It Happened To Me Contest Entry: I Gained 13 Pounds And Now The CDC Says I'm Fat

If you looked at me now, or looked at me in 2003, I was 163 pounds both times. But what was going on inside my body was completely different.
Publish date:
February 26, 2013
body image, weight, ihtm contest, cdc

[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. -- Jane]

By Beth Spencer

I totally love telling people I’m fat, and the inevitable response is: “Aww, come on Beth, you don’t look fat! Shut up! You are not fat!” To which I reply, “But wait, I am definitely fat. Let me tell you about the calculator at the CDC!” Then I pop in my height (5’7”) and my weight (163 pounds).

“Your BMI is 25.5, indicating that you are in the Overweight category for adults of your height.”

The CDC is SERIOUS. They even capitalized and bolded “Overweight” to make it take up as much space as possible on the page. You know, to emphasize how much space my rear end takes up.

Their analysis continues: “For your height, a normal weight range would be from 118 to 159 pounds. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.” So basically, the CDC thinks I’m going to die because I’m four pounds overweight.

For the past 8 years, after a period in college where I was 200 pounds for a few years, my weight has stayed somewhere in between 145 and 165 -- which is mostly in the CDC’s “healthy” range. I used to totally obsess over when I crossed the line from “healthy” into “overweight.” But then, I started reading fat acceptance literature and criticism of the reporting of scientific studies in the media, and I started learning about the social frames of fatness in our society. So this last time when I crossed over into “overweight,” after gaining 13 pounds in a few months, I just got straight-up pissed.

Was I pissed at myself? Oh, hell no. I was pissed at the CDC and the obesity researchers and the media, who all dare to tell me that I am fat. Sure, they prefer the term “overweight,” but we all know what they think about me. They think I’m fat.

Now if this were 1997, I wouldn’t be fat according to the BMI standards at the time. Before the USA’s BMI standards were changed to more closely match those of the World Health Organization, I would have been totally not fat. Of course, if it were 1997, I would have also been 14 years old, the same height, and I suspect somewhere in the 130-pound range, so DEFINITELY not fat.

But, if 29-year-old me went into a time travel machine back to 1997 -- which I obviously would do to relive the year of “MmmBop” and “Wannabe” -- I could have gained 16 more pounds before I’d been considered overweight.

But nah. It’s 2013, and according to the current guidelines, I’m overweight. I know if I cornered the CDC at a party and asked them what they thought of me, here’s what they’d say: “Well, uhh, you are like... it’s’re just barely in the overweight range, seriously... and what really matters is your body fat! You don’t look like you’re overweight! You look great!”

And I’d glare at the CDC and say, “Oh really? Because the last time I had it assessed, when I was in slightly better physical shape, I had 29% body fat, and that’s kind of high, isn’t it?”

And then the CDC would start stammering, “Um, well, m-m-maybe you have... a large frame.”

I’d show them my tiny little wrists and how my fingers overlap each other when I wrap them around my wrists, and I’d say, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I have a small frame. In fact, according to my body frame, I’m actually 27 pounds overweight, so wow, not only are calling me fat, you are calling me super fat! Then I’d walk away from those two-faced jerkheads.

But guess what, CDC? I don’t care what you think. It’s been a challenging time since I was 150 pounds over the summer, and I’m not going to feel guilty about some extra inches. I live in Chicago, and it’s cold here, and I would rather stay inside than catch pneumonia.

For at least a few months out of the year, the sun sets before I even get out of work -- and I can tell you that my mom does not like me hanging out in the dark, no matter how many times I tell her how well-lit and well-populated the streets in my neighborhood are. Sure, I’m 29 years old, but I still don’t want to argue with mom.

I also started anti-depressants that have a known side effect of weight gain; one scientific study even says that they are linked with increased carbohydrate cravings. And as the final nail in the normal-weight coffin, I got dumped, and I’m sorry, but a girl’s gotta have her Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when she gets dumped.

How, after all, did I gain this weight? Overeating. I mean, I live in the city and I don’t have a car, so I’m probably more active than other people, although I can tell I’m out of shape -- thanks a lot, winter. I like to say that I “eat healthy but eat crap on top of that.” On my way home from the train station after work every day, I pass by a bakery, a pie shop, five restaurants, and an ice cream shop.

So seriously, I’m supposed to fight all those things, and not tip into the overweight range? That’s what pisses me off. Over and over I hear society’s messages about how if I only had enough self-control, this wouldn’t have happened. If only I ate more vegetables and was more active, this wouldn’t happen, and now I’m going to die an early death of heart disease and diabetes. One of my favorite foods ever is Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup. Vegetables, lentils, tomatoes, spices, no oil -- can you GET any healthier?

I think not. Not to mention, do you have any idea how much self control it takes to only stop at 0-1 of all those delicious places I pass on my way home? Plenty.

I’m not saying that everyone who is 163 pounds has these issues; in fact, I bet many of them don’t. Back in 2004, when I was totally buff and went to the gym 5 times a week (it was down the hall from me, don’t be too impressed), I was 163 pounds. I was the healthiest I’d probably ever been in my life.

I’m not claiming to be at optimum wellness levels right now. My cholesterol is totally awesome -- thanks for asking, I get it checked every year -– but I noticed that I am no longer the fastest walker in Chicago. I used to blow past everyone on the sidewalk, and I haven’t been doing that lately.

But that’s why I know I need to make some changes; not because the CDC thinks I’m fat. I’m not out of shape because I am overweight; I am out of shape because I am out of shape. I’ve read all these studies that tell me that being overweight is a health risk, and I don’t buy it, any more than I bought those headlines a few months back that said, “Psoriasis causes obesity in children.”

Correlation is not causation, and I will no longer allow myself to be brought down by what the CDC and the media tell me, when I know that I’m pretty healthy. If you looked at me now, or looked at me in 2003, I was 163 pounds both times. But what was going on inside my body was completely different.

I know that the number on the scale does not paint the full picture of my health, or even a large part of it. So listen, CDC. Yeah, I’m going to be that pathetic girl who comes right back to you at the party even though I ran off last time!

And here’s what I’ll say to you: “When you tell me I’m fat, you’re damn lucky, because I know that you’re wrong -- but other people don’t. Do you have any idea how much people want to kill me when I tell them I’m fat? It’s totally annoying. Because I don’t care what you say -- I’m not fat. No one says I’m fat, except for you. And allow me to add that my cholesterol is totally awesome!”

And that’s when I’d turn around in a huff.