We are constantly flooded with messages from the media about how there’s an ‘obesity pandemic’, and how obesity causes a host of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and even cancer. How many times has a scientist popped up on your TV to tell you how unhealthy obesity is and how it’s a massive burden on the healthcare system? How many times have seen adverts for diets that claim you can lose weight and live longer, healthier and happier lives? Uncountable times.
The issue with these messages is that they are deep rooted and originate from diet culture. The diet industry is worth BILLIONS of dollars, and they have infiltrated our everyday lives – from standing at the bus stop and seeing a billboard for the latest Skinny Tea (spoiler alert: these are laxative teas, cause severe dehydration and even death), to your favourite YouTuber promoting the latest 12-week fitness eBook and accompanying diet that includes the recommended calories for a child (note: 1200 calories is the recommended calorie intake for a sedentary 6 year old). Diet culture is everywhere, whether we like it or not, and nobody is immune – that includes doctors, and other professionals in the scientific field.
Firstly, I want to address a key word that many might find uncomfortable at first: FAT is not a bad word. It is simply a body descriptor, just as saying that someone is brunette or tall. It is not a bad word, and we must not be afraid of using it – we need to continue to use the word for what it is, a descriptor, in order to breakdown the associations that diet culture has attached to the word fat. Fat doesn’t mean lazy, ugly, unhealthy, unsuccessful, unhygienic, or any of the other negative connotations that have been associated with the simple descriptive word. Fat is a body type – that is it.
There are countless reports of fat people going to a doctor for a relatively minor health issue, and rather than having the tests they should be having and being treated in the exact same manner as an individual in a smaller body, they simply get told to lose weight. Healthcare professionals are continually refusing to carry out the appropriate treatment and refuse to provide the healthcare that these fat individuals require. It’s assumed that weight loss is the solution to all their problems – doctors are not the exception when it comes to diet culture, for they are bombarded with the message that fat = bad too.
All your life you have believed this notion, that in order to be healthy you must be thin, but in fact, weight and BMI are very poor predictors of disease and lifespan, and that in fact being only a mere 5lbs ‘underweight’ (note: BMI is a load of rubbish, and may only be helpful in the case of restrictive eating disorders that have caused a lot of weight loss and need refeeding) is more dangerous than being 75lbs ‘overweight’ according to the BMI scale. Health encompasses a host of different things, including mental health, and despite everything we have ever been taught to believe, you can be fat AND healthy. Your mental health is just as important than your physical health, so if a fat person has spot on vitals and is in a good place with their mental health, how can you therefore conclude that they are in fact unhealthy because of their size? I’ve seen countless online trolls attacking fat people online, claiming how unhealthy they are – I would love to know how they are able to reach this conclusion based on a snapshot photo that they posted? And even if they aren’t healthy, that is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Another person’s health is nobody’s business other than their own, and they shouldn’t be marginalised or shamed for simply existing in their body. Health isn’t a factor which dictates whether a person is worthy of respect.
Diet culture dehumanises fat people – they completely marginalise them. I’ve read comments from these online trolls, and some call these fat people an ‘it’. These are PEOPLE, not inanimate objects! They are fat people that have feelings, emotions, talents, hobbies, families, careers – and they deserve to simply exist in the world without the need to justify their presence. They are allowed to take up space and live, without others criticising them for simply existing; without others recommending a diet to them; without others telling them that they are unhealthy 24/7. Diet culture has dwindled fat people down to a single word: fat. It has dwindled them down to being associated with all those negative adjectives – all because they exist in a bigger body? These are people, and this shows the power of diet culture.
You may still be questioning the Health At Every Size approach – this is a peace movement that celebrates body diversity and other human attributes, eg: age, race, ability; this movement acknowledges that size is not an indicator of health – and until about a year ago, so did I. I have been a scientist my whole life, constantly thinking that science wouldn’t lie to me. I still study science, and I now find it incredibly frustrating when weight is used as an indicator of health. Prior to learning about HAES, I firmly believed all those scientific papers I read about how obesity caused this host of health issues, but then I read something that changed everything – those studies that prove that obesity causes heart disease? They are funded by these multibillion dollar diet companies! These companies favour this conclusion, as it ensures that more people believe that in order to not have these health issues, they must lose weight. These companies PROFIT from scaremongering individuals into spending money on their dangerous diets, detox teas and diet pills, by ensuring that the outcome of said studies favours their company. Not so sure about those ‘scientific papers’ now, are we?
Just as the diet industry has associated words such as lazy and unhygienic with fat, they have done the same with weight loss. How many before and after weight loss photos have you seen that shows an unhappy fat person turn into an uber happy and successful person? The diet industry has associated weight loss with happiness – and this is one of the most damaging and detrimental things that exists. Individuals are being sold that happiness and success will come once they reach a goal weight, and then they beat themselves up when it doesn’t come – so the goal weight becomes even lower. It’s a vicious cycle, which can so easily spiral into dangerous eating disorders – in fact, most people who develop an eating disorder, originally started on a diet, which is no surprise given that more than half of all teenage girls and a third of teenage boys use weight control techniques such skipping meals, fasting, vomiting and laxative abuse.
Being fat has been demonized so much, that people now fear being fat. 81% of 10 year olds say that they are afraid of being overweight. 10 YEAR OLDS.
Even if you were able to lose weight on your starvation diet (just a PSA: your body enters starvation mode at around 1200 calories), 95% of dieters will regain all the weight lost, (and often more) within 1 year. Why? Because your body has a certain weight at which it is optimal – this is the set point theory. Your body functions at its best within a certain weight range, and if you try to digress from this weight, your body will try it’s best to return back to this weight range. So if you lose weight beyond this range, your body thinks it’s in a famine, therefore moves the range to a higher weight in order to compensate for the fact that another famine way return – hence many regain all the weight and more. Everyone has their own set point range, and that includes that some may have their range at a higher weight. Some people’s bodies are designed to be heavier. Picture this: if everyone ate exactly the same food, some people would be fat and some may be thin – because that is what their bodies are meant to look like. It’s as simple as that. And these people that are being demonized for simply existing in the body that they were designed to have, are being marginalised consequently. SOME BODIES ARE MEANT TO BE BIGGER BODIES.
So next time you see a weight loss campaign using a scientific paper to state that it is reducing the risk of cancer, think twice about who funded the research. Science has its place in the world, but unfortunately it is still heavily infiltrated by diet culture. Fat people should be able to simply exist in this world without constant criticism, and the HAES and body positive movement needs to continue until ALL people are no longer marginalised and discriminated against.