Why Talk About Health at All?

I received an e-mail today that said:

I just read almost all of your blog posts and I notice that you constantly say that health is not entirely in someone’s control, that people’s health isn’t anybody else’s business, that they can make health whatever they want it to be, and that health isn’t obligatory.  If you feel that way, why do you bother to talk about health at all?

I’ll start by clarifying what this person paraphrased. Health is multi-dimensional and includes things within and outside of our control including genetics, environment, access, and behaviors.  Health is not an obligation, nor is it a barometer of worthiness.  Nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behavior,”  and those who aren’t interested in health are not better or worse people than those who are interested in health.  Prioritization of health and the path that someone chooses to get there are intensely personal and not anybody else’s business.  The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not health or healthy habit dependent. People who have health issues should be given options for care and accommodation as they wish, not judged or asked to prove that their health issues are not their fault.

When I talk about health, it’s not because I am trying to tell people how to live.  I’m not attempting to make a persuasive argument at all.  I talk about health because there are people who are interested in being healthy, there is nothing wrong with that, and there is an unbelievably successful misinformation campaign happening that is harming people, and the way to stop that and honor those people’s interest in health is by talking about it.

Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, the misinformation campaign tells people that the only way to be healthy is to be thin, and that trying to be thin by any means necessary is healthier than being fat. This does a disservice to thin people who are misinformed that they are healthy simply because of their weight, and it does a disservice to fat people who are told all manner of nonsense.

Fat people are told to participate in behaviors that, viewed outside of our current obesity hysteria, would seem preposterous… Everyone else is told to eat whole foods, farm to table, slow foods etc. –  except fat people who are told to consume reconstituted soy protein shakes 5 times a day, or eat a diet comprised entirely of highly processed food that comes frozen in a plastic bag and is microwaved, or eat 500 calories a day while getting urine-derived injections, or amputating our stomachs.  When it comes to movement, fat people are told that if moving our bodies doesn’t make us thinner then it doesn’t make us healthier despite the massive amount of evidence that tells us that exercise is great at making people healthier and horrible at making people thinner.

I talk about health because I believe that people deserve an opportunity to make choices knowing all the options, including those grounded in evidence, reality, and logic. All I care about is that people have access to the information they need to evaluate all of their options. “To increase your chance for good health, drink reconstituted soy protein shakes all day and workout 2 hours a day whether you like it or now- unless you don’t lose weight then you should drink less shakes and exercise more” is a very different option than “To increase your chance for good health move your body 3o minutes a day, 5 days a week in ways that you enjoy and try to get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.” Of course I have no problem with those who have heard about Health at Every Size/Behavior Centered Health, had access to evaluate the evidence, and decided it wasn’t for them.  My concern is for all of the people hating their bodies and trying to lose weight by any means necessary because they want to increase their chance for good health and they don’t know that there is any other option.

I completely reject the idea that nobody should talk about health as an option just because it’s not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or an option that everyone is required to be interested in.  I believe that we should absolutely attack and destroy the social constructs that suggest that health is an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or an option that everyone is required to pursue – but not at the expense of conversations about health for those who are interested.

Happy HAES Holidays Teleconference Workshop – Registration is Name Your Own Price – Nov 13 and 15

During the holiday season I get a ton of e-mail from people asking about everything from how to set resolutions that aren’t about weight loss to how to deal with the family food police or their partner’s office party. I’ve put together a group of speakers to give you information to support you through the holiday season and into the new year.  Details and registration are here, registration is name your own price.

Like the blog?  Check this stuff out (and you can help support my work which I would really appreciate):

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here to order

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs (hint:  Free shipping was supposed to end on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to make the changes to the pricing so there’s still free shipping until I get it done)!  Click here for the details

Become a Member and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

14 thoughts on “Why Talk About Health at All?

  1. I could see what the person who asked that question, “Why talk about health at all”, but as you said Ragen, it’s an important subject whatever your personal views are. I also feel it’s important and pertinent to the Health at every size movement because as well as the constant messages we receive every day as larger people , this “health issue” is brought in to it, usually to beat us over the head with! Even today it came to my mind as in my weekly food shop that I did yesterday, I bought a pack of 4 fruit and fibre bagels from a bread company that is making these as a new product for them. They looked really good and as I opened them this morning, I couldn’t help noticing that on each side of this small pack was a list of all the grammes of fat, carbs, etc., etc., and even worse it was printed again in bigger layout on the bottom of the pack! Now, I don’t know if they have to do this due to Government guidelines/laws here in the UK, but I found it utterly depressing. It’s like we have to have this ultra health message shoved in our face at every turn and that we are too stupid/careless/too fat or whatever to do this on our own? Not sure what happened to common sense, gut instinct, life experience, we obviously can’t be trusted to do this by ourselves, but it has the opposite effect on me, I just want to ignore it all, it’s so so patronising?

    Just had a thought for those women on here from UK who were talking about getting nice clothes to fit, without all that shapewear etc., though I’m not sure what size they go up to, I have found a great shop called, “Yours”. Intitially I found them back in 2006/07 when I moved to the county of Norfolk on the east coast, I worked over border in county of Suffolk and I only saw them here. I’m now back on the East coast in Norfolk, city of Norwich and have found them again, but they are also online so presuming anyone anywhere else in the UK could buy from them. They have, in my view(I’m 51 and never been trendy!)some interesting pieces, modern, not frumpy, very good prices compared to other “plus size” retailers and the staff in their shops here are mostly real plus sized women! If that helps someone else in the UK, then great, try them?

    Marion, UK

    1. I love my pieces from yours! Shipping was reasonable to the US, but the items are a bit pricey for me unless on clearance.

    2. Marion, I’m a Brit but I do find the labels handy, as I’m sure diabetics like my father, or my best friend who has an egg allergy amongst others.

      Alas, sometimes its not that easy to guess the calories. Some items, not necessarily just the low fat ones which are notoriously high in sugar to add taste, are much higher in fat, cals or sugar than it would be reasonable to assume.

      By the way, where did you get the bagels from? Sounds good.

  2. Here’s my question.. and I hope someone.. anyone… many-ones… will share ideas.
    I’m battling a healing issue with my feet and toes. Currently I am working to maintain my blood sugars in a range that allows my body to successfully heal tissues. Part of this challenge is seriously paying attention to the types of foods that are highly nutritious and low carbohydrate to keep my blood sugar in balance and help my body. A side effect to this type of eating has been some weight loss. I don’t really want that, but it is part of what is happening. It’s just hard to eat enough leafy greens, berries, lean meats and salad veggies to bring in enough calories for a 6 foot 1 inch amazon like me.
    Everyone who has seen me compliments my ‘improvement’ and how much better I look… then they tag on some comment that equates the compliment to the fact that I’ve lost weight and ‘look so much better’.
    I try very hard to not alienate these well-meaning ignoramuses… but inside I’m thinking… so, 25 pounds ago when I was filled out and didn’t have sagging, bagging skin and wrinkles on my face.. I looked WORSE?!!!
    Am I just over reacting?

    1. I would like to hear some feedback on this too. I’ve lost a fair amount of weight, but that’s due to such things as hormones and illness. I like to point out that my weight is as out of control as ever, only downwards instead of upwards (actually, it has been steady state in times past). I think I look bad at this weight because of the way it’s distributed – saggy, baggy, elderly-looking skin, skinny rib-cage and shoulders, tiny bosom, yet a great big abdomen.
      I tell people who compliment me that I lost weight from being sick, and they generally have the grace to either shut up or wish me well.
      I just hate being complimented or insulted for weight changes.

        1. Do you have good luck when using this line? Then I sincerely envy you; I’ve found that people find a way to ignore it or talk over it. They’ll say something like “Okay, but you look so great I just had to tell you.” I’m curious to know what results you get if you’ve had occasion to say it.

        2. I seriously just copied Helena’s answer into my phone & will be rehearsing it often this holiday season. I was really ill for half of the year & either have lost weight or it’s shifted. It’s bad enough the comments I’ve gotten from people that see me often. I dread what I’ll get from people who only see me once a year. Not that I think that line will shut most people up – it just sets a boundary & I like it!

        3. I like that and will have to remember it. When the doctor increased my dosage of thyroid medication, I lost about 30 pounds without changing anything I was doing. I was already exercising and I didn’t eat any differently. However, nobody noticed because I tend to wear loose, baggy clothes. I’m actually in fear that if I lose any more weight, people will notice and say stupid things about how “great” I look, which would be very triggering to the miserable bulimic that still lives in my psyche.

  3. Dear Susan Mohlman: No, you are NOT overreacting!
    About 6 years ago I dropped 80 pounds. Don’t know what caused this, possibly a hysterectomy triggered some weird hormonal alchemy – who knows? Had no desire to lose the weight & no reason to, but off it came over a period of about 9 months. I felt lousy (still do – used to LOVE the sight of myself & now avoid mirrors like poison) but all I heard from friends was, “You loook so SKINNY! Wow how much have you lost?” My standard reply? “Not much – just my looks & my health – is that enough for you?” So, no – when your body changes in ways you didn’t plan for & didn’t want, it’s most certainly not an overreaction. Just hope you get a better driver’s license photo than I just did: looks like Ma Barker on steroids.

    Keep reading Ragen’s stuff – that gal is about the smartest person around in terms of truly understanding the principles of HAES as well as grasping the fact that we’re NOT obligated to be what someone else considers healthy, and no one has the right to comment on THAT.

  4. Did you mean to write this: “I do not talk about health because I am trying to tell people how to live. ” (4th paragraph)

    1. I did, but I can see where it’s confusing. I changed it to “When I talk about health, it’s not because I am trying to tell people how to live.” Thanks for letting me know!


  5. Ragen, I particularly love that you emphasize over and over that not all aspects of health are within our control. I happen to have 4 serious genetic diseases. I cannot make them go away. I can only do my best to seek good medical care and do what I can within the bounds of physical ability and mental sanity to seek to ameliorate their effects. I certainly don’t have the energy to worry about how thin I’m not. ::eyeroll:: I try to manage my diseases and at the same time, live my life with joy.

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