New York Monument at Antietam

Picking Sides in the Weight Loss Civil War

Body of TruthAn unfortunate weight loss civil war has been simmering for some time. The latest skirmish comes in the form of a new book by Harriet Brown: Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight—and What We Can Do About It. With “Truth” in the title, you have a hint of Brown’s righteous convictions. You’ll find such righteousness on both sides of this ideological conflict.

In the Atlantic, Brown lays out her objections to dealing with obesity as a disease. She sees it as a way to exploit people based on their size:

Weight loss is a big business, and, since it’s rarely successful in the long term, it comes with a built-in supply of repeat customers. And doctors have been involved in the business one way or another for a long time.

She equates medical concerns about obesity with a cultural obsession about body image and excessive thinness. Obesity treatment, in her writing, is just another weight loss scam dressed up with more medical sounding jargon.

Writing for, Julia Belluz presents for the other side of this civil war, saying:

There are few things I’d more love to report than the idea that you no longer need to worry about your weight.

“This whole obesity thing has been an industry-fueled charade!” I’d say, and then we’d all throw away our salads and sink our teeth into cheeseburgers and cupcakes.

She gives a very thoughtful explanation of the medical implications of obesity and she talks about sustainable approaches to weight management. But her whole point boils down to an argument that “weight loss can work.” That’s where she misses the point and gets sucked into a false choice between promoting or rejecting weight loss.

Weight loss can certainly be helpful in treating obesity, but it’s not the real point of treating obesity. Obesity is not defined by excess weight. It’s defined by too much of the wrong kind of fat tissue for good health. The real point of treating obesity is maximizing health and life.

Weight loss is neither always good nor always bad. Sometimes it’s helpful, but it’s mostly a short-term thing. The long term is about sustaining a healthy life in every aspect.

Click here to read more from Brown in the Atlantic, click here to read about her book on Amazon, and click here to read more from Belluz.

New York Monument at Antietam, photograph © Rob Shenk / flickr

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4 Responses to “Picking Sides in the Weight Loss Civil War”

  1. March 27, 2015 at 7:32 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Amen, Ted Kyle. Seeking and speaking truth!

    • March 27, 2015 at 8:59 am, Ted said:

      Thanks Joe. The whole truth is something that I’m still seeking.

  2. March 27, 2015 at 1:35 pm, Rob said:

    This is part of why I’ve personally been avoiding the term “weight loss surgery”, and when possible referring it to bariatric surgery. Because the goal is, or should be focused on health…

    Yes, weight loss can lead to better health, but not always. And that also tends to imply that more weight loss means even better health… which is often not the case.

    My personal goals are about eating healthy, living healthy, and a “side effect” of that often can reaching/maintaining a healthy weight.

    • March 27, 2015 at 4:04 pm, Ted said:

      I agree with you completely, Rob.