Commercial Weight Loss Programs and Pharmaceutical Companies Report; We Decide

I just sent an e-mail to Marilyn Wann, using my gmail account. If you’re not familiar with her, Marilyn is a pioneer and a hero in the fat liberation movement. For a lot of us, her book was the first place we ever heard of the concept of — gasp! — being healthy and liking your body while still fat. She’s awesome.

And here’s a partial list of sponsored links that came up alongside my message to her:
Obesity Management
Weight Control for Kids
You Are What You Eat
Burn the Fat
FatsOff Soup Scoop

And helpfully, I can also search for more about…

Obesity in Children
Childhood Obesity Prevention
Fat Kids

When I started trying to develop a wider audience for my blog, I thought about putting some Google Ads on it, just to see if I could bring in a little pocket change. But then I realized that every fucking ad I’d end up with would be for diet products and random crap like the FatsOff Soup Scoop. The lovelies at Big Fat Deal have dealt with this problem, and while I understand their reasoning, I can’t do it myself.

First, I flat-out don’t support weight loss for the sake of weight loss, and I definitely don’t support commercial diet programs; the BFDealers and I differ there. (What I do support, if one is looking to improve her health: regular exercise and eating a variety of nutritious foods, which may or may not cause weight loss.) Although I will say I admire their brilliance in code naming a particular diet drug “Kelly Clarkson,” so ads for that wouldn’t end up on their site.

Second, seeing those ads on my site every day would just infuriate me too much, let alone whether it would be dispiriting or triggering for my readers. So, between those two things, the fact that I don’t have enough readers to make money anyway, and the fact that I like wordpress.com a whole lot better than blogging hosts that allow ads, nixing the Google Ads idea was a no-brainer for me.

But that doesn’t mean I’m over it.

Seeing what keywords like “fat” and “obesity” turn up on Google — even apropos of a conversation between me and Marilyn Freakin’ Wann — is such a clear, maddening message about what we’re up against. I can say over and over that “fat” ought to be regarded as a neutral adjective like short or blonde, but Google — i.e., the wisdom of the crowd — is there to remind me what “fat” really means in this culture. It’s something to be burned, to be overcome, to be conquered. It is something no one wants to eat, and absolutely something no one wants to be. And there are endless businesses ready to sell us endless products that claim they will slay the dragon Fat once and for all.

But of course we’re not brainwashed. Of course savvy folks like us are not susceptible to marketing. Of course we have all examined the evidence and drawn our own conclusions about fat: that it is dangerous, unhealthy, undesirable — something to be burned, overcome, conquered. We have examined the unbiased research into dieting and again drawn our own conclusion: that an absurdly high failure rate indicates moral, physical, and intellectual laxity on the part of dieters, not a problem with diets themselves. We have considered all the arguments and arrived at the truth — which just happens to line up perfectly with umpteen Google ads.

Damn, what a coink.

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “Commercial Weight Loss Programs and Pharmaceutical Companies Report; We Decide

  1. Such is life as a fat person that despite everything I know to be true about alli, I still looked up information about it on the off chance I might read something different.

    I didn’t find anything, other than that my missing gallbladder is yet another reason not to take it. But such is the quiet desperation of many fat people, who are constantly told that we’re less of a person for being more of a person.

    I’ve looked into everything listed above, and more. I’ve been into the second round of pre-exams for gastric bypass surgery. And yes, every time I mention something like this on my site — and many times when I don’t — Google ads helpfully steer me to all sorts of cocktails and weight loss programs and ads for roux-en-y and lap-band surgeons.

    And I don’t wonder what it is that drove me to Google alli, even knowing that taking it is a bad idea.

  2. Kate Harding

    Jeff, half of my hatred for commercial weight loss programs comes from having forked over about $5,000 to Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers in the past. (And by their standards, I was a success. I lost a lot of weight on those programs, and when I lost, I kept it all off for over 2 years, both times I had big losses. But you’ll notice I said “both times,” as in, in the interim, I gained it all back, blamed myself, and decided to fork over more money. Then I gained it all back again and went, “Hey, wait a minute…” Thus, a fat activist was born.) I totally hear you on the “quiet desperation.” It breaks my heart.

    And as I’ve had to explain in comments here already, the last thing I want to do is make fat people feel hopeless and believe there’s nothing they can do about the pain of being a fat person in this society. It’s just that trying to lose weight permanently to alleviate that pain is, for the vast majority of people, a strategy bound for failure — meaning even more misery, shame, and self-flagellation. So I advocate for Health at Every Size, body acceptance, cultural fat acceptance, and a conscious rejection of the shame that’s heaped on fat people from all angles — because I know that’s a hell of a lot more likely to lead people to good health and self-confidence and the ability to take joy in life than dieting is.

    But man, I know all that is a billion times easier said than done. I only got here after decades of self-loathing and about 5 years of baby steps toward overcoming my own internalized fatphobia. In many ways, starving yourself is easier than loving yourself as-is. And that’s exactly why I’m so passionate about changing people’s attitudes toward fat, because that is some fucked-up shit.

  3. It’s just that trying to lose weight permanently to alleviate that pain is, for the vast majority of people, a strategy bound for failure — meaning even more misery, shame, and self-flagellation.

    Indeed. I’ve lost over fifty pounds — three times.

    Each time, I gained back over seventy.

  4. Kate Harding

    Indeed. I’ve lost over fifty pounds — three times.

    Each time, I gained back over seventy.

    Yup. I so wish stories like that were rare.

  5. Melissa McEwan

    This is not only why you don’t see Google ads at this site, but why I refuse to use gmail.

    And Google Street View is so heinous that I’m getting seriously fed up with Google generally, but that’s a whole post unto itself.

  6. Brynn

    In many ways, starving yourself is easier than loving yourself as-is.

    That is so powerful. And sad, because it is so true. It’s a worthy fight, Kate!

  7. Brian

    Kate, as Shakesville’s resident fat ranter, do you think you could do a post looking into Kevin Trudeau? Apparently my parents just ordered his books and it annoys me to the nth degree since he’s obviously a scam artist.

  8. Paen

    I wonder if Jenny Craig and Oprah have any idea how many teen age girls they help kill through their crusade for anorexia.

  9. Brian

    I think they do, Paen, the real question is whether they care.

  10. Paen

    I think that the answer to that Brian is a definite NO.

  11. The siren song of magic weight loss potions is hard to ignore. I never signed up for Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig (mostly because the people I know who did it seemed to spend all their time obsessing about food), but I have wasted my money on “weight loss tea,” and chromium pills. It turns out all of those supplements tell you you need to have a low calorie diet and exercise to lose weight. If I was doing that, I wouldn’t have so much flab to begin with. The truth is, even if I had a pill that caused me to shed 20 pounds, that wouldn’t counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and crappy diet. Now I’m focusing on my health – eating better and getting some exercise isn’t nearly so painful now that I’m not obsessing over it.

  12. Pingback: University Update - Kelly Clarkson - Commercial Weight Loss Programs and Pharmaceutical Companies Report; We Decide

  13. Glazius

    Some fat is dangerous.

    One of the ways in which men and women are biologically distinct is that – well, you’ve heard “men are apples, women are pears” before, right?

    Women tend to put on more “storage fat”, which is packed in around the periphery of the body and intended to be long lasting. Men tend to put on more “action fat”, which is packed in around the viscera and is intended to be quick-release, for bursts of energy. Of course, there are racial and personal variations in this pattern, but generally it holds.

    Action fat is dangerous. Because of its intended purpose, it breaks down quickly if unused, relative to other body cells. And that means the body is busy cleaning up after dead cells, which puts a constant strain on the immune and regulatory systems.

    Storage fat is pretty much benign.

    Of course, there’s a flipside to this. People also have a desired caloric intake, which varies from person to person. You drop below this intake level for long enough and you start experiencing the physical symptoms of starvation.

    Now, while I’d like to say that if you eat enough so your body doesn’t believe it’s starving you won’t wind up with enough action fat to be dangerous, I have a sinking feeling that the universe is too perverse for things to be that neat and clean.

    If somebody’s got a counterexample I’d love to hear it.

    –GF

  14. I could not agree more with all of you.

    Commercial Weight Loss systems only help you lose weight … the weight of your wallets! 🙂

    Personally my problem with them is that once you are off it, the pounds come sliding back in.

    That is why when Kate said, “What I do support, if one is looking to improve her health: regular exercise and eating a variety of nutritious foods, which may or may not cause weight loss.” I find myself totally agreeing with her.

    That is the key – regular exercises and making sure what we eat is nutritious.

    That will keep the fats permanently off!

    Gordon

  15. That’s why my Blog doesn’t have Google ads, either. I’d be making money by sending people to diet sites, and I’m not comfortable with that. I’m not sure I’m even comfortable linking to sites that link to diet sites or diet blogs, which is why I haven’t put up the Fatosphere feed up yet since some link to and others are diet blogs. Its frustrating. How many people can’t post Google Ads because the ads would promote hatred of themselves?

  16. Kate Harding

    BStu, fat fu has a fatosphere feed available for those who are uncomfortable with linking to sites that link to diet sites. Ask her.

  17. Bstu I can set up a version of the fatosphere feed easily with whatever blogs you want or don’t want. I’m know I link to blogs on my site that you’re not comfortable with so I won’t take offense if you don’t want it included.

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  20. Kate Harding

    That is the key – regular exercises and making sure what we eat is nutritious.

    That will keep the fats permanently off!

    Close. That will keep the health permanently in order, all other things being equal. Nothing will keep the fats permanently off for people who are born with a predisposition to be fat. AND THAT’S OKAY.

  21. Kate Harding

    One of the ways in which men and women are biologically distinct is that – well, you’ve heard “men are apples, women are pears” before, right?

    Glazius, lots of women are “apples,” too, and some men are even “pears.”

    It’s true, as far as I know, that visceral fat has been shown to carry more health risks than fat stored elsewhere. Which really, really sucks for people who are prone to carry fat on their abdomens.

    Problem is, there is no way to “spot reduce,” and as you say, if you drop below the amount of energy your body needs, you go into starvation mode. And for people who are predisposed to be fat, starvation mode can happen a lot faster than you’d expect.

    Now, while I’d like to say that if you eat enough so your body doesn’t believe it’s starving you won’t wind up with enough action fat to be dangerous, I have a sinking feeling that the universe is too perverse for things to be that neat and clean.

    It may or may not be. But what are you proposing here? That people who carry visceral fat even with healthy eating and regular exercise would be better off starving than being fat? I think not.

  22. Can someone create a superhero called “Action Fat”?

  23. I think (am I wrong here Glazuis?) that Glazius is advocating the opposite — don’t restrict calories to the point that your body believes it’s starving and you’ll be less likely to keep storing what you do take in. And that is, to a point, correct. Some of us have bodies that will respond to dieting by increasing our fuel efficiency, and more dieting only makes us better at it.

    I consulted a nutritionist a few years ago when I was eating an average of 800 calories a day and working out at least once a day and weighed in at 225 (at 5’2″). I wasn’t trying to lose weight, necessarily, but I’d been steadily gaining for years, despite what seemed like a healthy, low fat, low calorie diet and plenty of exercise. I wasn’t starving myself (in fact I was hardly ever hungry at all) and wasn’t dieting — just eating what felt right (which, even though I’d stopped my insane dieting years before, I still had no idea what “felt right;” deprivation will probably always feel more virtuous and right to me).

    Anyway, this nutritionist immediately pointed out that I was starving myself and suggested that I try to take in at least 1500 calories a day — including 30% fat and 30% protein — and said not to worry if I gained a few pounds initially. Which I did, of course. But my body did eventually “re-set” its metabolism and I can now eat an almost normal amount of food — I’m even occasionally hungry!

  24. Arkades

    And Google Street View is so heinous that I’m getting seriously fed up with Google generally, but that’s a whole post unto itself.

    But, Liss… what else are tech-savvy stalkers of the 21st century supposed to use?

    I can say over and over that “fat” ought to be regarded as a neutral adjective like short or blonde, but Google — i.e., the wisdom of the crowd — is there to remind me what “fat” really means in this culture. It’s something to be burned, to be overcome, to be conquered.

    Kate, one wonders if the abundance or dearth of euphemisms for a given concept are any indication of how uncomfortable the subject may be. Just the number of words that equate to ‘fat by any other name’ would be a weighty list (pardon the pun). I’ve been variously described as husky, chubby, chunky, plump, or big-framed… all by well-meaning people who didn’t want to be so rude as to come right out and call me fat. If the mere word is so desperately avoided, how much more so does our culture advocate avoiding actual fat?

  25. I’m one of the concerned readers Mopie quoted in that discussion on Big Fat Deal over contradictory Google ads. While I don’t disparage her decision to try and make a few bucks off the site to help with its maintenance, I still stand by my comments.

    It’s great that they’re code-naming diets to reduce the Google ads which advertise for those diets, but still, the adverts continue to pop up. Among other issues, my site addresses body image and eating disorder issues. I’m sure as hell not going to prominently feature links to pro-ana sites on my blog for a few cents. I’d rather pay completely out of pocket for my blog (which I do), than risk having its message seen as hypocritical.

    I’m not against weight loss, but I don’t think the answer lies in some quick-fix, expensive diet which only serves to pad the pocketbooks of diet company execs. The truth is, diets don’t work, and the only healthy way for sustained weight loss is a permanent change in one’s eating habits. And for many people, eating healthy isn’t synonymous with being thin.

    Just as humans come in multiple shades of brown, have different eye and hair colors, and possess unique characteristics, so too is body shape genetically diverse. One size does not fit all.

  26. Glazius

    But what are you proposing here? That people who carry visceral fat even with healthy eating and regular exercise would be better off starving than being fat?

    I’m proposing that I don’t know the relationship between metabolism and the “calorie limit” that triggers starvation conditions, and how and where the body puts on weight when this limit has and has not been met. I’m proposing that someone interested in this could probably comb through, say, MedLine, and find something.

    I mean, it’d be the best thing ever if eating enough so your starvation switch didn’t flip automatically put you at the best healthy balance between peripheral and visceral fat. It _seems_ like the physical symptoms of starvation would do _something_ to affect how the body stores fat. Maybe when Ug hungry Ug get more Action Fat so Ug go kill mammoth better, but this is just humorous conjecture.

    –GF

  27. I can see a lot of the issues you adress. For some time I thought that the obsession with fat in food is a purely american thing, but our government is now starting programs to reduce the number of fat people (note not unhealthy, but fat). One of the most telling experiences in the US was when I asked a waiter what their panna cotta was like and he answered it was a light cream, not fat at all. I did not order it, because panna cotta is supposed to be fat its made from cream. Really when you can’t even enjoy desert anymore becase of the calories where does all the fun go to? Anyway, I enjoy reading your posts, kate.

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