A reason to lose weight even though it’s really bad

by Deb on January 30, 2012

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The One Million Kilo Challenge is not something I would normally be involved in, in fact I am going to give you a whole list of reasons why I think it’s a really bad idea. There’s even some science in there. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done diets in the past. Both under a doctor’s supervision, through weightloss organisations and even once out of a magazine. But as I learn more and especially as I bring up two daughters, I think losing weight is a very bad goal.

First let’s get the obvious bits out of the way. Girls are under pressure to conform to some commercial ideal. Women are judged on their looks. Women are taught to hate themselves or their bodies if they don’t measure up. There’s too much sex and not enough person in most of these images. The girls will get their body image from the people closest to them and if I’m modelling diets and discontent, that’s what they’ll get. So, fun.

But as these things are so obvious, the weightloss industry has re-spun its image. It’s not really weight loss, it’s health! Who doesn’t want to be healthy? Who wants their children to develop unhealthy habits? Who wants to die early from some dreadful disease that is completely your fault for being a fatty. What a brilliant new way to sell … the same old judgement-based-on-appearance-and-adherence-to-an-unattainable-ideal.

Because ‘losing weight’ is not the same as ‘getting healthy.’

Before someone tries to tell me how strongly linked they are, I’ll agree that they are (although not as strongly as some seem to think). BUT (and here’s the science)

Correlation does not equal causation.

Which basically means that just because two things happen together, doesn’t mean that one of them caused the other one. It should sound familiar to some of you. And it’s not just semantics – say that being fat doesn’t cause terrible illnesses, if you are focusing on your appearance are you really solving the problem? Could you actually be making it worse?

For example

I like analogies. I, like many young drivers, once let my car run out of oil. Unfortunately for me I was in the middle of a 400km journey and there was nothing along the way. Nowhere to stop, no way to get a lift, no mechanics and certainly no oil. I watched the needle of the temperature gauge climb and a gentle tapping sound began, getting louder and louder until eventually the engine died. (Luckily I was only about 50km out at that point and someone came past and gave me a lift.)

Did the knocking sound kill my engine?  Would stopping the knocking have saved the car?

No and maybe.

The knocking sound definitely was not doing anything to harm the engine, otherwise playing loud music on car stereos would be a lot less popular. Even though a knocking sound and your engine not running properly are very closely correlated, they don’t cause each other. They are both caused by a third element, the lack of oil.

And stopping the knocking could be good or bad, depending on how you do it. If you catch it in time, add the oil and have a mechanic work their magic on it, you’re golden because you’ve got to the cause of the problem. But if you treat it cosmetically by turning the stereo up, I hope you are within range of a taxi.

Weightloss

And that’s exactly what weightloss is. Once again I agree, weight (or fat) is closely linked with all sorts of health problems. But it doesn’t cause them. Bad eating and inactivity cause both the medical and social problems.

If you put the time into improving your eating habits and being more active, you’re golden. You will improve your health, the thing you’re being emotionally blackmailed to do, and hopefully your adherence to a questionable image will improve too if that’s what you are after. Humans being humans, your life will become easier if your appearance conforms.

But if you concentrate on the cosmetic ‘losing weight,’ you’re just turning the stereo up. That way leads to a range of unhealthy strategies such as meal replacement and ludicrously unbalanced diets, that are short-term fixes and generally leave you with worse habits.

And don’t do a thing to improve the health issues allegedly caused by ‘being overweight’ such as metabolic syndrome or heart disease.

Skinny People

And there’s an even worse trap. If your car isn’t making any funny noises or doing strange things with the warning lights, you can be pretty sure that it isn’t going to suddenly die on you. Unfortunately the analogy breaks down here, because the human fat/health correlation isn’t really all that tight.

There are some people who are genetically lean, they can have a terrible diet and be inactive while still meeting the media’s standards of attractiveness. But unfortunately for them, or in cosmic payback if you’re really annoyed with them, they are just as vulnerable to the health problems that come with that lifestyle as their less attractive peers. They can get the heart disease without the fat.

So to summarise

Healthy, balanced diet and activity = important for everyone, lean or fat.

Losing weight = almost purely social goal that may or may not be important to you, gets even more complicated and guilt inducing when you have children and may actually make you less healthy.

One Million Kilo Challenge

Which then begs the question, why have I signed up for the One Million Kilo Challenge?

Firstly because, in spite of the cringe inducing links to television and really questionable ethics of weightloss marketing, they do seem to have a health focus. I’m quite looking forward to some of the recipes and having a place to log my exercise. We were already doing a post-holidays health improving plan and even though I had vowed not to look at a set of scales, I can do it as a payment for the other advantages.

Because there is something else happening, the reason for this long and rambling post. It’s part of my campaign to get off the internet and make a change in the real world. I’ve entered the challenge as part of a team, and we are fundraising for a children’s medical charity to help stop kids from the Northern Rivers region having to be sent away to larger hospitals. I can do a weekly weigh-in if it translates into solid cash going to people who need it.

And here’s the reason for blogging it – I’d like you to help. If you don’t have a favourite charity but like children, please make a donation. Every bit gets us closer to our goal. And if you do have a favourite charity, consider doing something in real life that could help them today.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle January 30, 2012 at 8:54 am

Done! What a great cause Deb :-)

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Deb January 30, 2012 at 9:01 am

Thanks so much for getting me started :D

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Lauren @ Hobo Mama May 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Brilliant way to put it. Thanks so much for the scientific explanation and analogy.
Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s latest amazing offering ..How being overweight has negatively affected my health: A comprehensive listMy Profile

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