More than 300 readers have sent me Michael Moore’s facebook post about walking, many asking what I think about it. First of all, I am absolutely thrilled that he has kept a mostly Health at Every Size perspective on this, and that he is making an effort to speak to include people with disabilities. For the most part I think it’s a really positive piece and there is good evidence that shows the general positive effect of moderate activity. And it’s a relief to see a celebrity maintain a HAES perspective even after weight loss.
I would like to add to, and suggest some clarifications of, what he said:
First, nobody is under any obligation to exercise – even if there was definitive proof that 2 minutes of walking a day makes everyone immortal, nobody has to walk 2 minutes a day. Someone’s prioritization of their health and the path they choose to get their is entirely up to them, they do not need to justify those decisions to anyone and the decisions should not be up for public comment or debate.
Next, if you decide that movement is something you are interested in, it doesn’t have to be walking. Maybe you have a disability or health issue that makes walking not feasible or optimal. Maybe you just don’t like walking. Feel free to choose an activity that you really love and that accommodates you in every way. If there is no such activity then you get to make decisions about how to proceed – for example, you get to decide if you believe that the health benefits of movement are worth doing something you don’t love to do. Whatever choice you make is valid. It can change from day to day.
It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes. You get to choose your goals around movement/fitness (if any), and how to pursue them. I’ve definitely heard a lot that evidence suggests that 150 minutes of movement a week is the “magic number,” but research has found health benefits with just 20 minutes a week. Even the research that suggests 150 minutes also finds that you can break it up into smaller workouts (10 minutes at a time etc.) and there are still benefits.
I think it’s very important to realize that this is not the magical secret to weight loss or, necessarily, the secret to changing your whole life. One of the things that concerns me about the Michael Moore piece is where he says (Trigger warning – food restriction talk, food moralizing skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid it) “Going for a walk every day will change your thinking and have a ripple effect. You’ll find yourself only eating when you’re truly hungry. And if you’re not hungry, go clean your room, or have sex, or call a friend on the phone. Without knowing it, you’ll starting eating like the French (there is no French word for “fast-food”) — and you will feel better…”
That’s not necessarily true. There is no guarantee that movement will produce anything but the movement itself. Your other behaviors may not change at all. And to be clear, evidence shows that movement is really good at increasing health and healthy outcomes, and really bad at producing long-term weight loss. Marathoners drop dead of heart attacks – there is nothing that makes anyone immortal or immune to health issues. Healthy habits help us play the odds, but we must not forget that health is multidimensional and not entirely within our control – and there are no guarantees.
Mr. Moore mentions that now he sometimes walks twice a day and he’s starting other activities as well. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and I won’t attempt speak for anyone else but I personally have to be careful to avoid the trap that suggests that if doing something is good then doing more must be better. I think that a lot of this comes from the mistaken, but often repeated, idea that movement should lead to weight loss – so if you’re not losing weight then you’re not doing “enough” movement, combined with the corollary that no amount of weight loss is ever enough so workout more and more and more.
If you find yourself getting caught up in trying to do the “exact right” thing for the “exact right” time to get the “exact right” result, I suggest a different approach. When I first started my career as an operations consultant, I got the following advice from a consultant who had been doing it for years: “If you’re dealing with a mess and you just don’t know what to do, try something. If it gets better, do more of that. If it gets worse, do something else.” I suggest a similar approach to movement – find a type of movement that you think you’ll like, that works for your situation, and try it for a duration with which you are comfortable. If you continue to enjoy it and feel good – keep going. If you don’t enjoy it or it doesn’t feel good, try something else.
While I generally like Mr. Moore’s post and agree with a lot of it, there’s a little bit too much breaking of the Underpants Rule for my taste in his post – a little bit too much telling people what to do “get off the treadmill, ” stop eating this or that, don’t walk with me for these reasons etc. I’m for a world where we each get to pick our goals and priorities, and we each of get to choose how to get there.
And if you’re doing movement, maybe you want to join the “Fit Fatties Across America” project – people of all sizes from all over the world who are doing fitness from a weight neutral perspective are pooling our minutes and miles of activity to see how fast we can get from NYC to LA. In the first 3 days we’ve gone 167 miles and we’ve got a way to go! To participate, just log your activity on this form (if you’re not a member of the Fit Fatties Forum you’ll be prompted to join – it’s free and doesn’t commit you to anything) and then check the Fit Fatties Forum every Friday to see how far we’ve traveled.
While we’re on the subject of activism projects, the project to create the Guinness World Record paper mache sculpture – made entirely out of pages from diet books – is on! There are tons of ways to help (even if you don’t have diet books to donate) Check it out here!
Like the blog? Here’s more of my stuff:
The Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details
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
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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.