Big Fat Myths About Fat Part I

Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!

I’ve been reluctant to talk about some of the naysayers because I’m not primarily a size-acceptance blogger and there are so many great bloggers out there already doing the work.  However, I haven’t been able to reply to every comment so I figured it was time for a clarifying post.

First, the post in question was a revisit of a previous post “I Don’t Think of You As Fat!” Raising Size-Accepting Children where I provided a little more background on why shaming doesn’t work and how close most kids skate to an eating disorder.

  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives[1. Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat!. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.]
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner[2. Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.]
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat[3. Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27-37.
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets[4. Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.]

Several comments left are completely off base and lacking in a factual basis.  For example,

Fat = Unhealthy

 the fact that you refute fat=unhealthy is completely off base. This is not just some beauty myth. Being overweight truly is unhealthy. It taxes our joints, our organs and every part of our body.

It’s absurd to think being overweight is as healthy as being ideal or average weight.

Uh, no. Sorry.  Not true.  This is an idea promoted by the diet industry not science.  Researchers at Case Western Reserve studied the idea that “fat” taxes our organs when in fact “the idea that fat strains the heart has no scientific basis“.  I recommend this series of articles from Junkfood Science for more information: 

Fat – aka adipose tissue – is not a disease.  It doesn’t cause disease.  It has even been shown to be healthy.  I love this quote from Kate Harding at Shapely Prose;

In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes.

Losing Weight is Easy

 Weight control is pretty simple – eat less and exercise more if you want to lose weight. Maybe they would do it if told/shown how…If I had an overweight child I would help them lose weight and it WOULD happen.

The hubris here defies logic.  Three words: Minnesota. Starvation. Study.  You can read about it here or here.  Of course scores of other researchers have found the same thing like this for example which has a fascinating follow-up where they tried to get thin people to gain weight;

subjects were prisoners at a nearby state prison who volunteered to gain weight. With great difficulty, they succeeded, increasing their weight by 20 percent to 25 percent. But it took them four to six months, eating as much as they could every day. Some consumed 10,000 calories a day, an amount so incredible that it would be hard to believe, were it not for the fact that there were attendants present at each meal who dutifully recorded everything the men ate.

Once the men were fat, their metabolisms increased by 50 percent.

They needed more than 2,700 calories per square meter of their body surface to stay fat but needed just 1,800 calories per square meter to maintain their normal weight.

Within months, they were back to normal and effortlessly stayed there.

So, no.  Losing weight is not easy, simple, or even beneficial in some cases.  Everyone’s body has a healthy size and trying to alter it is nearly impossible and a bad idea.

But I know a fat person that got skinny!  No, you probably know an out of shape person that got in shape.

Stay tuned for part II where I”ll look at the myths of Good vs. Bad Food and the myth of Nutritionism.


4 thoughts on “Big Fat Myths About Fat Part I

  1. Pingback: 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image | Baby Dust Diaries

  2. Pingback: Good Food v. Bad Food | Baby Dust Diaries

  3. 1st, I wholeheartedly agree with you that there are many negative personality attributes which are unreasonably associated with obesity, and the perpetuation of these associations can be/is extremely destructive.

    2nd, the CDC disagrees with your interpretations of "fatness" as pertains to health.

    I think that a central discrepancy of any discussion regarding obesity is the difference between body composition and weight. Weight tells you nothing about whether or not someone is obese, or even overweight. The reason for this is that lean body mass has a higher mass/volume than fat, meaning that two people can weigh the same, while having drastically different fitness levels. In the linked article regarding the prisoners, as well as the twins and hospital studies, I noticed that not once was fitness level mentioned, nor was physical activity mentioned. In fact, in the case of the specially controlled 600-calorie liquid diet, it seemed almost certain that no exercise was being performed at all. I'm forced to wonder, in the case of the prisoners, what their level of physical activity was as they operated under 10,000 calorie a day diets. Were they exercising? Were they allowed to participate in weight training? Olympic athletes typically have diets such as these when preparing for competition, and bodybuilders / fitness models will frequently dramatically increase their calories to enable greater muscle growth.

    3rd, with regards to the "obesity paradox", it seemed as though, in every linked article, fat people did better than skinny people who had a similar affliction, but this hardly constitutes a paradox. Illness results in a raised need for nutrition and a higher metabolism as temperatures rise to fight disease, as well as a decreased ability to take in food and decreased appetite. People who are fat would of course have an advantage in terms of survival in these cases. What the study did not mention (in the case of cardiac arrest survival chances to be specific) was the number of "obese/overweight/normal/underweight" cases. This is critical data, considering that if 5% of "healthy" bodycomp individuals died, while only 3% (excuse my inexact percentages) of overweight/obese individuals died, but 80 percent of all cases involved overweight/obese individuals, then the data doesn't really support the stated conclusion.

    In conclusion,I feel as though your article examines the issue of obesity from the perspective of Jenny Craig, and not from the fitness versus non-fitness lifestyle perspective. I think that there's a lot to be said for the rapid acceleration in childhood obesity and the degree to which outdoor play/sports have been replaced with video games and facebook.


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