In our weight-obsessed culture there is a tendency to tell fat people that we should blame our body size for everything that is wrong in our lives, and that the only way to succeed is to lose weight. This is a damaging lie, and today I wanted to look at three ways that it plays out.
This is a re-work of a past post in response to a number of conversations I’ve been having lately.
Let’s say that someone adds some behaviors that are known to perhaps support health to their life, they experience some health improvements, and they lose weight.
The story we get is the weight loss leads to greater health, but back it up a minute.
Why do we rule out behavior changes as the reason for health improvements? It seems much more likely that the health improvements and the body size change are both results of the behavior change. Especially since there is good research that shows that behavior changes often lead to health improvements regardless of body size, or change in body size. On the flip side, research shows that weight loss without behavior change (for example liposuction) does not show health improvements.
Athletic and Mobility Improvements
Someone starts a program to increase strength, stamina flexibility, and/or mobility. They increase strength, stamina, flexibility, and/or mobility, and their body weight goes down.
The story we get told is that weight loss is responsible for these results. But thin people begin programs like this all the time, and everyone is clear that it’s the program that causes their athletic and mobility improvements. But in a fat person we’re told that it’s the change in body weight? Not to mention that there are definitely limitations on what our bodies can do and so the idea that we are completely in control of these things/ obligated to control them quickly becomes ableist and healthist.
Someone’s body weight changes and they become more confident.
The story we get told is that weight loss increases confidence with no examination of the fact that a society rife with sizeism is what prevented the person from being confident in the first place. There is no reason for someone not to be confident at a higher weight -and even living in a society that gives us near constant negative messages about our bodies, there are still plenty of confident fat people.
On the surface there is a frustrating lack of logic here, but this problem goes way deeper than that. The truth is that all of the incidents of weight loss that I described above are likely to be temporary. The truth about weight loss is that most people can lose some weight for a short amount of time, but almost everyone gains it back and many gain back more than they lost. The constant lie that fat people are told is that our fat is to blame for anything and everything we’re not happy about in our lives, and that the “solution” to all of that is weight loss.
These lies convince fat people to put our goals and lives on hold and put all of our eggs in the weight loss basket, despite a mountain of evidence that suggests it will never happen, and a complete lack of evidence that it will actually help us achieve any of our goals. It means that when fat people give up on weight loss (wisely, since it almost never works) many of us also give up on all the goals that lies told us required weight loss to achieve.
It’s important to remember that health, athletic ability, confidence and all of the other things that supposedly come with weight loss are never obligations, barometers of worthiness, or entirely within our control, and we might do well to think twice before we buy the party line that they are body size dependent – because when weight loss gets the credit, nobody gets the truth.
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9 thoughts on “Weight Loss – The Credit Thief”
I suspect the people who become more confident when they lose weight is because they are achieving their goal (even if their goal is weight loss) rather than the weight loss itself. I know I become more confident when I feel I have achieved something.
I’d like to note that the various liposuction/fat freezing/whatever commercials often hint that it will improve health. They don’t outright state it, but it is certainly implied. And if you go to the websites (as I did, trying to understand this fat freezing thin, which sounds horrid), they will outright state health benefits.
I’m at the point you mention at the end of this post: having given up on weight loss and also having given up on everything else. I saw that every time I had a goal, weight loss snuck in there, like thinking “I wonder if I would enjoy taking up swimming (and maybe that will make me lose weight)…” or “Getting back to Pilates would probably improve my strength (and maybe I would lose weight)…” I didn’t want that to be my reality, so I just stopped everything. But I feel stuck and unhappy and I don’t know how to move on. I wonder if you might address that in the future?
AND it doesn’t help when you do take up an activity and someone brings weight loss into it.
I’m just going by your comment, but would it help to set specific goals in the things you want to do, like “I would like to be able to swim six laps, then eight laps” and focus on how you can get to the goals of being able to do the thing? And when those thoughts creep in, talking to them like “And it doesn’t matter if I lose weight, Barbara, I’m perfect the way I am.”
“The story we get is the weight loss leads to greater health, but back it up a minute.”
I’ve been recently running through a very similar train of thought in my head. Basically, every time a doctor (or anyone else really) decides to tell me what I’m at an increased risk of, due to obesity, I’m going to turn the discussions to how many of these conditions actually lead to an increased risk of obesity. For example..
Them: You know, being obese puts you at a higher risk for sleep apnea.
Me: And how much do you think having sleep apnea increases your risk of obesity? After all, I’ve had sleep apnea since I was a teen, before I was technically obese. And multiple studies have shown a causative effect between lack of sleep and imbalances of leptin and ghrelin, which causes issues with appetite control and feeling satiated, all of which leads to an increased risk of both obesity and diabetes, independent from one another.
I’m getting really tired of people treating my fat as a cause of anything, when it just about every case, it’s a symptom of something else. And I’m really getting tired of them ignoring the difference between correlation and causation. It seems that every study that claims obesity causes an increased risk of something, ignores that something else entirely is the real cause of both the obesity and the other condition. It’s basically just another form of victim blaming. My mobility issues are my own fault, because I’m not active enough, so my fat makes it harder to move – but the fact that I’ve had chronic pain my whole life is ignored in such discussions? It’s bullshit and I’m quite done listening to it.
I was always seen as the “bigger dancer” it pained me because all I wanted was acceptance… Partly led to my eating disorder sadly. Now I’m curvy and learning to accept myself
I like to read (a magazine from a popular weight loss company) to spot the logical falsehoods, as a fun mental exercise.
In every issue they have an article which starts out describing how when the person was overweight their family criticised them all the time, they didn’t exercise, they ate unhealthily, they didn’t go out for fear of how they look, they had no friends, they sat at home and felt depressed. Then, they joined the weight loss program.
Now the article describes their new life: how they meet up regularly with people similar to them who listen to them and empathise with their problems and offer them support and encouragement, they find new hobbies in the exercise and sports they’ve taken up, they develop their cooking skills and try new things and feel a sense of pride, they make new friends, their family stops harassing them all the time. And then it finishes with how weightloss has made their life so much better.
OR MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, it was the connecting with people and the hobbies and the sense of achievement and the getting out of the house and the friends and the people not being horribly mean to you all the time about your appearance, and maybe even the exercise and diet changes? Maybe those things made their life better.
I read a popular checkout magazine aimed at women partly for recipes and cake decorating ideas, but also because they have a Super Duper Bestest New Diet Ever every single week. I estimate that almost half the time, the diets actually help! But while the real news is that somebody is no longer diabetic, has attained normal blood pressure, etc., those are just dropped in as fringe benefits. The real selling point of the diet is that the person is now skinny. Likewise, if exercise is recommended as part of the plan, the fact that this former couch potato finished a marathon while she was still fat because of the exercise part of her lifestyle change is a matter for her “before” picture. The marathon doesn’t count, because fat. Only the thinness counts. Is she perhaps now so thin that she doesn’t have the reserves necessary to finish another marathon? Who cares?
So I have to wonder–when the pounds return, as they inevitably will, is the person profiled in the article going to give up on the practices that actually made them healthier, because they’re fat again?
And what kind of screwed up world is it where (for example) there’s a diet that apparently CURES DIABETES but it’s not recommended to diabetics unless they’re fat?!