Just So We’re Clear . . . Some Fat Facts

by Golda Poretsky, H.H.C.

Recently, this blog has gotten a lot of new readers who may be new to Fat Acceptance & Health At Every Size.

As a consequence, I’ve been fielding lots of comments of the “how can you be promoting fat?!” and “haven’t you heard of type II diabetes?!” variety.  So, rather than trying to respond to these commenters individually (and as a way to provide support to people who want to respond to these comments in their own lives and blogs), I’ve decided to write this post.  I’ve outlined 9 typical statements by commenters, together with an explanation of why each statement is wrong, wrong, wrong.

1) Fat is unhealthy. Fat is not inherently unhealthy.  In fact, being underweight, in many ways, is more dangerous than being overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.  Furthermore, a great deal of evidence suggests that health problems linked to fat are actually a result of dieting, and the incredible strain that dieting puts on the body.  A recent study found that people who lost 15% or more of their body weight had an increased risk of death compared to people of the same size who didn’t lose weight. In addition, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events and not suffer as much blood loss due to treatments such as angioplasty.  Fat has even been shown to protect against a variety of problems, including “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Fat people also have lower rates of emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hip fracture, tuberculosis, anemia, peptic ulcer and chronic bronchitis.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard any of this before, that’s because this information doesn’t make anyone money.  It doesn’t support the $60 billion a year diet industry nor the multi-billion dollar weight loss surgery industry nor the multi-bajillion dollar pharmaceutical industry.

2) Fat people all have eating disorders, eat poorly, and don’t exercise. No study has ever supported this conclusion.  And let’s just get clear on something.  You cannot tell anything about a person’s eating habits or fitness level or relative health from their size.  I have 300-pound clients who eat all organic, whole foods and train for triathlons, and I have 120-pound clients who are generally sedentary and have binge eating disorder.  People of all different sizes have all different habits, and a quick survey of your friends and relatives will show just that.


3) If fat people would eat properly and exercise, they wouldn’t be fat. Contrary to popular opinion, people come in all shapes and sizes.  Just like people are short and tall and in between, people are fat and thin and in between. It’s called diversity.  It’s called genetics. It’s called, in some instances, the result of constant dieting.

4) Weight loss is a healthy goal, deserving of promotion. Not true at all.  First of all, diets don’t workThey really don’t.  The one or two people that you know that lost weight on a diet and kept it off for more than 5 years are statistical freaks.  Dieting wreaks havoc on the body, affecting everything from your immune system, to your cardiovascular system, to your stamina and mental health, to your body image Oh, and don’t get me started on the incredible dangerousness of weight loss surgeries.  If anyone tells you that their plan promises long term weight loss, they are lying to you.  If they promise weight loss and fail to mention whether it will be long term or not, they are deceiving you.

5) Promoting fat acceptance makes people fat. No studies have ever shown that approving and loving your body causes one to gain weight. In fact, Health At Every Size practices, which include body acceptance, actually make people healthier.  When you can show me that shaming people about their bodies improves health, then we can talk.  And by the way, the way we shame fat people has led to an exponential rise in discrimination against people in the workplace, health care and education.

6) There’s an obesity crisis going on and obesity is on the rise. Actually, it’s not.  Also, see item 1, above.

7) Childhood obesity is a serious problem. Actually, it’s not. Childhood life expectancy continues to rise.  And every attempt to make kids thinner has failed.  And, you might want to follow the money behind Michelle Obama’s obesity initiative to see how corporations are benefiting from the b.s.  The real danger for fat children is the threat of bullying, and the toll that that takes.  Finally, access to healthy, organic food and safe places to play are important for all children, not just fat ones.

8) BMI is an appropriate and scientific way of determining health. If you consider the way BMI works for more than a minute, you realize that it so flawed as to be completely useless.

9) But all of this goes against the conventional wisdom that fat is bad and deadly! Your “conventional wisdom” has been paid for by the diet industry and pharmaceutical companies for decades and decades.  It’s time to get over it and start thinking critically.  I encourage you to read this blog and other fantastic fat acceptance blogs and begin the process of unraveling your internalized and externalized hatred.

Additional Recommended Reading:

P.S.  This post was inspired by Kate Harding‘s excellent post “But Don’t You Realize Fat Is Unhealthy?”
P.P.S. There is an updated version of this post, that you can check out here!

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© 2010 Golda Poretsky.  All rights reserved.

71 thoughts on “Just So We’re Clear . . . Some Fat Facts

  1. great post Golda! I’m always frustrated when people “accuse” me of promoting unhealthy obesity. I think I’ll send them to this post!

    1. @bodylovewellnes I had to! It’s a brilliant post and will be so useful for the rest of us FA advocates.

    1. RT @bodylovewellnes: Really appreciating the RT love this morning! [New Post] Just So We’re Clear . . . Some Fat Facts – via #twitoaster …

    2. RT @bodylovewellnes: Really appreciating the RT love this morning! [New Post] Just So We’re Clear . . . Some Fat Facts – via #twitoaster …

  2. I am a recent convert to the fat acceptance/health at every size philosophy, but sometimes I’m still confused.

    Because we say that diets don’t work basically because these behavior changes are not sustainable are we saying that behavioral changes in general are unsustainable.

    So, I’m eating more fruits and veggies now, will I just go back to eating fast food most of the time? Is it inevitable? Sometimes this thought depresses me. As if there is no point.

    1. @Kjen — Don’t overthink it. Keep connecting with your body and keep enjoying eating more fruits and vegetables. It’s not about “sustainable behaviors” so much as enjoying connecting with and nourishing your body. You’re doing great.

    2. @Kjen,

      First of all, despite my handle, I’m NOT a doctor, or any sort of health care professional. So please take what I say as what it is – one layperson’s opinion. (Although this layperson has read an awful lot on this subject!)

      I think behaviour changes are sustainable — in fact, I’ve made big changes in my life over the past few years, some of them related to eating — but dieting itself isn’t sustainable for several reasons. I’ve listed them below the dashed line (—) but it’s turned into a rather long list.

      The tl;dr (or executive summary if you’re more traditional in your terminology) is that while dieting isn’t sustainable, behavioural changes related to food can be. Eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods is great. So is Golda Poretsky’s advice on connecting with your body. We’re really meant to eat when we’re hungry, not starve ourselves.

      For people who eat for emotional reasons, getting in touch with your body can involve dealing with the issues behind disordered eating, and that’s hard. (I’m not saying that’s the case with you, just that I know some people for whom this is true).

      I think it’s important for everyone to figure out what’s best for them (with some advice from well-informed health care professionals as needed). If you’re so heavy your joints are aching, or if you need to lower your cholesterol levels, that’s one thing, but so many people are chasing the unattainable ideals we see in the media.

      Good luck in connecting with your body!


      (1) Unlike (say) alcohol, drugs or television, you can’t stop eating. There’s no going cold turkey on food, unless you want to starve yourself to death.

      (2) Most diets set up an artificial situation. You eat SlimFast shakes, or Jenny Craig food, or count your calories, or have yourself weighed at the Dr. Fatloss Clinic (TM) every week, and so on and so on. Most people can sustain this for only so long because they run out of time, money or energy. My partner just gave me permission to share that she fell of the Weight Watchers wagon after five months “Because I got tired of counting points.” (And Weight Watchers promotes a pretty healthy approach to eating, from what I’ve seen…perhaps the sanest in the dieting industry.)

      (3) Dieting goes against what I’ll loosely term our “instincts.” Behaviours that are counterproductive now — eating large amounts of food when it’s available, preference for sweets and fats, and so on — were adaptive when food was scarce or limited, which it was for most people until very recently. It’s only in the last few thousand years, since the development of agriculture, that we’ve had steady food surpluses for some people some of the time, and a hundred or so years since some countries have been wealthy enough to have the kind of abundance we have today (even if a lot of it in North America is processed or unhealthy).

      (4) Dieting promotes an artificial relationship with food. Food becomes the enemy, the forbidden, you’re supposed to ignore your hunger and chew on carrot sticks or drink water. Not a great way to promote healthy eating, which is eating when you’re hungry and yes, enjoying the supposedly Evil Stuff (chocolate, cake, ice cream) in moderation when you feel like it. It’s a wonderful way to encourage disordered eating, though.

      (5) Dieting is ultimately self-defeating, because our bodies respond AS IF WE WERE IN A SITUATION OF SCARCITY. Our metabolism slows down in an effort to conserve calories. End result: going back to normal eating can mean weight gain.

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