Helen Pluckrose on fat-shaming and fat-phobia

October 8, 2017 • 12:45 pm

Helen Pluckrose has featured a fair amount on this site lately (e.g., here, here, here, and here), as she’s found a niche that I like: trying to forge a true progressivism that gives people the rights and respect they deserve rather than catering to the excesses and censoriousness of the Regressive Left. It’s a tough time for liberals, for we’re forced to negotiate an ideology that preserves the traditional Leftist values of free speech, empathy for minorities, and disdain for oppression, while at the same time fighting with other Leftists who want to redefine free speech so it excludes “hate speech,” to limn a hierarchy of intersectional oppression that claims that many of us (especially white males) have nothing to add to Leftist discourse, and to fetishize the oppression of gays and women by ideologies like Islam. (Pluckrose, by the way, is identified as “a researcher in the humanities who focuses on late medieval/early modern religious writing for and about women. She is critical of postmodernism and cultural constructivism which she sees as currently dominating the humanities.”)

Over at Conatus News, Pluckrose takes on the issue of obesity in a piece called “The dangerous problem with the concepts of fatshaming and fatphobia“, and, as usual, arrives at a sensible take.

I’ve long wanted to write about this issue, for we all know that obesity is dangerous to health, and most of us (like me) refrain from criticizing overweight people directly. Yet the Regressive Left have turned obese people into an oppressed minority whose defining characteristic, an unhealthy avoirdupois, is not just to be defended but to be celebrated—or at least palliated by assurances that it’s perfectly healthy. This movement goes under the name of “body positivity”, and is celebrated at places like HuffPo, where their section on this issue (called “body positivity and acceptance”—note the last word) has plenty of righteous articles decrying the criticism of degradation of overweight people, including ones who are morbidly obese. I agree with the mean-spiritedness of fat-shaming, which can be a form of oppression, but you’ll rarely see HuffPo or other “body positivity” pieces mention that being obese is a serious health risk. Avoidance of fat-shaming should never be accompanied by reassurance that obesity isn’t dangerous.

So how do we avoid fat-shaming while trying to help people get healthier? I don’t believe in forcing weight reduction through interventions like soda taxes, but neither should we trumpet that you can be “healthy at any size.” Yes, some really obese people can live fairly healthy lives, but those are not the norms but the outliers.

Pluckrose first defines the issue, as there are some who might say that obesity is simply another form of marginalization, and not inherently dangerous:

In the past decade, however, we have seen a change in intersectional feminist discourses around obesity and the rise of ‘fatness’ as a marginalised identity. The term ‘fatphobia’ has been coined, ‘fat-shaming’ is frequently identified and condemned, and there are even journals and courses for ‘fat studies’ and  ‘fat activists’ who say things like:

If people want to work out and eat only salad, go for it. Do what makes you feel good. The problem comes when people are posting “before and after” images, which inherently champions being smaller as better. If that’s how you feel, fine, but do not call yourself body-positive. In order to be body-positive, you have to acknowledge that people truly deserve respect and autonomy over their bodies without judgement. Fat people aren’t “before” photos. We need to stop centring conversations about body-positivity around health in general.

She then presents the statistics, both in words and figures, that show, as we all know, that obesity is associated with a large number of health risks. Her words have extra credibility because she herself is overweight and trying to slim down, and has personally experienced “body positivity” intrusions:

In the past, I have been accused of speaking out of turn for saying that we should not be accepting of obesity as a norm. I have been told that, as a naturally slim person, I was merely being self-righteous and judgemental and that if I were fat, I would understand that fatness can be natural, beautiful and healthy.  However, when I returned to address the issue as a fat person after doubling my weight during an illness that left me with limited mobility and needing to take centrally-acting medication which made me permanently ravenous, I found that my fatness granted me no right to speak on the issue at all. Instead, I have been informed that I do not merit a fat identity and am, in fact, a fake fat person because I regard my weight gain as part of a medical problem and intend to lose it all again and am, in fact, doing so and celebrating it.

I am told that my own experience of becoming easily tired and breathless, having difficulty getting up off the floor, being unable to ride a bike or run, suffering knee and hip pain if I walk too far, being more prone to chest infections, not to mention developing polycystic ovary syndrome and prediabetes as a result of weight gain, should be kept to myself if I want to be body-positive. Thanks, but I will feel much more positive about my body when it works properly again. My experiences of obesity have been rebuffed angrily with ‘Your experience isn’t everybody’s!’ This is a marked departure from the usual SocJus attitude in which we are to take the worst experiences as representative.  In this case, we are to take the best experiences as representative to support the body-positivity narrative, no matter the cost.

I find the claim that there could be such a thing as a ‘fat identity’ as troubling as the idea of an identity based around treatable mental illness. It seems thoroughly psychologically harmful to take on a problem as an identity even if it is a problem that is very difficult or impossible to fully overcome. To define oneself by depression or OCD or obesity is to resign oneself to it and allow it to detract from every other more positive aspect of an individual. If mental illness or obesity becomes one’s identity, there is no motivation to overcome or improve either. An identity is something we become attached to and feel lost without and when it’s obesity, this can be fatal.

Finally, she offers her suggestions, which, save one, seem eminently rational.  Her statements are indented:

  • In public life: We should be guided by the consensus that obesity is unhealthy and a major cause of early death and serious life-limiting illness, and resist any attempts to normalise or glorify obesity. Whilst concerns about the fashion industry using models who are dangerously underweight are justified for the same reasons that glorifying obesity is, there is no justifications for protesting the employment of models with a healthy BMI. Attempts to equate thinness with white supremacy or argue health to be a social construct are, frankly, ludicrous. Instead, we can promote health and fitness by posting helpful articles from reputable sources on social media without targeting any individuals.


  • In dealings with strangers and acquaintances: Mind your own business. There is almost never any reason to refer to a stranger’s or casual acquaintance’s weight. Studies have shown that genuine fat-shaming – unkind comments about an individual’s weight – actually makes people’s health worse.

She goes on to say that you can compliment somebody by saying, “Hey, you’ve lost weight,” or “You look great.” That, too, seems sensible; otherwise, keep your thoughts to yourself.

  • In dealing with friends and loved ones: Raise the issue of their weight if necessary and do so kindly and show it to be motivated by your love for them. You might well receive a defensive reaction and, if you know you will, you could find ways to reduce this; . . . .

I do have an issue with this. Of course it’s good to be concerned with your friends’ well being, but for obesity and alcoholism, I’ve found, confronting the person, however gently, is nonproductive.  For both conditions a person will seek help only when they themselves realize they have a problem, and a one-on-one conversation (or so I’ve found, and I’ve done this only with drinking) won’t accomplish that. Perhaps an “intervention” with several friends might. As for obesity, I’ve been told by overweight people that you needn’t tell them that they’re overweight and it’s unhealthy: they already know this. If a doctor can’t persuade someone of the benefits of losing weight, what chance does a friend have? But perhaps my efforts have simply been ham-handed. At any rate, the difference between obesity and alcoholism is that there’s no “alcoholism positivity” movement, though now I’m wondering why. “Healthy at any stage of inebriation!”

Finally, Pluckrose advises, in “dealing with yourself”, to confront the problem of your obesity and neither ignore it nor seek out confirmation—which can be found on many websites—that you’re beautiful and healthy. You may be attractive, but you’re not healthy.  And most of those who seek such confirmation rather than shedding pounds, well, they’re not on great path to either health or happiness.

As for me, I’m fasting twice a week under a doctor’s supervision, and it’s working. It’s also easier than the low-carb diet, but that’s just me (I’ve never particularly suffered from missing meals, but I do like my wine and bread).

Reactions and experiences welcome in the comments below.

103 thoughts on “Helen Pluckrose on fat-shaming and fat-phobia

  1. “Fat people aren’t “before” photos.”

    Do “body positivity” advocates ever publish before/after photos with before/thin-after/fat comparisons? If not, why not?

    1. This touches on the old question whether it is radical feminism that makes women hideous wildebeests or it is the social rejection of uglier girls in their childhood and teen years that creates in them a strong resentment towards traditional gender norms, eventually driving them towards radical feminism.

      If it’s the latter then there are no before/thin pictures because there was never a before/thin state.

      Unfortunately, there are no systematic studies on the issue (And how could there be? Anyone who tried to publish something like that would commit a career suicide)

      However, I have seen sufficiently many before/after-turning-SJW pictures to begin to think that it is quite often the case that people turn into dyed-hair tattooed Jabba The Hutt-lookalikes in the process of their conversion into the religion, i.e. the ideology is very much affecting their external appearance.

      With the fat acceptance movement the timing is a bit different — they were either fat as kids or gained weight in their 20s, then found a justification for it in the “body positivity” movement, i.e. it is rarely the case that they became fat because of fat acceptance. But once you buy into it, things obviously can only get worse.

      1. This touches on the old question whether it is radical feminism that makes women hideous wildebeests or it is the social rejection of uglier girls in their childhood and teen years that creates in them a strong resentment towards traditional gender norms, eventually driving them towards radical feminism.

        Ummm…. pretty sure that isn’t an ‘old question’, but a pretty tired out old myth. Your subjective (and I’m guessing unsolicited) assessment of a stranger’s bangability is not some objective measure of attractiveness.

        1. What is considered attractive is determined by the opinion of members of the other sex.

          That is how sexual selection works.

          I happen to be a cis-het male.

          Therefore I am eminently qualified to comment on what is attractive and what is not.

              1. Since ‘what is attractive’ is one of those rare attributes that *is* a social construct, then yes, the majority rules in these matters. And the biological imperative of ‘finding a mate’ means that’s usually the opposite sex.

                And ‘what is attractive’is and has been very different for different cultures and times.

                However, I would suggest that both males and females have pretty much the same view on what is a ‘good-looking’ male and what is a ‘good-looking’ female, compare the pics of celebrities in both men’s and women’s magazines for instance. I don’t think LGBT views of attractiveness would be much different in that respect.

                (This means that GM is as qualified as anyone else to judge ‘attractiveness’, but no more so. In my always-infallible opinion).


              2. Since ‘what is attractive’ is one of those rare attributes that *is* a social construct

                Only to an extent.

                There are also universals having to do with quite objective biological factors, and those cannot really be called a “social construct”

          1. Therefore I am eminently qualified to comment on what is attractive and what is not.

            You just keep on being you, I suppose. Let us know how this winning strategy works out for you.

        1. Why is it dumb?

          Stereotypes usually exist for a reason

          The stereotype of the ugly obese radical feminist is widespread

          And one quick look at your average group of SJWs immediately tells you why.

          So again, what exactly is wrong in what I said?

      2. This touches on the old question whether it is radical feminism that makes women hideous wildebeests or it is the social rejection of uglier girls in their childhood and teen years that creates in them a strong resentment towards traditional gender norms, eventually driving them towards radical feminism.

        There is so much that is wrong with this sentence, on so many levels.

  2. Wow. This is pretty emotional for me right now, because I just lost my mother to complications from decades of obesity, and although it was relatively short, the last couple of months of her life were agonizing. Agonizing for her and for me to have to watch. Obesity doesn’t just destroy your health, it complicates your care in ways that are hard to comprehend – unless you get to watch a loved one go through it.

    After the diabetes, kidney disease, peripheral vascular disease, heart attack, and congestive heart failure, all of which are standard outcomes of obesity, my mom was too weak to walk, clean herself, feed herself, roll over in bed, or breath. Her veins were so weak that it took a dozen attempts to get her initial IV established. She had to have oxygen, a feeding tube, a urinary catheter, and a rectal catheter. The weight caused intractable back pain, so every time the nurses had to move her (which took 3-4 people), or clean her up, or send her off for tests or treatments, she screamed in agony. I will never forget the day she begged me for morphine and told me she wanted to die.

    Fat shaming is a disgusting, despicable thing to do to another human being. But there is nothing glorious about morbid obesity, certainly nothing that I could see.

    1. An elderly relative of mine who is obese had a defective heart valve and required a replacement. Finding a surgeon who was willing to operate took some time, and then still more time for them to formulate a plan with minimal risk of complications. Even still the risk of complications was nowhere near low enough for our family to rest easy (had she been normal weight the risk would have been nearly negligible, at least as far as heart surgery is concerned). Thankfully we lucked out, and the surgical team did a spectacular job, and 10 months later she’s in better shape than even a year or two ago. The post-surgery dietary requirements have also gotten her used to a low sodium diet which has brought her blood pressure down considerably even though she hasn’t managed to lose that much weight.

      1. A lot of the conditions that arise from long term obesity argue with each other (ie, treating one will worsen the other), with congestive heart failure and kidney disease being the worst. When my mother had her heart attack (about 8 years before she died), putting in the stents to save her heart took out her kidneys. That’s pretty typical.

        After her heart attack, the kidney doctor put her on a low sodium diet, and the vascular doctor prescribed exercise, both of which she did for a while. I was amazed at how well she responded, especially to the exercise, even though, like your relative, she didn’t lose much weight. However, my mother couldn’t keep it up for long, and the obesity finally killed her.

    2. Thanks for sharing. I feel for anyone who has to go through what your mother and you had to go through. A reminder of just how fragile our health is especially as we age.

  3. Really?

    I am rather disappointed in this attitude, and not a little angry.

    Obesity is not a character flaw, it is a metabolic disease that requires medical care and proper diet (ketogenic and HFLC) in order to get the body functioning again.

    And no, it is not about calories in vs calories out, it’s about proper marco ratios and eating foods that do not spike blood glucose.

    Most doctors don’t even understand the issue, they tell people to eat less and move more, which is a result of the failed lipid hypothesis.

    I used to weigh, at most, 110lbs, I am not twice that weight due to hormones, I have Cushing’s disease, one of the most under-diagnosed diseases in the world, it’s not rare, it’s rarely diagnosed and the obesity that it causes is usually dismissed and lack of willpower.

    Yet I eat less now than when I was 110lbs.

    Every time you see a fat person and think “OMG why can’t you eat less and move more blah blah blah” remember that eating less causes even more metabolic derangement and only makes the body store even more fat because it can’t metabolise nutrients properly, thereby leaving people starving on a cellular level even though they consume enough food.

    I highly suggest the documentary Fathead, and reading the many books and articles by Gary Taubes.

    Almost everything you think you know is wrong when it comes to obesity and weightloss

    1. As a formerly obese person, I don’t think that everything I know is wrong. I got obese over time by eating too much of the wrong stuff. I stopped being obese by tracking my calories and exercising a bit more.

      Most of us who suffer(ed) from obesity are/were fat for the reasons you don’t think count… too much food full of fat and sugar.

      There is certainly a genetic component to obesity. But the rapid rise in obesity in the US (and elsewhere) can’t be attributed to genetics.

      1. Sugar is absolutely a factor in the obesity epidemic, but the longstanding stigma against dietary fat is in the process of being overturned. Although this will take a while to make its way into the public consciousness as the idea that eating fat makes you fat seems so intuitive to pretty much everyone.

      2. Yup, I was about 65 pounds overweight. I cut way down on calories and carbs, ate healthier food in general, exercised, and ate less. Now I’m 65 pounds lighter. And I feel great about it.

        I’ll also note that neither Jerry nor the article to which he referred said anything the poster above is angry about.

      3. Fat is not bad, it doesn’t not cause us to be fat.

        I am not genetically obese, neither are my children or any of my ancestors, I am obese because of insulin resistance and Cushing’s disease.

        Not because of eating too much, or not moving enough, I am allergic to exercise, never done it in my life, yet I never varied more than +/-5lbs from a weight 110lbs at my normal weight, I eat MUCH less now than I did when I weighed half of what I do now

      4. I have seldom seen it better illustrated than with this graphic:


        And any of us who have lived through that period have seen it with our own eyes. It ain’t a mystery. People have gotten more sedentary and they eat more empty calories in larger quantities.

    2. “And no, it is not about calories in vs calories out, it’s about proper marco ratios and eating foods that do not spike blood glucose.

      Most doctors don’t even understand the issue, they tell people to eat less and move more, which is a result of the failed lipid hypothesis.”

      Calories in vs out isn’t the complete picture, but it’s not wrong either. Newton’s laws got men on the Moon and people actually lose huge amount of weight on The Biggest Loser (though I know they rarely keep it off, and crash dieting + endless exercise is probably a terrible way to treat your body in the first place).

      I’ve gone down from over 110kgs to about 85 myself starting a few years back by taking up various sports (running and more recently cycling) and I also know it’s much easier to lose weight than keep it off. I know some people have medical conditions which makes it harder (or even impossible) for them, but I have little patience for people who try to invalidate and minimize the effort me and countless others put in to benefit our health and fitness.

      1. The problem with that is that it assumes that every body metabolises in the same way and efficiency, like every car gets the same gas mileage

        ANd we know that’s not true, all cars get different mileage depending on engine, tune up, weight load, tire pressure etc.

        Bodies are the same, someone who is insulin resistant will not metabolize glucose to energy like a non IR person, the IR person will store it in fat because their cells are resistant.

    3. I have Cushing’s disease, one of the most under-diagnosed diseases in the world, it’s not rare, it’s rarely diagnosed and the obesity that it causes is usually dismissed and lack of willpower.

      1. And here is some of the denialism that is common around obesity and weight loss.

        “Obesity is not a character flaw, it is a metabolic disease that requires medical care and proper diet (ketogenic and HFLC) in order to get the body functioning again.”

        Obesity is caused by excess calorie consumption period. The CDC and Mayo clinic mention only two diseases by name as causing obesity with Cushing and Prader Willi and combined there are less than a half million people around the worth with these conditions and even here it is still excess calories. There is no reason at all to believe Cushings under diagnosed and would not be dismissed easily as the obesity caused from Cushing presents differently than general obesity. Cushing is rapid weight gain in the face, neck and torso while sparing the limbs.

        “And no, it is not about calories in vs calories out, it’s about proper marco ratios and eating foods that do not spike blood glucose.”

        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413115003502 Sugar consumption is down since its peak in 1999 in the US. Sugar consumption is down in most western countries and yet not a single one has seen obesity levels drop since peak sugar.

    4. ”…it’s not rare, it’s rarely diagnosed…”

      If it is rarely diagnosed, how do you know it isn’t rare?

      1. Because I know a lot of Cushies, and they all have the same story of doctor after doctor not diagnosing even though the symptoms are clear and documented.

        Then they finally find a Cushing’s literate Dr and they are diagnosed and can finally get appropriate treatment instead of being told to eat less and move more.

        If more doctors understood Cushing’s people wouldn’t go years/decades being misdiagnosed.

        So yeah, judging by how many people truly get a diagnosis once they see a specialist, I am confident in saying that it isn’t rare as much as it is rarely diagnosed.

    5. Once again gary taubes is a fraud. Failed lipid hypothesis? Ketogenesis? We have to eat less. We have to move more. It is the only way forward. What about the evolution of energy consumption and energy expenditure? One has gone up. The other down. The science is clear. Exercise is prescribed as medicine by doctors and for good reason. Improved blood lipid profiles, reduced hypertension, stabilised blood gucose levels, increased insulin sensitivity, increased amounts metabolically active tissue, reduced levels of stored fat, increased fat utilization during mild exercise, and improved mental health. Now add a balanced, reduced energy diet and you are well on your way to a healthy body!

    6. Obesity is not a character flaw, it is a metabolic disease

      It can be, for some. But having grown up in various places with different cultures and different access to fatty foods, it’s IMO pretty clearly also in some cases a matter of diet and food selection.

      I agree with the general sentiment of the OP. Don’t be a jerk to someone else who is overweight. But don’t pretend it doesn’t come with a host of health problems either.

  4. I agree, it is just bad form to mention the problem to someone who very likely already knows. You could go all the way back to the fat kid on the play ground who everyone made fun of. Yes, obesity is a national problem in the U.S. but going around pointing out the overweight is stupid. Take care of yourself and worry about more important things that affect you, not those things that don’t.

    The alcohol and overweight comparison is a good one. The alcoholic is not going to do a thing about the issue until he or she is ready. If you think you can make the change for them, you are wrong. The fat problem is really no different.

    I knew a guy who was once an alcoholic and his wife was just as bad. He finally decided to do something about it and was successful but his wife (soon X wife) was not interested. She stayed in the bottle and he got out. He use to say, I was allergic to alcohol. When he drank he broke out. So then you say, no kidding. Yes, he broke out windows, doors, furniture, everything.

  5. My partner used to be morbidly obese. Like everyone who’s overweight in the U.S., she knew her situation was unhealthy. However, knowing she should loose weight and couldn’t made her feel worse and eat more to cope with the shame.

    Now she has lost about as much as I weigh. She’s still far from thin and still working on it; the change is amazing. She’s far more mobile than she was, too. What made the difference? She says it’s because I accepted her the way she was. I figured her weight was her problem, not mine. Without the defensiveness, she could keep trying and sometimes failing to loose weight and could deal with it herself.

    I’m not sure how much difference I actually made; she would probably have gotten to this point anyway. But I am pretty sure we should accept and love people around us whatever they weigh. We have enough problems to solve in our own lives.

    1. That’s a good story. One thing I have learned over many years is that weight and dieting are in constant battle. To effectively loose weight over the long haul, most people have to change their live style and eating habits. Going on these diets and then off the diet after the weight lose does not work. An example of this that most people know is Oprah. She was always going for one diet or the other, always successful but not for long.

      1. Unfortunately with this metabolic disease the best solution is bariatric surgery, reduce stomach and small intestinal absorption areas. This was the only thing that allowed my wife to go from 300 to 200 pounds (she is tall with a heavy skeletal structure)

    2. Changing life styles is essential. That’s what worked for my partner. Bariatric surgery works well for many people but other gain weight again anyway. (They don’t change their life styles.)

    1. Really? You mean, as in saying something to strangers, in public … in front of their kids no less?

      I think minding one’s own goddamn business is an underrated virtue. Maybe we should shame compulsive buttinskies.

    2. It’s nice of you to volunteer to give them access to quality, healthy food and cook healthy meals for these parents. There are a bunch of places with out access to that kind of thing. Maybe you could also give them a job that pays well enough to either allow one of them to stay have and cook or enable single parents to not have to work so much. That way they can make healthy frozen meals.

        1. Having worked on food security issues in rural America, most of the experts I consulted with lamented that the $1 burger is one of most difficult challenges they encounter. As far as caloric ‘bang for your buck’ (and taking time into consideration) you can’t beat it.

          1. Not true. How much would cost you to have your four meals at McDonald’s? (you can buy healthier food with that amount)

            1. Four meals? Pretty sure poor folks who are getting dollar burgers aren’t doing it four times a day. I understand that with time and access to produce and other groceries on a larger scale it is far cheaper to eat healthier. If you don’t have the time (for labor of cooking), transportation, a decent store, etc, it is not the case.

          2. The dollar menu burger is not the reason anyone is fat. The value menu cheeseburger is 300 calories. Even the Big Mac is not an issue at 540 calories. Its the fries and soda that are the bigger issues. McDonald’s also offers salads on the value menu along with grilled chicken breast sandwiches that are cheaper than the big mac and Quarterpounder.

            1. I agree. McDonald’s is twice as expensive as healthy food is pretty much anywhere on earth. So, economic excuses to eat at McDonald’s are laughable. I’ve been eating healthy food for decades for less than $10 per day and working more than 50 hours weekly all that time. Time and money are not valid excuses. And poor people don’t eat at McDonald’s because is too expensive, and I’m talking of at least 80% of the world population. We should shame those irresponsible overweight middle class parents who take their childre to McDonald’s.

            2. Not my point at all. The point is the convenience, price and caloric content of cheap fast food is what keeps people buying it instead of cooking rice/beans/greens. It is just easier for some folks.

              1. Absolutely agree.

                So far as I can see, ‘healthy food’ is only less expensive if you cook it yourself – and I have too many things to do to waste time cooking, other than maybe microwaving pies and stuff. ‘Healthy food’ takeaway is usually trendy and carries a hefty premium.

                Probably fortunately for me, I also have better things to do than waste time eating. I suspect a large part of the obesity problem stems from boredom.


      1. My weight and health is very good, but I do get moderately defensive about well-meaning friends who want me to “eat better,” as in shopping at a WholeFoods type store.

        But I live in a place that is too poor to support a real food store, this has been the pattern for the 17+ yrs or so. (The Village keeps trying to keep them, but all end up leaving.)

        Fortunately, I have a car. Many people don’t, or have to take public transportation.

  6. I wonder if there is a rash of fat-shaming going on? As other commenters have written, overweight people already know they’re overweight.

    I occasionally hear people complaining about fat-shaming, but little evidence that there’s an epidemic of it happening. Sure, some people are mean.

    Like we’ve seen many times before, it feels like yet another victimhood vector, manufactured by the left, perpetuated by the left, and “fought” (but not really: we need our victims after all!) by the left.

    1. This isn’t an imaginary thing, people are treated like crap for being fat. Even people on the “right” experience it. Sure, some people maybe playing the being the victim but most people who experience it are not delusional/

    2. I’ve seen many people (and even some articles) say that doctors making you step on the scale when you come in for a checkup is fat-shaming and must be stopped.

      It’s harder being fat than it is being a healthy weight, but I think most of that isn’t due to shaming.

      1. I follow a lot of what goes on in the Fat acceptance world and this is a common complaint. They talk alot how its fat shaming by doctors that kill not obesity but the symptoms they describe are almost always caused or made much worse from their obesity. Pain in their ankles and knees is a very common complaint in this world but its never caused by their obesity its always some other reason and when a doctor tells them to lose weight well they where shamed.

  7. I think the motivation is the observation that even mildly overweight people are discriminated against (assumed low IQ, lazy, low impulse control) and the solution is to treat the condition the same as identity is treated in marginalized groups (LGBQ, skin color, religion): there is nothing wrong, abnormal, or defective about it and people with the identity should be treated justly and their discrimination acknowledged and corrected.

    The flaw in this logic is that a person does not have the freedom to escape the above identity categories, but does in most cases have the freedom to escape being obese or overweight. To the extent that that freedom exists, an obese person has made a choice and therefore must take some responsibility for the condition, unlike sexual preference or gender identity.

    1. Easy to say but it makes me wonder your age. If you make it to 65 or 70 with no change in your weight, good for you. But for many people it is a big struggle between say the age of 35 and 65.

      1. Yes indeed. It seems to me it may have something to do with developing eating habits at a young age, but then your metabolism changes on you as you get older. Habitual behavior of any kind is hard to change. And with diet you have to make changes to your eating habits for the rest of your life if you want the results to last for the rest of your life.

        For now anyway. Sometime in the not-too-distant future it looks like we’ll be able to adjust our metabolisms to order. There has been some promising advances along those lines in the past 10 years or so.

        1. Yes, I thought about waiting for a pill to come out but figured that’s not going to happen. Get out there and walk…

          1. This is the easiest and best way. For me at least. I usually throw on my sneakers, take my ipod, and start walking somewhere. I sometimes do interval training – sprint, walk back and forth if I feel like it. I don’t really do it for “exercise” but more because I just like it. Lower carbs also. Stretching is also a really good habit.

        2. Basal metabolic rates are not affected much by age. Rather, basal metabolic rates decline due to loss of lean mass caused by a more sedentary lifestyle. Total calorie expenditure declines even more because of this decrease in activity associated with aging.

          The magic pill you’re wishing for is a pair of walking shoes and a food log.

    2. assumed low IQ, lazy, low impulse control

      The problem is that the assumption is largely correct — a number of studies have confirmed the correlation between obesity and low IQ, which exists both for physiological and for societal reasons.

      And vice versa — take a look at your average STEM department at a prestigious university, and compare the BMI of the faculty there with the BMI distribution of general-population matched-aged cohort.

      The same goes for all other occupations that are associated with higher than average intelligence.

  8. “As for obesity, I’ve been told by overweight people that you needn’t tell them that they’re overweight and it’s unhealthy: they already know this. ”

    We have normalized obesity so much in the West I don’t really buy this as anything but a way to avoid having a conversation where they must look in the mirror. Anything short of morbid obesity and there will be a choir saying they are average weight and look great.

    The most important part of this story is there is more denialism surrounding obesity and diet than all of the creationism, anti vax and post modernism combined. You want to unite left and right in this country mention BMI and they will all go into a rage about how its worse than Hitler, Obama and Trump rolled into one. And they love talking about 1 study that has been pretty much ripped apart that showed a overweight but not obese people live as long as normal BMI.

    1. I happen to have street-level observations from quite a few areas in the world, and one thing that has always struck me is how the kind of obesity you can see in the US is in fact rarely seen elsewhere.

      You will see plenty of overweight and obese people, of course, but almost nobody who looks like what you regularly see in the US, with massive slabs of fat literally hanging from all sides and the whole body grotesquely deformed as a result.

      It’s just on a completely different level.

      And you simply don’t get to that level overnight.

      So I suspect that a combination of complete denial plus societal acceptance plus the uniquely obesity-enabling environment that US suburbia, with their complete car dependence, provide, is what makes this possible.

  9. As an individual of generous rotundness, saying something to a person of fatness about their weight is a bit of a captain obvious move. It’s like approaching a smoker in this century and saying “you know those are bad for you right?”

    I also wouldn’t call it a metabolic disorder. That’s like saying certain Native Americans have a metabolic disorder because of the epidemic of diabetes that those communities suffer. Or calling lactose intolerance a “disorder”. Groups that evolved in different environments adapted to local crops and local diets. The Tohono O’odam people adapted for centuries on a diet of cactus, lean meats and tepary beans and did not enjoy the Western convenience of three meals a day. Food was a process that consumed a lot of energy and cooperation and was very low on refined carbohydrates and large quantities of fat. In addition to this, the mucilagenous properties of cacti metered digestion and produced a slower release of glucose into the blood stream.

    Today, we live on an assumed diet of 2000 calories a day divided into three meals a day with the last meal being in the evening. With 9 to 5 workdays and long suburban commutes and a minimum of time for proper preparation of fresh moderate calorie meals, that late day hunger is often sated by high calorie, highly processed convenience foods that are consumed late in the daily metabolic cycle and often before the least amount of activity in the day.

    This was a relatively new way of life in the 20th century and offset slightly in the boomer generation by the nuclear houshold model of a homemaker preparing meals, though still affected by later mealtimes and reduced evening activities, whereby older generations enjoyed “supper” earlier in the daytime and “lunch” was not a major break in the day.

    Today, households with two working partners are the norm and evening meals come from the local drive-thru as a convenience and at 6 to 7 hours past “lunchtime”. Most of that period is also doing a job that requires sitting for long periods of time.

    Going back to this division of the 2000 calorie norm, fast breakfasts consumed at home are often low calorie and high in carb. This doesn’t sate well and lunchtime occurs at a time of peak hunger. Spending 1000 on lunch is not difficult when you add up a common burger, fries, and soft drink during short lunch breaks. This can create a mental miscalculation that assumes that now dinner can be much larger, when in fact this small-medium-large meal order is metabolically backwards. Probably as an artifact of our culture’s image of a “supper” or “dinner” being a feastful affair. In reality, such feasting was not a daily affair and when it occurred earlier it was not a “third” meal.

    Going back to evolutionary adaptation, the feast or famine model was not restricted to native people’s. Dieting for many is torture because it assumes cutting an even smaller calorie count into those three meals whole trying to maintain the convenience if our workaday schedule which is again, a recent cultural invention. Eating such small portions and then feeling guilty for not being sated and fighting our natural disappointment at this fact is depressing, especially when we are surrounded by easily accessible food. Our grandparents were used to a different schedule, and generally all meals were a process to prepare so instant gratification was not just unavailable for them, but in general so dealing with a bit of hunger in lieu of an opportunity for amore gratifying meal later on or the next day was the norm. Today, skipping a meal seems counter-intuitive. We are still stuck in this three-meal-a-day paradigm, and, socially, to skip lunch or an easily acquired meal can actually seen anti-social, and joining your friends yet not ordering food is a practice in masochism as their delicious fatty meals trigger immediate hunger responses.

    This latest fad in fasting, I think, is actually a good fracturing of our approach to eating. As long as it isn’t seen as a temporary behavior and rather a personal investigation of ones own metabolic tendencies. I am a feast or famine eater. I would rather eat a 2000 calorie meal on one day and then skip the next entirely. Eating small meals is simply disappointing and unsustainable as a long term lifestyle change, though eating feast and famine style goes against a cultural grain that obliges we participate in the BLD model. Hunger is an uncomfortable feeling, but it’s easily managed, especially with a promise of satiety at a later time or simply with activity. I am currently working on eating a satisfying breakfast, which does not need to be worthy of the Halls of Valhalla, and then omitting lunch for a light walk. The other myth is that an increase of activity needs to be heavy exercise. There is a happy medium between Fat Albert and Mr. Universe that does not actually increase hunger. It’s been shown that even a moderate 30 minutes a day of walking is satisfactory, and that a full on exercise routine does not aide on average in weight loss. Especially for people who find themselves in a relatively set schedule or the general busyness of life that makes focusing on such efforts difficult.

    So, yeah, I know I’ve got about 100lbs to lose, don’t assume it’s not constantly sitting in the back of my mind, especially when I’m out buying pants and even Walmart doesn’t carry my size. I’m not an idiot, I’m aware enough to know that there’s a better way to be. I don’t consider most will intentioned discussions about the matter fat-shaming though, that requires assigning a moral failing to being fat. Most obese peoplee aren’t shoving whole pizzas in their face at every meal, they’re just constantly presented with easily accessible and easily affordable high calorie foods that their body craves and a schedule that forces them to choose from those foods or else simply starve and when the only thing occupying your mind isn’t “gee, I should make a wise food decision right now” and is rather “fucking boss, fucking bills, fucking traffic, fucking hungry, don’t have the mental energy to deal with hunger gimme the extra value menu so I can collapse on the couch” obesity is going to be a thing. There are a lot of factors involved that don’t immediately involve “I am fat disgusting pig I can haz cheeseburger”. And any diet that requires the mental calculus of “hmm, what are the macronutrients involved, how many calories come from this or that, should I spend the next ten minutes logging this?” Isn’t going to last long. We’re fighting nature, we’re fighting culture, and we’re fighting against our limited attentional awareness bombarded by distractions.

    1. You bring up a good point, which is that it is extremely difficult to practice good habits and ‘do the hard thing’ when you are under stress (work, home life, etc.), tired, worn out, etc… With food, snacking on healthy stuff helps with that, but it’s IMO a real struggle to fit that in to a normal US work schedule.

      I drink beer, but have occasionally given it up for months at a time. That’s relatively easy. I’ve also given up TV for a month. That was harder (mainly because of my lack of other social life). But the 2-3 months I ate only fruits, veggies, and baked boneless skinless chicken breasts…that was incredibly hard. I had to eat pretty much *every hour*, just to keep hunger for fatty foods etc. in check.

      So, ironically, if you’re looking for a way to make wise food decisions, then IMO the best way to help yourself do that is, ironically, to constantly eat – healthy food. Carry around apples, carrots, peas, etc.. and snack on them constantly. Any time you get a craving.

      1. Yep, I’d agree with that. If I’ve got something interesting to do I can’t be arsed stopping for a meal* but I find a biscuit nibbled occasionally and a cup of coffee will keep me going all day.

        *Laziness can be turned to your advantage in this. Just develop the habit of not-eating rather than the habit of eating.


  10. The difference between being obese and being an alcoholic? My alcoholic father could drive the wrong way down Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive (this was long ago before they made is safer) hit three cars, total his, and still have the presence of mine to lie about how much he had to drink before he passed out. He never killed anyone, but he easily could have.

  11. She goes on to say that you can compliment somebody by saying, “Hey, you’ve lost weight,” or “You look great.” That, too, seems sensible; otherwise, keep your thoughts to yourself.

    I prefer to err on the side of caution, and say something like ‘I’m so glad to see you!’ and avoid complimenting appearance (unless I know it is something they’ve been working on). At my thinnest, I was not my healthiest by a long shot. People loved to remark how great I looked, having no idea it was not some positive thing in my life.

    1. I prefer also to not bring up physical apprearance when seeing someone because it’s brings along with it all of the healthy body shaming of everyone. I personally don’t do this. My younger sister saw me the other day and said, “You’re so skinny.” I am not even skinny right now. I’m cusping the top of the normal BMI. I could lose a solid 20 and be very comfortable. But what I have done for myself in the last few years has been really beneficial. I learned to love myself as is and that included my body. It just came along for the ride. I truly see myself in my own skin and know I am beautiful. Growing up in my high school was, I believe not too different from how it is in many places. On the Cross County team, we had two girls who were skeleton anorexic and hospitalized. There was another girl in my psych class and we crossed social circles who was skeleton/anorexic and whose sister died at 29 from anorexia. One of my best friends was bulemic and still struggles with it. She’s as thin as a rail. The shaming everyone does to themselves is much more ridiculous than obese people promoting being comfotable with themselves. It isn’t healthy to be fat. I first heard about any of this in a podcast with Roxane Gay and one other person a couple of years ago. Roxane Gay was being challenged for not being happy with her body. I was listening and was definitely supportive. If someone isn’t happy with being obese, encouragement is a good thing. I think the most important thing is just to be happy with your body. Hopefully it’s healthy but happy and healthy is best.

  12. Two statistics:

    People in developed countries are living longer.

    People in developed countries are also getting fatter (more are obese).

    If obesity is so dangerous to health then this contradiction needs to be explained (and not by the Diet Industry).


    1. Not true, I keep up with the data on longevity for my ecology/evolution lectures; the past 3 years the longevity for the USA and for the UK have begun to reverse due to obesity. I am sure other countries e.g. Germany will have reached the peak and begin to decline as well.

      1. And regardless, the supposed “contradiction” isn’t difficult to explain anyway. The average lifespan of an obese person in a developed country is significantly less than the average lifespan of a person who is at a healthy weight. There’s no mystery, it’s just that (1) the majority of people still aren’t obese, thus helping the average stay higher, and (2) an obese person in a developed country still has a great chance of living longer than a person with a healthy weight in an undeveloped country because of medical access, standard of living, availability of resources (including food), and other factors.

        1. And the developed countries with the highest life expectancies tend to be the ones with the lowest obesity rates. Japan being the classic example.

  13. This is a great article and makes some good points. I am with you right up until you get to the issue of confronting someone with constructive advice. While I agree that most of us have no business doing so, it is sort of the duty of very close family members and friends to find a way to raise the issue in a positive and constructive way. Especially when the obese loved one is likely getting conflicting and destructive advice from the “body positivity at any cost/fat power” people.
    It is a sad part of human nature that unhappy people tend to proselytize to others about their lifestyle choices as some sort of coping mechanism.

    1. Reality: People are getting lots of messages that being fat is unhealthy and unbeautiful. Fat people know this. You don’t have to tell them. If fact, giving unsolicited advice just suggests you think they’re amazingly stupid and clueless — not helpful.

      The best you can do for those close to you and heavy is just to enjoy them as themselves. White you do it, eat relatively healthy dinners and snacks, and enjoy walking, bicycling, or other exercise.

      1. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all piece of advice here. Yes, we all know being fat is unhealthy, but when I was fat, I got used to seeing myself in the mirror like that and honestly thought it wasn’t that bad. It took my close family telling me regularly to make me realize just how overweight anx unhealthy i was. For some reason, I would look at myself and think I only looked a bit overweight. When I look at pictures of myself from that time now, I can’t believe that’s not what I perceived in the mirror. People are just different.

        1. I got used to seeing myself in the mirror like that and honestly thought it wasn’t that bad.

          Even if you get used to it in the mirror, there are reminders everywhere. The size of your clothes, the difficulty in purchasing them, *cough*BMI*cough*, scales, difficulty in activities, etc. I have a hard time believing that those morbidly obese are somehow in denial about their health.

          1. They really are. Go to some of these newer feminist sites like revelist or Refinery29 to see example after example of this. There is one writer whose career is being surprised clothes don’t fit her or fit her as well as they do her normal weight friend. She is clearly morbidly obese and every indication is she thinks she at most a little bit overweight.

            Of course I am only going by those that are in the media and they can all be the exception but between how widespread Fat Acceptance is spreading in the media. How the media is now potryaing obese people I think it safe to say there is a fairly large number of morbidly obese people that think they are healthy.

  14. I agree with you in that body-size should not be glamorized or be anyone’s identity. No good comes from that.

    My interpretation of “Health at Every-size” is a bit different than yours. I base it on the book of the same name. The book says nothing about making being fat an identity but that it’s okay to have fat. It’s more about eating nutritious food, which will reduce cravings because the body is getting the nutrients it needs. The book also says that judging health by BMI is not a good idea, instead it’s better to refer to blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and how a person physically feels.

  15. I’m just back from a trip to France where we noticed an almost total absence of over-weight people in the streets. Some appeared underweight. When we returned landing in Newark, New Jersey, we saw at least 30% of people at the airport were significantly over weight and a good number of them looked morbidly obese. People in France have nothing except perhaps cigarettes in their hands while walking in the streets. In the US many carry large sodas or other snacks. What’s going on here?

  16. Helen Pluckrose is the shizzle (in all the best ways)!

    I am still trying to get my head around the obesity issues.

    But on alcoholism, allow me to disabuse you and anyone reading of something:

    “At any rate, the difference between obesity and alcoholism is that there’s no “alcoholism positivity” movement, though now I’m wondering why. “Healthy at any stage of inebriation!”’

    It makes me very sad and angry to have to read that.

    No, that’s not the main difference at all. Alcoholics (and just about any substance abuser)destroy themselves, and also pull down those around them, all the more those that care the most. There’s no positivity movement for alcoholism because there’s nothing positive about it. Ask anyone who’s had to deal with someone close who abuses alcohol as an addiction.

    The nearest you will get to a “positivity movement” is AA, whose step 1 is for the member to acknowledge they have a problem, and the best many can hope for is that they can stay sober for as long as possible. For a good dose of reality and to help be thankful for what you have, go to an AA meeting.

    (For the record, I’m not an alcoholic, but have two family members who have been)

  17. That some people say “eat less and exercise more” is almost certainly true – for some people.

    That others can say “despite my best efforts I have piled on pounds since [a particular life event or disease]” is almost certainly true – for some people.

    That others can say “the modern diet has overwhelmed my biochemistry” is almost certainly true – for some people.

    Obesity is an observable outcome of many interior processes, predispositions, and the environment – certainty about THE single cause for a whole population is unjustified.

    1. Exercise will have a near-negligible impact on weight*, although there are plenty of other health reasons to do it. But weight is almost entirely a function of diet.

      *I’m talking about the kind of 3-4 day a week, 45 minute gym routine that many people do to try to lose weight. If you’re doing the sort of heavily physical training of an athlete, you probably don’t have a weight problem to begin with.

      1. Getting a handle on his eating habits first and *ignoring* exercise to start with, was key to Penn Jillette’s successful weight loss. His book- Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales- was very interesting and entertaining.

  18. Last year I returned from my annual vacation in Germany weighing 230 pounds. I retired from the Army in 1981 at 180 pounds, and for years my weight yo-yoed between 195 and 220. I was on blood pressure medication and another for high cholesterol. I also was using a CPAP for sleep apnea. Frankly, I was frightened.

    My wife had mentioned a book to me and I ordered Penn Jillette’s “Presto!.” I began the diet on 1 August and at the end of January my weight was 165. That’s a drop of 65 pounds. My physician got me off the blood pressure medication. I put away the hated CPAP mask when my wife told me that I no longer snored. And I am about to stop with the cholesterol medication. My shirt size went from XL to M. I had to buy all new clothing. Even my shoe size got smaller!

    I always believed that weight loss diets are all hype because the secret is eat less and move more. Turns out I was right.

    1. That is no secret! Congratulations! And you are off meds because of the simplicity of lifestyle changes! Thanks for sharing.

    2. Rock on, Bob! 🙂

      I always believed that weight loss diets are all hype because the secret is eat less and move more. Turns out I was right.

      I fully agree.

      There is no “silver bullet” out there!

    3. Actually, Jillette’s friend/doctor/guru was right, and for a logical reason. Overweight people who are *already* having physical problems- and Jillette’s were massive- need to get their eating habits under control first, and often don’t have the energy/wherewithal to make another big change at the same time and start exercising more. (And building up muscle requires more calories.)

      When Jillette’s eating habits were under control, he started moderate exercising- walking with his kids. They were the compelling reason he finally decided to go on the diet.

  19. As someone who has struggled with body weight most of my life:

    I can say without doubt that my recent weight loss (55+ pounds and counting) has dramatically lessened my health issues and has made me feel much better in everyday life.

    I’ve always exercised pretty intensively; but now that window of opportunity (how hard can I go without injuring myself?*) has widened very noticeably. Really simple things like flexibility in everyday activities have improved.

    On a recent trip to the US west, I was able to hike uphill in the mountains better than in many years. What a joy!

    My “numbers” have all improved significantly since the weight loss as well. I’ve been able to jettison almost all my blood pressure meds.

    I always knew I needed to lose weight; but inertia stopped me until a recent health crisis (luckily, I’ve pretty well fully recovered) really put the motivation into me!

    (* I’ve also had lots of orthopedic injuries — mainly in my 20s/early-30s when most of what I did outside of working was mountaineering, rock- and ice-climbing, back-country skiing, and kayaking.)

    1. Congratulations!
      My wife was amazed this year in Ireland and Germany as I schlepped my suitcase up and down stairs in the train stations. By the way, I am 79 and 1/3 years old and looking to bankrupt the pension systems.

  20. My wife is very (though not disgustingly – and I’m aware that’s a variable line) overweight and eats and smokes far too much. I try to gently chide her about both things though I’m aware that nagging could have the opposite effect and cause her to stop trying. When I contemplate the creakiness of my joints and the effect my ten-pounds-overweight is having on them, I dread to think of the effect her 50(?) is having on her aches and pains.

    What I am certain of is that the ‘overweight is healthy’ idiots are not helping, please just sod off and die quietly. (Fortunately there don’t seem to be many ‘smoking is okay’ idiots around any more).

    It seems that fat people have managed to get themselves added to the ‘victims-whose-feelz-must-not-be-hurt’ category along with the disabled, non-whites and the sexually odd** (and I know we’re not allowed to call them ‘victims’ but if they’re not, why do they need our consideration?). Curiously, smokers, alcoholics, [other] drug addicts, and gambling addicts don’t seem to have managed to squeeze themselves into that privileged class.

    Fat people may be hurting no-one but themselves when they’re alone but I *know* which of all the above I’d rather be sitting next to on public transport (as long as they’re not actually shooting up, literally blowing smoke in my face, or obnoxiously drunk at the time).


    ** Just to make it clear, I’m arguing against the ‘victim’ mentality and not in favour of discriminating against anyone for being ‘different’.

  21. Obesity/metabolic syndrom is in many ways a syndro. It has not much to do with ‘willpower’ or personality, but probably most with intestinal microbiots.
    The details are mnot yet well understood, but I guess that in the not too far future probiotics and poo-transplant may heal metabolic syndrome and associated obesity.
    At present gastric bypass surgery is the best treatment for DM2. Glycaemia is normalised within days concurrent with the change in intestinal microbiot.
    In the mean time, I would not fat-shame, that is despicable, but advise a low carb/no processed food diet.

Leave a Reply