Fat People Don't Have To Be On A Perpetual Diet
I have psoriasis. I’ve had it since I was in elementary school, and I have finally decided I’ve had enough. I recently started a new injectable biologic to control it. While I was digging for good news about my skin, I found a video of a guy discussing all the things he tried before turning to injectables. He started off discussing a “psoriasis diet” he had tried for several months.
It wasn’t the diet that caught my attention.
It was the way he talked about it. He was visibly frustrated as he explained that the strict diet he was on actually did help his psoriasis. He saw marked improvement. But he couldn’t stick to it long term because it was so all-consuming.
His basic sentiment was, “It came to a point where I could do this diet to help my skin, or I could have all the other parts of the rest of my life. I chose a normal life.” As a thin person, I am sure this felt like a big revelation to him.
As a fat person, I was like NO EFFING KIDDING.
Limiting your diet is an emotional roller coaster no matter what the reason, but when it’s motivated by diet culture’s hatred for the way your body looks, it’s literally 24/7 hard. It’s maintaining constant focus on the ways your body doesn’t stack up to society’s standards.
That SUCKS. It’s soul-crushing. It hurts. Even when it “works.”
I know that I could stick to a very strict, very large calorie deficit and lose weight. I could prioritize a time-consuming, intense exercise regimen and change my body to some extent.
There’s a high likelihood that, for me, it would be disordered, motivated by self-loathing, and feel like total misery.
But it would “work” if you consider success to be shrinking my body into a more “acceptable” size and shape. Because it’s not technically impossible for me to become thinner, many people believe that I should be on a perpetual diet every single day of my life until I attain a level of thinness that makes me sexually acceptable to the men who dictate our beauty standards.
It doesn’t matter that it’s unreasonably hard for some people. That truth is constantly brushed off as an excuse or laziness. Nobody wants to hear that every body actually doesn’t respond the same way to every diet, and that what worked for them might not work for me. A lot of people don’t allow a fat person the space and respect to say, “Dieting, for me, gets to a point where it controls my life, and I get to choose between that and my own happiness and mental health.” We don’t get to prioritize our mental health and happiness without judgment.
Fat people are supposed to be constantly in progress until we are thin…and then?
We are supposed to spend the rest of our lives working to maintain that thinness.
And we are supposed to do this without any complaint, without any sympathy for how incredibly hard it is because we are supposed to want to be thin more than we want to enjoy food along with everyone else, and relax into our bodies as they are.
It’s interesting to me because there actually was one time in my life when people seemed to feel for me when I was on a very restricted diet. I wasn’t thin. I was pregnant. In my third trimester with my last baby, I found out I had gestational diabetes. Luckily, I didn’t have any trouble controlling my blood sugars, and we both turned out no worse for the wear.
But I had to navigate the holiday season without a single treat, with very few carbs, carefully measuring my portions and ensuring that I created a safe environment for my growing baby.
It is the one time in my life that I did not struggle one little bit. My health and my baby’s health depended on my restricted diet. It was a no-brainer that I would do what I needed to do in order to keep us both safe.
It’s also the one time when I was inundated with compassion. People wanted to tell me that they understood how tough it was. They seemed to fully understand how overwhelmed I must be asking about ingredients, tracking everything I ate, testing my blood, checking my baby’s weight via weekly ultrasounds. A lot of people even promised to bring my favorite sweet treats to the hospital after my baby was born, realizing how comforting and yummy that would be for me.
The fact that gestational diabetes was largely out of my control seemed to be my golden ticket to understanding.
My higher weight, despite much scientific evidence to the contrary, is still largely regarded as something that is completely within my control, and therefore, I am not entitled to be okay with it.
Why can people muster up sympathy for people who have to limit their diets due to illnesses, but they expect fat people in good health (we do exist!) to be on a perpetual diet, never ever just eating what’s available, letting their body exist as it is? Why is it still such a no-go to just accept that you’re fat and let that be the case, even if only for a season?
I fought my body for years. For most of my teens and twenties and even a couple years of my very early thirties, I was always on a diet. Every time I ate a meal or treat without knowing how many calories, carbs or fat was in it, I felt a nagging guilt that I was “cheating on my diet.” Despite my best efforts, I never quite changed my body enough to become acceptable. Not even close.
And then, I decided to see what it felt like to try to make peace with my body instead of constantly fighting it. I didn’t gain weight as I always thought I would. Sometimes, I even lose weight without trying. My weight fluctuates naturally almost as much as it did when I was frequently actively dieting.
I still diet once in a while. I have learned to make peace with my body, but I live in this thin-obsessed culture and sometimes I still find myself itching to see if I can get a little closer to thin.
Because dieting isn’t all tough. The high of watching the weight come off is enough to keep me going sometimes. When it’s “working” and your body is shrinking, dieting can feel good. (But it can also quickly evolve into a really harmful pattern of disordered eating if you’re susceptible to that.) Inching closer to society’s idea of what you should look like feels hopeful sometimes.
But, for me, there’s something really draining about trying to convince myself to frame the experience as a permanent change of lifestyle, when it almost always feels like an unsustainable way to live. I’m not alone in that exhaustion.
Most fat people I have spoken to agree that it’s just really heavy to be so focused on the ways your body doesn’t stack up to society’s standards. Dieting can bring that to the forefront in ways that are really tough to handle for extended periods of time.
There is so much you don’t know about a fat person’s health, history and choices just by looking at them. If you know a fat person who seems to you to be “letting themselves go” or “not caring about their health,” mind your own business, and let them be. Mental health IS health, and we don’t owe anyone a smaller body or an explanation as to why we aren’t killing ourselves to attain one.
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