I really dislike the phrase, “pack on the pounds.”
It crops up often in news media. Gossip magazines will squeal with delight over celebrities who have gained a little weight, possibly because they’ve had a baby or some other silly little life altering event, screaming out headlines like: “so-and-so is visibly fatter, they’ve really packed on the pounds!”
The other place I frequently notice it buried is in articles about the obesity “epidemic” or how life changes and the passage of time can cause our body weight to increase. For example articles that say things like, “women over 40 can really pack on the pounds,” or, “after women get married, they really let themselves go and pack on the pounds.”
The phrase itself brings to mind something I used to do on the beach as a child. I would sit in the sand and pack it all around me until my legs and the lower half of my body was encased in it. Then if I’d struck water in one of the holes I had dug, I’d make dribble castles all over my thighs. I did this because the sand felt cool and good and because it was fun – I was packing on the sand all around myself.
Here’s why I have a problem with it in regards to weight gain: “packing on the pounds” implies an intentional, deliberate action. I was deliberately packing sand around my body because it was fun, and using the phrase with regards to weight says that the person doing it is trying as hard as they can to gain as much weight as they can. It brings to mind mental images of people gleefully grabbing up globby, greasy handfuls of fat and smacking them onto their own thighs and stomach in an effort to see just how big they can intentionally make themselves.
With very few exceptions, people don’t gain weight on purpose. Most of us don’t even fully realize when it’s happening.
I got up to 290 lbs. very gradually over the course of thirty-some years. Even though I’ve been suffering from binge eating disorder since I was around twelve or thirteen (I think it began around the time I began my first calorie restrictive dieting effort) I have never put on weight very quickly.
Since I journal everything I eat I now have a good working knowledge of how many calories a lot of foods contain, but I believe that most people do not. A single tablespoon of butter or mayonnaise contains 100. A tablespoon of olive oil is 120. On top of that, when someone is eyeballing a portion instead of measuring, they don’t really have a clear understanding of just how small a tablespoon or even a cup of something actually is. It is not difficult to gain weight in a culture of convenience food and vehicular travel, and you don’t have to be a lazy glutton to make it happen. A few high energy food choices or a single cup of full fat hot chocolate a day is more than adequate to do the trick.
Pervasive and negative language choices like this are another facet that I believe contributes to fat hatred and bias in the United States. Much like my previous post about the way overweight actors are used and portrayed, this is another subtle negativity that works its insidious way into people’s brains. It teaches us to see a fat stranger or even a friend who’s gained some weight and automatically think, “woah – they’ve really packed on the pounds!”
It implies deliberate self-neglect, a slovenly nature, and lack of care for personal health that is in most cases both unfair and untrue.