This post is written in a mocking tone. We want to emphasize that at Dances with Facts, we fully recognize that genuine eating disorders are a serious issue and absolutely do not merit any kind of shame or stigma. As usual for Ragen, her over the top account of her “eating disorder” simply cannot be taken seriously when the facts are examined. Every detail in this post is confirmed through multiple sources as something Ragen herself actually claimed, including interviews and posts from her old Livejournal accounts. We’ve taken the unusual step of adding an extensive list of sources at the end of the post for our readers to check out for themselves, since some of the claims are so completely outrageous. -IFC
As a child, Ragen was “always kind of a chubby kid and a bigger kid”. In a 2013 interview, she claims her baseball coach father criticized her weight throughout her childhood and constantly made fun of her for trying to participate in any physical activities. This is the man she described in a newspaper article at age 9 as her “hero”. Somehow little Ragen managed to persevere though her hero father’s fat shaming and participate beyond a recreational level (“competitive”, “all-state”, etc.) in an incredibly extensive list of athletics. This list doesn’t even include her claimed non-athletic endeavours and achievements like choirs, bands, musical theatre, being a national merit scholar, teaching elementary school music classes, her class valedictorian, her perfect GPA, professional-level clarinet soloist as well as three other instruments at the state competition level, etc.
- jazz dance
- horse riding
- competitive figure skating
- daily weight training and cardio starting at age 12
- cheerleading captain
- drill team
- “all-state athlete” for all six years of high school
- lifeguard every year and “always won the annual lifeguard races”
An Elite Eating Disorder
By high school, Ragen was just barely overweight at “150 lbs”. Of course she never suffered from any bullying about her weight because she lived in small towns and was “always well-liked and popular” and highly respected for being such a talented athlete and scholar. She claims people continued to tell her to lose weight as they were “freaked out” because she was “really muscular” and could “bench press a huge amount of weight”. This was apparently no big deal until she was pulled aside by a relative at age 17 and told to lose weight before starting college.
Ragen set out with a goal weight of 120 lbs. To accomplish this, she developed her own personal eating disorder and started exercising for “8-10 hours” every single day while eating only 1100 calories. If she ate even a single extra calorie she “freaked out” added another one or two hours of exercise. She claims she maintained this weight loss regimen for three years, continuing to spend 8-10 hours at the gym every day while maintaining a full course load at college. Time availability aside, one would assume that like any normal person with a restrictive eating disorder and exercise compulsion, she quickly became dangerously malnourished and emaciated. Women with anorexia nervosa often have excessively low body fat levels because of their extremely low body weights from extended periods of food restriction1.
Fortunately Ragen is no mere mortal, and instead she somehow completely stopped losing weight after only 15 lbs, then developed the “7-9% body fat” physique of a world champion competitive bodybuilder on an extreme cut who is heavily abusing anabolic steroids. In more recent retellings she is extremely loose with the details, giving her weight as anything from 135 to 145 lbs, changing her body fat to “9%” or “under 10%”, and significantly lowering her height (she now claims she grew 3″ after age 20). Of course, all that does is make the body fat claim all the more absurd. Throughout the length of Ragen’s eating disorder, she somehow remained at a healthy weight or overweight with a daily deficit of several thousand calories for three years. Ragen never does anything by halves; she didn’t just have an eating disorder, she had an elite eating disorder.
Unfortunately Ragen was not able to keep up with her magic eating disorder weight loss regimen, and after three years she eventually collapsed on the gym treadmill “in the most dramatic fashion” and was hospitalized. She claims that while her doctors were “treating all the stress fractures” they put her on a diet because they thought the utterly ripped bodybuilder they were treating was still too fat. This somehow lead to her gaining 50 lbs in a single month, and a further 50 lbs over the next few months, because she had “tanked her metabolism”. This is another part of the story Ragen can’t keep consistent; in 2009 she claimed she was treated for her eating disorder and “ballooned” before she entered college, and as of just last week she was claiming her eating disorder went undiagnosed until well into college. Which is it, Ragen?
The Diet Excuses
In the previously mentioned 2013 interview, Ragen tells the interviewer she then spent a few years trying a number of diet plans, including Jenny Craig, Medifast, Quick Weight Loss Center, and various attempts at lifestyle changes and other eating plans; somehow she mysteriously kept gaining weight through these “extensions of her eating disorder”. She then relates a story she has told on many occasions about checking into an inpatient VLCD weight loss program, where she ate 800 calories/day and still gained a pound every week (because they refused to let her exercise). When she tried to quit the program, they took her into a room and showed her binders of fat women to fat shame her. In this moment Ragen now says she decided she would stop trying to lose weight and instead love herself and fully commit to body positivity.
A Strong Commitment to Body Positivity
From 2002, we can document Ragen’s weight loss attempts in more detail thanks to her Livejournal posts. By then, she was showing her strong commitment to body positivity by peddling Advocare to her friends. She was somehow at her lowest ever post-college weight of around 225 lbs, but completely credited the weight loss product she was selling for her success. This was short-lived, and by 2003 she was back up to 270 lbs and trying yet another diet. Here we see some of her more notable weight loss claims, like the specifics of her elite eating disorder, the fact that she can’t lose weight eating only 1000 calories/day and exercising for 20+ hours/week, and most notably an inadvertent admission of why she really can’t lose weight: because she doesn’t stick to diets. The last part is prophetic since she quit Atkins only four days later.
By late 2003, Ragen had aspirations to become a competitive dancer, and she recognized that 270 lbs was not a realistic weight, despite her commitment to body positivity and not losing weight. She came up with a four month plan to lose 32 lbs and improve her fitness. The running goals tie in with the numerous times she talked about signing up for running events and then never bothered to actually train or even register (see Ragen the Athletics Dropout).
Ragen’s friends helpfully chimed in telling her that 270 lbs is a perfectly acceptable weight for a world-class competitive dancer.
In August 2004, Ragen was still attempting to lose weight, but had found a new excuse to blame for all her past failures: a mysterious wheat allergy. She celebrated this discovery by having a Mountain Dew and reluctantly choking down some gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. The wheat allergy was never mentioned again, and Ragen clearly has no issues with gluten.
By the end of 2004, Ragen still hadn’t lost any weight. She was starting to question whether she even wanted to lose weight (that pre-2002 commitment seems to have been forgotten). She admitted again that she couldn’t keep her diet under control, and she bemoaned the fact that obesity and competitive dancing are mutually exclusive. Because body positivity.
Lately I’ve been questioning if I even want to leose [sic] weight. I am, in reality, quite happy with myself and my abilities. I’ve been having trouble getting the motivatino [sic] to diet. The exercise is no problem…I love to exercise but the diet has been a huge issue.
What I realized tonight was that, truth, be told, I’m too tired to continue being fat. I am tired to exhaustion of having to compensate for my weight. […] Dancing does not adapt to larger bodies.
An Amazing Life Experience
In early 2005, Ragen posted a food and exercise log as evidence she was still attempting to lose weight. At the end of the year she had an “amazing life experience” with a therapist and decided to give up on weight loss forever for the second time and pursue her dream of becoming a top-flight champion professional dancer (spoiler: she didn’t manage to stick with either goal).
The “amazing life experience” was only a week before the famous spaghetti straps judge story, another important moment in Ragen’s life she specifically describes as the start of her fat activist career in the 2014 PBS short documentary Ragen’s MORE Cabaret.
“…in that moment, I realized if I want to be a fat dancer, I’m going to have to be a fat activist to get it done.”
Through 2006-2007, Ragen was performing lots of fat activism by still trying to lose weight. She gained 35 lbs during rehab for an ankle injury sustained in her final “national dance championship” appearance. She had several arguments with her dance teacher because he didn’t notice a minor weight loss and was trying to get her to try dance moves she was too heavy to perform. This culminated in some major fat activism in the form of public crying and triggering.
Ragen continued to go through the motions of “dieting”, again recognizing she had no chance to compete in dancing above the lowest newbie levels as an obese person. In June 2007 she had just started a new diet and was excited about her dance teacher noticing. This is the last time she ever specifically states she intentionally lost weight, at least five years after she now claims she committed to body positivity and not losing any more weight, and two years after she “became a fat activist”.
I had a lesson with DancingQueen (my dance teacher). […] He noticed how much weight I’d lost (17 pounds last week alone!).
The Trained Researcher
In July 2007 Ragen put on her “trained researcher” fat activist hat and did some research about weight loss and obesity. She “discovered” that 98% of diets fail, that most weight gain can be attributed to depression, and that most of the health issues associated with obesity are actually caused by fat shaming. She also had some interesting thoughts about personal responsibility with respect to body weight.
In 2009 she “declared war on the war on obesity”, found Health at Every Size, and crowdfunded her very first fat moneymaking scheme.
In late 2009, Ragen wrote the seminal Dances with Fat post So My Doctor Tried to Kill Me, about the “fat shaming” doctor her acupuncturist referred her to for blood tests (fun fact: Ragen learned intuitive eating from her chiropractor). Within two years she had “retired” from her disastrous turnaround CEO position and become a professional fat blogger and speaker.
The Post-diet Years
In recent years, Ragen has claimed she mostly eats “whole foods” and cooks “simple foods” like “chicken with salad and steamed veggies”. She gets “five servings of fruits and vegetables a day” and “makes healthy choices”. Some of her healthy choices include copious amounts of cereal, Chinese takeout, McDonald’s, eggs Benedict, and of course daily Mountain Dew. As part of her HAES “activism”, she won’t eat any food with “diet” in the name or that is otherwise marketed as assisting with weight loss in any way. She says her eating disorder made her a “virtual calorie calculator” who knows exactly how much she eats every day without tracking, and “the number of calories that I eat should lead to weight loss but they don’ [sic]”.
Ragen’s “eating disorder” and weight loss history paint a picture of a person who is totally unable to control her eating habits and grasping at straws at every opportunity. She blames things like a “wheat allergy”, “carbohydrate intolerance”, not being allowed to exercise for short periods, and what amounts to magic for her failure to lose weight on ludicrously low calorie intakes. All the while she regularly admits she can’t stick to diets and her eating is out of control. Even when she actually does manage to lose weight, she credits the weight loss supplement she was taking rather than her own efforts to manage her diet. Her account of her eating disorder is quite possibly the most outrageously absurd thing she has ever written. It smacks of her usual storytelling technique of doing a quick Google search (e.g. “low body fat for a woman”) and rolling with the results. She can’t even keep the facts straight in retellings, regularly changing the numbers of what is supposedly the most important event in her life. Her extensive experience with commercial weight loss products makes it very obvious why she is constantly ranting about the “sixty billion dollar a year weight loss industry” (that she herself was part of) and their supposed conspiracy against fat people.
After 20 years of refusing to accept responsibility for her own failures, Ragen found the perfect excuse to simply stop trying in the form of fat acceptance and HAES. She saw an opportunity to monetize it, and in short order she was sanitizing old blog posts, altering details of personal stories to suit her needs, and re-interpreting and re-imagining her past motivations to portray herself as a more sympathetic character. She continued her “research” and now represents herself as an expert on obesity while doling out harmful medical advice and deadly pseudoscience. She portrays herself as a “national dance champion”, “marathoner”, “future IRONMAN” and so on and pretends her weight doesn’t affect her health or athletic abilities, despite all current and past evidence to the contrary. This Dances with Facts post is Ragen’s real story. She isn’t a person who deserves admiration for overcoming adversity and discovering the ability to love herself; she simply spent 20 years with her fingers in her ears until her personal failings aligned with her financial interests.
We close with a quote from a 2009 radio interview that sums up everything nicely.
Interviewer: “Do you eat a huge amount of food?”
Ragen: “I do not.”
Interviewer: [incredulous] “Do you eat more than your body’s basic needs? … If you’re eating a normal amount of food, presumably you wouldn’t weigh 280 pounds.”
Ragen: “Well if I was exercising 8 hours a day and eating 1100 calories presumably I would have been [less] than 135 pounds.”
Ragen: “My body does what it does.”