Tag: weight issues (page 1 of 6)

Fat-shaming: Time to end open season on fat people

Dear Wendy,

Your dental experience sounds…special! Can’t wait for Part 2: it’s hard to see how this story can go anywhere but down.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about something that’s been bugging me. The other day I was reading a blog by a writer whose work I generally like and respect. This woman is smart, funny, a good writer…and so what I found took me completely by surprise.

The writer was describing a woman she’d seen in a public place—an obese woman, wearing cheap clothing that failed to hide her ample flesh. She described the woman’s lack of bra, and the fact that her breasts jiggled when she moved; she described her poor dental hygiene, and added a few details that left the reader in no doubt that the woman not only had the bad taste to be obese in a public space, but worse, she was poor. And not even bothering to hide it.

The sad part? The blog post wasn’t even about the fat woman—she was just a bystander. The post was about the writer’s own sense of having “let herself go,” of no longer caring what she wore in public. The fat woman was merely a foil, someone whose truly disgusting appearance somehow comforted the writer, making her feel better about her own lack of grooming that day. Because no matter how crappy the writer might be feeling, she could tell herself, “At least I’m not her.”

This blatant fat-hatred hit me in a very sensitive spot: for most of my adult life, I was morbidly obese. Not just a few pounds overweight—I was lugging around more than 100 extra pounds. And believe me, I know very well how those who aren’t obese feel about us fat people. We’re lazy, stupid, unmotivated, slovenly, ignorant, and ugly. And that’s on a good day.


See the suspicion in my eyes? That’s because I knew how people saw me.

I know how it feels to be stared at, to be judged, to be mocked. I know what it’s like to always be on the outside of a really great party, nose pressed up against the glass, wishing I could join in.

I know that when you’re fat, it doesn’t matter if you’re smart. It doesn’t matter if you’re loving or kind. It doesn’t matter if you’re funny, if you’re loyal, if you’re generous or understanding or artistic or a wonderful parent or good at doing home repairs. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you will always have one defining characteristic: your excess flesh.

That’s all people see, and it’s all they need to see. From that one characteristic, they know exactly who and what you are.

As for how fat people dress—squeezing into too-tight pants, wearing cheap print tunics or droopy t-shirts, or even failing to find a bra that fits without chafing or making things even worse than what nature gave you—well, good luck with trying to fix that. We fat people learn to take what we can get.

And if you have the misfortune to be fat and poor? Tough luck, tootsie-roll—you get what you can forage in the sale bins at Walmart or the local charity shop. Unless you’re independently wealthy and can afford the high-end shops, you’re stuck with the dreck of the fashion industry.

When I was obese, I was always conscious of my appearance. I was painfully aware of the fat-woman stereotype—slovenly, poorly dressed, possibly even smelly—and I went out of my way to defend myself against it.

I found a great hairdresser, I bought the best clothes I could afford, and I never, ever went out of the house without makeup. Even so, I knew I was a target.

I knew it that day in line at the grocery store when I stood behind a thin woman who was buying some kind of diet food. The cashier commented, “You don’t need this!” And then she pointed at me and said, “Now, her! She definitely needs it. But you don’t.”

Even writing that now, 13 years later, I’m crying again. The shame never leaves, you see. Even though I’m no longer obese—just a bit overweight—the shame, and the memory of it, lingers under the surface waiting to ambush me.

And when I run across fat hatred, whether online or in person, it all comes rushing back, and I want to shake the person and tell them, “That fatty you’re laughing at? She’s a person! She’s a wife, and a mother, and a sister, and a daughter, and she has feelings, just like you! How dare you try to turn her into a nothing? How dare you?”

I’m sure most of the people who denigrate fat people wouldn’t dream of calling a black person “Sambo.” They’d cringe at the idea of mocking a person’s sexual orientation. It wouldn’t occur to them to call a Jew cheap. You couldn’t pay them to insert a sexual or racial stereotype into their writing.

But apparently when it comes to mocking the fat, it’s open season.

Maybe it’s time we started trying to turn that around.










Weight loss after 50: Generation X fatter than Boomers

Dear Wendy,

In my perambulations around the Internet this week, I came across this brief article about how Generation X, those born between 1967 and 1980, are tending to have more problems with overweight than their predecessors (that would be us, the baby boomers).


(Image: Wikipedia)

While I’m sure someone will find some way to blame this on the baby boomers (“Their parents overfed them! It’s all because of the boomers’ inflated sense of entitlement!” and so on), I have another hypothesis: I suspect each succeeding generation will tend to be fatter, simply because the environment in which we live is obesogenic, and getting more so each day.

I know, I’ve used that word “obesogenic” in the past, and it’s not just because it trips off the tongue so nicely. It’s because those of us who live in the affluent parts of the world really are surrounded by an environment that seems to be shoving food in our faces at every turn.

Our food environment started changing a century ago, and by the last years of the twentieth century, it had become almost impossible to find lower-calorie, lower-sugar foods without consciously seeking them out.

Go stand in line at a store some time: you’ll find you’re surrounded by bags of fat-soaked potato or nacho chips on one side, and chocolate and candy bars on the other. High-calorie, low nutritional value foods are everywhere…restaurants, cafeterias, sporting events, school vending machines, public spaces, you name it.

And to make matters worse, oftentimes it’s labelled “fat free!” or “no added sugar!” in an attempt to dupe us into believing that it’s really healthy. It’s not. But it can be tempting to believe the lies, especially when you’re hungry.

alt="IMAGE-candy-checkout"If you’re hungry, it can take a huge amount of teeth-grinding willpower to stroll casually past one of those displays in search of an apple or a handful of unsalted almonds. It can feel like it’s not worth the bother.

So it’s really no wonder that the Gen Xers are having trouble controlling their weight; and I expect we’ll discover in a few years that Generation Y is having the same problem, ramped up a notch because more time will have elapsed, and the food industry will have found more ways to deliver cheap, high-calorie crap to more people. After all, it’s their job, it’s what they do, and they’re really good at it.

Is there any way to stem the tide? Some have tried, with initiatives like banning sugared drinks in school vending machines. But as often as not, they’ve chosen to replace Coke or Pepsi with fruit juices or Gatorade, which are often just as fattening as sugary sodas.

And when New York City tried to put a limit on the size of soft drinks sold there, people went apeshit with indignation: how dare they take away our right to choose to consume 20-ounce glasses of sugar dissolved in carbonated water?

The answer, I think, lies with each of us, as individuals.

  • We need to teach ourselves, and our children, that most of the junk food out there is just that—junk.
  • We need to remember how to cook for ourselves. Not necessarily gourmet meals, though that can be fun sometimes, but good, solid, ordinary food made from whole ingredients.
  • We need to teach our children that it’s neither too difficult nor too time-consuming to put together a simple homemade meal. And I’m not talking KD here, either.

We need to ensure that our kids and grandkids understand that good food makes healthy bodies, and that the stuff they’re trying to palm off on us will make us fat, sick, and old before our time.

I’m not sure how much of a dent we’ll be able to make, but if we don’t try, who will?




Weight loss after 50: You’re not failing, your diet is.

Dear Wendy,

alt="IMAGE-diet-fix-yoni-freedhoff"Last week I mentioned that I was reading Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s book, The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work.

Well, I whipped through that book in record time, in part because it’s written in such a friendly, accessible style, and in part because I found its overall message really compelling and inspiring.

We all know that most diets fail. The statistics are pretty grim: among people who do manage to lose their excess weight, about 95% regain every pound, often with interest. If any other medical treatment had that kind of failure record, it would have been outlawed years ago…and yet people keep embarking on diets, hoping against hope that this time they’ll succeed in keeping the weight off.

So whose fault is this?

Some blame the diets—whether low-fat, low-carb, no-gluten, no-sugar, no-yeast, or whatever else is currently in style. Others (many others) blame the dieters for their presumed laziness and lack of willpower. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “Just eat less and move more, and you’ll lose the weight,” I’d be a wealthy woman.

The thing is, while we’re told that losing weight ought to be easy, most of us have a great deal of experience that tells us it’s really not. We can come to believe that the fault lies in ourselves, in not wanting it badly enough, or not having the inner fortitude to buckle down and just lose the weight.

Dr. Freedhoff takes a very different approach. He starts from the premise that diets that are overly focused on restriction are by nature traumatic. And most people who’ve tried to lose weight repeatedly with these diets suffer from something he calls “Post-traumatic Dieting Disorder” or PTDD, the result of years of failed dietary efforts that leave us demoralized, discouraged, guilty, and ashamed.

PTDD symptoms can include feelings of ineffectiveness, shame, hopelessness, and a sense of being permanently damaged. Sufferers often have poor body image, and may withdraw socially, feel threatened by food (especially high-calorie treats), or have impaired relationships.

Moving beyond traumatic dieting

So what’s the solution? In the first half of the book, Dr. Freedhoff describes the “seven deadly sins” of dieting, followed by “dieting’s seven traumas”; and then he lays out a 10-step method for overcoming traumatic dieting and replacing it with a foundation of behaviours that he calls a “10-day reset” to change the dieter’s relationship with food.

Drawing on the habits and behaviours of those 5% of dieters who’ve actually managed to sustain significant weight loss over a 5-year span, the “reset” includes gearing up, learning to track your food, banishing hunger, cooking, thinking things through, exercising, learning to indulge realistically and sensibly, eating out, setting goals, and troubleshooting.

The second half of the book is an “everything else” section that includes a guide to resetting any weight-loss program—so long as you can imagine living with it for the rest of your life, Dr. Freedhoff states that it really doesn’t matter whether you choose paleo, low-carb, low-fat, Weight Watchers….any system can be reset, and made non-traumatic.

My one quibble with the book—and it’s a small one, overall—is the idea that the 10-step reset can be accomplished in 10 days. While some steps (learning to track your food, embarking on an exercise program) take little time, others (like learning the habit of cooking rather than relying on prepared foods) are more of a long-term thing for most people.

This is the most compassionate, practical, and ultimately useful book I’ve read on the topic of weight loss…and I’ve read a great many of them. Even if I weren’t one of Dr. Freedhoff’s former patients, I think I’d feel just as enthusiastic in recommending the book to anyone who wants to move past the “LOSE WEIGHT NOW!!” mentality of most popular diet programs, into a healthy lifestyle at a healthy weight…for the long haul.



Please note: I have not been offered any form of compensation for this book review. It represents my personal opinion and endorsement only.

Weight loss after 50: Winner of The Biggest Loser set up to fail

Dear Wendy,

I don’t know how much you’ve heard about this in London, but this week’s big weight loss story has centred on the NBC reality show, The Biggest Loser.


Trainers cannot disguise their shock at her appearance

A female contestant, Rachel Frederickson, lost 155 pounds during her time on the show—about 5 months, I understand—and has become the focus of a social media frenzy, as people derided her (and to a lesser extent, the show itself) for going from obese to ultra-skinny.

You probably won’t be surprised that I’m not a fan of the show. I think it’s a revolting display of the toxic attitudes our culture harbours toward overweight people. It turns weight loss into a spectator sport, and models unhealthy practices and goals, further confusing the already murky waters of healthy weight and fitness.

But even if that weren’t true, my biggest beef with the show is this: instead of solving contestants’ weight problems, it sets them up for a life-long battle with their weight.

You know how we always hear that weight loss of more than 1–2 pounds per week is unhealthy, and that trying to push beyond this could damage your metabolism so you’ll regain more quickly? Well, on The Biggest Loser, a weight loss of 10 pounds per week is pretty standard fare.

Of course, the show’s trainers claim that because the contestants engage in massive amounts of strenuous exercise while they’re also drastically restricting caloric intake, this huge rate of loss won’t damage their metabolic rates.

This is bullshit. Check out this post by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff if you have any doubts.

And his observations are borne out by the fact that very few of the show’s contestants are able to maintain their weight loss over the long haul. Which should come as no surprise, since their metabolisms have been radically slowed by their experience on the show.

So what about poor Rachel Frederickson?

I really feel for her, to be honest. She’s undergone a very stressful experience—putting her initial obesity on show, then pushing herself to physical extremes to win the $250,000 prize for being “the biggest loser.” And now that she’s seemingly achieved the pinnacle of success, she’s being trash-talked by a bunch of people who don’t know her, but feel free to judge her (and her body). Not a nice place to be.


Is weight really just a numbers game?

However, I feel her journey is just beginning.

Now that she’s “won,” what will it take for her to maintain her weight loss? And what will happen to her health, both physical and mental, once the rush of the show wears off and she goes back to regular eating? Especially considering that her metabolic rate will likely be even lower than it was when she started?

It’s sad, it’s predictable, and it says nothing good about our insatiable appetite for shows like this.

The thing is, The Biggest Loser keeps its ratings up by propagating one of the big, ugly myths about healthy weight: that “success” is all about willpower and denial, and that it’s defined by numbers on the scale.

Here’s a different way to look at it: Are you eating healthy foods and enjoying what you eat? and are you exercising as much as you can, in a way that works for you? If so, then you’re a success.

And hey, you don’t even have to go live on a ranch and starve while you work out obsessively to prove it!



p.s. Here’s another article about what it’s really like to “win” on this show. It’s a painful read, but I think it’s a lot more realistic than this “reality show” will ever be.

Weight loss after 50: Who’s responsible for your weight?

Dear Wendy,

I went grocery shopping yesterday. Continue reading

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