Monday, October 10, 2011

An Open Letter to Chubby People

If you are chubby, or fat, (and you are if you're a guy above 15% body fat or a woman above 23% body fat or you have a muffin top or no visible muscle definition) and are someone I care about (and I care about everybody unless you work for Al Qaeda, Fox News, or the FDA) then this letter is for you:

Dear Friend (or whatever you are to me - family member, senpai, acquaintance, random blog reader) who happens to be overfat:
I hope you are able to love yourself despite your weight and/or body composition.
I hope you value yourself for the wonderful person you are, and for the unique and awesome contributions you make to the world that have nothing to do with your physique.
I hope you feel lovable, and sexy, at least to the extent that you want to be.
I hope you never confuse your value as a person with the number of boxes in your sixpack.
I hope that you never look at a model or athlete and feel bad that you don't look more like them.
I hope that you never avoid situations - like wearing a bathing suit in public or talking to someone you're interested in or dancing at a party- because you're ashamed of how you look.
I hope that you never starve yourself to look better for a special event like a wedding or a reunion.
I hope you never have surgery, take medication, make yourself throw up, or go on a liquid diet to lose "weight" and shed unwanted pounds.
I hope you're never ashamed of the joy you take from eating.
I hope you never blame yourself for the weight you've put on over the years.
I hope you never feel bad about who you are.
I hope you never suffer any ill health effects from the excess fat you're carrying around.
I hope you're happy, and that you remain happy for the rest of your life whether or not you lose any weight.
I also hope you learn to eat in a way that makes you leaner and healthier.
I also hope you figure out what makes you eat too much and gain the strength to stay away from it.
I also hope you find a better source for dietary information than Dr. Oz or Oprah.
I also hope you develop a healthier attitude towards both food and exercise.
I also hope you maintain the belief that even if your body fat isn't your fault it is still under your control.
I also hope you learn to celebrate wonderful events without indulging in empty calories.
I also hope you find the joy in being thin and fit and having a six pack.
I also hope you see that while being lean and healthy doesn't make you a better human being, it does improve your energy, your sense of well being, and probably your longevity and basic human capacity (ability to move furniture, carry luggage, stuff like that).
I also hope that you develop advanced fitness goals and work every day to achieve them, such as doing chinups, running a marathon, or kicking a certain somebody's ass in the dojo.
Sincerely and Osu,

There was a picture and associated story going around my Facebook friends a few days ago that prompted this letter.  It was about some gym that had a sign up encouraging people to lose weight by saying, "do you want to be a mermaid or a whale this summer?"  In the story one of the gym members went on about how it's better to be a whale because they have friends, are real, get to have sex, etc.  It's a cute story, and I understand, I think, where it comes from - it's the same root idea that has people telling plump teenage girls that it's okay to be plump - because you don't want them starving themselves or doing self-destructive things because of low self esteem.

A lot of my female friends "liked" and shared the post, and there were a lot of "that's the spirit!" comments attached to it.  And I, being a contrarian, couldn't get into the spirit of it.

You see, I DON'T want fat people to feel bad about themselves.  But I DO want them to feel motivated to change.  If someone is told over and over again that it's okay to be fat, that it's normal, or average, or not their fault, or even in some way BETTER than being thin, then why would they put in the effort and will to lean out and stay away from the delicious foods that got them that way?

I have a daughter.  I hope she always feels great about who she is.  I also hope she wakes up one day and decides to start exercising and eating better, because if she doesn't then she'll end up on a pizza and chocolate diet as an adult and never leave the couch - that's her tendency (which I can recognize because she gets it from me).  I was motivated to change by a deep sense of insecurity - I felt bad about the way I looked my entire life.  Is it possible to work to make those changes if you don't feel bad about it?  I'm not really sure...  I hope she can be motivated to put down the pizza and get onto a treadmill, or into a weight room, without any shred of negative feelings... but I'm not sure that's really possible.

I think that there has to be a middle ground.  Self hatred is never good or productive.  Being too self-satisfied is probably also bad for people.  Chubby people shouldn't hate themselves, but they shouldn't be too happy with their body fat either.

So if you know any fat people, don't torture them or tease them or pick on them or work to make them feel bad.  But don't keep telling them that they're perfect just the way they are either.  Find a middle ground - find a way to tell them that you love them so much that you want them to be healthier.  Show them that you value them so much that you don't feel the need to eat pizza and ice cream when you're together in order to have a good time, that you want them feeling so good physically that they can share more stuff with you, like hikes or long sparring sessions on the beach... or whatever.

Hopefully you'll do a better job of explaining this than I have!



  1. I love this post. Thanks for expressing this better than I have been able to so far. I feel the same way, and have trouble saying it.

  2. Here's a thought ... don't make it about weight at all. Just because someone looks to be normal weight doesn't mean they are any healthier than the "chubby people" you are addressing.

  3. Beth, you certainly have a point - skinny fat is just as bad, if not worse, than being outright fat. That's probably a worthy topic for another open letter!

  4. Osu, Senpai!

    Conversely, someone can be fat and be healthy, too. Fat people do not all eat nothing but junk food and never exercise. Of course, we probably eat junk food occasionally, and there are days when we miss our workout. But that's true of everyone, right?

    My point being that while a poor diet and exercise routine can certainly cause excess pounds, that correlation does not approach 1:1 on either side -- there are unhealthy skinny people, and healthy fat people.

  5. Osu!
    There are certainly people who carry excess fat and are fairly healthy - especially if they exercise and eat well - but there are definite negative consequences to excess body fat (increased inflammation, damaged hormonal profile, etc.) I don't know the exact range - can someone be optimally healthy with an extra 5-10 lbs of fat? Probably yes. 40+ extra pounds? Probably not. Yet I've known people carrying 40+ extra pounds who were convinced that they weren't hurting themselves. Of course, if you have to get a gastric bypass to lose those 40 lbs, you might still be better off just staying heavier, but if positive lifestyle alterations can help... Pretending that health is completely bodyfat agnostic is just misleading (though pretending it's the only important thing is equally wrong).

  6. Osu!

    I agree with much of what you have to say, and especially appreciate that your first and strongest statement is against self-loathing. However, I do think that if someone is already living 'clean,' as it were, then focusing on losing weight (which the body resists, and which can lead to yo-yo weight shifts, which is arguably less healthy than the extra weight) is less healthy than maintaining health at whatever weight one happens to be.

    Also, I find your implicit assumption that most fat people are unhealthy to be suspect. If it's true (and we all know it is) that slim people can be very unhealthy and have very unhealthy lifestyles, doesn't it follow that lifestyle and health is not as tied to size as we've become accustomed to thinking?

    Finally, you might find this blog post on the subject of interest:


  7. I've read that before, and it's interesting... but we still know enough about the negative biochemical consequences of excess bodyfat to think that it's healthy. The fact that high bodyfat isn't the ONLY indicator of health doesn't mean that is isn't a meaningful indicator! Do you really suspect that... what? most fat people are healthy? Healthier than a similar cross section of thin people? Do you suspect that health has nothing to do with bodyfat? Then I'd have to just disagree. Chubby person A can be healthier than thin person B, but if person A can change their diet slightly (not necessarily eat less, but eat differently) and shed pounds without starving him or herself and without chronically overexercising - or even by sleeping more, or taking up weight training - then person A will most likely be a lot healthier.
    Of course, I could be wrong! And the tiebreaker, for me at least, is karate performance, and I definitely move better the leaner I get :)