It’s Easy… Just Starve

Published April 10, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Last night I was reading blog posts through Google Reader, and somewhere in my reading travels, I read a commenter I think, relating something a thin colleague of hers had said to her. (I’m sorry I can’t find where I read it, if anyone knows let me know and I’ll link it up)  It went something like this:

My doctor says that it’s easy to lose weight, all you have to do is stop putting anything in here. *Pointing to mouth*

I can’t quite express how it made me feel.  It HURT at first.  Then it made me unspeakably angry, the red mist really formed before my eyes.  Then sadness, and some more hurt.  Followed by a big old mix of rage and pain and sorrow that all came flooding at once.

Because it’s not the first time I’ve heard the opinion that fat people should simply stop eating, AT ALL.  I’ve had it directed at me personally time and time again.  Let me share with you a couple of instances that stick in my mind.

More than a decade ago.  I was severely depressed, dieting (actually, pretty much starving myself) and generally just hating myself for being fat.  I was at the local shopping centre and I was so hungry, I was close to tears.  I hadn’t eaten all day, and I decided I could let myself have a small tub of fruit salad.  I bought the fruit salad, and was sitting on a bench eating it, when an elderly couple came by, pushing a shopping trolley.  The woman nudged her husband to look at me and said, loud enough for me to hear, “Look at that!  People like that should never be allowed to eat.”

I simply lowered my head, and cried.

About five years ago.  I was out on a date with the guy I was seeing at the time.  We were having dinner in a cafe.  I had improved a lot with my eating disorder by this time, but was still “watching what I ate”.  I am eating my dinner, a chicken and mushroom thing with a side salad and a pineapple juice.  He is eating his dinner, a burger with the works, large chips, a strawberry milkshake and a large serve of deep fried, crumbed calamari.  He is tall and very lean, I am average height and very fat.  Two women walk into the cafe, see us and as my date leans over, kisses me and helps himself to some of the food off MY plate, one woman says to the other “That’s disgusting, how can she just sit there eating in front of him?”

My date didn’t hear, but I did.  I fought back tears, and could not enjoy the rest of my date.

It happens all the time, not just the “stop eating” but everyone seems to be an expert on what fat people should do with their bodies, without any real knowledge at all about those people, their health, their bodies, their lives.  Everyone out there is an expert on fatness, you only have to take a look at the hashtag that has been busy on Twitter today #thingsfatpeoplearetold We suffer people telling us how to diet and exercise, as though we have never considered it in the past.  We suffer people commenting on what we are eating, how much (or how little) we are eating, how we are eating, when we are eating and why we are eating.  We suffer people making snap judgements on our bodies simply based on what they see before them, and their own fucked up assumptions about fat.

There is this fucked up thinking that if fat people simply stopped eating, ceased consuming any food at all, they would no longer be fat and the problem would be solved.  How we’re supposed to do that, when you know, humans need food to live, to survive, I don’t know.

I think the assumption is that fat people can just “live off their fat”, that if we stop eating, our bodies will just consume the fat on them and go along as per usual, without any negative consequence.  But it simply doesn’t work like that.  Ketosis for one, can be highly damaging to a body that is consuming it’s own fat, particularly to the liver.  Bodies that are not receiving nutrition can quickly become malnourished and begin to break down their own muscle and other vital materials rather than the fats stored.  It raises the risk of osteoporosis later in life.  And most of all, starvation makes people lose their ability to function generally throughout the day.  One cannot think straight, focus, remember etc when one is starving.

But all of this is considered acceptable by some, if it means you’re losing weight.

The thing is, weight loss is not guaranteed with starvation dieting.  In fact, I’m living proof that it simply doesn’t work, in fact, makes you fatter.  I starved myself, for long periods, on and off from when I was in my teens to when I was in my 30’s.  I rarely lost weight.  Sometimes I lost some, only to have it come back, even without going off the starvation diet.

Of course, it’s really not about health at all.  It’s about the sight of fat bodies being offensive to some people.  Because no matter how healthy you are, if you’re still fat… well then you are not doing it right.  You must get rid of your fatness, or at least hide it.  Cease to be fat, and if you can’t do that, cease to be.

But what really bothers me is not so much the epic wrongness of these assumptions, but the sheer injustice of being expected to live a life of deprivation, starvation and unhappiness, simply because my body is fat.  That to these people, I am never allowed to taste anything, to celebrate with food, to spend time with friends, colleagues and family over a meal, to experience the world through it’s cuisine, to enjoy food and eating, and most importantly, I am not allowed to make my own choices when it comes to food and eating.

I get angry that there are people who believe that my fatness negates my human right to live my life as I choose to do so.  There are those who believe that simply because my body is fat, that they, or society, or someone, needs to intervene in my life to direct me in how to take care of myself.

Well fuck that shit.  We are grown adults.  We are not stupid, or lazy, or somehow morally corrupted by our fatness.  We are capable of making our own choices when it comes to food and eating, particularly if you let us do so without ramming diets, or general fat loathing in our faces.  When removed from all the hateful messages society shoves on us about food and fatness, we can even become competent eaters.

If you are concerned about fat people eating, then don’t be, because it’s none of your concern.  Be concerned about your own eating.  We don’t need you to be concerned about ours.  I promise you, if fat people are left alone to eat as they wish to, without your concern, they won’t eat everything and leave you nothing.  The world won’t end.  You won’t miss out on that delicious thing that you are craving.  The economy of the planet is not going to collapse.  Children won’t suddenly drop dead from heart attacks.  You’re not going to see human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

What will happen is that grown adults, regardless of their body size, will make up their own mind about food and eating, and that will be ok.

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46 comments on “It’s Easy… Just Starve

  • I hear these comments by people often enough that it sadly confirms this thinking is fairly homogenous across most of society. I think these blogs and forums do help educate and expand people’s mindsets so congrats for sharing

  • Wow reading your past experience makes me want to cry. That’s awful that people would say such things. It sounds like you have come a long way which makes you a strong person.

    Our of sheer curiosity, and I hope this doesn’t constitute as me butting into your personal health/body business, but when you were essentially starving yourself, how did it make you fatter? I can understand in the way that many people starving themselves don’t lose weight or keep it off because since they deprive themselves so much, they finally get to a breaking point and try to make up for all that eating they skipped out on, which leads to binging. That would make someone gain weight, but are you saying that you gained weight even though you weren’t eating at all?

    • If I knew exactly how, I would probably be a wealthy woman.

      But I did. No matter how much I restricted, how little I ate, no matter what I did to purge it, how much exercise I was doing to try to burn it, I would initially lose some, then it would plateau, and finally start to creep back, no matter how well I kept to diets/exercise/purging regimes. Or I would get violently sick with something going around, and that would incapacitate me, and then it would REALLY come back.

      But it doesn’t matter how. Fat people don’t have to provide proof, to justify their experience by giving direct evidence of how. We know our own bodies, we know our own experiences. We are not some kind of text book that all follows the same format. Every human body behaves in different ways.

      And besides, even if a fat person was eating huge amounts of food, and not exercising at all, it’s nobody’s fucking business! Every person’s body is their OWN business and nobody else’s.

      • “But it doesn’t matter how. Fat people don’t have to provide proof, to justify their experience by giving direct evidence of how. We know our own bodies, we know our own experiences. We are not some kind of text book that all follows the same format. Every human body behaves in different ways.”

        Seriously this. Thank you. Great post!

      • I’m writing this from a rehab hospital. We’re weighed once a week and on your place at the table you get a big yellow dot if you’ve been identified as someone who needs to eat the diet menu. Calories and weight watchers points are posted at every point of the dining hall (we eat from a buffet).

        I don’t want to be a food policewoman here, but I can’t help but notice that the rake thin lady who sits next to me has a very, very sweet tooth and helps herself to several desserts at a time. This would be none of anybody’s business except that there are only a certain number of desserts for all the patients, so her taking more means somebody else misses out. Yet nobody criticises her!!!

      • @Alexie –

        Sounds like someone in management at the facility needs a letter, if Ms. Rake-Thin’s taking more than her share means that someone else isn’t getting theirs.

    • I’ve had similiar experiences. I was did medically supervised liquid diet and the first couple of weeks I lost weight, but after that I started gaining again. That was back in my dieting days and probably that experience is the only thing that kept me from getting gastric bypass because low calorie consumption did not cause weight loss, for me.

    • It’s a phenomenon called ‘catch up fat’. If you starve your body, then your body makes fat a priority. It will use the calories from food to fill fat cells before it will make muscle or bone. The body of an obese person can extract 10-15% more calories from food than other people. So even if you’re eating tiny amounts of food, your body will find a way to make fat from it – paradoxically, at the same time you might be suffering from malnutrition.

  • sleepydumpling :
    If I knew exactly how, I would probably be a wealthy woman.
    But I did. No matter how much I restricted, how little I ate, no matter what I did to purge it, how much exercise I was doing to try to burn it, I would initially lose some, then it would plateau, and finally start to creep back, no matter how well I kept to diets/exercise/purging regimes. Or I would get violently sick with something going around, and that would incapacitate me, and then it would REALLY come back.
    But it doesn’t matter how. Fat people don’t have to provide proof, to justify their experience by giving direct evidence of how. We know our own bodies, we know our own experiences. We are not some kind of text book that all follows the same format. Every human body behaves in different ways.
    And besides, even if a fat person was eating huge amounts of food, and not exercising at all, it’s nobody’s fucking business! Every person’s body is their OWN business and nobody else’s.

    Co-sign! This is a really awesome piece and just what I needed to see this morning, thank you so much for sharing your experience.

  • I’ve heard those comments countless times over the years. One of the worst times was probably when I went to our family doctor to ask for help as I was in the grip of an eating disorder and he says “wow you have put on weight” and then proceeds to tell me that I just have to keep my mouth closed and I would lose it.I have always been the “big” one in my family and have been given all sorts of helpful advice over the years like when you get hungry have a glass of water, dont eat after 7pm etc. Even when I was eating 3 “healthy” meals per day and exercising daily – gym and walking – I still couldn’t get any lower than a BMI of 29! So fuck off I say to all those people who think they have the right to comment on how I look or what I eat!

  • It actually is quite simple, Ashley. Fat is your organism’s energy reserve. If the body is fueled properly, there is no need to stock on more energy, as there is no shortage. If you deprive yourself for longer periods of time, this sends a signal to your body, saying: there is a crisis so we need to store anything we get and never release any of our precious resources!
    Therefore, when starving, you tell your organism to stop burning fat (instead, it burns muscle – source of protein).
    Of course, if you were exposed to extreme conditions and were starving for months, years, you’d most probably lose weight at last (depending on your body’s natural responses). But as soon as you had access to a little more food again, you’d start gaining rapidly (it wouldn’t need to be binge-eating or eating much at all!) and would have trouble keeping it off.

    • I just started posting a long, ranty explanation upthread, but I see Pauli has explained it better than me.

      As for rapidly regaining as soon as the “starvation” period has ended, this is a very real phenomenon among bodybuilders. I have heard of female bodybuilders suddenly gaining 10 pounds after a show – no binge-eating involved!

      But yeah, if people are ignorant, no-one owes them an explanation.

  • Of course, nobody should have to explain how much or why they eat. However, I like to give the benefit of a doubt and some FA 101 from time to time…

    • One should never feel under obligation to have to give any FA101 though, particularly when the information can be readily found with a bit of Googling. This perception that fat people must explain themselves, justify their weight, and educate those of privilege is part of the problem.

      It’s inappropriate to ask anyone to explain the workings of their body in the first place, whether they are fat, thin or somewhere in between, but most people would never dream of asking a thin person to do so because they make the assumption that whatever a thin person says their body is doing, it must be true. But fat people are repeatedly accused of lying or being in denial.

      However, if one WISHES to give FA 101, then they are welcome to do so.

  • Hell to the fucking yeah!

    I have never heard comments like that directed specifically at me. However, people in my family who have criticized my weight have very often made those comments about fat people who are total strangers…to my face, glancing over at me.

    And forget about politely inviting them to fuck themselves…command it.

  • hmm… I wonder if you got it from my tumblr post?

    http://fattiboombalatti.tumblr.com/post/4423046646/lemmings

    I have gotten a lot. a lot. A LOT. of comments from people that has caused me much pain to the point where I have severe psychological trauma around my body and a healty dose of body dysmorphia.

    This will soon be the topic of a blog post but a couple of years ago I just could not weigh myself. Weighing myself is very painful, very triggering, I mean suicidal thoughts triggering. What I learned is when I go to see the doctor I tell them, “Im a recovering bulemic and to weight me will trigger me.” They are so fucking UNDERSTANDING about it! Oh you poor thing you havd a skinny disease we understand.

    If I said the truth? You and society in general have done nothing but shame, hate, bully and loathe me to the point where my psychological trauma is so great I am completely unable to weigh myself… a post traumatic syndrome so severe that it interferes with my quality of life.

    How do I explain that? They dont even get it… probably the response would be, “stop eating fatty, case closed and get on the scale so I can shame you some more.”

    I get it….. now I just rage on people when its in public.

    • I don’t deal well with scales. I put up with them in the doctor’s office, but putting one in the bathroom? No. My (also heavy) roommate kept buying them for years. For years they would work a few months, then break, even if I never stepped on them.

      When someone starts blithering on about how some “diet”, “system” or “exercise regimen” helped them lose blah blah weight, I just feel like going and eating a big delicious candy bar in front of them. They only blather on about it to try to shame me into joining their misery (that they are calling “success”).

      I won’t say jack about what gyrations other people want to do to manipulate their appearance, but when they think it’s appropriate to natter on and on about it to me like it’s some sort of thing that I should “do” too, I find it insulting (just like I do people trying to spread their religion or vegan lifestyle by proselytising.)

  • Amen to everything! And especially this: “But what really bothers me is not so much the epic wrongness of these assumptions, but the sheer injustice of being expected to live a life of deprivation, starvation and unhappiness, simply because my body is fat.”

  • (addressed to the general “you” of fat haters and fat fearers) Whether or not you believe me that I starved myself into almost-thin several times, whether or not you feel sorry for me (and better about yourself) because you are skinny and I am not, whether or not you find my body attractive, whether or not you have all kinds of OPINIONS about how I should live my life, whether or not you think tossing off a patronizing “good for you, Fatty!” constitutes support….none of that matters, and I don’t give a crap, personally, about your approval or lack thereof. I do care that you actively make things harder for me and my fat brethren, that your opinions are harmful, really and truly HARMFUL to people, and I cannot stand for your contribution to the culture of fat hate.

    I love your blog, Kath, and I love your voice. Thank you.

  • I loved this post! It’s great that I have learned about all the science/social justice/setpoint theory/negative stigma/privilege yada yada yada. And it’s great that I’m able to explain these things to folks who ask questions and sincerely want to learn about these things. But if I’m out in public and a stranger makes a comment that I can hear about what I’m eating and why I shouldn’t be, then that has nothing to do with the science and the social justice and all the other stuff that makes her comment not accurate. The issue there is that her comment is rude. And your post has riled me up to the point where I can’t wait for the next public comment so I can actually stop what I’m doing get up from a table walk up to the person and share with them my opinion of how rude they were. Then invite them to keep their comments to a volume where I don’t hear them. And then I will then invite them to go fuck themselves. again I loved your post.

  • Thank you so much for this post. I think I might use it to help people understand what FA is all about.

    The worst part is that there is no way to win. In your first story, if you had been eating a big burger, they would have commented. Or if you had been nibbling a carrot stick, it would have been the same. They don’t care about our health, they care about their aesthetics. What are we supposed to do? If they are going to hate us anyway the only thing we can do is eat what we love and move in ways we love and dress how we love with pride and strength. Thank you for helping to give me that strength.

  • “I think the assumption is that fat people can just “live off their fat”, that if we stop eating, our bodies will just consume the fat on them and go along as per usual, without any negative consequence. But it simply doesn’t work like that.”

    co-sign to this times a thousand. I think you’ve totally hit the nail on the head. it’s about folks not TRULY understanding how nutrition works, and instead relying on eyesight (“she looks like a fatty, go home fatty McUnHealthy!”) and asinine assumptions.

  • I grew up with my father controlling my eating. He and my brother were given large servings, while I ate small servings of salad and veggies. If we, on the rare occasion bought home a serving of chips, I would get about 5 to my brother’s 50. I grew up with eating disorders, and even now, when I nearly have the under control, I still eat less than my friends and go through periods of not eating or not eating much at all. I know it is unhealthy, but it is just the way I am. I can’t seem to stop myself in obsessing over what I eat. I mostly eat healthily, if with small servings, now, but it just takes one key comment for the downward spiral to start. I grew up having skinny friends who would stuff themselves on burgers and sweets while I was limiting myself to more healthier fare. I would see people staring at me for just being in [insert fast food joint here] and eating my salad while friends pigged out on junk food, and the amount of slurs I have had, or even concerned comments on the rare occasions I give in and buy a chocolate bar, etc. These people make me sick. I am not sitting on my **** shovelling 10 times the food I should eat, nor is it bad food. In fact I eat better than most of my skinny friends. I hate that society (and people in society) thinks that because we are fat that we are all gluttons. I wish I could be without them giving me **** for it. I have grown as a person since I developed eating disorders, but even when I am “well” I still have the mentality. Don’t let them see you eat, cover up when you do eat, shrug it off when people questioned when you don’t eat or haven’t eaten enough. I get so mad, but at the same time I despair. I exercise and eat well, I am basically content with my body shape despite the abundance of curves that society frowns upon. The fact that strangers think they have the right to comment on how I live my life makes me so angry. It must be nice to be able to pass judgement on a complete stranger and not give a flying **** that your comments are hurtful, hateful and damaging.

    I do tell someone to **** off now if they say something to my face. If it is a concerned friend I explain myself, so they are educated, but strangers can go screw themselves for butting in on my life. The one that REALLY pisses me off is my concerned boss. He means well, but it is none of his fucking business!

  • Half the time it’s not even that people find fat unappealing – what they’re thinking about is THEMSELVES and how wonderful and virtuous they are in comparison. Whenever I visited my dad, his wife would make a point of offering me chocolate or cake, and then as she extended the plate towards me, she’d suddenly hesitate and go “or you’d probably prefer the rice cakes, wouldn’t you – they’re low calorie”. Bitch.

    But she was obsessed with staying thin and when she was out, she would ask whoever she was with to validate her, e.g. she’d order a coffee with whipped cream and spoon the cream out and then go “don’t you think I’m good?”

    No, actually I thought she was wasteful for ordering it in the first place, but I wasn’t rude enough to comment on her food choices.

  • I cannot imagine anyone having the nerve to say these things, but I know that this happens all too often. If someone said this to me I would stand right up in their face and say, “If you are posing a death threat, sir/madam, I suggest you make certain you can personally see to it!” and flip them the hell off! I say this now, but I know that in that very harsh and personal moment? Who knows what would transpire. I breaks my heart, sickens me and gets me fiery mad! I cannot believe that anyone thinks that anyone should stop eating completely. It makes zero sense. I consider it an actual threat of death, should I not?

    • I take your point, but the very first time someone said I should “just stop eating” it was my family doctor. I was 12. And then I started hearing it a lot from my own father.

      • Me too Susan, doctors and families have been some of the worst culprits. The confident me now would be able to stand up to them, but it has been happening since I was 12 years old, and after 25+ years I’m only just now able to stand up to that sort of crap.

  • Jeeeeeeeebus this is triggering, in a fucking profound way. I guess because I spent so many years believing the things people said to me as a fat person, and then more recently devoted every fucking ounce of energy thinking positive things about my body, I didn’t quite grasp how prevalent these nasty comments are. I literally took these jabs as evidence that something was wrong with me *personally*. I thought someone telling me I should kill myself because Im so disgusting and fat, was a result of who I am, not a symptom of cultural/social attitudes towards fat people. I seriously need to go cry…

  • New one from my mother-in-law a couple of weeks ago. We were attending my son’s recital and she sat next to me. She sat down, looked at me and said…”did I need to bring a shoehorn to help you get into that seat?” I happen to know that this woman absolutely loves me, but that still does not stop the comments. Do we have no hope in anyone being kind? Families can be the worst and they are usually the ones that set up all of our food/body image issues and triggers in the first place. Damn!

    • “Families can be the worst and they are usually the ones that set up all of our food/body image issues and triggers in the first place.”

      Oh I’m hearing you on that! If I responded in any detail, my post would turn into a long, ranty book. But just know that we have been there and we understand.

  • I found this post & blog by accident (though I kind of think something that mirrors my own experience I was meant to see)

    I struggle with the words to say “I’m fat” and am
    a novice at the concept of “fat acceptance” in comparison to the stealth of wise bloggers here -so please bear with me

    I’m seeking guidance or counsel from those brave resilient women whom have reached what I see as “Fat Nirvana” – a place of acceptance in your true self & the courage to celebrate that amidst a world that sees beauty = thin. And how that journey unfolded. I understand each story is different for each person.

    Is it against the “Fat Acceptance” credo to say that I HATE being fat? Will the FA-hood disown me? I feel that I am not the best ME the authentic ME being fat – but whether I lose 50kgs or more I know that my very being is indeed FAT. Like being a fat sheep in a thin wolves clothing

    I apologise for the no doubt clumsiness of this post and my naïve words. I just want to understand

    • Welcome to the Fatosphere Scarpa.

      Please don’t think of this as some kind of Fat Nirvana – it is so far from it, I can’t tell you. It is still hard, every day, it is still questions, and thinking, and working through the difficult stuff, but there are two fundamental differences in the Fatosphere: 1) you can relax, breathe and be yourself 2) you have a wonderful community of people who will help you learn to let go of hating yourself for not being what society tells you you’re “supposed” to be.

      Many of us still struggle with our fatness. I certainly do. There are some days I hate being fat, but mostly I hate that the world tries to push me into something I am not. What I believe is that I am the best me by being exactly that – ME. Not what the women’s mags, the news, the government, the douchebag yelling from a car, the diet industry or anyone else tells me to be. By finding out who I am and just being me. That doesn’t mean you’re not working to make yourself better, but you’re doing it for YOU, not because someone else says you “should”.

      You are valuable and precious, right now, just as you are. Don’t ever forget that.

  • I’ve encountered similar things before. Even now!

    Most seem to think that putting down the fork would lead to dramatic weight loss but don’t realize that it is more complicated than that. And different for each person.

    I found people make other assumptions – in addition to those you mentioned. Like if I’m eating a salad, people will congratulate me on “doing good” or my choice to lose weight. Uh, sorry? I just wanted a salad.

    If I order a soda, the waitress will sometimes bring me diet soda, instead of regular, etc. making the assumption that I’m fat and therefore need to drink diet? No idea. They make it worse when they try to explain their error…

    I do agree that it is a fucked up concept and that people pushing this theory would take some time to enlighten themselves. Thanks for writing this. <3

    • Waiters and waitresses can be the worst! Once when I placed my order in a Chinese restaurant, the waiter said reprovingly “That’s *two* fried dishes!”

      Um, if he was offended by people ordering fried food, perhaps he shouldn’t have been working in a Chinese restaurant?

    • Besides, it’s none of their damn business what anybody else eats, what they weigh, or what their health is like.

      I’ve had the salad one too. “Oh, you’re on a diet, that’s good!” I want to reply “No dickhead, I just like salad.”

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