I recently read the book “‘You Just Need To Lose Weight’ and 19 Other Myths About Fat People” by Aubrey Gordon. My friend and fellow coach, Sumi Singh, recommended it to me.
Sumi is also an avid reader and I generally take her book recommendations to heart. I had no awareness of the author and I was curious to see what perspectives I could glean from reading it.
Like a lot of things related to health, it’s difficult to find black and white responses to the myriad questions we receive as coaches.
And, to this day, most of my clients come to me for fat loss.
Gordon’s book was not an easy read. I say that not because it was lengthy (it wasn’t) and not because it spoke over the head of it’s audience (it didn’t). It was difficult because Gordon brought a lot of things to light about fat people and fatness (terms I still struggle to use) that should give the general population a lot to consider.
In many of the chapters, she ends with some questions to ponder.
I decided to take a few of those questions as inspiration for this post and give my own take on them.
These reflection questions were pulled from the end of Myth 9: “But What About Your Health?”
-What does believing that fat people are emotionally damaged allow me to believe about myself and my own health? Do I feel virtuous by comparison? Frightened of becoming fat if I’m not vigilant enough with my own “emotional eating”?
It’s virtually impossible to separate how we eat from our emotions. Whether you associate with being an emotional eater, a boredom eater, or a mindless eater, there are emotions at play that signal and influence how, when, what and how much we eat. Through my 15+ years coaching fat loss, I find the link to trauma(s) more and more apparent. It’s one of the many reasons I tend to advocate for not just some degree of nutrition coaching but also counseling/psychotherapy. I should also state, that just because someone is overweight does not mean there is emotional damage to blame. Thinner individuals by any comparison can also be processing emotional damage (myself included). Achieving a thinner body doesn’t qualify someone as better than another. Fat loss can be a relatively easy process for some and markedly more difficult for others. Being thinner doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is healthier.
-What does believing that fat people are emotionally damaged allow me to believe about people who are fatter than me? What existing judgments of fat people does that belief serve?
Early in my career (and even now), I always had the deepest respect for anyone who trusted me with information about their past. If there was trauma, abuse, neglect, or emotional instability that a client felt contributed to the size of their current body, I was grateful they shared that information with me. Being a trauma survivor myself, it was a place where we could have common ground. Not every person is comfortable sharing that information. Some simply want a plan to follow because they don’t want to think about the circumstances which led to weight gain in their lives. All they want is to be smaller/thinner. Sadly, many people believe that a person gains weight because they are lazy, unmotivated, gluttonous and undisciplined. They conveniently forget that genetics play a significant role in this conversation. As the adage goes in our industry: genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. I should also add (as this was a refresher for me out of the book) that some individuals consciously choose to be in larger bodies. In those cases, no emotional damage contributed to that outcome.
-Do I treat fat people differently if I believe they have experienced an eating disorder or major trauma? If so, how? What would it look like to extend compassion to all fat people, even those who haven’t offered me an explanation for their fat bodies?
As mentioned above, when I’ve found that I have some degree of common ground with someone in a larger body it helps me to consider how I might coach them. Much like I can relate to someone who has the same taste in music, movies or books, if I know that someone has experienced major trauma I may use different verbiage, different tools to help and may even have to be more mindful of potential triggers. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to do my best not to judge a book by it’s cover. Someone in a larger body may or may not be interested in fat loss and my assumption that they would be just because they join my training facility would be an error on my end. It’s my goal to help people appreciate what their bodies are capable of, help them get stronger, gain confidence in themselves and, where appropriate or asked for, help them improve their diets. That’s not specific to fat people. That’s a universal goal.
-While respecting the choice for some people to choose to be leaner versions of themselves, it’s helpful (arguably crucial) to embrace all sizes of individuals. I’ve rarely seen shame or bullying lead to healthy, sustainable change in anyone.
-If improved health is a goal, somewhere between 5-20% of a person’s starting weight can show tremendous improvements (only if an individual seeks to achieve it).
-Incorporating exercise can improve internal markers without a dietary intervention. While some may need to improve their dietary habits as well, an increase in energy expenditure is still a positive path.
-I recommend the book to anyone in the fitness/nutrition industry. While I did find some small areas of the book I disagreed with, they don’t take away from the author’s intent. I believe that if more coaches can understand our clients better, everyone wins.
(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)