Throughout the holidays people talk about how they’re “getting fat,” “eating too much,” and “needing to lose weight”. The New Year is when all of this talk becomes a general resolution to “lose weight” and “get skinny”.
I hear parents tell their children “don’t eat that or you’ll get fat”, “don’t keep drinking that soda or you’ll be chubby”. A friend of mine recently asked his mom to stop making these comments to his teenage sister. Her response, instead of being rooted in concern for her daughter’s health, was the simplistic, “Well, she was fat for a while so we have to be careful”.
Be careful of what? Oh no, don’t get fat or the fat monster will get you! Or is it that for every ounce of fat you gain someone steals a dollar from you? I don’t know.
Seriously, though, we are all scared of “fat” and I can’t understand why. Fat isn’t the problem. In fact, we need fat. What happens when you don’t have fat? The body simply gives up. It has no food, no nutrition, it starts eating itself. Without fat, the body eats its own muscles and organs. Eventually the body might have to break down heart muscle to survive.
Without fat, we die.
We need fat. Actually need. Not need like “I need my coffee in the morning”; need like “I need my heart to beat normally”. So why all the stigma? We are we all so scared of getting fat. Young children are being told to not eat food so they don’t get fat. We don’t seem to be able to separate size from health.
I want to get healthy for the New Year. By that, I mean I want to go to the gym at least once a week. I don’t want to go to the gym to lose weight, I want to go so that I am physically fit. I am not at all physically fit; I rarely exercise and I have no strength to my name. I want to change this. I want to at least stand a fighting chance in a zombie apocalypse! However, when I tell people I want to go to the gym I am often asked why “you’re not fat, you don’t need to go”.
We are mistaking fat for unhealthy and this is dangerous on many levels. It messes with our body images, and we begin to associate fat with unhealthy and thin with healthy. This is not at all the case. Size, though sometimes an indicator, does not entirely dictate health or fitness. A female body builder, for example, could be considered in the morbidly obese BMI range while not having an ounce of fat on her body, whereas an incredibly unfit and unhealthy young woman could be deemed as normal using BMI when she actually has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and adult onset diabetes.
I know it is bigger than this now. We are scared of getting fat, not just because we buy in to the fat is unhealthy talk but also because we are all so prejudiced that we know how much more difficult it is for an overweight person in this country. Overweight people are automatically viewed as unhealthy, lazy, and unfit. It is harder for an overweight person to get a job than a “normal” person, and they face far more discrimination and abuse in everyday life.
We are scared to “get fat” not just because we falsely associate it with unhealthiness, but also because we know how cruel society is to “fat people”. However, continuing the way we are going is not going to fix that.
We need to change the way we talk about weight and health. The number on the scale isn’t what’s important, it’s how you feel. If you have no physical problems then there are certain physical movement and physical pain norms. If you can’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded then maybe go to the gym more (or get a health check-up). But you’re not going to the gym to lose weight, you’re going to get healthy. Sometimes healthy does involve losing weight, and sometimes it involves gaining weight.
Ask your child to stop drinking soda because you are worried about the effect on their teeth, or too much sugar and diabetes, but not because they might “get fat”.
Fat is not bad, fat is not unhealthy, and fat shouldn’t be feared.