Listen up! The Diet Industry, self-help gurus and self righteous skinny bitches need to stop telling fat people that they need to eat less! It is cruel, ignorant and spectacularly unhelpful!
Now I realize I have just uttered diet blasphemy. But before you try me as a heretic and burn me at the stake, please hear me out. I think I can make my case.
Here’s what I know as a soon-to-be-formerly fat person. For most of my life I have been really, really hungry. Anyone who saw how fat I was and knew what I used to eat on a daily basis would wonder how this is possible. But trust me, it is. And I don’t think I am the only one. Our kind are real and we walk among you! I was hungry (or starving, more accurately) for the simple reason that I was eating the wrong “food” – and a lot of it! “Food” that was high in calories, low in nutrition and deliberately engineered to make me keep eating without ever addressing my hunger. It would make a great plot for a horror movie: the more I ate the hungrier, and the fatter, I got! I was suffering from something I have affectionately named “unnatural zombie hunger.”
Fat people are often encouraged to do a great deal of introspection, hand wringing and soul searching to answer the obnoxious question of some well meaning personal trainer, therapist or parent who looks them in the eye and gravely asks “why are you so fat?” This line of questioning usually ends with a tearful confession about some childhood trauma with the interrogator nodding in sympathy and self satisfaction at their ability to get to “the heart of the problem.” Well I have asked that question of myself and finally found an answer that makes perfect sense to me. No, it isn’t because I have poor self-esteem, am seeking my father’s approval or didn’t get cuddled enough as a baby. It is also not because I am lazy, have no impulse control or just “f’ing love cake” as Ricky Gervais so eloquently puts it. I am fat because I was hungry, plain and simple! Now I realize that this answer is not sensational enough to get me a spot on a reality TV show, but it is one of the greatest insights of my life and the first huge step in my recovery!
Hunger is a basic human drive, like thirst, sex, or breathing! It is a necessary component of our biology without which we would not survive. However, we can seriously mess with hunger and turn it into a monster that controls our every waking moment. Simply put, we do this by not eating the right food in a timely manner and then eating way too much of the wrong food. The big problem for me is that I had no idea that my hunger wasn’t the normal healthy kind, it was the diabolical make-you-fat-and-kill-you kind! I experienced hunger as an intense physical pain in my gut so extreme that I needed to eat with the same urgency as one might feel when needing to empty a bursting bladder! I classed it as the same level of emergency as needing to take a pain killer for a migraine headache! For me being hungry meant: eat as much as you can, as fast as you can and eat foods containing as many calories per bite as possible! And I had no idea that this was not normal. In that state I was eating purely to alleviate physical pain, not for pleasure and most certainly not for nourishment! All I knew was the word for “hunger,” and my physical experience of it. I didn’t realize that this was not how everyone experienced hunger. I just thought that skinny people had ironclad will power that allowed them to live in perpetual agony without giving in to the drive to overeat the way I did on a regular basis.
This blog will explore the question of why I was so hungry and what I am doing about it in greater detail. But here’s a sneak preview: all my previous attempts at dieting and weight loss were epic failures because they were founded on an attempt to “eat less.” The problem is that eating less is a really dumb idea if you are starving! Of course I didn’t know I was starving and nor did anyone around me, because I was a great big fat person. But now that I know what the problem is, I know exactly what to do about it. I have started eating more! Or, more accurately, I have started eating real food and stopped eating drugs masquerading as food. “Real food” meaning whole, unprocessed, nutritious food that my body recognizes and knows what to do with. Result: I am no longer hungry, I don’t have cravings and although the volume of food I take in has increased, without really trying my calorie consumption has dramatically decreased.
So yes, I am mad at anyone who simplistically tells fat people to just “eat less” because I feel that this only aggravates the problem. This doesn’t mean that excess calorie consumption, especially the wrong kind of calories, isn’t a serious issue that inevitably results in weight gain, among other things. But this problem is, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, solved by first getting a hungry person to eat more of the right foods until they no longer suffer from “unnatural zombie hunger.”
Not everyone oversimplifies the problem of course, and there are many very insightful, caring professionals who provide excellent advice. I appreciate the insights of Michael Pollan, for example, who sums it up beautifully and simply with the often quoted: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” My contention is simply that we first need to stress that people should eat a diverse plant-based, whole foods diet (as opposed to fake “food” products), and then the “not too much” will follow as a matter of course.
So I say again – stop telling fat people to eat less! Doesn’t the statistic that 90% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back make anyone realize that this advice is completely useless? Having said this, fat people like myself are not victims and we can and must take personal responsibility for our health. For me the best way to do this is not to “go on a diet” but to eat more delicious healthy food, thereby crowding junk food out of my diet, and gently, kindly and sustainably shedding unwanted weight in the process!