27 July 2007

The non-contagious non-epidemic

I am, by standards such as the BMI, obese. I won't beg to differ with that, I just choose to ignore it. I'm well aware of my body size and composition, and I've decided to use different standards to gauge my physical health.

By now you've likely heard of the new study which "proves" that fat is "contagious". Unfortunately, that representation is just not very accurate, and it makes some annoying (and possibly harmful) assumptions.

  • Being fat is avoidable
  • Being fat is abnormal
  • Being fat is baaaaaaad
Would I rather be less fat? I can cop to that. Should I spend my life worried about it (which is what a diet ends up doing - making me obsess about everything I eat)? No fckng way.

For some people, being fat is unavoidable - they start out in childhood with extra weight and just stay that way - for others it's medication related (example: I gained 30 lbs when I was taking lithium this past fall, the weight just PILED on, and for the most part didn't leave when I stopped the meds), or as for many women, related to a medical condition such as PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome).

Being fat is just as normal as being skinny, being thin, being average. Over the whole of human history, there have been fat people. Look to art, folk and fine, for proof of that. Fat men and women are people, just like non fat people are. The idea that fat isn't normal is prevalent and harmful.

This last one is the toughest idea to address - that fat is bad. Fat is fat. Being unhealthy is bad, yes, but FATNESS DOES NOT EQUAL BAD HEALTH. At my heaviest my cholesterol numbers were well below 200, and my overall health good. My blood pressure was also good, although I will concede that it's got better when I was thinner, I do think my life was a lot more stressful (married life, finances), so that was likely a factor.

The "facts" (PDF) that fat people are less healthy, have greater mortality, will always be prone to diabetes and heart disease are not as iron clad as some people would have you believe. The dangers (or to be more mild, harmful effects) of repeated weight loss and gain [yo-yo-ing] are becoming very clear. And the fact is that for people who tend toward heavy, dieting can lead to a slower metabolism, and a weight loss is logically followed by weight gain as their bodies attempt to 'normalize' after a period of deprivation.

Right now in my life I am healthier and happier than I've been in years, really. AND I'm fat. Make of that what you will.

I've ready many, many excellent reactions to this study and how it's being presented (and misrepresented) in the media right now.

Always good are Kate Harding, Harriet Brown and many of the bloggers who are aggregated on this feed.

A good one stop shop for discussion of this study (lots of links) is from On The Whole, and is worth a look.

Please don't think I am not saying that diet, eating habits and other things should not be examined and tweaked to promote optimal health, because I'm not. The food in our school cafeterias alone has me hyperventilating more often than not (filled with hidden sugar, for one thing), nevermind the orgiastic portions at restaurants and the hard-sell advertising to kids and adults alike.

But to base our ideas about what is good for us by if it's "okay" or "good" or "guilt-free" instead of by common sense factors such as if we are hungry, and what our bodies need and request is only asking for trouble. We are given tastebuds and an appetite for a reason. Learning to listen to and respect your body is the best way to open yourself up to better health. I know that when I am craving an apple, I'd better get one, and that when I want chocolate shoppe zanzibar chocolate ice cream, I'm happiest when I *have* it, rather than punishing myself because I *shouldn't*.

Fat Hatred is very real, and it isn't something that fat people can easily avoid. The worst part of it is how it twists EVERYONE's mind up, so that standards of beauty are narrow, and we spend too much time judging ourselves and others by these narrow standards. As hard as it is to re-program my thinking, I'm happy that I've starting to really engage with the struggle to love and accept myself on this level - it has unlocked self acceptance on other levels - in therapy I feel things falling into place and I'm thrilled to be leaving behind messages I got from my parents when I was 6. After 30 years, it's time to let them go.

And too, time to let go of the idea that there is an epidemic. There ARE problems with the way we eat in the US, the way we work, the way health care is distributed, they way we are disconnected from our bodies, but all the fat-free yogurt in the world isn't gonna change that. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.

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