(Content warning: Discussion of weight, body image, and body shaming.)
The fat acceptance movement has made important steps towards changing society’s discourse about weight by insisting that health and beauty are not exclusive to thin people. However, in conversations about how to be healthy, I have frequently heard it said that while weight is not a choice, everyone can choose to eat nutritious food and be physically fit. This is not true, and is offensive to people such as me who lack the capacity to exercise and eat a “healthy” diet.
“Eat fewer animal products and eat more vegetables,” say health food advocates. For some people, that is workable advice. When you are allergic to all nuts and all legumes (legumes include peanuts, soy, beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas), as am I, you do not have a choice about getting most of your protein from animal products. I was actually, seriously told by a vegan recently that it would be possible for me to be vegan, on the basis that there were various plant-based foods with between 10% and 20% calories from protein, and people only need 10% calories from protein to survive. Clearly he had limited math skills, because he apparently did not realize that in order to get at least 10% of my calories from protein, over half of my diet would have to be those few plant-based foods with over 10% protein. Someone less blinded by ideology would realize that this was not a workable possibility. Nonetheless, many people insist that everyone should be vegetarian or vegan.
Likewise, many people and medical authorities insist that a large proportion of everybody’s diet should be fruits and vegetables. Most of these people appear to be unaware that for people with sensory processing disorder, a condition that affects how the mind perceives sensory input, the tastes and textures of fruits and vegetables are often impossible to tolerate. I have sensory processing disorder. I cannot tolerate most fruit at all, and I can only tolerate most vegetables if they are well cooked, well seasoned, and mixed with other food. I need grains and animal products in a meal if I am to eat enough to satisfy my body.
The few healthy lifestyle advocates who would accept these points would likely protest that maybe not everybody can eat mostly “healthy” foods, but everyone can exercise and improve their physical fitness. This completely erases the existence of people with physical disabilities that reduce their ability to exercise.
While most people would accept that those with visible physical impairments have difficulty exercising, it is often unrecognized that people who look able-bodied may in fact not be able to exercise. There are people, such as myself, who have cardiovascular fitness that is abnormally poor for their level of exercise. For me, walking is aerobic exercise. I cannot move faster than a medium-paced walk and still readily carry on a conversation. I have been like this since childhood. Doctors blamed it on asthma then, but more recent testing has proven that whether or not I had asthma in childhood, I do not have it now.
It is only recently that I have tried to find a medical explanation for this problem. For years, I believed that it must be my fault I couldn't exercise like other people--that it must be because I don't try to exercise enough. As I have learned more about ableism and victim-blaming, I have come to realize that normal people do not have this much trouble exercising, even if they are completely sedentary, and I have stopped accepting blame for my lack of cardiovascular fitness.
If anyone is wondering, my adult weight has varied from the “underweight” BMI range to the low end of the “overweight” BMI range, which, at my height, still is not very large. There are people twice my weight whose fitness puts mine to shame, but my fitness is not something I can control.
Obviously, I take exception to the idea that physical activity and physical fitness are personal choices. Because I cannot get significant amounts of exercise without getting out of breath and exhausted, I do not have the option of doing regular cardiovascular exercise. If I haul groceries home for a 20-minute walk from the store, I don't have the energy to do laundry that day.
I also have developmental coordination disorder, which means that I am not physically coordinated enough to ride a bicycle (on most surfaces) or drive, let alone play sports. When I was a child, I was abused by my peers for my lack of physical ability, to the point where I have PTSD-like reactions to any sort of exercise class or any sort of frustration regarding exercise now. I was also continually gaslit by well-meaning gym teachers who told me I was doing fine in order to make me feel better, even though I and everyone else around me knew I wasn't. My parents insisted that I would do fine in gym class if I practiced the skills more. Needless to say, practice did not help.
(Note: This is directed to people in general, not any one person:) So, DO NOT FUCKING TELL ME A STEREOTYPICALLY NUTRITIOUS DIET, EXERCISE AND FITNESS ARE CHOICES. FOR ME THEY ARE NOT AN OPTION. I do strength-building exercises, which have helped tone my body. I get most of my protein from white meat, fish, and dairy. But salads and cardio fitness? No way. I cannot eat a standard “healthy” diet or be "physically fit", and IT IS NOT MY FAULT.
I know I am not alone in this regard. Some of my specific issues are more common than others, but the point remains: Eating and exercising the way our society says people are supposed to is not possible for everyone, and you cannot identify the people who are incapable of these things by looking at them. Condemning people who cannot do those things for not doing them is unfair and bigoted, as is condemning people who cannot lose weight.