Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I've been contemplating weight these last few days. Hell, I've been contemplating weight this last half century. For most of that time, I was obsessed with the scale and what value it judged me to have in the world. The last five or six years, I've not given it that power over me; have thrown out my bathroom scale and only get on the one in the doctor's office once a year and with my back to the numbers. I've trained them not to comment on my weight at all -- don't even tell me if it's gone down. I don't react well to knowing and I've decided not to allow it to consume my life any longer.

Recently, there have been a few posts in the blogs I read that have directed my thoughts to this subject, not in the obsessed, "how am I ever going to get thin enough" way, but back to the realization of what this preoccupation with size does to people.

On the 8th, my friend Deja Pseu over at Dilettante's Progress, posted Background Noise about what it is like to live with a weight problem.
I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't want to be thinner. The effect of this has been to generate a constant kind of background brain static that never fully goes away, a dog-whistle whine of constant dissatisfaction. Even when I'd lost weight to the point where I was quite thin, the static remained. "Just another 5 pounds" was the seashell noise in my ear.
Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science has two posts that became part of this pondering. The first is News Too Troubling To Stomach which concerns the degree to which our culture's hatred of fat people results in a willingness to hurt children:
. . .exploiting and mocking fat children for entertainment on reality show fat camps. . .
. . .an upcoming show featuring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as weight loss camp counselors. But there’s more...
. . . administer enemas to the fat teens, outside, in front of television cameras. These starlets were “more than happy” to talk to the press about what they did. Both they and the show’s producers appeared oblivious to the unimaginable degrees of humiliation they subjected these fat kids to, let alone how they endangered their health.
Now, as far as this fat camp reality show and others like it, I don’t know why lawyers, size acceptance and civil rights organizations aren’t all over these things (substitute black or crippled children for the fat children and the public outcries would be swift and loud); why parents or other adults would even consider allowing their children to be victimized and ridiculed in this way; or why anyone would watch. And that reveals the most troubling aspect of all.
The second is News A Woman Can Use in which Sandy takes a look at older women and weight.
The researchers concluded that the lowest risks for older woman was to be fatter than the current government recommended BMIs. Our chances for living longer and healthier improve with some fat on our bones. The researchers specifically said that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) guidelines, which recommend weight management of “overweight,” were inappropriate in older women because those were the sizes where women have the lowest rates of mortality. In other words, following government guidelines would increase their risks for dying*.
. . .researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that except for smoking none of the lifestyle and risk factors popularly believed to be important actually made a difference in how long we live, and that obesity was associated with a 30% lower mortality. And for those who develop heart failure, every 5 BMI units higher lowered the risk of dying by 10%. The Cardiovascular Health Study of 5,200 older men and women, recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, again found that body mass index was inversely related to mortality.
. . .it bears repeating because of the exaggerated fears about obesity, that based on weight alone, a woman is no more likely to die at a BMI of 50 (about 310 pounds) as at a BMI of 35, and that the most extremely "morbidly obese" women still have a longer life expectancy than normal weight men. Our figures need not be our worry.
* Emphasis added.

Last Thursday, Julie posted Fat, a look at the recent PBS special and her thoughts about it.
Several years ago, in the hospital after suffering a heart attack, my bony tiny grandmother asked her bony tiny sister to check her chart, to see how much weight she had lost while flat on her back. When told she had lost a pound and a half, she was disappointed, she had hoped for more, that she would have been able to ‘do better’.
It’s an issue that is haunting so many people every day (like the oatmeal commercial, where the people have their scales chained to their ankles while Willy Nelson sings, “You are always on my mind…”)
Since then, I have watched the special (I had recorded it) and the things I noticed were, in the section on weight loss surgery, I didn't see much indication of the dangers of this surgery. It has very high mortality rates (I have heard both 1 in 100 for on the table and 1 in 50 for within 90 days), nutrient absorption is reduced for the rest of the person's life, leading to nutritional diseases, and weight rebound is just the same as for diets.** And, in the discussion at the end among the medical personnel, they mentioned that dieting didn't work, and then proceeded to give what was good advice for living a healthy life in such a way as to make it sound like weight loss advice. In a culture as saturated with fat phobia and diet messages as this one, I would have reiterated that these suggestions were for optimum health and that there is no way to lose weight permanently that works for more than two percent of the population. I did fall in love with the idea of being "a free-range fat woman" as mentioned by Pat Lyons.

And this special has also been a subject over on Big Fat Blog, where in discussion, one commenter stated that obesity was the one subject on which Michael Moore would not be taken seriously.

And that is how I feel about explaining to my agency head why we shouldn't pass out weight information along with the alcohol and smoking information at health fairs. It would be easier to tell him about the fat producing effects of dieting if I were thin, somehow. Somehow, it feels like an excuse when I try to tell people about all the research that emphasizes how dangerous it is to diet. There is a part of me that knows that, having been on around 35 diets and weighing more than twice what I did when I was put on my first one, I am living proof that they don't work. But, who gives credence to what a fat woman says about weight?

I remember one day about five years ago, I got out and about early and had an hour walk under my belt by breakfast time. I headed down to McDonald's, feeling alive and good and clear headed and centered and all of the things I feel when I get a good walk. On the way, I passed the garbage truck as the workers finished emptying several cans and stopped to thank them for the good work they were doing, remarking that it is nice that someone comes and carts this stuff away (I'm aware of this, because I have lived where no one does and you have to do it yourself). A block or so further on, a FedEx truck stopped near me and I opened the building door for the burdened driver. I saw my reflection in a shop window and liked the chartreuse and turquoise pants suit I was wearing, as well as the Tweetie Bird applique on my purse and the fact that I had a box of Edward Gorey Christmas cards to address in that bag. I was feeling on top of the world, until I went into McDonald's and remembered that I don't fit into the booths; I have to sit at a table with chairs that can be pulled out. And all day long, that one fact defined me. I wasn't the well dressed woman in the gorgeous pants suit or the polite woman who helped the FedEx man and thanked the garbage man or the woman with the outre sense of humor who sent Edward Gorey Christmas cards or even the playful woman who had Tweetie Bird on her purse. I was the fat woman who had to sit at the special table in McDonald's.

** Survivors are in for months of difficult recovery with complications such as ulcers, hernias, vomiting, and internal bleeding. The mortality rate of follow-up surgery (and a surprisingly high number of patients have to have at least one follow-up surgery) is even higher than for the original surgery. And, one thing they don't ever seem to talk about before hand -- the patient then has to live on a strict diet for the rest of their lives and may gain back more than they lost anyway. Then there is "predictive malabsorption" (a name which more than implies that the condition is predicted!) a side-effect which stops the body from absorbing crucial nutrients. Post operative patients are prone the diseases of malnutrition! One of which is brain damage. And may have to give up certain foods for the rest of their lives. Patients who get weight loss surgery are people who have had trouble dieting -- and now they have to diet more stringently than they ever had to before.


J at said...

I also noticed on that PBS show that they mentioned how some kind of chemical change occurs that makes people not hungry anymore, due to cutting off the neuron receptors in the gut...which made no sense to me at all, knowing that some people gain back all of their weight.

Maya's school principal is from Texas, where no doctor ever suggested she get the surgery. Here, it's the first word out of every doctor's mouth. No wonder fat women don't go to the doctor until they're deathly ill.

I hate your McDonalds story. It's poignent, and well written, but it makes me sad to think of that. And I completely understand, because I've let stupid things like that define me, too.

Deja Pseu said...

I keep hoping that someday our society will be able to separate "health" from "weight", and promote healthy habits instead of weight loss.

And yes, it's sad that so many of the "weight experts" are people who have never been overweight themselves. It's like someone who's never ridden a horse trying to teach you how to ride.

Deja Pseu said...

Or, the "weight experts" are those who have lost weight and become evangelists for whatever method worked for them. ("I lost 50 pounds eating eight seaweed capsules per can too!!!)

Maya's Granny said...

One reason that people gain the weight back is that the body tries to get fat enough for the next famine, and so it becomes much more efficient at using calories. After a diet you can gain on fewer calories than before. The more weight you lose and the faster you lose it, the faster and more you will gain back.

Anonymous said...

It's no crime to be built for comfort instead of speed...
Jack Hairston

dahlia and balu said...

What gets me is that a person can have any other disease on earth--even drug addictions or alcoholism--and we will say that it's not her fault. But, be fat and develop Type II diabetes or high blood pressure, and you will be blamed (and shamed) for causing your own illnesses.

Ms. Mamma said...

MG- Take the '@' out of your comment down here or you could be spammed big time. Use 'at' instead or the spiders will get you! HE should still be able to figure that out.

I loved your story about McDonald's too. And I hated it because I know how that feels. The certain glimpse of yourself and WHAM, you're down. Excellent post.

Ginnie said...

I have two friends (both male, in their 50's) who have had bariatric surgery ("stomach stapling"). They both looked wonderful for a short period. One has gained back more than he was before (in a 3 yr. period) and the other is losing the ability to keep up with the exercise and diet...and I feel it is just a matter of time before he will be back where he was.
Your philosophy would seem to be the much healthier way to go.

Rain said...

I wrestle with all this also because I am 30 lbs over the weight I'd like to be and that weight wouldn't be slim but just would be what I have been and where my clothes fit better. I try to eat healthily but can't say I'm one of those who eat nothing and just gets fat. I eat things I should not and can't have sweets around the house or I'd be at them. I don't have a solution for it.

I definitely believe that 'other' fat women are not unattractive and yet when I did a recent blog of pictures of me on a hike, with the intent of enecouraging more people to hike, I hated putting up the heavier pictures of myself. I then decided it was an ego thing. This is what I look like right now and where it's not what I'd prefer, it's a fact.

Basically I haven't gone on many diets. The only one I really tried was low carb and I would lose weight on that-- except eventually I don't stick to it. The others with computing this or that, just aren't something I want to take time to do or worry about figuring out. Walking more helps but winter that wasn't so good and sometimes I just didn't want to-- good weather or not. It's a problem.

From all I have heard the surgery to lose weight is a mistake. It forces the body to eat smaller portions and if you did that to start, you'd lose weight anyway. Eventually people stretch back out their stomachs and the problem begins again.

Maya's Granny said...

Jack Hairston! Are you the Jack Hairston I went to high school with?

My e-mail address is ljward at gci dot net and if you are my Jack Hairston, use it some time.

Chancy said...

Maya G
I also stopped weighing myself several years ago and at the doctor's I close my eyes while on the scale and tell the nurse not to tell me.

Works for me :)

Joy said...

I feel just like you J. I hate thinking about weight...losing it and gaining it. I hate that it can take over your every thought if you let it. It's my cross to bear in life....and I'm bad at it. DAMN!