One man’s solution to the obesity problem: Fat-shaming.

meanwhileinamericaBy now it’s pretty common knowledge that Americans have a growing (get it?) obesity problem. The word epidemic is used quite a bit to describe how big a problem it is. According to the Center for Disease Control the percentage of adults over 20 who are obese was 35.9% in 2009-2010. My home state, Michigan, is the fifth heaviest in the Union with 32% of adults here qualifying as obese. At 299.3 pounds I’m certainly part of the problem and I’m paying the price with things like my recent back problems.

So there’s really no argument here. We’re a bunch of fat bastards who could stand to lose a few pounds, but how do you get people to go about doing so? In Michigan the state government is rolling out a program to try and encourage folks (like me) to get off their fat asses and shed at least 10% of the body weight through exercise and eating a better diet. The program will mostly be an educational effort telling folks about the dangers of being overweight and offering encouragement to do better via an online website and/or text messages.

I can tell you that I know it probably won’t work on me. I’m already well aware of the potential problems of being obese and despite making some attempts to do something about it — choosing the weight watcher options when eating out and buying an elliptical that clogs up my living room collecting dust — I’m rapidly not losing any weight at all. I’m at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life and I’ve been hovering around the 300 pound mark for several years now.

I can tell you what else won’t work. This guy’s solution of Fat-shaming:

Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says – TODAY Health.

Daniel Callahan, a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, put out a new paper this week calling for a renewed emphasis on social pressure against heavy people — what some may call fat-shaming — including public posters that would pose questions like this:

“If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?”

Actually, yes, I wear my weight pretty well. A lot of folks who know me personally are surprised when I say I’m just a smidgen under 300 pounds. Sure, I’m heavy, but I don’t look that fat to most folks. It helps that I’m tall so it’s spread out a bit more than most. I’ve had folks describe me as “solid” when I’m about as solid as a giant marshmallow (and probably not even that solid). For a fat guy, I look pretty good. At least with my clothes on.

Callahan outlined a strategy that applauds efforts to boost education, promote public health awareness of obesity and curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

But, he added, those plans could do with a dose of shame if there’s any hope of repairing a nation where more than a third of adults and 17 percent of kids are obese.

“Safe and slow incrementalism that strives never to stigmatize obesity has not and cannot do the necessary work,” wrote Callahan in a Hastings Center Report from the nonprofit bioethics think tank.

The author circa Sep. 2010. I've not changed much since.

The author circa Sep. 2010. I’ve not changed much since.

The problem with this idea (to use the term generously) is that it assumes there isn’t any stigma or fat-shaming already taking place. I don’t get much of that myself because apparently I scare people by being big and beardy, but my sister has put up with it throughout her entire life. I can tell you that it doesn’t work as a motivation, though it does a great job of destroying one’s sense of self-worth. Of the three of us siblings, my younger sister is probably the best of us in terms of compassion, generosity, and just generally being a decent person yet she has been on the receiving end of some of the most heartless comments I’ve ever heard anyone receive about their weight. It’s probably safe to say that women in general have always suffered more from the stigma of being overweight because we, as a society, tend to hold them up to some pretty ridiculous ideals shaped and promoted by popular media whereas most men are considered halfway to genius if they can tie their shoes without drooling all over themselves. How many sitcoms over the years have had pudgy — if not outright obese — oafish, middle-aged men married to thin, attractive, brainy wives?

But I digress. The point is that there’s already plenty of fat-shaming and stigma being tossed around at fat people out there. Quite a lot of it coming from fat people themselves. I’m not sure how encouraging such behavior is going to improve anything in terms of getting folks to shed some pounds.

It certainly won’t work on me. My problem isn’t an educational one. I already know I’m not at a healthy weight and I’m well aware of the health risks that come with it. I’ve watched an uncle suffer from Adult Onset Diabetes before his death and my dad is struggling with it now having had it cost him most of his eyesight. My own back gives out on me on a semi-regular basis because it gets tired of carrying around all the excess weight.

My problem is motivation. I’ve never enjoyed exercise even when I was skinny way back in my youth. Which isn’t to say I never got any back then, but it was because I was “playing” not “exercising.” Riding my bike, playing baseball, running around like a crazy person pretending he’s a superhero, that was all exercise that didn’t feel like exercise. Then I became an adult and got a car and into computers and most of what I did for fun stopped being so physical and the pounds came rolling in. The non-exercise that was really exercise disguised as play went away and I didn’t have any real-exercise habits to take up the slack. And I hate exercising. Just typing the word sets my teeth on edge. Hated it back in school. Jumping jacks? Running laps? Sit ups? What kind of idiot do you think I am? When do we get to the fucking dodgeball game??

It took me 34 years to switch from regular sodas to diet pop and when I did it helped me lose about 40 pounds only to gain it all back within the next year. It took me another 6 years to give up on diet sodas. For the past four years or so the majority of the liquid I consume is plain old tap water. I hate water. I hate drinking water. I hate every single nanosecond of it. Not as much as I used to hate it, but I still hate it. Yet I do it. It took me entirely too long to make the switch even knowing it was a healthier choice and I would be better off for it.

I have the feeling that the same will be true of getting into the habit of exercise. I’ve made some starts at it in the last year or two and breaking down and actually buying a piece of exercise equipment was a big step in that process. Even if I’ve not been great at using it regularly. Part of the reason I keep it in the living room instead of moving it to the basement is, well, it’s because the fucker is too damned heavy to move down the stairs by myself, but also because having it in the living room gnaws at my subconscious and reminds me that I really do need to start getting on the damned thing. This latest round of back problems has been severe enough that it’s acting as a great motivator as well. It’s amazing how your body just giving the fuck up will get your stupid brain’s attention really fucking quick.

For as smart as I supposedly am, it seems I just have to do some things the hard way. It’s stupid. I know it’s stupid. I feel stupid for knowing how stupid it is. Yet it is my nature and I will continue to struggle with it — probably in the stupidest way possible.

Sometimes I’m deeply embarrassed by my gender.

The really sad part is that many men would consider this woman to be too fat. Click to embiggen.

It’s a cliche to say that men are selfish pigs, but there seems to be a lot of truth to that statement. Whether it’s sexism and the defense of it that seems to be rampant no matter where you look to polls that reveal that Half of Men Would Dump Their Girlfriends for Getting Fat:

According to Ask Men’s annual Great Male/Female Surveys, half of all straight men say they would dump a girlfriend who got fat. 20 percent of straight women say they’d dump a boyfriend who got fat.

I’m hoping this is because most of the respondents were young and immature — the fact that they asked about “girlfriends” is what I’m latching onto — but I’m worried that’s not the case. Had you asked me back in my teens if I could see myself marrying someone like my wife, I would’ve said no. I was immature and placed more emphasis on outward appearances than I should have.

Fast forward to my early thirties and you’d find that I’ve had a fair number of relationships over the years in spite of not being a strikingly handsome man. All but one of them was broken off by my partner at the time for various reasons that all roughly boil down to my being an immature asshole who didn’t really know what a loving relationship really was. This included at least one person to whom I was engaged for a year because I thought she was The One. I don’t regret any of those past relationships because each one helped me to grow into a better person for the next one that came along. Well, I do regret that it took so long for me to get my shit together because I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with some truly wonderful women over the years and I feel slightly bad about inflicting my (at the time) stupidly immature self upon them.

When my wife and I started dating neither one of us was what you would call svelte. If you asked me what it was I found attractive about her at the time I’d be hard pressed to tell you as she’s very different, both physically and in personality, than any woman I had dated previously. After having had so many relationships that didn’t work out I went into the one with her with a very different and relaxed attitude. At first I wasn’t sure if I was in love or not because it was a very different feel than the past relationships. I think it’s the first time I really keyed in on what love was really like.

The upshot of all that is simply that I love my wife for who she is and not what figure she has. Any concerns I have about the shape of her body is strictly for reasons of health rather than aesthetics, and it’s a concern I hold for myself. I’d like us both to be thinner purely for the health benefits it would bring, but my love for her is not dependent on her having a slim build.

There are a lot of wonderful women in the world who have far less than perfect bodies. It’s a shame that so many men seem willing to pass up what could be a wonderful relationship because they’re hung up on the shape of a woman’s body. And it’s downright hypocritical if the man in question isn’t exactly a great example of being lean and mean himself.

Some folks substituting toys for candy on Halloween due to obesity.

I have to admit that when I first read this news item

NEW YORK (AP)—It wasn’t the gruesome costumes or gory masks turning up at Lisa Bruno’s front door that spooked her on Halloween. It was the pudge lurking beneath the costumes.

“The kids were just so huge,” Bruno says.

So five years ago, she was scared into changing her holiday handouts, giving out toys instead of candy. Other households do the same, offering stickers, pencils, Play-Doh or glow sticks, to mixed reviews from candy-loving children.

“I thought, here I am trying to take care of my health,” says Bruno, of Des Plaines, Ill. “I felt a responsibility to my community to take care of the kids around me.”

… my initial reaction was: You can’t do that!! That violates the whole point of trick or treating! That was the ten-year-old side of my personality winning the initiative roll. Then the sensible-41-year-old side stepped in and said: Well, we are getting to be pretty fat as a society. I should know, I’m overweight myself. I carry it well and most people wouldn’t say I’m fat, but the truth is I am and all you have to do is take a look around you to see that I’m far from being alone in that regard.

Halloween holds a great number of fond memories for me as much for the joy of coming up with a costume and making it real as for the excitement of rushing from house to house to show it off and get free candy. I trick or treated well into my teens and after my peers had quit because it was something little kids did. I got around being asked “aren’t you a little old for this” by adults by utilizing increasingly clever costumes that impressed enough to distract people from my age and accompanying younger kids as a sort of chaperon. Most years the haul was so good that I’d still have Halloween candy left over well into December because we never were allowed to gorge ourselves on it all at once. Halloween night saw us eating a fair amount, but we learned early not to make ourselves sick on candy. Halloween candy was something you savored for weeks after the event and each time you dug in it brought back sweet memories of a plan well executed and a haul legendary in its proportions.

Even back then, though, there were people who substituted other stuff for candy. There was the dentist who thought handing out toothbrushes would somehow go over well one year. It didn’t and his house was roundly TP’ed by the next morning. The next year he was still handing out toothbrushes, but he was including a package of Dentyne gum with them so as to “sweeten” the deal. That worked a bit better. A couple of houses always gave out pennies instead of candy so there was always some random amount of change jangling around in the bottom of your pillow case by the end of the night. Never enough to get a decent piece of candy on your own ‘cause it usually added up to 13 cents or so. Sometimes you’d get those McDonald’s coupons good for a free hamburger or fries or something which meant you had to talk your parents into taking you to McDonald’s which wasn’t a common destination in our family. Those houses were the exception to the rule. Most homes gave out candy or other decent snacks such as chips or pretzels.

The rest of that news article talks about how some families are letting their kids go trick or treating and then getting them to give up some or all of the candy they collect in exchange for money or toys:

Halloween is the one night when Jennifer Taggart’s 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter get to eat whatever treats they want. Then they decide what’s going to be left for the “switch witch,” who comes at night like the tooth fairy and takes the kids’ candy, leaving toys in her wake.

“The more candy they put out, the bigger the toy,” says Taggart, of Los Angeles. “So far, my son has put out all of his candy every Halloween to get the biggest toy.”

[…] After her kids enjoy some candy while trick or treating, Julie Schoerke, of Nashville, Tenn., buys back as much of it as she can, offering a nickel for each piece of candy they like but don’t love, and a dime for each piece of something they love.

“They could decide how much to keep,” says Schoerke, whose kids are 12 and 15. “Both would rather have the money, so they kept very little candy.

“I didn’t want them to have as much candy as they would get,” she said. “They got huge amounts, and I knew they’d consume it until it was gone.”

I have to admit those are clever ways to deal with the issue and it leaves the choice up to the kids as to how much they want to keep. The last example they cite is the one that we used in our family: rationing. We usually had to ask before getting into our Halloween candy and then we were limited to four or five pieces at the most. That could still result in a helluva sugar high when there were Pixie Stix in the bags, but that was only a problem for the first couple of days as the really good stuff got consumed.

As an adult Halloween has been a bit of a disappointment mainly because the places we’ve lived in the last decade or so haven’t seen much in the way of trick or treaters. I thought for sure when I moved into the Canton apartment that we’d have a ton of kids dropping by. What kid wouldn’t take advantage of the fact that each apartment had its own entrance? One stop could net four handfuls of candy if all the apartments on one side of the building were participating. So I bought a metric ass-ton of candy thinking we’d never get a chance to close the front door. By the end of the night we still had a metric ass-ton of candy left cause we saw all of four kids the entire night. I was so disappointed that I didn’t bother buying candy the rest of the time we lived there. Living with the in-laws was a little better, but even then the visitor count was low because the house was way back off the road with lots of trees covering the driveway making it not only difficult to tell if the porch light was on, but pretty damn scary to walk up to the house.  Now we’re in a town home which again has an individual entrance and a back door. No idea if we’ll see any kids this year or not, but we’re going to check with the complex and find out if kids drop by on Halloween. If they do then we’ll try to have some candy to hand out. This naturally makes me long for owning a home of my own in a nice neighborhood. Not only would I love to hand out candy on Halloween, but I’d love to have a yard I can decorate the hell out of in honor of the occasion. Not to mention Krismas being not too far away and all the yard decorating I could do for that as well.

So, yeah, I suppose I didn’t really discuss what the news article was about all that much. That happens often when something jogs nostalgia loose in my brain. I spend more time remembering how awesome something used to be that I never actually get around to thinking about the article itself. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I think it would be a shame if the trend to make Halloween candy-less becomes widespread. Perhaps it would be healthier, but I feel like it would lose something in the process. Though I suppose if that’s they way people choose to go then I’ll just have to learn to adapt and hang on to those cherished memories from my youth.

Fast Food and Portion Sizes

Not the usual post that shows up here, but I found an interesting article with some conclusions that came out of the Documentary “Super Size Me” by Morgan Spurlock. First off, if you haven’t seen the movie go check it out

Back to the topic at hand, the article, “Self-Experimenters: Filmmaker Gained Weight to Prove a Point about Portion Size”, is an interesting look into the aftermath of doing such an experiment as Morgan did.

Morgan Spurlock’s “really great bad idea,” as it would later be called, came to him after a gluttonous Thanksgiving meal. Jeans unbuttoned, stomach engorged with turkey—and eyeing a second helping—the 32-year-old playwright noticed on the television news that two teenage girls from New York City were suing McDonald’s for allegedly making them fat.

“It was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of,” Spurlock recalls thinking. Until, that is, a McDonald’s spokeswoman appeared on screen to deny any link between the chain’s food and the girls’ obesity, claiming that Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets and the rest of the gang were nutritious. “That was even crazier than the lawsuit,” says Spurlock, now 37. “If it’s so nutritious, I should be able to eat it every day.”

I agree with him, most of those lawsuits against McDonalds are pretty stupid. At some point the user has to be held accountable. I will say that companies such as McDonalds can be very deceptive in their advertising and marketing, as well as statements from their spokespeople about having healthy meals. If McDonalds wants to make the statement their food is healthy, we should hold them accountable for such a statement.

To prove the statement by the spokesperson was ludicrous at best, Spurlock set out on a crazed diet of nothing but McDonalds for 30 days. If their food is healthy there should be no problem right?

But what most alarmed his physicians was the damage to his liver, which became so engorged with fat that it could have been marketed as pâté. “I expected his triglycerides would increase temporarily, his blood pressure would go up, he’d feel miserable,” said Dr. Daryl Isaacs, Spurlock’s general practitioner. “I never expected an acutely fatty liver. By the third week he had the liver of a binge alcoholic.” All three physicians ordered Spurlock to stop, but he nervously stuck it out.

Aside from the obvious issues with the diet like weight gain and cholesterol, he also experienced more severe or shall I say scary by-products of the diet such as lack of sex drive, heart palpitations, and the above issue: the liver of an alcoholic.

Spurlock’s self-experiment brought attention to unusual obesity-related illnesses. Lisa Ganjhu, Spurlock’s gastroenterologist, says the film increased public awareness of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a severe liver inflammation that is not due to alcohol but rather brought on by rapid weight gain; it is associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Fredrik Nystrom, a professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Linköping University Hospital in Sweden, replicated Spurlock’s experiment with 18 subjects, nearly all of whom experienced the same rapid liver damage, but recovered after they ended the fatty diet.

It seems a diet high in crappy food can have some drastic side effects. The movie has a pretty eye opening scene where the doctor is trying to explain this phenomenon (at least at the time it was) to Spurlock and he was completely dumbfounded and surprised at the results. He recommended Spurlock stop the diet immediately. What surprised the doctor was that all estimates and best guesses assumed his cholesterol and heart issues would stop Spurlock before a bad liver would.

The other interesting thing brought up in the movie and article:

The striking documentation of his health problems put fast food purveyors on high alert. “Food portions in America have increased in parallel with rates of obesity,” Lisa Young, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, wrote in a recent study published in the Journal of Public Health Policy. Obesity in adults skyrocketed in the U.S. from 15 percent in 1980 to nearly 33 percent in 2004, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, putting Americans at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Young says that the average daily U.S. food intake per person has increased up to 300 calories since the 1980s.

Within weeks of the movie’s May 2004 debut at the Sundance Film Festival, McDonald’s pulled Super Sizes from its menu, saying the move was designed to simplify diners’ choices. “The only thing that got McDonald’s to reduce its portions,” Young tells Scientific American, “was the publicity of the movie.”

Food portions have increased at a very close rate to obesity rates. Something confirmed by a study I read in a book by that asshole on TV… oh yea Dr. Phil. Anyways, the study mentioned looked at food portion sizes in Europe (I think specifically Great Britain and France) and America and also looked at obesity rates and average weight of adults. The study found that portion sizes in America are about 24% greater than Europe and the average weight is also about 25% greater. Something that goes right along with the study mentioned in the quote above from the article.

Anyways, my weight loss plan for the last 8 months has just been to eat less and exercise more along with getting some help from what appear to be decent sources of information (the authors of this book got a team of researchers together and poured through over 10,000 studies and research to find the best info). So far I am down 15 lbs, have a ton more energy, and I haven’t really gained any fat weight.

Upside to being fat? You save the medical industry money in the long run.

Or so says a recent Dutch study:

LONDON (AP)—Preventing obesity and smoking can save lives, but it doesn’t save money, researchers reported Monday. It costs more to care for healthy people who live years longer, according to a Dutch study that counters the common perception that preventing obesity would save governments millions of dollars.

“It was a small surprise,” said Pieter van Baal, an economist at the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, who led the study. “But it also makes sense. If you live longer, then you cost the health system more.”

Talk about really working hard to find a silver lining in that storm cloud. Smokers, it seems, are in a similar you-die-early-but-cost-less situation:

Van Baal and colleagues created a model to simulate lifetime health costs for three groups of 1,000 people: the “healthy-living” group (thin and non-smoking), obese people, and smokers. The model relied on “cost of illness” data and disease prevalence in the Netherlands in 2003.

The researchers found that from age 20 to 56, obese people racked up the most expensive health costs. But because both the smokers and the obese people died sooner than the healthy group, it cost less to treat them in the long run.

On average, healthy people lived 84 years. Smokers lived about 77 years, and obese people lived about 80 years. Smokers and obese people tended to have more heart disease than the healthy people.

Cancer incidence, except for lung cancer, was the same in all three groups. Obese people had the most diabetes, and healthy people had the most strokes. Ultimately, the thin and healthy group cost the most, about $417,000, from age 20 on.

The cost of care for obese people was $371,000, and for smokers, about $326,000.

“This throws a bucket of cold water onto the idea that obesity is going to cost trillions of dollars,” said Patrick Basham, a professor of health politics at Johns Hopkins University who was unconnected to the study. He said that government projections about obesity costs are frequently based on guesswork, political agendas, and changing science.

“If we’re going to worry about the future of obesity, we should stop worrying about its financial impact,” he said.

I’ve always found the you-fatties-are-going-to-bankrupt-us argument for losing weight to be somewhat less than convincing and this only strengthens that opinion. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t still good reasons to try and lose some weight such as quality of life and just sticking around longer to scream at those damn kids to git the hell offa your lawn! Just know that if you do plan to stick around for as long as possible you’ll still die eventually and probably from something more expensive:

“Lung cancer is a cheap disease to treat because people don’t survive very long,” van Baal said. “But if they are old enough to get Alzheimer’s one day, they may survive longer and cost more.”

The study, paid for by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports, did not take into account other potential costs of obesity and smoking, such as lost economic productivity or social costs.

“We are not recommending that governments stop trying to prevent obesity,” van Baal said. “But they should do it for the right reasons.”

Arguing that fat folks are costing us all more money isn’t going to cut it though.