The Muffin Top Alert, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 30 2012 @ 7:34am

A reader writes:

I've been reading your blog for a long time now, and while I often disagree with the things you post, I've never been angry enough about it to write in before, always trusting your astute readership to write in and make my point better than I could.  But this quote by Selene Yeager is such complete bullshit that I just had to respond.  In what universe will suggesting fat people wear tight, uncomfortable work-out clothes encourage them to exercise?  I'm fat, and have been an avid bike rider for three years now (I hate the pretension of the word "cyclist" almost as much at those tight lycra shorts with the padded butts).  The suggestion that fat people like me don't know that we are fat because we wear baggy clothes is ludicrous.  Fat people shower naked and have mirrors, not to mention the rest of the world telling them they are fat all the time: OF COURSE WE KNOW.  Tight clothing will not encourage people to bike by "alerting" them of weight gain: all this suggestion does is continue to shame fat people, and you can't shame people into changing their behavior.

I went and read through the article, and the rest of the tips seem pretty reasonable, but the focus on "losing weight" is totally misguided.  I've gotten much healthier and fitter in the time I have been commuting by bike, but I have not gotten any thinner.  Focusing on weight as the main indicator of health will only discourage people, fat and thin alike, from adopting habits (like bike riding) that will make them healthier regardless of their weight.  Most of the science on weight loss shows that it is very very difficult to make a fat person thin: most weight-loss programs fail in the long term (check out NY Times writer Gina Kolata's book, Rethinking Thin for detailed evidence). 

Everyone needs to be more active and eat more real food rather than junk in order to improve public health, but the way we as a culture focus on weight loss rather than healthy habits is totally counter-productive.  This country has a public health problem around eating and exercise but it is not a fat people problem: it's everyone's problem.  Turning fat people into thin people wouldn't fix that problem, even if we had any idea how to actually do that, which we don't. 

I lived for two years in Portland, Oregon, one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, and I am 100% for more bike lanes, programs that encourage people to commute by foot or bike, getting healthy foods into "food deserts" and public schools, encouraging people to eat less meat and dairy, ending agricultural subsidies for corn and soy (which are the main reason highly processed junk foods are so cheap), and Michelle Obama's organic garden and Let's Move initiative.  But tips like one this are SO counter-productive and do nothing to encourage people to be more active and everything to feed a culture already too rich in fat shaming. 

Oh, and I highly doubt prisoners gain weight when they enter prison because of the baggy clothes they wear: that seems to me a case of mistaking correlation with causation.  Stress and depression both cause hormonal changes that encourage weight gain, and I can't think of many things that are more stressful or depressing then entering prison.