Thursday, November 22, 2012

Not Looking the Part (Because Fat People are All Liars)

In a recent post, I mentioned one of my colleagues who has taken up the brave activity of "running while fat". Yes, this Amazon of a woman--she's at least six feet tall--is running close to 20 kilometres at a stretch and has already completed several half-marathons...all while being fat.

I also mentioned how another colleague of ours questioned whether this woman was telling the truth about all the running she's now doing. The only reason she advanced for questioning our colleague's truthfulness (or, as Joe Biden said during the VPs' presidential debate, "accurateness"--what a great way to avoid saying "lying") was the fact that this woman is still fat.

We definitely have a visual image of what it means to be in shape: trim, slim, no extraneous fat (goddess forbid we should have the slight roll around the middle!) and well defined muscles. But is this description the only valid one?

Quite a while ago, I wrote a post about the "morphs": the ecto-, meso- and endomorphs--the three basic body types, which one could also describe as "fine, medium or large-boned", to use more old-fashioned terms. As I recall, I received quite a few responses, including several that accused me of copping out and being an apologist for fatness because I questioned the validity of "one correct BMI to rule them all". I still stand by what I said and now I've come across an article in the New York Times that lends some support to the idea that not everyone who does "all the right things" necessarily "looks the part".

The article is entitled, "Are You Likely to Respond to Exercise". Actually, I think it's a bit of a misnomer, in that some may read the article and think, "exercise doesn't seem to do much for my cardio-vascular health, so why bother?".

Research has confirmed that people’s physiological responses to exercise vary wildly. Now a new genetic test promises to tell you whether you are likely to benefit aerobically from exercise. The science behind the test is promising, but is this information any of us really needs to know?
Read the article. It's interesting. But first, let's be clear: I'm absolutely in favour of everyone engaging in enjoyable physical activity, if that's what they want to do. There are numerous studies that show the physical and psychological benefits of activity, from walking or swimming to running marathons or weight lifting.

However, the article does look at the issue of how different bodies to respond to exercise. The fact is, everyone responds differently on a macro and a micro level. For instance, men, in general, gain muscle a lot faster and in much greater quantity than women. This goes a long way to explaining why men generally have less trouble losing weight than women and are often more successful in the long term (I know, there are always exceptions to the rule. Bear with me, people.)

But back to lying.

An interesting and heart-wrenching article is making a few waves now. It's called "I Was Once Obese" and subtitled "And now I'm not. Please don't applaud me for losing the weight." It's definitely a thought-provoking personal essay but what I found even more interesting and ultimately horrifying, were the comments. Many of the commenters openly and vehemently questioned the author's truthfulness. How could she have eaten as little as she said she was and exercised as much as she said she had and still not lost weight? I find this an all too common attitude, which is often accompanied by the strongly held opinion that in contrast to all those lying, lazy, willpower-challenged fatties out there, all slim people carefully watch what they eat, zealously exercise and never eat anything that's "off plan". Slim people are, thanks to their size alone, paragons of virtue.

Read some of the comments to this article if you dare. Then take some strong pain medication. They're enough to make you lose whatever faith in humanity you may have had left.


  1. Very interesting article. And she makes very valid points. Not everyone will lose weight the same - if at all. My sister-in-law was once 140 pounds at five feet ten. Once she started heading into peri-menopause her metabolism came to a screeching halt. She eats the same, exercises the same - and is now 40 pounds overweight. She is the object of hormonal imbalance among other things that fight her every attempt to lose weight. It is irresponsible to group every person into the same category. One of my least favorite sayings is: If I can do it, so can YOU! Drives me crazy.

    1. "One of my least favorite sayings is: If I can do it, so can YOU! Drives me crazy."

      Ellen, I'm so with you on that!

  2. The article was painful for me to read because I could identify so much with the author's struggle. When I was at my heaviest, I was also at an exhausting point in my life (peri-menopause, serious family problems, extremely stressful demands on my body and my time...for example, was taking Microbiology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Chemistry, simultaneously, while struggling with worsening ADHD symptoms), but the WORST and most PAINFUL cause of (constant and everyday) stress for me, bar none, was enduring the terrible social stigma of being fat, especially while entering the field of health care and constantly hearing that my fatness was my fault, was dangerous and risky, was evidence of my laziness, or proof of my (assumed) inadequate "self care" (!!!), or my (*obvious*)low self esteem (!!!), or my utter failure to grasp how effing UNHEALTHY my own behaviors *obviously* HAD TO BE since my body size fit the category that everyone in authority around me had already concluded was self inflicted slow suicide...

    There was a continuing subtext to every discussion about "obesity", an implicit suggestion stating that I would never be appropriate (good enough) to work in the field of health care because I was mentally unstable, and self destructive, as evidenced by my weight of (by then) about 300 lbs in a social system that kept insisting I should weigh about half that amount before I could be "normal". All the negative assumptions and judgments about me, I knew, would magically disappear if my body size fit the socially constructed APPROVED CATEGORY. But even if I somehow fit that category, I would still be---I knew---the very same person as the person they were so absolutely positive was (clearly) defective.

    Now I fit their imaginary category of acceptability...based totally on surface appearance. I exercise less than I did then. My dietary choices would be disapproved of in relation to "proper nutrition" (perfection?) but in truth none of them give a sh*t about that (what I eat or whether I exercise) as long I now have a socially-approved body size that OFFERS THE APPEARANCE (illusion) of health and "wellness."

    The appearance of behaving ethically, also, I have come to realize, is the foundation of their illusions about "health" and "health care." Ethical behavior (truly caring about real human beings and their needs) holds little or no value (systemically) in comparison to ensuring that the APPEARANCE of ethical practices (the appearance of caring) is always maintained.

    It doesn't make me "lose faith in humanity", though, because I understand how it (the widespread harm) all results inevitably from our distorted concepts and beliefs about science, truth, language, and "stuff". I understand rather clearly, now, how (the ways in which) our culture constructs these realities, and I understand why our current and tragic world is not the inevitable outcome of "human nature". Whether it can ever happen for our species or not, I have a vision of humanity's potential for movement away from this precipice. That vision gives me hope.

    1. "OFFERS THE APPEARANCE (illusion) of health and "wellness."


      I'm glad that you're not losing faith in humanity. You're right, we must work on that vision, look towards our potential and try and turn away from the trolls, numerous though they may be.

  3. you see...I was just talking to my daughters about this...I may be considered 'overweight' but I can do a 5 mile hike up a mountain..I can do box jumps and bench 50 lbs 36 times...My daughters and I were watching primetime 80's shows..aka miami vice and magnum pi...the sheer number of skinny fat chicks was astounding. Skinny but incredibly can see the lack of tone. Then watching them light a cigarette was enough to give me hives. Health isn't defined by weight alone. Not in the least.

  4. I'm just wondering how to reconcile this with spots like San Francisco Bay Area(where I live), Boulder, and Colorado in general (where my family lives) and Los Angeles, where I'll soon visit, where there are very very few people even bigger than me (size 10, BMI 26).

  5. Maybe I just didn't read far enough back through the comments on the "I Was Once Obese" article... Sure, there was some minor idiocy of the CICO/Nightmare on ELMM St variety, but I didn't come across any vicious personal attacks.

  6. I believe that the basic rules of keeping shape are the same for everyone. Though, everyone should adapt them for himself. For me fitness is the best way. When I stop going to the gym I immediately gain weight (unless I starve myself). For me all the diets are very depressive, I can not live without sweets and cookies, that’s why I choose fitness. Regular training is very rewarding: I’ve noticed my first results within 1 month, and it was an awesome stimulation for future trainings. When I feel tired I take Navy Seal Formula by Military Grade and it quickly restores my strength and enthusiasm. It also provides the necessary nutritional supply, which is vital when you are training intensively. Thus, nothing prevents me from eating occasional cookie or a bar of chocolate when I want it so much.