Neglectful vs. Overly Involved

Man plucking bass guitar

Health professionals have to be very careful about assigning blame to parents. When treating an obese child, doctors and counselors can explain how the cooperation and support of the entire family are necessary. The thing they can’t say is that if the family were actually cooperative and supportive, it’s quite possible the problem wouldn’t exist in the first place. The sad truth is that environmental neglect (i.e., neglectful parent behavior) is strongly associated with childhood obesity. This is the message of a masters thesis titled “Development of the Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms — Childhood Obesity Model” by Kristi Wilsman of Western Kentucky University, which of course contains complete references.

Maltreatment of a child is likely to do long-lasting damage that can manifest in numerous ways, including neurobiological changes and physical and psychological symptoms that continue far into adulthood. Here is a short list: depression, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor body image, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. Trauma is often linked with obesity, and with each adverse experience, Wilsman says, “the likelihood of negative outcomes increases dramatically.”

Poor academic performance is mentioned prominently, including the relatively low reading and math test scores earned by obese kids. As if that weren’t enough, other studies have shown that overweight and obese kids are more likely to be worried and stressed about things in general, and to feel tired, and even to be comparatively aggressive. Add to this the discrimination practiced against overweight children and it makes for a dismal school experience.

Negative coping skills

Inadequate nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle are associated with the inability to handle negative emotions and general stress. Eating disorders come under the heading of maladaptive coping strategies (comfort eating, napping, etc.) that bring short-term comfort but also long-term misery. Research done back in 1994 by I. Lissau and T.I. Sørensen indicated that neglected children are nine times as likely to become obese. Other research, namely the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, looked at occurrences of various kinds of abuse — psychological, physical, sexual — and found that

…adults who experienced four or more adverse experiences (such as psychological, sexual, or physical abuse) as a child had an increased chance of developing alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, physical inactivity, and severe obesity in early adulthood.

The ACE researchers took care to note that these behaviors are not so much lifestyle choices as lousy and misapplied coping skills. Just to put the icing on the cake, if the parents also have post-traumatic stress symptoms (which is very probable), they are unlikely to seek help for either their children or themselves.

The gift of passion

Previously, Childhood Obesity News talked about the opposite of neglect — the overly busy family that signs the kids up for everything. Perhaps part of their trouble is that parents choose too many of the activities. Sure, they may not want their kid growing up to be either a mechanic or a biker — but if he spends his teens tearing apart motorcycles instead of eating everything in sight, that’s a victory. Pacifist parents might hate the idea of hand-to-hand combat. But if a daughter wants to get into jiu-jitsu, why not go with the flow and be thankful that she is strong and fit, and hanging out with other strong, fit kids?

We also related the story of entertainer Paul Gilmartin, who was an alcoholic adult for many years before achieving sobriety. But Gilmartin is convinced that he was saved from earlier and equally serious trouble by his passion for the guitar. When he was a kid, playing music was the countervailing influence that kept him away from hard drugs.

Childhood is the time to offer a young person a buffet of activities to sample, without cramming any of them down her or his throat, because manufactured activities can do more harm than good. In her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte proposes that children prosper when they are intrinsically motivated. If a parent can be tolerant, there’s a good chance of avoiding trouble. A child with a genuine passion for something will probably not be lured by recreational eating or comfort eating, because inside there won’t be such a big empty hole to fill.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Development of the Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms — Childhood Obesity Model,”, August 2012
Image by Tim Weber

Child Obesity and Boredom

chat room exchange about boredom and fake hunger

Dr. Pretlow has identified boredom as a source of stress, saying, “Many of the kids in our studies have little clue how to devise non-planned activities. Boredom is a staggering problem in obese youth.”

Boredom is a fertile ground for the growth of such pathological patterns as recreational eating, a modern phenomenon that we could very well do without. In the past, food was simply a necessity of life, and often there wasn’t enough of it. Other than a few privileged individuals, most humans were never faced with the problem of preventing obesity. Instead, they faced the challenge of consuming enough calories to sustain life and do the work necessary to procure the next day’s calories.

For most people, recreational eating was confined to a celebratory feast once or twice a year, and the rest of the time it was all about subsistence. Nowadays, recreational eating is a daily occurrence around the globe. Food is not just one aspect of some larger event or occasion — the food is the fun. Advertising persuades us that our very identities depend on the processed pseudo-foods we consume. If you’re young and interesting and just generally a fun person, you eat and drink certain things as a badge of belonging. So what if most of these fun foods are devoid of nutrition and potentially addictive? It’s the price of being hip.


A certain segment of American society has organized itself around the principle that no child should ever be without something to do, not even for a second — that children should constantly participate in a barrage of activities designed to improve and enrich their lives. This tendency has been described by Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte as a status symbol and a form of cultural capital. Stressful as boredom might be for kids, she suggests that boredom avoidance can also be counterproductively stressful.

Why do parents feel compelled to sign their kids up for everything that’s available, and spend so much time transporting them to and from extracurricular activities? Let’s take for granted that they want the best for their children, but there is another reason — they fear criticism from others who regard a packed schedule as proof of good parenting. But with an overstuffed schedule, children never have a chance to explore the possibilities of using their own initiative to fill time, and are even more likely to suffer from boredom.

Writing about these issues for Today, Jacoba Urist spoke with parents whose son had been diagnosed at age 7 with a social anxiety disorder. The family relocated from downtown Chicago to the more laid-back environs of Austin, Texas, and made other changes to escape their accustomed “crazy-busy” lifestyle. Urist also spoke with Dr. Richard Larson of M.I.T., who believes that kids need unstructured time and the chance to figure out, on their own, how to fill it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ ‘Overwhelmed’ moms choose NOT to be busy,”, 04/13/14
Image from

Child Obesity and Unhealthy Beliefs

Fat Loss WebFat-Loss-Web

The distress of being obese must be dreadful. But it’s a form of distress that is familiar and known, while change is difficult and scary. One of the oldest clichés is, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Dr. Pretlow has remarked, “A main obstacle seems to be that people really, really don’t want to change, and that applies across the board.”

When a child or teenager considers the idea of entering a weight loss program, feelings will necessarily be mixed. They are being asked to make an extreme change, with no guarantee of increased happiness. Ask a prisoner if he wants to move to a different cell. “But what if it turns out to have mice? What if there is a cold draft I didn’t feel in my old cell?” Change is frightening for a very good reason, because in simple (and not necessarily accurate) emotional arithmetic, there’s always a 50/50 chance that the new regime will be worse than the old one.

What if an expert salesperson wanted to convince you to have an arm removed and replaced with a snazzy, state-of-the-art bionic arm? You will be able to throw a baseball like nobody’s business and never get skin cancer or be bothered by mosquito bites. The fingers will be so muscular you can bring the world’s strongest man to his knees with a handshake. Still, you’d have to think about it, right? Maybe that’s not a good example, because it’s irreversible. At least if someone loses a bunch of weight and then decides they’re not happy about it, they can always go back to being fat.

Unhealthy beliefs

The illustration on this page is part of a much larger chart compiled by Dr. Bryan P. Walsh in 2010 and not surprisingly, the section that applies to mind-body issues is as true as it has been since humans started thinking. The small ovals represent self-sabotage, unhealthy beliefs, poor performance, and poor results.

This is how Dr. Walsh breaks down the basics regarding mental attitude, goal setting, and a person’s ability to shed fat:

Step one is to decide on your goals and figure out what it is that you want in specific and measurable terms… You need to be very clear about what you want and write it down.

Step two is to spend ten minutes every day experiencing yourself as having achieved those goals… The more you experience the feelings associated with achieving a certain goal, the more likely it will happen.

The third step is to determine actionable items that will help you achieve them, and do them.

For a parent, caregiver, or health professional, the attempt to steer a child onto the weight-loss track can be frustrating. The solution seems so obvious – just like when a woman is in a domestic abuse situation. A hundred people could be looking on and saying, “Why doesn’t she get out?” But as we know from numerous movies and TV dramas, which reflect actual case histories, the idea of leaving can be even more frightening than the idea of staying. A hundred people could be saying, “Go ahead, escape, things will be better, you’ll see.” But the subconscious mind, in its tumult and turmoil, is not impressed by logic.

Deep down, a person may have a “reason” for staying obese, because it seems to serve them in some way. It doesn’t have to be rational or correct, or even to make sense. This is about emotional survival, not logic. A belief can be false, unconscious, and dysfunctional, but as long as it lurks somewhere in the psyche, it might as well be true, because it casts an influence. With most people, the reason why they accept being fat is probably unconscious, which is why therapy to address the root cause seems very important. Part of Step #1, the specific definition of personal goals, should include a determination to identify any unhealthy beliefs and extirpate them.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Missing Fat Loss Manual,”, 2010
Image by Dr. Bryan P. Walsh

Child Obesity — Does Negative Motivation Work?

Pair of chubby feet

Britain’s National Obesity Observatory, in a paper on obesity and mental health, recommends focusing on psychological factors rather than on weight loss per se. Especially for the obese child, social support is the primary concern. As we have seen from the life stories of former obese children, an increase of social support at an early age might have prevented the whole problem in the first place. Consequently, in Great Britain the government decided to increasingly integrate the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services into the wider anti-obesity strategy, so childhood obesity practitioners may work more closely with mental health professionals.

Clinicians are warned not to ignore depression, or assume that it will go away once the obesity has been treated, because it may be necessary to treat the depression in order to alleviate the obesity. When children experience shame or social isolation, or suffer from low self-esteem or depression, they are more likely to turn to food for comfort. Catching those problems early can limit the need for weight loss intervention in later years. The report says:

Whilst some studies reported no change in weight status, they did find improvements in self-worth, athletic competence, social acceptance and more positive feelings/emotions. This suggests that weight management programmes have the potential to equip obese young people with positive self-evaluations that may enhance their future well-being, even if weight loss is not apparent in the short-term.

In a section on the destigmatization of obesity, the NOO report confirms and emphasizes how very stressful bullying is to a child:

A recent review found no evidence to indicate that any type of stigmatising experience, teasing or commentary regarding weight, or any enhancement of body image dissatisfaction, has any positive influence on the motivation of children to lose weight or to engage in effective weight reduction strategies.

In other words, coercion doesn’t do a darn bit of good and does considerable harm. The report also notes that weight-based teasing can do more than just hurt a child’s feelings. It can provide the wrongest kind of motivation, leading to unhealthy attempts at weight control and serious eating disorders.

True stories

The damage might even be worse when trusted adults engage in verbal abuse. A blogger with the handle “My Bariatric Life” reported on how a seventh-grade teacher said she reminded her of an Edsel, while another girl in the class was like a sleek Camaro. When the first child asked her father for an explanation, he said the Edsel was “a big tank of a car.”

A YouTube video tells the story of a child named Brianna, who weighed 100 pounds in kindergarten and went up to nearly 200 while still in grade school. Not surprisingly, other kids called her unflattering names. According to Brianna’s mother, she has a “slow metabolism” and the family’s pediatrician assured the parents that she would “grow into her body.” But the day came when the girl was taken for a battery of tests, none of which said anything meaningful, so her parents concluded that diet and exercise were the answers.

Brianna’s mother designed a workout program for her daughter that included an hour and 15 minutes on the treadmill each day, including 25 minutes of running. The entire family changed its eating habits, focusing on the elimination of sugar and fats. The entire family started going for a 4-mile walk every day, and following the historic U.S. Post Office motto, they were stopped by neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night.

The big plus is that they did it as a family, not isolating the obese child. As the NOO report reminds us, interventions that involve parents, siblings, caregivers, or peers seem to work out better than the ones that target individuals. The potential downside is, if the child wasn’t 100% on board, it might not stick. The video clip’s title, “9-Year-Old Girl Loses 66 Pounds After Being Bullied,” almost seems to imply that bullying had a positive effect. This is highly unlikely, and is another danger sign for possible future trouble.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity and mental health,”, 03/11
Source: “Bullying of Overweight and Obese Children,”, 06/29/13
Source: “9-Year-Old Girl Loses 66 Pounds After Being Bullied!”, 12/11/12
Image by Alisha Vargas

More About Change and Motivation

Ruben Studdard

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the work of Steve Tobak, a man who tells powerful and highly paid executives what to do. They don’t have to follow his advice, of course — unless they want to get results. Change is a constant in the business world, and even CEOs have to participate in it. Condition #1 is that a person has to feel the need to change, and the second condition is having the courage to face the fear.

Number 3 is, “You have to make the commitment and fight.” What causes a person to make a real commitment? Tobak says it can be the experience of “hitting bottom.” Being a business consultant, he gives the example of Steve Jobs of Apple, who somehow managed to get fired by the company he started. Later, having made some major changes in himself, Jobs described the dismissal as “awful-tasting medicine,” but said it was the best thing that could have happened.

The motivation that brings about change is what Sean Croxton calls the “Big Enough Why.” People are motivated by different things. What changes hearts and minds? Where does the Big Enough Why come from?

Awful-tasting medicine

Ruben Studdard is known as the first celebrity to participate in the popular TV show “The Biggest Loser,” where he signed in weighing 462 pounds. The singer at one time had lost 100 pounds (by adopting a vegan diet) but eventually gained it all back and more. Interviewer Ree Hines elicited a clue as to why that might have happened. Studdard describes what changed for him:

The last time I lost weight, I was still young — I was 25. And it really wasn’t as much for me as it was to prove people wrong…. This is a lot different. I have a completely different set of circumstances now that affect the way I approach it for my life. So I have to take it a little bit more seriously — not a little bit, a lot more serious.

Something important has been said here. Yes, an obese person lost weight. But the change was other-directed, not inner-directed: “It really wasn’t as much for me as it was to prove people wrong.” When the change was for himself, a decade later, the reason was indeed serious — a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. This is one of the unfortunate things about being human. Sometimes it takes an impending disaster to create a commitment.

Steve Tobak reminds readers of another important fact about change:

Most people just don’t get how change works. They think it’s event driven. One day you’re one way, then something happens and, poof, you change. That’s just a myth. Sure, events may trigger the need to do things differently, but that’s just the beginning of a long process. First you’ve got to peel the onion and figure out what’s going on. Sometimes you think you’ve gotten to the heart of the matter, only to find that it was just another layer.

It’s also a nonlinear process, meaning sometimes you move forward and other times you fall backward. It can be really frustrating.

This is a reminder not to mistake cyclical motivation for resistance. It can come and go, and as the Ruben Studdard example shows, sometimes there might be a long time between cycles.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Change Your Ways? 3 Things You Must Do First,”, 12/04/12
Source: “Ousted ‘Biggest Loser’ contestant Ruben Studdard has lost 104 pounds,”, 11/08/13
Image by Jyle Dupuis

Childhood Obesity — Causation and Change

father and son on beach

Childhood Obesity News looked at management consultant Steve Tobak’s advice for high-powered executives, and noticed that wisdom about change applies across the spectrum of humanity, affecting even obese children.

In a piece titled “Change Your Ways? 3 Things You Must Do First,” Tobak laid down condition #1: “You have to feel the need to change.” For anybody in the helping business, that fundamental truth is the most frustrating thing about the job. As institutions of every kind (including residential treatment centers for addicts) have demonstrated, people can be made to change overtly and temporarily. And sometimes it sticks! When it does, it’s because the person felt the need for change. Without that felt need, long-term change doesn’t happen.

Tobak’s second condition is “You have to have courage to face your fear.” In that necessity, several potential problems are inherent. The person must acknowledge that fear exists. Generally, people who are trying to be strong, or at least to appear strong, don’t go around admitting to fear. Other than a few outstandingly healthy exceptions, most people are incapable of either identifying or admitting fear, even to themselves.

Tobak relates a story about a CEO who lost out big-time in the business world because he let his fear get in the way. The author also mentions a characteristic of people who don’t have the courage to face their fear — a tendency to blame external factors. This is one of the basic problems with the philosophy behind trying to end the childhood obesity epidemic.

If the truth is “You can fix yourself,” on a deep level that reads as blame, and the natural reaction against blame is to defend and resist. On the other hand, if the truth is “You can’t fix yourself,” everybody might as well just go home and forget about it.

Only you

A more nuanced guideline is “Only you can fix yourself,” which takes us back to #1. While other people might feel a need for you to change, they can’t make it happen in any real and permanent sense. Your need for change can only effectively be felt by you. Nobody can take your place. Don’t beam out the Bat signal, because even Batman can’t help. You are the unique superhero with the power to save someone — that someone being you. Only you can rescue yourself. You are the only person in the universe who has the power to do that.

And you can’t do it unless you face your fear, and you can’t face your fear unless you identify it. Not many grownups are capable of doing that, and when it gets down to the kid level, how many children have the self-awareness to see what’s going on? Sure, a kid knows, “I’m afraid Daddy will go away,” and is certainly able to articulate the thought. But it isn’t the actual feared outcome, only a circumstance that could bring it on. A lot of different causes could be underneath. One possibility is, “If Daddy goes away, there won’t be any money and we won’t have enough to eat.” With such an underlying premise, a kid could develop an unconscious drive to stockpile body mass, to protect against the caloric deprivation caused by paternal desertion.

Another possibility is “If Daddy goes away, Mama might fall apart and be all clingy, and dump her emotional baggage on me, and expect me to fill the emotional void left by her spouse’s absence. For goodness sake, I’m only eight years old.” Is any child capable of either knowing or saying that? Let’s hypothesize further. What if an eight-year-old boy is getting fat, unconsciously but on purpose, to make himself repellent to his mother? Can he admit that he’s trying to dislodge an emotional vampire from feeding on him?

Questions like this seem to indicate that it is vital to get to the root cause of childhood obesity in each individual case.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Change Your Ways? 3 Things You Must Do First,”, 12/04/12
Image by Macgyver101

Childhood Obesity and the Universality of Change

Italian Men in Suits

Steve Tobak is a management consultant and executive coach who gives advice to chief executive officers and other high-ranking businesspeople. What can he tell us about childhood obesity? Maybe a lot, because, after all, each of us is the CEO of our own life. Change is universal, and maybe the approach to it is also.

Tobak starts by referencing the old saying, “A leopard can’t change its spots.” He says it does not apply to humans, who are capable of genuine and lasting behavioral change:

Three basic biological functions determine your behavior. You’re born with DNA; you learn and develop neural pathways through experience; and your behavior is chemically reinforced by neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Serotonin.

There it is — executives and obese children do have a lot in common. For an obese person of any age, a large portion of life consists of coping with the obesity itself. It’s important to be aware of what is not safe to sit on, and to bring the necessary supplies to deal with excess perspiration on an important occasion. If a photo is being taken, it’s important to remember to tilt the head in a way that minimizes the number of chins. A certain amount of brain power goes into planning how to get the next plate or bag of desired food and, if people are watching, a certain amount of plotting too, perhaps.

Expertise, of a kind

Taking care of all the peripheral business of being fat gives a person something to become good at, an avenue for the achievement of expertise. For small, powerless children, it would be wrong to say it’s a lifestyle choice, but as a person grows up, obesity does become a lifestyle. As the years go by, it’s probably not even possible to imagine being any other way. There must be a hundred examples of things that obese people do for day-to-day survival, and when the big change of losing weight is undertaken, it equates to a hundred accompanying mini-changes in habit, including abilities in which a lot of time and energy has been invested.

What if you’re a boy who once bested a bully by tripping him to the ground and sitting on him until he said “uncle”? If you lose bulk, will you be able to protect yourself in the future? What if you’re a woman who sews and uses tailoring tricks to make her body look slimmer, and you’ve created a lovely wardrobe of clothes that flatter the fuller figure? What if you’re a comedian who specializes in fat jokes? If you lose weight, will you even have a career?

When a formerly obese person reaches a healthy size, an entire skill set becomes obsolete. That experience is the same nightmare for an obese teenager or an exec at the top of his game. Tobak says:

Most behavioral characteristics you’d want to change … are created in response to adversity, crisis or trauma when we’re young. They’re designed to manipulate our environment and keep us safe, and they’re reinforced countless times throughout our lives…. You have to feel the need to change.

That includes recognizing obsolescence when it appears, and not fighting it. A snake has to shed its skin when the time comes, and a butterfly can’t hide inside a cocoon forever. What the formerly obese need, when they become un-addicted from food, are coping skills for dealing with life in a less self-destructive way.

On the bright side of the picture, it’s obvious that the formerly obese have demonstrated a splendid ability to develop coping mechanisms. It’s just that all the cleverness has been misapplied to a counterproductive goal. But they have shown ingenuity and resourcefulness, and can perhaps be stimulated by the challenge to use all that intelligence and ability and creativity and determination to serve a different end.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Change Your Ways? 3 Things You Must Do First,”, 12/04/12
Image by currystrumpet

Advice from Former Obese Kids

kron 3

In the pages of’s Fat People Stories, you might find a 400-pound eighth-grade boy who believes that change is impossible. Also, you might find a former binge eater who was raised by overweight and nutritionally ignorant parents to become an obese teenager. In his case, on receiving a diagnosis of high blood pressure and hormonal anomalies, he simply decided he wasn’t having any of that, and changed his life. As a college student he lost nearly 90 pounds and compared the first few days of sensible eating to heroin withdrawal. But he declares that if you’re mentally unstoppable, you can do it. Which might be exactly what that 400-pound kid needs to hear.

These observations are distilled from the stories of many brave and anonymous online contributors. One successful weight-loser’s advice is to call upon the acting talent you always suspected was one of your hidden assets and “fake it till you make it.” A reader could not be blamed for an initial reaction of skepticism. Sure, that might work for a shy person — just pretend you’re not shy. But you can’t fake being fit or slender!

Ah, but you can fake being the kind of person who is capable of becoming fit or slender. Put yourself into the mindset of a jiu-jitsu champion and ask yourself, “What would Kron Gracie do?” He’d get up and go for a run. If your life were a movie, what would the hero do? Eat an apple instead of a doughnut. Be the hero of your own movie.

Get up

There are things that normal-weight people are not supposed to say but that another obese person can get away with, like “Stop being lazy.” According to at least one formerly obese person, laziness is the demon that resides in everyone who needs to lose weight. This is a very controversial position to take, and is best left to people who actually have experienced obesity.

Apparently, some people have been deterred by a mistaken notion that exercise has to be a big, huge deal, performed in a designated place, wearing a special outfit, and consuming a large chunk of time. But exercise can be as simple as walking up a flight of stairs rather than riding in an elevator. A person might think that there is no point to running, because she can’t do it very fast or for very long. But there is a thing called interval training. Run for 10 seconds, walk for 30, repeat. These hints may seem very self-evident, but to some they are fresh news.

Another great piece of advice is to think of shaping up as a long-term project and get used to the idea that it will take at least a couple of years to reach your desired weight, and then the rest of your life to maintain it. What helps to do that? Shifting the focus away from food as the only worthwhile reward that life has to offer. Get some new rewards — and not just replacement addictions!

An interest in other people is often recommended. A fellow with the evocative pseudonym “loveshinehero,” who went from 300 pounds at 16 to 157 pounds at 18, emphasizes the importance of keeping good company:

It’s all about the people who I decided to surround myself with and making the connections to where I felt socially obligated to exercise. I am not saying disregard friends who are overweight, but get in social situations where it is acceptable and easy to eat healthy. You should also know that those people shouldn’t be condescending towards you, that they should recognize that you are trying and support you so that you can achieve your goals.

This doesn’t really count as advice, because it’s not so easy to just go out and find a soulmate, but teens and adults of both sexes who have received unconditional love recommend it highly. Having a partner who digs you, no matter what, is incredibly powerful medicine. It’s great to mesh with a person who lets you be you, and even greater to let yourself be you.

Whole philosophies are built around the idea of “giving permission” for things to be the way they are. The ability to accept what we can’t change prevents a lot of grief. Most things are going to be the way they are regardless of what we might think or say about them, so we might as well spare ourselves the aggravation of resenting them.

There are things that can be changed but only about ourselves, if we have the courage to do it. The sad truth is, if anyone works on changing the things about himself or herself that can be changed, that person will be extremely busy — far too busy to worry about what anyone else is doing. If you accept someone for who they are, they may or may not change — it’s a crap shoot. But if you don’t first accept who they are, they can’t change. One of psychology’s big paradoxes can engender strange magic.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fat People Stories,”
Source: “Hello! HamPlanet Boogie2988 here,”, 2013
Image by Kron Gracie Jiu Jitsu

Childhood Obesity and the Microbiome

Entrance to Damien Hirst

It has been proposed that anti-obesity campaigns should pay closer attention to the microbiome. That is the collective name for the incredible number of tiny creatures that live inside us, also known as bacteria. Their intentions are good, bad, or indifferent, and largely unknown. Here’s what Michael Pollan said in The New York Times about the microbiome:

It appears increasingly likely that this ‘second genome,’ as it is sometimes called, exerts an influence on our health as great and possibly even greater than the genes we inherit from our parents. But while your inherited genes are more or less fixed, it may be possible to reshape, even cultivate, your second genome.

We are accustomed to believing that our precious DNA determines everything about us, but the author suggests that we are shaped and governed by an even more powerful influence — our tenants, the millions of tiny hitchhikers that have established a symbiotic relationship with us. How crazy is that? Then he packs another “Wait, what?” moment into the same paragraph. Unlike the stubborn and pretty much intractable genes in our chromosomes, these other little critters can probably be bossed around by us.

Why would we want to tell them what to do? Because gut microbes can influence a person’s metabolism to the extent of, for instance, increasing insulin sensitivity, and that is a matter of major importance. Just ask any patient with metabolic syndrome, the collection of circumstances that can predispose a person to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and maybe even cancer. This is related to the theory that a junk food diet can encourage the wrong kind of bacteria, which messes up the lining of the intestines and lets toxins into the bloodstream.

A knife wound can perforate an intestine, and the contents can escape to surrounding areas and cause peritonitis, which can be fatal. In the “leaky gut” paradigm, instead of one knife wound, there are millions of tiny holes through which the wrong molecules can get out of the intestines and wreak havoc. According to this theory, many people suffer from a chronic, low-grade stage of inflammation, which causes metabolic syndrome, which causes obesity.


This also ties into studies that have observed increased obesity rates in children delivered by Caesarean section. During a vaginal delivery, the baby is supposed to pick up microbiota on the way out, collecting a starter kit of bugs as the basis for its own colony. When a child is surgically removed, the opportunity to acquire those valuable bacteria is denied. What if it’s true that C-section kids get fat because of an inadequate microbiome? A lot of assumptions would have to be questioned.

Other studies show that babies who are breast-fed are less likely to become obese. So, even if a baby is lucky enough to be birthed the old-fashioned way, things could still go bad if she or he is deprived of mother’s milk. Breast milk contains oligosaccharides which, Pollan explains, are not there for the baby, but for the sole benefit of one type of intestinal resident known as bifidobacterium infantis:

When all goes well, the bifidobacteria proliferate and dominate, helping to keep the infant healthy by crowding out less savory microbial characters before they can become established and, perhaps most important, by nurturing the integrity of the epithelium — the lining of the intestines, which plays a critical role in protecting us from infection and inflammation.

Mother’s milk is not, as once was thought, sterile: it is both a “prebiotic” — a food for microbes — and a “probiotic,” a population of beneficial microbes introduced into the body.

Obesity is not the only condition concerned here. Excessively permeable intestinal walls are blamed for the whole constellation of autoimmune diseases, of which there are at least 90, including lupus, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, asthma, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 1 diabetes. Michael Pollan goes so far as to suggest that cracking the secrets of the gut microbiome could lead to the “Grand Unified Theory of Chronic Disease.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs,”, 05/15/13
Image by Thomas Galvez

Former Obese Child ‘Loser’ Stories

Row boat

People who have reclaimed their health by losing large amounts of weight often have stories to share, sometimes about the turning points in their lives. The first one, courtesy of, comes from a 23-year-old former obese child who lost 180 pounds in a year and a half. In fifth grade, he was wearing size XL shirts designed for an adult male, and by the age of 13 he weighed about 350 pounds. As with most obesity struggles, there were ups and downs; he graduated from high school weighing somewhere around 300 and was “totally disgusted” with his senior class photo.

Then he discovered video games, devolved into an even more sedentary lifestyle, and gained back quite a lot of weight. He would stuff down 2500-calorie meals without thinking twice about it, and the concept of portion control had never entered his mind. He describes when his life changed:

December 2010, my roommate convinced me to come to the gym with him. I went to the locker room, weighed myself, and saw 372. I consider this my starting weight. I was completely disgusted. I tried jogging and ended up bursting blood vessels in my left eye. This was a wake up call; I couldn’t even slowly run in circles on a track without hurting myself. I decided that this had gotten way out of control and I needed to fix it.

A 5’5″ woman discovered as a college student that her weight had reached 205 pounds, and went for a physical exam. Her blood pressure was up, and the number of people in her family with Type 2 diabetes became a worrying factor. But she describes the real breaking point as the realization that she could neither fit into her job interview suit, nor afford to buy a new one. She quit sugar and dairy products and followed a Paleo diet, bringing her dress size down to 10 and sometimes even 8.

Another Reddit user headlines her story “Over-eating is an addiction, so why don’t we treat it that way?” (For Dr. Pretlow’s take on that, please see “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic.”) That young lady’s wake-up call was not so drastic, and was delivered by

…a wonderful mother who sat me down one day and let me know that my weight and eating habits were getting out of hand…. I’m eternally grateful my mother reached out to me in a kind and gentle way and helped me see the light.

A success story with a romantic element was submitted to Reddit by a 23-year-old male who now weighs 150 pounds. At age 13, he was 9 inches shorter than today but weighed in at 180, and he claims to have enjoyed being fat at that age. He certainly contributed to it by consuming two liters of soda and an entire cake every day.

By age 14, he was up to 195 pounds, thanks to the addition of at least 10 cheese slices every day. And then at 15, he met a girl from a physically active family, who roped him into hiking and rowing. He says he complained and even cried, and felt like he would go out of his mind from not having his favorite comfort foods. But this family was made up of “the nicest bunch of people ever,” including the girl herself who “never fat shamed, never insulted, just stayed my friend.”

This illustrates again the monumental importance of accepting people as they are. If we do that, the person may or may not change. But if we don’t accept, they will be literally unable to change. This is a psychological reality that cannot be circumvented. But to accept a flawed human being, “warts and all” as the saying goes, is not at all the same as buying into Fat Acceptance.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Hey Reddit. It’s cakeday, so I figured I’d share my story. I’ve lost 180 pounds (as of today) in the last 1.5 years,”, 2013
Source: “My Internal Battle Against the FA Movement,”, 03/02/14
Source: “Over-eating is an addiction, so why don’t we treat it that way?”, 2013
Source: “Hamtaro: The Story of Me,”, 2013
Image by wsilver

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
Copyright © 2014 eHealth International. All Rights Reserved. Site Development & Newsblogging by: SixEstate