Jay Leno

Ranting About Gluttony Doesn’t Help with Obesity

For reasons we cannot fathom, Jay Leno decided to deliver a rant about “this disturbing trend of gluttony” that he supposes is the root cause of obesity. Thanks, Jay. But you’re not helping. Food marketers might be pushing a lot of disgusting “innovations,” but gluttony is not the root cause of obesity. And rants about it don’t help. In fact, they make the problem worse.

The Obesity Action Coalition immediately called for an apology from NBC. We hope you’ll sign on to the petition here to lend your voice

A Common, Misinformed Theme

Though he’s completely wrong about the nature of obesity, Leno is not alone in his rants. This week in the Telegraph, Judith Wood complains that we are “looking for an excuse for obesity.” The answer is simple, she says. Eat less. According to Wood, eating more than our body needs is what causes obesity. Leno’s point was the same.

However, the truth is just the opposite of what these two are saying. Obesity persists and resists all efforts to reverse it precisely because people are eating what our bodies are demanding. Our brain – specifically the hypothalamus – regulates the fat that our body stores. Just like it regulates how much water we have in our bodies. Or how much oxygen we breathe, or how much heat we generate to keep ourselves at a constant 98.6 degrees.

We don’t choose to be thirsty. The hypothalamus tells us we are when we get dehydrated. If we develop edema, it’s not because we drank too much water. It’s because something is wrong with our body. Drinking less water won’t fix it.

And likewise, the research on obesity is quite clear. It doesn’t have a single cause or a single solution. Choosing to eat less doesn’t cure it very often. It can help a bit. But only a bit. More often that not, the body is demanding more fuel and conserving it to store up more fat than is healthy. The thermostat for body fat in the brain has gone awry. Medical and surgical care can help correct the problem, but we need better solutions.

Driving Stigma, Harm, and More Obesity

What is clear is that rants to belittle people with obesity make the problem worse. The lived experience with obesity is one of having people reject and demean you because of size. Over and over again, people suggest you are stupid or gluttonous because you could solve your problem by simply eating less. Just as Leno and Wood are doing.

But the research is clear that this weight bias simply feeds a cycle of stigma and stress that promotes obesity. Leno and Wood are feeding, not fighting the problem.

So please, add your voice to the call for NBC to apologize for Leno’s angry, harmful rant by clicking here.

Jay Leno Interrupts Jimmy’s Monologue with Another Angry Rant, YouTube video from the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

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April 27, 2019

6 Responses to “Ranting About Gluttony Doesn’t Help with Obesity”

  1. April 27, 2019 at 7:13 am, beverly lynn said:

    i agree he’s fat shaming with erroneous opinions based on faulty premises. however, his rants about the fast food industry sadly are true.. do we really need the products they are making? probably not.

  2. April 27, 2019 at 3:27 pm, David Brown said:

    If I were to rant about something, this is what I’d say.

    I suggest scientist shaming. They have all the science available to explain what caused the obesity epidemic and they ignore it. They talk about weight of the evidence and scientific consensus as if the facts are irrelevant. Here. Take a look at the facts. Do these web searches and tell me if I’m mistaken.
    Anna Haug arachidonic acid
    Annadie Krygsman arachidonic acid
    Olaf Adam arachidonic acid
    Ronald Jandacek linoleic acid
    Bill Lands Prevent the cause: not treat the cure
    BMJ arachidonic acid
    gingivitis linoleic acid
    varicose veins linoleic acid
    I wish I had known that is wise to limit both linoleic acid and arachidonic acid 50 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of pain, inconvenience and expense. I would likely still have all my teeth as well.

  3. April 27, 2019 at 4:35 pm, Chester Draws said:

    I’ve seen a bunch of people lose decent amounts of weight. From 20 to 60 pounds. Every single one of them did it by portion control. Often with only lightly changing the amount of exercise too.

    They weren’t gluttons before, but they were eating too much.

    • April 27, 2019 at 11:16 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this, Chester. Some people do lose weight with portion control. But these anecdotes don’t tell us that simple portion control works to help large numbers of people with obesity reverse their condition. Unfortunately, controlled clinical trials tell us that behavioral strategies like this, though they are helpful, do not cure obesity in most people.

  4. April 28, 2019 at 4:32 pm, mike said:

    Ted, I prescribe pretty heavily to Chester’s “anecdote” and broader point. If you control portions, you will lose weight (the vast majority of the time). There are two intellectually complete ways to dispute his point as how I see it…

    1) People commit to portion control, yet they don’t lose weight
    2) People are unable/ unwilling to commit to portion control.

    I think (and the vast majority of evidence, Kevin Hall’s study as one example recently) 2 is the real scenario, people don’t stick to portion control long-term, hence they don’t lose the weight. I also think you would agree with 2 , except you would say my / Chester’s line of thinking is “too simplistic” and doesn’t account for the brain changes you talk about (very heavily along the Hungry brain Stephen Guyenet line of thinking). Do you agree with my assessment or do you see it a different way?

    Ultimately I agree saying portion / calorie control is “all that is needed” is frustrating because it is HARD to do, no doubt. But I also think many people get frustrated when experts such as yourself seem to almost imply 1) that portion control fail because it comes across as you are saying “they eat less, but it doesn’t work”. The average person is like, “well no, they just didn’t adhere, and yes adherence may be exteremely difficult, but to imply that overeating isn’t a HUGE part of becoming fat seems pretty crazy”. Edema is a bad example, because as you say if you drink less water, you will still have the edema. Conversely if you eat less food for 3 months (lets say 1000 calories a day – average obese male going from 2700-3000 down to 1700-2000), you will lose 15-25 lbs, almost no doubt. Do you disagree with this, and if so, how so?

    Last point, as a frame of reference I am somehow who has maintained 95-105 lb weight loss for about 7 years now (going from 3000 calories to 2000 during the periods of losing weight, and now pretty weight stable eating 2300-2500 calories per day. I give this info so that hopefully you can’t / won’t dismiss this opinion without realizing it comes from someone how personally has lived it, and has pretty good experience for a lay person (hall, guyenet, calorie balance equations as evidence etc)

    Thanks for your inisghts. Read your blog everyday for last year so a big fan, sincerely curious to see how / where you disagree with me or would phrase it differently

    • April 28, 2019 at 11:07 pm, Ted said:

      Hi, Mike, and thanks for your kind words. Thanks, too, for sharing your experience. You are correct that it is possible for someone to restrict their portions of food and lose weight. And in your case, losing 100 pounds and maintaining that lower weight is an impressive accomplishment.

      If fact, it is exceptional. It’s been studied over and over and the more typical experience is that people lose 5-10% of the weight they started with and then slowly regain some or all of it over time. That’s not to say it’s futile to try it. But results do vary widely. Your results are exceptional, not typical.

      Bottom line, when people regain weight over time, it’s because the body has many mechanisms to defend a set point for storing energy (fat mass) to protect itself in lean times. Metabolic function is part of that. Hunger is part of it, as are other mechanisms that prompt people to find food and consume just enough of it to restore a reduced fat mass. The brain is simply doing its job, but the setpoint for fat mass in obesity has become dysfunctional. Behavioral strategies, such as you’ve followed, help a little for many people, a lot for a few, and not at all for others. One size does not fit all. What works for you is great, but it doesn’t work for everybody. Not by a long shot.