Saturday, January 22, 2011

Quick note on fattedness.

Like most fat people, I'm not fat because I take in more calories than I burn. I'm fat because I take in the same amount of calories that I burn. A 170-pound woman with a stable weight eats only about one slice of bread more than a 120-pound woman of the same activity level with a stable weight. I'm not 170 pounds because I overeat, but because I eat, literally, exactly as much as I need to.

Whether I should start eating less than I need is a complicated question and one I go back and forth on. But it's not a matter of merely "stopping overeating."

The decision to diet is not to "eat healthy." It's the nontrivial question of whether to eat deliberately unhealthy in hopes of a long-term tradeoff.

(The terminology question of how to say I'm not the same height-weight ratio as the ladies in the magazines always drives me nuts. "Overweight" implies that there's some Platonic ideal Holly whom I'm fatter than. Things like "chubby" are evasive and imply I'm ashamed of myself. [And I'm really not "curvy." I'm built less like the Venus of Willendorf, more like a miniature linebacker.] So I go with "fat," even though I worry that it makes me sound fat-fat, headless ladies in news reports fat, when I'm not even a plus size. But getting too pointed about "hey, I'm not even a plus size!" is kinda undercutting to people who are, and aren't somehow worse than me. So, yeah, "fat.")


  1. like a miniature linebacker

    Sounds more like "stocky", than "fat".

  2. @Comrade PhysioProf:

    "stocky" was exactly the word I used in my head when thinking about Holly. And I meant that in a positive descriptor way.

    I'm very literally close hourglass for 5'2 - 36-28-35. But I feel very average, and wear a size 7 pants because I got thighs (I'm not built for women's sizes). I think "dieting" is very unhealthy. I simply try to eat correct portions without feeling limited, and try to make those foods be the ones that are better for you, but that I also enjoy. Because I LOVE food. My biggest issue I think is that I'm mostly sedentary (which I'm trying to change as of late).

  3. I used to be stocky, too. I miss being stocky.

    For me, there IS an ideal version of myself and he IS physically a lot lighter than I am. He can train by running, for instance, while I'm really stuck with ellipticals for now. He can train in BJJ without a severe disadvantage and without holding the class up. He can shop at the cheapest, most convenient clothing store, not the one that carries his size.

    But I'm a lot more overweight than you are.

  4. In terms of eating healthy or undereating (see, I do address the actual point eventually) I try to figure out a reasonable daily caloric intake for my weight goal, including my workouts, and try to stay around that number. This means that as I get closer to the goal, I have less and less room for error in what I eat every day, but I'm lucky/unlucky depending on how you look at it, in that 250 is a pretty healthy weight for me and 225 is very athletic. So even as I'm deliberately eating less than I take in, I'm not going anywhere near starvation levels and there's not even really a temptation to try that.

  5. Labeling body types is like classifying music by genre: always somewhat misleading, and generally pointless. It seems to be even worse online, because no one's expected to be honest.

  6. Sounds to me like you're "sturdy." :)

  7. I have difficulty with labeling myself fat. As best as I can figure, it's mostly just a label imposed by others. So...I'm fat if you think I am. Or for those who say you can only be fat if you wear plus sizes, then I guess I'm not fat.

    Much like beauty in general -- I'm a hideous land-whale to some, and erection-inducing goddess to others.

  8. And I'm really not "curvy." I'm built less like the Venus of Willendorf, more like a miniature linebacker.

    I hate that "curvy" has somehow become the politically correct synonym for "fat chick" (especially because, as you've noted, it doesn't even really apply to every overweight girl...I have seen plenty of miniature linebackers call themselves this, though). I used to use "curvy" as my word (I'm reasonably thin, but built like a cello - 28" waist and 44" hips). But now if I used that word (like, to describe myself to people who've never seen me) people would get a misleading impression.

    Please note that I'm not anti-fat by any means, just pro-accuracy.

    And it's absolutely true that weight loss and gain are not as simple as people want to believe. I think most people truly think that everyone could be built like a supermodel if they just had the discipline to eat less...and that's wrong on so many levels.

    Holly, perhaps your descriptive word could be...lush. :)

  9. Yesterday, I ate ice cream, a ridiculous number of rice cakes, Cheerios and about seven stuffed tomato thingies. I am built like a stick. I think I single-handedly disprove the "eat healthy to be thin" theory. :)

    I vote for 'stocky' and 'lush' as descriptive terms.

  10. I also use "stumpy", because it suggests thickness AND shortness. But curvy works for me as well. There's also "very 3-D".

  11. And I'm really not "curvy." I'm built less like the Venus of Willendorf, more like a miniature linebacker.

    I hate that "curvy" has somehow become the politically correct synonym for "fat chick".

    I totally agree with this. And I hate that it seems to be reflected not just in general mindset, but also in clothing options- I'm straight size, but cannot find tops to fit my (lack of) chest!

    One other thing I hate about the label 'curvy' is that it's just so patronising! Anyone who uses it just sounds ridiculous.

    ...It's still better than 'fluffy' though.


  12. I am fluffy, ever since I stopped straightening my hair, but in a totally different sense.

    I also know girls who will describe their farts as "I made a fluffy."

  13. I also know girls who will describe their farts as "I made a fluffy.

    ...Seriously? Ew.

    I describe mine as "I totally win at chemical warfare."

  14. The thoughtful and nuanced way you write about things in this blog is so refreshing. That entire last paragraph on how you describe yourself is incredibly honest and enlightening; as a person who also doesn't quite know how to describe my physical self, you've given me some food for thought.

  15. I am sometimes, depending on the clothes manufacturer, plus-sized. And I am thin! I'm just tall, so I'm broad, too.

    - Anna

  16. I -as a so-called overweight woman- dislike discussions about how to call a person's body shape, if it is chubby or sturdy or stocky... It's kind of objectifying to start comparing how fat someone is and the undertone of "it's not that bad, it's not like you're fat or something" leads to some kind of body competition and eventually people are fighting against their bodies in order to win the comparing competitions.

    Sorry, I just wouldn't like to hear some of the comments here if they were about my body.

  17. Anon @ 9:51-- I generally like this sort of terminology discussion, partially because I love words, and partially because it gives me the ability to describe the body type I like with more accuracy than "hand gesture hand gesture you know THING."

    I certainly didn't intend to make anyone dislike their bodies. In fact, I will say this right now: whatever you look like, as long as you're happy with your body, I approve of it. And will proceed to get into a discussion about the proper words to describe it. :)

  18. Thanks Holly - I had never exactly appreciated how much difference in weight could result from eating just a little more. You also confirm my concern that dieting could lead to not getting the nutrients one needs.

    I won't enter the body shape description debate...everyone is lovely and gorgeous!

    I agree you need to eat a certain amount of food to meet your nutrient intake needs. By necessity this includes calories and perhaps calories above what you need to maintain your target weight. The calories simply come with the other stuff.

    One solution is to eat more nutrient dense food - perhaps wholefoods, perhaps better grown foods (anyone have anymore ideas?). For example, whole grain sour dough bread may contain more nutrients than the equivalent weight processed flour bread and you feel full when you eat less. Some more ideas - brown rice instead of white rice, oatmeal porridge instead of sugar-based processed cereal .... you'd need to study this I think.

    It's not only the food that you need to consider -- its also the person that digests the food - as another commenter pointed out. Some people are very efficient processors of food while others may have compromised digestive systems. If you are compulsively eating and never feeling satisfied but putting on unwanted weight, I suggest seeing your doctor. I could control my eating and therefore my weight after I gave up eating gluten. It took 6 weeks before my gut repaired itself and now I eat 50% of what I ate before. :-) Another person had a nutrient deficiency and his appetite decreased after he corrected that.

  19. The main reason I don't diet is the hardness of maintaining weight loss in the long term, a lot of my problem is tied up in being curvy and genderqueer, so that my curves/my chest end up bothering me. I would prefer I didn't fill out pants the way I do.

  20. Dear Cheshire - it took me years of failed diets and strategies to find out why I was putting on unwanted weight and it all went on my hips and legs. Keep trying to find out why you are heavier than you would like and fix the problem. That said, some people are just sooooo thrifty with their food that they could eat the packets and remain overweight. I have such a friend - he's tall and large boned and eats much less than me and all really good food, yet is carrying maybe 40 lbs too much. There is just no solution in his case.

  21. Candice - I agree you need to eat a certain amount of food to meet your nutrient intake needs. By necessity this includes calories and perhaps calories above what you need to maintain your target weight. The calories simply come with the other stuff.

    Not quite. Calories are part of my food needs. Even if I could get all my vitamin/mineral/amino acid/fatty acid needs met in 100 calories, I still couldn't live on that. Energy isn't an unfortunate side effect of food, it's what people live on.

    I can pull some energy out of my fat gut, of course, but not enough to be happy and healthy or even safe. Even on a weight-loss diet, getting enough calories is still an extremely legitimate need.

  22. It's worth noting that the human body is incredibly good at maintaining its weight at whatever level it picks, regardless of what your conscious mind wants. It feels like we just sort of eat whatever we want, but as Holly pointed out, to gain (or lose) a pound of fat in a year requires a change of less than 10 calories per day. The majority of the population 1) have a fairly stable weight, and 2) do not count individual calories with that level of accuracy. Lesson: Your BODY does count calories at that level, and enforces a maintenance level of calories with an iron grip. There are clearly some enormously strong feedback loops in our metabolisms.

    Most diet mistakes, in turn, stem from trying to crudely fight our bodies. A normal, sedentary woman needs 2000 calories to break even. Cut down to 1900, take an extra 30m walk every day, and she'll lose around 0.4 pounds per week, mostly of fat, for the indefinite future. Cut down to 1000, and your body goes into starvation mode, you'll lose weight (mostly muscle) for a while until you either starve to death or give up, gain it all back twice as fast, ending up heavier than when you started, with more fat, less muscle, undernourished, and maybe with some fun metabolic issues. Yay? :(

  23. Candice, just a thought: if your friend eats healthfully and is naturally "thrifty" as you say, then perhaps those 40 lbs aren't "extra," but rather the weight at which his body is most comfortable.

    Cody, your second paragraph is correct in theory, but neither human bodies nor calories are quite as simple as we all seem to think they are. Many people who have lost weight slowly also gain the weight back, either because the diet was unmaintainable in the long run or because their bodies rebelled and recalibrated the individual's metabolism.

    Holly, I struggle with how to describe my body - which I generally try to avoid doing because it seems so shallow and superficial. I am genuinely curvy, I could call myself fat if I wanted (my BMI is over 30), but, like you, I don't wear plus sizes (for the most part - my boobs are on the line, though). I don't have the same reservations about the word "chubby," though.

  24. Food allergies are probably very common and probably contribute to our issue of losing weight. Metabolisms are so varied, as well. I think with the addition of grains to our diet (which was unnecessary back IN CAVEMAN TIMES, no?), our bodies appear to have freaked out.

    Another thing I forgot to add earlier is that I look at healthier diets than our own (such as the Japanese) and try to emulate how they eat - I have a couple Japanese bento (lunch) boxes, because they are made for specific mL intake, and I can estimate how much I'm consuming. It's also fun to maximize all the spaces, because they are made for you to put food that will be good for you AND keep you full for longer, without eating too much.

    As for the word "curvy," I must've missed the memo on that ALWAYS meaning fat. Because whenever I hear curvy, my mind immediately draws a sketch of hips and breasts, which I feel are inbetween "fat" and "thin," nothing more. I find the word sexy, and women who describe themselves as curvy should feel sexy. As should women who are NOT curvy, because they're hot too.

  25. Lisette: Agreed, and I was simplifying a fair bit there. My point is that a small permanent lifestyle changes is likely to lead to slow, incremental, yet sustainable progress. If you can spend a year eating healthily at a small calorie deficit, you 1) will likely not undergo major changes to your metabolism, 2) will experience significant gains, and 3) will likely keep those gains in years 2-5 because you keep the lifestyle change.

    By contrast, a fad diet will typically have you doing something crazy (like eating 800 calories a day or something) for a short period of time. This will cause major changes to your metabolism (meaning your body adapts so it literally cannot keep working), and while you will see major gains for the duration of the diet the process isn't physically possible to sustain. Humans, by and large, simply cannot sustainably starve themselves down to a weight significantly below their "set point".

    So, yes. You're quite right that lots of people who lose weight do gain it back, often because they find themselves in a losing fight with their own metabolism. But there are ways to try and avoid that.

  26. >>The decision to diet is not to "eat healthy." It's the nontrivial question of whether to eat deliberately unhealthy in hopes of a long-term tradeoff.<<

    LOVE this succinct phrasing, thank you!

    (And the term "overweight" tends to lead me to quote the alien from "The Simpsons" -- "You look great! Have you decreased in mass?")

    Being curvy and lactose-intolerant, I sometimes try to think of a tactful way to include in these discussions the fact that all calories-in are not equal. If I eat or drink something and it, um, rushes for the exit, I don't think I am getting every little calorie out of it....


  27. Holly wrote... "Whether I should start eating less than I need is a complicated question and one I go back and forth on. But it's not a matter of merely "stopping overeating."

    The decision to diet is not to "eat healthy." It's the nontrivial question of whether to eat deliberately unhealthy in hopes of a long-term tradeoff."

    This is apologism for your own bad habits. There are definitions for what healthy eating is and the state of being overweight. Here they are.

    "eating healthy" is difficult to define exactly and varies depending on who you are and what you do. However, eating foods that are high protein, high fiber, low fat & sugar, usually organic most of the time can be called healthy eating without too much fuss. Whole foods are almost always healthy ones to eat.

    It's usually obvious though if you're given different choices, like whole wheat vs. white bread, beer nuts vs. raw nuts....

    "overweight" means "above natural weight range". The fattie apologism is that people have a natural weight range, which is true, but then they're perverting the argument to support their unhealthy weight range, which, because it is unhealthy, is not natural.

    I'm not sure what part of this is a "difficult question" or has anything to do with taking in exactly as many calories as you expend...

    and what's the "long-term tradeoff" you're referencing? If it's weight loss gained through crash dieting, the result will be less than long-term.

  28. How is eating an amount where I neither gain nor lose weight a "bad habit"? I can eat whole foods that are high in protein and fiber and whatnot, and if I eat enough of them to not feel hungry or tired, I will neither gain nor lose weight.

    I don't think I can get above my natural weight range. You know, definitionally. Anything I can weigh is my natural range. 500 pounds is natural--wouldn't fit well with my lifestyle--but it's not like the other 350 pounds would be made out of space-age synthetic materials.

    "Overweight" is a subjective thing--yes, one sometimes correlated with health, but not something specifically defined by anything in nature.

  29. I have such mixed feelings about body size and weight loss. On the one hand, the bigotry and stigma suffered by fat people are cruel and unacceptable. On the other hand, we haven't evolved skeletons suitable for carrying around very large amounts of flesh and as a matter of plain old physics it's easier on the joints to weigh less.

    I lost about 60 pounds six years ago and another 10 or so pounds last year. My knees are crapped out owing to a youthful injury but they hurt so much less when I took weight off them. My foot pain evaporated. I move more easily. I tolerate heat much more easily. And I wasn't an "unhealthy" fat person -- I walked miles every day and ate reasonably well.

    People in the developed world, Americans especially, really are much more sedentary than we used to be; we really do consume more processed, nutrient-dense foods than we used to; we really do have a culture of immense portion sizes that distorts our perceptions of how much food is "enough."

    I would like to find some way of talking about this that doesn't punish fat people for a system they / we didn't make. I was bullied almost every day of my childhood for being fat, so I know from experience how stupid and damaging contempt for fat people is. At the same time I think most very fat people would find they felt better, physically, if they were carrying around less weight.

  30. I know this discussion is long over, but I've been lurking on your blog awhile and just came across it - I love your writing, and thought maybe I could share my experience here and maybe help someone out. My Mom was fat for a long time (not nice-curvy fat, clinically obese bad-for-your-heart fat) and pre-diabetic, and in my experience with her, counting calories just did not work. She could eat the exact same thing (or less!) as everyone else and she'd gain weight while they didn't. The pervasive idea that fat people are greedy and just eat more than everyone else is something that makes me really angry. Something about my Mom's body meant she just responded really badly to sugary, starchy foods - white bread, potatoes, white rice - and eating them made her put on weight. Then last year she read Gary Taubes' book, 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' and stopped trying to starve herself and instead adopted an Atkins type diet that cut out all the starchy, carby things she reacted to badly. It sounds like your commenter Candice had a similar approach - cutting out gluten cuts out a lot of those kinds of carbohydrate-y foods, that some people don't react well to. Well, anyway, my Mom's down to a very healthy weight now, and didn't have trouble sticking to the 'diet' because it didn't involve the starvation methods she'd tried before (with all the problems of feeling dizzy, being unable to concentrate, and ultimately being unsustainable because she'd gain the weight straight back). My brother's been having some success with this method, too. This approach of cutting out carbohydrate-heavy foods probably doesn't work for everyone, but for my family it's been amazing. Here's a link to the book, if anyone's interested:

    Anyway, thanks for all the lovely posts and keep blogging please :) You've taught me a lot about making sex fun!

  31. Replies
    1. I'll go paleo while I'm Crossfitting with my Bitcoins because Ron Paul.