[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 low–carbing, I have sparked the ire of a certain hater contingent.
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.
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.