Culture

Don't call it a diet

Published 8.12.2017
The word dieting has fallen out of fashion— even as people still want to lose weight. Is this as a result of Health at Every Size (HAES)? Now it’s all about “getting fit” or “getting strong”. Wellness is the goal. Funnily enough though, for most people that still means losing a few pounds.

However, in the face of this cultural shift, Weight Watchers is trying to rebrand itself.

Weight Watchers saw all this happening and concluded that people didn’t have faith in diets. The company decided that what it offered was not a diet program but a lifestyle program. It was a behavior-modification program. (For the sake of expediency here, I will call its program a diet because it prescribes amounts of food.) When Deb Benovitz returned from her travels with news of dieting’s new language changes, the company realized that something had to change more than its marketing approach.

Oprah (surely no last name is necessary for the reader to know who I mean) apparently helped WW (which is how they’re rebranding) decide to make the change. Eventually the author gets to the Fat Power and HAES movements. Bacon gets a mention. But what has fat activism accomplished?

In other words, all this activism didn’t make the world more comfortable with fat people or dieting. Society doesn’t normally change the words for things unless we’re fundamentally uncomfortable with the concepts beneath them. Consider the verbal game of chicken we’ve played with the people all this affects: Fat people went from being called fat (which is mean) to being called overweight (a polite-seeming euphemism that either accidentally or not accidentally implies that there is a standard weight) to being called zaftig/chubby/pleasingly plump (just don’t) to curvy (which seems to imbue size with a sexuality and optimism where it should just be sexually and emotionally neutral) and back to fat (because it’s only your judgment of fat people that made it a bad word in the first place, and maybe being fat isn’t as bad as we’ve been made to believe). It bears mentioning that Weight Watchers doesn’t have a standardized word for its demographic, but Foster uses the term ‘‘people with overweight.’’

And the Kevin Hall Biggest Loser study gets touted too. I’ve written about this study before. You’d have to work a bit to derive a more extreme weight loss experience than what that show put its contestants through. I just don’t believe damage caused by that experience has wider application. That’s my opinion, worth every penny you paid to read it.

Oprah is not on board with fat acceptance, because (no surprise) the women is no fool and recognizes that weight affects health. Oprah isn’t looking to be a twig, but she does want to be healthy as she ages.

But this thing about acceptance? Why couldn’t accepting herself mean not accepting her weight? Why wasn’t it an act of love to use any available means to avoid her genetic predisposition to diabetes? Sure, she could have abandoned her efforts. She could have gone hard on acceptance. A million people would have bought ‘‘Oprah’s Guide to Body Acceptance.’’ But she couldn’t get there. ‘‘For your heart to pump, pump, pump, pump, it needs the least amount of weight possible to do that,’’ she said. “So all of the people who are saying, ‘Oh, I need to accept myself as I am’ — I can’t accept myself if I’m over 200 pounds, because it’s too much work on my heart. It causes high blood pressure for me. It puts me at risk for diabetes, because I have diabetes in my family.’’

I’m all for loving the body you have at whatever the size it is. But the harsh reality is that all cells in the body affect its overall health, and adipose (in other words fat) cells are no different. It is not true that fat has no affect on health. To assert that, one must ignore both reams of academic research and everyday experiences of the human race.

So don’t call it a diet— get fit, get strong, be well— but don’t delude yourself that weight never matters. The body compensates for any abuse you give it— until it cannot. Whether it’s excess weight, excess alcohol consumption or repetitive head trauma (American football), a healthy human body can absorb impressive amounts of abuse, particularly when that body is young. Time only move in one direction, and when the body is push beyond its limit (beyond what it can compensate for) the consequences can be dire.