It was amazingly easy: I got an intestinal virus. The symptoms were vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains, headaches, dizzinnes, loss of muscle tissue and weight loss. I could feel my body deflating day to day. At the peak of the illness, I was so dehydrated I didn’t sweat. When I started recovering and I could leave the house, people complimented me on my thinness.
Same thing happened to one of my relatives. When she fell into a depression, she dropped twenty pounds. She looked like a ghost: she got pale skin and sunken eyes, her hair was falling off. However, she got compliments on how loose her clothes hung from her body.
Some years ago I went on a diet. I tried to do it well, and consulted a specialist. She gave me a very strict food program that made me lose three pounds per week. As she was not satisfied with that, she gave me a “little help”. She handed me a bottle of laxative.
Open a woman’s magazine, there are so many diet recommendations. Most of the ads are for “light” products, “guiltless” delicacies. They will tell you about the diet of the papaya, the detox diet, the Dukan diet, the Açai diet. All of them promise miraculous weight loss. Yes, of course. Of course you will drop 5 pounds in a week if you put nothing in your body but lean chicken, and lime and spinach juice*. You will be consuming less calories than the average person in a famine.
In diets that promise fast weight loss, what you actually lose is water, minerals, muscle mass and not that much fat. Why? Because fat is energy your body stores for a rainy day, and it doesn’t go in a week, or a month. Its burning rate depends on your individual basal metabolic rate that depends on your sex, your age, and your general body type. There is no bypass to that, no miracle calorie burner. Even if a person weights three hundred pounds, they will burn fat at a determinate rate. See all that ads encouraging you to “boost your metabolism”? Bullshit, every one of them.
Most diets nowadays are total scams. Worse than that, they are dangerous scams. They are made by companies that cash in women’s insecurities. They tell women that body fat is an unforgivable sin, a kind of impurity that must be cleansed at any cost. Childbirth? Yes, madam, quite an achievement, but please get rid of your muffin top or you will be nothing but a fat cow. Depression? It’s ok, fatty, nobody will love you anyway. You just like eating? Lolololol whale. Fat bodies are denigrated and pathologized, and the sight of a heavy woman in tights is weirdly offensive for people who have no business with other people’s bodies. Fat people are shamed into hiding their bodies, while in the porn industry the fat fetish subgenre continues to grow (but that’s another entirely different can of worms).
What these companies promote is, above all, that no matter what a fat woman do, she won’t be nothing but fat. They promote a distorted version of health in which thin is always good and fat is always bad. Yes, obesity is a risk factor for several diseases. However, removing the fat does not magically solve the problem. Sometimes, both the obesity and the other complications are signs of an underlying disease. On the other hand, weight loss can also be a sign of a health problem. Keep in mind: your body does not like losing weight. Something very bad may be happening if you lose weight very fast with no apparent cause.
The actual non-horrible “dieting” advice (try to eat a balanced diet, exercise if you can, drink plenty of water, sleep well) is also beneficial for thin people. And yes, there can be weight loss, but as a side effect and it won’t happen fast. In some cases, it can make you gain weight, if you develop muscle mass. Also, not everybody have the same caloric/exercise needs.
In sum: please let’s stop using a person’s relative thinness as a way to gauge their entire worth. Just remember: fat burns at a slow rate, people are all different, and thin is not necessarily healthy.
*Actual diet plan I read in a magazine.
Words by Esther Nelke
Illustration by Judy Mièl