Guest Post: Former Fat Guy Responds to HAES

Meet Dan: blogger, music lover, foodie, travel enthusiast, longtime friend to FFG and her LSP, fitness devotee, after losing about 90 pounds.

“I have cancer. I’ll be dead in a month.”

“Well, I had a lot of fun in the late 1980s, and the lifestyle is now catching up with me…”

“I don’t know…the doctors can’t seem to find anything though.”

These are just some of the fantasy answers I wanted to give to people who constantly asked me “Are you OK? You’re not sick, are you?” The truthful answer, and the one that I always gave despite wanting to floor people with a horror story, was “Actually, I am healthier than I have ever been.”

This question came (annoyingly) frequently a few years ago as I went through a very visible weight loss (more than 40 kilos in about 7 months). Around the same time that FFG was emerging, remodeling her body for aesthetic reasons, I was remodeling mine for health reasons. After being overweight all my life, I realized one day that I was closer to 50 (that age where doctors want to start sticking their finger up guy’s asses!) than 40 years old and probably (definitely?) needed to get healthier. But unlike FFG, who wanted to be noticed and to get a reaction, I wasn’t doing it for any public reason. In fact, being a generally private person, I was annoyed when people would ask me about it. Hence, the desire to make them squirm with a tale of impending doom.

Dan and Lisa visiting FFG in Paris, 2009 (at Le P’tit Bar)

This, of course, doesn’t apply to friends. But these questions came from co-workers who I barely knew, casual acquaintances, even people who were almost strangers, such as a vendor at the farmers market who I only spoke to maybe twice a year. In other words, a lot of people who, if I was really sick, wouldn’t be people I talked to about it anyway.

This reaction was interesting to me because it was seldom “You must be doing something healthy”, but just  “Are you sick?” It intrigued me. It seems that we live in a society where people just get bigger, we continue to be sedentary and eat too much and drink too much and put on a kilo or two each year and people see that as normal. When people are gaining weight, friends and strangers might notice it, but they probably don’t ask about it. But losing weight seems to be such an anomaly that it had to be a medical problem. Who would choose to put in the effort, to make the sacrifices, that it takes to lose weight.? That it takes to be healthy?

Not many people, I found out! The second part of most of these discussions went something like:

“Wow, that’s great! But it must be so hard? I’ve tried to lose weight and can’t do it. What are you doing? It’s so hard. I don’t want to give up things I like…It’s so hard…I’ve tried, but it is too hard…”

to which I would reply:

“Actually, it is REALLY easy.” Which was sort of my version of  “Fuck off and leave me alone, I don’t want to talk to you.” While lying about a fatal disease would have been mean, it wasn’t beyond me to piss them off by saying weight loss is easy (which it is…people who say they are trying to lose weight, but can’t or don’t, DO NOT want to hear how easy it is!). Because it was really easy.  Sure, it takes a bit of effort to learn caloric content of foods, how many calories you burn doing various things, and how many calories you need each day. And you need to put in a bit of effort to do some portion control…weighing food, for example (how many people know how many grams a recommended serving of meat is? And how small that looks!). And you need to devote time to working out. I did it all in my basement (so that took a bit of cash output for an elliptical machine) but it could have been at a gym, or running, or cycling. There were no sacrifices, nothing I gave up, except for an hour a day of leisure time that was probably spent doing something like watching television anyway. There were no foods I gave up…in fact, I made a point of not removing anything from my diet completely, just to prove that it was all about control.  I ate anything I wanted, just in smaller quantities.  I didn’t become one of those people who would be picky at dinner parties or in restaurants; friends would invite us to dinner, but then ask what I wouldn’t eat or might prefer:  anything…it can all be dealt with by a bit of exercise.

I’ve been reading the health at every size stuff on this blog recently, and as someone who would have formerly agreed with it, I can’t now. Sure, I told myself I was healthy, but I wasn’t.  I was a typical Canadian who waited for the elevator instead of looking for stairs to jog up; who thought a good Sunday afternoon meant having a nap; who didn’t know how to read those silly tables on the side of all food packages; who was in denial about their health. This denial, it seems, is common, and quite probably has a direct relation to the ‘health at every size’ movement that has been mentioned on this blog a few times.  Recently I have attended a few presentations by exercise scientists and exercise physiologists where they threw out a lot of statistics about what percentage of people don’t get enough exercise, what percentage of people are overweight/obese, and what this costs society in terms of health care, lost time at work due to illness, etc. But most interesting is that a huge number (sorry, can’t remember but it was in the 60-75 % range) of overweight people, when asked, will say they have no health problems despite, statistically, that they have, or are at a very high risk of having, undiagnosed heart problems, or of being pre-diabetic, etc. Unfortunately, health isn’t a perception, it is an absolute.

Almost. During my undergrad years, I took a course on philosophy of health where we spent many hours discussing the WHO definition of health: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” Pretty open to interpretation, and maybe a topic for discussion…and more discussion…

But based on that definition, why do I feel more healthy? For one, at a very basic quantifiable level, I am not often tired. When I was working out a lot, I seldom slept more than 5 hours a night. Now, 7 usually suffices whereas the big me needed at least 8 hours plus the occasional nap. Similarly, I seldom get sick. I live in the southern hemisphere, where it is currently winter, and my city has an unusually bad flu outbreak…I missed 2 days of work last week with a cold, the first days in 2 years. A few years ago, I probably would have been enduring the horrible flu my friends and colleagues are suffering.  On a less quantifiable scale, I feel like I can participate more in the world, and live a fuller life. There isn’t much (anything?) that I don’t feel I could do or at least attempt. If someone challenged me to run a marathon…I might not make it, but I wouldn’t balk at starting training.  I garden, I hike, I do whatever I want and don’t worry that I can’t finish, that it will be too hard. I get pissed off when it rains on Sunday and I can’t spend 2 hours cycling, which as a Canadian living in Australia is an amazing experience – had I moved here when I was fat, I wouldn’t have had the thrill of pacing a kangaroo down a country road!  Fitter people can enjoy a broader range of experiences, and that seems to fit that WHO definition of health.

Dan is ready to answer all of your questions…

For his blog see: waggadventure.com.

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 49-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

24 thoughts on “Guest Post: Former Fat Guy Responds to HAES

  1. I am also amazed at the number of friends/family who ask me “so, has Dan kept the weight off?” People really don’t understand that this was a lifestyle shift. Dan’s the cook in the family so this decision changed how we looked at food, completely — and that continues even now. For the record, I lost almost 30 pounds by just being “along for the ride” on Dan’s journey, eating what he ate and exercising with him. And I barely recognize us in that pic from Paris FFG! Going to have to go for another visit to Le Petit Bar for the “after” shot. ; )

  2. It is a common mistake to assume the Health At Every Size(r) model say ‘go ahead and be fat’ The HAES model very deliberately does not focus on weight. ‘Honoring the diversity of bodies, taking good care of yourself, eating well and be physically active’, whatever that means for you, is pretty much the HAES nutshell. Sounds to me like that is what you did. A lot of HAES activist also work for the size diversity movement. Maybe that is why the confusion. Just as you should not have to endure rude inquiries about you body size and why it is what it is, neither should anyone else, large or small. For info on HAES science visit http://www.sizediversityandhealth.org and http://www.haescommunity.org

    • Thanks for your comment Deb. What is your response to Dan’s assertion that he thought he was healthy at his big size, but realizes now that he was wrong, often sick and tired?

      I would personally argue that almost every obese person would be healthier if s/he lost weight. I agree that shaming is wrong and that it is a great idea to promote health at every size, but am convinced by numerous studies which show that being 50-100 pounds overweight will almost always lead to decreased health in some way. I also don’t think the body has a ‘natural’ resting point, which it wants to weigh (from the web site of the fat nutritionist). I think that weight is entirely historically, socially, and culturally constructed and that our physical perceptions are thus specific to time, place, gender, race, sexuality etc., not ‘naturally’ waiting for us to realize.

      • I have perfectly healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and I am obese. All it requires is being active and avoiding processed foods — not weight loss. As far as getting colds and flu, I have never had a huge number of colds, but I am sure that’s because I wash my hands after using the toilet. Having the energy to do things like gardening and so on is again related to the amount of physical fitness — not weight. I have been an always-tired thin person and I have been a very active fat person — it’s really not the weight that’s relevant. But I am guessing you wouldn’t know, since you have never been obese. You are speculating about something that you have no direct experience with whatsoever.

  3. As somebody who has recently started doing exactly what Dan did I can wholeheartedly agree with the points:

    “Sure, it takes a bit of effort to learn caloric content of foods, how many calories you burn doing various things, and how many calories you need each day. And you need to put in a bit of effort to do some portion control…weighing food, for example”

    It really is amazing to evaluate food in these terms just by looking once you become familiar with the ball-park calorie content of, say, a slice of bread. A spreadsheet really helps, one that conatins the calorific values of foods you regular eat and the balancing calorific values of exercise you usually do.

    I also notice that I have much more energy and much less “fuzzy-headedness” since I lost weight and eat more healthily.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks Wader. I read that articles about fat-phobia as the new homophobia and found that it made some interesting comparison, solely on the grounds of the medicalization of behaviours and bodies. While obese people are stigmatized they have never been declared social outlaws, arrested, and randomly beaten and killed. You have probably heard all of this before, but I am nervous when one group tries to claim rights at the potential expense of another. Am I going out on a limb to assert that homophobia remains a graver and more widespread problem than fat-phobia? Maybe homophobia at the gym could be an important topic for a future blog post on FFG?

      • I just read an interesting article (I would link to it but no idea of source but definitely a US paper, reprinted in aTokyo English language paper) about bullying of fat kids in school and anti-fat stuff in media stigmatizing people. Seems there is some campaign in southern US trying to get people to eat less/ lose weight. Author argues, based on some experiment that she read about, that people just cant resist the temptation of food so the obesity rates are to be expected. She actually says that Americans are ‘a people of second helpings’. I have two problems with this – first is that if you can’t resist temptation don’t put yourself in that situation… don’t plan on making enought for leftovers for next days lunch and then eat a second helping because it was there. But the bigger issue is that her argument falls apart by not addressing rising obesity rates. If she was right, then they should remain the same. But they are increasing. Possibly from a change in lifestyle…too many of us now work desk jobs rather than toiling in the fields. But the article completely ignored the fact that if you see a basic line graph of increase in percentage of overweight kids in past few decades, the line is scarily similar to that charting out increase in sugar consumption annually.

      • I agree, Dan, that obesity cannot be naturalized; it cannot be explained in terms of human nature or (as is sometimes argued by HAES supporters) the body’s natural resting point, ie the body is a fat as it wants to be and will find a comfortable resting weight if you listen to it carefully. It is not useful to combat the medicalization of obesity by naturalizing it instead.

    • Thanks for your endorsement of this topic Gwynn. Unfortunately, the only personal observations I can make are based on me over-hearing homophobic comments made by lunkheads, and my forbidden (and previously secret) lusting after soccer-body lesbians doing chin ups. Anyone who has experienced homophobia first-hand at the gym and wishes to share that experience, either anonymously or not, on this site, please comment!

      • First, a disclaimer, I don’t spend nearly enough time in the gym. Second, I have a free pass to the University gym, when I do go I don’t pay for it. I therefore can’t speak with any fluency about other gyms.

        I would hypothesize that the reason Curves exists and is successful is because it’s members find a certain level of acceptance and fraternity (I know… brotherhood, patriarchal language, but nonetheless) amongst each other. In many bigger cities there gyms which specifically cater to gay clientele. I would suggest that curves and gay gyms exist for many of the same same reasons and likely a few more related to locker room fantasies, meat market selection, etc.

        The only outright homophobia I’ve witnessed in the gym is in the private space of the locker room. On a number of occasions I’ve overheard groups of men talking with each other throwing around stereotypes and derogatory language. I’m guessing these bigoted morons are either part of teams, frats (the bad ones, not the good ones), or NOM (national organization for marriage). It disappoints me this happens on a university campus but it is perhaps not surprising. I have been out long enough and have a pretty thick skin but I saddens me for the freshman who’s struggling coming to terms with his sexuality.

        I have learned a few things though from these neanderthals of the change room. They are early functioning, likely at a sensory motor level; at least that would explain not being able to comprehend that there are other people in the locker room on the other side of the lockers. Wearing briefs somehow makes you a homo. Guess I’ll keep wearing them. Somehow not being able to make a workout with friends makes you a fag. That would explain way I don’t make it to the gym enough. Finally, the girl with the free weights and the big shoulders who’s always there is totally a lesbian. Perhaps I can find some friends in the gym, in the corner, with the free weights.

  4. I will simply quote Canadian Obesity Network chair and bariatric researcher Arya Sharma. “Telling an obese person to eat less and move more is like telling a clinically depressed patient to cheer up and get over it.” There are complex issues underlying obesity. Thankfully serious researchers are spending time on those issues rather than relying on personal opinions and anecdotes.

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