Even If They’re Right . . .

Think about this. Let’s suppose for a minute that those who believe in the “obesity” epidemic are right. That we fatties are eating more than we need to make up for sadness elsewhere in our lives. Or perhaps we are self-medicating for depression. In any case we’re making ourselves fatter and happier, and we could choose to be thinner and healthier (by some measures), but less happy.

My answer is, “so what?” There are two points here: (1) all medicines have side effects, and (2) mental health is as important as any other type of health. People are prescribed anti-depression drugs even though weight gain is a common side effect because the disease is so crippling that it’s an acceptable tradeoff.

There might be some fat folks who eat more because they’re self-medicating. That is, they’re cutting out the middleman, so to speak, and rather than take anti-depressants, just eating more to feel better. To me, that’s also an acceptable tradeoff. Why is the weight gain acceptable in one case and not the other?


18 thoughts on “Even If They’re Right . . .

  1. I think people see people who often over eat as a sign of weakness, as in they can’t control their obsessive joy for food, emotions, etc so they just give in. They are seen as weaker people.

    Just my hypothesis here.

    • Thanks for commenting, Ashley. Sadly you’re right. In our society, we’ve as well as criminalized anything fun. Soon, dancing will be banned in some towns. Oh, wait . . .

  2. And the same goes for people who don’t want to or can’t exercise. It’s their body, their choice of what to do with it. I have one supersized friend who doesn’t move her body very much and she’s very healthy. I am very pro-choice about bodies.

    • Thanks, Mara. I agree. The way to be a good friend to a fat person is the same way to be a good friend to anyone. Be supportive, and remember that her health choices are her business.

  3. For those with that mindset though, it actually *isn’t* acceptable in either case. I know I’ve read comments from more than one person who was told if their antidepressants are making them fat they need to quit taking them.

    I’ve actually had more than one doctor over the past 25 years *refuse* to treat my depression with various comments along the line of “the last thing YOU need is to be taking something that might make you even heavier”. My favorite has to be the last one, who said “lets just try going for a few minutes walk once or twice a week, I’m sure once you actually start getting out and engaging in some physical activity the symptoms you think you have will melt away just like your extra weight”.

    And this was after I told him that I have one or more suicidal thoughts a day, and at least two or three times a week I would have to halt dinner preparations and *leave the house* because I wasn’t sure I could trust myself to resist the urge to use the knife on myself.

    But as far as he was concerned, it was clearly more dangerous to risk gaining weight.

    I doubt I’m the only person to have had experiences like that… only maybe not all of the others who were in that situation have been quite as lucky at resisting those impulses as I’ve been.

    • Thanks for commenting, Erin. It’s a stark reminder of how ingrained fat hatred is. I’m dismayed that doctors would withold needed medicine due to fat hatred. But not surprised.

    • Oh, for the love of Pete….

      Refused to treat mental illness because the meds cause weight gain???

      (rant warning)
      I speak from experience: Fat and sane beats skinny and crazy. Those doctors who did that to you have COMPLETELY lost sight of risk/reward in medicine. Untreated bipolar disorder, for example, has about a 15% lifetime mortality risk from suicide. No, I’m not exaggerating that one. So… they want you to risk offing yourself because …. what? You might have to manage Type II Diabetes 10-20 years down the road? Your blood pressure might go up a tick? Big Stinkin’ Deal! You treat THE most pressing issue, the one most likely to harm or kill your patient FIRST. That’s why we give chemo to cancer patients, or give people with transplants drugs that suppress their immune system.

      If depression is less severe — like NO suicidal ideation — then you can have the great debate as to how much risk you want to take with meds and what side effects you will tolerate. (Not just weight — definitely other issues with psych drugs as well.)

      Grrrrrr….. touched a nerve.

  4. Very good post & very good point. How is it in this culture that naturally thin people who eat a great deal are treated with tolerant affection & envied & that their consumption of huge amounts of food is seen as ‘cute’ while fat people who eat moderate amounts or occasionally enjoy a treat where they can be seen are gluttonous, out of control slobs? It isn’t fair & it isn’t right, but it happens every day.

    Virtually everyone of every size eats for comfort at times, eats to celebrate & feel a sense of community with loved ones, eats for some reason OTHER than physical hunger. It is normal, natural, & perfectly healthy. I really dislike the term ‘overeat’ because that too sounds judgmental, as if we somehow know that there is a certain set amount people “Should” eat & no more. I passionately believe that our bodies belong to us & how we live in them & feed them is n one’s business but our our own. I also know well that you cannot tell by looking at people how or what they eat; I also know well that virtually all of us eat a lot sometimes, a little at other times. I am very angry that we live in a culture where it is seen as acceptable for a doctor to withhold medication which might help someone live a normal live & not kill herself because that medication might make her fat. And for those of us who can help ourselves deal with life’s stressors & down moments with food instead of medications which have dangerous side effects, how unfair & downright criminal is it that we are criticized & shamed for doing so.

    Our culture has such a dysfunctional relationship with food & self care & we have become a society of ‘nannies’, feeling perfectly justified in wanting to control the bodies of others & tell them how to live. It extends from before birth to the grave, wanting to tell us at every moment of life what is right & wrong. I am 62 now, disabled all my life, & my husband, who is retired, & I live on a fixed income. We are doing fairly well, we have a roof over our heads & are able to eat enough every day. However, many older people, especially those who are REALLY elderly, every day make the choice between food & medicine, or food & heat, etc. Yet, we have the AARP, who is supposed to be defending older people, publishing articles encouraging ‘eating light’ & weight loss even for people in their 80’s, when the biggest issue for older people is getting ENOUGH to eat, when dieting is an unhealthy, unsuccessful, dangerous process, when weight loss for people past 60 increases mortality risks by several hundred percent. God FORBID that you might spend the last decade or two of your life eating well enough to be healthy, that you might relax & allow yourself to do what gives you pleasure, eat what you want, & not worrying about calories, fat grams, carbs, or how much you weigh! Living a joyous, guilt-free life is just not be allowed in modern culture & it is particularly not be allowed to those who are fat.

    I spend little time with doctors, will not go unless I need to &, until I turn 65 & qualify for Medicare, have no medical insurance. I am lucky, I have always been healthy & have spent less time under medical care than most people half my age. But I have, since I came to fat acceptance 32 years ago, been a ‘difficult’ patient, or ‘non-compliant’, as they love to say, because I own my body, I decide how I live in it, I eat what I want, & I refuse to be bullied about my weight. Our culture really hates people who refuse to be bullied.

    • Thanks for your comments, Patsy, and for your kind words. You bring me to another “even if they’re right” point: people seem to think that my health is their business because I have health insurance, and they are therefore indirectly paying for my care. But, even if they’re right, lifetime health care costs are most strongly correlated with lifespan, so those who tend to shorter lives, such as very fat people like myself, on average have lower lifetime healthcare costs, even if they’re “less healthy”.

  5. “Let’s suppose for a minute that those who believe in the “obesity” epidemic are right. That we fatties are eating more than we need to make up for sadness elsewhere in our lives.”

    But I think it’s perfectly possible to believe that, as a society [1], we are heavier now than 20 years ago, without thinking that the cause is individuals eating more than they need to. An epidemic implies a problem on a societal level not an individual level. While there are a lot of people who incorrectly think that the “solution” to the “obesity epidemic” is an individual one, i.e. eat less exercise more, that’s a stupid mistake on many many levels, including the ones you pointed out.

    But how I think of it, for example, is that the “obesity epidemic” is actually a symptom of larger, societal problems in our food system, a negative side effect of dieting culture, and a natural side effect of changes in the labor force (ie less agriculture and factory jobs and more senentary office jobs). So I see no conflict with believing in the core tenents of the FA movement — thinking that everyone deserves to be respected and happy with their bodies and not judged or degraded because of how they look — while also believing that dieting culture needs to be changed and that our food system needs to be changed and that the “obesity epidemic” is the most visible (if least dangerous) side effect of both of those things.

    I dislike much of the hype surrounding the “obesity epidemic” — up to an including the name itself — because I think it obscures the larger issues which the trend — that we as a society are weighing more than we used to — actually arises from. But I don’t think that believing in the “obesity epidemic”, that is to say, believing that on a societal scale we weigh more than we used to, is immediately anti-FA. I think it’s how you approach that belief and “solutions” to that belief that can be anti-FA.

    As someone who cares deeply about BOTH FA/body acceptance AND the environment/food politics & reform (AND mental health advocacy though that part of your argument is clearly not what I took issue with) the way that both “sides” of the “obesity epidemic” debate approach this issue and the way that they summarize the other side’s arguments drives me up a wall because very often, people from each side miss a lot of the really important things being said and just latch onto the pop headlines surrounding the issue, thereby misrepresenting the actual debate. Yes, there are stupid people who say stupid things about it, but that’s not everyone. And, yes, I do want environmentalists to start being more fat-positive and believe me when I say that I post comments to environmentalist sites challenging their assumptions surrounding fatness, but at the same time the FA movement has a definite disregaurd for many of the actual things said about the “obesity epidemic” in environmentalist circles. Both sides probably agree on more than they disagree on — ie food deserts are bad and we need to find a way to fix them, large food corporations often misrepresent their products in confusing (and sometimes triggering) ways through advertising and packaging, and there are a lot of mixed signals surrounding food in advertising, media, politics, and general discourse.

    But, to end this comment on less of a rant, yes, I have always always known that I would rather be fat and happy than thin and miserable and when I started taking an SSRI I told my doctor, my parents, and my friends that weight gain would be a welcome trade off if I stopped crying and having panic attacks all the time.

    [1] Speaking primarily of the US here, as that is what I am most familiar with and that is what most of the “obesity epidemic” discussion I have seen centers around.

    • Thanks for your comments, ghost. I can see that a lot of thought went into them. However, I’m not going to engage in a discussion of the food supply system in the US, because it’s off-topic for this blog post. Maybe we can tackle that in a future post.

      I will say that I find the following statement by you problematic: “But I don’t think that believing in the “obesity epidemic”, that is to say, believing that on a societal scale we weigh more than we used to, is immediately anti-FA.” It is an established fact that the US population weighs more than it did 30 or 40 years ago, but I don’t think that this equates to an epidemic because fatness is not a disease. People have gotten taller on average during that same span, but we don’t hear of a “tallness epidemic” (even though tallness correlates with a shorter lifespan) because tallness is accepted. Fatness, on the other hand, is stigmatized. An argument that uses increased fatness as a symptom of something wrong with society depends upon fat stigma for its effectiveness.

      • Just want to clarify that I used the phrase “obesity epidemic” in quotes throughout my entire comment because I find, as I stated, the label for the trend problematic and thus won’t use it as simply as is. However it’s also the commonly used term and the term you used to introduce the topic so I used it. My use is not indicative of actually believing that the trend is an epidemic, though I do believe that, like epidemics, it is a trend whose roots lie in a societal level not a personal one.

        I also think that increased height is a visible signifier of our food system, but that was not the topic of your post so I didn’t think it relevant to mention. And my personal belief is that any post that touches on the “obesity epidemic” is, either directly or indirectly, referencing the things that are behind the trend, ie our food system. I didn’t realize that this blog considered such discussions off-topic. My apologies.

      • Thanks again for commenting, s.h. There’s not a general rule against talking about food supply, but it wasn’t the topic of this post.

  6. I just wanted to say that I am do not believe, from the evidence I have seen & studies I have read, & just people whom I have known about, that I don’t believe that very fat people necessarily tend to have a compromised lifespan. They love to throw those threats at all of us, but fatness, especially in aging people, tends to be protective & most of the increased ‘risks’ associated with fat seem to be strongly correlated to stigma, discrimination, lack of access, the stress of being fat in a culture that hates fat.

    I don’t live in your body & I don’t know exactly HOW fat you are, but I do know that many very fat people have lived long lives. I know that Pattie Thomas had a grandfather who weighed 300 pounds when he died at 99, that a lady who comments on another blog has a father in his 80’s who weighs over 300 pounds. I know one of my favorite writers, Daniel PInkwater, has been fat pretty much his whole life & in the neighborhood of 400 pounds for quite a long time; he turned 70 in November & is still going strong. And Pacific Islander cultures have a lot of people, in particular their kings, who weigh sometimes well over 400 pounds & live well into their 80’s or 90’s. I genuinely believe that this culture brainwashes us to believe that virtually everything that ever goes wrong is caused by fat. I am not sure how they want to explain the fact that thin people die too, of the same illnesses that fat people get, & that thin people also often die at an early age.

    I wish you the best, however long your life is, as i wish for myself, & I hope we both give this fatphobic culture the finger by living past 90. And I will always maintain that HOW I live & what & how much I eat is no one’s business but mine. We don’t have to prove we are worthy of access & respect; we deserve access & respect because we are human.

    • Thanks, Patsy. I absolutely agree with you: there are tons of covariants, and lifestyle probably trumps size. But even if very fat people tend to live shorter lives (that is, even if fat haters are right), it doesn’t matter because (1) my size is my damned business, and (2) there’s no reliable way to make fat people thin.

  7. You are absolutely right, there is no way to make people thin & dieting in itself damages health, especially as we grow older. One of the best ways to keep ‘unattractive older people’, as I am sure many see us, from littering the landscape is to convince us to keep going on diets. And I have a feeling that genetics probably trumps just about everything, aside maybe from heavy smoking/drinking/drug use. One thing I know for certain is that ‘ain’t none of us gettin’ out of here alive.’ Well, aside from astronauts, but that is only temporary & they die as well.

    And that first point of yours is the most important one ANY of us can make…our bodies are OUR business, & it is no one else’s business how big we are, how we eat, how/if we exercise, or anything else. I do wish the damn nannies in our modern culture would get themselves a LIFE! I mean, one OTHER than yours & mine.

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