Why do some people feel the need to point out someone’s weight? I mean, actually vocalise their irritation or disgust? Do they hope that fat shaming them will somehow propel them to address their ‘gluttony or sloth’? Or are they just bullies, lost in their own low self-worth, who only feel important when they put others down?
Fat Shaming – Discrimination
The ‘fat shaming’ trend is simply another form of discrimination – of chastising those who look different from us. The talk of ‘fat taxes’ and ‘extra-seat charges’ on airplanes is all over the media. Nobody chooses to be overweight. Weight is entirely under hormonal control. Like growing taller – which will happen whether you like it or not. Excess weight is a hormonal disorder, just as short stature could be a result of growth hormone deficiency.
Many overweight people feel trapped in a body they cannot control. The last thing they need is fat shaming. If you have ever been involved in fat shaming, I want to highlight your ignorance about weight gain. You may have no idea what you are talking about.
When dietary guidelines were introduced in the UK and US in the 70s, fat was demonised as the cause of weight gain and heart disease. We were told to eat less (fat) and move more. The calorie theory took hold. Energy in vs energy out. It was a simple message; easily understood. Fat makes you fat and as long as you work-out enough, you will maintain your weight.
Calories are not created equal.
This advice has been one of the greatest misconceptions in modern human history. Lies – in fact – bordering on downright fraud. The scientific data that influenced the dietary guidelines was manipulated to come to whatever conclusions suited the researchers. This era of post-truth science, unfortunately, exists to date. A calorie from fat has vastly different effects on our weight-regulating hormones than a calorie from sugar. This is undeniable. Calories are not equal.
Our bodies are exquisite. My fascination with the human body has persisted since my first anatomy class in Medical School. The body is the most complex chemical and mechanical factory in the world. What you see in the mirror is a product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution and adaptation, perfectly formed to learn, explore, innovate, reproduce and think. We are the most successful species. You only need to work in an acute hospital, as I did, to understand how remarkable our bodies are. How we heal and repair, how cells regenerate, how quickly women recover from the brutal effects of childbirth and how we learn to walk and talk after serious injuries. Being a doctor really brings home the extraordinary capabilities of the human body.
The body is the most complex chemical and mechanical factory in the world.
Nothing is left to chance. You do not decide when to breathe or how fast or slow your heart beats. You cannot choose not to shiver if you feel cold, or not to feel sexually excited when you see an attractive woman (or man). You don’t get to opt out of sleeping. You will sleep, like it or not. Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, because sleeping is an absolutely necessary instinct, and you would die without it. Breathing, eating and keeping warm are essential to survival. As such, they must be under automatic control. New mothers will lactate at the mere thought or sight of their infant child. All our biochemical processes are hormonally controlled. And so is our weight. This must be understood.
Fat Shaming and The Calorie Theory
Body weight is not under conscious control. Our body would not be stupid enough to leave something as important as energy intake and storage – essential for survival – to chance. We do not control our weight any more than we control our heart rates. How much fat we store is an automatic ‘decision’, under the influence of hormones.
As a weight management doctor, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is, ‘’why am I the only one in my family who is fat, when we all eat the same things?’’. Some people are more prone to weight gain than others, some are more responsive to exercise than others. Genetics loads the gun, but diet pulls the trigger. This alone throws the calorie theory out the window. If a calorie is a calorie, why are some people ‘exempt’ from weight gain, if they are consuming the exact same food? When people go on 500 calorie diets, why do some lose more weight than others?
If a calorie is indeed a calorie, everyone should lose exactly the same amount of weight. This never happens. Not even in a controlled environment, as was seen in the famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment. Zoe Harcombe, a celebrated obesity researcher, describes this experiment beautifully, in her blog.
I looked after an obese client who ate, on average, 1000 calories a day and had done so for many years. Not exactly what I would consider gluttony. Would I disbelieve her? Would I tell her to exercise more? No and no. Exercise for weight loss is another shamefully propagated misconception. Nearly all Big Food companies tell us that their products e.g. soda, chocolate bars or sugary cereals, can be enjoyed ‘‘as part of a healthy lifestyle’’. Some slimming clubs have reward snacks, that almost always consist of processed junk food, to ‘enjoy’ after a period of exercise. This is crazy.
If you are being given the wrong information, how are you expected to make the right choices?
To ‘create’ energy, you either burn stored fat or burn available or stored glucose. If the point is burning fat (to lose weight), this will never happen if you keep consuming glucose, in the form of fruit or snacks. One gets the feeling that the blame is being deliberately diverted away from the utter crap they are selling – that is making us sick and fat – towards us. We are told that it is our responsibility to exercise to maintain weight, regardless of what rubbish we put in our bodies. I need not remind you that Big Food and many weight loss franchises are obligated to their shareholders, not to you. If you are being given the wrong information, how are you expected to make the right choices?
Fat Shaming and Exercise
Weight loss is 95% diet, 5% exercise. Put simply, you cannot outrun a bad diet. Exercise is fantastic for overall health but really inefficient for weight loss. Most people (and many calorimeters on exercise machines) grossly overestimate calorie burn during exercise. The same is true for wearable fitness technology, as shown in this study. Say you ‘burn 200 calories’ walking briskly for an hour on a treadmill. If you then consume a chocolate bar (230 calories) or a sugary sports drink after your workout, you will have effectively undone all your efforts, in the minute or two it takes to eat/drink that snack. Those involved in fat shaming do not appear to understand this. I always wonder why there are snack and soda vending machines inside my gym. It is either great stupidity or a great conspiracy. You decide.
Adaptation is the reason why exercise is relatively ineffective for weight loss.
Your exquisite body will also ‘fight back’ after exercise, particularly after intense, long duration exercise. Your body will often compensate, buy reducing your desire to move much, following your work-out. Many of us have noticed just how little we want to voluntarily move after exercising. It will also make you hungrier. Resisting the urge to eat will be nearly impossible. Believe me, biochemistry will ALWAYS trump ‘willpower’. Then there are the injuries, which will leave you inactive for weeks. Those who exercise excessively could also lower their immune system temporarily. Have you ever experienced flu-like symptoms after a long run? Then you know what I’m talking about.
Our ancestors would never dream of expending any more energy than they had to. Food was scarce then and it took plenty of energy to source it. Now we live in a time of energy abundance. We have easy access to food. You do not need to leave your sofa to source that 2000-calorie pizza. We also have easy access to gyms and exercise classes. Yet, as our rates of formal exercise have increased in the last 30 years, so have the rates of overweight and obesity. Just like the US, Brits are exercising more and getting fatter. Sedentary behaviour is clearly not to blame for the obesity epidemic. Something else is making us fat.
Obesity is a Hormonal Disorder
Our weight is carefully regulated by hormones. Biochemistry and hormones drive all our behaviour, including our eating behaviour. Our weight has nothing to do with how much we eat or how little with exercise. Calorie balance does not control weight. Hormones do.
Obesity is a symptom of the metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of traits that increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. Some obese people are metabolically well, with no medical concerns, other than the physical effects of carrying too much weight. Overweight people need support (medical or otherwise) and kindness. You cannot criticise someone for a condition that you poorly understand. And yes, weight gain is very poorly understood. It is a complex hormonal imbalance.
Obese people need medical help, not fat shaming.
Obesity, like diabetes and high blood pressure, is a symptom of the metabolic syndrome. The hallmark of the metabolic syndrome is a resistance to insulin (the fat storing hormone). This is the root cause. The common denominator. Would you so easily shame a diabetic? A hypertensive? What of the obese 6-month old. Is he also a glutton and a sloth? As a mother, I can reassure you that it is virtually impossible to overfeed a healthy child. They will simply scream and spit out. These obese children are unable to fight the irresistible urge to eat because they are sick. Their hormones are out of balance, and this may have started while they were developing in the womb.
Weight gain is a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric imbalance.
Insulin is the major hormone that drives weight gain. The other is Cortisol, to a lesser extent. Weight gain is mainly caused by high insulin, excessive cortisol, insulin resistance or a combination of all three. Identifying the right trigger for a particular individual is the key to weight loss.
If you are troubled by your weight and want to do something about it, find a weight management expert who understands that willpower is overrated. One who knows that weight has nothing to do with self-control. One who will treat you with the same empathy that all people deserve. It is entirely possible to naturally manipulate your hormones to shift the weight. I would be delighted to review you in my Clinic.
To those involved in Fat Shaming
Nobody ‘chooses’ to be overweight any more than they ‘choose’ to breathe faster when running. So, before you fat shame anyone else, remember that the ignorant one is you. Not them.