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They want our brains!!!

Zombies? No, obesity doctors.

You read that right. Though they want in our brains, rather than eating them up. But part of me thinks they’d eat our brains if it’d “cure our obesity”—after all, it’s for our health!

On Tuesday Nightline covered a story about a woman, Carol, who agreed to be the second person in the U.S. to undergo “the most radical treatment ever devised for obesity,” a treatment called Deep Brain Stimulation. Basically, surgeons drill into her brain and carefully poke around, sending electric currents into her brain until they identify the part that controls her hunger, feeling of satiation, etc. And then they implant “two brain pacemakers” into her chest that will send those same electric currents to her brain. TWO!!! The currents are supposed to keep her, it seems, feeling full enough—meaning they are sending volts into her brain to simulate a feeling “just below [the] threshold of nausea.” According to one surgeon, this will “readjust her weight thermostat so that she can metabolize better and potentially eat less, if that’s what it takes.” Eventually they will have to dial it up a notch to keep her feeling full.

I respect this woman’s right to do this, but I do not respect the doctors/researchers’ endeavor to perform it, nor am I very satisfied with Nightline’s coverage. Martin Bashir doesn’t ask the tough questions, evaluate the risks of this radical procedure or the assumptions it’s based on, or even present more than a flittering critical thought throughout this report. It’s not that Bashir seems all that gung-ho about it, but in the end it is just another booga-booga-OMGtehFats puff piece, rather than an investigative report.

I tend to be long-winded, so I decided to at least organize my long-windedness and post a list of my the top of my head.

1. The contention that “obesity is the most painful problem in the world.” Now, I took that out of context. The actual quote is, “For Carol Poe, obesity is the most painful problem in the world.” If she said this and she feels it’s her biggest problem, I feel really bad for her and what she must go through...not that she’d be the only one who thinks being fat is The_Worst_Thing_Evar ™. We all know that people would rather die than be obeeeeese (or “overweight” or even a little fat); fatness is many people’s greatest fear. But this segment only reinforces the idea that it’s the worst thing that could happen to a person and that we should all be very, very afraid of the fats. The same news show would likely do a story on how young girls are so afraid of fat and not see the connection between girls’ fear of fat and their own reporting.

2. The doctors’ treatment of “obesity” as though fatness is a disease like Parkinson’s. Fatness is not a disease, people. Yet doctors think that since Deep Brain Stimulation worked on Parkinson’s (not sure how accurate that is) they can and should save the world from fat people—and fat people from themselves—using DBS.

3. That’s right, we can’t control ourselves, so they’ve gotta go into our brains and do it themselves. See how much work we make them do? If this procedure “works” (whatever that means), there may be a time when any “obese” person who doesn’t subject themselves to DBS and “brain pacemakers” will be seen as both socially and personally irresponsible. If so, at the same time we will still be lamented for our inability to control ourselves of our insatiable need for instant gratification. A judgment all based on weight.

4. The “Fat Carol” to “Ideal Carol” digital transformation. Really? Like fat people don’t see enough of this on weight loss commercials. The fact that “before” and “after” pictures have become a staple in our culture is evidence that we have some real problems. When we set up any kind of “ideal” body shape/size, we have a problem.

5. This segment addresses nothing about health. No mention of measures of her health before or after. No mention of health other than the cursory mention of her mental health/anguish regarding her fatness and the implication that she is a compulsive eater paired the idea that her compulsive eating is what’s at the root of her “fat problem.” After all, they wouldn’t need in our brains if we could control ourselves. You wanna bet people still come away form the segment assuming this will improve her health? What happens if this woman actually ends up malnourished? This implant is manipulating signals sent to her brain about what her body needs; it completely suppresses any chance she would have of listening to her bodily cues regarding hunger and nourishment.

6. According to the segment, this woman is 230lbs. I think a simple WTF covers this.

7. Surgeon guy: “For some it may seem radical that electrodes should be put in the brain, that someone should be doing brain surgery for obesity. But I think we’ve gotten through that.”
Me: Uh, no we have NOT.

8. This is not scientific, at least not in the sense that we can deduce anything whatsoever. (Though the fact that they know so much about the brain is pretty friggin cool, if scary.) There is no control group. She’s just one woman, and she’s doing things in addition to getting the DBS implants that might affect the outcome. Not to mention the possible placebo effects of something as serious as brain surgery. And on top of all this, we have just seen a snapshot of her experience. We in no way know what the future holds for her or whether eating less would make her thin or even “overweight.” And yet people will assume. And we will continue to suffer from their poor assumptions because when you are addressing OMGtehFatness you don't have to think critically, ask tough questions or give an accurate portrayal of risks and benefits.

Finally, I have been really trying to create “action steps” lately...but on this one I am not seeing a clear path. I did tweet Nightline a piece or two of my mind, not that they paid any attention. Maybe we should suggest that Nightline do a segment on weight discrimination and prejudice in health care and the real health consequences of both, or a segment on HAES. Any suggestions?

More info on this from Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science

Shout-Out: Linda Bacon's 'Health at Every Size' | Help NAAFA change Nevada laws on weight discrimination

BabySeal March 13th, 2009 | Link | This is deeply troubling and

This is deeply troubling and disturbing stuff.

richie79's picture
March 13th, 2009 | Link | I've always said that some

I've always said that some day in the future WLS will come to be regarded with incredulity as the frontal lobotomy of our time, especially if (as seems to be proposed with increasingly alarming frequency) it ever becomes compulsory for certain people or groups. This disgusting and unnecessary procedure is even closer to that because it involves interfering with the delicate and complex mechanisms of the human brain - the very essence of who we are. Like WLS it's a sledgehammer approach to the 'walnut' of physical non-conformity to an externally imposed ideal which becomes more rigid and unrealistic by the day. They'll do anything to make us fit their mould without ever considering whether the mould itself might be flawed. And as I've said in the past with reference to genetic obesity treatments, these know-all scientists mess about with natural processes that have served us well over millennia at all our peril. The current stable and plentiful supply of food may not always be around to take for granted.

"if you think fat people have no self-discipline, consider the fact that they haven’t killed you yet." - Miss Conduct, Boston Globe

shinobi42 March 13th, 2009 | Link | Oy

Yeah, there is no way that her body is going to desperately fight to find another way to make her eat something. It's totally just going to go along with this.


fatthought March 13th, 2009 | Link | Back to the 1950's

Ah - so the equivalent of frontal lobotomy and electric shock are now being used to "control" a (supposedly) fat woman, instead of being used on women who didn't fit the 1950's mold of docile domestic contentment.
Never mind that there are no control groups or studies on the effectiveness, lack thereof, or follow-up to tell whether this affects her brain, bodily health (the two are intimately linked anyway), or life quality.

I think it is really time for FatLand - a place where all these procedures are outlawed. Any ideas as to where this should be?

vesta44's picture
March 13th, 2009 | Link | This is not the only attempt

This is not the only attempt at brain surgery that is being considered for treating the "obesity epidemic". Already in Phase Two human trials is surgery that implants an altered virus in one's brain to control appetite and trigger weight loss. The article mentions several trials with mice, but only gives partial results of one trial.
This surgery also entails drilling two holes in the skull, implanting the virus in a specified place (with a back-up altered virus to shut the first one off if it doesn't shut itself off after the "necessary" amount of weight has been lost). No mention of what happened to the mice in the other trials. No mention of how many mice died from this procedure, no mention of how many mice suffered adverse effects such as stroke, stroke-like syndrome, depression, memory problems, psychiatric/behavioral problems, or possible infections, just to name a few.
When I blogged about this here, I asked if we really want to apply those unknown statistics to human beings. I know, as a fat person, I sure as hell don't want them applied to the fat population, but the medical community is a whole 'nother ball o'wax. I can hear them saying that those effects are worth suffering, just for the chance to be thin. But under it all, in their minds, is the little niggling thought that if fat people die from it, that's one less fat person to breed more fat people, just like they have those thoughts with WLS. I don't care what they say to a fat person's face about WLS or any other experimental crack-pot idea they come up with to try and make naturally fat people unnaturally thin, it's not about our health, it's all about getting rid of our unsightly (to them) fat bodies, and if we don't get thin and die in the process, oh well, that's the price fat people have to pay (and if we do get thin and still die in the process, then that's still less fat people in the world to breed more fat people).
Bitter and cynical don't begin to describe my feelings on these kinds of attempts by the medical community and their asshat researchers who think that being fat is a fate worse than death and dismemberment. After all, they have fat people who are desperate to be thin (at any cost, up to and including death and dismemberment) to escape the discrimination and fat-phobia they face on a daily basis. Been there done that, and all I can say is a big FUCK YOU to those researchers and the medical community who support them.

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

withoutscene's picture
March 13th, 2009 | Link | Vesta, I saw your post on

Vesta, I saw your post on that and meant to mention it, but was in a rush and forgot. Sorry! Thanks for bringing up this other procedure. They are coming at us from so many angles...

MichMurphy March 13th, 2009 | Link | I have to admit, I never

I have to admit, I never watch shows like this, because the outrage factor is just too much for me. I'm glad other people have the stomach for it, though, because it should be addressed.

It would be wonderful if they would do some balanced reporting about weight bias or HAES. I'm not sure how we could convince them to try it, however -- anyone have any pull with Nightline?

(And, might I say, how nice it is to see a new BFB post come up on my reader?? Thanks!)

DeeLeigh's picture
March 13th, 2009 | Link | Maybe it's just my fatigue

Maybe it's just my fatigue on this issue talking, but seriously... Anyone who'd agree to experimental brain surgery for weight loss doesn't have much to lose, mentally. Especially if they only weigh 230 pounds.

LWalker March 17th, 2009 | Link | LOL @ DeeLeigh. You GOT


rebelle: The word "quackery" doesn't even begin to cover the description of what those doctors are trying to do!

Can you imagine the fuct-up-ed-ness of the commercials for this?

Can't lose weight the "traditional" way? Get BRAIN SURGERY!! Puzzled Puzzled Puzzled

I tried everything from magic powders to pills to exercise, and NOTHING worked until I went to my doctor and got a lobotomy! Now, I NEVER feel hungry and I am ALWAYS losing weight!

And like lambs to the slaughter, many will end up falling prey to this mess.......

rebelle March 13th, 2009 | Link | Quackery. Sheer quackery.

Quackery. Sheer quackery.

pani113's picture
March 15th, 2009 | Link | You Called It!

Lobotomies done in the 50s for homosexuality, "rebellious" women, and anything else deemed socially unacceptable at the time is the best analogy. All the previous posters hit the nail on the head.

I can muster absolutely no sympathy for the women in the story. How can anyone be that weak willed they think that their weight at a mere 230lbs is their biggest problem? That there are people that impressionable in the world, who so let themselves be manipulated by the media, it is hard for me not to see the silver lining in the financial crisis. At least it will show them what real problems are. I am a social scientist. I have learned all about why people succumb to victimhood. For heaven's sake, turn off the t.v. set once in awhile! Sheeplehood is reversible!

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

fat_chic's picture
March 15th, 2009 | Link | profoundly disturbing

Other commenters have already pointed to the historical cycle regarding lobotomies - I swear that there's an evolutionary twitch that causes a species to wage war against frontal lobes of people demonstrating variant genetic traits.

I do think that if this practice gets more press coverage, it's in our best interests to protest it. The entire idea is freaky.

You can find me at:

vesta44's picture
March 16th, 2009 | Link | Okay, You really want the

Okay, You really want the shit scared out of you? Read this post by Sandy at Junkfood Science. The risks have been far understated, and from what I can tell, the odds of it working for permanent weight loss are slim and none (and slim just left town, folks). The odds of having a severe complication from it? Greater than from weight loss surgery, and the odds of complications from WLS suck big time. The doctors shouting the praises of this need to ridden out of town on a rail (after they've been tarred and feathered) and ABC's Nightline producers should be shot, right along with the reporter who covered this without doing any research on what really happens with it. The kicker in all of this - even with the electrodes still implanted and still electrocuting your brain, the weight loss isn't permanent (gee, tell me something I couldn't have figured out on my own). How many times do these fuckwad asshat jerkbags have to be shown that being fat is NOT a fucking disease and that there isn't a damned thing you can do to SAFELY and PERMANENTLY alter a fat person's weight?
Times like this are when I wish Mother Nature had an actual physical presence so she could knock some sense into these fat-phobic idiots, because all the failures they've had sure as hell aren't getting through to them.

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

Moody Blue's picture
Moody Blue
March 20th, 2009 | Link | Two things randomly popped

Two things randomly popped into my head while reading this:

1) Nazi Germany and creating the "master race"

2) The Stepford Wives

Wanderer's picture
March 21st, 2009 | Link | Random?

Moody, that's about as random as calling "heads" on a two-headed nickel. Altering the brain to control the body was one of the experiments at Dachau (the "medical" concentration camp), and this cow-pie of a "medical answer to obesity" isn't far from it.

To be fair, DBS works on Parkinson's; just ask Michael J. Fox, who's had it done. But even then, the results aren't permanent.

kirablue March 21st, 2009 | Link | she is ok

It seems like she was doing pretty good at the weight she was at. Perhaps just taking in some walking or other gentle exercise to keep flexible (although she may already do that), would be important at her age. Her dog would enjoy it. Also, she drank too much Pepsi (how about juice if you don't like water?) Other than that it would seem she would benefit from some counseling or other support because of her thinking patterns. That is, thinking people are snickering at you as you walk down the street? That surprised me, I never noticed anything like that. She needs the support of someone who can point out her good qualities instead of her focusing soley on her weight. She seems like a nice, upbeat person.

Moe's picture
March 31st, 2009 | Link | And I thought stomach

And I thought stomach surgery was pretty invasive. This really blows that. 230lbs? Sounds more she's like a lab rat than anything. And we all know how that works out.

Bilt4Cmfrt's picture
April 2nd, 2009 | Link | Ok, for me, this kind of

Ok, for me, this kind of thing has a Cringe Factor that just jumps right off the charts. I can't help but keep flashing back on Jeffrey Dhamer and the weird 'brain experiments' he would preform on his victims before eating them.
It completely sqwiks me out.

Physical mutilation is one thing but, messing with the brain? I mean, one nervous jitter from an over eager surgeon and suddenly you can't remember anything for more than five minutes at a time! Why would anybody WANT to do something like this if the alternative wasn't certain death?

Barf! We are one twisted society.

Learning How to Logic- Lesson #1
Q: How come there weren't any fat people in Concentration Camps?
A: There were. They were the ones who's metabolisms allowed them to
survive starvation.

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