Feminism

Dear Skinnier Men, Especially the Formerly Fat Ones

[Content Notice: weight loss talk]

Last week was Weight Stigma Awareness Week; I told my personal story about my relationship with the medical establishment and with my body. Last week was also when I foolishly decided to take a peek at my Google search results. The usual haterade was there, including digs at my weight and at my mentions of keto. You see, by writing about lowcarbing, I have sparked the ire of a certain hater contingent.

Christmas ornaments accompanied by text readings "Low Carb Holiday"
Yep, totes easy to keep under 20 net carbs a day. It’s like a holiday every day.

All of that was nothing that I didn’t already know. Scrutinizing the results with the theme of the week in mind, however, I noticed something that I hadn’t before. Whenever I mentioned the steps I was taking towards weight loss, the most common response accused me of being “lazy” for low-carbing and told me to exercise rather than “take shortcuts.”

Obviously, low-carbing and exercising aren’t mutually exclusive. For the record, I do both, thank you very much, and low-carbing has hardly been a “lazy shortcut” for me. That aside, what struck me is that if you strip away the naked scorn from what those types say, they echo what I, as a fat cis woman, have heard from many thin and/or formerly fat cis men (and at least a few of the fat ones). It starts with a “just,” continues into a “tip” that requires very little in the way of lifestyle modification, and ends with the assurance that the speaker lost [insert a number that sounds ridiculously high to me] pounds thanks to that small change.

In many cases, these men meant to be empathetic and helpful, not to leave me feeling frustrated and misunderstood. It is for those men that I write this, although I suspect that the more antagonistic types as well as formerly fat people of all genders might also benefit.

Plainly stated, weight loss is generally hard for women than it is for men. Gender affects weight loss both from a biological and societal perspective. Neither category of hindrance is wholly or at all avoidable for many women.

testosterone molecule tattoo
The inequality-bestowing hormone itself.

In terms of biology, anyone whose body’s hormonal balance is skewed towards the ratio of testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and androgen usually found in cis women is generally going to have a harder time losing weight. Testosterone encourages muscle development; having more muscle means that your body is going to have a higher resting metabolic rate (RMR). Cis women and trans women on hormones tend to have less testosterone, meaning that their body fat percentage will usually be higher than that of cis men and trans men on hormones. Compounding the RMR issue is sexual dimorphism; as most cis men are simply taller and bigger overall than most cis women, they require more maintenance calories.

When a man tells me that I could just “burn it off” instead of dieting, that all I need to do is cut out [insert a single caloric food item here] to lose weight, and/or that “moderation” on their terms is preferable to my perceived “extreme,” he unwittingly erases my reality as well as the reality of countless other women. The difficult truth is that as a fat cis woman, I must change my diet in order to lose weight, period. Exercise alone might make me feel good and get me fitter and healthier, but without dietary changes to accompany it (in my case, reduced calorie and carb intake), it yields little to no weight loss. Based on the outcomes of several studies, this is true for more people than just me.

The less hormone-based reasons are much more complex. Due to societal factors, weight loss is not always as emotionally straightforward for many women as it can be for many men. I mean, losing weight doesn’t even mean that we’re necessarily perceived better, for one.

As is the case in most matters, projection does nothing to help and can even hurt, but a little empathy goes a long way. I really am happy for you if you’re a man for whom losing weight was as easy as not-pie. Just because skipping dessert was enough to lead you into skinny territory doesn’t mean that the same is true for everyone. Ignoring the factors that make it harder for so many of us is not only insensitive, it contributes to the culture of shame and stigma against fat that has been linked to weight gain.

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Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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23 Comments

  1. I remember thinking it was so easy when I lost weight. I just cut out soda and BAM weight loss. Then my doctor switched my meds and I realized that my weight loss and even the ease with which I had stopped drinking soda was largely due to the meds I was on. After that it was really difficult to cut out soda. It helped, but not much. Same for lots of exercise. Willpower doesn’t count for much.

  2. Weight loss is extremely complicated. Yes, the “formula” of less calories and more exercise is simple. But how many calories, what kinds of calories, how much exercise, and what kinds of exercises are best? Those are going to be heavily dependent on the individual. The “this worked for me, so it should work for everyone” attitude is just childish. People struggle for a lot of reasons.

    I try to make fitness and health my focus. The number on the scale isn’t as important to me as how fast I can run a mile or how many pushups I can do. If I feel good and I have energy, I generally take better care of myself. If I focus on the scale, I tend to beat myself up or get discouraged. I focus on the short term goals instead of long term goals. That’s physically and psychologically unhealthy.

    But I know that’s what works for me. It might not work for you. Our bodies and minds are all very different.

  3. I guess I’m Skinnier, I mean, last summer I was 352 pounds, now I’m 299 pounds. I did get down to 282, but stopped working at it most of this year.

    I’ve re-invigorated my efforts to ‘get off my ass’ and be healthier. I’m 42 now, and now that I’ve reached the meaning of life I’d like to not spend my twilight years on a rascal and taking a cocktail of prescription drugs.

    I did the Keto/Atkins/less than 25 carbs/less than 15 carbs a day, and yes, I lost a lot of weight while doing nothing. Then, Someone would give me some crack, er, bread and I’d spiral upward into a larger weight than I started with. I spent the entire last decade going from 300 to 240 to 320 to 260 to 340 to 280. Combine that with hypothyroidism and woo hoo.

    Last year, a friend of mine who spends a lot of time ‘hacking’ has been ‘hacking’ his body based on newer research that a lot of Paleo and Primal type diets wander around. He suggested I look into the Primal Blueprint, and that’s what got me down from 352 to 282 without exercising. However I quickly learned while sticking to that, it only gets you so much weight gone. I have to move.

    So for me, what i’ve recently done is go from sitting on my ass all day to walking at a desk. I’ve only been doing it now for a little over a week but so far, I’ve managed to keep it above 10,000 steps a day consistently. I’m hoping I will be able to keep it up, usually takes me a month to make it a habit. Throwing my old desk away probably helped too.

    So that one works for me, so far, now I just need to lose another 100 pounds and maybe i’ll be healthy again.

    1. I’d suggest not focusing on the pounds for a few months and instead focus on making progress with the exercise. When I first started exercising, I stopped losing weight, because I was putting on muscle. That really helped my overall fitness, but it can be seriously discouraging if you’re just looking at numbers.

      Also, bigger dudes tend to fluctuate a lot in weight. When I was heavier, the difference between my weight before and after a workout could be more than 5 pounds. Don’t place too much importance on a single measurement.

  4. I’m so very sick of everybody thinking they have THE ANSWER to any (or all) health issues. Don’t want cancer? Eat these specific fruits and you’ll never get it. Psychological issues? Just do yoga and they’ll all be gone! Need to lose weight? Do this exact thing that I did, because we’re all the same! Oh, and by the way, I lost 25 lbs over a year simply by falling in love with a very active woman. So you JUST have to do that.

  5. I think the focus on exercise doesn’t really make sense unless you start with the assumption that people who are overweight are lazy and if they stopped being lazy, they would lose the extra weight. Exercising is great for a lot of reasons, but it’s not that effective for weight loss (at least not on its own, as Heina pointed out) and anyway not everyone can exercise to the same extent – whether because of disabilities, lack of time, lack of safe spaces for exercise, etc. To me, people who say things like that, even if are well-meaning, are really coming from that point of view that the only reason people are fat is because they’re not trying hard enough and the only way to “prove” you’re trying is by exercising yourself to death (and even then, if you remain overweight, they won’t believe you’re doing enough)

    1. Yes, exactly. It’s the equation that fat = morally inferior. Unfortunately, once a person has that equation embedded in the brainstem no amount of evidence that even morally upstanding people can be fat will change that person’s mind. Just looking at an overweight person provides enough information to know (or rather, to “know”) that the individual is lazy, exercises no willpower, is self-indulgent, etc. etc.

      In short the fat person violates the Puritan ethic, which of course is the essence of fat shaming. I really see fat shaming and slut shaming (and most types of shaming) as coming from the same root.

  6. I’m a very skinny man and I am with you 100% on this one. My eating habits are incredibly lazy and my exercise habits mostly come from a need to travel 2.5 miles from home to work without a car. I have had friends and family try to lose weight and can tell you that monitoring your diet and exercise is actually way more work than not doing all that. Very surprisingly. So I get pretty angry when the “fat people are lazy” trope gets pulled out.

  7. Good luck on any method. Truly. 5% of people who diet more than 10% of their body weight have kept it off after 5 years. It’s that hard and that’s one reason why there should be no stigma to it. More people are politically gay than genetically gay by comparison, as if that should even matter.

    I have ben stigmatized three ways, I was fat at 9, I was cross-eyed, and I was an intellectual. All three are heavily stigmatized in this country. Whatever you do don’t be ugly either, no warts, chinlessness, psoriasis, or gray hair. But I am getting distracted.

    Over the last 45 years I have dieted using wight training, yoga, meditation, mountaineering, bicycling, ice skating, gymnastics, cross-country skiing, jogging, roller blading, amphetamines, ephedra, LSD, emulsifiers, caffeine, citrus diet, low carb diet, high protein diet, fasting, low calorie, mid calorie, high vegetable, maple-syrup-lemon juice cleansing, raw food, a variety of special metabolizing foods, no hormone items, no plastic utensils, well water, no meat, grass-fat meat, long sleep periods, and pot. None of them worked permanently. My happiest success was weight training and high activity where I was willing to spend 2-4 hrs a day on high energy activities and I never lost all the weight but was so strong and capable I didn’t care so much.

    It’s just so great being 9, 10, 11, 12, etc and having breasts, a gut, and being the last to be picked on for any sports activity. Failing the presidential fitness tests. I could do 100 situps but not run a mile fast enough or do enough pull ups.

    I quit a six figure tech job 22 years ago because my cubicle mates were getting sick like crazy from the insanely unhealthy lifestyle of office work–nor was their daily 30 minutes of aerobics preventing it. I forgot to add career change to my diet list.

    My revenge is that now that I am 56 I am in better shape than most of the other parents around me. I now farm, do construction, and write. I’m still fat but I can kayak all day, swim all day, walk all day, play soccer with the teens, transplant thousands of seedlings, and throw 60 lb hay bales on a hay wagon all day. If I pause and watch movies, read books, write, and make furniture all day in the winter I am screwed for two months in the spring.

    But I am still a fat adult with metabolic syndrome doomed to a more early death, especially since the only drugs I like are illegal. But someday I will take them too.

    Everyone should have a choice and the current tyranny of personal health pisses me off to no end. Have a glass of wine or two or whatever and enjoy life. Be fit enough to do what you want. Life is short. Enjoy it and fuck the rest.

  8. I have always been much more physically active than the general population. Ten years ago I weighed over 245 pounds. Now I weigh 179. It would be insane to assume the difference was physical activity. There just isn’t that much calorie deficit to be gained.

    So what DID happen? I got divorced and stopped cooking for my spouse and step kids. Which caused me to get somewhat lighter. The real difference was getting diagnosed with diabetes and…you guessed it, going low carbohydrate. Not so serious as <20 grams per day. My 'official' target is <100 and I'm almost always below 60.

    The claims for exercise in weight loss are crazy. I saw some training authority quoted, and It should be a bumper sticker:
    "You can't outrun a Doughnut."

  9. I’m among those men who has lost quite a bit of weight- from 265 lbs at my heaviest to fluctuating between 195 and 205 lbs today. When I talk about my weight, I am quite careful to avoid giving “tips”- especially to women.
    When my wife and I have endeavored to lose weight together I have always been able to lose it faster and keep it off easier than she does. I agree totally with your post- in general men lose weight easier and keep it off with less effort than a woman can. Further still, there is significant variation in individuals (regardless of sex) metabolism that impacts weight gain/loss and the ability to stay at a target weight. I am privileged in that I was able to assess my reasons for weight gain and have the kind of metabolism that allows for relatively easy weight loss.

  10. Thanks for this post. It’s so true that body weight is different for every individual and ESPECIALLY between sexes. Some people have to radically alter their lifestyles in order to shed just a few pounds, and other people lose weight almost without trying. You can’t judge someone else’s struggles with weight because everyone has different metabolisms, healthy weights, body type, mental stability, illnesses, medications, etc. Being like “you’ve been struggling with your weight? Try this one little obvious thing, I’m sure you haven’t heard of it because it worked for me” just makes things worse, from what I understand.

  11. Struggles with weight control have been a life time event for me. I believe there is a lack of professional help for those with eating disorders that are not anorexia, that being binge eating. Not sure what to do but to try again. I’m probably the fittest fat guy there is, but still fat, unattractive, and as a result depressed. The latest iteration of my healthy living trail can be found here. http://gburgatheist.blogspot.com/

    1. fat shouldn’t equal unattractive. for many of us, it isn’t. i know you were talking about your personal self, but we should probably refrain from equating fatness or thinness or “fitness” as equal to “attractiveness.”

      personally, i, say, far prefer “fat” Ben Affleck to “fit” Ben Affleck. (Of course, he’s totally “Hollywood fat” but you get my drift, I hope.)

  12. There’s no “just” about it, even if you are a man. Unless you’re only trying to shed a very small amount of weight. I’m trying to lose weight at the moment. I’ve done it before where I went cold turkey with sugar and junk food and worked out like a maniac. I got down to 85 kg pretty fast (I’m 170 cm) and then just stayed there. And it was hard as fuck.
    A woman at my office has dropped an astonishing amount of weight by simply cutting out cake and sweets. But of course it’s not as simple as that. Because it took a substantial amount of calories to keep her at her old weight – she also cycles 11 km to get to work and the same home every day, year round. Which adds up to a lot of exercise.
    I’ve cut out cakes and sweets now and I cycle nearly as far to get to work but I don’t cycle in the winter because it’s uncomfortable and because my route to work becomes incredibly dangerous in winter and I’ve been a wee but paranoid about it since a woman got killed by a lorry there just a few minutes before I cycled past.
    So I still have to work at it just to get down to what according to BMI is bordering on obese.
    (And no, I can’t just be comfortable about my present weight – I’ll be comfortable once I can do ten chin-ups – that’s the completely arbitrary bar I’ve set where I’ll consider my strength-to-mass ratio acceptable. I don’t apply this criterion to anybody else.)

  13. LOL, as this page refreshed, a Jillian Michaels ad came up, the kind of body type that could look at a vegetable of flutter her eyelashes and lose weight–note the infamouse before-after pic’s in ads are of people who can gain and lose weight with ease. I reread your intro Heina: “In many cases, these men meant to be empathetic and helpful, not to leave me feeling frustrated and misunderstood. It is for those men that I write this, although I suspect that the more antagonistic types as well as formerly fat people of all genders might also benefit.” I feel like I myself was too flip in my first response so I repent…and try again. I had hoped to show there are myriad ways to lose weight but few are fully successful over time and because of that we need to support each other in our individual ways of meeting goals, and not meeting them. More so that there be no stigmas period.

    Being a guy I have often seen men, boys, and young men goad each other into action. Rather than saying good for you, it’s hah, you can do better, see I did it just like this, instantly, what’s the matter with you? The other guy then says hah, I’ll show you. Blah, blah. I’m sure you see this. This seems to be a stereotypical divide that sports competition both encourages and provides release. Maybe it has utility in war and aggression where not empathizing has a benefit of allowing one to do harm without regret, actually with encouragement. But what then when these guys come home and they need to be empathetic to gentleness and support–I know, have another war or hunt, or create a really violent sport? Create a false enemy if you need to. Kind of like the idiotic shutdown that Fox calls a Slimdown.

    But I want to take something positive out of this… What I have found to be true for many people wishing to lose weight or be more more fit is that there are some 30 or so variables that must be decided as you approach a successful plan. Your physical size, your family history, your resting metabolic rate, your motivation level, your work style, your lifestyle, your income, your access to exercise, your access to social support, your desire for routine or freshness, your family environment, your mental state, your access to health care, your sociability, your pain tolerance, your lung capacity, your relaxed stress level, your lactose tolerance, your gluten tolerance, your salt tolerance, and so forth. Notice the emphasis on “your,” while there are only so many types you still need to find where you fit within the array.

    The temptation (follow the money) in the weight loss and fitness industry is to find magical ways to lose weight to gain quick results and to sell a product that works for everyone. Toss that paradigm aside!

    Since the real issue is to keep weight off, not just lose it, and presumably to avoid high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, arthritis, and high cholesterol, the task is both complicated and long term. Hell, if you want a quick fix, do opiates, amphetamines, cigarettes, or hallucinogens–all of them make weight loss easy but are unsustainable if health and weight balance is also the goal. Hardcore exercise encourages arthritis and other muscular-joint disorders but may satisfy an urge to do just that much more or meet stress relief, routine, and OCD issues.

    In my opinion, assuming legal drugs, the single worst thing you can do to your body is smoking and the best thing you can do to your body is exercise (activity) and the next best thing is to eat well (little sugar-carbs, adequate roughage, unprocessed, low synthetic chemical, eat when hungry). After that sleeping enough (if you need an alarm clock you’re screwed). Then low stress (if you ruminate your screwed). The order may vary.

    For me and the many that are inclined to metabolic syndrome, we’re screwed for life. Whatever changes we make will have to be permanent or semipermanent. It may help to ask do you want to live to 60, 70, 80, 90, or 100? That helps make choices. I am happy with the 70-80 range though 90 would be nice since I’m 9 years older than my spouse. This gives me a little freedom in how strong I adhere to recommendations. I then also avoid some issues of other dangers in lifestyle such as how much I drive a car and how dangerous my occupation is.

    For me I became more successful in the long term when I drastically reduced sugar-simple carbs-pasta (I have a hell of a sweet tooth); added potassium while reducing salt (I have a hell of a salt tooth); used olive oil; used whole grains and better minimal grains; snacked on nuts; only had some cheese and minimal milk but yogurt-kefir for probiotics; used lots of vegetables but minimized starches like corn, peas, potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips, and carrots; avoided industrial meats but used some protein to span long gaps between meals or for muscle recovery (probiotics especially important for higher protein consumption); minimized caffeine to 2-3 cups coffee/tea; never reduced calories so hard I had hard hunger pangs which releases leptin and the starvation response; did what I could stand to lower stress (meditation drives me crazy as does mindfulness but contemplation, a good book, movie, nature, aaaah); was active whether exercise or simple movement, busyness. Then I somewhat blow the whole thing with too much alcohol and other unmentionables quite simply for the obvious. As an aside, vegetarians seem to have some advantage but the ones that do usually avoid sugars, simple carbs, and processed foods–the advantage may have more to do with differences in gut bacteria than anything else. I also screw up a lot. Oh, well. Back at it. Your taste buds do change and eventually that store bought cake seems hyper sweet and chinese food salty beyond belief.

    So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Good luck! I hope I helped rather than distracted with this wall of text…

  14. My skinny father was talking about how my overweight mother needs to lose weight (for her health) and complained about how she struggles, saying she just needs to exercise more and eat less, “it’s easy”. I stopped him right there. Weight loss is lots of things, but easy is not one of them!

  15. As a skinny dude (skinny genes I guess) whose only problem with weight is that I may one day get a beer belly like my aged parent, I’ll shut up apart from typochecking: “weight loss is generally *harder for women than it is for men.”

    Great post, good to get your perspective on weight issues.. thx

  16. I lost the weight and now I’ve managed to stay at about 70 kg for a year. (I could still lose 15 kg and still have a normal BMI, but I’m not trying to lose any more weight.) This is how I do it:

    I watch my diet. I don’t count calories, but I don’t eat sugar, junk food or snacks. I don’t drink juices, sodas, beer or milk. I hardly ever eat out.

    I cycle 100 – 120 km every week (10 km to work). And I go to LesMills classes: Monday CXWorx, Tuesday BodyPump, Wednesday GRIT Strength, Thursday CXWorx, Friday BodyPump, Saturday BodyStep and Sunday GRIT Strength.

    All this only keeps me from gaining weight. I won’t be able to do this forever and I will gain weigth back. Most people won’t be able to this if only because it takes at least two hours every day. Staying slim may be very easy to some people. Those people are not the ones who should give advice to those of us for whom it’s hard.

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