I just read this comment by Arwen on my last post, and it got me thinking:
The last time I went to a WW meeting I’d started gaining after two months on the plateau (or perhaps was simply heavier – I go up and down about 5 pounds every day.) As I was weighed the woman clucked at me and shook her head. She said I was sabatoging myself with cough drops.
I don’t eat cough drops; it was so odd and frustrating and I had no way of saying: “but I’m doing it RIGHT” without sounding defensive.
Of all the ways weight loss programs, doctors, and society make us crazy about our weight, one of the worst has to be the presumption that fat people are lying all the goddamned time.
It happens frequently, as Arwen says, at the weigh-ins for commercial diet programs. You show up, take off your shoes and belt, step on the scale… and this week, you’ve gained a pound. Or you haven’t lost. Or you’ve lost less than last week. You tell the counselor you can’t imagine why this is, and the interrogation begins:
- Did you stay “on program”?
- Did you go out to eat at all?
- Did you snack without remembering to count it?
- Did you get in all your exercise?
- Did you drink all your water?
- Did you drink alcohol and not count it?
- Is it that time of the month?
- Did you forget and have a latte or anything?
And evidently, if the answer to all of the above is no, then you might just have forgotten to count the cough drops you didn’t actually consume.
If you do not lose weight in any given week, then the starting point — and middle point and ending point — is that you must have fucked up, and we’re gonna figure out how! If you swear you didn’t “cheat,” didn’t make any “mistakes,” the presumption remains that there’s something you’re either just not thinking of, or deliberately lying about.
In the airport on the way home from Vegas, I picked up John Grisham’s The Innocent Man, which — like practically every non-fiction book I read — sparked a mini-obsession with the topic for a few days. The topic in this case is wrongful convictions. So in the last week, I’ve read a bazillion websites about people being convicted of crimes they didn’t commit — everything from The Innocence Project to the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” hysteria of the ’80s to stuff on the Salem witch trials. Over and over, I read stories of innocent people having their lives taken away because investigators had decided they were guilty and simply would not hear any arguments or evidence to the contrary.
Being accused of snarfing cough drops is obviously not quite like ending up on death row for a murder you didn’t commit. But what I’m thinking about here is the crazy-making aspect of being told again and again that you did what we say you did, even if you know damn well you didn’t. People can be badgered into confessing that they fucking killed people or molested children when they know they didn’t, just because interrogators will not let up on the “You’re guilty, and everyone knows it” theme. Is it any wonder fatties can easily be convinced we must have done something “wrong,” must have slipped up, cheated, forgotten something, not tried hard enough, when the whole freakin’ world is telling us that if we truly ate “right” and exercised, the fat would melt away? That’s a scientific FACT! You cannot violate the laws of thermodynamics! Liar, liar!
So, there’s supposed to be an article on the Fatosphere coming out in the NYT some day soon. Last I heard, it was slated for publication today, so when I woke up, the first thing I did was look for it. Not only is it not there, but this is:
And really, it doesn’t matter whether you choose a diet based on your genotype or the phases of the moon, or whether you cut down on sugars and starches or fats. If you consume fewer calories than you need to maintain your current weight, you will lose.
I mean, at least she didn’t say — as I originally read it — “If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose.” (I don’t remember who first responded to the old thermodynamics argument with “Human bodies are not bunsen burners!” but I think of that every time.) No, she’s just warped the thermodynamics argument into something that’s impossible to dispute, because it’s a fucking tautology: If you eat few enough calories to lose weight, you will lose weight.
It’s actually, come to think of it, more of a variation on the “There are no fatties in concentration camps” argument. Because of course the problem is, “fewer calories than you need to maintain your current weight” varies widely from person to person, and in many cases, it ends up being fewer calories than your body needs, period. But this goes right back to what Arwen was saying: if you plateau while dieting, if your body stubbornly refuses to lose any more weight after you’ve dropped to 1,200, then 1,000, then 800, and in some cases as low as 500 calories a day, you are not absolved of the obligation to lose more weight. You’re simply found guilty of lying about what you eat and/or how much you exercise. Because if you were really eating that little and exercising that much, you would still be losing! Because human bodies do work exactly like bunsen burners, and there aren’t 85 squillion variables affecting how different people process the same number of calories, duh! You’re just not doing what we told you to do, you BIG FAT LIAR!
When it’s just one poorly trained, batshit crazy weight loss counselor, or just one article telling you you’re full of shit, the consequences aren’t such a big deal. But they become a very big deal when it’s a doctor, or a series of doctors, insisting that you can’t be telling the truth about your eating and exercise habits, and they won’t do anything for you until you knock off the denial and start burning more calories than you eat. The only way to clear your good name — and get some attention to your actual symptoms — at that point is to lose weight. And if the only way to lose weight is to literally starve yourself, so be it. Those are your choices: starve, or don’t come back. Exercising moderately and having a healthy relationship with food is not an option if you remain fat while doing those things, because that can mean being denied surgery, misdiagnosed time and again, told that your debilitating pain can only be cured by strenuous exercise, told you don’t deserve to have children, et fucking cetera.
And on top of that, it’s never just one poorly trained, batshit crazy weight loss counselor or just one article. It’s your friends, family, co-workers, trainers, nutritionists, therapists, teachers, perfect strangers, and a million fucking articles, telling you every time you turn around that the secret to substantial, long-term weight loss is simply eating less and moving more. Despite, you know, no evidence whatsoever that that’s true, or that there is any known secret to substantial, long-term weight loss. If you’re fat and claim you don’t sit on the couch eating baby-flavored donuts all day, you are a liar. Period.
Is it any wonder, then, that we blame ourselves, hate ourselves, feel constantly guilty and ashamed about our weight, even if we know somewhere down deep that our eating and exercise habits aren’t any different from our thin friends’? Is it any wonder that we routinely criticize ourselves and catalogue our “failures” in front of people who we know are likely to judge, just so they don’t think we’re too ignorant to know what’s causing our fat? Everyone knows! Calories in, calories out! It’s so much easier, in a world where someone can accuse you with a straight face of sabotaging yourself with imaginary cough drops, to confess that yes, you ate a candy bar yesterday, and on Tuesday, you cut your workout short by twenty minutes, and today, you haven’t yet had all the water you’re supposed to drink — so obviously, you’re not doing what all the thin people do, and that’s why you’re still fat.
If you confess, you might get some sympathy and encouragement along with the judgment. But if you dare to say there’s nothing fucking wrong or unusual or peculiar to fat folks about the way you eat and exercise, you just happen to be fat, for loads of possible reasons scientists are still sorting out? Well, then you’re nothing but a dirty liar.
It is absolutely enough to make you crazy, to make you doubt reality, to make you convict yourself for a crime you have not committed. So if you were wondering why I keep beating the same friggin’ drum here, day in, day out, why I can’t shut up about the same few topics, over and over and over? That’s why. Because this blog is a drop in the fucking ocean compared to the constantly repeated messages that all fat people are guilty of eating too much and not exercising enough, and if we’d just admit it and repent, society would go much easier on us. All I can do is repeat myself as much as the rest of the fucking world does.
Being fat is not a crime. Eating enough food to satisfy yourself is not a crime. Overeating is not a crime, whether you do it or not. Plateauing on a diet is not a crime. Gaining it back is not a crime. Exercising for fun instead of pain is not a crime. Deciding not to exercise is not a crime. Getting sick is not a crime.
You are not a liar. You are not guilty.