Updated: Feb 12
The government and the media have done an exceptional job this week of finger pointing at the tubbies and starting a slow tut tutting that is being framed as “if you ate an ice cream lockdown, don’t blame us that you cannot breathe.”. BMI is cited on the government’s website under the list of health indicators which classify a human as “vulnerable” or not, and therefore whether they should be leaving the house. The government has launched a “national crackdown on obesity” and Boris is on my screens telling me I must lose weight.
It’s amazing, in 2020, I’d never thought of losing weight before. I wonder why someone had never mentioned that to me.
It is such an easy little soundbite isn’t it? “Lose weight”. I wonder how many calories there are in soundbite. We are taught to believe that our size is dictated by how well behaved we are at eating, how disciplined we are at exercising, and if we are a controlled enough human who can subjugate all of our disgusting gluttonous desires we can win the prize of being instagram HAPPY*. *now with added COVID IMMUNITY!
It does not work. I’m not here to sound like the bitter old fatty who is too lazy to climb off my sofa made of chips, it is all around you, and we are taught not to see it. Have a think, how many people do you know who are on a diet or have ever been on a diet, who “watch their weight” or classify food as “good food” (= I will be thin food) “bad food” (=naughty, cheeky, sinful… the list goes on)”? Now have a think about how many people you know how have ever significantly changed their body size in a healthy way and maintained it to the reduced size. I am sure you are listing a couple fo names you can think of to prove me wrong, right? But let’s just stack that couple of names next to the list people you have ever known to have dieted. You could of course believe that the lazy dieters never had the will power to stick to their allotted lettuce. Or maybe, just maybe diets don’t work.
Have you noticed that people who diet may to lose a lot of weight very quickly, only to reach a point where no matter what they do they cannot seem to shed any more of themselves? And then slowly the weight starts to creep back on and then you seem to settle at a weight which is often around the same as the starting point if not just a little more, what several theories call your “set point”. Studies indicate that around 80% of people who lose more than 10% of their body weight regain the weight and often end up larger than when they started.
It seems pretty obvious that dieting messes with your metabolism. Sometimes that is the aim. Most women I know have been on a diet or been restricting their eating since they were teenagers. Surely if diets worked then we would have a mass of instagram thin hotties walking around living their best photoshopped lives? The reality is that we are in at least second if not third generation of women who have taught their bodies they cannot be trusted, and taught their bodies that they cannot trust us. Why would my body not over react when it is hungry? I have trained it to not believe it will get the food it needs to survive. For most of my adult life.
Here are the things I have tried over the years to try and reduce my body into a socially acceptable size: starvation (food restriction, portion restriction, cutting out food groups, claiming allergies, claiming ethical grounds), weight loss “clubs”, gyms (from regular exercise of a hour a day minimum to the extreme of gym twice a day every day), diet pills (over the counter, under the counter, rip off dangerous shit from the internet and miracle cures from the high street appetite suppressants), hypnosis, psychoanalysts, coaching, personal trainers, books, course, online bullying groups, online motivation groups… you name it, I have tried it. None of them worked long term or were sustainable. None. The only thing I have not tried is surgery. The only time I ever managed to significantly lose weight for a long period of time was when I ate one egg a day for six months. My waist was smaller but I was cold and I smelled bad and I stopped when I started to gain body hair as my body was desperately trying to protect me in any way it could. I have obsessed and bullied and tortured myself with food and felt like a failure every time I have eaten for approximately the past 30,000 meals of my life. Sounds healthy, doesn’t it Boris? I mean, why don’t I just try losing some weight?
At the height of my abusive relationship with food, I would buy one of those packet muesli bars and cut it into 14 and that would be my food allowance for a fortnight. My body got to a stage where it craved any nutrients at all that I would allow myself one lick of a veggie oxo cube once a day. I would suck the crumbs which had landed on my fingers and feel like I was cheating. That I had failed to control myself. I obviously made myself extremely ill. Extremely ill - but not thin. I could not cut my genetics into 14 neatly lined up rows and punish myself out of my programmed disposition.
One of the things I have noticed during lockdown which has made a huge resurgence is disordered eating. Friends who have been battling their relationship to food for years and really thought they had moved past that story of self-abuse have been finding the old demons stood in front of their fridges passing comment every time food passed their lips. Whilst we went into lockdown with a to-do list looking like a thinspiration Influencer, the reality is that many of us have had to really struggle to survive in lockdown.
I got corona early, back in February. At the time I was the healthiest I had been for most of my life, I was exercising for about 90 minutes 6 days a week, cycling at least an hour a day, but often two or three, regularly attending three cardio classes at the gym a week and had finally managed to begin to teach my body that when it was hungry, it would be allowed food. I eat ridiculously healthily. I was going to type that I have a reputation amongst my friends for the things I can do to vegetables, but that sounded wrong. But fat. I was still fat. More fat than I have ever been in fact. Six months after getting ill and I still have days I cannot breathe and my body simply does not move when I command it to.
I am still struggling with post-COVID fatigue and an array of other tedious symptoms that are leaving me less than able to cope with the everyday adult life of someone who got no government support for this period. This last week has been hard. There are reports everywhere blaming me for not being able to breathe. I must have had COVID so bad because I am just a lazy good for nothing who never tried dieting before, and for godsake do some exercise. At the weekend I cycled half of my old work commute and had to stop on a park bench, red as a beetroot, pouring with sweat, unable to continue and sat there crying as it ran around my head, that quite honestly, I understand why people who had this virus keep having heart attacks. I keep having to remind myself this has killed thousands of people, as I cling to furniture and pant for air as I walk from one room of my house to another. But I should probably start Couch to 5k because it is all my fault I am like this.
As someone with a history of disordered eating I tend to avoid scales, they only make me spiral into self-abuse. But this week I had to weight myself to find out my BMI - an equation drawn up my a mathematician, not a dr. It is a graph popularised by insurance companies who with one sweep overnight were able to tip thousands of people into the “obese” category when they changed the markers, and therefore invalidate a whole load of people’s health insurance. That’s right - what is driving our reliance on BMI as as marker of health? Insurance companies who profit from it. Well that and fatphobia. BMI does not differentiate between fat and muscle, it favours tall people, and disregards waist size. It is also entrenched in racist assumptions that white bodies are the "norm". I have pasted some links at the bottom if you want to do your own research on why BMI is a terrible marker of health. It is undeniable that you can be thin and unhealthy but people still tend to get uncomfortable at the suggestion that fat people can be healthy. M Mum managed to achieve a socially acceptable BMI twice in her life - once after her third round of chemo, and once the week before she died and had been living off a drip and ice cream for six months, so don’t ever try and convince me BMI is a measure of health.
The government BMI calculator asks if I do “None, any or some” exercise. So there is no differentiation between whether I cycle to McDonalds or run a marathon. It does not ask if I smoke, if I self-harm or if I have any pre-existing health conditions, to pluck a few random options out of the air which may be considered to impact upon my health.
You know what makes people put on weight? Encouraging them to have an unhealthy relationship with food and associating their worth as a human with their Body Mass Index. You know what encourages disordered eating? Shaming people for their bodies. You know what is bad for people’s health? Telling people they are not good enough.
Oh, and you know what else is bad for people’s health? Not putting lockdown in place when you can see the danger rushing at you. Having advisors and government ministers who break the lockdown rules and then trying and gaslight us into believing they did nothing of the sort. Having a leader of a country who attended EU meetings about acquiring PPE in a pandemic would have been good for my health. Paying carers, nurses and Drs a decent wage rather than thinking they are going to be able to pay their rent in Thursday night claps, and classifying them unskilled would give me a better chance of surviving COVID than guilt tripping because I had some crisps last week. Maybe if there had been more Test, Track and Trace, there would be less need for Point, Blame and Judge. To try and shift the blame from them to us is a deliberate distraction and I am not falling for it. Jog on Johnson.
You're welcome to do your own research on why BMI is a rubbish gauge of health, but here are some handy links: