Non-Genetic Evolution as Obesity Villain

Bob Wills Ranch House

Edward Archer, Ph.D, of the University of Alabama School of Public Health, has a major difference of opinion with most obesity researchers: he blames evolution for the obesity epidemic.

Published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Archer’s paper is said to encompass anthropology, pediatrics, epidemiology, and evolutionary biology. Synthesizing a century of evidence, he has written what is called a meta-theoretic analysis: “The Childhood Obesity Epidemic As a Result of Non-Genetic Evolution: the Maternal Resources Hypothesis.”

Archer’s first idea is that when a person eats, fat cells compete with other kinds of body tissues for the energy in the food. His second idea is that a pregnant woman bears a huge responsibility to not only the currently developing fetus, but to future generations, and much depends on her “physical activity and body composition.”

His third point is that in many human population groups, mothers have evolved past what Archer calls a metabolic tipping point. Consequently, poor physical fitness and obesity are “almost inevitable.” Here is Archer’s capsule description of his theory, as quoted by Newswise.com:

Beginning in the 1960s, mothers became increasingly physically inactive, sedentary and heavier. This altered their bodies’ metabolism during pregnancy. With less competition between fat and muscle cells due to inactivity, more energy was available to increase the number of fat cells in their unborn children. The result was a dramatic increase in the risk of obesity and disease in infants and children.

In other words, Archer presents the current obesity epidemic as an implacable force of nature, an outcome of evolution that should be accepted. But to assume that evolutionary obesity cannot be stopped would be a mistake, because it can be – by pregnant women. As Archer advises, “Only mothers have the power to change the evolution of obesity.”

From the “Everything You Know is Wrong” Department

Changing eating patterns of pregnant women, however, is an uphill battle in some quarters.

For contemporary Americans who are accustomed to hearing that the black and Hispanic demographics are more prone to childhood obesity, this is an interesting historical note.

Way back in 1946, Bob Wills introduced a song (written by Fred Rose), titled “Roly Poly,”  with the lyrics:

He can eat an apple pie and never even bat his eye

He likes ev’rything from soup to hay.

Roly Poly daddy’s little fatty,

Bet he’s gonna be a man some day.

In those days, even among the whitest Caucasians, having a fat baby meant that the father was a good provider and the mother was a good cook. A fat baby was a badge of honor and a guarantor of the community’s approval. Today in many minority communities, it still is. Most people find it very difficult to shed the cultural influences they grew up with. In Dr. Archer’s quest to convince prospective mothers in minority groups with heavily entrenched cultural mores to change their ways, this is where the difficulty lies.


Source: “ Novel Theory Connects Mothers to Childhood Obesity: Evolution Is the Cause, and Moms Are the Cure,” Newswise.com, 11/17/14
Source: “Bob Wills Roly Poly, Youtube.com
Image by Boston Public Library

 

 

Four Tribes of Obesity

overweight

Recently Ted Kyle, chair of the Obesity Action Coalition and a writer on health issues, sorted out the schools of thought on obesity and divided commentators into three types. To quote him:

Healthies…People with obesity are to be treated with “informed compassion” that drips with condescension…Calls for attention to treatment of obesity are seen as reminders of unfortunate failures to prevent it.

Quants sing an unwavering hymn of “show me your data.” They provide regular and annoying reminders of how much we need to learn about obesity and keep asking for randomized, controlled trials that can be challenging to conduct.

Buttouts…Some of them are dealing with obesity on their own terms and some of them simply reject the construct of obesity as a disease. Others are studying it as a purely social phenomenon.

Kyle’s categories were amended by a reader called Reeger in the comments section of his page:

I believe you need a fourth category, “Trench Runners”…in the trenches every day, working, keeping their head down, helping where they can and running between the three tribes grabbing what bits of information and assistance they can to help those in need.

Michael Prager, ruminating on his own place in this or any other classification system, asserts that he knows one thing for sure – “not fat” is a lot better than fat, and he has been both, so he knows. Regarding public opinion, he says:

We all will be better off when fat stigma has gone. But I do not believe that when it is, the problem with fat will also disappear — shortness of breath, joint pain, inability to keep up were part of my reality that had nothing to do with what others thought of me.

Going back to Kyle’s ideas, apparently “Healthies” believe that everything about obesity is known, and it all boils down to calories consumed and calories expended, and there is not much room for nuance in their philosophy. The Quants, who love studies and crisply-documented lab results, are doomed to perpetual discontent because of medical ethics. Many experiments simply can’t be done on humans, lest a scientist wind up in the dock at Nuremberg.

Sometimes, all we have to go on is research gathered for other purposes. Data sets can be harvested and cobbled together into a meta-study in which every variable makes the findings more ambiguous. The other problem with the Quants is, even in an area where stricter experimental protocols are in place, Quants may not care for the results. For instance, in a piece titled “8 Ridiculous Nutrition Myths Debunked,” Kris Gunnars asserts that the low-fat diet is a big fat myth:

In this study, tens of thousands of women were placed on either a low-fat diet, or continued to eat the standard western diet like before….There is no evidence that low-fat diets lead to better outcomes….the low-fat diet is completely ineffective.

Based on what? Based on “the largest randomized controlled trial ever conducted on diet,” a seven and a half year study under the auspices of the National Institute of Health. Take that, Quants!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Three Tribes of Obesity,” ConscienHealth.org, November 2014
Source: “On Ted Kyle’s “three tribes of obesity”,” MichaelPrager.com, 11/14/14
Source: “8 Ridiculous Nutrition Myths Debunked,” AuthorityNutrition.com, 05/22/13
Image by Sean MacEntee

The Harm in “Fat Acceptance”

The Dish That Inspired "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure

At the sight of morbidly obese people riding scooters through grocery or big box stores, many onlookers shake their heads in bewilderment. Opportunists make videos, a type of public shaming. Fat-positive activists say, “What’s it to ya? My body, my fat, my life.” Onlookers tire of being told it is none of their business, because in a way, obesity-related medical costs become everyone’s burden through insurance premiums and other avenues.

Still others resent obese people because of what their appearance may do to the psychology of future generations. They ask, “How dare you normalize this, so that my kids and their kids grow up seeing morbid obesity all around, and think it’s how humans are supposed to be?”

Some might feel that attitude comes dangerously close to stepping on people’s right to free speech. Even to think about suppressing the pushers of fatlogic could be considered downright unAmerican. Everyone has a right to voice an opinion. It is unpopular to believe that it is sometimes appropriate to fear the damage that can result from letting other people think—and say—whatever they want (like a person’s health suffering from obesity).

“Acceptance” has suffered from mission creep. In some quarters, there is a militant acceptance that amounts to extremist activism, and anyone who disagrees is a traitor. Fat is fine, according to this logic. There is a certain amount of unhealthy fellowship, since some people hate to be overweight alone. These people do not congratulate, but vilify, anyone who has lost weight. As one Reddit commentator put it:

I need people to be fat with me because it is the only outlet I have for being social. Eating is the only activity I know and love. You better not try to lose weight or you’re gonna make me look bad.

But what can cause such a counterproductive degree of acceptance? Most people agree that early intervention is essential. Prevention is better than cure; if you want to prevent adult obesity, you have to start with child obesity. But even as they understand the scope of the problem obesity presents, they underestimate how widespread the problem is. According to one study:

Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center in the US found that seven in every ten obese adults underestimate how much someone weighs… Mothers of overweight or obese children also tend to misjudge their children’s size, as youngsters misjudge their obese mothers’ size.

These observations came from lead author Tracy Paul, and the bottom line is a lot of people simply don’t recognize obesity – not in their kids, not in their parents, not in themselves. It’s a case of “life-long distorted perceptions of what is acceptable.” For people who have an obesity problem, sure, intervention and prevention are vital. Those other people, over there, need to take care of business. They are not us, and we are not them.

Flawed weight perception leads to more of the same, and pretty soon, nobody knows what they’re looking at any more. Kids don’t get help because their families don’t know any better. Often, their parents have a rough time getting hold of any food, and don’t have the luxury of worrying about its quality. More than 80% of this study’s subjects were Hispanic, and publicist Joan Robinson says of Paul:

She underscores the importance of recognizing high-risk and understudied sub-groups, because age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status all influence childhood obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Twenty-Two Towering Tenets of Fatlogic,” Reddit.com, 2013
Source: “Poor body size judgment can lead to increased tolerance of obesity,”
eurekalert.org, 09/16/14
Image by eric molina

Condition or Condishun?

___DNA Adjustments___

Genetics, or fatlogic? Condition, or condishun? It seems like a new “fat gene” is revealed every other week. Nevertheless skeptics, many of them formerly fat, accuse their obese brethren of lying, or at the very least, of self-deception. The derisive term “condishun” is used by Reddit users against those who assign blame for their obesity in a faux-scientific framework. Many anecdotal reports discredit the science, and even rudely call the whole thing BS.

We have seen life stories from people who were bamboozled by families reluctant to take responsibility and change their ways. Despite a chaotic upbringing, some people eventually find out about sane food choices, exercise, and 12-step programs. Some believe that a condishun might just be a learned behavior that was never questioned. A Reddit contributor wrote:

Growing up, we always had a bit of a snack before bed, usually on the sweet side. Now, it was always small, and wasn’t putting us over our calorie needs, so I’m not complaining. I haven’t lived with my parents for 20 years, but I still want a little sweet snack at bedtime. I don’t crave a bedtime snack because genetics. I crave it because it’s a learned behavior.

Thyroid

Opinions differ on how much weight gain a thyroid disorder can be responsible for, with estimates varying from 10 to 30 pounds. The thyroid/metabolism “excuse” for obesity shortens the temper of those who successfully deal with it. Typical is a person called QueenSkittlez who says:

My genetics make me more likely to have a thyroid problem, since my dad and my maternal grandma are hypo and my sister is a type 1 diabetic. Autoimmune runs in the family. Both my parents are obese.
And I’m still thin.

As always, Reddit is a bountiful source of material. One person says that, although only 2% of fat people have a real medical disorder, between 30% and 40% lay claim to a medical disorder. Someone else agrees that it is probably more than 2%, if binge eating counts as a disorder. Another participant lays down the law that “binge eating is ultimately a choice,” and a contradictory voice argues that no-one chooses to be afflicted by an eating disorder.

More Voices

One Reddit user who had lost 35 pounds, when asked how, would credit diet and exercise. Friends apparently found this answer too boring, because at the mention of the word “calories” their eyes would glaze over, and they would say the method hadn’t worked for them. The person just started answering “Genetics” instead. Similar frustration is felt by another respondent, who got tired of people acting like the diet and exercise formula was some kind of voodoo, and started to give the answer “I have a fast metabolism.” Another successful weight loser says:

What I’d do is I’d check over my shoulder like I was going to give them some really juicy advice that I didn’t want anybody else to hear. Then for added effect, I’d lean in closer to their face and I’d whisper “diet…diet and exercise.” Then I’d laugh at them for how let-down they’d be.

On one hand, staunch individualists deny the force of heredity, and insist than anyone can become lean. You just have to want it, and work hard, and they themselves are living proof of those precepts. But a commentator called Naugril calls out the arrogant:

You thought you were unable to overcome the difficulty necessary to lose weight. You found out that you were wrong. The fact that you found out you were wrong is evidence only that you were mistaken about your own personal situation, not evidence that every other person on earth is also wrong… Your body is not the only body. Your mind is not the only mind. Your experiences cannot be generalized to all other people.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Philosophical question about genetics / fatlogic from a skinny person,” Reddit.com, October 2014
Source: “Dismantling fat logic makes me an “ignorant prick”,” Reddit.com, November 2014
Source: “Don’t ask me how I lost weight. It’s just genetics,” Reddit.com, November 2014
Source: “Awesome woman destroys genetics fat logic argument by losing weight while having an autoimmune thyroid disorder,” Reddit.com, October 2014
Image by ka2rina

Genetics and Fatlogic

DNA representation

It is generally accepted that about 2% of obesity is caused by a pre-existing genetic condition that a person can’t do anything about. (As contrasted with a “condishun,” the Reddit discussion website’s term for cop-out.) There is a wide gap between that figure and the approximately 2/3 of Americans who are overweight.

But what about all those new discoveries? The two most recent posts of Childhood Obesity News have outlined many of the advances in genetic science as it relates to obesity. Maybe when all the evidence is in, genetics will be found to be responsible for far more than 2% of obesity cases. For example, addiction seems to be genetically determined, so it could be argued that the number of food addicts alone would dramatically raise the proportion of genetic obesity victims.

Indeed, one Reddit correspondent contends that food craving is a function of heredity, adding:

I feel that perhaps there is an element of predisposition in how people crave food. So maybe it isn’t quite wrong for a fat person to contend that some of their obesity has to do with ‘genetics’ if it’s a lot harder for them to stop eating than another person.

Then another user steps in to rebut the suggestion:

Hormones like Leptin and Ghrelin have a genetic component. The thing is – Alcoholism, by all modern accounts, is also an addiction with genetic components. But the fact it’s harder for an alcoholic to moderate drinking than a normal person does not excuse or make alcoholism acceptable. The same is true with Obesity. Genetics may load the gun, but you fire it.

A person called “teckreddit” talks about growing up with everybody telling him he looked like his grandfather, Piggy, who died of a heart attack at 53. Consequently, the grandson always believed that his own large size was inevitable. But swearing not to pass on the myth to his kids, he writes:

When I look at my son and see that he’s not “big boned” or “heavy set” or any of that crap, it really made me wonder how much of my youthful overweightness was a result of simply accepting the genetics fat logic that my parents let me believe…. Fat logic is a scourge upon mankind.

Another story comes from yet another person who is still upset because his parents told him that being overweight was genetic,  and therefore not his fault. A certain kind of kid might interpret this as a get-out-of-jail-free card, the perfect justification not to try for a normal weight. A different type of kid might catch a case of terminal hopelessness, and end his life. The anonymous writer says,

I wish that they would have raised me with better eating habits, it would have saved me from a lot of hardship in my life. I wanted to be just like my dad as a kid, so this included over eating and not any exercise…. I was big because my dad was big, but genetics had nothing to do with it.

A person called “under_analysis” enumerates all the obese family members who assured her that her little-girl chubbiness would naturally melt away. Time passed, the “baby fat” stayed, and she was told that the family’s heredity just made everybody big, and it had to be accepted, until…

…I started losing weight in college and realized how easy it was. My mom’s parents died and we went through their things, and I saw pictures of my great-grandparents and none of them were overweight, not at all. Funny how those “genetics” suddenly mutated out of nowhere with my grandmother, huh?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Philosophical question about genetics / fatlogic from a skinny person,” Reddit.com, October 2014
Source: “Genetics and my fat-logic parents,” Reddit.com, October 2014
Source: “I’m a pe teacher who needs advice about a morbidly obese student,” Reddit.com, January 28, 2014
Image by Andy Leppard

 

The Vast Scope of Childhood Obesity Genetics

Micah's DNA

Back in 2011, Reuters reported on a study led by Tim Spector of King’s College London, which resulted in the discovery that the KLF14 gene is the mastermind of the obesity epidemic, ruling other genes like a mob boss and ordering them to wreak havoc in the human body. The story says:

In a report of their study, the researchers explained that other genes found to be controlled by KLF14 are linked to a range of metabolic traits, including body mass index, obesity, cholesterol, insulin and glucose levels…. They found a link between the KLF14 gene and the levels of many other distant genes found in fat tissue, showing that KLF14 acts as a master switch to control these genes.

Not long after that announcement, a pseudonymous blogger published a very comprehensible explanation of the different kinds of genetic research.  The medical profession has learned a lot from family studies of diseases caused by change in a lone gene. But obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are complex disorders described here as “not single entities, but instead, a collection of different pathogeneses with similar clinical endpoints.” The writer goes on to say:

In the example of severe childhood obesity, we already know that there is a clear genetic cause of disease in about one in 20 cases…. It is clear that many other inherited causes of obesity remain to be discovered, and that there are similar, very strong genetic effects hidden among sufferers of other complex disorders.

By gaining familiarity with the various genes that have been implicated, a person is better prepared for the astonishment provoked by a certain brand of fatlogic.

Bountiful Variety

Previously, we saw how scientists, not content with the identification of several “fat gene” suspects, began to suggest that combinations of genes  working together could cause more obesity than anyone had previously suspected. Additional British research found a variation in a gene called FTO that affects one person in six. Because it causes higher levels of ghrelin in the blood, along with increased sensitivity to the “hunger hormone” once it reaches the brain, these people are much more likely to develop obesity.

A study of more than 2,000 pediatric patients with severe early-onset obesity found that a gene called KSR2, if it suffers a mutation, can cause sluggish metabolism and increased appetite. Then, McGill University’s Patricia Silveira announced that yet another gene affects the reward system of the brain, especially in girls. She said,

We found that a variation in a gene that regulates the activity of dopamine, a major neurotransmitter that regulates the individual’s response to tasty food, predicted the amount of ‘comfort’ foods – highly palatable foods such as ice cream, candy or calorie-laden snacks – selected and eaten by the children.

At University College London, scientists are exploring how multiple genes work together. A team created a conceptual tool called the Polygenic Risk Score, or PRS, accounting for “28 common obesity-related single nucleotide polymorphisms” (or DNA sequence variations). Dr. Clare Llewellyn, the lead author on the stufy, told the press,

As expected, we found that children with a higher PRS (more obesity-risk genetic variants) were likely to have larger BMI and waist circumference. But more importantly, we also found that these children were more likely to have low satiety responsiveness.

In other words, the children’s brains don’t know how to tell their bodies when they have eaten enough. Not long afterward, Germany’s Ulm University Medical Center released the news that “congenital leptin deficiency is a rare autosomal recessive monogenic obesity syndrome caused by mutations in the leptin gene.”

(Next time: the reason for touching on all these pieces of genetic news.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!


Source: “Scientists find “master switch” gene for obesity,” Reuters.com, April 16, 2011
Source: “Answers in the genes,” blogspot.com, June 27, 2011
Source: “Scientists find how ‘obesity gene’ makes people fat,” ht.ly, July 15, 2013
Source: “Genetic mutation linked to childhood obesity,” Healio.com, October 24, 2013
Source: “Gene linked to childhood obesity identified,” Daijiworld.com, November 30, 2013
Source: “Satiety sensitivity may explain predisposition to childhood obesity,” Healio.com, February 17, 2014
Source: “Monogenic forms of childhood obesity due to mutations in the leptin gene,” MolCellPed.com, September 4, 2014
Image by Micah Baldwin

 

The Genetics of Obesity – Recent Developments

Dude, you are way overweight

What is the relationship between research into the genetics of obesity—so-called “fat gene” research—and fatlogic? Is the science as meaningful as its proponents believe, or only a relatively minor piece of the obesity puzzle? Has progress in this field been co-opted by patients and untreated “fat acceptance” types who are all too happy to place responsibility anywhere but in their own hands?

Family studies pointed the way to realization that genes play a significant role in a person’s likelihood of becoming obese, but also left many unanswered questions. In 2012, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics offered its readers an update on the current state of genomics and made a prediction:

Next-generation sequencing techniques are expected to fill the gap of “missing heritability” of obesity, identifying rare variants associated with the trait and clarifying the role of epigenetics in its heritability. Pediatric obesity emerges as a complex phenotype, modulated by unique gene–environment interactions that occur in periods of life and are “permissive” for the programming of adult obesity.

A study from Brigham Young University looked at the differences in Body Mass Index percentiles between identical twins, between non-twin siblings, and between random pairs of non-siblings. Professor Joe Price pointed out that while people are used to thinking in terms of “fat families and skinny families,” there is actually a lot of variation within families. Siblings with ostensibly the same basic heredity and upbringing turn out differently, and there must be a reason.

A Cumulative Effect

The 32 genes that had, up until last year, been identified as obesity risk factors could only account for somewhere around two percent of individual differences. This baffled researchers and led to the coining of the term “missing heritability.”

The study’s lead author, Clare Llewellyn, PhD, and others at University College London used a new method, Genome-Wide Complex Trait Analysis. The results suggest that concentrating on individual genes can be misleading. Instead, the researchers concluded that it is necessary to look at the additive effects of “multiple genes across the whole genome,” which can account for as much as 30% of individual differences. Dr. Llewellyn told the press:

These findings are important because they confirm that in children genes play a very important role in determining body weight. At present only a few genetic variants have been discovered…. These findings suggest there are hundreds of other genetic variants influencing body weight that are yet to be discovered.

Sadaf Farooqi, Professor of Metabolism and Medicine at University of Cambridge, has discussed similar findings. His work was part of the UK10K Project, an extensive research initiative that had already discovered several genes linked to early onset childhood obesity.  He discusses the synergistic effect of genes on obesity:

Some children will be obese because they have severe mutations, but our research indicates that some may have a combination of severe mutations and milder acting variants that in combination contribute to their obesity.

One thing about this quest for new genetic variants is important: it began, as far as possible, with a clean slate. The subjects whose genes are examined by the project are 1000 severely obese children – of whom none show any of the already-known obesity-related gene mutations.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!


Source: “Genetics of Pediatric Obesity,” aappublications.org, June 4, 2012
Source: “Trio of studies examine obesity in American families,” MedicalXpress.com, July 18, 2012
Source: “Genetic variants influence childhood obesity, say researchers,” News-Medical.net, March 27, 2013
Source: “ Study Identifies Four New Genetic Markers For Severe Childhood Obesity,” Time.com, April 12, 2013
Image by l’interdit

 

Inherited Fatlogic

Public Chat

A baby is helpless, a child is powerless, yet somehow these little creatures become obese. Are they doing it to themselves? No. The earlier obesity sets in, the harder it is to reverse, so fat toddlers become fat grade school kids, and then fat middle school students, and so on down the line.

By the time they are old enough to realize that they can take control of their own health, they don’t even know what health feels like. They are used to being unhealthy. What feels normal is what has always been. Fatigue and shortness of breath seem normal, and so do clothes that don’t fit right and all the thousand other annoyances and inconveniences of obesity.

The Inner Misunderstanding

The body gets used to doing things in habitual ways – like metabolizing nutrients. It grows a certain number of fat cells, and seems to resent being asked to shrink them. Genetic traits that come from parents may exacerbate the tendency to become obese.

Do Bad Genes Cause Big Jeans?

Like the body, the mind receives elemental building blocks from parents and other caregivers. We could fancifully call them mental genes, because of how faithfully they often survive the transfer from one generation to the next. Just like hair color, ways of thinking about food and body image are passed from parent to child.

Outside the home, another layer of socialization piles on as ideas of what is right and proper are transferred from neighbor to neighbor. That is what makes up a culture. Ethnicity is a combination of genetics and culture, and some ethnicities and cultures are known to be far more tolerant of full figures.

In 2012, a study showed that around two-thirds of low-income mothers believed their toddlers were too small – a belief not supported by BMI measurements and other statistical tools wielded by the scientists. Another study, commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control, found that boys are more likely than girls to think their weight is within normal limits when it’s not; and also:

Mexican American kids were more likely to suffer from “weight status misperception” compared with African Americans, who in turn were more likely to have it than white kids.

Heather Neal is a dietician who seemingly has done everything right, as far back as before her son was even conceived. Still, she has to face the fact that the boy is obese. In addition to coping with this reality, she is even more shocked by the opinions of others who do not see this as a problem. She writes,

I hear more people tell me it’s “normal” for him to be overweight because he’s “only two.” They’ll tell me babies and toddlers are supposed to be fat and chubby and roly-poly; that fat kids don’t grow into fat adults. While sometimes that’s the natural course for kids, overall, that’s just not true.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!


Source: “Overweight and obese kids are in denial about their weight, CDC says” LATimes.com, July 24, 2014
Source: “7 Things I’ve Learned from Having an Overweight Toddler” Babble.com, October 2014
Image by Michael Coghlan

 

Fatlogic Marches On

A Matched Set

Childhood Obesity News has been exploring fatlogic, the peculiar and counterproductive mindset that affects people the world over. Examples of fatlogic can be found in many places, but Reddit is a goldmine. Here we learn that some people suffer from a mysterious undiagnosed condition (which Reddit humorists mock by calling a “condishun”) that causes unlimited weight gain without causing any other health problems. Someone who has grown too obese to wash properly might convince himself that hygiene is not that important anyway – especially since nobody is apt to get close enough to mind. Only an obsessive anorexic would count calories, and who wants to give themselves OCD?

A person can fall prey to a deluded defeatism. Many people have heard that 95% of smokers who quit on their own will return to the habit, and they extrapolate this to a conviction that 95% of all people who attempt weight loss will fail – so what’s the use? Why even try? Or someone might think, “Tomorrow, I start a new program to treat my food addiction – so today, I’d better eat all the foods I will miss the most.”

Early Intervention is Key

Professionals who deal with the childhood obesity epidemic have many different theories and approaches, but on this they unanimously agree – prevention is much better than cure. The earliest possible prevention is the best of all.

Studies have shown that on a cellular level, a body acclimated to being overweight is difficult to persuade into metabolic normality. It wants to continue to do things the way it has done them in the past. As time goes on, the destructive biological processes become more powerful. For this reason, it is important not to let a child ever become accustomed to obesity. Many studies have shown how prenatal influences affect obesity, and once you start down that path, speculation can go back for generations, to the dawn of time.

Currently, science can’t do much about heredity. But the thought patterns that make up fatlogic can definitely be addressed and influenced. The mental component is such a big part of any problem, any solution, any success. How we think about things can make all the difference.

This animated graphic, created by N.A. Christakis and J.H. Fowler, is titled “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years,” but it was recommended by another website as an illustration of how fatlogic spreads. As one critic pointed out, correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, it is true that ideas can be contagious, and also true that some ideas – especially those of the self-justifying kind – can be hazardous to a person’s health.
A Reddit thread asked people to share their once-cherished fatlogic beliefs, and inspired this exchange:

brazil84 I believed that things like non-fat potato chips were helpful for weight loss.
PudgePlugger I thought Doritos were totally a healthy chip because, after all, 0g trans fat!
brazil84 Unfortunately food companies have gotten very good at enabling fatlogic.
PudgePlugger Doesn’t help when you’re just a kid and no one tells you it’s wrong.

Reddit user BlackThornOfLove believed:

That I was broken and the only way to lose weight was to starve.
That I’d be forever cursed to either starve or be fat… I wish someone had told me when I was younger that I’m not cursed, and if I ate like a normal girl, I would be the size of one.

But what happens when the perception of “normal” changes? A typical answer, from user momo_303, says:

I remember my middle school self thinking about my obesity and happily announcing that I found out what was wrong: I wasn’t fat, I was just an average sized American.

That reply goes a long way toward explaining the rationale for a lot of fatlogic. If a child looks around and most people within sight are overweight or obese, it is understandably easy to conclude that big is normal. In America, we are taught that the majority is right, and normalcy is good. The sight of so many obese people seems to mean that the vote is in, and fat is normal – so, what’s the problem?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “/r/fatlogic,” Reddit.com
Source: “The Spread of Obesity in Social Networks,” YouTube.com, February 4, 2010
Source: “What Fatlogic Did You Believe in the Past?,” Reddit.com, November 5, 2014
Image by Tony Alter

The Fatlogic Mindset

Fat Amy composite

Alex Brecher, who has successfully maintained a loss of more than 100 pounds for over a decade, vouches for the efficacy of lap-band surgery.

Having come across them so often himself, Brecher is uniquely qualified to expose examples of fatlogic. He does so with a briskly humorous approach and offers very sensible suggestions on how to detach from rationalizations that he calls “absurd excuses.” For instance, some Americans were brought up to believe that it’s right to eat everything in front of you, because children are starving in Africa. His response:

Yes, they are. There are also starving children in Asia, and in South America. It is extremely sad that hundreds of millions of children are starving. Do you know how many of them you will help if you clean your plate instead of throwing the extra food away? Zero.

Brecher encourages logical thought. Once a person realizes that the plate is too full, what are the alternatives? Throw away (or better yet, compost) the excess. Refrigerate the leftovers for later. Or, “Use your body as a trash can, and eat them.” Using one’s body as a trash can is not a good option under any circumstances. As Brecher points out:

If you’re really so eager to be in the “Clean Plate Club,” serve yourself less to begin with. And if you want to help starving children in Africa, make a donation using the money you save by not eating as much.

Brecher presides over the website BariatricPal, which contains a forum section where users can compare notes and share stories. Over the years, Childhood Obesity News has cataloged many of the unpleasant everyday humiliations that overweight people encounter. An online participant at BariatricPal offers a new one:

My blood pressure is fine, but they always have to get the next size up on the arm thing to check my BP. And now that I write this I feel stupid for getting so upset over that but it’s a little embarrassing to have this tiny size 0 Japanese girl attempt to take my bp only to try to shove my fat arm into the wrap and then have to go get a bigger size because it’s too small.

Opening a thread called “When you can’t even be honest with yourself,” we find a conversation about the pros and cons of openly discussing weight loss surgery. The formerly obese are likely to be very familiar with the difficulties of being honest with oneself.

Much more raw and confrontational than Brecher’s forum, the discussion website Reddit features an entire section in which fatlogic is explored in meticulous detail. Just a glance at the topic headings gives intriguing hints of the riches to be found:

  • Typical fatlogic at the doctor
  • Treating food like a friend
  • Fatlogic is thinking you know more than the experts at the CDC about the costs and effects of obesity
  • Did your high metabolism really ‘stop’ or did stuffing your face finally catch up with you?
  • In a shocking turn of events, researcher determines obesity is caused by eating too much
  • Why I choose to be fat
  • Obesity prevention efforts? LITERALLY THE NAZIS
  • The “I don’t have time” excuse
  • Stop me from succumbing to fatlogic
  • I’d rather be fat than skinny as hell looking like a victim.
  • Ultimate fatlogic
  • Fatlogic in a nutshell

These entries come from people who are intimately familiar with the dangers of being stuck in too much self-acceptance, and an unhealthy variety of it. Such a person might say, “Except for my diabetes, I’m perfectly healthy.” There might be an inability to see the connection between cause and effect. In the world of fatlogic, a knee problem has nothing to do with the poor abused joint being asked to carry 400 pounds from place to place.

A variation on an Abraham Lincoln quotation goes like this: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time. But you can’t fool yourself.”

Unfortunately, with the fatlogic mindset, it is all to easy to fool yourself, and many people do it unrelentingly.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: ““I’m Cleaning My Plate Because Children Are Starving in Africa…”and Other Terrible Excuses to Overeat,” BariatricPal.com, October 23, 2014
Source: “Almost cried today,” BariatricPal.com, October 29, 2013
Source: “When you can’t even be honest with yourself,” BariatricPal.com, October 18, 2014
Source: “/r/fatlogic,” reddit.com
Image by Fat Amy

 

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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