Soundtrack in my head: Us3, “It’s Like That”
I’ve posted some things about weight recently that I feel like need some clarifying. Most recently, I posted an (admittedly quite unscientific) survey measuring my “gluttony index.” The point I wanted to make is that fat people aren’t necessarily the discipline-challenged food fetishists that popular culture makes them out to be–though I made the point in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion. Nevertheless, I feel like I need to clarify my views on obesity, since they are fairly complex, and based on, well, first-hand knowledge of the subject over the last decade and a half. So here is my skinny on fat.
1. One of the worst abominations of Western society is how its media and popular culture push unrealistic ideals about what constitutes beauty and desirability. In doing so they cast scorn on tens of millions of people. They cause hundreds of millions of people to hate their own bodies and take often-unhealthy measures in an attempt to conform to an unrealistic ideal. The reality is that beauty and desirability comes in all shapes and sizes (and ages), and the day that this is understood and accepted by the mainstream will be a happy day. I would even bet that the general populace would even be physically healthier as a result of this understanding.
2. That being said, I am convinced that fat does have an impact on health. HOWEVER, and this is a big however, I’m convinced the threshold at which it becomes a problem is MUCH HIGHER than what many doctors and the mainstream media think it is, and it varies from person to person. I believe the mainstream media and some scientists are too quick to associate health problems with weight in situations where the causative effect is questionable.
3. I believe that the War on Obesity will ultimately be no more effective than the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terrorism, because, as is true in the previous examples, the war instigators know little about what it is they are fighting.
4. The overwhelming majority of doctors and nutritionists know little about what causes obesity and how it can be treated or prevented.
5. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, Dr. Phil, diet pill manufacturers, and gastric bypass surgeons are probably not your friends.
6. Unless there is an emergency requiring the rationing of food, any person or organization that puts an average-sized person on a diet of 1200 calories per day or less ought to be immediately reported to Amnesty International.
7. Never, ever, ever ever trust politically motivated nutritional advice. This includes PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). In the interests of being positive, I’ll just say that I would strongly advise them to get out of the business of providing nutritional advice lest they get sued by people who follow their advice and have their health go south as a result. Some also allege that the USDA food pyramid is also politically motivated, with decisions influenced by conflicts of interest. Read and decide for yourself.
8. For those who look at a person’s weight and conclude that there must be some serious issues at the mental or spiritual level—leave the armchair quarterbacking to ESPN.
9. How many diet plans actually publish their success rate?
10. If a diet or nutrition plan does not take into account the fact that different people need different foods, it is useless to the majority of people it seeks to serve. It was a wise person that said, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison,” and this runs truer in everyday life than one may think. One book that illustrates this well from a scientific perspective is “The Metabolic Typing Diet” by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey. I highly recommend it.
11. You can’t go wrong with green vegetables. I don’t know of any diet plan that disagrees with that.
12. Exercise is essential, but a good exercise program will usually not, by itself, lead to weight loss. In 2001, I went to the health club three times a week for rigorous workouts, and at the end of the year, I found that I’d gained twenty pounds. By contrast, my weight has been steady for the last two years and I have had an almost non-existent exercise program (though I want to change that).
13. Food allergies are more frequently a cause of weight gain than frequently acknowledged. In 1996, I lost 30 pounds in three months just by cutting wheat out of my diet, because I realized I was allergic to it. Unfortunately, this was a temporary fix, as I began to develop sensitivities to other grains.
14. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but frequently, overweight people are starving nutritionally. Many feel hungry and eat and eat, but aren’t getting the proper nutrition—so they eat more. There are many possible reasons for this. A person might be convinced that certain foods are essential for him when in reality they might not good for him. Other foods he might think are bad for him are actually good for him, and by not eating these foods, he is actually depriving himself of nutrition. It could also much of the Western diet is lacking nutritionally, either because of food processing or modern agricultural practices that deprive foods of vital nutrients.
15. Hunger is actually an excellent measure of whether you are getting the nutrition you need, and it’s a way more accurate measure of your nutritional needs than Weight Watchers points, calorie counting tables, and most nutrition labels. That being said, if your body is hungry for chocolate cake, it probably needs something other than chocolate cake.
16. Fat people are expected by the mainstream to exercise more discipline regarding the consumption of food and physical activity than what the average skinny person actually does in real life. There are plenty of skinny people who consume unbelievable amounts of pizza and potato chips.
17. Even if a fat person comes up with a sound and balanced eating plan (not a “diet” and hopefully done with the help of a doctor or nutritionist who knows something about metabolic typing) there are often issues of sticking with it. A person who has trouble sticking with an eating plan should first take a critical look at it by taking careful notes of how one feels after eating certain foods (i.e. am I still hungry? Do I feel bloated or slightly sick?).
18. After taking a critical look at one’s eating plan, if s/he is still convinced that it’s the best eating plan for him/her, then (and only then) it makes sense to consider the possibility that psychological or emotional factors might be coming into play, and it might make sense to consult a therapist or a support group like Overeaters Anonymous. I must stress, though that this judgment is for the individual to make, and not an ill-informed third person or armchair quarterback.
Those are my opinions, and they are subject to change as they have many times before…