Why I Hate Weight Watchers

Over the past couple months, I’ve been in the interesting position of being faced with the news that a couple different friends are embarking on paths in pursuit of intentional weight loss. One joined Weight Watchers and one had bariatric surgery.
These different news flashes presented me with a momentary conundrum: considering everything I have read and learned in the last decade about how intentional weight loss doesn’t work, and my own desire to be a size acceptance advocate*, what, I asked myself, should I say in response to these friends making choices I didn’t especially agree with?

Tempted by Convention

Mr. Mezzo and I spent the weekend up at the lake house with my Mom. One of the benefits of moving to Boston was the fact that we can have more regular weekend access to the place, so the promising weather forecast made it seem like a great time for the first visit of the season. Besides, what with yesterday being the fifth anniversary of my father’s way-sudden passing, it just felt best for Mom to have company rather than to be left alone with possibly-gloomy thoughts.

feelings-pieNot that we talked about any of that. Not the anniversary, not about my motivations for coming up this weekend, not about what she might be feeling/remembering, not about my own feelings and memories. None of that was discussed.

Though truth be told, I didn’t expect anything different on that score. There’s a reason for all those cliches about emotionally reticent, laconic New Englanders. And the superficiality of conversation among families in the corporate/country club set.

But I did tell Mr. Mezzo, as we were breezing through the Hampton Tolls Friday night, that I was wondering whether Mom would say anything about my weight loss. After all, if my body looks different enough for hairdressers and co-workers to notice, one would think that the change would be obvious enough for one’s own flesh and blood to be aware.

Mr. Mezzo predicted that she wouldn’t say anything. At least, he figured she wasn’t going to bring up the topic independently. As he explained it to me when I asked, he thought she might say something if the subject came up organically, but he knew he wasn’t gonna bring it up, and he knew for damn sure I wasn’t gonna bring it up. So, he concluded, silence was likely to rule.

I wasn’t so sure. Yes, she’s been nice and polite about not nagging me for becoming fat, but it felt like there might be a chance of her going to the super-enthusiastic place about how much better I look now, how great it is that I’ve finally gotten thinner — the kind of compliments I wrote about previously, and the kind which would inspire an internal wry smile and a silent monologue about “Oh, so there’s the judgement about my body type she’s been polite enough to keep hidden all this time.”

So I just wasn’t sure whether or not the topic would come up, and then I wasn’t entirely sure how explicitly I was going to talk about my detox journey if the topic arose. (Somehow, I don’t imagine my mother being all that open to the subject. I rather imagine her being in the whole narrow-minded Industrial Age “quackwatch” kind of place.)

But when all was said and done, I needn’t have wasted any time wondering or rehearsing what I might say. Because Mr. Mezzo’s prognostication won out and the topic of my body shrinkage remained as subterranean as any consideration of my father’s passing.

I am mostly deeply relieved at that turn of events.

But I am aware of a small part in me that is disappointed.

I get it. I know I still carry a small kernel of my younger self with me, that little girl who naturally wishes for her parents to show their affection and approval.* And even if there’s lots of reasons that I find compliments about weight loss to be deeply problematic, I know my mom’s not even remotely aware of FA/HAES, and she’s really not likely to be agreeing with that perspective. So, that part of me which yearns for acknowledgement would kinda sorta be okay with taking in a problematic compliment, because sometimes that feels better than no compliment at all.

[SIDEBAR] There’s also a whole other angle in contemplating how deep the cultural programming around body size goes. Kate Harding once wrote about the “cognitive dissonance” phase of the fat acceptance journey, “thinking it made perfect sense that the OBESITY CRISIS hype was way overblown, and even if it weren’t, dieting doesn’t work anyway — but still wanting to lose weight.” And Cat observes that for a fat person to want to lose weight “is the sane choice when you live in a world that finds you disgusting.” So, I also wonder if there’s a piece of me that would kinda sorta be okay with weight loss compliments on account of the residual weight of all that cultural baggage. [/SIDEBAR]

So whichever way you slice it, there’s lots of feels, some of it self-contradictory. ‘Twas ever thus.

* I’m guessing I’m not the only one, but I’m not going to assume I know about anyone’s soul but my own.

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Image credit: http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/MjAxMy1jYzgzZjk3NDA2YWRiODA1.png

A Culture of Shame

What are all these military people going to do when they lose their jobs? And then I thought, well, hang on: we’ve got all these service industries now, things like psychotherapy, and the military approach to psychotherapy would really be kind of perfect. Really efficient and fast! You know, “Listen, you are nothing. You are a worm. And if you don’t get that mother complex solved by 0400 hours, you are dead meat!”

~~ Laurie Anderson, The Mysterious “J”

Gunnery seargent hartmannWhen I was writing about Fat Acceptance/HAES a couple nights ago and had to stop midstream, as it were, I was very aware that I hadn’t really said everything about fat shaming that I would want to. I mentioned the ways that fat shaming carries negative health effects for the target of such stigma, but I didn’t really unpack the general insanity of fat shaming. Or, to be more precise, the bananas nature of how fat shaming is usually justified as a means of informing/inspiring some poor fattie into losing weight and getting healthier.

Of course, those two concepts don’t even really go together, because weight /= health, but I’m using that phrasing to indicate the double level of bananas that’s going on here. First is the delusion that weight and health are equated, but even if that particular myth were true, I still trip over the insanity of the expectation that shaming and stigmatizing someone will inspire them to make positive change in their life.

Now, just in case you’re silly enough to think that engaging in fat-shaming will inspire some one to get on the healthy-eating-and-exercise train, let me give you a quick hit to a study from back in 2007:

We have seen over the years that it does not work to make people feel worse about their bodies. The data are striking — talking about weight, worrying too much about diet, focusing on it increases risk not only of eating disorders, but also of being overweight.

So, no: shaming not effective. (As Kate Harding once said: Special Delivery from the Duh Truck.)

One more thing: considering how steeped our culture is in anti-fat rhetoric, does a fat-shamer really think that his or her observation of my fatness is something that’s going to be news to me — or to any fat person?

So I’ll admit: considering that these two notions — 1)  fat people already know they’re fat; 2)  shaming doesn’t do anything to build positive choices, but instead just beats someone down — are so very common sense indeed, I’ve pretty much assumed that anyone who does indulge in fat shaming (no matter how prettily it’s couched in concern trolling language), is just kinda being an asshole.

Fat Heffalump pretty fully eviscerated that particular behavior pattern a few months ago when she pointed out that You’re not the First to Tell a Fat Person…  Taking direct aim at concern trolling and claims that “I’m just worried for your health!” she has this to say:

No you’re not.  If you were, you would be standing beside me fighting fat stigma and advocating for equitable health treatment for all.  You don’t give a damn about the health and wellbeing of fat people.  You don’t care that fat people can’t get treatment for everything from the common cold through to cancer because they are all blamed on their fatness and they’re just given a diet, not actual treatment.  You don’t care that the public vilification of fat people causes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  You don’t care that fat people are dying because they are so shamed by the medical profession that they can’t bring themselves to go back to the doctor when they are ill.  Claiming you care about our wellbeing is a lie.

And the inimitable Regan at Dances with Fat more recently pointed out that Being a Jerk is Not Actually Brave:

We are aware that you think “Fat bad, thin good, shame the fatties grunt grunt grunt”. We can hear this message  386,170 times every year.  I’ve been fat for 17 years, which means I’ve heard it around 6,564,890 times.  How can you possibly think that hearing it 6,564,891 times is going to improve my life?   Being 6,564,891 does not make you special or brave, it makes you one more doody in a big ole pile of poo.  It is an act of hubris that is almost beyond understanding to not only be a bully, but to ask for credit by claiming that your bullying is an act of bravery. […]

Or you could swim against the stream and treat fat people like the intelligent human beings we are- not like confused misguided sheep who need your strong guidance – and encourage others to do the same.  Let there be a fat person who only hears 386,169 messages about their body because you refused to pile on the shame and body hate.  That’s brave.

But, if I can come down off my own high horse for a moment, it’s worth mentioning that — however common sense it may feel to me that shaming has no positive effect on a person or situation — the fact remains that we do a lot of shaming in this culture.

And not just about fatness. Almost any aspect of life that comes up for judgement and it deemed to “need changing” comes up for that Nike drill sergeant (“Just do it!”) so beautifully satirized by Laurie Anderson, above. And maybe I’m right, sitting in my own little superiority-tower: maybe we’re all just assholes.

Or maybe there’s some deeper delusion we’re all trapped in, to honestly halfway think that the way to change a life’s path is to try and block off the “undesirable” option with a pile of shit and shame.

Something worth further examination.

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Image credit: http://rcoll-rorscharch.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-worst-kinds-of-fathers.html

Some Fat Acceptance/HAES Basics

(Apologies to anyone who’s a Facebook friend — some of this will be a re-hash of the links I’ve been posting there today.)

It’s occurred to me today that because I’ve been thinking about fat acceptance & health at every size concepts for a few years now, I sometimes talk about these concepts in a very “I hold these truths to be self-evident” way. And maybe, instead, it’s worth unpacking just a little bit about my perspective on questions of fatness and health.

Now to be sure, plenty of bloggers have already dropped the mic on this again and again and again, which may be part of my reticence tonight. After all, why cover ground that has really truly been covered with great insight before?

ANGRY!
ANGRY!

Maybe because the things things these writers have said are worth saying again. And again and again and again, until people finally stop all the fat-shaming and masking their superiority in concern trolling and their obesity panic and bleeping get it.

So here’s my own little piece of the mythbusting puzzle.

Most of what “everyone knows” about fat is pretty much wrong.

To start off, being fat is not automatically unhealthy. Fat people actually tend to live a bit longer, and are more likely to survive cardiac events. There’s also a fair bit of evidence that a lot of health problems supposedly “caused” by fatness might instead be a result of dieting and weight cycling. There is some evidence that certain health risks are tied to having a very specific type of adipose tissue in your body (visceral fat), but guess what? Thin people AND fat people can have too much visceral fat hurting their organs, and unless you’re Superman, I defy you to tell me you have the kind of x-ray vision to know who’s packing VF and who isn’t.

Warning: that last article I linked may give you stabby pains behind the eyes because after reporting on a study that pretty clearly states that the important factors are metabolic health and visceral fat, the author still ends with the concluding thought that these results should not be taken as “an excuse to remain overweight or obese.” Because even though the study shows obesity as a non-factor in measuring health, it’s still somehow a health risk. (Just because?) Ah, rumor-mongering science journalism at its finest.

And while the illustrious staff writers at Time have left such tempting fruit, let’s take on this whole balderdash that implies one’s body shape and size are completely under one’s Ayn Rand-ian will. Because, statistically speaking, diets don’t work. Sorry Not-sorry to burst your bubble on this one: they don’t. And they do incredible harm along the way. The weight loss industry, has a catastrophic “success rate” and an evil jiu jitsu way of transfering its own failings out onto the customer so they feel guilty about it all. Well, to quote Golda Poretsky at Body Love Wellness: “It’s bullshit and it’s bad for ya.”

As for healthy diet and exercise choices, yes they do indeed matter and they can make a big difference in reducing the effect of various “fat-related” conditions like cholesterol levels or blood pressure. But here’s the funny thing: those conditions get reversed independent of any actual weight loss being caused by diet and exercise choices. And considering the negative health effects of being fat-shamed and stigmatized, and considering the fact that fat people have a dramatically lower chance of even getting decent health care on account of the prejudicial attitudes of medical professionals, it’s probably best to steer clear of claiming that a fat person’s health challenges are being caused by weight. ‘Cos I’m seeing a lot of confounding causality here.

I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour, so I’m pulling the cart to a stop here. With one final thought.

Even if fat were unhealthy and if being fat were entirely under an individual’s control, every fat person on this planet would be deserving of fundamental human respect, acceptance and compassion. Just because of their humanity.

The heart-breaking thing is how little respect, acceptance, or compassion fat people get in this culture today —  even though fat isn’t unhealthy and it can’t reliably be controlled.

Not Trying To vs. Trying Not To

I have an incredible addiction to the idea of fitting in. Of looking normal, not seeming too crazy or “woo-woo” or “out there” — whatever punitive descriptions the cult of rationality use to condemn someone who believes in Spirit, the energetic system, and so on. The idea of being judged negatively carries way more import to me than is healthy, as does my level of upset around the possibility of having people make false assumptions about me and my life choices.

Given those emotional addictions, this next series of posts feels very scary to write.

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In my first couple posts back here, I alluded vaguely to some self-care and detox “projects” I had coming up in the near future. The most significant of those is that I’ll be starting a round of the HCG detox program near the end of the week.

Anyone googling “HCG” is not going to find much of anything that’s discussed through the lens of detoxing — it’s all been subsumed under the cultural obsession with weight loss. This source at least calls it a detox program, but pretty much the rest of the text is an ad for HCG as a weight loss tool. And this article in Slate, plus this blog (and the two she links to) are pretty typical of everything else I’ve found online about HCG: something worth doing all because it makes the numbers on the scale go down. Because the numbers on the scale are quite possibly the most important detail for measuring* a woman’s value as a human being.

So it’s feeling a little weird as I’m moving towards this experience. I know my focus and intention are on detoxing a life’s worth of accumulated poisons (dietary, environmental, emotional). I know it to my bones.

Point of fact: I’m flying some few hundreds of miles away from Boston so I can start this journey in partnership with a detox center that is coming from that same place of intention, rather than going to the Boston-area places that are all about offering HCG on a menu with lipo, botox and laser peels… If I was in a weight loss frame of mind, there’s options just around the corner that don’t rack up the frequent flyer miles.

My goal in this is not about losing weight. But my research makes me pretty sure that I will lose some weight in the weeks ahead. And I have a lot of complicated feelings about that.

I worry about being seen as someone betraying the ideals of fat acceptance/fat activism by making this choice.

I worry about the likelihood that members of the “general” fat-shaming public will likely applaud me for losing weight, and the ways that false assumption will tempt me towards violent angry outbursts.

I worry that no matter how frequently or clearly I am able to articulate my intention for the HCG to be about detoxing, I worry that the experience will still be co-opted into weight-loss discourse — because that discourse is just so fucking strong in this culture. (After all, even the most outspoken fat activist really secretly just wants to be thin, right?) Something about this possibility of co-option fills me with the fiery rage of a thousand suns. Like by losing weight, I’ll be letting “them” (the fat-shamers) win — and oh! I don’t want to let them win.

And yet. In a place of deep to my core unflinching honesty, I also need to own that I worry about the possibility that some small part of me is going to be happy about losing weight. ‘Cos no matter how strongly I try to speak and live from an FA perspective, I’ve had the same share of fat-shaming brainwashing that you’d expect any middle age, middle class heterosexual American white woman to have had. And even though my internal fat-shamer doesn’t come out a lot, she’s still in my system, just a little bit. And I don’t want to let her win, either.

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A week or two ago, I read a post on Fierce, Freethinking Fatties that has given me a tiny bit of a lifeline for at least some of these complicated feelings. The post looks at the possibility of weight loss occurring as a result of someone adopting HAES (health at any every size) principles, and marks the distinction memorialized in my post title:

There is a difference between not trying to lose weight and trying not to lose weight. One means that your focus is elsewhere. . . . The other means that you are actively attempting to either stay the same weight or gain weight. . . . [M]ost people I come across who are fat and follow a HAES lifestyle fall into the first category. The act of practicing HAES usually means that they are interested in increasing their health. They are not trying to lose weight, because they are using other means to measure their success. . . . You might lose weight. And that’s okay. You aren’t going to have to turn in your Body Acceptance club card if you do. It just means that your body is changing because you’re adopting different habits.

(There’s a lot more good stuff where these words came from. Seriously, if you haven’t already followed the link up above, this one will take you there, too.)

I’m not trying to lose weight. But if I do lose weight as a side effect of choices I make for their detox and energetic benefits, that’s okay. In a complicated “mostly-okay-but-also-kinda-anxious” sort of way. But it’s what I’ve got for now.

* “Measuring.” Like weight. See what I did there? *grin*

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Edit: Because “any” and “every” start with different vowels and create different acronyms when used in phrases, and because it is a nice show of respect to get people and organizations’ names correct…