You are not alone
It’s not easy being ahead of your time. The emotional resources required to go against the status quo can sometimes seem more than you can spare. And that’s just to be you. Let’s not even think about the resources needed to actually do something about that status quo.
Many of us here have spent our lives trying to fit into the prevailing paradigm of Thin Is The Only Thing Worth Being. We have failed over and over, often getting fatter and fatter. The disgust and disapprobation of friends, family, and strangers alike was tempered only by the knowledge that at least we were trying. Trying not to be fat is considered acceptable, praised, supported. However unhealthy your attempts, however miserable it’s making you, however much it rules your entire life at the expense of actually living it — you are a good fatty.
So it may come as a bit of a shock to one and all if you suddenly decide to stop.
Stop trying to fit in to a cultural ideal.
Stop trying to manipulate your body into some arbitrary shape or weight that will suddenly make you perfectly healthy. Take it from me — it doesn’t exist.
Doctors, friends, and the world in general will disapprove. Your loved ones may accuse you of giving up. Letting yourself go. Never mind that increasing amounts of evidence are pointing to a new truth — that health is not a number on the scale. That healthy lifestyles make healthy bodies, or at least, they give you a damn sight better shot at a healthy body than dieting ever will. That weight needn’t come into it. Or that being made to feel like crap, by society in general or even in your own mind (particularly in your own mind) is really, really bad for you.
For those of you new, and even not so new, to Health At Every Size® (HAES) and Size Acceptance, one of the biggest barriers can be the push back you will get from everyone around you. We can only hope that one day, the growing mountain of evidence will finally make a dent in the anti-obesity crusade, and ultimately trickle down into mass consciousness. But until then, you’re fighting against the tide. It doesn’t matter that the tide should have turned long ago; it is what it is, and you have to live with it.
So today I’d like to share with you my four simple survival tips for maintaining relationships and your sanity.
- Dealing with strangers — Depending on the kind of person you are and how you like to interact with people, you can tell them to mind their own business; you can develop The Look — you know, the one that will reduce even a grown man into whimpering shell; or simply walk away.
- Dealing with doctors — Ask them for any evidence they have that the methods they are suggesting lead to long-term weight loss in a significant number of people. Point out that thin people can also be unhealthy and therefore thinness is no guarantee of health. If you are currently healthy, remind them about the obesity paradox and that more and more evidence is confirming the existence of metabolically healthy “obese” people, and that these people have similar long-term outcomes to metabolically healthy “normal weight” people and better outcomes than metabolically unhealthy people, whatever their weight, and that weight loss tends not to bring benefits to this population and can actually worsen health. On the other hand, if you are currently unhealthy, show them this graph and ask them to support you in your efforts to adopt a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t involve focusing on weight, seeing as that almost never works, and oftentimes creates the very problems it is designed to fix. Linda Bacon has produced a letter for healthcare providers that might help, as well. And if you do require some form of treatment, ask them to provide the same treatment they would recommend to a thin person with the same condition. Oh, and take a friend with you.
- Dealing with friends and loved ones — Ask them to read Linda’s book, “Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” prior to discussing this further. If a book is too much to ask for, you can point them to this page on my website that summarises the key point.
Some people also suggest [HAES is] about “giving up” and “letting yourself go”… seriously, there is nothing less like giving up on yourself than adopting a HAES lifestyle. Possibly for the first time in your life, you are genuinely caring for yourself, body and mind. And you will find it easier and more rewarding to take good care of yourself once you believe you are worth taking care of, when you stop believing that you are totally worthless, simply because of the number on the scales. (www.neverdietagain.co.uk/haes-facts)
And if none of this works, declare a moratorium on discussions about your body and your health, and ask and expect them to respect those boundaries if they really care about you — do not accept excuses for not doing so; walk away if necessary, however hard.
And I’ve saved the most important tip till last.
- Dealing with your own doubts, struggles, and isolation — Reach out. There is a whole world of awesome fatties (and thinnies, and inbetweenies) who get it, who get you, and who will be there when you need them. The incredible people who populate the Fatosphere have, literally, saved lives, and made countless numbers of others, including mine, seem worth living. There’s even research now that documents the value of the Fatosphere in the lives of us fatties, from emotional support to empowerment to nurturing our journeys of self discovery, whatever our starting point, and contributing to our improved mental and physical wellbeing.
I’d like to tell you a story. Two actually. Just about one year ago, I attended my first scientific and professional conference in this field, roughly 18 months after discovering HAES and Size Acceptance. At the time, the self-acceptance part was still a bit of a struggle for me, and something I continued to work on as I tried to undo nearly 40 years of culturally mandated self-loathing. The conference was organized by the Binge Eating Disorder Association and it was held in Philadelphia. Over the course of three days I met a series of incredible (mostly) women of all shapes and sizes — some of whom have been activists since the early days, some whose books I had read (and one whose book I had in my bag to read on the plane — yes, I got it signed — starstruck), some I had yet to hear of, but who are key players in the HAES and Fat Acceptance communities, and many who worked at the coalface, helping individuals on a daily basis deal with their lifelong issues with food and body image. Several have since become good personal friends.
It was absolutely fascinating and I had a wonderful time. But the pivotal moment for me came on the third day. I was taking part in a workshop on negative body talk, the terrible stuff we think and say to ourselves about our bodies. And for the purpose of the exercise, the facilitator, Judith Matz, asked us first to think of something negative we had thought about our bodies in the previous 24 hours. So I thought, and I thought, and I thought, and to my absolute astonishment, I couldn’t think of a single thing (other than that my back hurt from sitting down for so long). I only wish I could have seen the look of bewilderment and awakening on my own face as I came to the realisation that possibly for the first time in decades, I hadn’t had one, single, negative thought about my body in days. Just being in that completely supportive, non-judgmental, totally accepting community had had this effect on me. And it made me realise the effect that being in every other community also had on me.
And that kind of leads to my second story. I have a Hotmail account. I’ve had it since the mid-90s and it was my personal email account that I used to keep in touch with the world. I still use the account, and the other day I decided to have a clear out of the several hundred emails that had accumulated in my inbox. And it suddenly occurred to me that none of them were personal emails. They were about insurance, competitions, the latest offers from companies whose products I buy, theatre releases, newsletters, and updates from news services that I subscribe to. There was not one email from a friend in what used to be my personal email account. Because now, almost my entire social life revolves around people I have met through the Fatosphere. We communicate on Facebook, Twitter, or via my Never Diet Again email address.
Sometimes, but not often enough, we get to meet in real life. These are my friends now. Where geographical constraints once required that your friends were people who lived in close proximity to you, the internet means that the world is your oyster — that your social circle can now include anybody anywhere who cares about the same things that you do, who shares your values and your experiences, or your sense of gallows humour. In the last year, I have surrounded myself with people who support me, and who I am honoured to be able to support in turn. And my life has truly been transformed.
To my new friends: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. And to anyone who is out there feeling isolated: you are not alone.