A Crash Diet of What it Actually Means to be “Fat”

For seven years I have stayed between 157-180 pounds. I would say I am about 175 right now. “But Mara,” you might be thinking, “you are a female presenting person! You are supposed to be lighter than air and feed on only rays of sunlight and lukewarm water —how can you possess any fat at all?” Okay, so maybe no one was thinking that, but you may be balking at the number. For those who do not know, I am 5’ 6”, which puts my BMI in the overweight category. A lot of people are actually surprised to hear that. I do not necessarily look fat. I am not someone you would peg as “looking unhealthy,” but for a long time in my life I posed my goal as the pursuit of health. Just following a diet that was reasonable with minimal sugar and lots of fruits and vegetables. I am “overweight” after all, my goal should be health.

I have a question for you: which will kill you faster—excess fat or starvation? It is an obvious answer, but our society cannot seem to connect the dots. If obesity will kill you slower than anorexia or bulimia, why do we punish obese people and reward anorexic ones? Sure, we might tell the girls who are too bony that they need to eat more and if they look like skeletons we will tell them to stop their destructive habits, but before anyone notices the troubling signs we laud these people for their thinness. We put them up on a pedestal for their tiny waists and thigh gaps. Models are starting to diversify, but the most common clap back to this movement of body positivity is that being fat is “unhealthy.” There are countless campaigns against obesity and countless people who use ads or presentations to scare us into eating healthy and exercising. Sure, obesity is correlated to more health problems, but as I pointed out, the starvation of eating disorders will kill a person faster than extra fat ever could. If our concern was truly health, our first target would be the dangers of an eating disorder and the marketing that can influence one. But our aim is not, in fact, health.

As a society, we are far fatter than we should be and that is definitely a problem, but the issue has more layers than just that people are lazy or unwilling to eat good food. First of all, food deserts cause lower income houses to be drawn to cheap fast food without a proper market nearby. Even if they do have that market, they might not have the time to cook wholesome food every night. Second, exercise will not solve that problem. If you want to lose fat, the best way is to eat less sugar and empty carbohydrates, and start exercising more to gain muscle. Sugar actually leads me to the third and most important part of the equation, which is that companies need to be up front about their sugar addition and drastically reduce it. Some scientists in the early 1900s recognized that sugar was the cause of our weight gain and increased health problems, but sugar companies wanted to keep us addicted to the sweet stuff that our brains love. These corporations paid off scientists to blame fat consumption instead (hence so many “low fat” products) and lobbied the government to exclude sugar from the daily percentages on food labels.

So it seems that we are not actually all that concerned about health, seeing as how extra sugar is added to pretty much everything. We are only supposed to consume 24 grams of sugar per day and most sodas contain two times that amount. That is really not good for our bodies. We have started to acknowledge this, but the systemic issues that keep people fat remain very much intact. This brings me to our idea of “health.” The images conjured up when thinking about health are thin women in yoga pants, thin women at the gym, thin women at juice bars and oh, whoops, we seem to have stumbled upon the issue, which is that thinness has replaced “health.” If health was our main concern, we would not be pushing a mostly exercise filled message sponsored by Coke and we would not be applauding all skinny people like they somehow cracked the secret to being healthy.

A friend of mine once suffered from such extreme anxiety that they could not eat solid food without throwing up, and even after that long episode of drinking only protein shakes, they still could not manage to eat much. They are doing better now, but for a stupid while in my life I actually envied that response as opposed to my body’s opposite response of weight gain. Skinny became a consolation prize for anxiety. Even after all my talk about health, all I wanted to be was really skinny. I now realize how messed up that is. No one would have accused my friend of being unhealthy. They were “too small” to be unhealthy and not skeletal enough to be worthy of worry. But their size said absolutely nothing about the state of their health. The truth is, we say health the same way we say skinny.

I could very well face problems in the future based on extra fat—or I could not. But my outside appearance says nothing about that. If I went over a certain threshold, I would definitely face problems and maybe even die ten years early. But I would still live longer than those who starve themselves. Until I see massive reform in the food industry and lower income communities, I have no reason to believe that health is at the forefront of our minds.