America's Obesity Epidemic Is Not a Moral Failing

I don't feel like a monster if I want a candy bar. It's fine. I just eat the damn candy and move on with my life.
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First appeared on Food Riot, by Susie Rodarme

Americans have been fighting our "obesity epidemic" for a relatively short time (fifteen years, maybe?) but in that time, it has become an over-saturated news topic. While the "epidemic" is being treated like a legit national health crisis sort of-not in that much updated or good science is being given a national platform, but in that the media puts on its serious face while speculating what might be causing people to pudge up-the diet industry is still around to step in and batter the self-esteem of those carrying "unwanted" pounds, spreading around guilt and bad information in hopes that you'll buy the latest miracle cure for fatness. When crucial topics come up such as cultural eating habits (and portion sizes), food education, and availability and cost of nutritious food, there are still plenty of tongue-cluckers out there with the ever-fucking-helpful advice that being thin is easy! Just stop being a fat pig, you fat fatty! Willpower! Durr!

Psychologically, food is a Big Deal. During the Minnesota Starvation Experiment in 1944-45, a group of carefully-screened, healthy men volunteered to undergo starvation to help the war effort. Their calories were restricted to 1,560 per day-not much different than what modern diet gurus prescribe-and all the dudes lost their minds over food. They became obsessive, ritualistic, and secretive. When the time came to gain the weight back, they felt disgusted with themselves if their eating got "out of control," even though they were seriously underweight and needed to eat.

But wait, let's back that up -- obsessive, ritualistic, sneaking food, disgusted because they lost control of their eating. Sounds like the experience that many people have when they're dieting. These guys weren't initially fatties, though. So maybe, I dunno, difficulties with diets aren't due to a lack of moral fiber? Maybe dieting really does fuck with your body?

When we take this approach -- the morality approach, the "take responsibility for your own personal fat" approach, the "just eat less, fatty-gaw, so easy" approach -- we make it hard for people to get information that will actually help them (if they even need or want to lose weight, which is another topic that desperately needs to be reevaluated by unbiased medical science). Information like the fact that fat-recognizing hormones drop dramatically when even a small amount of weight is lost, and hunger hormones increase to keep your body from losing fat. Also the fact that our bodies aren't so much equipped with hormones to help us stop eating when presented with food, which is troublesome in the land of plenty o' calories. It seems that, once we're fat, it's difficult to reverse the fatness-again, not that everyone wants or needs to do so.

I have a feeling, though, that if we have enough information, those of us with goals can work it out. Because I have good information, I know that I can steer clear of calorie-rich processed foods and actually eat a lot of tasty food. Because I know that starving myself has ill-effects, I decided when I started calorie-counting not to make deep cuts to my daily intake. Because I know that eating until I'm full triggers addictive chemicals in my brain and I over-consume to get that buzz, I am weening myself off of feeling full. I've been intrigued by this process most of all, as it has been a lot like quitting smoking (which I also did, so maybe I have a leg up there).

And maybe the most important: Because I have been educating myself, I finally have the self-esteem to flip a double bird to the diet industry and to Internet trolls who comment on every health article without fail to make sure that we fatties know they think we're weak and out of control. I don't let their judgments about my fat dictate my health goals, which means I set more reasonable goals. I don't feel like a monster if I want a candy bar. It's fine. I just eat the damn candy and move on with my life.

I allow myself to be fat and feel like a good person. Crazy, I know, but it seems to be working so far.

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