Monday, January 11, 2010

I am not my Brother's keeper

The fat acceptance and health at every size movement has positively affected my life. I have let go of the "dream" of being thin. I have met a bunch of wonderful people who generously welcomed me to this community and helped me understand this new paradigm about weight and health. I have had cathartic changes in the way I conceive of my worthiness which used to be smothered my my concepts around weight and fatness.

With the exception of my birth mother and one of my brothers, I have discovered that discussing my experience with fat acceptance is futile because they are so steeped in the cultural fear and hatred of fat.

My Mother still gets concerned when I order a big portion of food and makes a comment or two. When I address her comments with whatever feels right for me at the time, she listens and honors my boundaries. I know she doesn't quite understand what this FA stuff is, but she does make an effort.

My youngest brother is a prince. He reads my blog, does his own research, asks questions in the spirit of wanting to understand. My brother doesn't expect me to change. He wants me to be happy. He is concerned about the risks to my health, but he gets it. I love him so much. His empathy and his love and warmth are invaluable.

I live in New York City. He lives with his family in Hartford, CT. I don't get to see him, his wife, and my two delicious nephews as often as I'd like to. This past Sunday I went up to Hartford for a visit. As we ate lunch he told me about his New Years Resolution to do something about his weight and health. He said that as the year came to an end and he was weighing more than 200 pounds, it was time to do something about it.

He actually said that he is starving himself. His wife quickly corrected him and said that he wasn't. However, as I listened to him explain what he is doing I discovered that was exactly what he is doing. In an instant I knew how things were going to turn out. He may keep this effort up for some time. He may only last a few more days. The point is that the organism that is my brother will eventually win in my brothers battle with his set point. He told me about cutting out all cookies and sugar snacks and that he is stopping eating just before he is feeling full. He told me he struggles in the evening with hunger, but in the morning when he wakes, the hunger as passed. He said he lost 5 pounds in the first week, He was happy to report about using his treadmill in the morning and how great that feels.

I started to talk to him about the set point stuff. I wanted to ask him to look back over his history and acknowledge that every start he has made towards fitness has ended with defeat. I wanted to point out to him that breaking the 200 pound mark is indicative of the progressive effects of yo-yoing. I wanted to suggest to him that he make his entire focus about his fitness and let his weight find the place that is belongs. I want him to understand how much harder he is making it for himself by deliberately staying in a state of hunger. I hoped that he could see that forcing his body to lose weight will marshall all his biological systems to get him to put the weight back on. I want him to see how much higher his chances for success are if he keeps his focus on the fitness and eats when he feels hungry and stops eating when he feels satisfied. To hell with the scale.

But I had to consider that my brother doesn't have any expectations of me changing my behavior. He supports me in my pursuit of happiness. When he asks questions, they are in the spirit of getting a clear understanding of what I am thinking. So I decided to let it be. My brother will find what is best for him.

My brother is a great guy. He is a wonderful husband and father. His boys, (my nephews) are too delicious for words. He is also the person on earth that knows me better that anyone. So if he wants to diet and exercise himself to smaller waist, then that is his right. While his up and down weight cycling is undeniable, he is doing just fine. He feels great (both physically and mentally) when he is in the rhythm of working out. Yes, he eventually feels bad when he stops, but he handles it.

I can't know what is best for my brother. I do suspect that a modification to his approach here that is more in sync with HAES, has a better chance of lasting longer. I also know that I am not his keeper.

I want nothing but happiness for him, which is the same thing that he wants for me. Thanks to this movement I now know that my happiness is not contingent on what I weigh.




  1. Dude, I'd be more impressed with your resolve to let your brother make his own decisions if you hadn't mentioned that he reads this blog. It's a bit like telling him through the back door, you know?

    That said, I'm glad there's someone in your family that's supportive.

  2. trabb valid point... i almost put a sentence in there about telling him all this sideways... in fact I wasn't very clear myself about what it was i wanted to post. looking at it with the "back door" aspect helps me to refine my point. I have no qualms about talking to my brother about this stuff... it was just not the right time for me to go into in, around the dining room table, with the rest of the family there.. I do still stand certain that I don't expect my bro to change anything, as he is free to do whatever he thinks best for him, i will offer him this info here, and we will talk about it together, just him and me, (with the fat o sphere listening in :) We are able to do that.. sadly he is the only family member I can do that with. The rest of my family just cant get past the death fat stuff if I try to discuss FA. This was not my most well thought out post. next time more thought. cheers,


  3. forcing his body to lose weight will marshall all his biological systems to get him to put the weight back on.

    I think this is a good way to put it, it is the cutting down that itself creates the need to make it good with excess.

    It's not that people don't 'stick' to WLD's, it's that there comes a point when they can no longer hold off the rebound.

    I think your attitude is correct. I used to want to warn people of the above, but I'm not even sure about that sometimes.

    He knows how you feel and why, so he'll get there if at all, when he's ready and although it's hard, often that's just the way it's got to be.

  4. Ivan’s brother here. I have enjoy reading Ivan’s blog and everyone’s supportive replies. Thanks for embracing him as you have, and I’m happy you are discovering what a caring, thoughtful person he is.

    Of course, the blog should never be about me, but I can’t resist responding to this entry. BTW, Trabbs, it is true that this seems back door, but Ivan did call me to tell me about the post. Maybe posting this ensured that we did not avoid the conversation, but I think we would have had it anyway. Timing was a factor here: my 4- and 2-year old boys wanted to play when the topic came up. I’m happy to report that we discussed what he wrote, and no insult was taken. Quite the opposite, it was a great conversation. Plus, I don’t mind being called a “prince” without warning.

    I can’t help but offer an introspective thought of my own: Ivan has taught me a lot over many years. First, and most importantly, empathy and compassion. I hate when people make fun of fat people. I’m not a hero here; I don’t actively scold people, but I’m sensitive to the hurtful comments. Secondly, Ivan’s life is surely his own. It’s up to him to find his happiness. I’m so glad that he is more confident in the belief that getting thin won’t make him happy, and staying fat won’t make him sad. And recently, he’s teaching me that getting thin and staying fat are not necessarily biologically achievable (i.e., set point theory).

    However, I do want to say that fat people don’t have a franchise on Health at Every Size. We thin people can pay attention, too (remember, it’s EVERY size)! Although not technically a New Year’s resolution (they never work), I did change my approach to the H in HAES last week. This was not a contradiction to what Ivan (and all of you) have taught me, but instead it was an endorsement. I decided to do better than I was at exercising and eating well. I don’t think that it was just because I wanted to hit a number on the scale, but I can’t claim purity here. Unfortunately, my hyperbole of, “I’m starving myself” didn’t start the conversation on point. Really, I’m just experimenting with an approach of not eating until I feel uncomfortable, and also trying to exercise. I’m doing this because I feel great when I eat well and exercise. I have more energy, and I can roll around with my kids more easily. I certainly haven’t found the right balance: I do feel hunger sometimes. But, I promise I’m not pursuing any goal of hunger, just trying to find the right balance.

    But what about the number? I am totally guilty of watching the scale each morning. This becomes a tricky semantic argument: Am I focused on losing weight for the sake of it, or am I focused on being healthy and watching how the scale reacts? I am more comfortable at 185 lbs. than 205 lbs. (I’m 5’9”), but does that mean I’m obsessed with being a certain number and I hate fat people? (I hope not.) I’m more comfortable when it’s 80 degrees out than when it’s 100, but do I hate heat (or do I hate people who love the heat)? These are tricky questions because, as you and Ivan have shown me, there are a lot of politics wrapped up in fat acceptance and HAES. (I sincerely hope I don’t insult anyone, nor trivialize the very important FA movement with the thermometer metaphor.) My view is that each of us is responsible for our own H, and we can’t know by a person’s appearance what they’re approach is to their own H, and it’s none of our business. The important thing is to leave the H to each person and to embrace the ES.

    The only real way to test whether or not I’m a hypocrite (and I allow for that possibility) is to see how I would react or feel if I continued with my efforts to be healthy, and the scale started moving back up from 185. I’ve never really tested this, because I seem to fall off the H part of it when I’m stable at 185, and the weight comes back after. In any event, for me, for now, I’ll continue to pursue the H in HAES.

    I will continue to read with enthusiasm your conversations with Ivan, and thank you for letting me share my own thoughts.