Mini-editorials on obesity/HAES.

Reader closetpuritan sent me this link to a series of mini-editorials in the New York Times.

Our friends Harriet Brown and Ellyn Satter are among them, along with confused crusader Kelly Brownell (I’m sure he’s perfectly lovely, really.)

And, in comments, the always-amusing Ms. M. Roth!

I’m having a catching-up-on-email day, so I should be hanging around to moderate comments and get into arguments. Read and let’s discuss.

Note: Please let’s not smear Roth (or anyone else.) I obviously disagree with her pretty strenuously, and I also think her tactics are in poor taste, but we should stick to the facts when discussing her and not delve into speculation about her personal life and/or psychological state. There’s still plenty to criticize without going there. She’s also a for-reals human person, and I’d prefer not to be unkind.






79 responses to “Mini-editorials on obesity/HAES.”

  1. Beth Avatar

    This topic is, by far, the most frustrating to me in my quest to find balance and pleasure in eating real food. Years ago, I accepted that it was ok for me to eat whatever I wanted to and that my choice to eat poorly did not make me a bad person. I also accepted that I was fat and probably always would be. I like who I am and the way I look, regardless of what I’ve eaten or how I’ve spent my time (knitting, primarily).

    However, I am concerned about metabolic syndrome diseases like diabetes and heart disease b/c both of my parents suffered terribly from both. I know my risks for these conditions are high, so I’ve made the conscious choice to overhaul my diet towards healthier foods most of the time, something I never really did before now. And yet, sometimes I feel guilty about it. I know that outsiders who hear me describing how I’ve changed my eating habits must think I’ve gone on a diet to lose weight. I almost feel like I need to “represent” my fat acceptance by continuing to not give a damn about what I eat.

    It’s just such a fraught situation.

    I see people like Jaime Oliver and Michelle Obama trying to educate people on eating healthier and I totally agree with their end goal, but they just can’t help themselves from linking their message to the fight against obesity and it drives me nuts. Do they even realize they are undermining their objective by staying so focused on weight?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I hear you. There is a sometimes very fraught relationship between political fat acceptance and personal HAES. I wish there wasn’t — I originally came to fat acceptance VIA health at every size, actually — but there you have it.

      I also wish, like you, that everyone could focus more on healthy eating and moving and leave body size out of it.

    2. deeleigh Avatar

      You know, I think that I actually do most of my “junk food” (i.e. fries, ice cream etc.) eating in public for this very reason. Also, my work lunches are healthy-looking, but I think that they are large enough that nobody thinks I’m on a diet. I actually think about that stuff.

  2. closetpuritan Avatar

    Hey, I was useful!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      You were! And now you must continue being useful…OR ELSE.

  3. Amy Avatar

    What I can’t seem to understand is, if the powers that be are SOOOOO upset about all the fatties, and all the unhealthy food — why don’t they OUTLAW the unhealthy food? I mean SRSLY, they are the ones that have the power to put Frito-Lay and M&M Mars out of business, because it’s “for our own good” right? But that would be *gasp!* an attack on PRIVATE PROPERTY!!!! We can’t have that you crazy pinko commie.

    All this talk about “personal responsibility” (gotta luv MeMe Roth) — it’s just punitive. It’s just a way for a certain segment of the population to feel better than another segment, without actually DOING ANYTHING to deserve their privileges. They’re using the same logic my mother did: “Your brother can eat that because he doesn’t have a weight problem.” Why should everyone have to be deprived of Cheetos just because fatties can’t control themselves????? As long as you’re not fat it’s all okay.

    The reality is, if something is unhealthy, it’s unhealthy for EVERYONE. Either EVERYONE can have a snack bag of Cheetos now and then without irreparably damaging their health, or Cheetos (or cupcakes, MeMe) are INSTANTLY HARMFUL and no one should ever eat one. What’s it gonna be?

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      Define “unhealthy”.

      A naturally thin person who’s losing weight rapidly due to chemotherapy is going to need as many calories as they can eat, and Frito-Lay’s and Ben & Jerry’s have loads. Not to mention someone who’s trying to work a physically challenging job with a $2/day food budget — even if they’re fat.

      Until you have ENOUGH food, quality is not the issue.

    2. living400lbs Avatar

      …which is probably another way of saying what you said, but I do looove how people assume that every human being has the exact same nutritional needs.

    3. closetpuritan Avatar

      Agree–that’s why I liked some of the stuff in the mini-editorials so much. Caveats as living400lbs has already mentioned, but if 10 sodas a day are unhealthy for most fat people, they’re also unhealthy for most thin people. I can’t believe that some people complaint about the soda tax is, “but I’m thin, only fat people should have to pay the soda tax! It’s not fair that I would have to pay too!”

  4. Kate Avatar

    I just can’t stand reading the comments from the article, there’s still a lot of blame the fatties hate going on.

    What frustrates me is that I do exercise every and I prepare just about every meal from scratch, which is what a lot of the haters are suggesting, I just don’t lose weight. How long am I supposed to keep hating myself for something I cannot control despite having spent the better part of my life trying to control my weight?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Oh yeah, I reflectively avoid comments. I only looked at the M.R. one because closetpuritan brought it to my attention.

      Comments on mainstream media websites are pretty much just ugly, nonsensical spew. I treat them accordingly.

      Roth is in there basically to beat her drum, and also to do a clever bit of SEO for her websites. A link from the NY Times (even if it’s in comments) can help your traffic, to say nothing of pagerank. Her motives are pretty transparent in that regard. She’s not actually responding to any points from the actual editorials, but instead inserting her own little pre-prepared elevator speech. She probably has it saved somewhere and copies and pastes it as needed.

      1. living400lbs Avatar

        I’ve noticed that too, and Roth is certainly not alone. Many comments on the NYTimes site seem more about promoting a business than anything else.

        I do wonder if they turned off tracking websites of commenters (the feature that makes my name clickable here) to try to reduce that.

        1. closetpuritan Avatar

          I try not to read the comments, at least on anything related to fat or other inflammatory subjects, but I sometimes get sucked in. I usually read just the first two or three comments–I didn’t read past Roth’s comment. But in the past that she’s posted in the NYTimes comments with links to her site. I think she’s been in the first three comments or so before, too; so I think it’s a deliberate promotion strategy. Publicity/self-promotion seems to be a strength/focus of hers.

          I like it when MSM sites show a limited number of comments or, better yet, make you click on a separate link to read comments. Then I don’t accidentally blow my Sanity Watchers points.

          1. Katie Avatar

            I never really thought in terms of sanity watcher points, I’m totally stealing that concept because I think I can make my life instantly better if I think of things in terms of using up my sanity points.

          2. closetpuritan Avatar

            Yes, it’s a useful concept! It’s a Shapely Prose meme; I’m not sure who exactly came up with it.

    2. Tiana Avatar

      Things like that make me want to say, “Thanks for your input; I’m sure it’s useful advice for many, many people. Now, do you have any suggestions for fat people who already do that? What should they do to lose weight, in your opinion? Thanks again in advance, I’m interested to hear your opinion.” And then, of course, I would continue to be all “and what about people who already do that, too” until they give up in frustration. :D Too bad this is unlikely to ever work on the internet, where most commenters don’t even check back for replies.

  5. Miss B Avatar

    OMG, the vitriol spewed by some people in those comments!

    “When I call you a pig you deserve it” WTF?

    I don’t even know what to think anymore when it even seems acceptable to say such a thing and feel justified in doing so.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      If it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure some of the worst comments are made by people who don’t actually mean what they’re saying, but instead are basically professional trolls looking to get a reaction of any kind. Hence the incredible hyperbole they engage in.

      My experience from Newsweek tells me that there are some very dedicated anti-fatosphere trolls out there who not only skulk around on personal blogs, but will take any opportunity of obesity being mentioned in the mainstream media to further troll the public at large. These people are not in good faith. Either they don’t actually mean what they say because their intention is pure harassment, or else they believe what they say to an extent that they are, objectively, irrational and therefore of no account. If anything, they strengthen our position by demonstrating the kind of ridiculous loathing fat people can be subject to.

      Even your most strident anti-obesity advocates (like Roth herself) disagree that discrimination and harassment are the way to deal with fat people, and they distance themselves from these tactics. They may seethe with a kind of unexamined hatred, but they wouldn’t dare discredit themselves in the eyes of the public by being openly hateful. Because people know bald-faced hate when they see it (even if we are, as a society, a bit less sophisticated at picking up on the dog-whistle type of hatred.)

      I mean, yes, objectively, there is a lot of anti-fat sentiment and it’s been pretty well-documented in peer-reviewed studies. But the idea that what people say in comments reflects any kind of reality is not well-founded. If it were, the equivalent would be having people throw stones at me every time I walked out the door, just for being fat. Thankfully, it seems we haven’t quite reached that point.

      1. Miriam Heddy Avatar
        Miriam Heddy

        I’m not sure the lived equivalent of that online trolling would be stone throwing. I think it’s more likely to be things that *are* happening and behaviours that these same folks are engaged in, like discriminating against fat people in hiring and promotion and drive-by catcalling on the street and offering poor service to fat people in stores and in doctors’ offices, implementing fatphobic policies in airlines and in government, etc. etc.

        The reason these people engage in online trolling is that there’s no penalty to them for being themselves and being explicit in their hatred. They’re cowards, absolutely, but I think they absolutely mean every word and that the words they spew online reflect real thoughts that they take out into the world and act on whenever they can get away with it without penalty to themselves which is, I suspect, most of the time.

        You write, “ither they don’t actually mean what they say because their intention is pure harassment, or else they believe what they say to an extent that they are, objectively, irrational and therefore of no account. ”

        It may be just that I’m writing this post-Seder, having talked about the Holocaust and having just tried to explain to my kids that real, ordinary people did those things to other human beings.

        But I would argue that you’re giving them too much credit in presuming they don’t really mean what they say or that they do and therefore are irrational and therefore should be dismissed.

        People often are irrational and yet dangerous and effective in creating and upholding a society that systematically discriminates and dehumanizes other people.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Good point. I think the danger (and the discrimination) is real. But I also know some things about online trolling that make me believe not *all* of these comments are as serious as we assume. Simply put: there are more people on the internet whose sole purpose is to fuck with your head and play contrarian purely for the sake of pissing off people who are speaking in earnest, than you might assume. Stick your head briefly into some internet subculture to get a taste of what I mean.

          But it’s true that sometimes even ridiculously irrational ideas make their way influentially into society. Good to keep in mind. It just gets me very bogged down to think so much about being hated. Maybe it’s a bit head-in-the-sand of me, but I prefer to focus on doing positive things, rather than merely witnessing all the negative ones.

          For a long time my involvement in fat acceptance was largely of the outraged-reader variety. It made me miserable, and less effective as an activist, to focus on how much others hated (or at least claimed to hate) fat people. It actually takes away some of my power to change things. Maybe other people gain energy from it; I certainly don’t.

          1. Jen Avatar

            Michelle, your kind and positive spirit is precisely what lends credence and dignity to your activism, and what kept me coming back to your blog in the first place. There is an incredible amount of power in your commitment to treat everyone involved in these discussions, even the people you disagree with, with compassion and respect as opposed to bitterness and rage. It makes you trustworthy and exemplary to those of us new to concepts such as HAES and FA.

          2. Miriam Heddy Avatar
            Miriam Heddy

            See, for me, I think, it’s an important part of my activism to insist that words matter (and I don’t mean that you don’t think they do, but maybe in a different way?)

            It feels like there’s a disconnect sometimes in discussions about activism and social justice, wherein people engaged in hate speech are seen as outliers, while people engaged in “dog whistling” are, as you say, not seen at all as doing anything (and when we point to them, we’re said we’re overly sensitive).

            And then most other people who express hate in some way or another are seen as well-intentioned, with the emphasis on “intentions” obscuring the ways in which intention doesn’t matter when the effects of your words and actions are actively hurtful.

            There was an interesting post recently on “stuff white people do” on white people who use “pc” instead of “racism”:

            And it reminded me, again, of how often we shy away from naming hate as hate, instead finding euphemisms for it that make it easier to dismiss the extremists and also detach the everyday instances from those on the extremes that, because we see them as extreme, become difficult to connect back to the less extreme.

            And then we end up, I think, in a place where it’s difficult to explain systematic discrimination because nobody seems to be responsible and then, when a really egregious instance of hate happens, it seems to come out of nowhere rather than building up incrementally, with ongoing support from people who gain privilege from it.

            But I do get what you’re saying about exhaustion.

            For me, what recuperates it is that, instead of seeing my role as dismantling each and every instance of hate (which is exhausting, because there are so many), I instead see activism as working when we can point to all the dots as connected–as part of a big picture–in ways that force those individual dots to go, “I don’t want to be a part of that picture anymore!”

          3. Michelle Avatar

            I do agree that words matter. But I don’t believe it’s productive for me to get involved in debates with people who are either in bad faith, or who don’t show the slightest possibility of even understanding my argument because they are too wrapped up in defending their ego. It seems more productive, to me, to work with people who genuinely care about the topic, and care about the truth. It’s a mutually beneficial exchange, because I learn things from them, and they learn things from me.

            I don’t think most trolls fit that definition. Engaging them is a waste of my time and energy, and it takes me away from making change in areas where change can actually be made.

          4. Miriam Heddy Avatar
            Miriam Heddy

            On that we can agree. I don’t at all advise engaging with people who spew fat hate. But I think it’s worth taking them seriously as something more than trolls, if that makes any sense.

            On Shapely Prose and on Feministing and a few other places they take some of the worst of it and openly mock it, which is a start, I think. And it’s sort of fun. But I also think that lets it off too easily because yeah, it’s so “out there” it seems easily mockable.

            I guess what I think we need–as a movement–is a way to do that connect the dot work that shows how it’s all connected and how it is that such vitriole comes out online in more and less obvious ways, all of which are hateful and all of which are reflected in off-line life as these people do sign off and then interact with us and change our lives for the worse.

            I’ve seen a lot of really good work in antiracist communities doing this (places like Racialicious and stuff white people do) and I find those communities may offer us a helpful model for talking about the interconnections between obviously beyond the pale vitriole and the seemingly more acceptable stuff we may be tempted to pardon because the people saying it seem reasonable (except for where they speak hate).

            And again, all of this–my whole way of thinking–is really informed a lot by spending decades trying to understand what happened to my family and other German Jewish families in the 30s and 40s, and how to understand the seemingly vast gulf between people like Hitler (with whom I’d never have tried to reason) and those who followed and agreed with him, tacitly or with enthusiasm.

      2. closetpuritan Avatar

        Yeah, actually, I was surprised by how reasonable Roth sounded when I saw her in the comments. By MSM-comment standards, it was mostly pretty bland.

      3. Erin S. Avatar
        Erin S.

        If it were, the equivalent would be having people throw stones at me every time I walked out the door, just for being fat. Thankfully, it seems we haven’t quite reached that point.

        Actually in my previous neighborhood daring to be fat in public actually WAS likely to net you a small collection of thrown objects. Mostly relatively harmless like fast food wrappers and empty plastic pop bottles, but I did get beaned in the head with a glass beer bottle once. I’d say that it was a basically weekly thing.

        But I agree with Miriam up above… the comment thread type verbal fat hatred is more like leaving your house and having those same things they write online screamed at you. And in some areas, like my former neighborhood, that is actually what you can expect on a daily basis nearly for daring to be fat in public.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Nice! (sarcasm)

          It’s ridiculous how stupid people can be. I’m glad I don’t live in your old neighbourhood.

    2. Arielle Avatar

      Well, anonymity and/or the absence of face to face communication really seems to negatively impact the reserve and politeness of so many commenters I’ve seen EVERYWHERE. They’re just typing words on a screen, right? Then they never really have to deal with any consequence other than more typed words on a screen. It makes me sad.

      Especially since I had an eating disorder in high school and dropped about eighty pounds in four months, but I’ve gained all that back and then some. So, according to those who walk past me or see my pictures, I “deserve” to be called a pig because I finally overcame an ED and have relatively normal eating habits? I “deserved” to be thought of as pretty or healthy because I was thin, when in fact I was the most unhealthy (physically and emotionally) I had ever been in my life? What right do they think they have?

  6. Tiana Avatar

    It’s kind of frustrating to see how they made an effort to spark intelligent discussion by placing all these different viewpoints alongside each other, and yet the comments are filled with the same old crap we’ve seen a million times before. When it comes to weight (or just food), people don’t want to consider several different approaches seriously before they pick one. They want to find The Ultimate Truth, and once they think they’ve found it, everyone else is just WRONG.

    I vote this comment for most hilariously clueless: Maybe Harriet Brown didn’t realize she finished with “while long-term weight loss, for most people, is not.” :D That’s right! I’m sure she had no idea what she was doing!

  7. Meowser Avatar

    OK, I threw in my .02 (under the name Andee J.). Maybe it’ll show up.

    What I can’t seem to understand is, if the powers that be are SOOOOO upset about all the fatties, and all the unhealthy food — why don’t they OUTLAW the unhealthy food?

    I know, Amy, right? If the foods we eat really are drugs of abuse for two-thirds of the population, why aren’t they banned? Of course, I know the answer and so do you: If all of us only ate and drank what was minimally necessary, the world economy would probably go in the toilet. They want us to buy all of that “unnecessary” food, and lots of it — they just don’t want us to actually eat it.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      This touches on one of my frustrations with a lot of “average person eats ____” — it often is based on production, or on purchases, not actual consumption. The chips you tried and tossed? The unsold food throw in dumpsters? The restaurant food that was prepped but not served, or the food that was served but not eaten? Maybe I’m being pedantic but somehow I feel like if it’s not actually eaten, then, you know, it shouldn’t be presented as part of what people eat.

      If you look at the nutrient supply per person in the US in 2003 (last available) it’s over 3700. I frequently see the 3700 number thrown around as average intake — even though the USDA found average reported daily calorie intakes of 1785 (women) and 2638 (men) 2005-2006. ( )

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Yeah, does that 3700 kcal number come from food disappearance data?

        1. living400lbs Avatar

          I’ve seen that it’s based on production, but how that’s measured probably varies too ;)

          1. Meowser Avatar

            It’s pretty much impossible to measure people’s intake with any degree of accuracy. How much of the bread basket actually gets eaten, and how many of the rolls that were taken were eaten in their entirety? How much of the butter that was put on the table actually got used? How much of the sauce was consumed, and how much was left on the plate? Do all the chicken breasts weigh exactly the same? Did every Coke have exactly the same amount of fountain syrup squirted into it?

            Similarly, most people throw at least some of the food they buy for home use into the trash because it’s gone bad or because there’s no point in storing the tiny bit of leftovers from a meal or because the food didn’t turn out edible after preparation. How can we know exactly how much? And of the food that is consumed, there’s still wastage — fat being cut off the meat, stubs being cut off the ends of vegetables, still-edible parts of fruits with cores and pits being thrown out, etc.

            I’ve seen a 25% wastage/spoilage figure cited for the U.S.; that sounds like it’s in the ballpark.

  8. Rachel Avatar

    @ Tiana

    What? You mean, fat tubs of lard aren’t staying fat on purpose? No way! It’s all about personal responsibility dammit! If it’s not their fault, I can’t justify criticizing them!

    I guess I missed that gem when I stopped reading the asinine comments. It’s bittersweet hilarity though, because these people certainly have fat friends and relatives who must bear the brunt of their ignorance. I had a lot of hope for this article and the collection of experts, since most of them were more pro-health than anti-obesity. Unfortunately, for a lot of very self-important and vocal people, it seems to go in one ear (or in this case, eyeball) and out the other.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I really think the people who comment on mainstream news sites do not represent the average person. They are a bizarre, self-selected population. Don’t underestimate the capacity of the silent majority to understand some of the points the editorialists made :)

      The problem with news websites is that, while they encourage comments, they don’t actually moderate them. Which makes for an environment where the lowest common denominator becomes the norm, and reasonable people don’t want to engage at all because the forum becomes so toxic so quickly.

      Some degree of light-handed moderation seems to be best for encouraging actually productive conversation and debate, in my opinion (though I think heavily moderated sites can work, too — see Shapely Prose and many fatosphere blogs, for example.) But that takes resources, and, frankly, a bit of internet savvy. Which I don’t think MSM sites have at all.

      1. closetpuritan Avatar

        Nitpick: Most news sites aren’t completely unmoderated. The NY Times requires all comments to be approved before they are posted. (So think about all the nasty comments that their staff decided were OK to approve… DoubleX, on the other hand, removes offensive comments after they’re approved, and spam and hate speech are distressingly common there.)

        But I totally agree that commenters are not a random sampling of the population. They’re the people who are the most passionate, one way or the other. I’m hopeful that some people reading the editorials will learn something.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I’m wondering what their standards for moderation are — probably as long as anyone isn’t engaging in outright libel, they will let stuff through. I doubt they care if it’s nasty, mean-spirited and plain old offensive.

          1. Meowser Avatar

            For whatever it’s worth, they did publish my comment.

  9. Bilt4Cmfrt Avatar

    Oh they mean it. BELIEVE that.

    Arriella and Miriam have it, pretty much, right. There are communities who, actively encourage their membership to Troll the Fatosphere. I could name a few but why invoke the Devil in a civilived space? With the people I’m thinking of, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if some in their ranks were being recuited to Troll mainstream discussions of obesity just to make sure every knows that fat people ‘need’ to be hated (Oops! Meant ‘motivated’ pesky thumb keyboard+fat thumbs: Crisis in action).

    Anti-intelligent Michael Karolchyk, formerly of Anti-Gym fame is, by no means, an anomoly. In fact I’d call attitudes like his rather common. In every sense if the word. People like him, Ted Nuggent, Gillian McKeith, Anthony Bourdaine, Dick Cabbot, Howard Stern, Anna Wintour, they really DO NOT like fat people and have made their dislike plain.

    As far as the editorials, some where good, some not so. My impression was that those who didn’t quite get it aren’t there yet because they haven’t gotten over thier ‘DA FATZ! IT KILLZ!!’ addictions. One day, maybe, but not yet. Comments? Well, being a comment masochist (been known to read ALL of them. ‘Anger is a Gift’- Zack Delarocha) I’d have to say I’ve seen worse. Much worse. Not a bad article, over all.

  10. CK Avatar

    just to start, i get that there’s also a lot of politics involved in this, that i’m not really part of so my comment is coming from that perspective…

    anyway, the thing about all this, for me, is that it seems like both sides have points i would agree with. and that’s the thing — it’s not that you can dismiss MeMe Roth as a gibbering idiot. clearly she makes quite a few valid points but it’s the way they’re used i object to. she’s vicious without cause, or apparent reason since it doesn’t solve the problem. attacking people never could, especially when your argument is flawed. not wholly flawed but sufficiently flawed that she needs to address the gaps in the logic nevertheless.

    and having now read a reasonable amount on fat acceptance/’the obesity crisis’ etc. i can only conclude that that is the problem: the problem is ill-defined. at best.
    i mean it’s difficult, not to mention frustrating, to debate things with someone who principally disagrees with you as to what the issue actually is.

  11. Michellers Avatar

    “Unhealthy, obese people provide a disproportionate share of the income of the “health care” industry. Treating the serious health conditions caused by obesity is very profitable, as long as the supply of patients doesn’t shrink. On the other hand, curing obesity would eliminate jobs, reduce profits, shrink incomes, and drastically reduce the market for myriad drugs that are prescribed to “control” obesity-caused illnesses.”

    “The fat-is-healthy-and-beautiful and anti-obesity-is-discrimination-against-fat-people campaign is being resurrected to try to ensure that any movement for good health and nutrition never gets off the ground.”

    I know I’m new to this whole FA thing, so am I the only one surprised to see that some people (or at least one commenter) think that the Fat Acceptance movement is actually a conspiracy by the diet/weight loss industry to keep people fat? Seriously?

    1. closetpuritan Avatar

      I can’t say I’m completely surprised. I may even have heard that one before. The existence of the Center For Consumer Freedom probably helped inspire that one. (The CFC is a food-industry-funded organization that advocates for freedom of choice about food–against stuff like bans on trans fats or on fast food restaurants in certain location, against soda taxes, etc. It mostly uses libertarian-type talking points, so in the end they also connect weight with “personal responsibility”.) Or even the Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign… I think any time a corporation co-opts FA language because it will financially benefit them, it’s likely to hurt FA.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I think any time a corporation co-opts FA language because it will financially benefit them, it’s likely to hurt FA.

        I think this is a great point. And it’s one of the reasons Weight Watchers, in particular, pisses me off so much. Because they have totally tried to co-opt HAES language, using the most disingenuous doublespeak possible. Not only does it undermine HAES in the way you describe (by making the appearance of an industry connection where there actually is none, thereby inflaming the conspiracy theory contingent), but also by watering down and confusing the very definition and meaning of HAES itself.

      2. purpleshoes Avatar

        Speaking personally, there are bloggers and organizations that fall under some categories of fat acceptance whose science I disagree with. I’m pretty paranoid about the food industry, myself: I don’t think most fat people would be skinny tomorrow if there were no industrial food products, but I do think large food processing companies are not in it to be good citizens and make sure everyone has access to fresh delicious produce while treating factory workers and farm labor well. I just don’t think fat people are especially to blame for or more symptomatic of problems with national labor policy or poor balance of public and private interests in industry than anyone else is.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          but I do think large food processing companies are not in it to be good citizens and make sure everyone has access to fresh delicious produce while treating factory workers and farm labor well.

          Totally agree with you here.

  12. Ashley Avatar

    I wish they had also included editorial about the biochemistry and genetics of weight. I’d think it’d be a topic of interest to everyone. If you believe obesity is a disease, then wouldn’t you want to understand the physiology of it, such that we could develop pharmaceutical interventions (the way we successfully treat most medical conditions) or maybe gene therapies for it, instead of just telling people to eat less and exercise more (because that’s working so well)? Or, if you were a HAES advocate, you’d want to highlight that the natural genetic variations of populations would produce people of varying sizes. I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff to discuss, and that it should be a popular topic with everyone, and not just because I’m a chemist :) (Ok, maybe it’s partially because I’m a chemist.)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I agree, and I totally hate chemistry. But I think physiology is fascinating, and too often ignored.

      1. Ashley Avatar

        Yeah, I mean, if you really think about the physiology of energy intake in the body, and you realize there are (chemically speaking) only *three* forms of energy and that every single thing you eat is broken down into these three things, then most carefully planned diet schemes and gimmicks seem ridiculous.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Yes. And, especially if you look at the history of fad diets through the 19th and 20th centuries, you’ll pretty much come to the conclusion that every single combination of those three forms of energy has been tried. Over and over and over again, by huge numbers of people. And they’ve all largely failed to produce safe, significant, and lasting weight loss.

          Your basic options are: high carb/low fat, high fat/high protein/low carb, and maybe a little variation with glycemic index thrown into the mix, or getting more nitpicky about specific proportions.

          But, basically? You got your carb, your fat, and your protein. Some subtypes of these may be utilized in more or less harmful ways by your body. Increasing your variety of foods is the best safeguard we have against both under- and over-nutrition.

          And this ain’t gonna change much, no matter what else happens in nutritional science.

          1. closetpuritan Avatar

            And the reason why you don’t see high protein/low fat/low carb is not just because protein and fat tend to go together, but also, rabbit starvation! (Rabbit starvation is my new favorite disease, just because the name sounds neat.)

    2. catgirl Avatar

      There has actually been some research into what contributes to obesity and exactly how it is related to certain diseases, but it’s only in the past few years that anyone has even bothered to look.

      I think the reason it has taken so long for anyone to even investigate it is because we know the basic mechanism for turning food into fat and fat into energy, so everyone just assumed that all fat people are just gorging themselves and being lazy at the same time.

      I absolutely hate the “eat less, exercise more” slogan. Being a human, sometimes I get this feeling called hunger. Thus far, the only thing I have found to get rid of that feeling of hunger is to consume food. I probably would lose some weight if I just ate less food for the rest of my life, but then what would I do about my hunger? When someone says “eat less” they are basically telling me to just be hungry. If my choice is between being fat forever and being hungry forever, I will gladly choose to be fat. Why does everyone always forget about hunger?

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Being a human, sometimes I get this feeling called hunger. Thus far, the only thing I have found to get rid of that feeling of hunger is to consume food. I probably would lose some weight if I just ate less food for the rest of my life, but then what would I do about my hunger? When someone says “eat less” they are basically telling me to just be hungry. If my choice is between being fat forever and being hungry forever, I will gladly choose to be fat. Why does everyone always forget about hunger?

        Restated…just because it’s awesome. Thank you.

      2. purpleshoes Avatar

        I remember when I complained to my (now former) doctor that a medication was screwing up my satiety signals, and she told me that I should just not eat when I felt hungry. I am glad she is my former doctor.

  13. Judy Long Avatar
    Judy Long

    I want to get in a quick comment here before I have to go to work. I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments here so hopefully I’m not repeating stuff.
    I think a basic question to ask is this- should the US government be fighting obesity? My answer would be – Hell no! It is downright frightening that they would even try. Look at how they screw things up. The ‘drug war’ has cost millions of dollar & time & has made things worse – not better. There are more & stronger drugs now than there were when the ‘drug war’ started. They don’t even begin to address tobacco well. They allow alcohol but try to purge the horrible marijuana from the earth despite the many studies that show alcohol is much worse for your body than alcohol.
    Even more fundamental is the question – should government be telling me what to do with my body? Is it really governments place to protect me from myself? Again I answer – Hell no!
    And don’t talk to me about health costs. I weigh 300 + pounds & I don’t have health insurance & guess what – I’m not losing sleep over it. I can’t remember the last time I felt the need to go to a doctor. The importance of all those wonderful numbers they like to generate comes in to question in various studies everyday.
    Enough of my ranting – off to work. Sorry but I can’t check for responses until after midnight central time.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think you’d find some of Paul Campos’ writing interesting, if you haven’t read it already. Not only does he speak about the “obesity” thing, but he addresses the war on drugs (specifically, marijuana) as well.

  14. Judy Long Avatar
    Judy Long

    sorry – alcohol is worse for your body than marijuana – typo!

    1. Sarah Avatar

      Do you have citations for any of those studies on-hand? Not disputing that they exist; I’d just love to read them for myself. Especially if the alcohol-being-bad-for-you is something I can finagle into an excuse for not liking the stuff ;-)

  15. Bill Fabrey Avatar

    I really liked the NY Times Mini-opeds, especially Harriet Brown’s piece, and even the comments were a cut above average. Yes, there were some nasty ones, but even MeMe wasn’t quite as nasty as usual. Sometimes I read all the comments, and I think this was one of those times. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! :-)

    Bill Fabrey
    member, Association for Size Diversity and Health

  16. WellRoundedType2 Avatar

    There’s one comment that is so awful I actually wrote to ask why it was allowed through. Had “thin” and “fat” been switched out for other words, like “wealthy” and “poor” (it’s the one that suggest fat people ought not complain about being called pigs) I doubt it would have gotten through. I’m sure this is a sick individual who loves getting a rise out of people like me, and I can only hope that if this person ever ends up in hospital dependent on medication to make life livable, he has a very fat nurse who has read his comments tending to him. (I suppose it’s not necessarily a him, but I think it is).
    There were some fabulous comments, though, that gave me a little faith in finding some allies out there. Here is the reader’s digest version of some of the more interesting/less fatphobic comments for those who want to save their sanity points for something more splurgeworthy (in terms of sanity).
    “I taught at an elite, private university while finishing up my Ph.D., and none of my undergraduate students and none of my graduate colleagues was obese. Now, teaching at a public university as a tenure-track faculty, over half of my students are overweight. However, none of my colleagues (art historians with Ph.D.s from elite private research universities like myself) comes even close to being overweight. Obesity in the US is clearly linked to class and education. This has to be addressed forcefully and honestly before anything will change. The rich and educated will always have access to material and spiritual goods, be it art or organic foods. It is the American working class that needs systemic help that goes beyond personal initiatives such as yoga or “cooking your own food.” As disturbing as it might be, telling an obese working-class woman that she needs to take yoga lessons is as outrageous as telling the poor in India that they can avoid cholera by drinking Volvic water.”


    The best way to combat obesity is to raise everyone in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and send them to graduate school and make sure they have at least 4.7 million dollars in their personal portfolios by age 35. Then (and only then), marriage and possibly as many as two kids, et voilà: a very low incidence of obesity. Meanwhile, in real life, many people are simply trying to get by, and as long as you can eat yourself into a diabetic coma from the “food” selection at Staples (Staples! I thought that was supposed to be an office-supply store)—not to mention every gas station in the United S[t]ates—we’re doomed.


    “I continue to be amazed at the level of hatred and psychological violence towards people who are genetically bigger: moral panic, and class prejudice expressed here. In a fit of unreason, obesity has become a disease you can cathc from your friends, and insurance companies will no longer insure BABIES born above the 90 percentile.

    Really. I have experience this abuse since birth, by being fed amphetamines as a teenager, and by a culture that every day and in every way, attributes moral virtue to slenderness and moral laxity to bigness. Look at the “enviably thin” heroes of Avatar. Look at the heroin chic runts who populate fashion ads. Look at the epithets “fat and ugly, fat and lazy, fat and stupid” Somehow a doctorate in theoretical physics is no matter.

    There is a genetic component. My father and grandfather were both big men, in spite of spending lives at hard physical labor. It was our genetic defense against an environment where freezing and starving were the most frequent causes of death in adult males.

    We are lucky we don’t have vicious pogroms against “overheight” people as well.”

    There may be other noteworthy comments, but sifting through the “it’s simple — eat less and move more” nastiness has become tiresome and I need to go to bed.

    Thank heav

  17. minervaK Avatar

    You know what? There’s part of me that hopes they DO ‘outlaw’ junk food and mandate exercise, just to prove that that’s not what makes fat people. I will be laughing my ass off as the Meme Roths of the world slap their foreheads and go, ‘Oh my GOD!! Some people are fat no matter what they eat or how much they exercise!!’

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This would make a great dystopian novel.

      1. Julia Avatar

        OH. MY. GOD.

    2. closetpuritan Avatar


      I keep thinking, “I hope that they get their precious soda tax, because I don’t even drink soda!” (Although my boyfriend drinks quite a bit, and I usually buy the groceries…)

      I’d be kinda sad if the junk food that I actually eat was banned, but at least that would show them! Would not be worth it if they made us calorie-count, though.

  18. Holly Avatar

    The two contradictory attitudes that always blow my mind:

    1) Fat is the result of a lack of personal responsibility. Laziness, greed, and ignorance lead to obesity.
    2) We’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic, and people in America now are much fatter than in other times and other places.

    So… did human beings just get worse? Are we suffering from an epidemic of moral failure? Millions of people in America simultaneously made the conscious personal decision to be bad and millions of people in other countries and times made a conscious personal decision to be good?

    My opinion on fat mirrors my opinion on gayness–it’s not a choice, but that shouldn’t matter because if it were a choice it’d still be none of your beeswax. But the idea that individual personal choices could come in “epidemics” strikes me as ridiculous and misanthropic.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      So… did human beings just get worse? Are we suffering from an epidemic of moral failure?

      This does, oddly, seem to be the underlying belief. I think it has to do with guilt about prosperity and consumption, as well as a general discomfort with how technology impacts the traditional work ethic.

      And, unfortunately, this mostly goes unexamined.

      My opinion on fat mirrors my opinion on gayness–it’s not a choice, but that shouldn’t matter because if it were a choice it’d still be none of your beeswax. But the idea that individual personal choices could come in “epidemics” strikes me as ridiculous and misanthropic.

      Yes, yes, and SUPER YES. Welcome to my blog. I hope you stick around.

    2. Lynn Avatar

      Agreed, Holly & Michelle. An interesting bit about technology, too. A more interesting question than the usual fat-o-panic.

    3. closetpuritan Avatar

      I blame Romanticism. :)

      I think a lot of people are convinced that back in The Good Old Days people had more willpower/work ethic/etc. “Americans have gotten lazy” is the way the thinking goes, for many people. Of course, even if Americans had gotten lazy and that was the cause of the Obesity Epidemic, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the within-group variation is also caused by laziness–it doesn’t mean that fat people have gotten more lazy than everyone else. (This is also true of non-facetious possible causes.) Kind of like how IQ has risen in the past few decades, probably due to something like better schools, but that doesn’t mean that the kid with the highest IQ in the school had a better school than the other kids at the same school–since that would be impossible.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        This too, for sure.

        The “good old days” meme drives me up a fucking wall. Do you know how HARD life was back in the day? How young people died? How difficult and painful their lives often were? (Not that there weren’t GOOD things about it, or that there weren’t other, enjoyable kinds of leisure, but the idea that it was all roses and lollipops, or that a modern person could be happily and smoothly transplanted back to a former time with no difficulty, is just plain stupid.)

        I like to remember Hobbes’ “nasty, brutish, and short” just to keep things in perspective whenever I’m tempted to romanticize the past.

        1. Eve Avatar

          OMG. My 70 year old parents claim that there were no fat kids, people, etc.
          “There were no kids who were fat…” Um, yeah, you know Dad, if you apply TODAYS BMI chart and today’s standards of fat and thin, guess what? Most of you would probably considered fat.

          1. Eve Avatar

            Holy Sh*t, that’s funny!

          2. Eve Avatar

            Sadly, today Darla’s mother would probably put her on a diet…

        2. closetpuritan Avatar

          Nasty, brutish, and short is right. I always say to myself that if I had lived back then, I would probably have died as a child. Or if I was upper-class, died of consumption relatively young, after years of having a ‘delicate constitution’.

          Kind of tangential, but I came across this article recently about how apparently even diseases of aging like heart disease and arthritis are occuring later than in the past, and it can’t be explained by better medical technology alone. People’s bodies are under less stress now because their lives aren’t as hard and because they’re vaccinated against many contagious diseases, and that seems to be delaying these chronic diseases. And they’re taller. (The articles’s a few years old, but I just came across it in a discussion of the lack of evidence for the “lifespans will start going down again” assertion. It’s by Gina Kolata, noted questioner of conventional wisdom regarding fat and stuff.)

          1. Michelle Avatar

            I, for sure, would have been dead by pneumonia several times over by now.

  19. Claire Avatar

    Notwithstanding all the dreadful comments, I think I may print the bit by Dianne Neumark-Sztainer and put in on a wall or something. I have been feeling for a long time that whatever the “obesity epidemic” is, it won’t change until and unless the shame is removed. I wonder if training teachers not to tolerate teasing and ostracism of “fat” kids might be the front line in health promotion? (It would have improved my childhood a whole lot, whether or not it would have stopped me becoming a fat adult!)

    1. WellRoundedType2 Avatar

      Claire, your idea is exactly right.

      I’m going to need to think more of this, but there’s this misperception that the fat kids and those susceptible to eating disorders can be sacrificed for the common good of preventing obesity among the rest — a ridiculous and morally corrupt assertion.

      Part of the problem is that the whole picture of “health promotion” gets lost in the “obesity prevention” narrow view. If health is what is being promoted, than the health of all children is what is important, including those who for whatever reason are fat. And being healthy over the length of our lives requires self-care, which is much more likely to happen if self-esteem is intact. So, teachers and others who interact with children need to keep in mind that anything that destroys the trust that children need to build with their own bodies will have some negative repercussions down the line.
      Teaching children and young adults to stay in tune with their bodies is a great way to go. Teaching them that their “impulses” are natural but can have consequences if acted upon while acknowledging their free will is a stronger place to come from than a “just don’t eat that” or “exercise hard even if you don’t feel like it” or, even, “deny all sexual impulses so you remain ‘pure’” stance.

  20. JennyRose Avatar

    One of the most frustrating things for me is that many of the most fat-phobic people are fat themselves. All of those nasty online comments are not written by thin people only. I would like to share what I have learned about FA with some of my fat friends and they treat me like I am delusional. I find it distressing when I speak with fat people who are so strong in their beliefs that fat people are fat because they don’t have it together and just eat too much and exercise too little.

    I guess the fantasy of being thin is just too strong for most of us to overcome. I still struggle with it many days.

  21. Christina Avatar

    Hi Michele, I would be interested to hear your comments on Dr. Katz’s column Do we Need a Fattitude Adjustment. He has some interesting columns on his website. Thanks!