I’ve noticed a certain trend in the non-trollish dissenting viewpoints on fat acceptance. We all know how trolls operate — they’re wicked boring. It’s always “YOU are lazy and ugly” this and “YOU are destroying America” that. But the commenters I want to talk about are the ones who aren’t trolls, who aren’t lashing out, but who are still baffled and sometimes affronted by the idea of fat acceptance because it causes so much cognitive dissonance. These people tend to take on an “I” approach, rather than an attacking “you” approach, and their points frequently run something like this: I feel much better now than I did when I was fatter. I felt much better when I was thinner than I do now. I am fat and I know my body isn’t functioning properly because of it. If fat isn’t unhealthy, how do you explain the way I feel?
I would never tell somebody that they’re wrong about how their body feels or how it operates. Let’s get that out of the way right now. I don’t have the right to tell someone that they feel fine, any more than they have the right to tell me I don’t. But obviously I think we should discourage the scapegoating of fat as the main reason for people’s unwell feelings. For your consideration, I have a few other possible options.
One type of comment runs thus: I put on x number of pounds, and now my joints hurt. Well, sure — you have the muscle of a person x pounds lighter than you. It occurred to me yesterday at the gym, when I was doing quad presses, that I was hardly challenging myself by setting the machine to 110 pounds — as a 225-pound person, you could say that I lift that with each leg every goddamn day. Active fat people have to be strong enough to sling around a heavier body with ease. If you’re used to being lighter, it may take you time to adjust. The answer isn’t body negativity, starvation, and self-torture. It’s strength training, either concertedly or just by maintaining your activity level with your new body. Think of it as upping your weights.
Another type of comment goes I lost weight and now I feel better. This is pretty standard HAES. Many people seek to lose weight by eating vegetables where they would have eaten starches and sugars, or whole food instead of junk food. Many people take up an exercise program. These things won’t make you lose weight permanently, but they will make you feel awesome. The reverse is also true, and I say this as someone who just stupidly (for me) ate some sugar and had to skip the gym because of work constraints and now feels headachey and sluggish: the kind of habits that supposedly make you fat will genuinely make you logy. (Incidentally, this can turn into one bitch of a vicious cycle; when I skip the gym and feel sleepy, I always want to eat sugar or drink an enormous fancy coffee drink to counteract it, neither of which I can tolerate, which makes me even more tired and disinclined to go to the gym.) If you were x pounds and feeling like a sack of pudding, and now you’re x minus y pounds and ready to take over the world… are you sure it’s a matter of adipose tissue? Because it might have something more to do with nutrients and activity. (That’s good news, since it means you can keep the feeling when the weight comes back.) Basically, is it really about how your body is, or is it about what your body does?
(As a corollary to this one: It took me forEVER to figure out why I was always falling asleep in high school and college, basically blacking out even when I desperately wanted to stay awake. Not until this year did I go “oh, I guess I was constantly either not eating or binging on sugar when I thought nobody was looking.” Guess who DIDN’T feel better when she weighed less?)
Which brings me to the reversed version: I gained weight and now I feel worse. Obviously, this can just be due to the same factors — you probably can’t eat yourself particularly far above your setpoint, but if you’ve moved to the top of your range, it might be due to the same habits that can make you feel crummy (inactivity and empty foods). There are a lot more possibilities, though. Do you feel worse because you gained weight, or did you gain weight because you feel worse? A tough-to-spot illness like lupus or fibromyalgia can make you feel too tired and achey to get enough exercise. (Again, please remember that I’m talking about people of any size moving to the top of their natural size range — fatness does NOT necessarily mean inactivity, or vice versa!) Or did you start gaining weight and feeling worse at the same time? Food allergies could contribute, and blaming it all on fat could make you ignore them — or even overlook conditions like Cushing’s Syndrome. Do you feel worse physically, or physically/mentally? The two are incredibly interlinked, and a low opinion of yourself can drain you and make you feel awful; stress or depression could also make you gain weight and feel bad simultaneously. Finally, my favorite version of this comment is “I felt so much better ten years ago, when I was thin.” Folks, it’s called being ten years older. Could that be to blame?
Does this read like rationalization to you? Obviously, none of the above explanations are one-size-fits-all. And shit, I don’t know your body; maybe you genuinely feel worse when you have more adipose tissue, regardless of your habits or your health. But you do yourself an incredible disservice when you scapegoat all your creaks, aches, and yawns onto your fat. It’s a disservice the medical profession is all too happy to do for you, so you don’t need to do it yourself. Instead, give yourself a fighting chance by playing the good skeptic, like you would if you felt bad and weren’t fat, or felt bad in a way that you didn’t think could be explained by fat. Don’t sideline physical complaints because you assume they’re due to a moral failing — you wouldn’t do it for a sore throat, and you shouldn’t do it for fatigue or joint pain. If you feel bad, check in with yourself — are you taking care of your body as best you can? Are you giving yourself enough mental self-care? Did something trigger it? Should you get some tests? Does something need to be done? All of these need to be answered before the self-flagellation can begin.
It’s so easy for us to take the “fat is unhealthy” message as a mandate that if we are fat, we MUST be unhealthy — that we have a duty to feel unhealthy because we are fat. That’s not a manifest destiny you need to embrace. You deserve to feel as good as you can regardless of your size, and while not everyone can feel as good as everyone else, fat doesn’t have to be your primary explanation — or your easiest scapegoat.