The Measure of a Person

I recently had a huge dust-up on my Facebook led by someone who took exception to my Health at Every Size message because they were able to lose weight and so, they argued, anybody can.  This is an oft-repeated argument but it doesn’t make it any less wrong.  I explained that losing weight and keeping it off makes you a statistical anomaly, not proof of weight loss efficacy. Unfortunately at that point I got on a plane.  He started “accusing” people he doesn’t know of being sedentary.  As the conversation continued he mentioned that he “respected” me because I exercise.

This exchange represents a massive problem.

First of all, you can’t accuse someone of being sedentary because that’s a valid life choice – there’s nothing to “accuse” them of.  Being sedentary may not prioritize someone’s health but neither do being a professional bull rider, or jumping out of a helicopter with skis, or not getting enough sleep, or having a stressful job.  People have the right to prioritize their health however they want, and choose whatever path that they want.

We also need to stop acting like people’s health is entirely within their control and that it is completely changeable through their actions.  Health has a number of components including past behaviors that can’t be changed, genetics that are out of our control, access to the foods that we would choose, safe movement options that we enjoy, and appropriate healthcare which is a massive issue for many, and fat people in particular.  It includes our past environment which we cannot change, and our current environment ( including things like being under constant stigma) which we may not be able to change. We can obviously influence our health by our current behaviors, but acting like it’s appropriate to judge people based on their health because it’s entirely within their control is just plain wrong. Also, if people are dealing with health problems that are their fault it’s still not your business.  (And if you’re thinking of making a “but my tax dollars pay for…” argument then head over here.)

People who follow whatever you think is the correct path to health do not deserve any more respect than those who don’t.  Basic human respect is not reserved for humans who do what you think that they should.  Health, and any measures thereof, are  not a barometer by which we should judge respectability or worth.  The idea that we are all required to do whatever someone else thinks is the most healthy for us is deeply flawed.  The idea of the longest life being the most important thing is flawed. We in the US have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We do NOT have the obligation to pursue those things by someone else’s definition, and then be judged based on someone else’s scale.

This type of reasoning is doing nothing to increase our health or the quality of the discourse about it.  What if we took all of the time and energy we spend judging people and instead we put that into making sure that everyone has access to healthy food choices, safe movement options that they enjoy, and robust healthcare.  Then we can sit back and respect the decisions that they make just like we want our decisions to be respected.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

20 thoughts on “The Measure of a Person

  1. Another excellent post. It seems so many dieters, diet gurus, celebritites, etc, use the carrot and the stick approach – “If I can do it, so can you! It worked for me, it’ll work for you! Anyone can do this because it’s soooo easy!” Thus leading more and more people down the path to failure. No one climbs Mount Everest and says, “If I can do it, so can you!” It’s a given that there are some things that are just not possible for everyone. Of course, climbing Mount Everest isn’t a $66 billion dollar business, so there’s not much profit in trying to convince EVERYONE they can and should attempt it.

    1. I’m a dieter who has realised over the past several months that I am someone who should not be dieting.

      This is not easy. This is the most terrible thing I have ever done to myself. I am exhausted, depressed, irritable – I have literally lost all my friends (every single one, I have no one to buy for this holiday season.. completely alone). All for calorie restriction. ‘Tough love’ on myself. Worst thing? I was actually not too unhappy before. I was.. happy. I’ve forgotten what happy feels like, and I’m going to be honest.. I can’t control suicidal thoughts right now.

      But I’m afraid to go to the doctor. I’m afraid of telling them I’m depressed, irritable, then them taking one look at me, my waist size, and saying ‘Well, if you ate better..’ – I’ve been ‘eating better’ (read: less, a lot less) for months, with an aim to lose weight, and in that time period I’ve gotten worse. I have lost weight though, “brilliant” – but if this is about health, what about my mental health? I think that will kill me long before being deathfat would have done..

      I’m afraid to tell anyone that this is how I will ‘fail’. This must be why most people ‘fail’. Why they put the weight back on, and ‘fail’. And because we’re ‘failures’, we dont want to speak out about how awful this is. How soul-crushingly awful. We’re not allowed to say ‘Hang on, this is really horrible. Really horrible’. We need to sing the praises of weightloss, else we’re mocked.. looked down on. Must be because we’re absolutely addicted to food, right? Yeah, that’s it(!) (Completely ignoring that I’ve been abstaining for 10 months, so any ‘addiction’ would have disappeared by now..)

      We’re not even allowed to be honest.. I’m not any healthier, either. Just.. thinner. I’m a lot less healthy. I feel less healthy. I ate healthily before. Now I just eat… less.

      😦 Well, this comment was a bundle of joy! Heh, I’m very sorry. I need to fix myself.. I just wish we were allowed to speak out about this, instead of singing the ‘praises’ of this horror.

      (I understand if this comment doesnt get posted, since it might be ‘diet talk’.. Sorry for posting it in the first place if so, I do understand the conditions of posting.. I am just unsure whether this counts 🙂 )

      1. I’m sorry. It sounds like you’re in a bad place.

        Can you find a HAES-supporting doctor or therapist in your area? Because it sounds like you really do need help right now, and you need to be able to get that help without worrying about being pressured into more of the same damaging dieting behavior that caused many of these problems in the first place.

      2. [TW for disordered eating patterns.]

        I agree a lot.

        In the past, I had been able to lose some weight, enough so that I was clinically overweight rather than clinically obese.

        But it also meant a situation where nearly every waking moment was preoccupied with what I could/couldn’t eat, and how I was going to burn enough calories through exercise that day. Food was always based on what I was “allowed” to eat. Exercise was always based on what burned the most calories and/or purported to have the biggest visible impact on so-called “trouble zones.”

        Socially, it meant missing social gatherings if they would interfere with my exercise and/or if they had “off limits” foods. Physically, I well and truly wore down my immune system: I got sick all the time. (For example, four times per school semester instead of once.) And when I was sick, even sick enough to stay home from work, I made myself exercise anyway.

        And I suppose, yes, I could try going back to dieting to see if I lost weight again. But it’s painfully obvious that I would be prioritizing thinness while worsening my actual health.

      3. Please, please go to a doctor. You sound like you’re in a really bad place, in serious distress. Your reference to suicidal thoughts bothers me more than I can tell you. You’re not a failure. You’re someone in distress who needs and deserves help. Please go and demand it.

      4. I’m so sorry to see that you’re feeling this way. Please do seek help and please do return to whatever your normal eating patterns were before this. Hopefully returning to your previous eating patterns will restore your body chemistry to a place where the depressed thoughts won’t be so loud. Speaking from personal experience, I know I was never as depressed as I was when I tried to do extremely low carb. They actually call it the ‘low carb blues’. I hope if nothing else you will continue to come here to find a supporting voice!

      5. Hi there,

        Thanks for letting us know what’s going on – that’s really brave. I would definitely encourage you to talk to a professional. When I was dealing with this situation I thought that I could never tell anyone – I was so ashamed that I had failed. But as I started talking about it out loud to other people, it stopped rattling around in my head so much, and as I found out how many people were like me I realized that I hadn’t failed – that a system and culture that was created around something that almost never worked had failed us and that we could overcome this, step out of the failed system and even speak up about it. You are not alone – there are so many of us all along the path that you are on. if you want some recommendations for who to talk to just let me know (You can e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org if you prefer not to post here). If there is anything that I can do to support you just let me know.

        Big hugs to you!


      6. Others here have given you some great responses. I just wanted to say you are not alone in what you are feeling, you are not a failure, and it is great that you were able to post here. Oh, and you don’t “need to fix myself” – you are allowed to have help. Posting here and on other supportive blogs, finding a doctor and/or therapist who is supportive of HAES, and finding (or making) new friends who are supportive are all ways you can get some help in recovering from the torture that you’ve gone through.

        You are not alone. Hang in there.

        — Buffy

      7. You have taken a major first step – you have acknowleged there is a problem and what that problem is. The solution is as unique as you are. I resent the “one size fits all” mentality towards health care. GAWD! When has “one size fits all” EVER been just that? (Refering to clothing- NOT SO MUCH!) I love to refer to my analogy of if everyone here took a trip to Montreal (for example) NO ONE would have the same experinces. Some may drive, some may fly and some may even walk. Life is like that too. I wish you the best on your journey and the wisdom to make the BEST choices for YOU. Xoxoxo

  2. I completely agree with what you are saying. Not every body was created the same. It’s a lot easier for some people to lose or gain weight, and hard, if not nearly impossible for others without starving.

    Now I personally don’t mind much if people want to say their opinion on my health choices or any lack thereof, body, or life *as long as* it isn’t downright hate speech. Their view of me isn’t going to derail my confidence, and I like for people to feel they can speak freely, even when it goes against my view or isn’t in my favor. Again, I have boundaries on that, but also that is just me and it doesn’t mean that I think people should go around commenting on the bodies of others either.

  3. ” Basic human respect is not reserved for humans who do what you think that they should.”

    That right there is one of the most important statements I’ve ever read.

  4. Discussions on health suffer a lot from binary thinking. There’s a tendency to categorize things as either controllable or not controllable, which leads to blaming people for poor health. The reality is that certain things about health are completely outside of a person’s control, certain things are completely in a person’s control, and a lot of things fall into a complicated gray area of partial control. (For instance, there are areas where I have the ability to make choices about my health because of class and economic privilege, which is not a matter of choice. There are also areas where I can make choices that increase or reduce the risk of certain medical problems, but don’t have the ability to ensure that I definitely don’t develop the problems. And there are areas where my ability to make choices influencing my health is constrained by a disability I couldn’t have prevented and cannot change, but not eliminated by my disability.) And a lot of people really don’t want to acknowledge the gray area, because it involves acknowledging their personal privilege and giving up on the idea that they can ‘earn’ themselves immortality with enough bean sprouts.

    1. Blaming people for their poor health is like blaming crime victims for being victimized. It’s magical thinking–i.e., “if I don’t do what he or she does, then I won’t have any problems.”

  5. I’ve said this so often in comments on your posts that I’m sorry if I keep repeating myself, but geez! All these implications and accusations that good health or bad health is something that we do to ourselves makes my blood boil. It’s the worst kind of superstition – a kind of mediaeval belief that our bodies somehow express our moral selves, and that if we have a ‘good’ body we are demonstrably better people.

    What’s unbelievable is that the people who should most understand that this isn’t the case – medical professionals – are sometimes the ones who most buy into it.

  6. Oh man, this is why I’m glad I’m off Facebook for the next week or so – I would have lit into this guy like no one’s business.

  7. The amazing thing is, what you say about “basic human respect” is something I, for one, never hear. It is not part of our normal discourse – it’s not a concept people even think about. We’re all on board with putting down others for any number of reasons. No one but YOU says: every human being has a right to personal dignity – even if, God forbid, they are fat, or poor, or not exercising.

    I feel very bad for the commenter who has dieted herself into a miserable life. Fat and jolly SHOULD beat thin and suicidal. Heaven knows there are enough bitchy, starving, skinny women out there who go through the holidays without tasting chocolate so they can feel superior to fatties like me. Being thin does not automatically confer superiority – but they think it does!

  8. Thank you so much, Regan. This is a great post. Not only in response to the FB poster (who I saw & just couldn’t believe – no understanding for HAES at all), but just in general.

    Why are you so calm & knowledgeable, and are able to say (write) things in a way that make so much sense, while I am not able to even begin a conversation with family & friends about it? Luckily, I am able to pass some of your posts on to my husband – this will be one of them!

    Thanks again,

  9. One thing also people need to understand is that medications for both medical and psychiatric conditions can cause weight gain by either effect people’s metabolisms and/or making people extremely food obsessed to the point where they are so obsessed they are drug seeking, it’s a chemically induced state though. This is a double edge sword, I see being a wls survivor who had gained a lot of weight post weight loss surgery, when physical complications caused my mental health to detoriate, and I was put on an enormous amount of psychotropic medications.Even though I hadn’t been eating disordered for quite sometime, those drugs both effected me metabolically and chemically induced me to be food obsessed.
    Unfortunately I see a lot of people who either resort to drastic measures to lose weight if they have MH conditions, if they are on these meds and have gained weight because of the stigmatization an assumations as you’ve pointed out, that people make against people of weight. Or people are so afraid of becoming fat, on these medications that they may desperately need, but won’t take because they are afraid of the weight gain that goes with it.
    That’s why I am one of your biggest fans and supporters, and I’m also as a medical, mh and size acceptance advocate, when weight comes up, to say what you say. That people cannot make the foolish correlations they do and they also have no idea by looking at someone based upon size alone, what their health and also what they have done both positively and negatively to impact their health using one’s size as a gauge.
    This came up especially with the whole George Takei thing, I saw earlier transpire on Facebook today. People assumed when I called George’s picture as fat bashing they assumed I was a non exercising,bitterly fat ,stuffing my face with Big Macs eater who was a walking time bomb health wise. Little do they know I have orthostatic hypotension, reactive hypoglycemia and abnormally low cholestrol. Bigoted idiots are a dangerous lot of people for a multitude of reasons. I just wish I had your ability to be concise and call them out the way you do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.