A question I get from readers pretty often, especially readers new to Health at Every Size/Size Acceptance is some version of “I’m all for Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size for anyone else and I want to end weight stigma, shame, and bullying for people of all sizes, but I still want to lose weight for [xyz reasons] – I don’t know what to do…” I had several people ask some version of it today, so I’m re-posting this in case it’s helpful.
First of all, I think that people have a right to make choices for their bodies, so I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live. I came to Health at Every Size in a roundabout way. I had become frustrated with the diet programs my doctor was prescribing and, as a trained researcher, I decided to read the actual research to find the intentional weight loss method that was the absolute best. I was completely shocked when I found that there were no studies that showed any weight loss method that worked long term for more than a tiny fraction of people. Coming to terms with the fact that long term weight loss was highly unlikely is one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It meant that I also had to give up my addiction to the pursuit of being thin.
That didn’t mean that I never struggled with the idea of weight loss again – in our society thin is pushed constantly as the cure-all for everything, weight loss is pushed as something that everyone can do, that everyone should pursue, and as something to be celebrated on roughly the same level as curing cancer. As these thoughts came up for me I started to ask myself what I would do about each of them if becoming thin wasn’t going to happen for me. Below is what I came up with for me, as always I can only speak for myself – your mileage may vary, and you are the boss of your underpants.
For My Health
The original reason that I wanted to lose weight was my health. I had bought into what I am now certain is a myth that weight and health are the same thing and that weight loss was a path to health. Thinking about it I realized that health is multidimensional and not entirely within our control, and that thin people get all the same diseases as fat people so becoming thin could neither be a sure preventative nor a sure cure. Doing the actual research I found that habits were a much better determinant for health than body size and that if health was important to me (which is my choice and nobody else’s) my best chance (knowing that I’m not entirely in control) was behaviors that promote health and not an attempt to wrestle my body into a specific height/weight ratio. Not to mention that long term weight loss is all but impossible based on the research – so even if being thin would make me magically immortal, graceful, and never have another bad hair day, it’s not happening.
At times I wanted to be thin so that I could be athletic/a better dancer. What I found was that instead of waiting until I was thin to do the things that I wanted to do, I just went ahead and did them fat. I recognized that every body, of every size, is different – bodies have various abilities, inabilities, and disabilities for many reasons and it’s about what we decide to do with the body that we have. So I decided to stop waiting for some other body to show up and start taking the body I had out for a spin. Though there may be some things that I couldn’t do because of my weight, I made the choice that I would decide that was the reason only after I exhausted all of the other possibilities (For example, I found that strength training, pilates, and resistance stretching were, for me, the key to ease of movement). I also decided that if my size was the reason that I couldn’t do something, then I would acknowledge my disappointment while working to be deeply appreciative of the body that I have and the things it can do, since without this body I would be pretty well stuck.
For Better Treatment
There were certainly times when I wanted to lose weight to escape the societal shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression that I deal with as a fat person. What I realized was that weight loss is not the cure for social stigma – ending social stigma is the cure for social stigma. I had earlier insight into this because as a queer woman I heard the same arguments – if I would just stop being queer then the bullies would stop bullying me. This is as much bullshit for fat people as it is for queer people. It doesn’t matter why my body is the size it is, I have a right to exist – I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the body I have now. Even if becoming thin was possible, giving the bullies my lunch money and hoping that they stop beating me up is not what I want to do or who I want to be – other people’s shaming, stigmatizing, and bullying behavior is not a reason to change myself.
To Better Fit in the World
I considered wanting to lose weight to fit better into the world-I would fit into the seats no matter where I went, the I would always fit in an airplane seat, that I wouldn’t be accused of taking up “too much space”, I would have more clothing options etc. Thinking this one over I realized that the things that don’t accommodate me are wrong – there is nothing wrong with me. Tall people hit their heads on things but don’t spend their lives trying to become shorter. As a short woman I often can’t reach things, or my legs dangle uncomfortable from chairs but I never thought it was my fault for not being tall enough. This is the size I come in, and while it sucks that things don’t accommodate me, I will not try to solve that by changing myself. I will work instead to change the world and ask that I be accommodated. I realized that asking for accommodations isn’t asking for a special favor – it is asking for what everyone else already has. If everyone can walk onto the plane and be transported from one city to another, then when fat people ask them to accommodate us with seating that works for us, we are simply asking for what everyone else already has. My body takes up just the right amount of space, and as far as I’m concerned so does everyone else’s body.
While this process was at times upsetting and difficult, it has ended up being literally the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. Freeing myself from the pursuit of being thin meant that I could actually have a good relationship with the body I have now. I can’t even articulate how much bandwidth in my brain freed up when I stopped spending massive amounts of time, obsessing about how I could get thin (not to mention the money and energy I saved.) I gave away the clothes that didn’t fit me and stopped wishing that they did. I stopped putting my life on hold until I looked different. My life literally opened up. There are things that still suck – the world isn’t always built for me and there’s a ton of shame, stigma, bullying and oppression that still comes my way. There’s plenty of work to be done, but it’s easier to concentrate on the actual problems when I realize that the problem is not my body.
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