But Did I Learn the Lesson

Wei et al. “Relationship Between Low Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Mortality in Normal-Weight, Overweight, and Obese Men.” JAMA. 1999;282: 1547-1553

My mom was telling me a story that she heard.  Now, this is my mom and she is the best mom in the whole world, and she’s not always really focused on the details of a story so feel free to consider this a parable.  Apparently there was a woman who wanted to be a model and she was told that she could make a career out of it but first she would need to lose weight.  So she started dieting which lead to an eating disorder.  She did the hard work to recover and got herself into college.  Then she got called from a modeling agency asking her to be a plus size model. But, they told her, she needed to gain weight.  She said “This was a chance for me to see – did I learn the lesson or not?” So she told them that no, she wasn’t interested in artificially manipulating her weight to get a modeling gig.

This really struck a chord with me.  I spent a lot of my life trying to artificially manipulate my weight.  Not for a modeling career but because I allowed myself to be convinced that it was healthier, and because I wanted the social acceptance that comes with having a body size that is socially acceptable.  But it never worked, I was hospitalized for an eating disorder 15 pounds over my “healthy” weight.  So I started doing research and it turns out that weight loss almost never works for anybody.  And that my premise was half flawed and half bad choice.  The flawed part was the idea that I had to be thin to be healthy, that’s just not true. The bad choice was that I thought I should solve bullying by trying to do what the bully wanted.  Now it’s crystal clear that weight loss is not the cure for social stigma, ending social stigma is the cure for social stigma.

As I walk my fat body around the world I get all kinds of messages about how I should lose weight so that I can be healthier, or happier, more date-able or more socially acceptable (from people who have no idea about my baseline health, happiness, date-ability or social acceptability.)  And I consider each of these occasions a chance for me to see if I’ve learned the lesson.  I shudder to think of the money, time, and energy I gave to the diet industry that makes over 60 Billion dollars each year selling us a product that has the opposite of the intended effect 95% of the time.

So when Weight Watchers asks me to believe that Jennifer Hudson is finally a success because she lost weight (even though she was an American Idol Finalist, Grammy Winning singer and Oscar Winning Actress when she was “fat” and now the only thing she stars in are Weight Watchers commercials) it’s a chance for me to see – did I learn the lesson or not?  Ok, that’s an easy one.

When someone tells me that they think I’m great but they don’t date big girls, it’s a chance for me to see if I’ve learned the lesson.  Do I think that it’s a good idea to date someone who only wants me if I’m different than I am now? Sure they’ll date me if I lose weight, maybe even marry me if I can keep the weight off long enough.  But what happens when time changes the superficiality of my body?

When they try to tell me that I’ll be all but immortal if I lose weight, it’s a chance to see if I learned the lesson.  Do I believe the research, or the hype?  Do I demand evidence-based treatment from my doctor or do I allow him to treat me based on the information that he got at the Allergan-sponsored seminar, or the prescription he’ll write me with the Meridia pen that he got when he played golf with his friendly neighborhood pharmaceutical rep.

When the Shape Magazine publishes its 1,153rd cover article on how I can “quickly and easily lose weight for good!” it’s a chance to see if I’ve learned the lesson.  Do I really want to support these people with my money – do I really think that the 1,153rd time is the charm?

In our thin-obsessed culture there are countless opportunities to see if I’ve learned the lessons – that thin is not the same as healthy and that every body deserves respect. The more I learn that more I’m sure that I’m on the right track this time.

If you’re looking for a little bit of activism today, might I suggest emailing the Communications Director of Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to ask that she denounce the Georgia Fat-Shaming Strong4Life billboards? You can send a quick note to Mary Beth Bigley and let her know where you stand: marybeth.bigley@hhs.gov I sent my e-mail yesterday!

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

14 thoughts on “But Did I Learn the Lesson

  1. I was hospitalised with anaemia, hyperthyroidism and a heart irregularity when I fell and broke my femur in 2010.
    In ’94 I had Gastroplasty as a recommended way to lose wieght, i was 13stone, and when I broke my leg I wieghed 95 pounds and looked eighty years of age…I’m 65. The week before I had been to my Doc’s and she’d said I was fine, a tad gaunt… okay…but according to my BMI I was great.
    Then I fell…amd had nothing to cushion me AND no immune system to help me heal. But thank God for the fall…otherwise I may never have been seen to.
    Many blood transfusions, a course of thyroid inhibitors and a daily dose of minerals, salts and oils…and Im ok. I look 50 and I wiegh 135 pounds and never felt better. No matter what happens now…this is me…and I’m ok.
    You are an inspiration…well you were for me…and you SO are needed in this world of false everything and beautiful people who are dying because they listen to liars.
    Everybody has the right to not be shamed for who they are.
    Keep up the Very Important Work you do and God Bless you and your beautiful voice.

  2. Thanks for another great post Ragen, and it reminded me about yet another headline comment/instruction about weight on the cover of a recent magazine here in the UK. For me the particularly disturbing and annoying thing is that this particular magazine is sold by a chain of well known High Street “health food stores” and the premise of their articles and magazine is to be as healthy as you can. Of course being January, they as well as many others follow the uninspiring, same old, “lose weight after Christmas” saga, but women must continue to buy these magazines or surely they wouldn’t keep doing it? I have e-mailed this magazine in the past about this issue as I’ve seen the magazine in the shop and wanted to buy it as it had interesting looking articles on conditions I have, like Fibromyalgia, Arthritis etc., but then I see on the cover, there is also diet nonsense and it puts me off. I think I recall vaguely that I got some wooly worded answer, that didn’t really address the diet issue! This time they had revamped their cover and were asking people to comment on it, and so I filled that survey in and of course strongly mentioned the dieting thing and also e-mailed them separately on that issue, don’t hold out much hope for a real, honest answer, but we shall see. I have also been dismayed at 3 recent article covers in duplicate magazines/papers that have commended and applauded 3 well known larger size women, who have lost substantial weight. I’m particularly concerned that at least 2 of them have “volunteered” to do these interviews as people look up to them. One is seen on the cover, stating, “A whole new world has opened up to me in what I can now wear!! Marion, UK

  3. I love this…love the learning the lesson concept. I finally got my hands on Dr. Bacon’s HAES book and for the first time I’m reading this book and not feeling more and more despair. It’s like THANK you for finally explaining the physiological process behind what is happening to me and helping me see where it really is true that dieting isn’t going to solve my problem and holy mother of crapola did that section on Bariatric Surgery scare me away for life! This Christmas it finally happened…I was ‘gifted’ with a weight loss book from my sister in law. I was annoyed immediately, but then when I got home I read the back cover and thought maybe it wouldn’t be too bad as it seemed at first glance to somewhat fall in line with the HAES ideology, but now that I’m reading it, I just don’t like it at all. My SIL has always been slender and never really fought with her weight and is a belly dancer and it just made me want to shake her and be like “Don’t you see how it wasn’t your place to give me this even if your minister who has struggled all her life with weight loss said it was great? Did I give your husband a book about watching his alcohol consumption because while he’s not a dysfunctional alcoholic, he seems to have beer, beer brewing and drinking on his mind constantly and has some alcoholic beverage in his hand any time I see him? No because it’s not my place. I love my BIL and while I worry, I just don’t feel it’s my place when so far he isn’t hurting anyone but himself, and he’s free to do that if he wishes.” So after that I was just really down and bummed and even though I tried not to let it bother me…it niggled…and then when I picked it up, I just didn’t like it, so Dr. Bacon’s book has been like a breath of fresh air clearing the fog I’ve been fighting with ever since December 27th. And ironically ever since then I’ve been struggling with making good choices, and after 1/3 of the way through the book last night, I really listened to my hunger cues. I only ate as much as I felt I needed when I felt I needed it, even if meant not eating at supper time, having some cauliflower at 6 and a hand full of my nut and cereal snack mix at 10pm when my stomach started gurgling at me again, and I woke up this morning feeling good. I feel more awake and I don’t feel desperately hungry like I do most mornings…it’s wonderful.

    Also this week my mom confided in me an experience she had a couple of weeks ago when she went to the MD. She had a really bad sinus infection and finally threw in the towel and went to get antibiotics to kick it. While she was there, the doctor who hadn’t seen her in well over a year, looked at her chart and said “Whoa, you’ve gained a little bit of weight (5lbs). You need to be careful.” I’m sitting there looked at my mom with my jaw open thinking WTF? My mom is 58 years old and is in amazing shape! She doing flexibility exercises four mornings a week and then goes to work as a nurse in a nursing home where she runs non stop all night taking care of two floors of patients. The twenty somethings can’t keep up with her and then on her break she and her friend do laps on the stairs, fifteen circuits up and down two flights of steps a night. This woman knows nothing about what my mom does, her eating habits, etc, but those five pounds put her over the arbitrary BMI line into overweight and the doctor felt the need to comment on it. It made me angry for my mom because it really bothered her and put her into depressed and deprivation mode and that just killed me…MY Mom, My Mom who everyone still thinks is in her 40’s because she looks so good…My Mom who gets more male attention and more date offers since her divorce four years ago than I have in my entire life…My Mom who is amazing and caring and wonderful, reduced to self hate by an unthinking doctor who took it upon herself to complain about my mom’s five pounds in the last year because it send her over some arbitrary line on some chart. Like I told mom, it’s probably muscle since she and her friend have started the stair walking routine about three months ago. At any rate, it just really really upset me. I’m so sick of this thinness culture that’s so bad it’s trying to shame someone like my mom.

    Sorry for my rant, but I knew of anywhere, people here would understand. Again, great post Ragen, and it was something I needed to hear!

    1. You go, Girl. And next time your sister comes over, have a talk with her about boundaries, if you think she can hear it. Otherwise, throw out the book or burn it in the backyard – whichever makes you feel better!

  4. Once again a great read! Thank you. As for the comment “I like you but I don’t date BIG GIRLS.” My response is “That’s ok. I don’t I date insensitive jerks!” It’s called UNCONDITIONAL love. NO CONDITIONS for your affection. Too bad – you don’t know what you’re missing. Have a great week and I look forward to your next post. Lots of love, Tracey

  5. What I don’t understand is – if we are wrong and eat well and take exercise then we will lose weight and if we are right then we’ll get fitter and healthier regardless, so surely it would be better to work with us and promote health for everyone rather than tell us that we are lying if we say we are healthy.

    Is it really such a bizarre thing to suggest?

  6. “The bad choice was that I thought I should solve bullying by trying to do what the bully wanted.”

    The whole post resonated with me, but this statement hit me right between the eyes.

    (Warning: Triggers Ahead!)
    I’ve been flirting with HAES for about a year now, and am *pretty much* on board. I’m currently working with a trainer at my gym who is giving me free service – as long as I lose weight. If I gain or stagnate, I have to pay him $20. I agreed to this arrangement because the workouts feel good, I feel fit – and quite frankly, and the lifelong dieter in me is psyched that my clothes are getting looser. In short, I’m conflicted. My rationalization is that this time, I’m losing weight because I’m engaging in healthy behaviors (no crazy diet, just good nutrition and workouts that are making me stronger) that have the side effect of weight loss, and I’m allowing myself to be monitored because I really like working with this trainer but I ain’t got no money to pay him.

    I think of you a lot of times when I’m at the gym. When I walk over to the section where all the body builders hang out because I want to use that equipment, I no longer dread the walk like I used to. I don’t try to minimize my size in any way. I don’t avoid their stares. I hold my head high. I make eye contact. I smile and nod. I make it clear through my body language that I belong in that half of the gym just as well as they do.

    Do you know what I’ve gotten in return? Respect. When they see me working hard on equipment that intimidates most people, it’s like I’m earning my place among the stacks. Only newbies stare when I walk over there any more. The guys who know me give me a “S’up” and go on about their business. My overall lesson to them: Never underestimate a fat chick. And the ones who don’t get that lesson? They can suck it. Their problem, not mine.

    I’ve forgotten my original point (it’s late in the day and my brain is fully cramped), but I just wanted to let you know how much this post resonated with me, and how much you inspire me to tread where fatties frequently fear to tread.

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