war on obesity

All posts in the war on obesity category

You Cannot Help Those You Loathe

Published January 3, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

I just had one of those lightbulb moments.  I was reading this excellent piece on domestic violence on Big Blue Dot Y’all and while talking about leaving counselling, the author used this sentence:

“You cannot help those you loathe.”

And something went “click” in my head.  All those weight loss surgeons, those “obesity” experts, the weight loss industry, bullying personal trainers, all those people who claim they want to “help” fat people… they loathe us.  If it’s not us they loathe, it’s our fat.  And by hating fat, and failing to see that our fatness is part of who we are – not a growth or some kind of removable shell, they are therefore by default loathing us.

And you cannot help those you loathe.

You cannot help those you loathe.

Think of the language they use around supposedly “helping” us.   It’s all violent, aggressive and full of hate.

  • Fighting fat
  • War on obesity
  • Fat busters/blasters
  • Eradicate fat
  • Fat is “killing” you
  • Obesity epidemic

These are just a few of the terms they use in the rhetoric of weight loss and anti-“obesity” campaigns.  Everything is framed around sickness and disease, war, violence, anger.  This is not the language of helping fat people, it’s the language of waging battle on them.  And as Marilyn Wann says – you cannot have a war on fat without having a war on fat people.  The two are not separate entities – our fat is part of us, part of our bodies, part of who we are.  Bodies are not disposable shells made for modification , they are an integral part of the human being.

This is why so much damage is being done to fat people.  Because of this loathing of fat.  Instead of working with us to make our lives as full and as rich as they should be, society wages war on our bodies and therefore ourselves.   In fact, more often than not, we are enlisted as soldiers in that war, in a kind of twisted friendly fire.  It’s as though in the “war on obesity”, the people who are fat are considered “collateral damage”.  Some of us will die, many of us will be physically scarred forever, almost all of us will have emotional and psychological trauma that we will never lose in the vain hope that they win the war.  What it does to those who are on the front lines matters not to those waging war.  We’re the cannon fodder.  Those in power are safe back in the war room, viewing it as a series of strategical moves and sending forth more and more troops to get bloody on the ground.

Anyone who truly cares about the wellbeing of fat people cannot possibly feel the need to wage war on fat.  That level of aggression and loathing negates any care that may have once been there.  There is never any care or compassion from someone who enacts violence on another.  It is no different in its effect on us than the open hate and bigotry we receive from the likes of bullies and trolls.  It is all trauma enacted on us.

Look at what happens to fat people when they are given compassion, care and support by those who truly want to help in our wellbeing.  When we are taught to value our bodies, and treat them with kindness and compassion, suddenly our quality of life gets vastly better.  When we find supportive doctors, our health gets better.  If we need help with eating and nutrition, those in the field who genuinely care help us heal the damage done by diet culture and fat loathing.  When we find an environment that we can enjoy physical activity without shaming or stigma, we learn to enjoy things like dancing, swimming and other activities.  When our families and friends love us and support us as we are – we are able to heal from the trauma of shame and stigma.

When we are treated with respect and dignity, our wellbeing and quality of life improves.  Regardless of what weight we happen to be.

Because hate does not help.  Hate does not heal.

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I Am NOT a Disease

Published June 19, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

One of the things about being a highly visible, deeply combative fat activist is that everyone seems to think you’re made of steel.  That you are so strong and confident, that nothing ever hurts you or makes you feel bad.  Nobody believes that you have bad days, that there are times where the fight just goes out of you and you can’t face another moment of trying to claw your way out of the hatred and stigma that surrounds fat people.

But that’s not true.  It’s not true in the slightest.  Even the most radical fatty, the most sartorially brave, the fiercest fighter, the strongest critic of the dominant paradigm around fatness struggles.  Every single one of us have those times where we just run out of oomph.

I am having one of those days today, and have been really struggling all afternoon.  You see, the American Medical Association today declared obesity as a disease despite a report from their own council on science and public health urging them not to.  According to the AMA, we fat people are no longer just people, we are diseased, defective, damaged, broken.  We are officially diseases to be cured, prevented, eradicated.  And this news has shaken me to the core.  I simply feel so defeated right now, like all the work that I and many other fat activists have done, and are doing to claw back our rights and improve our quality of life has just been taken away from us.

Rationally, I know why the AMA has made this ruling.  They’ve done so because big pharmaceutical companies, the weight loss industry and big health insurance companies, have lobbied, threatened, bullied and bribed them to do so.   Rationally I know that the reason these big corporations have done this is because it’s in their best interest financially to do so.  After all, they’re raking in HUGE amounts of money by convincing society in general that appearance = health, and that if you don’t meet the arbitrary levels of appearance that you must be sick, and surprise surprise, they have a drug, or a surgery, or a device, or a diet plan or an extra expensive health insurance plan to sell you to fix it.  The weight loss industry alone was worth almost $800 million just here in Australia.  Can you imagine what could be done for $800 million per year in this country?  We could all have completely free health care for every Australian, more than we would ever need.  People with disabilities could have all of the equipment that they would ever need, and any support and care they would ever need.  No human being in Australia would go without food, water or housing.  Education would be free for our whole lives, from kindergarten through any university studies that we would care to take on.   Medical research into every known actual disease, from the common cold to cancer could be funded fully.

All this just from the money that the diet and weight loss industry is worth in a single year, and there would be change.  In fact, if we only took their profit margin for ONE year, approximately $63 million dollars, and applied that to public funding annually – we could fund a lot of the things I’ve listed above.  And that’s just here in Australia, a country of only about 22 million people.  In the US, the weight loss industry is worth 66 BILLION DOLLARS.  Let alone the cumulative value of the rest of the world’s weight loss industries.

There is NO WAY ON EARTH that the weight loss industry is not behind this ruling from the AMA.  They have $66 billion dollars worth of power per annum in the US alone.  $66 billion dollars they can spend on lobbying, propaganda, graft, legal threats to anyone who opposes them, you name it to make sure the ruling falls the way they want it to.

Rationally I know this.  I know the facts.  I’ve done years of my own research into this because what I was being told about my fat body wasn’t matching up to reality.

But despite that knowledge… I feel so defeated today.  I feel so disheartened.  I feel so cheated.  I feel like I’m being marked as inferior, defective, broken.  Simply because my body happens to fall on the far end of a bell curve of diverse human bodies.  Simply because my body doesn’t fall in the small peak of the bell curve, the median of human bodies, a tiny arbitrary band of people who are granted the “normal” status just because they’re in the middle statistically.

But being at one end of the statistics doesn’t reflect who I am.  It doesn’t reflect how I feel.  It doesn’t reflect what my body can do.  It doesn’t reflect my value as a human being.  The AMA doesn’t know what it feels like to exist in my fat body.  They don’t know what it’s like in my body to wake up after a deep sleep, stretch and feel that stretch go down to my toes and up to my outstretched fingertips.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to go swimming, feeling the cool water soft and cocooning around my body, and the wonderful sleepy feeling I get afterwards.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to walk along the waterfront near my house on a windy but crystal clear winters day, with the sun warming my back as the wind nips my nose and fingertips.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to laugh with my friends, my belly rocking, tears rolling down my face and my ribs hurting from giggling so hard.  They don’t know anything about what it feels like in my body.  All they know is that I am at the far end of a bell curve, and that someone out there can make money from making me hate myself and by encouraging society to hate me, and to repeatedly attempt to move myself to another point on the statistical bell curve, something we scientifically know fails for 95% of all attempts.  And with that they have marked me, and people like me, as diseased, defective, broken.

The only time I feel diseased, defective, broken is when society repeatedly pushes me down because of how I look and what numbers show up on a scale when I step on it.  I don’t feel those things unless I am taught to feel them.  Not even when I actually suffer illness or injury.

How is simply declaring me as diseased based on statistics, and despite how I feel or the quality of my life, good for my health?

How is that good for anyone’s health?

The inimitable Marilyn Wann has started a petition against this AMA ruling here.  Please sign.

*Edited because the figures I got from a study were incorrect – not that they change anything.  Let’s try to not kick me while I’m fucking down, OK?

Dear Medical Professionals

Published November 9, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Well, yet again the amazing Marilyn Wann has inspired me.  She shared this article on her Facebook page and of course I popped over to read it.  It’s an excellent piece on the damage caused by fat stigma and the responsibility the medical profession has towards it’s patients.  I was reading the comments and I was just struck with the desire to tell my story as a fat T2 diabetic to members of the medical profession.  I started to type a comment to the article, and what happened is I found myself writing a letter to medical professionals in general.  I have submitted it as a comment on the site (it’s awaiting moderation over there), but I decided I wanted to copy it and share it with you here.

It is of course nothing we haven’t all been saying in the Fatosphere over and over again, and it’s nothing I personally haven’t said before (repeatedly!), but I believe that we really do need to be telling our stories over and over and over, we do need to be addressing all kinds of different audiences about our experiences and perspectives, if we’re ever going to get real change in our culture towards fat stigmatisation.

So, without rambling on any more, here is my letter to medical professionals (any that care to listen).

Dear Medical Professionals

My name is Kath and I am fat (by the pointless BMI standards, I am morbidly obese at around 300lbs, but I prefer the term fat) AND I have Type 2 diabetes.  I am the one so many in the medical profession use as a cautionary tale against what happens to “bad/lazy/greedy” people who don’t live a “healthy” lifestyle.  Until I found my current doctor, not one health care professional would believe that I was not a sedentary glutton, and as a consequence I developed an eating disorder from about 13 years of age until my early 30’s, and was suicidal during that time as well.  I was starving myself and abusing both prescription weight loss drugs and other substances to try to lose weight.  Medical professionals I went to praised me if I lost weight, but chastised and even bullied me if I gained.  I always gained eventually, always what I had lost, and always some more.  When I confessed disordered behaviour, several health care professionals actually sanctioned it, and encouraged me to continue, since it was “working” (albeit temporarily).   I was rarely asked as to what I was actually eating and what exercise I was doing, but if I was, it was met with disbelief.   After all, calories in, calories out right?  How can one be fat if they are consuming less than they are expending?

In my mid-30’s, I decided that if nobody would believe me, and I couldn’t be thin and therefore worthy of space in this world, I would end it all and relieve myself and the world of suffering.  Thanks to the love of a good friend, I didn’t succeed.  But it was at that moment I opted out.  Opted out of the constant barrage of hatred that is poured towards fat people.  Opted out of dieting and employing any other methods of attempting weight loss.  I didn’t know where I was going at first, I just knew I couldn’t live that way any more, and I wanted to live, but not like I was.

Eventually, I stumbled across the concept of Health at Every Size (HaES) and my world was changed.  First step, find a doctor who listened to me and treated me as a human being, not an amorphous blob of fat to be eradicated, cured, prevented.  Second step, find a decent psychologist to help me heal the trauma of the stigmatisation I lived all my life just for existing in a fat body.  Third step, learn to eat again.  And when I say learn to eat, that means both for nutrition of my body AND for the pleasure food can give.  It means listening to hunger and satiety cues.  It means feeding myself what I need, and what fits within the life I live.  I still struggle with some disordered thinking and behaviour, but I will keep working at it until I have it beaten.  I also reclaimed my right to appear in public as a fat person, which has enabled me to do things like swimming at the beach and riding my bicycle, despite the fact that I am still ridiculed and shamed for daring to be a fat person who is active in public.

It has been about 5 years since the moment I opted out, and in that time I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  I should have known, on my maternal side, my Grandmother is diabetic, on my paternal side, two aunts, an uncle and several of my older cousins (all T2).  I am built like my Grandma and my aunts, as are my female cousins, but the male relatives with diabetes are all tall and thin.  Nobody has ever shamed the men with T2 diabetes in my family, but all of we women have experienced shaming for it.

On diagnosis of T2 diabetes, I became even firmer in my resolve to practice HaES.  Since my diagnosis, my doctor and I have worked together and with HaES and appropriate medication, my blood sugar levels are in the normal range.  I am still fat, but all my vital measures are within the robustly healthy range.

I was far more a drain on society when I was trying to get thin than I am now that I live a HaES lifestyle.  I’ve gone from suicidal, frequently unemployed due to depression and the damage I did with my eating disorder, and constantly needing medical care.  Now I have a successful career in a field that I am passionate about and contributes to society.  I am a passionate campaigner for social justice and inclusion, and I contribute strongly to the public coffers via taxes, my private health care and the work I do in social justice and inclusion.

My point in telling my story here?  “The Obese” are not a disease to be eradicated, prevented, cured.  We are not some disgusting medical condition that is costing society millions.  We do not sit at home on the sofa eating cheeseburgers.  Nor are we stupid or liars.

We are people.  We are human beings with lives, loves, emotions, needs, aspirations and value in society like any other human being.  We deserve to be treated as such and allowed to advocate for ourselves.

Please remember that.

Thank you for your time in reading this.
Kath

Australian Fat Studies Conference: My Paper

Published September 10, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Well, day one of the Australian Fat Studies Conference down and one more to go.  I have no words for how awesome it has been – but I will attempt to find those words once I’ve been home and been able to think about it.

Instead, I am going to share with you my paper, which I presented this morning to the conference.  I feel it went well, though I was very nervous!

So here you go:

Collateral Damage in the War On Obesity

A perspective on how the “War on Obesity” affects someone who is obese, and whether any of those effects are of any use to the obese person.

I need your help.  I can’t live like this.  No matter what I do, the weight keeps coming back.  I know, I know, I’ve lost 25 kilos already, but it won’t stay off.  It just keeps creeping back.  I exercise every day for before I go to work, then again during my work day at the office gym, then again for a couple of hours at the local pool when I get home.  All I do is exercise.  I have no life.  My friends won’t talk to me any more, because all I talk about is the gym and dieting.  I don’t go out or socialise or anything anymore.  All I do is go to the gym or the pool or walk around my neighbourhood by myself.  I keep getting in trouble at work because I can’t keep up, I can’t concentrate, I forget things and I cry all the time.

My doctor gave me these pills, but… they frighten me.  I took them just like he said, and all it did was make me crazy.  I haven’t slept for four days.  I haven’t eaten anything in four days.  I keep forgetting to even drink water.  These pills, they make me climb the walls, all manic and hyper.  The doctor keeps asking if I’m lying in my food journal, if I’m not writing everything I eat down.  I have been lying.  I’ve not been writing all of the exercise down, and I’ve been writing food in there that I didn’t eat. But the weight keeps coming back, no matter what I do.

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to live if this is living.  Please.  PLEASE, I need help.

“Hmmm… do  you think you could add another half hour of exercise in the evenings?  You just need to ramp it up a little to get over the hump and lose some more weight.”

That was me begging for help.  The response was from my psychologist at the time.  Over 5 years later I still don’t have any words for how I felt at that moment.  But I went home.  I filled my water bottle, I took this packet – this is the packet for the Duramine, the prescribed amphetamines for appetite suppressant, I still have it – and I sat on my bed, with the pills in one hand, and the water bottle in the other, and I decided that this would be the end of all of this.  I sat there, with the decision made that I was going to stop this life, that I was going to end it because I couldn’t live like this any more.  The world didn’t want me, a fat woman, to be in it.  I was meant to be invisible, to not exist, unless I could be thin.  So I was going to just kill myself, because what better way to lose weight and keep it off, than to be dead.

Just as I popped the pills out of their packet and put them in my hand, my mobile phone went off with a text message.  I looked at it, a message from one of my oldest and dearest friends, and it said “I’m worried about you.  We haven’t talked in a long time.  I love you, call me.”  It saved my life.  It reminded me that someone cared about me, that someone had loved me for so long, even at my fattest, I was loved by ONE person in the world, and it would devastate him to lose me to suicide.  That one message made me decide that life was worth far more than spending it trying to be something I simply was not, and that’s the moment I walked away from the War on Obesity.  The war on myself.

None of us can miss the “War on Obesity”.  It’s in the media every day, splashed across headlines and the lead item on bulletins, it sells tabloids, books and magazines.  Studies are released with regularity that are then tweaked into news items, telling us how obese people are to blame for global warming, rising health care costs, the high price of airline tickets and even the failure of the American mitten industry.

But in this war, it’s foot soldiers are not those who volunteer for duty.  The troops drafted involuntarily into the war on obesity are those who live it.  Who get up every morning, look in the mirror then to the newspaper or radio bulletin to be reminded that not only are they the ones expected to fight the hardest and bloodiest in the war, but in fact that the war is on them, the obese.

Like most wars, those that give the orders are rarely the ones at risk of becoming victims of the war themselves.  In the case of the war on obesity, where the ranks are fighting their own bodies, how can there ever be victory?

Instead, the troops are going to the grave earlier than they should be because of self loathing, depression, self harm and avoiding seeking medical treatment out of shame.  Even those who survived are permanently maimed – be it damaged bodies from eating disorders, yo-yo diets and weight cycling or the post traumatic stress of having to live their lives in a war that they never asked for.

Today is International Suicide Prevention Day.  How many people have to opt out of the War on Obesity by the only means they believe is possible, which is to opt out of their lives all together, before we end this madness?

We need to end the War on Obesity before one more person dies needlessly.  Just like the “War on Terrorism”, the terror isn’t out there, for us to fight.  The terror is here, right within us.  The terror isn’t fat, it’s hate.

As Professor Paul Campos says in the introduction to his book “The Obesity Myth”:

Nothing could be easier than to win this war.  All we need to do is stop fighting it.