1. Every dieter (including the me of yesteryear) who hears the “95% of diets don’t work” statistic,* thinks, “Well, I’ll just have to be in the 5%, then!”
And what they really mean by that is, “I will be in the 100% of people who take it seriously and try hard and never give up.” Because they assume 95% of dieters were not also in that category, were not that dedicated and vigilant, did not try hard enough.
That’s a bad assumption.
2. Bodies change as they age. They become creakier, achier, and less tolerant of our whims. I can already see it happening at 32; my 46-year-old sister assures me I have no idea; and our 72-year-old father would love for his body to work as well as either of ours. All three of us are healthy, but bodies change as they age.
The older you get as a fat person, the more you might think you’d feel better if you weren’t so fat. You also might think you’d feel better if you weren’t so old. But you can’t wish either one away. Permanent weight loss does not magically become possible because your priorities shift from being conventionally attractive to feeling better. Your body is not just biding its time until you have a really good reason to lose weight. Your body is just fat. The real you is fat. Fat can come to seem like a frustrating limitation as you age, but that doesn’t make it a skin you can decide to shed because you’d really prefer to live without it, thanks. It’s still you. And dieting still doesn’t work.
Look for an upcoming post by Sweet Machine to explore that topic with more nuance.
3. There are exceptions to every rule. A lot of the arguments against my blanket anti-dieting stance have amounted to, “But I have a really good reason for dieting and still want to be a fat acceptance activist!” Generally, my response to that is A) see point 2, and B) go right ahead; I have no authority to stop you. But I still don’t personally think dieting and fat acceptance are philosophically compatible — and if I’m going to be involved in any organized fat acceptance movement, I’m going to push for that group to have an official anti-dieting statement and No Diet Talk policy. Nobody has to join that particular branch of the movement if they believe their right to lose weight must be validated by anyone they work with.
But there have been a couple of stories I’ve found really compelling, even if they don’t change my general position on dieting. A general position is just that: it covers a lot of territory, but not every square inch of the whole world. I don’t believe exceptions necessarily disprove rules; I believe they are exceptional situations. But some of them are worth taking a closer look at.
I’ve received a lot of criticism over the last few days, but the majority of it has been based on false premises (most often, that permanent weight loss is a choice) and/or on personal experiences that may or may not be genuine exceptions to the rule, but in any case, do not disprove it. Since I said in my very first post that I was not talking about my personal reaction to individuals who are dieting, and since I believe there is currently no compelling evidence whatsoever that deliberate long-term weight loss is possible for most people, that kind of criticism didn’t bother me much.
The criticism that got under my skin, because it was accurate and meaningful, is that this discussion — among others on my blog — excludes the extremely fat. As in, those who have serious health problems and physical limitations directly related to their fat (and without wanting to diminish the seriousness of chronic pain, I’m not just talking about aching joints here).
When I specifically mention extremely fat people in my writing, it’s most often in passing and as a counterpoint to the majority of fat people, whose fat does not preclude the possibility of being healthy and active. This is the consequence of my having two primary agendas when writing about fat acceptance: 1) to spread the word that fat does not automatically equal unhealthy, and 2) to advocate for the rights of ALL fat people, regardless of size, age, health, disability, etc. The two overlap substantially, but sometimes, a focus on one can eclipse the other. One of the most frequent arguments against “Fat does not automatically equal unhealthy” is “BUT WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WEIGH 500/700/900/ELEVENTY BILLION POUNDS?” To which I usually respond by pointing out that people whose fat constitutes an actual disability are a very small percentage of the population, and once again, exceptions do not disprove the general rule.
But there is a difference between acknowledging that a certain group of people is too small to change what I say about a larger group of people, and actively marginalizing that smaller group. And I’m not sure I work hard enough to keep those two things distinct. I am not only interested in the rights of smaller fat people, healthy fat people, or fat people who eat their veggies and work out. I am interested in the rights of ALL fat people. And that means I can’t continually keep some fat people in a box called “exceptions to the rule,” while giving lipservice to fully including them in the conversation.
So I want to be more inclusive of extremely fat people, without muddying the point that they are a small percentage of the population — a fact that goes overlooked in too many discussions of fat and health. That’s an awfully tricky tightrope to walk, but there’s really no alternative to working harder on my balance here, because the last fucking thing I want to do as a fat acceptance advocate is exclude people for being too fat.
Someday soon, you’ll see at least one guest post on Shapely Prose from a woman who weighs over 500 lbs., has severe physical limitations because of it, and has made the agonizing decision to have weight loss surgery. As a rule, I still hate the whole concept of WLS. (So does she, as I understand it.) But this woman’s story is frustrating, maddening, heartbreaking; I can’t say the rule applies to her, because I’ve heard that story, and what it comes down to is, fuck if I’ve got a better idea. Fuck if anyone does.
I think it’s incredibly important to hear stories like that. For one thing, no matter how small a percentage of the population the extremely fat may be, that’s still a whole lot of individuals struggling with fat-related issues many of us rarely think about. A whole lot of people who are more than an easily ignored statistic; people I’d like to see participating more in the conversations at this blog, other blogs, and in the movement in general.
For another thing, the extremes do often have much to teach us about the middle. But that still doesn’t mean they disprove general rules that apply to the middle. I haven’t relaxed my general position on WLS — much less WLD — because of this woman’s story, or any similar ones. But it’s one reason why I made a distinction between my political stance and my personal response to individuals in the original anti-dieting screed. Individuals are always more complicated and interesting than general rules; but I think general rules are absolutely necessary when you’re thinking about getting out a basic message that contradicts the one coming from a zillion other sources.
My blogging has always dealt with both individual experiences and more general stuff. I’m a big fan of extrapolating larger truths from relatively narrow experiences. But sometimes, that’s a trap. Sometimes, an anecdote is just an anecdote. And sometimes, the larger truths that can be extrapolated from an anecdote are not the ones the person telling it thinks they are.
And there’s no general rule for figuring out what’s what, except to think critically and do your best.
Yesterday, a person I really respect accused me of being “cagey.” I guess I can see how one could arrive at that conclusion, but it’s certainly not as if I’m deliberately trying to obfuscate my own message. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s just that the message I’m trying to get out here is complicated, manifold, thorny. It deals with individuals and it deals with faceless statistics. It deals with facts and feelings. It deals with political activism and self-acceptance. It deals with people.
I’m thinking critically and doing my best. And I’m still anti-dieting, as a rule. That’s all I can tell you.
*Some dispute the 95% statistic, but no one has yet shown that anything less than the vast majority of diets result in regain of all weight lost within five years.