Dear Virgie,

I just found out I have sleep apnea, and it has really ruined all the work I have done to accept myself. It really seems like this is one of those medical issues that is weight-related, and I feel like I have been backed into a corner.

 

Dear Friend:

First, I feel a lot of compassion for the fear and anxiety you seem to be feeling.

Second, I am not a doctor or health-focused professional, and I know very little about sleep apnea, but I want to offer some thoughts and some support.

1. Thin people have sleep apnea too.

Just a few weeks ago, I went to get acupuncture at this great place in San Francisco, and the woman who treated me was super tall and thin. She looked a little like Olive Oyl from the Popeye series, actually. Anyway, I told her that I might have sleep apnea that was affecting my ability to rest, and she chimed in that she had it and used a CPAP machine to manage it.

There are many ailments and chronic issues that people of various sizes experience; it’s just that culturally we are always more aware when a marginalized group does something (or in this case has something) that is in line with the bigoted ideology of the dominant group. Likewise, when that behavior or outcome is present in people who are part of the dominant group, it is often ignored or an alternate explanation is quickly created. This is called confirmation bias, and it is FUCKED UP. So, I’m not trying to detract necessarily from whatever your trusted medical care provider is telling you. I am simply stating that…

2. Your doctor — and possibly you? — may be hastily over-assigning blame to your weight.

We know that the medical industry houses some of the most pronounced weight-negative bias, and sometimes we are still working through our own internalized fatphobia. Both cases lead to a quick over-reliance on weight-loss as a solution.

3. Healing your relationship to your body is not a linear process.

It seems like this piece of news has shaken you, and I have a lot of compassion and empathy for that. I just want to remind you that working to heal your relationship to your body is not a linear process that always feels great, easy or clear. I know that the diet industry and weight loss seem like a safe place to run to when you feel like the body positivity movement has failed you, but trust me when I say it’s not. Diet culture is full of lies and fantasies, and the reason those lies and fantasies feel more comfortable is because they are familiar — not because diet culture is better than the journey of healing that you are on.

4. Weight loss measures often lead to weight gain.

The problem with trying to treat a medical issue with restriction (AKA dieting) and weight loss is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, you will end up gaining weight in the end, in addition to any of the many other outcomes often linked to dieting: anxiety, depression and potentially disordered eating. So, with that face in mind, it is important to ask yourself: if it is very likely I will actually gain weight after dieting, what am I really getting out of this? Is this behavior I know how to do in order to avoid hard feelings?

5. You’re the only one who can ultimately choose what you need and want to do.

A lot of times, people want me to tell them exactly what to do or not to do. Sometimes it is less scary imagining that someone else can make better decisions for us than we can. The truth is that you are the number one expert on what you want and what you need. If you seriously feel that dieting is the right route for you, then I am personally not invested in attempting to wrench that away from you. As I often say: everyone has the right to diet. I want to give you permission to radically accept the choice that YOU want to make. Try it out. See if it works, and if it doesn’t go back to the drawing board and see where you stand.

I hope this helps!

Xoxo,

Virgie

Dear Virgie sleep apnea

Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight. Follow her on instagram @virgietovar

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