A Plea for Détente in the War on Obesity

A Plea for Détente in the War on Obesity


We’re fat, right? As a society, I mean. It’s in the news, on the radio, in our Facebook feeds: More people than not are defined as medically obese. It’s an epidemic, we’re told – a sickness
and a danger, like terrorism, almost. And worse, they say it’s spreading. This fear of fat – of being fat, of getting
fat, of being around others who are fat – is fueling a War on Fat, an endless war. But is war really what we want? Will it solve our problems, even if it’s
winnable? And what about the collateral damage? I’m Dr. Linda Bacon. And for years, I waged my own war against
my own fat. I worried I was too fat. I dieted. Then I dieted again. And I did this over and over and over. And you know what? Though I successfully lost weight many times,
I really lost out in that war on fat. Because even for those rare individuals who
actually maintain weight loss in the long run, fighting your body and its desires and
all the bad feelings that engenders, never goes away when you believe in the need for
war. I would have forever been a victim to that
war – if not for one important thing. I finally realized that, instead of waging
war, there is a more peaceful way to treat our bodies. There is a way to win. And that’s by respecting our bodies, not
waging war on them. With three graduate degrees in fields within
weight science, there aren’t many people in the world more academically educated than
I am. I have conducted research in weight science,
and published in top journals. I also have clinical experience in several
fields, working with people struggling with weight concerns. Now, I devote my life to helping people all
over the world understand and embrace what mainstream medical science has refused to,
and that’s to consider a new model for becoming and helping others become our healthiest and
best selves. To talk less about weight, and more about
respect. “But we can’t just give up!” I can hear you thinking it now. You worry about chubby children, maybe. Or a heavy loved one. Or about yourself. Maybe you find fat unattractive — it wouldn’t
surprise me, given how our culture shames round bodies and idolizes thin ones. Maybe you agree with others that larger people
could just eat less, or run more, or make better choices, to solve this obesity problem. I want to ask you to put those notions on
hold while you take a moment now to think about a real person who struggles with weight. It could be a friend, a child or spouse, a
patient. Perhaps it’s you. Consider the emotions that go with that, the
belief that “There’s something wrong with my body. My body is a sign of failure.” Think about the frustration this causes. The disappointment. The pain. OK, I’m getting a little touch-feely, I
know – probably the kind of thing more common here in Berkeley, California, than where others
live. But it’s connecting with those emotions
– the real feelings of shame and pain the War on Fat bombards us with – that can help
us see that we need a new approach, a détente in this endless war. Those of us who aren’t fat may live in fear
of getting that way. And for those of us who are, well, it can
be exhausting, demoralizing, and also expensive, to keep fighting and fighting and gaining
no ground. I call on all good people to think about it. To consider what we are saying with even our
best-intentioned and most caring messages in our obesity prevention/treatment attempts. That what we are really telling people – most
people – is that “we want to make sure no one looks like you.” Maybe you know someone like the teenager I
met when I was speaking at her school. “Do they really think that’s going to
motivate me?” she asked me about the obesity prevention posters. There were tears on her cheeks. “The only result I’ve seen is that I’ve
been called ‘fatso’ more this month than ever.” Even if you are convinced that weight loss
is a good thing, is it happening? And meanwhile the pursuit of weight loss is
taking a heavy toll. The harsh judgments and assumptions come in
so many forms – from government anti-obesity campaigns to the Biggest Loser. And they rain down from so many trusted sources:
dietitians, politicians, doctors, therapists, coaches… Children hear it from the teachers they look
up to and even the parents who love them. All are sending the same damning message:
Fat is ugly. Fat is sickly. Fat is deadly. Fortunately, fat itself is nowhere near the
health concern so many take it for. In fact, there are much better ways to solve
all the problems we blame on fat, which I talk more about in another video. But for now, if we want to help others and
ourselves, fat or thin, it’s time to stop warring with our bodies. It’s time to shift our thinking – and
our priorities – from worrying about body weight to cultivating body respect. We need to embrace a new attitude about healthcare
and bodies, one that validates and respects everyone, and supports us all in loving and
caring for ourselves and others. We need to end the war on weight, make peace
with our bodies and put health – and caring – back at the heart of health care.

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