Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dieting and Fat Acceptance

Everyone's talking about whether dieting for weight loss is indicative of a lack of true commitment to the Fat Acceptance/Size Positive movement. I've seen a lot of very good things out there, and I figured I should at least state my position on the subject.

Here's my basic statement:
I acknowledge your individual freedom to diet for weight loss, but I do not support or condone your doing so.

Here's the long-winded explanation:
Basically, I view dieting for weight loss (heretofore known as "dieting" for the purposes of brevity in this entry) as an unhealthy, ineffective, destructive thing to do. I think it is the biggest quackery perpetuated on our society, bilking people out of money while giving them no results, results that don't last, or making its practitioners fatter in the long run than they otherwise would have been. In other words, it is at best worthless, and can even be counterproductive to the purpose of becoming thinner.

Dieting is destructive to your body. You are more likely to become sick if you have yo-yo dieted than if you had not lost any weight at all. It is potentially harmful to your mind; many eating disorders are triggered or perpetuated by a desire to lose weight, and it induces fears and phobias about food. The hysteria surrounding the "epidemic" alone is enough to create irrational fear of eating, gaining weight, and self-loathing.

Dieting is especially more harmful to women's bodies and minds; we have fought for women's rights, only to be shackled by social pressure to starve ourselves until we are crazed, miserable, and weakened. As a woman, I am offended by the idea that the size of my body can prevent me from getting a job, adequate health care, and have my needs taken seriously.

I am not going to repeat the mountain of evidence for the above statements; these are readily available at Junk Food Science and other sources. If you are misinformed or willfully uneducated, there is no longer any excuse for it. If you continue to actively shield yourself from becoming informed, rejecting any attempts to abolish your own ignorance, then I am not to blame, and I cannot be held responsible for your unwillingness to learn. I'll be happy to point you in the direction of articles and books, but I cannot parrot the facts and continue to debate the same tired points over and over with the purposefully misinformed.

Do you really think that because a doctor says that fat is unhealthy, that makes it so? How much faith do you have in medicine? This same institution was prescribing heroin, cocaine, and leeches less than a century ago. The history of medicine is fairly sordid, and a great deal of its roots were things that existed only in the imaginations of self-proclaimed doctors. Humors, bloodletting, come on, folks, they just made this shit up from whole cloth! And, while things have certainly improved, we still haven't figured it all out. The public health is not always the primary concern, especially when profits are involved. Yes, maybe thalidomide was a long time ago, but Vioxx was this century, and Fen-Phen was breaking people's hearts in the late 90's.

So, here you have it, the elephant in the room: Dieting for weight loss while being part of the fat acceptance movement shows that either you haven't been paying attention, or you are in denial of the message of the movement. I've heard the statement that dieters in the fat acceptance movement are the same as closeted gays being supportive of gay pride--they just aren't comfortable enough to "come out" and join the rest of this. I think that this is a very faulty analogy. It is more like, those dieting for weight loss are to the fat acceptance movement as gays undergoing counseling to become straight are to the gay pride movement.

It is difficult to believe someone actually takes the movement seriously when they are actively working to purge from themselves the very thing they are claiming to support acceptance of, especially when the methods to purge the "undesirable quality" are known not to actually work. Counseling a gay person to become straight does not change what their biology has determined their orientation to be; they instead intensively train their behavior to mimic that of the straight person. So it is with a fat person, training their bodies to be thin. It takes constant vigilance and work to remain that way, and it is a generally unpleasant and uncomfortable thing to do. To have such a thing as a goal would require a very big payoff for attaining it--social status, not being disowned by family members, finding a marriage partner--these are all possible reasons to pursue unnatural thinness or heterosexuality. Yet, the acceptance movements are working to see to it that people can have those things without going through an agony of forcing themselves into a mold into which their bodies or minds simply do not fit.

Change the system, or change yourself? Which one hurts more? Which one is more possible? I guess that's for you to figure out, but if you're choosing to harm yourself through dieting for weight loss, don't expect me to support you in that.


Vive42 said...

okay, two questions:

first off, does having an eating disorder disqualify one from the SA or FA movement? (don't answer, i know i know, i'm disqualified until i learn to love myself just as i am and rainbows spring from my every step as i sing tra la to the birds of the forest).

and second, if one is fully educated, having done the homework and read the literature, are you then allowed to question some of the claims of SA/FA? as far as i can tell, studies are inconclusive on some of these things.

oh, and a follow up... maybe the dieting FAers are convinced that losing weight won't make them healthier and will be all but impossible to maintain, but the social benefits of being thin are too tempting to give up on entirely. i had a post about this a while ago- people are literally completely different towards thin people. they're nicer and friendlier and more respectful. which i think is part of the whole problem that SA is trying to address. but in the real world, its hard for some of us to embrace the pariah-hood of being obese even if we know it is unfair and wrong.

KateHarding said...

Have fun with the comments on this one, Rio. :)

Ruth said...

I don't want to speak for Rio, but I certainly wouldn't begrudge those with eating disorders "membership," if you will, in the fat acceptance movement. As far as I understand, eating disorders are behavioral disorders involving both psychological and social factors. Dieting certainly isn't the same. Dieting, to me, is an activity people use to socially conform, while damaging their bodies in the process, but not a disorder. It's not in the DSM-IV and I've never seen anyone hospitalized for dieting too much - unless, of course, excessive dieting turns into obsessive behavior and leads to an eating disorder. There are plenty of people in the fat acceptance movement who are recovering anorexics or bulimics who are very active in blogs and outside activism. I've read comments from some people who have relapses frequently and are trying to overcome their disorders.

I think that's the important part - people who are *trying* to accept themselves, and *trying* to change those old systems of conformity or behavior they used to employ. Whether they're suffering from disorders and taking action to stop their behavior, or are weight loss dieters who are realizing it's not working for them, I don't think the fat acceptance movement would deny them welcome because they're *getting there.* People who are still dieting, and plan to continue dieting, are not getting there. People who are immersed in movements like pro-ana are probably not welcome either.

And no, you're not disqualified to be in the movement if you don't "love yourself just as you are." Plenty of people still have doubts about their bodies. Kate Harding has written "It is hard" and she's right. Nobody's been giving a false impression about this. Everyone's bombarded with messages about how they aren't perfect every single day, and it's hard not to listen to those messages - especially if they've listened to them before.

As far as asking whether you're allowed to question some of the claims, I don't think there's a problem with that. Fat acceptance began out of questioning the claims of medicine and society. Why shouldn't we be open to different opinions? Unless, of course, they're the basic ones we've been trying to shake this whole time: That fat is a murderer, that being fat makes you a bad person, etc. If someone wanted to question that, I don't think they *would* be welcome.

This is certainly a polarizing issue. I am not a dieter, nor have I ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder. I don't know all the facts, or pretend to - I'm just giving my impression. I really hope I haven't offended you (or Rio!) with some of my answers. I just thought it was probably time I chimed in.

RioIriri said...

No way! Having an eating disorder is one of the very reasons I believe in size-acceptance and not-dieting.

Kate had also discussed that there is a difference between your personal, individual choices and how you interact within the movement. One person described how, within the environmentalist movement, you are generally not "perfect", but you don't want to go talking about which toxic cleaners you like best within the forums and meetings of that movement, due to such discussion being antithetical.

I also think that diet-talk proliferates, breeding more diet-talk, and it's just really nice to have places where we're not going to have to listen to it, especially for those who are recovered from an ED. There are moments when it is easy to pick up the old habits, and hearing other people talk about calorie-counting and such can be bad.

As for questioning the claims, well, that's your thing; I can suggest some books that are more detailed than what's on the web, if you like.

Your last paragraph--I do understand. Really, I do. It's hard watching people trying to climb that mountain, though, and keep sliding back down because they're about 95% doomed to fail. The hardest thing is to stand back and let them keep doing it (although, in the case of an ED, I think there's a moral imperative to help if possible). The best we can do, I suppose, is gently lay down our information and say, "When you're had enough, here we are."

Vive42 said...

thanks rioiriri, and ruth.

i'm not applying for membership in the movement yet. i do love it though- love that it exists and agree with it more than probably any other movement that's out there (i guess i'm just not a big "movement" person).

i own FAT!SO? and i've read an awesome book i forget the title of that had to do with shining a light on the diet industry (jenny craig, ww, the "scientists" who are paid by the diet industry, etc). you could suggest some more reading if you like, but i'm not sure i'll get around to finding and reading any more SA books any time soon.

as for me, well, lets just say there's a huge difference between what i think and believe and how i act, and that those unfortunate inconsistencies are unlikely to change any time soon.

RioIriri said...

Well, "The Diet Myth" by Paul Campos might be what you're talking about? If not, VERY MUCH RECOMMEND :) His book is really clearly written. I read a lot of very heavy stuff, so it's nice to have something that is simply written once in a fricken while, you know?

And the other one, one that's really good for us wimmins is "Never Too Thin: Why Women Are at War With Their Bodies" by Roberta Pollack Seid. It's very empowering, and is jam-packed with facts and figures. There were several times when I was so angry with the shit the diet industry has pulled, I almost wanted to throw the book across the room!

And, with anyone, there are differences. Many people involved with the environmental movement still use products and items that aren't environmentally friendly; it's mostly a matter of balancing your views and actions so that your life is livable.

I believe in animal welfare, but I'm sure that my drugs were tested on animals. I do what I can, and live my life to impact as few as possible. I have carnivorous pets, but the humans in this house are vegetarian because we have a choice.

Andee said...

Keep on tellin' it, Rio. I don't think there can be enough anti-dieting messages out there. But damn, it must be cunning, baffling and powerful indeed if people who have been in the SA movement for years and KNOW the odds of significant permanent weight loss are not good and that even if you can pull it off it doesn't necessarily make you healthy healthy healthy, still feel compelled to go for it. The very air we breathe keeps saying, "You'd better try, and keep trying, this is your last chance not to keel over and go splat disgustingly young, fatass." Tough to argue with the air, huh?

Andee (Meowser)

Patia said...

I acknowledge your individual freedom to [be fat], but I do not support or condone your doing so.

Maybe the movement needs to evolve.

Andee said...

Hmph, looks like someone only read the part in boldface. Try reading the entire post, Patia, and maybe you'll get it.

For most of us, being fat takes no special effort, and in many cases we can become fat doing exactly what our doctors tell us to do. We're not, for the most part, frigging sumo wrestlers who spend our lives and every ounce of energy trying to get and stay fat.

Sorry, but your comparison does not hold up. It might, if dieting wasn't the giant clusterfuck that it is for most people, but given that it's largely wasted effort that winds up doing the majority to embark on it more harm than good, it's not like size acceptance people are trying to stop you from doing something like get a master's degree because then you won't be content talking to us butt-scratching unsophisticated plain folks.

We're NOT trying to fuck up your life for you, pinky swear. And if you believe otherwise, what the hell's stopping you? If you really think you have the mojo lacking in 95% of us, can anyone here really MAKE you stay fat?

Andee (Meowser)

Patia said...

Try reading the entire post, Patia, and maybe you'll get it.

Try not being patronizing, Andee, and maybe you'll get it.

I've been in or on the fringes of the fat acceptance movement for 15 years. I've read all the books. I didn't weigh or diet for more than 10 years. The result? A body that is teetering on the precipice of disaster.

So excuse me if I choose to look beyond fat acceptance for some answers. I have not turned my back on fat and body acceptance, but lately it feels as if it has turned its back on me. I can't be in your clique anymore? Bullshit. It's not your clique, it's everyone's.

I can refuse to loathe my body, even as I seek ways to make it smaller and healthier.

I can believe I deserve respect and love, even as I work to improve myself.

I can encourage others to love and accept their natural curves, even as I support their efforts to be their best.

I can reject society's narrow and superficial standards, even as I decorate my body like an artist's canvas.

"I am large; I contain multitudes." ~Walt Whitman

RioIriri said...

Maybe finding the underlying causes to your weight gain would be more useful than starving yourself?

Part of the reason I hate dieting is that it's treating a symptom, while leaving the true problem undiagnosed and untreated. A person who struggles to diet and lose weight while they have a thyroid problem or PCOS is essentially running in place, and being chastised by society (and, usually, their doctor) for not getting anywhere.

A friend of mine recently lost weight after getting her thyroid disease diagnosed and treated, and her celiac disease diagnosed. People attribute her improved health to her weight loss, which is simply untrue--her weight loss was the result of improving her health problems.

Not only is dieting for weight loss an exercise in futility in most cases, it prevents real health issues from being treated. Perhaps a visit to a rheumatologist would be a better idea than trying to diet yourself to a smaller size.

Also, if you have fibromyalgia, the feedback mechanisms of fibro can cause a standard thyroid test to appear normal--so fibromites need to request the other types of tests to get an accurate result.

MGin said...

I'm Malcolm-who-is-Hanne-Blank's-partner, not the other Malcolm, who I hear is a hardliner anti-dieter. I want to let you know this from an ethics standpoint, but I in no way speak for her - these are my own opinions.

I just want to clarify that if your response is to Hanne's blog that she is not "dieting" but making long-term changes to her diet for medical reasons (i.e. in combination we have medical issues for which the following changes in diet are reasonable: reducing intake of refined starches and sugars, cutting out dairy, reducing sodium and reducing high-cholesterol foods - I trust you are capable of figuring out common medical issues that might lead to these changes in diet - I don't feel totally comfortable enumerating them on a public forum like this).

These are health issues that are not likely to go away for either of us, so we are probably going to be making these changes in diet permanently.

Foods in the still-allowed-for-us categories are generally tasting better for both of us and making us feel better in our bodies overall.

It is still true that she has increased her personal activity levels (as have I) and that she has expressed an interest in losing weight for the sheer physics of having a lot of recent joint injuries and wishing to avoid them/reduce their intensity in the future, but this could arguably be more about having her be more tuned in and connected to her body in general and not be about weight loss at all - we don't know; that's what her project is about on that blog. She is not making weight loss, as far as I know, her primary goal, and we don't make much of it, not owning a scale (okay, we own a kitchen scale, but it's for baking and holiday candy-making).

All of this said, I don't really disagree with you much about dieting and medical findings.

On the other hand, I know several folks (who I'm not at liberty to name) aside from myself and Hanne who are part of the movement/the activist communities to a greater or lesser extent who are also dieting. They're not out about it because of the obvious repurcussions that Hanne's explored so recently.

I find the "don't ask, don't tell" dynamic of excluding such people from talking about what they're doing reprehensible in principle and in fact, so I wish we could work towards some sort of compromise and stop drawing so many hard lines.

vesta44 said...

Malcolm, I don't disagree with changing what you eat to enhance your health. I whole-heartedly disagree with restricting calories strictly for weight loss. And I like the fact that WLD talk is restricted on fat acceptance blogs. I'm still learning about HAES and having a healthy relationship with food, and every time I hear/read someone talking about dieting, all I want to do is eat, eat, eat. It's a trigger for me, makes me feel like I'm a failure because I can't lose weight by restricting calories and exercising (all it ends up doing is making me fatter). When I read about WLD on blogs, I have to make a serious, conscious effort not to go to the kitchen and eat everything in sight. This type of thing is a set-back for me on my journey to a decent relationship with food.

MGin said...


Safe-space issues are really difficult for everyone concerned to navigate, and I wholly agree that when possible, safe-space boundaries should be established reasonably and respected by all discussion participants as much as possible.

That said, I repeat this because it seems like no one is hearing it: Neither Hanne nor I is WLD. We have changed our diets for health reasons, and both seem to think that weight loss would not be a bad thing, but it is not our primary goal.

Does this kind of language trigger your anxieties?

If so, I apologize, and I'll take my discussion elsewhere (where presumably you can avoid it): my own blog and other blogs talking about this larger topic of whether one can be a fat acceptance activist still be trying (with whatever priority) to lose weight.

RioIriri said...

Vesta makes a very good point about safe space. You would be surprised at how many of us are recovering from EDs (it's a lot like being an alcoholic--falling back into the old habits is disturbingly easy). When things are going very wrong in my life, I usually just stop eating (I have a fantastic husband that notices and pulls me out of that).

That aside, there is quite obviously a distinction between WLD and having a diet. Diet, by itself, as a noun, generally and originally refers to our habitual nourishment.

As a biologist, when I am talking about what an animal eats, I refer to its diet. Little Claudia, who is the most beautiful Everglades rat snake ever, and who lives on my desk (and is intently watching me right this moment), has a diet of very small rodents. If I tried to feed her carrots, that would be a very stupid idea--she wouldn't even recognize it as edible. I imagine I could get my idiot speckled kingsnake to eat a carrot (she's really, really stupid, and a bottomless pit), but it would make her sick.

It's important to know what foods are compatible with our individual systems. I understand that, and I practice that, since I am allergic to peanuts (deathly so) and to bell peppers (uncomfortably so). One of my best friends has celiac Sprue disease, and she will become very, very sick if she eats wheat, oat, or other gluten-containing products. Another friend HAD to go vegan because of severe IBS (and going vegan actually made her symptoms disappear; she was lucky to have figured it out).

I am also a vegetarian because of my belief in animal welfare. I would probably go vegan if dairy products weren't one of the few things that can settle my stomach when it's upset (Western European genes = great dairy tolerance).

Sometimes, my friends' changes in their dietary habits, made for health reasons, result in weight loss. Weight loss that is not due to restriction, but due to their underlying health issues finally being improved.

This is why I am so upset by WLD. I consider it to not just be a scam; I think it's a cop out for doctors to tell their patients to "lose weight", "eat less", etc. when they haven't addressed the reasons that person has gained weight. I have a thyroid disorder that has only been diagnosed in the last four months, after I changed to a doctor that has time to talk to his patients. I also have PCOS, which necessitated the removal of 50% of my girl parts. I could have subsisted on celery and water and not lost weight (believe me, it's been done). The fact that most WLDers are set up to fail, and not just fail, but regain all of the weight plus more, tells me that this is beyond futile--it is harmful.

And, regarding joint health--why is it that some people are very heavy and not having those problems, while others are less so, and having them? I think we need to look at causes beyond "simple physics". My aunt's knees and ankles were so bad that she could not walk. She is no heavier than I am. When she finally found a doctor who didn't have his head up his butt, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 rheumatoid arthritis. The cartilage in her knees was GONE. She had been told to lose weight over and over, while her immune system was wrecking her joints. By the time she found the doctor with a brain, she needed both of her knees replaced (and she nearly died during the surgery due to a bad drug reaction). Had she been diagnosed in an earlier stage, her knees could have been saved, and she could have had a lot less agony.

I don't know all the answers, but I do know that looking at a person's size tends to blind doctors to any other problems that person may have.

MGin said...


I'm going to try to avoid use of the "d" word since it's upsetting to vesta. If you want to talk more in specific, feel free to use my e-mail address ( to continue the conversation.

I'm not going to assume that you know who Hanne is, or what her efforts are about (or mine), or what our backgrounds are, but you may, if you like, assume that I know basic biology, chemistry and physics, and that I know how to read medical studies for statistical accuracy as well as for useful information I might bring to my doctor for discussion if need be. (I have a B.S. in chemistry, my father is a retired biochemist and my mother is a retired nurse - and I paid attention to what they taught me and have remained literate so as to supplement my doctor's research on my various conditions.)

I'm also, like my Mom (as many nurses I know are), very skeptical of the profession of Medicine, from the point of view of thinking that individual variations of biology are far more important to the individual than the results of Studies. I'm very supportive of the idea of different strokes for different folks, whether it be their food requirements, digestion, behavior, levels of activity, and other metabolic inputs and outputs.

One of the reasons I understand that Hanne's previous activisms in fat acceptance has been important to folks in the movement/community is her Letter to a New Doctor (along with her work on Big Big Love - which in and of itself took a great deal of medical research to put together).

Regarding joint pain, I think Hanne's particular answer may be more about getting more aware of what her body's doing, being more present in it, etc. As she's made progress in this area, it's already done a lot to improve these issues for her. We'll keep arthritis in mind as well, but here's hoping it isn't that, yet. One of her goals in the long-term with respect to this particular project (wherein she will blog about her attempts to get more comfortable in her body) is to figure out whether, for her, weight loss does or does not improve the joint situation. I don't know if she'll achieve that goal, given how complex the whole context is, but.

Mostly I just wanted to try to get the record a bit straighter. A lot of folks in the ongoing dialogue since Hanne's blog was discovered have conflated her efforts with WLD. But I do not think that is really her point or her intention, and it upsets me to see obviously intelligent folks get caught up in that false impression of her efforts.

For more about what Hanne's doing, I encourage readers to go find that blog and read it directly. (I'm not going to link it directly for fear of spamming your blog.)

In general, though, you may be surprised that except with respect to the general assumption I keep perceiving that the whole of fat acceptance is apparently a safe space against any discussion of intentional weight loss (with which I disagree, and liken to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy), I think you and I may find a lot to agree about, should we take the time to do so.