Soundtrack in my head: The Sneetches, “Broke Up In My Hands”
This past Thursday, I had a rant published in the Wisconsin State Journal about myths regarding overweight people.
It was in response to an April 21st letter to the editor that would have been funny if it weren’t sick. The text of that person’s letter is below:
“It’s foolish to accommodate obesity”
“I read with disgust the recent article on the American company, Amplestuff, which is making products larger to fit the obesity trend in our society.
“Most obesity comes from overeating. When I grew up, this was considered gluttony—a sin. The notion of sin seems unfashionable these days, so how about approaching the problem by stressing the negative medical effects of obesity. It affects the circulation, feet, back and heart, not to mention self-esteem.
“Working to alleviate it will promote a healthier society. Making accommodations to enable ill health is absurd.”
So it’s not enough that overweight people are the subject of jokes, ridicule, and assumptions about one’s competence and ability that really have nothing to do with weight. We are now considered “sinners” as well. Now I’ve heard everything.
Here’s the response I submitted:
So an April 21 letter writer “read with disgust” the article about the online company Amplestuff, which is supposedly enabling our sinful habits by selling products that meet the needs of the obese.
If she really thinks that “making accommodations to enable ill health is absurd,” then I challenge her to spend a whole week at work and at home in a blouse and pants three sizes too small. After enduring the serious discomfort, not to mention the potential damage to internal organs, she can then tell us once again what is “absurd.”
I began gaining a lot of weight when I was vegetarian, and eating the same amount of calories as most people of average size. After ten years of observing how my body reacts to different foods, combined with individualized attention from a couple of nutritionists, I have finally figured out how to get to the point where I’m not gaining weight. I don’t need someone to lecture me on the health consequences of obesity—I feel it every day.
Referring to overweight people as “gluttons” does little to promote the self-esteem she purports to uphold. If she wants to join the media in looking at us as discipline-challenged food fetishists continually stuffing our hapless gullets with Big Macs and Twinkies, she shouldn’t pretend that she’s being helpful.
Most experts agree that proper diet and exercise is important in any weight loss plan, but there is wide open debate as to just what a proper diet looks like, and I’ve seen how some diets have actually left people worse off. Frankly, I don’t see Weight Watchers, Dr. Phil or the dietary supplement industry showing much success in reversing the tide of obesity, do you?
If one is going to insert the word “sin” into the debate, maybe we should start with the sin of judging others, particularly those in whose shoes one has never walked.”
I don’t speak out on this often, but the original letter writer above did an effective job of laying bare some of the stereotypes of fat people.
Stereotypes and judgments of others, including overweight people, are ubiquitous largely because they are seldom verbalized. Once they are, the light of day often exposes them for what they are—stereotypes that are no better than stereotypes about people of certain classes, races, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations.
Sadly jokes about overweight people are still considered socially acceptable. (So are jokes about lesbian and gay people.) For Exhibit A, consider some direct quotes from a recent AP article about products geared toward the obese. It starts with the headline “Obesity Products Help Americans Live Large.” If the writer really thinks s/he he’s clever with that pun, there’s more. “…obesity products has found its niche in American marketing. Make that a wide berth.” Hey! Maybe I could write for the AP, too!
And when it comes to weight-loss programs and dieting, the assumption is always that if it doesn’t work, it’s a lack of willpower of the person attempting the diet. How convenient. Can anyone think of any other consumer product where, if it doesn’t work, the manufacturer’s first response is to say that it’s the consumer’s fault? The Bodypositive website http://www.bodypositive.com/wtloss.htm does an effective job of shooting that notion down by pointing out that most weight loss programs do not, in fact, publish data on the short term and long term success rates of their programs, relying instead on anecdotal evidence. Just give me some nice “before” and “after” pictures, making sure that the person frowns in the “before” picture and smiles in the “after” picture and shucks, of course I’ll try your diet or product.
The problem with the diets that are out there is that there’s this inherent assumption that all human beings have the exact same nutritional needs. Diet program pushers are loathe to admit that their programs may not be for everybody—after all, that would cause them to lose business, wouldn’t it? It’s easier to blame the person trying the diet.
The only book on diet that ever made sense to me was “The Metabolic Typing Diet,” written by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey. It starts with the assumption—logical, you would think—that different people have different dietary needs. It effectively documents the extremely wide range of dietary needs among human beings, how the number of digestive enzymes for certain foods may vary widely from person to person (sometimes by a factor of 100!), documenting how ancestry and environment can have an impact, and the dire consequence that may occur as a result of eating foods not compatible with those needs. It then provides tools for figuring out your own personal dietary needs.
So I am in the midst of doing that. I’ve figured out most of the foods that make me gain weight. They aren’t necessarily the foods that the media, the diet pushers and the calorie counters think they are. For the last month I have been mostly avoiding those foods, while not laying other serious restrictions on myself calorie-wise or otherwise. So far I’ve lost ten pounds. Not bad.