Ask Aunt Fattie: What if I never stop gaining weight?

Dear Aunt Fattie,

I am deeply afraid I will never stop gaining weight.

I am 25 years old and 250 pounds. When I was 15 I was 150 pounds. Throughout my life I’ve averaged a gain of 10 pounds per year. Sometimes that has slowed down or sped up, but it always averages out. I have never successfully lost any significant amount of weight, even after 9 months of anorexic behavior that landed me in the hospital with severe hypoglycemia and malnutrition. The fact that diets have never ever worked for me, even in the short term, has made it really easy to give up dieting and in the past 6 years my eating habits and overall relationship with food has more or less normalized. I love fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats, and although my hypoglycemia means I have to eat frequently, it also makes it very easy to maintain a balanced diet–if I’ve had too much sugar and not enough protein, or too much fat and not enough greens, I feel it immediately. Although I don’t do much in the way of deliberate exercise, I am a full-time pedestrian and walk everywhere, often while hauling several dozen pounds of books or groceries. I also have a very active food-service job that keeps me moving and on my feet for 20-40 hours a week. In other words, although I could always do more, I feel like I am living a lifestyle that is consistent with HAES.

I am satisfied with my lifestyle and how healthy it makes me feel most of the time. But every time I go up yet another size in my jeans, I get afraid. I no longer believe that fat is bad, or ugly, or dangerous, but I feel like there must be something wrong with me. Shouldn’t my weight at least be stabilizing? Or maybe fluctuating? It can’t possibly be normal just to gain and gain with no end in sight while leading an objectively healthy lifestyle, can it?

I have started to believe that there must be something medically wrong with me. Perhaps whatever it is that makes my body so resistant to weight loss is the same thing that makes me continue to gain weight. But I am so afraid to seek medical treatment, especially about something directly involving my weight. I know all a doctor is going to do is tell me I must be lying about my lifestyle and send me out the door with directions to the nearest Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Hell, I had doctors trying to “help” me lose weight while I was in the hospital for malnutrition. You’ll have to forgive me if my trust threshold for medical professionals is pretty low. I don’t want to fall into the diet trap again– it’s futile and miserable and crazy-making–and I certainly don’t need to be paying a doctor to lead me there.

And yet I’m afraid if I don’t seek help, and I continue to gain weight at this rate, I could end up wheelchair- or home-bound, possibly as young as 50 or 60. I am no longer willing to engage in self-destructive behavior for the hope of weight loss, but I am also unwilling to resign myself to a compromised quality of life. I am starting to feel both helpless and hopeless. Please Aunt Fattie, what do I do?

- Scared and Gaining

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Introducing Aunt Fattie

Editors’ note: We frequently get emails and blog comments in which readers ask for advice. The questions range from “how do I learn to love myself” through niceties of interpersonal and office politics. We’d been saying for a while that we should start a regular advice column feature to address our readers’ needs, but the below question was so poignant and universal that it finally got us off our fat asses. And so we present the first installment of “Ask Aunt Fattie.”

If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatphobia, fatshion, and fatiquette, send them to auntfattie@gmail.com.

Dear Aunt Fattie,

I am in dire, dire need of help. Before I start, I’ve been reading FA blogs for about a year now, practicing HAES, exercising more, elevating self esteem, etc. I thought I was finally happy…

…until just now, when I had a bath. My mum was there, showing me where the candles and bubble bath was, when she asked me to weigh myself. I stepped on the scales; it was 99.3 kilos [219 pounds]. I’m 14 and 167cm [about 5’5”].

She said “oh, you’ve put on a bit” – from 96 at the end of last year. I don’t really remember what happened next, but she launched into a lecture, which I was crying all the way through.

I really don’t know what to do. She’s been on my case for years and years. The lecture can be translated as “You will have health problems unless you lose weight. I want you to because I love you.” She thought I was crying not because of her torrent of abuse, but because I never thought I could lose weight and that made me desperate. She rattled off a list of friends and family who were trying to lost weight. She even said “Every five kilos you lose you can do something really fun, like a reward.”

Now that you know my situation, I need help. Any way – comforting words, studies I could show my mother, just help. And the scariest thing is that it’s fucking tempting to give in and try and lose weight. Acceptance! Rewards! No more fights! There’s even a kid at my school who constantly calls me fat, and even said he could catch diabetes off me because I’m a “bit overweight”. I wouldn’t miss that.

But I don’t want to lose myself in losing weight. I’m between a rock and a hard place here.

- Non-Dieting Daughter

Aunt Fattie’s response below the fold…

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Good, Bad, Straw

Did I miss something? ‘Cause there’s all this “good fatties/bad fatties” talk going on in the old ‘osphere right now, and I do think these conversations can be useful and important… but I’m just not sure where they came from. I don’t know of any fat blogger or fat acceptance activist who believes that only those who practice HAES deserve dignity, respect, and rights, or that deliberately focusing on your health (as a fat or thin person) makes you better than someone who doesn’t. I know of one person who advocated treating people with eating disorders differently from “normal fatties,” and she was shouted down and then flounced away pretty damn quick; other than that, at least among the fat blogs, I’ve seen nothing of the sort.

Fat people with eating disorders have different issues than those of us without — to wit, eating disorders. But we are all bloody well fat, all human, and all deserving of respect. During my time in the movement, I’ve never heard anyone say otherwise, which is why I find the current rash of good fatty/bad fatty talk — like the “lavender menace” article in Bitch before it — pretty baffling. It seems to me this notion of the “good” fatty who practices HAES impeccably (as if there is such a thing, given that HAES is not about following any set of rules) and then smugly demands respect for being morally superior to a “bad” fatty… well, that’s nothing but a straw fatty.

It’s important to be mindful of not letting that straw fatty become a real one, when the reality is that society is much more willing to accept a fat person who exercises than one who doesn’t — and more willing still to accept a person who’s trying to lose weight. In our efforts to find wider acceptance for fat people, it could be tempting to say, “Okay, well, they’re ready to accept the ‘good’ fatties a little now, so the rest of you wait over there, and those of us with normal blood pressure and no eating disorders will come back for you later.” Anyone who’s worked in any social justice movement is familiar with that pitfall and why it must be avoided. Those who hew most closely to the dominant group’s values (and/or appearance) are always the first candidates for “acceptability” — but taking that offer of acceptance while selling out those who are further away from the dominant group only reinforces the very values you’re trying to dismantle. That’s social justice 101.

But somehow, the many, many conversations about avoiding that around here seem to have bodied forth the Straw Good Fatty, and now we’re acting as if she’s a real enemy. She’s not. Not yet, at least — and hopefully, she never will be. The enemy is and always will be a culture that hates fat people — no matter what we eat, how often we exercise, or what sizes we wear.

Call for Submissions: New and Improved BMI Project

Exciting news, y’all: I’ve been contacted by a national magazine that wants to take the BMI Project to their pages. Whee!

Instead of trying to track down people in the existing Flickr stream, I’m asking everybody who’s interested in participating in this round — whether you were in the first one or not — to e-mail them directly. (Also, if you’ve sent me a photo in the last few months and haven’t seen it go up, please know that you weren’t rejected or anything; I just haven’t posted any new ones because I’ve been insanely busy with other stuff. So if you’d like to see your picture in a magazine, please feel free to send it along!)

One caveat: this is, like virtually every national magazine aimed primarily at women, the kind of publication that runs some articles on dieting and takes ads from companies you might not like. They also do some good body-positive stuff, and I’m freakin’ thrilled that they want to feature the BMI project. I’m excited to work with them, and I hope lots of you will submit your photos and stories — but I just want to be clear that we’re not talking about Bust or Bitch here. If you’re philosophically opposed to even appearing in the same magazine as an ad for a weight loss product, you won’t want to participate.

Now on to the request from the editor. If you’re a healthy person with a BMI in the overweight or obese category, please send the following info to articlehelp@gmail.com.

Name
Age
Height
Weight
BMI
(you can calculate it here)
Waist-to-hip ratio (you can calculate it here)
Full body photo:
Email address:
Phone number:
ALSO:
Please feel free to write a little something about why you think you’re a healthy and/or fit person regardless of your BMI. For instance, do you run daily or do you have stellar cholesterol and blood pressure numbers? Tell us!

If you have any questions for me about this, put ‘em in comments. (Well, any questions other than “Which magazine?” ’cause that’s SUPERSECRET MWAHAHAHAHA.) Thanks, lovelies.

Update to address some concerns:

1) They do not have some nefarious secret agenda here. The reason I can’t reveal the magazine’s name is a simple matter of not letting their competitors know what they’re working on.

2) They will not publish any photo without permission — which means they also will not publish any photo until they’ve talked to you and told you exactly who they are.

3) They love the BMI project, they get it, and they want to use these photos exactly the same way I did: to illustrate how deeply flawed BMI is. I have no reason to think the article will be exploitive, or I never would have agreed to work with them.

3) You’re the best judge of how healthy you are. If you think you’re healthy, and yet you’re in one of the “fat” BMI ranges we’re told is intrinsically unhealthy, then there’s no reason not to send a photo. You may or may not be asked to participate, but they’d like a wide pool of submissions to select from.

Having said that, the purpose of this article is stereotype-busting — so yes, if you’re an athlete or your doctor is wetting her pants over your blood pressure reading, that will probably make them more likely to take an interest in you. But they’re not asking for perfection here — anyone who makes an effort to practice HAES, feels pretty good, and doesn’t appear to be at death’s door in photos should go ahead and submit a pic, if you’re interested.

4) Size of pic doesn’t matter — right now, they just want to see what you look like. If they want to include you in the article, they’ll contact you with specs.

5) Deadline is 2 weeks from today.

Be Comfortable in Your Genes

I’ve been remiss in not mentioning National Eating Disorders Awareness Week yet (and in not posting much this week at all). But hey, it’s only hump day — still plenty of week left.

The theme this year, which I absolutely love, is “Be Comfortable in Your Genes.

Brilliant. And not just because they’ve tied it into a 20% discount at True Jeans, an online retailer that asks about your measurements, style preferences, and body type, then tells you which brands of jeans will fit you best and sells them to you. (Of course, they recommend Svoboda jeans for me, which are out of my price range, not to mention too long, but the concept is great.)

Wait, I’m sorry, were we talking about something besides clothes?

Oh, right, eating disorders. They’re way less fun to talk about. But we bloody well need to be talking about them, because the line between disordered eating and what’s promoted as “healthy” eating grows ever slimmer (pun intended). The Department of Health and Human Services’s “Small Step” campaign, for instance, is ostensibly about helping people make little, sustainable lifestyle changes to improve their health. Awesome! Finally, the government promotes Health at Every Size! Except, wait. Those “small, sustainable” steps include things like, “Don’t eat a portion bigger than your fist” and “Eat your meals at home on a smaller plate” to fool yourself into thinking you’ve eaten more, and my personal favorite, “When dining out, order a light appetizer instead of an entree.”

This is what the government is telling us to do to be “healthier.” Eat a “light appetizer” instead of an entree — because of course ONLY GRODY FATTIES EAT FULL MEALS!! And let’s not think about the fact that only eating portions smaller than my fist would mean I couldn’t eat an entire apple, orange, pear, bell pepper, tomato, or cut-up carrot in one sitting. My tiny fist is equal to about 1 tangerine, 3 brussels sprouts, or 2 good-sized broccoli florets. If I never ate anything bigger than my fist, I would be FUCKING STARVING ALL THE TIME — but hey, since I’m fat, that’s not a problem. That’s the point.

I mean, many among us will recognize those “small steps” as hoary old diet tips, and some will even recognize them as the sort of helpful advice that circulates on pro-ana sites. But when it comes from the government, it is totally not about weight loss at any cost, even if it means disordered eating! It’s about OUR HEALTH.

Yeah.

Eating until you’re satisfied is bad for your health. Ordering an actual meal is bad for your health. Downing a WHOLE APPLE in one sitting is bad for your health. As long as you remember those things, you will be healthy, and once you get healthy enough, you will be able to wear “a bikini that challenges some obscenity laws.

This is how it works.

And this is why we need a National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Among about a billion other reasons.

Some other recommended reading this week…

Harriet Brown: “Anorexia: a portrait” (trigger warning)

Paul Campos: The weight of a cruel culture

Rachel: An eating disorder by any other name

The Rotund: Intuitive Eating Primer

Take care of yourselves, Shapelings. Cheers to those currently recovering from eating disorders — and love to those still fighting them.

The scientific cherry orchard

Kate’s stepmom is not the only one who thinks that the FA movement is about “the opposite of science.” I can’t count the number of times we’ve been accused of cherry-picking the studies that agree with us, and rejecting the ones that don’t. And I’ve got one thing to say to that: Well, duh.

Guess what: we all cherry-pick. Scientific research, especially when you move into the “softer” sciences, yields masses of complex, sometimes contradictory information. Studies aren’t always designed well, and they aren’t always completely thought through or even fully finished (did you know physicists refer to PNAS as “Premature News About Science”? I just found this out). And even a beautifully designed study risks running up against a previously unconsidered confounding factor. As my dad always says, it’s fruitless to wait for a “killer study” that clarifies everything in one fell swoop; we achieve clarity, or at least sense, by sifting through the morass of imperfect research using the best tools at our disposal. In other words, we cherry-pick.

As a really exaggerated example, I reject any study that finds evidence for extra-sensory perception. I believe that if you scratch pro-ESP research findings, you’ll find bias and criminally poor methodology. Just because that research exists doesn’t mean that I need to incorporate it into my outlook. Certainly it’s scientifically valid to just do indiscriminately huge amounts of research on whatever is around and hope it gets you closer to the truth — replicating others’ research, using past results to inform new studies, and trying out new models and methods all help with this. (This is actually — sorry to those of you with romanticized ideas — pretty much how science really happens. It’s messy and kind of haphazard.) The brute-force approach comes recommended by Francis Bacon, so that’s a point in its favor, and on the whole I think it works fairly well. But part of what you have to do, in order to avoid drowning in results, is use your existing knowledge to filter and structure your findings. In other words, we cherry-pick.

So yes, I don’t give a lot of credence to the studies that say fat, in and of itself, is a killing word. Meanwhile, the people who believe that fat is behavior-based are forced to ignore studies about confounding factors like genetics, gut flora, and metabolism changes from dieting, not to mention studies showing that eating can’t make naturally thin people permanently fat. People who think diets work ignore studies on HAES and the metabolic and psychological effects of starvation (in that study, “starvation” means up to twice the caloric intake of some doctor-recommended diets). People who think fat will kill you also have to ignore HAES studies, not to mention new research showing that certain behaviors are salutary no matter your weight, that a higher BMI may have a protective effect, and that people who worry about fat are at least self-reportedly less healthy than people — even fat people — who don’t. People who want us to think about the children ignore studies about the real effects of diet culture on children, both their mental health and their weight. In other words, they cherry-pick like CRAZY.

No real difference, except that the studies I disagree with get much more airtime, analysis, and hyperenthusiastic media commentary. Well, and except that the studies I choose to discredit generally have serious methodological flaws, like assuming that fat is coextensive with overeating and sedentary lifestyle, or failing to take into account the effects of dieting, or failing to control for comorbidities that could cause both obesity and ill health. All studies have flaws, but I think it’s pretty major for someone to hang an argument like “fat is caused by unhealthy behaviors” on a model that assumes all fat people have unhealthy behaviors, or to point to the deadliness of fat without considering that the fat subjects’ history of dieting might be more dangerous than weight alone. And even more importantly, the studies I choose to discredit are generally either conducted or sponsored by groups with a vested interest in the results — anti-obesity crusaders, bariatric surgeons, pharmaceutical companies. Fat is big business, and I find big business-funded research to be less trustworthy.

I certainly don’t think that, if we did have a Killer Study, it would find that it’s on the whole healthier to be fat than thin. I actually don’t think that body size, in and of itself, would turn out to be a health risk. Honestly, here’s what I think it would find: that death is inevitable regardless of your habits; that certain habits contribute to greater quality of life, no matter your size; that the degree to which you engage in these habits matters somewhat, but that you can have too much of a good thing; that these habits are practically worthless if you don’t take pleasure in them and look after your psychological well-being; that the human metabolism is complicated and affected by many factors; and that the existing correlation between fat and ill health, or between fat and poor habits, is explained by an overarching causal relationship between dieting, poor habits, fat, and ill health. (In other words, that people who restrict their eating are more likely to be heavier than they otherwise would be, more likely to be in poorer health, and more likely to have a troubled relationship with food and activity, and moreover that dieting causes these things rather than merely being related.)

That’s just my hypothesis, and it’ll remain a hypothesis, because there is no Killer Study. But it’s as consistent with research data as the hypothesis that eating and inactivity cause fat, that all fat people overeat and are inactive, that being thin is simply a matter of willpower, and that food restriction is the answer. In fact, given recent studies that challenge established hypotheses about fat, it may already be more consistent. And it doesn’t require me to actively ignore any studies — it’s not as though I think that research showing that fat is unhealthy never happened, I just think it failed to consider crucially important factors.

I’m proud to say I engage in educated cherry-picking. I’m only peripherally a scientist, but I know a fair bit about biology, I’ve looked at a reasonable amount of research, and I’ve developed an understanding of the issue that is not only consistent, but allows me to both engage in and promote physical and mental health. Sure, if I focused on those studies that the media promotes, I could come up with a different (and, I believe, less consistent) interpretation that said I was doomed to poor health and early death unless I exercised constantly-increasing vigilance, plus that I was probably secretly a compulsive eater and a liar. But that one doesn’t make sense with my experience, and it doesn’t makes sense with the experiences of people I know. And it doesn’t sound like any way to live.

If you come up with a Killer Study proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that my adipose tissue comes from my constant invisible donut binges and will kill me despite my cholesterol, then please, be my guest. Until then, I’m laughing all the way to the data bank.

Intuitive Eating Case Study: My Last Three Meals

Last week, a reporter who was trying to get her head around the concept of Health at Every Size asked me, “So… what do you eat?”

Food, mostly. Tree bark and car parts are much harder for the human body to digest. Next question?

Smartassitude aside, I actually get questions like this a lot from readers — and usually, what they really mean is, “What am I allowed to eat to uphold my Good Fatty status?”

The answer is the same: food. But since I’m still learning intuitive eating as I go along, and I know how weird and… well, counterintuitive it can seem at first, let me tell you about the last 24 hours.

Yesterday, I had a photographer coming over in the late morning to take pictures of me for the article the aforementioned reporter was working on. This meant that I spent the early morning frantically tidying, selecting an outfit, and fucking with my hair. And I forgot to eat. Then the reporter was a bit late, and the shoot took a bit longer than I expected. So there I was at like 1 p.m. with no food in my belly, and I was fucking starving.

Al asked what I wanted for lunch, and I immediately said, “Hot dogs.” Plural. No question. At that moment, I felt like I wanted to eat about 10 of them, and I ended up ordering 2 at the restaurant we went to, which is unusual for me. Fries weren’t even on my radar — I just wanted dense, fatty meat like nobody’s business.

Why? Because I was hungry. Because my body was screaming for something that would fill me up as fast as possible.

Last night, I had plans to cook dinner, but then Al felt like going out. So we went to a restaurant that’s fast becoming one of our favorites. I looked over the menu, which includes steak, burgers, pulled pork, and pumpkin ravioli with sage and dates in brown butter sauce that is so fucking good, I can’t even tell you. (Not to mention the caramel apple bread pudding on the dessert menu, OH MY GOD.) I like all of those things. A lot. But what caught my eye last night was the tilapia with spinach and roast fingerling potatoes.

I’d never ordered it before, and I was really tempted to relive one of the yummy meals I’d had there in the past — the aforementioned ravioli, or another ravioli dish with vodka tomato cream sauce that was on special, or a huge bowl of corn poblano chowder, or the warm poached pear stuffed with blue cheese, alongside a big basket of fresh bread dipped in olive oil… But as I was considering all those things, I couldn’t get the tilapia out of my head, which told me that was what I really wanted. (Well, that and the bread, which is half the reason we go there.)

Logically, choosing what you really want from a menu ain’t rocket science, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point been paralyzed with indecision while a waiter stood around tapping his foot. For me, indecision is part of going out as often as not, and it’s always for one of two reasons: 1) I’m hungry and 10 different things sound good to me, or 2) I’m trying to talk myself into the “good” thing and out of the “bad” thing, having an internal battle that goes, “I know intellectually that I really love this particular salad, and it will totally fill me up, but… BURGERBURGERBURGER.”

A big part of learning to eat intuitively has been learning to leave my intellect out of it and just order the goddamned burger, because I know I’ll mourn the loss of it if I get the salad. It’s fucking stupid, this mourning of food I could get any time, but then, that’s why I’ve been training myself to just go ahead and order it — to reinforce the idea that yes, I can have this any time, because I am a freakin’ grown up, and no one is going to burn me at the stake for eating a high-calorie meal. (Yet.) And the more I believe that, the more I find myself naturally and truly drawn to a wide variety of foods, instead of having the BURGERBURGERBURGER voices drown everything else out whenever I sit down at a restaurant. That’s the damn point of intuitive eating — but it’s also why it’s trickier than it seems.

So, after way too much consideration, I ordered the tilapia, ’cause it was what I really wanted. And like everything else I’ve had there, OMG, so good. Fish was beautifully done, beurre blanc was awesome, and the very lemony spinach was so yum I wish they’d given me twice as much of it. (I should have asked and might next time, actually. I’ve told this story somewhere on the blog before, but this is also the restaurant where I once ordered the smoked chicken, apple, grape, pecan, etc., salad, and only ate about 2 bites of the chicken, because I was really just into the rest of it. The waiter said, “You left the best part!” and I said, “Ehh, I wasn’t really in a chicken mood tonight, but I could have eaten like 9 more apples.” Then I went to the bathroom and when I came back, there was a plate of sliced apple on the table, compliments of the waiter. LOVE. Also, there’s intuitive eating in action for you — most likely, I hadn’t had enough fruit in the day or two before that, so I became obsessed with the apples and grapes and couldn’t give a shit about the “best part.”)

Then it came time to look at the dessert menu, and Al and I both decided to look, because their desserts are so damn good. But upon looking, we both realized, whaddaya know, we just weren’t hungry anymore. The caramel apple bread pudding sounded good — ’cause it always sounds good — but we just weren’t feeling dessert. I was, however, feeling port. At first, I ordered the Taylor 10-year but was told they only had Cockburn 10-year. I was about to take that, and it totally would have been fine, but then Al said, “For god’s sake, just get the Graham 20. You know you love that.”

Good point. But the Graham 20 was 12 freakin’ dollars a glass, so I hadn’t even let myself consider it. Which is just idiotic, because the 10-year was $10, and if I’m going to pay more for a glass of port than I did for my entire lunch, what’s 2 bucks? But this is the kind of thing I do to myself so often when looking at menus: I immediately identify the thing I really want but feel too guilty to order it — either because it’s obscenely expensive or obscenely calorific — so I try to find something that’s good enough instead. Truth was, the Graham 20 was what I really wanted from the get-go. But I couldn’t order it until Al explicitly gave me permission. (Which means I probably shouldn’t be so hard on those friends who try to dragoon me into splitting dessert with them when I’m not hungry; it’s not like I don’t have my own hang-ups about what I’m allowed to consume and how and when.)

That meal cost a bundle, but it was awesome, and it was exactly what I wanted, start to finish. I am still new enough to this intuitive eating shit to be surprised and pleased when that happens just like it’s supposed to.

So that was last night. This morning, I woke up to a much more normal day — made coffee, puttered, got hungry, and had some oatmeal with dried blueberries and cranberries. Normal morning, normal food, yummy but not anything special. Now, it’s almost time for lunch, and I’m thinking about what I want. Most likely, it’s gonna be tomato soup and a salad with sliced green apple and blue cheese vinaigrette, as that’s what I have in the house that sounds best to me right now. And you know what really doesn’t sound good today? Hot dogs. Especially not 2 hot dogs with everything but tomatoes AS FAST AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY MAKE THEM, PLEASE. Because I had breakfast and am therefore not so hungry I could eat Crisco out of the can.*

So, there’s a snapshot of what I eat. Food. Whatever sounds good to me for any number of reasons — I’m fucking starving; I haven’t had fish in a while; I love the combination of citrus and spinach; oatmeal will fill me up without much effort; there’s tomato soup in the fridge, etc. Food. Just food. And I eat however much it takes to satisfy me at a given moment.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Except for the part where it isn’t at all, when it comes after 30 years of being taught that my actual desires will inevitably steer me wrong, so I must apply some external set of rules to my food choices or suffer the consequences (e.g., guilt, shame, a fat ass, “loss of boyfriend,” and an early death).

This is also why, when pressed to describe what I promote here — usually as a counterpoint to someone’s assumption that I promote sitting on your ass eating donuts all day — I try to remember to say something like a “balanced” or “varied” diet, rather than a “healthy” diet. Or worse yet, a “good” diet. For the umpteenth and nowhere near last time, eating is a morally neutral act. I mean, if you want to talk to me about animal rights, or supporting small farmers, or boycotting irresponsible corporations, or minimizing environmental damage, then sure, we can discuss food in moral terms. It makes sense in those contexts. But the morality of your diet has jack shit to do with how many calories you consumed or how many chocolates you didn’t eat in a given day, all right? Depriving yourself does not make you a better person, and eating what you feel like eating does not make you weak. (Hear that, India Knight?)

And most importantly, occasionally having 2 hot dogs for lunch does not make your diet unbalanced. Having hot dogs 3 meals a day would. So would having spinach 3 meals a day. But eating a wide variety of foods as your body demands them is the very definition of a balanced diet. Being terrified of certain foods (unless your body actually reacts poorly to them) and ascribing imaginary virtue to others is a recipe for an unbalanced diet. Thinking only in terms of how many calories you’re consuming in a given day is, too. Ditto letting yourself get so hungry you’re well past the point of hearing anything from your body other than “FOOD. LOTS. NOW.” — which not only is why I snarfed those hot dogs yesterday but just might be why so many people on diets assume that if they ever let up, they’d immediately go eat a pound of bacon in one sitting and wash it down with a whole chocolate cake. Ya think?

And for my money, a balanced/varied diet IS a healthy diet — I just try not to use that phrase, because it’s most often used as code for “diet that makes you thin.” Which, as we all know, is often not a diet that’s actually good for your body. I mean, I could be wrong, and science could someday prove that eating nothing but Sweet Tarts is the path to optimum health. But as things are right now, I think listening to my body is the best shot I’ve got at giving it what it needs.

I eat food. I recommend that everyone do the same. The end.

*Dear Trolls, this is what’s known as EXAGGERATING FOR HUMOROUS EFFECT.

Express micro-news!

You guys, it’s such a total paranoid conspiracy theory that diet and pharmaceutical companies have ANYTHING to do with the obesity hysteria.

I mean, if that were true, wouldn’t they be bringing in just TONS more money these days?

(Via Unapologetically Fat.)

Also, the Duh Truck has visited again for another shipment. Turns out the moral panic about obesity is actually not improving our general well-being, and may actually be doing a lot more harm than good. OH MY GOD MY MIND IS BLOWN.

(My fave part is the doctor saying “It has long been recognized that ‘fat’ does not necessarily equal unhealthy.” My god, what are we even doing here? Everybody already knows that fat isn’t the same as unhealthy! I wonder when all these trolls I’ve been deleting and commenters on the articles we link to and contributors on news shows and pharma-funded researchers and op-ed writers and our friends and family and the rest of the doctors are going to catch up.)

(Via Big Fat Delicious.)

Sherlock speaks

When I originally saw this article, entitled “Healthy living ‘can add 14 years,’” I snorted my oatmeal. Come on, 14 years? That’s so incredibly arbitrary. So I assumed it was something about how if you happen to already be thin and you happen to be able to afford good health care and you happen to have the leisure time and disposable income to buy and prepare whole foods and spend hours in the gym, you will add a predetermined packet of time onto your life. Another article treating the human body as a predictable system whose functioning can be described with formulae, like “3500 calories equals a pound.”

Turns out, now that I read it, that it’s kind of the opposite of that. I’ll let the BBC explain:

Taking exercise, not drinking too much alcohol, eating enough fruit and vegetables and not smoking can add up to 14 years to your life, a study says.

Research involving 20,000 people over a decade found those who failed on all criteria were four times more likely to have died than those who succeeded.

The findings held true regardless of how overweight or poor they were.

Did you just have to back up and read that again? It’s no illusion: the claim is that these four factors help extend lifespan regardless of size. That they contributed to health at, if you will, every size. The study doesn’t seem to have looked at general healthiness — whether or not people were likely to feel awesome throughout their increased lifespans. But the “fat will kill youuuuuu” wail seems to come with an official asterisk now: “unless of course you are active and eat nutritive foods, behaviors that we associate with thin people, so we assume you don’t.”

Well, no shit, Sherlock. We know this; we kind of write a blog about it. Y’all know this. Still, I’m thrilled to see Health at Every Size getting some media facetime. I would have loved more discussion of how difficult it can be to achieve these four factors if you’re low-income and, to a lesser extent, if you’re fat — it’s all very well to say “get enough exercise and eat enough fruits and veg,” but if you can’t afford produce or gyms give you panic attacks or you have a condition that makes you unable to exercise and also makes you fat, it’s not so easy. But just having it out there — the idea that healthy things just might be healthy for all people — is huge. It means that thin people don’t have a monopoly on health, and it means that fat people don’t have an obligation to work harder. It’s major.

And it gets better. Real easy to say “get enough exercise” if you’re flush with leisure time and can spend hours working out, right? Check it:

This last category was defined as either having a sedentary occupation and taking half an hour of exercise a day, or simply having a non-sedentary job like a nurse or plumber.

That’s right, half an hour a day — less than most people think they need to be fit! — or a non-sedentary occupation. Turns out that the energy you expend and the muscle you build on the job actually counts as energy expenditure and muscle building. They don’t take it away from you when you punch out.

But here’s the part that’s really golden. Observe the graph the BBC provides of the study data. (Please be aware that this is almost certainly an idealized version of the data — it never looks this good. It’s not an accurate depiction of the data collected, but an approximation that presents the gist of the conclusion graphically.)

Do you see what I’m looking at? The people with four points (which is to say, they didn’t smoke, got enough vitamins, were not sedentary, and drank only in moderation — no more than seven glasses of wine a week!) clearly have the best outcomes. But they’re followed by the people who got three out of four, and then by the people who got two, and so forth.

Again, no shit, if you’ve been thinking this way for a while. If four things are healthy, presumably three of the four are also healthy — basic logic. But if you do think of the human body as a machine described by formulae, as most of the population does if you judge by the “calories in < calories out” crowd, you’re highly susceptible to the idea that there is a set of processes that are required for optimal functioning, and that those processes and those processes alone will make your machine run smoothly. A car won’t go if you put it in drive and start the motor but don’t have gas in it. Pressing “ctrl-alt” won’t bring up your task manager. So why would it make sense to imagine that you could be healthy with anything less than being thin AND eating well AND cardio AND weight training AND regular checkups AND not smoking AND teetotalling AND wheatgrass juice? (You’d think there would be some kind of segfault when people realize that “eating well,” if you accept all available information, ought to mean “not eating fat AND not eating carbs.” Somehow they seem to be able to choose in that situation, usually by totally ridiculing the other position.) I mean, I’m clearly exaggerating, but only barely. This is where we get the “everyone’s an expert” phenomenon, which in its more ludicrous incarnations will involve someone sincerely insisting that you can only lose weight if you also only eat carbs after protein, or eat 1913 calories a day, or only do low reps with high weight or high reps with low weight, or drink apple cider vinegar, or eat cantaloupe before every meal. (I swear I am still not making the last one up.) Sometimes, instead of assuming everything is additive, they’ll throw some things out — yes, you’ll lose weight and live forever if you eat celery and do 100 reps on the lat pull, but NOT if you then RUIN it by eating peanuts. Same deal, though: people want a formula for health, beauty, and immortality. Hell, even this article is presented as “do these four things and live fourteen more years.”

Thankfully, however, it turns out that humans aren’t completely mechanistic. That means that if you have chronic pain and can’t manage half an hour of exercise a day, it’s still good for you to eat fruits and vegetables. It’s even probably good for you to do, say, half an hour of exercise every other day, or half an hour a week. If you’re allergic to most kinds of fruit, it’s still good for you not to smoke. If you’re powerfully addicted to nicotine and not ready to kick it, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your health through moderate activity. And so forth. There are factors, but there’s no formula. You don’t doom yourself by skipping a step.

And that, my friends, is a fucking radical idea. No shit.