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The Fat Acceptance Movement

The Fat Acceptance Movement

This morning I listened to This American Life’s podcast “Tell Me I’m Fat.” As a fitness professional, and as a human being, it gave me a lot to consider. If you haven’t listened to it – it is worth the time. Check it out here. 

As a health care professional, I find myself conflicted about the fat acceptance movement. On a very deep level I want everyone to be free, self-expressed, at peace with themselves and healthy—mentally as well as physically. However, though the podcast argues that fat people can be healthy—which is true—there is unarguably a link between obesity and illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Not to mention the pain of daily movement and joint problems that come with obesity. I worry that as a society accepting the escalating rates of obesity, and the health risks that do in fact come with them, we give ourselves—as a whole—an out from dealing with the issue, which is much larger than one person and their right to be self-expressed. 

If you follow the science, you know that obesity has very little, if anything, to do with personal will power. There are many forces at play, some of which, of course, are genetics. But factors such as brain chemistry, gut bacteria and physiology also play a huge role. The escalating number of “morbidly obese” (for lack of a different medical term) Americans is a reflection of a broken health care system that fails to address individuals at a systemic level. Rather, it compartmentalizes and overmedicates all problems—frequently treating the symptom rather than the root. Why are the brain chemicals imbalanced? Why are the hormones improperly regulated? How can that be addressed? 

Our food supply has also changed to become more synthetic, hormone-laden and processed than ever before. Recently, at the airport, I noticed a group of adolescent boys, almost all of whom were overweight. I looked around, and most of the kids I saw reflected the same. Something is wrong. All adolescent boys eat a lot – since the beginning of time. Their bodies should be producing enough testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone) in order to grow that they should be able to EAT as adolescent boys do and not be over a healthy weight. Sure, some times someone has other genetic factors and is an overweight teen, but this should be the exception, not the norm. I’m no expert on nutrition but instinctually I  can’t help but believe it has something to do with the hormones and chemicals found in the modern food supply. 

I’m lucky. I have the time and the means as a middle class Austinite with no kids, to afford to see a functional medicine practitioner and address imbalances in my gut, hormones and brain. And he’s great – but it’s not cheap and its not covered by medical insurance (for which our small business has to pay almost $1500 a month —just to cover my partner and myself).  What about every body else? What about how expensive it is to buy free-range, antibiotic and hormone free proteins? I worry that if we embrace all aspects of our culture’s “fatness” too much, we won’t ever take a look at our broken systems of medicine and food. 

And then there is the idea of extremes and quick fixes. Clearly, the idea of workout like crazy and eat “super clean” also doesn’t work – it just doesn’t – but we don’t look at that either.

On a personal level, though this might surprise some people (but probably not if you are a woman), I related very much to the people in the interviews—especially Elna Baker (the one who lost a lot of weight through amphetamine use).  In the fitness industry, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to look the part. There is an understanding that because you love movement and exercise science, this should also equate to having less than four percent body fat and being shredded at all times.  This standard sets us up for such extremes with food that it is no wonder people can’t find the balance between fat and exhausted. 
Over the years, I have found that I can in fact get into above average physical condition. When we have photo shoots and events, I can manipulate my diet and workouts so that I am very lean and yes, I my abs are super defined. But the irony is that while that may sell, my performance actually drops during those times. When I eat a diet of no grains, no sugar, no nothin’, I will look like a fitness mogul should, but I am tired, less vibrant, weaker and my body begins to adapt more undesired movement patterns that reduce my ability to execute movements with precision (such as tension in my neck and jaw) because my body is under a higher amount of overall stress. 

As we began filming for our online videos, honestly, I struggled with the idea that I might need to work harder to look a certain part in order for the videos to be successful. But the project is ongoing, indefinitely, and I knew I couldn’t live in that state. I know I don’t want to spend my whole life obsessing like a narcissist about my food, my sleep, my training. I also knew that meant I was going to have to show up with an average looking body, but that despite the look, it would be well-trained in movement skills and strong. It would come with a brain that has a lot of information in it on how to preserve the longevity of movement abilities, to effectively create suppleness and strength, and to reduce pain and feel good. So that’s what I am doing. I’m putting my healthiest but definitely not my thinnest, most-cut self out in to the world and letting whatever comes of that come. And that feels like freedom—freedom that everyone deserves.

So while I can’t pretend to understand the struggle of someone who is obese, I do know the desire to be OK with who you are, wherever you are – right at this moment. And I believe everyone should get that opportunity – to be at peace with the reality of who we are now, not our future, more successful, thinner, smarter, better selves. I believe in freedom but I also believe in growth – and I hope that those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I hope that as a society we can find a way for individuals to be self-expressed and happy, while still understanding that, as a whole, we could do better. 

Above is a sample of some of the workouts we are preparing in which I am rockin’ my chill size thighs. There will be a lot more of these coming in the next few months as we get ready to launch RB Online! 
Blog post brought to you by Elisabeth Kristof, RB co-director and owner. 
(2) Comments
  1. Thank you for writing such an honest, well-informed and thought-provoking piece about the challenges we all have finding (an impossible) balance between health, feeling good and looking good. As a sometimes public health professional, I really appreciate the attention you draw to the systems out there – food, pharmaceuticals, agriculture – that converge to negatively affect community health. When the culture points to obesity as an individual failing, it distracts from the real money-making forces at play that make us all vulnerable to health issues like obesity, asthma, allergies and other still-to-be-discovered conditions linked to environmental exposures.
    And thanks for giving us a behind the scenes look at the real trade offs fitness professionals have to contemplate in order to look the part. Perfect abs might show well in a magazine but they’re also alienating – why bother even trying if you know you can never get to that result? Your decision to just go with how you are without starving yourself is kind of – can I say it? – radical. And inclusive. And pro-health. In other words, all of the things RedBird stands for. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Caitlin for the thoughtful response! Your insights are always so great. We are lucky to have you in our community. XOXOX

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