What’s Really Unhealthy?

Sometimes I just need to put in perspective the crazy stuff that people tell me would make me healthier.  For today’s blog I thought we would play a little game of “what’s really unhealthy”. It’s sort of like the S.A.T.s…maybe we should call it the F.A.Ts:  two choices, you decide which one is truly unhealthy:

Loving movement for the joy of it or hating exercise but doing it because I have to

Eating a balanced diet or eating 500 calories a day and being injected with hormones extracted from urine

Feeling like a success because I did my healthy habits or feeling like a failure because those habits didn’t lead to weight loss

Eating whole foods or eating low-fat and non-fat versions that are full of chemicals

Eating to nourish my body or eating to starve it so that it gets smaller

Doing the best I can with the body that I have now or getting my stomach amputated in an effort to make my body do what it will not naturally

Appreciating my body for how amazing it is or hating my body because it doesn’t meet a culturally arbitrary standard of beauty

Here’s my perspective: Health is not a moral, social, or personal obligation.  People can choose to prioritize and pursue health but that neither guarantees it nor makes them better than people who don’t choose to prioritize or pursue health. Health has both physical and mental components.  Hating yourself isn’t good for either.  Most of what gets sold to us by the diet industry is the exact opposite of healthy. Weight loss isn’t the same as healthy habits, thin isn’t the same as healthy, and loving your body will never steer you wrong.

14 thoughts on “What’s Really Unhealthy?

  1. Ragen – I just love your blog, and this is probably one of my favorite posts to date. I had to share it on my FB page because I feel that so many people have bought in to this perception of how we “should” all look…..and will eat whatever chemical-laden pseudo food they think will help them in their quest to “look healthy.” I struggle every day to think positively about myself and my body, and to treat it right. I feel that I am more successful in instilling in my children (and especially my little girl) that they should listen to their bodies, eat good food that is healthy for them…and that the occasional treat is perfectly fine. I hope to someday love my body half as much as you love yours…and learn to see myself as the people who love me see me. Thanks again for being you.

  2. I especially love this: “Health has both physical and mental components. Hating yourself isn’t good for either.” People don’t realize how harmful the thin-obsession and drastic attempts at weight loss can be to one’s psyche, and how important it is to be mentally healthy.

    When I starve myself, when I exercise obsessively, when I *don’t* lose weight as a result of those behaviors (because I never do!), I start to hate more than my body…. I start to hate myself. And it results in LESS exercise, MORE binging, and more staying inside, curled up on the couch, hiding myself from the world because I am an utter failure at losing weight. Oh hey, and there’s a Weight Watchers commercial, with Jennifer Hudson telling me I can only be a success until I lose weight, and my “world is can’t”.

    Obviously for my other medical condition (i.e. my bipolar disorder, i.e. my ONLY medical condition because fat isn’t a medical condition, damnit), this behavior is particularly harmful and only exacerbates my condition. Before you know it, I’m skipping doctor’s appointments and not taking my meds, because who cares? What’s the point? I’m fat!

    It all just really grinds my gears… thank you for your great perspective…. I’ve been slipping into thin-obsessed unhealthy habits again and you ALWAYS help put things in perspective.

  3. If only they WERE false dichotomies… far too many of us have spent far too much time struggling with some of those list items. I truly appreciate Ragen’s unflinching, logical reasoning as well as her affirmation of joy and health.

  4. I agree with most of your comparisons, but this one doesn’t work for me:

    “Loving movement for the joy of it or hating exercise but doing it because I have to”

    I DON’T love movement for the joy of it. I’ve never understood where this joy is supposed to come from – maybe I’m endorphin-challenged or something. Exercise is done because I HAVE TO.
    What I mean by HAVE TO is that if I don’t do it, I will become completely sedentary and my health is likely to deteriorate in other ways. It has nothing to do with losing weight, and everything to do with “if I don’t do it, more unpleasant things than exercise will happen to me”. Exercise is a kind of preventive, like going to the dentist because I don’t want to lose all my teeth.
    Maybe this isn’t a fair criticism, but if “joy” isn’t an option, then it’s best to settle for “have to”.

    1. I think Regan meant finding a way to move that brings you joy, like she has found with dance. I have personally found it with Nordic Walking (walking with poles) and I have friends that like to run and some that like Zumba, etc. We’re all going to enjoy different things, oui?

    2. I think joy is better if you can manage. For instance, there are a lot of forms of exercise I intensely dislike, some I am willing to do but don’t exactly get a thrill out of, and a few that I do get actual joy out of. And some of the stuff I hate is stuff other people get genuine joy out of (running, dancing, and yoga are all on my personal “I hate this” list).

      The stuff that I find joyful isn’t always practical (rowing an actual boat depends on access to a boat and a body of water, swimming requires water of tolerable temperature that I can safely swim in, etc.), and sometimes I settle for the stuff that’s tolerable (such as rowing machines and weights), in order to maintain the level of strength I want and manage certain minor health problems. I don’t force the stuff I completely hate, because I don’t see a good reason to (it might make me temporarily smaller, but so what?).

      So I don’t think it’s as simple as “Always choose joyful movement, never force yourself to do unwanted exercise” and it’s a good thing to take happiness into account as much as practical when it comes to exercise.

  5. Not everyone loves movement & some never will. And for some of us who exercised all our lives &/or for whom walking has been the major form of not only exercise but transportation, sometimes movement becomes more difficult & painful over time. And at times, especially for someone such as I with no car or license, exercise IS ‘have to’. I try to keep moving every day, including days I do not ‘have to’, because I do believe that some moderate exercise on a regular basis is good for my health, but it hasn’t been anything close to a ‘joy’ for years, & especially not during those years when I pushed myself to work out 4 hours every day despite disability or exhaustion because I hoped that exercise would reshape my body. So I can understand what the above commenter means when she says she feels she exercises because she ‘has to’, not for the joy of it.

    Most of us in fat acceptance seem to go to extremes, either proclaiming what a ‘joy’ movement is, saying that we are athletes/performers, etc. (& there is no reason in the world WHY fat people cannot or should not be all those things), or else making a sweeping generalization the way Wendy Shanker did in her book that, ‘fat girls don’t like to exercise.’ For most of us, it is somewhere in between. Some fat girls do not like to exercise, neither do some thin girls. Some love it. Some do it for our health or because it is how we get from one place to another. Most of us may enjoy moving in some ways we do not call exercise, such as when I dance around with my little granddaughter when no one else can see us. I do like your joyful, positive approach to life, Ragen, & I am glad for you that you genuinely enjoy moving. I am a person who cannot sit still very long; I get emotionally antsy, I also, because of cerebral palsy & arthritis, I stiffen up, & I keep moving so that I CAN keep moving as long as possible. I wish more moments of movement were joyful & not as difficult & often painful, but I AM always glad AFTER I finish walking that I did it, so that is something. And I do wish joyful movement for everyone who can find it & I also wish lack of guilt for those who cannot or do not.

    1. Patsy, I agree wholeheartedly with your first sentence. I also don’t drive. However, I haven’t had the aches and pains that you have had when exercising, and I never exercised for so many hours at a time.
      I remember taking up jogging in my 20s. I kept it up for at least a year and did it quite frequently. At the end, I was able to walk faster than when I started.
      And you know what my reaction was? I thought So What. It didn’t pick up my mood; it didn’t help increase my energy, or any of those other touted benefits. All that happened was that I could walk a little faster. Big deal.
      I’ve done some other exercises over the years. And far from that fabled endorphinergic lift that people get, I find that on occasion, exercise precipitates a depressive episode. Not because I’m overdoing it, not because anyone is teasing me, and not because I’m dwelling on some bad thought. Not because I’m in physical pain. I’ve no idea why it happens and have never heard of someone else reacting that way.
      I apologize if this is a derail.

  6. I spent SO LONG doing all the unhealthy things, and not only did those behaviors and beliefs not lead to lasting weight loss, they also did not lead to happiness or my own mental wellbeing. Focusing on healthy behaviors (like doing exercise I enjoy, eating whole natural foods, etc.) has not only made me feel better, it has also led to dramatic improvements in all of the standard measures of health such as blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.

  7. This blog, as simple and blunt as it is, is one of my absolute favourites of yours.

    It’s plain, simple, and true.

    Sadly, I still think that some closed minded ‘fat-hater’ out there will find someway of bashing this blog.

  8. I love these and of course they apply to pretty much everyone who lives in our thinness/dieting/weightloss-obssessed culture. I related to all of these, although I certainly love movement for joy and nourishing my body with wholesome ingredients! Yay!

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