I’m Just Concerned for Your Health…

Lisa asked me a really interesting question in response to my blog about ending fat talk starting with yourself:

How would address if you could our society’s so called called concern for the “Obesity Epidemic”. I know as a fat child who was bullied from the time I was very young, for being fat, the concern about my weight was about aesthetics not health. As I rode my bike a lot, walked a lot and was very active and both then and now prior to my wls had no health issues that society tends to blame on being overweight. The health issues I have now are from chronically dieting, becoming bulimic and my gastric bypass. How do we tell all those people who may be genuinely concerned about weight affecting health of how deadly and life ruining it can be to constantly be put on diets and teased unmercifully because of weight?

I have two answers, the technical and the simple:

The Technical Answer

The diet industry started in the 1800s and continues to grow, currently making over 60 billion a year.  Yet statistically, intentional weight loss (whether you call it a diet, a lifestyle change, an eating plan etc.) fails 95% of the time within five years.

Studies of obesity and health problems show a correlation between the two (meaning that, in the study population, the two things sometimes happen at the same time).  There is no proof of CAUSATION – meaning nobody can prove that being overweight causes health issues. The words “in the study population” are important because studies only prove things for the statistical population that they study unless they can control for those variables.  For example, studies performed in the United States typically don’t account for the fact that they are dealing with a population who are constantly stigmatized.  That’s particularly interesting because studies done in cultures where there is no stigma on obesity are finding that there are no negative health outcomes of obesity either.

The measure of what constitutes obesity was created by a committee that included three scientists who were paid by pharmaceutical companies that manufacture weight loss drugs, and the chief scientist of Weight Watchers.  Most of the studies that we see are funded by weight loss companies.  We currently give the diet industry $60,000,000,000 A YEAR of our money.  I would love to see what would happen if we took it out of their pockets and gave it to people who were actually interested in doing research about health.

Bottom line: Nobody has proven that being overweight causes health problems, and nobody has a method of weight loss proven to work (or create better health) more than 5% of the time. Therefore, suggesting that people lose weight to be more healthy is telling them to do something  nobody can prove is possible, for a reason nobody can prove is valid.  It is therefore scientifically unsound and medically unethical to prescribe weight loss as anything other than a 5% chance of weighing less.

The Simple Reason:

I believe that healthy habits have the best chance of creating a healthy body.  I know that health isn’t just about behaviors, it’s also about genetics and access. I can only affect the things within my control.

I think that people who like themselves (including their bodies) are more likely to take care of themselves and make healthy choices than people who are stigmatized into believing that they are  lazy, unattractive, and unhealthy.  I think that if you truly believe that shaming people into hating their bodies is going to have positive health outcomes for them, then you are a moron.

Bottom line:  You cannot make people hate themselves into health. Everyone gets to choose both what they feel healthy behaviors are, and whether or not they want to engage in those behaviors, and their health will still be affected by things beyond their control.  Health is an intensely personal choice for many people and it may be best to keep your concerns about someone else’s health to yourself.  Failing that, I would definitely recommend that you avoid confusing weight with health, and speak only about behavior concerns that you know to be true.  Do not make behavioral assumptions based on body size or health.

Little Photo Shop of Horrors

Today I had a photo shoot.  I was running low on foundation so yesterday I went and the brand I used had discontinued my  typical foundation so I got something new.  The woman at the make-up counter put it on to show me how great it was and I came home.  I washed it off and went to bed.  And woke up with hives.  Freaking hives. Huge red hives.  All.  Over.  My.  Face.

The problem that this created for me is that I typically ask not to be photoshopped at all.  I figure if I’m going to put images out there they ought to include my splotchy skin (pores and all ) and fat rolls and everything.  A drop in the photoshop ocean maybe, but at least it’s a drop.  Except that I want my hives photoshopped out of these pictures and I  really struggled with it this all morning.  In the end I decided to get the retouching for the same reason that I’m generally against photoshopping – because I don’t typically have hives and I want to see pictures that are reflective of what people look like when you meet them on the street.

It is almost impossible to look at our media and see a person as they look in real life.  It’s not just the poreless skin.  We’re talking about people who are missing arms, missing hips, have legs so small that they can’t hold them up.  It’s ridiculous.

And we’re starting to consume these images earlier and earlier:

Here’s Mylie Cyrus – the actress who played the  Disney Character “Hannah Montana” :

And here she is on the promo materials:

What chance do little girls have of holding on to their self-esteem when their heroes are all photo-shopped to hell?  How many adolescent girls struggled with their crazy skin and pre-braces teeth wondering why they couldn’t look like Mylie Cyrus

And worse than that is the defense of photoshop by the people who are doing it under the guise of showing people in their “best light”:

When Self magazine took criticism for their out of control photoshopping of Kelly Clarkson while having the absolute brass cajones to print the words  “Total Body Confidence”  on the same cover, Editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger wrote in her blog:  “Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best…But in the sense that Kelly is the picture of confidence, and she truly is, then I think this photo is the truest we have ever put out there on the newsstand.”

Now, knowing how much photoshopping Self does, it’s certainly possible that this was their truest image ever, but that just makes it more horrifying. And since when does our personal best include a computer?  Are we going to be issued Predator-esque costumes so that a computer can always generate our “Personal Best” ?

Even if we consciously know that the images we see aren’t real, I’m not sure that it’s possible to avoid some level of subconscious conditioning when we see thousands of images a year that give us an unrealistic picture of what people look like. So, just to keep it a little real here:

You are not the only one with uneven boobs
Yoga might be great for your body, but it doesn’t take 40 years off
If you worry about the size of your hips, be grateful that you have both of them!
This poor girl lost more than inches off her waist and legs – thanks to photo shop she also lost part of her right arm and her belly button. 
I’ll bet that  right now you’re head is on your very own body.     Lucky you!

I think that the best we can do is remember ourselves (and teach our kids) that the images we see in the media are basically cartoons, computer generated, impossible to duplicate, and in the end not nearly so fetching as an actual flesh and blood person with pores, a bellybutton, and two hips.

Liar, Liar, Plus Sized Pants on Fire

I received yet another  spam comment calling me a liar today (“5’4 and 280 pounds is not healthy and you’re just deluding yourself if you think it is. There is no way that you can work out the way you say you do and eat the way you say you do and still be that fat.  You are not healthy and you need to get real, stop gorging yourself and get to the gym”)  Luckily I don’t weigh 280, I weigh 284 so I assume that I’m good and this comment would only be true were I to weigh 280.

So I was pondering this.  Specifically I was wondering  how these people end up on my blog and why they bother to take the time to leave the comment.  I’ve never felt the desire to seek out people who’ve made different choices than I have and tell them that I think they are wrong.  Then I started to think about the number of people who have called me a liar when I’ve told them  them what I do and they’ve seen what I weigh.  It’s not just perfect strangers on the internet.  I’ve been called a liar by doctors, nurses, nutritionists, family members, friends, dance teachers, dance judges, personal trainers and that’s just the people who said it to my face.

It occurred to me what a wonderful tool this is if your sense of superiority is dependent upon keeping the status quo.  Just as a random hypothetical example, if you feel like you are better than fat people because you are thin and therefore it’s obvious that you have more self-control, more health, and you love yourself because you are thin,  it might be really threatening if you found out that there are fat people who are also healthy and happy and love themselves.  If you can call them liars – make them and others believe that they are not competent witnesses to their own experience and that you know better – then you can keep the status quo and your sense of superiority is not threatened.

Or maybe you’ve found that although you are thin, all of your life’s problems have not been solved.  So you figure that if you can go and  take a happy fatty down a peg or two at least you’ll feel better about yourself.

Or maybe you’ve lost weight (and you’re in the first 5 years, or you are part of the magical 5% who can keep it off long-term), and you are for some reason unable to grasp the concept that your experience is not everyone’s experience and so you feel the need to try to tell other people that they don’t have a right to their experience because they need to have yours.

No matter what your deal is, let me just say this:  How fucking dare you call me a liar and try to tell me that I’m not a competent witness to my own experience.  You can go to hell. Thank you.  Your friend, Ragen.

Marketing to the Overweight American

The MPDA Conference: Marketing to the Overweight American will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Silver Spring, MD on September 27-28, 2011. The MPDA Conference: Marketing to the Overweight American is designed for marketers of products or services such as drugs, devices, diets, supplements, meal replacements, and services designed to help overweight Americans lose weight and improve their quality of life. This conference will feature best in class speakers as well as case studies, market analyses, behavioral research, and regulatory discussions designed to make sure your weight loss products and services are marketed in the most effective fashion to the consumers who are most in need of their benefits. This conference is a great way for anyone in the weight loss industry to immediately improve the ROI of their weight loss product by better understanding the target market of the overweight American as well as benchmark against best practices from other products in your industry and viable substitute products for your target consumer in other industries.

This was forwarded to me on a body positive listserve that I’m part of.  I haven’t been able to find it on Google so it’s unverified, but stick with me a minute on it:

If it’s a real thing and  if I thought I could go spy on this conference without going all medieval on someone I would.

In the meantime, here’s my guess at the session line-up:

Manipulating Statics:  How to convince people of anything, and get the news to run it as fact.  Case Study:  Obesity costs the workplace billions of dollars

Lowering Self-Esteem:  People will buy more weight loss products if we can convince them that they can’t love themselves until they are thin.

Advanced Conflation:  We can sell a ton of crap if we can make people believe that health and weight are the same thing.

VFHT- The Secret Weapon:  Combat those pesky healthy fat people with the Vague Future Health Threat by telling them that they can’t possibly be fat and healthy because they will die someday.

Lessons from The Biggest Loser: Convince people to pay you and thank you for treating them as sub-human.  Bonus points if you make them cry and vomit.

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children:  Bring kids into it to increase the panic response and decrease logic among those still noticing our horrible research and success rates.  Get CNN and the First Lady involved if you can.

Sell ‘Em Anything:  Once we’ve convinced people that the only way to be healthy, attractive, and worthy of love is to be thin, we can sell them almost anything. Case study:  The Twinkie Diet

At the end of the day, let’s remember that this is on us.  Nobody sells stuff to us, – we buy it.  Whether or not this particular conference is actually happening,  we know that a  lot of time, energy and money is expended by the diet industry figuring out how best to get fat people to buy their stuff.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say if any of the stuff actually did what they say it does, they wouldn’t need to have a conference or all that marketing to sell it to people.

Let’s be smarter than hype and marketing.



Does Glee Promote Obesity?

I have seen some online discussion recently of whether or not Glee is promoting obesity.  I’m not going into plot lines but it appears to be because two fat characters (both female) have high self-esteem, have at least one man who is interested in them, and are not on diets.

First I thought maybe I didn’t understand the meaning of “promote”, so I looked it up:

  • to help or encourage to exist or flourish; further: to promote world peace.
  • to advance in rank, dignity, position, etc. ( opposed to demote).
  • to encourage the sales, acceptance, etc., of (a product), especially through advertising or other publicity.

Let’s look at the first two.  Now, at least according to standardized testing, I’m a reasonably smart girl.  But I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the concept.  The idea that, in a society where fat people receive 386,170 negative messages A YEAR about how we are unattractive, unhealthy, unworthy etc; that showing two fat girls who actually like themselves is going to encourage obesity to flourish.  I’m having an awfully difficult time imagining that people will see two fat people who don’t hate themselves and say “Wow, obesity is way cooler than it sounded the other 386,170 times I heard about it.  I want to be obese!   How can I get that done?”

Looking at third point, let me try to re-construct this argument:

Showing fat people who like themselves and have success in life and love might make other fat people think that’s possible for them, and that’s a bad thing.  If fat people are going to be portrayed in the media, we need to make sure that they are shown as miserable, unhealthy and self-loathing.  That way,  fat people watching will realize that they can never be happy and that they too should be miserable, unhealthy, and self-loathing because this will encourage them to be healthy.

And I think that’s a bunch of crap.

I would guess that people who publicly complain that showing healthy, happy fat people is promoting obesity are most likely in it for themselves – maybe to feel superior, maybe because they want to rail about something.  Maybe because they feel that personal responsibility means that they get to set the standards of health and beauty and everyone else is personally responsible for fitting into them.  If you really care about the health of others,  I don’t think that you would be interested in lowering their self-esteem as a first step.

I don’t have research on this but I do not personally believe that the best way to help someone take good care of their body is to convince them to hate that body and feel unattractive, unhealthy, and unworthy.  I just don’t think that a cogent argument can be made that self-loathing is the yellow brick road to health.

Bottom line:  If shaming people made them healthy we wouldn’t need doctors in this country.  If diets made people thin and healthy (note that these are two separate things) then, after spending over $60,000,000,000 a year on them, we would all be thin and healthy.   Since that’s not working at all, I think it would be just dandy if we all were allowed to make our own choices about our health and have those choices respected.  For me, I choose to believe that healthy behaviors have the best chance to creating a healthy body, certainly better than betting on a less than 5% chance of just being smaller than I am now.

Adventures in Fat Dating

I got an e-mail today from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous asking for my opinion about the Silly Love Songs episode of GLEE and asking me to blog about fat dating for Valentine’s day.  I’m not going to blog about Glee yet because it’s pretty new and I want to see where it’s going.  But I will blog about fat dating.

All of the quotes you are about to read are from my actual love life, such as it has been.  I agree with Marie Osmond about at least one thing: If you’re going to look back and laugh, you might as well laugh now – so feel free.  To be clear, the “bitter, jaded and proud of it”, the “hot and cold”, the “mamma’s boy”, the “liar liar pants on fire”, and the “Why Work on Your Issues When You Can Make Them Your Identity”  all have their place on the list of dating don’ts that I did.  But this particular blog is just about the ones that relate being a fatty.  Enjoy:

My Funny Valentine

This declaration of love could not mince more, and typically includes a super-awkward pause followed by an equally awkward, stilted euphemism, finishing up with some quality speed talking:  “Sure, you’re…, …, …, a… little on the…you know… big…ger side, butIlikeyouanyway.”   With a little more practice you might get “It’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts” [sincere smile].

A date once serenaded me, in front of people, with the song My Funny Valentine.  I gave myself a headache trying to smile and keep the horror out of my eyes as I heard the words “Your looks are laughable, unphotographable …Is your figure less than greek? Is your mouth a little meek?  When your open it to speak, are you smart?”

Yeah…no.  If your declaration of love includes any phrase that means “in spite of”, or if you’re hoping to get some after calling my looks laughable, you should probably rethink your strategy because I’m going to hold out for a better offer.

The Only Exception

I can’t even count the number of times that someone who has been interested in dating me has told me “I’ve never been attracted to big girls, but I’m attracted to you”.

I suppose I could be flattered, but I never am.  For one thing, this often turns out to be just a “My Funny Valentine” in disguise.  Even if it’s not, after we’d been dating for a while I found that dating someone who doesn’t find people who look like me attractive is disconcerting at best.  That’s my issue for sure but it just doesn’t work for me. Moving right along…

Does. Not. Get. It.

I’m very clear about being a Size Acceptance activist and practicing Health at Every Size (as you may have noticed).  And yet even after having lots of open, honest communication I’ve had to walk out on dates that included calorie counting and weight loss advice.  I know (but did not date) someone who who prefers fat girls, but believes us all to be  unhealthy and destined for health issues. I could not deal with that.

The bottom line:

I hate to do two quotes in one blog (ok, I totally don’t because I’m an inspiration junkie):  Better alone than in bad company. (Thank you George Washington).  You decide what you deserve.  I know a lot of people who’ve consciously settled for less than they wanted, and I’ve certainly given it the old college try.  But for me, I’ve decided that I absolutely deserve someone who loves not just the present that is me, but the gift wrap as well.

Bonus Bad Date:

Astonishingly Stoopid

This is an extension of Does. Not. Get. It. that was so out of control that it got it’s own post:  Reading Comprehension in the Age of Internet Dating

Is There a Secret to Health?

I watched the Documentary No Impact Man.  It’s the story of a family who decided to try to have no net impact on the environment for one year.  They went HARD CORE.  They gave up all transportation except walking, bikes and scooters.  They turned off the electricity in their New York City apartment.  They used cloth instead of toilet paper.  I mean they went hard core.  He was very clear that he was not saying that everyone has to do this, just that he wanted to draw attention to the problem, live a life in alignment with his principles, and encourage people to do what they can.  Still, I looked at my recycle bin and felt woefully inadequate.

I wonder if people feel this way about their eating.   So many extreme diets and food plans are shoved our way – we are told that the secret to health is to:

  • give up all carbs
  • eat no wheat
  • eat no dairy
  • eat reconstituted soy protein bars and shakes 5 times a day
  • drink a thin chocolate laxative drink twice a day
  • eat a diet predominantly comprised of food made of a breakfast cereal
  • give up all processed foods forever
  • eat vegan
  • eat macrobiotic
  • eat a raw foods diet

It can make you doubt that basic, balanced, healthy eating can ever work.  I once allowed myself to be talked into a “cleanse” during which I gave up wheat, gluten, meat, sugar, caffeine and dairy for three months.  I did not feel good.  I did not lose weight. I did feel like I was back in my eating disorder.  That experience helped me decide that I was going to find a way to be healthy and sane.  I eat very well, I exercise a lot, I am in great health.  If my occasional fast food lunch kills me 6 months early then I can accept that.  I talked before about what happens if I’m wrong and I die of fatness.

So may I suggest that if you feel like you’d like to be healthier, just be healthier a little at a time.  Check in with your body, if you don’t feel good after eating a particular food maybe eat something else.  It doesn’t mean that you have to commit to a strict eating plan for the rest of your life. Feeling thirsty?  Have some water.  It doesn’t mean you have to drink 250 ounces of water today and spend the night on the toilet.  Feel like going for a walk?  Go.  Don’t try to plan how you are going to workout for the next seven years, don’t wonder if it will really burn enough calories to be worth it.  If you think you’ll feel good if you go for a walk,  just go.  If there are habits that you want to start, start one at a time. Celebrate small victories.

I still think that there is a place in the world for a life of making lots of healthy choices and some not so healthy ones, remaining balanced and  healthy not just physically but mentally as well.  It’s just a suggestion.  It’s certainly not as sexy as all those “lose 100 pounds in 2 minutes by eating only steamed lettuce and shrimp” diets, but it works for me.