Solving the Obesity Epidemic In One Simple Step

Enough reallyEvery day I hear about how this diet, or that activity, or this federally funded program will “solve the obesity epidemic.”  I’ve got this covered and it’s so simple we could do it today.  Are you ready?  Wait for it….

Stop talking about the obesity epidemic.  There, problem solved.  But perhaps in our current society this bears some explanation – here’s why we should banish the whole concept.

First of all, it’s ridiculous, and a misnomer.  The CDC’s official definition of an epidemic is: “The occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time.”

Obesity is not a disease (even the American Medical Associations expert council on science and public health agrees.)  Obesity, as defined by the CDC,  is simply a ratio of weight and height.  So, even if you believe that there are more fat people who exist than would be expected, that still wouldn’t qualify as an epidemic, it’s just a bunch of people whose weight in pounds time 703 divided by their height in inches squared is over 30.  That group includes Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, many professional athletes, and me for example. Also, a committee that included representatives from Weight Watchers and pharmaceutical companies that make diet pills successfully had what was considered a “normal” weight lowered in 1998 making 29 million Americans overweight literally overnight, (and giving the companies they represented 29 million potential new clients) so this does not smack of rigorous science.

Not only is it not a real thing, it’s also dangerous in the following ways:

It encourages appearance-based stigma, because fat people are perceived as being part of a dangerous epidemic. And here we have an intersection between healthism, ableism, and sizeism. There should be no shame attached to body size, health, or dis/ability – the “obesity epidemic” propaganda encourages all three.

It causes people to be viewed, and encourages them to view themselves and the bodies that they inhabit 100% of the time, as a problem – and a problem that needs the attention of the public.  This leads to a world where fat people  face shame, stigma, bullying and oppression everywhere – homes, schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices, churches, sidewalks – anywhere that they are visible.

Its use in public health messaging is anathema to actual public health.  Health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control or guaranteed under any circumstances.  How people prioritize their health and the behaviors they choose are nobody else’s business. For those who are interested in talking about movement or fitness,  the stigma associated with a fat body based on the “obesity epidemic” idea, and the bullying and harassment that come along with it, keep many fat people who might otherwise be  interested from becoming involved.

When government tries to “solve the obesity epidemic” using ridiculous methods like dictating the size of soda cups that some places are allowed to sell, or giving every fat person a pony – fat people are blamed for ruining things for everyone.

The assertion that the only “good” outcome of engaging in certain eating habits or activities is a thin body – or, said another way, that if someone isn’t thin then they obviously aren’t doing the “right” behaviors – means that fat people quit because they believe that their behaviors can’t support their health unless the behaviors make them thin (which is also not what the research says.)

The verbiage around “solving the obesity problem” encourages people to stereotype people based on appearance, and to make negative judgments which affects things like hiring and healthcare. It also makes people confuse public health with making fat people’s bodies the public’s business which makes the world a very unwelcoming place for fat people.

The rhetoric behind the “obesity epidemic” and “war on obesity” has made it seem reasonable to have a television show (with profits in the billions of dollars) that claims that it is inspiring and motivational to witness the mental and physical abuse fat people, one of whom will win $250,000 for their trouble.

It has also fostered an “eradication at any cost” philosophy that has lead to people, including healthcare practitioners, suggesting that  fat people do incredibly unhealthy things in the hopes that it will make us “look” healthier by becoming thin at any cost – this includes prescribing to us what would be diagnosed as harmful in thin people, and suggesting that we have dangerous surgeries that risk our lives and our quality of life. all for the chance to have a “socially acceptable” body in our size-bigoted society, and not be part of the “epidemic”

Finally, you cannot have a war on “obesity” without having a war on “obese” people –  you can’t reasonably say that you are waging a war to eradicate however much of me doesn’t fit into a prescribed height weight ratio.  Nor can you reasonably suggest that you want to eradicate everyone who looks like me from the Earth but, you know, in a non-stigmatizing way.  No matter what people believe about “obesity” in a civilized society it would be horrifying to suggest that we wage a war on people who look a certain way, suggesting that they should be eradicated because the world would be cheaper if they did not exist.

Whipping people up into a frenzy about an “obesity epidemic” is highly profitable, and often provides good political cover (“brave mayor does something about obesity”)  but it doesn’t actually do anything helpful or good.  If people are interested in public health then I suggest they busy themselves making sure that everyone has safe affordable options for the foods they want to eat, the activities (if any) that they want to engage in, and shame free, blame free, future oriented healthcare.

We can solve the “obesity epidemic” right this minute – I’m not even asking people to say that they were wrong – just set the concept down and back away slowly and let’s never speak of this again.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Lies They Told Me About Health

Bad DoctorOne of the things that completely floored me when I started looking into the research on weight and health was that there wasn’t a single study of people who had maintained weight loss that showed that it led to greater health.

Studies that look at body size and health (but don’t factor in or control for  behavior) find that there is a correlation with higher body weights and higher disease incidence.  (Note that it is a correlation, not causation.) So the hypothesis is that if you can make fat people look like thin people, then they will have the same health outcomes, and hence manipulating body size becomes a recommendation for increasing health.

Let’s look at a quick comparison.

Male pattern baldness is strongly correlated with heart disease.  So, following the weight loss for health logic, if we can get bald guys to grow hair, we can decrease their risk of heart disease.  Imagine if we had a war on baldness, if we told those guys (despite all the evidence) that baldness is their fault and that  if they really cared about their health they would grow hair and that any man who tries hard enough can grow hair.  What if instead of doing the actual research to find out that it’s actually another factor that causes both the baldness and the higher rates of heart disease, medicine and science instead got stuck on the idea that if we could make bald guys look like guys with hair then they would have the same health outcomes?  Study after study about how to grow hair, just assuming that if they can just get that hair grown, these men will have better health outcomes.

That’s exactly the position that fat people are in.  Most researchers aren’t interested in looking at the correlation between higher body size and disease incidence and asking why the correlation exists and if it’s possible that other factors are involved.  But some have. When Peter Muennig from Columbia studied it he found that the stress of the constant stigma that fat people face is correlated with the same diseases to which being fat is correlated, and that women who were concerned about their weight had more physical and mental illness than women who were fine with their size, regardless of their size.  When Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor studied the literature they found more than  ample evidence to support a paradigm shift.

Studies like Wei et. al, and Matheson et. al. found that behaviors are a much better predictor of future health than body size.

Wei et al found that when fitness was taken into account the differences in health outcomes became negligible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matheson et. al found that habits, not body size, were the best predictors of future health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be clear, health is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness.  Health is not entirely within our control or guaranteed regardless  of habits or anything else. There is no such thing as a healthy weight – there is no weight that you can achieve at which you will be immortal unless and until you get hit by a bus, there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes.  People with health issues should be given options and treatment in accordance with their desires, not asked whether or not their health issue is their fault or could have been prevented.  Health care should be blame free, shame free, and future oriented. How highly people prioritize their health, and the path they choose to get there is an intensely person decision.

The reason I discuss weight and health is not because I want to tell people how to live or contribute to our society’s completely screwed up ideas around health, it’s because I believe that people are being misinformed and/or not given all of the information or all of their options and we should all have the opportunity to make decisions for ourselves

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

 

Walmart’s Fat Girl Costumes

Actual SizeThe internet briefly exploded into a freakout today because the Walmart website had a page for its Halloween Costumes called “Fat Girl Costumes.” People took to social media to discuss their displeasure and Walmart took the page down, tweeting things like “This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize.”

I completely understand why people were upset.  First was the speculation that a web developer had done it as a “funny” joke, or maybe did it as an inside joke among the dev team and then forgot to change it.  Even if they were well intentioned there are many people who fit the physical descriptor of fat who don’t like the word because of the negative connotations other people have heaped upon it and that’s absolutely understandable.

For my part, I would love to live in a world where “fat girl costumes” was a completely neutral descriptor. I, as you might have noticed, like the word fat for a lot of reasons. One of the main reasons is that I consider fat a reclaiming term, my use of it is one of the ways that I tell my bullies that they can’t have my lunch money anymore. I think that I’m fat whether people call me that or not, and I’m not so sure that making fat the Voldemort of adjectives is particularly empowering or helpful to anyone (though of course each person is allowed to choose the words that they prefer to describe themselves.)

I like “Fat Girl Costumes” (since I’m a fat girl looking for a costume) much better than I like “Plus Size Costumes” (as if people who are size 0-12 are one species and those who are above a size 12 are something else that needs a special name for our sizes.)  Note that we could easily solve all of this if clothing was made in a wider variety of sizes and sold together – then you just need a webpage for “Costumes.”

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

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

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

 

 

What Fat People Deserve

No apologyI notice that sometimes the stereotyping of fat people that is encouraged by our current culture leads to a conversation about fat people that makes us sound as if we’re a different species, or that our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is somehow a pursuit for “special privileges” rather than the pursuit of what everyone else already has, and I wanted to take some time to examine that today.

I think that, as a society, we can forget that body size is simply a physical characteristic – like hair color or eye color or height- and that the reason fat people’s lives are different is not necessarily because we are fat, but because we face completely unnecessary shame, stigma, oppression, stereotyping, and lack of accommodation.  Were it not for all of that, the only thing all fat people have in common is a single physical characteristic- otherwise we are as varied in lifestyle, opinions, politics, habits, health, dis/ability and everything else as any other group of people who share one physical characteristic.

So let’s look at the idea that fat people who ask to be accommodated are asking for something special, rather than just asking for what everyone else already has. For example, I’ve heard thin people say that it’s not fair that a fat person needs more space on a plane.  Broken down, their argument is that people at least up to their size take up “the right amount” of space, but people who are larger than them by some arbitrary standard (although not so arbitrary that it could ever include they themselves) should have to pay extra to get a seat that fits them because they take up “too much space.”  From this fat person’s perspective, everyone else on the plane has a seat that fits them and fat people are just asking for the same thing that everyone else already has.

I wonder how many people ponder the fact that they could have been born into a culture where fat is the standard of beauty, thin is seen as unhealthy, and everything is built around that.  That’s not better than what we have here but it does help illustrate the fact that just because someone happens to have been born into a culture that is constructed to suit their body does not make that person’s body a “better body”, nor does it make them somehow “deserving” of a world that is built for them.  It also doesn’t mean that those of us who aren’t accommodated by this culture have “worse bodies” or are somehow “deserving” of a world that is built to exclude us.  Sometimes I get push back about the idea that fat people are oppressed at all and  I talked about that here.

I think that a big part of the solution is for us, as a culture, to properly acknowledge, celebrate, and accommodate the diversity of body sizes (not to mention dis/abilities which is a whole other blog). We certainly have a long way to go, but I believe that we can get there.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Marathon Update: Progress Finally

At the beginning of this month I started to work with my Ironman coach, and the first big event that we are preparing for is my marathon.  He decided to change the strategy that I was working on – originally I was doing shorter bursts of running and working to increase the duration of running and the pace of my walk to get to my total time.  His workouts started with running for much longer intervals at a faster pace which led to me completing the distances but failing at the goals within the distances, (an experience which I wrote about in some detail.)

So we made some changes, keeping the longer running intervals but focusing less on the faster pace.  The result?  Success, in several ways.  On the first run with the new goals I wrote in my comments to him (we are using an online tracker for our workouts) “I don’t want you to have a heart attack from shock or anything, but Holy Effing Shit I actually succeeded at a run workout.”  Progress, however slow, however painful.

I was at York College in Pennsylvania to give a talk this week (Hi new readers, and longtime readers,  from York!) and on the way home I was watching movies on the flight.  One I watched was a documentary called “Half the Road” about Women’s Professional cycling and the stunning lack of party (and wealth of misogyny) that exists (tens of thousands of dollars difference between the men’s and women’s prize money in the same race,  Women’s teams have a requirement that 60% of the team must be under 28 years old, men’s team have no such requirement, women aren’t allowed to compete in the Tour de France because it’s “too strenuous,” governing body considers banning women from competing while they are menstruating etc.)

The bright spot in my rage at how women are treated in cycling, was this quote that pro cyclist Nicky Wangsgard mentioned was an inspiration for her:

You have to work hard for a long time without results, and you feel like you’re putting yourself in a hole, but you have to stay focused, you have to have faith that if you’re doing the work now, you’ll get there sometime.
Nicole Reinhart June 3, 1976–September 17, 2000

It’s a process, as they say.  And I have to constantly remember that one of the main reasons I’m doing this is that it’s not something at which I’ve ever excelled naturally and I wanted to push outside my comfort zone which is definitely happening, so there’s another success.  I am confident that I’ll get there, I’ll finish my marathon and my Ironman and the other events on the schedule, but I want to make sure that I’m not so focused on the goals that I forget to learn from, and be proud of, the journey.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

I’m Ok, You’re Ok – The Comment Quiz

Reality and PerceptionGreetings from York College in York, Pennsylvania!  I am loving the weather here and excited about my guest lecture tomorrow morning and talk tomorrow night!

In the meantime, one thing that frustrates me about a lot of the discourse on the internet is many people’s assertion that their experience is (or should be, or will be) everyone’s experience, and that others should feel obligated to make major health decisions based on their experience/opinions.

I hopped on this train of thought because of a comment I received It may be triggering for some, you can skip it and still understand the blog:

“I am overweight myself. But I understand this and accept the fact that it was my own overindulgence that created the situation. I have gone from 280 in 1990 to 150 in 2000 back to 280 in 2010. It was all of my own doing, and I know it was wrong. I would never make excuses about it. Facts are facts. You cannot deny it any longer.”

My issue is this: I feel like I am very clear on this blog that I am for a world where people are not shamed, stigmatized, bullied or oppressed for their size and, as far as personal choices go, I am not trying to tell anyone how to live – my goal is simply to demonstrate an inform about an option that people can choose if it makes sense to them.

Still, some people seem to respond to this vehemently – almost as if my choosing something different than they chose  is somehow threatening to them.  My best guess is that their self-esteem is based on what other people think.  Society values thinness over fatness, they are thin, therefore they are more valuable.  I, and everyone who agrees with me and does not value thinness over fatness, is therefore diminishing their value and a threat to their self-esteem.  That just my guess, who the hell knows?

You’ll notice that the commenter starts off talking about his/her experience but then veers at the end to tell me what I can and can’t do.  Since we’re not sharing a body, it seems like the only appropriate thing to say here is “I don’t agree with you and therefore don’t choose that path to health”.  That’s a perfectly valid life choice.  Saying:  “I don’t agree with you and therefore you must choose my path to health” is not okay, as you are not the boss of my underpants.

If you want to post comments on my blog telling me that you disagree with me that’s fine. If you want there to be a chance that I will approve your comment (though it’s never guaranteed), I suggest that you complete this quick exercise.

First, just read through a couple of examples to get the hang of it:

  • I think that the research shows that dieting doesn’t work so I don’t diet.
  • You think that research shows that dieting is the path to health so you do diet.

I’m ok.  You’re ok.

  • I think that weight loss surgery has a low success rate, lots of dangerous side effects and a low chance of any health benefits so I don’t have weight loss surgery, and I fight against institutions that provide it, but not against those who make it a personal choice.
  • You think that being thin means being healthy and that weight loss surgery will make me thin, so you pressure me to have weight loss surgery.

I’m ok.  You’re NOT ok.

  • I choose to concentrate on healthy behaviors to the exclusion of concentrating on my weight because I believe that it is my best option for supporting my health (understand that health isn’t a obligation, barometer or worthiness, completely within my control or guaranteed)
  • You choose to concentrate on being thin because you believe that it is your best option for being healthy.

I’m ok.  You’re ok.

Now that you’ve got the hang of it, you try one:

  • I find that a Health at Every size approach works great for me so I share my experiences on my blog.  If you disagree, I support your right to choose your own path to health.
  • You doubt the efficacy of the Health at Every Size approach, so you come on my blog and say that everything that I say is bullshit and that I need to think and act like you want me to.

If you guessed “I’m ok. You’re not ok.” then congratulations you are ready to comment!   If you got it wrong, go back to the beginning and try the exercise again, or feel free to peruse someone else’s blog – you never know who might be looking for health advice and body shaming from random people on the internet!

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

 

Fun With Awkward Conversations

I'm ok you're okAh the joy of awkward conversations.  This post is inspired by questions from several DWF readers about how to deal with people who want to lose weight when you are practicing Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size.

Now, what happens when we are involved with people making choices based on poor information?  Should I be up in a dieter’s biz trying to inform them that they don’t need to shrink their body to have worth?

I have been there and I understand where you’re coming from.  The first thing that I would suggest is checking your assumptions.  Does the fact that you believe that it’s “poor information” mean that other people should have to believe that?  While it can be really difficult to watch a friend make choices that we wouldn’t make, I think that the first step in having our choices respected is to respect the choices of others (as long as those choices don’t infringe on the civil rights of others of course.)

When I’m struggling with keeping my opinions to myself it sometimes helps me to remember that if I tell someone that I know better than them what they should be doing with their body – then I’m doing the exact same thing that I complain about people doing to me.  People who tell me that I need to lose weight can be well intentioned and think that I’m working from poor information.  They are allowed to think that but I want them to keep that to themselves, so I do the same.

That said, even though people are allowed to choose dieting/weight loss etc. for whatever reasons they believe to be true, it’s perfectly ok to have spaces where diet and weight loss talk are not welcome.  If people are engaging in diet talk in a Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size space that I manage then trust that I will be deleting that.

How about a FA blogger who proudly proclaims their weight loss in the name of health, and hopes to diet their body out of plus-sized clothing soon?  Is it appropriate then?

I feel your pain on this one.  I know so many people (myself included many years ago) who went down a bad road with dieting using the justification that it was “for health reasons“.  But I have to remember that my experience is not everyone’s experience and I can’t extrapolate it to everyone else.

Although it can feel like a major blow when this happens publicly (especially if it comes off as a publicity stunt *cough* Jess Weiner *cough*) all we can do is move on with our own lives.

How do you deal with people who tell you about their weight loss and how happy they are?

When people tell me how excited they are about their weight loss it’s tricky because I know that there is an extremely high chance that they will gain the weight back.  I don’t want to say something like “you look so great!” (even though that’s what they might want to hear) because I fear that it makes it sound like I thought they looked bad before, and it’s doubly awkward if they end up looking that way again.  So I usually say nothing, or say something to the effect of “size doesn’t matter.”   While people are allowed to buy into the idea of weight loss as a good thing for whatever reason, we aren’t obligated to do the same.

I think that debate is an important part of HAES and FA movements, but when it comes to dealing with people’s personal choices there are more subtle things that I can do that are often effective.  Doing things like Talking about the Health at Every Size option whenever people are talking about diets.  When people are body snarking, you can talk about how much you love and appreciate your body.  Work it into the conversation and it will become an invitation for people to talk to you about it.  Just like I don’t think that people hate themselves healthy, I also don’t think that you can argue them into loving themselves.  I find that often when people want to fight with me about the validity of the HAES option, the entire thing is diffused because they want me to argue that my choices are better than theirs, but the only thing I’m arguing for is that we both have the right to make the choices that we think are best for us.  So if they choose dieting and I choose HAES then that’s ok, because they are the boss of their underpants and I am the boss of mine.

I try very hard to avoid doing to others the exact things I don’t want done to me.  That includes

  • Not confusing my experiences with other people’s experience
  • Offering options and respecting other people’s choices
  • Never making assumptions based on body size
  • Not snarking bodies of any shape or size
  • Not offering unsolicited advice

I’m certainly not perfect and I have my off days but in the end I think that what works best for me is not just talking my truth but living it as well.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.