The silliness of judging somebody’s health habits

Eagle. American flag. Freedom.

Live your life. It’s a free goddamn country.

I sort of have a reputation among some people as being a health nut.

I’m not, really. I eat processed foods with some regularity, and a decent portion of my daily caloric intake comes from pork rinds (they go well with everything!). While I am naturally very athletic, I worked out only sporadically until quite recently. My posture is crap.

But I do have some healthy lifestyle habits kind of rare for a 25-year-old. I get 6-8 hours of sleep every night. I only drink alcohol, like, once a year, and then decide I never want to do that again. I don’t smoke. I eat a ton of broccoli. I take my vitamins.

So I like to laugh when other people judge people on their lifestyle choices. (I guess I do judge people on their judgmental, er, ness. Whether that makes me a hypocrite or brilliantly meta is up to you.)

I love when health nuts, usually following some tightly prescriptive diet, can’t communicate a thought on the Internet without inserting a bunch of healthy buzzwords, and proselytizing about the virtues of “clean eating” or “colonic irrigation” or whatever. I love when people complain about the “obesity crisis,” about the habits of other people.

I think to myself, “I guess you never drink any alcohol then.” And then I chuckle self-righteously. (I can be a little obnoxious, okay?)

People love to get on their high horses about health. But “health” not only means different things to different people, but is a mark of privilege. Able-bodied privilege. Class privilege — access to diverse and high quality foods, the safety of being able to jog in your own neighborhood, and, of course, access to healthcare.

Not only that, but there is no one monolithic healthy lifestyle. Health freaks frequently advocate their lifestyles as The One True Way®, which is kind of stupid because I know really healthy vegans and really healthy paleo people. In a death match, I don’t know who would win (okay, probably the paleo people because the vegans would have an issue with killing to begin with — that was a poorly thought-out hypothetical).

What I’m saying is, the grains aren’t killing the vegans, contrary to what the paleos think. The meat isn’t killing the paleos, contrary to what the vegans think. (NOTE: I know plenty of vegans and paleos who don’t proselytize — I’m talking about the zealots here.) 

What really pisses me off about everyone who shares some article about how eating a donut is going to murder you forever is that for someone recovering from an eating disorder, eating a donut might be a giant goddamn victory in their health. Eating a donut without guilt, without trepidation — just savoring the goddamn food you’re putting in your mouth — that’s a really big step forward in your mental health if you’ve never done that before. Think about these things, people!

And the other thing that pisses me off is just the self-righteousness of it all. Okay, you found a thing that made you healthier. Good for you. Here’s a cookie (or a steak, or kale, or whatever token best fits your lifestyle). Get off everyone else’s ass. I never cease to be amazed by people who are convinced everyone else in the world should live like they do.

I was forced into a strict lifestyle by my ovaries. Were it up to me, I’d close every night with a glass or two of red wine and a heaping bowl of ice cream. Maybe a long drag of a Black & Mild (wood-tipped wine, of course). In college, I developed a deep fondness for the crisp flavor of gin. Burritos are my favorite food, and I used to stuff them with tons of cheese, beans, meat, whatever I could fit in that tortilla. (Cilantro. Tons of cilantro.)

I miss those days, but being able to ovulate and keep my skin on are worth the sacrifices. For me, a strict lifestyle isn’t about being virtuous — it’s about not getting endometrial hyperplasia and cancer, not getting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, not clogging my arteries due to my easy susceptibility to hypertriglyceridemia.

So if you’re ever around me, feel free to wash down your loaded nachos with a delicious craft brew, then chase both with a few handfuls of M&Ms. It’s your right as an American. Eat whatever the fuck you want. I, for one, will envy — but not judge.

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Health Tips by Natty Sci

Wide open mouth with gingivitis

My gums hurt.

When you do size diversity activism or say anything about Health at Any Size, you always get trolls who tell you you’re dangerous, a horrible dangerous murderer killing fat people by telling them they should be less concerned about the number on the scale and more concerned about how they feel, body and soul. But lest anyone reading this blog be concerned that I am advocating ILL HEALTH, I will now dispense health advice!

PEOPLE: You gotta floss.

I learned this the hard way. I have never flossed. I had this brief stint with a WaterPik in college, but it was messy and my laziness got the better of my best intentions. I’ve always brushed at least twice a day, but flossing? I just couldn’t get into the idea of spending several minutes making my gums bleed while also spreading around whatever happened to be chilling between my teeth. Also, my teeth are REALLY close together, all snugly packed into my mouth like the contents of a penny-pincher’s carry-on luggage. Getting that little string between there is a Sisyphusean challenge. But my laziness caught up to me last Saturday.

If you think flossing hurts, you should try getting your teeth cleaned when you have gingivitis. That was some brutal pain. That was at least tattoo-level pain. The entire time, I was staring at a poster on my dentist’s wall that showed the progression of periodontal disease.

“Holy smokes,” I thought. “That could be me.”

Well, that whole experience put the fear of God in me.

I have been flossing regularly since my appointment, and it sucks. It hurts my gums and horrifies me when I see the matter in my mouth that brushing fails to expel. I’ve also been using mouthwash, because I’m serious. I’m turning a new leaf. My dentist says that it will only take two weeks of good habits to have healthy gums again.

So there you have it, cats and kittens: you gotta floss. Don’t say Natty never gave you any good advice.

Chronic conditions aren’t gross

Adorable black cat

My roommate’s cat always eats too fast and then vomits. I still don’t think she’s gross.

People are selectively squeamish when it comes to health. I’m aware of this because my chronic health issues come from a reproductive organ, and people really don’t want to hear about your ovaries. An exchange might go thus:

Concerned Party: Natty, you feelin’ okay?

Natty: Not so much dawg. I’m in some pain.

Concerned Party: Oh, that sucks. I feel a socially acceptable amount of sympathy for your plight.

Natty: The pain is coming from my ovaries.

Concerned Party: THE HELL NATTY, TMI. I’M TRYING TO EAT HERE.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, someone once called “TMI” on me for mentioning my lady mustache. Because apparently it’s extremely offensive to think that a woman is capable of growing hair on her face. (Don’t even get me started.)

Some people are privileged not to have to think about ovaries on a regular basis. That’s the thing about organs — we tend to take them for granted when they’re just quietly doing their jobs. But I don’t have that privilege, because my ovaries like to grow sacks of fluid that explode and ruin my shit. Some health problems carry different stigmas than others. Some of them can be discussed openly — seasonal allergies, for example, carry relatively little stigma. But digestive disorders are another deal.

I link to Chris’s posts about Crohn’s a lot — see I’m Tired of Hiding My Stomach Problems and The Isolation of Food. See a trend there? The pressure to hide, to downplay something that affects virtually every hour of his life.  My friend documents her stomach problems in a really poignant blog called Things That Hurt My Belly ( seriously — READ this. Beautifully written). Her tagline is “No one ever wants to talk about poop.”

It’s a silly tagline, but it gets to the heart of what I’m talking about: people with chronic conditions feel a great pressure to closet themselves, for various reasons. We don’t want our employers to feel like we’re expensive liabilities. We don’t want to make people uncomfortable. We don’t want to field a bunch of questions or have our validity questioned.

But sometimes, I just want to turn to whoever is next to me and say, “Fuck, my ovary is killing me.”

Ovaries are not gross. Half the population has them. Intestines are not gross. They’re heroes, really, and I’m glad to have them. It seems like we’re socially obligated to walk around pretending that we’re hollow, that our organs should be seen but not heard of, that we should pretend that there’s nothing underneath our skin — no spooky, scary skeletons, no brain matter, no blood, no digesting food, no nothing.

We’re also supposed to pretend that our bodies are working at 100% at all times, even when that’s not even possible. Guess what? My boobs hurt today. My hormone fluctuations are making my boobs hurt, and now you know. It’s annoying, and it’s detracting slightly from my quality of life.

Pretending you don’t have organs and/or pretending that your organs are working perfectly is a privilege, a feat much easier for those whose organs are closer to the ideal.

Chronic conditions aren’t gross. They’re not inconvenient to hear about; they’re inconvenient to live with. So listen to your friends whine about their insides. Be thankful that you’re just hearing about it, not living it.

I’m the thinnest I’ve ever been… and in the worst shape of my life

Lazy cat

My cat is lazy, too, but his jumping skills are way more impressive than mine.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There has been one time in my post-pubescent life that I weighed less than I do now. I was 14, and basically starving myself.

I’ve also been in worse shape. When I was in the fifth grade. I could totally go back in time and outrun my 10-year-old self.

But the point remains: I spent most of my adult life fat (clinically obese), but I was in much better shape then than I am now that I am thin.

I ate more vegetables, too. I enjoyed a low-fat vegetarian diet replete with tofu, vegetables of all sorts — and now I’m craving some grilled asparagus! — and delicious spices. Curry. Chili powder. Turmeric. Sage.

I was much more active! In college, I walked about an hour every day on hilly terrain, refusing to take the shuttle bus. I ran 5ks. I was strong as hell, and could out-plank pretty much anyone I knew. Any time somebody needed something to be lifted, I volunteered. Carting my heavy-ass 88-key full-weighted keyboard and amp from gig to gig was a breeze.

I’ve had a “healthy” BMI (whatever the hell that means) for just a few months, and now, I get winded when I run for more than a few minutes. I’m having a harder time lifting the office water cooler. I can’t do as many pushups as I could about 40 lbs ago.

Does that mean that the process of becoming thin made me unhealthy? Nope. Probably has more to do with the fact that I’m lazy as hell and thoroughly enjoy sitting on my ass.

However, it does show that thinner does not equal more healthy.

Why I care that childhood obesity numbers are dropping

So according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates are starting to decline (warning: article is not size positive, and contains an image of a headless child — the hell?!).

This is good news!

No, seriously, it is! But not because fat kids are getting thinner. Because of this (from the above USA Today article):

Frieden called three trends associated with the declining rates “encouraging.”

The first includes changes in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which now aligns more closely with the dietary guidelines for Americans, he says. The second is a steady increase in breast-feeding, even though its impact on childhood weight is controversial. The third includes changes led by programs such as Let’s Move!, an initiative developed by first lady Michelle Obama to tackle childhood obesity. Those efforts have increased awareness of healthy eating and active living, he adds.

So we’re providing healthier food options for people in financial need, encouraging breastfeeding in those women fortunate enough to be physically able to, and encouraging kids to be more active.

Healthy eating, breastfeeding, and movement are all good things! Health improvements are excellent things! The United States should be concerned with the health of its people.

But it’s kind of not, isn’t it? It’s concerned with their size, not their health. Or else we’d be bending over backwards to make sure they’re all insured, wouldn’t we?

Here’s the thing: healthy eating, breastfeeding, and movement are good for everyone who can access these things, not just the fat kids. And some fat kids will get thinner with these interventions! And guess what? Some of them most certainly will not. Some kids, like me, will have metabolic disorders, and some will be genetically predisposed to be bigger. That’s okay. Healthy kids are healthy kids, regardless of their size.

(Note: I don’t believe that aspiring to “health” is a moral imperative, but I do think it’s a good idea to keep kids healthy before they are old enough to make the “health” choice themselves.)

I only wish that we could implement these initiatives in a size positive way. The premise that “Obesity is bad” is helping some kids in that it’s improving their access to healthy food and movement options, but it’s also labeling kids as an “epidemic.” It’s sending the message that their bodies are bad; that we need to reduce the existence of bodies like theirs. It’s mean-spirited and eliminativist.

It would be nice if we could help the underprivileged without having to call those with fat bodies an “epidemic” and treat them like the scourge of a nation.

Beautiful: An open apology from a former weight loss consultant

I read something stunning yesterday: An Open Apology to All of My Weight Loss Clients.

In it, a former weight loss consultant discusses how she used to love her former job. Moreover, she loved her clients. She was passionate about what she was doing because she believed she was helping people.

But then the reality of the situation set in. She was being asked to counsel thin clients on how to lose weight they didn’t need to lose (inasmuch as anyone needs to lose weight, really). She assigned a high school athlete a 1500-calorie-per-day diet because the student’s mother wanted her little girl to lose weight.

1500 calories. A growing teenage girl. An athlete.

The consultant (Your Fairy Angel) saw the diets fail. She felt negative effects of the diet herself, citing thyroid, mood, and digestion problems. She saw her clients walk away with eating disorders. She came to help — she genuinely cared — and the system wronged both her and her clients:

I am sorry because many of you walked in healthy and walked out with disordered eating, disordered body image, and the feeling that you were a “failure.” None of you ever failed. Ever. I failed you. The weight loss company failed you. Our society is failing you.

This is a really powerful piece, and I strongly recommend you read it — especially if you’re trapped in the dieting cycle yourself.

I could have been one of her clients. Fuck, I was a high school athlete (martial artist) who ate a goddamn 1400-calorie-a-day diet. If not 1200. If not less, because I always rounded up.

Until I injured myself. And then I became the grounded high school binger/purger.

Never again.

Thank you, Your Fairy Angel, for your strength and compassion. Your clients deserved better, and you deserved better.

Who gets to be healthy?

A picture of my healthy cat, Chad

My cat is healthy, according to my vet. His name is Chad. (My cat, not my vet.)

We’re told that we should all be healthy. That “healthy” should be everyone’s goal. But the more I think about it, the less I have any idea what “healthy” is.

“Healthy” is always some twenty- or thirty-something, leanly muscled woman jogging up a mountain or some shit. She eats nothing but kale and quinoa. Her “healthy” boyfriend has a glistening six-pack and a kettle bell permanently affixed to his palm.

We’re told fat people can’t be healthy. I have friends with obese BMIs, plenty of adipose tissue, who eat clean diets rich in fruits, veggies, and lean meats. They regularly run 5ks and have perfect blood work and vitals. Do they get to be healthy?

I have what is considered a “healthy” BMI (whatever the hell that means). I eat a variety of foods, some classically “healthy,” some not, basically given what I feel like. (Uterus acting up? All chocolate, all the time, motherfucker.) I make sure to get lots of sleep every night. I don’t drink or smoke. I recently quit coffee. I do yoga and take walks when I think about it. I have low blood pressure, a low-ish heart rate, and perfect cholesterol/triglycerides/blood sugar.

But I have a chronic condition that causes a lot of pain, and I only have one kidney. (And apparently, it’s cystic. My body just loves cysts.)

Do I get to be healthy?

What people consider “healthy,” this edict socially required of all of us, this test of our virtue, is unreachable for many of us. “Healthy” is a privilege. Those people you see in the media hiking up mountains, running marathons, even just doing Tai Chi in the park — they’re privileged. They get to be healthy.

But people with chronic health problems and disabilities don’t have access to that privilege.

And if you happen to be fat with a health problem, the concern trolls roll in. “I’m just concerned for your health.” “Couldn’t you take up jogging?” “You need to live a more active lifestyle.”

Ignoring for a second that many fat people already live “active” lifestyles, you shouldn’t assume that they — or anyone, of any shape — necessarily have the privilege of living “active” lifestyles.

Someone with chronic pain might feel a little hesitant to go running a few times a week. Maybe walking is within their reach — maybe not.

When my ovary, heavy with cysts large and small, is aching so much that I can’t twist or bend my torso certain ways, and my lower back is killing me — like hell if you’re going to tell me to be active. Fuck you. I need chocolate. I need a fucking chocolate-flavored morphine drip.

Maybe I don’t get to be healthy. My fertility will always be at less than 100% (fine with me, as I’m childfree — but it’s still nice to know your organs work). I can’t eat certain kinds of foods without my GI flipping shit or my insulin going wonky. My lonely kidney will suffer damage no matter what by the time I’m old. I could probably drink alcohol in moderation, maybe, but it would be ill-advised. I’m young but I toe the line.

And I’m healthy for me.

Who gets to be “healthy”? If you think about it, only a small number of people. Young, without chronic conditions or disabilities, without pain, who life strict lifestyles (and have the time to do so because of socioeconomic reasons).

So maybe this shouldn’t be considered some high moral virtue, this health thing. I’m lookin’ at you, Mayor Bloomberg.