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Fat Fox – Get Thin or Die Trying: You Know, For Your Health!

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*Today’s post is written by guest blogger Fat Fox.*

I have been thinking a lot lately about how fat stigma and fat shame is often linked to concerns for people’s health. This is a very intimate topic for me because I am a fat person with a chronic illness. Returning readers will be familiar with my previous posts about Fat and Fibromyalgia. Today, however, I want to talk specifically about the negative impact that our fat-hating culture has on my ability to take care of my health. This negative impact seems oh-so-contrary to its often referenced concern for ‘health’.

Let me first start with a definition for one of the conditions that I have, which is Fibromyalgia:
According to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain association, fibromyalgia is:
“A central nervous system illness that is characterized by chronic widespread pain, multiple tender points, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and can be accompanied by psychological distress that comes with all chronic illness. For those with severe symptoms, fibromyalgia can be extremely debilitating and interfere with basic daily activities”.

I was fat before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I often am asked whether my fat affects my Fibromyalgia. I always give the same response: no. Despite the fact that I am 5 foot 9 inches tall and weigh 370lbs, without fibromyalgia I am an active, happy, and energetic fatty. This is still evidenced by the fact that when my pain is sufficiently medicated, I can still participate in most activities enjoyed by people half my size.

However, Fibromyalgia pain is difficult to treat. Despite the use of opiates, I still average 6 or 7 out of a 1-10 pain scale most days. Daily pain is exhausting. It makes sleeping difficult. Most days, a shower is a difficult feat to manage that requires several hours of recuperation afterward. Going to the grocery store requires at least a day to recover.

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with fat shame, and that is the point I’d like to get to. The difficulties that I have with fibromyalgia often manifest as stereotypically fat behavior. I walk slowly, I need frequent breaks, and I am exhausted by very little activity. Sometimes brushing my teeth results in a searing, burning pain in my shoulder that reminds me of the muscle fatigue one gets when lifting weights.

When I go to the Fibromyalgia message boards, the Mayo Clinic website, or any other place where I should be able to get help and find comfort, I am inevitably met with weight loss discussion. This baffles me. We are dealing with a central nervous system issue. Yet, many people feel that fibromyalgia can be helped by weight loss. Even doctors! The idea behind this is that you won’t hurt as much if you don’t have as much mass to haul around.

There is much discussion about what to eat, what not to eat, how to work out, etc etc. This can be an extremely daunting concept when you are in a physical position where lifting your arm to wash your hair or brush your teeth results in exhaustion and agony.
So how does this affect my ability to take care of myself? The constant drumming of weight loss, and diet, and exercise completely ignores my reality. I think to myself – “well, if they got better because they lost 15 lbs, maybe that means I would?”  Or when the voice creeps into your head that tells you that Fibromyalgia is made up and it’s just an excuse to be a fat lazy ass. I end up lying in bed at night thinking “what if I’m really not sick. What if I am just really out of shape?” This question is inevitably followed by the reminder that I have brushed my teeth religiously 3 times a day since I was 11 and got braces. Exactly when did my tooth-brushing muscles atrophy from lack of use?

And there, my friends, is the crazy making bit. Even when a person is acknowledged to have a syndrome that causes unrelenting pain and affects the central nervous system, they are still encouraged and cajoled about weight loss. Weight loss is the answer! It’s the panacea! It’s the key! This is extolled by both doctor and patient alike. Fibromyalgia is not a uniform disease. It does affect people differently. There are people within the FMS range who do benefit from exercise. There are those of us also, who are completely intolerant to exercise. However, this last category is hardly ever spoken of. After all, we don’t want people getting the idea that they don’t need to exercise!! Amiright?!

It is difficult to live in a culture that is obsessed with weight loss when you inhabit a body that visibly represents everything that is found to be abhorrent. It is difficult to come up with ways to take care of yourself, when there is a never ending chorus of voices saying that your fat ass is the only problem. I find that when I get enough pain medication, and I feel a little more ‘normal’, my first thought is always that I just need to pull up my boot straps and show no mercy! Lose that weight and get that body in shape. That I’m a weak, fat, lazy bum who is just out of shape from sitting on my ass. These thoughts are reinforced by the anti-fat rhetoric that is all around us, day in and day out.

That is how anti-fat rhetoric is damaging to my health. It is crazy making. It seeps into my brain and tells me lies about my body. How can I be convinced to be gentle, to take care of myself, to move in ways that are good for me, when the messages around me are that my body is a direct display of my failure? The assumption that my Fibromyalgia is BECAUSE I am fat, not that perhaps, I got a bit fatter (I started out fat) because of the limitations of my Fibromyalgia. There is a constant flow of messages to do things that are hurtful to me, in the name of ‘health’. I am told that if I treat myself with care and tenderness that I am hurting myself. I am making myself worse. I will die from my fat unless I go for a scorched earth regimen to rid myself of it. How can that possibly be ‘good for my health’?

About Fat Additives

Fat activist.

12 responses »

  1. Just stumbled across your blog and this post almost made me cry. I’m about 3 inches shorter & maybe 20 lbs lighter than you. Until about mid-last year, I was active & extremely mobile. In fact, I rode my exercise bike 10 miles a day at a fast clip. But then came 2 autoimmune disorders, including fibro. Some days, I’m barely able to walk the length of the hallway without resting.

    I’ve had long discussions (full of tears!) with mom, who is convinced that if my sister and I both lost weight we’d feel better. Sis is in same situation as me, only with fibro & osteoarthritis. She used to work out 4-5 days a week, doing pilates, water aerobics and weights. Both of use were strong, mobile, agile people.

    Trying to explain to people who care about you that losing will will do diddly squat for the fibro is so tough. I hear it from friends at work, from family. I see it in people’s expressions when I struggle to walk.

    I am lucky that in the past couple of weeks, the fibro seems to have calmed down a bit and I’m not screaming with pain.

    Thanks for your blog post & I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Friday Links, 12/7/12 « Tutus And Tiny Hats

  3. Wow!!!! That was my first reaction when I read this post!!!!!! My cousin found you, and forwarded it to me. I swear that this could have been written by me! I am even almost the same exact size as you!!!! Every word you wrote was 100% correct. I went through the same thing, and Lord knows I still do. I have said many many times that it has greatly affected my health, and treatments due to the ignorance among everyone! A dear friend of mine who has been a registered nurse for many years once answered my question to her as to whether or not there is a fat discrimination among the entire medical field. Her reply ” you are not making it up. I think that medical people, nurses and doctors alike, are often very narrow in their thinking, label quickly, and slow to consider a different perspective, and of course, they are like lawyers, they never get the wrong man convicted.” She, just like you, make me feel better, because sometimes you feel so damn alone in this fight. I shall be a huge fan of yours, as I can so relate to you!!!! May you enjoy a wonderful day, and feel better!!!!

    Brenda

    Reply
    • Wow! Brenda, Thank you for that powerful comment! My sincere hope when writing this blog was that people like me (and you) could hear a different side of the conversation. The side where we are doing our best, and struggling to take care of ourselves like all human beings. Instead of being fat people who are failing at being thin and therefore are being punished with poor health. It encourages me greatly to know that you could relate to what I wrote. Thank you for taking the time to share you experience and the wisdom you got from your RN friend as well. I think it is important for people to listen to those of us who are LIVING this experience, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have people with authority (Doctors and RNs) backing us up.

      If you’d like to keep up with some of my other musings on fat & fibromyalgia you can follow me on twitter: @TheActualFatFox and you are more than welcome to contact me directly through twitter if you would like to talk more one on one. I think having ‘spoonies’ who have similar experiences is vital to helping us advocate for our own health and well being.

      Reply
  4. preach. i’m 30, weigh around 380 at last check (the highest in my life), and i have lupus and fibromyalgia. the lupus almost killed me (i went from 340 to 280 in two months), and as i’ve gotten healthier, my weight went back up. it didn’t really bother me because it meant i was healing and recovering.

    then i went on lyrica. 40 pounds later… i find myself in a horrible place between wanting to exercise because i feel good when i move and balancing the pain. then i think maybe just dieting will help, but i KNOW that diets don’t work. i haven’t been able to make any decisions about ANYTHING because my brain is stuck in crazymaking mode, and i don’t know how to make it stop.

    all i want to do is feel better. and honestly, i’d like to loose a wee bit of weight so my clothes will fit again. so i am paradoxed. (i like making nouns into verbs.)

    Reply
    • Thank you for coming to share your story. This is precisely the type of situation I was trying to describe. You are dealing with a disease that, as you said, “nearly killed you”. That is just about the most severe health consequence one can have.. And yet – because of the messages we get from our culture, our brain automatically leaps to “maybe dieting would help?”

      I think part of this is because we feel out of control. Lupus and Fibromyalgia are notoriously difficult disease/syndromes to manage. I don’t have Lupus, but with Fibromyalgia I know that there are hardly any options for treatment (other than the wrong headed diet/exercise) and any medication given is usually met with violent side effects. We fribromites are finicky creatures no? :) Having said that, our culture constantly tells us that food = control. We are in charge of our health. If we get our food/weight in control we will be the most proactive, healthy person ever! But this isn’t reality. And we know it’s not reality, but the compulsion is there. Because the act of dieting gives us a few moments of reprieve from the crushing insecurity that:

      1) this might kill us
      2) i’m in a fuckton of pain and I have no solutions
      3) there is no immediate end in sight

      You are correct, diets don’t work, and there is a good chance that if you do try to diet to fit into your clothes, you will later find yourself fatter than ever. This is what I remind myself. My weight has been relatively stable at 375 lbs when I quit dieting. Every loss I had was followed by gain. If I choose to diet, one of the consequences is likely to be a weight gain.

      I know what it feels like to have your brain stuck in that crazy making mode. I found you on Twitter – you are welcome to send me a DM if you would like to speak more privately about it since we seem to be paddling in a very similar boat.

      #spoonie hugs.

      Reply
  5. PS…I almost forget, in reference to the twitter posts on the side, I LOVE “How to Train Your Dragon” & also love the Cartoon Network series on Wednesday nights, but then, I am a dragon-loving fantasy geek.

    Reply
    • Patsy,

      You are the best blog reader a blogger could ever hope for. I always look forward to your comments. Thank you for sharing some of your experience as well. Community and support is essential when dealing with chronic illness and especially chronic pain. This is something that I am learning how to create and balance. Like most creatures in pain, I tend to slink off to be alone when I feel the worst. But I’m learning how to stay connected in ways that feel nurturing and supportive. Reading your wonderful descriptions about Maine always make me feel connected. Like, “Hey, there’s this Lady across the country who cares about what I think and takes the time to talk to me. Damn. That’s pretty special!” #spoonie hugs!

      Reply
  6. I send hugs & positive thoughts to you, Fat Fox. I am sorry that you go through this. I am fat, disabled, 63 years old, but here in Maine, it appears that most of the time, fat people are not as publicly abused as they are in many places. Or perhaps I get luckier because I have had cerebral palsy since birth & it is hard for any but the most intelligence challenged to assume that my disability is caused by my fat. Also, I have always been very active, often compulsively so, we do not have a car, neither of us has a license, so my husband & I are seen walking everywhere, for both exercise & transportation. I have read many places around the fatosphere about fat people being hassled, ridiculed, on the streets while they are walking, but that usually doesn’t happen to me. I live in a small city & a lot of the same people see me day after day, so I suppose it gets a little ridiculous even to most fat bigots to yell at a fat person to get some damn exercise if she is walking every time you see her.

    We have a lot of fat people in Maine, but not many fat activists, & the few that there are are so spread out that it is hard to form a good support system & community. The powers that be do try occasionally to go after us with their oh so important PSAs about how “Maine has a weight problem but we can do something about it”, but they tend to fade quickly when they are ignored by most stubborn, independent Mainers, particularly those of us who are older. There is plenty of fat hatred here, plenty of self-hating people, & we do have diet companies & gyms which stay in business, but many of us, even those not actively into fat acceptance, tend to be more concerned with the business of living, of keeping a roof over our heads & food on the table in a difficult economy, & I meet many who are not aware of fat acceptance or even aware of real research which shows that weight is mostly genetic & that fat is not a killer disease who nonetheless in their daily lives have a matter-of-fact acceptance of “this is me, this is my body, I have always been fat, every attempt to get thin has made me fatter, & life is too short to spend it denying myself some of life’s greatest pleasures” so they live full & rewarding lives in a fat body despite a culture which constantly screams at them that they cannot do this & have no right to do this. I am a step ahead of them because I DO know better than to believe the lies & I CAN yell back “you are full of shit, nothing of what you say is true!” if I choose to do so.

    With increasing age comes increasing chronic pain all over my body, sudden pain which comes & goes with no explanation, arthritis in all my major joints, greater fatigue, frequent nights of insufficient sleep, etc. I cannot say that I KNOW what you experience, Fat Fox, but I do have some idea. I have always had physical limitations, things I cannot do or only do with great difficulty & that increases with age, to the point where I use a walker now when I walk because my always uncertain balance can’t be trusted at all. I am sorry that you live with such pain & that you encounter so much ignorance & fat hatred in your search for community & support. It isn’t easy to feel alone & to feel as yours is the only sane voice trying to be heard over a cacophony of psychotic screaming of the same old lies & the same old unquestioning acceptance of bad science & NO science based in nothing but fat hatred. I hope that at least here you can find some community & support that you need. Take care.

    Reply
  7. That was something I forgot to address – this weight based stigma also brings about a very long delay in getting a diagnosis. It took me nearly 11 years to get diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.

    I am glad to hear that you have found a doctor who is willing to work with you. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I think it is powerful to hear a new chorus of voices standing up to say “look, this is hurting us!” I wish you luck on your journey.

    Reply
  8. I get this all the time – I have an as yet undiagnosed chronic pain condition (have been going through the rigmarole of testing that rules out everything else), and have done so for the last 18 months. The first doctor I saw told me that the persistent level 8/10 pain I had was because I was overweight, and rather than paying attention to the symptoms I presented with, she told me to lose weight. Fortunately, I have now changed doctors and am seeing someone who is proactive in my treatment/investigation.

    Reply

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