[ Warning: this post contains images that are fat-shaming in nature and may be triggering to some. ]
It started when I was 8 years old. I was in the 3rd grade, fascinated with the introduction of science, art, and music, and was generally a very happy and curious kid.
It was also when I began realizing that there was something wrong with the way I looked. Contrary to what people may have believed, I wasn’t downing sodas and twinkies all day, and I wasn’t coming home from school and playing video games until dinner. I was a kid. I was active, riding bikes, roller skating, playing outside, dancing in my bedroom. I would soon learn that something was wrong with me, because I began to hear other kids make jokes, even family members, and soon after, my mom began to take me with her to these strange gatherings in an old church building on Tuesday nights, where a few dozen women, young and old, came together.
It was called Weight Watchers.
It was at these meetings that I began to learn the importance of my appearance and that if I didn’t look slender, I would be considered fat, and fat was something to be feared and avoided at all costs. I was not taught to be healthy, or about nutrition, but to not eat, lose weight, and as a result, I would be beautiful. I was instructed to write down everything that I ate in a journal and once I had ate what I was allotted, I couldn’t eat anything else, no matter how hungry I was.
[Note the tagline on the magazine: “Magazine for Attractive People“]
I had to get on a scale and was weighed in front of everyone. Everytime it happened, my cheeks would burn hot, I would hold my breath, and pray to God that the numbers had gone down. I would then sit in a room filled with women who would cry and talk about how their husbands didn’t love them anymore, or how they did so well all week by restricting their eating, only to “blow it” by eating a full meal over the weekend.
I would watch as women walked up to the front of the room to give a speech about how their lives had changed since losing weight, and how they were so happy now that they had banished their fat. They would gush about how much they loved receiving compliments, and shopping at “normal” stores. Everyone would applaud and the instructor would congratulate them and place a gold star pin on their collar with a “50” on it.
This was the first time I was a member of Weight Watchers, but it definitely was NOT the last. I would go on to lose and gain weight using the program at least 5 or 6 times over the years. Weight Watchers was just the beginning, as what followed was decades of trying every diet under the sun, only to slowly gain back what I lost and more, everytime. I’d say I have weight cycled at least 30 times over the course of my 44 years. Why, then, would I even consider doing it again? Why do we continue to try a treatment that clearly does not work? If you had a rash on your arm and applied an ointment that made the rash go away, but only for one day, only to come back worse, would you continue to use the ointment?
Science has proven that dieting or restricting food is to blame for a lot of health issues typically blamed on the weight itself. In fact, diets, combined with weight stigma is the deadly combo that sets up kids like me for a lifetime of struggles and disordered eating.
Weight cycling, also known as yo-yo dieting, leads to adverse health outcomes such as high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, gall bladder disease, and a destroyed metabolism – which leads to increased weight gain over time and exacerbates the health issues. (Dept. of Medicine, Princeton, 2015)
So why do we keep doing it?
Because we are constantly bombarded with messages from the media, doctors, our family, and friends, that being fat is unhealthy, and if you are not restricting, dieting, and trying to stay thin, then you are going to get sick and die. What’s worse, is that this desire is so ingrained in us due to society’s obsession with thin = beautiful, that we have created a culture that rewards thin people with privileges, and condemns, makes fun of, ridicules, and mocks anyone who is fat.
A few months ago, Weight Watchers changed their name to “WW”. This rebrand was spurred on by the science that continues to prove that weight stigma and fat-shaming is dangerous. So, like billion dollar industries do, they pivot, and try new ways to entice us – this time with a message of “wellness” instead of weight loss. Weight Watchers also came out last month with an app geared towards kids called “Kurbo.” KIDS! Greeeeaaaaat. Now instead of having to attend meetings once a week, kids can learn to hate themselves, develop eating disorders, and obsess about their weight in private any time of the day or night. Holy shit. Scary.
NBC recently ran a spot about WW and the Kurbo app and had this to say…
Americans have spent over $72 billion a year on dieting and weight loss products, yet dieting is largely unsuccessful. The failure of diets is part of what drives the economics of the industry’s success; people need to keep coming back for a different strategy. A 2016 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that dieting is “counterproductive” and increases the risk of developing an eating disorder. A study of nearly 17,000 children, ages 9-14, found that dieting was a significant predictor of weight gain and led to increased rates of binge eating in both girls and boys. Additional studies show that the more a person diets, the more weight they gain over time.NBCNews.com
So what do we do? Well, as scientists continue to work on the issue, we as a society need to break up with our obsession with thinness – an obsession that has gone from being about thin and beauty and attractiveness, to a war against fat, justified through the lens of health and wellness. Make no mistake, the diet industry will do what it needs to do to keep you running back everytime your efforts fail. We turn a blind eye to the science and try everything we can to convince ourselves that it’s our health that we care about. But if we were to be totally honest with ourselves, we’d admit the truth – we don’t want to be fat because our culture tells us that fat is ugly. We know exactly how fat people are treated, and have most definitely said hurtful things to a fat person – whether intentional or not. It’s a shit show out there for larger folx, and no one wants to admit it, because as much as we don’t want others to suffer, we also don’t want to be fat.
The reality is that the more we participate in fat shaming, the more dieting and extreme lengths we will go to to lose weight. And the more we try to lose weight, the sicker we become, and the cycle continues. Its a lose-lose. (no pun intended)
We must do better.