Posted by Pattie on 1/05/2005 02:15:00 PM

My Response to Dr. Lunkhead's Response

Well, the good doctor at Medscape got back to me. Several other people shared their letters and his responses to them on a private listserve. As near as I could tell, his response came in two flavors -- one for self-identified fat people and one for self-identified professionals. Even though I fit both categories, my response was more typical of the former groups.

Lunkhead's e-mail

Hello Pattie,

Thanks for writing and sharing your important experiences and observations. I am sorry that things have been so difficult for you. I laud your significant achievements against substantial adversity. The American public health problem of increasing overweight which has been noted for a number of years has accelerated and threatens premature disability and death for tens of millions of people, not a minority, but a majority of Americans. Catching it somewhat early for many by a drastic change of individual eating and exercise daily behaviors seems the only way to stem this epidemic, called by some nutritionists an obesidemic. The notion of periodic or alternating fasting (such as every other day) is gaining some proponents. Controlling/limiting caloric intake and increasing caloric output as a method of weight control is a law of physics that does actually work for most people most of the time. There are probably genetic metabolic components that explain some people's excessive problems, but these are still to be understood. actually has a free, very effective weight control program on the internet that has been found to work by thousands of participants.

George lundberg

My Response (written for here, I didn't bother to debate the lunkhead)

1. He didn't address a single point I made about the social context or social implications of his editorial.

2. I did not ask for sympathy, I asked for change. All too often bigoted rhetoric depends upon the paternalistic attitude displayed in such sentences as "I am sorry that things have been so difficult for you. I laud your significant achievements against substantial adversity." I do not want the praise of such a person. I want that person to understand his own prejudice and the implications of his words. I want that person to change. My life would be much easier if he would self-examine. He is the defective thinker, not me.

3. The original editorial and the responses he made to me and to other fat people who shared their responses with me are thinly (sorry about the pun) disguised ads for WebMD's weight loss program. If it weren't for the fact that I have had over 200 visitors come to my blog and read my letter to him in the past two weeks, I would be feeling like I really wasted my time on this letter. That is problem with fighting such bigotry; there is always the chance that you are playing right into their hands.

The big white elephant in the room is the one Lunkhead avoids consistently. He is unquestionally assuming that weight loss is a good thing. He does not question whether losing weight might create the health problems I described in my letter to him. He asks only the question of whether it is possible to lose weight or not. This is a highly limiting question.

Of course, it is possible to lose weight. Starvation is a reality for a great deal of the world's population. I have lost weight. The question that people like lunkhead never ask is "Should we try or encourage other people to try to lose weight?" So far the answer appears to be "no."

The Veterans Administration conducted a study in the 1960s where nearly 200 young, healthy fat men were put on a low-calorie, radical diet to see if they could lose weight. They did. They lost an average of 75 pounds. However, after the study ended most of them gained the weight back plus some. Then, these perfectly healthy young men, lost their health and in the next few years, one fourth of them died.

Paul Campos in The Obesity Myth, wrote these words about the experiment:

“And what was the reaction to this amazing mortality rate? Were there calls for an investigation of a government experiment that seemed to have killed a significant portion of the healthy young men who took part in it? Hardly. In the years since, this study has been cited more than two hundred times in the obesity research literature as evidence for the proposition that ‘obesity’ is a highly dangerous condition, and that patients suffering from it should therefore accept the risks inherent in potentially dangerous treatments!”

Starvation is bad for all human beings. Eating less calories than your body needs to breath, move, play and think is bad for all human beings. Being fat does not exempt you from the need for nutrients and calories.

So it with sadness that I note two stories in the New York Times this week.

Diet and Lose Weight? Scientists Say 'Prove It!'

Published: January 4, 2005

With obesity much on Americans' minds, an entire industry has sprung up selling diets and diet books, meal replacements and exercise programs, nutritional supplements and Internet-based coaching, all in an effort to help people lose weight.

But a new study, published today, finds little evidence that commercial weight-loss programs are effective in helping people drop excess pounds. Almost no rigorous studies of the programs have been carried out, the researchers report. And federal officials say that companies are often unwilling to conduct such studies, arguing that they are in the business of treatment, not research.

While the study is good news, the sad part is that so many people are trying to use a medical procedure that is unproven and dangerous and NO ONE is studying the effects of this procedure and our government doesn't even believe it is their business to regulate this!

Later in the article:

Lynn McAfee, the director of medical advocacy for the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, was aghast at the conclusion.

"I don't understand how you can have a product you never evaluate for effectiveness," Ms. McAfee said. "It was a slap in the face to all people of size."

read the full article...
(free registration is required, email me if you want the full text).

The other New York Times article is extremely sad and it represents the reason why the diet industry and the weight loss surgery industry gets away with what they do. It is the result of attitudes like Lunkhead's editorial.

Longing to Lose, at a Great Cost

Published: January 4, 2005

How desperate are overweight people to shed their extra pounds?

Desperate enough that they are willing to risk death. And so desperate that they value losing weight as much as severely depressed patients value relief from their illness, a new survey has found.

A little later in the article:

"The researchers asked people to imagine a treatment that would guarantee them an effortless weight loss of varying amounts. For each amount, they were asked, would they be willing to accept a risk of death to achieve it? If so, how much of a risk of death?

The fatter the person, the more he or she would risk death to lose weight. And the more weight the patient imagined he could lose, the greater the risk he would take to achieve it."

read the full article...
(free registration is required, email me if you want the full text).

This is not the first time people have stated that they would rather die than be fat.

In the same way that Lunkhead's editorial was based upon physical appearance rather than health, suggesting that all fat people are overeating and should be starved simply on the basis of how they looked, this study demonstrates how the question of fatness and intentional weight loss is NOT about health, it is about looks. It is about prejudice. It is about stigma. It is about a narrow standard of beauty that hurts everyone fat or thin.

Fat is beautiful, baby!