Why Do We Hate Fat

Why do we hate fat? Why do we run around trying to lose fat? How much fat is OK?

I realised I never challenged the idea of vilifying body fat.

I see the obsession we have with losing weight and losing fat but I never consciously processed it. It’s just one of those “facts”. A normal reality. Everyone seems to agree that these are good things to be doing. Everyone seems to want to lose some weight, to lose some fat, to start running, join gyms, eat clean.

Fitness lifestyle became a thing. It’s like this virus of thought. swarming. A meme. And I adopted it.

I went from having a healthy relationship with food, to being obsessed with getting as thin and ripped as I consider fit and attractive. From eating like a “normal person”, to micromanaging what, when, and how much I eat. From eating to live, to living to eat. From eating with my body, to eating with my head.

Some do it for health reasons, some do it for aesthetics. I initially did it for both reasons.

I wanted to build strength and endurance so I can walk longer and lighter. I also want to look fitter, more toned, and lean. To feel more accomplished and well rounded in all areas of life. Maximise the score across the board. More secure, confident, and in control.

I also felt the benefits of exercise. I have better mental and physical bandwidth, getting regular dosage of feel-good brain chemicals (endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin).

The message is also reinforced by the media around the fitness lifestyle also helps me strengthen the narrative that I am doing the right thing. I felt validated, supported, justified.

Only now I gained a bit of perspective that if I am going to play that game, if I am doing it to “be perfect“, then being “underweight” is by definition, imperfect.

Everyone is playing a different game, and it’s all fine. What is dangerous is losing track of the initial purpose, forgetting what you’re initially playing it for. What is even more dangerous is playing but not really knowing what you’re playing for and what the rules are,

How did we get here?

Let’s talk about the fitness lifestyle for a second. I think it started with the global obesity epidemic, Where people have developed higher percentage of body fat and imbalanced body composition than what their body is naturally built for, causing health issues.

Quoting https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/obesity/en/:

At the other end of the malnutrition scale, obesity is one of today’s most blatantly visible – yet most neglected – public health problems. Paradoxically coexisting with undernutrition, an escalating global epidemic of overweight and obesity – “globesity” – is taking over many parts of the world. If immediate action is not taken, millions will suffer from an array of serious health disorders.


Obesity is a complex condition, one with serious social and psychological dimensions, that affects virtually all age and socioeconomic groups and threatens to overwhelm both developed and developing countries. In 1995, there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide and another 18 million under-five children classified as overweight. As of 2000, the number of obese adults has increased to over 300 million. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the obesity epidemic is not restricted to industrialized societies; in developing countries, it is estimated that over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems.


Generally, although men may have higher rates of overweight, women have higher rates of obesity. For both, obesity poses a major risk for serious diet-related noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Its health consequences range from increased risk of premature death to serious chronic conditions that reduce the overall quality of life.

So this is a real phenomenon and fitness lifestyle seems to be valid and much needed response to it. But sometimes we don’t know when to stop. There is that line between fitness lifestyle and diet culture.

Being obese and “getting ripped” are on completely different ends of the same spectrum. Where do you want to position yourself?

We don’t know what we know

I understood that thinner != healthier and more exercise is not always better. It sounds silly and blatantly obvious.

That not everyone need to lose weight and fat to be healthy. The more fat you lose does not mean the healthier you get.

It’s also not uncommon to hear fit and active people getting cardiac arrests and other negative effect from overexercising after pushing and not honoring the limit and signal of their bodies.

These thoughts and data points swarm around unnoticed among millions of other knowledge, beliefs, and signals that zoom in and out every day through my lossy perception, or went buried somewhere in the drawers in my mental attic, unindexed and unregistered.

We don’t know what is signal and what is noise

We ignore the signals the body sends, thinking something is normal and operating within “the new normal”. We accept and cope with the hunger, occasional chest pains, and lost period. We postpone, work around, and manage them.

Even worse, we interpreted these signals inaccurately.

Only the past couple of days I reflect and realised that the “gym highs” where I feel extra boost of energy and mental bandwidth could possibly be me having trouble sleeping. I was happy with these because it kept me up longer, providing me with extra physical and mental productivity. And it didn’t affect my sleep quality or quantity speaking in the monthly timeframe.

I would be wary if I have gotten those from external “unnatural” stimulants like caffeine. But because I got it from resistance and strength training, something that is supposedly good for me, I treated it as a positive side effect, not a sign that something is wrong.

Why do we do what we do?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel and look a certain way.

I believe at the core of it we need to recognise what we all want is just to enhance our lives. To feel better, to be better, to have better opportunities, to increase our chances of survival.

We learn new skills, develop relationships with people, and work on our bodies. We want our bodies to be able fully support our activities, allowing us to do what we want when we want to and be in the best shape for social survival.

In the process of that sometimes we run away from uncomfortable emotions and mistreated ourselves or others.

If we learned to get in tune with our bodies, develop then maintain healthy relationship with food, and stay reasonably and functionally active, we will arrive at each of our own ideal weight and body composition. Tools like BMI calculators, calories trackers, and weight scales are tools to help us get there but I have learned that our heads are less smart than our whole body.

Human is messy. We are complex beings in complex systems connected to and impacting each other. But at the end of the day, we are all doing our best with all we think we got.

2 Replies to “Why Do We Hate Fat”

  1. Let me start by sharing two thoughts

    Many people do need to lose fat. But not everyone need to go on a diet.
    We can lose fat without dieting.
    Diets don’t work if we don’t address the underlying issue that caused the unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. This is the root issues that cause us to undereat or overeat, to overexercise and underexercise.
    Putting genetic predisposition and congenital conditions aside, It is impossible to be unhealthy if we get our shit together around having healthy relationship with food and exercise.
    That sounds simple and obvious but, as you know it, not easy.
    First we often use food to numb, mask, cope, entertain, and reward aside from fueling ourselves. Sure food plays different functions in life. Eating is social, it is rewarding, it is celebratory. Nothing is wrong with any of these functions as long as it’s not done excessively and consistently. Food and exercise are one of many tools we can use to impact things in our physical, emotional, and mental realms. How to know if we’re not misusing the tools? Now that’s difficult.
    Second reason it is challenging is because the fashion, diet, and fitness industry are at the end of the day: a business. Businesses are designed to make profit by solving problems. The best businesses understood the ways we are wired, tap into that to solve real problems and design responsible ethical solutions.
    How are we wired?
    We are wired for shortcuts. It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around and navigate that spectrum of short term reward vs long term results. And we are wired to enhance our lives. All we do in life are basically just running around finding ways to improve our lives, in however ways we define it.
    So of course tactics and hacks sell. We want it all, we want it now, and we want it easy. Get lean fast! Gain weight fast! Boost your health, performance, and longevity.
    Solutions that treat symptoms are more appealing than ones that address the root cause. it is inded easier to thrive and profit by exploiting these security holes in human operating systems.
    We are all complicit in the way we have it now.
    Assume everyone have good intentions for you but you need to reclaim and own the best intentions for you.
    So, solution is simple and obvious but not easy.
    I tend to think if we all learned to get in tune with our bodies, develop & maintain healthy relationship with food, and stay functionally active, we will arrive at each of our own ideal weight and body composition.
    I watched this talk the other day. She shared the same idea.

    (Transcripts are taken from the site, Highlights and commentaries added.)

    Your brain also has its own sense of what you should weigh, no matter what you consciously believe. This is called your set point, but that’s a misleading term, because it’s actually a range of about 10 or 15 pounds. You can use lifestyle choices to move your weight up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it.
    The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body weight, there are more than a dozen chemical signals in the brain that tell your body to gain weight, more than another dozen that tell your body to lose it, and the system works like a thermostat, responding to signals from the body by adjusting hunger, activity and metabolism, to keep your weight stable as conditions change.
    That’s what a thermostat does, right? It keeps the temperature in your house the same as the weather changes outside. Now you can try to change the temperature in your house by opening a window in the winter, but that’s not going to change the setting on the thermostat, which will respond by kicking on the furnace to warm the place back up. Your brain works exactly the same way, responding to weight loss by using powerful tools to push your body back to what it considers normal.
    If you lose a lot of weight, your brain reacts as if you were starving, and whether you started out fat or thin, your brain’s response is exactly the same. We would love to think that your brain could tell whether you need to lose weight or not, but it can’t. If you do lose a lot of weight, you become hungry, and your muscles burn less energy.
    Dr. Rudy Leibel of Columbia University has found that people who have lost 10 percent of their body weight burn 250 to 400 calories less because their metabolism is suppressed. That’s a lot of food. This means that a successful dieter must eat this much less forever than someone of the same weight who has always been thin.

    Two things

    Losing weight and keeping it off” is such a common phrase I hear. Perhaps notice if you’re struggling to keep it off, you’re probably going too extreme (in terms of range or pace of the weight loss) ?
    I did lose 10% of my weight from 45 to 40 kg ish but I did put on significant amount of muscle mass. And the more muscles you have, the more your body need to burn to feed it. So my metabolism should not have dropped right? At worst it should have stayed the same. Does the hypothalamus know about the body composition? Is she only talking about people who lost weight without any increase in muscle mass?

    Psychologists classify eaters into two groups, those who rely on their hunger and those who try to control their eating through willpower, like most dieters. Let’s call them intuitive eaters and controlled eaters. The interesting thing is that intuitive eaters are less likely to be overweight, and they spend less time thinking about food. Controlled eaters are more vulnerable to overeating in response to advertising, super-sizing, and the all-you-can-eat buffet. And a small indulgence, like eating one scoop of ice cream, is more likely to lead to a food binge in controlled eaters. Children are especially vulnerable to this cycle of dieting and then binging. Several long-term studies have shown that girls who diet in their early teenage years are three times more likely to become overweight five years later, even if they started at a normal weight, and all of these studies found that the same factors that predicted weight gain also predicted the development of eating disorders.

    I definitely turned from being an intuitive eater into a controlled eater. Been there, done that. not anymore thanks. Back then I could imagine myself eating a chocolate bar and thinking “ehh that’s alright, I know what it taste like, not really feeling it right now” but now I “have to have it“.

    Now let’s look at what happens in overweight people. The ones that had no healthy habits had a higher risk of death. Adding just one healthy habit pulls overweight people back into the normal range. For obese people with no healthy habits, the risk is very high, seven times higher than the healthiest groups in the study. But a healthy lifestyle helps obese people too. In fact, if you look only at the group with all four healthy habits, you can see that weight makes very little difference. You can take control of your health by taking control of your lifestyle, even If you can’t lose weight and keep it off.

    Most people don’t need to lose weight. We are trying to be thinner than we need to be. This relates to: “Why Do We Hate Fat?

    If I’ve convinced you that dieting might be a problem, the next question is, what do you do about it? And my answer, in a word, is mindfulness. I’m not saying you need to learn to meditate or take up yoga. I’m talking about mindful eating: learning to understand your body’s signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, because a lot of weight gain boils down to eating when you’re not hungry.

    I’d rather call this conscious eating because I was definitely full on “mind mode” when eating as a controlled eater. I was completely present when eating. I am in the moment, indulging, revelling, and fully restricting. That tension was a complete mental / mind game.

    How do you do it? Give yourself permission to eat as much as you want, and then work on figuring out what makes your body feel good.

    What we resist, persist. The more you restrict, the more you binge. The more off limit something is, the more appealing it is.

    It took about a year for me to learn this, but it’s really been worth it. I am so much more relaxed around food than I have ever been in my life. I often don’t think about it. I forget we have chocolate in the house. It’s like aliens have taken over my brain. It’s just completely different.

    I relate.

    I should say that this approach to eating probably won’t make you lose weight unless you often eat when you’re not hungry, but doctors don’t know of any approach that makes significant weight loss in a lot of people, and that is why a lot of people are now focusing on preventing weight gain instead of promoting weight loss.

    Isn’t that the same? Fuels the controlling mindset. Scarcity.
    Speaking of mind games
    Losing weight is simple. The trick is to know how to get full.
    Consume high density satieting food and avoid calorie-dense foods. Cut down on dressings and simple carbs. One tbsp of olive oil is 120 cals. One piece of steak is 123 cals.
    What’s tricky is self sabotage. You want all the “bad” things.
    Your brain trying to convince you that you deserve it, it’s okay, why be so hard on yourself, you look fine.
    The voice won. You felt guilty. You are stressed. You have emotional pain. Restrict more. Vicious cycle.
    Perhaps your body is genuinely trying to snap back to homeostasis. Perhaps you’re just rebelling against the rules you set for yourself.
    It’s a signal that we can interpret any way we want (like how I misinterpreted the “gym high”)
    Perhaps the most difficult thing is exactly that: to be able to discern between what your body needs. and what your body wants.
    Or to be precise, what your mind wants.
    If you are battling any addiction, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
    We are interesting beings. The more we try to control things, The more out of control we will try to become. We self sabotage, cope, numb, rationalise, seek comfort.
    Don’t live mindfully. Live (sub?)consciously.
    Mindful eating is BS. Eating should be a conscious activity, not a mindful one. Perhaps it’s all just semantics game but I’d like to explore this frame.
    Mind > Consciousness > Subconsciousness
    Consciousness implies a larger part of you. Your mind is just a small part of your consciousness. And your consciousness is a small part of your whole being, subconsciousness included.
    Our bodies are not static machines that can be controlled by variables. steady input and output. We cannot fully control the subconscious with the conscious. We perceive and control only a very small portion of our whole being.
    Be present when you’re eating. know why you’re eating. Don’t use your mind to decide what/when/how much to eat.
    Your mind will sabotage you but your Being doesn’t care. You can go sit with it and know it will take care of you if you just let it.

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  2. In 2016 I started doing body weight exercises, intermittent fasting, and picked up strength training.
    I was fully immersed in it for a couple of years the way any Type A person would have. I did my research, set the direction, set up a process, and showed up consistently — perhaps a bit obsessively.
    I felt I had reasonable goal and was progressing at a sustainable rate. I still listened to my body and incorporated rest days (from exercising, fasting, or calories restricting) when I feel I needed it.
    I felt and looked great. I managed to show up, eat well, and exercise even on days when I didn’t “feel like it“.
    I found that the trick is to start small, build the habit, and eliminate as many friction as possible to getting started. Then every day just show up and get into it.
    It also became easier once I accepted that it could be slow and painful in the beginning. It’s normal.
    On the good days I would dash into it, all wired. On the bad days it will only take 5 minutes or half a set for my body to get into the zone. And I always, always feel great after breaking a sweat.
    It’s easier to maintain the momentum than breaking the inertia again. I “turned pro” on my Resistance.
    I then grew attached to the resulting body composition. I developed unhealthy relationship with food and exercise trying to maintain it.
    I tolerated, misinterpreted, even celebrated the occasional hunger (“that means you are in caloric deficit“), fatigue (“great session, always be in recovery!“), and sleeping disruptions (“gym highs“). I normalised my missing period for three years, and now trying to get my period back.
    Exactly one year ago I shared that I found myself in my 3rd burnout in 8 years. It took me 8 months to realise I am back in the same cycle in this day job thanks to elaborate coping mechanisms masked as productivity tactics. These tactics prevented me from realising that I have normalised something that is inherently broken. That I need to stop and fix the root cause instead of numbing and adapting to the symptoms.
    It’s the same pattern over and over again: treating work as the main (and later, only) source of joy and accomplishments in life. I felt fulfilled and accomplished after a productive day. I liked the feeling of being needed, recognised, and respected. I was addicted to the external validation.
    It sounds like I need to “get a life* but I truly enjoyed building my life around the work. Work was my play. Work gives me energy. That’s why I didn’t really notice it when it started becoming unhealthy.
    Like frogs in slowly boiling water.
    I knew I could get over the occasional dread by “making the jump”: just log into Slack and start checking the pipeline. Once I get into reactive mode, the anxiety will melt away no matter how blue and down I felt before. I can ride the wave and move on with planning and execution from there.
    I was running on fumes but managed to power through. I “turned pro” on my Resistance.
    I am almost recovered now after 20 months charging my leaking battery — two steps forward one step backwards. Holding the fort while tending to the fatigue, fighting off bits of compounding guilt, resentments, and toxic irrational thoughts caused by unchallenged assumptions are quite a mental roller coaster
    It’s still an ongoing marathon but my relationship with work has shifted internally into a pretty comfortable place now — a strange cocktail of a bit of apathy, a bit of optimism, and a bit of gratitude. I am beginning to see my day job as a feature and not a bug.
    But this is not the first time I “gained perspective”, so I doubt this is going to be my last burnout.
    Despite sometimes “not feeling it” I am able to show up and execute the fitness practices. It seems to pay off. I felt the fittest I have ever been. But it masked my amenorrhea. I managed the “ugh” and wound up with halted reproduction system.
    Despite being burned out, I still managed to show up and get shit done in my day job. It seems to pay off. But it masked my burnout. I coped, I normalised it, I worked around the “ugh” and ran myself to the ground.
    I didn’t know when the “ugh” became a “listen up”.
    I expected some “ugh” and thought I need to “keep on going”. I thought I had an accurate view of the boundary.
    I couldn’t see the signals from the noise. Or rather, I dismissed these signals as noise.
    I didn’t notice when the pain of discomfort flips into pain of danger.
    I didn’t notice I tipped over from turning pro into self sabotage.
    Pros don’t ignore the pain. They see pain accurately.
    How to be a real Pro:

    Part 1: Pros don’t play hurt.

    Part 2: What is The Resistance and why we can overcome it by Turning Pro

    Part 3: How I managed to self-sabotage in the process of managing my self-sabotaging self

    Part 4: How to see pain accurately? How to tell the signals from the noise?
    Part 5: What if there is a better way to overcome The Resistance?

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