June 23, 2008

Fat is Not Fair

[by Crabby]

It is not a scientific secret that genetics play a role in weight gain and obesity.

People have different metabolisms. There are people who eat tons of food and never exercise, yet they are skinny. There are other people who eat healthy foods in reasonable portions, exercise for hours, and will still probably always be "overweight."

Yet because so much hard work and sacrifice is involved in weight loss, there is a tendency among people who are successful to act as though everyone gets the exact same deal. "I gave up my hot fudge sundaes and started running, and look at me! If you're still overweight, it's because you must be eating crap and sitting on your ass all day."

Well, some of you know from experience that it's just not true.

And sure, plenty of people are overweight because they eat way too much and exercise too little. But there are also plenty of others who get a raw deal in the genetic lottery--maybe growing up, you did the same stuff everyone around you was doing, but instead of getting heavy, you got obese. Or maybe you've struggled your whole life to keep from being obese, going to great lengths to be merely overweight. Or perhaps you've swung back and forth, losing and gaining, messing with your already unfriendly metabolism and through the best of intentions making things worse.

It's not fair.

What's It Like To Have the Deck Stacked Against You?

Are you one of those unlucky people? I'm not myself, but I believe that among readers of health and weight loss blogs, there are quite a few. People who are motivated enough to visit blogs and even start their own, and research all the right things to do and try and try and try... but still find the pounds fall off very, very slowly. And sometimes not at all.

I read what some of you folks are eating and what you're doing for exercise, and Holey Moley! It's a lot more demanding than what I have to do to maintain my weight. I would get so exhausted by the daily battle of "bad cookie/good carrot/how many steps on the pedometer today" that I think I'd want to pull my hair out.

I have a pretty "normal" metabolism. If I start eating like an average American and exercising like an average American, even for a few months, I gain weight. I would be overweight now if I hadn't woken up (twice) and reformed my ways when I started to get too self-indulgent. But, unlike some of you, if I eat 90% healthy, count calories for a while, and get a bunch of exercise, I can lose the weight again fairly easily and keep it off.

It makes me wonder what my attitudes would be like if I weren't so lucky. What if I were suddenly "blessed" with a hundred or so extra pounds and a stubborn metabolism? How would I handle it?

The Optimistic Scenario

Here's what I hope I would do:

1. Learn how to reject all the appearance-related garbage we're exposed to daily. I hope I'd learn to love my large thighs and unshedable belly fat even while being constantly told my every magazine, billboard, tv show and casual conversation that I should hate everything about myself.

2. Concentrate more on health goals--getting stronger, fueling my body with nutritious healthy food, building endurance, doing enough cardio to reduce my risk for heart disease and cancer and diabetes, etc. Define progress according to these goals, not a number on the scale.

3. Try to be grateful for all the other ways in which I was still lucky, by looking beyond my immediate situation. I hope I'd remind myself that I could be living in a poverty-stricken nation; I could be in the midst of a war; I could be maimed or disfigured or dying of a painful disease or the victim of any number of unjust fates.

4. Surround myself with supportive, non-judgmental, healthy friends who would understand me and encourage my efforts to be strong and healthy and happy.

5. Seek balance in life and see myself as a whole person with many talents and goals, and not just as number on a scale or a clothing size.

But honestly? I am not a particularly evolved, mature, self-confident person.

The Darker Scenario:

Here is how I fear I might deal with the situation instead:

1. Learn to hate my body, and by extension, myself.

2. Get so focused on calories and portion sizes and "good" and "bad" foods that I'd no longer be able to enjoy eating as a simple pleasurable activity. And with food and exercise so emotionally charged, I fear I'd veer between frantic determination to lose weight versus giving up entirely and bingeing.

3. Become more self-absorbed (if possible) and depressed.

4. Withdraw from social situations out of fear of rejection.

5. Start judging my sense of self worth by how my clothes fit rather than who I was as a person.

Yikes, what a downer, I should have gone in the other order!

So does anyone with a "good" metabolism wonder how they'd fare if they weren't so lucky? Or does anyone who's unlucky have any stories from the trenches or advice for those struggling against unfair odds?


  1. Im so later to the soirée-----but just discovered this fab writer:


    she says pretty much everything better (funnier, more eloquently) than I on this topic (and others. ok, in general)

    seen her before?

  2. A lot of people use genetics as a crutch, and it's unfortunate because it then creates skeptics like me.

  3. Mizfit--
    I had heard of her vaguely but really must try her books, she sounds hilarious!

    And Marie,
    I agree that some people who cling to genetics aren't looking at their own behavioral issues. But I do know several people personally who have to struggle so much harder than "normal" and despite their substantial sacrifices and hard work are still overweight. I really don't know how I'd cope if it were me.

  4. Unfortunately, I am one of those losers in the genetic lottery (damn thyroid!). And although my thoughts normally fall into the darker scenerio, I am actively changing that.

    Its not easy! It is so hard to switch your thinking. It goes against everything you have ever told yourself. Love your thighs, fat & rolls?!? Well, they obviously love you enough to not want to leave, right! SO why not return the affection? This is definitely easier said then done, like most weight loss advice!

    But attitude is half the battle. Maybe if I did love my ENTIRE self, I would treat it better...hmmm...thats a thought!

    Yep, its a disfunctional realtionship, but like I said..I am changing that!

  5. I know a couple of people who are in the situation you describe (though I know quite a few more who blame their genes while never getting off their butt and eating junk all day), and honestly, it's a bad situation. I try to skirt around the topic, because really what do you say? They are active, in one case REALLY active, they eat reasonably well, and yet, there they are... I think in this case you ought to go see a doctor and see if you don't have some big hormonal imbalance or thyroid dysfunction that might be helped with medications.
    Right now, I feel I can relate in some measure. I eat 90% healthy, I exercise 1 hour to 1.5 hour a day, and the scale keeps going up. Of course, being pregnant, this is how it should be, and yet, it still plays a little umber on my psyche...

  6. I just don't know what I'd do. I like to think I'd be okay with it, but the constant battle with information about weight coming at us from all directions would probably wear me down.

  7. I believe I had a slightly unlucky hand in that I have an endomorphic build which has (a) naturally large bone mass; and (b) propensity to put on weight more easily for extra padding around the already large bones.

    I recently found this article on a male fitness trainer's blog:


    which really explains in simple and visual terms the differences in body types.

    I know that having an endomorphic body (I wear men's size 10 trainers and boots and am only 5'6" tall -- very large bones for someone only average height) is no excuse for weighting 300 lbs .... but it is perhaps the reason why I was never designed to weigh some ridiculous amount, like 125 lbs which was suggested to me as a goal weight when I was about 15 and went on a "diet" for the first time.

    Nowadays, I would be happy to weigh 150 lbs or 170 lbs, but anywhere that is nearer to "normal".

    I also know that having this body size and having tried to "fight" it since I was a teenager has led to me yo yo dieting for years and, yes, I have messed with my metabolism -- it is much harder for me to lose weight now than it was in my 20s.

    But I feel I must still fight the good fight, or accept life as a 300 lb blob forever, which I really do not want.

    Thanks for this interesting article, Crabby.

  8. Genetics is definitely working against me. I watched all of the women in my family (and extended family) struggle with their weight as I was growing up. In a way, I think it's helped me beat the genes... I just didn't want to spend my whole life trying to lose weight so I've always tried to be somewhat active. But instead of of fretting over weight gain, I'm spending my whole life worried that I will gain weight. I'm not sure if that's any better to tell you the truth!

    There's also an even grimmer side to the dark side... when people start blaming their family for being overweight. One of my extended family has told me "I blame my mom that I turned out fat." It breaks my heart.

  9. I have a fairly normal metabolism BUT I have been on steroid-based medication all my life PLUS I have PCOS which makes things a little tougher. No, I'm not overweight (anymore) or obese but I have to consciously tell myself that there are no good or bad foods. No 'cheat' meals or days and no punishing myself. Otherwise I'll fall into a deep hole of depression and yes, everything in the last list will fit me.

    I work hard because while I know I'm still ME with the extra rolls and heavier thighs, I'm a more confident me without them.

  10. ok
    Im back.

    devils advocate/sh** stirrer in a way here--but hear me out.

    Im totally a loser in the genetic lottery.

    I really would love to be far more muscular but my genetics SUCK (to use the scientific technical term).

    every ounce of muscle is hard won for me.
    the result of an amazing amount of **clean** calories and lots of heavy hoisting.

    many others could look/DO LOOK as I do with minimal effort.

    what I won in the genetic lottery? my parents' brainpower (for which I am appreciative.).

    along with it came their jewish genetic muscle structure ;)

    I guess if we step back very few of us are lances (armstrong not a long pointed rod used as a weapon) and we all fight something.


  11. I have a "good" metabolism, but was raised being told that my body (at a size 4) was "gross" and "disgusting", so I feel like I have a bit more insight into having a "bad" metabolism. While I'd like to say I didn't care, the truth is that I was anorexic for most of college, and only recently have I finally stopped obsessing over food.

  12. Very insightful and compassionate article, Crabby! I think this is so important to recognize just so that we all stop being so judgemental of each other. Fat, skinny, thin, muscular (as MizFit pointed out). I think most of the people are doing their genuine best most of the time. I also think that more people would work at it if we weren't so harsh on them and ourselves.

    I'm not sure where I fall on the genetic scale. My mother is obese. My brother and father are overweight. I honestly believe my mom is in the unlucky genetic category. So I've always held a VERY tight rein on my eating and exercise. Up until this recent thyroid thing, losing weight for me was pretty much how it is for you. But these last few months of doing everything right but still gaining weight has really given me a look into how horribly miserably frustrating it is.

  13. Yeah, in medical school we had those students that never studied, or put any effort into becoming a doctor, yet were stars and brilliant with treating patients, and then we had those students that were always at the library, studied all they could, put in extra time in the labs, and still, were totally incompetent as doctors..well, actually not.

    I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.
    –Thomas Jefferson

    Dr. J

  14. I'm a regular reader and poster, but my opinion is kind of unpopular... and it's kind of mean. So I'm posting anonymously.

    I know that some people have poor metabolisms (I'm one of them, though mine isn't THAT bad - even though I eat 90% healthy and exercise daily, it keeps me just above normal but not obese and barely overweight). However, I think it's kind of become a common excuse that people like to use. It's a lot easier to blame your metabolism, the meds you're on, etc, rather than take a really good luck at what you're doing.

    My mother has been complaining for some time about how she's been gaining weight (15 pounds in the last 6 months). She claims that it's due to a new medicine she started, and that she eats very little. I finally got to see her in action this weekend - and while she eats very small meals, she snacks all day long without even thinking about it. It's all healthy stuff, and it's usually a bite here and a bite there, but the calories add up! When we recorded every bit of food she put in her mouth (and there was a lot that she had forgotten she had even eaten and I had to remind her of, so maybe there's more), we found that she consumed almost 1000 calories a day just in snacks that weren't filling her up! She had genuinely thought she was eating healthy, and genuinely thought the medicine was to blame, but it became clear that it was her behavior that was (at least part of) the problem.

    I think it's very easy to blame genetics, metabolism, etc, but you really need to take a HARD look at what you're doing, and perhaps see a doctor, before you make that assumption.

    I'll get off my soapbox now.

  15. Umm, so what you're saying is the second way of dealing with things is, umm, wrong?! *Ulp*

    Seriously, though, genetics do determine how and where your body stores fat, but it is also up to the individual to provide the fuel and determine how much of it to use.

    There has always been a lot of emphasis placed on appearances, (probably even the cave-ettes were critical of how the slut in the next cave draped her animal skin!) but in this age of mass media, it has become an epidemic.

    (oops, you'll be thankful that the menopausal Bag Lady has lost her train of thought and is going to stop now before her comment rambles longer than your post was....)

  16. Sometimes, it really ISN'T fair. Which is why we should be that much more grateful if we don't have that unlucky gene.

  17. Then there's the other end of the spectrum. My mother was 5' 1" and a healthy weight for her was about 95. The only time in her life she weighed more than that was when she was pregnant or nursing. As she got older and her food allergies got more severe, she got thinner and thinner, no matter how hard she tried to put weight on. She ate enough, in calories and nutrition, to gain weight, but it just didn't happen. The lowest weight she admitted to was 80 pounds, but I'm pretty sure that before she died she weighed less than that. You could count her vertebrae across the room through a quilted bathrobe.
    Both of us had low thyroid, but hers did not begin until menopause, and mine began around puberty, so that I was still growing. My weight gain did not begin until I was past thirty, and all the years that I was walking almost daily I gained very little. (Five pounds over ten years; another five pounds in another ten years.) I never tried to control quantity in my diet, having quite enough restrictions from the allergies, thank you! Then I moved here, where I have to drive somewhere to walk, and gained fifteen pounds in five years. Now that my cholesterol is high for the first time in my life (thank you, menopause) I'm determined to lose some weight. It isn't going well. I've lost the same five pounds several times over the past year. I need to lose at least fifteen more; twenty-five would be nice, but not really necessary. If I cut down much on the amount I eat, I'm hungry All the Time, which is not acceptable. Buying the exercise bike (was that two months ago?) has helped a little--I haven't gained that five pounds back--but gack! it's boring! Weight, for me, has always been about health, not appearance, and now the health issues are ganging up on me.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  18. It's always terrible amusing when I read articles that say "just eat 1500 calories a day and take a walk around the block every evening and you'll lose two pounds a week!" My metabolism hears that and laughs. LAUGHS. "Fool! You will eat 1300 calories a day for months on end, work out for 45 minutes five times a week, and lose HALF A POUND A WEEK!"

    I've learned to (mostly) stop caring about that stuff and just keep plodding along, knowing that I will reach my goal eventually.

  19. I have the metabolism of a sleeping sloth so it's a bit of work for me to keep the pounds from creeping up on me...but I know I can do it if I try. It took me a long time to figure it out though...the dark side was a place I visited before I realised I was worth more than that.

    I do feel bad for a few people I know who do eat well and exercise and nothing seems to happen for them - it just seems unfair...if you try that hard something should happen.

  20. Wow. This is timely.

    So I'm now holding steady at 230lbs on my 5'10" frame. Before I was pregnant, I was 200lbs. Before I was really depressed for 6 months, I was 165lbs.

    I'm fairly certain that I'll never be 165lbs again. And I'm okay with that.

    I'm eating much better these days. I walk for an hour at least 5 days a week. I'm going to start jogging again this week, despite the fear that's stopped me for several months now. I'm trying to find someone to teach me weight training (for free, which is a little more difficult, heh).

    Even if I didn't lose a pound, I would still do these things.

    I'm not down on myself anymore for being fat (not saying it doesn't make it not so). I've been fat my whole life. Even at my thinnest (the aforementioned 165lbs.) strangers called me fat.

    So I've decided to focus on the things I know I can change: my fitness level (raising it), my nutrition (NOT DIETING), and my attitude (loving myself and treating myself well and with care).

    Fat is not a fate worse than death.

    (Sorry for the long post, just had to delurk on this one. :)

  21. Wow! Very well written...that one is a keeper!

  22. I naturally have a pretty high metabolism, and I've definitely wondered how I'd handle it if I had to work as hard as some of my friends. Honestly, I think I'd be very discouraged and might give up. It takes a lot of personal strength, commitment, and fortitude to keep going when progress comes so slowly...

  23. I know that things beyond my control have to do with a "bad" metabolism, such as PCOS or genetics or whatever. But I also know that I just don't try as hard as I could be, or sometimes not even trying hard at all.

    So I don't try to think about the genetics of it all, too much anyway, or try to use it as a crutch. Because I'm pretty sure that while I'll never be on any magazine covers, I'm also know that the PCOS or whatever can't really stop me from being a healthy size if I really had my mind to it.

    I also have to not think too much about it, or be too obsessed or else it will get into my head too much and I'll get depressed and weirded out.

  24. Wow these comments are really interesting and insightful. I really appreciate hearing where everyone's coming from.

    And I hope everyone feels free to express their own opinion and disagree with me! One thing Cranky Fitness has been blessed with is diplomatic readers who know how to disagree without being the least bit disagreeable.

    One thing I want to clarify is that I'm not advocating giving up on healthy behaviors just because the results are frustrating from a "numbers" perspective. I think getting plenty of exercise and watching portion sizes and eating healthy food is something everyone should be doing.

    But sometimes I think the quest to be "skinny" can be counter- productive, particularly for those who don't have the genes that make that achievable without starvation.

  25. I guess I’m one of those people in the metabolically challenged camp. But I try not to focus on that. I know I can lose weight if I really put the effort into it. On the other hand, I really am not willing to do the things I know will let me lose weight. It’s a mental block. Right now I’m trying to focus on taking better care of myself by eating more real food (not diet foods) and exercising for fun. The pressure of trying to lose weight is causing a lot of self-sabotage.

  26. When I was younger, I was slim. Not skinny, but I was never chubby. Nor was I particularly active, to be honest. I was more of a bookworm than anything, though my Mom would kick us kids outside to play so it's not like I never got any exercise.

    During this time I didn't understand how anyone could "let themselves" be overweight. Why didn't they do something about it? Didn't it bother them?

    Then, in my late twenties, as I became a desk-bound full time worker, the pounds slowly began to creep on. At first I did not notice this. When eventually I did notice, I tried to fight it. I started working out. I started paying more attention to nutrition and watching portion sizes. But somehow, once those pounds were gained, they wouldn't go away.

    Now, I won't claim to eat a perfect diet. But I do try. I do, normally, workout 5 or 6 days a week. I try to watch portions and make healthy meals. But here I still am.

    It's depressing, disheartening, frustrating, infuriating.

    I will say that some of my eating habits have started to slip lately. I think somewhere along the line I started to think: What's the point?

    I know there is a point, and I know I have to start working on those habits again. But when you are working hard and not seeing any results, it's hard to keep going.

    It is frustrating when the first bit of advice anyone offers is that I should start exercising. That is always the first thing people say. It would be funny if it wasn't so infuriating.

  27. Okay, got my mind back. What I started to say was that it is NOT a cop-out to factor in your genetic makeup to a DEGREE! That said, you can't blame your genes when all you do is sit around stuffing your face and never getting any exercise.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view!), there are those of us who would be the survivors if a famine ever struck, because of our genetics!

    I work hard, try to watch what I eat (and I do know that I don't always have the healthiest of diets, and could benefit from a little more portion control, but I'm working on that) and I get some exercise, but I still find it difficult to lose weight. I don't blame genetics, though, because both of my parents were slim. I blame my life-long love affair with fattening foods. (placing blame squarely where it belongs!)

  28. My biggest weight gain was from a year on steroids. I lost that and then re-gained it all again slowly over a few years through bad habits. I have never been one to diet, exercise is at best a sporadic thing with me.

    My goals now are to try eating foods that are good for me and to get more exercise. If I loose weight along with that - wonderful. If I don't, well, that's okay too.

  29. Great post. I also have to work towards being healthy and not be so focused on how I look (which is just fine, I just don't see it that way all the time).
    I admit, I have avoided social situations when I felt "fat". That is no way to go through life! People like to be around me because I am ME!

  30. When calorie-counting, I find that I generally maintain when I eat 1,500 cals a day (and that's with cycling for 45 mins 5 days/week and going to the gym 3 times/week.) If I'm lucky, I might lose half a pound. I am only 5 ' 2 but I still feel it's a bit unfair!

    The one time in my life when consistently lost 1-2 pounds/week, I was three stone heavier than I am now, and I was eating about 800-900 cals/day (which I now realise is too few. I'm hoping I didn't screw up my metabolism by doing so.)

    I've got mild PCOS, which I'm pretty sure is a contributing factor.

    So I'm definitely not as unlucky as some, but I do have to really struggle to maintain my (finally reached!) goal weight...

  31. Oh gosh, this is an awesome post, Crabby. And it's important to bear in mind that not only genetics can stack the deck. Most notably, there are all kinds of medications that list weight-gain as a side effect. (And for those who argue that "there aren't that many people taking those meds," have you looked around lately? Freakin' EVERYONE is on something these days.)

    Also, eating disorders can slow your metabolism to a crawl. So can dieting, if you diet by restricting food drastically. And most people who lose weight regain it all PLUS some more (according to the National Weight Control Registry). People who lose and regain multiple times are more likely to end up fatter than they were when they started, sometimes by a lot.

    I can't say that my genetics are predisposed to obesity: I don't see much, if any, of it in my family. But I know the years I spent starving myself didn't help my metabolism. And about a month ago I was diagnosed with some medical conditions that may be contributing to my weight. Hopefully the medical stuff will alleviate some of the weight, but up until now, the only way I could lose weight was to cut my calorie intake back to no more than 800 calories, and get at least 60 minutes of cardio a day. That would result in my losing 1/4-1/2 pound a week.

    And that leads to something else: what if being a "healthy" weight leads to so much mental and emotional sickness? Can anyone still call that healthy? Mental health has to factor in at some point, too.

    One more thing (and then I'll shut up, I promise!). Some of the newest studies are suggesting that it might not be the fat on our bodies causing a lot of the medical problems: it might be the constant stress a fat person lives under, because of the constant societal shaming that comes their way. All the diseases that are associated wit fat are also associated with super-high levels of cortisol in the blood. And in more isolated communities (even within the U.S.) where fat people don't experience the same amount of shaming, they have similar disease rates to "healthy weight" people in the rest of the nation.

    Ok, I'm climbing off my soapbox now - sorry this got so long! ;) I wonder if I can find the links to those studies . . .

  32. Crabby, I love this post. Seriously, I think it's one of the best you've ever written.

    As many people already know, in 2007, I was the Weight-Loss Diary columnist for Shape magazine. I am five feet tall and when I started the column, I was 147 pounds. At the end, I was 121 pounds -- still well over what some might consider the ideal weight for a five-foot-tall woman. But here's what I learned:

    There is a genetic component to how your body looks and it is the biggest influence. That doesn't mean I say, "I'm always going to be heavier, so screw it." It means I became a much happier person when I focused on becoming the best ME I could be -- genetics and all. Yes, I can get down to 100 pounds; I did it as a teenager. But it's not called a healthy lifestyle...it's called an eating disorder.

    Your choices matter -- what you eat, whether you exercise, how you think about yourself. It's all part of the overall picture. It's sort of like the old saying about how you can't control what happens to you, but you can control your response to it. It's like that with genetics and the body, too.

    When you do something like I did with Shape and work so hard with vigilant eating and exercise -- under the direction of professionals -- you really get a glimpse into the power of genetics vs. lifestyle. I'll never look at my body the same way as I did before this experience.

  33. Certified member of Fat Kids Anonymous in the house...

    I've always been heavy, but also always been active. I danced, played softball and volleyball and generally reaked havoc on P-town well through my high school years. Come college and living on my own, it was much easier to grab the quick meals than cook good food without mom around. I'm paying for it now, at 25 I am overweight but I've accepted it as who I am.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I am not resting on my laurels (are those like big ass cheeks??), far from it actually. I am in the gym 5 days a week, lifting with the boyfriend. Cardio 2-3 times a week work permitting and open gym/league volleyball 2-3 nights a week. We also do as much outdoor fun as we can, staying active when weather permits in Oregon. I'm active, but after almost 3 years of really trying to loose the weight, I'm getting fed up with the constant losses and gains of 5 lbs.

    I understand now that maybe my body naturally wants to be heavy, and I'm ok with that, but I don't want to be heay the way I am anymore. Really, if I could just loose another couple inches off my hips, thighs and belly, I would be completely happy in a size 12. I just don't know how much harder I can work.

    Alas, I still keep plugging along and keep up with the boyfriend pretty well in how much I can lift (recently cleared 55 a side on dead lifts), but I'd love to be the pretty girl on the beach in a cute bikini when we go to Hawaii in September...

  34. Wow- what a great first post I've happened upon (I'll be sure to be back!)

    I don't even think about my genetics when I am crying aloud about how hard it is for me to lose weight. I suppose it makes sense. I'm one of those people who work really hard and has to watch (AND write) down what I eat to stay on track. I am currently trying to lose weight and I know I work really hard.

    So no, I dont think its a cop out for everyone. I also have had enough of the Darker Side (In which you've described with Stunning Accuracy) and so I'm working on the Brighter Side.

    Excellent post - thanks for writing!

  35. I think it take a conscious effort to steer your mind away from society's push to look young, beautiful, and THIN and focus on being a healthy and fit person whether or not you are big or little. It's even harder for those with slower metabolisms, especially if they've been working hard at losing weight.
    I think the solution - albeit really hard to do! - is to change one's perspective and focus on health instead of thinness.

  36. I recently though about this myself... as someone who was always thin, I assumed people who weren't just weren't active enough. Then I developed anemia (unknown at the time) and was tired all the time... stopped being active, didn't eat much differently... gained about 10 pounds. I know that's not a lot by some standards, but it was more than I'd ever gained in my adult life. I've recently lost 8 pounds, but in the process began to feel that perhaps someone carrying 50 or 100 excess pounds would probably feel as tired as me (altough thankfully the anemia is improving)... and the effort involved in just getting started could be overwhelming. When I was younger and fitter, going hiking really was "a walk in the woods". With the anemia, going hiking was a hellacious test of cardiovascular endurance...

    Now that I've rambled on, I'm really sure what I meant to say except that even though I had compassion before, I didn't really understand. I don't know if I understand any better now since I'm not obese, but I feel that perhaps I can relate more.

  37. I don't have a great metabolism and have to remain pretty focussed and committed to keep in that healthy weight range. Exercise helps enormously, as does eating well during the week and relaxing a bit more on weekends. I've found the things that (mostly) work and stick to them.

    I've spent a fair amount of time thinking "it's not fair", "so and so can eat like a horse, so why can't I", etc, etc. But you know, it's a completely useless and counter-productive way of thinking. Amidst all that whining and "not-fairing" my health and weight didn't change.

    It was only when I realised "fair" is a completely useless concept in this situation, that things changed for me. While I was feeling hard done by, I didn't miraculously get healthier / fitter / thinner. I just got more and more pissed off.

  38. I don't know if I'm lucky or not, metabolism wise. If I work hard, I lose weight. However, I'm 22 and I think that's rather helpful. I'm certain if I'd let this go on until I was 30 or 40 I'd have gained at least another 100 lbs and it would have definitely been harder to lose.

    I think genetics played a role in my propensity to being overweight - but I think the food I was fed as a kid (never "junk" but my mother STILL won't accept that her cooking is simply too high in fat for every day), the portion sizes I learned to enjoy and the exercise I never did because I hated it, being already bigger and slower than my peers - was the larger factor. My sister, however, was always skinny, though she was fed the same food as I was of course. She simply didn't have the appetite I had.

  39. I've been "chunky" since I was a toddler. I never lost my "baby fat", so to speak. And I learned poor eating habits from my family. I'm also not build to be a size 2. But because I was constantly receiving messages(verbal, visual, social) that I wasn't thin enough (which I understood as not being good enough), I tried to become something I could never be. And I failed miserably. My life for about 20 years has epitomized your Darker Scenario.

    Thankfully, I'm finally learning to accept the fact that I can trust my body and love it as it is. I've lost some weight, and while I may always be "overweight" by BMI/medical standards, I am healthy, I exercise pretty regularly, I eat well most of the time, and I'm gradually addressing the behavioral/emotional issues that led to my obesity in the first place.

    Still, it's hard not to listen when I hear/read "If you would only do this, you'll be thin like me" stories.

  40. This is a great topic. I think you articulated things very sympathetically & non-judgmentally. And I would even broaden the category to all overweight people, assuming that genes ALWAYS plays a role in someone gaining a lot of extra weight. Every single overweight person that I know is devastated about it in private, but puts on a good public face. I wouldn't assign a category for those who are fat because it's their fault, and those who are fat because it's out of their control. It's just painful to introspect and wonder what percentage of my weight came from cards being stacked against me & what percent came from me "choosing" to be fat. It's really hard not to be harsh with yourself when you're trying so hard.

  41. Crabby,

    I have now linked to this article of yours in my new blog post today -- giving my own personal take on the matter:


    Best wishes,

  42. Well, for those that have not experienced the difficulty have no idea. Thank you for the great post. I don't cling to genetics as my issue but I do know that I have a very difficult time losing weight as I have only lost 9 lbs since December. Some of that is because I haven't been religious with diet and exercise but the majority of it is because I do have an extremely slow metabolism (have had it measured). I try to stay positive but at the same time I also belong in that darker scenario. I see other people just cut back a little and lose weight. It is infuriating for those of us that do have underlying issues and have to be diligant 24/7 with diet and exercise to see any kind of result. *sigh. Thanks again for the great post. Maybe others will start to have a little more understanding that it's easier for some than others. It's not necessarily because we are sitting on the couch eating bon bons all day.

  43. Oh my gosh. This hit me hard. I am one of the unfortunates. I exercise about 10-15 hours a week and lose no weight. I teach Yoga also..and get nowhere. I am 5'10" in pretty good shape...but it's like my body just doesn't take to excercise anymore. It's crazy. I would like to lose 30 pounds and that 30 pounds is the weight that just wants to hang around and stay.

    I work with a waif. And it infuriates me because she can't even lift her own body weight, but yet she reaps all of the aesthetic rewards of what i'm trying to get. She doesn't have to work out, but she looks like she does because she's skinny. Meanwhile I kill myself at the gym and I'm still chucky. NOT FAIR, NOT FAIR, NOT FAIRRRR!!!!!!!!

  44. you all need to exercise more, plain and simple

  45. I have recently admitted to myself that I'll never be thin- I realized this when I trained with a very nice trainer for several months, went to the gym 5 days a week doing weights and cardio, and kept a food diary, all to the tune of gaining 2 pounds. Then I thought back throught my childhood and realized that even as a child I was never thin- always chubby, even throughout an active childhood. I'm going to continue with my fitness routine, but it I think I've finally resigned myself to being the size that I am, and have been since I was 14 years old. It also makes me a little frustrated that I've always worried about my weight, even since I was a teenager. Almost like I've never had that "carefree, who cares about what I eat" period in life. When I mention this to my friends, they don't get it, mainly because most of them don't work out at all and still are thin, and act like I shouldn't be resigned to my fate. But, I truly think that in my case, my DNA really wants me to look the way that I do. 5'3" and 140 pounds.

  46. Bull.

    Everybody has to work hard to get impressive physique. Genetic predisposition towards storing fat means you have to work much harder than others, but it's doable. It's possible. The problem is, it takes incredible power of will to work harder than others. It's much easier to say "I'll never be thin" and cut back on the work instead...

  47. I think the key to losing weight is 75% or more what we eat and the rest is exercise.

  48. Just found this post, and I have this to add:

    I was skinny-to-normal my entire life (size 4 to 8 on a 5'3" tall medium frame) until I started taking Effexor. In no time at all--like, within a couple of months--I had gone from an easy size 6 to a tight 14. My hips went from 35 to 45 inches, and my waist measurement is now what my bust measurement used to be.

    Part of the "problem" (if you look at weight gain from ADs as a problem) is that I can now eat. I'm no longer so depressed and anxious that I have no appetite.

    Another part of the so-called problem is, according to my shrink, that some ADs (Effexor among them) cause your body to be more efficient with the calories you take in. You can gain weight incredibly quickly, even without upping the amount you eat, because your body's doing on 800 calories what it used to take 1000 to do.

    Do I hate this? Sometimes. Sometimes I get very depressed that I'm no longer a waiflike Manic Pixie Dreamgirl. Most of the time, though, I remember what it was like to live in utter misery all the dadratted time, and the issues with weight are small by comparison.

    Oh, yeah--I work out 6 days a week, can bench 120, and run 3 miles in 24 minutes. I'm just bigger all over than I used to be. *shrug* So...it's not necessarily *genetics*, per se, but normalizing your brain chemistry can do a number on your waistline.

  49. Unless you have a medical condition such as those that affect hormones or thyroid, you can lose weight and achieve a normal weight. "Healthy food" is only half the battle -- knowing the best times to consume what, and in what amounts and how often is key. If you think you're eating healthy and doing a lot of aerobics but you're still overweight, you're doing something wrong. Too much aerobics, for example, can increase cortisol and prevent you from losing weight. Yes, doing 5-10 hours of aerobics could STOP you from losing weight.

    If anyone wants a comprehensive resource that outlines diet, exercise and tips for individualization (ie., there are specific recommendations based on your body type, aka somatype), go buy (and google) Precision Nutrition by Dr. John Berardi. I'm not affiliated with them, but I did use his guidelines to lose 50lbs, then gain back about half that in LEAN body mass.

    The online forum is full of people of all kinds -- teens to seniors, obese people to elite athletes, desk jockeys to fitness professionals, all who use the Precision Nutrition system. Go take a look at the 40+ body transformation contest winners -- you will see that no matter how fat you are, as long as you don't have a prohibitive chronic disease, you can lose weight and gain an attractive body - WITH THE RIGHT KNOWLEDGE.

  50. You deserve the body, friends, job, and LIFE that you have. Only exception could be family. Everything else is a result of your actions.

    Exercise a lot and eat "healthy" and you're still fat? Well, you can still get fat eating avocados and chicken breasts. And having a weekend-long binge every month is a good way to keep fat -- despite those other 28 days of being "good".

    You deserve the life you have.

  51. thank you for great advice and time to act

  52. It would be lovely if we (society) could accept and (omg) celebrate the differences rather than insisting everyone had to be uniform. I believe we would all be much happier for it.

    At one time in history, a woman with extra weight was considered beautiful and desirable. It was a sign of wealth (ofc, can you see rich men stuffing their wives with food just to show how wealthy they were?)

    Thin doesn't equate to healthy and fat to unhealthy although that is what we are told. How many thin celebrities do you see smoking (probably to help surpress appetite)? Something is not quite right in the messages we are being given.

    People who are naturally thin run into similar issues as those naturally larger. Comments made about anorexia, fear of showing their bodies, etc.

    OK a bit rambling but really, do we all have to be the same? How boring!!!

  53. Thank you for this article!
    I have a regular work out schedule and I eat and drink healthy but I don't drop weight fast. I have a friend who dropped 30 pounds in a blink of an eye by simply not eating as much. She never works out...in fact she hates it. It's a bit frustrating sometimes, but at least she doesn't rub it in my face.
    I do hate it though when friends who are skinnier than you complain about how they are getting fat. You just want to shake them.

  54. Thanks Craby for making such a nice blog.

    Lobster and you make a cute arthropod couple. :)

    One of the component of weight gain or loss that is almost always left out is stress.

    Stress hormones can start to be pumped in the brain as early as childhood or anytime of life when abuse is involved.

    Both Roseanne and Oprah were abused and had, have and will have to struggle with weight all their lives.

    A slow metabolism combined with a lifetime of stress hormone production is, I believe, the culprit for most cases of dangerous or morbid obesity.

    I also think that society is making us body schizophrenic.
    Media body ideal is the barbie doll, something impossible to achieve unless getting plastic surgery.

    In between celebrity interviews, we get endless commercial for food loaded with chemical and cheap fat fillers.

    These kind of addictive and nutritional empty food is also hawked during children programming all the way to the ones targeting seniors.

    Roseanne and the Oprah show are cut by the same type of commercials.

    To stop being assaulted by those, one has to forgo television entirely.

    But speaking of Oprah, her website and her magazine along with every other magazine on the market have ads promoting the very same unhealthy food while urging people not to eat it on the next page.

    The first step to make healthy eating habit part of everyone life would be,
    to ban food commercials from children programming and school cafeterias.
    and set up salad and healthy warm food bars at schools instead.
    to build smaller neighborhood schools which could be accessed by parents and children by a short walk or bike trip.
    to build safe bike paths between schools and homes.

    European don't exercice but used to walk or bike everywhere.

    Countries which still have large walking and biking traditions have less obese people than countries which have taken on the car/fat food american way of life.

    The Netherland belongs to the first category while the U.K and France belong to the second.

    I suspect that there is even a difference between northern and southern France as weather and length of daylight has a strong
    influence on diet.

    I truly appreciate you blog Craby, because you tell the truth about exercising and keeping fit

    It hurts and it's annoying unlike glorious food which turns on the pleasure center in the brain and calm us down.

  55. I think it's sad that this fairly compassionate article is still marred by so many nasty, backhanded comments that still blame us unfortunate ones for our laziness, unrestrained appetite, etc.

    I can tell you from experience that your second list is more or less exactly what happens when you can't seem to lose weight no matter what you try. It can be even worse.

    Your doctor will not believe you when you tell them what you eat and what you do, and will write you off as being non-compliant. The other people in your weight loss group will slowly ostracize you because you are failing. People in the gym will mock you, often to your face, and ask you what you are doing there. Random strangers will shout demeaning and cruel things to you, throw things at you, physically attack you. Work colleagues and bosses will assume that you are of lesser intelligence because of your size, and pass you by when promotion (or hiring) time comes around. You will be the target of an endless stream of nasty jokes and taunts, overbearing moralizing, and hopelessly simple-minded stereotypes in the national media.

    It will take years, or even decades, before any doctor will take you seriously and finally diagnose the condition that makes it so hard for you to lose weight, and so easy for you to gain. In the meantime the disconnect between your behavior and your size will drive you to doubt reality. Over time this will sap the joy out of your life, and make you hate yourself.

  56. No, fat isn't fair, but neither is life. There will always be people who are thinner, taller, better-looking or more fortunate than us. We just have to make the best with what we have.

    I feel for people who have an undiagnosed medical condition that makes them gain weight, or who have gained weight due to taking certain drugs - but those people must form a very small minority of underweight and obese folks.

    I used to blame my weight on my genetics, until I got off the couch. I went from a BMI of 40 to my current BMI of 23-point-something. It takes a lot of hard work to maintain my weight, but it's worth it. I'd rather work out for 15 hours a week and watch my diet closely than blame my morbid obesity on everything but me.

  57. There's a new book on the way called "Looking Good Naked" and I think it could be helpful to anybody struggling with a negative body image. I think embracing a healthy lifestyle is the first step to feeling good about one's self. This book could be the first step down the right path.

  58. What's really surprising is that meat, if handled the right way, can actually help lose weight along with building muscle. Recent diets have shown this, and this one REALLY does the trick.

  59. People who are trying to shed extra pounds can do no better thing to themselves than having a positive self image and high esteem. As long as you do not believe that you will be able to achieve your goals, you never will.


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