, there’s no cause for ALARM, people, no need whatsoever for any big, scary, messy, radical, CONTROVERSIAL social/political MOVEMENTS to challenge and transform the “normal” way things…simply ARE…because PERSONAL strength and INDIVIDUAL power are all anyone truly needs to *succeed* in this world.😉

    • This was so fantastically said! I was trying to express this very idea the other day while discussing current issues. You said it so much better than I did!! I’m sure the people was speaking with had no idea what I was getting at.

  8. Just recently I finally saw the light, so to speak, about weight loss and I’m getting off of that psychotic merry-go-round. I can lose weight when I put my mind to it, but that has never, NEVER, translated into permanence. Every time, the pounds come back within a couple of years and they always bring a few friends with them. In high school I was in the 160s/170s but through effort got into the 150s by the time I graduated. Then my second year of college saw me shoot up to 190 but through circumstances (poverty and stress), I got back into the 150s again. A few years later (after my gallbladder was removed) I got to my lowest, 138, but within two years was almost 200. After several more weight cycles, I’m current 233. I can see the pattern and the results. Thankfully, during most of this time my health has been quite good and I’ve had no movement issues. I’m so grateful to have found HAES and a man who loves me exactly as I am. I think the Universe is telling me to just let go of that thin fantasy and be happy and healthy.

    • Marie – I am glad that you are understanding this before your weight really gets out of control.

      I didn’t heed my body’s warning signs – due to ignorance on my part and continual harassment from doctors, family and friends. I now weigh 350 pounds and have double knee replacements, which I had to have at age 45. So, stopping this cycle now is really imperative. I wish I had understood the facts at a much earlier age.

      And really, shame on the medical community for putting so many of us through these horrible processes and ending up in the condition I am in – only to have them shame us some more and insist upon weight loss as a cure-all. What the hell?

      This really infuriates me. But, I will let that go for now and be glad that someone has seen the light before they hurt themselves!

  9. I’m sliding off the Dancing discussion a bit, but I found this article about exercise interesting and I wanted to share:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324432004578304250252788528.html

    Basically, for some people, exercise past a certain point can trigger unpleasant feelings from the body which then makes you dislike exercising.

    The reason I bring this up is I just had another discussion about exercise with my doctor and he kept insisting I would enjoy it, even after I told him I don’t enjoy it.

    I don’t object to the idea of exercise, I just never felt that great afterwards. Not terrible, but not great. Let’s just say I’d rather have a dental cleaning.

    If I understand the research correctly, the reason is probably a fairly low exercise point before my body sends out “I don’t like this” messages. Therefor, exercise seems unpleasant and I don’t do it.

    I’m going to keep doing my very low exercise goals, which I do enjoy and see if I can’t raise my tolerance a bit.

    I am also going to stop feeling bad/guilty for not exercising more. I really do want to protect my health, but I can’t make myself regularly do something I don’t like, even though I am ‘supposed to like it’.

    Here is a link to science papers:

    http://www.public.iastate.edu/~ekkekaki/research.html

  10. This whole weight=health thing has gotten ridiculous. I slipped in something at Walmart the other day and fell, injuring myself, I’m 23 weeks pregnant so I made sure to try to fall in a way that wouldn’t hurt my baby, I ended up hurting myself a little worse in an effort to protect my baby. After two days of doctor visits (where my weight wasn’t even mentioned..hallelujah!) I finally got a call from the insurance adjuster from Walmart. I described what happened, told her my injuries and how much time I missed from work and how many doctor visits I had and her only question at the end of that was how much did I weigh. I asked her why that was relevant, and her answer was that my weight could have been a contributing factor to my injuries, and if it was Walmart could be found non-negligent. Doing my best to remain civil I told her my weight had absolutely nothing to do with a clear liquid being spilled on the floor and me slipping in it. The only contributing factor to my fall was the spilled liquid. She got flustered and told me that obesity could be a the cause of some of my injuries, I told her if they were going to try to say that being fat is what caused me to slip and fall I was going to get a lawyer. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry.

    • Wow. You totally did the right thing. I hope it works out well for you!

      • thank you, I hope it does too.

    • What a hateful and oppressive experience to go through!—especially so soon after a fall that must have been very worrisome and painful. I’m so sorry to hear this happened to you.

      Unfortunately, this blame-the-innocent-person strategy probably works quite successfully for them much of the time. They are COUNTING ON the internalized shame from fat stigma to make you shut up and go away—so THEY don’t have to take responsibility for the very thing they are legally responsible for (having and maintaining EFFECTIVE safety protocols and systems in place to prevent dangerous/hazardous conditions for employees and customers.) I hope you can find a lawyer with big teeth. This wretchedly appalling (and socially deviant) kind of treatment from a claims adjuster is inexcusable.

    • They’re just trying to get out of paying the piper, and they’re bringing out the Fat Strawman to help them do it. Glad that you stood up for yourself. I tend to lose it with people like this and start spluttering things like “fu…fuuuu…fuuu…you!!!!” I sound really intelligent while doing it too.

  11. I’m glad that this post has come at the time that it has for me. It’s a Friday and it’s Lenten Season, so that means it’s fasting time for a few neighbors of mine and it brings up a few memories of mine, most of them unpleasant, if not painful and downright depressing.

    I have been personally harmed by both weight loss attempts and an emotionally abusive religious environment, and I have friends, loved ones, and neighbors who deal with one, the other, or a combination of the two. As such, I see a few parallels between faith healing and the downright magical status weight loss is given right now. The biggest one I’m seeing is the blame that is put on the person seeking the solution if that solution doesn’t work (or doesn’t work forever). Well, that and the fact that faith healing’s only positive effects being the placebo effect (in other words, it doesn’t work at all) and significant weight loss is sustainable by so few people that it might as well not work at all. And weight loss testimonials on TV sounding a lot like the testimonies at a Pentecostal revival meeting (As an ex-Pentecostal, I’ve been to several), right down to the “Old Me/New Me” comparisons as if you weren’t the person you were before. It’s kinda creepy, really.

    Also, when I saw the title of this post the first thing I thought of was how, if you really wanted a diet to work, you basically do have to be married to it, and it’s basically the worst marriage ever.

    I really wanted to sound less angry but it’s hard to be less angry when the topic of emotional manipulation by way of shaming, blaming, guilt-tripping, and moving the goalposts as a way to elicit a change, is the topic of the day. As someone who has dealt with the soundtrack of her adolescence being “If it didn’t work you must not have tried hard enough”, it’s hard for me not to get angry about that.

    And, end rant.

    • Yeah, Rubyfruit, the ideology is basically the same—personal salvation is the name of the game—the cult of individualism feeds capitalist (market) interests, and leaves most people feeling inadequate and ashamed for not being able to control consequences of social injustice and inequalities. Also, I’ve finally realized that the folks with the most to lose (those who perpetuate the myths of personal salvation through weight loss, health, etc) NEED oppressed people to look “normal” and to appear “grateful” for the concern heaped on us—so our outright rage and loudly voiced despair in response to injustices (and oppressive social conditions) threatens their happy little world of illusions, in fact our anger and our refusal to act “normal” scares the hell out them. They don’t like being reminded of their own precarious positions of privilege—unless they’re fabulously wealthy or have unusual family circumstances, many of them will end up old and vulnerable and being “cared for” by people who make minimum wage and see them as burdens…so, I say we keep ranting and sounding as angry as we truly feel. Our “negative” emotions are POSITIVE signs because they confirm (hallelujah!) that we aren’t dissociating (or succumbing to internalized shame) right along with the rest of the desperately-trying-to-seem-normal-and-fine-in-spite-of-oppression.

    • Oh wow – this reminds me of my weight loss experience in the early 2000’s.

      I was working at a baptist church when I decided to join Weight Watchers. Well, in a bit over 2 years, I had lost 152 pounds (still weighed in at 192, but my body wouldn’t lose anymore).

      Well, I worked at the church and I attended the same church (big mistake). At any rate, I became a sensation in that place. To the point where I actually shared my testimony publically. I shared that it was my faith and turning my attention to something other than food (which in retrospect was pretty much not true, as all I thought about were the points in any given food product – and I mean that’s ALL I thought about at least 99% of the time). People were coming to me to counsel them on weight loss. Can you imagine? Looking back, I am so not qualified to do that. Of course, at this point in life, I don’t even believe it.

      You can imagine my embarassment and my feelings of shame and thinking that I had lost my faith when my weight began to increase again. I gained all 152 pounds back + 10 extra friends!

      We moved away from that state so people didn’t see me gain it all back, but I went back recently for a wedding and now they do know.

      I decided that I wasn’t going to be ashamed. I have to love this body and I refuse to hurt it anymore. My faith is not lacking. God did not build me to be a thin person and I’m going to stop fighting it.

      Those church weight loss programs are all about your weight problems tying in with your faith level, etc. They are really hurting a lot of people.

  12. The last sentence of this post is excellent.


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