The Thinking 

Obese America

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The Diet Merry-Go-Round

October 9, 2009


Mark writes in response to the previous entry:

Very interesting subject, and I’m delighted you’re devoting the space to it. [Laura: I’m not devoting space to it. Haven’t you read? I’ve officially resigned.] Finding a diet that works – or rather, just learning how to eat healthily – can involve a lot of trial and error. In the just-under three years we’ve been married, my wife has tried numerous diets, for the twin purposes of gaining energy and losing weight. I’ve joined her on a few of these, and am sure I could get a book out of our misadventures.   

Naturally, she tried Weight Watchers, which, while an effective enough weight-loss program for motivated people, actually does nothing to promote healthy eating – simply because the quality of food is not the issue. You can get all your daily “points” by eating chocolate cake if you want (though in fairness I doubt that happens … much).

Then a doctor (of sorts) got her onto the so-called Paleo Diet, which is based on the idea of eating like an Amerindian hunter-gatherer. Meat, fish, eggs, green vegetables, nuts and berries = good. Most fruit and even relatively-sweet vegetables like carrots = bad. One is encouraged to follow meals with fish oil (for at least one reason I can think of). And, of course, the food has to be “clean” – meaning organic, free range, and in the case of fish, wild. My grocery bills were insane, and my wife was sick eating meat for breakfast every morning, so it didn’t last beyond the initial three-weeks.[Did she try bacon? Our forebears ate tons of it.] Did it work? Yes, there was some weight loss, but let’s just say, if you’re not a hunter-gatherer, it’s no way to live.

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Carbs Kill

October 9, 2009


Richard writes:

Your writing is usually refreshingly free of modernist claptrap. But that’s not the case with your “Obesity in America” article, and certainly isn’t so with much of the Oprahized conventional wisdom from your correspondents on that article. The current obesity epidemic is the result of four decades of bad public policies and cultural cues based on some truly awful science and preconceived notions. The science is finally catching up, but it may take generations for public perception do so.
Most of the increase in obesity seen in the last few decades is a result of a condition called metabolic syndrome, which results from a steady decrease in sensitivity to insulin. Many people have chronically high insulin levels due to a diet high in certain carbohydrates. Insulin enables fat cells to rapidly convert glucose into energy stores. Over time they develop insulin resistance, and eventually related problems like Type-2 Diabetes Mellitus.
To put it simply, people are not fat because they eat a lot. They eat a lot because they are fat. Their chronically high insulin levels mean their fat cells are using up their supplies of glucose, and telling their brains that they are starving even when they have just eaten. It is a form of malnutrition. Their fat cells are quite literally robbing the rest of their bodies of nutrition. They aren’t being gluttons – they are being poisoned.

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Fat and Defiant

October 9, 2009



Some readers of my article Obesity in America gently accused me of insensitivity toward the overweight. I am not complaining about these comments and I recognize there are people who suffer from metabolic conditions and cannot hope to be thin unless they set about starving themselves.  But, I do think these commenters have missed the phenomenon I am describing. There is a defiant, in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it fatness in America that is relatively new.

Rather than the fit showing insensitivy toward the fat, it actually works the other way. Fat people are demonstrating  insensitivity toward the fit.

Many obese people, despite publicized warnings, continue to publicly consume vast quantities of edible junk. [See Katherine S.’s description below of diners at the Golden Corral restaurant in South Carolina.] The problem is, orgies shouldn’t be public. Those who are committing slow suicide by way of gluttony should at least be discreet. After all, their eating habits are going to cost us all. We will see astronomically increased expenditures for the conditions that result from obesity, particulaly diabetes and heart disorders. If someone is going to flagrantly court disease and an early death, I say he should do it in the privacy of his own home.

Secondly, the obese show little sensitivity to the almost universal human aversion to naked, unclothed fat. They dress in midriffs and unbuttoned shirts, tight shorts and clingy nylon skirts, halter tops and low-cut jeans even when they weigh 350 or 400 pounds. Arguably, many of these people cannot afford nice clothes and obviously it is difficult to find clothes when you are large. I can understand that.  But,  Good Will and Salvation Army outlets are filled with dirt-cheap clothes and the fabric stores are filled with reams of cheap fabrics. There are alternatives.  The unemployed and underemployed often have time on their hands and could sew. Besides, if people can’t afford decent clothes, how is it so many can afford cable TV, electronic games and movies?

By the way, Jamie Oliver, the famous TV chef, is also convinced many people are fat today because they are disconnected from food and don’t cook. He doesn’t make the point, as I have, that this represents a misguided search for ease and a spiritual malaise, but Oliver essentially agrees that it’s not just what you eat, but how you eat. Oliver has set about teaching the overweight to cook.

Here is an article that appeared in the New York Times this week about Oliver’s campaign in the Huntington-Ashland metropolitan area of West Virginia, where nearly half of the adults are obese. Oliver conducted a similar project in Rotherham, England,  teaching the locals how to make simple meals. “They thought that cooking a meal and feeding it to your family was for posh people,” he said. Some participants didn’t own kitchen tables and ate take-out food on their floors.

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More Criticism and Comments

October 8, 2009


Nadege Armour writes:

Although I realize that there is an obesity problem in America, I do not believe that the majority of folks experiencing  this phenomenon  have “spiritual problems of over-eating”.  I do however believe that illness and limited funds play a significant role in the people being described in your article. Did it ever occur to you that these folks are obese because they are ill?

A Criticism, and Comments on Fat

October 7, 2009


Rita writes:

I’m a little hurt. I have an underactive thyroid (probably because my mother insisted on feeding me milk, which I was allergic to) ….do I get off a little easier? You sound a teensy bit mean in Fat and Unhappy and Obesity in America.

If you have any suggestions for someone who can eat “perfectly” and still only lose 1 pound per month, I’m all ears.

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Obesity in America

October 6, 2009


A new veterans’ cemetery is being built about 20 miles from where I live. The entire periphery of the enormous landscape will be reserved for bodies that are too large to fit in the normal vaults. It’s just one small example of something we all know: Americans are hideously fat.

Obesity in America is not simply the result of environmental forces, as is so often argued. It also comes from an immoral approach to food, to the body and to daily living. The eating habits of vast numbers of Americans are a dangerous and costly rebellion against nature itself. It’s as if a third of America is killing itself slowly and as if our most valuable natural resource is being willfully trashed.





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Belly Report

July 1, 2009


More than one in four adults are obese in at least 31 states, according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But, this is not news. We all know Americans are fat. Disastrously fat. Go to your local hardware store and try to sidle through the bellies in the aisles. You have to be thin to get anywhere in America. Only thin people can serpentine through those aisles.

What is infuriating about the non-stop stream of fatness updates is how consistently they ignore the cause of America’s increased body mass. The spectacular ballooning of bodies parallels the exit of women from the home. The greatest contributing factor to weight gain is a reliance on processed or restaurant-made foods.

I can often tell whether a man’s wife works by the size of his paunch. But, what does the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with its millions in research dollars, recommend as a cure? Free health care, as well as nutrition and exercise programs, also presumably government-funded. Gimme a break. Americans are over-eating and will continue to over-eat until they get something satisfying. It’s not just food they want, but soul food. Soul food is homemade.



The average American male

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