I’m Just Concerned for Your Health…

Lisa asked me a really interesting question in response to my blog about ending fat talk starting with yourself:

How would address if you could our society’s so called called concern for the “Obesity Epidemic”. I know as a fat child who was bullied from the time I was very young, for being fat, the concern about my weight was about aesthetics not health. As I rode my bike a lot, walked a lot and was very active and both then and now prior to my wls had no health issues that society tends to blame on being overweight. The health issues I have now are from chronically dieting, becoming bulimic and my gastric bypass. How do we tell all those people who may be genuinely concerned about weight affecting health of how deadly and life ruining it can be to constantly be put on diets and teased unmercifully because of weight?

I have two answers, the technical and the simple:

The Technical Answer

The diet industry started in the 1800s and continues to grow, currently making over 60 billion a year.  Yet statistically, intentional weight loss (whether you call it a diet, a lifestyle change, an eating plan etc.) fails 95% of the time within five years.

Studies of obesity and health problems show a correlation between the two (meaning that, in the study population, the two things sometimes happen at the same time).  There is no proof of CAUSATION – meaning nobody can prove that being overweight causes health issues. The words “in the study population” are important because studies only prove things for the statistical population that they study unless they can control for those variables.  For example, studies performed in the United States typically don’t account for the fact that they are dealing with a population who are constantly stigmatized.  That’s particularly interesting because studies done in cultures where there is no stigma on obesity are finding that there are no negative health outcomes of obesity either.

The measure of what constitutes obesity was created by a committee that included three scientists who were paid by pharmaceutical companies that manufacture weight loss drugs, and the chief scientist of Weight Watchers.  Most of the studies that we see are funded by weight loss companies.  We currently give the diet industry $60,000,000,000 A YEAR of our money.  I would love to see what would happen if we took it out of their pockets and gave it to people who were actually interested in doing research about health.

Bottom line: Nobody has proven that being overweight causes health problems, and nobody has a method of weight loss proven to work (or create better health) more than 5% of the time. Therefore, suggesting that people lose weight to be more healthy is telling them to do something  nobody can prove is possible, for a reason nobody can prove is valid.  It is therefore scientifically unsound and medically unethical to prescribe weight loss as anything other than a 5% chance of weighing less.

The Simple Reason:

I believe that healthy habits have the best chance of creating a healthy body.  I know that health isn’t just about behaviors, it’s also about genetics and access. I can only affect the things within my control.

I think that people who like themselves (including their bodies) are more likely to take care of themselves and make healthy choices than people who are stigmatized into believing that they are  lazy, unattractive, and unhealthy.  I think that if you truly believe that shaming people into hating their bodies is going to have positive health outcomes for them, then you are a moron.

Bottom line:  You cannot make people hate themselves into health. Everyone gets to choose both what they feel healthy behaviors are, and whether or not they want to engage in those behaviors, and their health will still be affected by things beyond their control.  Health is an intensely personal choice for many people and it may be best to keep your concerns about someone else’s health to yourself.  Failing that, I would definitely recommend that you avoid confusing weight with health, and speak only about behavior concerns that you know to be true.  Do not make behavioral assumptions based on body size or health.

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 9:03 am  Comments (16)  

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “suggesting that people lose weight to be more healthy is telling them to do something nobody can prove is possible, for a reason nobody can prove is valid.”

    Oh my. I think we have a winner! This may be my quote of the week. Hell, it may be my quote of the year!

  2. Thanks for posting this, it’s concise and I intend to commit it to memory.

    Forgive me if you’ve already addressed this, but a negative ad came up for me in google ads at the bottom of your post. Is there anything anyone can do about that?

    • I’ve read that if you are logged into wordpress, you won’t get the ads when you visit wordpress sites. You can create a log-in name without creating a blog.

  3. I can tell you from my own expedience that being belittled and forced to diet as a child, I did not grow up with a healthy body image. A obese mother putting her overweight daughter on diet after diet does not make a happy or healthy child. Time after time, I would lose 25-30 lbs just to gain it all back again, plus some. There was constant belittling at home as well as teasing and bullying at school.

    In my adulthood I have made lifestyle changes, again, and have gained it all back and then some. The weight loss cycles in my childhood definitely affected my adult years. Some affects better than others. I can safely say that I feel I provided a better food foundation for my daughter as an infant. Like most people she and I still fall into the trap of instant food gratification. Unlike my mother, I have not belittled my daughter for not being what I want I want to be, at least have dreamed to be; a svelte 130=/- lean, mean sexy machine.

    I do agree that there are MANY genetic factors at work that affect our body size as well as shape. the food we eat accentuates these, be that good or bad. Also, I would theorize that one can be fat or overweight for different reasons; be that food choices, metabolism or lack of activity. Put them all together in the human machine and that can be hard on the health.

    Not wanting to put the cart before the horse and get too far off track, self image plays a huge part in our everyday lives. To believe that one is unworthy of even the basic of a mother’s love because she is not ok is shame full. This trends into society, as this is obvious in the way overweight people are treated.

    Long story short, I agree that the diet industry and society have contributed to grave distortions. Personally I could generate pages of diet evil that I have endured. So I say this, unless one (a professional, clinician, doctor)can directly attribute one’s weight to a modality, leave weight alone for those who aare active and otherwise fit!

  4. Isn’t it also interesting that many times these talks about losing weight for our own good–health: mental and physical–are done so in a demeaning and negative manner? But we’re fat and are supposed to take it all with a smile and a “thank you.”

    Great post!

    xo Susie

  5. Thank you for another great reference I can send people to! I need to start memorizing some of these stats so I have something to back me up when I’m challenged by sizeist attitudes – however, usually by the time you get to that point, you’re dealing with fat fear and hate and the conversation is futile anyway. Anyhoo, that’s besides the point. Great post!

  6. Great post!

    Even when some disease state exists, there is no evidence that losing weight or taking any of the myriad of drugs being foisted on us actually help. The drugs treat the numbers, not the disease.

    We are all being overtested and overtreated. The books, Worried Sick, and The Last Well Person, by Dr. Nortin Hadler are realy eye-openers. Not only fat people, but the elderly, are being browbeaten into tests, drugs, and treatments that are largely ineffective and may do more harm than good.

    If There is No Benefit, Why Tolerate Any Risk?

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Story?id=3232247&page=1

    If you read the comments after this piece, you will see just how angry people get when conventional wisdom is questioned.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this article – you eloquently buck conventional wisdom.

    But being a skeptic I need more information regarding your claim that nobody has “proven” obesity carries health consequences. You use one example of a single study where a conflict of interest is present. What about studies by the CDC? The NHS? Or the WHO?

    Can you shed a little more light on your argument? Thanks.

    • Hi Peter,

      I’m glad that you liked the post. To your question…all of the studies that I’ve read (and I’ve looked at hundreds of them) have shown correlation and not causation. That’s separate from the conflict of interest issue.

      I didn’t use any single study as an example, I made a broad statement about the fact that studies done in the United States typically don’t control for the variable of population stigmatization. When I referred to the determination of measurements of obesity that wasn’t a study, but rather a committee whose recommendation was sought out and accepted in the matter.

      If you have a particular study that you believe proves causation I’d be more than happy to look at it. Otherwise, I know of no study that proves causation.

      Does that answer your question? If not, let me know.

      ~Ragen

  8. Your “technical answer” is a really great overview of the problem with the unquestioned push for weight loss. I’d love it if it linked to some of the studies (especially the one about cultures with no fat stigma), but on the other hand, my bookmark folder of fat studies is already overflowing with things I want to delve into more!

    And this line – “suggesting that people lose weight to be more healthy is telling them to do something nobody can prove is possible, for a reason nobody can prove is valid” – is pure gold! Awesome.

  9. I love this! I struggled with my self image and weight discontent since I was young. I had a strong support system at home that always told me I was beautiful, but social pressures at school convinced me otherwise. Finally this year, I just decided to eat what I wanted and be comfortable with what I look like, instead of the viscous cycle of eating “the right things” and then binging because “the right things” suck. The funny thing is that this year, eating whatever I want and just embracing my body, I’ve lost wight. Go figure. As so as I became confident in myself, my body began to reflect that.

    • Hi Claire,

      I’m so glad that you are having success in your journey and I’m really glad that you liked the post! Of course lots of people who do intuitive eating experience gains in self-esteem, confidence and health without weight loss, but I’m glad that you are feeling more confident and embracing your body.

      ~Ragen

  10. Hello!

    I love your blog!
    Just a suggestion; could you link to the articles regarding the research that you refer to? Is there perhaps a website that posts articles on unbiased research?
    It seems like a lot of mainstream science websites (particularly LiveScience) post stories on research without bringing in any sociological context, and are rarely ever critical of the research that they’re detailing.

  11. Wonderful post! I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said.

  12. I love this post! Thank you so much for talking about this. I am currently working on getting healthy–not focusing at all on weight (for the first time in my life!!), but on healthier eating habits and I hope some exercise in the mix. I struggle with issues of self-worth and with acknowledging my body, so this is a big deal for me. Your blog is becoming one of my sources of support, so that I can remember what I want to focus on, rather than what the diet industry pounds into my head every day!

    Keep on posting these wonderful reminders, and thank you again.

  13. This was amazing, I haven’t been feeling really good, so I have gotten behind on posts, thank you though for your spot on insights.When trying to help people as an anti wls and size acceptance advocate in the wls world, try not to fat hate or be judgemental, I use you the most as a reference, I also reference Kelly Bliss, Jennifer Jonassen and Joy Nash. You said it best too, when you wrote your blog on Jennifer Hudson’s “Can’t” blog several months ago. I was much more capable of doing a lot of things, prior to my wls then after the complications struck. People need to rethink what their actual personal barriers are regarding weight, most of it is mindset. You are an amazing advocate as well as an amazing example fo HAES approach.your insight, strength and grace makes you one of the people I admire the most (note, admire, not obessed with or stalker, LOL) Rock on, Ragen :)


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