Correction: This article has been updated to remove reference to a lawsuit against Jillian Michaels, which incorrectly implied that Ms. Michaels is selling weight loss pills with potentially lethal ingredients on her site. The lawsuit in question, which was dismissed 10 years ago on the merits, alleged that Ms. Michaels was selling such pills but never offered sufficient proof of that claim.
The diet industry has been waging a fake war against fat for years. Whether it’s seeing the headless, anonymous bodies on those stupid “obesity epidemic” news specials or the ridiculous commercials for profit-driven weight loss membership programs, our country is being fed a huge fucking lie. In fact, it’s such a disconnect from the actual truth that it’s eroding our collective mental health.
We’ve been incorrectly taught that being fat has the potential to make you worthless in every possible way.
Those who profit from diet culture will tell you that obesity will assuredly kill you and that a fat body lessens your overall health. They’ll persuade you to believe that unless you’re working to lose weight and keep that damn weight off, you won’t be able to live your best life or be attractive to those around you. They’ll even try to convince you that you are the sole problem if dieting doesn’t lead you to shed the pounds.
Growing up, media imagery and a ton of sociocultural factors led me to believe that the vast majority of fat people in society were lazy, reckless, untrustworthy, and perpetually sick. I felt disgust as a young person whenever I saw them out and about, distanced myself from anyone who had extra fat on their bodies, and obsessively hustled to keep myself as skinny as physically possible.
When my mind finally broke down from the eating disorder that was tearing it apart, the body dysmorphia that wreaked havoc on it, and the diet pill addiction that left it paralyzed with shame, I still stubbornly convinced myself that my destructive behaviors were acceptable so long as they didn’t make me fat.
After years of being incorrectly conditioned to believe that possessing a larger body is inherently bad, I now know differently. I’ve healed my eating disorder and have unexpectedly found overall health in a fat body, so I think it’s time to set the record straight for the rest of us. Below are the top six myths about being fat that I’m totally about to debunk the fuck out of.
1. You need to seriously worry about your BMI, because it’s the holy grail of health standards.
I spent so goddamn long treating the BMI as law. But despite my efforts to successfully stay on the lower end of the range, I was still welcomed with open arms to places like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. Apparently, even if you’re skinny you can still stand to lose ten pounds. And so, I tried. And tried. And tried.
Then I got pregnant twice, gained 75 pounds, and watched my BMI rise significantly. Last time I checked it, I was at a 37.5, which is in the “medically obese” range. Since obesity has long been debated for whether it’s a disease or not, I’ve also learned that if my BMI were to increase by just 2.5 points, I could potentially be considered “disabled” by the AMA as of 2013. I can only imagine that for most people, seeing such a high BMI would trigger immediate feelings of panic, embarrassment, and even shame. We’ve all been taught that this body measuring tool is the all-time greatest factor for determining our overall health, so it makes sense that we’d worry about our numbers.
But I think you’ll change your tune after I explain to you exactly how the BMI was created – and why I’m now officially calling it a “Bullshit Making Institution.”
The person who created the BMI was a super racist Belgian mathematician and astronomer named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He dreamed up the formula as a way of helping measure bodily composition in the early 19th century to help the government determine how to dole out their resources. Even Quetelet himself said that the BMI could not, and should never, be used to indicate the fatness of a person, and he only initially created it using the measurements of white Europeans.
Fast forward to this century, and we’re seeing insurance companies who have caught wind of this outdated and unnecessary system currently using it to bump up premiums for larger folks. The grave problem with this is that the BMI will never be able to realistically measure the full scope of every human being’s health. It was made for white people, by a white person, and it was never intended to be a legitimate part of our medical system.
So the next time your doctor starts to give you weight loss tips because your BMI is in question, just tell them who created it and give them a serious education.
2. Obesity is an epidemic just like any other disease, and fat people are promoting it when they live openly and joyfully.
Like me, you probably grew up seeing the anonymous, headless fat bodies walking around on the news as a TV reporter ominously informed us all about “The Obesity Epidemic.” I remember being as terrified of “catching fat” as I was of watching “The Nightmare on Elm Street.”
That is, until I learned the truth. You can’t actually “catch” fat. And you cannot call something an epidemic when a decent portion of the people considered sick are, in fact, totally healthy. Studies have been done on fat people and the results found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of those classified as “obese” are metabolically healthy and show zero signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance, or high cholesterol.
Since we’re seeing a promising societal shift in understanding and acceptance of larger bodies, I also think it’s important to debunk the ridiculous myth that a fat person living their best life is promoting obesity. To believe this is to incorrectly assume the health of someone based solely on their size, and it also unjustly equates a person’s happiness or livelihood with their physical well-being. Every fucking human on planet Earth deserves to feel good, no matter their size, shape, identity, or condition. Health should definitely not be a social currency you pay to be worthy of joy or the ability to be authentically seen and valued.
So one more time for the people in the back, having a fat body is not a fucking disease or worthy of “epidemic” status, so cut that shit out.
3. Being thin makes you healthier than being fat ever will, so we should all be prioritizing weight loss.
How many of us have been buying into this annoyingly untrue and damaging belief? More so, how many of us have gone to dangerous methods in order to achieve and maintain a thin body?
I know I certainly went to as many extremes as possible in order to stay skinny. At my thinnest, I was a teenager riddled with an eating disorder and a diet pill addiction – and not a single person ever asked me if I was prioritizing my health during that time.
For all of the studies out there trying to prove that being fat correlates with a lack of health across the board, there have also been studies proving how unhealthy a thin-bodied person can be. For instance, a 2016 study spanning two decades that determined how much of an impact your BMI could have on your health found that unfit skinny folks were twice as likely to get diabetes as fit fat people. Which basically means that living in thinness does not guarantee you ultimate health and well-being.
Much of the focus on health these days centers around the physical aspects of it, yet mental well-being has an incredible potential to influence how you physically feel in your body. Not only can poor mental health be a risk factor for chronic physical conditions, but human beings with serious mental health challenges are at a high risk of experiencing those bodily problems. We need to stop looking at health with a “one BMI fits all” mentality and expand it to cultivating overall mental, emotional, and physical well-being. This begins with doing the tough work of de-stigmatizing fat bodies and educating ourselves on the industries that are literally profiting off of our self-hate.
4. Fat people have no business getting pregnant and putting their babies at risk.
I’m just going to use my own personal experience for this one. After gaining 60 pounds with my first pregnancy, I became pregnant again in a newly plus-sized body. I remember sitting in the OBGYN’s office and being told that I’d need to extensively monitor my prenatal weight gain, since I’d already been placed in the “medically obese” category. And yet, despite always bringing home that blunt term on my appointment papers, I passed every single blood test with flying colors, tested negatively for gestational diabetes, and impressed my doctors with how healthy and easy a pregnancy I could have in a larger body.
Not so shockingly, much of what caused the concern around my pregnancy weight gain had to do with one of the only measuring systems the medical profession is using these days to determine the overall scope of a woman’s health – the stupid fucking BMI.
As we’ve determined above, many fat women are metabolically healthy and can easily carry their children to term without a single fucking issue. And many thin women can certainly face unfortunate physical complications during pregnancy. Please stop judging us by our size and weight alone.
5. Living as a parent in a fat body is detrimental to your children – and living as a child in a fat body is equally detrimental.
I don’t know about you, but I personally believe that anyone living in any body and commenting negatively about it has a far greater impact on your kid’s development than existing in a fat body. And others overwhelmingly agree. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years released an extensive 2016 report about children and body image. They found that 24% of childcare professionals had reported seeing kids as young as three years old expressing dissatisfaction with their appearance and body, while a whopping 47% of childcare workers had seen body image anxiety in children ages six to ten.
The evidence doesn’t stop there. According to The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the best-known environmental contributor to developing an eating disorder is our societal obsession with thin bodies. It’s also estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men in our country will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives — and this doesn’t even account for other gender identities. According to research shared on NEDA’s website, a heartbreaking 60% of elementary school aged girls are already seeing their weight as a significant problem. For those same girls who also regularly read magazines, 69% of them say that the images they see influence their idea of what an ideal body shape is, and 47% say that the bodies represented make them want to lose weight.
And don’t even get me started on how diabolical it is for a doctor to openly discuss your child’s “problematic” weight or BMI in front of them.
Instead of tearing yourself down in front of your kids because you have a mom pouch or haven’t lost the pregnancy weight, how about teaching children to love themselves from the inside out first? How about modeling and encouraging choices that align with their inner worth? And maybe it’s time to stop focusing so much on our bodies and start focusing on everything we are beyond them.
As speaker and educator Dana Suchow so eloquently advises in an article for Whole Mamas Club, “Break the cycle of conditional love that so many of us experienced as children, by letting your kids know you will always love and protect them, no matter what their body looks like.”
6. Diets are the perfect antidote for fatness, and we should all be on one.
Now that I know what I know, this lie sounds like the biggest fucking joke of them all.
The diet industry is a total stinkin’ scam, folks. As of 2019, it is the proud owner of a record 72 BILLION of our society’s dollars. With all this cashola, you’d think that people would finally be reaping long-term benefits from dieting. But you’d be totally fucking wrong. Restrictive eating to induce weight loss has been scientifically proven to fail. It doesn’t work for the vast majority of people. In case you don’t believe me, please take a gander at the 2007 UCLA study that proves it.
“We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more,” said Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead researcher of the study. “Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”
It’s no surprise that businesses like Weight Watchers are hoping you’ll rejoin, because that’s how they make a shit ton of their money. Fad diets like “keto” have been proven to put your body into actual starvation mode, yet tons of companies, influencers, and celebrities are making bank off of the no-carb wave.
Does reading all of this make you squirm a little bit? I hope so. It should. This is all really fucked up.
It helps to remember that we always have a choice. We can continue to believe the lies, or we can call “shenanigans” on ’em. Please consider stepping away from the scale, closing down the calorie counting app, and opening yourself up to a life that can exist without the constant – and mentally debilitating – pressure to be thin. Please try leaning into a way of living that gives every single person the right to take up space, no matter their size. And for the love of pasta, please always question the motives of any profit-driven individual, industry, or institution that is rooting for you to keep seeing your body as a problem.