Fierce Fatness Fitness

All Hail the Fathletes

Ragen Chastain
Written by Ragen Chastain

Covered in sweat, arms overflowing with costumes and shoes, sick with a cold, and feeling, as always, that I could have danced better in the competition, I headed from the ballroom to the elevator with thoughts of hot showers and comfortable shoes drifting through my head.  “RAGEN!” I turned to see a judge barreling toward me. Instinctively I retreated until my back was literally against the wall. “I couldn’t stand to look at you.”

ragen chastain, fit fattiesI struggled to understand and compose a response.  Exhausted, not up for a fight, I settled for a plaintive, “ok.” 

Recoiling slightly, she looked me up and down like I had Ebola and, voice dripping with disdain, repeated,“I. Couldn’t. Stand. To. Look. At. You.”


We repeated this four times, she louder and angrier each time, me looking her in the eye, emotionlessly repeating, “ok.”

Had I forgotten my dance panties?  Blatantly ignored the costume rules?  Nope, I had committed a far greater sin: dancing while fat.  And—an even greater atrocity—being good at it. 

I had won the competition, no thanks to this judge who penalized me for “appearance,” a penalty intended for people who did forget their dance panties or ignore costume rules.

Finally, I said, “I probably won’t choose to change my dress, but I appreciate you taking the time to tell me it’s such a problem for you.”  The conversation was over, but the truth was clear—if I wanted to be a fat dancer, I had to be a fat activist to get it done.

fat athlete, fit fattiesSuch is the life of a fathlete. First we must overcome the stereotyping, bullying, concern trolling, silencing, disbelief, prejudice, and hostility that start the instant we have the audacity to pursue fitness in a fat body.  If we somehow claw our way through that to succeed at our sport, we are often rewarded by an escalation of poor treatment and such fervent denial of our existence that many people think they’re more likely to see a rainbow pooping unicorn than a fat athlete.

Criticism comes swiftest from those whose self-esteem is rooted in having the “right” body, and those who insist that “successful” athleticism always leads to a thin body.  We are silenced at every turn, often aggressively.

Sabrina, a member of the Fit Fatties Forum from San Diego, played three seasons of women’s semi-professional tackle football, all marred by size bigotry.  Sabrina told me: “I often tried to approach the conversations with my different, usually new, point of view on fat bodies’ contribution to the sport and the general unfair misconception that fat bodies can’t be athletic.

fit fatty, fat athletesHowever, the spectrum of reaction ranged from uncomfortable resistance to the idea to the outright dismissal of my opinion—often in aggressive or confrontational ways.” Eventually Sabrina left the sport because “the space was not emotionally safe or healthy for [her] to thrive in.”

When 400-pound sumo wrestler Kelly Gneiting finished his second marathon, he had improved his time by over 2 hours and set the Guinness World Record for largest person to finish a marathon.  Many were quick to suggest that his achievement shouldn’t be publicized because it would “promote obesity.” As if people would think the key to finishing a marathon was weighing 400 pounds. As if fat people should actively avoid celebrating our athletic achievement because we live in a society that stigmatizes our bodies.

This vicious cycle shames fat people for not pursuing fitness, then stigmatizes us when we do pursue fitness, then conceals any success we have pursuing fitness.  One issue with this is that fat people who are interested in athletics don’t have role models. Jeanette DePatie—a “teaching fathlete—helps other budding athletes of all ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities learn to love their bodies and love exercise again.”

She has completed events from 5Ks to a marathon, but her fitness career almost never happened because “notions of how an athlete is supposed to look nearly derailed [her] fitness efforts on a permanent basis.” E-mails pile up from my blog readers who want to try various athletic endeavors but thought they were impossible because they had never seen a fat person do them. 

In addition to encouraging the stereotyping of fat people as un-athletic and unhealthy, the misguided approach of using body size as a proxy for health ignores the research. Matheson, Wei et. al, and the Cooper Institute Longitudinal Studies show that habits are a much better determinant of health than size. It also ignores the fact that health is never completely within anyone’s control. Say any of that out loud and you’ll find yourself shouted down faster than they told Galileo to sit down and shut up.

exercise bikeThis misinforms fat people that healthy habits won’t make us healthier unless they make us thinner, and misinforms thin people that they are healthy by virtue of their body size and regardless of their habits.  It also means that, unfortunately public health becomes about making fat people’s bodies the public’s business. All you can tell from someone’s body size is their size, and your beliefs about bodies that size. That doesn’t stop people from making comments ranging from misinformed to wildly inappropriate.

I was pushing 850 pounds on a leg press when someone said “good for you for starting an exercise program!” What the hell?

Even fitness professionals get in on the action. Tristy is a 5’11, 300 pound Olympic-style weight lifter I first met at a dinner for people interested in Fat Acceptance in San Francisco. Despite her husband’s promises that his gym was a safe space, it took her over a year to walk through the door because “as a fat woman, [she] had so many horror stories of being treated as less than human by coaches and personal trainers.” Jeanette also experienced the most bullying and negative attitudes from organizations that certify fitness instructors.

Last year Jeanette and I founded the Fit Fatties Forum ( to create a space for weight neutral fitness discussions. We welcome people of all sizes and fitness levels, but included the word fat in the name to help give fat people a voice in the fitness discussion. A year later we have an active community of almost 2,000 members, with discussions, groups, and photo and video galleries. 

The forum members are welcoming and encouraging to people of every size and fitness level, and happy to allow people to self-identify as athletes—fathletes—or not. Perhaps the most common sentiment among members is the desire for body size to be removed from fitness discussions.    

The confusion of body size and fitness doesn’t just affect fat people, it creates a barrier to fitness for anyone who fears they might not look the part. Fitness isn’t a body size, a look, or an obligation.

Holley MangoldNobody is required to pursue fitness or athletics, nobody should be judged for their choice to be involved in athletics or not, but everyone should have the opportunity to get involved. I think those already in the fitness world should be the first to welcome people of all sizes, shapes, abilities, and activities, and the last to try to silence peoples’ physical voices for any reason.

Get in touch:

Ragen Chastain:

Jeanette DePatie:

Tristy: Watch her video “Strong Fat Lady” at  and find her on Twitter @RevTristy

The Fit Fatties Forum:

About the author

Ragen Chastain

Ragen Chastain

Ragen Chastain is a trained researcher and National Champion dancer who writes and speaks about Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance. Author of and Fat: The Owner’s Manual, Ragen has recently spoken at Dartmouth, Amherst, CalTech, Google Headquarters, and is a feature interviewee in “America the Beautiful 2”.


  • Older article, but why not leave a comment!

    As a nutritionist with a PhD who spend most of my dissertation analyzing obesity research, I can say that Ragens take on the research is dead on. In fact, there is much more.

    Read Big Fat Lies by Gaesser, or Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon. Regan is right.

    This idea that obesity is not life-threatening is one I use in my nutrition practice, I help clients give up food restricting and learn to listen to their signals of hunger and fullness, and use tools such as the HungerScale to do that (

    Clients may or may not lose weight, but they do lose the worry and angst about their food and bodies.

    Keep up the good work Ragen.

    Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LDN

  • […] really got me thinking about this topic were two articles I came across last week.  One is called All Hail The Fathletes written by Ragen Chastain.  Ragen is blogger of Dances With Fat. She wrote this piece about what […]

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  • Writer, artist, and nutritionist. I also weigh nearly 300 pounds, and do you know how seriously people take me when I talk about and promote healthy eating?(REAL healthy eating not dieting, not calorie counting… I shall not rant about calorie counting and how much of a bogus scam it is created by starving drunken women in the 20s so they could stay rail thin and drink like fish….) If they don’t see me, they take me very seriously, but the moment they see me they are like “oh, she’s fat. She can’t be as healthy as all that. She must be sneaking candy bars.”
    And you know what? Yeah, I’m chunky. So what? I’m still valid in my views and field and believe that food in all its forms is not the enemy. Its FUEL. AND I will shut up now before I end up spamming you with a novel.

  • Well, I LOVE watching you dance, and as a West Coast Swing wannabe and who, at a “normal” weight (whatever that is) will NEVER look anywhere near as good as you on the dance floor, I am envious of you. I pity that judge and all those who miss this beauty in the world.

  • Wow, what part of this are people not understanding? “This vicious cycle shames fat people for not pursuing fitness, then stigmatizes us when we do pursue fitness, then conceals any success we have pursuing fitness. ” And using oppression theory to try to shame Ragen further? (“you are not allowing _____ her own experience”). I am always amazed at the twists that people will put in the pretzel of shame in order to keep a fat person in her/his place. And how deaf people can be to the messages they don’t want to hear. #1 – Body size is pretty much unchangeable, anecdotal stories aside. Critics: don’t deny the research, think about that, and start over.

  • This is spot on. My dad was skinny and fit when he was in the military, but stress and genetics put him on the fast track to a series of heart attacks in his late 40s. Who’d’a thunk, fit guy with heart disease?

    And as for me, decades of eating disorders and punishing exercise has done far more harm than a few extra pounds in my youth would’ve done me. I’m happy now to find a few voices on the internet that echo that, and make me feel supported when I go to the gym and brave the social and psychological treachery of other people’s opinions (I’m on doctor’s orders to ignore that crap). Bravo, Ragen.

  • Thank you so much for this, Ragen. I find it so funny that people *still* insist that you can evaluate a person’s health – and their potential longevity! – by catching a glimpse of their body size and shape relative to a lamppost. I suppose none of those people remember that phrenology used to be “scientific proof” for diagnosing personal character and mental health. Because *obviously* it only takes glance at the outside to know everything that’s going on inside, right? Since forever, scientific and medical assumptions have been disproved over and over – that’s what makes them science rather than faith or opinion. Research tells us we can be fit and fat, lived experience tells us we can be fit and fat, but still, there’s so much resistance. People and their comfort zones, hey?

  • “This vicious cycle shames fat people for not pursuing fitness, then stigmatizes us when we do pursue fitness, then conceals any success we have pursuing fitness.”

    THIS!! Thank you a thousand times for living, loving and thriving and beating back the insanity that is fat hating bigotry.

  • Ragen, thank you for this article. I’m 32 and I’ve been subjected to a whole lot of fat shaming over the course of my life. Like you, I have been a dancer for a long time, and additionally, I was a competitive swimmer, a lifeguard for 5 years, played tennis, soccer, ran, and also played softball for over 20 years. I am most accomplished in softball, dance and water sports. I’m a power hitter in softball, and it does tend to surprise people when they see this. Why? Because I’m fat. Fat people aren’t supposed to be able to wield a bat that well!

    But the worst was when I was lifeguarding. During my 3rd year of guarding, I worked at a camp, and was obviously the largest guard on staff. We did weekly in-service training, and part of that was completing a 500 meter swim. I would absolutely smoke the little high school baseball player and finish it about 2 minutes ahead of him. He accused me of cheating and miscounting my laps! Never mind that I was the one that liked to get in the pool and do a 500 just about everyday while he and his friends were laying around during “rest time” (the hottest part of the day when the campers were required to lay down in their bunks for a couple of hours after lunch- this was Alabama in the middle of summer). He was so cruel to me all the time, and I was already uncomfortable in my body because of all of the fat shaming I had been subjected to in school. One day he even looked me directly in the face and said, “you know, some people just shouldn’t be seen in swimsuits”. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I ended up developing an eating disorder that I suffered from for 9 years. In the first 6 months alone, I lost 75 lbs. I got TONS of compliments. But I was killing myself. But I had gotten “healthy”! Nobody knew that I had stopped eating and was purging everything. I’d lost weight! That was the thinnest time of my life. However, it was the least healthy. I’ve gained the weight back, but I’ve also gained recovery, a purpose (to be a therapist who treats eating disorders and prevents bullying), and a WHOLE LOT more joy.

    I also found out during that dark period that I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, so I’m insulin-resistant. I’m not ever going to be small because of this. I’ve accepted that. But I don’t accept that weight equals health. Personal experience tells me that’s BS. I had my annual visit to the “lady doc” this week, and my blood pressure was 110/70, my blood count was good, and my urine screen didn’t show any glucose or anything bad. I was weighed, but I don’t know what it said. I got on the scale backwards and told the nurse, “please don’t tell me the number”, and she didn’t. And despite not knowing that one particular number, I do know I’m healthy!

  • Hello! I love this and love the term fathlete! I often say “I am the fittest fat chick that most people will ever meet!” I do NOT accept my fat well, I am unhappy in my skin and feel uncomfortable. I think this is because I don’t eat healthy most of the time though. I love to exercise and feel my best when I am but I need to get the food right. Once that is right, I really don’t care what the number on the scale is! Thanks for this so much! (My daughters name is Regan!)

  • Fantastic piece and such an inspiration. You’re contributing to a conversation here that needs to be had, although many refuse to face the fact that we, as a country, continually discriminate and judge based on body size. I’m heavily involved in fitness and I’m considering getting my personal trainer certification this coming year. You’ve given me some food for thought on how I could help change the views from within the fitness community by following your example. Thank you for your words for the inspiration!

  • I know that today I have found a home in your website. I won’t regale you with even a small fraction of the stories that I could tell of people taking it upon themselves to tell me what I should and should not do via-a-vis my weight. I finally decided to just politely tell anyone who uttered even one word that it was not an acceptable topic for general conversation. If they persisted (and several have, including my one remaining auntie and my sister) I quit spending time with them all together. Best move I ever made, as I soon realized that these people seem driven by something entirely different from “love and concern”. I am much better off without these people in my life. Just the other day I had to have this conversation with my 30-yr-old son, who seems to understand that I mean business. From now on I will follow your websites (danceswithfat and fitfatties) Thanks

    • Did you ever realize that maybe they did love you, and wanted what was best for you. That they were not “concern trolling” as I have found this behavior called on these sites?

      Maybe they want you to be healthy, to know you when you are in your 60’s and still mobile because you took some advice and lost weight.

      Maybe they love you very much, and being older have seen many of their friends die in their 50’s and 60’s due to heart problems, or go on medication for diabetes when they could have controlled their sugars through healthy eating. Maybe they don’t want you to go through the hassle of having to take 3 pills a day, take your blood pressure constantly, stick a needle in yourself to find out your blood sugar levels every day.

      I was heading down the path of having to do all of these things, and I may not have saved myself from the damage I did to my body while I was overweight, but I never blamed my family and friends for the concern they showed me, a friend of theirs who went from 200lb wrestler to a 310 lb man who never left his computer. I understood that they loved me, and wanted me healthy, food was just more important to me than losing weight, until I finally started listening to my doctor.

      Even if I regain my weight, and become 310 lbs again in the next year (the fat acceptance argument that 95% of people regain their weight in 5 years, so I have 1 year left to gain my 130lbs back), I would never give up these last 4 years of health, and the doors it has opened in my life for enjoyment and happiness.

      • Buzz,
        Are you a doctor? Are you Lucia’s doctor? If not, you cannot make assumptions about her health.
        It is ok for people to show concern for their loved ones. It is also ok to set boundaries. No one is required to “show concern” about another person’s perceived health problems. And no one is required to put up with treatment that makes them feel bad.

        • So she should shun people who are concerned for her? I went through this, if I had found acceptance blogs while I was heavy, it is very likely I would _STILL_ be heavy, and maybe even rejected my family and friends for “concern trolling” which is the term that is used.

          In retrospect this would have been horrible. I have gone through this, I have had the health problems, I went from being an athlete to being overweight, and then back. I have had friends and cousins and uncles die from obesity related conditions.

          No one is “required” to put up with “treatment” that they think makes them feel bad. You are correct. No matter how well intentioned, and heart felt, that treatment is. I feel the same way about smokers, and alcoholics in my life, except it is more socially acceptable to point out to them their behavior. Obesity is a health problem, the problem with it is that it sneaks up on you.

          For example, I didn’t even think about the fact that I was buying size 54 waste line pants until I had to be fitted for a suit and couldn’t find a place that had one my size. Even then that wasn’t enough of a wake up call for me.

      • Equating automatic health issues with weight is indeed concern trolling, Buzz. And although loved ones, family members and hell, even complete strangers think they’re doing us a favor by imposing their misguided health advice on us, what it comes down to is this: My body, not yours. My health, wellness and well being cannot be determined by sight, by someone else’s judgement or personal experiences. trying to impose YOUR health standards on me is SHAMING under the guise of “wanting what’s best for me.” No thanks.

      • Why is it those who were once morbidly obese and then got thin – healthy or not – feel the most qualified to call other people on their healthy status?

        Did you READ the article? Did you READ the comment you’re replying to? The assumption is that the person isn’t fit, because they’re fat – when the REALITY, proven by their doctors and their ability to accomplish these physical feats of athleticism, is that their fat is NOT affecting their health.

        Also, as a former fat person – you should understand that a fat person KNOWS they’re fat. There is no need for anyone, loving or otherwise, to point that out.

  • wait until you’re 60. you may be doing fine now, but you are stressing your body and it will catch up with you eventually. i am speaking from experience. i am so sorry now that i made excuses for my weight when i was younger. my heart and my joints are paying for it now.

    • Hi Margey,

      I’m really sorry that you are having health issues. What you are doing here is something I refer to in my blog as the VFHT “Vague Future Health Threat,” the argument being that it doesn’t matter that you are healthy now because some day you won’t be healthy and it will be blamed on your fat. There are a number of issues with this and while I want to be clear that I believe you when you say that it was your experience, that does not make it a universal experience, or in any way extrapolate-able to anyone else (just like I can’t say that just because I can do the splits or run a marathon, anyone can). There are a few things that I think are important to consider:

      The first is about the idea of losing weight to be healthy. I know that I was shocked when I found out that there wasn’t a single study that showed that people who lost weight long term were healthier for it, part of the reason for that is that there aren’t enough people who’ve maintained significant weight loss to study. That’s because almost everyone loses weight in the short term and almost everyone gains it back in the long term (typically by year five.) By far the most common outcome of weight loss attempts is weight gain, so even if you believe that being fat is bad for your health, weight loss is the absolute worst suggestion you could give (since the vast majority of the time it will lead to the opposite of the intended effect.) It’s like prescribing a birth control pill that will prevent pregnancy in the first year but give you a 95% chance of getting pregnant in years 2-5.

      Second is the idea of weight and joints. When I was much lighter I had a lot of knee pain and I was very lucky to work with excellent movement coaches who taught me that joint health is predominantly about genetics, musculature, flexibility and movement patterns – not body size. The fact that all fat people’s join problems get blamed on their fat and all thin people’s joint problems get blamed on something else does a tremendous disservice to fat people whose joint issues could likely be improved if they were given the same treatment as thin people with the same problems.

      Finally, the issue of heart health and fat. While there is a correlation between body size and heart issues, that does not prove causation and so we can’t conclude that making people thinner will make them healthier. There is also a correlation between baldness and heart disease but giving bald men toupes doesn’t prevent heart attacks. Wei et. al. is a study that looked specifically of cardiovascular health and found that men who exercised had the same health outcomes regardless of size. Matheson et. al. and the Cooper institute Longitudinal Studies among other have found similar results – habits, not body sizes, are the greatest predictor of health.

      Almost everyone develops health problems over time, the fact that if someone is fat all of those problems will tend to be blamed on their body size (I’ve had doctors blame my fat for a broken toe and strep throat!) is based on stereotypes and not on evidence. It does a disservice to fat people because we are given body size “solutions” to health problems. There are no fat people diseases – thin people get the same health problems but they get actual evidence based interventions, not a suggestion to change their body size. Fat people should be given the same health interventions for our health problems that thin people receive.


      • Ragen, Margey is telling you about her lived experiences; she no longer has the privilege of youth, she once felt like you but now knows the consequences of these ideas. You are given two ears and one mouth. I suggest you listen as well as talk. Learn from elders who have been there and done that, and may be able to provide fresh perspective on the choices you are currently taking and advising others to take.

        • If you read my comment again I believe that you’ll find that I acknowledged Margey’s right to witness her lived experience. My objection was and is to Margey’s suggestion that her story is extrapolate-able to all fat people. One person does constitute a statistically significant sample size.

          The studies that I took the time to reference are not about one person’s experience and their interpretation of it, they are studies of large populations with controlled variables and scientifically drawn conclusions – which I believe contitute a much better reference point than one person’s interpretation of their own experience.

          As this is the internet ears and mouths don’t really come into play, but I’ve used my two eyes to read not just Margey’s story, but hundreds and hundreds of pages of research on the subject, and my two hands to write about it. You are, of course, completely at liberty to build your approach to personal health based on Margey’s experience, but that is not my choice.


        • Maybe follow your own advice and realize Ragen did indeed acknowledge Margey’s life experience, however, fat blaming is an easy way of excusing the fact that as we age, EVERYTHING starts to decay on our bodies. spending your senior treats wishing you had just found that magical unicorn formula of being smaller and keeping that weight off is just as counterproductive as it is when you’re younger.

    • I agree with you Margey. I am 33, and I used to be grossly overweight. I started having health problems that I simply could not ignore at 29. I lost 130lbs, and have kept it off for several years now. It is difficult to help someone understand just what they are doing to their body, no matter what they feel like now. I used to be an athlete in high school, and got overweight in college, and having a sedentary job. I wish I had taken the warnings sooner, as I now have heart complications, slightly high blood pressure, and nerve pain, all from having been overweight for a decade.

      I cannot describe properly how much better my life is now that I am 130lbs slimmer. I do everything I dreamed of doing in life. Even if I fit the statistic of regaining the 130 lbs next year (so that I fit in some statistic 95% that regain their weight in 5 years of losing it), the last 4 years or so has been worth it, even if I gain it all back and die in 10 years from a heart attack.

      • Buzz,
        While I agree that obesity certainly could have contributed to your health problems, this is a story that belongs to you, and not every overweight person in every situation everywhere. This article is talking about being overweight AND an athlete. It’s not talking about going from being an athlete to a sedentary and obese adult…

        Maintaining a healthy level of activity is correlated to muscle, bone, and heart health, blood pressure maintenance, mood, etc. Exercise is great for you. So it’s hard to say that minimizing activity in your life didn’t also play a large part in your health problems, just as raising your activity level to lose weight could very well have helped in making you feel better.

        And I say this as someone who just reached 89# lost… I do feel better and love my life, because I love all of the things I have the confidence and stamina to do! But I played roller derby at 268lbs and do at 189lbs – my doctor thought I was healthy, if overweight, then, and he says I’m healthy now.

        If someone has an active life they love, and a healthy body that allows them the confidence and stamina they need, then the number on the scale really isn’t impacting their life. If they’re obese and a world class athlete, and have a healthy body that allows them to be able to do things I couldn’t dream of doing in the best of shape, then I and the rest of society need to congratulate them on their achievements and stop qualifying their achievements with statements about their bodies.

        • The problem with a lot of this thinking is that “healthy” in terms of blood pressure, bone health, etc… is hidden, especially in the early 20’s and 30’s (for some).

          So they can argue “I have a good heart rate, good blood pressure” etc… just like I did… before I didn’t.

          That is the thing that has to be emphasized to those who are holding so much extra fat on them. When I say fat, I mean high body fat percentage. The body can “feel” healthy, and even “be” healthy, and this period of apparent health can last longer if you also happen to eat “healthy” food.

          _BUT_ in the end, it catches up with you. If you read the article it does not just address fitness, it also tries to address and refute the culture of feeling that being overweight is bad. This is where it goes overboard. There really is no “fit” and “overweight.” Take the example of the Sumo wrestler Marathon runner.

          His pace (even his record pace of 9 or so hours) was slower than most people could briskly walk a marathon while having a healthy conversation with their friends, eating, drinking, and if they jogged for several miles at a 9 minute pace, they could even add in a few rest breaks (assuming they ate and drank while walking), even if those people didn’t train for it as long as they maintained a healthy and active lifestyle.

          This isn’t to decry the accomplishment of that man, but to show how grossly misleading the examples are, and how out of context they are in reference to the word “fit.”

          I have personally seen 180lb+ women run a marathon in less than 6 hours using her full effort, and I have seen healthy people (with little prep) putting far less effort into it finish one in less than 6 while chatting the entire time, all based on their different goals for such things. Many marathons will sweep you from the course in 6-7 hours (IE, you count as not having finished at all).

          The example was laughable as an example of fitness. If we take an example of SUMO (again, easy target), these men maintain very physically active health regimens and they suffer incredible health problems, even though they would fit into the “fathlete” definition (strictly provided by this article). These incredibly active, exercise every day (but poorly controlled eating) “fathletes” suffer from massive health problems, and die some 10 to 20 years earlier than the base population they come from ON AVERAGE. (google Sumo+wrestler+health+problems).

          No one gets away from it, even if they stave off the effects of their obesity through activity, in the end they are statistically going to shorten their lives, and do so with major health problems that will affect their mobility and enjoyment of life.

          This is why people get so concerned, and saddened, when they see fit and fat blog posts, or see their friends going down a road where they find solace in the internet to tell them that their lifestyle is healthy.

          • I understood the article to be a word of encouragement and confidence to others who may be overweight but would like to participate in athletics and fitness. It is difficult to get in there and even try when one fears constant judgement for being obese, and this article is fighting that.

            Less surgical procedures, questionable diet pills, and crash diets, fitness and balanced eating are a primary means to also losing weight. I don’t see how condescending those who are trying is going to help.

          • Ok, I see where you are coming from, and I retract some of the statements that I made.

            I appreciate your comment, but I have trouble viewing it just as encouragement alone. Crash diets, diet pills, all are wrong for you. But the problem is that the impetus is NOT wrong, the goals people are trying to achieve are _NOT_ wrong, and should be strived for. To lose weight, and maintain it, requires changing eating habits for the rest of your adult life, until the day you die, and that is hard work, and it is _NOT_ easy, and I suppose ANYTHING that helps individuals get out and at least start down the path, for whatever reason, should be applauded, even if I disagree with the entire tone of the article in general.

          • ” The body can “feel” healthy, and even “be” healthy, and this period of apparent health can last longer if you also happen to eat “healthy” food.

            _BUT_ in the end, it catches up with you.”

            This is true for every single human being, ever. Not just the fat. Only fat people get blamed for doing it to themselves by being fat . . . when it’s just an inevitable part of being human. We get old. Shit wears out. Our bodies aren’t immortal. It happens to thin people just as much as fat ones.

  • I watched some of your dance videos on Youtube. Gorgeous. I wish I could dance like that. Good for you for being happy and awesome, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. I’ve learned that when people do and say, the underlying reason is their own insecurity and issues. Sucks that it’s so easy for that to end up hurting other people. But the more we learn not to listen to small-minded, frightened voices, the better off we all are. Easier said than done, but hey, no one said life was easy. Life can, however, be incredibly rewarding if we let it.

  • I just love this. Thank you.

    I would love to see more plus sized people as images associated with accomplished athletes. It would definitly make me feel like if they can do it so can I.

  • Thank you for an incredible article and so brilliantly expressing the difference between health and weight. I am a fat woman, a vegan, a gym rat, and most importantly, forever grateful for all that my body does for me. Bodies are beautiful and amazing in whatever forms they are in.

  • Great article – I’m so tired of being told that my physical accomplishments don’t count or aren’t ‘as good’ as another person’s because I’ve done them in a body that doesn’t meet some random socially accepted standard for beauty. Once again Ragen, you’ve said something that needs to be heard in a really well written way. Thank you.


  • I completed a 10 mile hike in the highlands while fat and did better than the thinner, younger people on the walk because I was used to it and they weren’t, but of course they were all fitter than I am because I’m fat and they weren’t. All you can tell about a person from their size is how you feel about size and if you don’t like mine don’t look.

    I am working to get back to being fitter after an injury and finding it hard to be motivated when I know I’m gonna be stared at and yelled at just for leaving my house, god forbid I go to a gym or swimming and strengthen my body where people can see me. I’m not built to be slender, but I can be stronger, fitter and healthier than I currently am if people stop treating my like crap just for existing. I’ve been there before and barring more accidents I’ll be there again.

    Ragen reminds me that I can move my body and feel good about myself without damaging it trying to conform to societal ideas of acceptable and her writing as always is awesome.

  • Thank you for this! Being a fan of traditional track and field and it’s numerous fat olympic athletes like: Valerie Adams is one of the best shot putters in the word, discus thrower Assunta Legnante, Aretha Thurman, and Michelle Carter. And those are just female olympic level track and field stars! This idea that there is one “athletic” body is ridiculous on its face and harmful in its application.

  • This article points up several critical facts that fat athletes and even fat non-athletes deal with regularly.

    1. Weight, health, and fitness are three separate things. You cannot look at a fat person and know what his/her health status or fitness level is. If that were the case, doctors wouldn’t need blood tests, EKGs, MRIs, and the like. If health and fitness were the same, no fit person would have illnesses, but we know that people of all fitness levels can have illness. And yes, you CAN be both fat AND fit. Look at the author of the article for proof of this.

    2. It is each person’s right to prioritize health and fitness as he chooses. No one else gets to make the choice for us (except, apparently, Mayor Michael “Loopypants” Bloomberg *eyeroll*), and no one has to take the responsibility for our priorities but us. When God calls me to judgment, no one else is gonna get up and answer for me.

    We fatties are in a no-win situation. We are told to get off our asses and do something, but when we do, we get laughed at and ridiculed, often by people in positions of authority such as Ragen’s dance judge. We’re told that if we eat Cheetos we are bad, but if we’re caught eating healthy food, we’re treated as if we’re deluding ourselves (“Oh, like one salad’s gonna help!”). For those of us fatties who eat healthily or work out on a regular basis, we’re called liars because the myth is that those things *always* lead to thinness, which is, emphatically, not the case.

    The truth is that thin people get the same diseases as fat people.

    The truth is that there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people in this world.

    The truth is that there are fat people who work out and eat healthy every day and there are thin people who sit around playing video games and eating junk food.

    The truth is that people are people; all sizes, all shapes. And we ALL deserve dignity and respect.

    • This is so true. I know someone who is thin and ran marathons who is dealing with colon cancer. Being thin does not guarantee health and being fat does not guarantee illness. There are so many other factors involved (genetics, habits, etc.) and correlation does not equal causation.

  • Could not agree more! I am so bleeping SICK of “everybody knows”. Such a lazy excuse people fall back on when the veil masking their fatphobia is wearing thin.

  • Bravo! well written article….as someone who has spent years working out 5-7 times a week and watching every little piece of food going in -all healthy and within recommended caloric intake for LOSS and just hovering in a weight that everyone considers fat, I get this…..people CAN be healthy and fat. You can be genetically thin and genetically fat, and fit or not in either body.

  • Ragen, you are such a great role model. People have the right, and the possibility, to achieve health at any size. You are living proof of the concept. More and more studies are showing that engaging in healthy physical activities and healthy eating behaviors are strong predictors of future health, regardless of any weightloss. Slowly, the world is beginning to see through the enormous scam that is the diet industry, and are beginning to acknowledge the fact that fat does not equal unfit. Yay you, and thanks for the article!

  • Thanks for the article! It could be taken one of 2 ways: 1st that it’s ok to be fat or that you shouldn’t judge people based on their size. I prefer to go with the 2nd, but of course there will be people that see it as an ok to not changing their lifestyle. To me being healthy is about more than exercise, it’s about eating better too and doing it in combination has helped me shed the lbs (down 19 so far in 3 months). I do get the looks, like you’re fat you can’t do this. Well you’re right and you’re wrong. I’m still a beginner and I may not be able to do it all, but I can do it to the best of my ability. In all reality if you are exercising you are going to get leaner and more toned so you won’t always be a “fatlete”

    • Hi Angela,

      I’m the author of the article and I wanted to address this. First I think that you are right that you shouldn’t judge people by their size. I will ad that it is ok to be fat – fat people have the right to exist, a fat body does not indicate a need for public comment or public intervention. The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not size dependent and other people’s bodies are nobody else’s business.

      Second, people are lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons – just like there are very thin people who eat a ton and don’t gain weight, there are fat people whose healthy habits do not lead to thinness. Based on over 50 years of research long term weight loss almost never happens – most people lose weight short term, but gain it back within 5 years. (you can find some research about this at the end of this post. (

      Regardless, the only things you can determine from someone’s body size are the size of their body and the prejudices that you hold about people that size.


    • This comment is falling under the false dichotomy of weight loss = better health. I’ve lost 30ish lbs since March because I’m chronically ill, off half my meds, too sick to work, too sick to go to the doctor. This is with me eating basically whatever I want, whenever I want (admittedly, not often), because my skin is already getting floppy. People keep congratulating me on my weight loss and I want to punch every last one of them because I’d gladly take 60 lbs of extra weight to be in the same health I was this time last year.

      The other thing you’re ignoring is the concept of a weight plateau. This happened to me when I was a young dancer myself. I was a 5’9″ 185lb ballerina. I danced 20ish hours a week. I ate healthily. I rarely snacked. Yet…I was never smaller than a size 14. I could do every last thing the other girls could do except fit into a size 4. Every body has its own weight where it’s most comfortable. Ragen seems to have found hers. I hope that when you find yours, you won’t punish and demean yourself the way I used to.

  • This article really opened my mind. As someone who has always been fat, it never once dawned on me that I could be fit without being thin. OMG… game changer. Ragen, you are gorgeous.

  • You people seem to have missed the point. If you were you, but with less fat on you, you would be inherently healthier. You’ve gotten distracted by the bigotry and idiots, but the fact is that extra weight IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH. This isn’t a stupid competition, it’s not “see we’re healthier than you because we work out”. You’re not as healthy As you could be and who the hell cares how healthy the other person is. Wake up and smell the coffee, you’re not “fathletes”, you’re a fat athlete. Fat. Accept it. Pretty much any athlete can benefit from being leaner and meaner, so there’s no excuse. Also I am a 320 power lifter who’s fat. I’m not a fathlete, I’m a fat athlete WHO SHOULD CUT THE WEIGHT and I realize that. Why are you people blatantly accepting something that’s bad for you? Because some other people emotionally harassed you and now this is your coping mechanism. I have a better idea, get leaner and stop fucking caring about bigots. You’ll be healthier and they’ll lose they voice.

    • Respectfully, Stride Knight, you are the one who seems to have missed the point of this article. Based on my reading of it, Ms. Chastain is challenging the prejudgement and self-righteous assumptions people make about fat people and their levels of physical fitness. We live in a culture that instantly categorizes overweight people as lazy slobs, and yet there are people of all sizes who are physically active and engaged in fitness lifestyles. I know this to be true based on the examples in my own gym and on the 5k, 10k, and half-marathon courses I frequently run. (Conversely, there are plenty of thin people who do not exercise at all, who smoke, eat crap food, have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and couldn’t run around the block). At Ms. Fit we embrace empowering all people (of all ages/shapes/sizes) to pursue a fitness lifestyle. For too long, fat people have felt shamed at the gym and within the larger fitness communities. They are left feeling unwelcome, even despised, for having the audacity to pursue fitness in a fat body. We celebrate the fitness accomplishments of all people. I am proud and gratified to be able to give a platform to Ms. Chastain and the Fathletes, and hope that doing so empowers other people find and embrace their fitness paths.

    • Hi Stride Knight,

      First let’s be clear that I not only accept the fact that I’m fat (which one might glean from the fact that my blog is called danceswithfat and I co-founded the Fit Fatties Forum) I celebrate my amazing fat body.

      Health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, never guaranteed, and a highly personal decision. Even if people believe that being fat is unhealthy and being thin is possible for everyone, it’s not their business to dictate to fat people what we “need” to do. Otherwise it becomes a slippery slope: do the vegans get to tell everyone to be vegan? Do the paleo’s get to tell everyone to be paleo? Do we tell people they aren’t allowed to run because of the high rate of knee injuries? Do we tell people they aren’t allowed to climb mountains because only those who climb mountains fall off and there are safer, and therefore healthier, fitness options? I’ve never met anyone who wants to tell me what I need to do to be healthy who was interested in others telling them. Finally, making wild guesses about health based on someone’s body size is not supported by the evidence, and not anyone else’s business anyway.

      You are welcome to believe anything you want about your body, but there should be no argument about whether I should be “accepted” – I have the right to exist, in the body I have now, without stigmatizing, shame, bullying, or being told about what I “need” to or “should” do by perfect strangers. These rights are inalienable and they are not size or health dependent. The cure for social stigma is not weight loss, it’s ending social stigma.

      Everyone has the right to choose how highly they prioritize their health and the path they choose to get there, nobody has an obligation to be “healthy” by anyone else’s definition (that’s why people are allowed to have high stress jobs, work third shift, be professional bullriders, X-games athletes, professional eating contest champions, heavy drinkers, insomniacs, thin sedentary fast food eaters, fat sedentary fast food eaters and all manner of other things.)

      Second, a tremendous amount of research exists showing that habits, not body size are the best determinant of health.

      Check out:
      Matheson, et al: Healthy, Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals

      “Healthy lifestyle habits are associated with a significant decrease in mortality regardless of baseline body mass index.”

      Steven Blair – Cooper Institute

      “We’ve studied this from many perspectives in women and in men, and we get the same answer: It’s not the obesity, it’s the fitness.”

      Glenn Gaesser – Obesity, Health, and Metabolic Fitness

      “no measure of body weight or body fat was related to the degree of coronary vessel disease. The obesity-heart disease link is just not well supported by the scientific and medical literature…Body weight, and even body fat for that matter, do not tell us nearly as much about our health as lifestyle factors, such as exercise and the foods we eat…total cholesterol levels returned to their original levels–despite absolutely no change in body weight–requiring the researchers to conclude that the fat content of the diet, not weight change, was responsible for the changes in cholesterol levels.”

      Paffenbarger et. al. Physical Mortality: All Cause Mortality, and Longevity of College Alumni

      “With or without consideration of …extremes or gains in body weight…alumni mortality rates were significantly lower among the physically active.”

      Wei et. al. Relationship Between Low Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Mortality in Normal-Weight, Overweight, and Obese Men

      Second, there are a number of studies which show that, by far, the most common outcome of weight loss attempts are weight gain.

      Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew AM, Samuels B, Chatman J: Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets Are Not the Answer (link goes to article) (link goes to study)

      “You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back. We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people…In addition, the studies do not provide consistent evidence that dieting results in significant health improvements, regardless of weight change. In sum, there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits.”

      Miller, WC: How Effective are Traditional Dietary and Exercise Interventions for Weight Loss

      “The data that do exist suggest almost complete relapse after 3-5 yr. The paucity of data provided by the weight-loss industry has been inadequate or inconclusive. Those who challenge the use of diet and exercise solely for weight control purposes base their position on the absence of weight-loss effectiveness data and on the presence of harmful effects of restrictive dieting. Any intervention strategy for the obese should be one that would promote the development of a healthy lifestyle. The outcome parameters used to evaluate the success of such an intervention should be specific to chronic disease risk and symptomatologies and not limited to medically ambiguous variables like body weight or body composition.”

      Methods for voluntary weight loss and control. NIH Technology Assessment Conference Panel

      “A panel of experts convened by the National Institutes of Health determined that “In controlled settings, participants who remain in weight loss programs usually lose approximately 10% of their weight. However, one third to two thirds of the weight is regained within one year [after weight loss], and almost all is regained within five years.”

      Bacon L, Aphramor L: Weight Science, Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift

      “Consider the Women’s Health Initiative, the largest and longest randomized, controlled dietary intervention clinical trial, designed to test the current recommendations. More than 20,000 women maintained a low-fat diet, reportedly reducing their calorie intake by an average of 360 calories per day and significantly increasing their activity. After almost eight years on this diet, there was almost no change in weight from starting point (a loss of 0.1 kg), and average waist circumference, which is a measure of abdominal fat, had increased (0.3 cm)”

      Field et. al Relationship Between Dieting and Weight Change among preadolescents and adolescents

      “Findings from this study suggest that dieting, and particularly unhealthful weight control, is either causing weight gain, disordered eating or eating disorders; serving as an early marker for the development of these later problems or is associated with some other unknown variable … that is leading to these problems. None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain…Our data suggest that for many adolescents, dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain”

      The arguments about fat and health are not rooted in the research, they are rooted in “everybody knows…” because that’s the only place they can be argued successfully. “Everybody knows” is not science and has led us far astray in the past and is doing so again.


      • Ragen,
        THANK YOU. I don’t know if I ever mentioned this through the editorial process, but thank you. Thank you for writing this, thank you for being so fearlessly a “fathlete” and so well-informed about the differences between health, fitness, and weight, both academically and through your own experiences. You’ve taught me a lot and, judging by the comments so far, you’ve taught our readers a lot too, and acted as a voice for a lot of people who’ve been silenced.

        • Thank you so much Amber! You were amazing through the whole process and you were instrumental in crafting this article successfully I really and truly appreciate everything you did! Thanks for being both super talented and open minded.

          <3 right back at you!


      • Okay, there are a number of virtues within this article: for example, acknowledging the contradicting social stigmas for fat athletes.

        However, Stride Knight is correct on a number of points and, way worse, you are cherry-picking your articles. First, you are absolutely correct in pointing out evidence that cardiovascular health and longevity are more closely linked to physical activity rather than bmi. HOWEVER, there are CAUSAL links between obesity and type-2 diabetes. So, to say that obesity is not “bad for you health” while ignoring the links between obesity and diabetes is fallacious. Second, evidence examining TEMPORARY weight loss based on TEMPORARY diets is abound. On the other hand, there is a strong connection between weight management and a MAINTAINED, CALORIC-RESTRICTED, LOW GLYCEMIC INDEX diet determined through reference to ideal bmi and physical activity. Are some people predisposed to obesity? Of course, this is an unfortunate fact of life. Will those people determinately remain obese on a maintained, caloric-restricted, low glycemic index diet based in refernce to ideal bmi and physical activity? Absolutely not. Again, denying this while holding up the failures of gimmick diets is fallacious. Finally, in reference to this:

        “Health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, never guaranteed, and a highly personal decision. Even if people believe that being fat is unhealthy and being thin is possible for everyone, it’s not their business to dictate to fat people what we “need” to do. Otherwise it becomes a slippery slope…”

        The fact of the matter is that in the United States, obesity is a pubic health epidemic due to its undeniable causal link to type-2 diabetes (not to mention the MASSIVE health risks of childhood obesity). It absolutely IS the concern of EVERY United States citizen whether or not you are within a healthy bmi range. Does this mean that people have the right to abuse you? No…but it does mean that we have a right to comment on what you need to do AND we have a right to instigate public policy that aims at disabling lifestyles that promote obesity and advantaging lifestyles that promote healthy bmi ranges.

        So, all-in-all and as I said before, this was a thoughtful and interesting article. However, Stride Knight is right that you need to turn down the ideology and remove the selection bias on your sourcing…be proud about having an active lifestyle, but do not be proud about your health risks and the cost that these risks incur on other people.

        • Are you seriously telling someone else what to be or not be proud of about themselves? Sounds pretty condescending. Also sounds like you missed a lot of the main point of the article.

          • Actually the wording was specifically “do not be proud about about your health risks” IE, do not be proud that you are both fat, and doing fitness activity, because it is the fat part that is going to bite you hard.

            Ragen is very selectively choosing studies, studies which do not make the conclusions she is attempting to make. Every fat acceptance blogger I have seen focuses on a few studies that show averages among Americans, mostly those who do weight loss as a “diet” instead of a lifestyle, and are unable to maintain those lifestyles.

            This is terrible, because it tells those who are heavy, who might have activity in their lives while also overeating incredibly, that their lifestyle is OK from a “Health” perspective, when it is very much _NOT_ ok from a health perspective.

            The amount of food someone has to eat while being a weight lifter, or even being able to “run” is immense. Weight, regardless of exercise or lack thereof, is calories in and calories out. No study refutes this. Some studies make a point that based on metabolism of the consumer of those calories, and the type of calories, that the number on the box may not be wholly accurate, but I guarantee 100% that if you sat down with me, and gave me 6 months (and that you were 30 lbs over weight) I could make you lose 30 lbs starting 1 month after the diet began, as long as you were honest with me about the amount of exercise you do, and ONLY ate what I told you to eat. Everything I would give you would be whole foods made from scratch and healthy.

            In fact, if you wanted to eat only Candy and Burger King, I could give you a diet that would get you to lose weight. I lost 130 lbs eating nothing but fast food, children’s breakfast cereal, and candy.

            The fallacy perpetrated by picking and choosing weight loss articles, when science has been pretty definitive on Calories Eaten + less than Calories Burned + (some metabolism based effects) = weight loss. I will note that I have proved this to my GF who I helped lose 30lbs, simply by making her tell me how many calories she was eating every day, and making suggestions. She ate only whole foods, and meals she cooked herself, simply telling her what portion size to eat helped her lose 30lbs and is now training for a marathon at a faster than walking pace.

            The other study’s that are cherry picked say overweight people are healthy, when the definition of overweight is people like me. I have 15% body fat, weight 184, and that makes me about 10 lbs overweight. These studies don’t take into account medicine.

            If you have to take 5 pills a day starting at 55, otherwise you will die of a heart attack, that is not “healthy.” In the “old days” someone who was heavy would just be dead by there 60’s.

            There can be pride in working out, but there should be no expectation that someone is healthy, healthy is a relative term for people, but someone who is 180 and works out, is going to be healthier (especially late in life statistically) than that same person at 280.

          • WHO CARES?

            The point of Ragen’s article is not to prove that she is healthiER than someone smaller than she is. The point is that she is an athlete, she is someone who loves being physically active, and she is very good at it. And she is fat.

            And that all of those are statements of fact, notwithstanding people whose bigotries make it impossible for all of those things to be true in their head at the same time.

          • Health truly is relative. You can be healthy at 300 Pounds. You can be healthy taking 5 pills a day. You can definitely be healthy without Buzz running your life, happy too. So hurray for the people who live theirs lives the way they see fit and do not bow to the ‘everybody knows’ pressure in the world. Maybe they will live to be 90 or maybe they will get hit by a bus tomorrow. Either way, they did it their way.

          • Buzz said:
            “Ragen is very selectively choosing studies, studies which do not make the conclusions she is attempting to make.”
            Really Buzz? How so? Did it occur to you that you are selectively reading the studies and inferring your own conclusions based on what you thought you read?
            Did it also occur to you that there are more and more contemporary studies that support many of Ragen’s conclusions? I’m sure that Ragen (or I) would be more than happy to direct you to more of those studies if you’d like.
            Perhaps you;d like to explain to the many readers how average to thin sized people at 60 are also taking those 5 pills a day to address the various maladies they’re dealing with.

          • You know, I have decided that if her posts encourages a person to go and exercise, even if the article itself would still lead the person to a health destructive lifestyle, then good for the article.

            I have read the general studies shown by health at every size blogs, and when I read them as a college graduate who took science courses, I don’t read them as validating the conclusions by the presenters.

            All I can say is this: If someone works to get thin, focus on getting thin, then maintaining healthy, and hopefully the self confidence engendered by going to the gym and working out, whatever the motivation, helps people take the next step.

        • There is reason to believe that we may have the obesity/ diabetes link backwards:

          Plus, you are completely glossing over the fact that not all obese people have diabetes nor will all of them develop diabetes. There are, however, thin people who have developed diabetes so there is obviously more going on here.

          In reference to your comment about the child obesity crisis, there’s evidence, referenced in Ragen’s last source, that focusing on weight for children is incredibly detrimental in terms of mental health and actually leads to higher likelihood of weight gain. Not to mention how hospitalization of children under 12 for eating disorders has increased by 112% in the last couple of years. It seems these “interventions” are having the opposite of the intended effect.

          And finally, I find it very odd how you accuse Ragen of cherry picking resources, many of which are from peer reviewed journals, when you reference a grand total of 0 in your argument. If that is not cherry picking, I really don’t know what is.

          I understand you have very deep seeded beliefs and these notions are hard to believe since they are not what is commonly accepted. I was jarred as well at first and so I can respect that. But if you are not willing to even entertain the idea you could be wrong and you have no way of supporting your views beyond repeating your own experiences and assuming they hold true for everyone, then I really don’t understand what you are doing here.

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