The Abstinence-Only Approach to Weight

Many people reject same arguments in favor of abstinence-only education, or arguments for why it’s okay to slut-shame, that they apply to weight loss/maintenance attempts*:

-If people don’t have sex, they do not get STDs or become pregnant from sex. Therefore, abstinence works 100% of the time! If teenagers have sex after an abstinence-only course, this does not represent a failure of abstinence-only. [Analogous to–Answering people pointing out the low success rate for maintaining a large weight loss with “If you eat less calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight; it’s just thermodynamics,” and/or pointing out that people who are put in labs with their calorie intake strictly controlled and no access to outside food will lose weight while they’re in the lab. If dieters/”lifestyle change”-ers fail to maintain weight loss, it is not a failure of the diet/lifestyle change.]

-It’s reasonable to expect teenagers to abstain from sex, and for adults to abstain from sex until marriage, or perhaps even afterwards periodically, if they and their partner both want to have sex but don’t want to get pregnant. It’s reasonable to expect gay people to just be celibate their whole lives unless and until they are able to experience heterosexual attraction. [Analogous to–Just ignore your hunger signals forever! Instead, count calories forever! (Or maybe we’ll pretend like counting calories [or other method for keeping close tabs on amount of food] forever is not something you have to do, because hey, I’m thin and I don’t have to do it, and obviously everyone else works the same as me!)]

-Valuing pleasure is selfish. Why should I pay health insurance money that goes towards your birth control? [Analogous to–fat people are using up all the healthcare money; I am outraged that I have to pay for fat people’s healthcare. (Note that ‘valuing pleasure’ is often not the most accurate description of why people are fat, but in cases where it is I think that people have the right to make that choice.)]

-I can tell that you have lots of sex from the way you dress. I can tell that you have sex much more irresponsibly than me from the fact that you are an unwed mother (even if I also had unmarried sex). [Analogous to–I can tell what your health behaviors are by looking at your body.]

-If you can’t “resist temptation”/won’t deny your biologically-related desires in a situation where it’s not hurting anyone, I assume that you can’t control them when they do hurt someone. You’re probably a rapist. [Analogous to–fat people would be perfectly willing to/already are eating food that would go to starving people, if only they weren’t eating it.]

-Corporations are brainwashing impressionable youth and they totally wouldn’t have sex if it weren’t for corrupt media. [Analogous to–Fat people are dupes of corporations; we should pity them in the most condescending way possible. (I’m not letting corporations off the hook for their role in health, environmental damage, and other bad stuff relating to our food supply, but fat people are not uniquely duped/manipulated/controlled by corporations in a way other people aren’t, and corporations don’t uniquely dupe people when they sell food everyone agrees is unhealthy–just look at the health obsessives using NutriBullet (LV Anderson does a good job debunking its magical health claims and examining how people are convinced of those claims; definitely worth a read), which is not stereotypically associated with fat people the way that soda or fast food is.)]

I’m far from the first to point out that we take a similar moralistic approach towards eating and exercise behaviors that we “used to” around sex (except many people still do feel that way about sex, and I’m not sure that anyone’s completely free of it). Often it’s in the context of anorexia and eating disorders, in other words, how to be “pure” oneself. This is about how it applies to the people trying to control the behavior of others. [Fat is not a behavior, but weight loss attempts are.]

*Obviously some people believe in both, but there are plenty out there who are very pro-weight-loss-attempts but very anti-abstinence-only.

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