Big Fat Facts Big Fat Index

Is 'Big Sexy' a winner?

TLC is airing a new reality show called "Big Sexy," featuring five fat women who are involved in the fashion industry in New York City.

The Onion AV club has a good (and size positive) review of it here.

Today Show has interviewed the stars, and you can find the video in a post on Today's blog, 'Big Sexy' stars hope for large changes in attitudes.

Other than the truly awful tagline "Once you go big, you'll never go twig," it looks like it could be all right. Has anyone been watching?

Michigan BMI Reporting: Action

Marilyn Wann has set up a Yahoo group to address the new pediatric BMI reporting requirement in Michigan. Marilyn's group is called Michigan Weight Diversity.

Another possible action: Individual parents who disagree with this requirement can refuse to allow their children to be weighed.

I'll keep up with this and post any new developments.

Michigan to track children's BMIs


"Michigan to require body weight reports on kids ", subtitled "Governor wants doctors to submit BMI information to state registry to track obesity."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder plans to direct doctors in his state to begin monitoring the body weight of their young patients and provide the data to a new state registry, in one of the most extensive government efforts to address the growing problem of pediatric obesity, the Associated Press has learned.

They say that the data will be used for statistical purposes only, and it's true that asking doctors to report children's BMI is more appropriate than weighing them in school and putting their BMI category on their report card, as they're now requiring in Arkansas. However, this does seem a bit big brother-ish, it reinforces the idea that weight is more important than (or is equivalent to) health, and I can't help but find it ironic that it's being instituted by a "small government" Republican.

It's surely a disappointment to see this happening in the only state that has a non-discrimination law that includes weight and height. Also, this may well discourage parents from taking their fat kids to the doctor's office.

Announcing the Abundia retreat, 2011

The Abundia retreat, founded by five fat, size-positive therapists, has been an annual Chicago-area tradition since the mid-1990s. I attended once in the late 1990s, and I was one of the two youngest women there. It was the first real-life size acceptance event I'd been to, and it was wonderful - like being surrounded by fat, loving, accepting aunties. I was so glad that I'd taken the risk and gone to the retreat.

In the past, these retreats have had speakers and various types of discussion and activity sessions. it looks like this year's retreat is going to be more loose and casual.

There's an Abundia Facebook group and an Abundia web page.

Here are the details:

  • When: Friday-Sunday, November 4-6.
  • Where: Illinois Beach Resort, Zion, IL.
  • Cost: The Abundia group room rate is $79 per night for a Standard Room.
  • Booking: Please book your room before Friday, October 7, 2011. Make your reservation directly with the Illinois Beach Resort, and ask for the Abundia rate: 866-452-3224.
  • After booking: Please contact Jeani Habegger McAleer. She’ll be keeping a count of the number of attendees. She can also answer any questions about the hotel.

A group of early arrivers will check in on Thursday. Join us! Our group will have a private conference room all weekend, as well as a large suite for socializing and fun. Because the weekend is unstructured, there is no program fee this year. The pool was recently damaged and is closed until 2012, but all other facilities will be available to us.

In-room refrigerators are available free of charge and are based on availability. Meals will be handled by each individual. Choices include on-site restaurant and lounge, local delivery services, and local restaurants. As the weekend draws nearer, we hope to plan and announce the location of several group meals; and we welcome your suggestions too!

Still Have Questions?
We know exactly how you feel! We also had to overcome our worries and fears before we attended our first retreats. So, we sincerely know how you may feel. If we can answer any of your questions, please contact us:

  • Jeani Habegger McAleer: jeanimcaleer -at-
  • Durette Hauser: durette -at-

PCA/ACA Fat Studies 2012 Call for Papers

From Julia McCrossin:

Fat Studies is becoming an interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary field of study that confronts and critiques cultural constraints against notions of “fatness” and “the fat body”; explores fat bodies as they live in, are shaped by, and remake the world; and creates paradigms for the development of fat acceptance or celebration within mass culture. Fat Studies uses body size as the starting part for a wide-ranging theorization and explication of how societies and cultures, past and present, have conceptualized all bodies and the political/cultural meanings ascribed to every body. Fat Studies reminds us that all bodies are inscribed with the fears and hopes of the particular culture they reside in, and these emotions often are mislabeled as objective “facts” of health and biology. More importantly, perhaps, Fat Studies insists on the recognition that fat identity can be as fundamental and world-shaping as other identity constructs analyzed within the academy and represented in media.

Proposals in the area of Fat Studies are being accepted for the 2012 Popular Culture Association/ American Culture Association (PCA /ACA) National Conference in Boston, MA on April 11-14, 2012 (meeting after, not before, Easter Sunday), at the Marriott Boston Copley Place. We welcome papers and performances from academics, researchers, intellectuals, activists, artists, and others, in any field of study, and at any stage in their career. We also welcome panels and roundtables on a variety of topics under the heading “Fat Studies.”

Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • representations of fat people in literature, film, music, nonfiction, and the visual arts
  • cross-cultural or global constructions of fatness and fat bodies
  • cultural, historical, inter/intrapersonal, or philosophical meanings of fat and fat bodies
  • the geography and lived experience of fatness and fat bodies
  • portrayals of fat individuals and groups in news, media, magazines
  • fatness as a social or political identity
  • fat acceptance, activism, and/or pride movements and tactics
  • approaches to fat and body image in philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology
  • fat children in literature, media, and/or pedagogy
  • fat as it intersects with race, ethnicity, class, religion, ability, gender, and/or sexuality
  • history and/or critique of diet books and scams
  • functions of fatphobia or fat oppression in economic and political systems

By December 15, 2011, please send an abstract of 100 - 250 words or a completed paper to Fat Studies Area Co-Chairs Julia McCrossin (jmccross -at- and Lesleigh Owen (goddess_les -at- Please include your complete contact information and a CV and/or 50 word bio, along with anticipated A/V needs. All submissions are welcome, but please use the information above to ensure your paper fits within the academic and political scopes of Fat Studies. Please also be mindful that Fat Studies is a political project and not merely an umbrella term for all discussions of larger bodies. Also, we encourage submitters to rethink using words like “obesity” and “overweight” in their presentations unless they are used ironically, within quotes, or accompanied by a political analysis.

Presenters must become members of the Popular Culture Association. Find more information on the conference and organization at their website.

Is this really happening?

From The Telegraph, Obese children to be put up for adoption; A couple may have their obese children removed after social services ruled they had not lost enough weight, by Nick Collins:

The mother and father of seven children, six of whom are overweight, face the "unbearable" prospect of never seeing their four youngest again if authorities act on a threat to remove them.

Three girls aged 11, five and one, and a boy aged five, are to be put up for adoption or "fostered without contact" because their parents failed to help them slim down.

This means the parents will be unable to trace them and the family could only be reunited if the children attempt to find their family when they are grown up.

Social services warned the couple three years ago that their children would be taken away from them if they did not bring their weight under control.

According to an article in The New American, Obese Children Removed from Home in Scotland, by Raven Clabough:

The family lived in government housing for two years, called a “Big Brother” house, where they were the subject of government scrutiny. A social worker was present during all meals to monitor the family, and imposed a strict curfew as well as set of rules regarding their lifestyle.

This 2008 story from the Mirror, Parents told to put their six obese children on a diet or face having them taken into care, by Mark Smith, appears to be about the same family.

A couple have been given three months to get three of their six overweight kids slimmer - or have ALL of them taken into care.

The warning centres on their fattest children - a 12-year-old son who is 16 stone, his 12st sister, 11, and a girl who weighs four stone aged just three.

This is taking place in Dundee, Scotland.

Why was this particular family being picked on? There must be plenty of families with two fat parents that have fat children - the genetic odds of that happening are 80%. How were they able to force the family to live under the supervision of social services? How is that legal? How could this possibly have been cost effective? And why do they think that taking these children away from their parents is going to magically change them into thin people? The family did what they wanted, and it didn't work!

Is weight really the main issue here, or is there something that isn't being mentioned in the news articles? This seems so extreme that it's hard to believe, especially given the fact that the heaviest kids weighed 11 stone, which is 168 pounds (around what I weighed at 11!) and 16 stone, which is 224 pounds.

I'll see if I can find out more about this tomorrow, but for now, here are some e-mail addresses at the Dundee Local Authority:

  • Dundee County chief executive David Dorward:
  • Dundee County public relations head Les Roy:
  • Dundee County education director Michael Wood:
  • Dundee County Social Services direct Alan G. Baird:

Also covered on Big Liberty and Fat and Not Afraid.

National Geographic Interviews Linda Bacon

National Geographic. Did anyone else here have a vast collection of this magazine - too visually stunning and informative to throw away - on bookshelves in their basement as a kid? I used to love to read this back when my parents had a subscription, but I haven't seen one in years.

Well, they've published an article on Health at Every Size that's largely based on an interview with Linda Bacon. Health at Every Size, Live Healthy Without Dieting, by Mary Schons.

If you're already familiar with Dr. Bacon's work, then there's nothing new here. However, maybe this will help spread the word: weight does not equal health.

The origin of Irish step dancing

My excuse for posting this here is that the guy with the long solo is a bit stout, and I love dancing and seeing other fat people dance. And he's a good dancer, too.
But really, it's just hilarious.

Obesity not responsible for kidney stones in children

Breaking News!

From a Reuters artilce, Obesity Not Behind Kidney Stones in Kids, Study, by Genevra Pittman:

While heavier adults are more likely to get kidney stones than slimmer ones, that doesn't seem to be the case in kids, according to a new study.

The finding seems "counterintuitive," say researchers who have noticed an increasing number of both adult and kid patients with kidney stones as obesity levels have been on the rise.

As someone who's been following issues related to weight for, oh, pretty much the entire 30 years that I've been reading the news, I was not surprised to hear that the increased incidence of kidney stones in children is not related to obesity. Why? Because it's been known since the eighties - if not longer - that kidney stones are actually caused by weight loss methods, especially low-carb dieting and weight loss surgery. That's why a higher incidence of kidney stones is associated with obesity; because fat people are more likely to diet and have weight loss surgery.

Correlation doesn't equal causation, and in this case even though there's overwhelming evidence that the causation is "counterintuitive," - that kidney stones are caused by weight loss attempts, not by being fat - it is still being confused in the media and probably by some poorly informed doctors as well. Most people assume being fat must always cause health problems and dieting must always solve them. Except, that's not always true. Sometimes it's the other way around. Any undergrad with access to a research librarian could figure out the direction of causation here, yet it's apparently a mystery even to the "researchers" cited in the quote above.

So, what's causing the increase in kidney stones in kids? My guess is that many parents are feeding their whole family low carb, that kids fed that way tend to be thin, and that they also tend to get kidney stones. Because, let's face it. The habits that can keep people thin are not always heathy.

Daily Mail publishes good article, well camouflaged by title.

The Daily Mail Online recently posted an informative article on Epigenetics, Is Audrey Hepburn the key to stopping the obesity epidemic?, by John Naish. Yes, the title makes it sound like the article is about how thin celebrities and role models will surely inspire everyone to get thin! Fortunately, that's not what it's about at all.

Audrey Hepburn experienced the Hunger Winter as a teenager during WWII.

Hepburn’s slight figure — her waist was only 20in — came not from any celeb-style fad diet. It was a legacy of the jaundice, anaemia, respiratory problems and chronic blood disorders she contracted in those desperate days. After a lifetime of quietly suffering frail health, she died in 1993, two months after undergoing an operation for colon cancer. She said of her privations: ‘After living for years under the Germans, you swore you would never complain about anything again.’

Now Dr Carey, a British biology expert and former senior lecturer at Imperial College, London, has written a book in which she suggests Hepburn’s poor health was the result of genetic changes caused by her terrible childhood diet. Such changes are being revealed by the new science of epigenetics.

We are beginning to understand how we are not simply born with genes that are pre-set for life.

The Hunger Winter left adults who survived it with chronic ill health and people who were fetuses at the time with a tendency to store fat and a high risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The most worrying finding is that parents’ poor nutrition can seriously affect the health of their unborn children. This is particularly true of mothers who are malnourished in the first three months of pregnancy. While the hunger winter survivors’ babies tended to be born at a normal size, they often inherited a lifetime problem: their obesity rates are much higher than normal.

Some theories suggest that when a baby suffers malnutrition in the womb, a survival mechanism kicks in that pre-sets its metabolism in preparation for being born into a world of famine and starvation...

Some of these effects even seem to be present in the children of this group — the grandchildren of the original hunger winter survivors. Not only were the children’s genes changed epigenetically, but those harmful changes have been passed on through two generations.

Dr. Carey's book: The Epigenetics Revolution, subtitled "How modern biology is rewriting our understanding of genetics, disease and inheritance." isn't focused on the genetics of obesity, and there's a more conventional review of it here, in the Guardian.

However, Mr. Naish comments intelligently on the material that concerns body size, restates some things that have been kicking around the fatosphere for a while, and offers some insight on the mutability of our genetic inheritance.

In light of this, I'm amazed that fat women are still being advised to avoid weight gain during pregnancy, when attempting to do so could effectively expose their fetuses to famine conditions. Why are medical recommendations based on an assumption that well nourished fetuses, babies and children become fat, while the opposite appears to be the case?

Southwest Airlines: at it again

Southwest Airlines employees thought that it would be a good idea to try to cull the numbers on an overbooked flight by humiliating this young woman. By the organized nature of the incident, it seems likely that it was done according to company policy.

Marilyn Wann has written about it here at SFWeeky, in an article entitled Let's Look at Society's Love/Hate Relationship with Fat People.

I'd just say, boycott Southwest and encourage your friends, family and colleagues to do the same. If you have influence over corporate travel planning, don't use this airline. Do you want any of your company's people to be treated like this? If you're making travel plans with your family, do you want to expose them to this? And if you're all thin then just think, what if they'd used a different excuse to try to force people off of an overbooked flight? If they're willing to treat anyone this way, they're probably willing to treat everyone this way.

This is ethically wrong. It is no way to treat customers. Let's show them that it's also bad business.

Back to School

It's almost time for the fat kids to go back to school and face the bullies - if they aren't already dealing with them in the neighborhood or at summer camp.

Oh, god! Those summer camp bullies. I remember it being like freakin' Lord of the Flies at summer camp; no real adult supervision and a social structure that would make monkeys look civilized. I don't know if it's like this for everyone, but when I got bullied one year at camp (luckily most years, I was part of a clique and that protected me), the people running the place treated me as if it was my fault. I was mooed and oinked at, my only pair of shoes were filled with rotten milk, my stuff was stolen, and I would have gotten beaten up if I hadn't had the ability to be a bit scary. I was the one called in for 'counseling' (i.e. told that I was oversensitive). I was the one whose parents were contacted. And the ringleader of the group doing it was a horrible little hypocrite who was always trying to prove how "good" she was. In front of adults. When she and her friends were alone with other kids, they were a nightmare.

ANYWAY, so, back to school. Back to being called fat and ugly in three or four different languages, back to more moos and oinks, back to being followed and harassed, back to teachers with low expectations, and sometimes back to physical violence.

Yet many anti-bullying policies exclude fat kids.

Time to put on ill fitting, uncool clothes and jump back into the ring, my young friends!
(although perhaps at least the clothing selection has improved since my time, there being an "epidemic of childhood obesity" and all).

Dr. Deah has some things to say on back-to-school and bullying in a couple of recent blog posts: Bully for You and on back to school clothes shopping, Cruel Days, Cruel Days.

And, I'll end with this very satisfying video:

(But as you might expect, things may be a little more complicated than they appear at first. The fat kid, Casey Heynes, tells his story here, but it turns out that the bully also has his problems although I'm not all that inclined to trust what he says.)

To anyone who's dealing with this kind of thing now: School doesn't last forever, and it tends to get better as you get older. Ages 10-13 are usually the worst. When you're an adult, you get to choose who you want to associate with, and if someone hits you? You call the cops and report an assault. Oh, and if you do well in school and work hard, you'll eventually have the satisfaction of being more successful in life than the bullies. It's even better than a bodyslam.

Smack-a-fattie Friday at the BBC

Why have one horrible, badly reported, hysterical obesity panic story to ruin everyone's Bank Holiday when you can have two? After all, now that Libya has been freed, the economic crisis is over, the riots forgotten and the Somali famine a distant memory (umm, wait a minute) the Beeb can get back to its real purpose - (mis)using the license fee money of it's 'majority' fat subscriber base to serve as a mouthpiece for obesity crusaders and agitate for tougher laws against fat people.

The first, 'Government must 'get tough' on obesity' is the usual 'call to arms' story from one of the ballooning number of obesity 'concern' organisations, citing projected exponential rises in the obesity figures (really) as justification for 'fat taxes' to stave off a coming Fattypocalypse. To date there are 1200 comments on the associated discussion thread, some attempts to inject sanity but mostly the old favourites we've come to love - put us in concentration camps, sterilise us, ban / tax 'plus-sized' clothing, forced removal of fat children from parents, more stigma, hate and shame (because we all know how well that's worked to date).

And then there's this piece, representing the BBC's other favourite past-time - mommy-shaming. Once again we're told that fat women are endangering their unborn babies, making deliveries more difficult and costing the NHS a fortune. Indeed the BBC regularly runs articles attributing the entire midwifery / maternity crisis in the health service not to Government cuts or a baby boom on a scale not seen since the Sixties but too many fat people getting pregnant (and here I was thinking being big was relationship / marriage suicide - unless all the fat people are procreating with other fat people, which I'm sure would be used to justify Dan Savage-style anti fat-marriage laws were it ever 'empirically proven').

There's still time to get over there and try to inject some sense into the comments (ETA: a third story, again with comment thread, has appeared, this one about an alleged explosion of obesity in Sierra Leone and other developing countries). There are disconcertingly few dissenting voices, far fewer than debates on (say) climate change, smoking, alcohol or drug legalisation. I'm also going to put together a formal complaint, not that it's done much in the past. I am so thoroughly sick of the media abusing its position of influence in this way to demonise and incite hatred against a group of people whose positive contribution to society is never even considered. I've said it before, but we've been here so many times in the past, and it's never, ever, ended well.

(*I can't take credit for that, it was dreamt up by a sympathetic commentator on the 'evil fat mums' thread).

What is dieting anyway?

The diet companies love to say that their programs aren't diets. Maybe they're "lifestyle changes" or "eating plans."

Some people say that the word diet has been highjacked - "all it refers to is the way you eat!" But, reinforcing this older, more neutral meaning doesn't magically make weight loss diets into normal eating patterns. It doesn't change the fact that they're basically disordered eating, that they almost never work long-term or that they make most people fatter. Saying that the word is being misused doesn't make what it's come to refer to disappear.

Language wasn't a focus in my education, and I've sometimes taken definitions for granted, used words imprecisely, and relied on technical jargon. It's easy to forget that everyday words have power and that in order to communicate, we need to agree on their meanings. If you've ever tried to define a word - especially a loaded, dynamic, controversial word - then you know how difficult it can be. Tara MacGregor, a Psychotherapist and Dietitian, has given the meanings of "dieting" and "non-dieting" some serious thought and conferred with other professionals, and I'm posting her definitions here with her permission:

Dieting is a class of eating behaviours involving any modification to food choice that is guided primarily by external prescriptions and classifications of food with the principal goal of reducing body weight. Dieting views a reduction in body weight as an imperative to improve health including physical, mental and emotional aspects. Dieting is not an innate human behaviour but is learned and typically incorporates separating from and/or controlling the body's sensations and internal cues. Dieting is 'weight centric.'

Non-Dieting may also be referred to as Attuned Eating, Intuitive Eating, Normal Eating, Mindful Eating. Non-Dieting is a class of eating behaviours guided primarily by attunement to internal body cues of hunger and satiety. Non-Dieting behaviours are innate and honour our intrinsic connection to our body and it's messages. Non-Dieting behaviours can also be learned and can be re-adopted in order to undo disordered eating patterns which can occur from any age for a multitude of reasons, particularly learned dieting behaviours. Modifications to eating behaviours using a Non-Dieting philosophy are made with the principal goal of improving health and well-being including physical, emotional and mental aspects. These improvements can occur irrespective of changes to body weight. Non-Dieting is 'health centric'.

Definitions by Tara MacGregor, BSc MSc G.Dip Couns. CMCAPA, PACFA Reg.
Counsellor & Psychotherapist; Accredited Practising Dietitian

This week's gossip

In a fluffy interview in Self magazine, Jennifer Hudson said she was prouder of her 80 pound weight loss than her Oscar. Some of her fans are understandably annoyed at this. However, I guess it goes to show how hard it is to lose weight.

You know what, though? If someone came up to me and said "I lost 80 pounds," I'd be like "Oh, okay. But that's your business. Why are you telling me that?" and "Yeah, you, Oprah and everyone else." and also "Come talk to me about it again in five or ten years if you haven't regained and then I might think it's interesting."

If someone came up to me and said "I won an Oscar," or especially "I'm a singer and I won an Oscar for the first movie I acted in," I'd be really, really impressed. I'd be thinking "This woman must be really brilliant and talented, and she must have worked SO hard and managed her career with skill and insight." If she wasn't thin and white, I'd be even more impressed. I'd think "This woman is so smart, hard working and talented that she has managed to make a great success of two careers while not looking the way many people in the entertainment business seem think that all women in the public eye should look."

Here are some quotes:

"In the neighborhood I'm from in Chicago, a 16 is normal. But in Hollywood, everyone looks exactly the same, so I stood out."

"You never know you're being discriminated against until you see what you've been deprived of. Everybody wants you to wear this or put you on the cover of that. Before, my career was great, but since losing weight, I haven't stopped. I have worked every single day of this year."

So... she's more proud of caving into pressure to conform than she is of winning an Oscar. Obviously, the best way to deal with prejudice is to do whatever's necessary to disassociate yourself from any maligned groups you're part of in order to escape it. Okeydokey.

Oh, Jennifer. I find myself hoping that there's some irony or sarcasm here somewhere, but instead I suspect that success - especially for women - is based mostly on a desperate desire to give people in authority what they expect. Talent. Hard work. Intelligence. And complete and unquestioning acquiescence. It's the formula that works. Am I the only one who finds this depressing?


Do you want to live forever?

There's an interesting article in the New York Time's online "Opinionator," Trying to Live Forever.

The editorial talks about first, the weak evidence for cause and effect in most observational studies and second, the unspoken assumption in so much popular reporting of medical and nutrition science that we should all strive to live for as long as possible.

On the general uselessness of most observational studies:

One answer, implicit in most media reports, is that acting on the results of the unreliable observational studies “couldn’t hurt and might help.” This makes sense if I have a medical problem for which there is no reliable remedy. If nothing else has helped my arthritis, insomnia or back pain, it would make perfect sense to try a remedy that will not do serious harm and has some probability of working.

But most observational studies concern not remedies for present ills but protection against future ones, and for these cases it is hard to tell if even relatively small costs or risks of harm outweigh the probability of partial protection. More important, there is a reasonable chance that further observational studies will call into question the one I’m acting on or even, as in the case of “good cholesterol,” that rigorous randomized clinical studies may refute it.

As an example, having a high BMI puts us at higher risk for some health problems. Dieting has long been considered a “couldn’t hurt and might help" proposition. However, it may actually be more harmful over the long term than simply maintaining a high, stable weight. In fact, it likely causes long-term weight gain.

Taking a broader view, it would seem preferable to keep healthy by a method that is simple, reliable and doesn’t require constant revision and fine-tuning. We do, after all, have such a method available: simply follow the humdrum standard advice we’ve heard all our lives about eating sensibly, exercising regularly, and having recommended medical tests and exams...

Sure. That advice applies to everyone who is interested in keeping their body running smoothly and in avoiding/controlling medical problems. This is the closest thing we have to a real formula for 'couldn't hurt and might help.' But let's face it...

We are all going to die sometime, from something. Even if I find just the right blend of exercise, diet and herbs that saves me from a heart attack at 60, I may have merely ensured that I will die of cancer at 70. Saving myself from cancer at 70 may mean I end with 10 agonizing years of dementia. When all is said and done, how we die is a crap-shoot, and, short of avoiding obvious risks such as smoking and poor diet, there’s little we can do to load the dice.

And isn't at the root of healthism? Our primitive fear of losing control over our bodies and finally, dying? But it happens to everyone eventually - fat and thin, healthy and unhealthy - and if it didn't, there'd be no room for children and no jobs for young people. So why are we supposed to want to live forever?

Let's help NPR sort things out

National Public Radio (NPR) is a vast network of local and university radio stations in the US; partly publicly funded, partly supported through on-line fundraising drives. NPR stations often feature programs that focus on classical music or jazz, and almost all carry the nationally distributed NPR news programs. It's the only radio news in the US that could be compared to the BBC in the UK or the CBC in Canada.

Right now, NPR news is running a series called Living Large; Obesity in America. The earlier articles on their website, including one where Leslie Kinzel is quoted, are from May. However, the series appears to be ongoing. Maybe we can still influence the direction it takes.

There's a form for public input, What does it mean to live in a nation where one out of every three people is obese?, at the Public Insight Network. Quotes from the form may be used in NPR website articles or on radio news reports. It asks the following questions:

  • What conversations do you have - or avoid having - about weight?
  • How, if at all, has our country's collective weight gain affected what you buy, how you travel or how you work and play?
  • What, if any, other changes to your daily life have you noticed that you didn't mention above?
  • Anything else you'd like to tell us about this topic?

The questions seem a bit leading to me. As I read them, I felt I was being encouraged to clutch my pearls and speak earnestly about the horrible scourge of size diversity. But, it's easy enough to answer them from a different perspective, and I'd urge BFB members - especially Americans, and especially NPR contributers - to put in their two cents.

Study supports link between dieting, subsequent weight gain

This post discusses dieting and why people gain weight, and may be triggering for some.

An article in July 9th's International Journal of Obesity, Does dieting make you fat? A twin study, by Finnish scientists K H Pietiläinen, S E Saarni, J Kaprio and A Rissanen, supports what size acceptance activists have been saying for decades: dieting is linked to long term weight gain. Most of us have experienced it first hand and watched friends and family members deal with it as well.

I haven't read the article myself yet, as it's not available for free. However, Dr. Arya M. Sharma, Canada's obesity czar, discusses the study in his newest blog entry: Will Losing Weight Make You Fat?.

Dr. Sharma is not a HAES proponent. The title of his article implies his concern is that average-sized people who diet for cosmetic reasons are making themselves larger rather than smaller. I suspect that he still believes that people who are obese by whatever standards he uses (he isn't fond of BMI) should still use restricted eating to pursue weight loss goals, regardless of the fact that it's likely to make them even heavier in the long term.

Most people read reports on studies like this one and read articles like Dr. Sharma's and they come away with conclusions like these:

  • Extreme dieting causes long term weight gain, but 'sensible' diets or 'lifestyle changes' don't.
  • Some types of restricted eating cause long term weight gain, but others don't, i.e. 'ur doing it wrong!'
  • Weak-willed people gain more weight back after losing weight because they go nuts overeating after periods of restraint.

Well, I've seen and heard about all kinds of people yo-yoing upward in weight in response to all kinds of restricted eating plans, including the ones that are considered sensible, including low carb and low glysemic index plans, and including 'lifestyle changes' that are ultimately unsustainable or that incorporate measuring and counting rather than responding to internal cues. I've seen it happen to some of the strongest people I know. Yes, I'm assuming causation here.

I'd like to put forward a different hypothesis. Here it is:

In many (perhaps most) cases, weight gain is caused not so much by eating too much or by eating the wrong foods, as by

  • having an undependable food supply, and
  • alternately undereating and responding to strong, physiologically-based hunger cues and cravings.

This can be caused by deliberate restricted eating, by chaotic eating, by food insecurity, or by any combination of the three.

I'm suggesting that failing to eat satisfying quantities of food regularly - at regular meal times or as regular meals and planned snacks - triggers fat storage. The body interprets it as environmental hardship. Skipping meals, ignoring hunger until it goes away (not just for an hour before meal time), and eating practically nothing for days, then eating a huge meal? This kind of thing mimics the food insecurity that humans would have experienced in primitive conditions. Of course, when you've been restricting your eating and then that big takeout meal comes along and you finally eat to satiety, your body is going to try to store it all as fat. Who knows when your tribe will have an opportunity to kill and eat another delux pizza dinner or three course Indian meal deal? It's easy to see why people would blame the weight gain on the type and quantity of food consumed right before it happened. But what if it's really due to the previous restriction and the chaotic eating pattern?

If a metabolically normal person who has been eating well all along has an unusually large meal, her body will be feeling confident about the continued availability of food, and it will just dispose of the extra calories and/or decrease hunger cues for the next few days. That's why naturally thin people and many non-dieters can feast occasionally without gaining weight.

This would also explain why poor people tend to get fat. They may get enough calories overall (for the most part, being fat does indicate that you're not starving) but they may not be able to eat satisfying meals regularly. Lots of people are poor enough to be food insecure while still, overall, getting enough to eat.

This jives with the Fat Nutritionist's emphasize on dietary structure and variety over content.

This could also be one reason why some food-loving, big-eating nationalities and ethnicities don't tend to get fat. They eat regular, satisfying meals and avoid putting their bodies into fat storage mode. At least, they have until recently. The obesity panic has an ever-widening reach and is starting to affect people who used to eat regularly and without guilt.

In short, I'm suggesting that the restricted and chaotic eating caused by our weight concerns - which are in turn inspired by fashion, the medical weight based paradigm, and the media's anti obesity panic - may actually be making us fatter, world-wide. If it's true, it's pretty damned ironic.

Social contagion? Yeah, right.

Does anyone else remember those "social contagion" studies of a few years ago? The ones that were trumpeted in the press and cited as evidence that obesity, smoking, loneliness and depression are spread through social networks?

I don't know about you, but when I read about those studies, my bullshit-o-meter (a sensitive scientific instrument!) was going NAW! NAW! NAW! and flashing a big red light.

Loneliness is spread through social networks? Seriously? Isn't that kind of self contradictory? And things like obesity and depression, which are not behaviors but conditions that have a very significant genetic component... through social networks? No, I don't think so.

There are so many better reasons that people with these conditions/behaviors might be friends. They might come from the same extended family or ethnic community. They might need to shop for clothing in the same stores. And in general, people tend to seek out others like themselves for friendship. You really have to wonder about the researchers' motivations. Were they were just trying to justify their own snobbishness and social bias?

Well, apparently some experts on statistics thought the same thing, and they've recently published two papers debunking the methods that were employed in the 'social contagion' studies. There's an article in the New York Times, Catching Obesity From Friends May Not Be So Easy, and you can download the full text of both of the new studies for free:

© 2000-2020 Big Fat Blog and its authors, all rights reserved. Big Fat Blog, Big Fat Facts, and Big Fat Index are our trademarks.