The enduring myths of fat and weight loss

A great summary of our society’s myths about fatness, weight loss and health from Big Fat Science, just as we hit the peak “starting a diet for the New Year” season.

“Obesity is one of the biggest killers in the Western World” 

False. Not even close. That would be poverty and lack of access to adequate nutrition and health care. Weight is actually a very weak and inconsistent predictor of mortality.

“there is no better way to curtail its effects on health than a healthy diet and exercise”

False. There is actually no known permanent and safe method for making fat people thin, and even if there was, losing weight does not improve health. Good nutrition (e.g., eating lots of fruits and vegetables) and exercise actually benefit everyone’s health, fat and thin, but do not change body size.

“ If you’re overweight or obese the best solution is to make incremental, lifelong changes to how you eat and exercise.

False.  There is actually no known permanent and safe method for making fat people thin. Moreover, dieting is unhealthy, and this is especially true for young people.

“Even this will have limited use in reversing the damage caused by years of unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle (certainly in those who have been obese from a young age)”

False. Body size is largely determined by genetics, not controllable behaviors like eating habits and activity level. Also, fat kids (and adults) actually eat less than thin kids and fat kids are just as active as thin kids.

The initial comment BFS was responding to spouts all the usual religious dogma of fat hatred. Don’t we all know that obesity is the Biggest Killer Of People and Healthy Diet And Exercise fixes everything and it’s Just That Easy?

But none of these things are true, and while we continue to accept them as gospel, all we do is continue to harm fat people and fail to address real causes of poor health and nutrition.

A final point of interest for me is the assertion “no doctor would ever promote yo-yo dieting”. It goes back to the post I wrote about Dr Robyn Toomath’s “giving up” on her holy quest to make fat people thin. A number of people asserted at me that I was misrepresenting her, that she would never stigmatize fat people or push dangerous messages about crash diets.

The problem is, any diet, meaning a specific change to the way someone eats or exercises with the goal of inducing weight loss, is a crash diet. Any plan designed to make people lose weight is 95% likely to be step one (or three, or five) of a yo-yo diet. Because diets do not work. They cannot work, because they all rely on the assumption that being thinner is healthier than being fatter, and thus that doing whatever it takes to become thinner must be a healthy activity.

And the horrible irony of it all is that through dieting, stigma, prejudice and outright medical malpractice, we as a society are actively damaging the health of fat people, and thin people too.

3 Replies to “The enduring myths of fat and weight loss”

  1. [Stephanie: I don’t allow diet talk on this blog.

    Besides, this post doesn’t “tell you what you can and cannot do.” It simply states the facts: diet and weightloss only work for an incredibly small minority of people, long-term.]

  2. Yes, it’s “diet season” with those hideous weight watchers ad’s where only thin people enjoy a day at the beach or intimate relations with their partners and get to look all smug about it. Predictably, being January, it’s stuff’s regular fat shaming articles time (but shaming on steroids) season too.

    Check out the hating and same old flawed arguments by this author from the Telegraph and then check out all the fat haters and their ignorant comments. Look at all the “likes” and “dislikes” A warning, this article is shamelessly offensive, even by stuff’s standards.

    What I find so frustrating and tiresome is logic and science maybe presented, as you’ve done above, but folks with an intolerance and a strong sense of disapproval about those bigger than themselves will always back themselves up with their own cognitive bias, as a thin veil for their prejudice.

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