Newsweek: Hating Fat People Is Bologna

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If you’ve read or heard some of my press interviews, you know that Fat Head didn’t actually begin as a response to Super Size Me. My intention was a shoot a demo for a TV show I wanted to produce: funny but thoughtful guy examines issues of the day.  The topic I planned to explore for the pilot episode was the ridiculous prejudice we have against fat people in modern society.  I watched Super Size Me as part of my initial research, became very annoyed, and decided to produce Fat Head instead.

Last week, Newsweek’s online edition ran a two-part article that’s related to my original idea. The Fat Wars: America’s Weight Rage is a good read, with one exception:  the author believes too much fatty food has made us fat.  The second part is titled Fat and Healthy: Why It’s Possible – another theme I touched on in Fat Head.  Here are some quotes, with my comments.

Cintra Wilson, style columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote a column so disdainful of JCPenney’s plus-size mannequins that the Times’ ombsbudman later wrote that he could read “a virtual sneer” coming through her prose.

I haven’t seen the plus-size mannequins, but I’m glad to know JCPenny’s has them. When I walk through a mall and see stick-figure mannequins in every store window, it annoys me. Most women will never look like that, even if they’re not fat, for the simple reason that most women don’t have bones the size of toothpicks. Sending the message to teenage girls and young women that they should all be this skinny is a prescription for bulimia.

Fatness has always been seen as a slight on the American character. Ours is a nation that values hard work and discipline, and it’s hard for us to accept that weight could be not just a struggle of will, even when the bulk of the research-and often our own personal experience-shows that the factors leading to weight gain are much more than just simple gluttony.

If being lean were simply a matter of being disciplined – usually defined as eating less – there would be very few obese people in America. People don’t eat because they’re gluttonous or compensating for a lousy childhood. They eat because their cells run out of fuel and they become hungry. Starving yourself may work temporarily, but it goes against your deepest, most primal instincts.  It can also depress your metabolism and make it more likely you’ll gain weight when you finally give in to the hunger and eat more.

The real problem, of course, is that we’ve been told to eat lots of high-carbohydrate foods that tell our bodies to store fuel as fat … which in turn makes us hungrier than we should be.

“There’s this general perception that weight can be controlled if you have enough willpower, that it’s just about calories in and calories out,” says Dr. Glen Gaesser, professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University and author of BigFat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health, and that perception leads the nonfat to believe that the overweight are not just unhealthy, but weak and lazy.

The funny thing is, most of the lean people I know don’t count calories at all – because they don’t have to. At mealtimes, my naturally-thin wife does the same thing I do: she eats until she’s not hungry anymore. So does my son, who eats like a horse (that is, if horses liked potato chips and Coca-Cola) but literally can’t gain weight – he’s tried, both while playing high-school basketball and during boot camp.

“A lot of people struggle themselves with their weight, and the same people that tend to get very angry at themselves for not being able to manage their weight are more likely to be biased against the obese,” says Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. “I think that some of this is that anger is confusion between the anger that we have at ourselves and projecting that out onto other people.”

Been there, done that. Before I understood that carbohydrates were making me fat, I’d try eating less, lose a few pounds, then stall, then give up. Then I’d look at myself in the mirror after my morning shower and think, “You fat @#$%!  Why don’t you just stick to a diet and get rid of this blubber?” This is what 40 years of bad dietary advice has done to millions of people.

What is it about fat people that makes us so mad? As it turns out, we kind of like it. “People actually enjoy feeling angry,” says Ryan Martin, associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, who cites studies done on people’s emotions. “It makes them feel powerful, it makes them feel greater control, and they appreciate it for that reason.”

I’ve said it more times than I count: some people aren’t happy unless they’re angry about something. You can usually spot those people by counting the number of bumper-stickers on their cars. If you count more than two, for Pete’s sake, don’t do anything the driver could construe as cutting him off in traffic – especially if you’re fat.

Think of health care: when president Obama made reforming health care a priority, it led to an increased focus on obesity as a contributor to health-care costs. A recent article in Health Affairs, a public-policy journal, reported that obesity costs $147 billion a year, mainly in insurance premiums and taxes … So the overweight, some people argue, are costing all of us money while refusing to alter the behavior that has put them in their predicament in the first place.

Here’s a crazy idea: maybe the people who make that argument are attacking the wrong end of the equation. If we didn’t make everyone pay for every else’s health care, it wouldn’t be an issue.  And of course, it’s not obesity that drives up health-care costs – it’s high blood sugar. Obesity is a symptom, not the cause. Both of the type II diabetics in my family are lean as rails. They use a lot more medical resources than I do, and I’m considered overweight.

A study published last month in the Annals of Surgery supported this “obesity paradox.” The report, which looked at more than 100,000 patients who had undergone nonbariatric general surgery, found that overweight and moderately obese patients had mortality rates 15 and 27 percent lower, respectively, than normal-weight patients.

That’s it, then … the next time I run into a skinny person on the street, I’m going to grab him by the arm and scream, “Stop wasting my health-care tax dollars, you scrawny @#$%! Go grab a donut and a soda, then sit your skinny @## down and gain some weight! Discipline, Man! Discipline!”

The point is that not all fat people are unhealthy or out of shape, and not all thin people are healthy and in good shape. But it’s amazing how many people make those assumptions.

Years ago, I had a good friend in Chicago who’s one those naturally-lean types. One day he got a guest pass for the health club where I was a member and joined me for a workout. As we huffed and puffed our way around the Nautilus circuit, I could tell by his expression that he was frustrated to realize he couldn’t lift nearly as much weight as I could. (He more or less admitted as much later.) Until that day, he’d assumed my belly and love handles were a sign that I was in lousy shape.

But I wasn’t in lousy shape. I worked out regularly and walked 15 to 20 miles per week. I was actually in pretty good shape. I was also fat.

To close, I put together a sequence of clips from my interview with Dr. Eric Oliver, author of “Fat Politics,” who spoke about some of the same issues brought up in the Newsweek article. If you bought the Fat Head DVD (and bless you if you did), you’ll recognize some of this footage from the bonus tracks.

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The Protein Tree

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I swear I didn’t put her up to this. Yesterday, my five-year-old was given this homework assignment:

Please decorate the attached tree in a way that best illustrates your family. Complete and attach the sentence to go along with the way your tree is decorated. For example, “My family tree is a banana tree because my family is like silly monkeys.” You can make any kind of tree you believe best describes your family.

So what did my daughter come up with? Silly monkeys? A tree full of nuts from California? Nope. This is the type of tree she decided best represents her family, without any suggestions from Mommy or Daddy:

Great. If her teacher took any standard-issue nutrition courses in college, she’ll probably see this and make a note: “Tree full of nuts from California. Watch carefully for signs of learning disabilities.”

I should mention at this point that my wife and I are careful not to be food Nazis. If our daughters ask for a potato or toast or cereal, they get it. They just don’t ask very often. If they’re offered a sugary treat, as happened today when a classmate of my five-year-old’s brought cookies in honor of his birthday, they can have it. But they often say no thanks, which is what my daughter did today. Here’s why:

Yup. My daughter knows a “cooky” or an “iscrem” cone is nothing but a big load of sugar. And in her scientific opinion, a load of sugar is classified as “Yuk!!!” Since she wasn’t raised eating sugary snacks, she just doesn’t crave them.

Here’s what she does like:

Eggs and “sbinich” are “Yum!!!” Before we had kids, I always heard how difficult it is to get them to eat their vegetables. My girls like their vegetables – but that’s probably because we serve them drizzled with melted butter. (I seriously doubt anyone would pay $30 for a lobster tail if not for the melted butter, as far as that goes.)

Shortly after we moved to Tennessee, a neighbor stopped by to welcome us. The welcome included a tub of homemade broccoli-cheese soup. Almost apologetically, she told us her kids won’t eat broccoli without the cheese. I suppose she was worried we’d think to ourselves, “Tsk-tsk! Giving your kids all that fatty cheese … shame on you.”

Not hardly. The meals my girls ate today are typical for their diets. Breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, a peach. Lunch: cheese sticks, apple slices. Dinner: Beef stew made from a pot roast, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and olive oil. (They loved it. They had seconds.) Snack: a dish of almonds.

According to the high priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life, my girls are badly nourished. They rarely eat whole grains, half grains, fractional grains, or any other grains that make up the base of the Food Pyramid. They eat a lot of meat, eggs, and saturated fat. In other words, they eat a lot like most human children did for nearly all of human history.

If they’re malnourished, I have yet to see any evidence of it. They’re lean and strong and energetic. (If they were any more energetic, my sanity would be at risk.) They both swim whenever they get the chance. They chase each other around the house. They dress up in costumes and put on shows – which are usually pretty good for the first two hours or so. The five-year-old loves to dance and takes dance classes.

She also likes to read, she makes up her own scientific “experiments,” and she was the only student in her class last year to get a perfect score on their first addition and subtraction test. I think we can safely assume her brain isn’t suffering from stage-four Cheerios deprivation.

If I sound proud, it’s only because I am. The girls are thriving on the Protein Tree. I wish I’d been raised there myself. Life on the Corn Tree wasn’t nearly as healthy.

The full homework assignment.

The full homework assignment.

 

Sprouts from the Protein Tree.  The four-year-old was trying to look frightening in the cat get-up.  She hasnt grasped yet that the thumb-sucking diminishes the effect.

Sprouts from the Protein Tree. The four-year-old was trying to look frightening in the cat get-up. She hasn't grasped yet that the thumb-sucking diminishes the effect.

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Odds & Ends … or Duck-Duck-Goose

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I bookmarked a few news items recently, thinking they might be post-worthy. (I’ve accepted that “post-worthy” will never have quite the ring to it that “sponge-worthy” does, by the way.) None of them quite tickles my brain or my sense of righteous indignation enough to inspire a full post, so what the heck … I’ll make this post a collection of mini-posts.

Video-Gamers Are Fat And Depressed

According to this article on MSNBC.com, the average video-game enthusiast is 35, overweight and depressed. Yeah, okay … he probably also lives in a room in his parents’ basement and works for the post office. So what?

I guess the “so what” is extremely important, because this study included investigators from the Centers for Disease Control, Emory University and Andrews University. As the article explains:

The hypothesis was that video-game players have a higher body mass index – the measure of a person’s weight in relation to their height – and “a greater number of poor mental health days” versus nonplayers, said Dr. James B. Weaver III of the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing. The hypothesis was correct, he said.

Well, that’s great. In an era of trillion-dollar deficits, I’m delighted to know my tax dollars are being spent to discover whether people whose primary goal in life is to steal cars and kill bad guys on a video screen are overweight and don’t socialize much.

Video-game players also reported lower extraversion, consistent with research on adolescents that linked video-game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status, and to mental-health concerns.

You know where they’re headed with this, right? They probably want to warn us that if kids spend too much time playing video games, they’ll turn into fat, depressed, socially-stunted adults. If so, they’ve got the causality backwards.

It’s just like the observation that active people tend to be thinner, therefore (as researchers like to believe), being active must make you thin. Nope. As I’ve pointed out before, active people aren’t thin because they’re active; they’re active because they’re thin. Their bodies don’t like to store calories as fat, so they feel an impulse to move and burn off all that excess fuel.

Playing video games doesn’t make kids or adults fat and depressed, but if you are fat and depressed, you will probably spend more time playing video games.

I spent much of my adolescence as a fat, clumsy kid. When deciding how to spend my after-school time, my thought process went something like this: Hmmm … I could go join that softball game the other guys in the neighborhood are getting together, get picked dead last, strike out every time I’m at bat, maybe get lucky and walk once, then get tagged out at second on the next hit because I’m too damned slow around the bases, then listen to some creative insults delivered by Brian “Stinky” Pinkerton … or I could sit in front of the television where nobody will bother me. Boy, tough choice …

Substitute “video game” for “television,” and you’d probably have an approximate read on the mind of the fat, depressed video-game players – even if they’re 35.
I wasn’t a fat kid because I didn’t play softball; I didn’t play softball because I was a fat kid.

While the study helps “illuminate the health consequences of video-game playing,” it is not conclusive, its researchers say, but rather serves to “reveal important patterns in health-related correlates of video-game playing and highlights avenues for future research.”

Ah yes, this is only the beginning for this fascinating field of research. Next, let’s study the mating habits of the 35-year-old video-game players. Perhaps the research could be funded by the makers of the RealDoll.

The Scientific Method

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice: correlation does not mean causation. You’d think trained scientists would understand that concept, but sadly, many don’t. The emphasis on a “link” between playing video games and being overweight and depressed is just one example.

When I was in college, my physics professor showed us this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as an example of how the scientific method can be mangled. It’s still funny, and Sir Bedivere’s logic is every bit as good as the logic behind the “fat raises cholesterol and causes heart attacks” theory.

American Heart Association Warns About Sugar

The American Heart Association is now warning that Americans consume too much sugar.

Let’s see, that would be the same American Heart Association that believes that if a steak weighs the same as a duck, and duck-hunters sometimes die of heart attacks, and ducks lay eggs, then eating steaks and eggs causes heart attacks. That would also be the same American Heart Association that puts its stamp of approval on high-sugar cereals like Cocoa Puffs because they’re low in fat. If the AHA now believes sugar is bad for your heart, they’ve got some explaining to do.

By the way, Ancel Keys, who popularized the Lipid Hypothesis with his bogus study showing an association between fat and heart disease, failed to either notice or mention that sugar consumption was even more strongly associated with heart disease. Keys also ended up on the board of the American Heart Association … and the rest is history.

“Resistant Starch” Reduces Insulin Resistance?

I saw this story about how “resistant starch” reduces insulin resistance and other symptoms of diabetes on several news sites. I ended up reading several versions of the story only because I was wondering how starch of any kind could reduce insulin levels, and I was trying to get an answer to a rather important question: compared to what, exactly?

I finally found the answer here.  Some quotes:

While all dietary fibers decrease the glycemic and insulin response when they substitute for digestible carbohydrates, the fermentation effects distinguish resistant starch from other types of dietary fiber.

23 studies have shown beneficial effects of RS2 from high amylose corn on glucose and/or insulin response. When substituted for flour, it lowers the glycemic and/or insulin response of foods in a dose-dependent manner.

Exactly as I suspected … they’re comparing the effects of resistant starch to the effects of white flour. So let me explain this one more time:

If one group of ducks who aren’t made of wood smoke unfiltered cigarettes, and another group of ducks who aren’t made of wood smoke filtered cigarettes, and both groups of ducks weigh the same as a witch and float in water, the ducks who smoke the filtered cigarettes will end up with a lower rate of cancer.

That doesn’t mean filtered cigarettes “reduce” cancer. It simply means they’re less likely to cause cancer, as Sir Bedivere could tell you. And yet here’s a quote that appeared in most of the news stories:

These improvements are actually bigger than you get with most blood glucose lowering drugs,” said lead researcher Dr. Denise Robertson.

Great … we’ve got a supposed scientists hawking the insulin-reducing benefits of a commercial food product, without bothering to compare the results of eating the stuff with the results of avoiding starch altogether. I bet Dr. Robertson weighs the same as a duck and could turn anyone who points out the flaws in this study into a newt.

Examiner Interview, Part Two

Part two of my interview with Cameron English of the Eldorado County Conservative Examiner appeared today. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

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Weekend Bonus: Sugar Is Poison

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I saw this video mentioned on Mike Eades’ blog and gave it a look.  It’s a 90-minute lecture that’s heavy on biochemistry in some parts, but worth the effort.  In a nutshell, the doctor making the presentation explains how consuming fructose — which makes up about half of both sugar and HFCS — produces most of the same biochemical effects as drinking alcohol, minus the buzz.  The takeaway:  if you wouldn’t serve your kid a beer, don’t serve him a soda either.

 

He also gives a nice wrap-up of what’s wrong with the Lipid Hypothesis and the current advice to eat high-carb and low-fat.  Enjoy.

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High-Fat Diets Are Bad For You? I Smell A Rat

Tonight I served my five-year-old a big bowl of rat chow for dinner, then asked her to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which she (supposedly) learned in school yesterday.  She couldn’t do it.  This was annoying, because she recited the whole thing last night.

So I fed her some fish food.  That didn’t work either.  I tried dried cat food.  No better.  Rabbit chow.  Nada.

I was experimenting because I’d seen several articles on … what’s that called? … the spider web … no… the tennis net … volleyball net … ah, the internet!  There were all these articles about how a high-fat diet can adversely affect your mammary.  No wait, that’s not it … your mummery.  Hang on, it’ll come to me … nope, I’ll have to look it up again.

Got it.  There were these articles about how a high-fat can adversely affect your memory.  I found this disturbing because as a performer, I have to memorize a lot of material.  When I act in plays, I memorize every line in my scenes – mine and everyone else’s.  That way I know if another actor forgot a line and I can cover. 

(Once, in a bad production of “A Shot in the Dark,” I spent more time covering than I did saying actual lines from the script.  Strange, because the actor who forgot half his dialog was a vegetarian.)

When I perform on cruise ships, I do two different half-hour standup shows … alone, with no teleprompter and no one to cover for me.  So I take memory seriously.  I also eat a lot of fat, and my memory is just fine.  I still remember the phone number my parents had when I was a kid in Iowa.  My dad used to call me “Total Recall.”  So when I saw the headlines, I smelled a rat.

Yup, it was a rat, all right.  For this study, researchers fed some rats a low-fat diet (7.5%) then tested their physical endurance and memory by having them run on a treadmill and find their way through a maze.  Later, they fed the rats a high-fat diet (55%) and repeated the tests.  Wouldn’t you know it, the rats didn’t do so well on a high-fat diet.

Let’s set aside the possibility that after eating all that fat, the rats became much more intelligent and thought to themselves, “Running a maze is stupid.  I’m going to just sit here until that dumb @#$%ing researcher gets tired of writing on his pad and gets me out of here.  I haven’t finished reading the sports section on that newspaper lining the bottom of my cage.”

The point is, a high-fat diet isn’t natural for rats.  I looked it up, and rats are listed as omnivores who will eat pretty much whatever is available, but prefer cereal grains.  (They probably like looking at that American Heart Association seal of approval on the box.)  When you feed an animal – or a human – an unnatural diet, you’re going to get negative results.

The Lipid Hypothesis became accepted partly because when researchers fed rabbits lard and cholesterol, the rabbits rapidly developed heart disease.  Well, go figure … rabbits rarely attack pigs and eat them.  When other researchers tried the same experiment on dogs, they couldn’t induce heart disease, no matter how much lard they fed them.  So they concluded that dogs don’t get heart disease.  But they do – if you feed them grains.

If rats eat a lot of fat and then become lethargic and stupid, that says nothing about how a high-fat diet affects humans.  We’ve been eating fatty diets for hundreds of thousands of years.  We didn’t become fat until we started eating grains.  (And we didn’t become stupid until we started feeding fat to rats and thinking the results mean anything.)

In another rat study that hit the news this week, researchers suggested that high-fat, high-protein diet leads to insulin resistance.  Once again, we’re looking at animals that aren’t eating anything close to their natural diet.  If a high-fat, high-protein diet had the same effect on humans, the Inuits and the buffalo-hunting tribes should’ve been plagued by diabetes.  They weren’t.  But after Native Americans were herded onto reservations and forced to live on flour and sugar, they became one of the most diabetic populations on the planet – more than 50% in some tribes.

Studies on actual humans don’t show these results.  In fact, they show exactly the opposite.  In one recent study, Alzheimer’s patients showed improvements in memory when they were given ketones.  The natural way to produce ketones, of course, is to eat a high-fat diet and skip the carbs.

In another recent study, subjects who ate a Paleolithic diet – which means low-carb, consisting mostly of meats, nuts, vegetables and some fruits – showed a significant drop in insulin levels.  That hardly sounds like the path to insulin resistance.  Other studies have also shown dramatic improvements in diabetes symptoms when subjects went on a low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet.

If you’ve seen these headlines, please, don’t worry.  You’re not a rat.  You won’t develop diabetes and forget where you parked your car unless you eat rat chow.

By the way, my daughter loves eggs, cream, meat, nuts, butter and cheese.  When we had lamb steaks last night, she begged – as usual – for some extra fat from my steak.  (She got it.)  Since she would just now be in kindergarten if she’d started school in Tennessee, her first-grade teacher had her come in for a reading test before the semester began.  Afterwards, the teacher told my wife, “Your daughter blew me away.  I can’t believe how many words she recognizes already.”

I’d say her memory is just fine, too.  And she actually knows the Pledge of Allegiance word-for-word.

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Mini-post: Interview on Examiner.com

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Cameron English interviewed me recently for his blog, the Eldorado County Conservative Examiner.

You can read part one here.  Part two will appear later.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that we’ve been enjoying grass-fed meats from a local farm here in Tennessee.  (The stuff tastes exactly like meat.)  Tonight’s dinner was lamb steaks. Earlier in the week, I covered a burger with some melted raw-milk cheese I bought at the local farmers market.  More on that later.

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