What About Preventing Obesity?

I got a question from a reader who is a personal trainer.  She is absolutely into working with her clients from a Health at Every Size, but she very respectfully asked the following question:

If we encouraged people before they were fat to practice intuitive and mindful eating, and healthy joyful movement habits, would people get fat? (Of course barring instances where weight gain is due to medication or other unintended cause). *This insinuates that preventing fatness would be desirable for that person- of course, not everyone’s goal/choice*

How does a non-fat child, for example, become a fat teen or adult, without taking in more calories than their body needs and not moving enough to counteract the extra food, barring a unintended cause like medication side effects?  Where does HAES stand on this in terms of preventing weight gain through mindful eating and movement?   Would preventing fatness be anti-HAES?

Thanks for asking!  First, to be very clear I can only speak for my own understanding of HAES, I am not speaking for the whole movement or for anyone else.

I believe that bodies, like everything in nature, come in many shapes and sizes.  When you consider that adult shoes come in 200 different size/width combinations just to try to suit the wide variety of human foot lengths and widths, it’s silly to think that human bodies only naturally come in one narrow ratio of height and width.  So I think that if everyone followed HAES practices we would see body diversity.  I think the thing that is getting in the way of the expression of the natural diversity of body sizes is dieting – which, for the vast majority of people, artificially lowers body weight in the short term, but is the most statistically reliable way to cause weight gain in the long term.

The idea that people don’t gain weight unless they take in more calories than their bodies need is also more tricky than it sounds.  The amount of calories that a body burns can change in both the short and long term and is affected by a number of things including body composition (amount of muscle, fat, bone, amount of type 1 vs type 2 muscle etc.), stress, sleep, hormonal cycle, movement, age and more.  Also, though very efficient bodies may not “need” as many calories to function, the person’s hunger may exceed that number of calories and constant hunger has not been shown to lead to positive mental or physical health.  HAES suggests taking satiety and food enjoyment into account, rather than attempting to treat the body like a machine.

I think the problem that we are having is that we are stuck believing that body size determines health and so we suggest that people focus all of their eating and exercise on achieving that particular body size.  The problem isn’t that we haven’t found the right way to manipulate body size through eating and exercising  to create health- the problem is that’s the wrong goal.  We don’t need to use body size as a proxy for health – we can inexpensively measure health in terms of metabolic health, strength, stamina and flexibility.  Then we can focus on health and healthcare practitioners can prescribe health based solutions for health issues, rather than body size solutions for health issues.

A mountain of evidence shows that habits are a better predictor of health than size, and even though we know that there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people, and there are no diseases that fat people get that thin people don’t also get, so body size is certainly not a guarantee of health.

My understanding of Health at Every Size is that it’s a health practice where one focuses on healthy habits and allows their body to settle at whatever weight it settles and so I think that any attempt to manipulate/prevent a body size through food and exercise does not fall under the HAES umbrella.

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59 thoughts on “What About Preventing Obesity?

  1. “How does a non-fat child, for example, become a fat teen or adult, without taking in more calories than their body needs and not moving enough to counteract the extra food, barring a unintended cause like medication side effects?”

    I HATE this question. How does it happen? HORMONAL AND OTHER CHANGES WITH PUBERTY! That’s why you can have a fat child that suddenly experiences a growth spurt at 15 and becomes a thin teenager. Or a flat-chested girl who suddenly turns into a post-implant Pamela Anderson.

    And most, if not all, children will ramp up their food consumption as they enter puberty specifically so their bodies can support that growth spurt and that transition into physical adulthood. So how about we stop calling it “extra” food when, really, it’s probably exactly the amount of food they need to support their growth — WHATEVER SHAPE IT TAKES?

    And why, oh why, is it so easy for people to accept a bodily changes that turns a fat child into a thin teenager, but not a those that turn a thin child into a fat teenager?

    I am so sick of these so-called health professionalls swearing they’re not fat biased and that the are all about Health at Every Size, yet they STILL can’t remove size from the equation. It’s all about Healthful exercise and Mindful eating… to prevent weight gain or cause weight loss.

    I swear, I even had one nitwit swear up and down that they were not fat biased, and that fat people could absolutely be healthy AND fat… but they should still lose weight to be even MORE healthy and that the genetic fatties just have to work harder to take and keep it off… for their own good.

    No, they really, really aren’t fat biased. As a matter of fact, they are trying to REMOVE fat stigma… by making fat people thin(ner).


    1. While I see where you’re coming from, I’m really taken aback at your anger about what seems to me to be an honest question. If I were a person who was questioning the HAES program and wanted serious answers, your response would have sent me running and I’d have a very negative impression of those who practice it. If I were just beginning to investigate, it might make me write off the whole thing as just “too emotional.” I try to remember that these folks are coming into this with a social understanding of fat that is way off course because of foolish and incorrect societal standards. I try to applaud the person who’s looking for truth because it’s one more person who’s apt to get on the right track. Just my thoughts.

      1. Although it’s all very well and good to have people try and be reasonable and calm it’s a lot to take for some of us fat people that are really sick and tired of having to explain ourselves over and over again. Being calm, patient and “nice” all the time is simply not possible for all of us. Maybe being honest about our anger and frustration is what we need some of the time and actually in the long wrong, what others need to know as well. Some people can be calm some days, and others need to show their anger at other days. What you are engaging in is “tone policing” and it’s derailing actually.

        1. Fresa, you say I am “tone policing,” but is that not what you’re doing in return? I feel like that’s kind of absurd. We all have free speech not just in the content of what we say but also in the manner in which we say it. That also means that we have the right to disagree both with the content and the manner in which it is presented. I’m simply presenting MY position, which happens to be in opposition to someone else’s. I’m not harping on them or telling them they don’t have the right to say things – just presenting my take on it. Anything less means that there’s no dialogue – just blanket agreement or complete silence and that’s not only unrealistic, but it’s not a place I want to live.

          I absolutely get that we need to voice concerns and anger – God knows I rant and rave with the best of them! – but I think that we need to consider the time and place for those. When someone is asking an *honest* question that’s not the best place. I think it’s fine to say, “You know, that question really irks me because it’s based on misinformation that exists all over the place and it’s really hard to combat that all the time.” If we respond in anger (righteous though it may be), we shut down the conversation and no one ends up in a better position or closer to the truth. The opportunity to continue that conversation may never occur, and that’s a shame.

          For me, one of the keys to sanity and dealing with all the fat stigma out there is learning to assert things like, “this isn’t a good time for that question for me,” or “I know you are asking honestly, but this is a real trigger question for me – here’s why.” The only person in charge of my self-control and serenity is me.

          Just so you don’t think I’m being all self-righteous here, let me just say that I struggle with this issue MIGHTILY (<–underline, italics, bold print). These are words I'm speaking to myself as well as to you and others. This is how it works for me: I feel a sense of momentary satisfaction when I get off a good zinger against an idiot or even someone asking a good question at the wrong time. I kneejerk A LOT, especially over trigger issues. The problem for me, though, is that that sense of smug satisfaction of having vented myself doesn't last. To me, if it's in the wrong context, it comes across as very mean-spirited and invariably I experience a sense of guilt for haranguing someone who didn't deserve it, or giving in to my baser nature. On the other hand, the satisfaction and achievement I feel when I can keep my cool in the midst of a heated debate is priceless. I never feel like the other person got the best of me and I feel like I have achieved a personal victory. That feeling lasts much, much longer. Anything less for me is cheating myself.

          You may absolutely disagree with me (Underpants Rule, YMMV, etc.).

        2. That’s a tone argument.

          ETA: Or, what fresafresca said.

          Consider putting yourself in the position of an oppressed someone who’s heard the same uninformed question about their “status” thirty thousand times. They’re required to “respond with patience” — to the person doing the oppressing by not having bothered to do any research prior to asking a question that amounts to “Educate me, I’m entitled to it” — a thirty-thousand and first time?

      2. Helena – Thanks for this response. I am new to HAES and FA and truly, to accepting myself as a “fat” person. I am learning. Just as the original asker of the question is learning (and I thank her for doing so and doing it boldly because I honestly had the same question myself).

        I was surprised at the anger of the answer and put off. I come here for education. It would be great if that could continue to be delivered in a way that is most accessible. We all have questions. We are all in the process of learning. I’m willing to admit that I am in that process. I am not there yet. Yes – the way that our society treats fat people and health is disturbing, frustrating and violent in many cases. Which is why a “safe place” to discuss issues is so needed.

        Perhaps a virtual punching bag could be installed on this blog when we’ve all just had enough and want to punch something (virtually).

      3. I consider a “safe place” to also include a place for people to vent about the ignorance and stupidity inherent in asking questions like the one above. Whether or not it comes from a good place, it’s ignorant.

        Just like when an adult who should have known better asked me if it was true that black people get lighter when they are exposed to sunlight. I don’t know Einstein, did you ever learn about melanin in high school biology? Let’s start there.

        It’s an ignorant question and if pointing out that ignorance is off-putting, so be it. It’s still ignorant and it’s one that so-called concerned health professionals ask often.

        And even when you DO respond in a kind, compassionate, and patient manner, they don’t get it. They nod and say “ok, but…” and the “but” is usually followed by statement about why weight loss (or weight control) should still be the answer.

        So, again, if you find that off-putting, so be it. Ignore me and read all the other kind, compassionate, and level-headed comments.

        1. Jill, my definition of a safe space means that I can go there without fear that I’m going to be called an idiot or ignorant for not knowing the “right” things, or for thinking something different. To say the question is frustrating is one thing, but to suggest that the person who asked it is somehow ignorant or lacking is quite another and to me is terribly unsafe.

          I don’t see this as a clubhouse for fat folks who are “in the know.” I view this as a personal blog that someone gives us the privilege to comment in. She invites questions and conversation but I’ve never heard her say that it’s OK to just unload all our anger at folks, especially considering the number of novices who must come by here. What we say in these comments can decide whether they come back or run screaming. I just think we need to be responsible for commenting with that in mind because we all share this space, you know?

          I feel like you’re angry at the person who “still didn’t get it,” but you’re taking it out on someone else who happened to ask the same question. That’s not fair to either you or them.

          Maybe I’m “underpantsing,” but I don’t think I am because I’m presenting my own opinion.

      4. Hi Jill. I get what you’re saying. Here’s my take.

        I have been involved with many different “awareness movements” in my time – the latest one being the environmental/sustainability movement. I have monitored social media for a couple of different dryland enviornmental groups in the past.

        New people come on board – eager to learn. Do they ask all the same questions that have been asked before. Many times, yes. Is there a lot of re-explaining that sometimes can get maddening? Yes. And in that moment of feeling that maddening feeling – I know I’m making a value judgement of “why can’t this person get this? why aren’t they up to speed on this? why are they bothering to introduce this topic again? etc, etc, etc”. I honestly have to remind myself that it’s a journey. Everyone has a starting point. Everyone has the right to be engaged where they’re at – beginning, intermediate, expert. If the question is asked in a respectful manner – and the intent is to become more educated – I don’t need to trot out my value judgements and (in my case as social media overseer) my martyrdom at having to respond to what may be considered by others farther along the path as “ignorant” questions.

        Assuming “everyone already knows” or worse “should know” something is dangerous. It sets up an us (in crowd who’ve already processed the basic info) against them (newbies trying to ask questions to suss stuff out for themselves. It’s just not productive.

        Yeah – I think we can all relate to wanting to rant, rave, snark, etc on a fairly regular basis. And in a safe place with other understanding folks who know what we’re going through. I guess for me (speaking only for myself) – I saw this more as an attack on “stupid questions” and a shutting down of dialog.

      5. Congratulations, you have discovered the absolutely classic derailment of tone policing, aka tone argument. You’ve also managed, downthread, to pull another classic derail, “Well, you’re just as bad.”

        Seriously. Activists have long experience with this that tells us that tone policing is not good, is not productive, derails the conversation (see this whole thread), and actually, speaking nicely and calmly and politely doesn’t actually do any better of a job, in general, at getting our point across. I recommend to you the following pieces: Derailing For Dummies on hostility, and y’know, the next several entries (warning: satire), Methods of Communication, The Privilege of Politeness, and my own In Defense of Anger. We get to be angry, and we get to express that anger. Yeah, you get to not like it, and you get to object to it… and we get to tell you that you’re tone policing and derailing, and that that’s a really common problem.

      6. Please allow me to clarify something. I didn’t say anywhere that I disagreed with venting or getting the pain of fat stigma off our chests; I questioned the method that was being used *in this venue*. I did not say that our feelings need to be squelched or stuffed in favor of someone else’s, merely that we should be aware of the other audience members here.

        Here’s my take on tone policing: any negative comment could be considered as policing *something.* It’s simply a matter of opinion and disagreement and that’s OK. I don’t think I engaged in a poor behavior; you think I did. That’s fine, and I don’t think we’ll change each other’s minds. I’m OK with that.

        As an aside, I think there’s a fascinating discussion to be had about whether or not “derailing” is always or even only sometimes wrong, or whether it can be considered as enriching the discussion. Intentional derailing, I would think, is not acceptable, but I could easily see that some unintentional sidetracks have a lot of merit and can make very valid points that enhance the original discussion. Since there are multiple comment threads here, and they’re in chronological order, I think this is a situation where the sidetracking can enhance because we don’t lose or supplant the other threads. There can be as many topics as there are comment threads. Just my opinion; take it or leave it.

        1. I questioned the method that was being used *in this venue*. I did not say that our feelings need to be squelched or stuffed in favor of someone else’s, merely that we should be aware of the other audience members here.

          Yep. You tone policed. That’s what that is. You’re saying that we need to be more careful not to hurt privileged people’s feelings. And we are saying: no we don’t. Since Ragen seems to be ok with the level that’s going on, I think maybe it’s not your job to tell us how we should express our feelings.

          Here’s my take on tone policing: any negative comment could be considered as policing *something.*

          No. This word has meaning. You are trying to make it means nothing so you can wriggle out from under it.

          As an aside, I think there’s a fascinating discussion to be had about whether or not “derailing” is always or even only sometimes wrong, or whether it can be considered as enriching the discussion.

          Derailing into the same damn conversation that’s been had a million times, about how some of us should be nicer to the thin/straight/white/male (pick your own) people, is not actually useful. We keep having it, nothing gets resolved. It’s never ever good

          Productive branches off topic aren’t actually derailing. It’s topic drift. Derailing means getting the conversation off on an unproductive topic, and dominating the overall discussion. Your tone policing has become the big topic on this entire post. Yes, there are comments discussing other things — but this has become the big discussion. That’s derailing.

          1. There’s nothing more productive to be said here. We have vastly different opinions of our words and how they are presented and heard. Everything we say from this point on is only confirming the biases we already hold, so I’m done with this conversation.

    2. Hi Jill,

      I understand your frustration and I fear that I didn’t do a good enough job of explaining how very respectfully this person asked this question. I absolutely understand how one, especially a personal trainer, could want to practice Health at Every Size for those who are fat (with the understanding that once people are fat – whether it’s because of their natural diversity or because of previous dieting attempts, or for any other reason) they are probably going to be fat forever, but also wonder if maybe it’s something that we could prevent for those who aren’t fat. I don’t agree with the stance and I tried to set out why it’s misguided in the blog but I think it’s a very legitimate question for someone who is working their way through this, especially considering the indoctrination that they are getting from society.


      1. Ragen,
        You gave your reply to the person, and I respect your reply to that person. And I also understand that they asked respectfully from a standpoint of truly wanting to gain knowledge. That said, I stand by my response, because I have had this very conversation with someone who asked just as respectfully and, at the end of the day, after MY polite responses, they still didn’t get it.

    3. “but they should still lose weight to be even MORE healthy”

      That sounds like a priority trap to me. Wherein a perfectly-acceptable health level magically becomes not enough because of somebody else’s artificial assertion that “you can do better.”

      It’s like finding an awesome job that pays you well enough to live on a 30-hour work week and having someone push you to make more money by working 50 hours instead. Or, depending on your natural body shape, 80. Because making money is the true measure of success, never mind having time to enjoy the simply enough that the 30 hours brings.

      Health and happiness are good enough; HAES is all about them being better goals than making yourself miserable trying to force yourself into a size-2-fits-all mold.

    4. and this part:

      “Fresa, you say I am “tone policing,” but is that not what you’re doing in return? ”

      Actually no. You can be as calm, and reasonable and not angry as much as you wanna be in regards to whatever issue you want, I don’t care. In fact, I notice Regan takes this route the vast majority of the time on this blog and there is nothing wrong with that. My issue is that your comment came across as telling someone else to start being calm and telling them what the proper response is that they need to have – that’s the tone argument. part I’m referring to.

      1. I wasn’t telling her what she needed to do – I told her my impression of her comments and what *I* would do. If you will reread my post, you will see that everything is ordered in self-statements.

        1. I hate to break it to you, but there are ways to say, “Well I wouldn’t do it that way. I’d do it this way, which is clearly much better. You can do whatever you want, of course, but I’d do it this was,” that in fact consistently communicates, “You shouldn’t do it that way, you should do it MY WAY.” And that’s just exactly how you came across. Multiple people read it that way immediately, and apparently none of us reconsider that understanding on rereading.

          My old therapist used to say, “The meaning of a communication is in the response it gets.” What you say doesn’t necessarily mean what you want it to mean. It means what other people understand it to mean. And several people understand it to mean you telling us not to be so mean and angry, because it might hurt the poor feelings of the thin people.

          1. Again, there’s nothing more productive to be said here. We have vastly different opinions of our words and how they are presented and heard. You have had folks who agreed with you; I have had folks who agreed with me. None of that proves either of us right. I’m done with this conversation.

            1. “I’m not saying what you should do, I’m saying what I would do.” reminds me of when people say “No offense, but…” and think that it instantly turns an offensive comment into one that isn’t offensive.

              You need to accept that telling oppressed and stigmatized people not to express their anger with being oppressed and stigmatized is hurtful and that it doesn’t matter what words you use to do it. If you don’t mind hurting people, by all means ignore what all the hurt and angry people here are trying to explain to you.

    5. Seriously, I know! There are so many things that can cause a non-fat child to become a fat teen, and there are also plenty of people who are fat from childhood on.

      Puberty is a huge (no pun intended) body-changer, in many different directions. There are also conditions like PCOS that cause weight gain and tend to show up in the teen years, and treatments for them don’t necessarily cause weight loss.

      I’m so with you on being annoyed by people who won’t let go of the idea that thinner is healthier. I don’t know why weight neutrality is so hard for people to wrap their minds around. (Well, I do–it’s because society pounds it into everyone’s heads–but you’d think people would occasionally use critical thinking skills.)

  2. I have always felt somewhat left out of the whole debate. As a child I was, as we said in those days, chubby. As a teenager and young adult, I was usually slightly overweight (I’m using BMI terms, just for lack of anything better) or just at the cutoff for “normal” weight–though that was rare and short-lived as it was always the result of some crazy, fad diet.

    Now, as an older adult (56), I am obese (again, pardon my BMI terminology), though someone who passes “fairly well” in our weight-obsessed world. I guess you could call me a “small fat”.

    The bottom line is that short and fat is my BUILD. This is how I’ve always been. My weight has nothing to do with emotional eating (I stop eating when I’m really upset), medication (well, my thyroid is delicate, but when it goes wonky I lose weight), binge eating (I have no personal experience with it), poor eating habits (I was raised by a mother who was a health food fanatic in the 50s and 60s when everyone around me ate Wonder Bread) or being a couch potato (I walk a lot, take public transit–all that good stuff–despite the fact that I suffer from hereditary arthritis).

    I’m just a short, somewhat stocky person. Always have been, always will be.

    Societal attitudes are definitely getting worse. Does anyone remember the weight tables in the 50s and 60s? They classified people as having a small, medium or large build and offered a large range of “normal” weights for people of the same size, depending on their build. I’m not saying that the old weight charts weren’t at all biased, but things are much worse today.

    Natural size diversity? Fuggetaboutit.

    1. I can relate to this because I also have what feels like a weird weight history. I’ve never been skinny and i would describe myself as a chubby kid, but i would get thin when i hit a growth spurt (and, of course, when i got type 1 diabetes at 7). My last and greatest period of weight gain occurred around the time, possibly a year or two before, the onset of issues with binge eating. I always blamed those issues for my size, because at 16 when i briefly went on a radical health food diet, i lost weight right away. I started gaining again quickly, but i attributed this to my giving up the diet. After reading this blog and learning about HAES, i’ve begun to question my explanations of my size, but i’m still worried that i’m just trying to “avoid responsibility” or whatever. I’m also worried that because i wasn’t “obese” (sorry for BMI language) as a kid, i somehow can’t say i’m “naturally” fat.

      1. I don’t know if it helps you, but every woman in my family was a skinny, skinny little kid and a fat teen/adult. Including me. I’m pretty sure it’s not a rare pattern.

  3. My father was a skinny kid and teen. One day in his mid twenties, without any particular change in his diet or exercise patterns, he started to get a lot fatter.

    I was a skinny kid and teen. One day in my late twenties, without any particular change in my diet or exercise, I started to get a lot fatter.

    Since it happened to my father, and it happened to me, and it happened to several of the cousins I know on my father’s side of the family, I can only conclude that some of us have a genetically encoded pattern of weight gain as relatively young adults.

    And since it happened to my father while he was doing his time in the merchant marines, I know that his diet and physical activity levels were pretty darn standardized during that period, so in his case there’s no way it was a sudden change in his eating or activity habits.

    I think the reason I wound up being so much fatter than my father is because when I started getting fat, I fought it tooth and nail. I went on diets. I lost weight… and then gained it all back along with a bit extra… just like some 80% or so of all people who try to artificially reduce their weight.

    So yeah, I’m with Regan. We’re asking the wrong goddamn question, and wondering why we can’t get the answer we would like to get.

    Eating well and exercising in ways that bring joy as well as strength and/or flexibility are always good things. They just don’t necessarily make a rat’s whisker of difference in whether someone winds up fat or not, and we need to let go of basing our ideas of health on that one, narrow, painfully inefficient, just plain irrelevant ‘indicator.’

    ‘Cause you know what? It indicates just about squat.

  4. There is a myth in our society that we are born with perfect DNA and we “screw it up” as we grow up and eat. Well we are born with different DNA. “Hello”. Some will be fat, short, blind, etc but the myth goes on. A lot of people dont “fill out” until they become an adult around the age of 18-25. No mystery there. There will be fat kids, oh yes that was me and one of my sisters, and there will be fat kids who get thin, my other sister, and will be different. There are no “preventative” measures one can take to guarantee thinness. Maybe some day but for now there isnt. If there is, someone please enlighten me.

  5. I love (read: don’t love at all) how that person seems to be framing not “counteracting extra calories with exercise” as intentionally getting fat.

    1. Remember that they are coming at this with a societally-determined standard of what is fat and what is healthy. They need to be free to ask questions and frame things as they need to so that they can begin the reframing process. Baby steps.

  6. … so I think that any attempt to manipulate/prevent a body size through food and exercise does not fall under the HAES umbrella.

    This is my understanding of HAES as well, that it is inherently weight-neutral.

    Also, I’m skeptical of the idea that it’s even possible to for healthy eating and activity habits to form fully when one stated end goal is to “prevent fatness.” As you’ve mentioned time and again, Ragen, the weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar one. It’s also one that’s ubiquitous and insidious in society. Like, I make an effort to: a) avoid the weight loss messages where I can; b) reject weight loss as an end goal; c) deconstruct the weight loss messages where I see them. I’m really good at that — and I still can’t help but internalize some of their shit.

    So the idea of being able to fully embrace eating and moving for health rather than body size — but still having the “trying to prevent my fatness” idea in the back of my mind — that mental math just doesn’t add up to me.

    1. I agree with Tori on this and she expressed my thoughts exactly. I think intuitive eating and enjoyable movement are great ideas but the minute you put in that the point is to prevent getting fat, it becomes dieting. I think HAES way of thinking means that you do those things for the sake of health and let the numbers fall where they will.

    2. My older boy, now 20, when he was thirteen-fourteen and going through puberty, doubled his weight. He went from being a skinny kid into being a fat young man. I don’t think there would have been anyway to prevent this. Since then, seven year now, his weight has been stable. He is very active, has always been. It seems his adult body is 5′ 8″ and 210 pounds. It’s his natural size.

  7. Hello Ragen,

    Quick question first if you don’t mind, any idea when the book will be winging it’s way to me? I did have the e-mail a few weeks ago asking to pay for the shipping by pay pal, which I did and I think this was before I relocated to Norwich(east coast)from South East on 7/7/12 as I recall putting in the new address for it to be sent to?

    Regarding your post and the endless variations of equating health/fitness and body size, I went to a health food store in my new city(have been to it in past)and there’s a cafe(also healthy/vegetarian I think)next door and on their outside notice board was some guy asking people to contact him who “wanted to eat healthier” and go on some weekly eating plan. So far so good I thought if you were so inclined(I wasn’t really)but then I noticed that they asked if you “had a reasonable amount of weight to lose”, “had tried other diets and failed”, “had put all or some of the weight back on”. I was shocked as though it may of course may not have been the shop or cafe’s views/idea, it was in their “ballpark” of natural, healthy living. Is there no getting away from the tyranny?

    I signed up with my new surgery, which I was dreading as i mentioned on here previously as you have to do the new patient check with the nurse and get that being weighed and lecture thing. But they just asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire and it did ask for your weight, height and illnesses/medication etc., so hoping I won’t have to suffer that event, though do have to see a doctor this week about my ear, so we will see!!

    Marion, Norwich, UK

  8. Note to the person who wrote this question. I absolutely applaud you for asking a really tough set of questions. You have taken the absolutely and vitally critical first step: You have set aside what society *tells* you is true in order to pursue what is *actually* true. Bravo, and keep asking questions!!!

  9. First – I’m with Helena. I want to encourage anyone who is at all willing to begin to question what they have been taught all their lives… and especially someone who has it constantly reaffirmed in their profession. I’m glad the original question was ever asked! (And yes, going through this all the time can be maddening – but people *must* feel that they can come here and ask the questions.)

    Second – why don’t we just try to encourage healthful eating and activity *without* any reference to weight – and see what happens? We have some good guesses, but we really don’t know, because it’s never been tried… We do, however, had lots of evidence that the eating and activity will themselves facilitate good health, regardless of weight, so, why not try?

    Third – my own experience. I was not a fat child. I suddenly, for no obvious reason, started putting on weight when I was about 12. At the time, there were articles and TV reports all over – they had “discovered” the fat cell, and found that girls, around puberty, developed more of them. Now – I look now and say “Yeah – hips, breasts, etc… ya think?” but “they” were drawing the conclusion that growing new fat cells meant you would be “fighting your weight all your life” and that 12 year old girls who were gaining weight should be put on diets. So my mother, who herself always gained easily, put me on a diet. Not to lose, at that age – she was careful about that – but to “maintain until my height caught up.”

    Then I shot up four inches in four months, when I was 13… and abruptly started to develop a figure when I was 14… and all those pounds miraculously rearranged themselves the way they had always planned to. But meanwhile, I’d started the Mess up the Metabolism with Dieting process… and the whole thing had the exact opposite effect of the intended one. (Mom had actually pulled back from the Diet when she realized I was constantly *hungry* – but by then, I’d been not eating enough for the growth I was *about* to do for several months.) And, by the time I was in college, I was eating less than many of my friends to maintain a higher weight than many of them – not losing, mind you, just maintaining with constant vigilance – and feeling fat, though, looking at pictures now, I wasn’t. I just had a larger bone structure…

    So – that’s one way it can happen. My brother was different – the downright skinny kid who reached full height at 14 but whose chest and shoulders didn’t broaden until he was 18 or so – bone structure, again – and then kept on gaining weight in his 20s. While working on his feet and walking miles for work every day… Another way it can happen – and in the same family.

    Meanwhile, we had a tall skinny cousin who couldn’t gain when he wanted to (He was turned down for a police job because he was *too thin* for his height – the same height as my brother. Tried for a while to gain weight – could not, whatever he ate.) Another thing that can happen… and, again, to people who are related. Different bodies do different things.

    1. Anne, you make a really good point about the bias being affirmed every day in this person’s profession, so in her case it’s not only socially dictated, but endemic to her entire professional career. That is REALLY hard to combat!

    2. I had similar experience when I was young. I was a skinny kid and then puberty came along and threw all this extra weight at me and when it rearranged itself when I was about 13 I’d already been screwing with my metabolism by dieting.

      My boyfriend is one of those guys who just can’t seem to gain weight and when he does it happens very, very slowly.

  10. I appreciate that we would all like to treat everyone questioning the paradigm of thinness in our world with politeness, but I have been where Jill has been in this more than once. It is totally okay to feel anger when over and over, you try to get your message across and all you get is someone staring at you like ZOMG! Alien!

    She is absolutely right in that we often use the term “baby fat” and say that children will grow out of it when they hit puberty. But for some of us, we just added more curves. I was also part of an early “intervention” program through my doctor’s office. I actually asked about it because, frankly, it was difficult to find clothes that fit my body (because I had a butt, in MN, which was not the norm). We didn’t weigh in, but we did talk about food and wrote logs.

    I also think that there is a way of using the term “health” in all of this that assumes a global baseline of well-being that is worrisome. I know, I know, I’m a health professional so I’m the last person who should think this, but I have seen time and again how it is that others blame those who become sick for their illness, even though we know that there are a variety of complex factors that get in the way of some sort of static “health.” When people who are doing everything they are supposed to do, it can be incredibly devastating to them to find that they are “sick.” And once “sick” it is much more difficult for them to find the resillience to adjust to a new way of being in the world.

    So, I too have a lot of anger and frustration at being asked questions like “how do we keep people from becoming fat” when the silent “just like you” feels like its lingering at the end of the question.

    1. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to become angry at the question because at the heart of it, it’s still just as eliminationist as the unending quest to try to thin the already fat. It still sits firmly in the place of thin supremacy, and still stands on the notion that only thinness is acceptable or desirable.

      It’s not just that this is a 101 level question, it’s that it’s yet another airing of thoughts that reify our oppression, and one that treats that oppression with nearly kid glove respect. The question could’ve been answered by addressing the issue itself, without giving the rhetoric yet another airing, and treating it, because it came from a “sincere” place, as if it wasn’t shaming and frankly ugly as hell.

      At some point you stop repeating the hate in order to tear it down, you just damn well tear it down.

      1. Amadi,

        I think that you have every right to choose how you would respond to this question had it been posed to you, and I respect and support you in your decision. The way that I read your comment, it sounds to me that you are trying to tell me how I should have answered it, and that is not your job (and breaks the underpants rule).
        Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but I did want to make it clear that on my blog answering questions that have been e-mailed to me, I get to choose how to answer.

        I choose to answer respectfully asked questions with respectful answers. In my experience that has greater success in helping to bring people to HAES and Size Acceptance. Especially since the research shows that “calling out” someone tends to activate the psychological principle of consistency, thereby reinforcing their belief that they are not whatever they are being “called out” on, and makes them less likely to come to the work. Still, people can choose the “calling out” method if they think that’s best and I respect that choice. I choose to reiterate the questions because rarely is this person the only one who has the question and I want to help people relate to the question so that they can better listen to the respectfully crafted answer. Everyone doesn’t have to do it like that, but that’s how I do it.


        1. The effects of calling out can be more extreme than what you describe– in my case, there’s been a combination of fear, hatred, and revulsion at the people doing the calling out, and no desire to cooperate with them.

  11. My personal experience – I was a fat baby (literally – I was just shy of 11 pounds at birth); I was a fat child, even though I would go through growth spurts that would thin me out for awhile; and I was a fat teenager. My parents are fat. My brother is fat when he’s not on a diet. My grandparents were fat. My great-grandparents were fat, and so on and so on. I even once had a doctor tell me that with my frame, I should never weigh less than 180. Go figure.

    The thing is I can always remember feeling “other” because of my fatness. My best friend when I was *4* was a tiny little thing who had a “boyfriend.” I actually remember feeling like I would NEVER have a boyfriend because I was fat. AT FOUR YEARS OLD.

    Of course it didn’t help to grow up with a mother who was OBSESSED with her weight and a father that would starve himself for a week so that he could pass the annual Army PT tests.

    Basically what I’m saying, in my situation (and I suspect a lot of us) I was always going to be fat. But I truly believe that if I had never dieted, I would be a smaller fat. Maybe if I had never dieted, I would be 230 pounds instead of 330. I don’t know for sure, but that’s my suspicion.

    I guess my answer to the physical trainer that asked the original question would be “Don’t push your clients to diet even if they’re technically overweight. For the majority of people, it’s only going to exacerbate the issue later on.”

    1. Pange, I’m right there with you when you said “maybe if I had never dieted, I would be 230 instead of 330.” That is my belief, not my suspicion, though I have no real proof.

      I joined an exercise boot camp many, many years ago and I loved it because it really was about exercise and not about weight, though I was weighed initially. Anyway, the head trainer said my ideal weight was probably around 170 to 180, which is about 60 to 70 pounds heavier than Weight Watchers said I should weigh, that was back when Weight Watchers gave you no wiggle room, man I hate them. Anyway, I’d have stayed with that boot camp if I hadn’t left town. It’s one of the few exercise experiences where the trainer actually trained and taught us techniques on how to get stronger and better.

  12. If fat isn’t bad, then there’s no reason to prevent kids from getting fat. It’s still anti-fat bigotry. The question ignores everything we know about fat and health and development, especially about the calories in/calories out falsehood. It’s not HAES.

    I don’t care how well-intentioned or respectful or sweet or kind or whatever the letter was, I care that it said that kids shouldn’t be fat, and shouldn’t get fat. And that’s bigotry, and that’s not HAES.

    If you want to do calm happy educational posts, then more power to you, Ragen. You’re good at it. Well done. But if you don’t want your commentors to call out anti-fat bigotry when we see it, then maybe you should tell us that up front. Some of us might want to find other places to be.

    1. Ok, I just re-read my response to Jill a number of times and I just don’t see anywhere where I said that she specifically shouldn’t call out what she considers to be anti-fat bigotry or where I suggested that commenters in general shouldn’t discuss what, in their opinion, is anti-fat bigotry. If that was your interpretation of something I said then we’ve had a miscommunication. I want my blog to be a place for respectful discussion about issues, as I have stated many times.


      1. You did not say that, and I did not understand you to say that. You seemed unhappy with her response, and many people’s definition of “respectful discussion” includes “don’t sound angry”, but you did not say that. I’ve seen a lot of people who start sounding unhappy with angry responses eventually get to the point of “don’t sound angry” and then “you can’t tell people I think are being nice that they’ve done something wrong.” Really I should have said, “If you decide at some point that you don’t want your commenters to call people out…” or something. I kind of made a hash of that comment, and ought to have waited until after my nap to make it. (Although I’m not sure I’m much more coherent now.) I’m sorry.

        TL,DR: No, you didn’t say that, and I didn’t think you did. If, at some point, you decide that’s your policy, please let us know.

  13. So what I’m wondering is twofold:

    1. Where is the “starting point” for a conversation on HAES? Is there some kind of “correct” formula? Should someone be made fun of, called a bigot, etc because their starting point is not your starting point? I looked long and hard at myself with this post and I know that I have ingrained “thin priviledge” present in my thinking. Even though at 5’6″ and 280 and am so NOT thin. But it is what it is. I look to HAES and this blog to help me bust down some of my own internalized thought patterns on fat. Thought patterns that I hadn’t realized I had before.

    2. I also get “we’re so oppressed and mad as hell”. Hey – I agree and thru reading this blog – I know that I’m complicit in my own oppression. And so I my next question is “what am I going to do about it”? Stating, shouting, calling out “I’m so oppressed and I’m mad as hell” only gets me so far – and honestly – it does get me somewhere. Where it gets me, personally, is to a realization that the more people are educated and brought into the HAES fold and allowed to question, probe and further their own understanding, the more likely we will reach a tipping point and gain momentum in the “War against fat”, increase health options that are not “fat” centered and encourage product lines that suit our needs. I’m not advocating “nice” or “sweet” or “not getting mad”. I’m advocating for leaving an opening for a dialog. I’m not even anti-rant – I just question the end goal of the rant.

    1. Oops – just read Regan’s responses above and duly note redundancy that could have been prevented by more careful reading of prior posts.

    2. Here’s a thing about oppression that a lot of oppressed people have learned: Expecting oppressed people to always be nice and always educate privileged people is actually part of the oppression. It puts the burden on us, when we already have a pretty heavy load to deal with. It’s not our responsibility to do this.

      Many people choose to educate privileged people, of their own free will, and that’s awesome. But not everybody does, and not everybody who does sometimes wants to do it all the time.

      Ragen consistently chooses to educate, and that is her choice, and no one here has said she shouldn’t. Indeed, good for her. Some of us are simply exercising our right to choose to do something different. Different tactics work on different people, and sometimes work differently on the same people at different times. I have personally found it quite enlightening sometimes to ask a 101-level question about someone else’s oppression that I don’t experience, be kindly educated by someone who really didn’t have to do that, and then have another person say, “Hey, actually, that question was fucked up and problematic, and here’s why,” while being pissed off.

      Ragen has good reasons for using the tactics she uses, but others of us have good reasons for using the tactics we use, too. And, of course, some of us are not thinking tactically at all, just responding. We don’t always need to be trying to accomplish something. We are allowed to just have and express our emotions about things.

      There’s a long history of “you must educate me, or how will I learn” and “you must be nice to me, or I won’t listen to you” being used as derailments, and as ways to punish oppressed people and insist that they deserve their oppression. I listed several good pieces about some of this stuff up above. One of them is a Derailing for Dummies link, which I suggest you read all of.

  14. “For me, one of the keys to sanity and dealing with all the fat stigma out there is learning to assert things like, “this isn’t a good time for that question for me,” or “I know you are asking honestly, but this is a real trigger question for me – here’s why.” The only person in charge of my self-control and serenity is me.”


    (I hit the caps lock by accident and liked how it looked so I left it there.)

    I can’t remember the names of the two of you having this very smart conversation so very very smartly. I have really enjoyed reading both of your posts. This is a question I have been struggling with for more than sixty years? I go back and forth and back and forth between the two positions — and there are other positions on this as well.

    When you write, “The only person in charge of my self-control and serenity is me.” you are asserting yourself as a taker-care of yourself, your self. And when the other woman writes “Being calm, patient and “nice” all the time is simply not possible for all of us. Maybe being honest about our anger and frustration is what we need some of the time” she, too, is talking about taking care of herself, her self. Sometimes honest expressions of our anger and frustration IS what we need. That is completely true.

    And when that time comes when that is what we need, what are we doing if we suppress the satisfaction of our need for the satisfaction of the needs of others? When is it all right for us to take care of ourselves and when isn’t it? Is it only all right to take care of ourselves by doing what makes us feel and have and get certain experiences that we like to have, like feeling morally superior, feeling above anger, unwilling to be baited, refusing to sink to their level, manipulating the encounter in a way that gives us pleasure, unwilling to give the nitwits what they want us to give them – control over some aspect of our selves? What about when we feel anger, want to hurt back, want to use the strength that our big bodies give us to make them feel some version of what they make us feel? What about when we need to, as someone put it, “vent” our pain?

    Why is it that oppressors aren’t responsible for getting to know exactly what they are doing to real human beings, people like themselves, people who, as Shakespeare wrote, bleed red just like they do. Why shouldn’t they sometimes get back some of the shit they routinely shovel onto others?

    I think what I finally think after all those years of thinking about how to deal with this question is that we each must act in ways that involve first of all genuine taking care of ourselves, of meeting our needs. Isn’t that what they’re doing? Or think they’re doing?

    I agree completely with the woman (I think we’re all women but I could be wrong) who raised the question of heading off a potential ally when we meet our own needs during times when what we need to do is express our anger, angst, disgust, intellectual contempt for the havoc which has been wrought on our souls. We are battered by a whole culture. They wormed their way into our girl selves and taught us to be slaves. And now we’re saying we don’t want to live that way anymore and we are struggling to find out how to be free and we want you to quit doing the things that enforce slavery of our self-regard, our capacity for living happily in the present, enforce compliance in our humiliation, submission to our dehumanization.

    Have you ever seen the scene from West Side Story when the gangs sing and dance Stay Cooly, Coolio? I don’t think I have the triggering song cue right. Damn. I hate how bad my memory is for those kinds of details. They all get real quiet, real self-contained, real low down and then seemingly randomly, one of them makes a noise like a gun going off, like something carbonated blowing its top, like fireworks taking off into a night sky. Pop! Pow!

    Well, maybe that’s us.

    Us protestors against the oppression of fat people, us refusniks of fat hatred, us people lumbering with protest and purpose through the main streets of your towns and institutions. You try to make us feel humiliated for being BIG. We might just show you what BIG can do against the littles!

    1. Why is it that oppressors aren’t responsible for getting to know exactly what they are doing to real human beings, people like themselves, people who, as Shakespeare wrote, bleed red just like they do. Why shouldn’t they sometimes get back some of the shit they routinely shovel onto others?

      So much this.

      It’s not our job to educate them. We can choose to — and sometimes I do — to educate them, but we don’t have to. But their education is their own responsibility, and they need to own that. It’s also not our job to pat them on the head and give them cookies for trying, although we can if we want to. But we are not obligated to do so.

      If an “ally’s” help is contingent on us only treating them nicely, and never telling them they’ve done something wrong, and never ever telling them they’re being privileged or bigoted, and always answering all of their questions, and teaching them like they’re in kindergarten . . . well, they’re not a very good ally, are they? That kind of ally takes up more of our time and energy than they put into helping.

      I have learned so much about activism by listening to Black feminists and womanists. I have learned the value of allies doing their own homework; the value of privileged people shutting up and sitting down and listening; the value of oppressed people putting their own well-being first, even above the privileged people; I have learned to have these conversations on my terms; I have learned that living my life is the most important thing; I have learned that an ally is someone who acts like an ally, not someone who says they are one.

  15. For a practical reply to being asked one of those questions: I ask if the questioner really wants to learn about this stuff. Then I say I’d be glad to discuss it with you as soon as you read 3 (or 5 or some number I choose based on who has asked the question) of the books on a bibliography that I will send you via email. There have been some really terrific books written that will help you learn what you want to know. Tell me the titles you have read once you are done and ready for our conversations.

  16. I think the trainer is operating under the assumption that if a person “eats mindfully” and “joyfully moves” they won’t get fat in the first place and, in my opinion, that’s just not true. First, it assumes that fat people didn’t eat mindfully and were sedentary and that’s how they got fat in the first place. This simply is myth, especially with regard to children who eat to body signal moreso than adults. Just like the myth that if one eats only “healthy” food (healthy determined by whatever is the fad du jour) mindfully they will either (a) not get fat or (b) get thin.

    Some people will be thin if they eat mindfully and are active. Some people will be thin if they don’t eat mindfully and are sedentary. Some people will be fat if they eat mindfully and are active. Some people will be fat if they don’t eat mindfully and are sedentary. Heck, you can make any combination of the words fat/thin/eat mindfully/active and you’ll still wind up with both fat and thin people.

    The reality is that there are fat people AND children who eat mindfully (to body cue) and are active. There are people who got fat by eating mindfully while active and that’s OK. Some bodies do that. It is what it is.

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