Fat Bodied Pagans

*Please note that to me, fat is not a pejorative. I am fat. I own my fatness. Taking the words out of the hands of the abusers – like taking the word witch, for example – and taking ownership is actively taking a weapon away from the people who use the word fat like it is one.

The more saintly a person makes him/herself out to be, the more likely that person is a liar. It’s one of those observations that come from years of practice, years of observation. It’s the ones that fall somewhere between “look at my perfect spiritual view of this” and “here’s today’s excessive confessional of all my pain, but I’m going to be vague about it,” that tend to be the genuine ones.  I’ve noticed over the past ten years, the Pagan saintlies have added another to their list of “sins” to cast as aspiritual:

body size.

Because all of us who are larger should be feel very, very bad about it. Refusing to do so – or calling this behavior out as abusive – is met with rage. How could we be IGNORING the FACTS??? SCIENCE SAYS WE FAT PEOPLE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE – and the FAT PAGANS are KILLING THE EARTH!!!!

A few years ago, when I wrote quite plainly that the Goddess has never told me to go on a diet (she hasn’t)and that pursuing happiness was a stronger value than martyrdom I found a screed about how much that statement angered one person. I didn’t try to change minds at the time, although it was one of those roll-your-eyes moments for me.

She was an “armchair scientist” and the Goddess had told her to “reduce.” (Because apparently the Goddess speaks to her in the voice of a 1950s women’s magazine writer.) She also argued, drawing from a fat stereotype, that a person could just stuff his/her face with Cheetos and sit around playing video games and declare him/herself happy. I think the logical fallacy term for that particular logical fallacy is the Straw Man. Saying a person is happy does not mean that a person is happy. She willfully ignored that I had gone on to discuss happiness as an active principle of engagement.

This person, as an armchair scientist, is by no means a real scientist. She certainly did not quote any scientific studies or demonstrate any of her own while insisting that my understanding and experience is not valid. Even so, reading a lot of science books and articles does not teach you the disciplines of science. If you are going to argue “but science!” you need to cite the study. Not the news article about the study or the populist diet book from the mainstream bookstore. Cite the study. PubMed is available to us all these days.

I repeat: an armchair scientist is not a real scientist. While I have no problem bringing science into the discussion of the spiritual up to a point, if you bring it, you better bring all of it and give compelling reason and argument. Offense and “what everybody knows” is not and never has made for valid or useful dialogue.

Real scientists have their ideas and assumptions challenged and upended all the time. I live with one – a real live scientist who is also not Pagan and thus not invested in my worldview. I get a front row seat to this upending on a regular basis. A real scientist reading my statement would not have had a tantrum – s/he would have led with some questions and gathered some data. I would likely be told up front that his/her data did not support my contention. I might be asked to supply actual data.

A real scientist would have owned where the post she was bitching about came from so that she could consider it in terms of facts. But she went straight to the cultural stereotypes and straw men instead.

The thinking of this girl is part of a disease I’ve seen cropping up in spirituality books and talks I’ve witnessed with BNPs ((Big Name Pagans)) over the last ten years. Fat shaming has become a virtue among Pagans – and it saddens me to see us step into the mainstream on the shadow side. This is one of the rare areas where our old school counter-cultural values would be good to keep. It’s quite clear that fat shaming really only seems to make the shamed fatter, and all this “spiritual” advice about bodies is very much a disease in and of itself.

__________________________________________________________

Last year, someone’s death was used as an excuse to do some more public fat shaming – and I didn’t see any retractions when it came out that this person’s death had to do with a congenital defect in his heart and his body size had no impact whatsoever on that particular health condition. During the furor, I got approached by one person who wanted to tell me all about her “healthy lifestyle” under her fat-stereotype fueled belief that I must, as a fat woman, simply not know what good food choices and exercise habits looked like. I had already been warned that she’s quite the triangulator so I put her off – this wasn’t going to be a two way conversation in any case.

When I told her point blank I was NOT going to discuss it with her, then blocked her when I cut her off after she followed me across social platforms ((this is what we call crazy behavior – it does qualify as stalking, since she ignored that “no means no” also applies to her.)) She later used it as an excuse to start a fight and callout about it during business conducted that was completely unrelated. COMPLETELY. She even demanded an apology despite the new situation having no bearing or context on what she was demanding an apology for. That is what abusive behavior looks like.

My body size does NOT excuse her crazy, inappropriate behavior. No one’s body size justified the actions of another person, no matter what size they are or how offensive another person finds their appearance.

Her behavior is a classic example of how most fat people get treated: “no means no” magically doesn’t apply, even when it’s made clear that the answer is NO. Too many people convince themselves that our fatness makes us deserving of the abuse, makes the abusive behavior somehow not abusive.

IT DOESN’T.

In her mind, my boundaries were less important than hers. This is, again, a sign of abusiveness/mental illness.

She can defend how what she was doing was virtuous, but no matter how you cut it or how “concerned” you might be for my “health” ((do you worry about the health of all strangers? Almost everyone has something wrong…)) she was trying to force herself on me.

And I kept saying no.

She may have tried to argue that my life is in danger, I’m eating myself to death, my sedentary lifestyle will kill me. Of course she a)has never met me and knows nothing of my lifestyle beyond what I write here and b)if presented with the reality that I actually have a very active lifestyle (I do), she would dismissive it out of hand as untrue. She had decided what she wanted to believe about me – it was the core excuse for her behavior.

She then tried to force me to apologize for attempting to force herself on me by staging a semi-public tantrum.

This is what people on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder spectrum do – and it’s quite common for them to style themselves as “Very Spiritual” people.

I still have the same human and civil right to tell anyone to fuck off. Whether you’re right or wrong has no relevance in that situation.

I will be utterly unsurprised if there is a public temper tantrum about this post. Then you’ll know exactly who I’m talking about. Whatever is said, remember this: the entire tantrum started because I SAID NO. No further conversation has or will take place.

I don’t deal in narcissists if I can help it. Not anymore.

______________________________________________

What’s considered healthy in the western world is exactly like the word of Jesus: we’ve all fucking heard of it. Most of us over 35 Pagans have looked at the Good Word and found it problematic. The same is true of body expectations for any group at all.

I’ve been doing this a lot lately, and I know it’s just aging pains. But when I came to Paganism, there was not much in the way of body shaming. It was acknowledged certain people had different opinions about what was right for themselves; some were clear that they were not attracted to fat bodies, or that they weren’t and that was all OK. It was even possible to express such things without being a dick.

Perhaps because of the heavy feminist influences that happened in the 1970s, people I met at first were relatively fat positive ((this is not, as reactionary stereotypers are inclined to believe without asking, “yay, be fat!” It’s more of a yay! Don’t be a dick movement.)) It was a relief – I had had “your body is a temple” quoted to me alongside a pointed glare so many times in my church that I caught myself counting the calories in communion bread. The religious shaming just triggered my eating disorder, as all fat shaming is wont to do.

There’s a whole lot of but…but…but… going on. I haven’t even hit publish and I can hear it.

BUTT.((DELIBERATE))

Most Health at Every Size and Fat Positive Advocates likely disapprove of this following approach because human civility should be distributed to every person no matter how he/she may look. It should be entirely based upon how a person behaves. Of course, since so many people believe being shitty to fat people is a social good, moving all judgment of others to a behavior model would destroy the self-saintly congratulation locked in their heads whenever they yell “Fatso!” out a car window at the fat person who happens to being doing less to destroy the environment than themselves.

But – armchair scientist, here’s some reading for you – obesity is not just a single disease. Sometimes it is a disease. Sometimes it is a symptom. Sometimes doctors do not know why their patients get fat. Sometimes they do. Most put no effort whatsoever into investigating the causes even though sudden weight gain, like sudden weight loss, is a symptom of multiple serious diseasesThe reason that fat people are so prevalent right now is because obesity has more than one cause, and the cause can be different in different people. The cause of obesity – not the obesity itself – is the indicator of whether the condition is life threatening. Obesity DOES NOT have a single cause and DOES NOT have a single solution.

Common causes of obesity:

1. Metabolic syndrome

These are people that like myself and my husband, have been deemed fat since early childhood. Some of this is based on legitimate measures, like weight and belly measurements. Others are social constructs about what we deem “too large.” Other factors in the home can make this condition better or worse. My partner’s parents did a pretty good job of going easy on him; I rarely if ever  hear anything overly fucked up about body size or food when I visit his parents. Mike has lost 130 pounds over the past 2 years – but now he’s struggling again. This is not due to some failure of parenting, it is simple biology – and biological organisms are NOT as cleanly subject to thermodynamics as inanimate objects are.  We’ll get to that further down. I came from one of the worst home factors you could have when you’re already a pudgy kid at age 4: my household growing up was verbally and at times physically violent. I was subject to fat shaming from age 4 on, in addition to the stress of just living there. This led to the next two conditions for me – as obesity can often come with many co-morbidities.

2. Eating Disorders (May be Extra Triggering)

Compulsive overeating isn’t rare in the west – and it’s also not exclusive to those of us who are fat. There are arguments that every woman in the western world has an eating disorder – just some of us don’t have much of a gag reflex. The mortality rates for bulimia and anorexia are much much worse than those for obesity. Obese people might die in 30 years, and given the research into the obesity paradox, the “you’re gonna die!” factoid is becoming less and less accurate. Not sure if you’re disordered, too?

  • *When you have a negative or positive emotional reaction, do you reach for food?
  • *How much time do you spend looking at the bodies of others and comparing yourself?
  • Do you ever look at another person and think, “But for the grace of God/ess,” or ask your partner if you’re smaller/bigger? (Then you’re a dick, BTW.)
  • Do you ever look at a person and think, “I bet that person_____” (eats a tub of ice cream a night, just sits on the couch all day, doesn’t bathe, doesn’t eat, etc.) … this is called projecting, and it is a sign of disordered thinking.
  • Do you congratulate yourself for it, say things like “I’m so bad!” and giggle when you share these thoughts with friends? – this is a sign that you are prone to abusive behavior.
  • Do you spend a lot of time looking at other people’s bodies? Do you spend a lot of time fantasizing about food?

If you’re not sure, take a notebook with you. Make a hash mark in one area for every time you think critically or enviously about another person’s body. Make another hash for how often you think about food and mark the time of day you have that thought.

At the end of the day, remove the marks made about an hour before your meal times. If you’ve got a lot of hash marks in both columns, you probably have a problem. Just like our culture trained you to have one.

3. Stressful environments

There is a unique sector of diet drugs on the market that are for lowering cortisol. If you read online reviews they either really work… or really don’t.

Cortisol is sort of the masterboard hormone: it regulates all the other hormones. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There is a cross section of fat people with elevated cortisol. I am one of them (an acupuncturist’s oh-so-professional estimation of my levels was “sky high.”) I grew up in a house with lots of shouting, lots of verbal abuse and lots of food as reward-and-punishment and I was the person everyone else took their stress out on. This triggered cortisol overproduction, which triggered protective fat storage. I spent a lot of time, even before puberty, with elevated cortisol because my adrenaline response was raised almost all of the time. Adults who came from homes of decent people find another place in life where this behavior is common, if often applied deliberately: work.

People that never gain the freshman 15 in college often wind up finding themselves gaining weight at a rapid pace once they take a full time job  – and not even necessarily an office job.  Crises are manufactured constantly, and whether it’s conscious or not, people bring food to share in workplaces a lot, consciously or subconsciously offering a comfort/self-medication behavior learned by those who developed eating disorders (but also as a means of gathering more office gossip to perpetuate traumas as “motivation.)

4. Eating too much, not exercising enough

I won’t deny that the world is far more sedentary than it used to be. When the Internet first became commonly available, I had a massive backslide from routine fitness to almost nothing… that I took steps to correct in recent years. (There is always more to going sedentary than simple laziness.)

The above factors – most of which can barely be helped and that need help that food education has nothing to do with – are far more common than that of simple gluttony.

True laziness is uncommon and is often paired with sociopathic behavior. I don’t see a lot of that among the fat, though I did meet one fat guy that qualified when I was in college in Wisconsin. The overeating/not exercising cycle usually sets in when someone takes that office job. For those that don’t get their cortisol levels elevated, it’s often a matter of time and timing – most corporate jobs want more, more, more of our time and have deadlines for non-crucial projects that are made out to be crucial. This – along with stressors – can be offset with cutting out processed foods in favor of large servings of plant life and regular exercise. The only real deterrent is the body’s reaction to a re-introduction to exercise after a long time without, and people not understanding that they can in fact make vegetables taste good without increasing fat content.

This is where adults who do not have metabolic syndrome encounter weight gain. For adults who do not have any other hormonal factors to consider – almost exclusively men – it is a simple matter of calories in/calories out and “taking care of yourself.” This is the only situation in which it is that simple and it is not the situation that most women have to deal with.

5. Hormonal Imbalance

This problem may have been resolved, but when I was 13 it wasn’t. We had one fat kid in junior high that we were explicitly told we were “not allowed to make fun of,” (thus tacitly telling the kids in my class the rest of us were fair game/encouraging the normal size kids to harass us.) He was on a kidney medication that kept him alive. Side effect: obesity. I remember that kid. He was a total dick.

There are also a slew of hormones-out-of-whack situations that affect weight. Many go undiagnosed because doctors are prone to fat stereotyping and don’t bother to investigate a patient or look for additional data points.

Among them:

*thyroid conditions

I have a thyroid that stays exactly on the border of “too low.” It’s low enough to raise concerns, but not low enough to justify treatment. This test only happened because my nurse practitioner saw me at the gym enough to NOT assume I am sedentary.

*pregnancy

We all know pregnancy hormones exist but it looks from here like the only real study effort has gone into understanding the effects of lactation. Since some women revert to their original metabolisms and others don’t, you’d think it would merit more study. But this is one of those problems that comes from placing a low social value on women before they get pregnant and after they’ve given birth.

*burning fat releasing wacky hormonal/toxin/allergen issues

I’ve been running into this one a lot lately, in ways I’m only starting to understand. Fat stores toxins. Burning fat also releases toxins.

I can always tell when I’m in ketosis because I am also usually breaking out in hives.

_______________________________________________________

“But wouldn’t diet and exercise solve most of these? Wouldn’t therapy fix the eating disorder?”

Short answer: no.

Long answer: complicated no.

Obesity is often correlated with other diseases, emotional and physical. But sometimes it’s a false correlation. Besides, CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION.

For example, obese people develop diabetes and heart disease at the same rate that those of smaller BMI do. Not all obese people are diabetic –  I’m not. Not all thin people are NOT diabetic. This tells us that while a number of people who are fat have diabetes, being fat does not cause diabetes. Certainly, however, being fat can make diabetes suck even more, since healthcare professionals have a reputation for really hating fat people.

Also, and here’s the evidence-based research fact that most people really do NOT want to accept:

Obesity gives absolutely no indication whatsoever as to the condition of a person’s health. There are obese people who definitely need some help with their problems. There are are also obese people who run marathons, eat clean and who, mysteriously remain fat.

In addition to the whole “fat” issue, there is also the serious problem of weight-loss recidivism. My husband, as a very small anecdotal and therefore not valid sample, has spent the last few years fighting to get every ounce of excess weight he could off his body. This meant 2-3 hour sessions on an elliptical, a running habit, a harsh and difficult to sustain ketogenic diet. Although his eating behaviors have altered and he’s very conscious of his exercise choices, the weight has started sneaking back on. It’s painful to watch. He is controlling what he can control – his behavior. But this is America’s Hunger Games. The odds are never in his favor.

But what is happening to him is what happens to nearly all people that go on these socially approved diets. 98% of people put the weight back on within five years, no matter what they do. .5% keep it off. .5% die. Chances of death increase dramatically with every lap band and gastric bypass applied.I prefer my husband be strong and healthy. If I can help him do this and be happy as well, I will.

Where do I fall in this? Somewhere in-between thanks to what we call “co-morbidities” i.e. multiple noncommunicable diseases in the same body. I have an eating disorder. I have PTSD. I have metabolic syndrome. I have an alarming number of severe allergies, to the point that allergy shots may be a help or a danger.

Rather than torture myself again with starvation to the point of IQ drop – what I did to myself as a teenager – I adopted the Health at Every Size philosophy. The basic philosophy is this: you can develop healthy habits no matter what size you are. Most diet systems just take you from one extreme – overeating and underexercising – to the opposite extreme: doing both. HAES starts and ends with moderation.

Notably HAES is the only diet approach to have minimal recidivism. Only around 7% of people going on it gain any original weight back. It’s not popular because it’s 1)dead slow and 2)actively discourages “before and after” pictures that make for good magazine ads. It’s the unsexiest of all diet styles.

It’s also a proponent of intuitive eating, mischaracterized by Dan Savage as “eating whatever you want.” The actual food plan of HAES is similar to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Real Food: “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” But to get there you must learn to eat when you are hungry and stop eating when not by finding ways to notice when you are genuinely full. Our culture does not make that even a little bit easy – just go through the day and make a note of the pressures surrounding food with family, in groups, at the workplace. Don’t just note the pressure to eat – note the pressure of who to eat with.

_____________________________________________________

In my own case..

The effort to control my environmental allergies has in many ways helped my eating disorder. So has limiting my consumption of processed sugar with the same rules I apply to alcohol consumption (only once a week, with limited exceptions for special occasions.)  Therapy really only works when you’re in an emotional situation that supports you getting well – so in my case, cutting off my abusers was the only way to get the help I sought to work. For me, the best medical professional is one who sees weight loss as a possible byproduct of medical treatment – not as the medical treatment.

I have added as many links to studies as possible. Hey, when I can, I give good armchair.

Paganism is one of those religious paths that typically welcomes science. But we seem to have lost the philosophy of “question everything” in many other areas – but the stuff about weight is what is most visible to me. This is unfortunate. Our trusted news sources aren’t so trusty anymore and that means in all things we have to reach further on our own to find out the truth as opposed to what we are told is the truth.

I may be shouting into the void on this one. That’s OK. Every so often, the void fills up.