Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Mighty Pen

One thing I want to do here is to post a bunch of my correspondences with people I've written to on topics relating to fat. I'm going to start with an email I sent to the owner of a very interesting website, It's really a good resource if you are concerned about trans fats, which are really gross and bad for you. But I got a little peeved because the site provides all this information that seems well-documented and researched, and then it has a link to a BMI calculator. BMI is about the dumbest measure of someone's health I can think of. This is the thing where you divide your weight by your height to see if you're overweight. You might as well divide your penis length by your shoe size. So I sent the following email: (click below to continue)


"I've just perused your web page with great interest. I think you are doing the public a great service by publicizing the dangers of trans fats and showing people how to avoid them. However, I think you send the wrong message when it comes to the topic of weight. First of all, you include a link to the CDC's BMI calculator. BMI is a notoriously inadequate measure of a person's fitness, as should be obvious when one considers that the only inputs to the formula are height and weight. Surely you must know people of the same height and weight who are nonetheless very different in their body composition and/or fitness? It has recently been revealed that from the standpoint of the BMI calculator, the actor Brad Pitt is considered 'overweight', and George Clooney is 'obese'. What does this say about the measure? I encourage you to consider removing the link to the BMI calculator from your site.

"Furthermore, while it's clear that America is getting fatter and likely that this correlates with a decline in diet and activity levels, let's be a little more discerning when making generalizations. First of all, it is not at all clear that obesity 'causes' diabetes as you assert. See Paul Campos' book The Obesity Myth (which ought to be cited along with the other two books you mention) on this point. Many studies which supposedly show that obesity 'causes' other health problems are funded by the diet industry! The rise in obesity is correlated with increases in some health problems like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, but this does not mean they are *caused* by obesity. All of these things are caused, in many people, by sedentism and poor diet. But this also does not mean that anyone who is 'obese' or has any of these health problems is sedentary and has a poor diet! So let's just be careful with the generalizations.

I take this issue rather personally because I am an 'obese' woman who eats a healthy diet and excercises regularly. In fact, I am a distance runner. I am convinced that I am much healthier and will live longer than my thin friend who never exercises and eats 100 grams of fat every day on the Atkins diet. Those scientific studies that have not been tainted by the assumption that obesity causes disease (and those that have not been flat-out paid for by the diet industry!) bear out my assertion: lifestyle is far more important than body weight when it comes to overall health.

"Keep up the good work, and please do consider changing up the 'Obesity map' section of your web page to avoid giving people wrong ideas. It's a nuanced issue, but I think that people who take the time to go to your web page are capable of seeing things in terms that aren't always black and white."

I got a nice reply from the CEO of, Stephen Joseph. Here's what it said:


"Your e-mail is very interesting. I reviewed the CDC website and there are lots of warnings that BMI is not the whole story. However, I believe that you are right so we have added the following words:

"(Note: The BMI Index is very general and does not take into account factors other than height and weight.)

"Thanks for your very constructive input."

So that was that. A pretty good result, I thought. Could have been better. In a future post I'll talk more about the CDC and their BMI indicator and post an email that I sent to them.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A League of Our Own

I recently ran in this 5K road race and was interested to see that it had a 'Cruiser' category (150+ lbs. for women, 200+ for men). It's pretty rare for a 5K to have weight classes, but who knows, maybe this is a new trend. Anyway, when I registered, I had to think for a minute about whether I wanted to be a Cruiser or not. Not because I didn't want anyone to know I weigh at least 150 lbs. (ha!), and not because I thought the other runners would judge me -- in fact, I've found the running community to be much kinder towards fat people than most other sectors of society. The reason I was conflicted was that I wondered what the existence of a weight class is saying, exactly. In general I want the world to be nicer to fat people, but do I want special treatment because I'm fat, and do I want people to think of fat as being a handicap that should allow you to compete separately from 'normal' people? I don't know. And you could interpret weight classes that way, because you have a lot better shot at winning a prize in the Cruiser category than in your own age group (for example, in this particular race my time put me in 8th place among Cruiser women as opposed to 18th among non-Cruiser women aged 25-29). (click below to keep reading)

But then I thought about it some more, and I realized that weight classes aren't about the competition. I think they are really about fun. First, the existence of weight classes send an encouraging message to fat people entering the sport. They say that fat people can actually run, and that there are enough of us to warrant a whole category. Second, although the word 'handicap' sounds like something nobody wants, it is nonetheless true that your running speed has a lot to do with how much you weigh. In effect, therefore, weight is a handicap in the sport of running. It's just a fact. I've been able to run a much faster mile at times when I was lighter even when I wasn't in as good a shape as I am now. And if you've watched enough distance running events, you know that the elite runners have hardly any body fat. So I don't think anyone actually believes that a fat person has the same shot at a prize in a 5K as a skinny person even at the same fitness level. But the weight classes add a new twist, because now some really fit heavier people who are great runners can now get some recognition. I don't think it takes anything away from them for the prize to be in a weight class; similarly, that one guy in your hometown who wins all the local events doesn't feel funny about his medals just because he wasn't competing against some world-class champion runner from Kenya. He's proud that he beat out all the people he could realistically compete against that day, namely, the people who showed up at that particular race. Similarly, the #1 woman is a real winner and doesn't feel like a phony because she wasn't competing against the men. By the same token, the fat person who wins the Cruiser category should also feel good and get some recognition for beating out all the people that he could realistically compete against, namely, the other people in his or her weight class.

So after considering all this, I signed up for the Cruiser class. I'm glad I did, because the more names that are listed as Cruisers in the results, the more people will see that fat people aren't ashamed to publicly embrace their weight, and hopefully that will encourage more fat people to become runners. And the more fat runners there are, the prouder the rest of us will feel while we're out there jiggling down the street.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Fat and Sassy

Since you've found this blog and have read this far, I'm guessing you're fat or are close to someone who is. Welcome to the Fatosphere! Here you will find all sorts of posts related to fatness (and probably a bunch that aren't, but hopefully you'll find them interesting anyway). I won't be able to resist bitching and ranting, but for the most part I want to keep it cool and just get some ideas out there. You know, radical ideas like: Fat people aren't necessarily lazy, sedentary, gluttonous, lacking in self control, etc. Some fat people are attractive (physically and personality-wise), just like some thin people are. Being fat will not necessarily make you unhealthy or shorten your lifespan. That kind of thing.

There are other blogs out there that deal with these concepts too, and along the way I hope to point you to some of those so you can be exposed to lots of good info to counteract the fat hatred that you encounter (or your fat friend or loved one encounters, if you happen not to be fat yourself) on a daily basis in a variety of ways, most of them subtle and sinister. I admit to being somewhat of a conspiracy theorist (not only about the diet industry), so as we go along I'll tell you my ideas about who is responsible for the current state of affairs where everyone feels fat and gross, the 'ideal body' keeps getting thinner, people are becoming simultaneously fatter and more desperate not to be fat, and nobody has any reliable information about the relationship between fatness and health (but a lot of people think they do).

I also happen to be a liberal, and I am extremely irritated by some liberals who claim to be open-minded and yet have an irrational hatred of fat people (the folks at Adbusters magazine come to mind). So I want to offer other liberal fat people some reassurance that being fat does NOT make you a spokesmodel for the megaconsumerist bigger-is-better mentality that liberals (including myself) love to hate. Surprise -- you can live an active, environmentally conscious life and leave a 'small footprint' even if you have a 'big ass'! You'll be hearing a lot more from my big ass very soon...