Fat Shame as Motivation

The Rest of Your Life

In the latest trial of Dr. Pretlow’s W8Loss2Go smartphone app, the buddy feature turned out not to be one of the most popular tools. Perhaps its true potential was not fully explored by the participants, who had many other things on their minds. The news story we look at today concerns adults, not children. The subject is an American whose British friend would not be described as a weight-loss buddy, but who definitely is a healthy-living ally. The unusual thing about the story, told by Alex Greig, is that it describes efficacious fat-shaming that worked an incredible change.

It started in 2012 with 30-year-old Brian Flemming, who weighed 625 pounds and had a drinking problem. Flemming was taking in 7,000 calories worth of food and beverages per day, along with a fifth of vodka. A college dropout who had lost his job, Flemming was a mess and spent most of his time playing video games.

Through one of the online games, he was randomly assigned to an opponent named Jackie Eastham, age 50, a woman with myotonic muscular dystrophy, which “causes progressive wasting of the muscles and other symptoms.” The two began to chat online, and Flemming revealed his dire situation to Eastham. If he expected sympathy, it was not forthcoming. As his new friend told a CNN reporter, “I just thought bloody hell, you’re a guy who’s 30… and you’re wasting your life.”

And she told him so, in no uncertain terms. Here was a person with a serious medical condition, doing her darnedest to fulfill every tenet of healthful conduct in order to function — and trying to feel well enough to even care whether she functioned or not. And there was a young man with a promising future before him, throwing it all away.

Flemming’s self-pity morphed into anger and shame, but rather than sever the relationship, he used those emotions as fuel to turn his life around. The first step was to quit the booze cold-turkey, and that alone brought about a 100-pound weight loss in a month — probably largely due to giving up the liter of soda pop he habitually chased the liquor down with.

Baby steps

Next, Flemming started to move. At first, just walking in place inside his home was all he could handle. Then, he started going out at night (to be seen by fewer people) and walked around the neighborhood. Soon he was cycling, and he even found employment.

Feeling better made him feel better, and his chronic depression lightened. Weekly therapy sessions helped maintain the momentum. After slightly more than a year, he had managed to shed an amazing 365 pounds, amounting to almost a pound a day. At last report, his weight was down to 234 and he was making plans to “pay it forward” by returning to school to become a psychotherapist specializing in depression, anxiety, and weight loss. The journalist captured a wonderful quotation from him:

Jackie is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I feel that she saved my life, even though she would never take credit…. I also plan to return to Cedar Point [amusement park] this year. I haven’t been able to fit on the rides in 14 years!

This may be the one case in history where fat-shaming worked, and then only because of the remarkable qualities of the friend who wanted to help. Or maybe Flemming was simply ready. At any rate, the technique is not recommended for use, especially with children or youth. This fascinating tale is an anomaly, not an endorsement.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “American man loses almost 400lbs in just over a year with help from UK friend he met randomly on game app, DailyMail.co.uk, 04/28/14
Image by Simon James

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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