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HomeNutritionDitching the O-words: The right way to discuss fats our bodies

Ditching the O-words: The right way to discuss fats our bodies


How to talk about fat bodies: Photo of small fat woman with long dark hair in a ponytail, wearing a black sports bra and black leggings, doing upward dog yoga pose on a yoga mat on dark hardwood floors, in a patch of sunlight.

There are numerous phrases we are able to use to confer with our bodies, together with physique measurement. When deciding the way to discuss fats our bodies, two phrases I’ve stopped utilizing are “weight problems” and “chubby.” (Besides in sure circumstances, in particular methods, comparable to what I simply did on this sentence by placing them in quote marks.) More often than not I take advantage of phrases like “fats,” “fats our bodies,” “bigger our bodies,” or “larger our bodies,” And when I’ve to make use of the O-words, I take advantage of them fastidiously.

  • I miss a letter (ob*sity or ov*rweight) when creating social media posts or writing on platforms I personal (my weblog and my e-newsletter)



  • I put them in quote marks once I’m writing for a publication that wouldn’t let me miss a letter, or once I’m writing about weight analysis (“weight problems,” “chubby” or “the weight problems epidemic”). This signifies that these phrases aren’t my selection, however I’ve to make use of them.



  • Typically, I’ll throw in a “so-called” (“the so-called ‘weight problems epidemic’”) or get tremendous particular (“folks with BMIs within the ‘overweight’ vary”).

This isn’t only a linguistic selection. There are deep explanation why I select the phrases I do. You may also wish to take into consideration the phrases you employ to explain physique measurement.

What’s in a phrase: which means

If you wish to get literal about it, the phrase “weight problems” comes from the Latin phrases “obesitas,” which implies “fatness,” and “obesus,” which implies “one thing that’s eaten itself fats.” How impolite and inaccurate is that? Regardless of what many on-line trolls imagine, there are numerous, many causes that some individuals are skinny and a few individuals are fats. A lot of these causes are nicely past even our present scientific understanding. Do some folks “eat themselves fats”? Sure. Do some folks “starve themselves skinny”? Sure. However that doesn’t imply that everybody who’s fats overeats, or that everybody who’s skinny isn’t consuming sufficient.

After I hear the phrase “chubby,” the primary query that involves my thoughts is “over WHAT weight?” You would possibly say, “Nicely, excessive ‘regular’ weight on the BMI charts.” Technically, that’s true, however there’s additionally some flamingly massive issues baked into that.

One is that BMI, or physique mass index, as developed again in in 1835 by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician, astronomer, sociologist and statistician, was by no means supposed to be a measure of particular person well being. He wished a simple technique to measure the diploma of fatness within the common inhabitants, however the components he got here up with has no foundation in human physiology.

In truth, not solely did Quetelet manipulate the components to attempt to match the information (which may be very shoddy work) that he collected from completely white European males, he explicitly stated that his components shouldn’t be used to gauge the extent of fatness in a person human. In spite of everything, he was not an knowledgeable on the human physique, even to the restricted extent we understood the human physique again then.

Basing a definition on a shaky basis

Two, the “regular BMI” aim posts have moved, and that motion was supported by pharmaceutical corporations that had weight reduction medication to promote. In 1998, the Nationwide Institutes of Well being moved the higher cutoff for having a “regular” BMI from 27.8 (for males) and 27.3 (for girls) to 24.9 for everybody, making hundreds of thousands of individuals “chubby” in a single day. Their well being didn’t change in a single day, however they had been affixed with a brand new label, a label which means nothing and all the pieces on the identical time.

So, what does the medical discipline say “ob*se” means? Relying on the supply, you would possibly discover one thing like, “Weight that’s larger than what is taken into account wholesome for a given top” (CDC, referring to each OW and OB), “A fancy illness involving an extreme quantity of physique fats” (Mayo Clinic, referring to OB), “Irregular or extreme fats accumulation that presents a danger to well being” (WHO, referring to each OW and OB) or “An individual who has extra physique fats” (NHS, referring to OB).

Discover that of that random pattern, solely the Mayo Clinic and WHO definitions indicate one thing greater than simply being in an even bigger physique. That’s as a result of what some researchers and docs perceive is that it’s not nearly how a lot physique fats somebody has, nevertheless it’s additionally about what these fats cells are doing. It seems that some folks have “dysfunctional” fats cells that improve ranges of irritation within the physique, and that this can be associated to a genetically decided “private fats threshold.” That threshold could also be comparatively low for some folks, and fairly excessive for others. Simply another reason that diagnosing “ob*sity” based mostly on BMI is bunk.

How to talk about fat bodies: Photo of a young small fat woman with long, brilliant red-orange dyed hair and olive skin, sitting at a marble-topped bistro table outdoors next to planters holding evergreen shrubs, wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeved black top, resting one hand on her phone on the table, looking like she's waiting for someone.

Why person-first language is typically dumb

Regardless of the medical weight reduction trade (and to some extent the industrial weight reduction trade) making an attempt to “destigmatize” the phrase ob*sity, it’s the truth is very stigmatizing. Simply ask any fats particular person (normally a lady) who has been trolled by a stranger (in particular person or on-line) saying “You’re unhealthy,” and even “You’re going to die,” regardless of understanding nothing concerning the well being of the particular person they’re trolling.

That is why I roll my eyes so onerous they virtually fall out of my head once I hear ob*sity docs or researchers use the person-first phrases “folks with ob*sity” or “particular person with ob*sity.” (“Particular person with ov*rweight” sounds much more ridiculous.)

Particular person-first language began someday within the Nineteen Sixties within the incapacity group as a manner of linguistically placing an individual earlier than their incapacity or illness. So, “folks with disabilities” as a substitute of “disabled folks,” or “particular person with diabetes” as a substitute of “diabetic.” This concept picked up steam within the Nineteen Eighties, and whereas there are good intentions behind it, like many issues with good intentions, the influence ended up being less-than-good.

First, because it pertains to physique weight, I’ve witnessed many, many, many individuals within the well being professions who’ve clear anti-fat bias insist on utilizing person-first language as if that’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. Like, “I take advantage of the ‘proper’ language, so I don’t have to look at my biases or the ethics of selling weight reduction.”

In truth, many people who find themselves supposedly the benefactors of person-first language don’t agree with it. One massive purpose is that whereas, sure, we’re all folks first, whenever you…

…have a incapacity (particularly one which’s seen and impacts mobility)…

…are neurodivergent (as with autism spectrum problems or ADHD)…

…or have a psychological sickness…

…that colours your expertise of your world. It isn’t all you might be, however it is extremely a lot a part of you. It’s not separate. In fact, every particular person has their very own choice, however I do know many individuals preferring being known as disabled (or in a different way abled) or autistic or depressed. Not solely are these traits an built-in a part of them, however they really feel that to separate them from their situation or circumstance, as with person-first language, is definitely stigmatizing. And there ought to be no stigma about having a incapacity, or being neurodivergent, or having a psychological sickness.

How to talk about fat bodies: Photo of two super fat women walking on the beach near the surf, holding hands and smiling. One woman has short blond hair and is wearing a white flowy sleeveless dress. The other woman has long medium brown hair and is wearing a flowy navy blue sleeveless dress and has red flowers in her hair. The sky is blue with scattered clouds.

What’s fallacious with “fats”?

Equally, being in a bigger physique colours one’s expertise of the world, and your physique measurement is an built-in a part of you. Many people who find themselves ov*rweight or o*bese reject person-first language however additionally reject the o-words as a result of they’ve grow to be medicalized, and most of the people who slot into these ranges on the BMI chart do not need well being issues attributable to having further physique fats.

If you happen to learn my Seattle Occasions columns, you’ll have observed that I usually use the phrase “fats.” After the primary time I take advantage of it in a column, I embody the disclaimer: (I take advantage of “fats” as a impartial descriptor, like “quick” or “tall.”) I do this as a result of “fats” will not be the popular time period of everybody in a bigger physique, and since many people who find themselves not immersed or well-versed in fats acceptance and physique liberation assume that the phrase “fats” is all the time a slur.

One in every of my expensive associates, a weight-inclusive, Well being at Each Measurement-informed dietitian who was my teacher, mentor and certainly one of my internship preceptors in grad faculty (and who launched me to Intuitive Consuming), requested a query at a latest dietetic convention session about weight, and he or she referred to “fats sufferers.” The speaker (a dietitian I do know semi-well…nicely sufficient to know that she is personally and professionally invested in weight-reduction plan tradition, with all of the anti-fat bias that comes with it) corrected my buddy’s language such as you would possibly right a naughty youngster: “We are saying PEOPLE WITH OB*SITY!” Tsk, tsk.

How to talk about fat bodies: Three women standing close together smiling and laughing in an outdoor urban setting. One woman is small-to-mid fat, one is thin, and one is in between. One woman is wearing a black brimmed hat, and one is wearing a denim jacket with a Mexican blanket over her shoulders.

The right way to discuss fats our bodies

Initially, I feel we collectively discuss our bodies greater than we have to, and greater than we should always. Why can’t we simply say issues like “You look nice” or “It’s so good to see you” as a substitute of “You look so skinny in that costume!” or “Have you ever misplaced weight since I final noticed you?”? Just some causes to NOT touch upon our bodies embody:

  • Some individuals are uncomfortable having consideration clearly directed at their our bodies.



  • Some folks could have misplaced weight as a result of they’re grieving or sick.



  • Some folks could welcome feedback about their weight reduction with out realizing that these feedback are going to set off (or feed) an consuming dysfunction.



  • Some folks could merely choose to be complemented on their intelligence, kindness, generosity of spirit or their glowing wit.

I do know gracious, caring individuals who genuinely assume that referring to somebody utilizing the O-words is impartial and even sort. If that’s you, think about this: is using that phrase even correct (particularly ob*sity…as a result of does that particular person have fats cells which might be malfunctioning?). Is it impartial, actually? Is it really sort?

Many individuals are afraid to make use of the phrase “fats,” whether or not as utilized to their very own physique or different folks’s our bodies. Actually, “fats” has been used as insult many, many instances. But when, because the medical weight reduction trade is making an attempt to say, ob*sity is a power illness, not an appearance-based descriptor, and of not all folks in fats our bodies have issues with their fats cells (having lots of fats cells doesn’t imply these fats cells are dysfunctional), and if you happen to can’t inform what’s taking place with somebody’s fats cells by them, why would we name fats folks “ob*se”?

Reclaiming “fats”

Increasingly more folks are reclaiming the phrase “fats” as a impartial descriptor, like “skinny” or “quick” or “tall” or “blue-eyed” or “brunette.” Whereas speaking about our bodies much less could be factor, there are occasions when describing or referring to somebody’s physique measurement is ok and even essential. And we’d like phrases to do this.

“Fats” is definitely higher than lots of the foolish euphemisms which have popped up over time: “chunky,” “curvy,” “zaftig,” “plump,” “spherical,” “fluffy,” “bountiful,” and “beneficiant” are a couple of that come to thoughts. And “plus-size” is a bizarre one…sure, it refers to sure clothes sizes, however simply as “chubby” begs the query “over WHAT weight,” “plus-size” makes me assume, “why are we invoking arithmetic?”.

Right here’s one last little bit of meals for thought: If it’s worthwhile to confer with somebody’s physique measurement, whether or not they’re a affected person, a shopper, a member of the family or a buddy, why not simply ask them what phrases they use when speaking about their very own physique. What do they choose?


Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance author, intuitive consuming counselor, writer, and speaker. Her superpowers embody busting diet myths and empowering ladies to really feel higher of their our bodies and make meals selections that help pleasure, diet and well being. This submit is for informational functions solely and doesn’t represent individualized diet or medical recommendation.

Searching for 1-on-1 diet counseling? Carrie provides a 6-month Meals & Physique program (intuitive consuming, physique picture, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS administration program (low-FODMAP weight-reduction plan teaching with an emphasis on growing meals freedom). Go to the hyperlinks to be taught extra and e book a free intro name to see if this system is an effective match, and if we’re match!

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