Is Fat Acceptance a Healthy Choice?

polarized 4Yes, I know – this is a controversial subject.

From what I see and read on Facebook and the Internet the whole damn thing has become as polarized as what’s going on in Washington D.C.

And polarized means paralyzed.

As a matter-of-fact I’ve thought about posting on the subject for a long time but, to tell you the truth, I haven’t (until now) as I was working my way up to “accepting” that I was bound to get slammed (or is it flamed?  I don’t know all the correct jargon) by one side of the issue or the other.

But today it got to the point where I read something that served as a tipping point.  Until the Internet who knew people could me so mean and rude to each other?  Whatever happened to the ability to have a conversation when two people don’t agree with each other and NOT find it necessary to virtually slap each other across the room?

But I digress – the following is my perspective on the subject of fat acceptance.  Take what you like and leave the rest.

One Person’s Fallacy is Another Person’s Proof

Before we talk about fat acceptance let’s take a look at something I find truly abhorrent — the practice of “shaming.”  I’ve been a victim of this “approach” to motivating me to lose weight and it SUCKS.   However, what we are really talking about when people attempt to “shame” someone into losing weight is actually a “logical fallacy”, in particular an “ad hominem fallacy.”

A logical fallacy is when we use errors in logic to prove or support our point or opinion.  An ad hominem fallacy is essentially using an “attack on the person” as a means to win your argument and/or prove your point.  Which, of course, isn’t logical.

Here’s an example:

adTrish:     You can’t be healthy if you are fat.

Carol:    Of course you would say that, you’re a personal trainer.

Trish:     But what about the arguments I made that logically demonstrate that being fat puts your health at risk?

Carol:    Those don’t mean anything.  You make your living by convincing people being fat is bad, I don’t believe anything you say.   

Here’s another example:

Carol:    You don’t have to be thin to be healthy.

Trish:     Of course you would say that, you’re overweight.

Carol:    But what about the arguments I made that logically demonstrate that an overweight person can be healthier than a thin person?

Trish:     Those don’t mean anything.  You are overweight, of course you want to think you are healthy.  I don’t believe anything you have to say. 

But shaming takes an ad hominem argument one ugly step further:  In our attempt to “motivate” someone to do something we think they should do or think how we think we assign to them negative character deficits because they don’t do as we do or think as we think.

My favorite is the notion that an overweight person “has no discipline.”  And then there’s “fat people are lazy.”  Some people would even have you think that being overweight or obese means that person isn’t as intelligent as a thin person.  Some would think that, since overweight people are (of course) lazy and have no discipline that you should hire a less qualified thin person over a more qualified obese person.

My view?  I do think that it is possible for an obese person to be “healthier” than a thin person – of course it is.  When I was obese there were plenty of people around me who were sick when I was not.  On the other hand, there is no doubt that obesity DOES represent increased risk to our health, especially heart disease and diabetes (which causes other health and life-threatening conditions.)  For example when I was 22 years old and my lab work came back my doctor sat me down and said “You’ve got the lab work of an overweight 50 year old man waiting to have a heart attack” and counseled me to “consider losing some weight.”

These two sides of this issue are equally true – and there are plenty of medical studies that support both the fact that being overweight or obese attracts serious health risks as well as the fact that an overweight or obese person can be healthier and even live longer than a thin person.

Form and Function

1980 or so - still hiding behind something or someone but on my way to a healthy weight


Spring 2010

Still me.

My view?  I think in terms “form and function” when I refer to “healthy weight and fitness.”

By form I don’t refer simply to what we “look like.”  I won’t lie, I personally like having a “thinner” silhouette, but I also mean it in a more “physical” sense and, as I’ve gotten older, maintaining my body’s ability to function has become more important than fitting into my skinny jeans.

For example, when I was very obese it was difficult for me to walk because my thighs rubbed together and this caused a painful rash.  I love to walk and hike.  Losing weight changed the “form” of my legs and this allowed me to engage in an activity I enjoy.  Exercising also impacts the “form” of my body’s parts.  For example, by maintaining and strengthening my muscles.

By “function” I refer to optimal function of all my body’s intricate components.  An example is the fact that by lowering my weight I put less stress on my heart.  It is also true that excess fat can throw my body chemistry out of whack causing things like my triglycerides to rise or developing metabolic syndrome.  I have sciatica, weighing less means it doesn’t hurt as much or as often.

Decisions, Decisions

However, outside of any medical condition that deters a person’s ability to lose weight even when they wish to, when it comes down to brass tacks I think an overweight or obese individual’s decision as to whether to lose weight comes down to a different kind of “weight.”  What do I mean?  I mean weighing risk versus opportunity.  Let me explain:

VersusIf you risk something that doesn’t mean it will definitely happen.  If I invest in a stock I risk losing my money.  But because I take that risk doesn’t automatically translate into it meaning I am flushing my money down the toilet when I invest.

I take that risk because the opportunity of increasing my bank account makes it worth it to me.  And it is a fact that people can make money off the stock market.  But just because that opportunity exists doesn’t automatically mean I am going to be laughing all the way to the bank.

There ARE health risks associated with obesity.  The opportunity attaining and sustaining healthy weight and fitness brings may, or may not, outweigh the risks of remaining obese for any given individual.   If a person makes a decision that the opportunity to reduce those risks by attaining and sustaining a healthy weight doesn’t outweigh the risks associated with being overweight, this does not mean they are in any way “less than” someone who DOES decide that the opportunities are worth more to them than the risks.

Tolerance Schmolerance

tolerancePersonally I really abhor the whole notion of “tolerance.”  Sure when I “tolerate” something I “accept” it – but tolerance means “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance” – and this infers I am doing someone some sort of favor by tolerating them.   So, in my book, “tolerance” sucks.

On the other hand acceptance means I am taking “the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.”   What sense does it make for someone to have rejected what I have to offer this world, to their lives, to my job simply because I am obese or overweight?

So here is my take on “fat acceptance” – and I am fully prepared that I might get some not nice comments from people reminding me that there are those out there who are obese who are “kidding themselves” that there is “nothing wrong” with them.  I also won’t be surprised if I get some not nice comments from someone who is obese telling me that I am crazy to even suggest they are risking their health.

And to them I would say – thanks for helping me to prove my statement that when we become so polarized on a topic we become paralyzed in our ability to refrain from applying logical fallacies rather than carefully considering the other’s perspective and then see if that changes ours.

I did change my opinion after reading many different blogs, posts, and comments from various social networks, as well as visiting many personal and professional websites and reading articles dealing with the subject.  Prior to that my knee jerk reaction was that any notion of “fat acceptance” was dangerous – I know there are risks to my health if I were to gain my weight back,  I know there are health risks associated with anyone’s obesity – so how could I support the idea of “accepting” the notion that remaining obese is a valid option?

But reading all that material is what allowed me to see the bigger picture.  After careful consideration of both perspectives I have come to this conclusion:

Fat acceptance is indeed a healthy choice as a healthy, free society does not ostracize or in any way punish those who don’t “do as I do” or “think as I think.”

Acceptance is also “the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.”

What group are we talking about accepting a person into when we speak of “Fat Acceptance?”  The human family.  And, outside of rejecting those with evil intent to do harm to fellow members of the human family, who in the hell has the right to determine just who is, and who isn’t, accepted into the human family?  Who has the power to dictate that, if we are obese we are somehow “lesser” than someone who isn’t?  That the thin person is the “better” person?

No one.

Not even a person whose mission it is to make a contribution to those on the journey of attaining and sustaining healthy weight and fitness.  Not even a person who was obese and now isn’t.  Not me.

It is inhumane to judge the state of being overweight or obese as indicating a person is lacking in character or ability or is in any way “lesser than” a “thin” person.  Period.