Commentary: ‘Fat is NOT Fabulous’

Not too long ago, I saw a provocative title on my Facebook news feed — “Fat is NOT Fabulous: How the Obese are Endorsing Obesity”.  It came from the folks over at The Family Podcast Network, and while I generally appreciate their no-nonsense, blunt approach to most topics, I have to admit that I had mixed feelings after reading the post.  Upon seeing the title, I was interested, but I have to admit that I was already imagining the kind of stuff I was going to read.  I envisioned a commentary on the ugliness, gluttony, and downright worthlessness of fat people.  (No, I’d never read her blog before.  I’d only listened to Trey’s podcast up to that point.) I was admittedly defensive before reading the article through.

After I loaded the article and began to read, I noticed that I was feeling even more defensive.  The poster was warning us that many would find the article offensive.  “Oh great! Here we go,”, I thought.  “More disparaging of fat people.” I reserved judgement though and read the article in its entirety.

The author made many excellent points about society’s view of obese people.  However, she seemed to be suggesting that the trend in today’s society toward “fat pride” comes about from a fat person’s inability to take responsibility for his or her own choices.

While I actually agreed with many of the things she said in her blog post, I felt she was WAY off base on one particular topic.  The comment that weighed most heavily (no pun intended) on my mind was, “However, obesity is not a personality trait.  Obesity is a choice.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that obesity is just something that happens to us like old age or gray hair.  There are choices that we make which affect our weight, but it’s definitely not that clear-cut.  In my journey, at least, I was obese in grade school.  You can’t honestly believe that a fifth-grader CHOOSES to weigh 155 pounds.  And even when an adult knows that it’s time to choose a different path, it can be nearly impossible if you’re trying to change using the information that comes from the government and the diet industry.

Many months ago, I posted a story about doctors’ impressions of fat people.  The doctors surveyed thought of fat people as lazy, non-compliant, and disgusting.  I’ve never understood this impression of fat people as “lazy” because most fat people I know have more determination and have to work harder at EVERYTHING than most skinny people.  Think about bad diet advice.  Before low-carb, I’d done all sorts of things that were extreme and crazy because I really didn’t want to be fat anymore.  The reason those things didn’t work had a LOT more to do with the flawed logic behind them than my ability to stick to the plan.  No wonder some fat people just give up.  When you hit your thumb with a hammer enough times, you eventually get used to the idea that you’re never going to hang that picture in your living room.  We humans are smart like that, and it’s hard to convince us to try a different strategy when we’ve failed so many times before.

Believe me.  I get the author’s point about taking responsibility, but many times, we have to meet people where they are.  Yes, I CHOOSE what I put in my mouth, but even that’s not enough to overcome obesity.

I was listening to the Bulletproof Executive podcast for the first time today, and interestingly enough, it happened to be a podcast with Jonathan Bailor who’s writing “The Calorie Myth”.  He used an interesting analogy that I’d never heard before, but I thought the point was so important.  In so many words, he said that telling people to just eat less is like telling them to go to the bathroom less or to only sleep four hours a night every night for the rest of your life.  Our need to eat is driven by many things, and a lot of those things are hormonal and autonomic processes that are meant to maintain homeostasis.

Now just to be clear, I agree with the author that there’s a psychological component to overeating in a lot of people.  There sure is for me.  But I can HANDLE that psychological component WITHOUT food if I’m eating a real food, high fat, ver low-carb diet.  If I’m eating low-fat, high-carb, all bets are off! The biology, at least for me, overrides the psychology.

I’d also like to point out that I think the “fat pride” folks are part of the very vocal minority.  Because they’re so vocal, they get all the attention, but I don’t think they represent the majority of fat people.  The majority of the obese, anyway, AREN’T comfortable for a myriad of reasons, and it doesn’t help that we’re constantly judged.  That judging that people do does tend to put us on the defensive.  The key is learning to balance that tendency with what’s happening in reality, and that can be really difficult sometimes.

Here’s an example from my own life.  When I was in college, I was desperate to lose weight, but my efforts were unhealthy and misguided.  I’d lost close to 40 pounds, but I was still overweight by about 25 pounds.  I went to the university’s health center because I was having trouble with my gallbladder, and the PA did an abdominal exam (of course, because I was complaining about my abdomen.) Anyway, she pulled up my shirt and recoiled in disgust.  “Wow! You have a LOT of stretch marks!” I was so embarrassed, and I just wanted to cry.  I remember thinking, “But you don’t know where I’ve come from.  I’m trying to do the right thing, and you’re still treating me like I’m some piece of rotten meat.  I’m a work in progress here, OK?”

I have no fondness whatsoever for political correctness.  As a blind person, it’s caused WAY too many uncomfortable situations with folks who fall all over themselves trying to figure out how to talk to me.  I think, though, that there’s a difference between being PC and being respectful to your fellow humans.  As a Catholic Christian, I truly believe in treating others the way I want to be treated, and in my book, that means being honest, respectful, and kind.  (No, I’m not talking about that sickly sweet, goodie-two-shoes kind of kind, but I think most folks can figure it out.)

I also think that we have to deal with obesity problem from a different angle than the one that most physicians and the government would advocate.  Eating high-carb, low-fat doesn’t work long-term for people who’re broken, and like I said before, that kind of eating can make us a lot more susceptible to the emotional stuff that can encourage patterns of yo-yo dieting, mental illness, addiction, and more.

I wish more people understood the degree to which the foods we eat affect us.  Just yesterday, I was listening to a Jimmy Moore podcast with Sam Faltham.  Sam was talking about his 5,000-calorie experiments.  To summarize, he at around 5,000 calories following a low-carb, high-fat plan.  During the test period (21 days), he gained less than 3 pounds.  Then he did another 5,000-calorie, 21-day experiment where he ate junk.  He gained almost 16 pounds, he felt absolutely dreadful, and he could have easily eaten still more calories.  (To contrast, with the high-fat diet, he was literally choking his food down sometimes.)

As a low-carber, those results don’t surprise me in the slightest.  I wasn’t at all surprised by the fact that he still felt like he could eat more calories when he was eating 5,000 calories worth of junk each day.  I’ve been there! I’ve done that.  Eating that way triggers more cravings, it lowers our “will”, and it leaves us feeling completely out of control.  So how can someone say with a straight face that obesity is a choice when a person is compelled with their whole being to keep the junk coming? It’s a miserable way to live, and it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.  What’s more, what choice does a person have if they don’t have the right information? More of that “count your calories, eat healthy whole grains, and just get off the couch” advice can be something akin to mashing your thumb with that huge hammer again.

I truly think that it’s easier to talk about obesity as a choice once people have the right tools.  Then, if they choose to ignore those tools, that’s on them.  I still contend though that the majority of obese people today are left with a lot of non-option options, so I can’t say that I blame some folks for making peace with the fact that they haven’t found the right answer yet.  It’s not how I’d do things, but I really can’t judge others since I haven’t walked in their shoes.

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