Your fat is not your fault

Your fat is not your fault.

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You are not lacking willpower.

You are not lacking willpower because you can’t stick to your diet. You are fine; it’s dieting that doesn’t work. No really. Diet and exercise DO NOT CURE BEING FAT. They may help you lose weight for a few months to a year to six years… but, according to a massive analysis of every long-term weight loss study, no one — statistically speaking NOT A ONE PERSON — has kept off a significant amount of weight (i.e. more than 15-20 lbs) permanently. There is a lot of emerging evidence that when a person goes on a diet, their chemistry changes so that they’re bodies will continue to fight against weight loss long after the dieting has stopped. As David Wong from Cracked put it, “It’s like being an addict where the withdrawal symptoms last for decades.”

You are not lazy.

You are not lazy because you choose to focus your time and energy on things other than losing weight. To quote David Wong again, “The people who successfully [lose weight and keep it off] are the ones who become psychologically obsessive about it, like that weird guy who built an Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks.” So congratulations, you aren’t spending every waking moment of your life focusing on your waistline. You are doing amazing things, whatever they are. Seriously! Whatever you are doing with your precious time and brainspace (reading, writing, working, creating, studying, caretaking, being nice–contributing to society in any small way) is worthwhile and meaningful and more important than spending it obsessing about your weight.

If you want to be more active, then cool. Go for it. Hopefully you’ll find some activities that will bring you pleasure and joy. But don’t think that being more active is going to make you lose weight. It’s not. (See above). So don’t force yourself into a lifestyle that doesn’t work for you–you’ll only end up making you feel worse.

tumblr_mab2gzHeHb1qm339ko1_500You are not unhealthy.

You are not unhealthy just because you happen to be fat, I mean. Isn’t that great? Your weight and your health are two different things. You can be healthy at any size.  Health is determined by your behaviors, luck, and genetics (more luck). Your behaviors are up to you. And they are NO ONE’S BUSINESS but yours. For whatever reason, being “healthy” has been equated to being moral or being “good” in our society. Let me blow your mind for just a second by throwing this nugget out there: You have a right to be unhealthy. For any reason. It’s YOUR body and you can treat it however you wish. But if you choose to be healthy, eat nutritious food and try to sleep for 8-10 hours a night. Find some active things to do that you enjoy and quit smoking. But don’t conflate your health with your weight. Losing weight probably wont improve your health, and improving your health often times doesn’t result in weight loss. This is okay.

You are not stupid.

You are not stupid for trying that juice cleanse or hoping that trying Weight Watchers or eating paleo or forcing yourself to go to the gym every day would “fix” your fat. Our society believes that diet and exercise cures fat. This is what our doctors tell us. This is what the medical and public health arms of our government advise. They are wrong. They have failed us.

Instead of focusing on fixing the real, structural, environmental problems that cause people to become overweight, like poverty or food deserts or lack of sleep or being overworked/overstressed, food advertising, agricultural subsidies, high fructose corn syrup and processed flour…. public health officials have spent millions of dollars and time and energy telling you to diet and exercise. Why? Because it’s easier. It’s much, much easier (politically) to tell individuals to diet and exercise than it would be to fight the lobbyists or make any real headway in regulating the food industry or addressing poverty or our tradition of overwork in America. As Gary Taubes wrote in The Daily Beast, “…the reason the anti-obesity efforts championed by the IOM, the CDC, and the NIH haven’t worked and won’t work is not because we’re not listening, and not because we just can’t say no, but because these efforts are not addressing the fundamental cause of the problem. Like trying to prevent lung cancer by getting smokers to eat less and run more, it won’t work because the intervention is wrong.”

You are not weak.

You are not weak. In fact, your strength is incredible. You are living in a world that does not make it easy for you. You are living in a world that tells you you have to look a certain way in order to be loved, and at the same tells us food is love. You are told to resist eating foods that are scientifically engineered to be literally irresistible — as in, they trick our senses in order to make us physically unable to resist eating them. You have struggled with stigma and shame and guilt and survived. You are alive and you are living.

So let me say this one more time: Your fat is not your fault.

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Give yourself permission to forgive yourself.

Go out and live your amazing life.

17 thoughts on “Your fat is not your fault

  1. Hi Leah, an interesting post – I especially like your point about the onus of weight loss being put on the individual without acknowledgement of the problematic food industry lobbyists and food advertising. But I don’t think it is helpful to tell people who are trying to lose weight or have lost weight for health reasons that they will inevitably put it back on. Just slide right back into obesity and don’t fret? The study you linked to was specifically for ‘structured’ diet programs and I am a big believer in their pointlessness, as soon as you no longer follow their short term plan back comes the weight. But I believe small lifestyle changes over the course of a long time period CAN lead to successful, sustained weightloss. Thanks for a thought provoking read!

    • I’m tired of hearing this bemoaning of the obese over how they can’t control themselves, it’s bullshit. You’ve never lost the weight so you have no clue what it feels like and are grasping on pseudoscience to explain it. You want to know why there are so few people who have kept a significant amount of weight off for a long time? It’s because it’s hard. Its extremely God damn hard. You have to ignore your own body. You have to suffer hunger pains so horrible you will feel like your stomach is tearing itself apart from inside. You will be sick, you will throw up and you will feel this way for possibly the rest of your life, but even given that it is still your fault, because even as horrible as that is you still control what goes inside your mouth and you choose to endure the pain or to give in. I’m not like you. I have kept off 100lbs for over 10 years now and I have no desire of going back and I won’t because I’m strong. I control my life and I did this myself with a trainer and while work a full time job. I even have a bad knee from a work accident. I invested a few hundred dollars in weight equipment and a free app called my fitness pal. I did extensive research on weight lose and weight training and it paid off. It took me almost 2 years to lose 100 lbs at a pound a week and I’m pretty sure it nearly killed me, but I did it and I’m proud of myself. I don’t need excuses of why I can’t because I know I can. So don’t buy into the bullshit. If you want to lose weight then you can. Just believe in yourself. David Wang doesn’t know a ****ing thing about losing weight and is only repeating what he has read, not what he has experienced. Believe me you can do it, just believe in yourself and don’t be weak.

  2. I think you should double-check the conclusions of the study you’ve cited:
    “Conclusions: Five years after completing structured weight-loss programs, the average individual maintained a weight loss of >3 kg and a reduced weight of >3% of initial body weight. After [very low energy diets] or weight loss of ≥20 kg, individuals maintained significantly more weight loss than after [slightly low energy diets] or weight losses of <10 kg."

    Also, I think Jess_A is correct: even if "structured diet programs" don't work, that's hardly a reason to abandon lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and regular exercise. You're creating a false dichotomy: you don't have to obsess about weight, or even health, in order to be healthier. As in so many other areas of life, small changes build up over time, leading to big results. For example: while you're right to attack agricultural subsidies and the sneaky ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup as structural causes of obesity, that doesn't somehow rob people of the ability to make good individual choices.

    The epidemic of health issues associated with poor diets and lifestyles is a multi-pronged issue that needs to be attacked both structurally and individually, and while I'm glad to hear you discussing the former, absolving people of personal responsibility for the latter doesn't help.

    • Sorry: on a second read, I see you’ve defined “significant amount of weight” to lose as 15-20 pounds. The study you cited suggested people were successful in keeping off over 3 kilograms and over 3 percent of their body mass. It’s also worth noting the study states that “After [very low energy diets] or weight loss of ≥20 kg, individuals maintained significantly more weight loss than after HBDs or weight losses of <10 kg." You're free to call these results "insignificant", but I think many would disagree.

      • The study reports:

        “In conclusion, this meta-analysis of 29 reports of long-term weight-loss maintenance indicated that weight-loss maintenance 4 or 5 y after a structured weight-loss program averages 3.0 kg or 23% of initial weight loss, representing a sustained reduction in body weight of 3.2%. Individuals who participated in a VLED [very low energy diet] program or lost ≥20 kg had a weight-loss maintenance at 4 or 5 y of 7 kg or 29% of initial weight loss, representing a sustained reduction in body weight of 6.6%.”

        If you do the math and convert to pounds, the study found that on average, for both kinds of diet programs, participants were only able to keep off 23-29% of the weight they initially lost on the diet program, which ended up being a 3.2-6.6% reduction in body weight, or about 6-15 lbs.

        I still believe that in general, most people are not able to sustain significant weight loss (more than 15 lbs) in the long term through dieting. I believe it is possible to lose weight. I believe it is possible to maintain that weight loss. But I also believe it’s extremely difficult and beyond what most people are able to do because living your life gets in the way. And I think it’s extremely important to know and to recognize that because it is bad for our health and wellness to hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations and hate ourselves when we cannot measure up. I believe that self-hate is a serious problem with serious health consequences like eating disorders, self-harm behaviors, depression, and low self-esteem that keep people from being happy, productive, and contributing members of society.

  3. Speaking as someone who has been at least mildly obese all his life, and is just now beginning to lose weight – trying to develop the right habits and destroy the wrong ones -, this is INSULTING.

    I’ve had more than a few problems that contributed to my obesity. I had chronic bronchitis as a child, which made it difficult to exercise. I was also a loner and a bit of a shut-in in, spending my free time reading and gaming instead of playing (not that I didn’t go out to play, but far less than I should have). BUT THAT DIDN’T CAUSE MY OBESITY.

    Neither did any of the corporations from whom I have bought nominally unhealthy food over the years, McDonalds and such included. THIS IS NOT THEIR FAULT. I was not forced at gunpoint into their restaurants. I bought the food, I ate it, and I chose to eat more than I should and exercise less than I should.

    My obesity is my fault. Period.

    And unless you are the rare person with an actual glandular problem, your obesity is your fault too. And if you claim to have such a problem, and aren’t seeking medical help for it, then I don’t believe you when you tell me you have such a problem.

    But it’s worse than that. By writing this article, you, Leah, are helping to make this problem worse. Because I have known people who have lost tremendous weight, and kept it off permanently. I’ve also known people who’ve taken it off, and then gained it back.

    What did every single person in the latter group have in common? They backslid on their habits. They stopped exercising. They had unhealthy diets. In other words, they decided, consciously or not, that being a healthy weight wasn’t worth the effort it cost, so they stopped trying.

    By telling people it isn’t their fault, you are encouraging them to give up on whatever hope they had. You are telling them that they are without moral agency, that what happens to them isn’t really their fault because no one’s choices mean anything in this life. This bleeds over into other areas as well; agency is something that defines your worldview. If you believe that you can effect real changes in your life, then you will decide for yourself what kind of life you are willing to buy (buy with effort, I mean). If you don’t, you’ll spend your life complaining that the bad things that happen are bad luck, and that it’s not fair that good things happen to other people.

    Maybe you really are so thoroughly a collectivist that you believe that. Fine. But stop trying to destroy others’ sense of individual responsibility.

    • JP, I am really sympathetic to your way of thinking. I don’t like denying individuals moral agency, because, even when it is the correct assessment of the situation, it can decrease the likelihood anything is done about the problem and create feelings of helplessness. Especially in the United States, the ethos of the self-made person who is in control of their destiny and can change their behaviors and thus their plight is a very deeply rooted one.

      I think your individualist view and Leah’s collective view are just different angles of the same situation. I’d compare it to a hiker who must travel along a steep mountain range. The hiker is responsible for their own safety: being careful with their footing, preparing the proper supplies and equipment, and maintaining the discipline to watch for falling rocks, bears, etc. If the hiker slips and falls down a ravine, it must be in part due to their individual decisions and behaviors. But the landscape of the mountain they’re traveling along has a very strong effect on the likelihood of such a mishap, and the difficulty of the landscape, uncontrollable from the hypothetical hiker’s perspective, increases the danger regardless of the hiker’s behavior.

      Leah is focused here on the landscape. She’s saying the topology of our food/fat/health culture (including the mega-corp’s, media types, and medical establishment) is built to encourage failure, and to punish and shame those who can’t meet the unnatural/unfair challenges of this imaginary terraformed landscape. This doesn’t mean the hikers aren’t responsible for developing and maintaining their own good behaviors, just that we should also unstack the deck (to mix some metaphors) against the overweight as well.

      • I’m sorry, what?

        “Especially in the United States, the ethos of the self-made person who is in control of their destiny and can change their behaviors and thus their plight is a very deeply rooted one.”

        This is accurate, as far as it goes. It’s why I love my country. I don’t think a nation where the population accepts collectivism can actually be a moral or good society.

        But why does the tone of your response feel like you are saying this is a bad thing?

        You claims of “unnatural/unfair” challenges make me laugh. Ours is the first society in history where obesity is a problem of POOR PEOPLE. Frankly, I think that’s a good reason to celebrate (imagine telling a poor peasant in 1700 that a day would come where food was so cheap and plentiful that poor people would be fat. He would assume you were describing Heaven).

        But there’s nothing unnatural OR unfair about being thin or being healthy.

        And if emotions are valid for anything, they are valid as motivating forces. Someone who holds to the ethos of the self-made person, as you describe, will recognize and combat a negative trait of theirs precisely because such a person recognizes the value being better than they are.

        Is an obese person morally worthless? No. But obesity IS bad. So a moral person is better off for not being obese. And doing something more likely to make them stop caring about their problems is NOT a means of encouraging them to solve them.

        The rags-to-riches story equivalent of this, fat-to-thin, is the sort of thing that will help these people to get thin, not stopping people from making fun of them because they are fat (I say this as someone who was relentlessly teased as a child for being noticeably overweight).

    • JP owns his problems, inspiring.
      I think the problem for a lot of people is they think the wimpy exercise they do is hard enough and then quit and say, “I tried, it didn’t work, doctors lied to me, stop shaming me”. If you want to change how your body currently looks, add or lose weight, you need to jack up the effort and do it smart. Get off the treadmill, lift some damn heavy weight!

  4. Is the author for real or is she being sarcastic? I honestly hope that she is being sarcastic, reminding us that being fat is mostly our fault and we should take responsibility for losing wait instead of consoling ourselves with all kinds of excuses. Sure, there are some health conditions and hormonal issues that affect metabolism and prevent people from losing weight, but for most of us – excess weight is a result of inactive lifestyle and diet, and yes – losing weight takes discipline, patience and perseverance.

  5. While this notion that dieting generally hasn’t led to long-term benefits (ie keeping the weight off) is quite true, I’d argue that it’s a question of will-power. I know many people who are motivated for a few months of diet and exercise, lose some weight, then become bored and or/lazy and the weight re-appears in a matter of weeks. Ultimately, most people have full control of their diet/exercise habits and therefore their weight. Travel in Europe, South America, Asia etc and notice how much slimmer the average person is compared to a typical American/Australian/Brit. The American diet is the world’s unhealthiest, so is it any wonder that the US has the world’s fattest people?

    I’m sorry, but unless someone has some type of metabolic abnormality, the majority of the population CAN control their weight long-term with some discipline and genuine self-reflection.

  6. Please read the study thoroughly before making such claims. The study has never claimed that NOBODY ever kept weight off permanently. Your statement is even demonstrably false, several people in history have done it and it’s been documented.

    More importantly, the study doesn’t even say it’s impossible to keep off weight, they merely say that many gain it back, but not necessarily all. This isn’t surprising. You know why? Because people are stupid. You can’t go on a diet, and then expect to go back to old eating habits when you lose the weight. That’s what many people do, and it doesn’t work. To lose weight permanently, you need to KEEP eating healthy and especially exercise. Your body DOES fight losing weight, but luckily our bodies are pliable. It’s a simple math equation. If you are at a calorie deficit, you WILL lose weight.

    Besides, even if your claim was true, that doesn’t mean it’s not someone’s fault that they are fat. People weren’t this way decades ago. We weren’t this weight. Even if it’s “incurable”, then it is still that person’s fault for becoming fat in the first place (or in the case of children, it can be their parents fault). Your scapegoat is terrible, and you are paving the way for an even bigger obesity epidemic in the future.

  7. I’m not sure your post is correct.

    If you can determine what your maintenance TDEE is (the amount of calories you burn while doing absolutely nothing every day), then you can make sure that you won’t put on weight. If people count calories correctly, they can eat whatever they want and still maintain healthy body fat percentages.

    If people gain weight after a successful diet program, that is because they stopped counting calories (if they ever even counted at all) and let themselves go all over again.

    I believe that places the blame precisely on the individual’s shoulders.

    I’d advise you to examine bodybuilders such as Martin Berkhan over at leangains.com for examples of people who were previously trending obese but now maintain bodyfat levels below 15% for periods longer than 6 years.

  8. Pingback: My Breakup with Exercise | Talkin' Reckless

  9. I’m back, nearly a year later, and happy to report that I’ve thus far lost 44 lbs, most of it in the last 8 weeks.
    My wanting to stop being fat is what got me this far, and its what will get the other 50-odd pounds of my back, for good.
    This article is not any less bad now than it was when you wrote it; excusing someone’s laziness does not help them – if anything, any fat person who read this article, listened to you, and took you seriously has been harmed by it, if for no other reason than that they are now less likely to become thin.

    I stand by what I wrote in July – if anything, I didn’t make my counter-argument forceful enough – and I’m only coming back long enough to gloat. Yes, gloat. Gloat because I have been changing as a result of my own choices, and not by anything you wrote. Gloat because I know better than ever just how wrong you were; I believed it then, but now I _know_, and this kind of vengeance is sweet.

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