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Why losing fat is ACTUALLY so hard to do

I was channel surfing mindlessly, avoiding some household chore, when I landed on a cable talk show discussing child abuse. The guests were talking about horrible things: parents who starve children, beat them or sexually abuse them. Parents who let their children get fat. This last one, one woman leveled, was the same as any other form of abuse and deserved the same unequivocal response: Remove the kids from the parents.


I had happened upon yet another media debate in response to the controversial JAMA article that came out a few weeks ago. This study looked at whether intervention was ever warranted when parents allow their children to become dangerously obese. The study itself was balanced in its approach, but the talking-head response was anything but. This particular pundit -- shoulder-shrugging with a clear look of disgust on her face -- talked about taking fat kids away from their parents as if it were nothing more than trading in a car. I had to turn the TV off, my stomach in knots.


I wondered what this woman would say if she met my own parents. Would she blame them for the way I turned out? For that matter: Should I?

Let me back up a bit. I'm fat and have been since I was a toddler. Not "trapped in my trailer" fat, or "have to use an extra-wide electric wheelchair at the grocery store" fat, but medically, technically, morbidly obese. I confess that whenever I hear that term -- morbidly obese -- I giggle, because I picture chubby Goths with back nail polish and dog collars. That is not to say I do not take it seriously, because I do. It is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, the last thing on my mind when I go to bed at night. And I will never be a member of the "fat acceptance movement," because I don't accept it. I have been fighting my weight for over 35 years.


But I don't believe I deserve to be hated, and hate is what I feel every single day as a fat woman. I feel it in the stares from strangers' children, and when someone screams "fat ass" as I walk my dogs. I feel it when I get a flawless performance review, but my boss asks if I have considered weight loss surgery -- as if that has something to do with my professional skills. I feel it in the constant stream of media images about what women should look like, in the tired fat jokes from comedians (come on, stop phoning it in -- get creative!), and in the constant articles about the doom that is The Obesity Epidemic. Fat people are taxing the healthcare system, they make other people uncomfortable on planes and trains, they use more fossil fuels because it takes more gas to haul their big butts around thus causing global warming, and they suck up the world's food resources while others starve.


And yet, I understand: These arguments aren't without merit, and it is after all human nature that some people express their points with meanness and derision. I don't take it personally.


But even at my most open-minded, I could not bear the debate that erupted in response to the JAMA article (and the derisive online comments). While the study, by Dr. David Ludwig and Lindsey Murtagh, did suggest that obese children -- in some extreme circumstances -- should be taken away from their parents, coverage of the article focused on the most sensational elements of the argument. It resulted in a cascade of hate on cable news and morning shows that was packaged as concern for children, like that disgusted-looking pundit who made me sick to my stomach.


Did my parents make me fat? Probably. They fed my siblings and me meals of bologna on white bread, hot dogs and potato chips. They let us have four of those Oreo-knock-off cookies-that-don't-quite-taste-right in a sitting, rather than one or two. They used fast food as a reward and eating in general as a form of entertainment. If I was upset, I might be offered a tasty snack as a pick-me-up. Even if nothing got done all day, not the dishes, not the vacuuming, not mowing the lawn, by god dinner would get done and there wouldn't be any leftovers to pack up and put away. I suppose to some people it is a portrait of failed parenting.


But my parents are also a success story. They were teen parents. They had me -- the eldest -- at age 16. It was not a mistake but a planned pregnancy. My mother grew up in a household where she faced daily abuse at the hands of people she trusted. There were challenging finances and in a family with eight children, food could sometimes be scarce. My father grew up in a slightly more stable financial situation, but where violence was the primary outlet for anger, or disappointment, as well as for discipline of children. When these two wounded, but hopeful souls met they made a forever pact in heart-shaped doodles on their class notebooks. They crafted an escape plan: Create their own family where they would make different rules. That is just what they did.

And they did it all on their own. My dad worked two jobs while finishing high school. My mom went back to night school after I was born. Dad worked double night shifts and Mom cut coupons and raised the kids while balancing work at McDonald's. They never got welfare. They never received food stamps. They modeled hard work and commitment and most of all, love. They are still married -- still go out on date nights and still laugh and look longingly in each other's eyes -- almost 40 years later.


Doctors did warn them about the children's weight, and these problems were not ignored. My mom worried. She ached for me when I came home crying after schoolmates teased me all day long. She was my biggest cheerleader when, in the fifth grade, I became the youngest member of the local Weight Watchers group to reach the 50-pound weight loss mark. She saved money we didn't have to buy weight-loss shakes and exercise equipment. She went without sleep sewing cute clothes that actually fit well, unlike the pricey crap in the husky department. Dad did his best when he wasn't working.


But once the fat is on, it is hard to get it off. When you get it off, it comes back with a vengeance. My parents could never quite bridge the gap between what was recommended and what we could afford, between what they went without and what they would never allow us to miss. And who's to say what part their parenting played in all this, really -- which part was simple genetics and which part of was the learned behavior of emotional eating; which part overindulgence and which part the negative side effects of yo-yo dieting; which part was uncooperative children and which part plain lack of knowledge and time. To think of that pundit giving such a disgusted look to my parents, crushes me. They tried so hard. They, in fact, did way more than so many. From troubled beginnings, they created a family where the cycle of violence was broken, where their children had access to more education and opportunity than they had. Did they make mistakes with food? Yes. But there was nobody better to raise my siblings and me than the two people who sacrificed so much to make sure we grew up happier and healthier than they had.


That's the real point here: We are healthier for their efforts. No matter our size. (Stacey Hall, “Should I blame my parents because I’m fat,” Salon, 14 August 2011)


Makes you wonder who would foremost keep bullying society alive and well

The writer is clearly pleased to be possessed of something that guarantees she won't be going through life without a good dose of affliction. She can accomplish stellar things -- absolutely perfect performance reviews! – and even then! she won't just be collecting satisfying accolades. What she is incapable of communicating is that without people unfairly dumping on her she'd feel much more uncomfortable than she does now, for not being able to convince herself she isn’t actually having it spectacularly good. She'd think herself spoiled; self-enriching, other-neglecting, and fully punishment-worthy.

Most people, sadly, are in some way like this, and all people who share multiple siblings are, for we get this way from learning at an early age that we exist primarily to meet some of the unmet needs of our parents (mothers who have multiple children have them primarily because infants and very young children are absolutely focussed on the mother, make the mother feel primary, important and loved, while older children inevitably begin to focus on their own needs, on concerns/interests outside the home, necesitating the plopping out of yet another sure thing!), and our insufficiently loved parents always interpret our later desire for independence and self-exploration as us rejecting them. A betrayal they instinctively countenance by such for-the-child catastrophic things as complete disinterest and rejection. Ever-after do such children remain loyal to their parents, protect them from knowing that much of their future life was predicated on never feeling they'd done something, acquired anything, insuffiently adorned or trumped by some sobering disability/curse/deflation that it made them feel worthy of a revisit of this super ego-installing punishment.

This writer is fat, and, thanks to a fat-hating society and efforts from people like her to keep it seeming pretty much inevitably always so -- despite every valiant effort! -- she's thereby found way to make whatever true life gains she acquires something she feels a bit more okay about savoring. (Even better, it's left her in her preferred position of stalwartly defending her ostensibly primarily self-sacrificing parents: oh how the pieces delightfully fall into place!) You may not be, but perhaps you'll be lucky to count yourself amongst the people truly stricken through this depression, which will glory you with sure means of demonstrating how incontrovertably unbegrudable have been your own claims upon, and acquisitions through, life.


No, and you shouldn't blame yourself, either.

I am completely sick and tired of self-righteous jerks who are completely ignorant of the reams and reams of medical research demonstrating that, for people who have a real obesity issue, 1) diet and exercise don't work, 2) repeated efforts to diet make the problem worse, 3) several different genetic/metabolic mechanisms seem to be involved, etc., etc.

Do NOT blame your parents and do NOT blame yourself. My parents sent me to nutrition counseling, weighed my food, fed me extremely healthy meals, enrolled me in Weight Watchers when I was 12. When I was a teenager, my mother took me to a "diet doctor" who prescribed mysterious diet pills. She was desperate and I was desperate. I have ben on every diet plan ever known, and I have been successful at losing weight--so disciplined and so successful that I have lost a total of more than 700 pounds over the course of my lifetime. And I am now, once again, morbidly obese.


Those who would consider fat people lazy and undisciplined should also consider that some of us managed to graduate from college with honors, from major law schools and medical schools with honors, and hold down extremely demanding jobs--these are not the hallmarks of lazy or undisciplined personalities. We are smart enough to understand that extra weight probably is not healthy (though the risks are probably lower than the unhealthy effects of extreme dieting). We are smart enough to realize that we are penalized in a million ways, social and financial and medical, for our weight. And yet we are fat.


Thousands of us go through extreme surgical procedures that effectively remove our stomachs and require us to eat extremely limited (and, yes, unhealthy) diets for the rest of our lives in order to lose weight. Those of us who go to such an extreme do not do it because we are too "lazy" to exercise. Really, if this were a matter of walking an hour a day, or just maintaining an 1800 kcal. diet when we notice ourselves gaining a couple of pounds, or keeping the kids away from candy, nobody would be overweight, much less a hundred or more pounds overweight, and nobody would be removing his stomach to prevent himself from eating.


Personally, I think the people who are ready to throw stones at fat people (or deny them health insurance or the love of their parents!) should submit themselves to a thorough examination of their own health habits, including the possibility of unlucky genetic traits or environmental circumstances that may predispose them to heart disease, cancer, alcoholism, diabetes, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, and a zillion other "preventable" diseases or conditions. I don't see why I should pay higher premiums to cover some moron whose drinking gets him into a car accident or whose loud mouth gets him into a fist fight. And those old people walking around with expensive portable oxygen tanks really should have known better than to live in smoggy cities or smoke cigarettes--why don't we lob some damning insults in their direction? Ditto the slender, but heart-attack prone legions of bankers and lawyers jamming high-end steakhouses across America--can we all agree that they should have been removed from their parents before they were allowed to grow up as assholes (let alone allowed to develop high blood pressure and coronary artery disease)? (M.A. Mayo)

M.A. Mayo

Re: "Really, if this were a matter of walking an hour a day, or just maintaining an 1800 kcal. diet when we notice ourselves gaining a couple of pounds, or keeping the kids away from candy, nobody would be overweight, much less a hundred or more pounds overweight, and nobody would be removing his stomach to prevent himself from eating."

Have you heard the rumor that a good number of Americans eat 1800 kcal meals pretty much every single time they sit down to dine? If this isn't simply a rumor, how would narrowing your diet to a third of its current, and largely denied everything you look for to achieve hunger-riddance and temporary satisfaction, be so obviously easy to achieve? I think perhaps if you replaced all these Americans and put in their place, Europeans, it might be accomplished. But otherwise it would seem almost impossible, and what you'd be left with is a nation of fat people immodestly spreading the word of experts who insist it has nothing to do with diet and exercise -- so stop the abuse! -- as they sit more comfortably fully sedentary, imagining a walk around the block a bit much, let alone an hour of purposeful striding, indulging themselves the extra helping they crave with a bit more, at ease, "ca ne fait rien."


Predictable responses to touching article

The author's love for her parents is palpable and lovely. Don't blame them - plenty of kids get the same food and are skinny. I suggest instead reading Gary Taubes' books - Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Why We Get Fat and What to Do About it - and forget about feeling sad. Ms. Hall's parents were great. (jcc126)

jcc126

RE: The author's love for her parents is palpable and lovely. Don't blame them - plenty of kids get the same food and are skinny. I suggest instead reading Gary Taubes' books - Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Why We Get Fat and What to Do About it - and forget about feeling sad. Ms. Hall's parents were great.

What is palpable is the author's need to so essentialize her parents as hard-working, self-sacrificing, and self-denying that attacks upon them can readily be dismissed for their absurd cruel-heartedness alone. What is palpable to some of us is the author's absolute need to understand her parents as not at fault, which mostly communicates to us how complicated her love for them actually is, in that it may in fact mostly be at the service of intimidation-born requirement.

Gary Taubes tells people to pretty much consume no sugar. The biggest meat pattie in the world, if you like, but absolutely for sure no bun to bed it in, fries to accompany it along, or sugary drink to wash it all smoothly on down. My guess is that if you turned on every obese person onto this diet the only weight they'd lose is in strangling people like you for blanching them temporarily of their king-feastly, abundant starchy fun.


Calories, non-smoking, etc.

I'm near the author's age, and virtually all the kids in elementary school & junior high were skinny yet had a lunch just like she describes -- so I don't buy for a minute that her weight was from what she ate for lunch.


I learned the hard way in my 20s that caloric restriction + exercise aren't always helpful. I exercised at the gym for 2 hours 3 nights per week and ate nothing more all day than a plain sandwich (a few pieces of lunchmeat, mustard, wheat bread), only drank water...yet I only became fatter. Fortunately, the anti-depressant I was prescribed (Wellbutrin) speeds the metabolism up or something, so I finally reverted to being a proper weight (5'2½" ~112 lbs.) even though my increasingly painful neck deformity meant I couldn't work out at the gym anymore.


Comparing society's attempts to get people to lose weight with anti-smoking campaigns is absurd. The reason society restricted citizens' right to smoke anywhere they pleased is because -- unlike being obese -- it physically harmed others. (Even if you don't believe in the effects of secondhand smoke, the chemicals still trigger allergic reactions like headaches or full-potentially deadly asthma attacks. As the old saying goes, your right to swing your fist ends at my face...) (XyzzyAvatar)

XyzzyAvatar

Re: I'm near the author's age, and virtually all the kids in elementary school & junior high were skinny yet had a lunch just like she describes -- so I don't buy for a minute that her weight was from what she ate for lunch.

So Europeans are skinny owing to their superior genes? Or do we get some kind of wonderful compensense in exchange for our absurdly cruel collectively-held genetic defect, which has so many of us gaining weight, not just on regular, but even on starvation diets of water, whole grain, and non-sugary spread?

RE: Fortunately, the anti-depressant I was prescribed (Wellbutrin) speeds the metabolism up or something, so I finally reverted to being a proper weight (5'2½" ~112 lbs.) even though my increasingly painful neck deformity meant I couldn't work out at the gym anymore.

One of the problems about people you know are on anti-depressants, or "inclined" to go on them, is that they have a tough time seeming entirely trustworthy in the tales they tell: truth seems never likely to have it over giving just the right sort of lift. Your increasingly painful neck deformity that you tell us about is mostly in service to your explanation, or is it something of a primary point in itself? That is, did you want us to finish reading and consider how damnably cruel and mis-understanding others must have been in assessing your likely reason for quiting the gym? Another thing, beyond weight, that unfairly draws scorn upon the innocent, to be used to draw satisfying consolation from oneself and (complicit) others?

RE: Comparing society's attempts to get people to lose weight with anti-smoking campaigns is absurd. The reason society restricted citizens' right to smoke anywhere they pleased is because -- unlike being obese -- it physically harmed others.

I'm not sure about physical abuse, but be sure some of us suspect that a nation of fat people will intellectually harm us, in aggressively inhibiting/squashing debate when it doesn't tell things as they would have it.


For weight loss, forget "eat less, move more"

Just stop consuming easily consumable, easily digestible carbohydrates. It shouldn't be difficult, decades ago most people managed to do it without having to think about it. The problem is fighting the efforts of all the industries whose very existence is dependent on such consumption. It wasn't always this way. Junk food is heavily laden with the worse kinds of carbohydrates. When did obesity become a major health issue? There are physical mechanisms in the body that go haywire when carbohydrates are processed. No amount of exercise can stop those processes. Exercise promotes the consumption of still more carbohydrates. The body has no off switch for consumption of food while carbohydrates are being consumed. These ideas seem wrong or counter-intuitive because of the misinformation spread in recent decades. (Charley Horse)

@Charley Horse

RE: Just stop consuming easily consumable, easily digestible carbohydrates. It shouldn't be difficult, decades ago most people managed to do it without having to think about it.

Just like decades ago (lets say the 60s and 70s) pretty much every Republican was more liberally in support of social programs than most democrats are now. That is, "decades ago" is sadly a realm no one living now is easily going to be able to resurrect or revisit; no matter how hard think someone thinks about it, "they're" not likely to come to know it.

If we as a people collectively "Jamie Oliver" lose weight now, it'll be for terrible, non-praiseworthy reasons: namely, to essentialize ourselves as pure and fit and isolate poisons neatly in some other culture/group; and two, to emphasize the difference between ourselves and the readily indulgent elite, something that serves our masochistic need to feel noble, selfless, and less inviting of the harsh judgment sweeping over a land that clearly previously had suffered way too much scarcely limited and unquestionably unearned gaudy spoils and unrepetant fun.

Link: Should I blame my parents because I’m fat (Salon)

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