Apologies to the friends who were sharing the New York Times around my breakfast table over the weekend and thus, have already heard all of my rantings on the subject of Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times Magazine cover story, “The Fat Trap.”
But for those of you who missed that diatribe — or perhaps, just want to digest the more articulate I’ve-had-my-coffee-now version — here’s my Never Say Diet take on the weird left turn she makes in that piece. Which is mostly, so excellent. I just read her “Behind The Cover Story” Q&A with the Times‘ 6th Floor Blog and it makes me like the first three-quarters of the article all the more. It’s the first time I can recall a major media outlet taking on a story like this. And we really do need to be talking about all of the research that shows, over and over, why permanent weight loss is such a moving target for most people: Because “a number of biological factors that have nothing to do with character or willpower can make it extraordinarily difficult,” as Parker-Pope explains.
Where Parker-Pope and I part ways is in what we want to do with this information. She views obesity “as a medical condition” and thinks the kind of all-consuming, food gram-counting measures adopted by the people she profiles are inspiring, if exhausting, preventive health strategies. So she wants to use this new scientific understanding of why weight loss attempts almost always fail… to keep on trying to lose weight. Even though it will be really difficult and ineffective for the majority of people.
In contrast, I think* the jury is still out on whether obesity itself is a medical issue (at least 20 percent of obese people have no health issues at all, and there are studies show that overweight women actually live longer than normal or underweight women) or whether it tends simply to correlate with lifestyle habits that are bad for our health in other ways. And since we don’t know for sure, but we do know for sure that diets don’t work and the war on obesity has mostly just led to a war on obese people, why don’t we stop chasing the weight loss dragon once and for all, and instead focus on the specific lifestyle habits that definitely do impact our health’s bottom line? Continue reading