Garrett (garote) wrote,

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"The Obesity Myth"

I've just skimmed around in this book, which is essentially one long well-informed anti-anti-obesity rant. The author has a right to be angry, as he confesses in a late chapter by telling his personal story with weight loss. He consistently points out many of the hypocrotical situations created by our culture. Two of the most vivid ones are:
  • A regular fig-netwon has 70 calories. The fat-free version of the fig-newton, marketed to dieters, contains 90 calories.
  • Every single woman's magazine at your average American checkout counter offers advice, right on the cover, about dieting or exercising. Every single checkout counter in America is also cluttered with an array of chips, bubble gum, and chocolate bars. These items are mixed casually together.
Think about either of those, and your head will start spinning. After a while you'll probably become angry.

Paul Campos has written a good diatribe, and it makes for good reading aloud with friends at restraurants. His book should spread far and wide. It's not perfect -- he has a tendency to indulge in the kind of overdeveloped cynicism that intellectuals can slide unconsciously into -- but his delivery packs a kind of truculent punch that fits the subject matter perfectly. People should be outraged that they're being fed, and fed literally, a hypocritical feast of bullshit hand-over-fist. It's ridiculous and it needs to stop.

But unfortunately Paul runs out of steam before he can suggest a way to stop it. He's painted us a picture of the minefield we stand in, and a rough sketch of where we should go, but as he admits late in the book, he's ultimately just as lost as we are. He describes for us a better world where the fat but physically active are respected more than the thin but sedentary, but he can suggest no course of action. (And what of the fat but sedentary, Paul? Are they still sinners?)

I think, that if he hasn't already, Paul should get a copy of "The Hungry Gene", summarized here. It provides, in tone and content, a completely different view on the topic of obesity in the Western world. In fact, the conclusions that Paul argues so vehemently against, are assumed at the outset as true in "The Hungry Gene". These conclusions are, "an obesity epidemic exists", "being overweight carries health risks", and "the obesity stigma is not a cultural phenomenon like racism -- its expression actually has an evolutionary component."

Both these books are truthful and timely, and both are great reading. But between these two books, written from different perspectives and employing a different selection of facts, is a hybrid view of Western obesity, created by drawing from the better points of both. Both books are long-winded, but I believe I can summarize their middle-ground in short order:

Varied cultures have always had flexible standards of beauty, including a flexible standard of body mass. And historically, the correlation between what the Western world calls "obesity", and the health risks associated with it, has been rather inconclusive. But then, the Western industrialized world created a great parade of packaged foods whose taste and content are not familiar to our genetically established systems for maintaining steady body shape and nutrition. Our enthusiastic cravings for previously scarce supplies of sugar, salt, and high-quality fat are now being exploited by a food industry that first re-wires, and then eventually obliterates, our body's ability to self-regulate our appetite. Against our will, seemingly without our participation, we put on weight.

Not all people's bodies are equally bamboozled. Some people's genes have provided them with a system that can adapt. Most people's genes haven't. This majority now labors at a permanent disadvantage, their appetites driven haywire by the crap that surrounds them on store shelves. Thus, the billion dollar diet industry -- substituting crap for different crap, promising salvation, delivering nothing.

Is your slim body a source of pride? Ask yourself one honest question: Do you really control your appetite, or do you simply do what everyone on earth does, and eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're full? Do you control those signals? What does?

I think it's very important to observe that the authors of both these books, "The Obesity Myth" and "The Hungry Gene", arrive at the same basic conclusion: To be healthy and happy, don't eat crap, and get regular exercise. If you do this, to acheive that, then your particular weight will cease to be an issue, to you, to your doctor, and to others.

P.S.: Want a very easy, very effective yardstick for "don't eat crap"? Don't eat dairy products, or anything made from them. (Unless, I suppose, you're 100% Icelandic, and have been living on goat-juice for the past 2000 years.)

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