On Thinness, Fatphobia, and Weight Suppression: Why You’re Not Recovering
Can we take a few minutes to talk about thinness and recovery? And fatphobia and recovery? Because I think we really, really, really need to address this issue.
A few weeks ago, I read a blog post by a newish recovery blogger — who was talking about the amazing, important practice of letting go of your restrictive eating and obsessive exercise habits. Which is great. Super important. Good stuff, and keep going.
There was a caveat at the end of the post: don’t worry: if you give up your disordered behaviors, don’t worry, because most likely you won’t get fat.
Don’t worry. You won’t get fat.
It’s the refrain I hear all the time.
Or: I’m heavier now than I’ve ever been, but I’m learning to accept my body (says the size 2 girl who is still posting gym selfies and hashtagging her #cleaneats).
The subtext is: I accept my body because it’s bigger, but it’s not big. And I won’t let it get big.
Here’s the thing.
I know how important it is to meet people where they are. I know how scary it is for anyone — eating disordered or just chronic dieter — to make those important first steps away from restriction and overexercise. I know how important it is to make that promise of “you won’t get fat” when the fear of fat is still so fresh and so raw.
I think that, in a way, when we do that, we end up perpetuating a serious fatphobia that keeps us from ever actuallyrecovering. That keeps us trapped in a world of thin privilege, anxiety, and weight suppression.
Yes. Weight suppression.
Because many of our bodies are not naturally thin. And I’m not talking about women who are natural, genetic ectomorphs who can’t gain weight. That’s not even part of this discussion, so please, if you’re that type of person, know I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about mesomorphic and endomorphic women who fight their natural body types by trying to suppress their weight through diet and exercise.
I’m talking about those of us who “recover” but continue to run on injured legs. Who “recover” but still have a stable of “safe” foods. Who “recover” but are secretly or not so secretly scared to death of gaining weight and are using that fear as an excuse not to recover at all.
Here is what I want to say to you:
I have so much compassion for where you are right now, you have no idea. I have so much compassion, because I have spent most of my life where you are.
I was afraid of fat, afraid of taking up space, afraid of “being unhealthy,” afraid of “not being attractive,” afraid of all of the ramifications that a single jiggle or hint of cellulite seemed to promise.
It took gaining weight to realize, though, that none of the things I thought about body size were true. It took gaining weight for me to accept that bodies come in all sizes and that it was okay that mine wasn’t the way I “wanted” it to look for so long. It took gaining weight to realize that fatphobia is a real problem, and it’s the very problem that’s keeping us from getting better and living our lives.
What’s funny is that fatphobia doesn’t just keep us physically small — it keeps our lives very small. When you’re weight suppressed, you’re spending nearly all of your time and energy keeping yourself thin — reading about new supplements for weight loss, trying to biohack your body fat with whatever carb nite/backloading/fasting plan is in vogue at the moment, freaking out when you miss a workout or making up for it by doing a double…when you’re weight suppressed, your life must be dedicated to that suppression. It’s a constant vigil, and it keeps your life so very small.
But I would counter: what is wrong with taking up space? Fat isn’t a death sentence, and it isn’t as unhealthy as we think it is (and I’ll introduce you to the person who’s going to prove it to you in a second). Fat is just…a part of biology. Often, a part of biology that our bodies desperately need.
If you’re still struggling with your mental health, if you can’t figure out why you’re covered in acne, if you’re infertile or amenorrheic, if you’re exhausted and “adrenal fatigued,” if you can’t stop injuring yourself, if, if, if you’re fatphobic, then it might be time to admit that staying thin and trying to supplement, exercise, out-nutrition, and biohack your way to health isn’t the magic pill you’ve been waiting for.
I’m not saying we all should stop exercising and eat Cheetos all day. That’s not my intention, and I think (I hope) that deep down you know and understand this. Health at Every Size is, at its core, still about health. And I eat very healthy and I perform movements that make me feel alive and happy. But I am also not out desperately seeking permission to stay thin, and I’m not trying to justify my behaviors under the guise of “healthy leanness” anymore.
I’m not encouraging you to gain weight. I’m also not NOT encouraging you to gain weight. Finding the healthiest expression of our bodies is not as black and white as “recovery” would have us think.
And it’s really hard to accept the fact that you may be one of the people who might end up a medium or a large before you get your period back or your acne clears up or your depression lifts. Because we live in a very fatphobic world, where fatphobia is not only accepted, it’s prescribed.
And we need to fix that if we want to truly get healthy.
I promise you, weight is not your worst enemy. I want to meet you where you are, but I don’t want to keep you there forever. Weight suppression under the guise of health is not health. And it’s time to stop pretending that it is and encouraging people — whether they’re eating disordered or just a regular ol’ dieter — to keep up the charade.
That’s why I’m beyond excited to bring you this week’s podcast with Harriet Brown. I read her book, Body of Truth, and had to refrain from underlining every single passage. If I were rich and had infinite time and resources, I would buy every single one of you a copy and do your work for a day so you could stay home and read it cover to cover.
Please, please, please go listen to this week’s podcast and then go out and get a copy of the book. I swear to you, it will change your life and maybe give you the permission that you need to start recovering — and discovering — your life for real.