Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hello, my name is Jen, and I'm obese

My discussion with my endocrinologist has on my mind since I posted, especially since I spent time around my family the last couple of days. Most of us struggle with our weight, and it is almost second nature for most of us to seem to be apologizing to everyone for taking up too much space. One of my cousins mentioned a visit to the doctor where she got lectured for being in the "obese" category. I told her that I am also in that category right now (with a BMI of just over 30). Then I told her about my own doctor visit. 

I don't think that when people hear a statistic like, "Overall, more than one in ten of the world’s adult population was obese [in 2008]," they are picturing people who look like me. Ditto "More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese." I think they are probably picturing the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" (who are generally in the morbidly obese category).

Part of this confusion may be that the definition is somewhat arbitrary. The change in 1998 in the definitions of "overweight" to a BMI over 25 and "obese" to over 30 seems to reflect a desire to settle into nice round numbers.  The stated reason at the time was to help motivate people to make changes, but since our national weight has continued to climb since then, I don't think it worked.  There is also plenty of controversy over whether these numbers actually represent an increase in risk. The change in numbers certainly made certain groups richer (diet drugs, weight loss companies, obesity researchers), but they did little to actually help people deal with their weight problems.

The food industry launches misinformation campaigns against any attempt to make changes that would help create an environment that made it easier to lose or even maintain weight. Yoni Freedhoff characterized this response as "because single sandbags don't stop floods, don't bother with sandbags and instead focus on proven to fail swimming lessons." Blaming us for all becoming lazier and more gluttonous is easier and doesn't interfere with any corporation's bottom line.

I'm not holding my breath and waiting for a better world, though.  I think the average person like me should, instead of asking him or herself, "how much weight do I want to lose," should reframe the question. "What changes to my lifestyle am I willing to make in the long run?" would be a more appropriate one.  I know that I could lose a lot of weight by never eating bread again, for example. But that isn't a change I'm willing to make for the long haul, so why bother to make it in the short run?  I am, however, willing to cook most of my meals at home and plan on one of those meals being mostly vegeables. The picture here is my lunch, mostly veggies from our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription supplemented with a few things from the grocery store. Eating like this makes me feel happy, not deprived. Going for a run, taking a yoga class, doing an early-morning swim -- these are things that make me feel good.  I think it is possible for me, even with my bum genetics, to lose at least some weight by focusing on the things that I know are good for me and feel great.  At the very least, I'd like to lose the five or so pounds that would drop me into the merely "overweight" category, no matter how arbitrary it might be.


  1. This is a very good post. I agree with you about the "long haul and short haul philosophies." The food we will eat in maintenance should also be the food we will eat when losing weight.

    The diet industry is raking it in, and yet their methods are not helpful. Eat less, move more, and eat more fruits and vegetables. I know from my own experience that is a philosophy that will produce results. My problem is that sometimes I get impatient and go off on some (supposedly) faster weight loss plan, and then I shoot myself in the foot. Right now, I'm trying to be reasonable, and it seems to be working, albeit more slowly.

    And BTW: Should people with a BMI of 30 really be considered obese? If that is the case, obesity covers a huge range of body sizes and weights.

    1. Obviously I would say no -- BMI is just a glorified height-weight chart. It doesn't take any other factors into account. I know I am not where I really want to be tight now, and I know there are lifestyle and habit changes I can make that should make a difference. I figure if my lifestyle is the best I can make it, it doesn't matter so much what the scale says.

  2. Fantastic post Jen! I agree with everything you wrote!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07