The anti-gospel of weight loss, which leads to death (not life)
This summary of a study published by the International Journal of Obesity has been flying around the fat-o-sphere the last couple of days, and no wonder, because the conclusion is quite stunning:
Weight loss of 15% or more from maximum body weight is associated with increased risk of death from all causes among overweight men and among women regardless of maximum BMI.
What I want to point out here is that ultimately, we don’t know why this is. Why would weight loss of this magnitude lead to a higher mortality risk (within three years, which was the length of the study) for all but obese* men? Most of us would think that it would lead to greater health, or at least just be neutral. Instead, it is actually dangerous. Why? We don’t know why.
We don’t know why because we are so busy hysterically** hand-wringing over body mass and weight. Our scientific studies are sullied by our emotional biases—fear, loathing, and in some cases outright hatred—towards fat people. Ultimately, we don’t understand metabolism and body weight. We think we do, but we don’t, because studies like this show us just how disgustingly, dangerously, life-threateningly wrong we are in all our assumptions and “common knowledge” about fatness.
A few years ago, an energetic, beautiful, and filled-to-the-brim-with-love woman named Carrie died unexpectedly in her home. She had diabetes and had been a fat woman, but had recently lost a significant amount of weight. A pastor at her memorial service stood up and gave a moving tribute, except for one portion which made my blood boil. He said something like this:
It is so terrible that Carrie died at this time. She was young, she was vibrant, and she had just taken some steps to really improve her health. With hard work, she had lost a lot of weight. It is so tragically ironic that she worked so hard to improve her health only to die so soon afterward.
I could see everyone nodding at the pastor’s words, but my heart screamed NO! NO NO NO! That is NOT what happened! What assumptions! What gall! How could that pastor presume to make those judgments about Carrie’s health and weight? My mother had died recently of an extremely aggressive cancer, which was literally killing her as people complimented her on her weight loss. Conflating weight loss with increased health seemed the height of ridiculousness, and I was not even a Fat Activist then! To me, this pastor was saying that the daytime sky was actually black, that up was down, that love was hate.
I still get angry thinking about it.
I mean honestly, who knows what was going on with Carrie. Maybe her weight loss was an unintentional side effect of her diabetes worsening. Maybe her weight loss was intentional but somehow contributed to her death. Maybe her weight loss truly did accompany greater health, and had nothing at all to do with her death. But whatever the case, the pastor who made assumptions—who used her memorial service as a time to preach the anti-gospel*** of weight loss—was being anything but pastoral in that moment.
With this new evidence that we have that losing a significant amount of weight is actually correlated with a higher mortality risk, it throws his actions and the actions of all of us who preach that anti-gospel into an even harsher light.
Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Intentional weight loss does not bring life, it brings death—in every sense of the word. Preaching it, espousing it, making it a goal, wasting precious and fleeting moments of our life on it, has nothing to do with living life abundantly. Weight loss is an anti-gospel, an anti-Christ. And we ought have nothing to do with it.
* the term “obese” was used by the study, describing folks who fall in the “obese” category of the BMI. I do not typically use this word, because it is a non-medically-necessary word used to describe people based on subjective, rather than objective, assessments about their body and functioning.
** another word that I really hate using because of its history, but have not managed to find a suitable alternative
*** with “gospel” translating “good news,” I am using “anti-gospel” here to mean something like “fake good news that is actually terrible news.” Or for the more theologically-oriented, “idolatrous news.”