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If you are at all interested in dismantling diet culture you will be aware that new government legislation regarding calories on menus has now come into force. The legislation is part of the government’s plan to tackle ‘obesity’. Whilst I have a lot to say on that larger topic, I’ll stick to the calorie information for now. It will come as no surprise that I am not in favour of this development.
As a fat woman who spent years of my life embroiled in yo-yo dieting I know how dangerous constant calorie counting can be. In the depths of my disordered eating I was obsessed with calories. They were my enemy and required constant monitoring. I had calorie based rules for everything. Limits for every meal and limits for the entire day. If I was going to drink alcohol I wasn’t allowed any food. I counted the calories burned during exercise in an attempt to cancel out what I had consumed. I knew & counted the calorie content of everything; a smint, a grape, a sip of wine. Calories were omnipresent. It was an exhausting battle against my body’s basic needs and I was miserable. My quest to be thin damaged me, physically & mentally.
I’m not the only one nor am I the most severely impacted. We live in a world that is constantly reinforcing the message that smaller is better. Putting the calorie content of every item in every menu only compounds that. It won’t encourage ‘healthy eating’, everyone already knows what foods are full of saturated fat. What it will encourage is distorted view of what a healthy lifestyle is. It will support the diet culture narrative; fewer calories are better. Looking at the numbers every time we go out to eat will reinforce an unhealthy relationship with food. People will feel guilty for ordering the dish they want. It’ll trigger obsessive thoughts and behaviours in those who are dealing with or have experienced disordered eating. It will cement the connection in the collective mind between health and calorie control.
I posted about this legislation on my Instagram stories today and have already received multiple messages from people who have been distressed by seeing these menu additions. These are people trying to claw back control of their eating. People who have worked hard at ignoring that voice in their head telling them what they can and cannot have. They’re scared. Genuinely frightened of how they feel when they see signs telling them how many calories an adult shout eat in a day. Worried about the thoughts the calorie count on their coffee provokes. This isn’t a surge towards a healthier society, it’s a huge step backwards.
The problem with this move is the thinking from which it stems. Our government is telling us that being fat is a problem. That fat people are a burden we must shift. That isn’t true. There is no proven way to permanently make a fat person thin. Diets do not work; within 5 years 95% of those who intentionally lose weight will regain all they have lost and more. Calorie restriction is not sustainable. More over, it is not good for you. It ignores the intersections between weight and poverty & disabilities. Not to mention the impact of medical weight stigma on the health of fat patients. There are many lifestyle changes a person can explore if they want to improve their health. Focusing entirely on calories and weight loss is not one them. Health and weight are not intrinsically linked. Adding the calorie content to menus is dangerous. It sidesteps the issue of public health and props up stale old diet culture tropes.
I am not a doctor or an expert. I am merely an informed former victim of the diet industry. I am a fat activist and as such I can see that many people may dismiss me as having an agenda. With that in mind I point you towards the following resources.
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As this pandemic continues to wreak havoc there is an increasing need for a scapegoat. Predictably, fat people have become a convenient target. Navigating this strange new world is hard enough without all the finger pointing.
If you’re feeling hounded, I get it. I’m fiercely fat positive & always prepared to fly the body liberation flag. Even I am finding the constant barrage of fat phobia exhausting. With our feckless PM giving credence to a BMI/Covid link and the tabloids eating it up it is understandable that we feel attacked. When the government makes weight stigma policy it absolutely feeds the trolls.
For the record, losing 5lbs will not make you less likely to contract covid nor will it effect the severity of the virus if you do. Like much of the Tories covid 19 response it is not rooted in science. In fact, it is too early for any studies to provide reliable data on the impact of covid on fat bodies. Especially when the intersections with poverty, disability, poor medical care etc are often not factored into research.
You are not irresponsible for living in a fat body. You are not a burden on the NHS. You are deserving of the same care & respect as anyone else. If you need help reinforcing these facts or dealing with others who refuse to accept them I highly recommend checking out the resources below. I have linked to their Instagram accounts from which you can find all their links/books.
Jess Campbell (haes_studentdoctor) is as her insta implies a student doctor with a Health at Every Size approach. She shares excellent information in a really straightforward manner.
Dr Natasha Larmie (fatdruk) is a GP in the UK who campaigns to end medical weight stigma. She shares her own experience along with insightful analysis. Definitely a must follow.
If you aren’t already aware of Dr Joshua Wolrich where have you been? He is an NHS surgical doctor who promotes HAES, debunks junk weight loss science & has a much anticipated book due very soon.
Lindo Bacon is a body liberation author, speaker & researcher. Their first book, Health at Every Size completely changed my understanding of how my body works & the effect of dieting. I cannot recommend their work enough.
I only recently discovered HPWAS (Health Professionals Against Weight Stigma) and I am so glad. As a fat person it can be difficult to deal with the medical community. It is therefore very reassuring to know there are professionals trying to change things from within. They are currently collecting lived experiences of medical fat phobia. Please do consider sharing if you feel able.
Big fat love to everyone struggling.
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Body Positivity has crept into the public conversation. On the surface it seems body diversity is gaining ground. We see larger models in ad campaigns. The high street is beginning to pay a little more attention to fat customers. Social Media is awash with bopo content. However, if you scratch the surface virulent fat phobia still thrives. Any progress is good, but the dangerous aspects of weight stigma remains strong. Medical bias against fat bodies wreaks havoc. As a chronically ill fat woman I frequently face this issue. In ten years of battling illness and the medical community, I have seen little improvement.
When I began having health issues, I accepted the consensus that was fat was bad and thin was good. I was in the process of some seriously unhealthy dieting when I initially experienced quite serious gastric pain. There were other symptoms, vomiting & difficulty eating, but pain was the standout. I progressed from short bursts to hour long stints of excruciating pain. My GP said it was most likely indigestion and/or heart burn. They could be surprisingly painful, I was told. Change my diet, lose some weight and things will improve. I tightened up my already drastic diet and continued to lose weight. My symptoms did not improve. In fact, they worsened. I began to have prolonged periods of pain. It would last for days at a time, leaving me unable to eat or move or sleep. It felt torturous. By this time, I was being sent to A&E by my GP and attending myself when the pain become unbearable. Drs continued to tell me it was heartburn/indigestion. They all said the same thing, change your diet and lose weight. I was prescribed omeprazole but had no investigation. No one listened when I told then I was hardly eating. No one cared that I was losing lots of weight. All the DR’s were dismissive of my pain. Most were patronising. Some were hostile. No one helped. This continued for over a year. On my penultimate visit to A&E I was in so much pain I could barely talk. I had thrown up so much that I was only bringing up bile & blood. I saw a deeply unpleasant man who vacillated between me being an hysterical woman and being convinced I was an addict seeking drugs. He gave me a cup of peptac (which I promptly threw up) and sent me home. I felt utterly beaten that night. I knew something was very wrong.There was no way I could feel this bad and there not be problem. But no one would listen. I was tired of being judged and looked down upon. I went home and cried.
Luckily, my mum visited me a few hours later. She was shocked when she saw the state I was in and insisted we return to A&E. With someone fighting (& I do mean fighting) fit to advocate for me I was finally taken seriously. A Dr finally ordered the simple blood test that would diagnose me with pancreatitis. By the time those bloods results came back my body had gone into shock. Had I not returned to the hospital that night I would have likely died. I spent 7 days in HDU. I was catheterised. Fed only fluids via drip and given a morphine pump. I don’t even recall that first week in hospital.
Afterwards I discovered that although I didn’t fit the usual profile for pancreatitis (often older men, big meat eaters, heavy drinkers), I did have classic symptoms. The pain I had been describing was textbook. The onset and progression of symptoms was exactly what was to be expected of pancreatitis. Had someone taken a minute to listen to me I could have been diagnosed on my first trip to A&E. I really believe if I hadn’t been a fat woman, that’s probably what would have happened.
I had several more bouts of pancreatitis and a number of gallbladder issues were diagnosed in the subsequent months. Ironically, I was to discover that my weight was not the problem. The most likely culprit was spending my 20’s yo-yo dieting. The fad dieting & resultant weight loss that Dr’s had always encouraged made me ill.
Almost dying because medical professionals wouldn’t look past the size of my belly wasn’t horror enough, I have also since been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A condition I did not suffer from before all the trouble with my pancreas. Pain specialists have told me that the physical and emotional trauma of such a prolonged period of undiagnosed severe illness is likely to have caused the fibro. So, I not only had to suffer multiple times with acute pancreatitis, I will now deal with chronic pain for the rest of my life. I wonder how different my story would if I were a size 10.
Near death experiences aside, almost every medical interaction I have involves some discussion about my weight. With multiple chronic conditions I am a complicated case. Every new symptom no matter how unconnected involves answering questions and listening to lectures about how fat I am. I must push for investigations & interventions because the first advice is always ‘lose weight’. Often, I must identify possible problems via my own research. You would be shocked at the number of times professionals have dismissed my concerns only for my theory to be confirmed when they finally do the necessary tests. I have my cholesterol, blood sugar and pressure tested an inordinate number of times and am usually met with shock that they all measure within ideal levels. When I tell medical professionals that I do not wish to discuss weight loss, my request is usually ignored. Explaining that I endured years of disordered eating and misery related to trying to reduce my size has no impact. My mental wellbeing seems entirely unimportant. Even when I am brutally honest about the fact the I used to starve myself, purge & use appetite suppressants Dr’s still advise diet plans. When my eating was at its most disordered, I was never dangerously thin. So, I was never considered at risk. The sizest attitude towards eating disorders is a whole safety issue in itself. For the record I am vegan with digestive issues that limit my diet. It would be difficult for me substantially change what I eat even if I was inclined to. All this falls on deaf ears. Weight loss remains a priority for almost every Dr I see. When I have stomach flares and lose weight because I can’t eat, I am congratulated. When I am in hospital unable to stop vomiting nurses will joke, they wish they couldn’t eat for a while. It is relentless and exhausting.
It really doesn’t have to be this way. Fat does not necessarily mean unhealthy. Even for those who would benefit from lifestyle changes will not be motivated by harsh judgement. The impact on mental health of all this fat shaming is enormous. We know that diets do not work. Most people regain all the weight they lose and more within a year. We also know that yo-yo dieting damages our bodies. Medical weight stigma makes people less inclined to seek medical advice. If you know you will be shamed and belittled and ultimately get no help anyway, you stop asking. This bias against fat patients is dangerous on so many levels. It’s a risk to our mental health, to our physical wellbeing and to our very lives.
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I had thought that the world being turned upside down might put a dent in diet culture. It seemed that having a real and very serious health issue to contend with would get our collective perspective in order. Turns out that was naive.
If anything, it’s worse. The fat phobia has amplified. It’s coming from new & unexpected directions along with all the regular ones. It’s demoralising to realise how quickly all those supposed body positive allies throw the fatties under the bus. People I respected didn’t take long to start posting the weight gain jokes. Support for my own & other fat activist’s work has begun to feel like a part of a cultivated image. One that cracks under any pressure at all.
When you joke about the horror of gaining weight in public forums it isn’t harmless. Not only does it perpetuate stigma towards fat bodies; you’re also telling fat people what you really think of them. If you like your smaller body I’m delighted for you. Enjoy it. However, if your only response to inhabiting a slightly larger form is mockery or revulsion, you are not a Bopo ally.
This applies even more in the current crisis. During a deadly pandemic that grinds entire countries to a halt there are many things to fear. If top of your list is weight gain you might want to reassess your priorities. I am the after picture in those hilarious memes. Looking like me is not the worst thing that corona virus could do to you.
When I’m not disappointed by folk I expected better from I am bombarded by the diet industry. The weight loss world has never missed an exploitation opportunity. Diet plans & work out programme ads have multiplied. Disreputable influencers can’t wait to wring some cash of out skinny whatever collaborations. Millionaire celebs holed up in mansions are giving us food plans to guard against stress eating. Meanwhile regular people struggle to cope isolation, lost income & fear of critical illness. The focus on the waist line is gross.
I’ve saved the worst for last. The truly terrifying part; medical discrimination. In the wake of covid 19 fat has been pathologised to an even greater extent. BMI has been incorrectly identified as a risk factor for both contracting the virus & suffering more severe symptoms. Weight has been used as a disqualifying factor when resources are scarce. In other words, fat people have been deemed dispensable. I know we’re not alone. Other marginalised groups (some I also belong to) have been marked cannon fodder too. I am ready to fight for the rights of all those people. It’s startling how many members of those groups do not reciprocate my solidarity.
If you’re thinking the jokes & fears have nothing to do with the medical discrimination, you’re wrong. By partaking in the toxic diet conversation you help create a society that considers fat bodies to be less worthy. We live in a world that permits Drs to ignore research on weight & its implications. We accept inaccuracies & damaging advice because the majority still believe that fat is bad. Fat phobia is profitable and fat people are paying the ultimate price.
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Let’s start the year with my annual reminder, shall we? As we head into peak ‘new year, new you’ territory let me assure you that weight loss is not self care or improvement. Decreasing your size will not decrease your problems. Changing your diet will not change your life. You do not have to atone for any Xmas indulgence. Punishing yourself with a diet that won’t work anyway will achieve nothing. Even if you don’t believe that diet culture is harmful to you, believe me when I say it is damaging to the fat people in your life. Every time you talk in disgusted tones about how fat you are you tell us what you really think of our bodies. Trust me, we’re sick of hearing it. This is my body and it is good enough exactly as it is. I am fat and attractive and happy. Whether you agree with me or not doesn’t matter. I’m so much more than flesh & skin anyway. It’s sad & frustrating that people still need to be reminded of this.
I think most people want to be loving & supportive of their friends. Whenever I discuss body positivity (online or in person) most decent straight sized people are mostly in favour of the theory. I’m often congratulated & told it is important to spread the message. I suspect these people would consider themselves supportive of their fat friends.
Whilst I agree that they are well intentioned & aim to be supportive I still hear the same complaints from the fat friends over & over. It can be really hard to address these face to face. So, here is a handy to guide to help thin folk support the fat people in their life. I’m starting with the basics; 5 easy steps that anyone can manage.
Don’t tell me you feel fat.
Fat is not a feeling. When you describe your feelings of inadequacy or unattractiveness as ‘feeling fat’, your opinions on fat are very clear. In addition please don’t complain about how fat you are when you are half my size. What I hear is that you think I am repulsive.
Don’t include me in your diet talk
Diets don’t work. That is scientific fact. Studies show time & again that almost every diet actually results in long term weight gain. I believe that diet talk is toxic. I can’t tell you what to do with your body, but please don’t involve me in it. I don’t want to know how many calories are in my or your meal. Keep your weight goals to yourself. Food has no moral value, you’re not being good when you order a salad. You can follow whatever regime you please without telling me about it.
Don’t expect me to always be ok with trawling around shops that don’t carry my size.
I can’t tell you how many shopping trips I have been on where there was no chance of me buying anything. I’m not even sure that most straight sized people are even aware of this. I’m not saying I’ll never help you pick out a new frock, but please try to be aware that it isn’t all that much fun for me. There are limits to how much time I want to spend sitting in waiting rooms holding your coat.
Don’t laugh at/make fat jokes.
Whether it’s a character in a film or a disparaging comment about that bitch you hate at work when you include their weight it stings. When you find Thor in a fat suit hilarious you’re laughing at my actual body. If you can’t criticise Trump without mentioning his weight you are telling me that him being fat is part of what you dislike about him.
Don’t comment on weight loss/gain
The aim of my body positivity is reach a point where body size is neutral. I would dearly love for my bulk or lack there of to just not matter. With that in mind, please don’t comment on my weight fluctuations. Weight loss is not inherently good. Any changes may be unintentional. They may not even be benign. The size of my person requires no discussion. In the same vein don’t expect me to congratulate or castigate anyone else’s weight change.
I know some readers will be thinking this is all very demanding. No doubt the, we can’t say anything anymore mob, will have lots to say about my suggestions. Remember, though, they are only suggestions. No one can stop you from saying anything you feel you must. I’m simply letting you know that when you do, it hurts. It comes down to respect. The choice is yours.
Every now and then I come across a phrase or slogan that perfectly encapsulates an element of my daily experience. Whenever I do I kind of want to wear it emblazoned on my chest. So, this time I did.
T – Shirt – Custom slogan by Paper Press Ireland.
The reaction to this T- Shirt sums up how common this behaviour is. Several woman enthusiastically complimented it. More men gave me looks. The only man to comment advised me that I was attractive, but I would intimidate men by wearing such a thing. I laughed as I told him I wasn’t looking for man & would never be interested in one who felt intimidated by honesty. I suppose it underlines what I already knew, masculinity is oh so fragile.
In case the meaning is lost, I’ll spell it out. I’m fat. I’m also fucking incredible. I was fat when you sleazed on me. I was fat when I turned you down. I was fat when you tried to insult me & I’m still fat when I mock you. I’m not ashamed. I’m not desperate. I’m not waiting for your approval. Oh & I’m not alone. Fat femmes are not seeking random male approval. We know our worth. We want none of your sub standard attention. In short, don’t poke the magnificent bear.
New year, New You. Are you sick of this bullshit yet? I’ve been done with it for eons. Every bloody January the diet talk ramps up & the weight loss industry tries to convince us that thin is a magic elixir. Just when I thought I had seen it all Khloe Kardashian steps up with Revenge Body. Rage ensues.
Person is overweight.
Said person has been bullied, cheated on, in some way hurt.
This hurt was either attributed to and/or impacted on their self image & confidence.
KK’s solution is lose weight & therefore get revenge on those who caused the hurt.
Where do I even start with how fucked up this is? probably by applying the old maxim that the best revenge is living well. You do not gain power over an abuser by complying with their demands. True power comes from setting your own agenda. Self esteem is routed in liking who you are. Wether that be your physical appearance, personality, chosen work or lifestyle. Strengthing the belief that people must conform to specific beauty standards in order to be loved & respected is the furthest thing from empowerment.
That’s before I even get to how toxic the notion of revenge is. If someone cannot treat you with the care that you deserve you should absolutely disengage. You don’t need to put up with any fuckwittage be it from a romantic partner, family member or friend. Ditch them & do you. Live your life exactly as you please. Spending time with people who appreciate you is healthy. Changing yourself to fit someone else’s ideal is not. Nor does it in anyway shift the power balance. Seeking revenge keeps noxious people in your head. Fuck that.
Which leads me to the most obvious problem with this concept. Body positivity is not about altering your body, it’s about changing accepted terms of what a ‘good body’ is. You do not need to lose weight to love yourself. You do not need to submit to diets & work outs to be a healthy, happy & productive person. The real revolution is in learning to enjoy the marvellous body you have. We must reject the assumption that fat equals undeserving. We must also exstinguish the view that our problems can all attributed to our weight. Life is complicated, wearing a size 8 will not conquer all your demons. However, tackling the ingrained fatphobia may just lead to a happier you. Trust me, you’re magnificent & there is a growing BoPo movement to help you believe it.