What the Hell is Wrong with PETA?

First they did their “Save the Whales” campaign:

In a press release their Vice President, Tracy Reiman, said “Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly is no day at the beach…”

She made a funny. Isn’t she clever?

Then their President, Ingrid Newkirk, actually put the following two phrases in the same blog talking about the billboard campaign (which they eventually took down due to public outcry)

“…our children, many of whom are now so fat themselves that “teeter-totter” has come to describe their wobbly gait…:

“PETA’s billboard was fueled by a healthy respect… for our own species’s potential to be kind and healthy.”

Apparently Ingrid thinks that living up to her potential to be kind includes shaming children.

Today I saw their latest ad:

Here I was wrestling with questions about whether or not the body scans are a human rights violation, and if they can cause cancer.  Thanks to PETA I now know that what I really should be concerned about is whether or not I am stereotypically hot enough in my body scan.  I guess it’s the pat down for me.  In other news, apparently going vegan gives you giant boobs.

Happily the ad was turned down by major airports and Southwest Airlines.

Look, I like animals a lot but I don’t think that in order to be for animals you need to also be for body shaming. In fact, it seems almost diametrically opposed.  Why would you want to protect animals but treat people like crap?  Although she has said it, I do not believe that Ingrid thinks this kind of thing is just the “tough love” us fatties need.  I think that she said – Oh look, the diet industry makes $60 Billion a year using shame, guilt and fear, how can we get some of that action?”

There are plenty of local and National groups that manage to have compassion for animals and people at the same time. It’s not that hard.  If PETA can’t get that done then I don’t know what they hell is wrong with them but I hope they go the way of the Dodo.

The Truth about “Diabesity”

An ABC news online report today lead with the line “Half of all American adults are destined to develop diabetes or pre-diabetes by 2020 if they don’t slim down….” It goes on to talk about the “diabesity epidemic”

While I applaud the portmanteau, I have to come down against horrible, irresponsible, unprofessional reporting.

Being overweight doesn’t cause diabetes. I know that because the American Diabetes Association says on their website:

Myth: If you are overweight or obese, you will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

Fact:  Being overweight is a risk factor for developing this disease, but other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age also play a role. Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes.  Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight. [emphasis is mine]

Obesity is not a disease.  It’s not a diagnosis.  Obesity as we currently define it is simply a ratio of weight and height.  By this definition almost the entire NFL is headed toward diabetes. The only thing that you can tell based on a ratio of someone’s weight and height is the ratio of someone’s weight and height. Obesity has no consistent behavior.  There are healthy fat people, there are unhealthy thin people.

Their “cure” doesn’t exist.  “Slimming down” as suggested by ABC news is problematic at best.  Nobody can prove that any method of weight loss works.  95% of people who attempt weight loss fail.  We blame them and stop there.  That’s like if Viagara only worked 5% of the time and doctors kept prescribing it and them blamed the rest of the guys for just not trying hard enough.  In medicine, if a prescription doesn’t work 95% of the time, we work to develop a new solution.

Correlation is not causation. The fact that two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean that they cause each other.  It’s quite possible that both things are caused by a third factor, or that they are unrelated.  For example studies are starting to show that, in countries where there is no stigma on obesity, there aren’t negative health outcomes of obesity.  More studies are needed to determine if the constant shame, stigma and guilt faced by obese people in the other cultures causes the health issues, or if it’s something else, or if causality can actually be linked to weight.

I’m a fan of health.  I’m for people getting access to affordable, healthy foods.  I’m for people having access to movement options that they enjoy.  Why is that not enough?  Why can’t we be for health?  Why do we have to create a culture of guilt, shame and blame.   If weight loss fails 95% of the time then why not be honest that even if it would solve these health problems (and we don’t know if it would) we don’t know how to get it done.

Then we could start spending all of this omigoddeathfatiscomingforus money creating access to foods that are nutritious and delicious, and movement options that people enjoy. We could pull our health out of the wallets of the diet industry, and put the 60 billion dollars that we pay to them every year into something that actually works.  Imagine what kind of health we could have if we actually focused on health!

Cause or Effect

Cause and Effect.  It’s one of the most basic principles of our Universe and the first thing that I learned in first grade science.

We fat people spend a lot of time being accused of being an effect. People tell us that the size of our bodies is the effect of uncontrolled eating, not enough exercise, sloth, a fast food culture, capitalism, greed, too much wealth and on and on.  People make all kinds of guesses as to what we are the effect of.  Being the effect feels terrible because there is no choice in being an effect.  There is no power.  If you are the effect then you are a baseball sitting on a tee until some kid with a little hand eye coordination steps up to the plate. You end up wherever you end up with no part in the process, subject to the whims of tiny tot tee ball players who are as likely to be picking flowers as throwing you to first.   Lucky for us, it doesn’t have to be this way. They can tell us all day and night how we’re the effect of things, but it never has to stick.  Nobody can make us an effect,we have to choose to believe it – choose to buy into those people’s ideas. But we can choose something else.

When we stand up, speak up, and refuse to buy into the current culture of self-hatred, fat-induced panic, and thin obsession we stop being the effect and we start being the cause.  Being the cause is about being the choice, the power, the reason:

  • The reason that people see us as humans instead of the headless fatties pictured in almost every  article and new report about obesity
  • The reason that  people realize that we are far too complex and different to be shoved all together and called an epidemic
  • The reason that people to start questioning the forces and money behind the messages about weight and health that get served to us on a platter 386,170 times a year
  • The reason that people start to wonder how it is possible for the diet industry to make so much more money every year if their product actually works
  • The reason that people start to question the statistics that they see about weight and health
  • The reason that a fat 12 year old on her 14th diet, being teased and bullied by other kids, her parents, and the First Lady of the United States, realizes that she might be okay and that life might be worth living (that’s from an actual e-mail that I received last week)
  • The reason that someone might choose to stop doing unhealthy things to lose weight and start doing healthy things that actually promote health

An acquaintance sent me an e-mail yesterday after reading my blog.  He said that he believed in what I do but that I was wasting my “time, life, and a first rate mind”.  He said that this battle is unwinnable and that I should spend my time doing something else because the diet industry is so big and the beliefs are so prevalent that it “doesn’t matter what is true”.

Bullshit.

I don’t care how many people are shouting a lie, it ALWAYS matters what is true.   There are people out there, right now hating themselves, starving themselves, not aware that the diet industry that is lying to them about their chances of “success”.  People who believe what they have been told –  that they can never be healthy, happy, loved, or successful until they are thin, and some of them will die trying to get it done.  I’m not wasting my time, life, or mind because it’s not about what effect I have on the diet industry or the views of the majority.

When we stand up to the diet establishment and thin-obsessed culture just by telling our truth, we can be the reason,  the catalyst, that sparks some people to consider other points of view, start asking a lot of questions about the status quo, and consider an option where they actually love themselves and make their goal health instead of thinness. Whether or not that ever happens, we reinforce our self-esteem, body image and good health in the process.  It’s not about changing the world, it’s that I believe that when it’s time to stand up, you stand up. More and more fat people are deciding that they’d like to look back on their lives and say that they weren’t an effect, they were the Cause, and I’m proud to be one of them.

How Does Obesity Cost the Workplace $73 Billion?

I read the headline “Obesity’s Hidden Job Costs –  73 Billion”.  I’m ginormous and as or more productive than anyone I know so  my first thought was “How did they come upon that number?”  I looked up a bunch of different articles online to make sure that they were all reporting the same basic thing, and they were.

So I went to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and paid $20 for the article, which was titled “The Costs of Obesity in the Workplace.”

Allow me to attempt to elucidate, it won’t be easy because this study is kind of a cluster F&$#.  I’ll start with some basics, and include the longer more detailed nerdy explanation (that I love so much) at the end.

The study looked at three factors:  Medical Cost, Absenteeism (not showing up to work) and Presenteeism (being at work but being unproductive).  According to my spell check, presenteeism isn’t a word but we’re going to go with it for now.

According to the articles that I read online, the study was out of Duke University.  That’s true – the lead author is Eric Finkelstein, an associate professor at Duke-National University of Singapore.

Under “acknowledgments” it says “This study was supported by Allergan, Inc.”  It lists that as an acknowledgment, and that’s a problem for me because it should be listed as a conflict of interest. Why?

“Supported” here has the meaning of “funded by”.

Allergan is a pharmaceutical company.  They produce Botox, Latisse (it will grow your eyelashes and don’t worry, that eye discoloration is probably temporary) and…wait for it…the LapBand.  The item used to constrict your stomach as a weight loss surgery option.

Allergan is currently using this study from the good people of Duke Singapore to convince health insurance companies to encourage and pay for lap band surgery because it’s “cheaper than the loss productivity”.  Astonishingly [sarcasm meter is a 9 out of 10] according to this study, the cost of obesity per person was more than the cost of lap band procedures.  Let me muster up some shock…  Sorry – I’ve got nothing.

The study used two sources:

The 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey where BMI data is self-reported, and the 2008 National Health and Wellness Survey which is a series of self-administered internet-based questions fielded by 63,000 members of an internet based consumer panel.  Every piece of information is self-reported and unverified. The $73 billion is an estimated projection based upon statistics that were created by doing computations with statistics and estimates, and statistics of other statistics. There are issues in the collection of data, the control of variables, the use of data (the study authors feel that the words “obesity” and “health problems” are scientifically interchangeable, that fat people’s health problems may be assumed to be caused by fatness, and utilizes BMI which has any number of problems as a statistic in and of itself which I talk about more here), and the conclusions that they drew.

The fact that news agencies reported this information as true without bringing up the limitations and issues is deplorable.  Studies are suggesting  that obese people already make less than their peers and are turned down for jobs based on prejudices about weight.  Now companies may think that they have scientific proof to back up their bias. How many of them are going to pay $20 to read and understand a complicated study?

As always, may I suggest that you DO NOT  need to believe everything that you are told is science, and DO NOT need to take this personally or allow it to affect how you feel about yourself, your health, or your productivity in any way.

Here come the details:

Medical Expenses

The calculation of this is statistically complicated because of the data.  To speak in the vernacular of the peasantry, the data sucks. Basically they used a two part estimate that created four categories of overweightness (hey, if they can make up words so can I) based on the self reported weight.  “Normal weight” were the omitted reference group    They controlled for race, household income, education, insurance coverage, marital status and smoking. They subtracted the average predicted medical expenditures for obese individuals in each category from the average predicted expenditures for those of normal weight.  Then they multiplied that estimated number times the number of people in each category and added them up and extrapolated based on the estimate of obese Americans.

Problems:

First of all, notice the number of times that the words estimate, average, and predicted appear in that explanation.  If I had more free time I would be doing a word count to give you an exact percentage of the number of words that are used in this study that essentially mean “um, maybe…”, there are many.

They also didn’t control for any genetic health issues, or health issues that aren’t even correlated to weight.  They appear to have assumed that any medical problems that obese people had over and above what normal weight people had were due to fatness.  They appear to have assumed that normal weight people’s health issues weren’t related to the same things that cause weight problems in overweight and obese people.  That’s just embarrassingly bad science.

Absenteeism and Presenteeism
This is my favorite.  These were measured based on a question that asked people “During the last seven days, how many hours did you miss from work because of your health problems?” and “During the past seven days, how much did your health problems affect your productivity while you were working?”  Participants indicated their level of work impairment via a rating scale ranging from 0 to 10.  Each response was assumed to represent a percentage reduction in productive work.  Then they annualized and monetized the predictions using age and gender specific wage data from the bureau of labor and statistics.

Problems

Respondents weren’t talking about  how much work they missed or productivity they lost due to their weight, they were answering about their health problems.  What they can reasonably conclude here is that people with health problems have more absenteeism and presenteeism than do people without health problems.  The study’s authors are basically substituting “obesity” (and by that they actually mean high BMI)  for “health problems” .  You can do that I guess, but you probably shouldn’t do it while calling yourself a scientist.

Then, they computed statistics using statistics, and statistics of statistics. Dude. They used a 7 day sample to calculate a year’s worth of data.   Once again, they assumed that any absenteeism or presenteeism over and above what normal weight people had was due to fatness.  Except that overweight men reported less presenteeism than normal weight men.  That was not reported in any news outlet that I could find  EXCEPT the study itself and they  gloss over it.

If I had turned this work in for my very first  intro level freshman research methods class I would probably have failed the assignment and possibly been asked to leave the program because of specific incompetence and general stupidity.  You don’t have to feel bad about yourself – you are fine.  Feel embarrassed for the scientists who put their name on this.  I hope that they are the laughing stock of Singapore.

Do you Need to Eat That?

Thanks to awesome reader Jeanine Adinaro for this submission, just in time for the holidays.  I knew I had to write about it because just the thought of being asked that made my skin crawl.

This is such a loaded question. What do you mean by “need”? Are you asking if my glycogen stores are depleted? If I am near starvation?  If my body at this moment requires the precise nutrients that are delivered by cornbread stuffing covered in gravy? Or do you feel that fostering a relationship with food that is based on guilt and shame is in my best interest?

This question is custom-made to make someone feel ashamed.  I think it’s asked for one of about three reasons:

Judgment

The person asking the question has decided that it is their job to pass judgment on your activities.  Being too cowardly to directly state their opinion, they use this question as a mode of passive aggression to “make you admit it to yourself”.  This is one of those situations where they would probably claim to be mistreating you for your own good, also known around this blog as “Pulling a Jillian“.

If the person asking this question truly cared about you and your health (however misguided they might be), they would talk to you about it in person, alone, at an appropriate time, and they would ask a question that invited dialog, not try to embarrass you in front of people while you’re eating what is supposed to be a celebratory meal. That right there is some bullshit.

Power/Superiority

Remember that some people never got past Junior High and nothing makes them feel so powerful as judging someone else and then making them feel like crap. Maybe because they are drowning in…

Insecurity

The person asking the question perhaps struggles with their weight, their guilt about eating etc. and since they feel guilty for enjoying the food, they think that you should feel guilty about it too, or they want to deflect attention from their behavior to yours.

The degree of difficulty on discerning someone’s intent in this sort of thing can range from “no duh” to “who the hell knows”. Here’s the thing though, from my perspective it doesn’t matter why they are asking it:  I am not ok with being asked, and I get to choose how I am treated (as least when it’s done to my face).

So you’re at a holiday meal, you take seconds on mashed potatoes and someone asks the dreaded question:  “Do you need to eat that?” It seems like the table falls silent, waiting for your reply.  What do you say?

First, quell your rage and resist the urge to put them down (Yes, I do need these mashed potatoes.  Did you need to marry that jerk?)

Second, as with so many situations where people lash out at you, remember that this is about their issues and has nothing to do with you.   If emotions well up, consider that you may be feeling embarrassed and/or sorry for them, and not ashamed of your own actions.

Now find your happy (or at least your non-homicidal) place, and try one of these:

Quick and Simple (said with finality)

  • Yes (and then eat it)
  • No (and then eat it)

Answer with a Question (I find it really effective to ask these without malice, with a tone of pure curiosity.  If you’re not in the mood to have a dialog about this, skip these.)

  • Why do you think that’s your business?
  • What made you think that I want you to police my food intake?
  • I thought that you were an accountant, are you also a dietitian?

Pointed Response (be ready with a consequence if the behavior continues)

  • I find that inappropriate and offensive
  • What I eat is none of your business, and your commenting on it is unacceptable to me
  • I have absolutely no interest in discussing my food intake with you

Cathartic (but probably not that useful if you want to create an opportunity for honest dialog)

  • Yes, because dealing with your rudeness is depleting my glycogen stores at an alarming rate
  • If I want to talk to the food police, I’ll call 911
  • Thanks for trying to give me your insecurities, but I was really hoping to get a Wii this year
  • No, but using my fork to eat helps to keep me from stabbing you with it

Guilt is not good for your health. So I hope that if you choose to eat it, you also choose to enjoy it.

Brought to you by the letters F, A, and T

Ah, my second favorite F word.

My blog is called danceswithfat.  I describe myself as fat on this blog on a regular basis.   Let me say a few words about fat.

For me it a reclaiming term.  That is to say that it was a word used against me by bullies of every stripe to make me feel bad about myself.  My use of the word fat as a self-descriptor is my personal way of saying that those bullies cannot have my lunch money any more.

This is a personal decision for me – I have no desire to convince others to use it.  I honestly don’t care if anyone else uses it to describe themselves.  I do.   That being said, my feeling about reclaiming terms is that I can’t use a term unless I am willing to have others outside of my community use that term.  The caveat to that is that they must use the term with the same connotation and intent.

So if you want to call me fat – meaning that I have a lot of adipose tissue, I’m fine with that.  Just like you could say that I have long hair because I have a lot of hair.  If you want to call me fat in a way that is derisive- trying to make me feel bad and asserting assumptions that by my size you can tell my health, fitness, or anything about me other than my size, then you and I are going to have a problem. And buddy, you might as well stop eyeing my lunch money because there’s no way you’re getting it.

When I’m meeting someone in a coffee shop for a business meeting and I tell them to look for the “short, fat, brunette with her hair up in a bun”  they will often say “Oh, don’t call yourself fat”.  Not even once has someone said  “Oh, don’t call yourself brunette”.

In our culture, fat has become shorthand for any number of negative descriptors including:  unhealthy, lazy, unattractive, unfit, un-athletic etc.  People dread the idea of appearing fat and go to incredibly lengths of discomfort (from being wrapped in essentially plastic wrap and heated to being encased in so many restrictive undergarments that you can feel like some sort of shallow breathing sausage) in an effort for their bodies to appear to be a different size or shape… or just to look a little less fat. I weigh 284 pounds and they make swimsuits in my size that say “Look 10 pounds slimmer!”  Really?  What precisely could I be trying to accomplish by looking  274lbs instead of 284lbs?   But despite the fact that trying to get into one feels like an audition for Cirque du Soleil (I had to see what the hype was about), the woman in the fat girl store said that they can’t keep them on the shelves.  Of course people have every right to do whatever they want with their bodies and I have absolutely no issue with those choices, I’m just suggesting that we examine a culture in which making your body appear smaller can reasonably be considered a higher priority than say, breathing.

For me “fat” is a neutral descriptor.  In truth, it doesn’t accurately describe my predominant body composition since percentage-wise I’m not comprised mostly of  fat, but since I’m squishy and lumpy on the outside  “fat” seems to fit me.

I don’t think that “fat” is a negative descriptor any more than I think “brunette” is negative.  I also don’t think that “fat” is positive.  When I say that I’m part of the fat pride movement, I don’t mean that I’m proud to be fat anymore than I’m proud to be a brunette.  I mean that I am proud to be a successful woman with high self-esteem in a world where I get 386,170 negative messages about my body a year.  I’m proud to live fully outside the cultural standard of beauty and yet be sure of my beauty and sexiness, even in a world where Psychology Today prints an article that asserts: “To understand what it takes to be beautiful, we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means—being sexually appealing to men.”    I’m proud to have made the conscious decision not to diet because my vast research shows that it’s a scientifically unhealthy choice.  I’m proud to be able to say “no” to all of the things that the $60,000,000,000 dollar a year diet industry tries to sell me with absolutely no proof of efficacy. I’m proud of  this blog and incredibly grateful for every person who has ever said it had a positive impact on them.

Those are things to celebrate – those of thing of which I am very proud.

As for being fat?

I am fat.  And that is that.

Does this Blog Make Me Look Fat?

I hope that the furniture fairy brings me this chaise!In

“Does this [article of clothing] make me look fat?”

I’ve heard it from friends, relatives, girlfriends; on commercials, sitcoms, and movies.

I’m sure that there are some out there, but I’ve never met anyone who wanted to be on the receiving end of this inquiry.

Allow me to make a case for just striking this question from all of human speech based on my contention that it has never helped anyone ever:

First of all, unless you’re wearing the Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak or you’re a Predator, you can generally assume that you will look fat or not based upon whether or not you are fat. This is information to which you should have been privy prior to getting dressed.

Considering the above, how many times are you going to change your outfit if the answer is  a consistent yes? Does it have any relation whatsoever to the time at which you are supposed to arrive at wherever you are dressed to go?  Specifically, how “not fat” do you have to look before we can leave for the damn movie?

If getting where we are going on time is more important to me than whether or not that baby doll dress makes your tummy look poochy, (it probably does, that’s what they do) is it acceptable to lie?

If I think that you look both fat and attractive, will this create some sort of [false] paradox in your brain that will cause it to explode.  If a bunch of people think that other people look fat and attractive would it create some sort of Vortex of [False] Paradoxical Doom?

What is the definition of fat?  Absent some kind of clarification, the person to whom you have addressed this question is set up to fail from the start.   Are you asking if that bubble skirt makes your hips look bigger than they are in real life? (Yes it does, by design.) or do you want to know if the clothes make you look like you have a specific body fat percentage or BMI (if that’s the case, then I highly recommend Kate Harding’s BMI Project over on Shapely Prose to show you the futility of that exercise.)

So, I rest my case.

I humbly suggest that your body is amazing.  Just as it is.  The way that I can tell that is that you are alive – breathing, heartbeat, eyes blinking, reading or listening to this etc.  Even if you want to change the size and shape of it, it’s still the body that you are living in now, 100% of the time. I respectfully submit that spending time asking other people if it looks fat probably won’t help with anything.

I’m not made of stone – I understand that this will be a difficult transition for some.  So I’m not asking people to go cold turkey – I’m just suggesting a substitution.  Instead of asking if something makes you look fat, try this instead:    “Does this outfit make me look like someone who asks dumb questions?”