I’m against fatphobia because I’m thin.
I eat whenever I’m hungry. I eat until I am full. I have a Weird Undiagnosed Medical Condition that means that when I’m hungry I start crying, yelling at people, and being unable to complete such complex plans as “take food out of the cupboard and eat it”, so I often overeat if I’m in a situation where I might not have easy access to food whenever I want it. Sometimes, when I am sad, I eat food that makes me happy. When I want candy or cookies or ice cream, I have some.
Here are things I have never done: Kept a food diary. Counted calories. Weighed myself regularly. Stopped eating entire food groups for any reason other than the ethical.
A lot of the things people insist about naturally thin people seem ridiculous to me. “Naturally thin people understand portion control!” I have never controlled a portion in my life. I am as confused as anyone else about what a serving of vegetables is. (I recently discovered I regularly pour three servings of frozen vegetables into my ramen.) I just eat until I don’t want any more food. “Naturally thin people know you’re supposed to be hungry at meals!” On the contrary, I strive to avoid being hungry at meals, because nobody wants to be around a sobbing irrational person who finds that making boxed macaroni and cheese is as far beyond their capabilities as going to the moon. “Naturally thin people never eat their feelings!” Dude, if I feel like shit, and a slice of cheese is going to make me feel happy, then by God I am going to eat that slice of cheese.
On the other hand, the things that anti-fatphobia and healthy-at-every-size advocates say make sense to me. The most common claim, as I understand it, is that people’s weight naturally self-regulates at a certain “set point”. This is definitely the way it feels to me. If I eat a lot at one meal, I won’t be as hungry at the next. If I exercise really hard, I’ll probably eat more. They claim these set points are probably quite genetic, which also fits my experience. I take after my mom, who was very skinny until she had children, put on a couple of pounds with each of her pregnancies, and has been stably overweight since. I expect that I shall follow a similar trajectory.
I haven’t really seen a good explanation from the anti-fatphobia side about why people’s weights are rising so quickly. It seems clear to me that people did not suddenly acquire a willpower deficiency in the middle of the twentieth century. It seems to me like something is dysregulating our body’s natural set points, so that instead of settling at a BMI of 20 or 23 (as generally happened in the past), bodies are tending to settle at a BMI of 27 or 30. I find this fairly mysterious. (Interestingly, laboratory animals, who have very tightly controlled diets, have also been gaining weight.)
Dieting seems really burdensome to me. You don’t get to have cake! Even if you REALLY REALLY want cake, you have to resist your cravings instead of going to the store and obtaining cake! All the diets talk about all the delicious food you get to eat on them– which sometimes does make my mouth water! Nothing I love like a good Greek salad– and then they rule out perfectly normal and yummy things like cheese or popcorn or peanut-butter-filled pretzel nuggets. (Which are stupidly good, by the way.) You have to keep tracking your calories and weighing yourself and all this nonsense. I have no problem with a person deciding to diet if they want to, just like I’m okay with people deciding to do Nanowrimo or visit every continent or take up skydiving. But if someone goes around saying that everyone in the world needs to write a novel in thirty days, I would be unhappy with them. Why don’t we treat dieting the same way?
It’s not like there’s nothing fat people can do to improve their health. Fat people benefit from eating lots of fruits and vegetables and cutting back on processed food and sugar. Fat people benefit from exercise. Fat people benefit from getting enough sleep. It is not like these healthy behaviors magically stop being healthy if you are also fat while you do them.
I feel like an obsessive focus on weight loss even impairs people’s health. Exercise does not appear to help people lose weight. Studies consistently show exercise having little or no effect on weight loss, partially because most of the calories we burn aren’t from physical activity but for the basic functioning of our bodies, and partially because of compensatory behaviors. A lot of people who hear about compensatory behaviors say things like “well, then, don’t use exercise as an excuse to eat a cookie! Stupid fat people!”, but that’s only one form compensatory behavior can take. You might move around less because you’re tired, or even fidget less. There are very few people who have volitional control over how much they fidget.
I know several people who have chosen not to exercise because they’re aware it won’t help them lose weight. This is absurd! Exercise makes you live longer. Exercise is protective against depression, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attack, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and a host of other diseases. But, you know, it doesn’t make you thin, so what’s the point?
I feel like there’s little to lose from adopting an attitude of healthy at every size, even from a “the laws of thermodynamics rule all!” perspective. Surely– if calories in calories out is the be-all and end-all of weight– then encouraging people to move more and fill up their plates with vegetables instead of calorie-rich desserts will cause them to lose weight. I mean, it’s not like the laws of thermodynamics know whether you’re taking a weight-neutral approach to health. “Oh, shit, guys, we’ve got to DOUBLE this calorie! This person’s eating vegetables because vegetables are delicious and not to limit their calorie intake!” And if it is wrong, which I believe it is, then instead of trying to get people to pursue an impossible task we can encourage them to adopt healthy lifestyle habits right now– regardless of how their weight changes.