Death by Fat

Nothing to proveSome people seem to truly delight in telling me that I’m going to die sooner because I’m fat.  The studies that I’ve seen are deplorable science and maybe I’ll break that down here eventually but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about what happens if I’m wrong and they are right.

In science, we always have to remember the possibility that we might be wrong. (So if someone isn’t willing to admit that they could be wrong, they aren’t someone I’m interested in talking to about science.) There were times in our history when the best of science “proved” that the Earth was flat, that giving pregnant women thalidomide was a good idea, and that small objects fall more slowly than large objects, and that heroin is a non-addictive substitute for morphine.  Oops.

Speaking of large objects….  I’ve examined a lot of scientific evidence about weight and health, and I’ve decided that a preponderance of the evidence points to habits, rather than manipulation of body size, is the best way to support my health (knowing that health is never a guarantee, is not entirely within our control, and is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness.).  The fact that no study on weight loss has ever been successful for more than a tiny fraction of people, the fact that, statistically the most likely outcome of intentional weight loss attempts is weight gain, Linda Bacon’s work on Health at Every Size and a host of other information has lead me to what I believe is a sound scientific decision that healthy behaviors are a better way to support my health than a lifelong pursuit of a specific height to weight ratio.

But just like I believe all of those people pushing the idea the thin = healthy are wrong, I know that I might be wrong as well.  It’s possible that I would live a longer life if I just kept trying diet after diet in the hopes that I would find one for which I am in the magical 5% who can achieve weight loss.

I also realize that even if I’m not wrong,  thanks to the drivel that passes for science these days, almost everything that you can die from has been correlationally related to being fat at some point, by someone.  (Including swine flu, no seriously…swine flu.)  I’m pretty sure that if I died because a giant flock of geese dropped a piano on my head, the report from the coroner would probably say that I died of fatness.

I digress.  I saw a great interview with Will Smith, of whom I have long been a fan,  in which he said “You have to say…this is what I believe, and I’m willing to die for it.  Period.  It’s that simple… You have to be willing to die for the truth.”  I agree with him 100%.

Here is what I think is true:

  • While many things have been correlated to obesity (with some really questionable science), almost nothing has been successfully causally related (despite numerous attempts)
  • Even if they could prove that obesity caused health problems, there is not a single thing that has been proven to actually succeed at creating long term weight loss (despite even more numerous attempts) so there is no “cure”.
  • The weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) that occurs when the vast majority of people fail at one diet and then move on to the next is being shown to be more harmful than just being fat
  • I just can’t make myself care about the opinions of people who think that they can look at me and judge my health based on nothing more than the size of my body.

But what if I’m wrong?

There is a 100% chance that I’m going to die so I don’t think it’s about that.   I think it’s about how I lived.  I spent almost all of my childhood, all of my teens and a decent chunk of my 20s  buying to the diet industries’ version of truth and I was sick and miserable and still fat.  In fact, I spent years of my life dieting and my weight did nothing but climb.  Only when I started to practice Health at Every Size did my weight level off. I know people who are in their 40′s, 50′s, 60′s and older still living a life of guilt, shame and weight obsession, crippled by their low self-esteem because they buy into the diet culture and believe that they aren’t worthy until they are thin.  They are allowed to do that, I have no judgment about it, I’ve certainly spent time living that way.  Now I live a life of  joy, people tell me that I help them, and if I die immediately after pressing “Publish” on this blog, I will be happy with the life I gave.  I seriously doubt that I’m going to die of fatness, but if I’m wrong then my truth is that when I was trying to be thin my life was miserable and I wouldn’t want three or five extra years of that. If I am wrong then I choose to live a joyful, short life. But I think I’ll stick around to see if they are still VFHT-ing me when I’m 102.

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36 thoughts on “Death by Fat

  1. hooray, well written, as usual. I would love even a fraction of my time back that I spent on dieting/worrying/obsessing etc….

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you! Makes me think of this: Smoking is believed to increase your risk of cancer, but nobody can absolutely say for sure, that if you smoke you will get cancer, and if you smoke and get cancer, no one can definitely say that you have cancer because you are smoking – it is just an assumption. As well as no study in the whole world can PROVE that someone will die early because s/he is fat. To do so, you would have to eliminate every single other factor, like environment, stress, family, genetics, pollution,… for the participants’ whole life, maybe even pre-natal or for generations, to be sure. Nobody can do that. We can just presume.

    Also: One study I read about some time ago came to the conclusion, that stress is a much greater danger to everyones health than weight. It was kinda complex, simply put: Fat people without stress are far more healthier than stressed thin people. Plus: Eating can relieve stress, so in stressful times it can even be healthier to gain some pounds and relieve stress instead of watching weight or even dieting, which causes more stress. One doctor even said, that if you are stressed and your brain tells you “I need chocolate now!” it is better to eat the chocolate to “nurture your brain.” (I hope I could exlain that, please be forgiving as english is not my native language)

    Now what about the stress caused by fat shaming and concern trolling and dieting?

    1. I wonder if there are any studies on the effects of lowering stress. I wish I could lower my stress. I don’t know about being healthier, but I would definitely be happier.

      1. i think that the research about yoga and health/stress might give you information similar to effects of lowering stress. Since yoga has controlled deep breathing as a component, I know that it has many of the same benefits as just practicing deep breathing for stress management.

      2. There is a website called that features many kinds of guided imagery meditation audio files. The site also presents research studies that have shown relaxation based guided imagery to be effective for many health issues. I have found that using the “Stress Relief” one helps me to slow down my breathing and breathe deeply. 15 minutes and I feel more relaxed and less stress. Of course there are many methods of stress-relief and some people’s situations are so intense that maybe they cannot find relief, but I wanted to offer you this resource. Peace.

  3. Earlier in the week I let my guard down and watched Dr. Phil. He had a woman on that was 400 pounds. Her mother had written the show to get her help. Her mother took custody of her child because she felt her fat daughter couldn’t take care of a child because of her weight. Dr. Phil had video of this woman ordering three pizzas at a time and a typical lunch being three double cheeseburgers with extra large fries…well you get the picture. The audience just took all this in and were appalled. My point is that I am considered obese by all my doctors and never have I ever had eating habits like displayed on that show. I was so upset because he played right into the stereotype. Why couldn’t he have someone like you on the show to break down this horrible stereotype. I just feel that show gave all the haters even more ammunition. If he is so educated then why can’t he see that he needs to do a show about acceptance. People come in all different shapes and sizes and are capable of having a very full happy life even if they are obese.
    Sorry for the speech but I just think you are wonderful and you never give up trying to get a positive message out. Thank you for being our educated voice.

      1. I agree with you regarding Dr. Phil. That man is a parasite, and I wish he, along with Dr. Oz and a host of other medical and psychological charlatans, would disappear from the airwaves.

    1. Granted, this is from wikipedia, but it looks like Dr. Phil has been in the business of making money for a long time…
      In 1990, McGraw joined lawyer Gary Dobbs in co-founding Courtroom Sciences, Inc. (CSI), a trial consulting firm through which McGraw later came into contact with Oprah Winfrey.[19] Eventually, CSI became a profitable enterprise, advising Fortune 500 companies and injured plaintiffs in achieving settlements. McGraw is no longer an officer or director of the company.[19]

      After starting CSI, McGraw ceased the practice of psychology. He kept his license current and in good standing until he elected to retire it 15 years later in 2006.[20] Appearing on the Today Show in January 2008, McGraw said that he has made it “very clear” that his current work does not involve the practice of psychology. He also said that he had “retired from psychology”.[21] According to the Today Show, the California Board of Psychology determined in 2002 that he did not require a license because his show involves “entertainment” rather than psychology.[21] McGraw’s license is currently listed by the Texas State Board of Psychology as “retired” and he holds no other active licenses to practice in any other state.

      1. Wow, but there are obviously some ppl who still believe he speaks the truth and is currently practicing. *Like my dad*.

        Those true believers also don’t realize that anything on tv is for entertainment, not education or science.

  4. As they say, it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years.

    Even if I could live an extra few years if I spent most of my time making my body smaller, what would I get out of it? How would that extra time benefit me if I can’t use it on anything other than a desperate attempt to glean more time?

    I’d rather die tomorrow having made people laugh and made people think and having had some damn good stories to tell than live another fifty years glued to a stationary bike and a calorie counter.

    1. Amen! We’re constantly told to spend our time trying to extend our time, as if quantity of life years was a goal unto itself.

      Of course I don’t want to die sooner rather than later — but that’s because there are so many things I still want to do, not because I have some bizarre idea of reaching immortality through thinness. I’m trying to wake up every day and commit to fully engaging in the time I’ve got, because anything else is a gamble, and I’m not much of a gambler.

      It strikes me a lot like the folks who’ll watch an entire concert or play through their phone cameras trying to record it for later. Why wait for later? Be here now.

      1. I don’t understand it either! In my researches of the Middle Ages, old age was just something that happened, and only 7% of the population was over 50, about 1000 yrs ago. But if old age was a goal, it was considered selfish and probably a sin. No religious virtue or value is connected with age.

    2. My grandmother and great aunt died in the same year (different sides of the family) my grand mother was in her 80’s and my great aunt was 99, however my great aunt had been bed ridden and increasingly blind and deaf for the last 10 years of her life, my grandmother started getting ill about a year before died and went downhill rapidly at the end, both had a pretty decent quality of life until their final illness.

      Whatever my end fate is I want to make sure I enjoy life as much as I can before it’s too late, which means not waiting until society tells me I’m acceptable before having fun.

  5. my late [third] husband was a drug addict. he was many more things than this, & he was somewhat unusual even in his response to his addiction, but his addiction covered & colored everything he did, & it killed him, through protracted massive multiple organ failure, in the end. he was 43.

    he was also very upfront about drugs. he would tell almost anyone, including doctors, how much he loved whichever stimulant was his drug of choice that year [coke when he was a rockstar, junior division, & tweek when he could no longer afford the coke, emotionally, financially, or elsewise].

    i mention this sad fact here only to note that he never–never–was as hassled by doctors about dope–never!!–as i have been during the times when i’ve ‘needed’ [as they say] to lose thirty, maybe forty, pounds [which, of course, wouldve been twenty pounds before the Great BMI Changeover].

    & dope killed him. & it killed him, miserably, hard. there is no question.

    not to mention that drug addiction is nearly–but not quite!–as taboo in this culture as being anything regarded as remotely outsize. not to mention that there is absolute evidence that doing, say, a thousand dollars worth of [filthy, street] drugs a week is not good for ones health.

    this is even heartbreaking–beneath his addiction my dead spouse wasnt a bad person, he was a great musician, one who was overwhelmed at times by guilt. post-stardom his family had all but abandoned him–he was always looking for parent figures–perhaps if a doctor had taken a deep interest he mightve quit–or at least slowed down? i couldnt get him to, no matter what or how hard i tried…..

    but they will take a nonsensical, misguided interest in me. misguided because, if anything, my health problems [which are, unfortunately, exhaustive & exhausting in all sorts of ways]–at any rate, they arrived via a small cornucopia of classic eating disorders. from which i have acquired classic illnesses. for which i will be prescribed weight loss.

    i already know this. it’s happened too many times. &, of course, i am in los angeles where weighing anything over 110 is considered overweight, over 120 grossly so. insured as i finally am once again, i remain afraid to go in. any suggestions, anyone, for kindhearted doctoring in silver lake?

    1. I feel for you and your husband. I wonder if I may ask: what is tweek? I’m not all that familiar with street names.

      So basically anything more than “walking skeleton” is considered too fat in LA. I don’t know anything about California except fires, so I can’t help you. I hope you can do ok in the end.

  6. A buddy of mine on another board is regaining some of the weight he lost a couple of years back. I hope he’s doing all right emotionally, because to me (and others) he’s always been a sweet, articulate person and very well-liked. Fat, thin, in-between… you get to know the words first before you know what the person looks like– which might be a good thing in this case. By the time I saw his photos they were pretty much besides the point. We were pals, and he was super-nice to me when I was going through multiple rough patches a few years back.

    I wish I could share this post with him, but it would probably smack of me trying to tell him how to live his life and that would probably do him more harm than good. It’s his life, after all. Anyway, I really needed to read this today. So thanks, R. 🙂

  7. And I could be thin and walk out my door and get hit by a bus. Or that piano. Let’s face it. We are all going to die some day and no matter what our size or shape we can’t predict when.

    1. Amen! I used to say, “You never know when you’ll be hit by a truck, so be prepared.” Then I was actually hit by a truck. To be specific, THREE trucks. Yes, there were three trucks, and my bitty compact car, all crunched together in a truck sandwich. And since I was stopped behind the first truck (I still don’t know why the first truck was stopped), and smashed into it by the trucks behind me, I was absolutely, 100%, positively NOT at fault.

      But I still have to live with the consequences. Had I died with the consequences, well, my family would have had some good life insurance, so, oh well.

      Anyway, it really hit me then. Any one of us could die at any time, for any reason. You just can’t predict it. So, live your life now, while you have it. Exercise if you want to. Eat salad if you like it. If you don’t like it, do what you like. Live now.

      Remember “Auntie Mame”? “Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving.” That’s because most poor fools are on a diet. That doesn’t work.

  8. I love this blog post because I’ve said a lot of it myself… since, no matter whether or not all the “ohmygodfatwillkillyou” drama talk is ever actually proven true, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s nothing they’ve yet discovered that will make 95% or of us thin long term.

    So I could spend more of my life hating my body, being miserable in my own skin, trying to be what years of prior dieting and the research indicates I will never be, or I can be happy. Seems like a no brainer to me.

    I realized I’d rather die younger, if I’m wrong, than die trying for the virtually impossible and hating every minute of my life. I have enough hardship in my life with my assortment of health issues (ALL of which happen to thin people and wouldn’t magically go away if I were thin).

    I’ve had my moments since I began to step outside the paradigm I grew up in, the one that still enslaves most of our culture. The idea that thin is not only healthier, but more worthy, more attractive, more desirable. It wasn’t easy to walk away from that, from years of deeply held beliefs that being thin would make most of my problems, hell, maybe all of them, go away! But as I got older, and as I developed some health problems, I realized… I’d never be happy with my body the way my brain worked currently. I’d always find flaws and reasons to hate it, even if I lost every single “extra” pound they claimed I should.

    I’d hate the stretch marks left behind. I’d hate the excess skin. I’d hate the cellulite. I’d hate, I’d hate, I’d hate. Because it’s all I’d ever done. It’s all I knew, it’s all I’d be taught.

    I decided I was done with the hate. Oh, my body and I aren’t always on good terms, but these days that’s because of chronic pain, and not because of how it LOOKS. I wish I could get back the years I spent wasted on hating it, I wish I could go back to that time and do all the things I was told or believed I was “too fat” to do… things I’m now “too sick” to do.

    Life is painfully short. I’d rather spend the time I have left loving my body, or at least (on my bad days) in a tenuous truce with it, than hating it desperately, passionately and telling it how ugly and unlovable it was.

    1. I regret all those years of forcing myself to exercise for weight loss, rather than moving my body the way I really wanted to. I like strolling, thank you very much. My weak ankles have always hurt when I tried to run or jog. But strolling? I could (and have) do that for hours on end, and just enjoy the day, the air, the flowers, the sights/sounds/smells of the world around me.

      Power-walking for weight loss is torture for me, but I forced myself to do it, always hoping it would result in a “beautiful” thin version of me. And all that time, I could have been enjoying the fresh air on a lovely stroll, through meadows of flowers, or through a neighborhood with really interesting architecture, and I could have stopped to smell the roses (literally), and to admire the architecture and art around me. But, instead, I tied myself to a treadmill, and put on the same old music, because it had a driving beat to keep me going.

      If I had just stuck with what I really enjoyed, I’d be much happier, and probably healthier, with lower stress levels.

      And I still would have been hit by that #($&* truck! What a lot of wasted time. Feh!

  9. Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    I’ve blabbed enough about my own endocrine problems, including diabetes. Right now I want to talk about someone who, according to popular opinion, should have exploded 40 years ago.
    There is a gentleman at the retirement community where I work. He is a portly fellow with diabetes. He is, other than his diabetes and a bit of arthritis, healthy, happy, and active. His cognitive abilities are 100%. He takes good care of himself. He is compliant with his diabetes treatment regimen. He engages in a moderate level of exercise, mostly walking. He is socially involved.
    According to popular “science,” I must be hallucinating. Healthy, happy, fat old people do not exist.
    Another healthy, fat old person who doesn’t exist is the grandfather of Nikki Sixx, the bassist for Motley Crue. I don’t know how Nikki managed to stage that picture–he’s pretty slick! But somehow he managed to make it look like he was standing there with his ninety-something year old, fat grandfather. It was a trick of the light, I suppose.

  10. Baby has been up since 1 am, her growing teeth are doing her no favors, but I always love coming here to read my “daily dose of sanity” as I have come to think of it. Thank you Ragen for being so awesome.If I was more awake I’d list some journal articles I read recently (I read them in a work related capacity) about the newest research, which consistently shows that although BMI (lousy measure, but perhaps useful in these large retrospective statistical studies) is related to poorer health outcomes, when compared to smoking status and stress its barely a blip. Most of the articles don’t even conclude that being fat is bad, its the main stream media that quote mines the juicy bits to make it seem that way, because reasons.

  11. House had an episode where a fat guy was the patient and he told House that fat was not his issue and would not approve any treatment that was based in that theory. Loved that episode for tackling that issue

    1. It turned out to be small-cell lung cancer, right? I liked that one, too. It hit me harder than most other House eps. Personally, I think Cameron and the patient (whose name I can’t remember, but whose kitchen was the stuff of dreams) had better chemistry than she did with Chase.

  12. Great article! I never quite understood the dichotomy that the earth is being overpopulated – which is mostly in part due to the average person living longer. And what if a person rather live a quality live over quantity? Not saying you can’t have both… but I know some people who aren’t bothered if they don’t reach old age because the thought that “what if” something just stops working the way it does now is certainly a deal breaker for them. So I don’t quite understand that if a person is willing to go when the time comes – “that’s a way to live life!” if you’re thin (or in Internet troll speak: “LOL YOLO!”, but if you happen to be fat we get the VFHTs. Why?

  13. I’m more worried about cancer recurring and killing me than I am of my fat being the cause of my demise.

    1. Hear, hear. I’m waiting to see if my medications kill my liver, kill my kidneys, or give me lymphoma. Oh, and let’s not forget the family history of Every Type Of Reproductive Cancer The Female Body Can Get, and that mysterious spot on my right ta-ta that requires me to get mammograms every six months. (I’m 37.)

  14. Upon reading today’s post, my inner smartass said this:

    “You’re gonna die ’cause you’re fat!”
    *COUGHCOUGH* “I think the tuberculosis will get there first.”

    Why fight ’em when you can send ’em running in mortal fear? 😀

  15. My last bout with dieting, I was doing well. By that, I mean that I was working out regularly, and really starting to get into fitness. My weight, wellllll… I tried to eat “healthy,” but I was just sooooo hungry. Even hungrier with exercise than without. But I was able to do more and more exercise, and feeling good. I was doing 5K walks, and I could go about 4K on an elliptical machine. I was pumped. Still fat, but stronger than I ever had been. My weight loss was about 2 pounds a week at first, but then it slowed to merely maintaining. But I was strong! And happy about being strong. And I had stamina. I could keep going and going. Not fast. I was never fast. But I had the strength and endurance I desired more than speed. Speed was something the trainers at the gym demanded, but I never cared about. Let me stroll for three hours, instead of run for 30 minutes, please. I can actually ENJOY a stroll. Running hurts.

    So, I was “being good,” and trying so hard to reshape myself, and even with all my fitness success, I still was not losing more weight. I was starting to think that after 30 years of dieting, I would never fit into that size six, even if I dieted and exercised for the rest of my life.

    Then, I got hit by a truck. If the truck in front of me had been two inches taller, or my car two inches lower, I would have been decapitated.

    I gave up dieting side then. Constant pain has led to very little exercise, as exercise makes it all worse. Comfort food? Yep. I do that. Guess what? I went right back to the weight I was before my last bout with dieting. And I have stayed there for 2 years, without even trying. Maintenance, for the win!

    You know, had I not started dieting at the age of 10, I’d probably be a size 8 or 10 now, rather than a size 20 or 22. And I would have been every so much happier.

    I still want to get back into exercise. I miss it. And I am working on dealing with the pain, so that I CAN get back into exercise. Golly, but I miss long walks and dancing. But now, I know that I’m doing it because I just want to enjoy the movement and the pleasure my body can give me, and not to try to fit into some external ideal of physical beauty and “health.” My goals: I want to be able to walk as far as I feel like without having my back or hips go out. I want to be able to ride a bike to run errands to the grocery store or library without having my back or hips go out. I want to be able to learn how to really swim, without having my neck and shoulder go out. And most of all, I want to dance again. Belly dancing – my favorite! And if I never lose another pound, I’ll still be happy.

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