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Junkfood Science

by John on May 14th, 2008

I stumbled upon a blog titled Junkfood Science. This is a well-written, well-researched blog that essentially claims that

  1. The “obesity epidemic” is a drug company & media created monster (can certainly agree with that)
  2. Any study that claims the benefit of a certain diet or eating pattern or body image was probably funded by a company with a vested interest in a certain skew of the findings (again, no real argument from me)
  3. Any study that fails to show a connection between one’s weight and overall health is swept under the carpet (due to issue #1, and, again, I do not disagree)
  4. That each person has their own body type, and that your body will work to get itself to this weight if given its own choices (umm, not so fast . . . )

What Sandy Szwarc is claiming is that “fatness” is not an indicator of overall health. Going on a diet, trying to lose weight for the sake of losing weight (or to fit a particular body image), or avoiding certain foods is actually bad for you. I can agree with much of that (I think it’s always better to eat an apple than French Fries). I do believe that pre-occupation with one’s body image is much more destructive than being overweight. And, as somebody who’s weight has yo-yo’d a sizable amount (287 to 179 back to 264, and I have no idea what I’m at right now), it probably healthier to be at a consistent weight than to be in a state of weight fluctuation (caveat being that you’re a grownup).

Szwarc claims that there “overeating” is really a myth – but I can tell you that I can put down fast food meal after fast food meal and still go for more — and that is certainly overeating. She may not recommend such diet behavior, but the thought that me eating 12 Big Macs and a case of beer is just what my body needs is a little hard to stomach.

What I’m getting to is my own weight, body fat, and exercise. In this little game I’m playing where I bike all over the place, I’m burning at least 2000 calories on the bike for each day I ride into and from work. As a 30 year old male who stands 6’3″ and weighs 240lbs., my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is roughly 2,300 calories. That means that it takes that much just keep John’s heart pumping, eyes functioning, liver hardening from last night’s drinking binge, etc. While one of Szwarc’s main points is that there is much more to the equation than “calories in / calories out”, I have to imagine that with a significant calorie deficit, I’m going to lose weight (if I eat what I consider to be “healthy” throughout the day, I consume somewhere in the vicinity of 2,800 to 3,200 calories before you factor beer into the equation, at which point all bets are off — if I drop my weight to 190lbs., my BMR becomes 1,900 and the calorie expenditure on the bike will be reduced — an intake of 3500 calories/day that I’m biking the 40 miles round seems reasonable).

Nowhere on Junkfood Science does Szwarc claim that exercise is bad for you (although she prefers the term Physical Activity, and I have no beef with that). I guess my disconnect is that I simply do not see any people who I would consider “very physically active” who happen to be “fat” (I’m not using “obese” here because that is simply measured by BMI, and every body builder is listed as obese, which is just silly). I can see “diet” as we’ve gotten to know it as being a media-driven monster that is actually doing more harm than good. But, I think exercise is quite important to one’s well-being, and I just don’t see how amount of exercise doesn’t affect one’s body type. Is she claiming that my 40 mile expeditions are too much? I don’t know.

Anyway, onto today’s riding — slowed down coming in. I’ll admit that it was a little harder to get up this morning than it was yesterday, but I’m still looking forward to the ride home (because it is beautiful outside right now). Due to a PLS commitment, I can’t bike in tomorrow – and then I have something after work on Friday, so this will be it for the bicycle commuting this week (still hoping to get some good riding in during the next few days, however — just around the neighborhood & stuff). I’m going to get rid of the silly little log that I’ve been putting at the bottom of my posts, as I’ve started tracking it all in a database — I’ll figure out some way to share the data (that is, if there’s anybody actually reading this thing).

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2 Comments
  1. Lynne permalink

    Weird that the top post of this blog on the day you put the link on Facebook is on this subject, so it’s the first thing I see. I’m pretty well-read on this subject these days, if you are curious about it. Some people in the FA movement like what Sandy does, and some have problems with the way she works. If you’re curious, though, I encourage you to look around at Shapely Prose (kateharding.net). Kate is super snarky but really smart, and I think she hits the nail on the head for this subject a lot. I saw on your other website that you and your wife have done WW, though, so I feel like I should warn that after years on it Kate is NOT a fan. There are a few posts on the subject in the archives. She comes at FA from a strongly feminist perspective, fwiw, but I agree with her that you can’t easily divorce body issues from feminist ones in our culture right now.

    Maybe some of the discomfort you’re feeling reading what Sandy has to say would be resolved by reading up on HAES (health at every size), which advocates eating intuitively (i.e. eating in ways that make you feel good, which eating twelve Big Macs in a row probably wouldn’t) and exercising for health but does not focus on weight. Fyi, I get the impression that there are fat people who do a lot of exercise and stay fat, but they don’t tend to exercise in very visible ways because of public ridicule. Anyway, a nice, snarky summary of her point of view is here, and I even have my photo in her BMI project, heh. 🙂

    I have some other thoughts on the details you wrote about, but this subject causes SO MUCH cognitive dissonance the first time most people see it that I should probably leave it at that.

  2. Ever since my post, the whole concept of body image / fat acceptance / etc has been running through my head. I guess, I think what has me running through things is that I get quite upset with myself if/when I’m not careful of what I eat and/or don’t work out regularly. Yeah, I did lose just over 100 pounds before my wedding on Weight Watchers (getting down to 178 pounds, which would put me at a BMI of “normal” while everybody around me thought I may have been anorexic). As soon as I stopped eating “per points” and just doing what felt right, I found myself back up to a higher weight, and I slowly drifted back up to 280 over the next several years (although, toward the high-end of that, I was working ALL of the time and wasn’t working out, at all). I didn’t really feel like I needed to do anything – but I was having issues catching my breath if I had to run upstairs for a third floor meeting, and that was no fun.

    Right now, I’m trying to eat a lot of veggies, allowing myself to eat what I feel like I “need” to eat (I will admit that listening to my body after taking so long to ignore what my body was telling me and eat on a schedule is difficult), and work out like a fiend (really gotten into bicycling lately, and I save about $12/day when I bike to work, which certainly adds up). Wait, that’s not true — I don’t really work out like “a fiend”, but I do cycle a lot — but it’s mostly for fun that I’m doing it, and I listen to audiobooks while I’m out on the road. I’m certainly not trying to lose weight (I actually stopped looking at a scale months ago, and I really try not to listen if/when I have to go to a doctor’s appointment), and I feel like I’m going to be healthier with this approach.

    I can certainly see how feminism and fat acceptance are two topics that are heavily intertwined – and I’ve been reading up on Sandy’s writing, and certainly concede many of her points. I guess, I can only say from my own personal experience is that when I put on fat, it’s when I’m almost being actively inactive. If I do a modest amount of exercise, my clothes fit a little bit better . . . if I “diet”, I get pretty miserable pretty quickly, so I’ve just given that up. I just make myself eat fruit/vegetables before I will allow myself to eat anything with more caloric density (although part of that is to force my body to tell me what its own hunger level is . . . losing and putting on weight as I have really messes with reading your own body’s clues). This seems to have been working for the past 6 months, as I feel better than I have — like ever.

    I do find it funny that one of the central tenants of Sandy’s writing is that there is more than just “calories in/calories out”, but I then go right back to what my thinking has been geared toward, that I’m destined to lose weight if I’m bicycling to work. Old dogs / new tricks . . .

    Anyway, thanks for the comments! I would certainly appreciate anything else you would like to chime in on this — and I’ll read up on Sandy’s work, trying to get my mind to think a little differently.

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