There was no such thing as the internet when I was a teen, and spank material was hard to come by. That might have been a good thing, because losing one’s virginity was a spastic and confusing and amazing world of discovering what the other person likes rather than having preconceived (and probably erroneous) notions. I was in my 40s before I learned ATM could mean something other than automated teller machine.
Anyway, when you couldn’t get your hands on your friend’s older brother’s Playboy stash, there was the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Specifically, there was that time Cheryl Tiegs was in it and HOLY SHIT YOU CAN SEE HER NIPPLES!
Good times. But now I’m wondering if I can take it back.
This has nothing to do with the reality of Cheryl’s aging, but the fact that she’s revealed herself as ugly (and ignorant) on the inside.
Tiegs told EOnline in regards to SI putting Ashley Graham on the cover: “I don’t like that we’re talking about full-figured women, because it’s glamorizing them, because your waist should be smaller than 35 (inches). That’s what Dr. Oz said, and I’m sticking to it.”
That’s a whole lotta stupid in one short statement. Cuz Dr. Oz said? He isn’t exactly a trustworthy source of health and weight loss information.
I’m not going to get into what Ashley’s measurements actually are, or what her physical activity levels might be, or what her various health markers like her metabolic panel and blood pressure could reveal. I will talk about risks associated with obesity, but first I need to explain, and perhaps apologize for, the title of this piece.
In my writing I don’t usually refer to people as fat. Sometimes I will say “having accumulated unhealthy levels of body fat” in reference to where the body fat actually IS shown to have a negative effect on health. More often I will use the phrase “people with obesity.”
I only started using this phrase recently after a conversation with my friend Dr. Yoni Freedhoff. It’s about the “people first” narrative. Obesity IS labeled a disease by both American and Canadian medical associations, and it’s not polite to diminish someone down to simply being their disease. A person with diabetes is someone with diabetes, not a diabetic. A person with celiac is a person with celiac disease, not a celiac. And so, a person with obesity is a person with obesity, not obese.
There are people with obesity who are fine with being called fat as an endeavor in reclaiming the word as not being a bad thing. I prefer to play it safe, but in this instance, entitling this article “Perhaps You Should Just Continue to Have Obesity” wouldn’t have the same effect. And I want people to read it, because it contains an important message.
Are high levels of body fat dangerous? It most certainly can be. A little over a year ago I wrote a piece for my Chicago Tribune column examining the reality that accumulating a lot of body fat (especially around the midsection) is often (not always) indicative of health problems. In that piece I interviewed Health At Every Size (HAES) advocate Linda Bacon and she was very unconvincing in countering the evidence of the dangers of obesity. And so she complained to the Tribune about my column and I had to write a follow up piece exposing her erroneous complaint.
By itself, you cannot look at a person with obesity and just make a blanket statement that “They’re unhealthy.” It doesn’t work that way. Obesity is ONE parameter among many that can impact health, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why we have things like the Edmonton Obesity Staging System to discover if one’s obesity is actually coming with negative health consequences, and if losing weight would improve health. Because there are myriad examples where weight loss alone has a positive effect on health, no matter how much HAES twists the evidence to proclaim the contrary.
There are also people with obesity who are plenty healthy and for whom weight loss wouldn’t make much difference.
With those caveats in place, let’s create a scenario and say that this scenario is about you because it makes communicating the message easier. Imagine that you have obesity and it does impact your health in a negative way. Should you lose weight?
The concern trolls will say that you should.
What’s a “concern troll”? Cheryl Tiegs is a concern troll. John Burk is also a concern troll. It is people who openly criticize others under the guise of “caring.” But what they really need to do is mind their own fucking business.
People with obesity have a right to the facts. I wrote the above linked Tribune article in order to relay the reality of the possible dangers of obesity. This information can then be used to make decisions about the future in regards to health.
But calling out individuals and going on ranting YouTube screeds about obesity is a level of assholery that needs to stop. It is not helping. Trying to ram healthy behaviors down people’s throats is not the way. Trying to force people to fit into this mold you describe as healthy makes me think of dystopian future stories like iRobot, Demolition Man and THX-1138.
Recently I made a post on my Facebook page that began “I do caution against loving and accepting one’s body to the point of inaction. Rather, I think one should love it for its capabilities and potential and work to improve such things.” (Read the entire post here – it opens in a new window – and like the damn page while you’re at it, please.)
Upon reflection, perhaps I wasn’t entirely correct in that assertion.
People are saying that body acceptance has gone too far. Here is a reality check: Everything ends up going too far. Political ideologies, sports, equality movements, educational methodologies, sex, parenting, health … Humans excel at taking things to extremes. But just because someone wants to be a tiger mom or says we should ban all Muslims or castrate all men doesn’t mean that the movements they associate with are inherently bad. In reality, it is only a small percentage that is behaving irrationally (*cough* HAES *cough*).
At the same time, I’m definitely not saying that we should cease battling obesity. This article of mine explains what I consider to be the population-level solution that can help decrease its prevalence and greatly benefit the next generation. And at the individual level, you can inspire people to lose weight without shaming them.
Let’s get back to this hypothetical you, the one with obesity who could garner health benefits from losing weight.
Should you lose weight? Should you try?
I wrote in my Facebook post: “I do caution against loving and accepting one’s body to the point of inaction.” But what if you’ve tried to take action again and again, and always failed, and it’s making you miserable?
Do you not deserve happiness?
Yes, I am in favor of improving one’s health, but not by any means necessary. We all engage in unhealthy behaviors, and I don’t want to live in the iRobot scenario where we’re all babysat into living optimally healthy lives. I want the freedom to live my life the way that makes me happy without concern trolls getting in my face to change my behaviors. People drink, smoke, do drugs, engage in risky sexual behaviors, do extreme sports, spend too much time on the couch, watch too much porn, eat too much … it’s not just obesity that shortens life expectancy, reduces productivity and increases infirmity.
For someone with obesity, losing weight is painfully challenging. The failure rate is high, especially when you consider how epically full of shit the weight loss industry is. Even when following an evidence-based approach to losing weight it still takes a lot of toil and restriction.
There are people who, no matter how hard they try, will never lose weight. And the continuous efforts make them miserable.
Again: Do you not deserve happiness? At the very least, do you not deserve to cease engaging in something that continuously makes you miserable? Sure, losing weight can come with health benefits that can in turn improve happiness, but what if the suffering you have to endure to achieve that loss outweighs those benefits? What if your personal cost-benefit analysis of weight loss is negative?
I’m not trying to sell you on my book or my consulting services or trying to get you to read my articles on how to lose weight (this time). I’m just saying that, if you’ve tried for years, if you have tried honestly and given it everything and done it the evidence-based way … and it STILL doesn’t work for you … then perhaps it’s time to cut the string on that weight loss yoyo.
If all that effort does is serve to make you miserable, then perhaps it is time to say fuck it and simply work on enjoying yourself and enjoying your life.
James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.