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Quest for Thinness

Dear Weight Watchers, I have two letters for you.

I intended to write about this article by Japanese scientists that says fat people are more likely to live longer than thin people (yay fatties!), but I got sidetracked by how annoyed I was that we are still wasting so much time, energy and cash trying to figure out what size our bodies need to be so we can live the longest, healthiest, happiest life when millions of people in the world are genuinely suffering. Which led me to this:

You know what I would like to see? I would like to see Weight Watchers STFU about fighting your body's own signals of hunger and actually do something to FIGHT HUNGER. With all of the cash they're raking in making people feel bad about themselves and their choices, they could certainly buy some grub for some needy folks.

***at which point I had to stop and Google search just to make sure they weren't already doing this, because you never know, and, lo and behold, they actually are! Sort of. But you know what's gross about the whole thing? Not just the part where they pay out for pounds lost, there's also this fine print:

For every 1 million pounds lost during the campaign period, Weight Watchers will donate $250,000, up to $1 million. Pounds lost by Members will be determined by average weight lost per meeting attendance during campaign period multiplied by total number of attendances during campaign period.

So hypothetically, if you gain weight during the campaign period, Weight Watchers will take their money back. If you weren't already feeling guilty that your body isn't small enough, now because of you, hungry kids won't get to eat. Way to go fattie.

The fact that WW chooses to base the amount of its charitable gift not on a concrete action but on a physiological result that it well knows is beyond a person's immediate control (otherwise WW'd be out of business by now, right?) just highlights how clearly profit-driven their motives are and how much they do not give a shit about helping anybody but themselves.

You know, I've never really sat down and thought about this at any great length, but I really really hate those guys and the impact they have on women and men in our culture. I hate the fact that every now and again perfectly nice people in my office flog diet culture at me because of their stupid WW at work program. I hate the pyramid scheme cultishness of the whole thing, how they infiltrate local schools and churches, how they plaster ads on just about every website I enjoy, how their main enemy is A VITAL BODY SIGNAL called hunger (who is actually a rather cute little fuzzy orange thing).

I hate how they lie about their effectiveness over and over, how they pretend to not be a diet, how they support the idea that if a person isn't losing weight, he or she must just not be trying hard enough, how they've been in the weight loss business for 36 years and they still can only demonstrate an average 6.6 pound weight loss per person per YEAR. Know how much it costs to be a WW member for a year? $360 bucks. That's almost $60 per pound, people. Their product doesn't work worth a darn and they're still making money hand over fist.

There is not a middle finger in the world big enough for what I would like to convey to Weight Watchers and the diet industry in general. It's the only line of business I know of where it doesn't remotely matter if the product works, people will still clamor for it. The whole thing just makes me ill.

There are worse things than being a fat bride

This article just broke my heart. Samantha Clowe didn't want to be the dreaded "fat bride", so she dutifully got permission from her doctor and started following the LighterLife diet plan. It certainly seemed to her eleven weeks on the diet Samantha decreased her BMI by two whole points. Then she collapsed and died.

My heart goes out to Samantha and her family. I can only imagine the thoughts that might have driven her to choose the plan, like longing to fit her body into society's favored mold, the idea that whoever she was now wasn't good enough to stand up in front of her friends and family and get married. Maybe, like many dieters, she believed that this fat thing was only temporary and if she could just find the right plan and just try hard enough, she could finally be "normal" and, therefore, "happy".

I will confess, I have had these thoughts too. Some not even all that long ago. You know why Samantha and I and millions of other people have felt this way? Because somewhere along the way as we were growing up, enough people told us that our bodies were wrong that we started to believe it. Some of us believed it so much that we tried whatever we could to make our bodies behave and were thwarted when they fought back and grew even bigger, further outside of the realm of okay. Eventually, some of us were so freaked out by being fat that we gladly paid someone to cut into our bodies and mess with the way our digestive systems worked, all so we could finally be..."normal". The thing is, there are a million different kinds of bodies out there. "Normal" doesn't really exist.

The thing that really incenses me about this article is that the LighterLife people are blaming Samantha's death on the fact that she started out all deathfat so she was probably just a ticking timebomb anyway. So it seems we are doomed to death even if we go along and do as we're told to conform. What a load of crap.

Samantha was only 11 weeks into the program but on the LighterLife website they say women should do it for 14 weeks or even more if they want to lose more weight at the end of that time. This is at least the third death linked to LighterLife. I wonder how many more people have to die while following their program before someone finally shuts them down.

Update: As suggested by MichMurphy, I've started a photo gallery for fat brides on flickr. Feel free to join, post any and all fat bride photos and pass on the link to all of your fat bride friends! Here come the Fat Brides!

Skinny thighs bad

I just came across this article at MSN describing a study that says folks with skinny thighs have a 50-100% higher chance of developing heart disease than their thick-thighed counterparts. Of course, they're quick to mention that this is not a "free pass for people who want to skip the gym", or, presumably, for fat people to start loving their fat thighs. Certainly they wouldn't want to give the impression that a nonskinny bodypart would be 'okay' and 'not deadly'...lord knows those fat people are just looking for an excuse to not lose weight.

The comments are somewhat fat-hating, as expected, but I also found it amusing that so many people were skeptical of the study's results. Wait, so the studies about how fat people are just going to drop dead are beyond reproach but this one is complete BS? Sounds fishy to me...

MeMe Roth is Made of Crazy

Look at this poor woman. Doesn't it look like maybe she needs a big ol' fat hug? I concur.

The thing I like about MeMe Roth is that she is such an easy target. She wears her hatred and her bigotry on her sleeve, has no good advice to give, and 99% of the time comes across to even fat-phobic reporters as bat sh*t crazypants. Aside from the fact that she is all about the fat hatred, there are two things I don't like about MeMe:

1. She gets a lot of attention from the media for her anti-fat blather
2. I am starting to really feel sorry for her

I mean, how could you not? She's so delusional! She insists she's not anorexic, in fact says she's "never been on a diet", but then in the next breath talks about how she doesn't eat breakfast, forces herself to work out before eating during the day, and finally admits that, the day of the interview, which occurred at 3:30 PM, she hadn't eaten at all! Sounds like disordered eating to me.

The article says her (fat) family finds her crusade to be hurtful, so I can imagine that family get-togethers are probably strained and uncomfortable for everyone involved. On second thought, I really feel sorry for her kids. MeMe comes across as so cold and controlled that I can't imagine she's all that warm of a mom. Not to mention what hell it must be to grow up in a house where no one eats. I hope I'm wrong about that, but I bet I'm not.

She just seems so intensely unhappy, so rigid, so devoid of joy that I can't help but feel empathy about the lifetime of hurtful experiences she must have gone through to get to this place. That woman does NOT like herself. Not even a little bit. Sure, I absolutely hate everything she stands for and most of the time I really wish she would just stuff a sock in it, but the sad little fat girl inside me recognizes that the sad little fat girl inside her really just needs some love. I hope one day she finally gets it.

Thanks Jenny!

Logic? What's that?

Okay you're telling me that people who are fat in middle age and then lose weight have a higher risk for health problems when they're old? And it doesn't occur to you that the weight loss itself could be causing the health problems? Aren't you, like, a scientist? Cause and effect? Ring any bells?

Thanks Jean!

Thoughts on Fat Camp?

Hey folks! withoutscene gave me a heads up to this article over at Sociological Images regarding fat camp. I had some experiences with fat camp when I was younger so I figured I'd post a comment:

I went to fat camp for three years in my mid-teens. I enjoyed being there a whole lot more than I enjoyed being in the outside world but there was definitely a hierarchy of fatness and there was plenty of fat shaming and unhealthy food behavior perpetuated. The camp I went to inexplicably also allowed girls with restricting eating disorders to attend, only they had to come up to the kitchen and eat extra snacks before bed to keep their calorie count up. I can imagine being in an environment where everyone is pushing eating less and exercising more could be a serious triggering thing for an anorexic or bulimic person.

My camp was pretty much the same as the previous commenter described, low calorie meals and exercise all day long. I definitely lost weight by the end of the summer and was happy about it because my parents were happy, but once I got back to reality the weight came right back on and it was back to the dysfunctional power struggle between my parents and my fat. They ended up sending me back two more summers but finally we just couldn’t afford it anymore. It’s not a cheap way to spend a summer, which is another sociological consideration because most of the kids there had pretty rich parents.

So. I can’t speak for every kid who has had a fat camp experience, but I knew I was there because my parents thought there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed. It was not just a fun time. To an extent it felt like camp was my atonement for not fitting the mold. The fact that I enjoyed interacting with other kids like me at camp didn’t really ever make up for that.

As I was writing I became curious about the rest of the fat community out there. Did you go to fat camp? Were your experiences similar to mine or totally different? Do you think your experiences shaped you in a positive or negative way? If you never went to fat camp, did you ever want to? Other thoughts?

I went to Kingsmont, by the way. Anyone else?

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

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