There’s been a rather peculiar trend happening regarding the discussion about excess body fat in recent years that totally abdicates any responsibility for obesity that could fall on the individual. With the ruthless blame and shame culture we live in about body weight and image, it’s refreshing to see a different approach that perhaps could encourage some frustrated overweight and obese people to reconsider other alternatives before simply throwing in the towel on pursuing optimally healthy nutrition. I first noticed this new strategy for reaching those who are carrying around a few extra pounds in 2009 when I was preparing to interview a naturopathic physician named Dr. Bryan Walsh on my podcast to discuss his “Fat Is Not Your Fault” concept. I remember thinking, “wait a minute, do you mean to tell me that all those years of guilt-tripping myself into thinking I was fat because I just ate too much and didn’t exercise enough was wrong–and more importantly, NOT my fault?” That’s the line of thinking Dr. Walsh is putting out there. But he’s not alone.
Fitness expert Alwyn Cosgrove has bought into the concept as has his fellow fitness guru John Benson. In fact, this really isn’t a new idea at all as I found a book from 1998 on the subject entitled (what else?!) Your Fat Is Not Your Fault by nutritionist Carol Simontacchi. Even the mainstream health media is getting in on the act by writing about research examining various “obesegens” that could be contributing to our relentless battle with the bulge that go far beyond our dinner plates and miles trekked on the treadmill.
While this is all well and good, the problem is our culture still mocks (and even shows abject hatred for) fat people as just a bunch of lazy, slothful slobs who have no willpower to control their impulse to overeat, lie around on the couch all day watching television eating bon bons, never even making an effort to go to the gym to run on the treadmill, are so stupid to even know how horrific they look, and gorge on fatty foods that make them fatter and fatter with every bite of bacon cheeseburger and pizza they can shove in their mouths. There was even a disparaging column in the Winter 2012 issue of Gastronomica by food writer Josh Ozersky that calls for the creation of customized restaurants to accommodate the unique eating habits of “fat people.” Wow! Now you and I realize just how incredibly lame and misguided most of these stereotypes about overweight and obese people are. But unfortunately far too many people who have not been properly educated about weight management still think it’s just about calories in, calories out and nothing more. I’m looking forward to having research biochemist Mat Lalonde take on this issue of calories in my upcoming March 8, 2012 episode of “Ask The Low-Carb Experts” because there is more at work here than meets the eye.
Here are 10 (probably) surprising truths about many fat people:
1. They don’t really gorge on a lot of food.
2. They know they’re fat and really want to do something about it.
3. They dutifully attempt to lose weight by cutting calories.
4. They are real people who have feelings and emotions, too.
5. They can be extremely smart, motivated people.
6. They may have health markers better than thin people.
7. They don’t appreciate being told they are overweight.
8. They are frustrated that weight loss isn’t happening for them.
9. They can be some of the hardest-working people you know.
10. They are quite active despite carrying around extra weight.
Some of these might be shocking to people who have fallen into the trap of believing the mischaracterizations about overweight and obese people and pointing fingers at them for being something that they’re not. Society as a whole could really stand to benefit from embracing Dr. Walsh’s “Fat Is Not Your Fault” idea and realize that there is a hormonal connection at work that goes well beyond calories consumed and hours of cardio exercise notched. Things like high blood sugar and insulin levels, cortisol, gut bacteria, thyroid, environmental toxins, autoimmune issues, out of whack brain health, and more are contributing to this problem. Unfortunately, when people have a gut and see a number on the scale that doesn’t make them happy, they immediately start changing their diet and exercise as the first line of defense before having a full hormonal panel check-up to see what’s happening under the hood so to speak. It would be like your car starting to have acceleration issues and you simply changed grades of gas (changing your diet) without getting to the root cause of what was giving you the problems to begin with.
All of this leads me to the main point of my column today. If fat is not my fault as Dr. Walsh and others have claimed, then when does being fat become my fault? I’m a big believer in personal responsibility for the individual to make appropriate changes in their life when there is an issue that needs to be addressed. And obesity is no different. No, I don’t think cutting calories and exercising for hours in the gym everyday is the answer but there should be some action taken that produces results. And here’s a newsflash for all of those people who think the “results” is limited to just some arbitrary number on the scale. NOPE! It could mean steady blood sugar control, stellar cholesterol numbers like high-HDL over 50 and triglycerides under 100, heart scan scores near zero, the pursuit of eating well (organic, grass-fed, pastured and other foods), and a desire to make your body stronger and fit than it has ever been. This is exactly where I find myself in 2012 despite weighing more than I’d like to right now.
One of the issues that I’ve personally discovered on my quest for weight and health management lately is low testosterone levels. As of today I’ve been taking a very low-dose testosterone cream for 60 days under the watchful eye of a physician I trust in an effort to deal with a variety of issues. One thing it has done for me is I’m recovering from weight lifting a whole lot faster than I was before. My delayed onset muscle soreness was lasting upwards of 7-10 days after workouts for most of 2011. That was frustrating to say the least. But in 2012, it has been consistently about 3 days between lifting sessions and I’m noticing some huge immediate results in the growth of my muscles and strength. No doubt some of my recent weight gain has been muscle, but it has also been fat in my abdomen area which is driving me crazy considering I’m doing a lot of good things for my body. I’ll be retesting soon to see if there’s any impact being made on increasing my testosterone or if adjustments need to be made to the dosage. More details coming as they unfold.
So the question remains, is it MY fault that my weight is currently 295 pounds? Some would say “yes” and I hear from them quite a bit in the comments section of my blog and in my e-mail box. In fact, here’s an example of one I just received today that is indicative of everything I’ve been sharing:
You are such a liar and a fraud. Yes, a FRAUD. You and your pals have made fun of other people for blocking and not allowing criticism on their websites and blogs, which I agree with. But you have done the same. I have been blocked by you for a critical comment against you.
And before you chalk this up to a crazy vegan, I in fact am not. I actually did Atkins for many years, Paleo for the last few, but in the end, I realized you have to have SELF control no matter what you are eating. Life is too short to talk about food all the damn time. Just eat less. You cannot practice GLUTTONY like you and your pals do. You cannot over eat anything including fat and protein. Protein does not drift off to some magical place. It still gets stored as fat.
My issue with you is that you are FAT and out of shape. Your wife is FAT and out of shape. So how dare you preach on how to conduct you life, when obviously you cannot control your own body. I would not take the advice of an accountant who is bankrupt and I would not take the advice of a nobody without any training in nutrition who is fat, flabby and out of shape. And I did not seek you out, but come across you and your arrogant comments and have felt the need to reply. But I am blocked because like the rest of the frauds and charlatans you live in fear of being called out for being an ignorant know nothing.
Do your followers know this about you? That you cannot control your own obesity or you life? Guess since you will not allow any negative comments that perhaps some don’t. Or maybe they are so morbidly obese that you look slim to them. The sad state of this over gluttonous country that we live in. But karma is a beotch. You will not be allowed to make a living off of giving bad advice that has not worked. The world works in strange ways. When you see strange and bad things happening to you, you will realize you cant keep sucking your lively hood off this lie.
You need to talk stock of your own life and your own condition and stop extolling advice that has not worked for your own self. Before you die of diabetes. Or have a heart attack. Or someone sues you for misinformation…
Whenever I see something vicious and personal like this (much worse than the “hate mail” a fellow health blogger claimed she was receiving) said about me from someone who obviously doesn’t even know me personally, I can’t help but laugh hysterically. I wonder if this person has some super-secret hidden camera looking into my house to see exactly what I’m eating so they can “expose” my dastardly plan to the world. If they did, then they’d be taken aback by the quality of my diet with a focus on healthy real foods that nourish my body. Additionally, if this person could see me at the gym 2-3 times weekly pumping iron at the age of 40 and loving it for the first time in my life, I wonder if they would have the same opinions about me. The funniest part of this e-mail was when my wife Christine was called “fat and out of shape.” Anyone who has met my lovely bride knows she is anything but that. Again, this is part and parcel of the culture we live in obsessed with weight. Unfortunately, we mere mortals aren’t the only ones dealing with it, though.
Check out this brief list of celebrities that are being made fun of for having a few more pounds on their body lately: pop superstar singing divas Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson as well as Hollywood actresses Jennifer Love Hewitt (“Ghost Whisperer”), Nicole Eggert (“Baywatch”), Octavia Spencer (The Help), Megan Fox (Transformers, and most famously Kirstie Alley (“Cheers”). It’s sad that the entertainment industry mantra of “image is everything” forces otherwise beautiful women like these to feel inadequate and ashamed. How much worse is it for average, everyday people to try to live up to this unattainable expectation? This is the point in the conversation when a lot of people truly give up trying to do anything at all.
And that right there is when being fat becomes your fault. Giving up is simply not an option. As long as you are on a path to eating well (hopefully one that fits with the hormonal and other issues that got you that way to begin with), getting adequate sleep, reducing stress in your life, and exercising appropriately (resistance and interval training), then whatever happens to your body happens. Some will scoff at this and say that’s ludicrous and that you should keep lowering your calories and increasing your cardio exercise until weight loss happens (as if weight loss is the primary goal). I’m happy if that works for you, but it is not a universal plan for success for all of us. Quite frankly, people like that person who wrote to me above are probably so frustrated by their own inability to shed the pounds that they lash out at anyone that they think they are better than. If that makes them happy, then so be it. But in the meantime, I’ll keep pursuing being healthier and healthier each day in the hopes that getting to the root cause of the problem that plagues me makes itself known sooner rather than later. Staying in the game and doing your part to strive for being the best YOU you can be is all that really matters.