the HAES® files: The Gift of Obesity

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Sandra Cruzen

In December, the Blog Committee announced our decision to “open up” the blog and ask for submissions from our readers who are HAES advocates/practitioners/activists, but who may not be members of ASDAH.  We asked for reader feedback, because it is our intention to broaden our community and make it more inclusive.  This week we are happy to welcome Sandra Cruzen and share her post with you.

Excuse me? Obesity—a gift? Yes. Let me explain.

Born to two short, very round, well educated parents obsessed with neither mental nor physical health, my fat childhood was pre-determined. With the energy and fervor of adolescence, however, I managed to become lean and athletic for almost two decades before my status as a double-x-chromosome-wielding person caught up with me.¹

Marriage, pregnancy, childhood sexual abuse, depression², death, divorce, single parenting, and menopause all guaranteed a resurgence of external obesity.³ I say external because even when I was lean and athletic, I was a poseur: I managed to pass as a person without “weight issues,” while the multi-media Inquisition in my head remained an endless loop of demanding, negative messages.

As these life events accumulated and compounded, the priority became surviving—both economically and with regard to mental health. The luxury of indulging those old media files demanding that I be thin and “attractive,” was not an option when my teenager was who-knows-where, doing who-knows-what, with who-knows-whom!

Not surprisingly, the physical weight returned with abundance, spread over half a decade. After the storm subsided though, some interesting bits had washed ashore. First is that we had all survived. Next, because survival meant dealing head on with all those life events, the conversation in my head changed. Circumstances forced me to turn from external to internal self, gradually beating down The Inquisition. This conversation-with-self gradually became a relaxed discussion over coffee with my new found “best friend”:

Self: “So, what do you think about such-and-such?”
Self again: “[Insert pithy and brilliant response]”
Self yet again: “Well done!”

No longer was there an accusatory voice nagging at me saying, “If only you would choose discipline and lose weight, then (blah, blah) life would be so perfect (blah, blah)…”

The next regular exam at my doctor’s office entailed the usual file update. Sitting with the clipboard on my lap, I was heartened and grateful to read that she had added screening questions that would begin a conversation with women about domestic violence, sexual assault, and nutrition. I moved down the form and read through the expanding list of dozens of diseases and conditions. I don’t have any of those things that are claimed to be “caused” by obesity, like diabetes and hypertension. I ended up checking one box: “Depression.” There was no box for “Obesity.” In a split second waiting-room epiphany, my visceral feeling of what “health” and “disease” really meant changed quite drastically.

“But,” one might ask, “given the choice, wouldn’t you really rather be thin?” Well, it would be easier to tie my shoes, I won’t lie. Also, were I thin, I might not emulate as accurately Winnie the Pooh doing his Stoutness Exercise Toe Touches. But the point is, I haven’t been given a choice: I got what I got, and I can no more “choose” to be thin than I can choose to be a rock or a tree.  I can still do my toe touches every morning, but trying to turn myself into a thin person for the sake of being—what, more acceptable? More pleasing? More attractive? For whom?  This would be just as ridiculous as trying to become a rock or a tree—and just as likely. Moreover, in the effort to become a rock or a tree, I would surely be irreparably damaged (perhaps even fatally) in the process, and in an effort to become “not me,” what would I become, and at what cost to my health? Even if I could, would I trade who I am right now, with the health I have, for one of those other check boxes on the form? Nope. Not even close.

So, the thing is, that in the big picture, for me, obesity is not such a bad deal after all. It is the outcome of my genetics, life circumstances, and gender. What it has “caused” for me is an evolving conversation with my best friend—my own voice—who accepts it as integral to who she is, where she has been, and how far she has come. And that, like my good health, is a gift.

REFERENCES

1. The incidence of depression in women is 1.7 to 2.7 times greater than for men.
Burt VK & Stein K The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2002, 63 Suppl 7:9-15. last accessed January, 2015.

2.  Key in the neurophysiological process in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the re-uptake of serotonin. If a particular serotonin receptor (HTR2C) helps regulate appetite and body weight, what does this mean about the relationship between depression and obesity?  Pooley, Edward C. et al., A 5-HT2C receptor promoter polymorphism (HTR2C − 759C/T) is associated with obesity in women, and with resistance to weight loss in heterozygotes. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics. Volume 126B, Issue 1, pages 124–127, 1 April 2004 doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.20143.

3.  There is well-established evidence that depression causes obesity.
Blaine, Bruce. Does Depression Cause Obesity?A Meta-analysis of Longitudinal Studies of Depression and Weight Control. Journal of Health Psychology, November 2008 vol. 13 no. 8 1190-1197, doi:10.1177/1359105308095977.

Sandra Cruzen

Sandra Cruzen

Sandra Cruzen has a background in vocational rehabilitation, public housing, and federal grant management. Her exasperation in not finding professional, comfortable and stylish clothing prompted her to leave her day job and open an online Etsy boutique that caters to plus sized petite women, Petite Plus Style. She is a fervent feminist progressive, advocating for equal treatment and social justice for every human. Her dream is to use proceeds from her wildly successful business in order to end the euthanasia of unwanted animals. She has considered tattooing “Spay and Neuter your Pets!” on her forehead, but has so far acquiesced in the interests of aesthetics and not scaring children.

6 Comments to “the HAES® files: The Gift of Obesity”

  1. That was absolutely lovely!!! Thanks for sharing this piece.

  2. Sandra, this is so similar to how I’ve come to feel. While there’s no denying life would be “easier” or more “convenient” if I were thinner, I am not. And never will be baring some sort of out-of-my-control medical crisis, which is NOT a desirable way to lose weight. I had a choice. Hate myself for the rest of my life, or accept the body I’ve got. I chose acceptance. It doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle, but it’s been a hell of a lot better than the self-hatred that consumed me for so long.

    Thank you for sharing this. It was very brave and a wonderful read!

  3. thank you for sharing

  4. I urge you to enjoy this “gift” while you are relatively young. As you get older, you are likely to get one or more of the conditions associated with ageing. That happens to both thin and fat people. But as a fat person, you will find that every condition associated with ageing will be attributed to your fatness. The older you get, the more you will be pressured to lose weight, because sooner or later you will no longer be able to say, “I don’t have any of those conditions they warned me about.”

    Remember, if you are fat, you can never die of natural causes. You will only be able to die of conditions “caused or exacerbated by obesity” — even if you live to 110.

  5. 🙂 rock on!! I can’t say I’ve struggled with this myself, but good overall health is always a blessing. There’s a reason that vital signs include Temp, heart rate, blood pressure, respirations and NOT waist size 😉

  6. What a wonderful community of thoughtful individuals! Thank you all for the kind words and astute observations.

    Lucie, I am so glad to hear of your process of self-acceptance. There is so much hatred in this world aimed at people because of how they look; how fabulous is it that by not buying into self-hatred, we can raise the bar for acceptance of everyone, regardless of the reason?

    rg, thank you for the wisdom that comes from living with our bodies in a world that blames fat for everything from arthritis to static cling! I’ll arm myself for the inevitable rounds of “I told you so” likely to come from some unsuspecting future “expert.” I love your comment that, “Remember, if you are fat, you can never die of natural causes.” !!

    DD, how right you are about there being a reason vitals do not include waist size. Yet. Although with all the BMI dogma flying around (I wonder what will qualify as “obese” tomorrow…12? lol), we have to continue to educate, refute, and resist the efforts to make that a reality.

    If all the ignorance surrounding weight and health wasn’t so damaging to so many, I’d be tempted to sell tickets to the misinformation circus and sell popcorn. Oooh, how about a “Jeopardy” special? Categories are: LUST FOR LIPIDS; BMI – BS; FAT ASSumptions; METABOLIC MADNESS; EPIDEMIC EPICS; PLUMP PALEOLITHIC PRINCESSES.

    Cheers all! Sandra

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