Why We Diet

- POSTED ON: Jan 09, 2013

At present the word Healthy
has now just become another word for
Thin or Lean or a “Normal” BMI.

Those trying to lose weight often say it's for their health.
But is it?

I don’t choose to view myself as a “victim”, so haven’t written a great deal about Anti-Fat Bias which involves an ongoing victimization process.

My perspective is that: I accept that the Anti-Fat perspective is a Truth of Life within our culture.
I also accept that I’ve spent a great deal of my life being fat.

My own life experiences taught me how to establish boundaries between myself and people who demonstrate ignorant, unkind, or encoaching behavior on the issue of Fat and me…. and to emotionally move-on-past any such annoyances. As a result of my own attitudes and behaviors, after I reached about age 40 …. although still fat…., it became very rare for people to make any socially negative remarks to me about my size.

Still, my major motivation to lose weight and to maintain weight loss has a great deal to do with Anti-Fat Bias … both in myself, and in others.


Why We Diet

            By Abigail Saguy   -   Los Angeles Times,   January 4, 2013 ,   

If your resolutions for the New Year are typical, they probably include a pledge to lose weight. But if you are like most Americans, any success you have shedding pounds will be short-lived, and you'll end the year weighing more than you do right now.

So why are Americans obsessed with weight loss? Many people say they want to lose weight to improve their health, but this may not actually be their primary motivation. In one of the more interesting polls I've seen, more than three-fourths of the 231 dieters surveyed said that they would take a pill that would guarantee they would achieve or maintain their desired weight even if it would lower their life expectancy. On average, they were willing to give up 5.7 years. Moreover, 91% said that they would not take a pill that would lengthen their life by five years if it guaranteed that they would also remain overweight. This was a small sample, but it is consistent with other research. For instance, a book published just last year showed that the desire to fit in or be "normal" — rather than improving health — is the primary motivation for many people who undergo weight-loss surgery.

These findings may seem puzzling, but they are not so surprising when you consider weight-loss attempts for what they really are: efforts to protect against weight-based discrimination. The fact is, fear and loathing of fat are real, and American attitudes about fat may be more dangerous to public health than obesity itself.

Yale researchers have shown that weight discrimination in the United States has increased dramatically in the last decade and is now comparable in prevalence to rates of reported racial discrimination, especially among women. Multiple studies have documented weight bias in employment, healthcare, education and public spaces — unequal treatment based on stereotyping fat people as lazy, unmotivated, sloppy and lacking in self-discipline and competence. Heavier women are not only less likely to be hired and less likely to earn a higher salary compared with their similarly qualified thinner peers, but they are also less likely to marry or to marry a high-earning spouse. Unlike thinner women, who can more easily climb the social and economic ladder, heavy women face the prospect of downward social mobility.

When I was doing research for a book on the social understanding of fat, several heavy women told me they were often reproached for eating in public. Some tearfully shared stories of having had people actually throw food at them. Other researchers have documented a practice called "hogging," in which young men sexually prey on fat women and then, during the sex act, have their male friends jump out of hiding and humiliate them. Heavy women are routinely ridiculed in advertisements, television and film. Even children express negative attitudes about their heavier peers, a tendency that has gotten worse in the past 40 years.

Of course, there are genuine health risks associated with higher body mass. The clearest case is that of Type 2 diabetes, which becomes more likely as weight goes up. Yet as many medical researchers have pointed out, this association may not be causal. That is, it's not clear whether obesity per se causes diabetes, whether diabetes causes obesity or whether both conditions are caused by a third factor, such as poor nutrition, stress or genetic factors.

It has become increasingly clear that the link between weight and health is complicated. In some cases, higher body mass seems to protect against mortality. For instance, there is growing evidence documenting an "obesity paradox," in which elevated body mass is associated with lower mortality among people with heart disease and among those with Type 2 diabetes. And a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. concluded, after analyzing almost 100 studies, that people with body mass indexes in the overweight category were at less risk of dying in a given year. In fact, they found that even those in the moderately obese category — in which the greatest number of Americans classified as obese fall — were at no greater risk of dying than those in the normal weight category.

So it's not as simple as many assume, and we have much to learn about what these observations mean. But it is clear that anti-fat bias in and of itself takes a toll on public health in ways many may not suspect. Fear of ridicule leads many heavier women to avoid exercising in public or even — when they are very heavy — to avoid leaving their homes, depriving themselves of social interaction. Because many heavier women experience the doctor's office as a hostile environment, they are less likely to get Pap smears, which leads to higher rates of cervical cancer among women categorized as obese. And the fear of becoming fat can lead women of all sizes to develop eating disorders and body image problems that can diminish their lives and be dangerous to their health.

What should be done about weight-based discrimination?

The answer is to call for increasing tolerance and appreciation of diverse body types. This year, before embarking on yet another diet, ask yourself why you want to lose weight. If it is to improve your health, perhaps you should focus on health-enhancing behaviors that are more directly linked to health: pledge, for example, to get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, get regular physical activity, or spend more time with friends.

But if you are trying to change your body to shield against discrimination and stigma, consider making a different kind of New Year's resolution: to stand up to intolerance and bigotry in all its various forms, whether racism, sexism or fatphobia.

Abigail Saguy is an associate professor and vice chair of sociology at UCLA and the author of "What's Wrong With Fat?"(2013)

Personally, I don’t think fat bias is more prevelant today than it was 50 years ago. I think that because today more people are fat, researchers are paying more attention to the issue, and I think that in the current decade, it has become more politically incorrect for people publically air their negative opinions unless they are disguised as a helpful concern for the HEALTH of a fat person.

My own past experience ….

In my high school years – late 50s to early 60s, Jackie Kennedy look-a-likes … were the norm…and my 5’1” tall, 115-125 lb body .. was considered quite “plump .. verging on fat”. The bodies of the majority of teenage girls …(certainly the popular ones) … resembled Betty, of the tv show “Father Knows Best”.

Girls dressed up then, they didn’t wear trousers in high school or church, or at work. These were only generally acceptable when one engaged in sports, worked in the outdoors, or relaxed at home. Outfits commonly seen were the sheath dress styles worn by Jackie which hid my waist and emphasized my hips. Gathered skirts were also popular, but these also emphasized my my curves. People… my classmates, my friends, my parents often told me I was too fat, so I dressed differently from the others, in dresses cut in “princess” and “A-line” styles to make myself appear “thinner”.

During my young-adult years, when I was fat, people primarily showed weight-bias to me by disapproving facial expressions. Far too often, these looks were accompanied by negative comments .. many times strangers asked me “when I was due”, or told me that I “needed to diet”. In public places, strangers often stared at my food, and if that food appeared “fattening”, openly gave me disapproving looks and sounds, and even made personal comments such as “you shouldn’t be eating that.”. If the food appeared to be “non-fattening”, strangers would sometimes provide “encouraging” communications, which … of course …. also let me know they judged my body size as inappropriate.

Here are a very few examples of my personal experiences with weight-bias in the early to late 1960s,
   Bear in mind, except for obesity… I have been in good health all my life, I’ve never had high-blood pressure, or any need to take ongoing prescription medication due to any health problem. Prior to my older years, my height was just above 5’1”, and my frame is medium. For perspective, using the BMI charts, “normal” weight for me was between 100 to 130 lbs.

Being “too fat” was never a subjective thing like as part of an eating disorder. I wasn’t a thin teenager who merely thought she was fat. My family members  (including my parents),  school mates, church friends, various acquaintenances, and our family doctor, all indicated ... both by words and actions, ... that I was too fat.

Before puberty, I was “normal” weight.  At puberty, I grew to my full  height of 5'1", and my weight shot up close to 150. At age 13, dieting brought me down to a low of 113 lbs, and I maintained a weight of around 125 lbs during most of my high school years .. by ongoing food restriction. I restricted food for myself, and my parents often restricted my food further.

I remember that at around age 16, weighing 125 lbs, my M.D. told me … and my mother … that I needed to drop some more pounds, and I should not weigh more than 105 lbs.

When I was about 17 ½ years old, also weighing about 125 lbs -- one of my girl friends enlisted in the Navy, and I went with her on one of her visits to her Recruiter. I remember saying… “Hummm, maybe I should consider enlisting”, and the Recruiter replied, “No, you’re way too fat, you’d have to lose about 20 lbs before the Navy would take you.

At my grandmothers funeral I was 19 years old, and I weighed about 135 lbs. One of my male cousins sought me out, came up to me and volunterred the information that I was too fat, that I still looked okay, but if I gained more weight I wouldn’t, and I really needed to take off a lot of weight.

Also, when I was 19, I applied for a job of telephone operater for Pacific Bell. I passed the written tests, and went for an interview. I recall that my weight was around 135 lbs, and I was dressed in the most flattering syles available to me. The woman interviewing me told me that my " test scores were very high", but I was "too fat for the job", and I "weighed too much to pass the required physical". This was based on my appearance during the interview, as well as my job application which required me to fill in my weight, together with my height, marital status, age, number of children, and race.

When I was about 21, after my pregnancy and birth of my daughter, I weighed about 220 lbs. At my first (and only)  visit with a Dentist for a toothache, that dentist told me that I was very, very fat and if I didn’t lose weight, I ‘d be in a wheel-chair in a few years, and I probably wouldn’t live to be 30.  Recalling this event, I remember that I wasn't surprised to have a dentist make a personal comment about my weight, or surprised to hear him predict disability and death. At the time, comments such as this by relative strangers simply didn't register as inappropriate behavior.

When I was about 25, I worked night-shift as a temporary clerk for the County of Portland, Oregon. At that time, I weighed about 135 lbs, having successfully lost 100 lbs on a long-term, low-calorie diet. During my physcial for the job, the doctor said I was basically healthy, but that he could barely bring himself to let me pass the physical because I was too fat, and he poked my stomach and said, “so flabby”.  I replied by telling him  that I had just lost 100 lbs, but he just shook his head and said “you need to lose at least 25 lbs more, and do a lot of exercise .. you’re still fat.

These are only a few examples, and such events were not unusual for the time. People in general weighed a lot less, and adults were far more willing to openly share their contempt for people who “allowed” themselves to be fat. Some tried to disguise their contempt as helpful, and there were some who genuinely wanted to help me rid myself of weight which they – and society in general -- found unacceptable.

Twenty years ago when I was a morbidly obese 271 lbs, I had a gastric bypass. My body was fat but healthy, I didn’t do it to get “healthy” or to live longer. I did it because I wanted to be successful at weight-loss and maintenance. I hoped it would make me lose all of my fat, get me to “normal” weight; relieve me of the stigma of being fat and make me more attractive to myself, and to society in general.

Of course, this surgery didn’t get me to a “normal” size, just made me a smaller obese person, and it’s taken years of dieting since then to make my size look “normal”.  Although my current weight is near the top of my BMI normal range (between 120-125 lbs),  now the population in general is about 20 to 30 lbs heavier, which makes me seem thinner by comparison. Nowadays, I often see teenagers and young aduts who are generally considered “normal weight” even though they are MUCH fatter than I was at that age. “l Sometimes I look around me in amazement, and ask myself… “Where were all these fat people when I was young? By today’s standards I looked Good.

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Existing Comments:

On Jan 09, 2013 wrote:
Unfortunately as long as there are human beings there will always be Anti-Fat Bias. Sad but true. Being critical of others whether it be they are 'too fat' or 'too thin' is usually a mental ploy to make the critical person feel better about themselves.

On Jan 09, 2013 Dr. Collins wrote:
             John, I agree.

On Jan 09, 2013 jethro wrote:
Dr. Collins, you've gone thru quite an ordeal. I admire your resiliency and persistence which has taken you to your slim weight. Your story is an inspiration to me. Keep it up!

On Jan 09, 2013 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Thanks, Jethro. I think it would be very RARE to find a young person who looks fatter than normal who has NOT experienced anti-fat bias from other people.

On Jan 09, 2013 Alma wrote:
Your story sounds extremely familiar. My grandmother was famous for saying, "Beauty is only skin deep but ugly is forever". She could not tolerate someone saying anything about size. She was under 5 feet and always knew the worth of a person was from inside. I understood the true meaning of her words after I grew up. I too have heard them all at one time or another. You are teaching through experience and I appreciate all that you do. Keep on keeping on! Today, I received a cartoon in email that my grandmother would have loved. It is a pic of a slightly plump lady and the caption is: I'm not fat.......God loves me so much, he decided to supersize me.

On Jan 09, 2013 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Hi, Alma. Anti-fat bias has been with us for a very long time. Almost all fat people receive some type of negative treatment from others. Here in our culture, it is still politically correct to look down on and to verbally abuse fat people. It was true half a century ago, and it's still the case. Fortunately, I learned how to deal with it as a young woman, and I was able to succeed in my life both personally and professionally despite it. Many younger people are very shocked to learn that in the mid 1960s, a person could be refused a job as a telephone operator ... OUT OF THE PUBLIC EYE ... for the sole reason that they were at what is now classified as the OVERWEIGHT BMI range ... well below the what is now considered the start of obesity.

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