What If I’m Not Happy With My Weight

Design by Kris Owen
Design by Kris Owen

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.

For Movement

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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7 thoughts on “What If I’m Not Happy With My Weight

  1. Great essay. The last paragraph was damn near perfect, and it reflects my experiences once I stepped off the weight loss merry go round. Which I decided to do in large part to you and your example, Ragen. It is an incredibly freeing experience.

    I wish my fat friends would just try it and see how much better their lives could be, but they are stuck in “must lose weight” thinking and so are constantly unhappy with themselves. So I tell them what’s going on in my life and how much happier I am, then I drop the subject, hoping I’ve at least planted a seed.

  2. Such a great article! I just wrote about the same thing today. It is such a shame that people thing you have to hate yourself in order to be healthy. I hope this helps others see the light!

  3. Amen. I came to this same conclusion many years ago. I can’t say I’ve been free of self-hate, but at least I know body size is not a valid reason for it.

    What has been distressing to me recently is the official, medically sanctioned fat hate that is getting worse all the time, with the prescription for every ailment being “lose weight” even though there’s no proof that it can be done or, even if it could, that it works.

    I try to speak up when I can, but feel like people mentally roll their eyes and move on when I do.

  4. This was exactly the article I needed to read today. I’m about to head on vacation, and all of my old insecurities come roaring back whenever I leave the comfort zone that is my home and I start wishing I were thinner just for the sake of better fitting in to the world (both figuratively and literally). These are mantras I will be able to repeat to myself whenever I find myself in that brain space. “My body takes up just the right amount of space.” “I do not have to wait for some other body to show up to live my life.” Thank you!

    1. Add “It’s not my problem; it’s theirs,” for when your vacation is threatened by jackass strangers getting in your business. After all, it’s hard enough to establish boundaries on your own home turf. When you’re out there, with strangers, who don’t know your history, it’s tough to maintain those boundaries.

      Mantras are GREAT!

      I hope you have a wonderful vacation!

  5. Giving away these “I’m gonna fit these someday” clothes was a huge step for me.

    I liken this to the acceptance of the fact that I’m never going to have children. My doctor told me, some years ago, that my health is problematic, to the point where I would not give birth to a healthy child, and bearing a child would destroy my body, and I simply should not ever bear children. Adoption is right out, because no agency would give a child to someone with my health issues, and after my accident, leaving me in pain all the time, with no stamina, I discovered a certain gratitude that I did not have the responsibility of children. I LOVE being an aunt, and that I get to enjoy the children (on their best behavior, because if they mis-behave, fun time is over and I send them home, and tell their parents WHY, and then their parents deal with the discipline). I get to enjoy them to the limits of my ability, and when I hit those limits, I get to give them back to their wonderful parents, and rest up for the next visit.

    Accepting that was hard, and it took a long time, but it’s a similar path to accepting that I’m never going to be thin, never going to be healthy, and never going to fit the “It’s OK to be ______” status that so many people talk about, when they are TRYING to sound body positive. Even if some magic vacuum sucked every fat cell from my body, I’d still be unhealthy, with genetic things that aren’t going to go away in my lifetime, and have come to accept that.

    I find that taking some irrevocable step to show that acceptance helps to embrace the acceptance. I cannot get my “someday” clothes back, and they were special and irreplaceable, not just clothes in a smaller size. Giving them up hurt, but I was able to enjoy seeing someone else wearing them, and that helped.

    So, if you’re not happy with your weight, but you WANT to accept your body, regardless of weight, I highly recommend talking yourself into making some sort of irrevocable step, such as getting rid of whatever fancy clothing you may have been holding on to, such as a wedding dress, prom dress, or some such. Also, if you have jewelry, especially rings, that don’t fit, either get rid of them, or have them resized to fit you NOW. These are steps that are not easily undone. Choose something that works for you.

    Taking an action, like that, can be a closure ritual that can help your brain switch gears, from looking backward to looking forward.

    Another thing is that I forced myself to change my daydreams. My daydreams no longer involve me being thin. I daydream about my FAT body doing the things I had dreamed of. I picture myself, as clearly as I can, doing the things I dreamt of doing once I was thin, only now I’m picturing myself doing them FAT. Seeing myself fat and happy in my day dreams really helps me to be happy now.

    Also, seek out the uplifting social circles, internet chats and blogs, and the like, and flat out shun the things that put fat people down. Skip the comments on any and all articles, until you have the strength to face the fat-haters who pop up everywhere, even on a cute article about children playing in the sprinklers in the summertime. They’re there. They’re everywhere. If you have to lock yourself in a tower for a while, go ahead. But remember, there are positive places to be, too. You don’t have to be alone to be safe.

    Good luck with accepting the change, and know that it’s a battle you may have to do frequently, over and over, until it finally becomes a permanent state of happy acceptance.

  6. Hmmm Tried like three times to post my comment (I hope I’m not spamming you, Ragen). For some reason my comment isn’t showing up – what am I doing wrong?

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