Despite Being Obese, My “Chances of Suffering from Obesity are Very Slim”

So I just ran across this “Obesity Risk Calculator,” which oh-so-scientifically warns that obesity can be “really dangerous.”

The good news is, it thinks I have very little risk of becoming obese. The bad news (by their standards) is, I already I am — and I told the calculator that. So let’s take a closer look at how this thing works.

Here’s the list of questions it asks, and my answers.

  1. Did any one of your parents suffer from obesity?

The English major in me wonders just how many biological parents the writers believe the average person has, but we’ll set that aside. Yes.

  1. Does obesity occur in your family, with most of the people being overweight and obese?

Yes. If there were a “HELL yes” button, I would have clicked that.

  1. Do you eat too much fried and greasy food?

How much is too much? I eat fried and greasy food, but I also eat non-fried, non-greasy food, and everything in between. Where am I supposed to draw the line? About 95% of the women I’ve ever met believe that eating two french fries in a week = “too much fried and greasy food.” Which means, I imagine, this one gets a lot of “yes” answers — and as we shall see, I suspect that skews the results significantly. In any case, I answered this one No.

  1. Do you eat high-fat meals, such as French fries, hamburgers and ice cream, five or more times per week?

No. And 5 times a week sounds absurdly high to me, even as a devoted connoisseur of all of the above. If it were 3 times a week, then some weeks, I’d have to say yes. But 5 times a week? When I’m not on a road trip? No.

  1. Do you eat more than one candy or chocolate per day?

Here’s another one that’s woefully ill-defined. Are we talking about one M&M or one king-sized candy bar? Either way, the answer is no, on average, though if I’m eating chocolates in the first place, it’s usually not just one.

  1. Do you drink more than 200ml of soda or coke in one day?

No. I do drink more than 200ml of diet soda a day — I never grew back my taste for sugared pop after the dieting years — and that’s not so good for me, either. But since they’re obviously asking about sugar intake here, no.

  1. Do you get daily exercise of 30 minutes or more?

Yes. I walk at least that much just about every day and do 90 minutes of yoga 3-5 times a week.

  1. Do you frequently sit in front of TV and eat foods like cookies and chips?

No. I occasionally sit in front of the computer and eat those things, but I rarely sit in front of the TV at all.

  1. Do you feel that you are overweight or fatter than your peers?

Here’s another question that’s just guaranteed to get scientifically valid results, I’m sure. All those women who think 2 french fries = too much? They also think they’re fat. And this question depends entirely on which peers you’re talking about. My high school posse? I’m the fattest. Fellow fat bloggers? I’m among the thinnest, as far as I know. People I’ve encountered in work or school environments? I’m somewhere in the middle, more to the side of fat. To be safe, I answered this one Yes.

  1. Do you out of breath [sic] when you do some extra work or walk or run faster?

Do I need to point out one more time that the obvious response here is “extra compared to what?” and “faster than what?” Or that if I get out of breath, it’s probably because I smoke? Nevertheless, I said No to this one, ’cause I don’t get out of breath very often, period.

  1. Do you feel that your body structure has changed making you look more fat or plump?

Since when? Since I was 7? Yes. In the last couple of years? Well, yes to that, too, right now (though not if I’d taken this survey at many points in the past) — I’ve gained a bit over the last year. (Here’s the short list of possible reasons: I went on Lexapro; I went back on the pill after a hiatus; I started eating out more [though not necessarily eating more] and drinking more after Al moved in; I started doing yoga regularly and beefed up all my muscles; I settled into my thirties; and I am still less than 5 years out from my last diet, and about 5 lbs. away from officially having gained it all back. You want to look at that list and tell me you know exactly why I’ve gained weight, go nuts. And then bite me.) So I think this question is pretty much bullshit on a lot of levels — you’ll also note that it’s once again asking how I feel, not whether I actually have gained weight, even though that’s objectively measurable — but regardless, I said Yes.

  1. Is your Body Mass Index BMI 30 or more than 30?

Yes. And since they obviously think BMI is a credible standard, and this fact makes me clinically obese, you’d think that would pretty much clinch my results on an “Are you at risk of developing obesity?” quiz, would you not?

Here are my results:

21-40% Obesity

Your chances of suffering from obesity are very slim. You might be overweight or gaining weight due to overeating. You should watch your weight and keep an eye on what you are eating to eliminate any chance of obesity.


Given that I answered yes to every single question that didn’t have to do with food or exercise — including the one that asked if I’m clinically obese right now — how the fuck do I have a “very slim” chance of suffering from obesity again? Fat parents, fat grandparents, fat siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins — check. Fatter than my peers — check. Fatter than I was last year — check. Already in the “obese” BMI category — check. Yet somehow unlikely to become obese. Oh, and watching my weight and keeping an eye on what I eat will “eliminate any chance of obesity,” regardless of risk factors such as a ridiculously strong family history of obesity and ALREADY BEING OBESE.

My results make it abundantly clear that this survey equates “being likely to suffer from obesity” with “eating junk food and living a sedentary lifestyle.” And, you know, backhanded kudos to them for that, even, because to an extent, that’s the goddamned truth: “obesity-related” illnesses usually are related to those things, not to the fat itself. But, since not having those risk factors makes me unlikely to “suffer from” obesity (literally speaking, that’s true), and there are plenty of thin people who do have those risk factors, why the fuck must we keep conflating “obesity” with “treating your body poorly”? If we’re defining “obesity” strictly as a medical condition caused by poor nutrition and lack of exercise — and affecting people of every weight — swell. But that’s not how laypeople define it; it’s not how the media defines it; and most disturbingly, it’s not how doctors define it. When we say “obesity,” we mean “fat.” Period. We confuse one possible symptom of a problematic condition with the condition itself. (You might remember this particular rant from such blog posts as “Fat People Aren’t Lazy Gluttons, They’re Just Nuts.“)

Thus, fatphobic fuckwits (say that five times fast) feel perfectly justified in lecturing me on my “health” — as if they’d give a rat’s ass if I were hit by a bus this afternoon — and doctors keep pushing weight loss, which is both potentially dangerous and usually counterproductive, instead of Health at Every Size, which actually improves people’s health.

I don’t know how many more times I can say all this before my brain fucking breaks.

Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle are not the only cause of fat, and they damage thin people’s health just as much as fat people’s. Regular exercise and a balanced diet have health benefits for everyone, but they will not make everyone thin. Fat is sometimes a symptom of poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle; other times it’s completely unrelated. Diets don’t work. Weight cycling is dangerous and almost inevitable when a naturally fat person diets. PEOPLE CAN SUBSTANTIALLY IMPROVE THEIR HEALTH WHILE REMAINING FAT.

How fucking complicated is this concept? The reasons why people become fat? Those are complicated. The relationship between fat and insulin resistance? That’s complicated. The thinking of someone with an eating disorder? Complicated. Long-term success at lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, increasing regular physical activity, varying one’s eating habits, lessening depression, and even overcoming bulimia — without losing weight? Not fucking complicated.

We already know what works to improve fat people’s physical and mental health in myriad ways, by a large margin, and over the long-term (relative to dieting, anyway). But it doesn’t make them thin.

So if you think for one minute that “concerns about health” are a valid reason for more judging and shaming of people for being fat — or that people who express such concerns are even tangentially concerned about fatties’ health in the first place — you’re wrong. You’re just wrong. We know how to address fat people’s health and help them make significant improvements; we just don’t know how to turn fat people into thin people. And when it comes to fat people, that’s the only goal this culture will fully get behind.



Filed under 09_kate_harding

28 responses to “Despite Being Obese, My “Chances of Suffering from Obesity are Very Slim”

  1. RachelPhilPa

    Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle are not the only cause of fat, and they damage thin people’s health just as much as fat people’s

    Including mine. My BMI is 14, and people tell me I’m too thin…but look at my lifestyle – I don’t get much exercise (a moderate amount of walking, that’s all) and eat a lot of really risky food – lots of refined sugar, saturated / transfats, etc – and very few fruits / vegetables.

    I dare say I’m in worse health, and greater risk for heart problems, than an awful lot of fat people that I know or have worked with.

    I think I’m pretty good evidence that weight is not the big health risk, one’s lifestyle is.

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  4. Ok, there’s several things I don’t get. It seems that “obesity” is now being used to describe everything from the ability to pinch some body fat along your stomach all the way to weighing 900 pounds. But I thought that obesity was only suppose to describe so much extra weight that it would actually cause health problems, not just look less attractive than some photoshopped picture of Posh Spice. So I’m wondering what you mean when you talk about “obese.”

    I also wonder what you mean, exactly, by “fat.” Like, according to the BSBMI – BullShit BMI – I would still be “overweight” at 190 pounds. Yet I know that I would practically be a beanpole at that weight. I weigh about 255 now, and I do need to drop a few pounds because my asthma is worse now than it’s ever been in my adult life. But if I dropped to 225 or something, I would be happy with that, thinking of myself as “fat” in only an ironic sense.

    There are people, like me, who really do need to lose some weight, or at least turn the weight from fat to muscle. I don’t exercise as much as I know I should, and my eating habits, while getting better, are still pretty bad. And I don’t mean 2 french fries=too much bad, I mean some days lots of fruit & veggies, some days 4 candy bars and 5 donuts in addition to my regular food.

    So when you’re talking about “fat” or “obese,” do you mean someone like me, or someone like you who exercises, eats at least better than I do and still has “excess” weight?

    I hope this has made sense.

  5. Angelos

    I answered no to every question that had bad implications, and I’m still 21-40%.

    I’m in good shape athletically, with maybe 5-10 lbs hanging around because of the few empty calories I do consume – beer, wine, chocolate.

    Still, I should see my doctor so he can give me some pills…

  6. Very interesting! I wonder what that test’s algorithm was.

    Just as a side note: I know you were just using hyperbole for effect, but 95% of women do not think two french fries per week is too much. People who have eating disorders or who obsess about their weight may be more vocal about their fear of fried food than those of us who are sensible about these things, but we do exist!

  7. Melissa McEwan

    Oh, and watching my weight and keeping an eye on what I eat will “eliminate any chance of obesity,” regardless of risk factors such as a ridiculously strong family history of obesity and ALREADY BEING OBESE.

    😆 – Just oy.

    some days 4 candy bars and 5 donuts in addition to my regular food

    Okay, seriously–if I ate like that, even some days, I would weigh a metric ton, lol!

  8. W. Kiernan

    Here, look at this:

    That chart is delightful. I, for example, being a white guy at the top edge of the “overweight” class, will surely pay the penalty for my gluttonous self-indulgence. Compared with the healthy slender types in the middle of the “normal” weight class, statistics say I have increased my likelihood of pitching over and dropping dead due to weight-related causes by… minus twelve percent!

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  10. Kate Harding

    Stephen, you are making sense. Yay! 🙂

    There are people, like me, who really do need to lose some weight, or at least turn the weight from fat to muscle. I don’t exercise as much as I know I should, and my eating habits, while getting better, are still pretty bad. And I don’t mean 2 french fries=too much bad, I mean some days lots of fruit & veggies, some days 4 candy bars and 5 donuts in addition to my regular food.

    See, what I’d tell you is, improving your eating habits and exercising more are worthy goals that are likely to improve your health and make you feel better.

    But they might not make you lose weight, or they might not make you lose much weight. Getting down to 225 would mean losing more than 10 percent of your body weight. Most people cannot keep even that much off long term. Unless you’ve compulsively eaten yourself well past your natural set point — which is possible; I don’t know you — it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to sustain that much of a loss.

    Which is why the Health at Every Size approach focuses on improving your overall health, not losing weight. If you didn’t click the HAES link in my post, go look, and google that phrase for more info.

    The basic principles are 1) learning how to eat according to your body’s natural hunger cues, and 2) finding a form of physical activity you really enjoy, so it doesn’t just feel like a duty, and you’ll be more likely to do it regularly and over the long term. There’s more to it, and both those things can be complicated in themselves, but that’s what it comes down to.

    If you do those things, it’s likely that your cholesterol and blood pressure will be just fine, and you’ll feel better and have more energy. And in a couple of years, you’ll be a lot more likely to still be healthy, still be exercising regularly, and still be feeling good than if you went on a diet and lost 30 lbs.

    The catch is, you probably won’t lose weight using the HAES approach. You might, but you might not. And the point of this approach is, it doesn’t matter. If you focus on improving your health, what happens with your weight will be largely irrelevant.

    Does that make sense? Obviously, 4 candy bars and 5 donuts in a day aren’t good for you — and that might even suggest an eating disorder that would require a different sort of treatment. But my point is, if you want to improve your health, focusing on weight loss instead of just changing those habits is barking up the wrong tree.

  11. Kate Harding

    Tart, you’re right that it was hyperbole, but at the same time, I referred specifically to women I’ve met (and even more specifically, eaten with) — and among those, I’ve witnessed a LOT of “Oh my god, eating this is SO BAD” thinking about anything that’s not a piece of fresh fruit or a steamed vegetable. Plenty of people eat junk food occasionally and know on some level that it all balances out — but they still beat themselves up for every single french fry, every single donut, etc. They still think that any of it is too much.

    Sadly, you don’t have to have a full-blown eating disorder to have some disordered thinking about food, and I’ll stand by the assertion that loads of people in this culture, especially women, do — though 95% is, obviously, an exaggeration. 🙂

  12. Thanks, Kate. For the record, I don’t eat like that every day, especially since I’ve found better medicines for treating my depression than food. But it can still happen and I know it does affect my size.

    I just opened a tab for Health At Every Size, and I’ll be spending some time there.

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  14. Health at any size. Yesss. Yes, yes, yes. Imagine nobody obsessing and everybody healthy enough to be comfortable in themselves. Mentally and physically.

    Re definitions of obesity. The medical term for obesity that will lead to health problems is “morbid obesity.” Morbid, in this case, means “disease” as in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report. The NIH (I know, not loved here, but just an example of a standard medical definition) says: “The term morbid obesity refers to patients who are 50 – 100% … over their ideal body weight.” So, Shaquille O’Neal’s “ideal” weight might be (I have no idea) say 350 lbs, and he’d be considered morbidly obese by a standard doctor somewhere over 525 or 700 lbs. (This is just the mainstream answer. I’m not saying it’s right. I.e. It’s not my fault. I found it that way.)

  15. I actually did answer “yes” to some of the “naughty eating” questions. Not to mention telling the quiz directly that I was “obese”. Even I couldn’t muster greater than 50% chance of being “obese”. Or, as it put it:

    “There is a chance that if you are overweight, you might be suffering from obesity.”

    I noted at Shapely Prose that aside from being unreadable, this line seems to suggest a series of Foxworthian “you might be suffering from obesity.” jokes. This quiz is a prime example of the completely unscientific but assertively authoritative approach to fatness so frequent in our society and especially on the internets. This reads like the diet spam I get imploring me to get thin for the pleasure of ladies.

  16. Kate Harding

    Thanks, Kate. For the record, I don’t eat like that every day, especially since I’ve found better medicines for treating my depression than food.

    Stephen, I totally hear that. (And as I noted, my depression meds have probably contributed to my gaining weight recently — though they’ve also substantially decreased the chances of my eating just for the endorphin rush, made it a lot easier for me to get out of bed and exercise, and cut down my stress level, which is correlated with heart disease, diabetes, etc., just as “obesity” is. And especially considering the oh-so-stunning news that stress can also make you fat, I’d say that’s a more than fair trade-off.)

    I’m so glad you’re looking into HAES. Changing your habits isn’t easy, and it doesn’t go quickly or smoothly, no matter what approach you take. But going by both my personal experience and the best available research, HAES is just a way, way better way to tackle this shit than dieting is. Good luck.

  17. Meowser

    Hell, Kate, a lot of women even beat themselves up for eating fresh fruit. It’s got soooo much sugar in it! (Yes, I know that diabetics and other people with sugar-processing issues have to be conscious about not overdoing it with the fruit; that’s not what I’m talking about here, I’m stalking about standard issue Gluttonous Girl Guilt.) And of course, if you’re on Atkins, a slice of watermelon sends you directly to Dieter Jail.

    I’d rather not give these people any more hits (though I’d certainly like to punch them*). But other than neither of my parents being “obese” (my dad was “chubby,” but not technically “obese,” and he was always dieting, and still is), my results would be about the same as yours. And I am a BMI 37, marked-for-instant-death official FATASS. They can go bite my Smart Dog.

    *obligatory just-kidding, I’ve-never-punched-anyone-ever disclaimer

  18. katecontinued

    Kate, I wanted to ask you and Melissa if you have seen Dawn French’s documentary, “Dawn French on Big Women” (2000)? I saw this on Ovation TV the other evening by accident. Hell, I never heard of the channel before I stumbled on it – DircTV.

    Since Melissa says she has been told she looks like Dawn, I thought of her immediately. And Kate, this beautifully portraye so many of the things you have been writing to us here since you joined Shakesville.

    Oh how emm ess emm would never show this. I just checked and the dvd is available on Amazon for $49 – but who has that?

  19. You should watch out for Nutrasweet, Kate. There’s some risk.

  20. Kate Harding

    The NIH (I know, not loved here, but just an example of a standard medical definition) says: “The term morbid obesity refers to patients who are 50 – 100% … over their ideal body weight.”

    Quixote, my only problem with this is how they define “ideal body weight” in the first place. (And I know we’re on the same side here; I’m just elaborating.) For my money, that’s completely individual, depends on a complex blend of factors, and is almost impossible to pin down in any way other than ruling out any medical reasons for unusual weight gain, eating a varied diet, exercising, and then seeing where your weight ends up.

    If, however, you use BMI — as the NIH does — Shaq ends up being in the obese (though not “extremely obese”) category (BMI 32.6), which we are still told carries significant health risks. They do note that athletes basically don’t count — that’s swell. (Also, tell that to Bubba Paris, who was find $50 a pound every day for every pound he was over 270, when he played for the 49ers. He estimates that cost him over $1 million.) But I’m still willing to bet it marks some people as “morbidly obese” who are probably just… fat.

    The question of “How fat is too fat?” is really pretty simple to answer. If your mobility is impaired, if your organs are straining under the weight on your torso, if you cannot live independently, then yes, you’ve got physical health problems that stem directly from being fat.

    But that represents a very small number of people. The rest of us are told relentlessly that any weight gain = bad news. I am called obese, and told that means I have a “high risk of associated diseases,” despite being A) in good health and B) within my natural weight range, judging by where I’ve inevitably gotten stuck on both the way up and the way down over the last 15 years. (Not to mention having had 3 grandparents who lived into their 80s and 90s and one parent who’s very healthy in his seventies, which, statistically, is about the biggest thing you can have going for you on the dying young front — though my mom did die young, and I’ve already outlived the other grandparent, so I’m not banking on that.)

    Basically, until they figure out a metric for determining “ideal weight” other than height, I’m going to keep believing that my ideal weight is right about where my body likes to stay when I treat it well — and that the same is true of pretty much everyone. And that when we’re talking about people who are so fat that the fat itself is a problem, the reality is, we just don’t know what their “ideal” weights would be — and only they and their doctors are remotely qualified to guess at how they got that fat or what in their lifestyle might need to change.

    And, once again, that degree of fatness affects very few people, so it’s really not a big public health crisis or something that unaffected lay people need to concern themselves with solving, any more than most of us concern ourselves with finding cures for rare diseases, you know?

  21. Kate Harding

    find = fined

    Oh, and Katecont., I am DYING to see that Dawn French thing now.

  22. On a health level, I recommend drinking tea or herbal tea as a regular beverage. This is what I do. If you want to sweeten it a bit, I have found Agave nectar to be very nice. Even a little honey would be fine if you think it is okay, but I would stay away from high fructose corn syrup and also the synthetic sweeteners.

    Some people enjoy Stevia rebaudiani, it is an herb that is very sweet and has no calories at all, but it has a distinct taste which some do not appreciate.

  23. Oh, and real juice sometimes. It’s good for you.

  24. Justin

    I watched the Dawn French special as well. I love her and she’s pretty amazing and makes some good points, although nothing that hasn’t been said quite often here and other places.
    There’s a bit too much Camille Paglia for taste, of course any of her drivel would be too much for my taste.
    I’ve always thought that Dawn French was amazingly pretty and for much of her time on air she’s made up in full movie star make-up. It was interesting because truthfully she is quite stunning and much more attractive than a lot of universally acclaimed beauties. And when she’s without makeup she pretty much gleams with health. It wasn’t so much what was said that impressed me but the images that were amazing.

  25. La di Da

    I love love love Dawn French. When she was on Parkinson (the British interview show), the other guests were some slender, popular, and “hot” starlet I can’t rembember, and George Clooney. George rather ignored the mainstream-approved young woman and asked if he could kiss Dawn, she said yes, and he said that it was so good, he had to do it again, and did. He was virtually drooling, heh. So if Lenny and Dawn ever go their separate ways, I do not think Ms French will be short on suitors should she require one. Or several.

    The Vicar of Dibley was also awesome. Nary a fat joke to be heard or seen, and Rev. Geraldine’s love of ice cream and chocolate was never specifically entwined with her being fat. She loved sweets, and she was fat – not she loved sweets because she was fat, or she was fat because she loved sweets. She had handsome boyfriends, and in the very final episode, she got married to one. It was as if she was human, as opposed to nearly every other depiction of fat women in the media.

  26. Kate217

    I’m not sure that this is the place for this, but may I say RIP Beverly Sills? She suffered from cancer, but still managed, in spite of her size, to live to 78.

  27. “suffering” from obesity? no, kinda enjoying it, actually.

    actually, i have recently lost a fair amount of weight (still shopping at lane bryant, but at the other end of the racks) and i suffered way more from that than from being fat in the first place. the reason why i lost all that weight was an ulcer that i’m now getting under control. stabbing stomach pains=suffering. that’s what i think.

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