Fat, Red Bull, and Unnecessary Middlemen

Bad DoctorA story is making the rounds about a woman who was drinking 28 Red Bull Energy Drinks a day (according to several of her quotes, as a way to try to keep up with her three kids).  She developed a health condition called “idiopathic intracranial hypertension.” I have no interest in villainizing this woman, and I have no idea about her circumstances.  What does concern me is that in every story I read about it, the health condition was blamed on her body size.  In fact, almost every article said that it was “caused” by her size.

That is odd for a number of reasons, first of all because people of all sizes get this issue, second because it presented after a period of drinking 28 cans of Red Bull a day, but predominantly because “idiopathic” literally means “of unknown cause”.  Still, everyone seems to be all too happy to blame her weight, and there seems to be little interest in what might happen if she stops drinking almost 2 gallons of Red Bull every day, but doesn’t get her stomach amputated in a dangerous (and highly profitable) surgery.

This is an extreme example of our society’s general tendency to turn weight into a “middleman” where none is necessary.  For example, let’s say a person changes their behaviors in an effort to support their health (knowing that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstance) and they lose some weight (which of course they are almost certain to gain back) and become healthier. In our weight-obsessed society everyone from doctors to weight-loss companies to random people on the internet credit the health improvements to the weight loss, ignoring the behavior changes.

What research actually shows, is that behaviors that tend to have health benefits have those benefits independent of size or weight loss.  But in our effort to glorify making our bodies fit a fairly random height/weight ratio, we tend to overlook the very likely possibility that both the weight loss and the health changes are both side effects of the behavior changes (and that the health benefits may have been possible without whatever restriction was necessary to produce the – almost certainly temporary – weight loss.)

We see this on the other end of the spectrum when a fat patient and a thin patient present with the same health problem, and the thin patient is given an intervention proven to help the health problem, while the fat patient is given a diet.  This seems extra ridiculous given that, since thin people get all the same health problems as fat people, being thin can neither be a sure preventative nor a sure cure.

We can, and we should, have a complete conversation about health without making weight the middleman between our bodies and our health.

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Published in: on August 26, 2015 at 6:47 am  Comments (22)  

22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I recall reading that she had severe migraines for a really long time. Caffeine is used super commonly to medicate against those Most likely she wasn’t able to get the care she needed and, instead, was trying to manage things on her own. The poor woman😦 Severe migraines are hell from what I understand.

    • On the flip side, caffeine is also a known trigger in some people. So she probably got it coming AND going.😦

    • I got horrible migraines within the last five years. It got the point where I had at least 1 a week, once one ended, another began. I had heard that coffee was a treatment, sometimes it helped. I think it was more B3 deficiency, as when I started taking B3 supplements and Nesquick powder, the problem went away. Someone on here (or Fat Nutritionist) said B3 was good for migraines, as at that time I was desperate for any info on how to end them. I don’t think I would’ve gone the 2 gallons of caffeine though.

      PS I like your avatar. 🙂

      • I get fairly frequent migraines (relatively mild ones, thank God) and had never heard of B3 as a possible remedy for it. Thank you for mentioning this.

        • You’re very welcome. I’ve found it a big help. But it is easy to overdose, and can harm the liver. It also turns your pee neon yellow.

          I take a B-multi vitamin that has all the B’s, and only a couple times a week.

    • I don’t get the really hellish migraines, but I get migraines bad enough to keep me in bed for a few hours at a time. They also make me loopy and stupid. They generally start in my neck and upper back and then spread, like a creeping force field. I’ve noticed that if I take a combination of a sugar Pepsi,** Tylenol, and a smallish meal that is high in protein, fat, and carbs* as soon as I feel pain, I can often head a migraine off at the pass.

      *Small serving of scalloped potatoes au gratin; glass of whole milk, poached egg, and toast; chowder with crackers; that kind of thing.

      **Can’t be corn syrup or non-caloric sweetener–I’ve tried them. And I can’t put enough sugar in tea for it to work before it’s sickly sweet.

  2. Yikes, 28 Red Bulls in a day can kill you. That’s a lot of caffeine, and people have died from drinking too many energy drinks. But of course, the article I found about it has to talk about the number of calories she was consuming. *facepalms* Yes, because that’s the really scary part. Oh, wait… no, it’s not.

    • Yep because it’s not just caffeine in those drinks they have other very dangerous things in em.

  3. If she drank 28 cups of black coffee a day (that’s how many calories? I think it’s somewhere near zero), they would still be blaming it on her weight.

    The poor woman clearly needs help to keep up with all her responsibilities. If she’s so overwhelmed as to need 28 servings of caffeine in a day, then of course she’s going to have health problems, likely including headaches, as well as other stress-related issues. A good au paire would probably save a lot of pain for her. But even paying Starbucks prices, you can’t hire a good au paire for that kind of money.

    She has my sympathy. And I’m not even going to touch the comments on any article about her, because I can already picture the ones that will say that she (as a fat woman) has no right to have any children, let alone so many that she needs to have any form of help, whatsoever, in keeping up with them, because only women who are always and forever healthy and strong are allowed to have them, you know. (sarcasm)

  4. A few years ago I had severe migraines and a potential cause listed by my doctor was IIP, but never once did he mention my body size as a reason or recommend weight loss surgery to fix my headaches. Ultimately, it was not IIP, and because he didn’t fixate on my body size, he was able to correctly diagnose and treat me.

    • I don’t know what IIP is, but I assume it is something to do with the head.

      • Idiopathic intracranial hypertension, the same thing Ragen was talking about.

      • It’s a bad headache that doesn’t go away because of pressure. In my sister’s case her body is reacting like she has a tumor without the tumor. She has a shunt to drain fluid because it builds up. She’s had her headache non-stop since mine started at that time after a period without headaches.

        My headaches are cluster headaches and make me want to kill myself. Literally. They are under control and have been for about a month. This means I take Topomax which makes most food taste bad, does weird things to my appetite, and generally feel weird. But I haven’t had daily headaches that make me want to die so I’ll take it.

        • I get severe migraines that stop me in my tracks. I have to shut myself in a dark room with as little sound as possible. Any light feels like daggers in the eyes, and sound is amplified and carries with it massive pain, I get nauseous and can’t stand without feeling dizzy and like I’m going to throw up and fall over. I can’t lay down though as that makes them worse. I can kind of sit-up/prop myself up and try not to think – as that makes it worse too. And just focus on nothing as much as possible. These used to last 8 to 12 hours and I’d get them about once a week.

          For many years from my early teens until my late 20s I had them that severely and that frequently. Strangely enough, once I moved and also changed my diet (started enjoying a lot more fresh vegetables and fruits and a lot less meat) the migraines got WAY better. Now I get them only about once every two or three months (I used to get at least one a week) and they usually, now, only last an hour or two (where as before they would last 8-12 hours).

          I know the move helped (what often triggered my migraines before was allergies – it would start as an allergy headache and quickly get worse). I’ve had a lot less allergies since moving to a dryer climate. And changing my diet also made a huge difference. I wasn’t a big fan of vegetables and fruit before but since moving and having access to more fresh produce I have learned that I actually really like them and eat them frequently now. I also rarely eat red meat which I think has helped me a lot.

          I don’t know if any of that is helpful? But thought I’d share what helped me just in case.🙂

        • Topamax has such weird side effects. I had to quit taking it because it just made me feel so stupid, I kept substituting words, so most of what I said sounded like gibberish.

          I think is a very helpful drug and worthy of taking if the patient and doctor think it’s best for a particular medical condition, but I hate when I hear stories of it being prescribed exclusively for weight loss.

          • My mom was prescribed Topomax (Topiramate?) for years, but it was for a nerve problem in her ankle. Maybe the doc was pulling her leg over what it was for, and was hoping for the weightloss.

            • Topomax is also used for neuropathy, so probably was a legitimate script.

  5. And caffeine is often sold as a fat burner. If all that weight-loss hooplah was true, this woman would be 50 pounds. Here’s an idea – maybe this woman has a set point weight and that is completely independent of her diet or how healthy she is!

  6. A few years ago my internist and ophthalmologist suspected I might have pseudotumor cerebri (aka intracranial hypertension) because my sister has it. The first neurologist was snarky and walked across the room to grab my McDonald’s cup and told me,”stop drinking this and lose some weight.” I was more than happy to tell him it was now ice water and had originally been an iced tea. The next doctor, an opthamologic neurologist was much better, but he told me how he had just been to a seminar where they had just discovered that migraines were being caused by obesity (he’s been practicing forever and is well-respected in the area). When I related all this to my internist she told me they were practicing “lazy medicine.” Because I’ve been obese my entire life and didn’t have these headaches. It’s just easier to write them off as obesity related than solve the real mystery.

    I still have the headaches. I have the number of a new neurologist.Let’s just say I’m hesitant to call and make an appointment…

    • I have these feelings sometimes, influenced by Ragen’s ways to address fatphobes. If they say they went to a seminar, ask which one, and look it up in his presence (if you can, eg. on your phone). The place, convention centre, time, and funding bodies should be enough to find said conference if it really happened. Even if you can’t find 100% what was said, they usually have a listing of titles for each seminar and those presenting, or a theme plus the room. I’ve looked at conference plans and proceedings in the history and religion disciplines, and this is pretty much how it goes. Every conference hands out a schedule, too.

      Also, these proceedings are published in an edited book or journal within 3 yrs. Not sure if they do that for medicine/science, but it’s worth looking into!

    • If you happen to be in the Dallas area, I know a wonderful neurologist. He never once blamed anything on my weight.

      • I’m in Chicagoland so it’s off the downtown hospitals now.


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