Fat Acceptance Acceptance January 10, 2011 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I have a question about this post, where an anonymous poster asks why his weight loss efforts aren't succeeding.

It was a pretty simple question; the answer almost certainly is that the poster either is eating more than he thinks he is (or admitting to) or isn't exercising as much as he says he is. But then, poster Sidhedevil, not actually answering the question, plugs fat acceptance in this comment:
Find a new doctor. Read about body acceptance. Healthy behaviors are great; weight is not a behavior, and healthy behaviors will not have the same impact on everyone's weight.

Remember that only 5% of people who lose weight keep it off for more than 5 years. Change your behaviors to focus on health, not scale weight.
My question: why is this okay? The poster wants to know why he isn't losing weight, not reasons why it's okay to be fat. If someone barged into a thread about fat acceptance and started preaching calories in, calories out, their comments would almost certainly be removed. I know, because I'm pretty sure it's happened to me, at some point.

Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by downing street memo to Etiquette/Policy at 12:56 PM (81 comments total)

FIAMO
posted by nomisxid at 12:58 PM on January 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


You seem to have missed the AskMe thread two doors down. To quote jessamyn:
The trick is to basically give your suggestion and step away and don't stick around to fight with people about it. There's not really a useful way for us as mods to delete "incorrect" information from AskMe without basically reading and approving every comment which is just a flat out non-starter. People should feel free to add better information if they think what's there isn't helpful.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2011


I did, but I'm just curious about this pretty common dynamic in weightloss questions, of which there are many on the green.
posted by downing street memo at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2011


It stikes me that the OP has a long list of concerns, including why they're no longer losing weight and not wanting to go to the doctor about it because going to the doctor makes them feel bad. Sidhedevil suggests getting another doctor and focusing on being and staying healthy and not on the number on the scale. If the OP had an actual medical problem, switching doctors may help them figure that out.

Sidhedevil is someone who helpfully answers a lot of questions in AskMe on weight/health/fitness in addition to a ton of other topics. Not a single person flagged that comment, so it doesn't approach deleteworthiness from our mod perspective. If it turns into an argument about fat acceptance instead of the topic of the htread, we'll curtail that.

I know, because I'm pretty sure it's happened to me, at some point.

A quick look through your deleted AskMe comments doesn't show this happening, but I may be missing some context.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:02 PM on January 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


People have made that point in the thread, feel free to join them. I think it's a perfectly acceptable response for Ask, regardless of my personal disagreement.
posted by atrazine at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2011


Also: sorry to jessamyn for grabbing her words from a recent similar thread w/o approval
posted by filthy light thief at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2011


I find it interesting that you framed her answer as fat acceptance. It sounds like you're reliving a argument from the past.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2011 [20 favorites]


See, I don't think that post has the simple answer that you think it does. The OP on AskMe seems obsessed with their weight (and what people on the internet may think of their weight) to the point that they are starving themselves every day. Yes, one "solution" may be to tell them how to change their diet/eating, but another part of that solution should be that they need to see a doctor and step back from the belief that their weight is what defines them. I don't think Sidhedevil was saying "you should look into fat acceptance and give up on losing weight", given the other suggestions in the comment of finding a new dr and making healthy lifestyle changes.
posted by kro at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


I agree with kro that this is one of those questions where the answer may legitimately be "you have a different problem than the one you think you have."
posted by prefpara at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't speak to fat questions - I hate exercising and like eating too much to ever make a serious attempt to lose weight or hang out in weight loss threads - but this happens across the board. I think there's a tension between those who feel that AskMe is a resource for answering questions and those who feel it's a resource for helping askers (I'm in a third category that feels AskMe is a little bit narrow in scope: I wonder what amazing answers we miss because they're only tangential to the question for example, but I'm fine with it). Sidhedevil's answer might not specifically answer the question, but it's relevant and offers comfort and advice to the asker as well as anyone else reading the question, all of whom may ignore it. It comes down to context and I think it's fine to ignore some of the AskMe "rules" sometimes.
posted by doublehappy at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2011


Agreeing with all others that it sounds more like sidhedevil's comment wasn't so much "fat is beautiful", but more like, "the number on the scale is only part of the story."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on January 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


FIAMO

But this just annoys me. This is MetaTalk, right? The place where we discuss MetaFilter issues?

posted by doublehappy at 1:21 PM on January 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


It was a pretty simple question

It was a little less simple than you're making it out to be; it also included things like "I decided to read up on the internet again and get some advice. But all I found were more posts calling people who looked like me and weighed as much as I do lazy, ugly, worthless. Especially women." and "I feel like I'm destined to be overweight and worthless forever."
posted by dfan at 1:22 PM on January 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I feel depressed and broken.

This question makes my heart ache. To have such shame about one's body, and it seems like the entire world reinforces that shame.

Honestly, I think fostering self esteem is a good answer to how the OP can approach weight loss.
posted by giraffe at 1:23 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I did not read sidhedevil's comments as "fat acceptance" at all but as encouragement to concentrate more on health than watching the scale. (anecdata: I couldn't keep weight off on WW but once I chunked the scale and decided to live a healthier life with diet and exercise, I lost and kept weight off. )
posted by pointystick at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, it's great that you posted this MeTa. A little extra visibility might help the right answerer get to that question. Even just extra reinforcement that 12 pounds over 3 months is excellent will (hopefully) help the asker.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:29 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to be significantly overweight, and I hated my body and starved myself. Used to. None of those things are true anymore.

And if the OP's situation and is anything like mine was, then Sidhedevil's answer is the most useful and relevant one in that thread.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:34 PM on January 10, 2011 [16 favorites]


The OP appears to also be feeling worthless because of his weight. I think Sidhedevil offered good advice because those feelings of worthlessness are making him feel bad and that's not going to help him achieve his goals. He needs to go about it differently rather than hating himself for the numbers he sees on the scale.
posted by anniecat at 1:42 PM on January 10, 2011


It was a pretty simple question; the answer almost certainly is that the poster either is eating more than he thinks he is (or admitting to) or isn't exercising as much as he says he is.

I think this is a pretty narrow range of the possible answers. You exclude not only Sidhedevil's reasonable reframing of the issue, but also all of the answers suggesting that the Asker was already doing the right thing and needed to change perspective on how much weight they should expect to have lost.
posted by Danila at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's also a matter of tone. If I'd barge into a thread with a sensitive topic and say something like "OP, you're making this up, grow up and whatnot", that would be pretty intolerable. I don't see any of Sidhedevil's comments anywhere near that category. Here's obviously someone who's thought about these issues and wants to help. Help around here sometimes isn't offered along the exact lines of the question. I find that great (true derails on the other hand: normally annoying).
posted by Namlit at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. That question made me cry bad, but the lovely and supportive answers made me cry good. I hope the OP is able to get to a point of feeling healthy and strong, scale be damned.
posted by padraigin at 1:59 PM on January 10, 2011


Not disputing that it was, in fact, a very sad question. But nonetheless the question was "why aren't I losing weight". I don't think that comment, or the later invocation of an exceedingly rare thyroid condition to scoff at the very notion of caloric deficits, answers the question. The poor guy says he wants to be thinner, who are we to say that's not what he actually wants?

I guess I tend to take a narrower view of AskMe. Thanks all for your perspectives.
posted by downing street memo at 2:11 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


In this post from a few days ago, the Asker asked a very simple question, and the first few responses seemed pretty tangential to me. I flagged them and moved on, the moderators clearly disagreed with my assesment as they are still there.

Questions about weight loss, just like any medical question, are very problematic on AskMe. There are a lot of frankly uninformed people giving bad advice, just like any medical question. It has been and always should be up to the Asker to wade through the various answers and evaluate the sources. It can't be our jobs, as regular old AskMe readers, to police every answer that we disagree with.
posted by muddgirl at 2:18 PM on January 10, 2011


The poor guy says he wants to be thinner, who are we to say that's not what he actually wants?

Why do you think Sidhevil's advice (see a doctor, focus on behaviors, learn to accept yourself, focus on your health) won't help him become thinner?
posted by Mavri at 2:25 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


where does it say the poster is a guy?
posted by sweetkid at 2:27 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


where does it say the poster is a guy?
"His" is the proper gender neutral possessive pronoun.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:35 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


"His" is the proper gender neutral possessive pronoun.

"Proper" is not the proper word to use there. I would phrase it "'His" is the gender neutral possessive pronoun that I prefer to use."
posted by muddgirl at 2:37 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


"guy" is not really gender neutral, either.
posted by sweetkid at 2:38 PM on January 10, 2011


Yes, let's try to cover as many hot button bases as possible!
posted by Burhanistan at 2:40 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm going to agree with downing street memo about something: Sidhedevil didn't answer the question.

I don't think Sidhedevil did anything wrong, because I think the "rules" of AskMe are more complex than "just answer the literal question, and if you do anything besides that -- instant deletion!" I won't go into what I think the REAL rules are, because Jessamyn basically did that, other than to say that they're "just answer the question" WITH SOME CAVEATS AND EXCEPTIONS. (And, alas, for those of us who like clear rules, some of those exceptions are fuzzy.)

So I'm not siding with downing street memo, if he/she believes Sidhedevil's response should be deleted. I don't think it should be deleted. But I do understand the cognitive dissonance.

Over and over, people claim the cardinal rule of AskMe is that you MUST answer the question. If you're a literal-minded person (as I am), it's very confusing to hear that and yet see people flagrantly not do it and get away with it. And -- worse -- when they get away with it, people say, "They got away with it because the DID answer the question." No, they didn't. They got away with it because the rules are more complex than "all answers must answer the question."

Sidhedevil's post was worthwhile and well-made, but it DIDN'T answer the question. So, again, it's confusing to a literal-minded person to read stuff like this: "Honestly, I think fostering self esteem is a good answer to how the OP can approach weight loss."

The question wasn't "how should I approach weight loss?"

At the top of the thread in question, the OP CLEARLY spelled out her question: "If it's as easy as move more and eat less, why aren't I losing weight?" She then went onto explain why she has this question to begin with, and then, as if to keep people on track, she ends her post with a reiteration of her question: "I'm not looking for medical advice, but maybe some information on what I'm doing wrong.If it's as easy as calories in and calories burned, I should have lost something by now. Are there any other ways to approach this?"

I guess you could take "are there other ways to approach this" as an opening to say, "Yes. Stop asking this question and do something else instead," which is basically what Sidhedevil did, but I'm betting if you asked 100 people what the question was -- if you curtailed all over conversation and just asked "what's the question here" -- 99 of them would say, "It's 'why isn't my weight-loss strategy working?'"

And if you take, "What am I doing wrong" as an excuse to say, "What you're doing wrong is you're asking the wrong question" or "what you're doing wrong is obsessing about losing weight in the first place," you're doing something similar -- on a literal-minded level -- to answering "What am I doing wrong on my Mac?" with "What you're doing wrong is having a Mac in the first place: you should get a PC instead."
posted by grumblebee at 2:41 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hmmm...

grumblebee, I actually see it more like this:

"My browser isn't working right - really slow page loads and sometimes it just doesn't respond. Help me fix my browser."

And the reply is something like, "Your problem may be, at least in part, due to a bad connection, not a software issue." I'm not good at technology analogies but that's the way I see it, more or less.
posted by Mister_A at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2011


the answer almost certainly is that the poster either is eating more than he thinks he is (or admitting to) or isn't exercising as much as he says he is

Really
posted by fire&wings at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


They got away with it because the rules are more complex than "all answers must answer the question."

Or, stated differently, all answers must address the question in some way. The ways that are okay include

- direct answers
- request for more information/explanation
- gently questioning premises of the question
- responding to the OPs responses
- attempts to clarify what other posters are saying in the interests of getting the question answered
- attempts to help the OP rephrase their question or question topic

Ways that are not okay include

- harassing or insulting the OP
- axe-grinding whatever your pet topic is in the thread
- snarky "thanks for nothing" responses
- attempts to clarify what other posters are saying in the interests of fighting with them about their answers/suggestions
- comment fables
- vague/obscure links to videos or books that do not have a clear link to the question
- parables and comment fables
- google results
- eye rolling and other forms of "I am SHOCKED" responses

In my mind I see questions as a balanced mobile of topics all hanging off whatever the main question is. We try to keep the whole thing balanced even as people may address smaller parts of the main question. If people appear to be making good faith efforts to be helpful and good faith efforts to be helped, we'll try to leave things alone. If something's getting way off-kilter and the whole thing is pitching crazily to one side or the other, we'll step in.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:53 PM on January 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Agreeing with all others that it sounds more like sidhedevil's comment wasn't so much "fat is beautiful", but more like, "the number on the scale is only part of the story.""

Also sidhedevil specifically said "body acceptance," not fat acceptance.

If the OP is depressed, and learns to accept his or her body as it is, well, that might help with the depression, which *could* help with the eating and exercise issues.

It's like putting off buying clothes because you're convinced you're going to lose 2 sizes really, really soon. Why don't you get at least a few things that you look good in NOW, to help your confidence?
posted by IndigoRain at 2:59 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


my previous comment was addressed to the OP. I quoted EmpressC because I agreed with her. Sorry for not being more clear.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:00 PM on January 10, 2011


There always has been and always will be a certain amount of "you are asking the wrong question" type responses on AskMe, and these responses range from praiseworthy to counterproductive. There's no way to prevent them or even a simple rule of thumb for saying whether they're good or bad.
posted by adamrice at 3:02 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's like putting off buying clothes because you're convinced you're going to lose 2 sizes really, really soon. Why don't you get at least a few things that you look good in NOW, to help your confidence?

Yeah, I felt like this is exactly what Sidhedevil was trying to say, and I thought it was perfect advice.
posted by sweetkid at 3:03 PM on January 10, 2011


I thought about posting, but I'd just be echoing "Doctor, therapist".

I also wanted to recommend new Internet forums, because seriously this is messed up:

I decided to read up on the internet again and get some advice. But all I found were more posts calling people who looked like me and weighed as much as I do lazy, ugly, worthless. Especially women.

How can you go looking for diet advice and end up only finding posts calling overweight people lazy, ugly, and worthless? Pro-ana forums maybe?

I might go through my bookmarks and try to come up with some positive, supportive fitness and nutrition based Internet communities to post, because she's definitely spending time in the wrong places looking for advice.
posted by ODiV at 3:17 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that you framed her answer as fat acceptance. It sounds like you're reliving a argument from the past.

Sorry, I missed this bit. I think in context it's pretty clearly "fat acceptance"; the commenter references "body acceptance", the idea that healthy and overweight are not mutually exclusive categories, a statistic on the futility of weight loss programs, and, later, a reference to an obscure thyroid condition as refutation of the entire concept of caloric deficit.

I'm not super familiar with the fat acceptance movement but I'm pretty sure those four things are key to their argument, particularly the second and third.

That's why, I guess, the response rubbed me wrong; not only is it not relevant to the question, it's also more than a little cruel to essentially answer the question by saying "your efforts to lose weight are probably hopeless, try reading about body acceptance."
posted by downing street memo at 3:31 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure hitting the gym does not work unless you also lawyer up and delete facebook.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:32 PM on January 10, 2011


downing street memo: I kind of got fat acceptance too, especially with:

Remember that only 5% of people who lose weight keep it off for more than 5 years.

...but given the context of the post, and how the poster talked about how they were depressed and worthless, and were starving themself, I think Sidhedevil's response was beneficial to the health of the OP.

Additionally,

It was a pretty simple question; the answer almost certainly is that the poster either is eating more than he thinks he is (or admitting to) or isn't exercising as much as he says he is.

is a sentiment that can be just as frustrating when you're struggle to lose weight as hearing statistics about how unlikely you are to ever lose weight. Bodies are complicated, and it really isn't exactly as simple as calorie in, calorie out, because the efficiency of your metabolism plays a huge role. Hell, there was a study not that long ago that suggested having the right mix of gut flora made the difference between being fat and not.
posted by girih knot at 3:45 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


See also this question which is almost 100% people dismissing the opinion of the poster and thereby not answering the posters question.
posted by Mitheral at 4:08 PM on January 10, 2011


Honestly the answer to why is that I'm counting calories and exercising and doing all the right things but still not losing weight is really truly not reiterating the same tired aphorisms about calories in = calories out. This is true in some trite way but is not really useful from a weight loss perspective. I think Gary Taubes put it really well in his latest book Why We Get Fat: if initially a room has 3 people, and a bit later we come back and find that it has 6 people, saying that the reason for this is that more people went into the room than came out is superficially true, but doesn't really speak to the causality of this phenomenon. The body is a finely calibrated thing -- putting on weight over a period of years involves an imbalance of no more than 20 calories a day -- another bite of bread if anything. It really isn't true that thin people are thin and stay that way because they are carefully calibrating their intake and exercise levels to this level of accuracy. We should instead look to hormones to understand how they work to either keep bodies at the same weight or increase or decrease weight. There's been a lot of research coming out on this issue over the past five years and the issue is just simply not as simple as calories in = calories out.
posted by peacheater at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


...the later invocation of an exceedingly rare thyroid condition [...]

Thyroid disease is common in the general population [...] Thyroid disease in the general population: 6.6% That number is 11 years old, and is likely even higher now, as the symptoms are becoming more well known. Current estimates are that up to 15% of the adult population suffers from some form of thyroid disease. It is much less rare than you think it is.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:20 PM on January 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


See also this question which is almost 100% people dismissing the opinion of the poster and thereby not answering the posters question.

The answers to many questions in Ask hinge primarily on the opinion of the poster, not the actual question. Yes, people who reply with "hey, be reasonable, you probably aren't all that ugly unless you live in a secret room under an opera house" aren't "answering the question" of "what do I do about the fact that I am ugly", but this is a feature, not a bug.

Besides, if we were limited solely to Answering The Question, a lot of ask.me categories would quickly turn into agreement-and-validation fishing tournaments. Three thousand questions which go "my girlfriend/boyfriend is a total monster because she/he [won't clean the dishes/won't come home on time/won't indulge my pickle-sock fetish] for no reason!!! How can I be an even more shining and perfect example of humanity for him/her?" are not my idea of fun.

You want strict if-then logic, there's always shell scripting; for all else, there's ask.me.
posted by vorfeed at 4:34 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remember that only 5% of people who lose weight keep it off for more than 5 years.
Just out of curiosity, is anyone actually refuting this statistic, or do they just object to anyone bringing it up?
posted by Karmakaze at 4:39 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Focus on health rather than weight" kind of IS an answer. You could certainly argue that this guy, who is purportedly starving himself, isn't having success with what's he's doing (which is nutritionally crap), and that focusing on healthy behaviors could actually have a better weight-loss impact.

Plus, how the fuck is this non-response (I'll grant you that it's arguably non-responsive) less of an "answer" than your proposed answer of calling the poster a liar?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:02 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


See also this question which is almost 100% people dismissing the opinion of the poster and thereby not answering the posters question.

Actually, I haven't gone back and reread this but I feel like most people actually did address the asker's question somewhere in their answers. They usually went something like:

"You're not ugly. People always think they're ugly. You're stupid for thinking you're ugly. Beauty's on the inside. &c. But if you still persist in thinking you're ugly, here's how to look better in photographs: don't be photographed in front of sunsets."

The key, however, is the final line of both that post and the fat post that spawned this thread:

"it seriously damages my confidence and self image. What do I do?" and "Are there any other ways to approach this?". These lines broaden the question's scope to include general advice.
posted by doublehappy at 5:03 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Folks, the anonymous OP is a woman.
posted by John Cohen at 5:31 PM on January 10, 2011


That's when I decided to stop eating. Not entirely. In the beginning I was eating only dinner. Then I started cutting the portion I gave myself at that meal in half. After two weeks and no progress, I decided to eat one portion of fruit and one of vegetable instead of any meals. Usually it's some broccoli and an apple. I partner this with a 45 minute walk every day.

Seriously, you don't see how body image and self-esteem might be an issue in need of addressing here? If your friend comes up to you and asks, "Hey friend do you think it's better if I shoot myself in the foot or the knee?" Would you legitimately answer that question or maybe answer a different question, and suggest that they see a mental health professional.
posted by edbles at 5:44 PM on January 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, is anyone actually refuting this statistic, or do they just object to anyone bringing it up?

I'm not refuting it. I've never seen the source of it, and I've never looked. Regardless of how accurate it is, it carries with it the implication that obesity is out of our control. <anecdotal>I've looked at fat acceptance sites and their rhetoric before, and the impression I got was a regular argument of bodies just doing whatever they want re: weight, that we have some set weight our bodies are supposed to be and they just incline towards that. It all seemed like a bunch of fatalistic bullshit to me, and early on in my attempt to lose weight, I found it really discouraging. It didn't feel like "acceptance," it felt like a group of women who should have had a message that I would have found supportive were instead telling me that losing weight was impossible, and that I should just suck it up and learn to love my fat ass, a message that didn't really click with the worthlessness I felt because of my weight.</anecdotal>

So yeah, having a good body image is really important and vital to good mental health, but suggesting to people that they don't have the power to change their bodies just rubs me the wrong way. If that statistic is true, and I'm not claiming it isn't, the fact that people are regaining weight probably has more to do with their environment and social network and falling into bad habits. Also in the incarnation that Sidhedevil presents it, it's unclear how much weight the people included in the statistic have lost. Did they lose 5 pounds and gain it back, or 100? How does it skew for people who make the effort to lose significant amounts of weight, vs. people who just lost a few pounds?

tl;dr I think bringing it up is a shitty thing regardless of its accuracy.
posted by girih knot at 6:06 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, hypothyroidism, much less all forms of thyroid disease, is not exactly rare. And something worth testing for if one is having symptoms, since it's easily treatable.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:02 PM on January 10, 2011


If that statistic is true, and I'm not claiming it isn't, the fact that people are regaining weight probably has more to do with their environment and social network and falling into bad habits.

Or, in other words: people who are "on a diet" tend to gain the weight back once they're no longer "on a diet". Temporary diet change, complete with over-inflated goals and under-inflated timeframes (e.g. the OP thinking that losing 12 pounds in two months was bad) is the primary way weight loss is sold to the public, so it's no surprise that most people fail over the long term.

The folks who keep the weight off make major lifestyle changes, and they stick with them for five years, ten years, twenty years, etc. These are the five-percenters. They're not necessarily working harder than the dieters are (in many cases, they're actually putting forth less of an effort each day), but they're doing it over years and years, and that has a way of changing things like habits, environment, and social network.

tl;dr: Slow and steady wins the race. Find what works for you, stick with it, and don't give up, because you (and your doctor, nutritionist, trainer, family, friends, etc) can do it.
posted by vorfeed at 9:03 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Answers like that, and many other answers about fitness and health and general, are allowed to stand because 99% of the information about health, fitness, and diet in popular culture is wrong or poorly understood. I have been heavily invested in the serious strength-and-conditioning/fitness/nutrition community for years now and I don't think there is any other category of AskMefi where so much overwhelmingly shit advice is both given and goes completely unchallenged. It is horrifically frustrating to read the crap responses posted over and over to the point where there does not seem to be any reason to try any more.

Or, more simply: These responses stand in health-and-fitness questions because 99% of people responding do not know what they're talking about.
posted by schroedinger at 11:08 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


OP, please note the last line of the question:

Are there any other ways to approach this?


I think Sidhedevil's comment is an excellent response to that part of the question.
posted by bardophile at 11:51 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or, more simply: These responses stand in health-and-fitness questions because 99% of people responding do not know what they're talking about.

I'd have to agree. While I'm sure folks mean well, I think it'd be great if people weren't so eager to pass along something they heard somebody say once as though it's fact. Diet and exercise are sometimes complex subjects and the answers aren't always clearcut; however, this is all the more reason not to make it seem even more confusing and esoteric than it actually is by perpetuating baseless factoids. The chorus of people in that thread suggesting that someone isn't losing weight because they're not eating enough and they're in "starvation mode" is just engendering confusion.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 7:01 AM on January 11, 2011


So, out of interest, does anyone here have an informed dietician's answer to the question the OP asked? Because I've become confused myself!
posted by Omnomnom at 7:19 AM on January 11, 2011


Remember that only 5% of people who lose weight keep it off for more than 5 years.

Someone who is feeling bad and hopeless about something doesn't need to be told that it is even more hopeless than they thought.

If you take the question and answer and simplify them to their root, it is:

Q: How do I lose this weight?
A: You don't need to lose weight.

Not helpful.
posted by gjc at 7:22 AM on January 11, 2011


So, out of interest, does anyone here have an informed dietician's answer to the question the OP asked? Because I've become confused myself!

I think the answer is in that thread - whatever the OP was doing when he/she lost 12 pounds in three months is the right thing to be doing. That's a solid, healthy pace of weight loss (for most people).
posted by downing street memo at 7:59 AM on January 11, 2011


Current estimates are that up to 15% of the adult population suffers from some form of thyroid disease.

Let's assume this to be true, and let's also assume that all thyroid diseases lower metabolism to the point that caloric deficits are an invalid concept. That means that given no other information about the poster, the answer of "calories in, calories out" is 85% likely to be the main culprit of any weight gain or failure to lose weight.

In the real world, I'm sure that only the most extreme thyroid disorders work this way. But regardless, for most people, caloric deficits are the root of weight-related problems.
posted by downing street memo at 8:02 AM on January 11, 2011


It was a pretty simple question; the answer almost certainly is that the poster either is eating more than he thinks he is (or admitting to) or isn't exercising as much as he says he is.

WRONG. People gain weight and lose weight for all kinds of reasons. Until a year ago I could eat anything, never exercise, and never gain weight. Now that I'm older I have to watch it a bit, but no matter how much I eat or how little I exercise I never go above around 160.

We've had this long, drawn out battle before. I would say that if you see a random person on the street who is obese, odds are good that they either don't exercise enough or they eat too much. But if someone tells you they are exercising and watching what they eat (especially if they say they are starving themselves), odds are pretty good that they are.

It seems like the knee-jerk response from some people to situations that don't match up with their understanding of logic is, "You're being delusional." For things like computers, where logic is built into their fundamental makeup, this is true. But the human body and life in general is more complicated.

I really, really hate AskMe answers that essentially amount to "Your brain isn't working correctly."
posted by Deathalicious at 8:12 AM on January 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I used to be pretty overweight-person-intolerant and MetaFilter has helped open my eyes to that in many ways. I've also figured out that I'd rather surround myself with people who are accepting of their body, so long as they're healthy, than skinny people who are purposefully starving all the time. There are a few people I know who are naturally very, very skinny and I try to resist the urge to tell them to fatten up, for the same reasons.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:15 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was once posed a question by a psychology instructor.

A client walks in and says, "I hit my wife when I get frustrated. And I feel bad about hitting her. How do I stop feeling bad about hitting her?" The question isn't how do I stop hitting her, but how do I stop feeling bad about hitting her. Which should the therapist address?

I don't recall the particulars of the discussion or the conclusion (and we kept the real legal ethics aside for this hypothetical), but I do think it's relevant to how Sidhedevil chose to approach this particular AskMe. Sidhedevil chose to look at the deeper issue behind what the OP was asking, which is an intense self-loathing related to looks. Sidhedevil explicitly stated body acceptance, and not fat acceptance.

To take that further, a woman self-conscious because she has small breasts could benefit from body acceptance. A man who is 5'3" at the age of 30 is not likely to grow any more, and if this is causing him distress, he could benefit from body acceptance. I have particularly wide hips that actively interfere with my ability to bowl. I'm not kidding. I accept that I have really wide hips. That's body acceptance. Accepting that you have blue eyes when you want green eyes is body acceptance.

Accepting how fast and which exercises work best for your body is body acceptance.

None of these examples are remotely tied to fat acceptance, which is something completely different.

The OP in that thread is clearly distressed. Sidhedevil's comment is appropriate and incredibly helpful. I hope the OP chooses to give it some mind.
posted by zizzle at 8:37 AM on January 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am not a doctor or a dietician. I don't have any particular knowledge about thyroid conditions. However, according to the American Thyroid Association (PDF),
The cause of the weight gain in hypothyroid individuals is also complex, and not always related to excess fat accumulation. Most of the extra weight gained in hypothyroid individuals is due to excess accumulation of salt and water. Massive weight gain is rarely associated with hypothyroidism. In general, 5-10 pounds of body weight may be attributable to the thyroid, depending on the severity of the hypothyroidism.
But if someone tells you they are exercising and watching what they eat (especially if they say they are starving themselves), odds are pretty good that they are.

It seems there is research which indicates that this isn't the case.
It is well established that overweight people underreport their food intake on average. In fact, there is a huge volume of literature of on this … The underreporting is quite severe. One study comparing obese twins to their non-obese twin counterparts indicated underreporting of 764 calories per day. Another study indicated obese subjects to be underreporting their calorie intake by over a thousand calories per day. This is just a fraction of the data that is out there ...

The phenomena of underreporting is verified when you supply overweight people with the amount of calories they claim to be eating. In one study, women who claimed to be eating 1200 calories per day were supplied with that actual amount of food intake. What happened? They lost 1.7 pounds per week.
This doesn't mean that people who mis-report their food intake or exercise levels are bad people or failures or deserving of shame and condemnation. What it does seem to indicate is that inaccurate self-reporting of food intake is a known quirk of human psychology. So when someone claims to be unable to gain or lose weight, it seems that a reasonable first response is to ask how they are tracking their intake and whether their data might be inaccurate.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


What it does seem to indicate is that inaccurate self-reporting of food intake is a known quirk of human psychology.

But it's also a known quirk of human physiology that people gain and lose weight at different rates with calorie restriction or increase. We can do and have done diet-controlled studies which shows that 764 calories per day above "standard state" may mean no weight gain in one person and significant weight gain in another.

When someone says "calories in, calories out" as a defense of their particular weight loss theory, I assumed that they are either repeating something they heard like a mindless parrot, or they failed freshman chemical engineering. Our body is not simple accumulating tank; it's a chemical reactor. We don't pour mass in one end and then pour that mass back out when we exercise. It's a lot more complicated than that. "Calories in, calories out" is strictly true, but not usefully so.
posted by muddgirl at 10:23 AM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sidhedevil explicitly stated body acceptance, and not fat acceptance.

Body acceptance is an answer to the OP's question--a good answer--for a couple of reasons. First, a lot of people eat too much out of self-loathing, depression, or some other negative inwardly-directed emotion. Depressed people and people who hate themselves act in self-destructive ways, news at 11. Sidhedeveil didn't say fat acceptance, but being able to accept yourself (or just not hate yourself) even when you're fat can help a you eat healthier, exercise more, and lose weight. This comment expressed the nasty cycle of guilt and self-loathing best.

Second, even if a fat person is doing everything right and losing weight at a slow but steady pace, they're still going to be fat for awhile. I started losing weight over a year ago, and only feel that I've crossed over into the category of "not fat" in the past couple of months. Being able to accept my body, even while I was still fat, was crucial for getting through those discouraging early months where I was trying to learn new habits, go to the gym (the horror--a fat girl at the gym), and the weight loss seemed soooo sloooooow.

So, I would like to thank Sidhedevil for her wonderful answer to the OP's question. I hope her advice helps the OP as much as similar advice helped me.
posted by Mavri at 10:41 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's remember that AskMe questions routinely get a mix of more and less helpful answers. While there has to be some standard for what's relevant, you also don't need to love every single answer. Sidhedevil's one answer was thought-provoking enough to lead to this thread of over 60 comments (and mostly substantive comments, not the usual MeTa snark/recipes). The OP included lots of psychological background, thus opening up the thread to answers that went beyond just "Eat this and exercise like this and then you'll lose weight." She called her own post "soul-baring and personal." If the OP doesn't find Sidhedevil's comment useful, she's free to disregard it.
posted by John Cohen at 10:49 AM on January 11, 2011


But it's also a known quirk of human physiology that people gain and lose weight at different rates with calorie restriction or increase. We can do and have done diet-controlled studies which shows that 764 calories per day above "standard state" may mean no weight gain in one person and significant weight gain in another.

When someone says "calories in, calories out" as a defense of their particular weight loss theory, I assumed that they are either repeating something they heard like a mindless parrot, or they failed freshman chemical engineering. Our body is not simple accumulating tank; it's a chemical reactor. We don't pour mass in one end and then pour that mass back out when we exercise. It's a lot more complicated than that. "Calories in, calories out" is strictly true, but not usefully so.


Except it is usefully true in that a caloric reduction results in weight loss. Some people may need more of a caloric reduction than others, and you can't say "I cut 3500 calories so now I've lost a pound," but if one reduces calories sufficiently one will lose weight. And for the vast majority of the population "sufficiently" does not mean "I must starve myself thin," it means "I need to eat smaller portions and have healthier foods and a high-protein diet to maintain health and satiety."

Our bodies aren't a rubber balloon or whatever that horrible Hacker's Diet says, but at the same time they aren't magical machines that are incapable of weight loss. Weight loss is just really hard because few people know how to do it properly and it involves lifelong changes in habit and perceptions of food.

I would ask all posters out there who are not losing weight who really, truly believe that they are diet-compliant but their bodies simply won't drop to prove it: buy a food scale, scrupulously weigh-and-measure all the food that goes into your body for a week (i.e. the pasta before you cook it, not just a serving of "spaghetti and meatballs") and get an idea of how many calories you are actually eating. You will likely be surprised.
posted by schroedinger at 10:59 AM on January 11, 2011


We can do and have done diet-controlled studies which shows that 764 calories per day above "standard state" may mean no weight gain in one person and significant weight gain in another.

Maybe you can link to the studies you're referring to? There certainly seems to be diversity in how people respond to different diets and types of exercise, but the experiments that I'm aware of show that overfeeding results in weight gain and underfeeding results in weight loss. I'm not aware of studies that show overfeeding leading to no weight gain.

Again, my point is simply that when someone claims to be severely over/under eating and yet is experiencing no change in weight, a reasonable first guess is that their data is inaccurate.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 11:01 AM on January 11, 2011


Okay, maybe rephrasing the question: if there was a question on the green along the lines of "how do I come to terms with my body?", and someone responded with advice on how to change one's body, that would be inappropriate and - judging from the tenor of this forum in general, a judgment I freely admit might be wrong - likely to be removed.

i.e. q: "Help me come to terms with my giant nose!" a: "Get a nose job!"

How is something like this not the equivalent?
posted by downing street memo at 11:03 AM on January 11, 2011


How is something like this not the equivalent?

Because it's helping the OP solve their larger problem. If the OP is coming up against a situation where the thing that is medically supposed to be happening (according to their understanding) is not happening and yet they won't go to a doctor because they've got a bunch of baggage about their particular doctor, advice that helps them get to another doctor to get an educated non-peanut-gallery second opinion is useful. The answer was respectful, not fight-starting and appropriate to the general question being asked if not the specific above-the-fold question.

If someone hates their giant nose, it's okay by the AskMe rules to say "You know, you don't have to live with your giant nose if you truly hate it" which is a different srt of answer than "get a nose job"

I don't think your assessment of how AskMe works is accurate. If you've got a specific situation from the past that makes you feel that this is how it works, please feel free to let me know and I'll be happy to try to explain why we did (or did not) do what we did.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:09 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


and someone responded with advice on how to change one's body,

Would it be?

It would depend on the question. "How do I come to terms with having terrible hair?" might really involve, "Try looking for a new stylist," or "Try a different shampoo." Those very well could be appropriate answers to questions like this.

If the question were, "Help me come o terms with my giant nose!" I imagine some MeFi would certainly reference Cyrano de Bergerac --- a beautiful soul with an unfortunate nose. Or even the movie "Despicable Me" where the main character uses his nose as the horn for a unicorn in a book he made for the girls. Someone may suggest a nose job, if for example, a deviated septum was involved. That would be a nose job, though maybe more for medical purposes.

Your examples are equivalent. But AskMe answers really only need to ADDRESS the question. Not necessarily answer it in the literal way you seem to think is required, and which Jessamyn has pointed out as not being required.
posted by zizzle at 11:12 AM on January 11, 2011


Thanks, folks who got what I was getting at. Someone who is starving themselves clearly needs a different approach, and awareness of the inefficacy of mainstream "diet" methods is part of deciding which approach to take.

Pretending that mainstream "diet" methods work, even though they don't work for 95% of the people who try them, seems like a very unhelpful intervention. Would you take a medication that had only a 5% chance of working? Would you attend a college that you had only a 5% chance of graduating from?

Weight is not a behavior. Behaviors are behaviors. Eating only carrots and broccoli is not a healthy behavior. Eating carrots and broccoli until you snap and go binge on tons of junk food (as some people seem to be assuming that poster is doing) isn't a healthy behavior, either.

Eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet and exercising regularly are healthy behaviors. Self-loathing isn't a good way, for most people, to get themselves to follow those behaviors. That isn't "fat acceptance"--it's rationality.

There are several studies that suggest that throwing the scale away and focusing on behaviors leads to improved behavior patterns, improved health, and (ironically enough) reduced scale weight. It's something the OP of that post might want to try, given that the other approach has led to some really unhealthy behaviors.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:53 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eating carrots and broccoli until you snap and go binge on tons of junk food (as some people seem to be assuming that poster is doing) isn't a healthy behavior, either.

And cutting out the junk food wouldn't make it a healthy behavior.

I have to assume that people who were all "Keep it up!" didn't actually read the whole question, and assumed that the questioner was still on a regime of healthy diet and exercise, not the disordered eating patterns to which they copped.

Because otherwise I would have to think that there were people here who think that disordered eating is better than body acceptance, and that would make me a very sad Sidhedevil.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:57 PM on January 11, 2011


I don't disagree with anything that Sidhedevil is saying here -- I just think that when the soundbyte is "diets don't work," meaningful information is lost, and that lack of information is part of the reason why diets don't work in the first place.

A person who goes on a regimen of calorie-restriction will lose weight; however, when they reach their "target weight" and therefore decide that it's time stop being "on a diet," they will often resume their old eating habits, which naturally leads them to return to their old bodyweight. What's more, extreme calorie-restriction, especially in the absence of sufficient protein intake and a proper exercise regimen, means the weight that they lose will consist of lean mass (muscle and bone) in addition to bodyfat. Since lean mass is one of the major determiners of metabolic rate, losing it means those same old eating habits will cause their weight to climb even higher than it was before the diet and it will be even more difficult to lose the weight again.

On the other hand, someone who understands how to create a demand for energy through hard physical effort and meet that demand with a sustainable, complete diet, will succeed at creating a healthy, functional, and attractive body. Unfortunately, despite the ubiquity of "dieting" and exercise routines and weight loss methods, it seems like there's still a large amount of illiteracy about how this stuff works.

So while I agree that there are a lot of counter-productive, unhealthy ideas about "dieting" floating around out there, and the OP in that thread seems to have fallen victim to them, I think "diets don't work" can paint a misleading picture.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 3:49 PM on January 11, 2011


Sidhedevil, if the OP is actually living on nothing but broccoli and apples they certainly have disordered eating issues, as I indicated in my first answer in that thread.

But given that the OP has lost no other weight, it's highly unlikely they actually have been eating nothing but broccoli and apples, and that was an exaggeration, and it simply feels to the OP like s/he has been eating nothing but broccoli and apples.
posted by schroedinger at 4:58 PM on January 11, 2011


But given that the OP has lost no other weight, it's highly unlikely they actually have been eating nothing but broccoli and apples, and that was an exaggeration, and it simply feels to the OP like s/he has been eating nothing but broccoli and apples.

Do you not see how condescending this sounds? It's also a counterproductive answer, given the other details the OP gave - she says "everyone online says fat people are lazy or stupid," and you're responding by saying "well, maybe the reason you're still fat is that you're too stupid to know what you're eating." She says she's only eating two servings of fruit/veg a day, and adds that she feels like total shit - which checks out, given that this would be totally unhealthy and disordered eating.

Really, you're essentially accusing her of outright lying in her own question, because she was very specific about her diet: "I decided to eat one portion of fruit and one of vegetable instead of any meals. Usually it's some broccoli and an apple. I partner this with a 45 minute walk every day. I've been doing this for two months."

Besides, given the number of people in the thread who said that similar things happened to their bodies when they went on near-starvation diets (to which I can also attest), perhaps you might want to re-examine the near-religious certainty with which you seem to hold your ideas about nutrition and the human metabolism.
posted by dialetheia at 6:03 PM on January 11, 2011


Look, I have met countless people who were religiously certain about what they were eating, how much they were eating, and how their bodies were special and just didn't work (myself included) and when they (myself included) buckled down and really stuck with a reasonable, healthy, not crazy, not crash, but not cheating, diet for six weeks it worked.

It is possible the OP is an anorexic and we don't know. If the OP is at a healthy or lower-than-healthy BMI or body fat percentage than I recant all of my arguments about intake, their body is quite probably shitting itself.

However, it is more possible that the OP is one of the many, many, many people who have attempted weight loss and failed and is now struggling with confusion, frustration, and no small amount of self-deception. I know how it feels to feel like you are trying really, really, really hard and have nothing work. But in the cold light of day, after a week or two of a food diary, sometimes one has to face up that one is not as compliant as one thought one was exactly because the feeling of working hard leads to more cheats. This does not mean you're "lazy and stupid." It means you're human. It is human nature to underreport food, to want to eat delicious things, and to not want to be hungry. And so we consciously or subconsciously deceive ourselves into thinking we are being more strict than we actually are. The complex emotional relationships many people develop with food helps nothing. And if you have been overweight for a while and tried many different things you can be overwhelmed very easily with the feeling that you are doomed and nothing you try will ever work (I say this as someone who has both observed this and been there).

If you want to call that condescending and harsh, fine. I operated for a very long time from the attitude that some people simply couldn't lose weight, it wasn't as easy as calorie reduction, and all of that other stuff. Experience now has borne out that it is as easy as calorie reduction, but when you add in emotion, frustration, human nature, insulin, breaking habits, self-deception, and all of that other shit it gets a lot harder and that is why people fail.
posted by schroedinger at 6:40 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to assume that people who were all "Keep it up!" didn't actually read the whole question, and assumed that the questioner was still on a regime of healthy diet and exercise, not the disordered eating patterns to which they copped.

I assumed that people saying "keep it up" meant "keep up the activities that caused you to lose 12 pounds in the first place, don't get discouraged and starve yourself."

schroedinger: you're absolutely right in most cases, but you can't know for absolute certainty what the OP's life is like. Imagine how it would feel if they WERE doing everything right, counting calories, weighing and measuring out foods, etc, and their weight loss was still plateauing due to metabolism or some other reason which we can't possibly know. It's frustrating and confusing for that to happen, and it can make people feel like they're doing something wrong. It can cause obsession and lead to eating disorders. So while I think the suggestion to make sure someone is measuring and weighing and counting accurately and all that is good, just consider the possibility that they maybe are doing everything right and approach it with that delicacy.
posted by girih knot at 7:17 PM on January 11, 2011


My take based on the tenor of that question and the serious emotional distress of the Asker is that answers that they are lying and that's why they're not losing (more) weight would be counterproductive in the extreme.
posted by Danila at 7:50 PM on January 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Jay-sus. Telling someone that their account of events indicates that they're probably mistaken about something is not the same as calling them a dirty liar. It's certainly not less helpful than answering with something totally made up just because it sounds nice.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 7:10 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


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