…the simple reality is that fat does equal unhealthy.
As someone who is fat – and that is the right term, not ‘plus sized’, ‘big-boned’, or whatever other euphemism you want to use – this is a hard pill to swallow. It is, however, the truth.
So, let’s establish my credentials here. I am 350+ pounds, about 6’1″, and have been fat almost my whole life. I am down nearly 70 pounds from my worst weight, and still at least 100 pounds overweight. So, yeah, I get to have an opinion. And despite that, my blood pressure is pretty good (high end of normal, but still in the normal range), I am mobile and can walk miles without stopping. I have, and should get back to, been going to the gym and watching my intakes. My cholesterol is low. About 116 at last read. That is not the lowest it’s been, that was when I was likely 50 pound heavier, and then it was under 100.
By most metrics, I am pretty damn healthy. The type 2 diabetes aside. And the extra 100 pounds I carry.
Those are the very things that make me unhealthy. But what is it about being fat makes me inherently unhealthy?
Let’s start with the physics of weight. It is obvious that when you weigh more, your joints have to lift more. So, 350 pound me taking a step is the same as a 150 pound person taking that same step carrying 200 pounds of weights. Or, themselves and a decent-sized dog. Think about that for a moment. That is every step I take. At my worst, it was about the same as Jillian Michaels carrying Lizzo on her back, for a visual.
And that wears the joints faster than if I was healthy. Obviously. By lowering the strain and stress on joints, you lower the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
From what I have read, each pound of fat adds something like a mile of additional blood vessels to the body. As you get heavier, this becomes much more of an issue, and your heart is working that much harder. Since the average overweight person doesn’t exercise, and often eats poorly, this strain is exacerbated by other problems. All of these things stack on each other, and can lead to heart disease, and other cardiovascular problems.
Depression & Social Stigma
Can you imagine, in 2020, a comedy that relies on race jokes? Mocks someone for being gay? Pigeonholes someone into a stereotyped role based on skin or hair color? No? And somehow no one thinks twice about fat jokes, fat nerds, fat people only being good at computers (or, the only ones good at computer stuff are fat). This is the reality we live in – we are the last socially acceptable punchline.
In a world where people screech their fool heads off about needing a female James Bond, gay Captain America, or whatever – just proving their inability to imagine – there isn’t a thought given to ‘Fat Amy’ maybe being seen as offensive. Comedy based on overweight people launched Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy, Kevin James, and others, into stardom. And while it is true that they are in the demographic they mock, others on their shows weren’t, and we got to see the fat people mocked by friends and family. Not just self-mockery.
It is rare to see a fat person in the media when they are not the punchline or stereotype. Meatloaf, Lizzo, Chrissy Metz, John Candy, and a few others are the exceptions. Even Candy had to deal with weight jokes, even as he made every effort to not have that define his characters. But all too often, the fat guy is the clown.
And if seeing ‘themselves’ as the bad guy is damaging to minority groups, what does being the butt of the joke do for us? Add to that the common experience of mockery as kids, and dismissal as adults, which is not the common experience for other groups, and it is no wonder that depression is common among the overweight. There even appears to be a biological connection – although causality is not fully understood.
For myself, it’s a spiral. I feel depressed. I overeat. Wash, rinse, repeat, with the overeating as the cause of the depression I solve by overeating. Or, at least, I used to. I mostly have that under control these days. Not totally, but better than ever before.
However, if you think about it, society drives the concept of eating to relieve depression. We all know what a comfort food is, yes? That name, and the concept it embodies, is a social construct that reinforces the drive to eat away depression.
The last part of depression is the cognitive dissonance modern society creates. We are being increasingly told that obesity isn’t our fault. This is mostly a lie. I happen to have a large frame, my shoulders (no fat there) are pretty broad. That’s genetics. The fat is because I ate poorly and wasn’t active. That’s lifestyle. My genes don’t make me eat like I used to. Until I accepted my own role in my weight, I couldn’t make progress toward fixing it. And I think most people recognize this as reality. Or, they do deep down, maybe below the level of conscious thought.
But when we insist that it isn’t our fault, that part of us recognizes the lie. And if…when…we can no longer force these two beliefs to coexist, we face more depression. After all, if this really is society’s fault, how can we be expected to get better? We can’t, of course, since society can only fix society, not the individual. We know that we did this to ourselves, for whatever reason, and we also know that we are the only ones who can fix it.
So What Now?
In a lot of ways, this is like a 12 Step program. First and always is to accept that you are responsible. I am responsible. That is very freeing once you get past it. Instead of some insurmountable ‘other’ who ‘did this to you’, you now can find the source of the problem. And that is always the first step to beating a problem. If you don’t see it, you can’t beat it.
Second, take action. You don’t need a doctor or guru, you need to eat less and exercise more. Full stop. Yes, there will come a point where that needs to be adjusted by a professional. However, we all know what we should be doing, we just don’t do it. Take a walk, have a salad instead of cream soup, skip dessert. It is easy to do these little things, and they have an impact. If following a plan is what you need, then find the plan that works for you – not the one that has the most likes on social media. The Alternate-Day Diet by James B. Johnson is one I like.
Third, forgive yourself, and understand that this is a process. Look, we didn’t get fat overnight. We won’t get healthy overnight either. Rome, built, day, you get it. So forgive yourself. You made some bad choices. The important thing is that you are fixing them now. That’s one of the hardest things to do – especially if you have depression. But it’s vital. In a lot of ways, forgiveness is the core that isn’t talked about. Self-loathing or blame leads nowhere good. Forgiveness, and understanding this is a process, is how we move forward. We have to allow ourselves to have bad days. If we beat ourselves up for that cookie, we just take steps backwards. Have an occasional sweet – it won’t break you.
Finally, relax. Sleep more. Unwind as you will (we are all different there), and just breathe. You, we, can do this. After all, we got ourselves here, so we already know we can modify our weight, all we need to do now is modify it back!
Look, at the end of it all, being fat is not, and never will be, good for us. For a lot more reasons than I list here. No matter how much ‘body positivity’ is preached at us, obesity is bad. Always. Full stop. Accepting it, while it might be mentally healthy for a time, is just denying the reality of our physical unhealthiness.
So, to the thin people of the world, back off. We get it…really. Do you think we don’t somehow? We can lie to ourselves, claim to be healthy (with the damning ‘for our weight’ tacked on), and deny the science all we want. But deep down, we get it. We are not healthy. To insist we are healthy is wrong. There is a term for that…gaslighting. If you want to stick your nose in, then be a helper, not a critic. Show another path, be encouraging, and understand that it’s a struggle. Look, I stopped smoking by stopping smoking. Cold turkey. If I could fix my weight the same way, I would. But that doesn’t work for weight, so I struggle. Be there to be supportive, cheer the success, mourn the failure, and always remember that it is never easy, and never quick.