Here’s one of the studies I’d saved and forgotten until I got organized over the holidays. The researchers took a survey among doctors to determine their attitudes towards the obese. Let’s look at the results:
Six hundred twenty physicians responded. They rated physical inactivity as significantly more important than any other cause of obesity. Two other behavioral factors — overeating and a high-fat diet — received the next highest mean ratings. More than 50% of physicians viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.
So there’s the consensus medical opinion for you: obese people are obese because they don’t move around enough and eat too much fat. If you need more evidence that the average doctor doesn’t don’t know diddly about weight loss, there it is.
In his book Fat Politics, Professor Eric Oliver (who appeared in Fat Head) wrote that obese people often avoid doctors – thus allowing treatable conditions to go untreated – because they’re afraid they’ll be criticized for their size. Given the results of this survey, I’d say that’s a reasonable fear.
“Why aren’t you sticking to the low-fat diet and exercise program I prescribed?!”
“I am, Doctor.”
“No, you’re clearly not. Just look at you. You’re awkward, unattractive, ugly and noncompliant. Now, when should we schedule you for a follow-up visit?”
Unfortunately, much if not most of the general public shares the same belief: obesity is the result of laziness. I was reminded of that in two emails I received this week from readers. Here’s part of the first one:
Having watched Super Size Me I was, as I assume many others were, led to believe what the film intended: the vast majority of Americans are fat, lazy and (for lack of a better term) stupid — a belief I’ve pretty much held my entire life. Being athletic and “skinny,” I have done nothing but look down on those who didn’t match what I saw in the mirror.
I thought all you had to do to be like me is get your ass off the couch and do something. Burn more calories, lose weight, easy enough … or so I thought. Having grown older and somewhat wiser, I’ve started realizing the faults of that mentality.
Put an M.D. after his name and take away the wisdom that came with maturity, and you’d have your average doctor looking at an obese patient. Thank goodness he saw the light (and Fat Head.)
Here’s another email from a guy who also believed losing weight was all about being more active – until he gained weight himself:
I was always skinny as a child. I wrestled in high school at a lower weight (130), at 5’9″. The coach was a popular guy, so we often got graduates coming back to practice with the team a few times on their college winter break. Invariably, the graduates would be well over their old weights, leading to joking around about how “fat” they’d become. The coach would always tell us that, in time, we’d all develop paunches and be “fat old men.” We just accepted it, while we downed rice cakes and diet cola at lunch during the season to keep us in our weight class –by senior year, this was already difficult for me, despite the grueling practices.
Years passed (I’ve always wanted to write that)….
When I hit 30, I looked at my weight. Despite never being “fat”, I’d gone up to 170-175lbs (depending on whether I’d pigged out or not the last few days), which is overweight on the BMI scale.
I immediately started working out again like I did on the old squad, and pretty soon had a 2-3 times per week routine of distance running and weight training. I clocked a 7 minute mile in 6 months, and was lifting a substantial amount. Yet, despite all this hard work, I was still tipping the scales at 170lbs!
My diet was “extra healthy”: a glass of orange juice for breakfast, with perhaps some oatmeal; a meal of rice, beans, and cheese for lunch (easy on that fatty cheese, pile on the rice and beans!); and spaghetti for dinner, with 2-3 pieces of wheat bread to mop up the sauce. For a snack, an English muffin, or else three “reduced fat” Oreos. Yet, after months of this “healthy eating,” I still was at 170lbs on my best day! Who’d have thunk it, right?
And then the injuries started up. Plantar fascitis was a huge one—I’d wake up in the morning and feel a ton of pain just standing up. The podiatrist I saw gave me some painkillers and told me I’d need some inserts for my shoes, probably for most of my life. My back and neck ached too.
At first I just thought I was getting old. So I continued to work out. I hit 10 pullups, 100 situps, and 50 pushups, with my running at a 7 minute mile clip and lifting weights. But … more pain, no weight loss!
The reader saw Fat Head and decided to try a low-carb diet based on meats, eggs and vegetables with some full-dairy. He hoped to lose 3-4 pounds in the first month. He lost 10 instead. He continues:
I nearly flipped out! As one person wrote on another website, low-carb dieting was like playing a video game with a God-mode-cheat-code. So easy! I didn’t count calories, never skimped on a meal, was always full and happy. And I hadn’t seen 160 since…well, I don’t know when I passed it to begin with, but certainly not since I passed 30.
Full, happy, no counting calories … that’s my life now. I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight this year and haven’t in three years. I don’t even own a scale. My only diet resolution this year was to return to what I know works after indulging a bit over the holidays.
The “fluffy” picture (as one reader kindly put it) I posted earlier in the week was of me on a low-fat diet – and I was a regular jogger in those days. (I once found a videotape of me jogging, looking quite fat in my jogging outfit.) I also worked out at a Nautilus club two or three times per week. An athletic, naturally-lean buddy of mine (who also believed people are fat because they eat too much and don’t move around enough) once joined me for a workout and admitted later he was surprised by how much I could out-lift him.
Despite the low-fat diet and all that physical effort (doctor approved!), I was fat. I wasn’t morbidly obese, but I do remember a doctor pointedly telling me I should focus on losing some weight. He likely thought I was lazy and sat around all the time. Hardly. I probably could have beaten him in either an arm-wrestling match or a 5k race.
It’s January, so millions of fat Americans are hitting the gyms and health clubs, hoping to sweat their way into leaner physiques. Their doctors would approve.
Around April or so, many of them will become frustrated and give up — at least that’s the annual pattern Chareva and I have noticed at the rec center where we work out. Their doctors will disapprove, labeling them as lazy and non-compliant.
Their doctors don’t know squat.