One man’s solution to the obesity problem: Fat-shaming.

meanwhileinamericaBy now it’s pretty common knowledge that Americans have a growing (get it?) obesity problem. The word epidemic is used quite a bit to describe how big a problem it is. According to the Center for Disease Control the percentage of adults over 20 who are obese was 35.9% in 2009-2010. My home state, Michigan, is the fifth heaviest in the Union with 32% of adults here qualifying as obese. At 299.3 pounds I’m certainly part of the problem and I’m paying the price with things like my recent back problems.

So there’s really no argument here. We’re a bunch of fat bastards who could stand to lose a few pounds, but how do you get people to go about doing so? In Michigan the state government is rolling out a program to try and encourage folks (like me) to get off their fat asses and shed at least 10% of the body weight through exercise and eating a better diet. The program will mostly be an educational effort telling folks about the dangers of being overweight and offering encouragement to do better via an online website and/or text messages.

I can tell you that I know it probably won’t work on me. I’m already well aware of the potential problems of being obese and despite making some attempts to do something about it — choosing the weight watcher options when eating out and buying an elliptical that clogs up my living room collecting dust — I’m rapidly not losing any weight at all. I’m at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life and I’ve been hovering around the 300 pound mark for several years now.

I can tell you what else won’t work. This guy’s solution of Fat-shaming:

Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says – TODAY Health.

Daniel Callahan, a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, put out a new paper this week calling for a renewed emphasis on social pressure against heavy people — what some may call fat-shaming — including public posters that would pose questions like this:

“If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?”

Actually, yes, I wear my weight pretty well. A lot of folks who know me personally are surprised when I say I’m just a smidgen under 300 pounds. Sure, I’m heavy, but I don’t look that fat to most folks. It helps that I’m tall so it’s spread out a bit more than most. I’ve had folks describe me as “solid” when I’m about as solid as a giant marshmallow (and probably not even that solid). For a fat guy, I look pretty good. At least with my clothes on.

Callahan outlined a strategy that applauds efforts to boost education, promote public health awareness of obesity and curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

But, he added, those plans could do with a dose of shame if there’s any hope of repairing a nation where more than a third of adults and 17 percent of kids are obese.

“Safe and slow incrementalism that strives never to stigmatize obesity has not and cannot do the necessary work,” wrote Callahan in a Hastings Center Report from the nonprofit bioethics think tank.

The author circa Sep. 2010. I've not changed much since.

The author circa Sep. 2010. I’ve not changed much since.

The problem with this idea (to use the term generously) is that it assumes there isn’t any stigma or fat-shaming already taking place. I don’t get much of that myself because apparently I scare people by being big and beardy, but my sister has put up with it throughout her entire life. I can tell you that it doesn’t work as a motivation, though it does a great job of destroying one’s sense of self-worth. Of the three of us siblings, my younger sister is probably the best of us in terms of compassion, generosity, and just generally being a decent person yet she has been on the receiving end of some of the most heartless comments I’ve ever heard anyone receive about their weight. It’s probably safe to say that women in general have always suffered more from the stigma of being overweight because we, as a society, tend to hold them up to some pretty ridiculous ideals shaped and promoted by popular media whereas most men are considered halfway to genius if they can tie their shoes without drooling all over themselves. How many sitcoms over the years have had pudgy — if not outright obese — oafish, middle-aged men married to thin, attractive, brainy wives?

But I digress. The point is that there’s already plenty of fat-shaming and stigma being tossed around at fat people out there. Quite a lot of it coming from fat people themselves. I’m not sure how encouraging such behavior is going to improve anything in terms of getting folks to shed some pounds.

It certainly won’t work on me. My problem isn’t an educational one. I already know I’m not at a healthy weight and I’m well aware of the health risks that come with it. I’ve watched an uncle suffer from Adult Onset Diabetes before his death and my dad is struggling with it now having had it cost him most of his eyesight. My own back gives out on me on a semi-regular basis because it gets tired of carrying around all the excess weight.

My problem is motivation. I’ve never enjoyed exercise even when I was skinny way back in my youth. Which isn’t to say I never got any back then, but it was because I was “playing” not “exercising.” Riding my bike, playing baseball, running around like a crazy person pretending he’s a superhero, that was all exercise that didn’t feel like exercise. Then I became an adult and got a car and into computers and most of what I did for fun stopped being so physical and the pounds came rolling in. The non-exercise that was really exercise disguised as play went away and I didn’t have any real-exercise habits to take up the slack. And I hate exercising. Just typing the word sets my teeth on edge. Hated it back in school. Jumping jacks? Running laps? Sit ups? What kind of idiot do you think I am? When do we get to the fucking dodgeball game??

It took me 34 years to switch from regular sodas to diet pop and when I did it helped me lose about 40 pounds only to gain it all back within the next year. It took me another 6 years to give up on diet sodas. For the past four years or so the majority of the liquid I consume is plain old tap water. I hate water. I hate drinking water. I hate every single nanosecond of it. Not as much as I used to hate it, but I still hate it. Yet I do it. It took me entirely too long to make the switch even knowing it was a healthier choice and I would be better off for it.

I have the feeling that the same will be true of getting into the habit of exercise. I’ve made some starts at it in the last year or two and breaking down and actually buying a piece of exercise equipment was a big step in that process. Even if I’ve not been great at using it regularly. Part of the reason I keep it in the living room instead of moving it to the basement is, well, it’s because the fucker is too damned heavy to move down the stairs by myself, but also because having it in the living room gnaws at my subconscious and reminds me that I really do need to start getting on the damned thing. This latest round of back problems has been severe enough that it’s acting as a great motivator as well. It’s amazing how your body just giving the fuck up will get your stupid brain’s attention really fucking quick.

For as smart as I supposedly am, it seems I just have to do some things the hard way. It’s stupid. I know it’s stupid. I feel stupid for knowing how stupid it is. Yet it is my nature and I will continue to struggle with it — probably in the stupidest way possible.

11 thoughts on “One man’s solution to the obesity problem: Fat-shaming.

  1. Hey Les,

    I feel comfortable in saying that shaming over-weight people will just lead to more obesity. People over-eat for different reasons and the behaviour has nothing to do with being lazy. The mere suggestion of using an emotionally harmful tactic to encourage people to lose weight is such an irresponsible and scientifically ignorant thing to suggest; though I’m not surprised by this attitude from a Bioethicist. Research results have suggested that the tendency to over-eating may actually be an evolutionary adaptive strategy that has unfortunately become maladaptive because of our modern world conveniences.

    Try not to let those who are living in Ivory Towers define and dictate your own ethical behaviour.



  2. There are four types of obesity; Fat, fluffy and HOLY SHIT!
    Your weight is a choice. Nobody is forcing you to eat more than you need.

  3. There may well be some folks who react well to shaming. I suspect there will be some for whom it has the opposite effect.

    Not happy about my own weight myself. And I know the causes (and flagellate myself, not literally, about them on a regular basis), but haven’t gotten quite to the point of taking more drastic, focused, sustainable action.

  4. I weigh in at about 155-165.. I eat right, and exercise.. I don’t do it because I want to look good, because that’s pointless social bullshit.. I exercise and eat better foods because if there’s ever a time where I’m forced to defend myself or escape from a horde of cannibals, I have a better chance of handling it.

  5. Truth is, exercise on its own will not cure a weight problem. It took a long time for me to realise this. There is only one way to lose weight, and it applies to everyone. You have to burn more calories than you eat. Exercise will help, but controlling food intake is much more important. One slice of cheese requires a three or four mile walk to burn it off. Better not to eat the cheese in the first place. Then the walk will start to make inroads on the excess weight. In my experience, after the first few weeks a daily walk becomes a habit. It’s good practice, and helps with numerous health problems, (diabetes, depression, heart disease, back pain) whether you need to lose weight or not. I’m still battling with excess weight, but it’s coming off, slowly. About as fast as it went on. Thirty or forty pounds a year. Thing is, at sixty, I’m fitter than I’ve been in twenty years.

  6. To expect results by shaming a person about their weight is a very bad option. As a person who has had a weight problem all my life I know what this action will do. The first thought is so I’m fat—I know it– I can’t seem to react correctly and find a solution . So I guess I’ll just stay fat because I’m comfortable this way. If I gain more who cares –I’m already In trouble. So talk about me, belittle me, you can’t do any more harm to my ego than I have already done myself.
    At stage of the game I don’t care about how I look. I don’t want to know If I am shortening my like because it is my life!!!

  7. Heard an anecdote on NPR a few tears ago, a station had done a piece on the OMG! huge portions at a barbeque joint, and was deluged with phone calls, mostly wanting to know just where the place was. Might I suggest adding a dark comedy to your netflix que? “Who is killing the great chefs of europe?”, it’s relevant.

  8. Les,
    Thanks for this, it really hit home. I’ve also been told that “I carry my weight well”, and so long as I don’t look in the mirror while naked I can pretty much ignore it. Then, about a year ago, I found I was getting winded when I bent over to tie my shoes. Holy crap! Now that’s just stupid, scary, and as embarrassing as hell all at the same time.
    Of course, I haven’t done much about it.
    Oh, I cut back a bit on my food. I walk a little. I don’t get out of breath tying my shoes any more – but that’s a pretty darn low bar to set.
    What’s worse, is that my girlfriend, a slim women when we moved in together, has picked up my habits. Instead of my going to yoga with her three times a week like she used to do, we hang around and watch British mystery series and snarf down popcorn. She’s certainly an independent person, but I’ve set a crap example.
    Les, I’m not going to offer any great advice or tell you how great things have worked out for me – ’cause I haven’t got any and it hasn’t. I just want to say, thanks for sharing. I empathize completely!

  9. I prefer to live my life solely according to the rules of Zombieland. Rule #1: Cardio

    Rule #2: Double-Tap – Muuuuhahahaha (see other posts by me).

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