One of the things that really, really frustrates me when talking to a lot of really intelligent people is the idea that the body cannot be healthy unless the mind is healthy and vice versa. Because there are no numbers in the world that will convince these people that fat itself is not a sign of unhealth.

These are often the same people who believe you “owe” it to those who love you to be as healthy as possible – but health in this context is defined as the health of the body. The obvious and erroneous assumption is that a healthy body automatically houses a healthy mind.

I don’t know how to explain to people that, when I am dieting and living towards weight loss as a goal, my mind is so deeply unhealthy that I don’t want to be alive. I don’t know how to explain to people that my physical health and my mental health are related in many ways but the connection is not absolute. I don’t know how to explain to people that living in shame is not healthy in any sense.

And, you know, I can buy that, because we don’t live in a vacuum, we have a responsibility to other people to stick around. But that responsibility doesn’t cancel out our responsibility to ourselves. And that doesn’t make us selfish, it isn’t a reflection of the “me” culture. It’s personal responsibility.

My loved ones value my quality of life.

If my quantity of life is slightly diminished because I am fat, you know, that will be sad. But if my quality of life is diminished because I live a life of shame and deprivation? I think that is even more sad.

We’re all going to die. There is no cure for death. And that’s okay.

What’s not okay is ruining the lives people DO have because the health of the body is held up as a virtue. What’s not okay is people dying, not because of their fat but because of the way they were treated for BEING fat. 

Morality isn’t about whether or not you can run a 4-minute mile. It’s about how you walk through this world and what you give to and take from the universe.


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18 Comments

  1. Posted July 12, 2007 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I entirely agree with you that healthy body or a healthy mind does not automatically guarantee the other. I do believe that having a healthy outlook on things and a healthy self-esteem greatly improves one’s ability to take care of their body… regardless of what detrimental things one was doing before, and regardless of size or shape.

    I like to think that i have a fairly healthy mind, but i know i can’t say the same for my body – and fat has nothing to do with it.

    When i was much younger and far more ignorant of the way things worked, i used to think that when i learned to like myself as a person, i’d lose weight – that it was my self-hatred that was keeping me fat. After all, those skinny people in magazines seemed to like themselves an awful lot. I’m not sure why i decided it was that way and not the other way around (that i’d like myself once my body was in a different shape). Later, when i learned to like myself as a person, my weight didn’t really change all that much, but i did stop doing things to actively hurt myself, started eating better food, started taking care of myself.

  2. bronxelf
    Posted July 12, 2007 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how to explain to people that my physical health and my mental health are related in many ways but the connection is not absolute

    “Correlation is not causation.”

  3. admin
    Posted July 12, 2007 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    When my mind is healthy, I am in a MUCH better place to take an active interest in the quality of my self-care. When I am depressed, self-care is one of the first things to go. And my weight stays the same. I totally get what you are saying, Lindsay.

    I keep saying that, Belf, but it’s like people don’t want to believe it.

  4. bronxelf
    Posted July 12, 2007 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Correlation=causation is often confused for Occam’s Razor. While they share some common elements they’re not the same principle.

    People mistake equating correlation and causation to “common sense”., when in reality it’s very often much more akin to “sympathetic magic”.

  5. Posted July 12, 2007 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    My sister, who has always been very thin, has told me so many times that she feels like she is at war with her body, that she spends every waking moment thinking about food and chastising herself for her eating habits, that when she gains five pounds she feels disgusting. She puts tremendous amounts of time and energy into working out, partially because she enjoys physical fitness, but mostly (by her own admission) because that’s how she keeps off the weight she feels destined to gain based on our shared genes.

    Despite having any number of talents in any number of areas, her focus is so much on *not* *being* *fat* at ANY cost, that I worry she’ll miss out on so much of her own potential to contribute to the world and enjoy her life.

    Meanwhile, I’m too busy working and playing and rocking and rolling to think about food or weight or any of that bullshit (call me crazy, but if my choices for pondering are “genocide in Darfur” vs. “self-flagellation for the size of my pampered American ass” – kind of a no-brainer for me). I don’t hate myself (slight disgust when I let the dishes go until both sinks are full…), I don’t hate my body (although I sometimes resent the size 12 feet, which I think ought to entitle me to be six feet tall!), and I can’t think of a time when being fat stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do.

    To me, health is in the eye of the beholder, and the only subjective values I’m willing to be judged by are my own. If that makes me “unhealthy” in mind or body…so be it.

  6. Posted July 12, 2007 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I have the following preferences, in this order:

    1. Reasonably sane and physically healthy
    2. Reasonably sane but with some physical health problems
    3. Dead
    4. Not very sane at all

    Currently my life is hovering around option 2.

    Restricting calories or major food groups makes me not very sane at all. I don’t think that fat has anything to do with health one way or another for most people. I also don’t think restricting calories/food groups works to make fat people thin in the long run. But even if I’m one of the people for whom fat contributes to ill health, I still would rather live with that ill health, or die because of that ill health, than be insane.

  7. Posted July 12, 2007 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Obviously thin “healthy” body = / = sound mind. Hitler was a very fit man physically, and there’s pretty much worldwide consensus (even in Germany!) (hell, maybe especially in Germany) that there’s never been anyone crazier.

    And Tari? call me crazy, but if my choices for pondering are “genocide in Darfur” vs. “self-flagellation for the size of my pampered American ass” – kind of a no-brainer for me WOOOOT!

    What I loved was the survey (I think I saw in on Junkfood Science) that showed that kids performed worse at school when fed “healthy” lunches. Fuck yes, chocolate in all its forms (not just the dark kind) is brain food.

  8. Posted July 12, 2007 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    First of all, thank you for your comments on my LJ entry. :) Various points of view are so valuable to me, and I appreciated it very much.

    I always used to believe that the reason I suffered so deeply from depression was due to my weight. I believed that I was using my anti-depressants as a crutch and an excuse to stay fat.

    At one point, I actually stopped taking my anti-depressant pills and, instead, exercised and “dieted” (which translated to fasting for three days, then binging and giving myself enemas).

    Imagine my utter surprise when I felt even worse than before, even though people were telling me how great I looked.

    Yes, it’s an extreme example (and, I fully admit, pretty dumb of me), but it just shows how deeply ingrained thin=happy is in our culture.

  9. Posted July 12, 2007 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been fat and I’ve been thin. Not at any time did I find happiness in the junior’s department.

    I’ve always said that quality of life is so much more important than quantity. What’s it worth to live longer if you are so desperately unhappy the majority of the time? Mental health should be valued first and foremost over physical health.

  10. Kate217
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    If anything, I’m happier now, fat, than I was during the 20 minutes that I was skinny. It has to do with age bringing relative wisdom and self-awareness. What’s the point of prolinging your life if you’re not going to enjoy it?

    I had been on a candida diet for 15 months before my older brother got married. I decided that I was having wedding cake, dammit, and stopped dieting. My new SIL said to me a couple of months afterwards “I like you much better now that you’re not dieting.” She’s a hospice nurse.

  11. Posted July 13, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I just have to pipe up on the quality vs. quantity thing. Since when does losing weight = prolonging life? Stop me if I’m wrong, but I thought that we were working under the premise that a fat body could be a healthy body, and if so…why would losing weight mean a longer life?

  12. admin
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    The person that set this entry off said, basically, that a fat body was a sign of an unhealthy mind. Fat, in no uncertain terms for this person, is unhealthy and nothing is going to change that opinion.

    But, even given those terms – even if fat WERE a sign of health problems associated with the body – that person’s health is still not a moral issue. That person isn’t “bad” because s/he is fat.

    That’s really the point I wanted to get across but I totally ought to have clarified the framework a bit more clearly.

  13. Posted July 15, 2007 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure whether you’re responding to my blog post, or to the comment Brett left on my blog post, but neither of us actually said fat was unhealthy.

    We both said being morbidly obese is unhealthy. I think there’s a pertinent difference. And what Brett said was actually “The point is that a healthy body is a common indication of a healthy mind. The mind and the body are linked, and if one is unhealthy, the other will be too.”

    A common indication – not an absolute. No-one was arguing that Hitler had a healthy mind just because he had a healthy body. And no-one was arguing that if your body is healthy, a healthy mind automatically follows. I’m afraid you’re setting up a very convenient straw man and then cutting it down.

    But I agree with Brett that mind and body are inextricably linked. What I eat affects my mood, my sleep, my ability to think logically. How much I exercise also affects these things. If I’m sick, it totally affects these things.

    If you’re not noticing these connections, I would postulate it’s because you’re not very self-aware.

    And you actually haven’t addressed the arguments that health is a moral issue at all – you’ve simply dismissed it.

  14. Posted July 16, 2007 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Rebekka – I’m really curious about how you define health, and what that pertinent difference between “fat” and “morbidly obese” is, from your perspective. I think it’s entirely possible to be considered “morbidly obese” by the kinds of folks who make those categorizations….but to also eat well, get plenty of exercise and live actively, and to have good vitals all around.

    As far as health being a moral issue, I went and read your post outlining the reasons for this, and I can see where you’re coming from. I think, though, that much of the foundation of your argument is built on less-than-concrete data. While people are getting heavier on average, there is (as far as I’m aware) no conclusive scientific evidence that fat actually causes the health problems that are most often listed as dangers of being fat. Until such evidence is found, I think it’s premature to lay mounting health care costs at the feet of fat people (of any size). Thus, while I agree that health care, generally around the world, is a broken system with finite resources….I think fear of scarcity and a marketing campaign (er, I mean “obesity epidemic”) are a bigger danger to the system than fat people and their health care.

    Also, even supposing that fat people were taking up a larger share of the health care pie…I have to wonder if much of that couldn’t be helped with more adequate, respectful, and compassionate preventive care. I think the lack of this regular health care almost inevitably leads to more catastrophic (and expensive) health situations in the long run. There are myriad health conditions that losing weight doesn’t affect, let alone help…but often that’s the only medical assistance fat people are given (despite the lack of evidence that fat = unhealthy).

    Setting aside the community-based moral imperative…I think there is an argument for personal freedom here, too. While I may have an obligation to my loved ones to live as long as possible…I think that’s between me and my loved ones, full stop. As I think you said in some of your comments on your own entry – that’s not legislatable, and shouldn’t be.

    As for the mind-body connection…I think your comments were pretty right on: what I eat, how I exercise, being sick – these things (and lots of other factors) do affect my moods, reaction times, ability to think. I notice that you didn’t mention body fat ratio or BMI, though. Could it be because those things don’t have an effect in that context?

  15. Posted July 16, 2007 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Tari, I absolutely completely agree with you about preventative care. And it’s very clear that escalating health costs are not only a function of the population generally getting heavier – there are all sorts of factors at work, and one of the key ones is an aging population (at least here in Australia).

    And I’m not generally someone who thinks moral issues should be legislated on – they are a matter for education and for the individual. But it’s not so much an obligation to your loved ones to live a long time (none of us have control over that, exactly), but to live as healthily as possible – having seen my grandmother die a long, painful death as the result of her smoking, and having seen my aunt care for her while she was sick for nearly ten years, I’ve witnessed the strain it puts on your loved ones when you don’t make healthy choices. They as well as you bear the consequences.

    It is hard to draw a line between fat and morbidly obese – it’s not about BMI, which is clearly a flawed concept. Morbid means sick – I’d say you’re morbidly obese at the point where your weight starts affecting your health.

    And I take your point about there being a lot of conditions for which there is no real evidence that they are caused or contributed to by being overweight. The standards of science reporting in the media are very, very low indeed. I personally get riled up about the whole low-fat diet thing – there is absolutely no evidence that a low-fat diet is bad for you, yet it is constantly recommended. But there are still a lot of medical conditions where there *is* plenty of evidence that being obese contributes to them. Let’s see – sleep apnea, infertility, various types of cancer including multiple myeloma, breast cancer and prostate cancer, arthritis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, to name but a few.

    Then there are further problems associated with not eating a healthy diet – and don’t jump on me here, I accept that it’s possible to be overweight and to be eating a healthy diet, but it’s also the case that the majority of people in the general population are eating a much less healthy diet than they were only a couple of generations ago, and at the same time, the general population is getting heavier. I understand that correlation is not always causation, but what you eat as well as how much of it affects the size of your body and how much fat you store.

  16. Posted July 17, 2007 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    What I find to be really frustrating is that people start pretending like there’s some kind of state of maximal health, or that anything below it (though it is generally not defined to begin with) is irresponsibly unhealthy. Take it from a supremely unathletic (until I got to college) person – a person can do things effectively even if they can’t run a marathon – or even a mile. I’m a scientist, a wife, and a blogger. I also can’t run worth a damn, and have scrawny little arms. And it doesn’t cause me problems! And for that matter, I can do other things – things I find more rewarding – with my time than training to be a better athlete. I exercise, eat well, and am in general pretty happy – what else should someone want? And, really, why?

  17. Posted July 23, 2007 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Yeah…thin is not = happy.
    It took me many years to figure that out.
    Up until recently I was larger than I am now and I didn’t like myself after growing up and living with people berating me for my weight, assuming I didn’t like myself or care about myself.

    Well, with all that negativity shoved at me telling me I wasn’t good enough, of course I didn’t. Once I met my husband who loved me for me and didn’t care a bit about my weight I started to like myself for who I was and enjoy my life so much more. And then I started to eat better and exercise and I actually enjoy it – in the best shape of my life. BUT it was my decision on my own and knowing I was a good person regardless that did it for me. I wanted to be a healthier person so I could do more things in life – not be skinny so I’d be valued. And that’s why it happened.

    I think that’s the problem so often…we torture ourselves to try and become what others say we should instead of being comfortable in our own skin. I eat what is good for me and exercise because it honestly makes me feel good. I am loved and as far as I’m concerned, to do my thing and be happy is all I want in life.

    Happy=happy

  18. NiP
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    Somebody really ought to forward that essay to this piece of shit. Of course, from what I hear, they’d have to be prepared for a “rebuttal” email full of playground insults…

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