When Weight Loss Gets the Credit

Success and DietsIn our weight-obsessed culture there is a tendency to tell fat people that we should blame our body size for everything that is wrong in our lives, and that the only way to succeed is to lose weight. This is a damaging lie, and today I wanted to look at three ways that it plays out.

Health Improvements

Let’s say that someone adds some behaviors that are known to support health to their life, they experience some health improvements, and they lose weight.

The story we get is the weight loss leads to greater health, but back it up a minute.

Why do we rule out behavior changes as the reason for health improvements? It seems much more likely that the health improvements and the body size change are both results of the behavior change. Especially since there is good research that shows that behavior changes often lead to health improvements regardless of body size, or change in body size. On the flip side, research shows that weight loss without behavior change (for example liposuction) does not show health improvements.

Athletic Improvements

Someone starts a program to increase strength, stamina and/or flexibility. They increase strength, stamina, and/or flexibility, and their body weight goes down.

The story we get told is that weight loss leads to better athleticism.  So if someone is thin and does a program like this, it’s the program that causes their athletic improvements. But in a fat person we’re told that it’s a change in body weight?

Confidence

Someone’s body weight changes and they become more confident.

The story we get told is that weight loss increases confidence with no examination of the fact that a society rife with sizeism is what prevented the person from being confident in the first place.  There is no reason for someone not to be confident at a higher weight -and even living in a society that gives us near constant negative messages about our bodies, there are still plenty of confident fat people.

On the surface there is a frustrating lack of logic here, but this problem goes way deeper than that.  The truth is that all of the incidents of weight loss that I described above are likely to be temporary.  The truth about weight loss is that most people can lose some weight for a short amount of time, but almost everyone gains it back and many gain back more than they lost. The constant lie that fat people are told is that our fat is to blame for anything and everything we’re not happy about in our lives, and that the “solution” to all of that is weight loss.

These lies convince fat people to put our goals and lives on hold and put all of our eggs in the weight loss basket, despite a mountain of evidence that suggests it will never happen, and a complete lack of evidence that it will actually help us achieve any of our goals. It means that when fat people give up on weight loss (wisely, since it almost never works) many of us also give up on all the goals that lies told us required weight loss to achieve.

It’s important to remember that health, athletic ability, confidence and all of the other things that supposedly come with weight loss are never obligations, barometers of worthiness, or entirely within our control, and we might do well to think twice before we buy the party line that they are body size dependent – because when weight loss gets the credit, nobody gets the truth.

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Published in: on May 20, 2016 at 11:14 am  Comments (46)  

46 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. you should get a Macarthur Genius award. Wish I were on the committee. So eye opening.

  2. Oh man, I hear you on that. I was looking up which exact functions fat plays in the body because I had forgotten, and I ended up in some very misleading popular articles about the topic. They point out that higher body fat is associated with higher cortisol levels, and therefore, fat must physically generate stress hormones. I’m like, or, it’s stressful living in a fatphobic world? Nope, must be the body fat.

    • Orrrrmaybe accumulation of fat deposits is at least partially a result of lots of stress hormones circulating in the blood all the time? Possibly because back in the fire-bad-tree-pretty days the primary cause of long-term stress was anticipating starvation….

      • You get extra credit for being right and funny at the same time. Also, a million bonus points for the Buffy reference🙂

      • I’m gonna go with both.

  3. It also makes it seem like you can’t be happy about anything else if weight loss is involved. Yes, I lost quite a bit of weight. This was actually somewhat worrying for a while and was a SIDE EFFECT of the whole “finally getting an effective treatment for depression” thing. Can we talk about that? Or about the fact that now I have energy and am happily exercising? I have so many opinions about running gameification apps and shoes and those weird fitness food gel things! Anything except the fact that I have to buy new pants again.

    • Woman’s World, that perfect distillation of hen dope, has an article about the greatest diet ever in every single one of its weekly issues. It’s a different diet every time, of course–although they do tend to repeat themselves, because there are only so many ways to manipulate what we consume when it comes down to it. The diet usually comes out of a book or website, and the author is often the living proof that it works (at the moment). One of these authormonials that ran a bit over a year ago just broke my heart. The author had been struggling with depression (blaming herself for the meds not always working), bullying due to body size (for which she also blamed herself!), and yo-yo dieting (ditto!) for basically her whole life. Well, she became more active with the support of friends who did NOT bully her, and did some other stuff which from a non-dieter’s perspective sounds like horrific food restriction but was actually less damaging than what she had been doing to herself, poor woman. And she became much thinner.

      For now.

      Here’s the thing: The article includes a picture of this woman, who had been pinned to the couch for years by depression, walking a marathon. Out in the open air, number on her tank top, walking a frickin’ MARATHON.

      It’s her before picture.

      When the weight comes back on, which may already have happened, I wonder if she’s going to just give up. Because what is learning how to reach out to friends after a lifetime of bullying and becoming fit enough to finish a marathon after a lifetime of depression and the desultory, insulting PE that is inflicted in fat people…next to being thin? (/sarcasm)

      • Ah, but according to the trolls, a marathon doesn’t count unless you RUN it, and come in under 7 hours. It’s not the distance, you know. It’s the speed.

        And if you DO make it under 7 hours, and you’re still fat at the finish line, then you’re still a lazy-butt, who is just not working hard enough, and so the marathon doesn’t count, because OBVIOUSLY you could have done better, because you’re not thin, yet.

        Out of curiosity, what was her “after” picture? Standing still and posing? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just seems a strange juxtaposition, especially when promoting weight loss and a “fit” lifestyle.

        • Standing still in a tight short-sleeved top and tight jeans. It’s usually that or a cocktail dress.

  4. I wish more people would read your blogs and be receptive to your message. It hurts to see my friends doing this to themselves.

  5. When I was diagnosed with diabetes I was put on a medication. My blood glucose dropped substantially in less than a week. I also lost my constant hunger and cravings – I ate less, and I lost a great deal of weight. The drop in blood sugar was a matter of days (and kept constant afterwards), the weight loss took me several months. But when I came back to the doctor and tried to explain this, he simply ignored me. To his mind weight loss was the cause of my improvement, *not* the medication that he himself put me on.

    • I told a doctor that since I stopped dieting, I was losing about 2-3 pounds every 3 months (going to the doctor every 3 months). He just snorted, and said, “That’s nothing.”

      Yeah, it’s nothing if you’re actively dieting. If your’e not actively dieting, it’s your body actually slowly changing its set point. It’s also possibly caused by the medication changing the blood sugar levels. Either way, it’s a whole lot better than quick weight loss that damages the body in the process, and doesn’t stay gone.

      Same doctor told me that fat cells are toxic and that I should weigh the value of every bite I eat for the rest of my life. I’m glad he’s not my doctor, anymore.

    • This happened to me too.

      • This makes me realize how lucky I am to have my doctor. I was recently diagnosed with diabetes (after years of “pre-diabetes”) too, and started Metformin. My glucose levels have dropped dramatically, but as for weight — meh. I’ve lost five pounds and that’s it. And my doctor *doesn’t bug me about weight.* She is very thin, herself, and when I first went to her I was afraid she’d be horrible about my weight, but she’s wonderful. When I saw her last week she congratulated me on how well I’m doing with my glucose control, asked if I’d noticed any foods that seem to cause spikes in blood sugar (bad news: corn does for me; good news, potatoes don’t), discussed strategies to get the glucose levels down even a little further, was encouraging and supportive, and said not a word about my weight. She’s great.

        • Oh, hold onto her! A good doctor is a huge blessing, and really hard to find.

          • Yes, I know I am REALLY lucky to have her. When I got my diagnosis with diabetes I broke down crying in her office, because for years I’ve been limiting carbohydrates, I’ve been exercising, I’ve been doing everything that was supposed to reverse my pre-diabetes or at least keep it from getting worse. But here I am anyway. I wailed “I’ve been trying so HARD!” She handed me a kleenex and then she said “And if you hadn’t done those things, you might have been in full-blown diabetes years ago. You haven’t failed — you probably delayed it by doing everything you’ve done, but after a certain point you can’t outrun genetics. You haven’t failed.” I sat there and sobbed for a while and she kept saying comforting things, she didn’t rush me out of her office, she let me get control of myself, and then we talked about how to manage the diabetes and a plan for going forward (which is working). She is exactly what a doctor SHOULD be. And I know I’m lucky. If I’d had a doctor who reacted to my distress by saying “Well, you shouldn’t have ‘let yourself’ get so fat,” I don’t know what I would have done.

  6. And when weight gain gets the blame! No, my fibromyalgia has NOTHING to do with my weight! If anything, it was caused by being force dieted to a severe LOW weight during childhood and the all important teen years…But that wouldn’t fit the narrative!

    People especially don’t realize how much pregnancy can change a woman’s body…I gained 100lbs when I was carrying my daughter and my thyroid and other issues worsened…Because it changes your hormones so much. Every day of pregnancy, your body produces as much estrogen as a non-pregnant woman’s would in THREE YEARS! No wonder ‘1/3rd of the population’ is ‘obese’!

    • That;s the worst. My stupid doctor keeps trying to put me on an 1800 calorie diet “because losing weight will help your fibromyalgia lots”. Also “you’ll lose weight fast on this diet”. No matter how many times I try to tell him I have never dieted, but last year, eating normally I lost 17 lbs slowly, he still wants to put me on a diet. I’m armed with Ragen’s printout for what to say at the doctor’s office for my next visit so I can stand up for myself and stop the diet talk. I’ve only recently been diagnosed.

      I have a closed Fat Positive Fibromyalgia group on Facebook if that’s your thing. Just do a search in Facebook for Fibromyalgia Body Positive Support group

      • I’m very glad you’ve never dieted. You’re much better off for it.

        Don’t forget to include the data about weight change in people who have never dieted, versus in those who have.

        17 pounds in one year is slow if you’re dieting, but not so slow if you’re not dieting. There might be an underlying thing at work, here, and it’s worth investigating.

        Are you more active than you were a year or two before? If there’s no change in your eating, but you are more active, then that could explain it. But if there’s no such explanation, then that’s possibly a sign of something wrong.

        You’re allowed to get a second opinion, too. Please take care!

        • I was maybe a little more active, but it was just babysitting a 2 year old one night a week and chasing after her and dancing with her. I did start a medication for migraines (Topamax) I was told might make me lose weight, so maybe that was it. Honestly I didn’t question it when my regular doctor told me that in a congratulatory way, I’m sure she assumed I was trying to lose weight and I wasn’t, but since I don’t focus much on my weight I didn’t think twice about it.

      • I was diagnosed in 2009 at age 25. I’m 5’10”, I weighed 250lbs then, I weigh 400lbs now. The first 50 were CAUSED by the fibro! Alongside slowing my metabolism, it made me unable to exercise. The last 100 were, as I said in my original post, pregnancy related. My fibro has gotten a little worse, but I think that’s because of the pregnancy, not the weight. I also have PCOS, and I got pregnant with that without trying, which is very rare, so my body didn’t like that very much.

        A little bit off topic…How are you dealing with caring (part time, even) for a 2 year old, with fibromyalgia? Emery is 4 now, and it stresses me that I can’t chase her around much. I have support from family when I live near them, but I moved out West again (first to Colorado, and now I’m back on the West Coast) so I don’t have that, and they’re very judgey people, so I try not to expose her to that too much.

        • it’s hard work, but my husband helps, she is our goddaughter so we take her one night a week, usually Friday after work and keep her til early afternoon on Saturday, and she prefers my husband so usually he’s the one chasing her. She actually just turned 3. My biggest problem I think is when she starts wanting to climb into my lap it hurts so much for her to push her tiny hands into my legs and my thighs, or when she leans to look at something and again puts her weight on her hand on my thigh or belly. It hurts so much and I know I could try to tell her it hurts but I don’t know how to explain it for her to understand, even my husband doesn’t understand my pressure sensitivity.
          Since we have her usually less than a whole day I can usually handle the running around with her, and we are usually doing the night thing anyways, too late to go to the park so we watch TV and play with glow sticks and stuff. We do go to the park sometimes or just play outside sometimes the next day, but I can usually handle it if it isn’t for too long.

    • More people are obese today than 30 years ago, because they changed he definition. In fact, I believe they changed it twice.

      Another thing – we’re living longer. As people age, most do tend to put on a few more pounds, as the metabolism changes, and it’s natural and builds up a cushion to help older bodies fight the diseases that typically hit older bodies (like Alzheimers – fat helps to fight it). Since we’re living longer, more fat people are surviving.

      Add to that the high-stress levels of life today, that causes weight gain, and all the STUFF they’re putting in our foods (that cause weight gain), and the fact that fresh, wholesome, healthy, unadulterated food is waaaaay more expensive, and we have more poor people who can’t afford salad, and sodas actually cost less than water, and many people have tap water that isn’t safe to drink, so they have no choice but to drink sodas…

      Yeah, it’s totally our fault for being lazy. Yep.

      What we need to change is our society, not our bodies.

      • We’re also much better at treating and preventing wasting diseases like cancer and tuberculosis, which particularly raises the average weight. Because yay not dying! Only not, apparently, if it means fat.

  7. and society says that the word fat people is acceptable! fat is something you have, not something you can be, society! I love this post!

    • I’m glad that you love to post but just to be clear, fat is a totally acceptable adjective. You may notice that I call myself fat all the time. Because I’m fat. I’m also short (we wouldn’t say I have shortness) and brunette (we wouldn’t say that I’m not brunette, I just have brown hair.) I blogged about it here if you’re interested: https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/fat-and-fingernails/

      ~Ragen

  8. It’s not that I’ve given up on the goals, I’ve just damaged my body and health so much from insane dieting and radical weight loss attempts that I’m unable to pursue the goals I once held up to spur my weight loss. That plus being 30 years older kind of reduces my capability to go achieve.

    • I was talking to my son today about the insane over exercising I did in my 20s and 30s (sometimes 5 hours a day). It may have contributed to some of my current musculoskeletal problems.

      • Yeah, long-term professional athletes frequently have long-term damage because of it.

        But no one yells at them to stop exercising and pick up a fork.

    • Another Susan? What are the chances! (High, I’m sure 😋)

      I’m only 32…But I definitely have a slower metabolism than I once did. I don’t think even the way I ate as a teenager would make me thin again, even without what it did to my metabolism. I eat about the same as I did in my sophomore year of college, but I weigh DOUBLE what I did then.

  9. Science SCREAMS at us to look at causation, not correlation. Yet we totally forget this when it comes to weight. WHY?

    • Because “everybody knows” the “common sense” that “anyone can lose weight and keep it off, if they just try hard enough.”

      Thin people have privilege, and fight tooth and nail to keep it, by denying hard facts and scientific evidence. Because if fat is beyond someone else’s control, then they might get fat and lose their privilege, or worse, they might have to ADMIT that they have privilege, and stop treating fat people like dirt, because of it.

      Not all thin people are mean about it. The ones who aren’t are the ones who have admitted their privilege, or at least understand that good manners dictate that you not take advantage. But, golly! The ones who are holding tight to their privilege can be downright cruel about it. And it’s really just about being afraid that they’ll someday lose their privilege – either because they because they become fat themselves, or because eventually, the fat people will “win” and destroy that privilege. Either way, they’re terrified.

  10. Slightly off topic, but this made me just so frustrated I felt the need to share it.

    In a bizarre example of everything being “wrong” in our society being because of fat, I picked up the book “Declutter Anything” by Ed Marrow at my local library. I’m looking to do a little spring cleaning and thought maybe it would help me look at my organization differently. (Content note- insulting description of fat).

    I open it up, and the very first page of the very first chapter starts like this: “A Cluttered House is Like and Overweight Body: Is your house fat? Can it barely squeeze itself into that new coat of aluminum siding you purchased last summer?”

    What the ever loving fuck?

    • First, it’s insulting, and secondly, it makes no sense. No matter how much clutter you hoard on the inside of your house, you’re going to need the EXACT SAME AMOUNT of aluminum siding.

      You know, there are plenty of other books about organizing and decluttering. Try FlyLady. It’s way more positive.

  11. I’m more than a little upset as I type this. My man has been occasionally harping on me to lose 10-15 pounds to get back to “our agreed upon weight.” Any evidence I can give him to suggest that dieting doesn’t work and weight and health aren’t correlated will likely fly right out of the window, so I don’t even bother.

    He now wants me to weigh myself in front of him once a week and, if I have lost a little, he will “allow” me a dessert.

    I have had a nasty UTI and saved a piece of cheesecake in the fridge until my appetite came back. He threw the piece of cheesecake away without my permission today. I am so angry and also upset. He claims that he is “just concerned about my health”, mentioned belly fat, gaining as I aged, etc. I dont know what to do.

    My diet consists mainly of junk food, and I have agreed to implement more “good” foods into my life, like fruit. I will also drink more water to keep this miserable infection away.

    • Dump him. Controlling food is an abusive behavior. Get yourself as safe as possible and get out.

    • Dump his nasty controlling butt. For tips on dumping him effectively and staying free, please check out captainawkward dot com.

      “Agreed-upon weight.” Yeahhhhhhhhhno.

      • Also WEIGHING YOURSELF IN FRONT OF HIM WHAT

        WHAT

        WHAT WHAT

        UGH

        Even if he’s aware that your weight can vary 5 pounds per day because of a functioning uterus in the fertile phase, 2 pounds a day because of poop. and a pound because of having eaten something salty the night before–even if he’s “making allowances” or “being understanding”–AAAAAAAAAAAA nope out. ICK.

    • I seconding the dumping.

      Also, is there an agreed upon gender, hair length, religion? Makes no sense.

  12. Yep — I originally told him I was 275, which was a lie born out of panic after my ex became negative when I told him my weight. He has no right to weigh me.

    • Ugh, what IS it with people’s negativity? I’m guessing you’re 300+? That makes people shut down, especially if you OR THEY are short. I’m 5’10”, but my first girlfriend was a foot shorter, and she panicked when I hit 200, because she didn’t realize for a tall woman with a large frame, 200 isn’t that big.

      • He’s actually taller and thinner than me. I just hate his idotic logic. He won’t “allow” me a dessert” once a week because I “need” to lose 10 pounds and watch my weight but, if I were to lose the 10 pounds, he would go back to “allowing” me a dessert once per week, something he told me to avoid in the first place to get rid of the 10 pounds.

        • There is no logic. The point is to keep you under control, responsive to his commands, and anxious for his approval.

          Dump him and find somebody who doesn’t play crappy little games like this. Or be single and fancy free. This guy may think he’s all that and a bag of chips, but the chips are made with Olestra.

    • OK, I just edited away a long rant (I’m upset with him), and will just say, “please accept all the internet hugs in the world!” and “you deserve SO MUCH BETTER!”

      Long ago, I decided I’d rather be single than with a man who abused me. I’m still single, and although I would like to get married, I still stick to “better single than abused,” because I’ve seen just too much of it, in the world. Comparing the loneliness of not having love, and the loneliness of being “loved” by someone who treats you like dirt, I’ll take the first type, please. Especially because I get SO MUCH JOY from my friends and family, who actually do love me, just the way I am, and treat me well. I’d love to get married, someday, but only to a man who will actually increase my happiness, not suck all the joy out of my life, by making me hate myself, or feel like I’m not good enough.

      You’re good enough, Shaye! You are so good enough!

  13. This is very informative. I wish more people would read it. There is a whole misconception around fat and most people do more harm to themselves with incorrect dieting. Good read and will look out for more.


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