Nutritionally, Fat is a macronutrient. It carries 9 calories per gram (unlike the other two macronutrients, Carbohydrates & Protein that only carry 4 calories per gram). This makes it a powerhouse as an energy source because it is calorie-dense which, of course, is also why we don’t want to eat too much of it. Fat digests slowly which means, if you eat enough of it, it helps you feel sated and sustained throughout the day. But if you eat too much of it, it will make you feel bloated, gassy, constipated and sluggish. It is recommended (by the USDA) that we keep our fat intake within 20-35% of total daily calories (if we are eating around the average necessary 2000 calories each day). It is also recommended that we NEVER eat Trans Fats (hydrogenated oils) because they are as disease-causing as cigarettes and because consumption of them encourages obesity. It is also recommended that we eat as little saturated fat (animal fats) as possible. The majority of our fats, if we are concerned about longevity and overall health, should come from unsaturated fats (plant fats). And there you have it. Fat, as a nutrient, isn’t a “bad guy” – he’s just a guy we need to know some things about, like the other guys Carbohydrates & Proteins.
Clinically (medically or physiologically) we require some fat on our bodies to insulate us, protect us, and allow our body to function on a cellular level. Zero percent body fat is death. Literally. Men need to carry AT LEAST 3-5% body fat to stay healthy. And, women need to carry AT LEAST 12-15% body fat to stay healthy. Though healthy body fat ranges (depending on age) can go up to 22% for men and 27% for women. Having a higher body fat percentage than the designated “healthy” range does not make you a bad person or an ugly person – it just means your body fat percentage isn’t healthy. That’s all. If you are concerned about longevity and overall health, should you pay attention to a less-than-healthy body fat percentage? Sure! Of course! And to pay attention to it, you should probably start doing some form of strength training, moderate cardiorespiratory exercise and watching your food intake more carefully. And then, your body fat percentage will decrease or increase. And it really is that simple.
What makes it not simple is the psychological / emotionalpart. And the connotations we have placed upon the word Fat are evidence of this. What do we mean when we call a person “Fat”? Do we mean that they are clinically overweight and, if they are concerned about their longevity and overall health, they should perhaps do something about it? Maybe. If you are a licensed personal trainer, group fitness instructor, doctor, nurse, physical therapist – you may be able to SOME DEGREE look at someone and say whether their body weight is unhealthy and you might genuinely be concerned about their health. But, I’m willing to bet pretty big money on the fact that when most of us call someone “Fat” in MOST situations, it has nothing at all to do with their health or our concern for their health.
“Fat” means much more, in our culture, than “clinically overweight.” It means “ugly,” “stupid,” “lazy,” “unmotivated,” “worthless,” “horrible,” “disgusting” and probably a handful of other negative things. These are the meanings we have given to that word. And most of us are aware – even if we have to stop and think about it for a second -- that these are the meanings we’ve given to that word. When someone claims that they are using that word “clinically,” that’s bullshit – because it’s not a clinical term for the overall state of someone’s body.
The bottom line in our culture is that “Fat” is a mean thing to call someone… especially yourself.
One of the meanest things I’ve ever done in my life – I mean, straight up consciously mean – was, as a teenager, warned my friends before they met my mom that she was “Fat.” I used that word specifically. I was ashamed of my mother’s weight and I was terrified by it. Whether it was my mother’s teaching or my father’s teaching or our culture’s teaching, or a combination of the three, I learned early on that extra weight meant “Fat” and “Fat” meant all of those negative words above. Of course, I didn’t think of my mother as “worthless” – no one on earth has ever meant more to me or was more necessary to me than my mother – but I know I thought her extra weight meant that she was ugly and that she was probably a little stupid and that she was definitely lazy and probably even a bit disgusting (please forgive me, I was a typically HORRIBLE teenager). And it took me a long time to realize that the people we call “Fat” in our culture are almost never any of those things. What they are, often, is desperate – DESPERATE -- to not be “Fat” (with all it’s many connotations).
But the more our culture calls someone “Fat,” the more they call themselves “Fat” and the more someone believes that they are “Fat” the less success they are going to have in reaching a healthy bodyweight. Because you can’t – YOU CAN’T – achieve lasting weight loss (or gain) and a healthy bodyweight by constantly telling yourself and hearing from others that you are “ugly,” “stupid,” “lazy,” unmotivated,” “worthless,” “horrible,” or “disgusting.” You can call yourself all of those horrible names and force yourself into submission for a short time to lose (or gain) SOME weight but if you keep calling yourself those names, and keep approaching your body weight as a measure of your worth as a human being, it will not last. You have to stop calling yourself “Fat.” That’s the first thing you have to do. “Fat” is the evilest word of all because it rolls all those other evil words you want to use on yourself (or other people) into one big devastating word. “Fat” works like an atom bomb on your self-esteem.
When you stop using “Fat” to destroy yourself, you can begin to separate your body weight, which is only one TINY TINY TINY component of who you are from all of those other aspects of who you are. You can say to yourself, “I have a high body fat percentage” but I have a gorgeous smile, a sexy ass, a great career and I can sing like an angel (or whatever). My mother was beautiful – I mean BEAUTIFUL – she had gorgeous, youthful skin and a smile… well… a simply dazzling smile. She was an awesome dancer. And she was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. And her laugh was remarkable and infectious. If she had learned to stop calling herself “Fat” and all the other horrific names she used to call herself, she might have been able to see these wonderful traits in herself and she might have been able to find confidence in herself and she might have been able to teach me to do all of that too. She would have seen her weight as only one part of her and not as THE thing that made her a simply worthless human being.
Using the “F” word on someone is negating their meaning as a human being. It’s not nice. We know this. This is why one of the meanest things one woman ever calls another is, “Fat Bitch.” Blech. It sends chills up my spine when I type it. When a woman calls another woman a “Fat Bitch” you know there’s no chance of reconciliation between those two women. You know there is true hatred there. Many of the other mean names women call each other (“Cunt,” “Bitch,” “Whore”) have some basis in specifics and have some power behind them. If a woman is a “Cunt” or a “Bitch” she’s likely very powerful and in control and gets what she wants. If a woman is called a “Whore,” it’s either because she’s highly attractive to people and/or she’s promiscuous. Either way, again, there is a certain power, a certain (albeit twisted) “goodness” about her. None of these words are “nice” of course. No one WANTS to be called any of these things.* But when you call someone a “Fat Bitch” there is not a single redeeming quality about them. No one wants them. No one wants to be around them. They are ineffectual. They are worthless. It’s just a horrible horrible horrible thing to call another human being. Again, especially yourself.
I don’t know if you noticed, Dear Reader, but we live in a completely fat-phobic society. And yet, we also live in a hyper-sexualized world. Girls learn early on that they have to be rail thin and yet have enormous breasts and a nice, meaty ass ‘cause that’s the way boys like ‘em. So, this creates a kind of schizophrenic hysteria among our girls. A hysteria in which food (one of our basic needs for survival) becomes an enemy and a girl’s body is always betraying itself. One generally needs fat on their body to produce breasts and a “meaty ass.” But we can’t force fat into just one area of our body. When we accumulate it, it goes everywhere. Yet, if we do not accumulate it, we are “too skinny.” I have heard this story over and over and over again among my students. “They said I was eating too much and getting too fat so I stopped eating and then they said I looked disgusting because I was too skinny.” Whether “they” are parents, grandparents, boyfriends, best friends, or even just the voices in her own head – this message is enough to confuse anyone’s mind and anyone’s body. The designation of “Fat,” a girl learns early on, is a death sentence to be avoided at all costs. It is a destructive force, whether it comes from the media or her closest inner circle. And if she hears that message (which she often does) from both of those sources and more, she doesn’t stand a chance.
When I hear my friends call themselves “Fat,” it hurts me because I know the destruction they are doing in their own mind. I also know how hard it is to love yourself if you are using that word still. Yet, if I had a penny for every time I called myself this word in my lifetime, I would have a bazillion-gajillion dollars by now.
Several years ago, I switched from “I’m Fat” to “I feel fat” because that’s more accurate. When I give into the urge to binge eat or I take too many rest days in a row, I begin to “feel fat,” in all its many meanings. But I am usually very careful NOT to say “I AM Fat” because 1) I don't want my kids to hear me say that 2) I know the feeling is temporary and 3) it is not remotely accurate. It isn’t accurate for anyone! Even an individual who is clinically obese (the person that most of us feel justified in calling “Fat”), is never going to get any better by bombing themselves with that destructive “F” word* because that word does not allow them to feel worthy of better health. It just doesn’t.
I am convinced that this is one of the missing pieces in the puzzle when we look at why more Americans don’t get and stay healthy. Fitness and healthy eating is often preached to us as if it is “so easy.” Just follow this diet. Just do this workout. But unless we are willing to take a good, long look at ourselves before (or as) we begin, any endeavor to “get healthier” will fail. And really knowing, accepting & loving who we are is so difficult. There is nothing easy about it. Whenever my health gets off track, I know I have lost sight of that basic concept of loving myself FIRST. Once I’m loving toward myself again then I can begin. Then, I can move my ass. Then, I can walk into my kitchen and cook something beautiful and delicious and healthy.
I know there are people using this “F” word in a subversive way to be body-positive (This cool blog is one example: http://thefatword.com/what-is-the-fat-word). There are many words in our culture that have been appropriated from the negative and re-made into affirmations of power. “Bitch,” for example, is a label that some women wear proudly because it means they aren’t submissive doormats. This kind of reclamation is tricky. I’m not convinced our minds can be appeased by what ultimately boils down to “sarcasm” in the face of decades and sometimes centuries of a word being used against us. But, it works for some people. If you are among those who feel that “Fat” is an empowering label – awesome! Be loud and proud with it then, baby! But I know for sure that many many more women use this word as a destructive weapon against themselves and others. And THIS, along with apologizing incessantly, is something women must stop doing.
Speak (especially to yourself!) with love
& Vaya Con Dios