Lightening the load of heavy weight research

There’s a new study out on weight and mortality risk this week.  What is it saying?

It depends on who you ask.

If you ask the press, they’ll say this:

Carrying some extra pounds may not be good after all

Or this:

If you're overweight at any point, you're raising your risk for an early death

Yuck!  That sounds just dreadful.  Why are they saying this, what does this mean, and is it true?

First, let me fill in some back story.  In 2013, prominent epidemiologist Katherine Flegal and co-authors published a paper examining relationships between body weight and all-cause mortality (risks of death from all causes).  What they found was a lower mortality risk in the so-called overweight BMI category of 25-30, and not-increased risk in the so-called obesity I BMI category of 30-35.  Their results ran contrary to conventional wisdom (so much for conventional wisdom…).  They also unleashed a furious and very rude backlash among prominent and heretofore relatively well-behaved public health  and obesity researchers.  Here are a few reactions:

“It’s a horrific message to put out at this particular time. We shouldn’t take it for granted that we can cancel the gym, that we can eat ourselves to death with black forest gateaux.”
UK National Obesity Forum

“You’d hate to have the message get out there that it’s good to be overweight. The reality is that people who are overweight very often become obese and that’s clearly not good.”
Mercedes Carnethon, Northwestern Univ. School of Medicine

Since the Flegal et. al. 2013 article, some researchers who disagree with those findings have been trying to explain how being “overweight” (I use the quotes because I’m referring to the BMI category of 25–30 here, not any description of a person’s body) can lower your mortality risk.  Andrew Stokes, a population health researcher at Boston University, has been working on trying to tease out what’s going on with weight changes over time and mortality (death by any cause).  In a bunch of recent papers he and his coauthors have looked not just at BMIs and death rates, but at maximum BMI of individuals and possible relationships between that max, trends in their BMIs over time, and death rates.  (side note: my friend Dan and I are working on an article addressing Stokes’ work, which is in progress.  I’ll certainly blog about our work when we have results).

This newest paper looks at population data from three very big longitudinal studies and concludes that we can explain the so-called “obesity paradox” (that BMI 25–30 confers lower mortality risk rather than increased mortality risk) by looking at maximum BMI.  Those with maximum BMI of 25 or greater had increased mortality risk compared to those with maximum BMI of <25.

Ah– so being fatter really is bad for you.  Whew; public health and medicine don’t need to change all that signage after all.

a mind map of phrases connected with risks of more rather than lessbody weight

Well, maybe they do.  Looking at this article, I found some complicated and interesting results (which I’ve seen in other such articles, but aren’t splashed across the headlines.)

Interesting result one:  being “underweight” (BMI <18.5) carries a much greater mortality risk than being “overweight” (BMI 25–30).  For a lot of age/sex categories, it carries a much great mortality risk than being “type I obese” (BMI 30–35).  For instance, for non-smoking men< 70 years old, the mortality risk was almost the same for <18.5 BMI as for >35 BMI (2.89 and 3.19 respectively).  That is, people at the far ends of the weight spectrum measured both had much increased mortality risk.  Again, we are talking about maximum BMI here (just to be precise).

Interesting result two:  the mortality risks from a particular max BMI shift as the population ages.  The details are pretty complicated, but here’s an example:  if my max BMI is say, 31, then these results show how my mortality risks may go up and down as I age.  This is interesting and important for patients and health care providers.  Given some max BMI, the medical advice might be different depending on the age of the patient (and other features of her medical history).  Of course, many medical practitioners act on this already by paying special attention to many features other than BMI in caring for their patients.

Interesting result three:  the results are based on three very large samples (about 225,000 people) of white people– they made up more than 91% of the sample.  We already know that BMI distributions vary across racial categories, so these results (if they turn out to be correct), would not apply in a simple way to other groups.

Interesting result four: In the article, the authors point out that their targeted group (BMI 25–30) is pretty diverse with respect to body fat percentage and waist circumference.  They’re also going to be pretty diverse with respect to their eating and physical activity practices (like every other BMI group).  The authors think that they can use max BMI to identify who in the BMI 25–30 group is at increased risk.  But to what end?  It’s not like medical practice has any currently effective procedures for bringing about and sustaining weight loss over time (except maybe some forms of gastric bypass, which aren’t indicated for the population targeted in the article).  So, what is an appropriate response to this information from patients and providers, other than more moral panic?

For me, my response to this article is to dig into the details, talk to my colleague Dan about our article, and attend to my health-as-I-define-it in the best ways I know how.  I’m not convinced these folks are right.  And I’m not convinced that we even agree on how their being right might reasonably translate into anything medically useful or practical.  However, we all know that science, medicine and health care are super-complicated, so while we’re waiting for the fog to clear, let’s just do nice things for ourselves.  So I’m headed out for a bike ride now!

 

 

Should university gyms have scales in them? Sam thinks not…

Image description: Clear snowflake against a blue background.

Image description: Clear snowflake against a blue background.

Carleton University is in the news these days for removing scales from the university’s fitness centre change rooms. Conservatives just hate this. Cue rhetoric about the snowflake generation and safe spaces. Brietbart even jumped in but I’m not linking there.

See Conservative news outlets slam Carleton University gym for removing scales.

And Carleton University comes under heavy criticism after gym scale removed.

Why did they get rid of the scale?

Gym officials made the decision to keep up with “current fitness trends,” Bruce Marshall, health and wellness manager at Carlton Athletics told the school newspaper The Charlatan.

“We don’t believe being fixated on weight has any positive effect on your health and well-being,” Marshall told the school’s newspaper.

“It takes weeks, even months to make a permanent change in your weight. So why obsess about it?

It reminded me of my big success getting rid of the scale at the London YMCA downtown branch. Now the scale I successfully had removed was in the family changeroom. It was being used by children. I wrote a letter to the Y after I watched little girls in my daughter’s swim lesson (approx age, 8-10) weighing themselves before and after class. They were standing around complaining about the numbers on the scale. “80 lbs! I’m so fat.” I wrote to the Y and said that given that they run healthy body image workshops and eating disorders support groups that having a weigh scale for children was inconsistent with their values. They agreed and wrote me a nice thank you note.

But of course university students aren’t children. They’re adults. You don’t have to use it, said lots of readers on our Facebook page when I shared news of Carleton’s decision there. I agree.

Some students think of the decision to get rid of the scale as pandering to those with eating disorders. Aaron Bens, a communication and media studies student at Carleton, wrote to CBC that he is “frustrated” by the university’s decision, which he argues is “the next escalation of trigger culture.” Others argue that the scale is necessary for boxers and rowers and others in weight competitive sports. Note though that varsity athletes rarely use the general student gym and fitness centres. Rowers, for example, have their own training rooms with a scale.

I hear the argument that students are adults and decide for themselves whether to step on the scale.

And yet.

I don’t like scales in change rooms at gyms. Here’s my two reasons why not:

  1. They perpetuate the idea of a connection between exercise and weight loss. There isn’t.
  2. Some people with a history of eating disorders may find it hard to resist the allure of the scale.  It’s why those of us who don’t weight ourselves talk about putting the scale away. It’s hard to walk by. I confess I step on the one at the university gym I go to occasionally. Why? Why?
Image description: Purple scale with a sticky note that says, "You'll never be pleased with the number I show you."

Image description: Purple scale with a sticky note that says, “You’ll never be pleased with the number I show you.”

What do you think about scales in lock rooms at university gyms? Thumbs up or thumbs down? Why/why not?

Why Sam wants to hug Oprah

Oprah is losing weight again. For those of us following and for Oprah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. Right now she/we are going down. So far she’s lost 20 kg, the headlines tell us.

This time though, she’s not calling it a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. Right.

Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey says she has lost over 20 kg, and is loving it. The 65-year-old joined a weight losing programme called Weight Watchers in 2015. “Nearing the 45-pound weight loss mark is a great feeling,” Winfrey said.

She said that the loss of her weight is the result of a lifestyle change instead of years of dieting, reports aceshowbiz.com. “After spending literally years on more diets than I care to count, I finally made the shift from dieting to a lifestyle change.

“Everyone is different, but for me what’s worked, is Weight Watchers… Today I’m more conscious about what I eat, balancing indulgent things with healthier options,” she said. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” host says she felt encouraged to take a holistic approach to health and fitness.

With an estimated net worth of 3.2 billion dollars Oprah is one of the world’s richest women. You can track both her wealth and weight through the years. Last year she bought shares in Weight Watchers and become a company spokesperson. So all of this is no surprise though it disappointed Tracy.

In 1996, Oprah Winfrey hired personal trainer Bob Greene, saying her roller-coaster weight saga was over. Here she is with Greene in 1997. Oprah said she controls her weight by working out daily using Greene’s guidelines. From http://www.accessatlanta.com/entertainment/television/photos-oprah-weight-through-the-years/MywJK3oWH9lwnIi0dYg4JO/#6

Now though she says she doesn’t care about the number on the scale. Again, right.

Oprah Winfrey says that after years of allowing her self-image to be influenced by her weight, she’s finally arrived at a place of equilibrium and self-acceptance. The former talk show host recently lost 42 lbs by following the Weight Watchers program, but says that her newfound happiness is less due to a number on a scale and more to a change in perspective.

Some people are critical of celebrity diets.

 Jean Fain writes, “With their intoxicating blend of impossible expectations, misguided authority and restrictive guidelines, celebrity diets are predestined to fail spectacularly.” Celebrity diets are expensive in terms of time and money. They hire personal chefs and personal trainers and devote a lot of time to their appearance.

See Tracy’s recent post about celebrity diets. And Catherine’s post about diet fallacies and the appeal to Oprah.

Some people are angry at Oprah.

See Dear Oprah, Shut Up About This Being the Year of Our Best Bodies Ever.

You told me in January that 2016 would be the year of Our Best Bodies. You gave your most inspired Oprah gaze that punched right through to my soul, and you told me my body is no good. It doesn’t just need to be better, it needs to be The Best. It’s OK, though, because you’re going to be the best with me, so no worries — as long as I join your weight loss club.

HELL. NO. This is my best body, Oprah. Right now. Full of stretch marks and cellulite, a perfectly-rounded belly and deflated breasts.

It does a fucking amazing job doing what it’s meant to do: SUSTAIN LIFE. It has sustained my life, my son’s life, traveled all over the world, climbed a volcano, played hard, planted gardens, given safe medical care to countless people, and created delightful edible art that is damn delicious.

Me, I want to give her a hug and tell her it will all be okay when she gains that 42 lbs back.

Why my fondness for Oprah? I find myself sympathizing with her. She’s like me, but with more money and a bigger audience. Like me, how? Well, we’re roughly the same size and shape. She’s 5’6, I’m an inch taller. Her lowest weight was 150 lbs, mine 155. And we both cop to a highest weight in the 230s. I’ve also lost and gained weight through the years. Weight Watchers, Precision Nutrition, personal training, etc etc.

She’s halfway between me and my mother–who also shares the same height and weight range–in age.

Sometimes I use Oprah’s example to feel better about my own failed weight loss efforts. If someone with Oprah’s resources such as personal chefs and trainers can’t do it, what hope is there for me?

But I feel sorry for Oprah regaining weight in the public eye.  The stories and photos about it all sound so sad. She’s such a terrific business person and has such a great voice and brand, why is she so fussed about her size? And yet I hear people saying the same thing to me.

Why does she care? Why do I care? See my past post On wishing for weight loss. In that post, from March 2015, I wrote:

Look, it’s not irrational in a size phobic society to not want to be fat.

Why? More clothes fit, you’ll get paid more, get higher teaching evaluations if you’re a professor (like me), be seen as smarter, be more attractive to a wider range of partners (don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a shortage of people finding me attractive but I’m a bit of a niche taste), and more to the point, in my case, climb hills faster. Zoom!

Added bonus: It’d improve my running times a lot.

But it’s wanting the impossible that’s sad and hard. Wanting what you can’t have has never seemed a good game plan for life happiness.

How about we make peace with our bodies and love them the way they are?

And how about I give you a hug Oprah and then we can drink some tea together and maybe go for a run, not because it will help us lose weight (it won’t) but because it feels good to move our bodies. I’m admiring you from the sideline and hoping you don’t go down that road again.

Image description: Dark pink text on light pink background that reads, I workout because I love my body not because I hate it.

Image description: Dark pink text on light pink background that reads, I workout because I love my body not because I hate it.

The Trump 25?: Stress, weight gain, and American politics

Image description: A digital scale with a wooden surface which reads 0.0.

Image description: A digital scale with a wooden surface which reads 0.0.

We’ve been writing quite a bit on the blog on the things we do to find peace and relieve stress in tough times. We’ve talked about dog walks, hikes in the woods, yoga, time with friends, and beautiful music.

Mostly those things, in addition to being instrumentally valuable in terms of health and stress reduction, are also valuable for their own sake. It’s just plain good to spend time with friends and appreciate joy in the world.

But I confess that in addition to the things that I want more of in my life, I’ve also been eating a lot of delicious food. Delicious food also is good for its own sake. But I’ve been eating more of it than I like, on reflection, and I haven’t fully appreciated a lot of it. I’ve been eating for comfort, not joy.

Now I’m a defender of eating for comfort. It’s not the worst thing you can do. (For me, and for lots of people, alcohol might be worse. There is also a lot being written right now about drinking one’s way through the next four years. I’ll pass on that.)

Food serves a lot of purposes besides nutrition. My blog post which defends eating to relieve stress is also about what I cooked on the US election night. That post seems sad and naive now. I thought it was going to be a stressful evening but that it would all end okay. I confess too that when things started to go bad, I found refuge in sleep. “Wake me when Hilary wins,” I said to Jeff, before drifting off.

Wrong.

Four years is a long time to be comfort eating. And it turns out I’m not the only person thinking about this.  See Stress Eating is Now an American Pastime Thanks to President Donald Trump.

In an interview in the New York Times TV producer, director and writer Judd Apatow talks about stress eating and gaining weight. He says, “Most of us are just scared and eating ice cream.” Me too. Salted caramel ice cream is this year’s favourite. Sometimes I worry I am going to associate the flavour with Trump trauma.

In another New York Times piece called Trump Made Me Eat It, Joyce Wadler writes that her Greenwich Village Weight Watchers group is talking lots about Trump weight.  Trump tweets, she writes, and instead of your usual low cal yogurt you find yourself reaching for a chocolate croissant.

Barbra Streisand is also tweeting about Trump and food. “Donald Trump is making me gain weight. I start the day with liquids, but after the morning news, I eat pancakes smothered in maple syrup!” the singer tweeted.

Oh, and just in time, a new study seems to show a link between stress, elevated hormones, and obesity. However, the researchers note that they aren’t really sure about cause and effect. After all, in a fat phobic society it might make sense that larger people are stressed out by attitudes towards their bodies. That is, being fat might be stressful (duh!) rather than stress causing overweight.

In all of this, I don’t mean to trivialize politics. Or to make this all about healthy eating. Or even to criticize eating as a way of relieving stress. But I am interested in the choices we make in hard times. What fuels us to engage politically? What choices support our active, politically and otherwise, lifestyles?

How about you? Are you making your usual food choices in these tough months? What’s your plan for eating in the time of Trump?

 

Image description: An American flag blowing in the wind, against a blue sky with some fluffy white clouds.

Image description: An American flag blowing in the wind, against a blue sky with some fluffy white clouds.

This week in diet fallacies: appeal to Oprah

Oprah in a tiara, jewels, and a white beaded gown

This week in my introductory logic class I was teaching informal fallacies.  These are, in brief, bad arguments– that is, they are groups of sentences which purport to provide evidence for some claim, but in fact provide no evidence at all.  And they tend to reflect some flaw or vulnerability in our capacities for reasoning.  So we would do well to avoid them.  However, they are taught in part because we see them everywhere, all the time.

I try to use good and timely examples of fallacies in class to help the students better understand how they work and also how bad their effects can be on us.  Of course, politics provides us with a bounteous and 24/7 supply of fresh fallacies, which I have been making use of.

But I just read an article called “The Big Problem with Oprah and Other Celebs Who Tout Diets”, and was struck by how handy the dieting business and dieting approach to health is just chock-full of fallacies.  We of course know these, but in the interests of combining my love of fallacies with my hatred of all things diet-ish, I thought I’d put a prominent one out there:  Appeal to Authority.

What is Appeal to authority?  This fallacy happens when we accept some claim just because some putative authority says so.  Who remembers Oprah coming out on her show, hauling a wagon of fat to demonstrate how much weight she has lost (and of course how disgusting fat is, and how disgusting we who still have the fat are, and how she’s not disgusting anymore because she got rid of the fat– I could go on…)?

Oprah on her show, with a wagon full of fat, demonstrating her recent weight loss

Now, Oprah has a new cookbook out called Food, Health and Happiness, featuring what looks like a thinner version of herself, and a softer message for everyone who yearns for… what?  A more ideal version of themselves?  A slower, more idyllic life that includes time to massage kale, make spelt bread, and gather apples from their own trees out back?  Oprah says you can have this.  Just click here.

front cover of Oprah's new Food Health and Happiness cookbook

In the article I mentioned above, the author points out a few problems with even this kinder and gentler approach to the d-word.  Here they are:

1. Celebrities Don’t Look Like They Do Because Of Their Diets

Stars look like stars because they’re either genetically blessed with high metabolisms and lean bodies, driven to perfection, or both. What’s more, actresses, models, celebrity yoga instructors and the like get paid the big bucks to look fantastic. And a good thing, because it costs a pretty penny to employ an entourage of experts to keep up appearances.

2. Diets Don’t Work

Diets reliably promote weight gain, not loss, thereby increasing the very weight-related health risks they aim to decrease. It’s cruel but statistically true: A five-year study of 2,500 teens showed dieting is an important predictor of both obesity and new eating disorders.

3. Celebrity Diets Are Even Less Likely to Work

Celebrity diets backfire big-time for all the same reasons and more. Diets of the rich and famous tend to be expensive, costing dieters time and money they don’t necessarily have. Some go to wacky extremes, eliminating such an idiosyncratic list of foods that social occasions become stressful events. What’s a restaurant-goer to order on Gwyneth’s 10-day detox, which excludes gluten, soy, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, red meat, white rice, shellfish, raw fish, peanuts, tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries, corn… ?

Celebrity diets are beyond doomed because of the toxic mix of negative comparisons, shame and self-criticism they inspire. As inspiring as it might be to watch your favorite celebrities diet down to size, the airbrushed photos of celebrity dieters looking like they’re doing better than you tend to make you feel worse and exacerbate the very eating issues their diets are meant to alleviate.

All of these reasons reveal the ways that we fall for the appeal to celebrity authority.  We see in minute detail the path that celebrities take to go from X pounds to X-Y pounds.  We see the splashy photo shoots, the results of the labors of an army of hair, makeup, wardrobe and Photoshop staff. In Oprah’s case, there’s more documentation of her weight gains and losses than probably any other celebrity.

Appeal to authority celebrity diet claims also help us see how diets don’t work– that is, if the goal of a diet is to lose and maintain weight loss over time, Oprah (who arguably has more money than God) is living proof that it’s just not possible for everyone to meet that goal.

Finally, the celebrity diets that are put out there can be expensive, time-consuming and  hard to prepare– all features that make them poor choices for someone who is looking to change their eating habits.  A quick look at the Amazon page for Oprah’s cookbook yielded these comments:

Beautiful book, but the recipes are too time consuming for this working mom and many ingredients are hard to find.

This cookbook is for the rich or for the chefs of the rich, not your everyday housewife or working mom. It is … more a picture of Oprah’s extravagant, pampered lifestyle. If you like recipes with like 25 ingredients, many of which you’ve never heard of, and recipes with like 2 pages of directions, then this is the cookbook for you.

Why are there no serving sizes?

I admit that I love cookbooks– they are aspirational, inspirational, and good (for me) at pulling me out of a cooking rut.  But I’m under no illusions that a celebrity (or any) cookbook will be a sure-fire way to catapult me into a different pattern of eating.

Readers, do you rely on cookbooks to help you with changes you want to make in your eating?  Have you relied on some and been pleased?  Disappointed?  I’d love to hear from you.

 

You may lose more weight in cold weather… if you’re a mouse

A small brown mouse outside in the snow

Congratulations, blog readers!  You’ve made it through the minefield of New Year’s Resolutions, including all of those articles promising ways to lose weight this year.

However, now that we are settled into real winter (in the northern hemisphere), the writers of those weight-loss articles need a new angle.  And they have one: the role of cold weather in weight loss.

a thermometer with icecicles, surrounded by snowflakes

Honestly, I didn’t know this was a thing until I started googling, and found a bunch of articles touting the idea that we burn more calories in cold weather, or we can harness our shivering reflexes to burn more calories.  I’m not kidding– check the article out here. Or better yet, (re)read Sam’s blog post about hot vs. cold on exercise and weight loss here.  The advice never ends:  we are supposed to be able to use the cold to activate our brown fat to burn more calories (read about it here).  If you’re pressed for time and can’t read the rest of my post, here’s my two-word analysis of these methods for weight loss.

the words

 

Of course, this blog has been ever vigilant in documenting the hot/cold weight loss/gain silliness; see Sam’s posts on this issue here and here.  I was reminded of this seasonal phenomenon while looking at the weekly email digest I get in my inbox, called Obesity and Energetics Offerings (thanks David Allison, for your continued compiling of this). It compiles articles on everything from basic science to meta-analyses on topics related to body weight and weight loss. One of my favorite parts of the newsletter is the “Headline vs. Study” feature. It illustrates why we would do well not to take sensational news stories about diets or weight-loss at face value.

This week, the cold-weather-weight-loss meme was back.  First, the actual scientific article, from the journal Cell:  Gut microbiota orchestrates energy homeostasis during cold [for mice]. The tests were done on mice, and the results were illustrated like this:

a description of the process of insulin uptake after introducing gut microbiota into mice

It’s kind of pretty, don’t you think?  But also pretty complicated in such a way that doesn’t make for a catchy headline.  But fear not, for the news media will happily remedy that problem.  Like so:

Headline saying Study: cold weather helps you lose weight

You can find the article here, which does in fact mention the mice, but also suggests that this might work for humans:

The study states that its findings on the role microbes play in obesity should be useful in finding treatments in the future. For now, while you’re shivering outside, remember that it could lead to that perfect beach body.

Okay, I get it that news outlets are always looking for anything that will get more page views.  And any story that says “If you do X you may lose weight” is bound to be popular.

Just for fun, I decided to google losing weight in spring/summer/fall, and I found articles for every season, saying that it was the best time for weight loss.

Spring is the best time for weight loss because:

  • you can run outside (so you run longer, burning more calories)
  • you just happen to burn more calories in spring (yes, this keeps coming up but still isn’t true)
  • Bathing suit season (with impending fat shaming) is coming, thus motivating us through fear to lose weight (yeah, that always works)

 

Summer is the best time for weight loss because:

  • the weather is nice
  • we’re all in better moods (okay, I give them that one)
  • the damn bathing suit thing again (we’re wearing bathing suits, so are afraid of eating lest we be judged; thanks for that!)

 

But wait, Fall is the best time for weight loss because:

  • Fall produce is yummy and good for you
  • It’s slow-cooker season (I didn’t make this up; look here but there’s no explanation)
  • The gym is not crowded

I have an idea:  we can fight back by figuring out which season is the best season for loving our bodies.  Here’s me:

Winter is a great season to love my body because it knows how to cross country ski and glide around.  Also, I love the feel of gloves and hats and scarves. And the crunch of snow under my boots.

Spring is a great season to love my body because I start to bare a little more skin and also spruce up with brighter colors.  And I ride my bike more, which my body and I love.

Summer is a fantastic season to love my body.  One word: water! I love the feeling of being in and moving through water.  And sweat, too– I do plenty of that on the bike and elsewhere.  And I love summer produce– yum yum yum!

Fall is a great season to love my body, with cool nights and feel of putting on a jacket after months of bare arms.  There’s fall riding and hiking, and festive rides, and the promise of eating more yummy orange foods.

Do you have a favorite season for loving your body?  I know, it’s hard to pick just one.

 

 

 

What Women Weigh

The morning after the presidential election I had my regular quarterly checkup with my rheumatologist, a wonderful south Asian-Canadian woman who treats my Ankylosing Spondylitis. I was already reeling from exhaustion and sorrow and rage because, you know; then I remembered that I would have to get on the schmancy digital scale the nurses trot you past before taking your blood pressure and making you wait. Cue… feelings.

I don’t own a scale and I don’t mind them all that much, to be honest. I know what I weigh, for training purposes, and I know when my body feels strong and comfortable in my favourite outfits. (I am a clothes horse, for which I thank my fantastically hedonistic psychotherapist.) But I get anxious getting on the scale all the same; this is learned anxiety. I grew up fearing my weight – fearing being weighed. I grew up fearing the scale’s gaze, like so many of us did and do.

000005_5_2

Me at 10. I found this roll of film in my mom’s old camera three years ago. Our dachshund was called Nancy; my friend was called Francesca.

I was a chubby kid. I didn’t exercise much until university, and I ate the menu at home – hearty German fare. When I moved out on my own I moved in with a long-term partner, and together we did the thing most couples do when they hit the comfort zone: we gained weight together. At my heaviest I was extremely unhappy in my body, my relationship, and my life. That was about 15 years ago.

Today I love my body. It has taken work on my psyche (see above, re hedonistic therapist), on my past, and on my relationships with loved ones. It’s thanks to my feminist support network, and to the sports I adore, but I am now at a place where I do not really care much what the scale says. Other things matter more to me.

Which is why, when I stepped on the schmancy digital scale at the specialist’s office on 9 November and it read 172.8lb, I did not feel much bother. This was a number I had not seen in many years – I’ve been hovering between 160 and 169 since about 2003 – but I understood its origin. I’ve been working with a personal trainer for 16 months; I have gained enough muscle in that time to be able to do body-weight pull-ups and many other badass things. I’m also substantially faster on my bike than I’ve ever been despite the added weight. So I knew it was largely muscle I’d gained, which mitigated the feeling I would have expected to experience at seeing that number:

Shame.

The doctor helped further. (Did I mention how awesome she is?) She entered, looked at me, looked at my chart, and said: you look just great. How do you feel? (At which point a tearful conversation about the election ensued. Suffice to say my weight was soon forgotten!)

I left feeling buoyant. And then I got to thinking about why I was feeling these feelings, even though the scale had just told me something ostensibly fearful – because women fear weight gain, always. Right? I felt good because I had gained lean mass, and that was my goal. I felt good because my doctor saw the same lean mass gain in my shape and on my chart and knew it was a positive – for me and for my wellness.

I felt good because I understood what I weighed and why I weighed it. Because the number, in fact, matched my expectations – my own goals, not the social message about what weight is, or should be, for women.

I felt good because I saw the true correlation between my weight and my body – the human female body I know and love – perhaps for the first time, ever.

Women are told from a young age to stay small and thus be beautiful: the less of you the better. The scale is your enemy: unless it registers LESS than expected, you are a failure.

blogger-image-206202879

I spent my childhood knowing this; key numbers were taboo. (180lb was THE ULTIMATE TABOO. I remember this well. Mom, do you?) So I fought to lose weight. I fought to shrink my body. I fought to shrink my expectations. I fought to take up less space in the world.

Sound toxic?

It sure as hell is.

This is one of the reasons Tracy firmly believes in dumping the scale – and she’s not alone. Get rid of it. Get rid of those shrinking expectations! But I have an ongoing relationship to my trainer’s scale, for training purposes, and to the one at the doctor’s, and thus I don’t wish to ditch. Instead, I have decided to use my new feeling of buoyancy (weight + knowledge = light-heartedness) as a teaching and learning tool.

This past Monday, I hatched a crazy plan: to run a “guess my weight” game on Facebook.

I wanted to test a theory: that very few people know what a human female actually weighs. We know what she “ought” to weigh, according to the toxic mainstream messages we are fed constantly about female embodiment: 110lb-140lb, maybe ever so slightly more if tall and (of course) slim – but I was betting we mostly had no clue about real weights in the real, badass, girl world. And I think we freaking should.

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70kg is 154lb. This image has some issues… but it was the best I could do after a lot of searching. Enough said.

Why? Because: real women weigh stuff. Real women take up space! If we understand this, really get it, maybe we can make some real progress.

This is what I did. I posted three recent images of myself (below), in which I weigh (from bottom right, counterclockwise) 161, 167, and 172.8lb respectively (the final photo is my #pantsuitnation photo, from election day. SOB). I asked friends not to share on FB feeds (no trolls, please), but to share the pictures with friends and family privately and ask all and sundry to guess. The more guys and kids the better!

I got dozens of responses. While they varied widely, they ranged from roughly 140lb (mostly guys) to roughly 180lb (mostly my athlete, female friends). In the aggregate men guessed low; I don’t know if this is because they feared embarrassing me by saying what they really believed I weighed (I’m thinking this isn’t that likely – these are guys I trust and care about), OR because they don’t actually know what human females generally weigh, even though they love us and have all the best intentions in the world (this one is my bet).

Women guessed much closer on the whole. True, my FB feed is filled with feminists and athletes, but even so I was surprised. And more: I was heartened, and made genuinely happy. And I felt empowered! I’ve got to be honest: even though I know why I weigh what I do, and am totally happy with it, I somehow expected everyone to look at me, guess 150lb, and then be profoundly shocked and appalled when I revealed my true weight. The fact that so many friends came properly close, easily and with generosity, told me something I did not know before: other women also weigh what I weigh. Other women also take up this much space. Other women know…

THIS IS NORMAL.

Now, I know that I’m coming at this as an athlete; my weight is different from weight based on lots of non-lean mass, and all the social stigma attached to that. But two caveats here.

First, I’m not all muscle, people. I’m 42. I like wine A LOT. And cheese. And chocolate. Some of that weight has nothing to do with climbing hills and crossing finish lines. Plenty of that weight is healthy, normal, female fat.

Second, it doesn’t actually matter that much! What matters, to me, is this: I said my (substantial) weight out loud, to a bunch of random people (to all of you!), and I did not die. Nobody looked at me sideways and decided I was too gross to live. In fact, a bunch of people I love and trust guessed damn close, and in the process told me that a) we look terrific, and b) we weigh a lot.

Why have we not told each other this stuff before? Because, ladies, listen up. If more human beings knew what – and SHARED what – human females actually weigh, the space we actually take up in the real world… maybe we could run more of that dumb-ass world ourselves.

Pitch your scale if you want: you have all my love and respect.

But if you keep it: say the number. Out loud. To friends and kids and loved ones. Be not afraid. You’re just taking up the space in the world that you deserve to own, every last bit of you.

And you’re freaking beautiful.

Kim