Anti-Healthism Is Not…


I had a conversation with my therapist about what it means to be fat accepting and anti-healthist. Fat acceptance is pretty straightforward. We believe that healthy, attractive, and normal people come in all shapes and sizes and our acceptance in society shouldn’t depend on losing weight. We do not believe a lot of the common stereotypes of fat people and any health objective we presume should be weight neutral. For example, high cholesterol and diabetes can be found in people of all sizes. They are not caused by being fat and trying to be less fat won’t cure them. Pretty simple, like I said. Don’t complicate it.

Anti-healthism is more difficult to understand and is not as readily accepted, even by progressives. Lots of fat activists have healthist attitudes and lots of anti-healthists are fat-negative. 

So what is anti-healthism? To start with, healthism is a cultural phenomenon wherein people believe that health can be guaranteed by living the “right” way and that certain diseases in particular are caused by bad choices and that they deserve to be sick and to die early. Healthism also supports government intervention to promote the “right” lifestyle, irrespective of people’s individual circumstances, personal goals, culture or health needs. I’m talking about things like the soda tax and preventing people on food stamps from buying so-called junk food. Anti-healthism opposes these measures and on top of that, we are a skeptic movement. We question conventional health claims and debunk myths. For example, fat is not solely a matter of diet and exercise, diabetes is not caused by eating sugar and people have different levels of physical fitness regardless of your exercise routine and on top of that, people live long and healthy lives even when physically “unfit.” That just scratches the surface. 

So you have a working idea of what it means to be healthist or anti-healthist. Now we can have a discussion of what anti-healthism is NOT. 

We are not:

-Denialist: There are a number of anti-healthists who defend big industry practices indiscriminately, which is why people think we are all shills for “Big Food,” such as what defenders of the tobacco industry used to do. You do NOT have to embrace this stance to be anti-healthist and in fact, I highly discourage this stance. A genuine skeptic is skeptical of all claims and is willing to be proven wrong, and isnot just a devil’s advocate for its own sake. We recognize that not all things are healthy for all people, that moderation is generally best and that industry can be unethical. Our stance is not that industry is always good, but that industry is not always bad, it can be good if not life changing, and that a lot of common beliefs about health, and most pop science (think summaries of “Processed sugars cause warts on ass!” type studies on the Today Show) are either wrong, exaggerated, distorted, or just not the best that human knowledge has to offer. As such, we as a society should not be using ten-minute segments on a talk show to shape major personal decisions or public health policies. 

-Comtrarian: Just as we aren’t denialist for its own sake, we don’t purposefully do all the “wrong” things just to be rebellious. No one is advocating that we all binge eat constantly, eat as much fat and sugar is possible, purposefully gain as much weight as possible, refuse to exercise, or just ignore all health advice. I don’t do that and I can’t think of any anti-healthists that do. You can be a triathlete, stick-thim, be vegan, and be anti-healthist. The key factor is our sense of morality and sense of obligation. I don’t think my healthy habits guarantee good health or longer life, I don’t think I’m better than someone with “unhealthy” habits, and I feel zero guilt if I don’t follow my routine. No guilt about skipping gym, ordering fast food three times a week, or my screen time addiction if that’s what I feel like doing at the time. 

-Reckless: We don’t give health advice we aren’t qualified to give. I’m not your endocrinologist or your cardiologist or your orthopedist or any kind of medical professional. If you have a chronic condition such as heart disease or uncontrolled diabetes, defer to the advice of a professional that specializes in your condition and that you trust. Don’t become a researcher or amateur health guru who gets her degree from the University of Google, but DO be informed and advocate for your goals and needs, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries. A good medical professional should be able to work with those stipulations within reason. They work with religious people who eat kosher or halal, they work with vegans, with tube feeding, and just about every dietary need imaginable, and they should be able to work with anti-healthists too. Also keep in mind that doctors are human and can be wrong. I can’t count the number of times I have had to correct doctors and pharmacists in my line of work (caregiver) because as trained and educated as they are…my clientele is not their specialty and they do not specialize in all the medical and mental health needs of our folks. My clientele IS my specialty, and so is the care and keeping of me, and I have no problem letting professionals know about my specialties. 

I could go on, but that is a summary of what we are and what we are not. I have a lot of people, online and in person, who are curious as to what we are about, and I also have my fair share of trolls and paranoid folks who think I get paid by Montsano or something. (Please, if I was on their payroll, I would be living in Salem, MA right now). Here is a starting point and there will be more to come.

Any questions?

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15 comments

  1. purplesagefem · October 9, 2016

    Do you read Dances With Fat? I’ve been following her for a while. I’m about 200 lbs, and although it would be nice to be thinner, I don’t want to put all my energy into trying to make myself go hungry for the rest of my life so that I can meet other people’s standards. I try to cook my own food and eat fruits and vegetables every day, and that’s good enough for me. I know I can lose weight by not eating wheat or sugar, but I also know it takes all my energy trying to plan meals to avoid those, and I know that as soon as I start eating them again I’ll gain the weight back.

    • joannadeadwinter · October 9, 2016

      I have read that blog on and off for years and she has some great material. Definitely fat accepting but not necessarily anti-healthist. That said, we need myth busters and her size and active lifestyle certainly achieve that.

    • Saye Bennett · October 9, 2016

      I haven’t read that blog. Will check it out… BTW, I really don’t think that super-low/no carb is healthy OR maintainable long-term (b/c I have tried ~ in the past!).

      • purplesagefem · October 9, 2016

        Yeah it’s not maintainable long-term, and it’s better to maintain a weight rather than going up and down, so I only make changes that I know I can maintain long-term.

      • Saye Bennett · October 9, 2016

        That’s my (new) philosophy too; I have (in the past) NOT been so wise!

      • grumpyoldnurse · October 10, 2016

        The thing is, the body needs carbs to provide energy. Remember when Atkins was all the rage? yeah. I looked at that shite, and thought “kidney failure imminent”. And, having said that, I would feel nothing but compassion for someone who did end up in kidney failure from following that nightmare. And, I don’t think something as unbalanced as Atkins could cause kidney failure, all by itself.

  2. Saye Bennett · October 9, 2016

    This is very interesting! And I didn’t know there was an actual movement about it, but I have noticed myself the huge amount of overly simplistic, short-sighted, and often just plain incorrect information about health that is pushed on us day after day after day, so much so that it does give people the idea that if we would just do all of these particular things, we could, in fact, be blindingly healthy…almost immortal. It’s wishful thinking, and there’s often not necessarily the direct correlation people wish there were. My friend Debra, for instance, did all of the so-called “right” things all of her life, she ate healthy foods, she exercised, etc., and yet she died of cancer at 32. Sometimes crap happens.

    • grumpyoldnurse · October 10, 2016

      People desperately need someone or something to blame when crap happens, though. That’s the basis of the victim blaming we so often see in our society, it lets people think “that will never happen to me because I do the RIGHT (TM) things”.

      Often, the causes are multi-focal, and untraceable. To think one human can stand in judgement of all that is unhealthy and damaging is incredibly arrogant, IMHO.

      • Saye Bennett · October 10, 2016

        I agree that there is a huge need/hope on the part of most humans to attempt to trace/blame the cause of illness/death; like you said, as a way to deny that it could happen to themselves. And that seems to be true with health issues and also with things like crime (“Why was she there at that time of night?” etc.).

      • grumpyoldnurse · October 10, 2016

        At least in part, I blame Dr. Oz (though he was really mostly exploiting an existing weirdness, not creating it). That man just flat out annoys me with his crap. If you bought all the magic potions that he shills on his show, you wouldn’t have enough money left over for food or housing.

  3. evenmoreyou · October 17, 2016

    I have never heard of Anti-Healthism before and so I read your post. I found that I agree with a number of things you said (like diabetes, personal health, different physical health…). Everyone has different body types and I think it is amazing to be able to accept these differences. Thank you for your post!

    Carlee- evenmoreyou.wordpress.com

  4. Ben Rietema · November 30

    I appreciate such a well-written post and cohesive thoughts about what constitutes a healthy life. So many people end up unhappy and frustrated at the end of the day as regards health, and something like anti-healthism seems a good, balanced response to that. Thanks again for the great post!

    • joannadeadwinter · November 30

      Thank you. So many people are confused as to who we are, especially when they mistakenly think we support big business and go out of our way to be as unhealthy as possible, and they think we’re nuts. Nothing could be further than the truth. Rather, we believe anyone can take small steps to be healthy, and that path is very individual. Example? Schools should not be judging kids by weight or performance on physical fitness tests, for example, but they should encourage long recesses to burn energy as they wish and give kids more chances to be active in the classroom…and some kids naturally prefer to read, walk and talk, or do some gardening. This is normal. It’s the same with adults. Snacking and watching TV, walking the dog, etc. Are normal. We want everyone to find and work with *their* normal.

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