My friend #Cinda Warner Gorman passed along a Huffington Post article to me from September 2018 that I somehow managed to miss. Entitled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong,” it is a long but highly interesting read well worth your time. https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/everything-you-know-about-obesity-is-wrong/
This is a scathing rebuke of the medical and public health community for endorsements of policy aimed to address obesity that have been disproven in clinical trials again and again. It is an equally scathing rebuke of how we have treated fat people, creating a culture against them built on a foundation of bias, humiliation and shaming.
The statistics given were stunning. Starting with the fact, the basic fact, that diets do not work 95 to 98% of the time. That is based on research going back to 1959. Moreover, two-thirds of dieters will regain back more weight than they’ve lost. The diets that are least effective are those offering meal replacements—yet, it is hard to see the Jenny Craigs of this world closing their doors or altering their business models anytime soon.
There was one fact, though, that simply shook me: the chance of an obese woman achieving a normal weight—as defined by body mass index—is 0.8%.
My first thought was that I must be pretty special! (Okay, stop rolling your eyes, that thought only lasted two seconds.) Understanding that I am absolutely not, my second thought was “well hell, why should anyone even bother?”
The article went on by explaining some of the other things we know about obesity. First, obesity is not a measure of health. You cannot look at a person and judge them unhealthy because they are overweight. Instead, their health is more appropriately measured by their habits—how active they are and what they eat, for instance.
It discussed the emotional toll of obesity, but more in terms of how society treats overweight people than how overweight people initially view themselves. In other words, the shame is initially external before it is internalized. It is learned. I shuddered when I read that although being overweight is the number one reason for bullying in schools, twelve states send home “BMI report cards.” I still have nightmares about standing in line in gym class to be weighed with no privacy to be had.
Here is where I was most shocked: “Diet is the leading cause of death in the U.S., responsible for more than five times the fatalities as gun violence and car accidents combined.” This is the kicker: it isn’t the amount of calories we are consuming, which has actually decreased since 2003. It is what we are eating, the quality of our food system itself.
Processed foods, foods high in sugar and low in fiber, food injected with additives, now make up 60% of the American diet. That impacts all of us, no matter what our weight is.
Starting with the doctor’s office, we should be focusing on our level of activity and the types of foods we are consuming.
Intensive, multi-component behavioral counseling has been shown to significantly lower rates of prediabetes and cardiovascular risk, and is a recommendation of the U.S. Preventative Task Force. Supportive care, a team approach, working with a dietitian.
That sounds strangely like what happened to me. Dr. Joe spoke to me with compassion, caring and understanding. He offered his team to work with me. He gave me continuous encouragement and talked with me—not at me—about what I was doing.
I decided not to diet, but to just limit portion sizes. While I was doing that, I gave up the bottled diet salad dressings and made my own vinaigrettes. I have been making all the bread we consume for over a year. We eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and I have found ways to make them delicious. I only buy sustainable, wild-caught fish. Our portion sizes for meat have decreased dramatically and our consumption of red meat is an exception rather than a rule. While Marc is still deeply and defiantly devoted to meat, we both have one meatless meal a week and I usually have two or three.
There is more I can do, and I will focus this year on decreasing the percentage of processed food we consume even further. It isn’t just for me, it’s for both of us. If the measure of health is no longer weight, finding a better way is a loving choice for any family.
So, this probably all begs the question: should we even bother to lose weight if we are overweight or obese?
My answer to this is the same as it has been since I’ve started this blog. There are good and important reasons to lose weight. If your weight has created a toll on you either physically or emotionally, then it is important to address that. The way to address that, though, isn’t to focus on your weight. Instead, focus on your activity—here comes the exercise portion of the blog!—and on the foods you consume and portion size. Focus on addressing the baggage of emotions and memories you carry inside you. I did that through journaling, but there are so many other ways you can do that.
If you have no physical or emotional toll—well, I guess the only difference is not to limit portion sizes with an aim towards weight reduction.
Ultimately, the article provides hope rather than hopelessness. Shaming people doesn’t work, intimidating people doesn’t work, diets don’t work. But, there is so much that does work, that most of us have never tried or considered.
I think this gives all of us—whatever our weight—a healthy, balanced new path to discover and follow!