Things that don’t necessarily prevent long-term child or adult obesity:
- Breast feeding
- Educating parents
- Weight bullying
- Banning junk food
- Banning whole milk
- Banning soda / pop
It distracts from the real issues:
It’s a win for the weight cycling industry:
Unfortunately, what’s good for the weight cycling industry isn’t necessarily good for patients:
Golda Poretsky of BodyLoveWellness did a TedX talk on why it’s okay to be fat.
No pious jackasses sit around pondering “Should Christians Take Insulin?” No insufferably holier-than-thou idiots pretend it would be deeply spiritual if they said, “Rattlesnake anti-venom can help, but it can also hinder our reliance on Christ.” Or “An emergency appendectomy may sometimes be beneficial, but only if we’re careful not to allow it to overshadow our true savior.”
Obesity Panacea debunks the latest “Paying people to lose weight is the ticket!” study, noting that the weight was regained during the 3-month follow-up:
Over the course of the 4 month intervention individuals in the incentive groups earned an average of approximately $300, in contrast to $0 awarded to those in the control group. Interestingly, the average weight loss achieved by those receiving a financial incentive was significantly greater as compared to that of the control group (13-14lbs vs. 4 lbs, respectively). Furthermore, only 10% of individuals in the control group versus approximately 50% of those in the incentive groups achieved the target weight-loss of 16lbs.
However, during a subsequent 3-month follow-up, study participants gained back much of the lost weight after the cessation of the financial incentives – a finding which is common to most, if not all, weight-loss intervention studies.
[I]ts a cute and gimmicky approach to providing incentive for weight loss, and the idea makes for great headlines (as recently illustrated). I’m sure financial incentives can work for some, but this is no obesity panacea.
At ASDAH’s HAES Blog, Fall Ferguson has an interesting question about the opportunity cost of society’s obsession with weight & thinness:
[W]hat do we forego as a society when we allocate precious social, economic, cognitive, emotional, and physiological resources toward pursuing and maintaining our weight-based paradigm of health?
Some of the damages discussed are to public health, proper health care for many thin and fat people, productivity, fun, creativity, self-esteem, and happiness. I know many who’ve found that abandoning weight loss efforts provided more time and energy for LIFE, such as school and work. (In our current culture, it can also mean accepting difference.) But it’s worth thinking about: What could be accomplished if we weren’t wasting so much effort on weight?
David B. Allison, who directs the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham [...] sought to establish what is known to be unequivocally true about obesity and weight loss.
His first thought was that, of course, weighing oneself daily helped control weight. He checked for the conclusive studies he knew must exist. They did not.
“My goodness, after 50-plus years of studying obesity in earnest and all the public wringing of hands, why don’t we know this answer?” Dr. Allison asked. “What’s striking is how easy it would be to check. Take a couple of thousand people and randomly assign them to weigh themselves every day or not.”
Yet it has not been done.
And, in the meantime, you have parents, doctors, families, and friends advising people to follow these myths. You have weight-loss companies making money from these myths. And they don’t work. Or, they work for some people. Or, they work temporarily before all the weight comes back (plus more). Feel like hitting one of the lying liars who lie and mislead people into putting all that time and energy and work and money into eventually gaining even more weight yet?
Many beliefs about obesity persist in the absence of supporting scientific evidence (presumptions); some persist despite contradicting evidence (myths). The promulgation of unsupported beliefs may yield poorly informed policy decisions, inaccurate clinical and public health recommendations, and an unproductive allocation of research resources and may divert attention away from useful, evidence-based information.
What sort of myths? Back to Gina Kolata, here’s some weight loss ideas that have been proven to not work, yet are commonly preached to people everywhere:
Kolata also highlights some ideas that have not yet been proven true OR false:
…and yet, again, these are in diet books, diet programs, and in the last, calls to change how cities are laid out. (Not to say that bike paths, jogging trails, sidewalks or parks are bad. Just that they won’t automagically make people thin.)
Why is this? Doctors believe that being fat is terribly, horribly bad. They want to give people something concrete to do. And, often, doctors aren’t educated about nutrition or obesity research. We end up with these myths being repeated over and over, endlessly, and people blame themselves when they don’t work or don’t work long-term. Or they figure it probably works for most people, just not me. Even the list of “Facts – Good Evidence to Support”, which starts with “Heredity is important but is not destiny”, makes me wonder how much of it suffers from the “must hold out hope of weight loss!” bias. Especially when the article notes that losing 10% of their weight is typical, and very few lose more.
Overall, the NEJM paper is a call to improve the research. Even so, they’re not tackling the big “weight loss improves health” idea, or how much of its support comes from short-term studies that include exercise as a component (and never mind that exercise can improve health on its own, independent of weight loss). Even the reference to most weight loss being in the 10% range will likely not burst the FOBT.
[Feel free to skip if you don't want to think about dieting right now.]
It’s January and there is the usual plethora of diet commercials extolling weight loss. Google “dieting” and up comes Special K’s “Healthy Eating Plan”!
That said, it is a bit refreshing to see someone write:
As a lifelong dieter, let me tell you from experience: A diet need have nothing to do with “eating healthy.”
[...] It’s possible to lose weight by eating more healthily. But losing weight and eating more healthily can also be two totally different goals.
The cultural conflation of “eating healthy” and “dieting” has a lot of built-in assumptions.
There’s certainly more (and I haven’t even gotten into all the debate over what “healthy eating” means).
One result of the end-of-year crunch at work is that I haven’t been eating lunch regularly. I’m going to work on permission to eat what I want, and eating at regular intervals. But I am still avoiding diet commercials.
… that my reaction to feeling low-energy and blah in the morning is “drink coffee” not “eat breakfast”?
(And yes, I spent my teen years either on a weight-loss diet or expected to be on a weight-loss diet.)
I tweeted this, but I’m just not sure how to fully express the snark this deserves, so I thought y’all might want to give it a try.
See, a study has discovered that…drumroll…BMI can be inaccurate!!!! Really!!! You might be fat and not know it!!! (eeek!) And since most people who are “overweight or obese” aren’t actually very fat, increasing the number of people who think they need to lose weight can increase customers for the weight cycling industry.
I keep thinking I’m missing something here. Got anything else?
For years, Marilyn Wann has created and sold Yay! scales, used them in anti-diet activism, and written about them online and in her book FAT!SO? : Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size. Others have mentioned Yay! Scales in books as well, including Health At Every Size.
Now Kellogg’s is using a very similar scale to sell their “Special K Challenge”. According to The New York Times:
In a new commercial, women in Times Square reluctantly agree to get on scales in public, then are pleasantly surprised when, instead of numbers, the scales display words including satisfaction, pizazz, confidence and moxie.
The commercial, part of campaign by the Chicago office of Leo Burnett, part of the Publicis Groupe, will be introduced on Jan. 2, high season for weight-loss companies.
“We’re trying to change the conversation from one that’s always focused about deprivation to one that’s focused on motivation,” said Doug VanDeVelde, senior vice president for cereal marketing at Kellogg.
Let me get this straight.
The entire point of a Yay! Scale is that you get compliments instead of a number.
Because the number isn’t important.
Because so many people in this society measure their worth by their weight.
Because it’s about changing the conversation.
It’s about yanking away that all-important number and suggesting other things might be more important than weight.
It’s about making people smile instead of feeling judged.
It’s about changing the focus to life instead of weight. It’s about getting a life instead of yet another a diet.
And here’s Kellogg’s acting like they invented a scale that gives compliments, only it’s to encourage dieting. Maybe no one at Kellogg’s knew about the Yay! Scale, but … you know what the first hit Google gives me on “scale compliments”? A post about … a Yay! Scale.
Remember when Weight Watchers ads claimed that diets don’t work (because somehow Weight Watchers isn’t a diet)? It’s co-opting the language of fat acceptance, but twisting it to support dieting.
From Deb Burgard comes this amazing post on weight cycling:
Why do we call it the “weight loss industry” when what we really get for our time, sacrifice, and money is weight cycling? 19 times out of 20, what we are really purchasing is the experience of weight loss and regain.
Imagine if we called it the “weight cycling industry,” and “weight cycling programs.” Would you participate in Weight Cyclers at work? Buy food from NutriCycle? Hire a trainer from the Biggest Weight Cycler? [...]
Because that is what we are doing, folks. Better face the facts: Of 100 people trying to lose weight, the vast majority of people will regain weight. Some significant group – perhaps a third – will gain more weight than they lost. Some tiny number (7? 5? 3?) will maintain their weight loss, and of that group, some number from 0-4 of them will be flirting with, developing, or fortifying an eating disorder.
People ask me why I don’t diet anymore. I don’t lose weight “for good” — my weight goes down in the short term and up in the long term, ending up weighing more than when I started. So yeah, “weight cycling” is more descriptive than “weight loss”.
And yet, people ask, “what about health“? As Deb points out in the same post:
It is the practices that people adopt in the pursuit of weight loss that are the problem, because for the 95 out of 100 people who regain weight during a diet, when the practices are not sustainable they lead to more physical and psychological illness.
The Health at Every Size® model is weight neutral. People using this approach are not pro- or anti-weight loss, but they are mindful that the pursuit of weight loss is usually harmful, unlike the cultivation of sustainable practices that feel life-affirming and support your health. In keeping with the “truth in advertising” theme, the Health at Every Size model does not insist that everyone is healthy at every size, or that anyone anytime is necessarily the size that optimizes their health. “Health” in this context means that whatever size you are, there are practices that will support your health.
As I’ve written before, I don’t consider myself perfectly fit. But I refuse to frame exercise or healthy eating or getting enough sleep as “something I’m doing for weight loss”. What matters is the effect is has on me. Getting enough sleep makes me feel good. Lifting weights makes me feel strong. Walking increases my endurance. That’s why I’m doing it.
From a discussion of celebrity endorsements of diet plans comes this gem from Nutrisystem exec Stacie Mullen:
“The dieting public understands that the dieter has a responsibility to comply with the program,” said Ms. Mullen, adding that if the dieter fails, “I don’t think the public blames the program the dieter was on.”
And from Zalmi Duchman of the Fresh Diet:
“If they don’t do good on it, it doesn’t mean the product doesn’t work,” Mr. Duchman said. “It just means that they’re not sticking to it.”
This perception really helps diet companies stay in business. I’m sure diet programs REALLY don’t like this:
Reviews of the scientiﬁc literature on dieting (e.g., Garner & Wooley, 1991; Jeffery et al., 2000; Perri & Fuller, 1995) generally draw two conclusions about diets. First, diets do lead to short-term weight loss. One summary of diet studies from the 1970s to the mid-1990s found that these weight loss programs consistently resulted in participants losing an average of 5%–10% of their weight (Perri & Fuller, 1995). Second, these losses are not maintained. As noted in one review, “It is only the rate of weight regain, not the fact of weight regain, that appears open to debate” (Garner & Wooley, 1991, p. 740)
—Traci Mann et al [emphasis added]
Most dieters regain their lost weight. It’s not that “they didn’t stay with the program.” It’s that most dieters regain. Period. The few who maintain significant weight loss long-term are a very small minority. But as long as they trumpet “Anyone can lose weight! Just pay us!” they can drown out the downer research that shows how unproven and full of lies their programs are.
Oh, not again. Still. They’ve been level for years, but this time the Journal of the American Medical Association noticed. There’s discussion as to why, such as “people are getting healthier”. Given how dieters often gain weight in the long term, I thought this perspective a bit more realistic:
Dr. Ludwig said the plateau might just suggest that “we’ve reached a biological limit” to how obese people could get. When people eat more, he said, at first they gain weight; then a growing share of the calories go “into maintaining and moving around that excess tissue,” he continued, so that “a population doesn’t keep getting heavier and heavier indefinitely.”
That’s not what my mother told me. She was convinced that if I wasn’t actively dieting I would continue to gain weight for the rest of my life. Yet when I finally quit dieting my weight … leveled off. Huh.
Furthermore, Dr. Ludwig said, “it could be that most of the people who are genetically susceptible, or susceptible for psychological or behavioral reasons, have already become obese.”
This is kind of a mishmash ;)
If you’ve seen comments about “dickwolves” and PAX and wondered what it was about, JetWolf has a nice summary.
Author Seanan McGuire addressed why fixing the US healthcare system is so terribly, terribly important this week. Seanan has discussed why she needs health insurance here and here.
Alternet has a well-done piece by Judith Matz on “Why dieting makes you fatter”. It references Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size study, Traci Mann’s survey of diet studies, and other research. If you’ve been into fat acceptance a while it’s mostly things you know, but it’s good to see getting wider play. It might also be a useful “FA 101″ piece.
Ragen at Dances With Fat has a great post on respecting others’ choices while discussing Fat Acceptance and HAES.
From Hanne Blank:
Truth is, it is totally possible to be a fat person eating “healthy” and “sustainable” and “locavore” and “balanced” and “nutritious” and “organic.” This fat I have on my hips here? That’s some locally-grown, sustainable, artisanally crafted, homemade fat, right there, practically glowing with seventeen kinds of early 21st-century middle-class white American foodie pride.
[M]any behaviors seen as damaging and dangerous in thin people are outright encouraged in fat people. The specific example above is purging, but the sentiment is the same for many disordered eating patterns. Fat people are often supported in hating their bodies, in starving themselves, in engaging in unsafe exercise and in seeking out weight loss by any means necessary. A thin person who does these things is considered mentally ill. A fat person who does these things is redeemed by them. This is why our culture has no concept of a fat person who also has an eating disorder. If you’re fat, it’s not an ED — it’s a lifestyle change.
Healthcare providers also need to readjust their expectations. Getting individuals who are obese down to a normal weight isn’t realistic: Research shows that most people can’t expect to lose more than 10% of their body weight and, more important, to maintain the weight loss over time. Instead of viewing that as a treatment failure and growing discouraged with patients, doctors and nurses need to recognize that even relatively small changes in weight represent real progress and can have very important implications for health.
I’ve written before that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines for treating obesity recommends a 10% weight loss goal. Not to diet down to “normal weight”, or even to just “overweight”. Ten percent. I also noted that I never had a medical professional (or parent or teacher) be satisfied with a 10% weight loss. I was still fat, so obviously 10% wasn’t enough.
Just to be clear? If a 10% weight loss puts you in the “normal weight” category, you weren’t in the “obese” category.
Most readers know I disagree with the emphasis on weight loss; not only are most losses not maintained in the long term, but dieting is associated with long-term weight gain. I do believe in bodily autonomy, though, and that those who choose to diet should use resources like the NIH guidelines and the observations of others who are maintaining losses to maximize their chances. And I get angry that someone could work hard to lose 10% of their body weight, could work hard to maintain that loss, and still have a healthcare provider berate them for being fat. Or refuse to treat them, just because they’re fat.
(Checking out Health At Every Size doesn’t hurt either.)
At least that’s what seems to happen in mice. As summarized in US News and World Report,
Shaving calories triggers molecular changes in the brain that make mice more susceptible to stress and binge eating long after the diet ends, researchers report in the Dec. 1 Journal of Neuroscience. The finding could explain part of the yo-yo dieting phenomenon, in which people repeatedly diet and lose weight but then subsequently regain even more than they lost.
Researchers found that the dieting mice were more stressed than the non-dieting mice. They also found that even after ending the “diet” and regaining the weight, the former-dieting mice were more susceptible to stress than the non-dieters.
The team traced lower activity of the gene that makes CRF to a chemical modification called DNA methylation. DNA methylation and other modifications to genes help to regulate gene activity. Dieting mice had lower levels of methylated DNA near the gene for CRF than did animals that continued on the high-fat diet or ones that ate as much regular chow as they wanted. This change was essentially locked in for the dieting mice. It did not increase even two months after the diet ended—a long time in the life of a mouse, and equivalent to years, maybe even decades, for a person.
Researchers mildly stressed the mice for a week with things like damp bedding, cage swaps or putting a marble in the cage—mice are not big fans of change—so that the animals didn’t know what was coming next. Under this mild, but chronic, stress the former dieters snarfed down far more of the high-fat food than the nondieters. And the ex-dieters also had higher levels of hormones that prompt eating.
I DID find it rather eye-rolling that the article suggests that “dieters may need to cut stress as well as calories”, given that being fat is itself stressful. And, of course, it remains to be seen how much of this applies to humans. But this may help explain the mechanisms by which dieters so often regain the lost weight.
Abstract is here.
This blog post got my hopes up with “Dieting gets you nowhere” and then dashed it with the “but it works for kids!” ending. No, people, turning off the TV or passing up a Happy Meal will not automagically turn a fat kid into a slender one. Sorry.