In Defense of “Being Fat”
July 4, 2017
I grew up slender and was often resented for it. Year after year, I remained baffled by the many people, usually women, who seemed to despise their non-skinny bodies, and who tried to shame me or envy me for mine; as a girl and woman, in a world that equates our value with our attractiveness, I had my own body image issues. I also never understood being so unhappy about something, then doing absolutely nothing about it. I thought it would never happen to me.
Sometimes I miss the naivete of my youth.
My love for all things food and nutrition, fortunately, has expanded my perspective on health over the years. Just as importantly, so has my own weight gain. There’s really no wisdom like the knowing that comes from experiencing something for yourself.
Maybe that’s part of our dilemma… our country is full of body-shamers who’ve never walked in the shoes of struggling with weight gain, nor the shoes of someone who enjoys their weight gain. We’re all told it’s ugly, unhealthy, and disgustingly lazy to “be fat.”
Fed up AF with that narrow-minded view, I’m here to break these lies down.
But first let me give you a glimpse into the personal experience that has created my perspective. I grew up very poor, usually without much food, but I was raised in an otherwise holistic home. I was raised vegetarian, as well, and became a vegan in my early twenties, for a few years, including six months of being a raw foodist (as of 2017, I’m currently pescetarian). I’ve aced every nutrition class at my local college, have a two year diploma, with honors, in medicinal herbs and holistic health, have experimented with Ayurvedic eating, know the blood type diet well, have played with gluten-free eating, started trying meats a few years ago to see how my body would respond to them after lifelong vegetarianism, and continue to read about dietary lifestyles, and nutrition in general, often.
In addition, after an entire adulthood of very strict “healthy” eating, and complete sobriety, I went from being a mega health nut to comfort-eating foods I never would’ve touched before, and binge-drinking alcohol at 27, after my father committed suicide over the phone with me. This is to say that I know the face of disciplined, even puritanical, lifestyles, when it comes to food. I know the sense of not being good enough that can arise with obsessing over eating “healthfully.” And I came to intimately know the face of emotional eating, coping through indulgence, coping through overwhelming all my other senses -which, I learned, eventually becomes a form of self-sabotage, and becoming addicted to using the sensation of fullness, and the deliciousness of good flavoring, to make ourselves feel better when needed, rather than facing hard feelings that come up because they need our attention and healing.
I was also given the gift, though, of finally getting to know the joy of bonding with others though food; through cooking for them and feasting together; through not being excluded because of my obsessions (or because of poverty); through laughing, celebrating, or just relaxing over a really good meal.
Food is such a gift when it’s used and enjoyed properly.
That’s why I have “healthy,” above, in quotation marks. Obsession isn’t healthy, no matter what we’re eating. Our bodies need real food as often as possible. Specifically a balance between fruits, nutrient-dense vegetables, whole grains, protein-rich foods, and plant-based fats, But soooo much more than just the food we eat goes into creating our health. Why we eat matters. Are we eating to fuel ourselves, to suppress hard feelings, to connect with another human who is also eating, to maintain important nutrient levels, and nourish our cells? How we eat matters. Are we disconnected from the moment and hurrying, or savoring every moment, every bite, and the people we’re sharing food with; are we giving ourselves the right amount of food and time to chew? When we eat matters. Are we eating regularly to support balanced blood sugar levels, stuffing ourselves when our bodies should be asleep and not using energy to digest, giving ourselves time to prepare the foods we need for optimum nourishment?
The truth of the matter is that our lives need quality food AND a sense of emotional health, a sense of community and connection, a happy psyche, and true in the body and in the moment deep savoring of what is. We find those things through food, when we take a balanced approach to it, rather than denying or overindulging ourselves.
In defense of “being fat,” it turns out, being skinnier isn’t automatically healthier. Skinnier bodies can have higher levels of organ fat -the scary, potentially fatal kind- than heavier ones, skinnier bodies can lack the grounding and fortitude that heftier bodies can possess, skinnier bodies don't provide the same “safety net” of cushioning for falling back on during a major illness, skinnier bodies don’t have as much weight bearing down to increase bone density, skinnier bodies can be underfed and therefore undernourished bodies, skinnier bodies can get colder faster, and many imbalances in health can arise from skinnier bodies, not just heavier bodies – I know multiple people, for example, whose so-called overweight bodies have impressively healthy cholesterol levels, compared to their slender friends.
Yes, body fat has its place, and its purposes.
(Furthermore, it can be downright sensual, and sexy as hell, in the right hands; I love the sight and feel of curves and more body on my lovemate! There is absolutely a sensuality and magic found in people who indulge their senses with passion and joy.)
My own formerly slender body won’t be stereotyped like a chubby one often is… as ugly, unhealthy, and lazy. Yet, the scarce menstrual flow I developed from eating so little led to an unhealthy condition similar to endometriosis; a condition called adenomyosis, that’s extremely painful, makes it very hard for me to lose weight, causes internal hardening, enlargement, and scarring of my uterus, and that doctors say only a hysterectomy can relieve.
Skinny did NOT come to my rescue there.
This is the reality for many people: a hormonal imbalance has made us fat. And that same imbalance decreases the effects of dieting and working out on our weight. Women (and trans men) who have developed PCOS may never overcome obesity. People who’ve had hysterectomies, or who take birth control to alleviate some of their hormonal suffering, will often gain a lot of weight. The hormone changes of aging, and altered metabolism, will cause a lot of people to have more body fat. Emotional scarring, when a person develops a strong urge to protect themselves from intimacy or attention, can result in chubbier bodies; it’s a common coping mechanism.
Overworking our livers is also a leading cause of hormones no longer being processed efficiently in the body -estrogens accumulate and reproductive disorders like PCOS, endometriosis, cancer, etc. develop; fats stop being broken down and eliminated; our energy is used to assist the liver in its more critical 500+ jobs, in the body. Good liver cleanses are out there (I looove Dr. Sandra Cabot’s book on liver cleansing, found here), but they can be extremely difficult to complete for a myriad reasons, like requiring enough money and time to make big changes, and having the emotional and social support to make big changes. Addressing hormonal disturbances, too, is a long process that requires a lot of discipline, holistic attention, and consistent self-care.
Some bodies are also designed to be heavier than what American culture tells us is the perfect model. Our white-centric mainstream media culture tells us to look like a white, plastic-surgeried, blonde Barbie on a yacht. What about the ethnicities with stronger and wider bone structures? Ethnicities with dispositions toward carrying more body fat? Cultures where bigger is seen as beautiful? Lineages that hand down genetic material encoded to make thicker bodies?
Yes, I understand the research behind the obesity epidemic – that obesity is causing our children to experience heart disease, and die younger than their parents would have; that communities of people who eat less live longer, and produce descendants who do, as well (if they also work harder, along with diet; activity is the key to longevity).
My point isn’t that obesity is the new black. My point is that body fat itself is not the devil. And it’s extremely shallow to shame the human body for it.
To remedy our situation, we should be bringing people back to their food roots; children should grow up knowing what their vegetables are, and where they come from. School cafeterias should be well-funded to provide quality meals, and ban junk food/soda machines (schools should not be giving children unsupervised access to these things). Children should grow up gardening, at school if nowhere else. Urban farms should be supported (and funded) in cities, especially in poorer areas. Education on nutrition, cooking real and healthy foods, and the importance of nutritious family meals needs to become common again, especially for those of us who are living and growing up in poverty. Even a shift in priorities would allow organic produce and meat/dairy to be subsidized and more affordable to those of us who otherwise can't afford it. Really, it's up to our society to bridge the gap between us and real food, not those of us who are living in it.
Health is a beautiful thing and the picture of it is different for every single person on this planet. For me, it isn’t just physical. Happiness and presence go a long way in my health. Indulging in food and drinks that have contributed to my weight gain has also given me a million more smiles, and savoring moments, than my daily regimen of only fruits and vegetables ever did. Enjoying more food, and better food, has made me more grounded. Exploring different ways of eating and being has made me very in tune with myself. Hell, baking cupcakes for people I love makes me feel like it’s the Universe’s Glittertastic Unicorn-parading Birthday Bash Extraordinaire! Things could be a lot worse than being chubby.
Surprise! We’ve been lied to! It turns out that it’s okay to not beat yourself up because you couldn’t maintain looking like a tiny, turbo-powered, 16 year old for the rest of your life.
It’s a beautiful thing to be who you are, no matter what that looks like.
In defense of “being fat,” we’ll never make a healthier race of people by hyper-focusing on the size of our bodies. We won’t live higher quality, more enriched lives by judging anyone on their appearance, or for their food choices! We aren’t “better than they are” for not having fallen into their shoes, or for being on the side society programs us to believe is prettier.
The loveliest approach to real health I’ve ever seen is found in giving ourselves unabashed, unhindered, loads of self-love. And in loving, accepting, and supporting our people for who they are, exactly as they are.
That’s where real healing and health is found.
Because LOVE IS ALWAYS THE BEST MEDICINE.
© Lindsay Swanberg – 2015. All Rights Reserved.