Long Healthy Life

Fat people often hear that we should try to lose weight so that we can live a longer, healthier life.  I’m not capitulating, in fact I think it’s crap, but for the sake of argument let’s say that’s true.

First, remember that there are plenty of people who put themselves in a position to have shorter, less healthy lives:

There are the daring:  People who choose to be professional bull riders, race car drivers and stunt people. People who sky dive, bungee jump, and white water raft.  People who live fast and die young with a sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle.  People who try to climb Everest and swim the English channel.

And society typically thinks that’s great.  In fact, most of the people who engage in the activities above are celebrated.  Not because their life will be as long as possible, but because we perceive that it will be as full as possible.

There are the otherwise prioritized: Attorneys, CEOs, social workers, parents and others who are stressed, sleepless, and not eating as well as they should.

Society tends to give them a pass, as long as they are not fat, because they are driven and dedicated.

There are the lifestylers:  People who eat a steady diet of junkfood and never workout because it’s not important to them.

As long as they stay thin, society is either fascinated or oblivious to this.

To be clear, all of these are completely valid choices and I don’t believe that these people should be shamed or judged.

Then we have one last category.  Fat people.  Since fat is simply a physical characteristic, fat people are as varied as any group of people who share one physical characteristic.  Some of us are daredevils, some of us are otherwise prioritized, some of are lifestylers. Some live healthy lifestyles by the public health definition.

Regardless, fat people are told that our body size tells people everything that they need to know about us and that we  have to “do something” so that we can live a longer, healthier life.

Even if we assume that being fat is a choice for every single fat person (and I don’t think it is), the treatment is still unequal when compared to others who choose a “risky lifestyle”.  Nobody is launching a “War against people who don’t get enough sleep”.  If an NFL linebacker needs two seats on a plane people ask for his autograph.  If a fat woman needs two seats on a plane people publicly humiliate her.

I lived a diet lifestyle for many years and I know what that looks like for me. Losing weight, gaining it back, never being happy with myself, my body or my situation.

The thing we’re forgetting about is having the happiest life.  I choose Health at Every Size for the same reasons that I hear from people who choose to skydive. I think that the odds are in my favor and if not I choose the fullest, happiest life – not the longest one.  If a healthy diet and exercise aren’t enough to keep me healthy then I’ve made my peace with that because I’m happy, I feel great, and I love my life.  I’d rather have fewer years of that than more years of hating my body, and trying a strategy that fails 95% of the time.

I think that the odds are in my favor that healthy behaviors gives me the best chance at health. And I get to make that choice, just like others get to choose to eat a vegan raw food diet, do two hours of yoga a day, or drink like a fish or BASE jump, or live in a bubble  if you want.  And maybe I’ll die of a heart attack at 40 and wonder if dieting would have given me more time.  Or maybe they’ll get hit by a bus at 40 and wonder what cake tastes like. Or maybe we can hang out when we’re 90 and talk about how both of our choices were valid.  Either way, we both get to make our own choices.

26 thoughts on “Long Healthy Life

  1. One thing I love is interviews with people who have reached an age milestone, usually 100. Reporters will ask them what they did to live so long, what they ate, etc. The answers are all over the place. From the lady who ate a combination of meats and veggies, never touched alcohol or tobacco and went to church every week, to the man who credited cigarettes, beer and loose women.

    There are so many ways to to die, I prefer to enjoy the time I get and be thankful for each day. After all, the only thing proven to be 100% fatal is living!

  2. Interesting post. What always entertained me was the assumption that a long, healthy life was the universal goal; nothing I’ve ever seen of the human race supports this! The Jackass series alone should prove this point.

    I would like to challenge one point; it’s not just fat people who are challenged on their “risky” lifestyles. I ride a motorcycle. I love it, I’ve worked hard to learn how to do it well & as safely as possible, and it was a huge personal accomplishment for me to make it through the assorted levels of Canada’s graduated licensing system to get my full motorcycle license. I’m not a daredevil by nature (& was terrified at several points), but this is as close as I can come to flying on a daily basis, and I’ve grown to love it.

    Strangers & people I barely know feel free to stop me & tell me all about how risky my choice is. The preferred choice of small talk when people find out I ride is all the people they know who have been injured or died in a motorcycle accident. My grin is usually a frozen rictus by this time. I am always polite, but end the conversation as quickly as possible. I am still refining my response. “That’s great. Now do we get to discuss horrible car accidents?” Except I don’t want to discuss those either!

    I practice yoga regularly (& teach), eat well, meditate & do all kinds of healthy things. I want a long & healthy life. My dad died a premature death of a random cardiac event, in spite of his very active, healthy lifestyle, which included daily exercise, a healthy diet, regular checkups & stress control. While we all missed him terribly, it was a huge consolation to all of us that he had always lived his life to the fullest, with few regrets for things not done. I want to be able to say the same thing at the end of my days. So I ride my bike because it brings me joy.

    For the record, I am a fat ally. While I have never been fat, I am almost 6 feet tall & curvy, and I am surprised at how much of your writing I can really relate to personally. You also make me question previously hidden beliefs nestled in my subconscious, which I greatly appreciate. As a yoga teacher, I want to help my students accept themselves “as they are & as they change”, since we all change constantly on many levels (e.g. thoughts, aging, life events). Thanks for giving me new food for thought on how to do this!

    1. Thanks for the perspective on motorcycles, I didn’t realize that. I wish I had thought to make the jackass reference -you are so right. Thank you for being an ally, that’s awesome and we certainly need all the help we can get. I’m glad that you like the blog and that you use it for your toga instruction. I’m always really happy whenever I can support someone who is doing awesome work in the world.


        1. I guess it’s all about balance. I’m a horrible proofreader, but I make entertaining typos. And for the record I had to make a toga for Halloween this year, and the toga instruction I found on YouTube was very valuable!


  3. Ragen, I’d really like to hang out with you at 90 and reflect back on a life “well” lived. You’ll be younger than me when I turn 90, but I’d sure like to have a glass of wine with you when my 90th birthday rolls around.

    So mark it on your calendar: a drink with NewMe in May of 2046.

  4. I really love this post! It brings me back once again to the point you make so well, that people deserve respect, period, and the notion that any physical markers of weight could negate that is absurd.

    I worked in the world of prosthetic limbs for several years (and still freelance write about it), and it’s fascinating to me how people who have lost limbs because they did stupid things (taking a drunken nap on a railroad track), or risky sports (ice climbing), or volunteered for the military, or had an illness all get treated basically one of two ways–as special heroes or as “poor cripples” who need help–and which one they get is based on the preconceptions of the person who is looking at them and has absolutely nothing to do with how they lost their limbs. People act really silly toward them (saluting the guy who lost his arm teasing a Rottweiler, trying to help a world-class ultrarunner up the stairs), and, like with fat people, it rarely sinks in that their preconceptions may have NOTHING to do with reality. The way amputees get treated is fundamentally different from the shit fat people get, but both cases point out how human beings really love to insert themselves into others’ realities without having any reliable information.

  5. Sorry–should have said that the way people treat amputees has nothing to do with how they lost their limbs “OR how they live their lives or experience themselves currently.” That last bit is much more important.

  6. Healthism is a form of superstition anyway. Whether you live a long and healthy life, a long and unhealthy life or a short happy life has much more to do with the genetic hand you got dealt than with your behaviours. Sure, you can shorten your life in all sorts of ways (smoking may do it), but it often doesn’t work the other way – being ‘good’ won’t necessarily stop the Alzheimer’s or the cancer or the other horrible things that old age brings. At most, you can mitigate some things. But in our can-do culture, we refuse to believe that there are some things that are out of our control.

    And of the things we really CAN control, like not exposing large sections of the population to pesticides, we lack the political will to change. Much easier to blame the individual.

  7. damn!
    this concept is so freakin foreign to me that i’m gonna need to read this again.
    even though i agree… years of self loathing and brain washing make a lot of what you said…
    i just don’t have the words other than, foreign to me.
    thanks for your blog,

  8. My dad died 2 years, 2 months ago, at age 56. He was a heavy smoker, a former heavy drinker, and a more former recreational substance user. At one point in his life, he was also fat, though this was not the case for at least a decade before he died.

    When my grandfather — my father’s father — died, about a decade before he did, my dad said, “I never want to get old.” While I don’t think he meant “old” as an end thing, I do think he meant he never wanted to experience the loss of independence that both his father and his mother did in correlation with his age.

    My dad went on disability approximately 3 months before his death. His ultimate end — where he was incapacitated beyond being able to go to the grocery store — was no more than a couple of weeks. Part of that, I’m sure, lies in when my dad was ready to admit levels of need.

    But I also think there’s a certain amount of truth in this — Basically, he got the end he wanted. I can say a whole lot about why that’s true, but it’s personal and makes me cry, so just know that it is true. He left behind folks who were strong enough without him (partly because he made them that way), and he knew it.

    I’m not going to lie — I’m in the camp of my (fat, BTW) family that’s wanted, welcomed, clung to life to around the age of 90. I live life with chronic pain and mental illness and cannot imagine a moment where I don’t love the life I’m given. But that’s not everyone — even among the people who are dearest to me.

    It is a beautiful thing to be able to meet life and death on one’s own terms.

  9. I love your blog. My grandmother was fat and what the doctors like to call non-compliant. She loved her chocolate, her bacon fat, and her bread w/ real butter. At 79 she died with 6 kids, 14 grand kids and 3 great-grand kids. She was surrounded by friends, family, and love. Its genes as well as lifestyle that dictates how long you live. If she had been compliant and given up her bacon and sweets she may have squeezed out more years her skinny sister lived to 85. But, she would not have been happy and I know she died happy.

  10. Wow, this is an amazing, thought-provoking post, and the responses are fascinating. It really does seem to be taken for granted that everyone wants to/should live as long as possible. Yet we really do admire people who are willing to risk their lives in pursuit of some important goal… or for sports!! Yes it hurts to lose someone “too soon” but loss hurts no matter what. There are things more valuable in life than the length of it. There is also the perception that if you do everything “right”, you’ll die in your sleep at age 90 after a long and healthy life. but in real life, our health outcomes are only partially dependent on our behavior. Teenage atheletes drop dead of heart attacks, and smokers sometimes live to be 80. News flash– life isn’t fair. We don’t all get exactly what we deserve in this life(probably a good thing).We need to stop assuming that any individual’s health is their fault. Down with healthism! Who wants to live a chronically restricted life to please the healthists?

  11. My sister died in April (unexpectedly) at the age of 45 – she had various chronic health conditions and metal hips and so on – but one small comfort to the rest of her family is that she crammed in so much into the last ten years, and her sons, granddaughters and staff all loved her and thought she was wonderful and inspiring. Not such a bad legacy. (Also she walked most of the way up Machu Pichu with one of my brothers last year for which we are so proud of her – chronic illnesses, artificial hips, damaged muscles, damaged ankles did not deter her. She wanted to do it so much, so she made herself do it.)
    She could have maybe worked less, stressed less, (had fewer tattoos and piercings?) but she loved her life which she lived as much on her own terms as her conditions would let her, and more than many people do.

    1. I’m sorry for your loss, but why the comment about her tattoos and piercings? I’m sure they were part of the many things she did to consider her own life full, just like hiking up Macho Pichu.

      1. Oh I loved her tattoos, but she got a massive infection from a couple and nearly had to have her feet amputated. Also because she had many, many tattoos in long intensive sessions, she took more pain meds.She chose burial rather than cremation because she couldn’t bear the thought of her tattoos being burnt! Yes, they were definitely part of her full life, but *at times* put an awful lot more stress on her body. I looked at that comment after I hit ‘reply’ and thought – ‘That’s not very clear is it.”
        We all admired them though, even my parents.

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