Fat Lot of Good Diet Advice Does

We, as a culture, have some weird views about appetites. We accept readily that some people are just born with an appetite for alcohol and drugs while others aren’t. We accept that the former would have to struggle much more to control their drinking (say) than the latter for their entire lives. If people vary in their sexual appetites, we tend to think those on the lower end of the desire scale are probably just repressed in some way. And what about eating? Easy. Thin people eat less and exercise more. Fat people eat more and exercise less. It’s simple thermodynamics. Ask fat people to exercise more and eat less – and boom, obesity problem solved. The ones who don’t do that – well, they’re just out of control. They eat even when they are not hungry. They are self-indulgent.

So the advice – eat less, move more! – is given over and over and over again, by medical professionals and Oprah and the First Lady. The statistics, however, are grim. Less than 5% of people who lose weight by any method keep it off for ten years. Those stats are worse than heroin addiction.

I cannot imagine the medical community recommending a medication that had a less than 5% long term success rate and came with plenty of unpleasant side effects, such as irritability, constant hunger, severely restricted ability to socialize. Yet the advice remains: eat less, move more!

If it is that simple, why doesn’t the advice work?

I used to believe the “simple thermodynamics” idea, and I used to be fat. Then I started a medication for another condition, and my desire to eat shifted drastically. All of a sudden, I didn’t crave eating nearly so much, and I lost weight without nearly as much effort as I used to use. And the thing is, we all know this. Everyone knows that certain drugs, such as amphetamines or pot, can affect appetite. Yet we still have this odd persistence of belief that people are equally in control of their appetites, and the ones who are fat are just more weak-willed than the rest of us. On becoming thinner, I became privy to the contempt in which thin people hold fat people. It is intense.

There is a cultural explanation of obesity as well. Food deserts, advertising, etc. The question remains. Why are some people particularly susceptible to such messages? Two people can live in the same environment, and one will get fat and another won’t.

We seem weirdly resistant to the idea that weight gain can depend on an individual, yet not be an individual’s fault. Yet we at least partially accept this in the case of, say, alcoholism.

If Gary Taubes has done nothing else, he has done an excellent job in tracing the origins of our belief in the thermodynamics explanation of weight. If you are truly interested, I highly recommend his book Good Calories, Bad Calories. Even if you don’t accept his positive hypothesis, that is, that the obesity epidemic is caused by wide availability of sugar and carbs, his take-down of the eat-less-move-more advice is thorough, convincing, and valuable.

For those who don’t have the time to wade through his book, here’s a nice link on the philosophical problem of the thermodynamic explanation – that is, that the thermodynamics of weight gain are trivially true.

Say instead of talking about why fat tissue accumulates too much energy, we want to know why a particular restaurant gets so crowded…. So what we want to know is why this restaurant is crowded and so over-stuffed with energy (i.e., people) and maybe why some other restaurant down the block has remained relatively empty — lean.

If you asked me this question — why did this restaurant get crowded? — and I said, well, the restaurant got crowded (it got overstuffed with energy) because more people entered the restaurant than left it, you’d probably think I was being a wise guy or an idiot. (If I worked for the World Health Organization, I’d tell you that “the fundamental cause of the crowded restaurant is an energy imbalance between people entering on one hand, and people exiting on the other hand.”) Of course, more people entered than left, you’d say. That’s obvious. But why?And, in fact, saying that a restaurant gets crowded because more people are entering than leaving it is redundant –saying the same thing in two different ways – and so meaningless.

Now, borrowing the logic of the conventional wisdom of obesity, I want to clarify this point. So I say, listen, those restaurants that have more people enter them then leave them will become more crowded. There’s no getting around the laws of thermodynamics. You’d still say, yes, but so what? Or at least I hope you would, because I still haven’t given you any causal information. I’m just repeating the obvious.

This is what happens when the laws of physics (thermodynamics) are used to defend the belief that overeating makes us fat. Thermodynamics tells us that if we get fatter and heavier, more energy enters our body than leaves it. Overeating means we’re consuming more energy than we’re expending. It’s saying the same thing in a different way…

Answering the “why” question speaks to actual causes. In the restaurant analogy, okay, maybe this restaurant has particularly great food, or it’s happy hour; the drinks are cheap. Maybe it’s pouring outside so a lot of people ran into the restaurant to stay dry. Maybe every other restaurant in the neighborhood, including our lean restaurant down the block, was recently closed by the local health bureau and this is the only one that didn’t have cockroaches in the kitchen and so remained open. Maybe it’s in the theater district and the shows just got out and now every restaurant in the neighborhood is packed with the post-theater crowd. Maybe the word has spread that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie frequent this restaurant regularly, or Oprah, and this attracted a crowd hoping for a glimpse of celebrity.

All these would be valid answers to the question we asked. Some speak to the conditions inside the restaurant (the quality of the food, the price of the drinks, celebrity customers); some speak to conditions immediately outside (a rain storm, no competition, the theater schedule). They all provide the causal information we’re seeking. They answer the “why” question. That more people are entering than leaving doesn’t. It’s what logicians call “vacuously” true. It’s true, but meaningless. It tells us nothing. And the same is true of overeating as an explanation for why we get fat. If we got fat, we had to overeat. That’s always true; it’s obvious, and it tells us nothing about why we got fat, or why one person got fat and another didn’t…

As for the great majority of experts who say (and apparently believe) that we get fat because we overeat or we get fat as a result of overeating, they’re the ones making the junior-high-school-science-class mistake: they’re taking a law of nature that says absolutely nothing about why we get fat and assuming it says all that needs to be said. This was a common error in the first half of the 20th century. It’s become ubiquitous since.

Here’s another bit he wrote recently on the new HBO documentary on obesity which sums up his view nicely, and here’s a criticism of him which echoes my own hesitance about him, i.e., I totally buy his critical view, and am not 100% sold on his positive view. That said, I lose weight eating low carb. The more fat I eat, the more weight I lose. It is also a kind of unpleasant way to eat, and not in line with my ethics. I’d like it not to be true. I am ethically sympathetic to vegetarianism. When I tried to follow through on that recently, I gained weight and became anemic. So I am now restricting myself to well-treated animals as an ethical second-best.

Yet if his criticisms can get at least some people to stop giving fat people the simple eat-less-move-more, and stop the contempt for them, Gary Taubes has done amazing work.

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. 1) I got bogged down in the somewhat polemic first section of “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and I really need to pick it back up again. I found the basic information therein compelling.

    2) “Eat less, exercise more” is an only slightly more complicated way of saying “Be healthier!” as advice.

    3) I think part of the problem is that the obesity epidemic has coincided with other changes in society norms, which also dispose people to make moral judgements about them. A relaxing of sexual taboos, less restriction on what can be said and depicted in popular media, the rise of the Kardashians — all of it contributes to a “kids these days,” hell-in-a-handbasket view of the world. (A view with which I am not entirely unsympathetic. See comments in previous threads re: inner spinster librarian.) People can see our more licentious, libertine society and attribute the increasing obesity rates to a similar moral failure, this time related to gluttony. That people continue to become obese despite the (as you point out) extreme disapproval and disdain of their thinner peers speaks to the ineffectiveness of fat shaming as a public health intervention.

    • The issue is that “only one cupcake for dessert” is not “eating less”, and “took the stairs instead of the elevator” is not “exercising more”.

      And, beyond that, for most people “eat less and exercise more” is forever. You can’t just lose ten pounds and say “ah, time for the cheeseburgers again”. You’re the weight you eat. Sure, there are subtleties about comparisons of protein to carbohydrates to muscle-development versus pure calorie-burning but the reality is that for most Americans, it really is as simple as “eat less and exercise more”.

      “But it’s haaaaaaard, I have these craaaaaavings, you don’t understaaaaaaaaand” you know what? If you wanna lose weight you have to gotta not eat the marshmallow. If you wanna eat the marshmallow then you won’t lose weight. There’s no weight-loss plan that works without some form of discipline and portion control, and even Gary Taubes will admit that.

      • and I blow myself out of the water with “have to gotta”. good night!

  2. I believe the official medical term for my condition is “jolly”.

    A few years back, I did the whole low-carb South Beach thing and it really worked. The pounds *MELTED* off. I lost, like, 6 pounds in the first week. (I went to the gym the night before (maybe the night of) the diet and weighed myself.) For whatever reason, we didn’t go our three times a week that week and I was totally apprehensive before I stood on the scale. I’d been eating nothing but bacon/eggs, and spinach/romaine, and steak/cheese. FOR A WEEK. I was sure I packed on three or four. I lost six.

    I was hooked and dove into it fully. After the two week induction, I joyfully added berries and tomatoes back into my diet (is there a sweeter fruit than the first blueberry after induction?) and over the course of the next couple of years lost 30+ pounds and got down near 190 while also building up muscle mass at the same time. (I went teetotal during this period as well… as a victory lap six months later, I had a couple of glasses of wine and was *TRASHED*… tried to have a third, it ended up in the toilet.)

    After a year, however, food turned grey. The world turned grey. My libedo had not been as high since my teen years but even happening boobies were grey. Everything was grey. All I thought about was going to the gym and sex and being angry.

    Then, one day, I broke and I ordered some steak fries with my meal. They were like little fluffy baked potatoes with a crispy greasy salty coating and it was like all of my happiness enzymes came back to me. I was able to do things like “watch a movie” without being angry at it (it had to be a good movie, mind… I was still ticked off at Daredevil, for example). I could read fiction again. I could sit in a room with more women than men without ranking them in my head.

    I felt like I had come back after an extended period of altered consciousness.

    Instead of feeling angry, I felt jolly.

      • I’ve no idea. Looking back, I probably should have had bloodwork periodically while I was doing my exercise regimen.

        In my defense: I was in my 20s. I just wanted to lose weight and South Beach seemed like a respectable version of Atkins and downright Scientistic compared to some of those “chamomile tea enema” diets out there.

        • Whoopsie! Apparently my irony was obscure.

          If you were fishin’ miserable the whole time, then it really doesn’t matter what your lipid levels were. That is neither a healthy nor a sustainable way of living.

          • It happened by inches, though. I mean, lemme tell ya, that first day when I stood on the scale and the cacophony of sentences in my head were some variant of “I’ve lost six pounds” “You’ve lost six pounds” “He’s lost six pounds” “We’ve lost six pounds” and “Six pounds have been lost”, I was *THRILLED*.

            And, as the weight kept coming off, I think I was still thrilled. It’s just that everything else was happening so slowly that I didn’t notice that I was someone else after a while.

      • Speaking of HDL, it worth remembering that weight is only an imperfect measure of health (and, as of my last physical, I have the lipid panel to prove it). Usually, I say that when I’m pissed off at fat shaming. Now I’m driven to say that exercise, even if it’s of little use in losing weight, nevertheless may be helpful for improving general health.

        I have only my own interpretations of the research and a personal sample size of one.

        • About cholesterol, obesity, and moral opprobrium:

          Concerning the standard weight for someone my age, I weigh probably a little more than I ought to be (assuming we can buy into that normative measurement at all), but I’m not overweight to look at. Therefore, I don’t have to face any of the shaming that people of wider girth face.

          However, I have high cholesterol, and because it doesn’t seem to run in my family, it is probably a result of my eating habits. In other words, it’s probably due to the choices I make. And yet, because my high cholesterol is invisible to others, I face no opprobrium for it, while a perfectly healthy person who is above the standard weight for their age / height, has to face opprobrium.

  3. Great post, Rose. When I’m at a computer I will write more.

    • Well, I was going to write more but dang if everyone else doesn’t mention everything I might have. I’ve been fat and struggled mightily to lose weight. I’ve lost weight with little or no sacrifice at all. The real danger of the attachment of morality and self-discipline is that it lets people who have never struggled with something believe that they haven’t struggled with it because they’re Good. And, well, those other people…

      I used to believe the “simple thermodynamics” idea, and I used to be fat.

      I did want to comment on this because I never believed in the morality of excess weight as much as I did when I was at my heaviest. There is actually rather immense social pressure to believe this, because if you say otherwise, you’re “making excuses.” There is also some psychological motivation behind it. You believe that if you can just be good enough, you can conquer it on your own! You just have to try! Really hard!

      The end result can be not-a-little self-loathing. If the weight comes back, I truly hope I don’t fall into that trap again.

      • For the most part, Will, you could be talking about how many Americans view success in life, being in or out of poverty, being on unemployment and the state of the economy as much as you are talking about weight. I agree with what you are saying about how people feel, but you are describing a lot more then just weight. Americans too often make everything a moral issue.

      • Definitely. No one is harder on herself than a fat person. And ironically, the only thing that cured me of that view was successfully losing weight.

      • The real danger of the attachment of morality and self-discipline is that it lets people who have never struggled with something believe that they haven’t struggled with it because they’re Good. And, well, those other people…

        Agreed. As I’ve mentioned–probably so many times that people have gotten sick of it–I no longer enjoy drinking soda. But to say I’m therefore particularly virtuous for avoiding soda is false.

        • I have to concede, being tall was an inconsiderate decision on my part.

          Take solace, though, that airlines and clothes manufacturers have been getting revenge on me ever since.

          • Speaking (as we were on another thread) of sadistic pleasures, last year I was flying to Chicago on business, comfortably upgraded to business class, when my 6 ‘6″ CEO said Hi as he passed me on his way back to coach.

  4. There is also the reality that different people are different. Eating less and better along with more exercise works great for me. I’m down 95 pounds and in great shape and feel good about it. My wife, well it doesn’t work that way. The father in law has high cholesterol even though he is in great shape and eats very well. What works for some doesn’t work for all since their is more then one cause of obesity. All the causes people talk about have some value.

  5. Rose –

    You related your experience in a thread in January or February, and I have to tell you, it’s been life-changing for me. I am following pretty much the same path that you have (largely from your inspiration), and I’ve lost 15 pounds (so far) since May, with no self-denial and no pain.

    Taubes has released another book Why We Get Fat, which is much shorter, less wonky, and easier to read, with the same thesis. I highly recommend it over Good Calories, Bad Calories for the non-nerd reader.

    • Snarky, that’s awesome! Woooohoooo!

      And agreed. Despite its goofy title, GCBC is definitely for ther nerds,

  6. I have always had a bizarre metabolism that makes me tired just thinking about it.

    If I have been slothful in my eating and exercise and exercise habits for a while, I find that if I decide to take the effort to eat healthier and exercise daily I can drop 15-20 pounds in a two or three weeks, without starving myself, breaking my back at the gym, or eliminating yummy ice cream completely. On the other hand, if work, family and life get really busy I can put that on in the same amount of time.

    I’d prefer a body that would be willing to sit on auto-pilot for longer than mine does.

  7. I’ve read GCBC and WWGF. Taubes walks a fine line between genius and crank.

    The standard medical science claim is really a counterfactual: If you ate less and exercised more, (and your metabolism stayed the same), you would lose weight. That’s absolutely true. But, as we all know, most people who attempt to act on this advice fail, or fail to follow it for life.

    Taubes styles himself as an iconoclast, but he’s not really challenging the standard medical model. He’s basically arguing that, if we hold calorie intake constant, some regimens will make us hungrier and more sluggish than others. If your diet is making you hungry and sluggish, that makes it more difficult to eat less and exercise more.

    Every so often, you read about someone who lost 40 pounds by eating 1500 calories of Twinkies and soda each day. Most people like Twinkies better than “diet” food. So, why doesn’t everyone diet this way? Because most people who try this diet will be out of their minds with hunger. They probably won’t be able to eat less because they’ll succumb to temptation. Whereas, if you eat 1500 calories’ worth of lean protein and leafy greens, you’ll feel a lot less hungry than your Twinkie-eating counterpart, and therefore have a better chance of sticking to your diet.

    Taubes would point out that if you live on Twinkies, you’re flooding your body with insulin, which over time decreases insulin sensitivity, which predisposes you to weight gain.

      • I imagine I would get tired of twinkies after a while.

        Measured in nanoseconds.

    • “Every so often, you read about someone who lost 40 pounds by eating 1500 calories of Twinkies and soda each day. Most people like Twinkies better than “diet” food….Taubes would point out that if you live on Twinkies, you’re flooding your body with insulin, which over time decreases insulin sensitivity, which predisposes you to weight gain.”

      Which is as good an example as any that “eating to lose weight” and “eating to be healthy” are not actually the same thing.

    • For what it’s worth, which is exactly nothing, I will lose weight if I eat 1500 calories of anything. I will lose weight somewhat faster when I ate the same number of calories low carb than more typical healthy diet (for some reason, and contra Taubes’ theory, I can add rice and fruit and still lose at the low carb rate).

      One major problem with Taubes theory is that he also doesn’t explain individual variations. There are people who eat carbs with no problem.

      I will also say that it’s not just a matter of hungry and sluggish. If I eat a typical diet, I can only lose weight by counting every calorie, weighing and measuring every spoonful of food. I am irritable and difficult to be around. I am absolutely obsessed with my own diet, and think about nothing else but eating. I am miserable when I’ve finished my portion, and get more frequent migraines. I have little willpower left over to force myself to do unpleasant things. On low carb, I can just eat and not measure or weigh. I don’t think about food all that much, I’m not hungry, irritable, obsessed, using all my will. I can socialize much more easily. It’s simpler to order a salad or steak in a restaurant than it is to try and figure out just how much fat was used in cooking that piece of fish. I know not everyone feels that way on low carb (another issue for Taubes) but I do. It’s a drastic difference between an eating life that’s actually not livable long term and one that is.

    • Holding metabolism constant often is an unwarranted assumption. As I understand it, that’s part of Taubes’ point, too.

      • Taubes does discuss the possibility, but the evidence that a high-protein diet stimulates metabolic rate is weak. Even if it does, the effects are pretty small.

        Most of the benefits of a high-protein diet can be better explained on the energy intake side of the ledger, rather than energy expenditure (through metabolism or exercise). High protein diets can be good for weight loss because many people find them more satiating and more palatable. Dieters don’t feel that constant gnawing hunger that they get on low fat, high carb diets.

        That’s great news, except that Atkins/Taubes-type diets don’t have significantly better long-term success rates than regular diets. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Atkins sold as well as the Bible in its heyday. If this regimen was the secret to long-term weight loss, we’d know it.

        Most people can’t stick to a Taubes-style regimen for the rest of their lives. To most, that kind of eating becomes monotonous, restrictive, and kind of gross over the very long term.

        • Whatever the merits of Taubes’ theory, moralism about weight is stupid and cruel.

          Most people’s appetites automatically track their caloric needs without much need for willpower or executive function of any kind. That’s how the system is supposed to work. If some people’s feelings of hunger are misaligned with their caloric expenditures, that’s a sign of a malfunctioning physiological control system, not a sign of moral turpitude.

        • As with Rose, I’m skeptical of Taubes’ positive claims. My impression is that he fails to apply the same skepticism to himself that he applies to everyone else. I, personally, don’t think any specific diet or lifestyle can control metabolic rate, at least not in all people.

          But lifestyle and diet can change metabolic rate, and not just metabolism per se, but a whole host of factors in how you act that aren’t considered when most people think of exercise; look at the effects of fidgeting on calorie consumption. Which makes the “simple thermodynamics” of “eat less and exercise more” fallacious. It may be thermodynamics, but that hardly makes it simple.

          • The real kicker is that, no matter how you lose the weight, you will need about 20% fewer calories to maintain that weight than someone who weighs the same but never dieted. As far as we know, this effect is permanent. There’s a good discussion of this phenomenon in HBO’s “Weight of the Nation.”

  8. One major problem with Taubes theory is that he also doesn’t explain individual variations. There are people who eat carbs with no problem.

    Not true. He does address it in his new book. He might of in GCBC too, but I never managed to slog my way to the end. Basically, human variation: we have differential susceptibility to fast carbs, and insulin resistance.

    When I started on a low-carb, high-fat regime, as per Taubes, I bought a glucose monitor so I could better understand my own reactions. I found that, with Metformin, I could lower my base glucose from 116 to about 78. Eating a french toast breakfast would kick me up to 190 after an hour; eating rice, only 115. Thankfully, I can have the occasional ice cream (coneless) without much untoward effect, probably because of the fat content.

    I love ice cream.

    • Yes, sorry, wasn’t clear. I meant that he didn’t have an explanation that advanced the insulin hypothesis more than any other view (except, of course, the one that says that a pound of fat is gained if and only if there is an accumulated energy excess of 3500 calories).

      Totally same here. Metformin puts my fasting glucose in the 70s, and for some reason I can eat ice cream also. And I, too, love ice cream.

  9. I’ve been overweight/obese pretty much my whole life.

    When I was most active in sports (softball, karate and skiing) I was still 180 pounds at 5’2 and wearing a size 15/16. I could also leg press 500+ pounds, etc – so it wasn’t all flab.

    Add in a nasty sports injury which nearly severed my ACL in one knee, and you get the recipe for a slow, gradual weight gain up to around 300 pounds, culminating at 360 pounds in 2004. Then I finally had my ACL reconstructed.

    People would say, “You need to exercise more!” without understanding that I could NOT exercise. I could not bicycle, swim or do any motion where I ‘kicked’ or ‘straightened’ my right leg with any force or speed, or I risked the knee hyperextending up towards my thigh. When I finally was evaluated for the reconstruction, the surgeon flat out asked me, “How the hell do you manage to walk like this??” Only the strength of my quads were keeping me upright.

    “Why didn’t you get it fixed when you first tore it?” you might ask. Well – the technology wasn’t really there in the late 80’s.

    I had the options to:

    1: Have an artificial ligament installed, which would have to be tightened every 5 years. That meant surgery every 5 years, with rehab every 5 years…

    That’s not a cure, IMO.

    2: Have a ‘donor’ ligament installed – I didn’t really feel comfortable with that – because I didn’t trust the procedure. This was during the whole ‘donor scandal’ where people were contracting leukemia from bone that shouldn’t have been donated, etc.

    3: Do nothing, and wait until a better option presents itself.

    So I did nothing. Well, I kept playing softball (as catcher), karate, skiing..and kept spraining it, and spraining it… and then the weight came up, and my mobility went down..

    So now I’m hovering around 300. I’m dieting and gradually easing my way into more exercise. But I’m still allowing myself to eat the things I enjoy – just smaller portions. I don’t see the logic in denying yourself everything you enjoy in life – why be miserable when you eat?

    I don’t know if I’ll ever get back down to 180 (or 150 which is the absolute OMGYESDREAM goal), but I’ll be happy at 200 or 200 too.

    My cholesterol has always been fine, but I do need to watch my carbs – I am at present in danger of diabetes. I hope that increasing exercise, choosing my carbs wisely and a good diet will keep me away from that.

  10. There’s an interesting article in the current Scientific American. We all have thousands of species of microbes in our bodies. Actually we have 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells; it adds up to a few pounds (they’re a lot smaller than human cells).

    One of those common species is the h. pylori (sp) that inhabits our stomachs and has been linked to ulcers. It turns out though that this species also helps regulate our stomach acid and hormones that tell us whether we’re hungry or full.

    Upshot is that it may very well be the case that a lot of obesity is actually the result of our internal ecosystem being out of whack due to antibiotic use as well as an environment that is generally “too” clean relative to our evolutionary history. Like epigenetics this research is in its infancy but I think we’ll see some very interesting findings in the future.

  11. Yawn. I know someone who was born to be an alcoholic. It’s in his blood. Not that he drinks that much, or ever did.

    Yes, our society does demand more things out of one person than another.

    But damn it all, it ain’t all society’s fault! Stop blaming me for judging you if you’re fat. the nasty little secret is that humans, like all animals, judge based on outward appearances. It’s not all fat, either — if you smell, lack grooming.

    There’s a set of things that’s “wrong” that we cue in on.

    • I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not. Are you actually claiming that judging someone on a specific aspect of outside appearance, even if that aspect is something that person, statistically, has relatively little control over, is an acceptable thing?

      • It’s stuff like that that gives evolutionary psychology a bad name. For some reason, when talking about evolutionary psych, people think it’s okay to derive an ought from an is. I have an urge to do X, which means X at some point either conferred some evolutionary advantage or didn’t interfere with evolutionary advantage. Therefore, it’s acceptable to do X and I shouldn’t try to interfere.

        You know? Maybe I’ll do today’s post on that.

        • How do you rewrite a sneer?
          You can only undo it afterwards.

          Yes, we can do slow, stupid reactions to our parallel programming.
          Do they work?


          Great way to get yourself all twisted up and kinky, though.

      • It is a thing. Is it an effective thing? yes, reasonably.

        Now is it a moral thing? Guess I’ll just put it this way: this is FAR from the least moral part of our hardware.

  12. Sleep more, stress less. See, I can give diet advice too!

  13. “I used to believe the “simple thermodynamics” idea, and I used to be fat. Then I started a medication for another condition, and my desire to eat shifted drastically. All of a sudden, I didn’t crave eating nearly so much, and I lost weight without nearly as much effort as I used to use. ”

    Wait. I don’t think I understand your argument, here, because it really honestly truly does read to me like you’re saying “One day I started eating less and I lost weight, this proves that there’s more to weight loss than just eating less!”

    I mean, I keep seeing this over and over again. “Weight loss isn’t as simple as eating less, because Joe ate less and lost weight, but then he ate more and gained it back!” So…um…he ate less and lost weight? “Jane wanted to eat less, but she had terrible food cravings and so she didn’t eat less, and she didn’t lose any weight!” So…well…she didn’t eat less and she didn’t lose weight?

      • “Weight loss isn’t easy. So I don’t bother trying. But don’t you go making moral judgements about me!”

        • Actually, weight loss was surprisingly easy. For me. When it was hard, I tried really hard and failed spectacularly. Every time.

          • Worse than smoking. Statistically, since a much larger percentage of people are successful at quitting smoking. Also in my experience, since I’ve done both. Quitting smoking gets easier and easier as the weeks go by, dieting harder and harder.

        • DD, does nothing strike you as a little odd about the spectacularly bad statistics for weight loss? Is there absolutely nothing more to be said than shouting, “Shut up, it’s weakness of will!” when that amounts to saying fat people have far far more weakness of will than heroin addicts, alcoholics, smokers, etc.? If it’s just weakness of will, why should I have zero problem ever controlling my drinking and been able to be successful at academics? Both of those take will.

          And again, I say this as one of the tiny percentage of people who lost weight and kept it off. It’s not that it took no effort and sacrifice. It did and does to this day to maintain it. But something totally outside my agency, i.e., a pill, took it from unachievable sacrifice to achievable.

          • “If it’s just weakness of will, why should I have zero problem ever controlling my drinking and been able to be successful at academics?”

            For the same reason that you see very few people who are both champion weightlifters and Olympic gold-medal sprinters.

            “something totally outside my agency, i.e., a pill, took it from unachievable sacrifice to achievable.”

            You chose to take the pill, and to keep taking it. The pill did not fly down out of the sky and jam itself down your throat.

          • Do you not think that if there was a pill that made their appetites become suddenly more manageable with few side effects that fat people would not have the agency to take it?

            I’m not talking about the agency required to take a pill. I’m talking about the agency to say no to cupcakes. When I started taking a pill, I said no much more easily.

    • My point was that taking a pill suddenly made it totally manageable. Without the pill, the only way to lose weight was to make it the primary focus of my life. There is plenty of evidence that people only have a certain amount of willpower. Not eating the marshmallow in one area tends to erode one’s ability to have willpower in other areas. With a pill, my appetite was like most people’s – sure, I want a piece of cake, but no biggie if I can’t have it. I was able to use my willpower for stuff I care about also, like getting my work done well. I can never have sex and so could everyone. I’m guessing most people would find that a very difficult way to live.

      Again, recovery from heroin addiction has a far better long term success rate. Are former heroin addicts just more in control of themselves? Human psychology and appetites are complicated.

      Fat people can say no to the marshmallow, but it’s at the expense of letting many other areas in their lives go. If it makes me a whiner to point out that kind of sucks, and that most naturally thin people assume that when fat people must say no to a cupcake it’s just like their experience, than I happily consider myself a whiner.

      • The sex thing might be unclear. I mean that any one of us can decide never to have sex again. It can be done, but life would be substantially worse.

        For a fat person, saying no to cupcakes comes at a very substantial loss of quality of life that thin people totally fail to appreciate. So they just have contempt.

        • I’d miss cupcakes.

          And I do understand — fat people eat LESS crappy ice cream than skinny people, if given a carton.

      • “recovery from heroin addiction has a far better long term success rate.”

        Yes, and you know what? There is severe societal moral opprobrium directed at people whose heroin use is debilitatingly severe. Nobody goes around telling us that we shouldn’t be mad at heroin users because quitting heroin is Really Hard.

        “Fat people can say no to the marshmallow, but it’s at the expense of letting many other areas in their lives go.”

        But they can say no. “But it’s really hard!” But they can say no. “But you don’t understand it’s really hard!” But they can say no! “BUT IT IS REALLY HARD!” Yeah, see, “hard” and “impossible” are different words.

  14. Lemme try again, that came out wrong.

    If it’s hard, you have an exceptionally high likelihood of failure. If you succeeded, that doesn’t mean it was hard. If you were never obese in the first place, that doesn’t mean that someone fat doesn’t lack the discipline you have.

  15. Rose – this was a great post. A lot to think about.

    I’ve been unfortunate in the sense that since I was around 22, when my poor eating habits started to catch up to me, I have always been the not-skinny guy with a bunch of skinny friends. The added insult was that they eat just as bad or worse than me but were blessed with amazing metabolisms. One thing you allude to is the hypocrisy from society regarding being overweight verses being an alcoholic. I have a few friends that are basically functional alcoholics, but because there is no outward sign of their addiction, it doesn’t draw close scrutiny. Pack on 30 extra pounds and people look at you like you are a slob with no self-control.

    I will also confirm that when you are overweight you think about it constantly, or at least I do. For me I’m in the gray area where I’m not really obese. I just need to quit eating Burger King for breakfast and jog a few miles per week. So for me at least it feels like being slender is just 12 months of healthy living away and so I actually beat myself up more. I think that if that gap was 100 pounds instead of 30 I would probably feel hopeless and maybe just accept it. Not saying that is true of everyone, but it would be for me.

  16. I think a point that doesn’t get enough attention when comparing losing weight to things like quitting smoking or kicking heroin is that none of the other addictions are to things that are absolutely essential to life. So, for example, when someone quits heroin they can take steps like avoiding certain people and/or situations that would tempt them to start up again.

    Quitting smoking doesn’t mean cutting down to a half-pack a day. Quitting heroin doesn’t mean only shooting up a little bit three times a day. Quitting drinking doesn’t mean keeping track of the alcohol content of everything you drink and limiting yourself to 1.5 oz of pure alcohol a day. In all those cases quitting means that you simply don’t do the thing. Full stop.

    But you gotta eat to live. So you’re constantly having to eat not quite enough to satisfy you. Leaving the table when you’re still a bit hungry. Waking up hungry; going through your day hungry; and then going to bed hungry. Hungry all the fucking time! At least with those other things the physical cravings go away at some point.

    So even though I’m one of those people that was blessed with a metabolism that, until relatively recently, meant that I could eat as much as I cared to without gaining a pound, I totally sympathize.

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