ED: Why “You’re Not Fat!” is Beside the Point

I have heard it again and again. Whenever we hear the news that someone in our lives is experimenting with eating disordered behavior, someone makes this unfortunate comment.

“But she’s/you’re/he’s not fat!” someone will say.

*Head desk.*

See that over there? That was the point. Catch it and get back to me.

Let’s demolish this point-by-point, shall we?

Point #1: What do you call fat? Some people begin their eating disordered behavior as a result of being told they were “overweight” by their doctors. What the BMI considers “overweight” is vastly different from what the average person identifies as such.

People differ in their personal standards as well. What some people call average or “pleasantly plump” might be unacceptably fat to some. Maybe that person’s family has more stringent weight standards than you do.

What culture does that person hail from? Cultures differ in their standards, just like individuals do. Maybe your culture does not consider that person fat, but theirs does.

Culture does not just refer to nationality or ethnicity either. Culture can be influenced by income, hobby, or profession. Those from higher-income areas, vegans, or actors might be less tolerant of fat than lumberjacks, omnivores, and people from working-class neighborhoods. Your mileage may vary, but that is the general pattern.

Point #2: EDs, by definition, distort the patient’s perception of reality. Telling someone with an ED, “You’re not fat! Stop it!” makes about as much sense as telling someone with psychosis, “He’s not real! Stop talking to him!” Some people with EDs are *incapable* of perceiving that they’re not fat. Others know that they are not fat, but are so afraid of getting fat that they see ED behaviors as their only protection against it. You can tell them that having some weight on you is no big deal and that it’s not necessary to go to those extremes to “stay in shape” (I hate that phrase), but they can’t *see* that. It’s noise to them.

Point #3: You don’t need to be fat to be damaged by an ED. For some reason, people think EDs are safe over a certain weight limit. You’re not fat, but THAT person over there that weighs 200 pounds should spend some time with her head in the toilet bowl. He’s not fat, but that chunker over there should NEVER be allowed to eat again!

EDs do not discriminate, and EDs are life-threatening. Period. They are not safe for people of size, and they aren’t safe for the straight sizes.

If I never hear “But she’s not fat!” again, it will be too soon.



  1. erylin · January 12, 2012

    trigger warning ed talk:

    this this a thousand times this. I have been bulimic for almost 20 years. i have a hard time getting anybody that doesnt live with me (including my parents) to belive i do anything but occasionally binge and purge. they dont realize that it was NEVER about bingeing to me. i am not an out of control eater. in fact my ED is ALL about control. i don’t eat thousands of calories panic and puke. i have done that maybe 15 times in my ED career, usually at buffets after a stressful period. No, i would throw up everything i ate, all day long. but because im not skinny no one see the danger. Now if you live with me you see i dont really eat breakfast…or lunch. or much of a dinner. now that i am running into possibly lifelong issues, including an electolyte and seizure disorder triggered by low blood sugar. And i cry every time i have to eat breakfast or lunch. but no one sees that. all they see is that i am 6 foot 2 and around 300 lbs. surely I MUST be on a diet right? i mean the ED should be GOOD for me!

  2. ladybird · January 15, 2012

    Awesome post! I am a long time reader, but I have never commented. But as an overweight vegan, I wanted to ask if you have met many vegans that have been intolerant of fat? My experience has been the opposite. My vegan friends have been very supportive of body diversity, as they went vegan because they were into liberty and equality for everyone. In my experience, vegans talk about weight loss a lot because it is an unintended consequence of their diet (just how the increased fiber alters bowel movements). As a follower of HAES, I don’t want to ever restrict my diet. As a vegan, every few weeks, I find that I have to eat less than I want to if I’m at a restaurant or dinner party with omnivore friends and no vegan options. I think a lot of vegans lose weight through their ethical dietary restrictions (though I personally have gained weight), and that is why they focus on it. It’s another aspect of the lifestyle, and in an ideal world, vegan food would be readily available, so vegans would never have to hungry, and they could keep their curves.

    • joannadeadwinter · January 15, 2012

      I have often heard vegans bemoan how fat, sick, and gross America is. Most of this has been online, but I sometimes hear progressives in real life gripe about it.

      Body and political diversity exists in the vegan community, as it does in all communities. However, that public image is still there.:)

      “…they went vegan because they were into liberty and equality for everyone.”

      I never thought of it this way, but it’s so true. In a world where food is charged with all these connotations, you can’t have any discussion about food without the bodily autonomy piece coming in. Veganism ties into freedom of religion/philosophy, ableism whose diets are restricted for health reasons, etc. So it makes sense that at least some vegans are passionate about FA. Thanks for commenting.

  3. ladybird · January 15, 2012

    ummm, totally meant “as a fat vegan” not overweight. Still learning how to actually use my words.

  4. Bond · March 13, 2012

    Weight is beside the point, weight is just a curiosity. What matters is the status of your health and vitality, which is shown throughout your body, and hence, how you perform in life, aside from weight.
    But on that point, flabby is a choice. But, we like Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill(come on ladies?). So, to each there own. Be who you are, and enjoy.

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