Diet Is Not a Bad Word (& Neither Is Fat)

It's January, and the gyms are packed with the freshly-resolved. In the wake of holiday overindulgence, some of us are newly focused on our health and fitness goals for the year ahead.

Which is the politically correct way of saying what's really true: that I ate 40 million cookies, candy, crackers, and other assorted treats during the last few months and now I have some weight to lose.

Not weight, actually. Fat. I have some extra FAT on my body, and I would like to get rid of it. I keep hearing about how fat is a bad word now and it's horribly offensive and no one should say it ever, but give me a break. I ate too much and I worked out too little and I gained some pounds (of FAT) that I am now working to get rid of via exercise and another bad word: a DIET.

And damn it, I'm tired of hearing that I'm contributing to the anti-fat stigma by saying this. Or that I'm saying you're fat. Or that I have expressed any opinion whatsoever about anyone's body other than my own.


I believe that size discrimination is very real and it totally and completely sucks. I believe it's possible to be healthy at any size, and that a person's weight isn't necessarily indicative of their fitness level or eating habits. I believe that for many people, there are factors unrelated to willpower that make weight loss incredibly difficult. I don't believe anyone's character should be judged by their personal appearance.

But I don't believe fat is a bad word. I don't believe that my choice to improve my fitness and lose weight should be judged.

I saw something posted on Facebook a couple weeks ago that captured some of the problem I have with the increasing sensitivity around the issue of weight loss. The author of the post was writing about a recent New York Times article titled "The Fat Trap," which discussed the biological and metabolic reasons why many obese dieters cannot maintain weight loss over time. As the Times author Tara Parker-Pope put it, "[The] sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat."

The blog author was, apparently, annoyed that Parker-Pope seemed unwilling to succumb to this reality:

Here’s research, right here in your face, saying that almost nobody can do this, and the few who do don’t seem particularly happy about what they have to sacrifice to maintain it ... yet you hate yourself for not being able to do it anyway, and will fall out the window with that Superman cape on again and again, hoping for a strong enough breeze? Yeesh.

She goes on to say,

I deserve a life too, and I’m not going to devote the time that’s pissing away rapidly on the hourglass to counting every single thing I put in my mouth, and sweating it all off for hours, and bargaining with myself about whether I can have a single bite of something when I’m shaking from hypoglycemia, and drinking enough water before bed so I can fall asleep with my stomach full, and hoping I don’t have to wake up to pee because then I’ll be hungry again? Maybe that’s “a life” for some people. But it will never, ever be one for me.

I assume she's referring to what it would take for an obese person—one plagued by the factors that complicate weight loss that were mentioned in the original article—to shed some pounds, and I understand someone making a personal choice not to pursue an effort you wholeheartedly believe will ultimately fail.

The thing is, that's not the one and only acceptable choice. Not everyone has to sweat for hours on end or curl up with hunger pains to lose weight. For me, I know exactly what I need to do to get back in my favorite jeans, because I've done it before: I need to stop eating like I'm a human garbage disposal, and I need to work up a decent sweat for, say, half an hour each day. That's hardly a torturous lifestyle, as much as I might miss those cookies.

I'm not saying that my experience is the norm. I'm saying there is no norm—or at least if you believe the various explanations that are constantly being batted around for why we're such an overweight society, there are far too many complicating factors for there ever to be a norm.

But sometimes, just sometimes, we get fat because we eat too much fucking food. That's exactly why I outgrew my jeans. Taking a no-bullshit look at my exercise and eating habits and choosing to make improvements not only helps me feel better about myself, it improves my mood, gives me more energy, and makes me a better parent. I guess that's "a life" I'm willing to pursue.

Here's what I think: if the only way you can make peace with your body is by bashing everyone else who tries to lose weight, there's something wrong. God knows there are all sorts of messed up cultural issues around body image and the last thing I want to do is contribute to anyone's personal struggle in that arena, but I'm sick of the increasingly prevalent attitude that weight loss is a shallow, useless, and stigmatizing pursuit.

It's like we've reacted to the unhappy realities of size discrimination by striking out against anyone who tries to change their size. To me, it seems like we missed a step in there. Somewhere the message of acceptance got replaced with intolerance.

How else can you explain how it affects anyone other than me to say that I'm on a (d-word) to lose some (f-word)?

Image via Flickr/_minitrue

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