Fat People Are Not Idiots

It seems that whenever someone brings up the concept of Health at Every Size® or suggests anything other than our current concept of weight-centered health, they are met with the ridiculous:

If we don’t tell people what to eat, they’ll just eat Twinkies all day!

What if they think that getting their oil changed regularly means that they are living a Health at Every Size life?

You can’t tell people to do movement that they enjoy, they’ll think that doing dishes is the same as taking an aerobics class.

This kind of attitude doesn’t do anyone any good.   In the 1850’s William Banting started the first low carb craze, the Grapefruit Diet was introduced in the 1930’s.  In the 40’s and 50’s, the first “ideal” height/weight charts were introduced.  What I’m trying to say here is that we’ve been at this weight loss thing for some time and there are serious, valid questions about efficacy.  If you aren’t sure what the Health at Every Size concept is then ask.  If you have actual questions then let’s have a real dialog, but acting like fat people will not be able to tell the difference between a Twinkie and a Veggie stir fry is not bringing anything to the conversation.

This is a serious conversation for serious people.  Our health is at stake.  If people are confused about what foods to eat, I would ask if the diet culture might be to blame?  Diets that tell people to eat restrictively 6 days a week and binge eat on the 7th. Diets that tell people to eat cabbage soup and only bananas on Tuesday, and cabbage soup and only steak on Wednesday etc.  The cookie diet.  Snackwell’s.  Low fat, low cal.  Low carb, high fat.  Vegan.  Gluten free.  No processed food.  All processed food. It’s incredibly difficult to get true information about health separate from weight loss because people get paid so much to sell weight loss.

We can’t get away from the incessant message that we’re experiencing a panic-worthy rise in the rates of obesity. However in his book The End of the Obesity Epidemic,  Australian scholar Michael Gard points out that obesity rates for people of all ages leveled off or declined all over the world, including in the United States, over the last decade.  He also points out that life expectancy rates have risen in line with obesity rates.  But if you say that to people you get shunned because “Everybody knows that 99% of Americans are going to be obese by next week and we have to treat fat people like they are complete morons because they haven’t become thin.”

And don’t bring up the fact that since 1959 all the data suggests that only 5% of people are physically capable of changing their body size long term and a number of those people are on their first diet.   And don’t mention the research that shows that early dieting attempts predict weight gain, obesity, and eating disorders but do not predict weight loss, because people will accuse you of being unable to ascertain the health benefits of doing dishes versus going on a brisk walk.

The Cooper Institute for Aerobics has been looking at fitness since 1970 and they say “We’ve studied this from many perspectives in women and in men and we get the same answer: It’s not the obesity—it’s the fitness.”  However studies also show that working out doesn’t lead to weight loss and so I have seen articles in major news media outlets suggest that we skip physical activity, even though it is proven to make us healthier, because it’s not likely to make us thinner. What are we doing?

Instead of acting like anything other than a weight-centered health paradigm will lead to massive Twinkie eating cults of doom, can we all agree that our goal is for people to have access to everything that they need (information, foods, safe movement options that they enjoy) to make choices about their health; and then can we have an evidence–based conversation about what that means and how to get the information out?  That would be great and I hope to be at the table for that talk. In the meantime would suggest Ellen Satter’s work as a great place to start.


27 thoughts on “Fat People Are Not Idiots

  1. In response to the rest of your blog, my philosophy is that a wise woman doesn’t move her body because she has to for health, she moves her body because she has the blessing of being able to for health. There are plenty of ways to work out your body that are fun, like dancing, zumba, even sex can count, etc. But if you go to a work out class and it’s not fun, it’s not going to kill you. It doesn’t need to be fun but it doesn’t need to be miserable either.

    Secondly, the diet/weightloss culture is clouding the minds of our society. How long will it be before they realize that they aren’t going to see any significant weight loss within our nation and that it’s a losing battle? What is it going to take for them to understand that we need to focus on actual health issues, not just the number on the scale?

    1. You are right it wont kill someone to do work outs they don’t like, but why should they. I am busy and I value my time and my energy, I refuse to spend time doing something I do not enjoy. Life is to short to spend on the stair-steper machine!

      1. What I mean is that, assuming someone values health and a longer life, daily aerobic exercise is necessary. Whether it is fun for them or not is mostly their choice, but of course we probably won’t find it fun all the time. It’s your own personal choice if you decide to skip work outs that aren’t fun for you. That isn’t what I personally would do, but to each their own.

        1. Ashley,

          I have heard people from the Cooper Institute for Aerobics say that for health that you need is 18 minutes 3 days a week, even more strict recommendations call for 30 minutes 5 days a week so I’m not sure that daily aerobic exercise is necessary. It should also be noted that “health and a longer life” are not guaranteed no matter what you do. I worry that we push people away from healthy habits when we infer that they have to do something that they don’t like every day of their life or they won’t have health and a long life. Aerobic exercise is anything that gets your heart rate up and that can include a wide variety of things so there’s probably no reason for most people to feel that they have to do something that they don’t like. Sport specific is a different thing – I do stuff I don’t like all the time because it’s what’s required for my health.


      2. I think finding exercise that you find fun or useful is really key to keeping it up for the long term. I say fun or useful because if you’re training for a race or sport, then you can suck up the parts of the training that are less fun because you enjoy the sport as a whole. Similarly, walking the dog isn’t always fun for me, but it’s useful because it gets me a happier, calmer dog. And exercising lowers my stress level, if not at the time, definitely afterwards.

        I think the long-term health works for some people as a goal, but not always and not for everyone. I can also see it being an easy motivation to lose, because a lot of health is chance and genetics anyway. For example, if your 55-year-old marathon-running uncle drops dead from a heart attack, you might just decide that since running obviously didn’t keep him healthy into old age, you’re going to stop because it’s boring and you hate it.

        Basically, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that their movement routine has to be a non-stop fun-fest, but I think that if you can’t point to one good thing it’s doing for you this week, not 20 years from now, then it could probably use some tweaking. (And like everyone else here, my right to tell other people what to do is exactly nil, and my unsolicited advice is worth what you paid for it! 🙂

  2. First can I just say that I love your blog?

    Now I’ve got the fan-girl stuff out of the way… people who advocate black and white thinking aggravate the cookies out of me. Health is not a black and white concept! It means different things to different people and has so many facets beyond the purely (measurable) physical. The big attraction (for me) with HAES and FA is the *mental* health aspect. I’ve gotten so tired of trying to make myself fit into a box that will always be too small.

    And I think people overlook the importance/role of incidental exercise in health too. I’ve had people say to me “oh, you’re just a SAHM and you don’t even go to the gym… you aren’t active!” But – housework and running about after kids aside – I’m up and down flights of stairs all day. How does that not count as ‘physical activity’?

  3. Ugh, I don’t even LIKE Twinkies!

    Again it’s that perception that fat people are just out of control and have no intellectual competency to advocate for themselves. How anyone could NOT see that as offensive is beyond me.

    1. I was going to say the same thing! They taste like over processed crap with oil-laden white something that definitely isn’t cream and leaves a nasty feeling in your mouth! I’ll take a homemade vegetable soup over Twinkies ANY DAY.

  4. If we don’t tell people what to eat, they’ll just eat Twinkies all day!

    It’s always “we” isn’t it? I’d love to know who “we” thinks they are and how they think fat people are excluded from that.

      1. Which goes to show how whacked out ‘their’ viewpoint really is. I eat healthier and better than anyone I know and I’m still large which people automatically equate to ‘unhealthy’.

        Sad really.

  5. It happened again–I thought I was eating a carrot and it turned out to be a Twinkie (it was the cream filling that clued me in). Damnit! Now I’ll never be thin!

  6. I’ve only been following your blog for a short time, so perhaps you’ve covered this already, but I’m curious… is there any good data on how fitness levels and markers of health such as blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. have changed over the decades? People always freak out over the “obesity epidemic”, so I wonder how real markers of health have changed over time.

  7. All movement does count. I walk regularly, I have in the past also lifted weights, done thousands of crunches, used a couple of machines until they fell apart, etc., & exercised 4 hours daily for 4 years at a time, but, now, at 62, aging & disabled, I walk daily. I also take care of my home, do grocery-shopping, take care of my small granddaughter quite a bit, including getting her ready for school, walking her to the bus, then walking about 40 minutes from the bus stop to my house several days per week. Believe me, as a mother & grandmother of love experience, doing housework, cooking, laundry, & especially caring for/chasing after children is exercise, it is moving. If you are not completely still, you are moving &, yes, it all counts. The new arbitrary (&, believe me, they are ALL arbitrary…weight, BMI, how many ‘steps’ we should take daily, number of servings of fruits/veggies, grams of fiber, watever) number they have recently come up with is that we should move about 100 minutes per day, including doing regular aerobic exercise (such as going for a brisk walk or dancing, etc.), housework, shopping, all the incidental walking around we do every day to run errands, care for our families, do our jobs, etc. I have arthritis as well as cerebral palsy, I stiffen up easily & I am also very hyper, so I do not sit still well (I rock in a straight chair, have all my life), so I am up for at least 3-5 minutes moving around once or twice every waking hour.

    There are many ways to move your bodies & we have different needs, abilities, lifestyles, etc. There is no need to push yourself to work out on machines, go to a gym, or do boring, sometimes painful aerobics if you do not want to do those things. All movement does count & it doesn’t have to hurt to improve your health & doing movement which hurts usually does just the opposite.

    And while HAES indeed promotes ‘healthy’ habits, they do not come with a guarantee for anyone of any size. Most people get sick at some point, we ALL die, &, whether we like it or not, people with a wide variety of lifestyles/eating habits live long lives or die young. Genetics & dumb luck count for a lot. Speaking of the Twinkies (not my favorite), I saw on one of the History Channel’s “American Eats” programs a man from Indiana who loves Twinkies so much that he eats an average of 3 every day of his life (goes through at least 2 boxes of 10 every week) & he has done so for 70 years now, though I am sure he eats other things as well. He is 94. I live in Maine, a state with a high percentage of people who still smoke, who drink too much, a state with a lot of poverty, & a preponderance of ‘poor folks” eating habits. We also have a large percentage of people who live beyond 90, &, yes, a large population of fat people. I have been walking since I was 9 years old & have gotten a lot of weird looks & remarks at times, but I do see people of all ages, sizes, & shapes out walking with me these days. I am weird to most of my long-lived, relatively sedentary family, so I guess I was ahead of my time. And, yes, I do know that, while I am moving around while I do dishes & clean the kitchen/bathroom, etc., I am getting more exercise when I am outside taking my actual walk. My brain cells are not so deeply buried in fat that I do not get that.

  8. I think people often construe ‘active’ as ‘conspicuously doing strenuous exercise’, when it’s the normal business of, you know, living – getting around to and from home/work/school/shops, walking the dog, and yes, as many people mention, housework and running around after kids – that’s going to constitute most of people’s activity, simply because lots of people don’t have the time to slot much extra in there (especially if it requires a special location, like a gym, which may be some distance away and cost money). Finding a separate leisure activity that you enjoy is a great bonus if you can find it, and the time for it.

    What annoys me, then, is that some people will claim that whatever you’re enjoying ‘isn’t proper exercise’ because if it was, then you wouldn’t, you know, still be fat. (I’ve been told this in the past about both ballet and Border Morris dancing, which are both fun things to do in their own ways, although Morris has the edge for not being body-obsessive.) There’s also this streak of puritanism, that if you enjoy it it can’t be good for you. Same applies to food, to a large extent. We need a new cult of pleasure. (Which may or may not involve Twinkies of Doom. Your mileage may vary.)

    1. Some people just like being superior by claiming that anything you do that isn’t the same as what they’re doing doesn’t count as “real” exercise.
      My dad has been doing this to me for most of my life. He’s an avid runner and swimmer, and I’m not into those things. He’s fond of interrogating me about what I do for exercise and then dismissing it all as not doing enough or not real exercise. When I was in college I had to walk every day at least a mile from my dorm to class, carrying a heavy backpack. Then a mile back. I often repeated this twice a day to go back for lunch. When I told dad this was part of my exercise routine he completely dismissed it as not being exercise at all, as I was ‘just’ walking to school. It was one of those really striking moments for me: someone I’ve always thought of as a sane and rational person literally denying reality. I think he was actually serious. If he was intending to make me feel inadequate by saying this, all he accomplished was that I lost a lot of my respect for him.

  9. I love the title of this post, and the rest of the text that goes along with it. Fat people are not idiots. I repeat (preaching to the choir): Fat. People. Are. Not. Idiots.

    Now, would someone please tell that to fitness instructors who teach beginner level classes, either live or on video? They seem to talk to the exercisers as if they’re two-year-olds. My weight is not inversely proportional to my IQ. Thank you. Rant over. 🙂

  10. So it seems like there’s reality, and then there’s Fat People Are Idiots Fantasyland.

    In reality, there are fat people and thin people and people of various sizes inbetween. No one’s intelligence or inherent worth is determined by their size, and very few of these people are capable of voluntary permanent size changes.

    In Fat People Are Idiots Fantasyland, there are the Fat Idiots and the Heroic Thin Truth-Tellers who have The Secret to Non-Fatness.

    In reality, fat people might look at a Twinkie and go “Not now”, or avoid it because they’re avoiding processed foods, or eat one Twinkie instead of an entire mountain, or decide they just don’t like the taste, or any number of decisions. And whatever decision they make, it’s possible to find thin people behaving the same way.

    In Fat People Are Idiots Fantasyland, the Fat Idiots will eat Twinkies until they explode, unless the Heroic Thin Truth-Tellers come riding in all “No, never eat a Twinkie! They are evil!”

    In reality, the subset of fat people who aren’t trying to lose weight includes fat dancers and fat runners and fat martial artists and fat swimmers and fat casual-strollers-around-the-neighborhood and fat yoga-doing-people who voluntarily engage in extra movement for their health.

    In Fat People Are Idiots Fantasyland, the Fat Idiots will never get up off the couch unless a Heroic Thin Truth-Teller comes over and screams at them (for their own good, obviously).

    In reality, HAES includes general guidelines and lots of variation in terms of specifics because people vary, because it’s possible to do good things for one’s health without going for the most intense program possible, and because it’s much more useful to listen to someone explain their time/money/health situation and the brainstorm on ways they can get moving than it is to snap out “Join a gym fatty!” or “Just go run until you’re thin!” without getting the whole picture.

    In Fat People Are Idiots Fantasyland HAES…well, it ruins the fantasy. There’s no place for Heroic Thin Truth-Tellers to save fat people by being heroically contemptuous, heroically condescending, and heroically emotionally abusive. Without the whole “Fat people need our abuse to be healthy!” excuse, the Heroic Thin Truth-Tellers are just assholes. So therefore, in Fat People Are Idiots Fantasyland, HAES (where fat people use intelligence and judgement and self-control to make decisions for our own health) can’t be a real thing.

  11. I’d kind of like to object to veganism being thrown in there with weight loss diets. Veganism is not a diet in that sense (it is a diet in the sense that anything you eat is your diet). Veganism is about animal rights and choosing to eat as ethically as you can. I know people who don’t buy certain brands of foods for the same reason such as nestle. Vegans are shat on by pretty much everyone else and fat vegans especially-! I’d rather not have my ethical choices be lumped in with atkins and the cabbage soup diet- I love just about everything you right but I find this insulting and hurtful.

    While I’m not gluten free- I also see it as inappropriately lumped in there.. I’ve never heard of anyone going GF to lose weight.. only for health reasons- and, as you’ve pointed out before, augmenting your diet is okay if you’re nourishing your body in the best way you can. Gluten allergies or intolerance can be serious.

    1. I think Ragen was trying to point out that selling these idea as sure fire ways to get thin is a bad idea.

      Changing your diet to suit your beliefs or to help control a health problem is one thing, however a lot of diet books are written by people with minimal qualifications and knowledge to try to grab the money from the latest trends.

      Being vegan is not bad for you if you make sure you are getting the proper mix of nutrition but from what I remember a lot of the books that came out when it was a trend were exclusionary and relied on vitamin pills to fill in the gaps.

      1. To be fair, most people should be taking vitamins to fill in the gaps. I don’t take vitamins and I don’t need to but many of my meat eating friends do because their diets aren’t very varied due to time constraints or not liking to cook or whatever else. Supplements are often mentioned just because vegans are overly cautious when it comes to nutrition because we’ve, for so long, faced the whole “but you can’t get all the nutrients you need!” argument.

    2. Hi Heather,

      I’m sorry that you were offended. I’ve been told at various times (and by health professionals) that I should go on all of the eating plans that I listed as weight loss plans. I know people whose vegan diet is based on morality but I also know people who chose a vegan diet as a weight loss plan. I’ve dated someone with a gluten intolerance but I know more than 10 people who have gone gluten free to lose weight. People are allowed to choose any eating plan they want for whatever reason they choose and I have no judgments about that, but I do think that the fact that all of the things I listed have been considered weight loss plans and recommended (often by different sources at the same time) causes confusion about what constitutes healthy eating which was the point that I was trying to make. . I hope that makes sense.


      1. Ragen- thanks for the reply. Yes, I do understand, although I wish you’d added something about it not being a diet plan for most vegans- I have to work hard to fight the stereotype of the thin vegan and as veganism as a diet (rather than a way of life- ie, not just food). I’m sorry that you were recommended veganism as a weight loss method! Did you happen to see my blog on the whole “vegans are thinner” thing? And it’s repeated throughout the vegan community even when you have fat vegan after fat vegan stepping in to say “but I didn’t lose weight- I’m fat!”

  12. There are basically 7 kinds of people when it comes to weight issues:

    1) Those who are naturally thin and happen to enjoy a lifestyle that works for them. They have “good genes” and were brought up by healthy people. They eat to satisfaction and exercise in a way that pleases and works for them.

    Most of these people can’t understand how ANYONE could be overweight. They are pretty clueless when it comes to weight issues.

    (A good way to teach them is to go to lunch with them when they say they are “starved”, then switch whatever they order with a small salad, no dressing and ask them if they are happy and full after they eat it.)

    2) Those who are thin or close to thin, because they fight it tooth and nail. They haven’t ever really been significantly overweight, but they are terrified of gaining. They may have gained up to 30 pounds one time in their lives due to stress, pregnancy, injury or other clear factors, but soon were able to lose the weight and keep it off. They may be obsessive, and often are angry about how much they must “suffer” to stay thin.

    Most of these people project their bitterness onto heavy people and are very judgmental. They feel that they “did it” and can’t understand how someone wouldn’t be able to, also.

    3) Those who are heavy now, but were not in their youth. They may have gained a lot of weight due to age, illness, stress, work, medication, injury or lifestyle and metabolism changes. But they either haven’t made a concerted effort to lose weight, or have attempted to, but couldn’t sustain the effort and gained it back.

    Most of these people may be in denial about their own condition or rationalize it, so they are still condescending to others who are heavier or have been heavy for a long time.

    4) Those who are moderately heavy and have been most of their lives. They have probably tried a diet or 7, but find they keep gaining it back.

    Most of these people are more understanding of those with chronic weight issues, even those considered “obese” or “morbidly obese”. However, many still point fingers at those who are larger, or less healthy, or haven’t lost as much weight as they have over time.

    5) Those who are really big, and have been all their lives. These people have tried it all, and are exhausted and depleted. They may now focus on health or coping or hope for success with a new diet, pill or surgery.

    They are less likely to be judgmental of others, but usually are very bitter about how they have been and are treated.

    6) Those who have been significantly heavy for a long period in their lives, but have lost a large amount of weight. They may have used extreme measures or worked for a very long time to get there. They can become obsessive in order to avoid gaining the weight back, and attempt to share their success with others.

    Unfortunately, it’s rare that such persons are able to sustain a healthy lifestyle without gaining some or all of the weight back.

    They usually feel ashamed for gaining any weight back, and rarely point fingers at others with weight issues.

    7) Those who have lost a lot and gained it all back and then some, until it seems hopeless. They may be despondent, and rarely point fingers. They tend to have terrible self-talk, as most of us do, but because they are treated poorly by others and feel like failures, they are less motivated to try again, especially when it seems that dieting and exercise seem to lead to more weight gain.

    I wouldn’t say that anyone is an idiot, but it’s pretty safe to say that the larger a person is and the longer they have been that way, the more they have probably focused on diet, exercise, nutrition and self-acceptance, as well as many other measure taken to achieve weight loss. They may not, however, have spent as much time thinking about overall and internal health.

    There are persons with eating disorders throughout all the groups, except maybe #1, but for some reason, the bigger you are, the more that is seen as your problem (e.g., “oh, that person probably binges – how gross”). And the level of health is all over the map for every group, except, perhaps, most of those who fall into group #1.

    Group #1, by the way, is usually from the 1%.

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