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Lonie McMichael: But it’s for my health!!!

I went to dinner with a good friend a couple of months ago. She seemed antsy and restless while we were eating. Then, excitedly, she announced, “I’m on Weight Watchers!” Wait, what? She knows me well. She’s heard me rail and rant about the failure of dieting. She’s listened to me talk about FA. And yet she still had a thrill in her voice when she announced this to me. As I looked at her incredulously, she responded, “I know I only have a 5% chance, but this time I’m doing it for my health!”

As I stared at her in amazement, a light bulb went on in my head: “but it’s for my health” is often used as an almost mystical, magical talisman to ward off the gods of failed diets. There exists a belief that somehow, if a person changes their motivation, they’ll lose weight. I believe this myth is behind the entire Obesity Epidemic. I’ve talked before about the fact that we were starting to accept that diets don’t work in the early 1990s - until, that is, someone came up with dieting for health. Then, as a society, we once again embraced it wholeheartedly. It would work this time, because it’s “for my health.”

I collect stories of those who successfully keep the weight off: at least 50 pounds for 5 years. So far, in seven years, I have collected seven stories. Of those seven, five gained the weight while pregnant and one while in an abusive relationship. Before these events, none had ever had weight problems; none had ever dieted. Each of them went on one diet and lost the weight, never having to worry about dieting again. Of the one other, she lost weight because of a very potent medicine, and she believes the weight would come back on if she stopped the meds.

When they are talking about that 5%, they are not talking about those of us who dieted for years. They are not talking about us who started out fat. They are not talking about those of us with three (in my case) fat grandparents. They are talking about people who gained weight during a pregnancy, or a short illness, or a period of depression. They are talking about people who are naturally thin - people who normally don’t have to deal with fat and who just got fat for a little while. I have heard that if you have been on more than three diets, your chances of losing weight are astronomically low.

I have been rabidly anti-dieting, and now I’m trying to change that. I’m trying to have more compassion. I know how hard it is to be a size 26 in this world; I imagine being bigger is significantly harder. Even as a deathfattie, I have privilege compared to those who cannot fit in an airplane seat or buy clothes in a brick and mortar store. I am not walking in your shoes, so I can’t know what your life is like. Yet, I can't help but discourage it BECAUSE IT DOESN'T WORK!

I watch friend after friend diet for their health and end up unhealthier in the end - and usually fatter. To add insult to injury, instead of seeing the diet as a failure, fat people usually see themselves and their bodies as failures. Be honest. How many of you have dieted time and time again only to end up fatter and hating yourself for it? How many of you who are in that but-I'm-so-fat-I'm-unhealthy place BECAUSE you dieted?

This is the thing: we have a tendency to fool ourselves. We tell ourselves it's for our health. However, if that were true, then HAES would actually be a better option. We tell ourselves we only want to lose 10%. I have found (a phenomena noted in Hirshmann and Munter’s When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies) that I don’t want to stop until I’m what society thinks is perfect. A little weight loss almost always leads to the desire for more.

In my experience, most people who say they want to lose weight for their health, just want to lose weight. If it is really about health, how about trying HAES? HAES has been proven to improve health no matter where you start out.

If you are in that place of thinking that your health sucks because of your weight, I feel for you. If you need to try one more diet, do. If you can, keep reading FA stuff while you diet. If you can’t, come back if it doesn’t work. If you are thinking about some kind of WLS, I want to encourage you to throw yourself into HAES and FA for one year - just one year. Give it the best try you can. If it doesn’t work for you, go have WLS next year.

I’m not anti-dieting because I want people to remain fat. I’m anti-dieting because it doesn’t work. “But it’s for my health” doesn’t make the odds any better. Remember: you did not fail; the diet did.

The Front Page of Today's New York Times | Arizona's $50 Medicaid Fat Fee

Kunoichi April 3rd, 2011 | Link | I'm not calling it a diet.

I'm not calling it a diet. It's a lifestyle.

Aaarrggghhh! I hate that line!

We've got my daughter's best friend living with us until he can afford a place of his own. He's been with us quite a few months and I've found myself chatting on the phone with his mom a few times. We're friendly, but not friends of any closeness, so this is not a usual thing. About a year or so ago she took up running and "eating healthy." She ended up losing something like 50 pounds, and she won't shut up about it! Of course, she didn't "diet" - it was a "lifestyle change!"

Now, I'm glad she feels healthier. Wonderful. But to her, "getting healthy" and "losing weight" are one and the same.

No surprise that her 18 yr old son thinks he's fat. Yes, he has some fat around his abdomen, but even using the BMI, he wouldn't be considered fat. With all his hereditary health problems, juvenile arthritis that causes him extreme pain, and some other health problems he has no control over, the last thing he needs to be harassed about whether or not he has love handles!

We've been slowly trying to deprogram him while he lives with us. My daughter usually smacks him whenever he makes disparaging comments about his body. Eye-wink

Not too long ago, I ended up in the emergency with extreme abdominal pain. It turned out I had a large cyst they thought was on my ovary that twisted around somehow, causing this pain. From the size of it, I must have had it for years. Over the past few weeks I've seen more doctors and had more tests then ever before as they first tried to determine what was causing the pain, then sought to verify that it wasn't cancer or somethng like that. Almost 2 weeks ago, during my pre-op, I had a whole new batch of tests, including an electrocardiogram and more blood tests. As different specialists came in to see me, they all commented on my excellent health, and how great the test results have all been. The nurse and the doctor from Internal Medicine both wondered out loud why I was even being seen by Internal Medicine, as they could see nothing in my test results that showed it was necessary. Both guessed that it might have something to do with my weight, though I think that was more because they couldn't think of anything else. Blood sugars, cholesterol, heart health, blood pressure and more, all perfect - yet during the pre-op, I still had a couple of people say something along the lines of "so, except for the weight, obviously, you're healthy."

Uhm. No. Not "except for my weight." All their tests showed I was healthy. Yes, I have postraumatic osteoarthritis. Nothing to do with my weight. Yes, I had a biga$$ cyst in my gut. Nothing to do with my weight. My "lifestyle" is healthy, and my weight is what it is. I am fat. And I am healthy. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.

(To be clear, the pre-op was the only time my weight was ever mentioned. While in emergency, when visiting the gynecologist and when I went in for surgery, it was never brought up.)

So this morning I made my regular phone call to my dad and ended up talking to both my parents. Normally, it's just my dad while my mother is at church - I deliberately call then to avoid talking to her. They asked how the surgery went and I told them about it, including how all the tests showed I was so very healthy. At which point my mother told me that now I should just start eating lots of soup so that I'll lose weight (something she'd heard on the radio or something, years ago - apparently if you eat lots of soup, you lose weight).


Oops. Sorry for turning this into a vent. Sticking out tongue

lilacsigil April 3rd, 2011 | Link | Fat and also fat

I'm in the odd position of being a fat person who then became more fat because of cancer. Some of the weight I gained when I was sick did, in fact, go away again when I was well enough to care for myself and move around again. It didn't make me a thin person though - it made me a healthy fat person. And if I hadn't had my diagnosis delayed for so long because obviously the problem was my (regular) weight, I would have been a lot healthier a lot sooner.

MichMurphy April 3rd, 2011 | Link | A little weight loss almost

A little weight loss almost always leads to the desire for more.

Too, too true. This is why I stopped dieting.

vesta44's picture
April 3rd, 2011 | Link | A little weight loss almost

A little weight loss almost always leads to the desire for more.
Yeah, my doctor told me I needed to lose 5% of my weight. I did that, and I've kept it off for 3 years (and I didn't try to lose it, don't have a freaking clue how I lost it, don't know how I'm keeping it off). Is she satisfied? Hell no. Now she wants me to lose another 5%. I dare say that if I lost that 5%, she'd have me losing another 5%, and then another 5%, and another, and another, until I got down to a weight she thinks is acceptable. Problem with that is I know those losses aren't maintainable over the long term - been there done that, it's why I'm fatter now than I've ever been. When I told her I didn't have a clue how I'd lost 20 lbs in a year, she wasn't worried about it, didn't think there was anything wrong with that, and didn't think there was any need to check on anything to see why I had lost the weight.
Is it any wonder that people succumb to the siren song of diets/lifestyle changes, especially when doctors push them and don't want to check into unexplained weight loss? If even doctors conflate weight and health, it's no wonder that laypeople would do the same, especially when they haven't taken the time to educate themselves about the efficacy of diets (or haven't learned from repeated diet failure the way we have).

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

DeeLeigh's picture
April 4th, 2011 | Link | You know, I've always

You know, I've always thought this too - that most people who succeed in losing weight long term were never "really" fat to begin with - they were just thin people who'd been subject to unusual circumstances or who'd temporarily adopted poor habits, and were able to lose weight when they changed the circumstances or habits. There are a few exceptions, DebraSY of Debra's just Maintaining, for example. But for the most part, fat people don't turn into permanently thin people.

However, when we concentrate on improving our health independent of our weight, we can improve our health and may even end up a little lighter (or not). If we try to become and stay thin by any means necessary, then we may well end up less healthy - especially mentally!

Viola's picture
April 4th, 2011 | Link | How many of you have dieted

How many of you have dieted time and time again only to end up fatter and hating yourself for it? How many of you who are in that but-I'm-so-fat-I'm-unhealthy place BECAUSE you dieted?

I feel this way exactly, and it's the reason I give for not dieting more. Every time I've lost weight, regardless of the reason, I've gained more back. I gained 20 lbs my first year in college, and it came off without me even trying to lose it. So maybe if I had just lost that, I'd have been fine, but it inspired me to do serious dieting where I lost about 70 lbs in total. I gained more back. I've lost weight with breastfeeding and ended up lower than my post partum weight, only to wind up heavier 3 years later.

And the dieting has made me less healthy because my blood pressure and blood sugar levels aren't as good as some people's here. I feel like I always have to worry about my LDL being too high, my HDL being too low, my blood pressure being on the edge.

The lifestyle changes, that's a big thing for me. I've tried lifestyle changes, but mine are never as complete as some and they don't seem to last for my lifetime. My predominant way of eating in the 90's was processed foods, but lowfat, lean meats, plain vegetables, watching out for partially hydrogenated oils and trying to eat more fiber. Then at some point after having kids, I became more of a whole foods, high fat eater. I try to eat fewer processed foods, especially flours, but I'm not sure if I really do. Some days I eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, on other days not many at all. In general my diet is still fairly close to what it was in the 90's, except I eat fatty things I would never have eaten then, and I try to avoid some of the lowfat starchy carbs that I would eat then. I'm fatter now.

Some people do seem to be able to wholeheartedly adopt lifestyle changes in a way I can't. In that one article about fat stigma, someone was saying they blamed a person who was fat if she was fat because she ate bread. I still eat bread. I eat sugar. I try to limit it and not eat too much bread, because some days I find myself eating wheat at every single meal, but I find it creeping back in after awhile, even if I've severely limited it at times. I have friends who are into fat acceptance, but decide they need to give up flour or sugar or dairy for some reason or another. I have friends who are vegan, raw food vegans, or traditional paleo types. I am on the fence about the best way to eat, but I feel like it really comes down to eating foods that mostly are found in your area. But I can never completely give myself over to one way of eating the way some people can, and I don't know why. Is it a belief thing, or a willpower thing, or what?

I just never completely switch. As an example, I don't drink soda, I don't much care for soda. But I can't say I never drink soda. Sometimes I have a soda. Sometimes I eat fast food. I don't eat it often, but I do occasionally. I know people who never eat fast food, their kids have never had a french fry, but mine have. I feel like if I had been better about this, I could have raised my children with no access to junk food. Yet when I did eat much healthier, my kids still refused my foods, and somehow found out there was bread out there that wasn't made from sprouted grain. I guess because we never stopped going out to eat, and because they have friends. So I still feel a lot of guilt that I don't have the ability to completely adopt a way of healthy eating into a matter of course. My daughter feels like I limit her because of all the foods I don't tend to buy, that her skinny friends eat. And the whole point to me is I don't by things full of artificial colors and partially hydrogenated oils because they are disgusting to me, usually, and unhealthy. And she's always saying, "But so and so eats it and she's skinny" and I'm always saying, "She's skinny, that doesn't mean she is healthy!"

Anyway, I am still trying to find my way to a healthy eating lifestyle that doesn't feel like a reducing temporary diet kind of thing, but these changes seem to take years. I don't know if I trust the lifestyle change that comes quickly to people, because it's almost like a charismatic conversion, and they need to proselytize their way of eating to everyone in order to make it easier to keep up with themselves. But some people seem to have no problems, so I don't know, I'm still really conflicted about so much surrounding food.

DeeLeigh's picture
April 5th, 2011 | Link | Viola, I'm not a nutrition

Viola, I'm not a nutrition expert, but I suspect that the people cutting entire food groups out of their diets for nutritional reasons are often on the wrong track, and that your approach to food sounds very sane. When someone tells me about how they never eat sugar or have "cut out" dairy or gone vegan and then start telling me about all their issues with feeling not-so-good, I think that maybe they'd feel better if they were eating a more varied diet. Having a varied diet is good for us. We're naturally omnivores - scavengers - and we weren't meant to live on monotonous food supplies, "clean" or otherwise.

People today are afraid of food and they seem to have lost all sense of moderation. If they decide that they want to make a change to their diet, they make an extreme, unyielding rule rather than just changing the contents of their meals a bit. It sounds like you think it's admirable, but I disagree. I think it's kind of insane.

That's just me, though. I know that there are a variety of opinions on what constitutes a "healthy diet" among fat acceptance people, and I'm neither a puritan nor someone who thinks that all possible ways of eating are equally healthy - or that any one way of eating is best for everyone.

Viola's picture
April 5th, 2011 | Link | Oh yes, there are completely

Oh yes, there are completely divergent views on a what a healthy diet is. I have vegan friends who think eating meat and eggs is unhealthy, and then the complete other side, where eating grains, legumes and white potatoes is considered bad. Now when my kids ask me if some food is actually healthy, it feels like such a loaded question. So I answer about what parts of the food is healthy, and what parts might be considered unhealthy, and it just comes down to eat a variety of foods that are close to their natural state, and some days that's more natural than others.

Viola's picture
April 4th, 2011 | Link | Oh, and as far as the 10%

Oh, and as far as the 10% thing goes, isn't that true of most everything? I heard years ago that most people don't want to be wealthy, they would just be happier with 10% more of what they are earning. But I guess if you lose 10% of your weight or earn 10% more in your income, it resets the standard for you, eventually.

AndyJo's picture
April 5th, 2011 | Link | Thin or wealth

Spot on Viola!!!

People can get 10% thinner or 10% more income and soon they want more because someone else has more. Or has lost more...

--Andy Jo--

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