Thursday, January 24, 2013

You can't shame someone thin!

I had all intentions to get to work this morning and get right at it.  Then I noticed that FullerFigureFullerBust posted a link to this atrocious article and I HAD TO respond.

If you don't want to read the article (or can't stomach it), essentially, Daniel Callahan, who is a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, put out an article saying that the best way to treat obesity is to amp up the social stigma of obesity, similar to how smoking has been stigmatized.

Now, I can think of about a million things wrong with this, but let's start off with the idea of shaming someone thin....

I've made it no secret on my blog here that I used to be close to morbidly obese and after a very long weight loss journey, I've gotten down to what I feel is a healthy weight for me (officially, I was in the ~156lbs range pre-pregnancy so for a total loss of about 80lbs).  However, that journey was NOT because someone shamed me into being thin.  It had NOTHING to do with peer pressure or societal pressure.  Rather, I took a long look at myself and didn't like my dependence that I had on certain foods (specifically sugar). I knew I needed to exercise more and that I was not dealing with emotions, but rather eating them away.

My point is, my weight loss journey was very much an emotional journey.  It was a perfect storm of numerous factors that lead me to the point of chucking all the sugar from my life and starting to run again.  I have been shamed about my weight before.  I was shamed off growing up, even when at a healthy weight for my body I've been curvy with a large, muscular frame so I never looked small like other girls growing up.  I've been shamed by doctors too.

All the shaming just made me feel bad about myself.  Guess what you do when you're an emotional eater and you feel bad about yourself? YOU EAT.

And this isn't even touching the tip of the iceberg.  What about people who are at risk for eating disorders?  It may surprise you but eating disorders can start at ANY weight, without giving someone the proper tools to lose weight healthily but rather just focusing on the weight itself drastic measures might be sought after.  Do I think you can shame someone thin? No, but you can definitely shame them into an eating disorder.

It also has to be mention (and I get into this more below) that there are medical reasons for men and women to be overweight.  Some people take medicine that make them more apt to pack on the pounds, others have undiagnosed/untreated illnesses that do the same.  Sometimes one knows they do have an illness but are still in the process of figuring out the right drugs/diet that can help their weight stabilize   I got this one also from FullerFigureFullerBust and I think it goes well here...

The next point that I want to delve into is this idea that overeating is somehow comparable to smoking and we should treat them in the same matter.  This is so flawed that it's hard to know where to start so I'll just make a list... 

  • Humans have to eat to survive.  NOBODY has to smoke to survive.  You can quit smoking cold turkey and move on with your life but eating is with you for the rest of your life whether you like it or not.
  • Smoking was included in the media back in the day but it was never as integrated as emotional eating and binge eating are today.  How many times do you see TV shows where the (skinny!) main character is going through a bad break up and her friends give her a pint of Ben & Jerry's? Or how many times do we see characters sitting down to massive feasts? As in holidays or maybe a large celebration?  
  • We're also constantly shown yo-yo dieting and that's somehow ok.  TV shows, movies, and books constantly show characters who go on "mini-diets" where they start eating healthy but almost inevitably regress.  Also, there's the idea that there are certain times of years that you should start dieting.

    But let me tell you a little secret.  Yo-yo dieting hurts your body.  It messes up your system and you body doesn't know what to expect and it sends it into a feast/famine mode, which means that you can actually make your body learn to live on a lot less calories and when you do exceed that amount you gain weight quicker.  Just the opposite of what you want when you are trying to lose weight!
  • Smoking directly harms others.  Part of the stigma from smoking is that second and, yes, even third hand smoke is harmful to others.  Eating an extra serving of ice cream a day? Not so much. 
  • Smoking is expensive whereas eating healthy can be more expensive than eating junk food.  Yes, there are exceptions but you're assuming a family has the time and knowledge to make healthy foods from scratch.  Go ask a single mom working 3 jobs to pay for her kids how much time she has...
  • It's easier not to smoking, it's harder to lose weight.  If you quit smoking not only do you gain money but you gain time and energy.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying quitting an addicting habit is easy!!! BUT, not smoking doesn't take the same planning and time investment as working regular exercise into a busy schedule, learning how to radically change your eating habits and meeting with doctors in the case of someone who has medical reasons for being overweight (such as PCOS, a thyroid problem etc).
  • Speaking of which there are NO medical reasons to smoke whereas there ARE medical reasons that someone is overweight. Just ask a women with PCOS or a thyriod problem... 
  • The idea that smoking is bad for you is 100% clear.  Even if you somehow get out unscathed  you can affect others while smoking (especially if you're a parent).  That being said the issue of overweight/obesity is not so clear cut.  Body frame, muscle composition play a role.  Additionally, someone who is obese and exercising can be healthier than someone who is naturally thin.  

Holley Mangold- US Olympic weight lifter.  I'm pretty sure she's getting in more than enough exercise to be healthy! (Image taken from Fitness

So what is the cure? 

Oh no, I meant the other kind of cure... (Image taken from Fanpop)

I've discussed this before, I honestly don't believe there is one cure for obesity.  Rather, it would take a major overhaul with our society's relationship with food, the food industry itself and much, much more education when it comes to what defines health (hint BMI is NOT the answer, we'd need a lot better methods to test body fat % and total re-education of those in the medical field).  I'd also like to emphasize that the mental health aspect of obesity needs to be addressed. There are a plethora of reasons why someone would hide behind their weight and they need to be  better understood while at the same time insurance companies need to allow patients to seek out mental health to delve into those issues.  I can promise you, if you don't address the mental health aspect of weight loss you're going to gain it back.  Pills can't fix years of abuse, fat shaming, or fear of the unknown.

One of the best parts about the timing of this article is that it came out the same day as this article. Basically, it says that there are huge gaps in the mental health coverage for kids and that the majority of kids whoNEED help aren't getting it.  Certainly, there isn't a 100% link between mental health and obesity, but people can and do use food as a comforting mechanism.  I wonder how much better off we would be if kids were getting the mental health services they needed?

I also wish there was more research (and in all fairness I DO see more and more research on this topic) when it comes to the genetic aspect of weight gain and loss.  My gut tells me (looking at my own family and others) that some people struggle with different food addictions and there can be a strong genetic component.  Additionally, some people feel a stronger need for self-soothing habits (like emotional eating, drinking smoking etc) and this also needs to be better understood. 

So, my point is, this article and this idea of fat shaming is absolute rubbish! You can't shame someone thin.  It's not your job to "fix" their health.  They might actually even be healthier than you for all you know.  Rather, if you are so concerned about everyone's weight than push the food industry to clean up its act. Buy healthy options when you go to fast food restaurants so they see there is a market there. Ask your child's school to provide healthy lunch options for kids.  Organize physical activities for your friends to bond with them instead of going out for dinner.  That's a lot you CAN do that will help, even in a small way but fat shaming is definitely not one of them! 


  1. Ugh, this pi**ed me off so much. It was just a man trying to justify fat shaming by pretending it was science, and if there's one thing I can't stand, it's fake science whose aim is to push a personal (or even a "popular") agenda. The ones who *want* it to be justified will then jump on the bandwagon. As I commented on FFFB's post, bullies will always claim that their actions make their targets stronger, but that doesn't make it true nor does it make their actions less horrible.

    1. I'm right there with you on hating pseudo-science to prove a point. It really is a shame that this guy even has anything related to science in his title because he uses ZERO proof to back up his arguments and if anything they are seriously flawed.

      Good point abut bullies too.

  2. That guys is a moron. I can't believe all the people who claim to care about health, but them feel like it's okay to degrade someone's mental health. Which is just as important. Who's going to want to take care of themselves when they're being made to hate themselves?

    1. Yes, it's completely lost on me too. It seems like mental health would be the first thing that needs to be addressed and much of the rest would fall into line afterwards. He's certainly not following the Dr's oath of "First, Do no harm".

  3. My father tried that. When I was 12,13, 14. He would take opportunities like family gatherings to make comments about how fat I was and would say things like "That's enough butter on your bread" in front of my older brother and his friends.
    My mother never did anything to protect me from that bullshit. She was also awesome. She would take me shopping for back to school clothes and I could hear her apologize to the salesclerk for being so fat.

    End result? Anorexia nervosa at 20. 87 pounds. Tube through the nose for feeding, followed by severe depression, bulimia nervosa, suicide attempts and almost 2 years in-patient psych ward treatment and years of therapy.

    I am fine now, remarkably. Lots of hard hard work and therapy saved my life and I am happy, at a very healthy weight and such, but this is just such bullshit.

    1. I'm so sorry you dealt with that. :( I also dealt with some fat shaming from certain relatives and it's absolutely horrible.

      I'm glad that you were able to get your eating order underneath control but it's so sad that your father pushed you to that point.

  4. When I read this article yesterday, I was incensed by the allegations you could shame someone into being thinner, and I am so pleased you tackled this issue head on and shared your experiences. Why people gain weight or are heavier than norms is a complex issue, and what's more, those "norms" also seem to be up to interpretation. I've read several studies which indicate people in the overweight BMI category actually live longer than people in the healthy range. Our emphasis on physical appearance and weight seems to miss the point that there are far better indicators of health, such as diet and exercise. Our bodies are all different and what's overweight to one person may be perfectly healthy to another. Physical judgement is superficial at best, and to use that as some criteria for health seems ridiculous. But, then taking it a step further and actively encourage people to use that physical judgment to make people feel worse about themselves is cruel and ignorant. I can't say enough how much I love your response!

    1. Yes to everything you said. So many miss the point (even in the medical field!) that there is massive amount of body diversity even at the same height/weight. BMI is a massive, massive oversimplification and simply can't be applied at the individual level to determine health.

      What scares me the most is that some will see this article and use it as an excuse to further bully overweight/obese individuals (and even those who are not but they think are!).

  5. Ugh, what an ass. How disgusting one must be to even try to push this kind of agenda.

    But I think that the worst part is that everyone does this shaming to fat people. Oh, how many times I heard 'well-intentioned' comments from my aunts about my weight, posture, and general appearance on holidays or family parties, to the point that in the past few years, I spent the two or three months before Christmas stressed about Christmas! About one night! Because they made me so uncomfortable that I couldn't stand the thought of going through that year after year!

    And let's face it, if their comments had anything to do with my losing weight, I wouldn't have been fat in the first place. It had everything to do with feeling completely uncomfortable in my own body, recalling that I had been an athlete at school and wanting that body, which could do so many wonderful things, back.

    Why do people feel the need to shame others?

  6. Ridiculous! Shamming for someone for their body shape isn't the same as the social stigma surrounding smoking at all. It would be like shamming everyone who has any kind of cancer under the (obviously grossly incorrect) assumption they must have smoked and done it to themselves! There are just so many factors involved in body shape and size, there is really no way to judge anything about that person. Wouldn't a more productive campaign to encourage health focus on something positive and behavior based? Like encouraging groups of friends to do something active, like going for a walk, instead of something like going to the movies, no matter what those people happen to look like. I generally (and luckily) stay the same weight no matter what and I could probably benefit just as much, more probably, from something like that, than many larger people I know.