Thursday, December 18, 2014

'But It's Not Healthy!' Why Fat-Shaming Cannot Be Excused Based on the Health Effects of Fat

A few years ago, my brother was a regular soccer player, liked to go swimming, and was starting to get interested in karate. He's always been a big boy, tall for his age, with broad shoulders and lots of muscle, but back then, his weight was fine. He liked to eat, but he didn't eat more than he needed. Although he wasn't super-athletic, he was healthy.

Since then, he's had a couple moves and some bullying, with kids calling him 'fat' - a label that was initially inaccurate. He's had a gym teacher shame him for not being able to run as many laps as other kids, and his high school forced him to do a calorie-counting assignment.

And now, he's noticeably overweight. He's quit soccer, rarely goes swimming, and never goes to karate. He spends most of his time inside, playing video games, and tells me he often feels like he can't go outside because he doesn't want people seeing him. He eats not only out of actual hunger, but also to comfort himself when he's feeling down - and he's been feeling down a lot.

I would like him to lose weight - not because I think he looks bad, but because his doctor says he has high cholesterol and may be at risk for heart disease. But whenever I make the slightest reference to his weight, his diet, or his level of exercise, he gets depressed. I can look at the cholesterol levels of my own snacks and substitute a high-cholesterol snack for a low-cholesterol one without getting upset. He can't. Merely thinking about cholesterol sends him in a downward spiral.

So, when I hear people say that fat acceptance is bad because fat is unhealthy, I get really upset. If being 'fat' wasn't worthy of insults and humiliation, then, ironically, my brother may never have become fat. And even if he did, I could get him to make changes to help him lose weight, just like I've done with myself.

Depression is not conducive to eating healthy or getting plenty of exercise. Depression saps your energy, makes you want to hide inside. Depression messes up your ability to regulate eating, making you eat more or less than you should. Depression makes you want to go for comfort foods, foods that taste good and make you feel a bit better, instead of the food you know is healthy.

If you hate your body, any reminder of how you look will trigger depression - an emotional state associated with lack of motivation and energy, comfort eating, and poor regulation of eating. This makes it harder, not easier, to make a positive change in your eating and exercise habits. Sure, some people do it anyway, but those people are exceptions, just like the former alcoholics who can sit in a bar with friends and not drink. It's not a tactic that will work for most people.

So if you think making fun of someone for being fat, or rejecting them because of their weight is in any way justified, think again. You're not helping them, you're hurting them. You're making it harder for them to lose weight, and you're making their life miserable.

So stop being an asshole, and try being nice instead. Leave comments about weight to doctors, who (hopefully) actually know what they're talking about, and give them a compliment instead. If you want to help them lose weight, invite them to go swimming with you or something else fun and active. Tell them not to worry about how they look or how well they can do the activity - the point is to just move around and enjoy doing it.


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