Can't do right for doing wrong

Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 72 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

It’s been a weird month out in the world and at home – but this isn’t a blog about that. It’s about me losing weight.

I did have two moments that gave me pause this week though. The first was a Facebook acquaintance, who I respect, posting a general instruction to filter them out of posts about dieting. The second was confirmation that I am now less likely to die from a heart attack than I was six months ago.

Those two pieces of information don’t seem related but, to me, they are. You see, I feel like I’m trying to do a positive thing with my weight loss campaign. I am losing weight for the sake of my health – but I am also, in that process, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

That post had a long comment thread all about what total dicks people who post about their diets are... and it got me thinking and fretting. They – the respondents in the thread – were asking people who were posting about their diets to do so privately (or not at all) or not to talk about the health impact of their diets.

That seemed reasonable enough.

Oh, hang on, no. The other thing. That seemed overly didactic and prescriptive.

I just can’t do that. I'm trying to raise funds and I’m using my social media to publicise this fairly heavily. My posts are set to public so that my friends (and anyone else) can choose to share them if they wish.

I agree we should be kind to each other and acknowledge that there are many complicated organic and psychological reasons why a person may be overweight. There is no circumstance where we might consider it right or proper to abuse or discriminate against people because they are obese. And, yet, this happens all the time – at micro and macro levels and in systemic interactions throughout the lives of fat people.

In fact, I started on this journey as a protest against one of these “systemic interactions”; a poster campaign (from a charity) that trivialised obesity as though it’s a lifestyle choice; something that people can just choose to give up. (Spoiler: it’s not. Losing this much weight is really, really hard to do – and it is best done with the kind of love, support and encouragement that can only come from telling people what you are doing).

So that part, I can get totally behind.

What I can’t agree with is that as a society we should stop all discourse about the relationship of weight to health because some people may be triggered by it – because life is much more complex than that. It is not a case of there being a right side or wrong side; of there being categories of thing you can say and can't say.

Here are two facts.

  1. There are people who have eating disorders, who have to deal with dysphoria on a daily basis.

  2. Being fat kills individuals faster than not being fat.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of studies that link being overweight or obese to higher incidences of disease and organic disorders. Anything else is a straw man.

So, yes, while I can understand that some people have body dysphoria or issues related to eating who might not want to see that stuff, I’ve made a utilitarian decision to serve the greater good.

Anyway, I mention all this because I am becoming increasingly depressed about our political discourse in general. I am preoccupied with it and feel oppressed by it. I have deliberately stepped back from some social media platforms because of it.

There is a kind of authoritarian tone on Twitter, Facebook and some discussion forums where people can now make these instructive pronouncements with the certainty that they have a right to do so. It is a form of asserted supremacy, often academic in origin, and I have no truck with any of it, whether it comes from the left or the right of the ideological spectrum.

And because I was worried about that for the last two weeks, I failed to notice that my heart health measurements had quietly crossed into a new category while I wasn’t looking. My fitness tracker estimates my VO2 max level – the amount of oxygen used to work out – from heart rate during exercise. When I started this it was classified “Fair to Average” for my age. It crept up to “Average to Good” a little before Christmas. This weekend I checked it after a hike through the Yorkshire hills and it’s now “Good to Very Good”.

This had been a real worry for me. I had some scares before my diet began; dizzy spells and getting out of breath; potential signs of poor heart health. I’ve now lost 43 lbs and benefits like that are tangible, irrefutable and positive. But I was so worried that my attempt to improve my health was potentially upsetting others, that I had completely missed it.

That’s what gave me pause.

So, if you don’t mind, in future I’d like to allow myself a moment of pride and a second of relief, without feeling castigated for it.