Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fat Activism Conference 2015

Registration is live for the Fat Activism Conference 2015 -- at which I will be a presenter!! I am super excited and REALLY nervous, and hope that bunches of you will come along for the ride.

I think you'll love the diverse, interesting, passionate group of speakers AND the ability to listen and join in from the comfort of your own favorite comfy chair, or listen to the recordings at a time that works for you even if you're busy that weekend!

We speakers have all been invited to earn a portion of your registration price if you use our affiliate link to register. Although I would do this for free, I think it makes a huge statement that this conference does not expect that, and pays all speakers via profit share.

Here's the registration link, and from there you can click to view the conference webpage and read all the details.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Defending Fat Positive Space

So one thing that constantly comes up in fat-positive community is the unrelenting stream of folks who protest that they need to be allowed to talk about their weight loss journey in fat-positive, explicitly diet-talk-free spaces. Or even that their weight loss goals are compatible with fat activism. I have a two-part response to folks who are choosing to pursue weight loss while participating in fat positive space.

Part 1) Nope, weight loss goals are not fat positive.
(Nope, not even yours, no matter what your justification is. Nope, not "for your health." Nope, not "as long as you're doing it safely and sanely." Nope, not because "it's ok if some people are happy being fat but you're not and something has to change.") Yup, that's radical. I'm unapologetic.

In the words of the always wise and amazing Marilyn Wann, weight loss goals are "mostly ineffective, sometimes harmful, and always promoting anti-fat beliefs."
1a) "mostly ineffective, sometimes harmful": the pursuit of intentional weight loss flies in the face of the masses of data that show that our bodies resist weight loss. Despite the massive denial pretty much everyone around us, medical professionals and laypeople alike, weight loss is not something we get to "choose." The vast majority of people will gain back the weight, often plus more. It doesn't matter if the weight loss is "for one's health" or any other reason. Bodies don't know why we're trying to lose weight, so the reason doesn't affect the underlying metabolic processes.
1b) "always promoting fat beliefs": Intentional weight loss is inherently anti-fat-positive. When one sets out to attempt to lose weight, one is placing value on being smaller over being larger. (Whether the value is the hope that one will be prettier, or in less pain, or less oppressed, it's still value.) Intentional weight loss is always at odds with fat activism and fat positivity. While one can say that one "doesn't judge others" the reality is weight loss goals indicate a judgment that fat can - at least in certain cases - be pathological. Fat positivity is about separating weight from health and judgment from both.

Part 2) On the other hand, this doesn't mean that we won't have all sorts of health problems, that we won't occasionally slip into feeling bad about our health or our bodies, or even slip into shaming/blaming our fat for our problems. It also doesn't mean that we won't have times when our fatness actually does cause us hardship in the world. All of this can be talked about in fat-positive space, if talked about with care. It doesn't have to be all roses all the time. But we need to talk about these things from a fat positive perspective that keeps the spaces safe.
It's the difference between saying, "my knees hurt so badly today, I think I'll try to lose 10 pounds" (not OK in fat positive space) and "my knees hurt so badly today, does anyone have ideas on how to make them feel better?" (totally cool) or even, "my knees hurt so badly today it's hard to remember not to blame my fat. Could you all post some fattie love?" (also awesome). It's not that the knee pain might not be caused or exacerbated by our superfat weight. It's that whether or not weight is a causal factor IS IRRELEVANT because there is no known way to safely and sustainably choose to lose weight. So we choose to focus on those things that we can control - exercise for strength, food for fulfillment, and let the weight fall where it may.

This belief system is an underlying assumption of any truly fat positive space. It is a big leap to take, from mainstream dialogue about bodies, health, and fatness... it takes abandoning pretty much everything we've ever been told about fatness, about bodies, about how to be happy. Not everyone is ready or interested in going there. And that's cool. The Underpants Rule says so. But to them I say:

Dear Pursuer of Weight Loss,
Fat positive space is predicated on the rejection of prioritizing thinness over fatness and the letting go of the notion that we choose our body size. You are not there yet. That's OK - I certainly cannot and would never tell anyone what they can or cannot do with their own body. But it does mean at times your beliefs will be at odds with the beliefs on which this space is founded. The discomfort that comes along with that is something only you can decide whether you are willing to endure in order to get all the happy awesomeness of the ways in which you do feel good in this group.
Much love and wishes for full fat awesome living,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why I won't WLS

So I guess this is my version of a Fat Acceptance 101 post. A long talk with a friend over February break helped me sort out most of the thinking, and then an "I believe in HAES but I want WLS because I'm in pain and weight loss will fix it" post and the numerous pro-WLS and WLS-accepting replies thereto -- in a purportedly HAES online group -- motivated me to write it out.

When you strip away the siren song of a cure for whatever ails us (whether that be physical pain, mental pain, disability, etc), this all remains true:

1) Medical science has NO CLUE whether being less fat actually confers the health benefits medical science associates with being less fat, because very little research has been done that effectively proves causation rather than mere correlation. (In other words, we don’t actually know if being thinner is healthier than being fatter.)

2) Medical science has NO CLUE whether making a naturally/genotypically fat person into an artificially/phenotypically less fat person (whether via typical "diet and exercise" or more intensive surgical means) actually confers the health benefits associated with being less fat. (In other words, even if being thinner is healthier than being fatter, we don’t know if that is because of the thinness itself or because of other genetic factors. We don't know if becoming thinner through external means will make you as healthy as a person who is naturally thin.)

3) Medical science has not identified ANY weight loss interventions that are proven by good quality studies to be effective in the long term for more than about 5% of people. This includes WLS. (In other words, even if becoming thinner is healthier, WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE PEOPLE THINNER. This is key.)

4) Medical science does NOT fully understand the human metabolism and the complex mechanisms by which our brains, hormones, enzymes, digestive system, and other body systems regulate how our bodies use and store the energy we take in. (In other words, it’s no wonder intentional weight loss doesn’t work – we don’t even understand the body systems we are attempting to control!)

5) What medical science DOES know is that our bodies adjust how efficiently we use energy, when and whether to use energy versus store energy for later use, and so on, based on how much energy we take in, how much energy we expend, and who knows how many other variables. (In other words, our bodies are not the same as car engines. The whole “just eat less and exercise more” mantra is fundamentally flawed, because our metabolism is constantly reacting to changing circumstances and changing how it processes fuel accordingly.)

6) Because medical science does not comprehend how to adjust the human metabolism, WLS works on the same general principle as weight loss interventions (giving the body less fuel so that it uses energy from stored reserves, e.g. body fat) but depends on a physical impediment to the body’s intake of fuel rather than a behavioral impediment. (In other words, WLS is just a weight loss diet with a “gun to the gut” in the form of some sort of physical implant or mutilation of the organs that inhibits the body’s ability to eat much volume and/or to absorb the nutrition from what is eaten.)

Yes, it is logical that some of our afflictions may be caused in some way by our larger bodies, and the wear and tear to joints and body systems caused by asking them to work hard transporting our eloquent poundage through life. But given all of the above, it seems clear that this is moot. Intentional weight loss is not an option. WE DON'T KNOW HOW TO MAKE FAT BODIES SMALLER. Diets don't magically work just because we are in pain and are doing weight loss "for our health." Biology doesn’t understand intent.

If we want to feel better, we need to focus on things we can control: eating food that feels good and provides us energy, moving our bodies in ways that build strength and stamina, and getting psychological and emotional support to process the complex and difficult emotions that come with living in pain, living with disability, and being a member of a marginalized and oppressed group in society.