Tag Archives: obesity

10 Things I love About Biking

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I have been wanting to write this post for a while, especially since I wrote the 10 Things I Hate About Biking. So here it is:

10 Things I Love About Biking:

  1. Biking is Challenging – I love a good challenge. I tend to be singular in what I challenge myself with. Mostly, the only challenge I really have is my work. Last year was particularly difficult and work took up a huge amount of my time and focus. Biking offered a counter balance to the work challenge. It was personally challenging for me to get on the bike. I forced myself push a little farther every day.
  2. Biking is Fun! – Honestly, it really is. I have said many times it was hard work, but the pay-off for that hard work is that I get to bike. I love the feel of the sun on my face, the wind in my hair. I love flying down hills, or the steady pedaling of riding on a flat trail. I feel free in a way that I do not feel walking or *gasp* running, or doing any other kind of exercise.
  3.  The “Biking Community” –  I am not sure if it is the same in every community, but in Arlington, there is a big informal, (and probably formal if I looked into it more), biking community. A lot of people bike here. There are bike trails everywhere and most of the streets are accommodating to bikers. And other bikers kind of look out for one another. This is something I was not really aware of. One day in August was particularly hot. I was thirsty and pulled off the trail for a moment to drink some water. I’m sure my face was red and I was very sweaty and panting. One girl slowly road by me and asked if I was OK. I assured her I was just thirsty and she pedaled on her way. Occasionally, you get the person who is aggressively concerned with your biking. Annoyingly so, in fact. “That bike is too small for you!” One such person yelled to me as I was slowly riding up hill. “You need to raise your seat! You’ll blow out your knees!” I had to stop and walk the bike up the hill and he came over to try to show me how to raise my seat. Dude! Seriously? At that point in my biking I was just a few days out and feeling very unstable on the bike. Raising my seat was not something I was quite comfortable with yet. I waved him off and told him I was OK, and he grumbled his disapproval and walked away. Creepy. Fortunately, my experiences with other bikers has been much more pleasant.
  4. Supportive Bikers – This is probably a sub-group of the biking community, but I have really come across so many bikers who have been very supportive of my efforts. There’s the girl who offered to fix my flat tire. The guy who stopped to see if he could fix my handle bars. And bikers who just acknowledge me with a polite nod as they pass. But my favorite person, I “met” on one of my first rides. I was re-entering the Four Mile Run trail from South Glebe. There is a slight incline as you enter the trail. I was really struggling to get up the teeny hill. I wanted to push myself to the top. I was traveling at a snail’s pace. A woman rides up behind me and announces she’s passing me on my left. I was literally about to give up and get off my bike when she said as she rode by, “Keep pushing! You got this!” Her words were just the impetus I needed. Two, maybe, three pedals later, I crested the hill and yelled out, “I did it!” She raised her fist in the air in solidarity and rode off.
  5. Being Outside – I could go to gym and ride the stationary bike or join a spin class, but that really never held any appeal for me. I love being outside. The feel of the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. Amazing. Plus I get to see all the beauty around me. Spring and fall are my two favorite seasons. I love the feeling of renewal in the spring air, the blooming of the cherry blossoms, azaleas, budding trees. And the last splash of color and cool air of autumn. And everything in between.
  6. Pushing Myself – I love pushing myself. This past year, I have ridden harder and farther than I ever thought I could. I love to see how far I can go. There have been times I have pushed too far, but I’ve always made it back home, even if I had to walk. The farthest I ever pushed myself to date is my ride from home to Chinatown in DC. It was much farther than I thought it was. Google Maps initially said it was only 6 miles from my house and would take an hour. Google lied. On the bike trail, it was probably 10 or 11 miles. And it took almost two hours. I do not regret doing this though. It was hard and a little scary, but I had a lot of fun.
  7. Riding Downhill – Need I say more? Yes, it is a little scary, but man is it ever fun! I push myself to ride a 4 miles on a slow steady incline on my regular ride. The reward is, I get to ride about 4 miles on a slow steady decline on the way home. The downhill part of the ride is what everyone who dreams of riding thinks biking is like, pedaling effortlessly down the trail and enjoying the ride. And that is what it is like sometimes. But you do not think of the long slog of pushing up hill to get there. The uphill is what makes the downhill really worth it though.
  8. It Is Hard – I like that biking is difficult. One of my favorite movie quotes is from A League of Her Own when the obnoxious Tom Hanks character says to star player who is walking away from the game, “It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Of course, in Northern Virginia, I think everyone does bike, but that’s not the point. The point is, that I have forced myself to do something that was difficult for me. And the rewards have been immeasurable.
  9. Being Present – There are numerous articles about the benefits of being present in your life, living in he moment, appreciating the here and now. So many of us just coast through our days. Or our schedules are so full, we are just racing to get to the end of the day so we can collapse on our beds for a few hours of respite before we begin again. I often say that when I’m at work, I feel like I’m wishing my life away 8 hours at a time. I’m never fully there. Always planning for the next thing. When I’m biking, I’m not doing that. I have to be focused and present all the time. There are so many things that can derail my ride, cars, traffic, pedestrians, obstacles on the trail errant two-year olds running in front of the bike. You have to pay attention if you want to be safe. Of course, my mind wanders and I think of other things while I’m biking. I think about writing, and all the things I have to do when I get home or get to work, but always, I’m paying attention to the trail, the bike, how I feel, am I hydrated, should I rest, how far I am from home. Biking is one of the few parts of my life where I’m not just waiting for the time to pass so I can get to the next part of my day. I am happy just to be in the moment biking and loving it.
  10. Overall Feeling of Well Being And Accomplishment – I feel better when I bike. My health is better. My breathing is better. I feel stronger and more confident because of biking. I know something about myself. I know that I can push myself physically to achieve a goal. This is something I have not always felt I could do. As someone who spent most of her adult life morbidly obese, the idea of excelling in any kind of physical activity was almost unthinkable. That is no longer the case.

Too Fat To Travel?

So, apparently this guy named Kevin Chenais has been deemed too fat to travel. He has been denied boarding on flights, boats, and trains.  He apparently has a hormone imbalance, which has caused his incredible weight gain. He’s 22 years old and weights 500 pounds. He traveled to the US to receive medical help from the Mayo clinic and has been trying to get back home to France.

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I really feel bad for this guy.  Granted, at my heaviest, I was never close to what he weighs.  But still, the discrimination he’s faced is unbelievable.  British Airways, the QE2, The Eurostar, have all denied him boarding quoting safety reasons.

I am thoroughly disgusted with these companies.

I can tell you point-blank that being morbidly obese is a terrible way to live.  I never weighed what he weighs, but at 315 pounds, I was horribly unhappy and sick.  My weight gain was caused by my poor eating habits and lack of exercise. This guy has a medical condition that he is trying to treat.

No matter how he gained weight, it should not matter.  People still have it in their heads that it is OK to treat people they feel are “less than” any way they please.  And fat people certainly fit that bill.

So, if this guy cannot meet the ridiculous arbitrary guidelines set by the airlines, cruise ships, and trains, he has no right to travel to seek medical help?

He flew to Chicago on British Airways.  Virgin Atlantic flew him back to London.

There is no excuse for this disgusting treatment.  Shame on them.

I hope he received the medical treatment he needs to get better.

Review of “Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–And My Own” by Mika Brzezinski

obsessed4xI finally finished Mika’s book a couple of weeks ago.  It is only 228 pages, but it was very difficult for me to read.  I struggled to read it because I felt as if someone reached inside my head, pulled out my innermost thoughts, and placed them on a page for the whole world to read.  But, I am glad that I read it.

She confirmed for me what I have known for a long time.  I have even shared this idea on this blog.  That all eating disorders, whether bulimia, anorexia, or obesity, all have something in common.  They are all illnesses that need to be treated as such.  Anorexia and bulimia have been treated as illnesses for a long time, but obesity still suffers the social stigma of being a personal character flaw that needs to be addressed by that individual alone.

What I learned from reading Mika’s book, and from conversations I have had with a family member with bulimia, is that some of the dysfunction she has with food, and the dysfunction I have with food are the same, and they need to be treated as such.

As a child, a teen, college student, and well into her adult years, she obsessed about food much in the same way I did.  I thought about food all of the time growing up.  I dieted, starved myself, took diet pills, binged, purged through crazy exercise stints.  I never thought I was thin enough.  I always thought I was fat, even when I was not.

Reading what Mika and her friend and co-writer, Diane, had to say was like reliving all those thoughts all over again.

We live in a society that values beauty and thinness above all else.  People who suffer from eating disorders that keep them thin are definitely viewed as having a more sympathetic problem than those whose disorder makes and keeps them fat.  Her friend Diane, whom she confronted about her excess weight put it quite succinctly, “At least your obsession with food helps you keep the weight off…mine doesn’t” (p. 116)  Mika continued, “She may be right, but it is still not healthy.  One problem is that being so thin really gets rewarded. When I’m at my thinnest, I have everyone in the world telling me how great I look.” (p. 116)

This rewarding thinness and weight loss really concerns me.  I have to admit that I have some concern about how everyone fusses over my weight loss. Don’t get me wrong, I love the attention.  When I know I’m going out to be among a group of my friends or family, I take some extra care to look my best.  I choose my clothes to carefully pick out something I know really accents the weight loss.  I fix my hair.  I put on make up.  I prepare myself mentally to have everyone tell me how great I look.  I know it’s a bit narcissistic, but I have lived a lifetime being ashamed of how I look and trying to make myself as invisible as possible.  It’s nice to be fussed over.  But, I am concerned about going from being known only as the fat girl to being known only as the fat girl who lost a lot of weight.  I really long for people to really know me.  I have always felt the real me has nothing to do with how much I weigh, or what I eat, and it would be such a relief to really be seen for who I truly am.

What I found really interesting about this book was the discussion about how food companies have made foods that are deliberately addictive.  The combination of sugar, salt, and fat apparently trigger some of the same pleasure parts of the brain that addictive drugs do.  That explains why it is easy to become addicted to these foods and keeps people eating long after they are full.  I know when I eat processed foods, they have a different effect on me than whole, clean foods do.  I feel more sated, and I definitely have a short-lived feeling of pleasure and satisfaction from eating fried, greasy, salty, sugary foods.  But I also know that once I start to eat these foods, it is hard for me to stop.  There are certain foods I definitely have all or nothing relationship with.  Nutter Butters, for example.  I have known for years that I have one of two choices when eating them.  I can eat none of the Nutter Butters in the box, or all of the Nutter Butters in the box.  There is no in between.

I’m sure the food companies aren’t making foods like this because they are inherently evil, but they make foods like this to increase the likelihood consumers will keep buying their foods so that they keep making money.  That is, after all, why they are in business.

I think that there are several really good points in this book:

  • We need to re-think our ideas about weight either thinness or obesity.
  • We need to re-think our approach to rewarding thinness over non-thinness.
  • We need to re-think our approach to dealing with all eating disorders.
  • We need to re-think our approach to food and wellness.
  • We need to ask/force food companies to be more responsible in the foods they produce and how they are marketed.
  • We need to take aggressive steps to address the obesity problem in our country.

They think an open and honest dialogue is the best way to begin to address some of these problems.

“More than a year after our infamous conversation on Long Island Sounds, Diane and I are more convinced than ever that sharing our stories and providing support to one another are huge steps toward changing the way we think about weight and food.  … ‘We need to be able to have that dialogue, but first thing we need to do is lay down the burden of blame and shame,’ said obesity expert Dr. David Katz. ‘Until we do that, we as a nation are stuck at this impasse on obesity.'” (p. 139)

I agree.  This is primarily why I started this blog.  I wanted to have an honest discussion about what it is like to be fat and facing horrible health problems.  I wanted to discuss how I chose to address those health problems.  I also wanted to discuss how I got fat and what was keeping me fat.

Writing about my problems, and putting my thoughts out into the world definitely helped me deal with some of my issues.  I’m not saying I am completely cured.  Yes, I made the decision to take charge of my life and change its trajectory, but it was not that simple.  I have had a lot of struggles along the way, and I still do.  It wasn’t just one choice.  I still have to make the choice every day to stay on track.

The surgery helps keep me on track, but it does not keep me from making bad choices.  I can choose to waste my daily caloric intake on junk food or healthy food.  I can choose to exercise or not.  I can choose to overeat and stretch out my new smaller stomach, or I can choose to stick to the plan.

But back to the book.  I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in food and health issues.  In fact, I recommend it to anyone even if they are not interested in food and health issues.  I don’t think Mika and Diane mean this book to be the solution to everyone’s food problems, but to be the start of an ongoing dialogue that will hopefully change the face of our nation.

So, let’s not waste any time in starting this conversation.  In the words of the infamous SNL icon created by Mike Meyers…”talk amongst yourselves!”

#IAmNotADisease Should Be #IAmNotACharacterFlaw: The AMA’s War On Obesity

OK, so last week I wrote a post in support of the AMA’s decision to call obesity a disease.  I still stand by that.  The medical community has long recognized Anorexia and Bulimia as diseases and developed treatments for people with those illnesses.  Obesity, on the other hand, has always been treated as a character flaw and not something that should be medically treated.

Insurance companies have refused to reimburse doctors for treatment.  Many doctors’ only discussions with their obese patients is basically, “You should lose weight,” and then the patient is kind of left on their own to wade through the morass of diet products and schemes.

The consensus of some people seems to be that the medical community is only looking to make a buck.  Maybe so.  But, would I rather leave obese people looking for answers on late-night TV infomercials instead of talking to their doctor?  And maybe having their insurance company pay for them to seek help?  Maybe go to a nutritionist?  Find an exercise plan that works for them?  In extreme cases, find a medical solution that may include surgery or medication?

There are many people out there who advocate for fat acceptance, and I agree with them.  They rightly point out that there are many people who are larger who are quite healthy.  But many who are obese have serious medical problems.  I know I did.  And my obesity was killing me.  Instead of treating the symptoms of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart problems, organ problems, sleep apnea, etc., why not just treat the illness itself?  I’m tired of people treating obesity as if it is different from any other illness.  As long as the obese person is seen as the problem, the treatments people need will remain elusive and inconsistent.

There has to be a middle ground somewhere.  I still think the AMA made the right choice.  I would rather fight a war against obesity than a war against those who are obese, which is where I feel we are now.

That’s Right…Obesity Is A Disease

Today, the American Medical Association (AMA) came out and stated that obesity is a disease.  This is a pretty big deal.  This means that obesity can be medically treated as the disease that it is and not just treated as a character flaw.  All I can say is it is about freaking time.  Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia have long been treated as illnesses, but obesity has always been viewed as a deficit in the character of the obese individual.

I do not know what the full implications will mean, what insurance will be required to cover, etc., but this is a big step and one that I hope will lead to effective treatments for people struggling with obesity.  The Today Show did a nice little piece about this very exciting bit of news this morning.

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I know my personal experience with fighting obesity is complex.  Often doctors just said, “please lose weight.” Or asked, “What are you doing to lose weight?”  Now doctors will be able to look at you like an individual and work on a weight loss plan with you or recommend you to someone who can.  Insurance companies, in the past, have refused to pay doctor bills for my annual physical because the doctor added, “patient should lose weight” to their comments in my file.  The reason the insurance company used to deny payment was, “plan does not cover weight loss treatments.”  It didn’t matter that this was my annual physical, which was theoretically covered under the plan.

If insurances agencies and company benefit plans can be compelled to offer obesity treatments in their benefit packages, that would be great.  Many companies that provide insurance to their employees already try to offer incentives for people to improve their health.  Making obesity treatment and prevention part of the benefit package would really increase the likelihood people will be able to make those adjustments.  This would also hopefully remove some of the stigma attached to obesity and help many people receive appropriate healthy treatment.

I think this is a big health victory for Americans and could really go a long way to making it possible for people to receive proper treatment and preventative care for obesity.

Potential Skin Removal – Question #2

Today’s question comes from my good friend Laura G.  Her question is:

What are your plans for skin removal surgery and how will that work?

In all honestly, Laura, I do not know.  Once I finish losing weight, I will have a better idea as to whether I need skin removed and how much.  I imagine I will need some skin removed.

My current plan is to exercise and build up muscle tone, which should help shrink some of my excess skin and fill it in with muscles instead of fat.  But let’s face facts.  I was morbidly obese for more than 20 years.  My skin is in pretty bad shape.  I will probably have to get some skin removed when all is said and done.

I can see problem areas cropping up already.  I have excess skin on my upper thighs, my stomach, my upper arms and my neck.  And I will not even mention how sad my breasts look.  If I had to choose in order of importance to me, I would have excess skin removed from my stomach, my boobs lifted, my upper arms, my thighs, and maybe my neck.  In that order.  That is a lot of surgery.  I am not sure if any of it will ever happen.  Some of this could be fixed up some by increasing my exercise and working on muscle tone and strengthening.  But I still think I will need to have some surgery to correct the rest of it.

My plans will depend on the cost of the surgery and whether insurance will pay for any of it at all.  I am hoping that insurance will pay for some of it at the very least.  I may be able to prove that the extra skin in the abdomen, etc poses a health risk and that may help.  But I have a feeling, I will end up paying for most of the skin removal surgery myself.

If I end up paying for all of it, that could be difficult.  I will have to make some tough choices based on what I can afford.  I will have to evaluate what I look like after the weight loss and exercise/muscle build-up plan are complete.  Then decide how much extra skin I am willing to tolerate.  Then I will start with the worst areas, which I can tell already will be my stomach and my thighs.  If that’s all I ever have done, I will be OK with that.  I would also like to have extra skin on my upper arms removed, but who knows if that will ever happen.  I may  just have to live with that.

For now, I’m trying not to think about it too much.  I am going to work on what I can and deal with the rest when I get to that point.

Food Addicts R US

Normally, I am not a fan of the show Morning Joe.  I think he’s kind of a jerk and I’m not a fan.  I do watch it some mornings as I get ready for work because there is rarely anything else on that is any good.  I like some of the people he has on his show and I am starting to really like Mika Brzezinski.

This week, however, I am totally glued to MJ as Mika has just come out with a new book:  Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction – And My Own.

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Mika co-wrote this book with a friend of hers.  I have not read the book yet, but I am putting it on my wish-list!  She and her friend have been discussing very honestly about their different addictions with food and the effect body image, food addiction, and eating disorders have had on their lives.  Mika has talked about her bulimia and her friend was obese.  Her friend has lost 75 pounds and Mika has gained about 14.

For the record, they are both beautiful women who need to change nothing.

Part of what motiviated yesterdays post about my own food addiction, apart from my mini meltdown on Sunday, was listening to Mika talk about her own addiction.  She tells, and retells a story about how one night, she woke up and began eating an entire jar of Nutella. Her husband found her in the kitchen when he woke up with an empty jar and her hands covered in Nutella.  Although I’ve never eaten and entire jar of the stuff myself, I completely understand and can identify with the feelings that compelled her to do this.  I have certainly found myself in the kitchen gorging myself on whatever it whatever it took for me to satisfy that urge.  Watching her on TV was like looking in a mirror, but a mirror where I am 5’10”, blonde, and totally hot.

I love the conversation she’s had about the shame of having an eating disorder.  I can totally relate.  And she talked about how she felt as if she had no right to come out about her own eating problems and her opinions about food and weight because she is thin and not fat.  Which, I can kind of understand what she means.  I have often listened to skinny girls who complained about their weight and thought, “yeah right, what do you know about being fat.”  But what I have come to realize is that it’s not the fat that’s the problem.  Whether one is fat or thin is immaterial, it is our own self-image that is messed up…that’s the real issue.

She has also talked a lot about how foods are designed to be addictive.  She had the author of another book that I am adding to my wish-list, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

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Michael Moss specifically talks about how the food companies spend a ton of money to make sure that we crave their foods.  It is easy to see how we have a huge obesity problem here in the US if the food we eat is made to be addictive.

It’s this combination of a destructive obsession with body image, fat, and self loathing and addictive foods that really seems to be at the heart of the problem.  When 2 out of three Americans are obese or have some kind of eating disorder, we have a problem.  People like Mika and her friend talking about their issues, is how we start to address it.

I cannot wait to read these books and I’m really looking forward to see what Mika has in store for tomorrow’s show!

Commuting in DC

metro

So, now that I am able to walk some more, commuting to DC is not the hassle it was a year ago.

When I used to work in DC at a client site, my office was located about a block and a half from the nearest Metro station.  I also had to walk across the street from my apartment building to catch a bus.  I did not have to walk a lot, but it was still more than I could handle.  I had to sit when I arrived at the bus stop.  After I got off the Metro in DC, I had to stop at least twice to rest my back before getting to the office.  It was awful.

Now, I am back to working in DC and no longer working from home.  My office is nowhere near a Metro station.  It is at least 5.5 blocks from the nearest station. Well, OK that’s not entirely true.  There are two stops that are about 4 blocks from the office, but then I have to go two stops out of my way and take another train, and the stop where I change trains is still adds another two stops to my trip.  It’s worth the extra block to not have to change trains and keep my metro stops down to three stations.

Five blocks are really not that far.  Normal people walk this much all of the time without even a thought.  I used to before I became so morbidly obese.  Now that I have lost 81 pounds, (OMG 81!!!!!), walking this much is easy.

I am also standing pretty much from the minute I leave my apartment until I get to the office.  I stand out in front of my building to wait for the bus…OK that’s not true.  I sometimes sit at the bus stop.  But once I get on the bus, I stand until I get to the metro station because there is often not a seat.  Then the metro train is so full, I stand for the three whole stops until I can pry myself out of the train.  There is not even time or quite frankly the room to read anything on my kindle app.  Seriously, some days you need a shoe horn to get people out of there we are packed in so tightly.  Then I fight to get up the escalators and out of the station before I begin my hike to the office.

Sometimes, I go to the little French café (where they play middle eastern music, btw…not that I mind middle eastern music, it’s just that Americans have fanciful notions that every French café should be playing Edith Piaf singing Non Je Ne Regrette Rien all day long, but I digress), that is next to my office to get a cup of decaf.  There I sit and enjoy my last moments of solitude before entering the snake pit.

Honestly, the three stops are not bad.  Even the 5.5 block walk to the office is not bad.  I just hate being crammed on the train with about 10,000 other people with nowhere to move or breathe.  I am convinced with every jerk of the train that I will lose my balance and fall into the person next to me.  There is no real room to fall, so I would probably just body slam into the person next to me and cause people to tumble into one another like dominos.  Then there is the constant stopping and waiting for no reason without explanation.  And I haven’t even mentioned the broken escalators and elevators.  The train ride is stressful.  I thank God I only have to go three stops.

I am also thankful that I can do it relatively pain-free.  I still have some pain in my feet.  And occasionally my knees and back hurt a little.  But for the most part, I am enjoying the fact that I can do this.

Two other points…I lost 81 pounds!!!!  Omg I can hardly believe it!

The other thing I wanted to mention, I kind of put on my Facebook Page yesterday.  Yesterday, upon exiting the Metro station in DC, I ran into a friend of mine whom I have not seen in about two years.  She had a gastric by-pass 9 years ago.  We used to work together.  She looks great.  I also did not know her before the surgery.  She told me over and over again that she has no regrets.  I thought about her often before and since my surgery.

Well, I saw her and walked right up to her and made eye contact and she looked at me like she has never seen me before.  Then I told her who I was and seriously, her jaw dropped.  She asked me what I had been up to so I told her that I had the surgery.  We only had a moment to talk because we were both in the mad-commuter-rush-to-work mindset, but she told me that I looked great.  I have her email address, so I am going to send her an email.  I need to tell her how her experience really helped me make my decision when I reached my breaking point.  I may not have been ready to do it when she and I talked in the past, but I thought of her often through everything I have experienced.

Barefaced Beauty

I watched Melissa Harris-Parry’s show this weekend and she did a whole section on body image and beauty.  It was an inspiring piece.  I found these statistics to be startling:

Here are some heart breaking statistics:

  • 42% of first-third grade girls want to be thinner.
  • 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
  • In the past decade, hospitalizations for eating disorders increased by 119% for children younger than 12.

I have a young niece who in a few years may find herself influenced by negative self images and negative body images.  She is beautiful and has no reason to feel that way, but one could say that about all young girls and women.  Suffering from an eating disorder myself, I know how damaging these negative thoughts can be.

MHP has asked women today to not wear makeup and post their pictures of themselves without makeup.  It is a small thing, but I know many women who have not left their house without some kind of make-up since they were 12.  Wearing makeup is part of body/self image.

So, here is my pic this morning:

barefaced

Fatty Fatty Two-by-Four

Do not like fat people?  Think they are ruining the health of this country?  Bully them!  So says prominent bioethicist Daniel Callahan.

OK, to be fair, he does not use the word bully, but I see little difference between what he is recommending and bullying.  He calls it “stigmatization.”  He tries to compare it to the successful stigmatization campaign against smokers to reduce smoking in this country.  He justifies his theory thusly:

It will be imperative, first, to persuade them that they ought to want a good diet and exercise for themselves and for their neighbor and, second, that excessive weight and outright obesity are not socially acceptable any longer. 

Really?  Excessive weight and obesity are not socially acceptable any longer?  When, pray tell, was being fat ever acceptable?  I would like to know when he thinks that is.  I have been battling poor self-image all of my life because even when I was thin, everyone told me I was fat.  I have faced social ostracization,  mean comments uttered both aloud and muttered so that just I could hear them, and mockery because of my weight.  I have been held back professionally because of my weight and my weight also affected my dating life.

So, when exactly, does he think it became cool to be fat?

Here are some of his suggestions for bringing social pressure to bear on fat or on their way to being fat people:

I do not know what is scarier, the fact that he is promoting bullying as a useful tactic in the fight against obesity or that he thinks that overweight people do not know what so-called thin people think of us.  Yes, I stand by my term bullying because that is exactly what this kind of social pressure is.

The worst part of all of this?  Mr. Callahan makes many other astute and valid points in his thesis.  He talks about bringing government pressure to bear on the food industry, taxing high caloric, high fat food, changing school lunches, finding ways to address childhood obesity.  All excellent ideas.  But those ideas are completely overshadowed by his promoting negative social pressure.

He spent a lot of time comparing fat shaming to smoking shaming.  He also tried to address what he views as the reasons other people do not think fat shaming will work.

Why is obesity said to be different from smoking? Three reasons are common: it is wrong to stigmatize people because of their health conditions; wrong to think it will work well, or at all, with obesity; and counterproductive with the obese because of evidence that it worsens rather than improves their condition. Ethically speaking, the social pressures on smokers focused on their behavior, not on them as persons. Stigmatizing the obese, by contrast, goes after their character and selfhood, it is said, not just their behavior. Stigmatization in their case also leads demonstrably to outright discrimination, in health care, education, and the job market more generally. The obese are said to be lazy, self-indulgent, lacking in discipline, awkward, unattractive, weak-willed and sloppy, insecure and shapeless, to mention only a few of the negative judgments among doctors and nurses.

These are the wrong reasons.  I am not saying that he does not have a point with some of these reasons, but he is missing the bigger point.

The differences between smoking and eating are this.   One, we need to eat to live.  People need to consume calories, protein, vitamin rich food every day or we starve.  We do not need to smoke to live.  Two, smoking affects the health of the larger community through second-hand smoke.  Obesity generally only affects the health of the obese person unless that person is pregnant or may become pregnant.  Also, there is no evidence that social shaming and ostracization keeps people from gaining weight or makes fat people lose weight.  It only makes them feel bad about themselves and encourages fat discrimination.

Finally, we will never really find a way to combat obesity in this country as long as many people live in poverty, lack access to healthy food, and lack access to health care.  Also, as long as losing weight is seen as part of the “diet industry” and a way for business to make money off of people who want nothing more than to be healthy we will not adequately be able to address the obesity problem.  People need real knowledge on how to become and stay healthy.

I have no problem with some amount of social pressure to encourage people to be healthier.  I just think that the pressure needs to be positive and encouraging not shaming and negative.  I think most people want to be healthy.  Most every woman I have ever met has dieted or tried to change their diet to lose weight and improve their health.

I imagine that on many issues concerning obesity, Mr. Callahan and I are much closer together than we are apart.  I just cannot agree with his fat-bullying campaign.

What we do not want to do is create a world where it is OK to harass fat people and create such stress that it drives many people into eating disorders to live up to negative social pressure to meet seemingly untenable goals set by people who do not have their best interest at heart.

Wait…what?