Studies are at it again. This time, a large federal study ended two years early because the results were so clear that they didn’t need to continue. The study was investigating whether diet and weight loss can prevent heart attacks and strokes in fat people with type 2 diabetes. And it didn’t. It was so obvious that it didn’t that, I’m going to say this again, they ended the study two years early.
There are the usual protestations from researchers about how surprised they are, they’re simply shocked, this wasn’t at all what they expected, they were so sure they were going to get exactly the opposite result. Of course. But at least this time they were honest enough to recognize what was happening, admit to it out loud, and shut the pointless thing down.
And the article contains this priceless quote from Dr. David Nathan, a principal investigator and the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Diabetes Center: “We have to have an adult conversation about this,” he said. “This was a negative result.”
Dr. Nathan also specifically said to “put ‘meaningful’ in quotes” when talking about meaningful weight loss defined as 5% of body weight. Awesome.
He does point out that while the test group (which was on a diet and exercise program) and the control group had similar levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, the dieters used fewer medications, so maybe there’s some kind of choice here between diet & exercise, and meds, which may be true, but personally I think that would need a whole new trial to test, especially since we already know that those things don’t help everyone.
There are, as usual, those in the medical world who are oh-so-dubious about the study, and I am absolutely certain that there will be a great many laypeople who will flat out deny and contradict it, and insist that these results are utterly impossible. But once again, there it fucking is.
I’m with Dr. Nathan. We need to be having a real, adult conversation about this. Weight loss is not a magic bullet or a panacea. Medical professionals need to stop pushing it on fat people as a cure-all and failing to actually treat the health problems that fat people have. We need to stop insisting that fat is the problem and address actual problems.
I went back to flipping through Reamde, just to see if I could stand it, because I was still interested to see where he took the idea. I got another twenty pages or so before I ran into this exchange:
…Then it all got handed of to…”
“Yeah, but we didn’t call him that in those days, because he was still fat.”
So then, since it’s an ebook and I can, I started searching through it to see how often certain words were used. There were:
27 uses of Skeletor
12 uses of fat in reference to a person
2 uses of obese
and a whole bunch of uses of “weight” in reference to someone as fat, which were a pain to count separately from the other uses of weight.
But here, have some quotes:
“His weight crept up to near-fatal levels…”
“In those days, Devin had been a mere tenant, living alone in a thirty-year-old mobile home that gave and groaned beneath his weight whenever he troubled himself to get up and move around.”
[Devin being the OMGDETHFATS man who later became “Skeletor”.]
“She was struggling with her weight, and was dressed and coiffed in a way that, seen on the streets of Seattle, would have been incontrovertible proof of Sapphism.”
[As a fat queer woman in Seattle: FUCK YOU, STEPHENSON.]
“Jones propped himself up on his elbows, taking some of his considerable weight off Zula…”
“Then she was stuck, sitting on the floor with Csongor’s full weight on her lap. He must have weighed well over 250 pounds.”
“At 190 centimeters, Marlon considered himself unusually tall. But in looking at Csongor, he’d had the unaccustomed experience of seeing one who was taller. And he was tempted to guess that Csongor was twice his weight, but he knew that couldn’t be possible. He carried some weight around his midsection, but none of it was what you’d call flab; his head was big and wide, but it did not support any redundant chins.”
[That makes Marlon 6’3″, which is tall, but not stunningly tall. (About 10% of the male population of the US is over 6’2″ — which means an American should have met dozens of people that height. A “shorter” basketball player is considered anyone below 6’8″.) If Csongor weighs “well over 250 pounds” — lets call that about 300 — then if Marlon were half his weight, he would weigh around 150 pounds. Which is rail thin. 6’5″ and 300 pounds is roughly a football player. A college freshman football player, not necessarily even at the size of a pro player. Like Kent Perkins here. Also, I’ve had 300lb men sit on me. It’s really not that heavy.]
“Its rated strength, he knew, would probably be high enough that two strands of it would support his weight—somewhere north of 250 pounds—in theory.”
[Interesting that Stephenson keeps using that same number, 250 pounds, over and over.]
“During his sporadic, Furious Muse–driven efforts to lose weight, he had been forcefully reminded of a basic fact of human physiology, which was that fat-burning metabolism just plain didn’t work as well as carbo-burning metabolism. It left you tired and slow and confused and dim-witted. It was only when he was really stupid and irritable—and, therefore, incapable of doing his job or enjoying his life—that he could be certain he was actually losing weight.”
[Good to see he’s aware of some facts about weight loss. One wonders, then, why this character works while on a treadmill for hours on end, and why he would want one of his employees — the aforementioned “Skeletor” — to do so even more of the time.]
“Richard, looking behind him, saw that trail and noted its embarrassing width and, even here, heard the voice of a Furious Muse reminding him that he needed to lose weight.”
[The “Furious Muses” are the voices of ex-girlfriends in Richard’s head who badger him whenever he thinks he’s done something wrong or badly. They’re clearly his conception of his inner critic, but he personifies them as his seven exes. Nice. Real nice.]
“According to this morning’s stats, Devin’s body fat percentage was an astonishing 4.5, which placed him into a serious calorie debt situation that in theory should extend his life span beyond 110 years.”
[Again, Devin is “Skeletor”. 4.5% body fat is not fucking healthy. It’s a level pro body builders get down to for competitions, to show off every single muscle and vein, but it is not healthy, and they generally don’t maintain it out of season, because it’s fucking unhealthy and generally requires manutrition. Also, as Stephenson should know if he’d actually done his fucking research, caloric restriction studies a) do not have consistent results, b) are often jiggered and buggered and half-faked every which way, and c) don’t actually give anything like that kind of effect. 110, my fat ass.]
“…the long radio silence suddenly broken by one-word text messages blossoming on his phone (LANDED, TAXIING, STILL TAXIING!, WAITING TO DEPLANE, FAT LADY BLOCKING AISLE)”
“…he was now wandering around T’Rain in the guise of a fat merchant named Lottery Discountz. It was possible to change the name—as well as take care of the fatness—for a modest fee…”
“THE BIG FAT Russian had been trying to create feelings of terror in Qian Yuxia’s heart…”
“Igor raised the fingertips of both hands to his temples, making his huge fat hands into blinders, tunneling his vision at Sokolov.”
“The fat hands became flesh pistols, index fingers aiming at Sokolov’s eyes.”
“…he was making for a head-on collision with a fat man riding down the middle of the road on an all-terrain vehicle…”
“…make it more difficult for Jones to just drill him in his fat ass while strolling along in his wake.”
Yep, there is just no way I can read this book. Stephenson is simply incapable of using fat any way but negatively about a person here. This is way above his usual levels; this is downright creepy. By contrast, Diamond Age uses “fat” for a person three times, “weight” in no negative sense to do with people, and “obese” not at all. There are at least two fat characters in the book, both of whom are on the protagonist’s side, more or less. They get described as “bulky,” “thick,” having a “belly [that] had created a visible divergence between his two rows of brass buttons,” “rather thick around the middle, and evidently in decent health.” No, this is definitely not a constant thing with Stephenson. I cannot begin to fathom what the fuck he was thinking here.
I don’t have e-copies of any of the books published between Diamond Age and Reamde, but the worst fat stigma I can recall is some stuff about chubby geek guys, and an older fat man in the Baroque Cycle who was maybe the object of a little “humor,” but there was certainly nothing like there is in this fucking book.
I just . . . I do not even. How the hell does someone go from being on the high side of average to such nastiness?
I hate Jim Carrey. Hate him. Cannot stand to look at his face or hear his voice. He infuriates me that much. I find him utterly repulsive. There’s no particular reason why. My loathing is entirely separate from my knowledge that he is (from the evidence of his movies) racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, wildly narcissistic, and not at all funny. It’s entirely irrational. I just hate him.
Sometimes people will try to convince me to watch one of his movies — Eternal Sunshine is the usual one, but occasionally it’s one of his Seuss movies, or A Series of Unfortunate Events — or even say they’re going to trick me into watching one (or worse). And then I fucking lose my temper.
Because seriously? I do not like Jim Carrey. I fucking hate JIm Carrey. I am not missing anything by not watching his movies, because I fucking hate Jim Carrey. I will not enjoy whatever movie it is, no matter how much someone else may like it, because the fact that Jim Carrey is in it will fucking ruin it for me. You will not change my mind, and it is not ok to even joke about trying to trick me into it.
I don’t like Jim Carrey, and I never will. And that’s ok. There are lots of things out there in the world I do enjoy, and I’ll just go watch, do, or read those things instead. I do not need Jim Carrey in my life. It is not a moral failing in me that I hate Jim Carrey. There is no requirement that I like him or any piece of his work, ever. And yet, somehow people seem to miss that.
Much like people seem to miss that when I say, “I really don’t like to exercise. There are only a few things that make me feel good while I’m doing them, and nothing that makes me feel better in general just because I do it regularly. I do not lose weight when exercising, I am not less depressed when exercising,* it doesn’t make my cramps go away, and it doesn’t make me feel any healthier,” I actually mean that, and that that’s ok, too. I am not morally obligated to like or feel better for exercising.
And yet this is a thing I encounter even within HAES. Some fat people really like to exercise. Some fat people are athletes, and are really fucking good at it and love it. They feel good while doing it, and it makes them feel better in general. And that’s awesome. For them. But the assumption that it must also work that way for me, and I just haven’t found the right thing yet, or I haven’t tried hard enough, is not awesome.
Look, I like horseback riding. But taking lessons and/or renting or owning a horse to ride without lessons is expensive, and so is the gas to drive out from the city to where stables are. And I like swimming. But I hate public pools, which are generally really loud and crowded and heavily chlorinated, and the ocean here is too cold to swim in, and I can’t afford a gym membership, and honestly when I could, I still didn’t go do it all that often, because while I like it, making time to do it regularly is a pain in the ass, and I just stop doing it because it’s not worth it. I like yoga, but I don’t know enough about it to do it right with a video, and classes cost, and every time I’ve started to take even a short 6- or 8-week class, I’ve stopped going after just a few weeks. Because, again, I like it, but not enough to do that often. Even if I could budget the money for these things right now — and I can’t, not with debt to pay off and a wedding to save for — they wouldn’t be worth it to me. There’s other things I can do with that time and money that will make me happier right now.
My parents are some of the worst perpetrators of this, but some HAES people will go on about healing your relationship with exercise, and frankly every time I read that, I hear it in the voice of a Southern televangelist. And it is roughly as insulting as their presumption that I need to have a relationship with Jesus to be a good person.
Look, I fucking know what exercise feels like. I’ve tried every damn thing I had even the slightest interest in. I’ve exercised hard and regularly. Exercise does not make me happy, it makes me unhappy, and the few exceptions to that are not practical for me at this point in time. There is nothing anyone is going to come up with that is going to make it magically worth it for me to exercise. And anybody who insists that I should do it anyway, or that I’m wrong and I really will feel better or lose weight or whatever, is insulting me. They are saying they know my body and my feelings better than I do. They are saying that I am wrong, and I don’t really hate Jim Carrey, I just think I do.
It’s condescending as fuck. And I’m sick of it.
*Oh, and by the way. There’s a new study that shows that exercise, taken alongside therapy and medication, does absolutely fuck-all for serious depression. And yet the article still has to insert, “But you still have to exercise! Everybody has to exercise!” Ugh. Fuck off and die in a fire.
I talked briefly the other day about health, and how we don’t have an obligation to be healthy. I want to talk a little more about that, and the problems with the ideas of “health” and “fitness”.
To start with, there’s simply the problem of defining both words. What is health? What is fitness? All too often, we define both at least partially by weight, something that’s been shown again and again not to be true.
Merriam-Webster Online defines health as “1 a : the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially : freedom from physical disease or pain b : the general condition of the body “. How does that apply to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, then? Is it impossible for them to be healthy? My lungs aren’t especially sound, and neither are my knees. I have a mental illness, so my mind is not sound. Am I never healthy, then? What about people with disabilities that affect their lives even more than mine? Can they never be called healthy? Or is health a relative concept, and I can be more or less healthy relative to some arbitrary default? The opposite of “healthy” is “unhealthy,” and is used all too often to be a value judgement — something or someone who is unhealthy is bad, ethically or morally. Are people with disabilities bad people?
Fitness is often defined as the ability to do things, and so can be defined relatively. You can set fitness goals, things you want to be able to do, and then works towards them, making them a little more concrete. But there’s still a lot of judgement attached to those fitness goals, and again many people’s idea of fitness is such that it’s simply impossible for a lot of people, especially those with disabilities, to achieve. Worse is the word itself. The opposite of “fit” is “unfit,” a word most often seen in phrases like, “unfit for duty,” “unfit parents,” and even “unfit to live.” It means physically or mentally unsound. The implications are, if anything, worse than unhealthy. Are people with disabilities unfit for life?
Or can we, instead, come to some idea of well-being that does not imply judgement upon people who do not have it? One that takes into account people’s various abilities and disabilities, and in which the only yardstick is how the individual person feels, what she can do, how he can operate his body? One that does not hold anyone up to any outside standard, as any outside standard will be unreachable for some who nonetheless feel comfortable and happy in their bodies? One that has to do, not with length of life, but with the quality of life as determined by the person living it? And if we can come to some such idea as a society, what would we call it?