Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

The hard road fat people walk

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I’m not clear on precisely how much shame can actually help. It’s shame that’s created our absurd McWeightLoss culture where Octomom takes to the cover of celebrity magazines to show off her new bikini body, and retired athletes claim to have found the secret to losing five pounds a week. It’s symptomatic of who are, of our abiding belief in short-cuts, and our technological ability to elide truth. The truth is that weight loss–like almost anything really worth doing–is long, hard and very lonely. It requires you to live in a way that many of your friends and family almost certainly do not.


Well, he’s right about that, and while TNC — who has had his own struggles with weight — is probably less strict about this stuff than I am, I think he and I would agree that we hate the aspect of our culture that involves the “technological ability to elide truth.” This is part of why I’m such a hard-ass about weight loss. I get so sick of myself, and all the excuses I make to not do what I ought to be doing. I push back hard against well-meaning people like Harriet Brown, not because I think Fat People Are Bad, but because I want to push back against this culture that tells me I can’t overcome my own sloth and gluttony, that I ought to settle for the spiritual disorder that results in my being overweight. Weight loss really is hard, and as TNC says, you have to push back against this permissive, indulgent culture at every turn. I have never done it to a satisfactory degree, and any progress I’ve made has never been permanent. But if I weren’t determined to hold the line as best I can, I would be a lot bigger than I am, and a lot less healthy.
I don’t know to what extent shame is productive, and when it’s destructive. Lying there hating yourself and not doing anything about it is certainly destructive. But if I got satisfied with my condition, I would never bother to cook healthier food, reduce my portions, and even get on the exercise machine. I hate this therapeutic culture that tells us to be satisfied with mediocrity and laziness, and to despise self-disciplined excellence as judgmental. (And, it’s corollary, to expect the easy way out.) I know I’m lazy, and I don’t want to be comfortable with that.
UPDATE: And to be clear, I recognize that there are some people who really can’t help it. They’re genetically programmed to be bigger. My father, for example, worked really, really hard when he was younger — I mean, hard physical labor — but he always struggled with his weight. Mind you, he got it under control when he changed his diet and started eating more sensibly, but still, it always has been an issue for him, as it was for his mother. I take after them both. I will never be skinny, and I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is the certain knowledge that I could be in better shape if I were more self-disciplined about my eating and my exercise. Your mileage may vary.
The thing that got these fat threads started was my revulsion at the Jersey woman who is fattening herself to 1,000 pounds, and who pays her grocery bill by charging weirdos to watch her gorge herself via webcam. If you’re the sort of person who says we can’t judge her behavior as wrong, then we really have nothing to say to each other. I recognize that she’s a far outlier in the whole issue of obesity. What I don’t really know is where to draw the line on personal responsibility, and in faulting one’s lack of self-discipline re: eating and exercising, for one’s obesity, and when it really is something that has to be accepted. If obesity were merely a matter of aesthetics, that would be one thing. But it’s a major public health problem, and it’s getting worse. Did you know that in some communities, half the minority children are obese? We know too that doctors are seeing adult diabetes showing up in children now. This never happened before. You can’t tell me that it’s genetically inevitable that all these kids are to be obese. I am sure that the seeds of my own struggles with weight were planted in my childhood, with my constant gorging on junk food. There were always cookies, snack cakes and Cokes around, and I got hooked, and hooked hard, on sugar. This is why I’ve been real careful with my own kids to limit (as distinct from to forbid) their intake of sugar. I want them to have a healthy relationship with food, especially sweet food, to learn to enjoy it, but in moderation.
So how do we discourage obesity? How do we treat those suffering from obesity with compassion, while at the same time maintaining enough stigma on obesity to encourage people to hold the line against it in their own lives? It’s a very difficult question, I know, because you don’t want to add to the suffering of obese people, but at the same time, to declare obesity as nothing that needs to be overcome is to accept a destructive, expensive condition that ought not be accepted so easily.

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posted March 16, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Rod, if all this shaming and calling yourself names (“fat,” “lazy,” “sloth,” “gluttony,” “spiritual disorder”) is really so effective, why aren’t you thin by now? For that matter, if shame and guilt are so effective, why are there so many fat Christians? If you’ll pardon a personal comment, I don’t think you CAN stop putting yourself down at this point. You talk as if it’s an option, but I’ll bet you couldn’t stop calling yourself names even if you wanted to. It’s an addiction–much like over-eating.
I’m only saying this because I’ve experienced it myself. I challenge you to go even one day without a self-loathing thought. I’ll bet it’s harder than going without a snack or a glass of wine. I wonder what would happen if all the fat people in the world stopped hating themselves, rather than hating themselves more. I wonder what effect this would have on their weight. Even if they never lost a pound, at least they’d live the rest of their lives happy instead of miserable. But it’s entirely possible that they’d actually become healthier as well. Stress hormones are bad for you, and self-hate certainly causes stress.
Why do you assume that either one mentally scourges oneself, or else one is doomed to perpetual mediocrity? Isn’t it possible to strive for excellence out of love? To choose what makes you truly happy instead of always ceding control to what will only make you miserable? Wouldn’t that be a more excellent way?

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posted March 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Being overweight is not itself sinful. Nor is being thin a virtue. You’ve used one category – weight – as a code for another – gluttony. The two correlate, but are not congruent. That’s sloppy on your part. And it’s an important bit of sloppiness. Because it’s feeding an addictive mind-pattern that is not virtuous.

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posted March 16, 2010 at 9:34 pm

You could look into Team in training. They’re a great organization. I think with weight loss and exercise, most of it is a habit of being. If you do an endurance event with them, you’re surrounded by a bunch of people exercising. I am very much not a rah-rah person, but i did an event with them and it was a lot of fun. Plus you raise money for blood cancer research- you could do a lot of good blogging about it.

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John E - Agn Stoic

posted March 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

It is a cliche, but true, that people will change when the pain of not changing in their opinion outweighs the pain of changing – again, in their opinion.
Here’s the key point in your post that is worth looking at in that context:
not because I think Fat People Are Bad, but because I want to push back against this culture that tells me I can’t overcome my own sloth and gluttony, that I ought to settle for the spiritual disorder that results in my being overweight.
Here’s what I don’t understand. You claim that you do not believe Fat People Are Bad. Please correct me if I am wrong on that point.
And yet in the very next sentence you associate obesity with a “spiritual disorder”.
How can you hold both of these to be true? Are spiritual disorders bad or not?

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the stupid Chris

posted March 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm

… almost anything really worth doing–is long, hard and very lonely…
Fighting any battle, spiritual or physical, is like this.
John E: I think you misunderstand Rod’s meaning. Spiritual disorders are no more welcome than physical disorders, but they don’t make those who suffer from them “bad.” You would not say of a person with a heart disorder that they’re “bad,” you would not say of a person with a psychological disorder that they are “bad,” why would you necessarily impute that to a person with a spiritual disorder?

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posted March 16, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Rod, I don’t think you’re pushing back against a culture that’s telling you you have no control over sloth and gluttony. I think you’re caught in a slightly dishonest place, where you want to self-deprecatingly reward yourself for not yet being obese and yet imply that you could lose those 25 at any point, if you just tried hard enough.
I think you know that you’re occupying a space where most people don’t consider you fat, where your family might tease you about getting a bit thick, but you won’t get stared at on the street, and you can order an ice cream cone without the server raising an eyebrow. It is intellectually and morally dishonest to compare your internal struggle over your weight with the experience of a person who is visibly and “unsocially” overweight.
It may sound like I’m making fun of this, and I sort of am. “Lying there and hating yourself” is a luxury of sorts. You get to decide when to mull your 25 lbs, and this all takes place inside of your head. You might even enjoy the feeling that, if you let things get out of control, other people will start persecuting you. Because you’re not being persecuted yet, so while it’s worrying, it’s also a little bit of a thrill — you’re ALMOST fat enough to be mocked! It’s like waving your palm through the flame of a candle and thinking about how it might hurt to actually get burned. You’re not getting burned, you’re just thrilling off it a bit.
It is unkind and spiritually troubling to think that you might take the step back and realize that you as a non-obese person find the spectre of mockery slightly motivational, while knowing that it’s a heavy burden for people who are physically identifiable as obese, and still claim that social pressure is a good thing overall.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 12:47 am

It’s not productive to call yourself and other people, including me, names because they’re overweight. You really think you’re telling anyone something they don’t already know? Shaming doesn’t work and it borders on the obnoxious. By all means, go on a diet and join the Y or a fitness club. You’ll be healthier for it. But you’ll motivate yourself by positive means, not by belittling yourself or other people.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 1:18 am

What bothers me is that the reality is that weight loss is difficult.
I eat reasonably well (plenty of broccoli), don’t snack, avoid stuff like donuts, and walk ever day/ But the net result is that I’m a shade under 200 pounds on a six-foot male frame. Not obese, but in the lower range of “overweight”. Short of starving, I don’t see how to get much lower.
People tell me I look okay, but it certainly isn’t anything to be proud of.
I think much of this is due to the fact that our present day lives are sedentary. Even though I walk, it’s for maybe 45 minutes a day. It’s not like I have to go out for hours looking for berries or small animals (which I believe was the case centuries ago).
Some fortunate souls keep trim, but I’d say that the overwhelming number of people are destined to be “slightly fat”. At least until some magic pill comes around (and I mean 100% safe, not the dangerous stuff that’s out there these days).

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John E - Agn Stoic

posted March 17, 2010 at 7:44 am

John E: I think you misunderstand Rod’s meaning. Spiritual disorders are no more welcome than physical disorders, but they don’t make those who suffer from them “bad.”
Really? In the same sense that some folks here claim they don’t mean to say homosexuals are “bad” when they call them “intrinsically disordered”?
Color me unconvinced when these folks claim they aren’t using these as terms of condemnation.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 8:15 am

I think many doctors will tell you nowadays that the focus should not be on WEIGHT but LIFESTYLE. That is, if a fat (or normal or skinny, I suppose) person comes into a doctor’s office, the doctor ought to question the patient and determine their diet, alcohol consumption, smoking preference, drugs, activity, exercise, work, etc. Assuming the patient tells the truth, the doctor should encourage the patient to live a healthier lifestyle. Telling them they should lose 100 lbs will probably not work (statistically speaking), and even if they lose the weight, stastically speaking they’re extremely likely to gain it back.
But encouraging a healthy lifestyle- not just until they get thinner, but for their entire life- is more successful and far more realistic.
The focus on only weight is unrealistic and even harmful, in my opinion. Most fat people are not going to become thin- whether they work at it or not. But if they can live a healthier lifestyle, their health, quality of life, and lifespan will improve- even if they stay fat.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 8:20 am

Fat people cost themselves and tax payers a great deal.
Simple as that.
Down south, where I grew up, the obesity is astonishing. More proof that fat may be part genetic, but the far larger factor in making someone fat is overeating.
Fat people suffer from a lack of control. It’s an addiction just like booze and drugs. Very difficult to beat it, but it’s possible if one really, really tries.
So count me among those who simply wish that fat people would stop eating so much. It would help them – and others – who end up paying for all those medical bills, so very much.

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Cindy M.

posted March 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

Wow, Grace, you’ve hit on something I haven’t thought clearly enough to articulate. Thank you.
I’ve battled fat all my life, or rested from the battle and gained more. Three years ago I took off 20% of my top weight I’d carried around for a decade, and with repeated efforts and rests I’ve managed to keep off half of that. So I’m 10% under my top weight, a pretty heroic effort, but I’m still fat. Every few months I “run at it” again and get off some more, and then it creeps back on again. It is exhausting and discouraging, and it almost doesn’t show.

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Jan Hus

posted March 17, 2010 at 8:46 am

To continue from the other thread…
“This revolting Donna Simpson person”.
Indeed.  Would you say something similar about a lustful person?  I doubt it.  I myself am quite vain.  And I didnt choose to be superior to everyone else. Do you think I should be stigmatized for that?  I have experienced some of the condemnation your heaping on this woman.  I have been called everything from overbearing to imperious to an ass.  Do you know how it feels to have some nobody store clerk with a name tag dare to call you an ass?  And how about the drunk, the slothful or the stingy?  Do you condemn them, too?  I know a man who drinks himself into a stupor by noon everyday and spends every afternoon oogling porn and playing xbox. What right do I have to say he is  wrong?  He seems happy and his kids probably will be ok.  Besides, if this is what he chooses to do with his time…well, I feel it would be wrong for him to deny who he is, just because I don’t like it.     I guess I am just a lot better at being nonjudgemental than most people. Why can’t everyone else see that beneath those great slabs of quivering flesh and those mountanous haunches…beneath that grotesque elephantine exterior of every fat person lies a human being who just wants another helping of bacon?

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posted March 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

Science (and observation and personal experience) is telling us that once the weight is on, it’s very hard to take off. So that’s one issue — all we can do is encourage weight loss among adults, we can’t make it happen. But the difficulty that adults experience when tryhing to diet tells us that we MUST do something to help children avoid that weight gain that’s so hard to reverse. And it’s about expectations, the availability of high-calorie food, and alternatives. Speaking as someone who remembers the 50’s, I can tell you that if there’s only one plump kid in your class (typical back then), children are not likely to see obesity as normal. If vending machines and fast food and convenience stores are nowhere to be seen, the opportunity to snack all the time isn’t there. If you’re in a family of six, you won’t be given your favorite food as often for dinner. Are there ways to recapture that type of environment, or aspets of it?

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posted March 17, 2010 at 9:05 am

Jan Hus:
“This revolting Donna Simpson person”. Indeed. Would you say something similar about a lustful person? I doubt it.
You must be new here.
Anyway, burn more calories than you consume, and you will lose weight. It’s pretty much an iron-clad law of physics.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 9:06 am

I think that sigaliris could be onto something. Taking the attitude that we’re failures if we’re not perfect–that it’s all or nothing with regards to weight loss, fitness, or any other worthy goal–doesn’t serve most of us well. I know that it hasn’t served me well–it just sends me down a futile shame spiral. And feeling shame and self-loathing are also truly unhealthy states for a person to be in. My goal might be to forgo sweets six days out of seven and to exercise six days out of seven, but I can’t keep that regime up. In the past, that has led me and others to give up entirely. The better attitude–at least for me–is to accept myself if I can give up sweets three days a week and exercise three days a week. After all, it’s a big improvement over nothing. Trust me, I’m never going to feel satisfied with three days a week rather than four, or five, or six. I will always know that it could be more (and hopefully will be more).
It sounds like weight has been a lifelong struggle for you and I want to respect the way that you’ve found to cope. But if it has been a lifelong struggle, perhaps calling yourself these names hasn’t been as effective as you think. I think that satisfaction with ourselves (which you say our “therapeutic culture” fosters) and acceptance of ourselves (which I think at least some of that culture is really attempting to foster) are two very different things. For many of us–although perhaps not you–acceptance is the first step towards leading a healthier lifestyle.

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Franklin Evans

posted March 17, 2010 at 9:21 am

I had an ironical thought reading this thread: Superficial measurements and statistical groupings are just as destructive to the body-weight fetish as they are to public education.
Instead, why not challenge your doctor the next time he or she tells you that “for your this and that you are fat”? Ask the doctor straight up: What makes me a perfect specimen for your judgment? Is there some aspect of my daily life that can actually make a change? Did you do a full workup of my metabolism, hormones and other factors over which I have little to no control?
Like my father before me, whose physique I matched almost exactly except for 5 extra inches of height, I was routinely told by doctors that I was borderline dangerously underweight. I pushed myself for an entire year to eat as much as 25% more food daily, and at the end of that year I had lost 5 pounds. In all that time, my general health was excellent. (Then I hit 45 years old, but that’s another story, eh?)
It should be a simple cause-effect observation: Is my weight contributing to other conditions for which I need treatment (or cause me discomfort or pain)? If the answer is no, then I suggest you do what some of my larger friends do: Thumb your nose at the cultural stereotypes you see on fashion shows, and go about your business.

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Lisa R. B

posted March 17, 2010 at 9:49 am

I understand your points, and agree with them actually. I just wanted to say that points can be made with compassion.

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Mac S

posted March 17, 2010 at 10:34 am

I hate this therapeutic culture that tells us to be satisfied with mediocrity and laziness, and to despise self-disciplined excellence as judgmental.
Are we living in the same culture? That I’m ok – you’re ok tripe is passé at best. :-) We live in a culture of snark and meanness and superficiality perhaps and the gimme-gimme-gimme mindset even, but I have always picked up on a message that if I just tried harder, wanted it more, was disciplined enough I could be XYZ.
A fellow Catholic once told me that when I obsess with all that is bad about me (shortcomings, fitness level, career setbacks) it is a form of self absorption that is as poisonous, shallow and yes, even sinful as gluttony or the OH, LOOK AT ME antics of pseudo-celebs.
Nala: I think that satisfaction with ourselves (which you say our “therapeutic culture” fosters) and acceptance of ourselves …are two very different things. Well said.
Rod, I feel for your struggle and maybe the past few days you have faced some uncomfortable truths around the topic. Yo-yo dieting and following the no-carb or sugar buster diets did nothing for me but a sustained lifestyle change has made a difference and allowed me to stop obsessing – but just the obsessing mind you. I DO pay attention to portions keeping the glasses of wine to a minimum and miles walked/jogged. I have my goals in mind every day now.
However, I am doing this to be healthier. I will never be 110lbs or a marathon runner and if being anything less than that is “satisfaction with mediocrity” in the eyes of some, then there are larger issues at play.
As far as what to do about the epidemic: there is far too much processed crap in food (I am hardly Organic-Annie but there is), too few green things (not smothered in cheese), HUGE portions (this is a big issue)& too little exercise or even fresh air time. But people and corporations want LESS gov’t intervention right (the soda tax alone has people up in arms), not more, so what CAN be done?
Teaching good nutritional habits to younger children and their families is a start but it is time-consuming, difficult to do on a large scale and the long-term impact is questionable. I know someone who ran such a program in low-income school districts and the push-back was from the adults, but the kids eventually really liked learning about, preparing and tasting healthy snacks.

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Regan DuCasse

posted March 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

Although genetics plays a part in BODY TYPE you will be, the obesity issue is still one of lifestyle.
This is a matter of health and welfare to each individual. One can die from it, there are attendant long term health risks because of it.
I don’t have a weigh problem. My average was 130, and I’m 5’9. A steroid treatment several years ago, skyrocketed my weight to 182 and I got down to 160.
And I’ve struggled to lose the final 30 for four years now. I have always had a high performance body. I’m a dancer and athlete and always have been. The extra 30 is SO uncomfortable and I feel every bit of it. Despite that, I work out regularly and the diet required, although effective, requires that I cut a LOT of carbs.
In any case, being militant about one’s obesity is ridiculous. Especially if you have children. The children will develop the same habits, and in an emergency, the obese are EXTREMELY difficult to deal with.
Seriously, a firefighter can’t make six trips to get you out of a burning building, nor can you squeeze through the standard windows in a car or home. To say nothing of carrying your own child to help them or BEING carried.
Or, if abdominal surgery is required, 60 pounds of abdominal fat would be difficult to work through, if it’s possible at all. And it’s a fact that health care pros are getting injured trying to life or maneuver the obese.
In short: other people suffer because of it. Not just the individual.
I am a former professional trainer. I’d never make fun of or abuse someone who was going through weight problems. I do firmly believe that compassion and a comprehensive approach to helping in EVERY aspect of that person’s issue is most helpful. Especially that of depression, self esteem and so on.
However, there is a reality in how OTHER people are engaged in the lives of those who are overweight. Especially those who morbid obesity has them nearly immobile. Enabling such a situation helps nothing.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I think a major problem is that we’ve become divorced from food. That, and the time and effort to prepare meals that might not even turn out edible drives people away from cooking and towards prepackaged/fast food.
Call me crazy, but I think we need Home Ec back in school. The basics of how to cook, healthy staples, how to steam vegetables, etc. Watch Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners programme sometime (or the one he’s started in W Virginia now). It’s shocking how little entire families know about the basics of assembling a meal. And how insurmountable the idea of cooking can seem to those without a clue.
Zeroing in on personal responsibility is a bit shortsighted, in my view. Yes, it should be part of the canvas, but certainly not focused on weight — focus on what it is HEALTHY to eat, not what is going to make you thin. You know what one of the main reasons I avoid fast food is? It makes me smell funny. I can smell the grease/oil/potatoes/whatever coming out my pores the next day. It’s gross. And “I don’t want to smell bad” is a much better motivator to eat broccoli for me than “I will get fat”.
But arming the population with more cooking skills and less corn-based crap is a good place to start.

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the stupid Chris

posted March 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Really? In the same sense that some folks here claim they don’t mean to say homosexuals are “bad” when they call them “intrinsically disordered”?
The Roman Catholic Church has adopted the position held by the DSM until 1973. That makes them only 40 years behind the times, which by historical standards means they’ve got at least another 60 years before they’ll adjust their position. That their position is used to justify hatred does not mean that they are haters, but it does speak to a different spiritual disorder among those who wish to use it that way, doesn’t it?
To the underlying issue is that Rod seems to think that shame is a good thing, that shame is a motivator towards good. My experience is that shame is a motivator only to avoidance. Now that avoidance comes in many fashions, and though occasionally it leads someone to be better, far more often it has counter-productive results that are worse than the shame being avoided.
To put it simply, the Catholic Church and it’s faithful are manifestly NOT better off because its Bishops sought to avoid shame.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I wonder if preaching and holding (in theory) marriage to be indissoluble contributes to obesity in Christian cultures?
I would think an even stronger incentive to stay slim than being shamed by acquaintances and colleagues would be the prospect of being abandoned by one’s spouse.
But Christianity (in theory) forbids this, and certainly preaches that marriage is “for better or for worse.”
I bet if an escape clause were added to Christian marriage contracts — frankly allowing marriage nullification on the grounds of excessive increase in BMI — obesity rates would go down.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I know what–let’s all just flog ourselves more, like the Pope! Surely that will get God’s attention and he’ll grant our prayers and make us thinner. Seriously–what kind of divine being can’t even provide his followers with a decent weight loss plan? I find this even more of a disincentive to faith than the whole not growing back amputated limbs thing.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Agreed! Weight loss is really difficult but it can be done. Taking the “victim” role in this issue is not helpful in the long run.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Megan: Let’s start with the first. If there’s one thing that everyone in America knows, it’s that being fat is really unhealthy. Why do you call it a fake problem?
Paul: The correlations between higher weight and greater health risk are weak except at statistical extremes (my note: this is part of the problem with your post Rod, you have picked that New Jersey woman who is in fact, an extreme statistical outlier – many issues are getting conflated in this post regarding “obesity). The extent to which those correlations are causal is poorly established. There is literally not a shred of evidence that turning fat people into thin people improves their health. And the reason there’s no evidence is that there’s no way to do it.
So saying “let’s improve health by turning fat people into thin people” is every bit as irrational as saying “let’s improve health by turning men into women or old people into young people”. Actually it’s a lot crazier, because there actually are significant health differences between men and women and the old and the young — much more so than between the fat and the thin.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 5:22 pm

The diet industry, and the food industry are both enormously profitable. Popular restaurants, with few exceptions, offer enormous portion sizes and advertise constantly. I’m frequently tempted by Five Guys hamburgers (the best) and fries. The fries are 2000 calories for a regular-sized serving. Similarly outrageous portion sizes of other kinds of food are commonplace. Eating right takes time and effort.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 6:02 pm

So I go and check Harriet Brown’s writings to give her a piece of my mind about contending that “we can’t overcome my own sloth and gluttony, that I ought to settle for the spiritual disorder that results in my being overweight” or as “nothing that needs to be overcome” — as you seem to characterize her ideas — and … what? She has the temerity to suggest that being overly conscious about dieting can be counterproductive? That’s it?
Sheesh, Rod, even if you disagree with calling obesity a disease, nobody is suggesting people shouldn’t take ownership of their own bodies and cravings. It seems you are hunting for some media blowhard or government bureaucrat to blame for indulging people’s victimization — and you can’t find one. If you’re looking for guidance on how to deal with obese people in your own life, maybe you should consider that everyone is different, and you should get to know them in order to figure out how you can best help.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm

100% behind you on this Rod. I say this as a person whose struggled with his weight all his life. It’s not about making fat people feel bad. it’s about getting people to take responsibility for their own health.
a year ago i weight 264 lbs. after a year of eating a clean diet, abstaining from fast food, cutting calories and working hard at the gym, i’m at 229, and am currently aiming for 200. my motivation was the same as yours: i woke up one day and was so disgusted with myself that i couldn’t ignore it anymore.
my entire life has been made miserable by the my “fatness”. it destroys your confidence and self-worth, and thus leads directly to undermining your relationships with other people. it makes you generally miserable, and affects everything you do.
what Ms. Brown and her ideological peers are saying is that fat people shouldn’t be disgusted with themselves, and consequently, nor should we. why?? my disgust at my own condition is what motivated me to improve myself. shame is what motivates someone who is doing wrong by themselves and/or others to start doing right. in the case of obesity, it’s a constructive reaction to a destructive physical condition: the pressure that our society exerts on people to lose any extra weight they might be carrying makes us all better off.
like Dreher, i’m not saying we should walk up to fat people and insult them. but we should absolutely denounce obesity generally so that people don’t become complacent with what is ultimately an unhealthy lifestyle choice.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 6:14 pm

…also I’m going to quote here from a fellow commenter on the Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog over at the atlantic:
“One more thing, on willpower- Willpower is a frontal lobe urge. Hunger (or thirst) is a limbic system urge. It is always stronger. If a person who is overweight, and wants to lose weight, but keeps getting signals that he needs to eat, it is not a sign of a weak willpower, its a sign of a malfunctioning limbic system, and willpower will never be enough to deal with a basic urge that is out of whack.”
I get what you are saying in terms of being concerned with health. But you know, people can exercise as much as they can and eat as healthfully as they can, without getting thin; however, such people that make those behavioral changes CAN be healthier, even if the weight loss is modest (say 15-20 lb.s). Behavioral changes are great, everyone can work to the best of their ability – but not everyone can get thin because of such behavior changes.
“How do we treat those suffering from obesity with compassion, while at the same time maintaining enough stigma on obesity to encourage people to hold the line against it in their own lives?”
I’m not sure anyone changes if they think they are not worth the effort: that’s what stigma does to people, even “just a little” of it. If someone thinks they are a piece of crap, the motivation is not going to be their to take care of themselves in the long run at least. If one thinks that the very notion of moving their fat body is shameful, even if the shame is “just a bit” this is discouragement from exersising (just as one example). This “holding the line” stuff is mostly useless and here is why: it is more likely to cause an obsession with food and dieting and an overemphasis on “getting thin” as opposed to a positive focus on health. I find it interesting here that you don’t mention where eating disorders fit into all of this – people really do try and literally “kill themselves” to be thin and use food and dieting as an emotional crutch. People can change their behavior to a certain extent, so i am not against people eating nutritiously and getting exercise – this is a godo thing that all people regardless of size benefit from. However for some people, asking them to get smaller, is tantamout to asking them to focus inordinately for the rest of their lives on radically changing the very nature of their body – this goes beyond “just eat more fruits and veggis and take a walk.”
Then again I’m not into motivating people by fear, shame or humiliation in any way. I’d rather go the compassion and love route- I’m sad to see that you are considering such a route not good enough for some people. This is the height of discrimination.

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Patrick Bateman

posted March 17, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I think a big part of the problem with people’s failure to avoid and reverse obesity is the lack of accurate information provided by the media, etc. Case in point is the guy above who can’t understand why eating broccoli and walking 45 min per day is not resulting in substantial weight loss. First, the optimal diet for fat loss is actually a HIGH fat diet. If you divide your calories 40% healthy fat (almonds, seeds, fish oil) and 40% high quality protein (chicken, tuna, salmon, lean beef) and fill the rest with vegetables, a moderate amount of fruit, and a limited amount of quality carbs (steel cut oats, sweet potatoes, brown rice) you will lose weight. Period. the key is to start with a calorie intake that does not starve you and steadily decrease by 200-500 calories per day every other week or so. This way you don’t hit a plateau. Then you incorporate exercise 3-5 days per week. And walking does not count. The best program would incorporate rigorous weight training with 10-20 minute rounds of high intensity interval training. Bottom line, if you can talk while working out you’re not working hard enough. I can guarantee that anyone who followed this regime of diet/exercise would lose significant weight. Follow it for life and you won’t gain it back. It all comes down to will power and dedication. And don’t say it’s impossible to do this, because I do it every day, and I’m an attorney, so it’s not like I have much free time. What angers me is the misinformation. Hopefully this post helps someone.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Sigh. Dreher confess that he would be fat and unhealthy if he didn’t deny himself.
Most people I know who are not fat and are healthy are so because they enjoy the quality of life it offers them. They are NOT denying themselves, but indulging.

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Ray Butlers

posted March 17, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Billboards by the dozen advertise cheap food in large portions. On my short commute, I am confronted by nearly 100 enticements for food (all of it processed and sold by Big Food) on the bus, on the bus bench, on billboards that change every minute or so, and by the two dozen nice-looking restaurants that I pass on the way.
Sign after sign after sign encourages eating for the sake of convenience and satisfaction. You can always rely on food to give you the desired result in a matter of minutes, yet there’s no way that you can abstain. It is literally impossible.
On television, restaurants like Olive Garden and Appleby’s promote very large portions of fried food and put them in front of fit, good-looking people, associating restaurant meals (which are always loaded with too many calories) with friendship, romance, fun, beauty, luxury, and happiness. That’s not advertising. It’s an assault on our instincts and personal economy. The food promotion is relentless beyond belief as nearly 20 minutes of every hour promotes restaurants and other Big Food items.
Put this up against your “free will” and you’ve got a problem. “Free will”? Shmee will! Food companies and advertising agencies spend billions of dollars not only pushing their product, but doing the research into what kind of promotion will hit us in the most vulnerable places in our psyche. That’s not a fair fight.

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Mac S.

posted March 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Really informative post PB. One comment regarding:And walking does not count. There is a big difference between a stroll and walking/jogging at a decent clip. Walking and running are all some people can afford or have time for and it DOES result in decent weight loss if you follow a healthy diet with proper portions (4 oz of chicken is 1/3 of what the waiter brings us with that broccoli). Obviously interval training is the best option but P90X is not for everyone, especially when they are just starting to move.
Side note — a decade ago my work day used to include a 3/4 mile walk twice a day to/from the commuter parking lot. When I left for a position with a company located in an office park setting I noticed a slow but steady weight gain over 2 years although nothing else had changed. Any movement you can do is a benefit to your body – but “working out” is more than taking the dog for a walk, sure.

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posted March 18, 2010 at 10:13 am

I appreciate the discussion and see myself as having a role to play in my weight and health — this is why I’m running more and more each week — but rather than simply look at this as society’s permissiveness about obesity, why not also look at the obesity epidemic in terms of economic shifts. Americans work and commute many hours more each week than they did thirty years ago. Real wages have also not increased (in fact, they have decreased on average) in the past three decades. Thus we have less time to prepare healthy meals and less money to purchase vegetables, fruits, and other less unhealthy whole foods. Individual action has something to do with obesity, but a nation that demands we sit at our desks more and more to make less and less is one that must accept significant blame (and responsibility for solutions) for an epidemic. One person alone does not an epidemic make.

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low-tech cyclist

posted March 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I can’t see that shaming someone over their personal struggles and failures is EVER the right thing to do, let alone a productive thing to do.
All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. The Bible says so, and I’m sure most people reading this are deeply aware of that fact in their own lives.
But I think most of you have eventually figured out that FEELING guilty over sins committed is adding weight to the load – specifically, the load that Jesus died to take off our shoulders. *Acknowledging* guilt before God, asking His forgiveness, and trusting in that forgiveness as we try to do better – YES to all that. But NO to carrying around a load of guilt. Not only does that make you miserable, it’s fundamentally a failure to trust in the Lord.
And what of shame? Shame is just guilty feelings imposed from without. Not only is it equally wrong to try to grab that load back from the Lord at someone else’s insistence rather than your own, but it’s doubly wrong of the ‘someone else’ to be trying to put it there: “and if anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble…” You know the rest of that one.
So a big NO to shaming other people for being obese. Nobody’s calling on any of us to judge others – and shaming people is exactly that. In fact, when I open my Bible to the seventh chapter of Matthew, the first thing I see is Someone telling us NOT to.
So again, NO to shaming people for their own personal failures. WWJD? Not this, that’s for sure.

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posted April 5, 2010 at 1:04 am

I’m sick of all the fat people out there, especially when they are rude and arrogant. It just makes me sick. I see disgusting overweight filthy people all the time. It’s not hard to stop eating! Just make the personal choice to improve your life. Make a real committment to improve your life and you will realise weight lose is one of the easier parts of doing so. No more greedy overweight rude slobs thanks!

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posted April 14, 2010 at 6:24 pm


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