Today I was accused, not for the first time, of “stealing people’s dreams.” This happens to those of us who are very vocal about the mountain of research that shows that long term weight loss is nearly impossible.
People criticize me for this despite the fact that I am very clear that people have every right to choose dieting just like I have every right to choose a Health at Every Size practice, and that I only talk about these things in my forum – I would never go to someone else’s weight loss blog and tell them that they should practice HAES. But since we are constantly and purposefully misled about the facts when it comes to weight loss and health, I think it’s important to tell the truth about it.
The people who sew in the tag that says “Cape does not enable user to fly” are not stealing my dreams of flying. They are giving me the opportunity to read the tag and get information so that I can make an informed decision before I yell “Hey y’all watch this!”, jump off a roof and break something I’ll need in later life.
But back to weight loss, what is the dream really? Is it being smaller than someone is now, or is it all the things that they believe will come along with that? Consider these sentences:
I lost weight, I started going to more parties and now I have more friends.
I lost weight, I became more confident and then I met my spouse.
I lost weight, and then I starting going out dancing.
You could remove “I lost weight” from each of these sentences and they could still be complete. That doesn’t mean that fat people aren’t oppressed by a world that is sizeist, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to deal with bullshit shame, stigma, bullying, and harassment that isn’t our fault but becomes our problem. But the reality for almost all dieters is that if they keep the “I lost weight” in those sentences, then they will will need to add a sentence at the end that starts “Now that I’ve gained the weight back…” That makes me think that we might want to come up with some different dreams. I offer the following:
A world where we accept and celebrate the diversity of body sizes.
A world where health care professionals base their advice on scientific evidence.
A world where we pour sixty billion dollars a year into creating access to healthcare and options for food and options, instead of failed weight loss programs, and where the US is a successful role model for everyone having access to health, rather than a failed role model for making everyone thin.
If someone’s dream is weight loss, then the research shows that they have almost no chance of achieving it, and have a huge chance of ending up less healthy than they started. That doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to try, but given those odds I think it’s critical that people understand that there are other options.
A dieter once commented on a piece that I wrote saying “I know that I only have a 5% chance of succeeding, but I’m just hoping and praying to be in that 5% because, really, what else makes sense?” People are allowed to choose “hoping to be an statistical anomaly” as a strategy for health and happiness. But it’s not the only thing that makes sense, at least not to me. To me remembering that I have the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in the fat body I have makes sense. Remembering that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within my control makes sense. Having gratitude for my amazing body makes sense. Choosing a path to health based on research makes sense. Choosing a path to health that has a chance of succeeding outside the margin of error makes sense to me.
I’m not interested in stealing other people’s dreams, but I’m also not going to let a fatphobic world that tells me lies about weight loss and health steal mine.
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22 thoughts on “Some Dreams Might Be Better Stolen”
Bravo! As you show in your videos right on your home page, being fat doesn’t stop you from going out dancing.
A bad hip might, but that could happen to anyone, regardless of their size.
Fat people can be confident, go to parties, make lots of friends, meet someone and fall in love, be loved in return, and all those dreams that are usually the entire impetus behind dieting, in the first place. Almost all diets are driven by the dream of “what will happen when I finally lose the weight”.
If we accept that those dreams can happen, regardless of size, then what is dieting all about?
You’re not taking away people’s dreams of having happy lives. You’re taking away the diet industry’s dreams of making money by telling people they can’t be happy until they change their bodies to fit a societally approved mold.
The list of things people supposedly do after losing weight reminds me of stories about people who get (effective) treatment for depression.
It’s so much easier to be confident and leave the house when you don’t hate yourself. Then again, we fatties are not supposed to like ourselves until we are acceptably thin.
And far too many “mental health professionals” prescribe weight loss, rather than therapy or medicine. Even in cases where the patient was depressed for years, including during a time period when they were acceptably thin.
It’s not so much that thin fixes everything as it is that fat breaks everything, in people’s minds. apparently.
Before I was referred to my awesome therapist. I had the first three prescribe weight loss, for my depression, while fully knowing I was struggling with an ED. Yes let’s throw me back on the ED and disordered eating train!
The one I see now is awesome. Never mentions weight, except at this last appointment as I have been very sick this last month with bronchitis and asked if my ED was starting to act up again, as my weight has visibly fluctuated, and she was worried. Nope, was just really sick.
Hooray for good therapists!
Boo for the bad ones, who think that an eating disorder is perfectly alright, if you’re fat. If you were thin, they would have sent you to a hospital. Sheesh.
As a writer, my chances of ever getting a publishing contract from a traditional publishing house are probably as dismal or worse than the success rate of dieting. Rather than abandoning my dream of writing, though, I’ve made my dream independent of whether or not I manage to convince a submissions editor that my book might sell. I write because I love to write, and it doesn’t matter whether I sell loads of books or not.
The point of this is that we are constantly told that our dreams are dependent on achieving a given level of success as measured by an arbitrary social standard. Someone is not truly a musician unless they get a recording contract and a concert tour. Someone is not an actor unless they get a part in a major Broadway production or a big Hollywood movie. You’re not really an artist unless your paintings are hanging in a prestigious gallery showing. You’re not an athlete unless you get drafted by a professional team. You’re not attractive and desirable unless you fit a certain size clothing.
Pierce Brosnan starred in a movie called “Grey Owl,” about a Caucasian who was so enamored with the Native American culture, that he posed as a Native American. At one point in the movie, his character is at a Pow-Wow, when one of the chiefs tells him, “A man becomes what he dreams. You dreamed well.”
Perhaps the best success of all is to dream well.
Isn’t there some story about Van Gogh only selling one painting during his lifetime?
Guess he wasn’t much of an artist, huh?
I like your idea that the best success is to dream well. After all, it’s our dreams that keep us going. Once we reach “success,” then what? We need new dreams to keep us going.
“Perhaps the best success of all is to dream well.” What a great motto. Success is also having the ability to know the difference between dreams, which are achievable, and fantasies, which are not. In my life, becoming a musician was a dream, but becoming thin permanently has been a fantasy.
I love how much power these people attribute to you that you could actually “steal” their dreams. Perhaps the tag in your cape says “enables owner to steal dreams of others.” (where is that damn sarcastic font??). People can believe and dream what they want, but if simple science-based information is enough to dash someone’s dreams, maybe it wasn’t a very viable dream in the first place.
“People can believe and dream what they want, but if simple science-based information is enough to dash someone’s dreams, maybe it wasn’t a very viable dream in the first place.”
Bingo. I wrote a long version of this and the Post Goblins ate it (apologies if it somehow wanders back in and this becomes a double-post), so here are the Cliff’s Notes:
The Fantasy of Being Thin is a lot like Santa Claus.
When you’re (general “you”) a kid, you want this toy. And you think, because people you trust have told you, Santa Claus brings toys to children who are really good. You think your best shot at getting your toy is to be really good so Santa will bring it on Christmas. So you don’t make Tommy eat the bug, you don’t dip Suzie’s pigtails in ink, and you don’t put a tack on teacher’s chair. And somewhere in the middle of all this, that smarty-pants know-it-all in your class airily informs you there is no such thing as Santa. There WAS a Christian saint living in Turkey named Nicholas who was canonized for extreme acts of charity, but he’s not the Santa Claus you were taught to believe in, and barring a literal miracle he is not going to appear with your toy in hand. Great! NOW how are you going to get your toy?
When you’re an adult, you want a certain kind of life. You’ve got a dream picture of the kind of job, wardrobe, hobbies, and spouse you want to live out your days with. And you think, because people you trust have told you, if you get a thin body those other things will come with it, and that anyone who wants a thin body can get it with a “lifestyle change” (translation: diet) and exercise. So you go on a “lifestyle change” (translation: diet) or several, you pick up a (new) exercise routine or several, you are, in a word, “good.” But you’re not getting thin, or if you do you aren’t staying that way for very long, and somewhere in the middle of it the smarty-pants know-it-all in your class airily informs you diets don’t work (even if you call them lifestyle changes). People HAVE dramatically changed body sizes via illness or radically altered environment, but it’s not the weight loss you were taught to believe in, and barring a literal miracle it is not going to appear with your dream job/wardrobe/hobby/spouse in hand. Great! NOW how are you going to get your dream life?
Well, as most of us know, there are ways to get your toy that don’t require the direct intervention of Saint Nicholas. And there are ways to get just about anything you could possibly desire without being thin.
Also, some of the things you did to appease Santa Claus – and to try to get thin – *were* helpful, just not how you thought. Just like it probably was a good idea not to make Tommy eat literal grub even if Santa isn’t around to disapprove because Tommy will like you a lot more, exercise and mindful eating are shown to improve your numbers and decrease your risk even if they don’t lead to weight loss. You may find you have better reasons to do those things once you know what they can realistically accomplish.
And Tom may grow up to become CEO of the company you want to work for, or Suzie may be the owner! Or maybe, the self-control you learned as a child “being good,” will help you stick-to-it when it comes to hard assignments.
Yeah, those things that don’t give immediate visible results (toys or weight-loss) can still be incredibly useful for you.
I love your analogy.
BTW, I read that “it’s not the weight loss you were taught to believe in” as “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Original Star Wars, for the win!
*imagines the diet industry snakeoil salespeople waving their hands in Jedi fashion* “The Force gives you power over weak minds.”
“You don’t need to see any peer-reviewed research. This isn’t the scam you’re looking for. We may go about our business.”
This was a dream I needed to have stolen from me. Thank you so much!
I just learned from my endocrinologist yesterday that my prediabetes has now officially slid over the line into diabetes. The reason I’m writing this here: I am SO aware of how different my reaction to this news would have been a few years ago, before I found this blog. I would have been crying, HATING myself, berating myself for being a gluttonous lazy fool who “let” this happen, and on and on.
Now? Well, it’s not good news, and I’m not happy about it–especially since I already live with several other chronic illnesses that require a lot of management. But I know that I have been eating carefully to try to control my glucose. I know that I have been exercising. I did everything my doctors advised me to do to try to improve my numbers, and it did not reverse the process. For some people it does, but for me it didn’t. But thanks to this blog I know (and more importantly, believe) that this is not my fault, I didn’t “let” this happen to me, and I can contemplate starting medications and more stringent dietary restrictions without feeling guilty for being a “failure.” I’m not even terribly upset. If I hadn’t started reading this blog a couple of years ago, I know only too well how I’d be feeling now. I’d be thinking “I must be a glutton, I must be to blame, I did something wrong, I’ve done this to myself, I’m no good!!!” Now, I imagine Ragen’s lovely voice saying “Health is never guaranteed or fully under our control.” The behaviors I’ve been following often do improve glucose control, but the fact is that for me, it didn’t work. But I’m okay with that. I can take a deep breath and say “Bad roll of the dice this time, but I’ll deal with it.”
So yet again, thank you, Ragen.
I’m so glad you realize this! People are still shocked when I tell them that you only get diabetes if you have the genetic component for it, regardless of how badly or how well you eat.
And even if everyone else in your family has diabetes, and you are fat, that is still not a guarantee that you’re going to have diabetes.
Someone I know went to the doctor for the first time in I don’t know how many years, and the doctor ran blood tests, and said, “Well, you’re probably diabetic, so here’s a prescription for (diabetes medicine), and you can go ahead and start taking it while we wait for your results.”
Guess what? She’s not diabetic, not even pre-diabetic. So, when she took that medicine, her blood sugar TANKED, and she had to eat and eat and eat, sugary things, all day, every hour on the hour, until it wore off. She decided to hold off on taking another dose until the results came in, thank goodness.
She has a different problem (also genetic), but not diabetes. However, due to her weight and her family history, she was diagnosed right off the bat, pre-tests, with diabetes, because it is a “fat-people” disease.
How many times have I heard that fat “causes” diabetes? And how many thin diabetics do I know? Gee, I’d rather not try to count that high right now, thanks. My head hurts, already.
And treating diabetes (or high blood pressure, or any number of other things) when it’s not the problem is dangerous. Sheeeeeeeeeesh.
And taking meds for a condition you don’t have, can lead you to developing that same condition. From some of the stuff I’ve read, diabetes in some cases is a response to dieting or weight loss, in addition to the drugs. Our blood and cells function best in a range of values, and when they fall too low, our body naturally adjusts (ie. insulin resistance) to bring those values back into line. On one of Ragen’s posts I was reading last night, diabetes is a common side effect of bariatric surgery.
Seems like that doctor was quack.
There is a book I like called “WishCraft” by Barbara Sher with Annie Gottleib. In it she tries to help people figure out why they want certain things, then tries to help you figure out how to get it.
So you want to be a prima ballerina, does it mean you love ballet, want the fame, want to be on stage in New York, work with top-rank dancers… you get the idea. There are so many aspects of being a prima ballerina, that maybe the aspect that calls most to you doesn’t mean you have to be a professional dancer. Maybe it means you just take a ballet class or work in some other aspect of the dance theatre..
She does acknowledge that, sometimes, you can’t have your dream and she tries to give you tools to help with that too.
Anyway, it has helped me to be more creative in trying to figure out what I actually want and in trying to figure out how to get it.
Sounds good! Thanks for the recommendation!
Dear dream-stealing Ragen,
maybe you are becoming a kind of Truman Capotes’ “Master Misery”? Or Madame, in you case. Imagine a visit card: “Ms. Ragen Revercomb, fatties’ dreams buyer & stealer. Transactions online or at the client’s place. Satisfaction guaranteed. No returns possible”.
People who accuse you of stealing dreams perhaps never appreciated that literary parallel, which I think is quite stylish and thrilling 🙂
All the best!