Tag Archive | war on obesity

I Speak for the Fat People-last part

I heard a heartening story about a man and his joy-spreading tactic. Essentially, he spends half of his time acquiring special little chocolates and the other half, gifting them to people as morsels of universal love. I am either becoming a very cynical nutritionist or a very empathic human being. The collective psyche is longing for the morsel of joy even at the expense of the perfect waistline. The truth is that we have appetites and hungers because we are merely human, not because we are bad people. However, when all of these human tendencies accumulate into extra pounds, getting rid of that weight is very difficult.

A few years ago, I attended a conference on an obesity-related topic. During one of the workshops, the speaker, a physician and researcher at a major university, presented a case study of a postpartum woman with a body mass index (BMI) of 30–thus classified as borderline obese. He instructed the audience of professionals to brainstorm how to counsel this woman. The exercise had me squirming from the get-go. As the attendees were dead-ending in their attempts to describe a reasonable approach, the presenter intervened. He said, “Let me offer this idea. I am often in my office at my desk and on the phone. I could just sit there and talk on the phone, but instead I stand and pace as I am talking.” My agitated brain said, “Yes, let’s file that idea to use.” Not with my clients but in this article. I could picture Homer Simpson stuffing one more donut in his face while muttering “Ah, vigorous pacing. That’s the ticket.” I wondered when was the last time this guy got out of his office and realized the experiences of real people, including real fat people and real postpartum women.



Hardly are all designated cases of overweight problematic. Some in the field maintain that the goal is for all individuals to attain an “appropriate” BMI.  Short of that, they will be at risk for various health problems. My intuition and much science beg to differ. Many people are fine–if not perhaps better off–with a little extra weight on them. Pavarotti once said, “The reason fat people are happy is that their nerves are well protected.” My own observations reveal that the neurotically thin tend to be more frayed than their rounder counterparts. Besides, BMI is just a tool. At times it is a cruel tool—or at least a not very nice one. It makes no allowance for age, fitness, or even natural body type–nor pregnancy-related metabolic changes. Whether we like it or not, our bodies will shift and change as we age. Nature, with no ill intent, seems to want to round us out a bit as we mature. That is how we get to be grandpas and grandmas. Appropriate BMI does not necessarily confer lack of health risks–only ones of a particular nature.

Do not get me wrong. I am not undermining the seriousness of the obesity crisis that we are facing. I understand its consequences perhaps more than most. I see the implications of weight that people struggle with on a daily basis and I strive to alleviate the challenges through educational, lifestyle and nutritional support. I bemoan the forces that are propelling our society into ever-expanding levels of girth, especially those that are now affecting our children.

Still, I feel a need to call TIME OUT! To stop the madness that makes those who are the statistics speechless. To stop pointing the finger merely at the individual without an understanding of the deeper forces that are at play.  There are multi-factorial causes that lie at the root of the weight gain epidemic. Many are so abstract or insidious that it is very difficult for the experts—let alone an ordinary individual–to understand what is going on. Though overeating, bad eating, food addiction, and poor lifestyle choices are definitely a part of it, the magnitude of the communal weight gain doesn’t seem to make sense based on calories alone. In the causative mix lie politics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, poverty, nutrition misinformation, dieting, food sensitivities, sensory science, profits, changes in the components of our food, environmental toxins, personal and spiritual alienation and lifestyles spinning out of control.  There are strange bedfellows in each and every fat cell.

Now, back to our friend the Lorax. For the record, the Lorax, our venerable spokesperson, was rather portly himself.  Based on his picture, I’d put him at a BMI of about 27. I’d describe him as neither apple nor pear-shaped but rather pickle-shaped.  According to Dr. Seuss, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish and mossy.” The final message of the Lorax in his plea to save the environment was UNLESS. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

I too am rather shortish. Oldish, brownish and mossy may someday also describe me.  For now, my intention is not to imply an ultimatum. It is, however, to bring a greater sense of compassion and understanding–and a broader lens to the discussion and to the approaches to care.

I do not intend to deny the role of personal responsibility—be that for everyone. It is a big piece of the puzzle. Though it is critical that we address the current weight epidemic–we should not do it with an assault on the fat people. We must not slap everyone silly in an attempt to squeeze them into a size six dress or Speedo swimsuit. Besides, who would be left to sing the blues? And though I’d have been happy to find my grandmother at the gym, it could not replace the experience of cuddling up on her big, warm lap with wonderful smells wafting in from the kitchen.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following, and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

Related Posts:  I Speak for the Fat People: First Part and I Speak for the Fat People: Middle Part

In health, Elyn

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Hunger tiptoes in

From bellies, hearts or minds

Feed me now she calls.

by Eva

I Speak for the Fat People: first part

I speak for the fat people. Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax who spoke for the trees, someone must speak for the fat people. Unlike the trees who needed a spokesperson because they had no tongues, you would think that the fat people would be able to speak for themselves. Of course, fat people have tongues. If they did not have that taste bud laden sensory organ, they would not be fat.  Given the current weight of the world, this group should not be particularly hard to hear. However, in the huge public dialogue about weight and obesity, the fat people are merely statistics. There are no real people behind the statistics, and this is where they have lost their voice.  Therefore, they are stripped of any ability to speak with authority on the topic.

I am not a statistic. Though I have had some years where I toed the chubby line, for the most part, I have done my part in tipping the scales toward societal svelteness. Besides my obligation as a citizen to keep the fat numbers down, as a nutritionist, it is my professional responsibility to pull people out of the fat pool and to keep them from falling in at all.

It is no big secret that the medical and nutritional community has not done a great job in their role as bariatric (the science of obesity) lifeguards. I myself do not have a great track record of turning people into mere shadows of their former selves. But, I have spent my career as a nutritionist hearing the stories and struggles of the fat people and observing the ways of food and eating that define this turn of the century. I am a spy in the house of girth.

The fat community does, in fact, have some spokespeople. There are magazines, journals, and websites edited by those (mainly women) who have spent one day too many in the deprived and depraved world of dieting. There are professionals and individuals who are doing incredible and poetic work about re-informing and re-educating on misconceptions about weight and health and respectful self-care. Still, many of these efforts are marginalized or featured in venues that only topic-obsessed people like myself pay attention to. Even Roseanne Barr once said, “It’s OK to be fat. So you’re fat. Just be fat and shut up about it.” For every individual or undertaking that sings the praises of fat, there are thousands of counter-voices screaming the imperative to whip it away.

Therefore, I believe I must use my credentials to speak out. I hope that the fat people can accept me, a thin person–who is often cold and prone to osteoporosis–and an ex-stress and emotional eater to be their voice. Born of thin mother and fat father, I will try to do the cause justice.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

(to be continued)

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: I Speak for the Fat People: Middle Part and I Speak for the Fat People: Last Part

Related Resources (2010): (Frances M. Berg); Intuitive Eating  (Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch); Health at Every Size (Dr. Bacon); Dances with Fat(Ragen Chastain)


a cinderella story

Yesterday, at 2:00, I had my last client guest of the year. I was visited by the young Haitian princess Atabei. I have had the pleasure of working with her over the course of the past year. I was granted permission to be in her highness’s presence because her royally endowed figure put her by age sixteen very close to 300 lbs. Now, she is almost eighteen. She is not the heaviest of my young clients but I do particularly worry about her because she has Type 2 diabetes.

HISTORY | Her Serene Highness Princess Olive, Daughter of Emperor Soulouque. Haiti C. 1858

Haitian Princess

As we know from many fairy tales, life is not always easy for the crown-wearing crowd. Atabei has had a not so rosy past and has been fending for herself for a very long time. She has a queen mother and an older prince brother who love her–but who are caught up in their own problems to have much time for her. She navigates most of her medical care essentially on her own. Unfortunately, Medicaid doesn’t pay physicians for castle calls.

Like many royals and commoners alike, Atabei was used to eating in a bacchanalian fashion and was not subscribing to my pedestrian nutritional guidebook. She mainly craved and consumed foods that in her own giggly adolescent words were magically delicious. For those of you who may not know what that means, Lucky Charms, Toaster Strudels, and Dunkin’ Donut Munchkins are magically delicious, while whole wheat bread and oatmeal are not.

Progress was very slow, but she got a lot of credit for what we call just showing up–despite multiple challenges and limited ability to change her food environment; and she was succeeding at what I like to refer to as weight gain stabilization–she wasn’t losing weight but she wasn’t gaining either. Being evicted from the castle and landing in a motel does not usually lend itself to being able to focus on one’s eating habits and feeling good about oneself. Still, despite a few missed appointments here and there, she kept coming and she kept journaling. She was never too shy to hide her utter disgust at some of my suggestions and held tight to the foods that comforted her.

Eventually, I began to encourage her to get over to the local YMCA, where I have a partner in crime–Ben. Ben’s a little wiry guy, but as the wellness director responsible for youth programming and as a trainer, he is deeply committed to catching any kid–no matter how big- I can throw his way. Patiently, he serves to help re-knit the self-esteem that has been unraveled from so many through the art of attention and physical activity.

After a few failed attempts, Atabei gathered her horses, got in her coach, and proceeded over to the Y. Yesterday was the first time I had seen her in a while. She arrived in her radiant beauty, sans tiara, more alert and positive than I have ever seen her. She has only been going to the Y for a month, but she is already enjoying that her endurance and strength have increased. She is drinking a lot more water, is less obsessed and possessed by her old magically delicious foods, and is shocked to realize she can now choose to leave food behind. Gradually, she has made some significant diet changes which will help heal her insulin resistance. I had to almost stand on my desk and shout for her to acknowledge this. But, when the scale confirmed what I already had, her beautiful princess smile widened even more.

At the end of the session, I helped her set some of her goals for the new year. She had never before been able to even imagine that there was a possibility for change that she could empower herself. Now she finally could. What did I ask of her? That she keeps really listening to her body and seeing what it actually needs; and that she does not give up on herself. She will try–she does like to humor me.

When the clock struck three and she stepped off the curb in front of the building, she may have looked like just another poor, black, fat kid– but things are not always as they appear in the kingdom. Blessed be. Tres Bonne Annee, Atabei!

Please acknowledge the health and dietary impacts resultant from our huge cultural and environmental challenges and inequities–and honor your own small victories. Cheers.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following, and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn