A Diet by Any Other Name…

…would still have a 95% failure rate.

Ok Shakespeare I’m not, but in fairness he was a poet and I’m talking science.

I was having a conversation with someone recently and we started talking about the show “Heavy”.  I mentioned that my issue with the show is that I wish they would focus on increasing health through healthy habits rather than weight loss because the success rate of intentional weight loss is less than 5%.  One person at the table said “that’s why diets don’t work – you have to make a lifestyle change.”

No.  No No No No No NO NO NO NO.

First, to be clear, I am totally cool with people who want to diet and lose weight.  I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live.  However, since in their multi-billion dollar a year marketing campaign the diet industry works hard to cover the fact that they have a less than 5% success rate, I think that many people might not know that.  And since it stands to reason that a big part of the why the diet industry keeps making so much money is that 95% of people fail and a lot of those people blame themselves and turn around and start another diet, the industry has a vested interest in making us believe that the blame lies in the 95% of people who aren’t able to change their size over the long-term.  And so a lot of people don’t realize that the diet they are embarking upon is an endeavor that:

  • has a greater than 95% chance of failing
  • hasn’t been proven to make them any healthier
  • has serious health risks.

So I thought I’d just put it out there.

For the record this isn’t just a fat girl thing.  I would be just as angry if 95% of people who took antiobiotics still had strep throat and they were being told that it was their fault.  Or if Viagara only worked 5% of the time and doctors were blaming the other 95% of guys for not trying hard enough.

Bottom line, if you attempt to make your body smaller on a long-term basis, then you have a less than 5% chance of success. You could call it a diet, an eating plan, a lifestyle change, a health plan, or a whizzywoo, you are still trying to decrease the size of your body over the long term and therefore you still have a greater than 95% chance of failure based on the best science available.

Again, I’m not trying to tell people whether to diet or not, I absolutely respect anyone’s choice, but I do think that dieting deserves a disclaimer.

Shown Actual Size

I witnessed a conversation between two people I’ll call Ben and Angie.  In the context of the conversation,  Ben guessed that Angie weighed 150lbs.  She immediately said “No way, add 50 pounds to that”.  He said “I know, I was trying to be nice”.  She said “It’s ok, it’s a compliment”.

This is not the first time I’ve heard this conversation, it’s happened to me.  I think that it’s pretty common when weight is involved. I see some issues here:

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that purposely misrepresenting someone should maybe not constitute  “being nice”, since what that really seems to  indicate is that you think that what they actually are is not ok – that it is something to be ashamed of and lied about.

It’s fine for Angie to feel that it’s a “compliment” that someone purposely misrepresented her to be nice.  Angie is the boss of her underpants and allowed to choose whatever life experience she wants.

However, I think that in the meta-analysis, someone purposely misrepresenting who you are as a way to be “nice”  probably only works in this situation because we live in a culture that thinks that thin is the most valuable thing, and we choose to buy into that point of view.  Even if someone thinks it’s a compliment in the moment, I wonder what the effects are of  hoping that, and being happy when, someone is “trying to be nice” by guessing your weight at 50 pounds under what is true, considering that you’re living in a body that’s shown actual size.

Imagine if the conversation had been about something else – race, ethnicity, religion…even hair:

Ben:  “Angie, you have beautiful straight hair.”

Angie:  “No actually my hair is really curly, look,  you can see it curling”

Ben:  “I know, I was just trying to be nice”

Angie:  “Thanks, that’s totally a compliment”

Not so much.

When I identify as “fat” and people freak out – as they often do- they honest-to-god will say “You’re not fat”.

Instead of asking them “how many fingers am I holding up” I’ll sometimes say “No, I’m definitely fat – I weigh 284 pounds”.  They most often respond  “No way , I thought that you were no more than 150 or 175.”

Ok, that’s crazy talk.  I do not look more than 100 pounds lighter than I am.  But I don’t know if people really think that I am what 150 pounds looks like, or if they are just “trying to be nice”.  If it’s the latter then let me just be clear that I don’t think it’s a compliment to lie to me. Of course another option is that what they are saying is “You don’t fit my stereotypes of fat people”  – but that’ a whole ‘nother blog.

Just for the record:

This is what 284 pounds looks like (c’mon, you’ve got to admire all the ways I’m finding to work these pictures into this blog…)

Photo by Richard Sabel

I am 284 pounds of healthy athlete and I am proud my body and every single thing that it can do. You lying about my weight is not “being nice”, you’re either telling me that I should be ashamed of my weight, or you’re trying to shove your weight insecurities on me.  Either way, I’ll pass.

If you want to be nice to me then show some respect for who I am, what I look like, and what I can do.

If Fat Women Prefer Thin Models…

Ragen Chastain: 5'4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel

Yesterday in response to my post about being disappointed with Lane Bryant for using models whose size precludes them from actually wearing Lane Bryant clothes, I received several replies saying that Lane Bryant has run tests and plus-sized women bought more clothes when they were advertised on a “straight sized” model than on an actual plus-sized model. What with the who now?

So I did some quick (very quick, I left the house at 8am and just got home an hour ago)  research.  According to a  controversial study from Arizona State University:

“We found that overweight consumers demonstrated lower self-esteem – and therefore probably less enthusiasm about buying products – after exposure to any size models in ads (versus ads with no models). Also, normal-weight consumers experienced lower self-esteem after exposure to moderately heavy models, such as those in Dove soap’s ‘Real Women’ campaign, than after exposure to moderately thin models.”

Here’s my question:  Do you think it just might, maybe, possibly be because we have been so aggressively sold the idea that there is only one body type that is beautiful that we’ve started to believe it, and so as a culture when we see someone outside of the single image of beauty that we are sold  99.999999999% of the time we experience a conditioned response and immediately think “That’s a bad body.  That body is wrong.  My body is like that. My body is wrong.”?

Instead of looking at this study, asking the question that I asked, and pondering their culpability in the situation, what I see the media and advertisers doing is hiding behind the study and continuing to perpetuate their singular idea of beauty on the grounds that we like it better, which continues to reinforce that any body outside of that ideal is somehow unworthy of being seen, which means that we like the “ideal” more, and like our own bodies less.  Especially in a world where we almost never see an image that has not been so “retouched” that it is a completely impossible standard of beauty.   Does this seem like a good idea to you?  I think it’s pretty much crap.

I find bodies of all shapes and sizes beautiful – I always have.  I guess if I’m truthful I’ve always been more interested in the present than that box it comes in, but I’ve been purely physically attracted to all shapes and sizes of bodies.  I feel very lucky in that respect – even when I couldn’t find appreciation for my own body – I could always find it for the bodies of others.  And I think that if we truly want a body revolution, then we’re going to have to get it done ourselves.

My first suggestion:

Seek out pictures of bodies of all sizes, look at them every day.  Find things about them that you like. Start to really look around you at the diversity of bodies that exist. Realize that every single body is doing amazing things – the owner of the body isn’t even thinking about it, yet in every one of those bodies a heart is beating, lungs are breathing, eyes are blinking.  Millions of processes are going on every second in every body.  They are amazing machines at every single shape and size.

Decide, right now, that you are above putting down other bodies to make you feel better about yours (even if you only think it), or for any other reason.  Start to notice any time you think anything negative about anyone’s body and stop yourself and replace it with a positive thought.  Refuse to participate in body snarking with other people.  Be the change you want to see in the world.

Find ways to love your own body.  If you want some help check out Love Your Body More in Three Simple Steps

I promise you that your body is an amazing beautiful body that is absolutely worthy to be looked upon and adored, even if you don’t quite know it yet.

Want some places to start looking at beautiful bodies?  Check these out for a start:

Athletes at Every Size Flickr Pool (You may notice some familiar pictures from a certain fat dancing blogger…)

VoluptuArt has amazing pieces to look at and buy.  I have done both and I love the stuff.  (Nope, they don’t give me anything to say that, they most likely have no idea who I am)

This post (check the comments for lots of amazing pictures of fat people doing awesome stuff from belly dancing to hammer throwing).

The Adipositivity Project (NSFW, and the only situation in which I think a headless fatty is ok)

Works of Peter Paul Rubens (NSFW)

Corvetta Curves (NSFW)

The post of my most recent dance photoshoot can be found here

As always, if you know of others please add them in the comments.

Bodies are all around you, just waiting to be appreciated. Get going!!!!

Lane Bryant – Can We Talk?

Just in case you’re not in the know, Lane Bryant is a store in the US that caters to plus-sized women.  Recently they ran a “Curvy Revolution Contest”.   They gave women the opportunity to show off their best runway walk in a one minute video and win a chance to walk in the Lane Bryant Curvy Revolution fashion show in Vegas.

I’ll tell you right now that I have a some skin in this game, although not my skin.  This probably wouldn’t have been on my radar at all except that CJ Legare is a dear friend of mine. She is the second place winner.

Let me also state for the record that I’ve been competing at something or other almost all of my life athlete from way back, I’m currently a competitive dancer and I know full well that sometimes you just get beaten.  Sometimes your best isn’t good enough.  Sometimes it really is an honor just to be nominated.  So at first I thought – Second Place…HELL YEAH (10 points if you know the movie reference). But then I saw the winner and first runner up.

CJ is a pro and is taking this gracefully.  I am not.  And here’s why:

First of all, the rules include that there could be no pre-recorded music, no designer labels and that 75% of the score was based on “creativity, perceived personality, vitality and inspiration of entrant …The Grand Prize selection will be subject to verification, including without limitation, verification of eligibility, compliance with these Official Rules”

Here are the videos:

The Winner – Sydni Sayles

First Runner Up – sorry, I don’t know her name

Second Place –  CJ Legare

Ok, the winner and runner up both have pre-recorded music, the second not only has a designer label but the emcee POINTS IT OUT.

Thousands of other women turned in videos that could have been improved with pre-recorded music and designer clothes and accessories, but they didn’t include those things because they reasonably believed that they would be disqualified if they did.

Lane Bryant says that it’s not their fault, they outsourced the final decision to a modeling agency.  Their stance is that their rules were copied from somewhere else and were therefore not important. (Apparently they are like the Pirate Code – really more like guidelines anyway.  10 points if you know the movie reference).  My stance is that it’s your damn contest so if you don’t have the balls ovaries to make a decision, then that IS a decision, and you are responsible.

But those are little things compared to what I think is the greater issue here.  I adore CJ and of course I wanted to see her win.  But I was also excited about the idea of having a truly plus-sized model, a model who could shop for clothes at Lane Bryant, walk down the runway.  Except I didn’t really get one. And I was left asking – why would Lane Bryant break all of their rules for those two girls?  It looks to me like neither of them could even shop at Lane Bryant.  When I look at their website, it seems like part of a trend.

This is my friend CJ. She is a plus-size model and is a size 18/20.  She can shop at Lane Bryant:

Here is a model who is on their website right now.  I’m not linking  because I’m too irritated to help them get any internet traffic:

How is that plus?  How does that reflect their customer base?

One of the models below is a straight sized model from the New York and Company website and one is a  “plus-sized” model from the Lane Bryant website.  Can you tell which is which?

The one in the white shirt is the straight sized model, the one in the green is plus-sized.

Seriously?  SERIOUSLY!?

There are a few conclusions that I can draw from this, none of them good, and I’m not sure what is actually true:

1.  Lane Bryant would love me to spend my size 26/28 money there,  but they are too ashamed of the way I look to show women who look anything like me in their clothes.

2.  Lane Bryant thinks its fun to disappoint plus-sized women and make them feel bad about themselves by creating a public image of their clothing that cannot possibly be recreated on the  plus-sized women to whom they sell those clothes.

3.  Lane Bryant thinks that fat women hate our bodies so much that we can’t bear the sight of ourselves and therefore will only buy clothes if they are sold on a non-plus sized model so that we can commit the fallacy in #2 wherein we believe that these clothes will make us appear not plus-sized.  Maybe seeing clothes that have been altered to be worn by women much too thin to fit into them is what the majority of plus-sized women want to see.  Even if it’s true, here’s the huge problem with Lane Bryant’s approach.

If you think about it, almost every normal activity that we see  on commercials, billboards, magazines etc. is being done by a thin women. We keep hearing that over 60% of the people in this country are “overweight” or “obese” (a statement of questionable accuracy for me to deal with another time).  We are the majority.  We control the vote in this country.  But if the only thing I knew about this culture were movies, billboards, commercials and television shows, I would think that almost everyone was thin and the rest were successfully losing weight.  And Lane Bryant, which could be a bastion of positivity showing plus-sized women looking confident and fabulous, instead opts to alter their clothes to fit women who will never pay them any money because they do their shopping  at the vast array of stores that carry their sizes, not the the very few stores that carry my size, and that’s disappointing to me.

Prove it Fatty

Yesterday someone named Monty posted a reply to my post “Why Health at Every Size”  that said, in part:

I just worry that your are confusing the two and have convinced yourself that 284 is healthy. I guess I would challenge you to post your numbers (cholesterol, Blood pressure, etc) and prove to the scientific community that larger people can have perfectly healthy numbers. That would make it easier to shut these fat-haters up!

He/she prefaced this with a paragraph that I found even more paternalistic and insulting.  You can read my answer on that post, but what it made me want to talk about is the double edged sword of proof as it relates to us fatties.

Obviously, the fact that I am healthy is not enough proof for the scientific community (nor should it be) – but I have to wonder what would be enough?  So grounded are they in the apocryphal idea that health and weight are causally linked that it seems like no amount of evidence will sway them.  I know that because we keep reading things like “[random health problem] is caused by obesity”  even though there is zero evidence to support those statements.  The bigger problem to me is that this has lead to a climate where instead of trying to figure out what would make everyone healthier, everyone is trying to find the magic bullet that will make everyone thin.

You would think that after all of this time and effort, the fact that they have failed to prove that weight causes health issues, or that intentional weight loss works, would have lead scientists to start looking for another answer, or at least a new question.  Unfortunately very few people seem to be interested in doing any research to see if the issue might be something other than weight perhaps because they are too busy trying to shout “don’t you know fat is unhealthy” above the noise of the actual evidence.

Maybe it’s because convincing people that being thin will make them healthy has become a $60,000,000,000 a year industry. Who wants to give up sixty billion bucks to research the health effects of being constantly told that you are sick, unattractive, lazy etc.  Or to research why it is that in countries with no stigma about obesity there seem to be no greater negative health outcomes.  That would be too much work.  Just keep telling the fatties to lose weight.  It’s a great business plan since intentional weight loss (whether you call it a diet, lifestyle change, eating program, medically supervised, or something else) fails 95% of the time within 5 years.  (Even if you see a doctor, even if you lift weights to increase your base metabolic rate, even if you only lose one pound per week…)  This revolving door affords the industry a never ending supply of clients.  They seem to think that diet programs are like toilet paper – you’ll need them every day until you die.

So it seems that no number of healthy fat people would satisfy the scientific community that you can be fat and healthy, especially in light of the VFHT  (Vague Future Health Threat)  Maybe some scientist would like to explore the possibility that  it’s not the obesity that “catches up to us”, but the stress of a lifetime of constant social stigma, discrimination, and assertion that we are unhealthy lazy slobs, that causes health problems later in life for some obese individuals.

On the other side of that equation are these diets we keep hearing so much about. They work less than 5% of the time.  But the general consensus of the scientific community seems to be “They only work a tiny percentage of the time, but that’s proof that they work so go get ’em tiger.  And if you find yourself in the 95% of people who don’t lose weight – it’s so obviously and scientifically your fault.  5% of people can’t be wrong!”.

So every scientist and researcher interested in this subject has the opportunity to study the 1 in 3 healthy obese people and try to figure out why they are healthy.  Or to study cultures where obesity is not stigmatized and negative health outcomes do not appear to be realized.  Or they could do the million and first study about weight loss and the less than 5% of people who’ve been able to maintain weight loss for more than 5 years.  And most of them choose the latter!  I don’t think I’m particularly interested in the opinions of people who call themselves scientists and yet continuously make that choice.

All scientists make mistakes, disprove their own hypotheses through their research, and realize that they were wrong.  That’s what science is about.  It just seems like the ones who aren’t part of a $60 Billion industry are a little quicker to be honest (and, you know, scientific about it), and make a course correction. I don’t know about you but 5% is within the margin of error of most studies and that’s just not enough proof for me.  What I do keeps me healthy and Monty may be worried about me (“bless his/her heart” as we say in the South), but I am not worried at all.

Fat Chance for Healthcare Access

Health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, a guarantee, or entirely within our control.  One of the major variables is access. Access includes a number of things.  (I’m going to use HCP to mean Health Care Provider, including whatever health care someone might choose –  doctors , nurses, hospitals, acupuncturists, chiropractors, homeopaths etc.)

Ability to get to the HCP

This would include proximity, transportation, ability to get time off work, to go, or ability to visit before or after work, being able to meet the requirements that your insurance has for you to see the appropriate HCP, being able to get an appointment with the HCP you desire to see.

Ability to afford the HCP

Can you get insurance? (Before the affordable care act, I wasn’t able to get insurance because companies were allowed to exclude me because of my size).  Can you afford the insurance?  If not can you afford the cost of care without it?  If yes, does your insurance cover your health issues?  Can you afford the co-payment?  Can you afford any medicines prescribed? Can you afford follow up care, physical therapy etc. Can you afford to take off work if necessary for the treatment?

Ability to get good care from the HCP

Doctors ability to give good care can be hampered by their own stereotypes, preconceived notions and prejudices.  It can also be hampered by what they can afford in their facility.  This is where we fat people can have some serious issues.  Rebecca Puhl,  a researcher at Yale University, does a great deal of  around obesity and discrimination.  In one of her studies 24% of nurses said that they are “repulsed” by obese persons. Also more than half of the 620 primary care doctors questioned described obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.”

I have personally had doctors try to put me on blood pressure medication before taking my blood pressure (it was 117/70), and look at me and mis-diagnose me with Type 2 diabetes without doing any testing.  I’ve overheard my doctor tell my nurse that she should use the large blood pressure cuff instead of the extra large because “if we use the right cuff her blood pressure is normal.  A too-small cuff will show high blood pressure and maybe that will scare her into losing weight”.  I’ve had doctors prescribe weight loss for a broken toe, separated shoulder, and strep throat.  I hear stories all the time from people who have been diagnosed as “fat” by their doctors when they have real health issues that could easily be treated.

In order to truly have access to healthcare fat people must first be willing to go to our HCP –  if that HCP is a doctor then we have to be able to go in knowing that there is a more than 50% chance that the person we are coming to for health care will think that we are “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment”, and an almost 25% chance that the nurse we see will be “repulsed” by us.  Even if they are not part of that group, there’s a good chance that no matter what we go in for, we are getting a lecture about our weight, and if we practice Health at Every Size, we are probably going to have our research and choices dismissed as ridiculous by someone who is recommending a solution that almost never works.

If we can get over that, we have to find a doctor who won’t let his/her personal weight bias get in the way of actually treating us for what is medically wrong. Based on my own experience, my fat friends’ experiences and the stories that I’m reading all over the blog-o-sphere that is much easier said than done.

I wonder how many of the incidences of major health problems in obese people are due to the fact that going to the doctor is such a stressful, humiliating, and ultimately useless experience for us that we don’t go until our minor medical problem has become something major?  How many people miss out on early diagnosis and early cure of issues because they couldn’t bear to be humiliated and lectured at their annual annual physical, or they don’t get a proper examination because the doctor is convinced that weight loss is some sort of snake oil cure-all.  How many people don’t go get follow up x-rays because they  just can’t bare to put themselves through the process of being naked in front of someone who is repulsed by them.  How many people gave up on doctors because no matter how healthy our habits were, we were called  liars if we claimed to be anything other than sedentary over-eaters.

One of the lines in a widely used version of the hippocratic oath is:

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I cannot find a version of the oath that includes “unless I find that patient ugly, unattractive, and awkward”.  So no matter what their personal weight bias may be, doctors appear to have agreed to treat us with warmth, sympathy and understanding.  I think it’s time that starts happening.

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If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post

Why Health at Every Size

Ragen Chastain: 54 284lbs Photo by Richard Sabel

I am a big, fat nerd, in every sense of that phrase.

I research everything, I read a ton, I look up words I don’t know and use them until they are part of my vocabulary – call me perspicacious.

I am also a person who takes her health seriously, while understanding that health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, or entirely within any of our control.

So, when it came time to decide on a path to health, I didn’t select randomly, or base my choice on a motivational commercial, or on what a newly thin actress had to say.  As much as some people would have you believe, I also didn’t choose a path to health that I thought would “justify my fatness” or “permit bad behavior”.  In fact when I started looking for a path to health decisions, based on everything I had seen and heard I assumed it would involve losing weight.

My research of diets found that the conclusion of diet studies that looked at long-term success was basically: “this hardly ever works, but it’s still worth trying because of all the health problems caused by obesity.”  Further research showed that the “health problems” had never been shown to be caused by obesity and weight loss had never been proven to solve any health problem.   In fact the only thing that weight loss had been proven to do was, well, make you weigh less.  But even that was a short term effect, with long-term success rates so small that they were within the studies’ margins of error in most cases.  (Here is an article that researched weight management articles and found the same things that I found.)

I also started to notice the small print on every single diet ad: “Results Not Typical”.   Hmmmm.  I pondered this question:  If  I went to the doctor because I was sick and she said “Take this medicine, it worked for Tammy. Of course, her results aren’t typical.  In fact, it only works about 5% of the time, the other 95% people end up more sick than when they started…” what would I do?  I determined pretty quickly that I would absolutely NOT take the medicine.

My previous history with dieting matched what the research showed me I should expect.  I would lose weight at first, then plateau, then gain it back plus more. So if it wasn’t dieting, what was it?

I found Health at Every Size (that’s the term I’ve come to know it as now) and Intuitive Eating by accident.  I starting researching further and I chose it for five main reasons:

1.  It suggested that to be healthy, one should concentrate on healthy habits.

That seems like a big flaming sack of duh now, but back then it was revolutionary.  It was a face-palm moment.  I had been thinking that the best way to improve my health was to change my body size because being thin was proven to be correlated with health.  But being trained in research I knew that correlation never EVER implies causation.  So from a scientific perspective,  trying to be healthy by losing weight is like trying to heal a broken ankle by cutting your hair because you’ve heard that people with short hair have been shown to have less broken bones.  It seemed to me that if you want to heal a broken ankle you choose behaviors that will facilitate healing (get a cast, stay off it etc.)   If you want to be more healthy, choose actions that facilitate health.

2.  It suggested that I should check my health to begin with.

Another no brainer that had never occurred to me.  I started to look into it and it turns out that the doctors who had told me that I NEEDED to lose weight for my health had neglected to tell me that the health I had was damn near perfect.  When confronted they gave me the Vague Future Health Threat and the same lines that I had heard in diet ads,which was a HUGE red flag for me since it meant that they were either giving medical advice without having studied the research, or they were medical professionals who don’t understand the difference between correlation and causation which, as far as I’m concerned, makes them unqualified to pull a splinter out of my toe.

3.  It meant that I could maintain a good relationship with my body.

I think that the biggest lie that we’re sold is that our “weight” is somehow different from, or separate from, our body.  In truth it seems pretty clear to me that our weight is part of the body that we inhabit 100% of the time.  So if I am fighting a war with my weight, then I’m at war with my own body.  If I’m struggling with my weight, then I’m struggling with my own body.  If I’m motivated to lose my “embarrassing, ugly fat” then I am embarrassed by my own body and think it is ugly.  It is unacceptable to me to be in a bad relationship with the body whose heartbeat and breathing keep me alive, whose limbs get me where I want to go, and whose brain allows me to do pretty much everything.

I grew up believing that my body was a limitation to be overcome through mental toughness.  Through my journey I had learned that my body is a partner and friend that deserves respect and good treatment.   Health at Every Size was the only program that allowed me to treat my body with respect instead of viewing it as broken, flawed, and something to be disgusted by, embarrassed of, battled against, struggled with, and changed by whatever means necessary.

4.  It made allowances for the multi-dimensionality of health

All of the diets that I had researched seemed to assert that to be healthy you should focus on your weight, and that your weight is all a matter of behavior.  Considering the complexity of the human body, that seemed pretty doubtful.  Based on my research I believe that health is some combination of:  Genetics.  Environment. Behaviors.  Access.  Health at Every Size taught that I could focus on the aspects of my health that I could control, rather than feeling like a guilty failure for things that were beyond my control.

5. I could be wrong

Every good scientist will tell you that they might be wrong.  It’s a basic tenet of science (another reason that I found all those diet ads pretty fishy).  So I knew that whatever path I chose, I could be wrong and would have to live with the consequences.  Having spent most of my life dieting and hating my body, I had a pretty good sense of what a lifetime of that would entail.  At the point in my life that I was making this decision, I could just start to imagine a life that wasn’t dictated by a scale, calorie counting, hating my body, and yo-yo dieting.  I realized that even if my choice was so wrong that it caused me to die in 40 years instead of 60, I would rather have 40 years living a Health at Every Size life than 70 years living a diet/weight loss lifestyle.

So here I am, many years later still healthy, still “Type 3:  Super Obe*e” (and where the hell is my cape?!).  I was going to compare it to my life of dieting, struggling with my weight and hating my body, but the difference is so sharp that there simply is no comparison.

I would never go back. And now that I’m on the other side, I want reach as many people as I possibly can and tell them that that this life is an option for them to. To be clear, just as I demand respect for my choices, I respect the choices of others.   I don’t believe that anyone has to make the same choice as me, and I’m not trying to convince anyone, but I do believe that everyone should know that the option exists.

For more information I recommend you check out Linda Bacon, who literally wrote the book on HAES:


And this fantastic post by Golda Poretsky that answers some basic questions that people new to Health at Every Size tend to have:


You can also see more people who blog about these things over on the Blogs I Love page.  No guarantee that you will love them, but I do!

Somebody Has to Tell You You’re Fat

I was in a coffee shop between meetings today and had the strangest conversation.   There are actually three voices involved in this conversation:

RS:  Random Stranger

IMH:  In My Head

MOL:  Me Out Loud

So here goes:

RS: Aren’t You DancesWithFat?

IMH:  Holy crap!  A random stranger recognized me! How freaking awesome! This never happens… Wait, stay calm, act cool, smile like this happens all the time, don’t be an idiot.

MOL:  (very calm) Yes, I am.

RS:  I saw your dance pictures, and someone has to tell you, you’re too fat to dance like that, it’s not good for you.

IMN:  Stay calm, say thank you. Wait…play that back…what did she say?!?!?!  Maybe I heard that wrong.

MOL:  (still very calm) Beg your pardon?

RS:  Your body is just too big to do that.  Dancers have to be skinny.

IMH:  Are you freaking kidding me right now?

MOL:  So you think I should lose weight?

RS:  Everyone knows you should lose weight.

IMH:  Deactivate your eye roll reflex!  I repeat, do NOT roll your eyes.

MOL:  But you don’t want me to exercise…

RS:  At your weight you need to be in the pool, your legs can’t take the weight of you.

IMH: Does she think I live in a pineapple under the sea?  How the hell does she think I get around?

MOL:  (ever optimistic, still going for the teachable moment) Well, I weigh 284 pounds.  When I do the leg press I warm-up at 360 and go up from there.  I work out a lot and do sport specific training so while it’s true that my body is larger than most dancers, I have the strength and flexibility to dance at my weight without having problems outside those that a normal dancer would have.

RS:  Well, I’m sorry if this is rude but somebody has to tell you that you’re just too fat.

IMH:  It’s rude, it’s presumptuous, and it’s paternalistic.  But mostly it’s ludicrous for you to think that in a culture that is this thin-centric, no one has yet told me that I’m too fat.

MOL:  It’s rude, it’s presumptuous, and it’s paternalistic.  But mostly it’s ludicrous for you to think that in a culture that is this thin-centric, no one has yet told me that I’m too fat.

RS:  Well then why aren’t you trying harder to lose weight? You’re clearly unhealthy and the dancing is making it worse!

IMH:  I’m not famous enough to be Punk’d, right?

MOL:  (losing steam on the whole teachable moment thing) Ok, I’m just going to take a wild guess at this:  If I asked for your qualifications as a healthcare specialist you wouldn’t have any, and if I ask you upon what research you are basing these conclusions, you wouldn’t be able to cite a single piece of research.  Is that correct?

RS:  You don’t have to know health care or research to look at you and know that you are unhealthy.

IMH:  Why, are you some kind of human MRI machine?

MOL:  See, that’s where you and I seem to have highly divergent opinions.  And since it’s my body we’re talking about, I think I’ll choose whose opinions I hear and at this point I’m done hearing yours.  Thank you for your time.

RS:  It’s your funeral.

MOL:  We’re done here.

I see and hear this idea a lot: “someone has to tell her that she’s fat”, “If we don’t shame them, they’ll never change their unhealthy ways”,  “I’m abusing him for his own good!  (Also known on this blog as Pulling a Jillian)”

Newsflash.  Nobody who is fat is unaware that there are people who think that our weight makes us unhealthy/unattractive/the cause of all the world’s problems.  We hear it 386,170 times a year.  We know.  More specifically I’ve heard it.  I know that despite the fact that I am fat and healthy, people will tell me that it is impossible to be fat and healthy.

I don’t believe them.  You see, I know that the majority of [doctors, scientists, people etc.]  have been known to get things wrong.  It turns out, for example, that the Earth is round and it revolves around the sun, thalidomide causes birth defects, Asbestos isn’t for breathing,  Heroin is not a “non-addictive morphine substitute”, Cocaine isn’t a helpful medicinal additive that goes great in Coca-Cola.  Name any scientific discovery and you’ll likely find that a majority of people disagreed with it at the time.

I choose to live my life believing that the best way to be healthy is to pursue health, not thinness.  I’m willing to accept the consequences if I’m wrong.  I didn’t make this decision lightly.  I looked at all of the research that I could find, I looked at my own personal history and I made a choice to opt out of the thin-obsessed diet culture and focus on my health and it’s working great for me.  I’m not telling other people how to live, just presenting an option.

If you have questions about my point of view and/or want to have a respectful discussion – I am all ears.  I understand that, at this moment, I hold the minority opinion and I’m happy explain where I’m coming from and hear other opinions and discuss them. I actually love when people open a dialog and ask me why I don’t buy into the popular ideas about weight, health and dieting.  I’m totally okay with people who disagree with me respectfully.


If you think you’re doing me a favor by stating your opinion as fact and telling me what you “know” about my person health,them I’m telling you right now that you are not doing me a favor,  I’m not interested, and I’m respectfully asking you to please keep it to yourself.

If you are fully aware that I’m not interested and find it disrespectful, but you are telling me what you “know” about my health because you want to be the “magic person” who gets through to me, then it sounds like this is a whole lot about you and not really about me or my health, and I’m still not interested, and I’m still respectfully asking you to please keep it to yourself.

I don’t think that obesity is a choice for me, I choose healthy habits and I let my body be at whatever size my body is.   I know that opting out of the diet culture was and is a choice for me.  It’s a choice I’m making consciously, it’s a choice I stick by and while you don’t have to agree with it, if you want the privilege of discussing my health with me then I require you to respect that choice. Simple as that.

David Duchovny: Fat Chick Dance?

Californication has just started its fourth season.  In the show David Duchovny plays Hank Moody, the lead character who is a classic womanizer.

What interests me happened In Season 1, Episode 8.   Hank’s father tells him “…life’s too short to dance with fat chicks”. While it’s certainly not an original phrase, it appears that moment of television has spawned a bit of a movement.

This would not have been on my radar at all except I saw it on Twitter last week. A quick Google search showed me that there are websites and blogs dedicated to this concept. I found places where I could buy t-shirts, I can even buy bumper stickers because apparently these people (the bloggers included men and women) are worried that some fat chicks who are driving around will be laboring under the misapprehension that we are somehow worthy of their time.

Now, please read the following carefully because someone will accuse me in the comments of doing everything I’m about to clearly explain that I’m not doing, and I want to feel fully justified when I mock them:

  • I’m aware that these are scripted characters in a show, not  real people and I fully accept that.
  • I’m aware that the opinions of the characters may or may not match the opinions of the actual actors and I fully accept that.
  • Clearly, since so many people are resonating with this phrase over three years later, the writers did a good job of reflecting our current culture, this show has a lot of dark themes and I’m not against that.
  • I am not, I. Am. Not,  I AM NOT angry at the show for using the line. I’m not, seriously.

I just think that since his character did nothing to refute the statement in the show, and especially now that it’s become so widespread, the real live David Duchovny might like the opportunity to speak out – with flair.  Because obviously this statement is just ridiculous and he might not want to be associated with a cultural meme that tells would-be dance partners that fat women are so sub-human that a dance with us is actually a waste of the limited time they have on Earth.

You see, that’s where it gets a little crazy for me.  Not everyone is attracted to fat women and I’m ok with that.  But the idea that if we are at a dance, people should skip the opportunity to dance with me because my size inherently makes me a waste of time is just crazy talk, and David Duchovny can prove it.

And what better way to do so than to dance with me… a real live fat chick who is also a professional dancer and a National Champion in partner dancing.  It’s going to be awesome! You’ll notice that I do not have a book for sale nor anything to promote – this isn’t a publicity stunt to make a buck.  This is an invitation to Mr. Duchovny to come dance with me, thereby speaking out against a cruel, demoralizing meme that he helped create.

But don’t take my word for it Mr. Duchovny, lest you doubt my fat chick dancing prowess I have references and videos (you can find them below).

So if you see him, please let Mr. Duchovny know that his fat chick  is waiting for her dance, and that it will be time very well spent.  While I’m at it, a friend suggested that the Ellen  show might be the perfect venue for our dance.  Well, if I’m going to swing, I might as well swing for the fences.  Ellen’s show is all about positivity with plenty of dancing sprinkled in and I think that it would be amazing to do this there (in no small part because it would give me a chance to meet one of my heroes!), so if you see Ellen feel free to pass the suggestion along.  But rest assured, whenever and wherever Mr. Duchovny is  ready to trip the light fantastic, I’ll be there.

So David (can I call you David?) here are my references and videos.  I’ll look forward to hearing from you! Remember it’s ragen at danceswithfat dot com…

I have danced with Ragen Chastain and I can truthfully say that she is an accomplished and talented dancer. She actually makes me look good. –Bobby Moorman

I highly recommend Ragen Chastain as an excellent follower. Ms. Chastain’s frame is impeccable and she is very light on her feet. She takes change in direction exceptionally well and doesn’t hesitate to add embellishments to enhance the dance experience. Oh, and one more thing…I enjoy dancing with Ragen because she makes me look soooo good. As an amateur dancer, I have much to learn in leading the dance, and it is my pleasure to stand with Ragen . Best regards, Alfredo Cervantes Jr.

After thinking about it for a while I have danced on and off with Ragen for at least a good 6 years. From those many years ago when I first watched her staring at our feet as we line danced and she jumped up and said “I can do this”, which she could, to her full on performing and competing.  When I think of when I get to dance with Ragen the first thing I think of as a lead is the word “light.” Let’s just say the girl can twirl! She has this innate sense of balance, knows her center of balance and how to use it as she executes her turns in any pattern I throw at her. I have always jokingly said “Ragen comes with power steering on the dance floor.” She isn’t one of those follows who anticipates what I plan to do. She holds her own and does her part. I get to lead and she most certainly follows. She is always up for a challenging new move and if she thinks she didn’t do it right she is quick to say, “wait, try that again!” I always hope that what I did was intentional and not something I accidentally made up and can’t replicate though!  Whether it is swing, two-step, waltz or nightclub, Ragen has always been one of my favorite partners to dance with as she is well versed in all the styles.   I love that even when I make a mistake, she makes me look good. She can make me look like a much better dancer than I actually am. I love coming off the floor with her and having someone comment to ME, “wow I didn’t know you were that good!” That statement always strikes me as funny because I make her do all the work.  All in all, you can not ask for a more graceful, gracious and talented dance partner.-Don Curran

I have been thrilled to coach and dance with Ragen Chastain for the past 6 years. As a dancer, Ragen, is determined, a great learner, and always has a positive outlook. She is great to coach and dance with, and has certainly dealt with some adversity due to her size and people are often surprised  that she can move with such ease and grace. She always takes on any challenge, and tries her best to make anything I throw at her work. Ragen gives me lots of credit for her dancing, but coaching her has also made me look at things from a different angle as well. And it makes me always see that just because a person is of size, they can do anything they are determined to do just as well as anyone else!! Rowdy Dufrene, Professional World Champion Dancer and Coach

Do you prefer a fast dance?

Or a slow dance?

The Gym – Not So Scary

A lot of people make a New Years Resolution to go to the gym more. To be brutally honest, you couldn’t pick a worse time. Right now the gym is packed to the gills with people who don’t know what they are doing (which isn’t their fault – they are just new).  It does die down however so hang in there.  By mid-February you won’t be waiting in lines for equipment, there won’t be a line at the front desk to check in, and you will be able to get a bike in spin class without showing up 2 hours early and bringing a sniper rifle.

For many people the gym is a big scary place.  I’m a gym rat from way back so for me it’s really more like home.  All the sights, sounds, yes even the smells of the gym make me feel comfortable.  It’s really sad to me that lots of people who would like to try the gym are scared to for various reasons.  I put together this post to hopefully make the gym less scary and more inviting:

Choosing a Gym

This is a matter of money, vibe and what you need in a gym. Typically more money means more amenities so decide what you want.  I once toured a gym that had a $10/month membership fee but didn’t have locker rooms.  Um, no.   There are gyms that are snotty, gyms that are laid back, gyms that are more based on group exercise and gyms that don’t even have a cardio room.  Some have a pool, some have a pilates center etc.   It’s worth it to take the time to check out the gyms in your area and see what’s available.  Some of them will have incredibly pushy salespeople who say that you can only get this special if you sign up Right.  This.  Second.  Ask to speak to a manager and ask what’s wrong with their gym that they don’t think it will stand up to a little comparison shopping.  Then ask for the deal in writing and two weeks to make a decision.  Be prepared to negotiate down to a week or so but this has always worked for me.

There is a gym called Planet Fitness that has declared itself a “No Judgment Zone”.  I’ve not been into one yet but I’ve had some friends signed up and I checked them out online and they look very cool at first blush. Their website doesn’t have a single reference to weight loss – only fitness.  What a concept!

Being a Newbie:

First, try to have some old timer empathy.  Imagine if you shopped at a store 5 times a week every week for 9 months.  Then all of a sudden the store was filled with new people who don’t know where anything is, start moving things around etc.  Suddenly your 30 minute shopping trip takes 2 hours and the things that you buy 5 times a week are all sold out.  Of course it’s nobody’s fault, but it is at least a little understandable.  I for one am glad that you’re here, as long as you follow some basic etiquette:

Take a deep breath, everyone around you was once a Newbie too – none of us was born knowing how to adjust machines that look complicated enough to require launch codes.  If your gym offers classes to help you learn to use the equipment take them.  If you aren’t sure how to adjust a machine,  Do ask a friendly looking person.  Do ask someone at the front desk for help.  Don’t ask a personal trainer who is in session – remember that someone is paying that person for their undivided attention.

Look around before you just start grabbing things and moving them around. Think of it as a new job, you learn the office etiquette before you start playing your radio, trying to make coffee, taking breaks etc. It’s the same at the gym–figure out what’s appropriate before you re-arrange furniture like it’s “Trading Spaces–the Weight Room Addition”.

When you go into a group class for the first time, it may behoove you to stand back around the edges for a little while to get the lay of the land, let the regulars get their spots etc.  (Some people get very possessive of their spots – trust me when I tell you, you don’t want any of that action).  Pay attention to things like how far apart people tend to stand – unless you want to tell your grandkids about that time you got kicked in the head in step class.

People might say stoopid things to you.  While it’s pretty rare that someone says or behaves in a way that is mean, plenty of people may behave in a way that is annoying.  Some people may congratulate you for starting an exercise program (even if you’ve had an exercise plan for the last 10 years)  or encourage you on your weight loss.  (This happens to me all the time)  While this is a very real concern, I personally think that if stay home because people might be idiots, I’m the one who loses out in the end.

Of course it’s your choice how you deal with this: thank them, use it as a teachable moment for Health at Every Size, put Bengay on their sweat towel (that was a joke, don’t go telling people I told you to do that).  I typically prefer teachable moments, but whatever you choose I would recommend deciding beforehand and practicing.  It’s harder than you might think to say what you intended to say when you are sweaty, exhausted, and surprised by a perfect stranger weighing in on your life choices.

Bring a water bottle and a towel to wipe your sweat off the machines.  If you’re going to forget something, forget the water.  The water is for you, the towel is for everyone who uses a machine after you.

Crap Old-Timers Try to Get Away With

Sometimes when old-timers can peg you for a newbie they will try to get away with the following behaviors.  Here’s what to do:

Time limit?  What time limit?

This one is usually accompanied by a look of wide-eyed innocence.  Especially during this time of year many gyms put time limits on their cardio machines.  People who’ve been around awhile tend to try to get around this by:  putting their towel over the clock, restarting the timer every 10 minutes, just ignoring it thinking nobody will say anything.

You can handle this directly with them (excuse me, but can I take a look at the timer on your machine to see what kind of wait I’m looking at?  I’m sorry, you may not have noticed but you’re over the time limit).  Or you can tell the good people at the front desk.*

Opposing Muscle Musical Chairs

A lot of resistance training is based around working opposing muscle groups.  Some people like to alternate between the two (one set of biceps/one set of triceps, lather rinse repeat) so they will work on one machine and leave their water bottle and towel on the other.  This is not cool.

You can deal with it directly (Normally I ask “may I set in” but if someone is pulling this I just say “I’m going to set in on this machine”) or passive agressively (don’t say anything, just move their stuff and start working out) or ask the nice people at the front desk to deal with it.*

Mine. Mine.  All Mine.  My Precious.

Some theories of  weight lifting (pyramid sets for example) require the person lifting to use a number of different weights.  While that’s fine, it is NOT FINE to get 12 sets of weights and put them under your bench at  peak times at the gym.

Again, I typically come by and ask “Mind if I use this” indicating the weights that I need.  You can also talk to the people at the front desk.*

*A note on talking to the front desk people about your issues.  I don’t particularly recommend it unless someone’s behavior is egregious or they don’t respond to polite inquiry.  Most people will start to act like they’ve had some home training if they are just confronted.

A last note:  I’ve noticed at my gym, it’s as if every year there’s a newbie class who meet each other and then wave and say hi at the gym forever.  It’s not that they all hang out or even chat very much, it’s just that in 2008 they all survived being gym newbies who work out around 6pm and now they are bonded.  It’s pretty cool.  I’m an early morning or late night worker outer.  We seem to have a camaraderie all our own.  We are hardcore and while we basically communicate only through grunting and pointing,  when you life weights with someone at 3 in the morning a few times a week for a while, you’ve bonded.

A last, last note about the gym and Health At Every Size.  The gym is NOT the only path to fitness.  So if you think it would be fun to take water aerobics or spin class, if you love the elliptical or  the idea of getting strong through weight lifting then I highly encourage you to try the gym.  If you want to move more but you’d rather have a root canal than come to the gym then  then please find a movement option that makes you happy!

Speaking of New Years Resolutions, if you haven’t checked out the New Year Revolution Resource Page then you are missing out!