Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Freedom and the fat of the land

posted by Rod Dreher

This revolting Donna Simpson person weighs 602 pounds, and is trying to get to 1,000 pounds. Why? She makes her money with a website in which pervs (like her kinky boyfriend) pay to watch her shove food in her mouth and jiggle around. “I love eating and people love watching me eat,” she says. “It makes people happy, and I’m not harming anyone.”Really? Leaving aside the violation of her own human dignity, she had a child by her boyfriend, and it took a team of 19 doctors to deliver the baby via C-section. Who paid for that? She’s so immobilized by her weight that she can’t move more than 20 feet on her own power. She’s got diabetes, and almost certainly won’t live long at this rate. If she were this fat, and struggling to lose weight, that would be one thing. But she wants to get even fatter. It’s very sad, yes, but also an outrage:

But Donna’s ambition proved expensive, so she decided to set up a website after discovering that there were men willing to pay to watch large women eat. “My food costs £400 a week,” says Donna. “In a typical day I’ll eat four burgers and fries, a loaf of bread with peanut butter and jam, four servings of meatloaf and mashed potato, a large pizza, a chocolate cake with ice cream and cream, 12 cupcakes, two cheesecakes and fizzy drinks. And I don’t want Philippe to foot the bill just because I’m too big to go out and work.”

She has to degrade herself for male perverts to make money to feed her appetites. How is it that she’s any different from the mall girls? Donna’s gluttony is not simply a matter of her “not harming anyone,” obviously. There is her child to think about. Besides which, America’s obesity epidemic is going to end up costing all of us an estimated $344 billion in health costs by 2018, when, at the current rate, a staggering 43 percent of all Americans are projected to be obese. That’s about 30 times the entire yearly national income of Haiti. Haiti is a country where some people are so poor and hungry they eat dirt to survive:Think of them, and think of the gluttonous Donna Simpson and her enablers, and tell me that America’s obesity epidemic is not in some sense a spiritual cancer. Lent always makes me think about how I let my appetites — especially my love of food and wine –control me to an unhealthy degree. About this time, halfway through Lent, when I’ve gotten accustomed to eating much small portions, I am made aware of the relationship between my own gluttony and the extra pounds I’ve packed on over the last year. I weight about 20 or 25 pounds more than I should — not quite obesity level, but approaching it. Much of the time I wonder, “How did this happen? I eat a healthy diet.” But Lent shows me how it happens: I typically eat way more than I need, but convince myself that this is normal. UPDATE: Which brings me to something I don’t get about Harriet Brown’s NYTimes column today decrying the stigmatization of fat people. Below the jump, an excerpt, followed by my question. Please keep following this discussion, and have your say in the comboxes. Here’s Brown:

Dr. Cosgrove may be unusually blunt, but he is far from alone. Public attitudes about fat have never been more judgmental; stigmatizing fat people has become not just acceptable but, in some circles, de rigueur. I’ve sat in meetings with colleagues who wouldn’t dream of disparaging anyone’s color, sex, economic status or general attractiveness, yet feel free to comment witheringly on a person’s weight. … Despite the abundance of research showing that most people are unable to make significant long-term changes in their weight, it’s clear that doctors tend to view obesity as a matter of personal responsibility. Perhaps they see shame and stigma as a health care strategy.

OK, let’s stipulate that making fun of people for their obesity, or treating them cruelly because of it, is plain wrong. As someone who has struggled all his life to control his weight, I can tell you that fat people know they’re fat, and for most of us, I’d wager, it’s always on our minds. Even when I’ve been pretty trim, the fear of being fat again has always been there. But here’s the thing: why isn’t weight maintenance a matter of personal responsibility? I don’t want to suffer from heart disease and diabetes, which run in my family, and if social pressure to stay at a healthy weight is what keeps me from getting too fat, why is that a bad thing? A propensity to be overweight runs in my family, on both sides, so the genetic odds aren’t in my favor. I have friends who never have to watch what they eat or drink; they’re skinny as beanpoles. Unfair! Yeah, okay, but so what? I’ve got to play the hand that was dealt me. I don’t need enablers to tell me that it’s okay that I’m overweight, that it’s not my fault, that I should just accept being overweight. If I had made good-faith efforts to diet and exercise faithfully, but was still overweight, I could accept that. But I can’t lie to myself. I don’t exercise at all, and outside of Lent, I am prone to eat larger portions than I should. Besides, I know I can diet down to a healthy weight; I lost 27 pounds easily eight years ago, when I cut out white flour and sugar. Never felt better in my life. But I didn’t maintain my discipline, and now I’ve gained most of that weight back. Does that mean that I am, as Brown would have it, “unable” to make significant long-term changes in my weight? Or is it the case that I am unwilling to do so? I vote the latter. Nobody is holding a gun to my head forcing me to eat bread and pasta, or to have much larger servings of anything than I really need. I’m choosing to do this. Lent really is clarifying, because now I have a religious reason to restrict my diet, and I see that I can do it if I put my mind to it (and I’m losing a little bit of weight too). If Brown were correct, and that most everybody who is obese can’t do anything about it, why is it that obesity rates have skyrocketed over the course of a single generation? Look at this map. Obesity like this isn’t something that just happened. We are eating too much, we’re eating the wrong kind of food, and we’re not exercising. Of course some of us will have a more difficult time than others controlling our weight, owing to our genetic inheritance, or environmental factors (e.g., it may be harder to exercise, or to access healthier food). But in the main, I simply don’t buy that obesity is something largely beyond the individual’s ability to control. In that sense, it’s hard to know is to what extent stigmatizing it is healthy. What you permit, you encourage. Yet it’s also true, at least in my experience, that almost no one can be harder on a fat person than he is on himself. This is psychologically complicated. But look, stigmatizing smoking has had a dramatic effect, and a positive one. Is it really easier to quit smoking, given how deeply addictive nicotine is, than to lose weight?



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Alicia

posted March 16, 2010 at 12:48 pm


I can’t possibly label someone like this “revolting,” Rod. Perhaps she is trying to “be seen and known” via the only means that she believes are available to her. This is sad and I find this story appalling, but to call Donna Simpson revolting seems a bit cruel. You probably aren’t calling her anything she hasn’t called herself 100 times.



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Leah

posted March 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm


Back in 2005 I saw an obese woman at Target buying a copy of Frenchwomen Don’t Get Fat. I felt immense compassion for her. I just wanted to say “I know. I know how it happened, why it happened. You were born in the wrong time, in the wrong place, under the wrong star.” Yet she still had hope, and maybe there will still be enough time for what she learns in that book to help her in her quest.
It’s so complex, Rod. Is it a spiritual cancer or a spiritual amputation? Is it that the forces of modernism have evicted us so thoroughly from our own lives and robbed us of any satisfying, meaningful culture?
I fight it every day, though.



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Pam

posted March 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm


I totally agree with the author of this editorial – obesity is disgusting, it is not beautiful, and self inflicted. This woman aspiring to reach 1,000 pounds is a selfish sicko who obviously has no feelings about leaving her children without a mother.



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MargaretE

posted March 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm


Rod, watch out. You will now be widely accused of “piling on” this poor woman, who is clearly a victim of… something. (See yesterday’s comments about Rielle Hunter.)



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Bill

posted March 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Right on, Rod. Its no accident that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadlies.



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comradespirit

posted March 16, 2010 at 2:03 pm


Her bizarre drama is just an unusual symptom of a common disease we all share to one degree or another and that is trying to satisfy the spirit self through a material body.
We who see the material body and senses as an avenue of happiness all share this disease with this women it just manifests differently in our daily lives.
The flip side of her story can be seen in people who undergo plastic surgery to try to perfect their bodies and faces to defy old age and to keep up the facade that they have eternal youth.
Eternal beauty and youth are attributes of the spiritual soul and can never be realized by misidentifying oneself with the material body.
Can’t we see a bit of our own story being played out by this woman?



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Alicia

posted March 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm


Seriously, rather than obsess about someone like this, I prefer to spend two days a week (at least) obsessing about the final season of “Lost” which deals with spiritual issues in a most entertaining way. It’s much healthier, really. In fact, I recommend adding Season 1 to your Netflix queue and starting from there.



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Shelley

posted March 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm


I go both ways on this topic. I totally agree with Rod’s point of view regarding his own weight struggles. I have a similar struggle. I’m overweight, but not obese. I have thyroid issues and have had all my adult life. I try but not hard enough. In my case, the maajority of the blame lies in my own weak will.
But for the extremely obese, morbidly obese, I think something else is going on. A few years back I read a study that showed a link between women who are morbidly obese and childhood sexual abuse. I think there may be some self-protection going on there. I really do think that people who reach such extreme levels of obesity are building a “buffer zone” around something with their body fat.
I have compassion on them. This woman in the article though, who knows. Right now she is trying to capitalize on her weight. What she is doing is wrong. But why she got so fat in the first place? Who knows.



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Joseph

posted March 16, 2010 at 2:20 pm


Hmmm…on the one hand Rod says “OK, let’s stipulate that making fun of people for their obesity, or treating them cruelly because of it, is plain wrong.”
On the other hand, he refers to this woman as “this revolting Donna Simpson person.”
Would you say that to her face? Would you actually walk up to her and say “Miss, I wanted you to know that you’re a revolting woman.”? What if she we only twelve? Would you walk up to her, or her parents, and say “What a revolting little girl you are. Your daughter is revolting, do you know that?”
How is that not treating her cruelly? And it has nothing to do with whether or not the behavior is immoral, or degrading, etc. You could certainly note that in your opinion “You are treating your body in a degrading manner”, or “I think what you’re doing to yourself lacks wisdom or dignity.”
But when you just state that a person “is” revolting, you’ve pretty much given up your right to preach to anyone about treating others cruelly. Christ might have told the adulterous woman to “go and sin no more.” He didn’t start out by calling her a revolting whore first. If he had, we’d probably feel differently about the story.



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Susan Davis

posted March 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm


I think that some people feel free to be cruel about the overweight and obese because gluttony of excess is a sin that’s worn on the body for all to see. Most other sins are not visible to others.
(I say “gluttony of excess” because it’s possible to be a glutton in other ways–see Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.)



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hlvanburen

posted March 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm


“Perhaps they see shame and stigma as a health care strategy. ”
With the growing popularity of gastric bypass and “the band”, it certainly could be that this shaming is driven, in part, to promote the bottom line. After all, if someone has struggled for 10-15 years trying to lose weight only to fail continually, a “quick fix” under the surgeon’s knife is just the ticket to a thinner body for the patient and a fatter wallet for the medical industry.



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Appalachian Prof

posted March 16, 2010 at 3:29 pm


I think it’s mostly a disease of literal and cultural poverty. Except for the very well-off, most people don’t live in places where they can walk anywhere. Also, food that makes you fat is more easily accessible. Sure, if you’re smart and resourceful and know how to cook for yourself, you can make healthy food on a tight budget. But many poor and/or obese people have limited self-help skills. As their condition worsens, they are able to do even less. They pass even fewer skills on to the next poor and/or obese generation.
The movie Wall-E alluded to this in the body shape of all the human beings who lived on the space station, but this was probably an excessively optimistic view of the future.



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Appalachian Prof

posted March 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm


Oooh, just watched the Fox News clip. Hmmm. Very sobering, and quite frightening. Dysfunctional, irresponsible and pathetic.



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Lubeltri

posted March 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm


Rod,
Now that you have an iPhone, I recommend you download the very cheap and invaluable app called “Lose It!” It allows you to track your weight and diet, setting a calorie budget based on your target weight and the date that you will reach it. It has a database of thousands of foods to punch in track your diet.
It is amazing how using this little app allowed me to make the portion and diet modifications I was unable to make on my own. Portion control is so critical, as you mention.
I gained 40 pounds after a disabling accident several years ago, and thanks to this app, I was finally able to lose it all in the space of several months last fall.



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Elijah Joyce

posted March 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm


Is it wrong that I am actually rooting for her to have a heart attack?



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Turmarion

posted March 16, 2010 at 5:40 pm


Megan McArlde had a series of posts (here’s one example) on the topic of weight loss a few months back over at the Atlantic website, with interesting links to various authors and researchers. She also mentioned Paul Campos’s book The Obesity Myth, a fascinating book which I’ve read. The upshot is that no one really knows why obesity, diabetes, and such have increased so much over the last few decades and none of the usual culprits can be conclusively shown to be the case; a very small percent of the overweight and obese can lose large amounts of weight and keep it off long-term; that successive weight loss after an original loss and regain is progressively harder; that yo-yo dieting can be worse than obesity; and there is much ideology in promoting weight loss in the medical community.
That’s not to say that people shouldn’t try to eat healthier, exercise more, live a healthier lifestyle in general, and to the extent they can, lose moderate amounts of weight; nor is it to say we’re doomed by our genes nor that some people not are successful in losing wieght and maintaining weight loss. The point is that the situation is profoundly murky, and it’s all too easy to substitute scolding, lecturing, and painting the overweight as moral weaklings deserving of derision, than to honestly look at all the complexities of the situation.



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MikeW

posted March 16, 2010 at 5:41 pm


This is suicide in slow motion…a Biggest Loser in reverse…sad and pathetic, but as video freak shows continue to compete for attention, I suspect this kind of stuff is only the beginning.



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Jan Hus

posted March 16, 2010 at 6:26 pm


Key word: freedom.
 “Gluttony” is such a medieval concept, and those who throw such condemnation around should be more understanding.  One persons  “gluttony” is this woman’s freedom and her livlihood- her identity.
Sure, I don’t think the rest of us should be forced to pay for her health choices, but who  are we to judge her private life?  What she does in the privacy if her kitchen is her business.  Instead of fearfully stigmatizing it, this exactly the sort of transgressive diversity we ought to be embracing. In fact, I read there is a group of fellow eaters and those who
love them who are working to end the discrimination these people suffer.  I personally plan to buy one of their bumperstickers (” we’re fat and that’s that!) and do my part. The first goal is to end the negative associations (so evident in this thread) with words like “fat” or “lardass”.  In fact, I’ve heard some of our more cutting edge universities are considering setting up tubby student groups and separate departments for fat studies… I mean, is an enormously huge obese individual really that different than the rest of us?  Aren’t we all just humans looking for love?  And how is the eroticism of food that far removed from most so called “normal” sex….blah…blah…          



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Liam

posted March 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm


Actually, this woman is likely to cost taxpayers less than people who live healthfully but develop the ordinary ailments of age, and whose dying takes years. Assumptions are often faulty in this regard.



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silentbeep

posted March 16, 2010 at 6:41 pm


“The heritability of obesity — a measure of how much obesity is due to genes versus other factors — is about the same as the heritability of height. It’s even greater than that for many conditions that people accept as having a genetic basis, including heart disease, breast cancer, and schizophrenia. As nutrition has improved over the past 200 years, Americans have gotten much taller on average, but it is still the genes that determine who is tall or short today. The same is true for weight. Although our high-calorie, sedentary lifestyle contributes to the approximately 10-pound average weight gain of Americans compared to the recent past, some people are more severely affected by this lifestyle than others. That’s because they have inherited genes that increase their predisposition for accumulating body fat. Our modern lifestyle is thus a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for the high prevalence of obesity in our population.”
http://jezebel.com/5356697/fat-vs-fiction
“[D]ieters were not able to maintain their weight losses in the long term, and there was not consistent evidence that the diets resulted in significant improvements in their health. In the few cases in which health benefits were shown, it could not be demonstrated that they resulted from dieting, rather than exercise, medication use, or other lifestyle changes. It appears that dieters who manage to sustain a weight loss are the rare exception, rather than the rule. Dieters who gain back more weight than they lost may very well be the norm, rather than an unlucky minority.”
http://mann.bol.ucla.edu/files/Diets_don%27t_work.pdf
There is a big difference between coninually engaging in what is often a Sisyphean task of dieting and just “giving up and not caring about your health.” Those are two extreme approaches that don’t convey the complexity of this issue. People can still exercise regardless of body size, and still eat as healthfully as they can regardless of body size too. That does not mean that someone who is very fat is going to get thin from exercise and diet change alone, they may get healthier and fitter, but not necessarily thin. Such people may even get less fat, but not necessarily thin. Linda Bacon’s book “health at every size” may illuminate more on this topic. I suggest reading Gina Kolata’s book “rethinking thin” on this topic.
And about that will power, here is a quote from Megan McArdle about “overcoming” it in terms of food:
“Fat tissue makes people want to eat–it sends out for takeout. And hunger is a signal on par with thirst or pain. You can ignore it, if you have sufficient willpower. But just as most people can’t withstand torture (a minority can), most people can’t ignore the constant demand from their body for food….If when eating a normal 2,000-2,500 calorie diet, you do not spend significant amounts of your day fixating on food–fantasizing about it, binging, hiding it, strategizing how to procure it–you do not have anything interesting to say to someone who is struggling with obesity. You do not have better willpower than they do. You do not “care about myself” more. You are not more “serious about a healthy lifestyle” because you took off the eight pounds you gained at Christmas. You are no more qualified to lecture the obese on how to lose weight than I am qualified to lecture my short friends on how to become tall. You just have a different environmental and genetic legacy than they do. You’re not superior. You’re just somewhat thinner.”
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/07/thining-thin/22436/



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Mrs. Tarquin Biscuitbarrel

posted March 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm


Referring to someone as “this revolting Donna Simpson person” puts modifiers around the woman’s name in order to dehumanize her, which undoubtedly is what you had in mind. Yes, her morbid obesity is frightening, but the hungers that drive her are not at all the same as those that drive the “mall girls” to prostitution. (I had to click on the link to see what you were banging on about.)
I hope that you are successful in both getting your weight under control and in observing Lent. Can’t you do that without the pointless distraction of throwing women who disgust you into the pyre of your self-righteousness?



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R. Dave

posted March 16, 2010 at 6:44 pm


Rod Dreher wrote: “Think of [the people in Haiti], and think of the gluttonous Donna Simpson and her enablers, and tell me that America’s obesity epidemic is not in some sense a spiritual cancer.”
Are you similarly outraged by the spiritual cancer of Americans spending money on expensive clothing, bigger houses, electronics gadgets, etc. that they don’t need while there are people elsewhere in the world with next to nothing? If so, points for consistency, but man that’s a pretty depressing and self-flagellating way to go through life. If not, why the special animus toward over-indulgence in food as opposed to other forms of self-gratification?
Also, from the health perspective, are people who engage in hobbies like scuba diving, flying small planes, rock climbing, etc. similarly selfish and self-destructive since those activities involve a substantially increased risk of serious injury and death? What about more mundane activities like choosing to drive on the highway rather than the side roads (thus increasing the risk of a fatal accident) or living in southern California instead of Wisconsin (higher crime rates, more earthquakes, etc.)? Is the level of health/safety risk a person willingly accepts a factor in determining their moral standing generally, or only when that risk is associated with food? Again, if you apply the rule universally, kudos for consistency, but if not, why is excessive eating a uniquely immoral risk?



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Your Name

posted March 16, 2010 at 6:54 pm


How is “fat” much different from “dumb”? As there are some people who are genetically going to be obese, there are some people who are genetically less able to learn. For both categories, there are far more “overweight” or “undersmart” people than can be explained purely genetically. And for both categories, there are some (many?) for whom remaining thin or learning is “easy”. Does the existence of these fortunate number mean that everyone else is allowed to give up?
Not learning is certainly “easier” than learning–it requires effort, just like losing/maintaining weight requires effort. Should we–as a society–just allow people to remain “dumb” or “fat” because it’s too much imposition on their freedom to do otherwise?
Are the “dumb” any less stigmatized than the “fat”? I guess there is a ready acceptance that some people are genetically less able to learn, while the same understanding does not extent to the genetically obese. Also, relatedly, there are no television series about teaching the “dumb”, which certainly reinforces a difference.



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Nuada

posted March 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm


Unless you are purposefully trying to smear and shame all overweight / obese Americans, I don’t know the purpose of highlighting this strange woman in this discussion. What does she have to do with anything, really? She is very weird. Revolting, in a way, yeah. But I’m sure your e-mail inbox tray would reveal that some people don’t like you very much either Rod.
I’ll say this though, I’m not obese but if you go solely by BMI standards, I’m actually overweight. (At 6’3 and 212, BMI calls me overweight!) So, I don’t know how much all the stats and figures are worth.
But saying that the way smoking was successfully stigmatized provides a possible guide to reducing the level of obesity in America, that is so damn dumb, it barely deserves a response. People don’t have to smoke, people have to eat. Besides that, life is often miserable, particularly if you are poor. Down South and in Mediterranean cultures like the one I was raised in, tasty food is the one luxury you can often indulge in. So, in Haiti you starve if you are poor, in American you are often obese but in both cases you are probably malnourished. That’s the real point, healthy is much more than just being thin.



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Jon in the Nati

posted March 16, 2010 at 7:12 pm


“Are the “dumb” any less stigmatized than the “fat”?”
“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son…”
-Dean Vernon Wormer



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Thanos316

posted March 16, 2010 at 7:15 pm


The comparison to the successful campaign against smoking is somewhat inapt. Smokers, when they start early in their high school years, are definitely not subjected to the same level of cruelty and vicious bullying that overweight kids are. In fact, thanks to the Bizzaro-world ethics of adolescent and despite everything that’s been known about the long-term lethality smoking for decades, a teenage smoker manages to acquire the aura of wildly misplaced “coolness” that still accompanies the activity of smoking.
Except maybe for Samoa or the Japanese sumo sub-culture, there is no where on the planet where the overweight are seen as “cool” or even as acceptable. One probably wouldn’t have to look to far for horror stories of how fatter people have been dehumanized, bullied, humiliated, and even physically attacked by their thinner fellows just for the offense of not being like them, i.e. “uncool/losers”. For every other minority this type of behaviour towards them has become acceptable, both morally and legally. For fat people though, it’s still open season on them.
A person has the personal responsibility to keep themselves in a healthy condition, if for no other reason than it’s for their own good. And the excuses that fat people use for being fat are just that, merely excuses. The problem that I have with the outside derision directed towards them is that what is done to them, “for their own good”, to encourage them to change habits is really just the sadism of the bully disguised as “concern”. It might get masked with statistics and medical accuracy but, in the way it can be presented, it’s just another form of pathological bullying of the unwanted and “uncool” outsider/minority. No amount of bogus its-for-their-own-good analysis can change this sad reality.



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Zena

posted March 16, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Jim

posted March 16, 2010 at 7:26 pm


There are a number of factors in the 2010 developed country lifestyle that contribute to overweight and obesity that are removed from conscious decisions about food consumption and exercise and weaken any argument that overweight (though perhaps not obesity) are not moral issues. A partial list of things that otherwise are perceived as personal if not social goods: (1) the decline in smoking; (2) universally available central heat; (2) the substitution of labor-saving devices for virtually every type of work outside of or at the home; (4) the treatment of a substantial portion of the population with antidepressants or other psychoactive drugs; (5) nearly universal availability of cars as personal transportation; and (6) the availability of low-density suburban housing to a larger segment of the population. Add to this the prevalence of food subsidies in most of the developed world and an imbalance in the caloric budget of most people is almost inevitable. When I hear about proposals for a soda tax, a fat tax, or some other Pigovian levy to address the issue my immediate reaction is that the first steps shouldn’t be to create any taxes, they should be to eliminate as many subsidies as possible.



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Andrea

posted March 16, 2010 at 8:15 pm


I assume she has a mental illness. It’s not normal to want to be fat. I do have diabetes and I battle the bulge too. Maybe it’s my fault but it also runs strongly in my family, including among family membesr who are not overweight. I’m trying to take it off. But it bugs me to hear you call this person who is so obviously unwell mentally and physically revolting. It’s unkind and it doesn’t do much good. Shaming someone doesn’t do much more than make them feel like garbage.



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Lisa R. B.

posted March 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm


I understand your point on this matter but have some issues with it. My mother was morbidly obese, said so on her death certificate after she died of cancer. She was also not diagnosed with Hyperglycemia until she was almost 40 years old. She died at 43 years old. The emotional turmoil she went through as a child and in her adult years from her family did not help either. She would turn to food, comfort food, as a way to deal with her emotional let down of not having parents who made her feel good about herself. She never felt they were proud of her in anything she did. Relationships were another problem. Bad choices is putting it mildly. An abusive first husband, then repeated relationships with married men to avoid commitment. So by the time she knew the medical problem, without knowing the psychological ones, the damage was done. She tried hard to lose the weight. Ate a strict diet, lost some pounds, but to no avail. The woman you spoke of may have similar issues and without a psych degree may not even realize it. My mother raise two girls with only the help of the parents who reminded her regularly that she wasn’t good enough. And i think i turned out okay. She was teased, ridiculed by other people but had a heart of gold. She would do anything to help anybody whether she knew them or not. So did the fact that she was morbidly obese and didn’t try hard enough in a world that worked against her make her less of a person? Less worthy of looking beyond her physical appearance? Come on, Mr. Dreher, I know you know better. And perhaps her “cashing in” on her problems is the only way she can find to make peace with it. Sometimes when you are in a hole, you can’t find your way out.



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stefanie

posted March 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm


This isn’t to defend the woman in the news program. But if you want to take a communitarian approach, then *all* activities which lead to greater health care costs need to be stigmatized. For instance, sports. When I was in physical therapy I met many people who were there for sports injuries. One woman (a soccer player) was in her mid twenties and had already had *two* knee replacements from sports injuries. There are many aging boomers who have already had hip replacements for the same reason – and you can only have maybe two hip replacements per joint at the most.
That’s not even touching on all the people who do dangerous things like bungee jumping, parachuting, and other “extreme” sports. Or the people who go mountain-climbing and end up costing the county tens of thousands of dollars for rescues.
Some athletes take steroids, which can result in heart attacks, etc.
And those are extreme cases. When I go to the gym, you always hear people talking about their blown knees, or foot injuries, or sprains, etc. All these require physiotherapy as well as (sometimes) surgeries.
But this is all OK – because as a culture we worship sports and admire those who engage in them. We see this as a quite respectable “lifestyle choice” and our insurance companies, etc. continue to pay out.
If gluttony is the search for inordinate pleasures way beyond the reasonable (or physiologically necessary), then you can include heavy exercising or “extreme” sports in that category as well. People will describe being hooked on the “adrenalin surge” or the “endorphin rush,” etc. But again, this is all completely socially acceptable and even considered “healthy.”



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Colleen

posted March 16, 2010 at 8:38 pm


I agree with Nuada that drawing such a culture incriminating attitude because of one NJ wack job is a bit hysterical. It seems just as likely that she will drop dead of a heart attack as it does that she will have a long lingering illness. We might actually save money because she could die before anyone could make arrangements for a flatbed truck to take her to the hospital.
Of all the terrible things people do for money, I don’t see as this as particularly expensive. Skinny porn stars risk AIDS and Hep C. Every extreme athlete risks potential paralysis or traumatic brain injury that could leave them in constant care from 20 until 70. Racecar drivers risk trauma. Drycleaners risk emphysema. Soldiers risk TBI and amputations requiring longterm medical care and expensive prosthetics. Models and actresses risk longterm health because of eating disorders to stay thin.
Yes, this woman is disgusting and I can’t even contemplate the other wack job- her 150 lb baby daddy, but they are hardly the first in line for child endangerment.
I also agree that it would be fantastic to see Congress take a hatchet to the ridiculous corporate welfare program that is the farm bill. We are paying billions to ADM and Monsanto so they can make America fat, then paying billions more to Aetna and BCBS to take care of all the fatties. However, I think congress is far more willing to stick it to you and me over a soda tax than a big corporate donor over the farm bill.



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MMH

posted March 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm


It’s interesting to see this post in conjuction with the Arts & Letters link to a review of a book on addiction by a behavioral psychologist titled Addiction: A Disorder of Choice.
But your addendum, Rod, is also timely because I’d just taken out a reflection on eating, courtesy of my brother, that I wanted to put up in our kitchen. It’s pretty stringent, and by its standards just about all of us are gluttons. It reminds me of Wendell Berry.
Zen Buddhism’s “5 reflections before eating”
1. Considering the meal’s effect, we reflect on whence it came.
2. Weighing our virtues, we accept this offering.
3. To defend against our delusive minds and separate ourselves from our faults, we must first overcome greed.
4. To cure our bodily weakness, we take this fine medicine.
5. To attain enlightenment, we now eat this food. Now that’s putting food in context! A good Lenten meditation.



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Rod Dreher

posted March 16, 2010 at 9:22 pm


Lisa R.B., I know the situation you’re talking about, and I couldn’t begin to get to the bottom of your mother’s struggles, so I won’t even try. And I thank you for reminding me that this messed-up woman in New Jersey is probably committing slow-motion suicide for a sad reason. The reason her story punched my buttons is because she said that what she does hurts nobody, and people should leave her alone. I strongly disagree; she’s got a child, for one thing. I have a big problem with adults who indulge their own vices — overeating, drinking, whatever — at the expense of their children.
On the broader question of overeating, as I said in a subsequent post here tonight, this gets to me because I’m always struggling with my weight, and getting so tired of my own lack of self-discipline. If I had a thyroid condition, or took drugs that made me gain weight, that’d be one thing. But in my case, I’m lazy, I hate to exercise, and I like to eat. It’s as simple as that. I am very quick to find an excuse not to do what I know is right to do — right for me, and right for the kids I have, who need to have their dad around, and not dead of a heart attack like their great-grandmother, who also had diabetes, and their great-uncle. If I gave up and said that I didn’t care about my weight, what is now a relatively minor case of being overweight (20 to 25 pounds) would very quickly get out of hand. I know myself well enough to know that. So when I read Harriet Brown, I’m like, “Don’t say that! I have to keep fighting!”
The way I see it, whether I overeat because it tastes good or because for some deep emotional reason I feel comforted by it, or some combination of the two, I have a disordered relationship with it. It got planted early on, when I’d get off the school bus and come inside to watch cartoons while drinking two Cokes and eating Oreos and Fig Newtons. I don’t know why it’s all there, but I know it is there, and I can’t let food rule my life the way it did when I was an obese child. I kind of feel like the recovering alcoholic who always has to be on guard so he doesn’t slip back into drunkenness. When I hear Harriet Brown say what she says, I hear, with an alcoholic’s ears (if you follow me), “Relax, drinking won’t hurt you, it’s the people who say you shouldn’t enjoy a drink who have the problem.” See where I’m coming from?



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Mont D. Law

posted March 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm


That’s about 30 times the entire yearly national income of Haiti. Haiti is a country where some people are so poor and hungry they eat dirt to survive
This seems a strange point for a guy whose wine budget likely exceeds the per capita income of the average Haitian to make. When it comes to world poverty we all live in glass houses.



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Rod Dreher

posted March 16, 2010 at 10:18 pm


A fair point. But then again, in everything I’ve said about obesity and our cultural habits, I absolutely include myself in the indictment. I don’t consider enjoying food (or wine) to be wrong. It’s the gross immoderation, of which I am often guilty, that’s the problem.



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Rod S

posted March 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm


4 words: High Fructose Corn Syrup
And…
2 words: Video Games



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Grace

posted March 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm


Smoking is a bad, bad parallel to draw, Rod.
You can hide that you’re a smoker, unless your fingers and teeth are yellow and you whiff of nicotine. I have three coworkers who go out for cigarette breaks three times a day — I had no idea they smoked until I happened to come along on one of their breaks. If you don’t want people to know you’re a smoker, they probably won’t know.
A fat person can never, ever be mistaken for anything other than fat. If they haven’t eaten anything but celery for two weeks, and they’re still obese, they’ll be judged. In addition, smoking is not something you’re required to do, like eating. Every time a fat person eats a sandwich, they’re judged for it. What are they supposed to do, stop eating in public entirely? (Which some people do, by the way.) Smokers either smoke in public or they smoke privately — at no point are they forced to smoke a cigarette for survival, while watched by others who are smoking as well, but “can handle it”.
As for your 25 pounds — congrats, you’re still on the acceptable side of overweight, so I guess you’ve got the room to allow for motivational shaming. You’re also a guy. I wish you could try being a woman and over 25 lbs overweight. I’m fatter than I “should” be, sure. But then I read that Amanda Seyfried survives off of spinach and seeds, and that’s not normal either. I also have no bloody clue what I’m supposed to look like, thanks to my mother’s noxious cocktail of Munchausen-esque anorexia and a heavy dose of cultural pressure.
No, it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy to be eating foods full of weird processed junk and corn byproducts, it’s not healthy to tell young women that they should look like Kate Moss right when they’re hitting puberty, it’s not healthy to serve portions that pile 2000 calories on a plate. But it’s also not healthy to get constantly objectified by people who apparently think it’s their moral and civic duty to inform you that you are too damn fat. I’m pretty sure if most people’s personal struggles took physical form that could be pointed to and remarked upon by others, obesity would be the least of our worries. Philanderer’s Stutter, maybe? Credit Card Defaulter’s Limp? Unemployment Jaundice? So leave the kid with the slow metabolism and big hips alone.



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Grace

posted March 16, 2010 at 10:52 pm


This has been mentioned before, but should be again: “This revolting Donna Simpson person”.
Really, Rod? Do you really want to be that guy? I suspect you felt safe saying this because you could trace “revulsion” back to “fat”, and hey, everyone agrees fat people are gross, eh? It made you sound very, very small — and not in the “thin” way.
And I really do have to tack back around to your much-bemoaned 25 not-yet-obese pounds. Rod, to lose that you need to eat fractionally less for a few months, maybe exercise a bit. And you’re done. To ask a 300-lb person to slim down is telling them that they need to starve themselves over months or years. That’s not hyperbole, their bodies are used to the higher intake, and NEED more than average to operate. On top of that, they can lose 50 lbs and…. get the same reaction from almost everyone on the street, because dammit, they’re STILL “too fat”. So the next time you glibly assume that diets are one size fit all, do some research. The Atlantic articles linked above should be particularly illuminating.



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Ray Butlers

posted March 16, 2010 at 11:02 pm


The great increase in obesity is not an accident. The ridiculous increase in the food supply – most of it in carbohydrates – is due to Congressional action on behalf of Big Food. Subsidies motivate farmers to grow foods that would otherwise be very expensive and therefore eaten less often. Sugar, corn (See “King Corn”), dairy, and countless other foods are effectively forced onto the market in cheap and plentiful form. I agree that we make the choice to overeat, but the sheer cheapness of food is a major contributor. Add to this the ridiculous notion that kids need “snacks” between meals (it’s mandated in every school and daycare center) and that every school needs pop machines and you’ve got an obesity problem. We live not in the land of plenty but in the land of excess where extreme behaviors are rewarded with a sort of twisted pride. Overeating is rewarded in restaurants as thrift. Overeating is linked – appallingly – with masculinity (“Hungry Man”)and athletics (energy drinks, Gatorade, beer). And it’s an addiction that we can’t abstain from. Images of food pervade our environment. It’s impossible to do anything social or recreations without being confronted with cheap, plentiful food. None of these things are OUR choices.



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Antonius Magnus

posted March 17, 2010 at 12:13 am


I agree with Mr. Dreher; except I would think her morals are more repugnant than her appearance–I can’t help but think that there are people who, convinced that they are so far beyond help, just say “I give up”, and begin to wallow in their misery. Some people cannot discern the difference between “fame” and “infamy”.



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Jan Hus

posted March 17, 2010 at 1:47 am


Sigh….
Have you read anything at all by Crispin Piekrust of Cornell?  Didn’t think so.  He argues in several of his aesthetical critical works that corpulency enhancement has been practiced for centuries.  In fact, in the west the rise of Christian asetical practices like fasting is directly responsible for the cult of emaciation which pervades and oppresses the fat today.  Some biblical scholars at Duke Divinity are now suggesting that St. Paul was probably quite obese (which may explain some things…) and that Jesus himself may have been a little chunky.      



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Jac

posted March 17, 2010 at 5:00 am


Hell’s bells! What about free will? Okay, so Donna is an amoral pervert and a bad mother to boot but it all still boils down to free will.
If she wants to die early… Her choice. What is more sickening is the way everybody or near everybody in society thinks they have the right to point and judge or disapprove.
I think people should rather work on their own perversions and insecurities and stop trying to feel good by comparing people to some sick notion the media is promoting.
And man, you don’t need some genius digging up the past to try and prove something like corpulence enhancement. It is still in practice in some countries and fasting has nothing to do with the cult of emaciation. Just study the current and past fashion trends and you’ll see the same cult honed to a fine art by media moguls cashing in on the lucrative fashion and weight loss market by preying on human frailty and vanity.
I’ve known many overweight individuals who lived to a ripe old age and who was excessively happy and active to boot. It is all in the mind. Unfortunately the declining quality of food over the past decades also has a lot to do with the health issues of obesity.
So stop comparing people to some model of perfection and rather work on your own issues. If you can help somebody, then fine but stop always pointing out in others what you perceive as wrong or even ugly.
We’ve had quite enough of all the negativity and need some positive input once in a while.gyav9x



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Rod Dreher

posted March 17, 2010 at 7:32 am


Really, Rod? Do you really want to be that guy? I suspect you felt safe saying this because you could trace “revulsion” back to “fat”, and hey, everyone agrees fat people are gross, eh? It made you sound very, very small — and not in the “thin” way.
Grace, you sure are into armchair psychology, aren’t you? I called her “revolting” because she wants to make herself into a thousand-pound freak, and she supports herself by charging weirdos money to watch her gorge herself via webcam. That. Is. Revolting. You’re coming across here as the sort of person who believes that any judgment at all on the behavior of any overweight person whatsoever is a crime against humanity. I mean, really.



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Rod Dreher

posted March 17, 2010 at 8:02 am


I’m going to move this conversation to the new thread. Please go here and continue this discussion.



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Gavin Dluehosh

posted March 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm


Hi Rod–
I hope you’ve seen this “story”:
http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28407



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Grace

posted March 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm


Rod, she revolts YOU. Her physical form revolts you, and possibly you’re also revolted by the idea that there are fetishists out there. But calling her a revolting person in a much more all-encompassing phrase, and small-minded.
I don’t care about the armchair psychology, but I also don’t think you have the faintest idea what it’s like to actually be fat. The New Jersey woman’s an outlier. Your vitriol against her is just weird. Are you just as pissed off at the Jackass guys who jump into lion’s cages and take golf balls to the crotch? How about extreme sports enthusiasts? How about people who climb Everest? Because all of those people sustain major injuries and incur huge costs if they need to be rescued from their follies. It’s all stunts, like eating a massive amount. And yeah, I judge these people because I think they’re a little bit nuts. But I don’t find their weird actions particularly revolting, as they’re only risking themselves (even though ALL of the above might leave behind a family, not be with their families for months at a time, etc).
But I’m not getting the vibe that you’re judging people for high-risk stunt behavior. I get the feeling you’re judging people for being fat. And THAT I find weird. I can only imagine you roam free, judging asthmatics and cripples at will. If you’re going to take the risk of sitting in judgment of another person while still calling yourself humane, at least pick a better target than their corpulence. Choose an actual affront against humanity, like fraudulently bogarting the handicapped spaces or talking too loudly on a cellphone.
Just out of curiosity: if you found yourself inconvenienced because while attending a play, the man at the end of the row had a hard time getting up and moving about because he’d shattered his leg while bungee jumping, would you be angry at him? Would you be revolted at his limited range of motion, or at the cause of his disability?



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Rev. Kateyy

posted March 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm


“Weight management” isn’t always something for which we may be held responsible. Eating healthfully *IS* our responsibility.
I am a perimenopausal woman living with systemic lupus. Several of my 33 pills per day tend to cause weight gain. Though my weight is stable, and I eat very carefully both to maintain my weight without gaining and to ensure that I get the nutrients which I need, I am never going to be at a “normal” weight for my height.
I’m a nursing home chaplain, and the health care staff AND the residents are quite opinionated! I’ve head to learn to gracefully explain my situation, one person at a time.
I’ve shared my health challenges honestly with the people whom I serve. They have seen me with lesions on my face, using a walker or a wheelchair, and experiencing a variety of medication side effects. It has brought us closer together, because I’m not a healthy young whippersnapper telling them how they should live, but a fellow-sufferer talking about my own experiences and how God has sustained me.
When you see an overweight person on the street, please don’t let your first thought be “what a bad person!” Consider that none of us knows the burdens that others must bear.



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Denise

posted March 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm


Yes, it is easier to quit smoking – in some respects – than lose weight. Cigarettes are not a required part of daily life, and can be avoided.

Food, on the other hand, is necessary to live. Instead of being able to avoid it entirely (thus avoiding cravings as well) we have to learn to monitor and control its impact on our lives. As few of us are farmhands and manual laborers anymore, and calorie-dense nutrition sparse foods not only abound but are actively marketed, is it any wonder that obesity rates skyrocketed?

I work out 12 times a week at my local gym. 30 – 45 minutes cardio every day at lunch, 45 minute water aerobics every Tue & Thur morning, 1 hour cardio every Mon, Wed, and Fri evening after work, and 45 minutes weight training every Tue & Thur evening.

In 3 months of this I have lost 25 pounds and 2 sizes – but I am still clinically morbidly obese (more than 100 pounds over my ideal weight). Too me, this indicates that even my intense workout schedule is not enough to overcome the hours I sit at a desk typing every day.

Thankfully, I do not – yet – suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, or any other “lifestyle” disease.



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