The Lure of Immortality

I think that the diet industry actually tries to subtly (or perhaps not-so-subtly) sell us immortality.  So much of our thin obsession  – dieting repeatedly despite horrible odds and experiences, stomach amputation and banding, etc. are purportedly done under the guise of health.  But I think that in many cases it might be more honest to say that it’s done because of a fear of death.  We’re sold this idea that being thin will ensure a long life, that a long life is the most important thing, and that the diet industry is our ticket to it. So much of my hatemail says something about the fact that I’m going to die, as if the person writing the comment isn’t.

We’re sold the idea of “healthy weight” as if there is some magical weight that we can achieve that will allow us to be immortal unless we get hit by a truck or something.  We know it’s not true – nothing will guarantee immortality or even a long life- people of every size die young and people of every size live to old age.  Health and weight are two separate things, there is no such thing as a healthy weight.  There are also no guarantees around this except that I’m going to die eventually and I don’t know when.

A lot of what I like about the Health at Every Size concept is that it supports my desire to have the best life possible between now and then.  I spent a lot of my life being obsessed with being thin. Counting calories in and calories out and just waiting for weigh-in day to see if I was “healthy” and “successful”.  It turns out that whether I had lost or gained weight I was neither – obsession with thinness was ruining my mental health, my physical health, and that wasn’t working out at all.

Now I roll healthy habits into my life and I can repurpose all the brain power and time and energy that I used to spend obsessing about being thin and counting calories  to do things that I love.  That is working out.  Of course that’s just my experience, your mileage may vary.

I no longer believe that the diet industry will do anything except make money for themselves.  Immortality would be nice, so would an invisibility cloak and the super-suit from Greatest American Hero (although preferably with the instruction manual), but since none of those are really likely to happen, I’m focusing on the living the happiest possible life between now and then, which includes spending zero physical or mental energy on being thin, and spending lots of physical and mental energy on things that I love.

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Published in: on November 25, 2013 at 11:31 am  Comments (37)  

37 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting, I never thought of it all that way, but it makes sense. When I attempted the raw food diet, that was one of their biggest ploys–that you will live longer. I find this fascinating, especially because I’d rather live a shorter life and enjoy food and family events with food rather than live longer and seclude myself so that I could stick with my precious diet and lose weight.

  2. Perfect way to start the day. Liked the tv reference too!
    Before I opened this, I thought I was about to read an update from one of my skeptic-atheist organizations. Amazing how similiar.
    —Jen

  3. Immortality would be nice, so would an invisibility cloak and the super-suit from Greatest American Hero (although preferably with the instruction manual), but since none of those are really likely to happen, I’m focusing on the living the happiest possible life between now and then, which includes spending zero physical or mental energy on being thin, and spending lots of physical and mental energy on things that I love.

    I love this paragraph. This is going to be my focus for today, this week, this year, and on from there. I have wasted so much of my life trying to achieve the oh-so-elusive thinness. Since I discovered HAES and fat acceptance, I’ve been changing my life and my perspective. It’s amazing how much better I feel overall because I’m spending my time on things that I find much more enjoyable. I’m living life, rather than waiting to live it once I’ve reached what someone outside my body deems to be the ideal for me.

  4. It really is amazing how much time and energy go into ‘trying to eat right’ and how that then spoils any food enjoyment. Eating becomes a chore instead of something that can be enjoyable. Also, I got tired of that little voice in my head demanding treats because I told myself they were bad for me.

    Now that I can have my treats, I don’t want them in that constant way and I can enjoy whatever food I choose to eat.

    And the brain power for other things is WONDERFUL.

  5. I like the idea of a good, long quantity of life, certainly, but I think more of us need to concentrate more on the quality of life we lead. Are we enjoying our lives? Are we doing things we think are truly worthwhile? Or are we just spending our time trying to eke it out to the last possible nanosecond without taking a breath to actually live?

    I can’t speak for everyone here, of course, but I’d rather live a year or two less if it means I have the time and mental space to laugh, to love, to observe the flight of a butterfly, to cook and eat good food, to hug people, and to think about what I truly believe.

    Even if spending my life obsessed with losing weight and being thin guaranteed me two hundred years on the planet, I’d rather live seventy or eighty years sharing jokes with Mr. Twistie and my friends, snuggling cats, baking pies, and doing walk-a-thins for causes I believe in.

    I’d rather live sixty years and make some sort of difference – even if it’s a tiny one – than live a hundred fretting about calories and missing my own life.

    • “walk-a-thins”? Wondering if that is a real thing or a Freudian slip, lol.

      • Smegging fracking autocorrect! Does it to me every time and this one time it slipped through after I changed it TWICE.

        Sheesh.

        If anything, I do walk-a-fats. I walk and I walk and I walk and guess what? I’M STILL FAT AND SASSY! I don’t believe either is terribly mutable in my case.

  6. A friend of mine told me that her 82 year old mother has been sick for the past week and unable to eat much. She (the mother) mentioned that one good thing about it would be that she could lose some weight. I thought that was one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.

    82 years old and still thinking/worrying about weight loss! Who the hell cares? I do believe in the underpants rule, but come on. This is how pervasive the thin at all costs model has become in our lives. It’s sick and it’s sad.

    • Wow. That’s just … *sigh*

    • My mom just got diagnosed with breast cancer and was told – “Well, at least chemo means you’ll lose weight and they make really nice wigs now.” F*ing really? Oh, and BTW, my mom is currently at her heaviest weight ever… a chair-busting 155 lbs. She’s wearing size 8’s right now – totally hyoooge. (/sarcasm, if you didn’t notice)

      It totally burns me that there’s still this whole health/weight association. My mom is not going to be healthier on chemo. The weight loss associated with chemo is directly related to the shattering of her immune system and that she’ll likely be feeling too ill to eat. And people are acting like it’s some sort of bonus.

      “Oh, you have cancer? Bummer. But at least you’re skinny!”

  7. “Many people long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”-Colin Wilson

    • Great… and I am happy to say that I do neither … if you can follow my double negative.

  8. It’s always interesting to see the comments from others on other sites discussing weight loss when you bring up “there’s no magic number for weight that grants you immortality”. I’ve had replies of “no one is talking about that!!!!” But, you’re acting like. “No, we’re all for living a long and happy life!!” Ok, so I can agree on the happy life, but nothing can guarantee you a long life because you never know what will happen tomorrow. Maybe YOU want to live as long as you can – that’s fine. Go for it. But that doesn’t automatically enroll me into the happy life = long life = must not weigh over this much to enter club.

    These life goals… people don’t always have the same in mind. Learn it, live it, love it.

    • Immortality… I do not think it means what you think it means.😉

  9. My GI doctor proved this to me. When he first met me while I was unable to keep food in me for months (which is why I was seeing him). “You need to lose weight!” he told me.
    “I’m not willing to discuss my weight, I practice HAES, and I just told you I couldn’t keep in food, I honestly don’t know what you expect me to cut out to lose weight,” I replied.
    “You’ll die sooner!” he exclaimed.
    “SO!?” Which got him on to the next topic (which was to prescribe me a pill that I told him didn’t work on me, and physically hurt me), but seriously… when I’m dying of starvation from a GI disorder that apparently isn’t being addressed because I’m fat, why the hell would I want a longer life of suffering?!

    Since, without the help of my asshole doctor (see what I did there?) I have found the trigger for my Crohn’s disease, I am currently in remission, and way healthier, and also 80lbs heavier as a result of actually absorbing nutrients again.

    • If you don’t mind my asking, what is your trigger, and how did you find it? Elimination diet? My brother had to go off Remicade due to latent TB and has started a new biologic but is doing awful… he just missed a week of work and finally called my mom to say he was too weak to get to the doctor and needed help. He was going to try “enteric nutrition” (liquid diet) because there’s research showing it helps with Crohns, but the shakes that are guaranteed to be complete (from hospital supply) are expensive. Even if he just used Boost or Ensure it would be expensive. From what I understand, it’s an accepted treatment in Canada, but not America, so health insurance companies won’t cover the shakes.

      • I have found that the trigger was yeast. I have cut it completely out of my diet and, like I said, went into full remission. I actually figured it out during Passover, when you can’t have leavening, all my Crohn’s symptoms went away for the week and came back when I ate bread and such again. I’ve been on this diet for coming on four years. It’s not the same as the Candida diet. Just cutting out everything that has ever touched yeast. I actually have a blog about it, here: http://yeastfree-painfree.blogspot.com/

  10. Despite having long-lived family, I suspect that my combination of chronic illnesses mean that I will not be setting any longevity records. So what? I’m planning to enjoy my time until I run out of it. I’ve seen too many elders wishing either their bodies or their families would just let them go to think that longer is always better.

  11. My second comment to the post today…
    Having lost a dear friend to cancer two weeks ago has helped reaffirm that I should enjoy the life that I have and make the most of it without worrying if I’m too fat or thin enough. We have no guarantee of immortality no matter what size we are, so why add stress to my already stressful life simply because I am too fat for society’s tastes? As I said in my earlier comment, I am spending my time living life instead of waiting until I’ve reached that magical healthy number on the scale.

  12. A long, healthy life. Which is what my grandmother has had (in spite of smoking for close to 70 years and treating animal fat as one of the four basic food groups). She is 101 and is in good physical health outside of the dementia that forced her into a nursing home last month. That long, healthy life got her to the one place she never wanted to be.

  13. Thank you, as always, for a thought provoking post. I never thought of dieting as a quest for immortality, but the theory looks right to me. I will say that when I was in my 40’s and my mother was in her 60’s, I wondered why she was still fretting about what she ate. Now that I am in my 60’s, I understand. The pressure is still on. But, I rejected the idea of dieting back when I was in my 40’s. So, I can withstand the pressure, but I am not oblivious to it. Your posts always help me face the onslaught of, “but I am only concerned about your weight because of your health conditions.” As you alluded to, the actual question of how long we want to live, also relates to issues other than fat. I think the answer is still the same: we want a quality life. Some people are scared to make that choice. I do think that people who are involved in the life long practice of fussing about their weight are frightened to be less structured. We do like our routines. My mother had been a real penny pincher all her life, and it certainly allowed her to give our family what was needed, but when she got older, she had enough money to let up on the super tight penny pinching. She told me once, “I guess I will just stop” I sucked in my breath, thinking she was talking about her life, but then she explained she would stop worrying about the money she was spending. And, even though she was not sure what she could worry about if she let go of the penny pinching, she did open the purse strings and enjoyed many things before she passed on. So the lesson is that it is possible, even at an old age to let go of the obsessions and enjoy life. Thus chronic dieters can let go. What a wonderful freedom to not worry or feel guilty about your weight.

    • My grandmother had a similar issue with money. When she was 91 and in the hospital with stomach cancer, my great aunt advised her to dip into her savings for something she needed. Granny looked utterly woebegone at her and said: ‘but what will I do in my old age?’

      I’ve never been quite sure if it was her first ever attempt at a joke in her life, but it’s a turn of phrase that has come to be a reminder to me that, in the immortal words of the late Oliver Wells, you ‘could be hit by a pig truck tomorrow.’ so you might as well do the most living you can now.

      • I think sometimes I come back to Ragen’s posts just to see your commentary, Twistie.❤

        • Me too!

          • Awww, you guys make me all blushy.

  14. This is a subject on which I’ve got an outsider’s perspective, but a useful one (at least IMO). I’ve been sick all my life. Literally, since the day I was born, I’ve had health problems out the wazoo. I come from two very long-lived families, but I’m not going to have a long life. I suspect most people would rather die than live the way I do, between incessant pain, handfuls of medication, and weeks at a time when I can barely look at food, much less eat anything. All of this has placed me firmly in the camp that states that quality of life is more important than longevity.

    The older, sicker, and angrier I get, the more convinced I am that happiness needs to be taken when it comes. It can involve anything from seeing my girlfriend (who lives a thousand miles away), to snuggling with my cats, to daydreaming that I’m a member of Thorin’s Company (my inner mythical creature is totally a Dwarf), to fussing with a needle almost too small to feel between my fingers, silk thread as fine as a baby’s hair, and beads like sand grains. Sometimes, I’m too sick to do anything but lie still, like last night when I had what I think is an abdominal migraine. All I can really do is make up for it the rest of the time.

    This is really just a wordy way of saying that I don’t understand the obsession with living as long as possible. Yeah, there’s more time to do things, but it’s not a promise. I’d rather grab what I can right now. For all I know, today is it.

    • “abdominal migraine”

      “abdominal migraine”

      “ABDOMINAL–MIGRAINE”

      [insert “Nope Nope Octopus” .gif here]

      • I love the Nopetopus.🙂 He’s so cute, and ever so fitting in a variety of situations.

        And seriously. Dude. Abdominal migraine (complete with inability to even consider eating, sometimes for days) is a major Nopetopus situation.

        Man, now I want to visit my local aquarium so I can watch the octopodes for a while. Cephalopods are amazing. I’d love to see a long-lived species of octopus develop, maybe a mutation of the Pacific Giant Octopus. The potential for intellectual advancement is staggering. (I can’t eat cephalopods anymore, period, since I learned exactly how clever octopodes are in general.)

  15. I saw this demonstrated recently at the gym. Upon returning to the locker room after lifting weights I found paramedics and others working on a lady who was unconscious. After they transported her, the conversation of most people in the locker room seemed to oscillate between concern and disbelief. The first I understood but the second was very much in the vein of how could someone who was (1) thin (2) worked out regularly and (3) by all accounts was very healthy, could have had such a thing happen to them. Instead of focusing on the fragility of life, the conversational undertone was accusatory and afraid for how the magic diet/exercise combo had failed to make this poor woman immune to illness (immortal). It was a very disconcerting conversation to be a part of.

    • It’s amazing how much people want something/someone to blame when bad things happen. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 35 and died at 41. Over the years, when I’ve shared this with people, I’ve been asked if she was a smoker (nope, not that it would be their business to judge it if she was), if she “grew up around toxic waste” (wtf?), if my family has a strong history of cancer (we don’t), and if she had BRCA gene mutations (which, most likely, she did not. She died before that kind of testing was available, but I’ve been tested and don’t have those mutations). I think when certain people hear about something bad or tragic happening, their immediate instinct is to find some reason to pin it on, so they can reassure themselves something like that would NEVER happen to them. Since fatness is so ridiculously stigmatized and pathologized in our culture right now, it provides the easiest scapegoat ever.

      But of course, neither thinness nor fitness is any sort of guarantee against tragedy. The father of one of the little girls I used to babysit went into full cardiac arrest and died very suddenly about a year and a half ago . . . while doing an Iron Man triathlon, and after being a marathon runner for years.

      The fact that people would apply that type of thinking to something like a woman passing out at the gym, though, is so illogical it borders on funny. There are literally dozens of possible reasons for passing out, ranging from fairly benign to life-threatening. Do they honestly thing thin people don’t get dehydrated, get their electrolytes thrown out of balance, have blood sugar dips or spikes, have irregular heart rhythms/congenital heart defects, or any of the other bazillion reasons that woman could have lost consciousness? She’s skinny and in good shape, guys, she’s not a superhero . . .

      • I suspect many of those people were doing all the ‘right things’ that are supposed to provide good health, since that is what is always promised. It can help, but it isn’t a guarantee, and too many people forget that.

        People like a sense of control, too. I know it is hard for me to acknowledge what I can’t control. I’m job hunting right now and I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t control whether or not I’ll find the right job for me, regardless of how perfect my resume and cover letter are. It’s frustrating, depressing and a little terrifying.

      • That’s so sad about your mom.

  16. Life is a Sexually Transmitted, Terminal Disease! 😀🙂 ; )

    • Lol…I’ve never heard that one before!

  17. The “treatment” so many here report they receive from their doctors because they are OMG!FAT! really makes my blood boil. Steam comes out my ears every time I read about it. I’ve experienced similar behavior from doctors who diagnosed me as OMG!YOUNG! at age 17 when I developed severe arm pain. The end result of that was that I got to spend most of the next 6 years in contant pain with no treatment.because ONG!YOUNG! For tendinitis that if they’d bothered to treat me properly for, would have been corrected in a few months. Instead I would up with permanent damage by the time I found a couple doctors who had a clue.

    Also can unfortunately attest to the fact that doctors pull the same BS for those who are OMG!DISABLED! and OMG!OLD! I was a caregiver in group homes for the mentally ill or mentally challenged for years, and the residents in the homes I worked in were forever being dismissed by doctors. We as the caregivers advocated fiercely, and boy oh boy did the doctors NOT liket that! At all. I know someone who’s paraplegic who if she goes to the hosipital, must have friends and family be ready to advocate for her if she can’t because too many doctors try and assume she has no quality of life just because she is paraplegic, and thye’ve been known to alter , withhold, or use treatments they’d give an non physicallly limited person. because of it She says she’s far from the only parplegic or quadriplegic she knows who has to do the same thing. I have elderly parents, and doctors do the same to them, dismiss anything and everything because they are old.

    I didn’t get that BS from doctors during the time that I was OMG!FAT!. Probably because I had long since decided that ALL DOCTORS ARE GUILTY TILL PROVEN INNOCENT and made it quite plain I would NOT put up with such BS. I also avoided them unless absoultely necessary. Still avoid them. Even though these days I am now so um well not OMGFAT! that I’d probably send the entire AMA convention into orgasms of ecstasy over my body size. What’s just as much fun is when they dismiss *inserthealthconcernnoteasilyfiguredouthere* as ITS JUST ALL IN YOUR HEAD!

    • I agree with the OMG!Old! diagnosis. My grandma just died a few months ago in a nursing home, but before that, in conversation with the head RN, she said that it is standard procedure to bring a doctor to the centre when there is a problem because if you go to the hospital, the patients will be put to the back of the line due to their age, and some hospitals do it more regularly than others. At least if they stay at the centre, they will be able to get at least 2 doses of medicine in the same span of time that it would take to actually see a doctor at the hospital (avg. 6-12 hrs).

      The reasoning is that old people (over 70) are going to die anyway and what’s the point. They’re not contributing to society anymore or reproducing, so we shouldn’t divert resources to someone who won’t make “proper” use of the them.

      • That’s my sense of old people’s treatment in the US which is fucking depressing since we will all be old (if we are fortunate).

        The idea that someone has to contribute to be worth anything is a horrible idea that needs to die a sudden death.

        Or if you do believe it, at least have the guts to admit it instead of making people suffer because you don’t think they are worth your time.


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