Maybe that’s why you’re fat…

One of the things that happened when I started being vocal about my Health at Every Size Practice is people’s desire to guess why I’m fat.  This seems to happen more when people find out how much I work out.  Typically it involves something that I’m doing at the moment.  If I have a cup from Starbucks often someone will say “Oh, I heard that the drinks from Starbucks have a ton of calories…” usually they don’t say it, sometimes they do, but if not there’s  an implied  – maybe if you gave up Starbucks you’d lose weight.

I’ve had perfect strangers passing by me in a restaurant point to my plate and say “This is why you’re fat”.  The last time it happened I was eating the same thing as three thin people at the table, I didn’t have time to point that out as the hostess picked her jaw up off the floor and practically hauled the people away from my table, turning her head all the way around  like the exorcist to apologize profusely to me as she speed walked them away.

I understand the confusion.  We’re told over and over again that all you have to do is eat healthy and exercise and you’ll be thin.  People who are naturally thin often mention to me that they don’t eat that great and barely exercise but they stay thin so they assume that fatties must be eating even more than they do and be even less active.  We’ve already talked about the flaw in that logic.   When fat people do those things and don’t lose weight, then others – in an attempt at maintaining belief consistency – typically find it easier to question the individual than the the belief system.  They assume that there must be something that allows them to keep their belief and explain the seeming anomaly in front of them.

Maybe it’s the lattes.  I saw her eat a hamburger the other day, maybe that’s it.  Maybe her workouts aren’t as hard as they look.  She had popcorn at the movies, is that it?  She must binge eat when nobody is looking.  Maybe she’s just lying.  And on and on…

These typically ignore the fact that most of us tried giving up these things any number of times and it didn’t make us thin.  And that thin people engage in all of these behaviors and it doesn’t make them fat. And there are fat and thin people who eat the same diets and have very different sizes and levels of health.  There are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size.

But it’s not like there’s just one or two anomalies, a study from the Einstein School of Medicine found that “Among US adults 20 years and older, 23.5% (approximately16.3 million adults) of normal-weight adults were metabolically abnormal, whereas 51.3% (approximately 35.9 million adults) of overweight adults and 31.7% (approximately 19.5 million adults) of obese adults were metabolically healthy.”

And that’s in a society where fat people have to achieve health despite a constant stream of stigma and prejudice which, According to Dr. Peter Muennig from Columbia “are intensely stressful.  Over time, such chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, and diabetes…Women who say they feel they are too heavy suffer more mental and physical illness than women who say they feel fine about their size – no matter what they weigh.”

So I think that we need to consider the possibility that the current paradigm is wrong.  That bodies, like everything else in nature, come in different sizes. That, just like we have vertical diversity of bodies (I personally know people from 4’10 to 6’6), we have horizontal diversity of bodies.   That healthy habits give us the best chance for the optimal amount of health that is possible for each of us, but in no way guarantee health or a specific body size.

We also need to consider that the weight-centered diet-loving culture in which we live may be contributing to size diversity –  A 7 year study from the University of Minnesota found that “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, included significant weight gain.”  In various studies weight loss attempts have been shown to predict weight gain, obesity, and eating disorders, but not weight loss. And girls are now starting to diet at age 8.

We can’t see the forest for the french fries.  We’re so busy policing our active fat friends’ food to find the secret reason for their fatness that we are missing the big picture.   The truth is we don’t know why people are bigger (and there is a lot of argument about whether we even are really bigger and if so, by how much.)  I’m not claiming to have all the answers but I think that there are enough questions to warrant that we at least push pause our current  weight centered approach (which seems to be having the opposite of the intended effect with some other negative effects on the side).

We’re not sure if or why people are fatter, we’re not sure if that’s actually causing health problems, we have no Earthly idea how to make them thinner since every diet ever tested has had an abysmal success rate and we don’t know why they don’t work.  The time for making “everybody knows” arguments is over.  It is absolutely illogical that we are still recommending dieting as a health or weight loss intervention.  With the evidence that we have, a health-centered approach is a much more responsible choice than a weight-centered approach.  With a health centered approach you work on the actual metabolic indicators of health without the side effects that shame, stigma and body hate create, and without dieting which is basically playing Russian Roulette with your health using a 95% loaded gun. To borrow a phrase – STOP THE INSANITY!   Let’s take weight out of the conversation and focus on making health information and options accessible to everyone.

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24 thoughts on “Maybe that’s why you’re fat…

  1. Once again, brava. You know, Ragen, you have made a real and concrete difference in how I look at myself, how I respect myself, and how I treat myself. Thank you.

  2. ignore that last comment. i dont mean any disrespect, my uncle is very obese and is suffering enormous health problems from it. he can’t walk properly, he can;t drive, he’s pretty much bed bound, and it all started when he started putting getting fat. im not trying to offend you, but this is my personal view and this is what ive seen happen. hell ive been putting on some weight recently, its easy to do, and its hard to get rid of. if you are happy and healthy that way, then you are happy and feel healthy, who am i to tell you how to be happy? if everyone lived their lives like you and enjoyed who they are the world would be a much much happier place
    much love. the douche who posted the last comment. x

    1. Hi Tristan,

      I am very sorry to hear about your uncle and the issues that he is having, and I understand how difficult it can be to watch someone go through that. I hope you understand that I’m not suggesting that not taking care of your body is a likely path to health. I believe that everybody gets to choose how much they prioritize their health and what path to health they choose but if we do want to be healthy, I think that focusing on healthy behaviors is the best plan. I know that the weight may look like the cause, but consider that it could be the symptom – of a health problem, of behaviors related to depression or something else. Either way, I’ve noticed (and studies back me up) that people who don’t feel good about their bodies don’t take care of them. By taking the focus off weight and putting it on healthy behaviors I think that we give people their best chance for health success. Take care,


  3. This post helps prove a point my best friends and I have been raising for YEARS – You can’t tell why we’re shaped the way we are. People look at us and say things like ‘you’re so bony, you must, like, NEVER eat, right?’ my friend to Chell, like that’s something that you can just say, she’s even gotten that comment while she eating a Big Mac, her favorite meal (which she has up to 8 times a week, but, never less than three, I love my friends). I, however, have gotten that same ‘maybe that’s why you’re fat’ comment, and I could be just standing there, drinking a green tea, or having some yogurt.

    The stigma is obvious here: Chell is very small (the other day she divulged with our medical class how she hates how people tell her that, at 5’3″ and 95 lbs, people tell her she needs to do things about how ‘underweight’ she is) but she lives a generally active life and people assume that’s why she doesn’t weight as much as she ‘should.’

    I, however, am 5′ 5.5″ and 150 lbs (but I was 183 not too long ago and since then I haven’t gotten these comments, but before, while I was ‘fat’, they were a normal thing) I have bee told the following (and others, these are the greatest hits of comments) ‘go jog, fatty’ or to ‘lift some weights, lardo’, and my personal favorite ‘god, do you ever stop eating?’ (I looked back at the guy who said it and said ‘yes, long enough to tell you you’re rude.’)

    Lately, I eat fruit the way Chell eats McDonalds, because I want to care for my body that way I care for the people and other amazing things that I love – it deserves that much from me, because it carries me through my life. I exercise everyday because I love how it feels to know that I can do that much, lift this much, run that far (feeling great afterwords is also a plus.) Yet, I get told that I need to exercise more, eat better, do more, be better. How can do this when I’m already doing great? I have been told by people ‘don’t feel bad about your weight, it’s your massive chest’. I don’t see how my breasts are any part of their concern. I don’t see how any part of my body is any part of their concern. I’ve learned to respect myself because of places like this site.

  4. I totally agree! I have a blog post called ‘Who Watches the Skinny?’ that talks about this, a little. If you’re eating anything besides dry carrot sticks, it’s assumed well, that’s why you’re fat.

    I can’t believe someone SAID that to you. He’s lucky you didn’t toss your plate of food on him, my god.

    Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, head of Rockefeller Genetics Lab, a molecular biologist who specializes in obesity research, said in an interview that even after gastric bypass, people only lost so much weight and then just stopped. Even in a metabolic ward eating 700 calories a day they simply did not lose more fat, period.

    Gary Taubes’s amazing book (with the most horrible title [Good Calories, Bad Calories] ever, it sounds like a diet book, publisher one-up’d him on that) is a book on “nutrition science.” Very dense, you gotta be a good reader, but totally invaluable to understanding why the whole health thing in the government / corporation / media is such a joke). It spelled out how fat rats could be starved and result in a dead rat of organ failure that still had massive fat; the body would just sacrifice the organs and spare the fat, dieting was real helpful, not.

    There are people who are emaciated on the top half but obese on the bottom half; which half of their body should we blame?

    Jonny Boyden talked about how when he was a trainer in a NY gym they had a metabolic cart which measures the energy you’re burning off during exercise and it was radically different for different people. Also, it’s different for people who are less weight than they used to be.

    Gut bacteria alone can make a radical difference in how many calories actually reach the body as opposed to get vented out.

    Dr. Arya Sharma just recently blogged about research that makes it very clear, biochemically, that if you lose fat, your body gears you to put it back; anybody expecting willpower to outgun a few million years of evolution is a moron.


    I totally agree on the health thing. One thing I find difficult — my blog used to be a bit of a diet blog — is that I am very focused on health, I must be for me and my teen girl. But wanting to be healthy has nothing to do with wanting to be thin, necessarily. I am no longer trying to be thin. It’s a lost cause. I have 5 years of effort into this and, as I recently blogged, science from every direction and every single person I have met in my weight class’s experience, confirms that there is a limit to loss, aside from which, you’re going to regain it anyway. So fat loss is now totally off my personal radar.

    But as noted, a focus on health is important to me. So I’m new to the whole fat politics world, and I find it a little tough figuring out how to be in the middle. Sometimes I have read FA like blogs and while I’m totally all for awesome food, it seemed like it was the other extreme, you know? Like you could either be focused on health with “getting thin” at the front of that, or you could be throwing it all to the wind with “since it’s ok to be fat I’ll eat crap and that’s ok.” It’s like there is no middle ground. I find that stupid because even if someone is rightfully proud of their body no matter what its size, that doesn’t mean they want diabetes.

    I see the “polarity problem” of it as rather offensive to fat people in its own way. Why can’t someone want to make their cholesterol reading more healthy, and reduce bloating because they feel better then, and eat for that, without it having to be about trying to get skinnier? But if you talk about eating well or health everyone assumes it’s about dieting. I know people who are very big and run marathons. Plenty of fat people are focused on health, exercise, etc. But it’s hard to find a place for that niche online since it seems like a lot of people interpret health-focus as dieting and rejects it.


  5. I realized in high school that since there are people like me who can eat like I did and still stay thin, that there must be people out there who are just naturally fat no matter how little they eat. Some people are just born with certain genetics that will destine them to be fat, thin, short, or tall. I understood it would be hypocritical of me to assume they all were overeating.

    The truth is, there are health and unhealthy thin people. There are healthy and unhealthy fat people. There are fat people who over eat and fat people who under eat, just as there are thin people who over eat and thin people who under eat.

    I trust that you eat notoriously and stay active, which gives hope for the rest of the people like you who are fat but healthy that they don’t have to hate themselves or worry about trying to lose weight.

  6. What these people are really saying when they spout off something like that, my lovelies (and it’s taken me 30 years to grasp this), is this:

    “If I eat what she’s eating, then I’ll be fat too”.

    And it scares them, and like most people who are ignorant and afraid, they lash out.

    This is the opposite side of the “eat like a thin person” philosophy. Eat what a thin person does, and you’ll get their behaviours and hey presto! You’ll wake up thin! Except this one goes, “Eat like a fat person, and you’ll be fat. AAAUGH! THE HORROR! NONONONONOOOOO!”

    I promise you, I eat better than most of the thin people I’ve met in the last 15 years. My diet is restricted by choice but also by foods that make me feel wretched when I eat them. I don’t smoke, I exercise, I don’t eat red meat, and there is always fruit and veg in every meal. I rarely eat meat, and I have MAYBE two units of alcohol a month, if it’s been a bad month.

    And yet I’m still heavy. And at 40 years on this planet, I have the right to tell people to piss off if they throw some fat-phobic pile of shite my way.

    I’m also able to produce vast quantities of methane whenever I wish. I find it settles an argument nicely.

    1. YES. They see a fat person eating something and say out loud, “that is why you’re fat”, and then say to themselves in their head, “take note: don’t eat THAT and I’ll stay thin.” Um, no, doesn’t work like that. As Ragen always says, we’re not lawnmowers.

    2. “I’m also able to produce vast quantities of methane whenever I wish. I find it settles an argument nicely.”

      Yorkie, remind me never to get into an argument with you… or to bring my similarly gifted cat if I ever do.

  7. By the way Ragen, it was Dr. Linda Bacon herself that turned me on to your blog. She’s awesome at being very responsive via email and Twitter, and I sent a tweet to her once to thank her for an article she posted about fat athletes. She responded to me by saying I should check out Ragen at Dances With Fat and sent me your link!

    I’ve been a reader for months now but I felt I should mention it. 😀

    1. Hi Meaghan,

      That is awesome. I got to have lunch with Linda the last time I was in San Francisco and she is truly an awesome person. It was all I could do to get through the lunch without being a ridiculous fan girl 🙂


  8. Went out to eat last night….. and noticed that the rather thin woman, who had given me and my plate a good once-over when she came in, had awful table manners when she got her food.

    And yes, I did snicker to myself about that. I’d rather be a bit pudgy and have beautiful table manners than be svelte and eat like a beast. :)~

    I like what you’re saying in this post —- it’s awfully easy for people to judge each other, isn’t it? Very aggravating. The thing is: we’re just not all genetically engineered to all look the same. Think of all people could accomplish if they spent less energy analyzing and criticizing other people, and instead, focused on all the great things that we probably have in common.

  9. As annoying as it is to be judged when eating in public I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the hardcore food policers. I watch my friends twist through the complicated dance of how ‘bad’ they are going to be when they choose their entrees, the “Oh I’d love to have this but it has a TON of calories”….I let them go on and on and then I peacefully order exactly what I really want and eat exactly as much of it as I need. And enjoy the hell out of it without guilt or self-loathing.They don’t know what they are missing.

    1. I agree with the statement SO much. I’ve really started working on eating mindfully and now cannot believe how much mental energy I wasted worrying about food. I can ENJOY it AND the company of the people I’m with. You know, the food police don’t get to enjoy their food and they make everyone else around them miserable. I’m much happier in the space I’m in now.


  10. Just think how boring the world would be if all of us were the same height and you could tell precisely how people ate and moved by measuring their waistlines.

    The most uncomfortable experience I’ve had around weight in a long time was in a restaurant last week when the charming, funny, efficient server we had Would. Not. Shut. Up. about weight gain and extra holiday pounds and how she was so lazy because she hadn’t been to the gym to work off the extra calories, so clearly she wasn’t getting any exercise anymore and was going to get fat.

    I guess it never occurred to her that working an eight-hour shift waiting tables in a busy restaurant requires a lot of walking, carrying, and heavy lifting.

    On top of all that, it was a national chain restaurant and so has to list the calorie content of every dish right on the menu, where it can be fiercely triggering to people attempting to recover from EDs or get off the diet merry-go-round.

    Worst of all, the other couple with us still both completely buy into the thin = healthy, fat = sick concept, so they were sharing the fat jokes with the thin server.

    If I could have walked home from the restaurant in the dark (I’m nightblind, and it was two towns over from where I live, but I seriously considered trying!) I would have just walked away.

    Out of the other three people dining with me and the restaurant staff… yeah, my husband was basically the only one there NOT telling me why I’m fat and what’s wrong with it.

    Excuse me, but I don’t recall ordering a side of body shame with my meal.

  11. One of my friends here is a tri-athlete and made of sinew and muscle, just streamlined and probably aerodynamic. But she had an anorexic mum who totally f*cked her in the head with any kind of food relationship (like, “Your brother can have this ice cream, but you can’t because you’re waaay too fat, so go sit in your room until we’re done…”)

    So when she goes to the doctor, she tells him, “Please…I don’t want to be weighed because if I see that number, even if it’s exactly where it’s ‘supposed’ to be, it will just trigger that moving avalanche of bullshit. And even if I turn around on the scale, the OCD part of my brain just HAS to know what the number is. And at this point, the number means nothing…it’s just what it makes me feel”. And the docs have no problem with it. The only time they squawked was when she went into a tailspin and got dangerously thin.

    This was in response to me telling her that I refuse to be weighed these days for the Crazy that it stirs up. Anyone looking at her would think, “Wow, perfect body…how could she be unhealthy in any way?” And they would look at me and think, “God, get on a treadmill already…”

    1. That is what happens to me too. I just don’t need to see that number. I do have OCD and one of its manifestations other than general obsessing and categorizing and hoarding a bunch of shite that I really don’t need (am working on that!) is an obsession with numbers. Besides knowing that other people know the number can trigger bulimic behavior in me again. Do not need that crazy-making to be sure!

  12. “Among US adults 20 years and older, 23.5% (approximately16.3 million adults) of normal-weight adults were metabolically abnormal, whereas 51.3% (approximately 35.9 million adults) of overweight adults and 31.7% (approximately 19.5 million adults) of obese adults were metabolically healthy.”

    I honestly had to read this carefully to understand, and I think it is a little deceptively written by giving the opposite stat for normal weight people. It could say “76.5% of normal weight adults were metabolically healthy, whereas 51.3% of overweight adults and 31.7% of obese adults were also metabolically healthy.” No change in meaning.

    What I think these stats do show is that health is much more than BP and cholesterol/bloodwork. I eat well and my BP is stellar, but I am not at a great level of fitness. I can’t run an uphill mile nonstop. My muscles are weak. Our knowledge of how to measure health is limited, but growing.

    1. I do see what you are saying but I don’t think that there attempt was to deceive, I think that they wrote the stat that way to highlight the subpopulations that confounded expectations. The expectation is that thin people will be healthy and fat people will be unhealthy so they gave the stats of the thin people who were unhealthy and the fat people who were healthy.

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