Health At Every Size: The Movement To End All Movement

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Back Matter

Health At Every Size

Health At Every Size, via Five Hundred Pound Peep.

[*Update 12/1/2014: a reader, below, wishes to bring your attention to this post. In it, she details her struggles with obesity, disease, and the dangers of the HAES ‘movement.’ Forget guess-work, and take it from someone who knows!]

It’s a truism that people, in general, and Americans, in particular, are scientifically inept. Sure, this is a problem, but it’s a wholly intellectual one, wherein most couldn’t give a damn even if they’d tried, for reasons of intelligence, curiosity, and their lacks. So, I am far less worried about the manufactured, non-existent crises (‘education!’; ‘violence!’; ‘the death of the Classics!’) than the tangible things, things that have a direct, quantifiable effect upon us due to laziness and/or ignorance, which ARE correctable.

Health is one such problem, and while there’s been an anti-corporate push in the last 10-20 years that will likely become permanent, it is clear that most people still have NO clue how to take care of themselves, much less move within their own bodies — a disconnected ‘thing’ that’s become quite foreign to most, an ‘enemy’ to be conquered. And, of course, much of the scientific community is no better in this regard, actively promoting dietary fat myths, or encouraging the dissolution of whole foods — which are complex, poorly understood things — into what can be seen in 2-3 elements on a nutrition label, thus turning, say, a bar of dark chocolate (cocoa butter; flavonoids; polyphenols) and a poor quality truffle (refined, nondescript vegetable fat; a little cocoa) into a self-same object, on account of their misleading macronutrient profiles. Combine this with human laze and rationalization, and it’s no wonder that people eat poorly, can’t walk (feet straight, weight on heels), or even know how to lift an object off the ground. (Hint: it’s with your back, but not ‘with’ your back. Get it?)

Now, prior to going further, I must say this about myself. By the time I was 18-19, after being a pretty fat kid my whole life, I finally hit 220 lbs on a wiry (although I didn’t know it) 5’7” frame. This was bad, people — a fact that I shouldn’t have to mention, but will, given the topic of this essay. I’d get winded by stairs, ‘suddenly’ developed knees that would pop out of their sockets at the least convenient times, sore teeth and gums due to dietary issues, poor sleep, and a back that was in so much pain that I couldn’t sit, stand, or walk for more than 5 minutes without my mind wandering off to the ‘what-if’ reveries of a bed. As for my diet? Well, in college, I’d walk up and down 7 flights of stairs to find a vending machine with my preferred Pop-Tarts — brown sugar and cinnamon, as opposed to the fruity crap! — and gyros from the Halal truck outside. Indian sweets were good, too, as was white bread with bacon, Eggo waffles, fake chocolate bars, and whatever the fuck else I wanted. Yet, for all that, I didn’t need someone to tell me ‘you’re alright.’ I needed help, because I was fucked up, and in pain.

Pavel Tsatsouline's Power To The People

Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power To The People. Notice the physique: strong, properly aligned, and not unnecessarily muscled.

So, by the time I hit 20, I was down to 170 lbs, via diet alone, and wanted to lose even more weight by exercising. Sure, I was better, I guess, in less pain, less fatigued, and had better posture and sleep, but knew I could be stronger, and less susceptible to injury all-around. So, after researching all of the alternatives, I decided to go what is (incorrectly) thought of as the ‘hard’ route: a weightlifting program — mostly deadlifts and barbell side-presses — alongside running, which eliminated most of my remaining issues pretty fast. In short, carrying less weight (load) in asymmetrical, unnatural places (because the explosion of obesity — an almost unheard of phenomenon for 99.9%+ of our existence as a species — is unnatural) allowed my muscles to free up a bit, while mechanically-sound loading maneuvers (such as deadlifts) stressed those ‘missing links’ NOT 24/7, as obesity, hard labor, etc., naturally entail, but in short, tightly-controlled bursts of activity, a la the norm for human and proto-human movement over the last 2-3 million years.

Yet I intuitively knew that, for all of exercise’s benefits, it’s absolutely meaningless without a proper diet: the #1 thing in terms of health, in my opinion, followed by stress avoidance and movement. This is because, the musculoskeletal effects of one’s weight aside, it’s not obesity per se that kills, but the route one invariably takes to get to that point: foods with direct and immediate effects upon the body, compounded over many years, bad geometrical positioning that most really fat people adopt to compensate for asymmetrical loads, huge caloric intake (thus leading to excessive cell division, which is one of the largest factors of aging and prematurely shortened telomeres), and general inactivity.

Thus, I stopped eating candy, learned how to cook, and began to sate myself with eggs (lots of ’em, with the yolks intact), whole grains, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, coconut fat, fish, meat, butter, and cheese — things antithetical to proper eating, in the mainstream, but absolutely valid scientifically, and anthropologically. Again, that was #1 — forget the exercise if you don’t even have the basics of self-control, which is at its core an emotional issue that needs to be resolved, or else the impulsive choices you’d make with food (a slow death) will likely translate over to exercise (a quick and crippling one). That so many people don’t get, or don’t want to get, this connection is a testament to the lazy, entitled thinking that infects such poor decision-making in the first place.

7 years later, I am 5’8”, 140 lbs — have been, in fact, for a while — cook great-tasting, nutrient-dense foods, still exercise, and, barring a significant health crisis, will never gain back the weight that I’ve carried most of my life. How do I know this? Because if I eat correctly, and attune my exercise habits to such, it’s scientifically impossible to get fat. Sure, some foods give the illusion of weight (water retention via sodium, sugar intake), but this is easily lost with a little sweat — something I do a lot of. In short, I’ve spent too much time on both sides of the spectrum to not know this, and those that say otherwise are lying to you so that they could more easily lie to themselves. And, ah!, how it ALL seems to devolve back to the self, back to one’s own feelings, problems, opinions, which, to these mentalities, is always the extent of the world!

Deadlifting is one of the timeless exercises, and will be relevant for strengthening the posterior chain for as long as we’re recognizably human. If you do it, however, make sure you do it with perfect form:

Yet it’s been brought to my attention that the accomplishments, above, are pretty meaningless, since, well, you could have Health At Every Size, if you really wanna. And if this sounds like bullshit, then you don’t REALLY need to read the rest of this article. But if it allures you, for any reason, then I’ve come to bring you life — or at least the promise of a skeleton that won’t buckle under your gross tonnage.

‘Health At Every Size’: The Movement To End All Movement

Reality, in recent years, has gotten a bad rap. This is true in the arts, where bad writing wishes to occlude the good, in education, where ‘crises’ are given precedence over the nigh-unbroken line of progress since the 1800s, in science, where increasingly improbable theories are held-up by mere ad hoc reasoning, with virtually NO dissent from those who should know better, and — most of all — within culture itself, where people often wish to be someone (or something) else, and, barring THAT, 1) act as if it’s reality, anyway, 2) assume they deserve to be treated as such, 3) blame the world for what they’re NOT, then claim that long-ingrained human constants are mere social constructs, as opposed to things that were woven from the fabric of reality, over billions of years’ time.

I knew, of course, that fat activism was ‘a thing,’ what with all the posts and cross-posts of wannabe trash-cum-news-outlets like Huffington Post on the topic, but also knew that there’s a real difference between fat hate/bigotry (which is irrational), and the acceptance and even encouragement of physical and aesthetic ills (likewise!).

In this way, Health At Every Size purports to do the former, but really subsists on the clear emotional ills of the latter. In fact, a quick look at the Tumblr and blog crowd, as seen via Reddit’s Fatlogic subreddit, reveals that the ‘movement’ is full of bitchy, envious, self-loathing people who wish to change a few immutable social contracts, NOT because it’d be beneficial to society, and people’s interactions, as a whole, but because, in some twisted way, it’d feed their egos — ‘twisted’ because the thought of anyone salivating over one’s obese and likely broken body is so outside of reality, so outside of what is attractive from a purely biological standpoint, that only those on the cusp of psychosis could possibly enjoy delusions. Fatlogic is full of stories of broken friendships due to one friend’s weight loss, envious sniping at models and the ‘naturally skinny’ types, and the sort of stupidity that celebrates what’s ugly, instead of the far more healthy choice of merely ACCEPTING it, if incorrigible, or changing it, if at all possible. Yet the wisdom of bowing out of the superficial climb towards things like beauty is rarely followed, driven, as people are, to be affirmed at any cost — even if, in this case, this meaningless reward is obtained by yet another lie, so that everyone (the models, the fat, the materialistic, etc.) is now living the same exact illusion, albeit from slightly different angles.

Celebrate poor health, human laze, and aesthetic ills!

Notice the petulant insecurity. It’s not enough to end fat-hate; one must change the very definition of words, and what we’re biologically attracted to. Image via r/Fatlogic

As bad and self-destructive as this is, however, Health At Every Size is even more pernicious for a different reason: its pushing of scientific fraud on needy, emotionally unstable people (usually women) and their children, the latter of which have little choice in matters of food and well-being. This is because, instead of merely focusing on legitimate instances of fat bigotry and/or medical fraud — such as a doctor prescribing weight loss for pneumonia, or whatever else — they have decided to push their own quack advice as a kind of over-compensation for their own powerlessness. In this way, obesity is said to be alright; aching knees and sore backs are best addressed with a scooter, so you could get even less of the exercise that might reverse the damage; there’s no bad food — all food needs to be respected as ‘nourishing’ — and it is in fact guilt and personal shame, NOT heart attacks, cancer, and the chronic, endocrine-sapping stress of chronic pain, that are the real killers of fat people. In short, the thinking is: if the science don’t work, then fuck science! At least we’ve got each other, wherein feelings are supreme, and can stay immutable.

Now, I’ll deal with the specifics of the scientific points, below — trust you me! But, first, why do the above mental machinations even occur in the first place? It’s simple, really. Health At Every Size and its proponents are — surprise, surprise! — neither happy nor comfortable with themselves, and are too insecure to ‘merely’ deal with bigotry, and therefore feel the need to branch out into areas that they simply have no business in. It reminds me of the ridiculous shift in feminist thinking that has occurred over the last couple of decades, wherein a legitimate issue — discrimination — can’t simply be solved on its own, but must invoke tangents of the activists’ own making. In short, it wasn’t good enough to end an all-pervasive bias (not that it has ended, especially in cases of reproductive rights), and ensure equal sociopolitical footing between men and women. Instead, ALL differences had to be erased, as well, to the point that obvious biological disparities must be glossed over, if not outright denied. It’s almost as if New Wave feminists thought that if they WEREN’T men — for ‘erasing differences’ is simply a melding into the default (i.e., dominant) category — then they wouldn’t ever be good enough. Ironic, ain’t it? And just as this New Wave feminist is unwittingly arguing from the turf of the enemy, who insists precisely that, the fat activists are doing the same. Skinny, fat, or average: it’s all the same! Because ‘the same’ implies THIS minority group might as well be subsumed under a bigger, ‘better’ category, and what’s the biggest category of all but ‘everybody else’ — down to the shitlords (to use HAES lingo) who continue to oppress them? Clearly, this self-hatred knows no bounds, no matter how much it’s sugar-coated, re-directed (‘I kill my body because I love my body!’), or projected upon others.

And who’s responsible for all this? Well, it’s hard to pin all this silliness on one person, but ca. 2014, it seems the biggest proponent of this non-movement is Ragen Chastain. Thus, I will deal with the Health At Every Size claims as she filters them, for people are sheep that, sans shepherd, might be forced to find their own way.

The Advocate: Ragen Chastain

There’s so many ways to approach Ragen Chastain’s interior world, all of them quite obvious, and all of them too easy. Yet the more that I read of her various claims (much of it personal, purely biographical fraud), her misleading, self-congratulatory responses to critics, the sad, time-lapsed .gifs of her dance skills — deteriorating, as they are, alongside her ever-widening body — the less that I wish to take her on as persona, and just pick apart her claims. So, this is exactly what I’ll do, quoting the best (?) portions of her blog, in a way that’s fair to the context, as well as to readers who, perhaps being of a less analytical bent, would benefit by some of my own interjections.

Chastain’s first (and defining!) claim is the following:

Isn’t being fat unhealthy?

No. Weight and health are two separate things – there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes.  Health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, and not a barometer of worthiness. The confusion of weight and health does a disservice to fat people because people (often including doctors) think that they can look at us and determine our health, it also does a dangerous disservice to thin people who are told that they are healthy simply because of their weight and that isn’t what the evidence shows.

Ragen Chastain, who shows off her flexibility much how body-builders with damaged discs, frozen necks, and pulled muscles show off their pecs.

Ragen Chastain, who shows off her flexibility much how body-builders with damaged discs, frozen necks, and pulled muscles show off their pecs. (c) Richard Sabel

Of course, in a technical sense, she’s absolutely right — a clue to her ‘intellectual’ strategy vis-a-vis later, misleading claims, wherein a few reasonable sentiments occlude the unreasonableness within. As I’ve said, obesity, in and of itself, means less in terms of health than is usually thought, but that is because it’s the route to obesity, and the reactions it sets forth, that’s so deadly. I mean, one does not get to Ragen’s weight (284 lbs at 5’4”) by over-indulging in apples. You’d simply get too full, too fast. Thus, for the vast majority of obese people — most likely Chastain, too — it’ll take quite a number of indiscretions, stretched across many years, for this end-point to be reached. It will, most likely, take lots of candy, lots of sitting on your ass, lots of trips to fast food places, lots of forced, 90-degree body geometry (sitting, etc.), lots of trans fats, and so on, which is the real problem. It will also take an extreme calorie surplus that must be intentionally worked up to — the same surplus that, fat or not, prematurely shortens telomeres, induces cell replication at alarming rates, and literally thousands of other reactions that are too poorly understood to ever be honestly called ‘healthy’.

Why? Because contrary to the claims of Health At Every Size, excess calories, and especially obesity, are a VERY recent mass phenomenon, one that the species, as a whole, has not yet adapted to, and will not adapt to before dying from the crass stupidity of such an effort. Yet Chastain is remarkably silent on the anthropological angle — and refuses to even answer what food she eats, and how much — because even a little thought reveals such unnatural states for what they are. She continues:

In fact, the evidence shows that people’s habits are a much better determinant of health than their size is.

Yeah, that’s true — and irrelevant. She cites this study for her claims, which merely concludes the following: that people who adopt better habits (no smoking, exercise, consumption of fruits and vegetables, etc.) live longer, regardless of weight. Yeah, no shit. But the study does not differentiate between average and obese mortality — to say nothing of morbidity! — from a baseline, and even goes on to state that the greatest benefit in adopting healthy habits is seen in the obese group. The implication? That there is something about obese people that is naturally unhealthy, thus giving them a disadvantage from the get-go — the REAL baseline vis-a-vis population averages, and a fact that Chastain, despite her claims of being so statistically-minded, merely glosses over.

Then, in her mis-use of yet another study, she quotes that BMI and various waist measurements were not good indicators of heart disease — ‘when additional information is available for systolic blood pressure, history of diabetes, and lipids.’ Did you get that last part??? It means that obesity, when without present risk factors, could not be placed, on paper, into some upper tier of risk — the key words being “when” (since the study does not say how often obesity and other risk factors overlap, and just as importantly, how long it would take for the overlap to occur compared with an average-weight group), and “placed” (since the study is nothing more than a prediction model, moving patients up and down according to theory, rather than an examination of real patients who develop problems that can be compared to some original baseline). Thus, the addition of BMI, etc., to risk factors already present, is an ad hoc move that merely positions the health context (obesity) as an overlay, as opposed to using context itself to gauge the necessary baseline. (Recall what I’ve said of scientific ignorance? ‘Regular’ scientists are guilty of this, as well.)

In other words, the study’s findings can be re-phrased thus: ‘obese people who have not yet developed diabetes, high blood pressure, and irregular lipid profiles are not, at least on paper, at risk for cardiovascular disease, especially when compared with those of normal weight, who do have these risk factors.’ Well, duh. That’s like saying a man exposed to nuclear fallout who’s not yet developed any symptoms of radiation poisoning is not any more at risk for death, at that particular moment, than someone who has not ever been exposed. It’s technically true, and indisputable, at that, but absolutely ridiculous when one takes the long view. Yet Chastain, for whatever reason, considers that her ‘clincher,’ despite the fact that the study merely nullifies whatever point she thinks she’s making, but can’t be bothered to understand.

And this leads to yet more scientific fraud on Chastain’s part: the notion of ‘medical markers’ for health, which she uses to fend off all claims of ill health, and searches for within studies as the be-all, end-all ‘comprehensive look’ at the WHOLE body. It seems that Ragen, despite refusing to simplify people into weight categories, nonetheless simplifies health into a few crude bio-markers that say much less than she thinks they do. This is similar, then, to how nutritionists traditionally cut up whole foods into macro and micronutrients, isolate this or that beneficial chemical, and assume ‘that thing’ is the thing itself. In short, while blood pressure is a good indicator of some things, it says remarkably little of total cardiovascular health (for instance, is the blood pressure due to stress? stimulants? a congenital issue? is it offset by proper stomach acid in one’s old age, thereby better assimilating silica, and improving blood vessel strength?), and even less of other issues. Lipid profiles, too, are overrated tools that have shifted far too much over the years to be useful on a deeper, anthropological scale, and remain controversial — especially outside of America.

Now, there’s many theories re: heart attacks, from the mainstream views, to newer, biomechanical interpretations that state, for example, that excess 90 degree geometric loading (such as during chair-sitting) applies a ‘shear stress’ to the endothelial surface of a blood vessel, altering those cells’ genetics. Yet my own view (and that of many others’) is that cholesterol — a perfectly healthy substance — is NOT an issue unless one has systemic inflammation, a process that evolved as a means of sending cholesterol as a kind of patchwork to one’s injuries, but has, ca. 2014, become chronic, with cholesterol ending up in places it’s not supposed to be, such as artery walls, alongside dietary oxysterols (via milk powder, skim milk, and other potentially rancid animal products), calcium (with too much of it in the bloodstream, due to insufficient dietary magnesium), and arterial ‘micro-tears’ that further signal to the body that there’s an injury in need of repair. Of course, this glosses over endocrinological markers (most of which are sub-clinical, and therefore invisible on tests), pain, muscle tension, loading habits, gait, the TYPES of exercise people to do (as opposed to mere ‘cardio’), and literally thousands of other things that cannot and will not appear in one’s blood labs.

Katy Bowman's Move Your DNA

Katy Bowman’s Move Your DNA, which describes how mechanical loading can hurt or heal. This has some application to the obese, as well.

So, how does one get chronic inflammation? Well, biomechanics (above) has one answer, but diet plays a role, as well. Certain foods, such as refined vegetable oils (that is, virtually all oils on a supermarket shelf), deep-fried foods, and ‘empty’ fats (such as shortening) that 1) supply the body with lipid peroxides, 2) provide insufficient vitamin E to control such peroxidation, end up helping to create those ‘micro-tears’ the body interprets as injury, thus sending a low-grade inflammation that is likewise invisible on blood tests, given that most inflammatory markers are for severe cases of such, as in arthritis and the like. This means that Ragen, in between bouts of ‘chocolate’ truffles in fact made with palm kernel oil, or Health At Every Size religiots who claim to eat chips ‘intuitively,’ are on not exactly on a distinguished road, here, and assuming that a salad or a few berries in addition to the above in any way nullifies the above completely ignores some basics of chemistry, and merely lulls one into a false sense of complacency.

Yet Chastain states, categorically, that NO food is ‘trash’ — not Reeses Pieces, not Pepsi, not Cheez Whiz slathered on 25-cent bologna. Not even, presumably, trans fats, whose primary chemical difference (‘trans’) refers to their eerie shape, which tends to stack across the body — therefore lining the arteries in one of the most intrusive ways possible — as opposed to merely collate, as ordinary fats do. Don’t assume, then, that Chastain gets any of this, on a deeper level, for she’s too busy dancing, showing off her flexibility (conflated with ‘health’ and ‘fitness’), walking through her marathons (literally), and using THAT as an indicator of health, in the same way that the bodybuilders whom she loathes might be hitting a 400 lb bench press and showing off their healthy-looking physiques, but dealing, in secret, with frozen necks, bad backs, dislocated shoulders, stiffness, and the ill effects of steroid use. Ragen writes:

Health at Every Size is a choice to focus on healthy habits as a path to health rather than focusing on changing body size as a path to health.

Great….except notice how, in all of these healthy habits that she speaks of, what one EATS is rarely, if ever, mentioned, as if ‘intuitively’ eating a bag of macaroons, putting the body through chronic, asymmetrical loading, or taking a hit on telomere length is irrelevant to one’s health. Size, as I’ve noted, is not the biggest health issue (I’d argue diet, movement, and stress patterns trump all), but Chastain cherry-picks the one element she does enjoy (exercise), ignores the other (due to her inability to control her own food intake), and uses the last (stress) as a catch-all that gets conflated with sociopolitical issues, bullying, etc., as the REAL culprit for ill health, as opposed to the far more expansive and relevant definition of stress: any event with negative consequences for health, which includes dietary and chemical stresses, as well. Phrased in such a way, the HAES claims devolve to clear bullshit.

She presses on:

Studies on long term dieting show that the vast majority of people regain their weight after 5 years, many regaining more weight than they lost – dieting does not meet the criteria for evidence based healthcare.

In other words, weight loss — surprise, surprise! — is tough, and most people won’t do it. But did you notice Chastain’s leap of logic? That since most people can’t make, execute, and stick to a dietary and exercise plan, that they shouldn’t even TRY, even if (her own stipulation) obesity causes ill health. It is, alas, a bit of ‘advice’ that can be applied to quite a few other things, as well. I mean, how often do drug addicts get clean? Or life-long cheaters find peace in marriage? Or mediocre students make the Honor Roll? Or, the least likely thing of all: how many artists end up creating great works? In Ragen’s lazy, Fuck it, too hard! approach to the world, none of these things should be done. Hell, they shouldn’t even be attempted. Forget human accomplishment, or the desire to transcend one’s own limits and self-made habits. There’s something better: stasis, and mediocrity. Because if I can’t, you can’t, either. Or rather, you shouldn’t be able to, because you’d be stepping on my feelings, man.

To me Health at Every Size is about opting out of a social construct, perpetuated by a 60 Billion dollar a year diet industry, that takes our money to solve a problem that nobody has proven is valid with a solution that nobody has proven is effective or even possible for most people.

Yes, a statistically normal, proportionally loading-bearing body is a mere ‘social construct,’ and NOT the anthropological norm ever since the first australopithecine decided to get his body up, and, well, walk. You know, walking — that ‘thing’ that so many HAES advocates wish to somehow get around, via scooters and other social constructs, as if the act is wholly optional, and in need of conquest.

For me it’s about the best I can do with the amazing and unique body I have which just happens to be a fat body.

Notice, again, the denial of responsibility — it’s not a body that Chastain has MADE, over years of personal choices, but one that merely ‘happened’, as if by luck. And this leads us to the following:

What I am saying is that this may be more complicated than weight less = feel better.  First is the fact that losing weight affords someone a ton of societal approval because thin is valued in this society.  Suggesting that stigmatized people solve social stigma by changing themselves is working the wrong end of the problem.

Yet stigma, as Ragen does not seem to understand, is a socially valuable tool that fills a great evolutionary role. Yes, it’s been used and abused by bullies, but things like ‘shame’ are perfectly natural adaptations to a REAL and difficult problem: the conflict between who we are, as individuals, re: our motives, desires, and ways of being, and the long-term health of society, which needs to corral our own worst tendencies. It’s just that, with food, body size, and similar issues, ‘shame’ has only played a recent role, and how could it be any different? We live in abundance, and people can, for the first time ever, get as fat as they’d like, move as little as they want, and never (at least in the West) starve en masse, as was the threat for 99% of our existence. Shame, as well as other, less immediate consequences, prevents such things, however.

It is ironic, then, that Chastain complains about ‘stigma,’ yet falls into one of the most stigmatized sorts of behaviors, herself: a lack of ownership. Recall her words re: her body, which ‘just happens to be a fat body?’ People — correctly, I might add — really dislike this sort of shit because people have a lot of their own shit to deal with, from ill health, to poverty, to cheating spouses, bad bosses, bad kids, bad friends, bad eyes. There’s little time, then, to pity oneself, or — even worse! — to fob off responsibility upon others, especially when so many issues are within one’s control. Weight, of course, is one such issue, and is usually solved by putting down the food, and looking at oneself in the mirror. If this is NOT done, there’s no law, naturally, to coerce the ‘offender’ to lose weight. That is, in fact, a GOOD thing. Yet there are stares, comments, and — even among those with the most self-control — a natural, biological, long-standing revulsion to such appearances, which, far from being a mere ‘social construct,’ merely follows a predictable human constant: that outliers, of ALL kinds, will garner unpredictable reactions, especially if it’s not a positive one.

Yet Chastain’s ‘solution’ is to end bullying. I get that, and I agree with it, to a point. But, barring a cybernetic implant into our brains, we will still have a reaction to these outliers, and especially to the morbidly obese, whether it is articulated or not. And barring THAT, there is still the mirror, which will, in the absence of others’ commentary, supply its own narrative, as lifted from the viewer’s own brain. And, unless one has had a complete break from reality, this narrative will not be pretty.

Health is a very personal thing – each person gets to choose how highly they want to prioritize their health and the path that they take to get there…

And, ah! — you knew it had to happen, didn’t you? This is, alas, the mark of a poor debater, finally at the fore, and of a person uncomfortable with her own opinions, no matter how confident she may otherwise seem to be. In short, Chastain goes from arguing that obesity has NO relationship with health, which is silly, and untenable, to arguing that ‘each person gets to choose how highly they want to prioritize their health.’ No, the two are not mutually exclusive — especially not in the lackadaisical philosophy of Health At Every Size — but it’s telling that, in the midst of trying to validate obesity scientifically, there’s reneging of the fact into less controversial territory. Not good, for Chastain’s ultimate claim is as follows:

Weight loss does not meet these [scientific] criteria – there is not a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people have succeeded at weight loss long term, and there is no study that shows that people who lose weight live longer or become healthier.

The first I’ve already dealt with, for people ARE, by their nature, more apt to fail than succeed in any endeavor, a fact that Ragen obsesses over as a means of justifying giving zero effort into things that matter. The second, claim, however, is just plain wrong, for a number of reasons. First, notice Ragen’s tricky wording — that ‘no study shows that people who lose weight live longer,’ which (as before) disregards a baseline of health that compares the lifespan of ‘average’ and ‘morbidly obese’ people, which is the more appropriate thing to look at. Perhaps a fat person had already clogged their arteries to the point of near-death before losing weight? Perhaps the surplus calories had, in a purely metabolic sense, already aged them to the point of no return? Do such ‘details’ even matter, however? Or is a point that’s useless to Chastain imply it’s no point at all?

As for her claims re: the studies, they are simply a lie, for ANYONE interested in weight is bound to come across many contradicting Ragen’s words. There’s this study, which claims weight loss reduces blood pressure, or another on weight loss and diabetes remission, or greater mass being associated with mortality and morbidity, or obesity’s long-term changes to immunity, inflammation, and the brain. Yet the biggest study of them all is in fact a review of several studies, which included tens of thousands of participants, in total, concluding that:

The evidence regarding sustained weight loss in adults clearly supports the health benefits of intentional weight loss and maintenance.

Numerous studies show that weight loss, even if only 5-10%, significantly improves lipoproteins, [28] [29] hypertension, [30] diabetes mellitus (DM) and insulin resistance, [31] risk for osteoarthritis and its symptoms, [32] risk for selected cancers, [33] and other risk factors for chronic diseases…. [34]

A study from Finland of nearly 500 men and women at risk for type 2 DM who were randomized to intensive lifestyle modifications or standard care found a 58% reduction in new cases of DM over three years. [35] None of the subjects who achieved all five study goals (weight loss of 5-10%, 30-45 minutes of physical activity, 4-5 days per week, < 30% fat calorie intake, < 10% saturated fat calorie intake, and 15 grams of fiber per 1000 calories) developed DM.

Several large prospective studies suggest that intentional weight loss is associated with decreased mortality. [33] [36] [37] One study of 43,457 women found that any amount of intentional weight loss resulted in health benefits. [33] In this study, women who intentionally lost weight had a 40-50% decrease in deaths from obesity-related cancers and a 30-40% decrease in death from type 2 DM. Another study of 49,337 men reported a 32-36% decline in death from DM among men with health problems who intentionally lost weight. [37]

Obese people spend an average of $1850 more in health costs per year than non-obese people, and morbidly obese people spend up to $5500 per year more in health costs. Overweight women earn less, overweight people are more likely to have a short-term disability, pay more for clothing, food, and even pay more for gasoline (Dor et al., 2010)….

The same review warns the difficulty for many to lose weight, the well-established health issues with ‘yo-yo dieting,’ as well as the inability to maintain a stable (and not necessarily healthy) weight.

Yet Ragen Chastain, in her embrace of ‘intuitive eating,’ and in the midst of constant warnings about changes in body mass composition, has clearly gone from being kind-of-fat, to pretty fat, to really fat over the years, thus contradicting her own alarums for the sake of food. Perhaps, then, it is as common sense suspects: Ragen Chastain is not really interested in health, but the illusions she can proffer, and the further illusions, now multiplying, and coning ever outward, such tangles ALWAYS seem to entail.

A Conclusion From The Detritus?

There’s little more to say, really. Health At Every Size is mere fraud, as most people realize, and Regan Chastain is a self-destructive huckster. Yet instead of ending this essay on a bad note, I’m gonna do something that Ragen has not ever done, herself: help my readers with their ills. Let’s say you’re fat, whether it’s a mere 30-40 lbs overweight, or upwards of 100 pounds. Do you blame genetics? Should you say, Forget it, it’s too tough to lose it all, anyway? Do you start a Tumblr, or enter into some fad diet, or what?

Interestingly, my advice is similar to Ragen’s, but its corollaries are things she’d NEVER get behind. First, stop worrying about your weight — at least for now. The most important thing is to figure out what you need to eat, and how much of it to eat. Cage-free eggs are good, with the yolks — thank you much! So is plain, organic yogurt, whole grains, nuts, grass-fed meat, wild fish, cheese, soymilk, fermented foods, different teas, and lots of fruits and vegetables — the last of which should be your mainstay, whether on a ‘diet,’ or as part of a life-long eating regimen. Get enough B vitamins, whether through a high-quality pill, like Jarrow’s, brown rice, or the (small) amounts in bee pollen products, and enough vitamin C, through natural, not synthetic, sources. Moreover, learn to COOK so that you’re not dependent upon others’ dietary choices.

Chocolate whole wheat waffles, sweetened with xylitol. They will keep you in shape.

Some of my chocolate whole wheat waffles, sweetened with xylitol. They will keep you in shape….if you make ’em from scratch.

Good fats that one should eat a lot of: EVOO for dipping, rice bran oil for frying/baking, avocado, coconut fat, high-quality chocolate (cocoa butter should be the first ingredient), butter, cheese, whole milk (preferably raw, from a local farm), red palm oil (make sure it’s this color or darker), almonds, and walnuts.

Protein: don’t exceed 90 grams/day. Anything much more or much less is propaganda, whether from the meat and/or fitness industry on the one hand, or vegans on the other. It’s all bullshit, really. Eat like a person, damn it.

Avoid: sugar, all simple starches (‘wheat’ flour, white flour, white rice, potato starch, white pasta, etc. — make sure it’s all 100% whole grain), refined fats (virtually all bottled vegetable oils in the supermarket), trans fats, any margarine or butter-like spread, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or ‘fractionated’ oils, palm kernel oil (not to be confused with unrefined red palm oil), weird foods with chemical additives, most health bars, toasted/fried/baked nuts, farmed salmon. Obviously, avoid most restaurant food, and all fast food. This also excludes virtually all candy and chocolate bars.

As for how much, the answer is simple, really: if you’re fat — and especially if you’re really fat — try to hover in the mid-2,500 range per day and see what happens. If you eat enough fruits and vegetables, you’ll likely have a hard time making that number, and you’ll slim down without much effort.

And dessert? Again, learn to cook. I eat dessert almost every single day, but I make it with xylitol, which tastes and behaves like sugar without the problems. I bake with 100% whole wheat ‘white’ flour (a reference to the wheat variety, not the grain/bran integrity), as well, which is indistinguishable from refined flour.

Exercise: you will need to embark on an exercise program to correct long-standing issues from asymmetrical loads, and poor habits in general. Michaelle Edwards’s YogAlign is one of the best programs for this, and can be combined with proper deadlifitng technique and/or kettlebell use.

Sure, you can go ahead and lose weight, but if the above things are not part of your normal routine (and it should be a life routine, not a temporary one), then you’re missing the point. Ragen is right: health is NOT all about weight loss. Not even close. But it’s the ‘how’ of such things that’s so often missed not only by Ragen, but pretty much anyone who’s looked at himself, and thought: ‘What now?’

 

 

23 Comments Health At Every Size: The Movement To End All Movement

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      I was about to say — first, I’m no substance, now I’m all substance? Can’t a guy at least expect some consistency from others’ insults?! 😀

  1. Craig

    That was a phenomenal article. I frequent the Fatlogic subreddit quite a bit and like most others there, I am absolutely fascinated by Ms Chastain. I read her blog whenever I can, not because its interesting or informative, but because it really is a study in how low a human being is willing to sink in order to make a few bucks and make themselves feel like that are making a difference. What I find truly sad are the sycophantic people who respond to her blog day in and day out. There is a core of maybe 10, people who have cast off their health, mobility and even relationships with family. They do this because Ragen has made them feel ok about what they must know is wrong.

    Your article features my all time favorite line to one of her critics: “I want you to know I don’t consider us equals on the subject.” That is Ragen Chastain summed up in 13 words. No matter how much evidence is presented to her, she holds her beliefs above all else.

    Reply
  2. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

    Thanks! Can’t say that I’ve read her blog regularly, merely snippets on Fatlogic every once in a while. It was enough material, at any rate, to come up with an article.

    People like Chastain are easy to get obsessed over, since she’s like a train-wreck. So, once I’m finished, here, I don’t plan on re-visiting her blog any time soon. I wish her the best, and hope she gets better, but the Ragens of the world are so bent on their own destruction that all the well-wishing becomes irrelevant.

    As far as that quote goes, remember, it was directed towards a woman who’d actually lost weight (something Ragen claims she doesn’t want, but is probably emotionally incapable of), felt better, and decided to share her experiences. Ragen didn’t like that. ‘Sharing,’ in her world, is strictly for incestuous beliefs, not differing perspectives that can be challenged via argument.

    Again, thanks for reading.

    Reply
  3. Andrew Bennett

    Thank you for the article Alex. I only recently discovered the world of HAES and Ragen Chastain through my also-recent discovery of R/Fatlogic and I have been consistently disgusted and fascinated by the HAES people.

    I, like you, allowed myself to get very overweight and I changed that. I didn’t complain to Tumblr, I never told anyone that my body was “comfortable” at that size, instead I changed how I eat and increased my exercise.

    By eating real foods, avoiding carbs, and eating fats I went from 212 to 160 on a 5-8 frame. I went from 36-30 pants back to the 30-30s I wore in high school.

    Thank you for all the hard work writing this article debunking the myths of the FA movement and for putting everything bouncing around in my head in a well thought out, easy to read essay

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Yeah — for all the talk, the HAES folks almost never discuss food, especially not in terms of calories. That’s just verboten, almost as if food has nothing to do with their own situation.

      Good job on the weight loss. Carbs are good, but in the case of losing weight, cutting them out works pretty well. I eat pasta, bread, fruit, and cake all the time, however. I just make sure it’s 100% whole grain and that I don’t eat too much of it.

      Anyway, thanks for the words, Andrew.

  4. nlaq

    Awesome article! I would love to see more studies about how going from morbidly obese to a normal weight reduces health risks though. The best way to combat HAES is with actual hope.

    I do have to ask: where do you get your 90 grams of protein per day figure? I’m currently working on my own weight (300, down to 262 over 4ish months – 5’10”), with a very clean diet and just started a 5/6 day per week training program that includes strength training (though to be honest the cardio part may as well be strength training anyway due to my weight and poor muscle mass).

    I’m worried about my body cannibalizing my lean tissue, as well as prevent me from gaining muscle mass. Everyone seems to say I should be about .8 grams per pound in order to gain and maintain muscle growth. I wouldn’t want to compromise that.

    The only reason I ask is that you seem adamant about 90g / day, and considering the way you seem to research things I figured you have a good reason. Basically: this isn’t me wanting to “challenge” anything, I’m just curious.

    Either way, thanks for the awesome article!

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hi Nelson,

      The short answer to what you’ve asked and implied is: “maybe.” You’re right, if you’re training heavy you need more protein that the average person, and you could probably get away with your sort of intake for a while. It’s just important to not make a habit of it, as many weight-lifters do over years and years. Keep in mind that the average need is usually in the 60 gram range, and often lower. I’ve read the 90 gram/day figure as optimal in many sources, including Michael Murray’s food encyclopedia, which talks about what happens with excess protein. Yes, you’ll convert it into energy (as opposed to using fat), as an auxiliary fuel source, but that’s not the same thing as a muscle-related requirement.

      This article mentions this, but glosses over what happens at even higher intakes: protein’s conversion to uric acid, which is a sharp, crystalline compound that, if passing through the kidneys at too high concentrations, too frequently, can cause kidney damage, as well as the negative effects on calcium. In short, going from about 50 grams of protein to 150 will increase the release of calcium from the bones (a perfectly normal process) by 2 times (which is not normal). Harmless in the short term, I guess, but is probably one of the reasons for America’s high level of osteoporosis in the long term. Plenty of people have gotten away high-level consumption, but given what is known in so many chemical/theoretical models, there’s a risk that people need to be aware of, not simply ignore.

      The real problem is that there hasn’t been any truly long-term studies on high protein consumption, kidney damage, and the true usefulness of protein at such high levels. Some studies go for a few years, but realistically, given what is known of uric acid (and other by-products of excess protein), real damage can take a lot longer. This reminds me of a rare disease that occurs in high carb diets in the absence of protein, due to weird metabolic changes hoping to cope with such dietary inversions. Yet it takes time for this to develop, and is therefore seen in anthropological contexts wherein populations are studied for long periods of time, not merely in a lab or via some several-year followup. It’s safe to assume, then, that going too far away from typical food consumption into behaviors that are less anthropologically sound can lead to other, less visible problems that are often impossible to guess. I’d say people (even well-educated people) known remarkably little of food and how the body works, and this of course includes me. So the safest thing is to be balanced, and not stray TOO far from what healthy populations have always eaten for thousands of years. This is the point of the article, in general, and I’d say it’s best to apply it to food as a whole, whether it’s food types or caloric ratios.

      Have you heard of chromium poynicotinate? Source Naturals sells Chrometate/Niacin-Bound Chromium (same thing as polynicotinate), which in studies show to promote weight loss (due to better insulin sensitivity), as well as retain muscle mass even in the midst of significant weight loss. It’s cheap, well-studied, and might help you in your goals without over-relying on drastic dietary changes, especially if you ever become tempted to make these sorts of habits permanent.

      Thanks for reading!

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    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Thanks. I already link you in the article, but decided to make your original post more prominent at the very top.

      Good luck, and I hope everything goes well for you.

    2. Jackson Hawley

      Folk like you are why I find so many of these “fat activist” folk kind of reprehensible. No, nobody deserves to be discriminated against in housing/employment/etc. for their fatness, but they are all trying to claim that their fatness is some inextricable part of them, whereas such can only be said about a VERY small number of individuals, like yourself.

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  7. Aquarius Moon

    This is late but thanks for an article that debunks the myths and lies of this movement. The idea is good but the followers have turned it into just a different version of the Fat Acceptance Movement, i.e. to brainwash people into finding fat beautiful.

    These hypocrites are doing the same as what they accuse the thin of doing; for example, that fitspo is just thinspo in disguise. More need to speak out against them and their lies.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Aquarius:

      I don’t know if the idea is good even at its root — it strikes me as quite self-absorbed, and less motivated by acceptance as a principle, and more so acceptance of laziness and getting rewarded for poor choices. If a system values ‘feelings’ above all (as HAES does), then all else is mere puffery.

      The best thing I could say for HAES is that, in general, while “calories in, calories out” is a good guideline, it’s merely that: a guideline. Lots of lay folk make silly claims about every calorie being equal, but that is sheer metabolic ignorance. Yet they assume that arguing such nuances is somehow giving into HAES’s deeper myths, so they occlude the truth for the sake of expedience. I hate such attitudes, whether it’s coming from HAES or those that are on the supposedly better side. Most, on BOTH sides, know remarkably little.

      I also don’t think that being somewhat overweight, in the 20-30 lb range, is a real health issue. The issue comes from the *probable* behaviors that allow one to become 20-30 lbs overweight in the first place, which are not always constant. Like it or not, there is no absolute proof that mild excess weight, in and of itself, is a marker of anything but mild excess weight.

      And yes, HAES is hypocritical as FUCK. So much of it is mired in bullshit about “beauty standards,” all the while ignoring some basic biological constants that pretty much exclude most outliers of appearance. Fat, of course, is one of them, and fat, in most places, will never be ‘beautiful’ – even as these HAES whiners lust after sexy physiques and merely wanna get plowed by Calvin Klein models. It’s just UGH.

      Anyway- thanks for reading.

  8. Aquarius Moon

    Good grief, I missed your reply!

    What I meant when I said the idea behind HAES is good, is that everyone, regardless of weight, is encouraged to prioritise health. If people follow this principle, the morbidly obese WILL, lose weight as a result, regardless of whether or not that was their primary objective for embarking on the health journey in the first place.

    I really dislike the excuses about slow metabolism, injuries, etc. I’m 38. How could my metabolism be the same as that of a teenager? I was involved in a car accident that led to residual spine disability that renders crossfit and lifting heavy out of the question.

    But with a relatively good diet and regular exercise, I still fit in the jeans worn during university days.

    The HAES liars perpetuate the myth that people need to starve and obsessed with working out, or don’t enjoy life, in order to remain at a healthy weight. That’s bullshit. My life is better BECAUSE I’m healthy, work hard to stay in shape and feel confident when interacting with people.

    Fresh food tastes much better and doesn’t make one lethargic. So how is consuming that not enjoying life?

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      I think the phrase itself (“health at every size”) suggests prioritizing health, but very few HAES suggestions have anything to do with health. The problem is that they absolutely deny not only the ill effects of obesity — which are probably less severe than they’re made out to be — but the effects of bad food, as well, which are probably worse.

      Yeah, it’s all about extremes here- they say you’re either anorexic OR self-loving and fat, as if there’s nothing in between. Re: exercise and food and lethargy, exactly. These people feel like shit. Their desire for food a couple of hours of each day leads to 22 others of pain, self-loathing (no, fat is not beautiful; it is fat, and they know it), and inability to even move. That’s not a self-loving trade-off at all.

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