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Dieting and Health

An article Advocacy for Whom? on Sandy Szwarc’s blog Junkfood Science has given me furiously to think. An excerpt:

… the strongest evidence for more than half a century is that voluntary weight loss, regardless of the method, is associated with increased rates of premature deaths, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancers — by as much as several hundred percent, as the National Institutes of Health found in 1992 and the medical literature continues to support. The other problems that have been documented include the physiological effects of restrictive eating, dieting and weight loss, such as eating disorders, diminished mental acuity and work productivity, loss of concentration, nutritional shortages, reduced bone mass, cardiac arrhythmias, long-term exacerbation of high blood pressure and long-term weight gain.

The medically-documented consequences of inadequate calories, protein and deficiencies in nutrients, especially being seen among older people, include delayed wound healing, increased risks of infection, damaged heart and intestinal functions, longer hospital stays and higher rates of complications and higher mortality rates, depression, apathy, functional decline, loss of muscle strength, falls and increased fractures.

No one dies of fat, but they do from weight stigma. And they do die from bariatric surgeries, which bring objectively documented risks of dying far and above those even associated with the most “morbid obesity.”

The whole article is well worth reading.

Reader Comments (10)

"No-one dies of fat"? Come on, we all know that being overweight is not good for the body... diabetes, and heart disease being only 2 amongst many reasons why.
July 31, 2007 at 12:54 | Unregistered CommenterNicky Perryman
"We all know.." Hmmm, I certainly thought I knew that, but when I ask myself *how* I know it I don't have an answer.

The only people I know who are diabetic aren't particularly fat. Nor were the people I have known who died of heart attacks - in fact I was just this morning talking to the widow of a man who dropped dead in the street ten years ago and he was like a bean-pole.

And the fat people I know/knew are neither diabetic nor have any of them died of a heart attack. My father-in-law was pretty rotund and alcoholic too, and he died at the age of 84, basically of old age.

So how do I know? I don't know!
July 31, 2007 at 15:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark. I think the issue is unwise dieting: crash diets, restricting calories but still not eating a variety of foods, restricting foods to only a small set of foods, not exercising, etc. You can be thin as a rail but have no muscle tone at all. Because muscles aid the heart in circulating blood throughout the body, lack of good muscle tone can be a big problem even if you're not 'fat.'

Art de Vany has a pugnacious blog at his site where he talks about 'evolutionary fitness', eating and exercising like a paleolithic human. He's more about eating right than dieting.

Here's a typical entry on his EF ideas (he blogs about other topics too):

He also includes photos of his meals sometimes. He advocates meat, veg, fruit, but no potatoes, bread, or dairy.

Not an endorsement or anything! Just another data point and more food for thought (heh).
July 31, 2007 at 15:38 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Brown
As Michael rightly points out being thin doesn't mean you are healthy. But neither does being fat. I think the point is that if you are obese then you are more likely to get certain diseases. The same as if you smoke you are more likely to get cancer and if you drink you are more likely to get liver disease. It doesn't necessarily follow that all people who do these things will definitely get these diseases and that other people who aren't fat, smoke or drink won't get cancer or die of heart disease etc. I don't think you can take one or two isolated people and hold them up as examples. You have to look at trends in geographic populations over a certain time period to see what is happening. Of course we all know that statistics can be viewed from whatever angle you like and therefore are open to interpretation - I should know I am a data analyst! It is also clear that the media can present scientific research in whatever way they choose to serve their own purposes. That is why it is so hard for people to know what is really the truth about diets and exercise without ploughing through thousands of research papers. The bottomline
is about following what makes your body feel good and at it's best. In our indulgent western society people don't follow their instincts any longer when it comes to what is the best food to eat for their particular physiolgy and we have lost our sensitivity to choosing the right things - we find it hard to listen to our bodies and really learn what makes them feel good because we are bombarded with messages about what we should and shouldn't be doing constantly. If you listened to all these messages you would never eat anything! Everyone is different - this means that most people will have to do some experimenting with different foods and lifestyles to find things that suit them. I don't think that anyone can convince me that being fat is really healthy. It's just not natural to have so much food and so little exercise. Our bodies were built for action not sitting in offices all day long clicking a mouse. That is just my personal opinion. Here is a link that gives a bit of information about why obesity isn't good for your heart.
July 31, 2007 at 16:47 | Unregistered CommenterNicky Perryman

I wasn't trying to suggest that examples of a few people would prove things one way or another. What I meant to say was that it seems very obvious that being fat is bad for one's health, but when I look at it I realise that I didn't get that idea from my own experience.

Therefore I must have got the idea from somewhere else. And I come back to the question "How do I know it's so?"

In fact, according to Sandy, who appears to know a lot more about it than I do, the figures actually show that fatness has survival value among the elderly (among whom I am getting close to being numbered!).
July 31, 2007 at 18:50 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
The most thought provoking advice I read recently (from a well known stage hypnotist and NLP populist) was that you should pay attention to what you actually want to eat most, and eat that.

Try it: it's surprising how often I find myself with a chocolate bar when, if I'm honest, the taste of chocolate is not what I really want.
August 2, 2007 at 9:23 | Unregistered CommenterWill Ross
As for the health impact of diet and lifestyle, Dr Swarc's blog made the point that there is a lot of alarmism and that most of the people you see around DON'T actually look abnormally fat.

true, BUT

Our perception of what looks fat has changed over the last 30 years. (The BBC did a lifestyle series a couple of years ago with some silhouette's of typical children, as I recall.) It is almost a tautology that the people around us will always look normal.

Do I trust the Beeb? Probably rather m,ore than the Daily Mail but less than a probing conversation with an expert in the field. My mind is drifting towards the sort of questions we should be asking Dr Swarc, if we really thought this important.
August 2, 2007 at 9:32 | Unregistered CommenterWill Ross

I think our perception of the *importance* of the way we look has changed enormously. Women have always had pressure on them to look "pretty" or "beautiful", but in the 1950s with the emphasis on quite rounded film stars like Marilyn Monroe, there wasn't anything like the pressure to be thin.

When I grew up in the 1950s (I was 17 at the end of the decade) there was virtually no pressure on men to look good. It was important to look smart certainly, but that was just a matter of tidy conventional clothing and that was it. I think that has now changed completely.
August 2, 2007 at 12:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
There seems to be a million different ways to loose weight these days, it can get a little too much. I believe the key to weight loss can be found in an older approach to diet. simple wholesome food, avoid the tampered stuff as much as poss.
October 5, 2007 at 22:43 | Unregistered Commenterweight loss program
On emotional eating...(with Xmas on the horizon)...

Some foods that appear to have the "I'd love to eat that" factor appear to be part of a joyful experience; with more discernment one can see the experience is actually an "I feel so empty/anxious I have to put this in my body to feel better temporarily"!

The temptation is to gloss over the current emptiness feeling and focus on the anticipated pleasure. You have to be honest with yourself, and not afraid to hear it.
November 4, 2013 at 20:49 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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