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.

QOTD: Dr Holly Dunsworth on the “ideal” pelvis

From a fascinating article at on a new theory about why humans gestate pregnancies for as long / as short as they do – which overturns the traditional idea that our gestation is shorter so babies’ heads don’t get too big to pass through the birth canal.

“We’ve been doing anthropology with this warped view of the male pelvis as the ideal form, while the female pelvis is seen as less than ideal because of childbirth,” she said. “The female births the babies. So if there’s an ideal, it’s female and it’s no more compromised than anything else out there. Selection maintains its adequacy for locomotion and for childbirth.

“If it didn’t, we’d have gone extinct.”

The research itself is fascinating, but – being a big feminist meanie – I think it’s also really important to consider that point above. We often tend to perceive science as this perfect, rational system for ascertaining information about the world around us. But scientists are human. They’re raised in the same cultural environments as the rest of us, with the same assumptions and biases as anyone else.

This doesn’t mean they’re evil, or involved in some diabolical moustache-twirling conspiracy to oppress all women with bad data. It just means some things get overlooked. Some things get taken for granted. Some assumptions aren’t questioned.

It’s not like we needed advances in technology or cutting-edge physics to figure out that human gestation isn’t actually shorter than other primates’, or what happens to pregnant people’s metabolisms during the course of a pregnancy. That information was there to be found – and it wasn’t until now, because until now no one felt the need to question the idea that wider (assumed to be “women’s”) pelvises mean you can’t walk good.

And we simply can’t look at that idea in a vacuum. We have a patriarchal society which treats women as lesser. We have Judeo-Christian traditions which teach us that Woman is a (flawed) offshoot of God’s actual handmade creation, Man. We believe women aren’t as physically capable as men, that childbirth (which we assume is entirely experienced by women) is a weakness or a punishment.

In that context, it’s easy to assume “male” hips are “normal” and “female” hips are “flawed” because of our “curse”.

It’s great to see scientists challenging those assumptions. But we have a long way to go before those ingrained prejudices about gender, race, biology and destiny are erased.

Monty and Marilyn

A puzzle:

Imagine that you’re on a television game show and the host presents you with three closed doors. Behind one of them, sits a sparkling, brand-new Lincoln Continental; behind the other two, are smelly old goats. The host implores you to pick a door, and you select door #1. Then, the host, who is well-aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, opens door #3, revealing one of the goats.

“Now,” he says, turning toward you, “do you want to keep door #1, or do you want to switch to door #2?”

Statistically, which choice gets you the car: keeping your original door, or switching?

Also a puzzle: what happened when an incredibly intelligent woman suggested an answer to this?

The outcry was so tremendous that vos Savant was forced to devote three subsequent columns to explaining why her logic was correct. Even in the wake of her well-stated, clear responses, she continued to be berated. “I still think you’re wrong,” wrote one man, nearly a year later. “There is such a thing as female logic.”

Read the full article – it’s a mathematical (and misogynist) head-scratcher!

Via Hoyden About Town.