Beware the Dangerous Fatties

Huffington post ran an article by Sue Thomason called “We’ll Look Back and Laugh That We Went On Diets to Try to Lose Weight.” You can read the original here (Trigger warning:  possible conflation of fat and health, Eating Disorder talk, comments that defy logic – though the Rolls Not Trolls community has done some good Ninja fat bombing.)

One of the really interesting things that I notice in the comments here and elsewhere is that when someone simply points out the research – that diets fail 95% of the time, that healthy habits have been shown in studies to have a much high chance of creating healthy bodies than dieting, people respond by saying that what we are saying is “dangerous”.  And it’s that specific world “dangerous”.  As in “You need to stop spreading these dangerous lies.”

I always want to say: Well, I’m talking about research and you’re talking out of your ass so remind me again which one of us is telling dangerous lies?

I often notice that that word “dangerous” is used to try to shout down ideas that are progressive. Letting gay people get married is “dangerous”, people questioning the banks is “dangerous”.  This has happened before – suggesting that the Earth revolved around the sun was “dangerous”, women’s suffrage was “dangerous”.

Of course the idea is to use fear to interrupt logical, intelligent discussion and progress.  Historically it works for a while but the thing about evidence and science is that it doesn’t matter if people call them dangerous or ridiculous or stick their fingers in their ears and scream la la la la la or whatever, at the end of the day the truth is still the truth.

Considering how many people have been hurt mentally and physically by dieting and our obsession with thinness (let’s not forget that this war on obesity has casualties including fatalities) I’m not so sure that we’ll laugh about it in the future, any more than we’ll laugh about doctors giving pregnant women thalidomide, or prescribing heroin as a cough suppressant or using lysol as a douche (trust me, nobody is laughing about that one).

What astounds me is that this has happened repeatedly in our history.  Scientists have made myriad discoveries that disproved what “everybody knew”, doctors have prescribed things that ended up not working or causing heinous side effects, yet somehow there is a vocal group of people who seem to think  it’s not possible for that to have happened again.  And so instead of learning from the past, noticing the mistakes faster and changing course with more agility and speed, they cling to a purported “solution” that is not defensible based on the evidence and call those who disagree with them dangerous.

One of my favorite quotes is from Marie Osmond who said “if you’re going to look back on this and laugh, you might as well laugh now. ”  Since without a stage I’m just kind of an awkward klutz, that advice has served me well in many situations, and I think that it can serve in the battle for Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size. Please note, this isn’t for everyone or for every situation – it’s just another arrow for your SA/HAES quiver if you want it.

The first use is when someone suggests that you should go on a diet. Try giving them a look of disbelief, a quick snort of a laugh and saying “Are people still peddling that? I thought everybody knew that weight loss doesn’t work.” Or shake your head disapprovingly and say “Wow, the computer era makes the evidence so accessible and people still don’t bother to read it!”

Or someone says “You need to weight loss script blah blah blah”.  Laugh and shake my head with a little eye roll or a look of disbelief. (That typically gets them to stop mid-sentence.)  Then I ask “So, how do you reconcile your pro-diet views with the findings of Matheson et.al,?”  That gets a confused look.  So give a confused, slightly disbelieving look back and say “Wei et. al.?” Another confused look.  Say, with a decent amount of surprise “Really?”  (as if you were certain they’d know about that one,) then continue “Bacon and Aphramor, Mann and Tomiyama, the Cooper Institute studies?” Be prepared to have conversations about these but so far in my experience the people I’ve spoken to, including doctors, haven’t heard of them so then I just say “I’m sorry but it sounds like you haven’t done enough research to be qualified to give me advice on this.  I’ll be happy to have a conversation about  it though.”

I’ve found this to be effective with doctors. If you want to know more about the research just scroll to the bottom of this post.

I don’t think that a multi-billion industry built on lies, stigma, bullying, repeated failure and physical harm is particularly funny, but having the ability to laugh in the face of all that crap makes can be a way to move the goalpost a little and declare another small victory. Those small victories add up to bigger victories and before you know it we’ve made major progress (and I guess that makes us very “dangerous” people – I feel like we should have jackets and re-write the “When You’re a Jet” song to be “When you’re a Fat” or something.)

So anyway, we’re probably not going to look back at this and laugh – but we can go ahead and laugh now.

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33 thoughts on “Beware the Dangerous Fatties

  1. I shuddered when you mentioned Lysol douching. Though it’s in the same category as remembering the harm that dieting does: a lot of people refuse to accept that dieting is harmful, and a lot of people refuse to accept that Roe vs. Wade was a necessary legal ruling with regards to healthcare and safety. Additionally, they’re both issues on which a lot of people don’t feel they have any say with regards to what happens to their own bodies.

    1. Please don’t start equating fat acceptance with Roe v. Wade. Each issue is absolutely separate from the other. Conflating the two is going to do nothing but confuse the issue and make it more controversial to handle, even within our own ranks because not all of us agree with Roe v. Wade. For the sake of our own strength and unity as FAers, please keep the two issues separate.

      1. But the issues are related, it is about the government attempting to tell people what they can or cannot do to their bodies. Now, I am not suggesting that they are related in anyway beyond that, but you cannot simply say “they’re not related, don’t ever talk about them in a similar context”, when recent bills that are being proposed are specifically to deny or change what is available for people to do to their bodies.

  2. I hope you did notice the irony of you talking about how pointless dieting is, then quoting Marie Osmond, who earns a good deal of money touting her 50-pound weight loss on Nutrisystem. And, no, I don’t think many people will ‘look back & laugh’ about all the fat hatred & the abuse prevalent, both people abusing themselves & people abusing others, about body size. For one thing, there is nothing funny about it. For another, we will have to reach a time when society is NOT obsessed with fat hatred & doesn’t believe that changing body size is both necessary & possible.

  3. Thanks for this blog and the activism you do. This work helps people of all shapes and sizes uncover the way we’ve been badly misinformed. I have a few questions that came to mind as I was reading:

    How do you “provide information” about the ineffectiveness and unhealthiness of dieting if somebody is set on dieting? How do I as a thin person spread this message without coming across as mean?

    How do thin people prevent their bodies from being used as a weapon against fat people?

  4. I would LOVE to have this conversation with my doctor! Unfortunately he exhibits all the behaviours of people I know with eating disorders and if I even mention that maybe dieting isn’t really that healthy, he gets super upset. I joked around with him last time about that 1000 calorie diet he wants me to go on and how that’s not really a healthy amount of calories for anyone to eat — “Why not?” “I eat that and I’m fine” “why is that a problem”. He often tells me things that I’ve heard from friends with eating disorders “just eat half a banana and put the rest in the fridge, I do that all the time”, srsly, who does that?? Also, his favorite advice to me is that while “you may be really tired and your blood sugar really low, that’s okay, you just have to get used to not having that much energy”. again, who does that??

    Anyway, he’s not horrible or anything, he just has some super serious issues with eating. So I just stick to other things. If I get him talking about statins he’ll just go on forever so I usually just push him in that direction. He’s convinced that if he just talks enough, I’ll accept that risk and take statins even tho I don’t need them. lol too bad he doesn’t realize I use his obsession to distract him. It’s the only way to get out of there without the 1000 calorie diet paper. Srsly, I weigh 195, if I ate 1000 calories a day, I wouldn’t be able to lift my head up off the pillow. on top of that, my blood sugar would plummet and I wouldn’t be able to tell you my own name either. lol

    okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but still.

    1. Wow, I can’t believe a doctor eats a 1000 calorie diet and recommends it to patients!! I hope he has a very slow metabolism…

      1. He must because he doesn’t look horribly thin. Or he’s lying to himself and he just *tries* to eat 1000 calories but doesn’t succeed. That would be my guess since he acts way too much like my friends with eating problems. You know the cycle — eat too little most of the day, binge after dark, hate yourself for a week.

    2. I’ve done the 1000 cal diet before. It was very hard, and I still plateaued five lbs from my goal weight. I only did it as a temporary measure, didn’t realize I’d have had to stay on it to maintain. No way could I have lived like that long term. Scary that a “doctor” would advocate that. And bananas get all brown and mushy when you put them in the fridge. Yuck.

    3. Why are you still seeing this doctor? Unless he’s the only one in town, you must be able to do better.

      1. Because I’m a lazy cow. no, srsly, I am. I just cannot face going to another doctor. At least I can distract this one by offering to let him rant about statins. Also, how will I amuse myself with “my doctor” stories if I go somewhere else? jk

        I do know I need a new one. I’ve been looking. So far, haven’t succeeded.

  5. Here’s my question for the author of the article: do we “look back and laugh” at slavery? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Nobody looks back and laughs at oppression and subjugation. It’s never OK.

  6. I liked the “look back and laugh” headline because it encapsulated what I want to have happen to the pro-diet attitude — that it should belong to the past, the way people feel about the attitude that cigarettes are healthy or that night air is bad for babies.

  7. The author is totally pushing the idea that weight gain after dieting is caused by binge eating.

    Now, yes, dieting can cause binge eating. And yes, I am very glad to see binge eating treated as akin to anorexia – *not* as total lack of control by the self indulgent evil fatties.

    However, I do not, in fact, binge eat. Not all of us do. In fact, I would say that many of us do not. And that three cookies do not constitute binge eating – which I have actually had someone say to me. (Someone who is naturally thin, and thought it was partly because he only ate two… excuse me? Ever notice that normal eating by a fat person can be itself called binge eating? Which is *terrible* for the people who truly do struggle with binge eating disorder…)

    And I do not want people to look at me and assume that they can correctly diagnose an eating disorder. I do want to see public discussion and understanding of metabolism variations, and shifts caused by dieting.

    1. Thank you for pointing this out–I’ve noticed lately that there’s been a little spurt of talking about dieting and weight regain and, while that’s great, it always puts it down to binge eating. Yeah, binge eating triggered by restriction, but still BINGE EATING, which as you know, is FAR from a universal experience.

      I don’t want any expansion of the insane idea that you can diagnose an eating disorder in a fat person by sight, even if you think that eating disorder was triggered or worsened by dieting. “Oh, you’re 90lbs heavier after 20 years of dieting? You poor thing, BED really did a number on you!”

      I also don’t want people who are otherwise potential allies in this to read these articles and think the “problem” is just figuring out how to fix binge eating triggered by diets (“Why not just try a sensible eating plan, then, fatties?”).

      The crucial thing is, you can gain weight after (and during, may I say) a diet without binge eating, and it’s harmful to obscure that fact.

    2. That 3 cookies thing, yeah, that’s what my doctor was talking about when he said to only eat half the banana. The whole thing is too much !!!elebenty!!!! I gave up trying to count how many times he’s told me not to eat a whole portion of somethign because that is “too much”. lol

      1. Do you really have a cholesterol issue, or does he constantly recommend statins to you because OMG FAT? He sounds like the type who’d diagnose a fat person with high cholesterol, HBP, diabetes, etc. just by looking at him/her.

        1. No, my cholesterol is always normal. He says that is not enough since I’m diabetic. There can be anywhere from 1 to 5 drug reps in his waiting room around lunch time. These are correlated. I’m waiting in anticipation to see if he continues his rants once there are generics on the market that he can’t get paid for.

      2. Please please please get a new doctor! Having a bad doctor can do serious harm to you. My last doctor was a bad one and because of him I have a lifelong permanent injury to my legs. It’s not worth the risk of him diagnosing something incorrectly because of his personal philosophy/belief when it comes to fat and eating. Believe me. I know from experience.

        I have a new doctor now and he’s wonderful. I wish I’d dumped that previous doctor a long time ago-before the harm was done to me.

        1. Thanks for caring. I plan on getting another doctor. The problem is finding one worth a damn. I’ve not had much luck with that. I would not rely on him for a diagnosis. Trust me. He’s a GP and I trust him with ear infections and bronchitis. Anything else, I just make an appt at a specialist.

          Unfortunately, my insurance requires me to go in for a visit every three months in order to get renewal on my meds. Supposedly this is to make me more compliant — in reality it just makes me want to drive into a bridge abutment so I don’t have to have the same damn conversation (you’re fat, you need to take statins) every single time I go there.

          I know he’s bad, but as a cynic, I’m not convinced there is anyone at all out there that is any better. The last dr I tried used the stupid BP machine, you know, the one that can’t actually give you the right BP if your arm is fat? Yeah, major fail.

    3. “three cookies do not constitute binge eating – which I have actually had someone say to me.”

      Three cookies is “binge eating” now? Wow. I guess I’d better get myself into some kind of treatment program!

      But seriously, three cookies is (IMO) normal eating. *Thirty* cookies is another story!

  8. “The first use is when someone suggests that you should go on a diet. Try giving them a look of disbelief”

    I’d definitely give them a disbelieving look, because I’d be shocked that someone could be so astoundingly rude. Were these people never taught manners?? I mean, can you imagine telling someone, “You should get a face lift, and probably a nose job too!”? Probably not. Or how about, “You’re so short! Your parents should have gotten you on growth hormones when you were a kid!”. Yeah, I’ve had some unbelievable remarks about my height, but no one’s ever said *that* to me (yet).

    As a society, we know that certain remarks are just unacceptable. But somehow it’s OK to make comments about someone’s appearance if that person is fat? I don’t think so!

    Rude is rude, period!

    1. Mr. Twistie actually had a woman come up to him once and start telling him not only that he’s obese, but that he needs to stop taking every single medication his doctor has prescribed for him (because she apparently could tell by looking at him what meds he was on and how little good they were doing him), and stop eating entirely and take regular wheat grass enemas.

      Who talks about enemas in public??? Let alone prescribes them along with an all air diet and giving up the pills that help keep his blood sugar under control and the blood flowing through those stents the docs installed last year? Not that she knew what he was taking. For all she knew he might have been the Platonic Ideal of Good Health… but he’s fat, so clearly not only was he sick, it was her business to cure him in spite of both himself and the entire medical profession.

      Rude is rude, certainly, but there are a hell of a lot of people out there who think behavior like that is perfectly justified if the person they’re verbally assaulting happens to wear a larger size than they do.

      It makes Miss Manners weep uncontrollably into her Corn Flakes… or at least into a delicately trimmed handkerchief.

  9. Humor is a powerful weapon in the right hands. It’s a favorite in my personal armory.

    One of the great things about it is how it disarms the enemy. They’re expecting shame, or they’re expecting anger… and suddenly they’re being hit with wit! They don’t know what to do at that point, usually.

    1. Yup. Additionally, when it can disarm, humor can — for a moveable middle type of person — start to break down some of the fat-hating barriers they may have. (Please note: start to.) Even if the person to whom you’re speaking doesn’t laugh, there may then be listeners who are on your side of the joke.

      “Dieting to lower my weight? Is that like curing my anemia with leeches?”

  10. I remember many years ago going on a weight-loss delivery plan where everthing was made for you and it all came to about 1200 calories a day. I remember that I was getting really bloated and not feeling well. I talked to my doctor about it and how I didn’t understand my body’s reaction and he, very condescendingly, said “what? You’re trying to tell me you’re allergic to diet food?” I never liked him much after that. The fact was that there was so much soy in the food and It took me a long time to realize I couldn’t digest soy properly. So….doc…i was allergic to the diet food, Jerk!

  11. Hey, now. I’ll have you know that as a fattie, I am *very* dangerous. (My mother says: Dangerous like a marshmallow). We need an anthem. “Alll we are sayinnngggg . . . is diets don’t work.”

  12. I’m the author of “Look back and laugh” and I really love this site and your post here. Excellent. Thank you.

    With regard to the comments thread: can I just say that the “Look back and laugh” headline wasn’t meant to mean we will all be rolling on the floor in hysterics about the terrible situation we’re in right now. It’s meant to pull in readers who might not know anything at all about the reality of dieting and it’s not meant to be taken literally.

    Also, my constant referral to ‘binge eating’ as the reason why dieting doesn’t work is partly a joke. I’m about to kill that joke by explaining it in detail but here goes: the Government report that my article is about states that girls who diet are 12 times more likely to binge eat, with no mention of any other reason why diets fail. So I have, in a tongue-in-cheek way repetetively referred to it throughout the article with “(see above)”.

    Actually, I don’t know how to explain why that’s funny. Maybe it’s an English thing?

    We all know there are many, many reasons why dieting causes weight gain, but most of the people reading this article will not. The piece is an introduction to the idea that dieting doesn’t work and that it gives you the opposite to what you expect from it and this has now been recognised by the UK Government, which is massive news. This is my subject and I write about it continuously (see my other blog posts and my book) and so I am perpetually explaining why dieting doesn’t work but I can’t possibly write out every reason because the reasons are many and complex. If I’d tried to seriously add these details to the piece I’d have lost my audience who aren’t in the know about dieting. What would be the point of preaching to the already converted?

    I wrote the article with the intention of grabbing the attention of as many people as possible to let them know that dieting will make them gain weight and I feel that this, at this stage, is much more important than educating them about why. People who read this will read it again somewhere else and then they might think: “There might be something in this. I’ll find out more.”

    My writing is often contraversial and I’ve been advised to tone it down and to soften my message but I can’t because the message itself needs to be rammed home in any way possible and that is my job. Every day I fight people who tell me my work is dangerous but I’m recently finding I’m also having to fight people who are on my side! Please try to see the bigger picture.

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