fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

When bias guides research

Content warning: discussion of weight loss, weight loss methods

Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand announced on June 28 they had developed a new world first: a magnetic lock that effectively wires a jaw shut leaving users to rely on a liquid diet so they can kickstart weightloss.

You can read all about it here on this Twitter thread, the university’s website, and the journal which published their results. The researchers say their goal to provide a tool to address the global obesity epidemic.

Rapid weight loss causes physical harm. There’s a reason wiring jaws shut fell out of practice, the outcomes weren’t great, and included long term dental and mental health issues. While there has also been an uptick in surgical interventions (gastric bands, sleeves etc), there have also been post operative issues to manage as well.

The Twitterati have been vocal, with multiple comparisons to chastity belts, racks, and other medieval implements of torture. Others have highlighted the ethical, social and medical issues such research seems to have overlooked.

The researchers recruited seven healthy (oh the irony) obese females. Six completed the study (one left for reasons unrelated to the study). All of the participants regained some weight (about .73 kg average) in the first two weeks after the device was removed. Information about their weight status six months or a year after the study was completed was not included in the journal article.

The study met the university’s requirements for ethics approval. Despite the limited number of participants and the short time frame of the study (two weeks), the researchers felt comfortable enough with the results to propose expanding their research to include a gender balance. As well, they proceeded to modify their device (make it smaller, less obvious etc) to improve acceptability and tolerance.

The study raises significant red flags. Other studies with low numbers of research subjects (can I remind you of the infamous Lancet study on vaccines and autism?) have contributed to significant negative impacts on public health. The study does not disclose any conflicts of interest, but we do not learn who owns the patent on the device or how much they plan to sell it for.

The supports provided the six participants are also not usually those provided routinely to other obese individuals who are told to lose weight. The authors said participants had access to a dietitian, were supplied with liquid meal replacements, and had access to dental care and medical supervision. Obese individuals often have to pay for similar services/options.

I suppose I should be cheered by the fact that so many people have come out against this news. However, the fact that someone thought this was a good idea in the first place and it received ethical approval is quite disturbing. The authors recommend repeated cycles to aid momentum. I think this suggests a devolution into disordered eating with frequent gain/loss cycles.

I sincerely hope this device is investigated not as a welcome medical intervention but as a dangerous tool. There has been ample work looking at the roots of obesity and the kinds of supports needed to support individuals in nourishing their bodies appropriately, beginning with the social determinants of health. There is nothing new or innovative about this technique as it is merely a less permanent form of jaw wiring. It is, however, an excellent way to promote weight stigma, eating disorders and increased physical, mental and oral health issues in otherwise healthy people.

fitness · weight stigma

What some twenty-somethings think about the “headless fatty”

CW: Talk about the “headless fatty”, discussion of fat stigma and weight discrimination.

Like all reasonable decent people, we at Fit is a Feminist Issue despise those “headless fatty” photos. Samantha and I have blogged about them, and others of us have noted and criticized those discriminatory images as well.

No more headless fatties…

Why the headless fatty photo has got to go…

Fat babies deserve heads

Wow, not even chubby babies get heads these days…

Like a bad penny, these awful images keep turning up.

I’m teaching a course on Philosophy of Food in summer school right now, and we are starting it by talking about food memories, preferences, traditions, rules, violations of rules, and ideals. One of the questions I asked them in a short response paper was about the notion of the “headless fatty” and what they thought about it. Here’s some of what they said:

… the “headless fatty” is problematic because in these pictures the bodies become symbolic. These people are in the photos, but they have no voice, not even a mouth, brain, head, no thoughts or opinions. They are reduced and dehumanized as symbols of cultural fear. The beheaded people in these photographs also symbolize that they are being punished for existing, or they no longer have the right to speak, and that without these people the world would be a better place. 

Yeah. I definitely couldn’t have said it better myself.

Here’s another comment:

[the headless fatty] perpetuates the idea that fat people are not people; that they do not have a brain, a voice, or opinions.

One more, which I really like:

This term is problematic because when you remove someone’s head, they no longer have thoughts or opinions.

YES! It’s so clear to my students that the image of a fat person with no head conveys the idea that they have no agency, no humanity, no intelligence, no voice.

I’m writing this to you because these students are giving me hope that fat shaming and weight stigmatization will dissipate; it’s obvious to them that these images are fat shaming, and also obvious how horrible and harmful that is. Yay students!

Let’s all look forward to a time in the not-distant future where people of all sizes and shapes can hold their heads up high, in part because they have heads. Is this too much to hope for?

Readers, how long has it been since you saw one of these headless fat-shaming images? Yesterday? Last month? Last year? Let us know. I’m really hoping they’re on the wane.

fitness · weight stigma

Anti-fat-shaming videos: don’t do more harm than good, folks!

CW: Inclusion of an video that depicts a scene of fat shaming and purports to be anti-fat-shaming, but in fact is fat-shaming. Discussion of body weight, eating, fat-shaming. Mention of the “Karen” phenomenon. Mention of an ableist term and its use.

There’s a new anti-fat-shaming video out there, and it’s very sincere in its attempts to alert people to fat-shaming and to explain why fat-shaming is wrong. Here it is (again, note content warnings above):

The initial scene plays out roughly as follows: A fat woman walks up to the counter of a coffeeshop, orders a kale salad and a small chai tea latte. The cashier– a thin woman– calls her “Fatty” instead of her name, Patty. She also interrogates her about the order in ways designed to fat-shame her. When Patty receives her latte, the name written on the cup is “Fatty”. She runs out of the shop.

Customers in the shop look silently on the scene, no one speaking out, until one man comes up to the cashier. He gives a sincere soliloquy about how the cashier– called, yes, Karen– shouldn’t have bullied Patty.

Here’s where things go wrong:

  1. He defends Patty’s right not to be bullied, saying she deserves respect and is trying to change. Change what? Her body size, one assumes. Argh.

2. Then he cites her food choice of a kale salad and small almond milk chai latte as evidence of her desire to change. No, dude. You shouldn’t have gone there.

3. He compares Patty’s state of self to being sick in a hospital, indicating that none of those groups deserve shaming. This is getting really bad really fast.

4. He does go on to connect fat-shaming to stress-eating and point out that studies show that weight discrimination doesn’t “motivate change”. Sigh. This is a more subtle error, but error nonetheless. He’s fully on board with the idea that fat people suffer from fatness and need to be motivated or helped to change. This belief is at the heart of fat-shaming.

5. He uses a ableist word, “lame”, to criticize some views about body image. Gotta be more careful, dude. You don’t want to do more harm here.

6. Here’s my least favorite part: he wraps up his heartfelt speech by entreating the cashier to “accept them for who they are, and lovingly encourage them to be who they could be”.

NO. NO. NO. That is flat-out health concern trolling about body weight. Patty doesn’t need loving encouragement to become something else. Not from her family, not from her doctor, not from her friends, and not from the cashier. What Patty needs is for the cashier to take her order and give her what she asked for in a professional and courteous way. That’s it.

And honestly, I would’ve watched that video and shared it with others.

There are many other flaws in this video, but alas, my blogging time is up. Readers, what did you like or not like about this video? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · link round up · weight loss · weight stigma

Fit is a Feminist issue, Friday Link Round Up #97

This week’s link round up focuses on weight loss. If you want to know why a fitness blog cares so much about body image and weight loss, you can read this.

Tl;dr: “Body image is connected to fitness in a variety of ways. It’s both the motivation for lots of women to pursue physical activity. I’ll solve my body image issues by improving my body! Body image anxiety is also the reason lots of women don’t exercise. I can’t go to the gym. I’m too fat! Both of these sets of motivations are problematic.”

Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight Loss May Be Wrong

“At any given time, about half of all Americans are trying to lose weight — and we can assume it will be even more than that once everyone emerges from our collective bread-and-cookie-insulated quarantine cocoon. That means millions of people are doing keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, Optavia, Atkins, and all the other diets (many of which we’ve explained and reviewed on GH) that limit what, when and how you eat. And as you can tell from all those “before and after” Instagram shots, some dieters do lose weight — at least at first. But for the majority it inevitably comes back, potentially leading to guilt, disappointment, and the biggest question of all: What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I keep off the weight?

Here’s the truth: It’s not you. It’s biology.

The dirty little secret of the dieting industry is that many diets will fail. But we are still bombarded with the message that if we only find the right diet we will be thin — which has been conflated with “beautiful” in our culture — and all our troubles will melt away along with our love handles. “The diet industry is a $72 billion dollar business, so there’s an extraordinary amount of money that’s hooked into selling the idea that there is something wrong with us, and if only we buy their product, we can find salvation,” says Lindo Bacon, Ph.D., associate nutritionist at UC-Davis and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your WeightBut according to one well known study at UCLA, not only do most people eventually gain back the weight they lost on diets, but as many as two-thirds may wind up gaining back more.”

Rethinking Fatness: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight May Be Wrong

“Low-fat, low-carb, Paleo, keto, South Beach, intermittent fasting—the list goes on. Given that our culture idealizes thinness and shuns larger bodies, it’s not surprising that nearly one in five midlife women has dieted in the past few years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And many have regained the weight and see themselves as having failed. Less than 1% of very large people got to a “normal” weight at all in a study that included almost 100,000 women, and most who did regained the pounds they had lost within five years.

Some medical experts are now saying what many of us have been desperate to hear: It’s extremely tough to drop weight long-term, for reasons that have nothing to do with willpower—and it may not even be necessary.”

The Last Thing Fat Kids Need

“The message that “good parents” can and should control the number on the scale is literally tearing families apart. Should your child’s weight determine your fitness to be a parent? According to a family court judge in Sussex, England, the answer seems to be yes. In a decision filed last October, which recently made international headlines, District Judge Gillian Ellis ordered that then–16-year-old “Child C” and 13-year-old “Child D” be placed in foster care after their parents failed to help them lose weight. “I know that you love your mother and father very much and I know they love you too,” Ellis wrote. “But I am concerned about your health and the way in which your weight impacts on this.”

What If Everything You Know About Weight Loss Is Wrong?

“Why is it so hard to lose weight? Here’s one reason: A lot of what we all take for granted about weight loss is unproven or flat-out wrong. That’s the bottom line from a special article published in 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article laid out what works and what doesn’t, and detailed the commonly held weight loss beliefs that are not supported by research. The review also unveiled some of the theories that have not been proven or disproven. Here are some of the most surprising theories, plus what science really says about them”

I lost 100 pounds and didn’t learn a damned thing…

from 2019 by Meagan McGovern

“Man, I really wanted to write a long post about how much better and smarter and amazing I am now that I’ve lost 100 pounds. How much thinner I am. Maybe some clever words about my poor boobs, and about my clothes, and then I could post some before-and-afters, and then the congratulations could pour in.
But the truth is so much more complicated. Losing 100 pounds doesn’t make you smarter, more organized, or able to find your car keys. It doesn’t make me a better wife, a better mother, or a better writer.
Really, it just makes me smaller. And squishier. And more confused than ever about the role of women and weight and hunger and exercise and our culture.
So instead I wrote to Roxane Gay, who seems to write about weight and women with raw truth and clarity. And I’m grateful for it.”

A woman on a treadmill wearing a blue and grey shirt and khaki pants. Photo by Julia Larson on Pexels.com
fitness · health · weight loss · weight stigma

6 things Sam hates about seeing doctors, as a larger person (#reblog, #bloglove)

I’ve been putting off making a doctor’s appointment. Don’t worry. I will, eventually. But here is part of the story about why.

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

None of this is true about my current set of health practitioners. But they took awhile to find. Right now I’m halfway between jobs and cities and I’m looking for a new family doctor to start. It’s tough. And here’s why!

1. They believe ridiculous things about me. See this article about doctors and bias against larger patient. “Much research has shown that clinicians have biases related to overweight and obesity, conditions that affect more than two-thirds of U.S. adults, Dr. Gudzune said. “[With] the magnitude of the effect of obesity in our country, a substantial number of people are experiencing health care disparities as a result,” she said. Studies have consistently shown that physicians associate obesity with such negative attributes as poor hygiene, nonadherence, hostility, and dishonesty, Dr. Gudzune said. “These types of attitudes are pervasive. It’s not just in the U.S. … [but] physicians across the world…

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fitness · weight stigma

Fervent hope for 2021: that “The Biggest Loser” won’t be renewed for a 19th season

CONTENT WARNING: this post is about critiques of the reality show “The Biggest Loser”, thanks to the podcast Maintenance Phase, a fat-positive and evidence-based show debunking junk science and myths about health and wellness fads. Their critiques include information about weight loss, extreme exercise, extreme eating restriction, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and mental health that may trigger or traumatize some people. For those who want to read this post, it is in service of reminding us that fat phobia and all its harmful sequelae are still out there, but so are we. Maybe 2021 will be the year to go full-force against such toxic media. Hence the hope.

Now to the post.

One of the horrors of 2020 that you may have missed (which is kind of a blessing) was the reboot of the horror reality show, The Biggest Loser (henceforth called TBL). For those of us who prudently turned away from this abomination, there are articles to provide background and critique of the show.

The Biggest Loser is coming back– but should it?

Is the Biggest Loser even a little bit better?

‘It’s a miracle no one has died yet’: The Biggest Loser returns, despite critics’ warnings

However, if you don’t have the time or interest to wade through all that, podcasters Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon of Maintenance Phase offer up five things wrong with TBL. Of course there are one million and five things wrong with the show, but: their incisive and humorous analysis gives me hope that more people will turn their backs on TBL and on the social evils that support it.

Here’s their first one: TBL is wildly unrealistic. How so? Here are some reasons Mike and Audrey shared:

  1. the kinds of participants chosen for the show were fat people with emotional eating issues, who don’t exercise, and are extremely unhappy with their weight. But, fat people are like all people– some are happier, some less happy; some exercise more, some less; some are happy with their bodies, some less so. Like all the people.

2. The purported method of weight loss: go live in a big ranch house with strangers for months on end, and don’t do anything else. They point out that this method is not found in the medical literature. Good to know.

3. According to the show, the contestants lose an average of 16 pounds/7.25kg in the first week. This rate of supposed weight loss is also not documented in medical studies. Furthermore, Mike and Aubrey tell us that the “first week” is really more like 2–3 weeks, according the contestants. Even so, this is still an unhealthy and unrealistic body change for anyone.

Here’s reason number two: it’s fake and unethical. (that seems like two reasons, but I’m considering it a two-for-one reason).

Case in point: former contestant Kai Hibbard gave interviews about the many ways the producers of TBL would distort results, promote fast weight loss, and otherwise create an environment conducive to disordered eating behavior. Here’s more from this article:

… a runner-up said the show gave her an eating disorder, and seven years later, in a series of 2016 reports, The New York Post quoted contestants who said the show’s doctor and trainer told them to lie about how much they were eating; rigged the weight-ins; and even gave them illegal drugs.

Also, the show features super-processed foods in product placements; TBL has more product placements than any other TV show (533 in 2011).

Reason number three: it’s abusive (and horrible). The contestants are deliberatively portrayed in the most unfavorable way in before pictures, and dolled up to the max in the after pictures. That’s to be expected. But, some contestants have been damned and judged in both their before- and after-weights, some of which are dangerously low according the standard medical science. Further, contestants have reported being encouraged to smoke (to reduce appetite), or pressured to exercise while injured or ill. In the new “wellness” season of TBL, a woman injured her knee doing box jumps, and then is shown using a rowing machine with an ice pack on her knee. No. Just no.

Reason number four: the contestants gain all of the weight back, and suffer permanent harm to their resting metabolic rate. There was a study published here, which you can read about in Scientific American here. Or in the New York Times here. The upshot is that after drastic weight loss, contestants gained a lot of weight back and had a much reduced resting metabolic rate, which the researchers attribute to the drastic weight loss. And this harm isn’t reversible according to our current scientific knowledge.

Last reason, number five: TBL is toxic for everyone of all weights and sizes, blasting false and harmful and distorted messaging telling us: a) what sorts of bodies are the preferred ones; b) that we– the public– can get ourselves one of these preferred bodies; and c) how we can get ourselves one of those preferred bodies. It’s a load of lying lies from a pack of lying liars.

Two other things are worth noting here. First, TBL doesn’t focus on any nutritional information, or talk about cooking, or how to enjoy a greater variety of say, plant-based foods. Oh, no. In fact, the show spends most of its time pushing the contestants to do punishing and painful physical activities, and yelling at them when they are (rightly) tired or or not up to doing them.

For me (and I think for us at Fit is a Feminist Issue), this is (one of) the worst things about TBL: it depicts exercise as a punishment for being fat. And exercise is wholly constituted of activities like box jumps, running on a treadmill, or using a rowing machine indoors. Okay, those things are fine, but what about:

  • hiking
  • dancing
  • yoga
  • biking
  • swimming
  • badminton
  • throwing a damn frisbee around with the dog?

Mike and Aubrey make the point that there’s a whole world of fun physical activity, and TBL loser ignores it. Instead, it recreates “the fat kid’s experience of PE”. Great.

Now that I’ve put you all through the wringer of these five reasons why TBL is awful, what’s the positive takeaway?

I do have one. Here it is. The show debuted in fall 2004. It lasted until 2016. In 2020, they tried to resuscitate it and recast it as a wellness show. But it didn’t work– everyone from fitness experts to health columnists to reality show bloggers hated it. We now see it for what it is– a horrible example of our legacy of fat phobia and body insecurity. And those social maladies are not over.

But: no one is talking about how they’re hoping or even considering that TBL is coming back for another season. It’s 2021 y’all. We got no time for that crap.

fitness · weight stigma

Once more, for the cheap seats: body weight is NOT a lifestyle

CW: discussion and critique of an article claiming complex associations between body weight (and other factors) and chronic illness. I use the phrase “body weight” or BMI instead of this term. I’ve written here about why I don’t use that term.

When you’re a teacher, you know that some lessons are harder to learn than others. When I was a student, the subjunctive tense in Italian never quite sunk in (mi dispiace!) I teach a lot of logic, and I know through long experience where the pitfalls lie (e.g. necessary vs. sufficient conditions; a not-very-clear explanation is here, and a really super-long explanation is here). We teachers do what we can, and usually the confusion clears by exam time.

I really wish the same were true with medical researchers and body weight.

Even smiley faces are sighing over this.
Even smiley faces are sighing over this.

In case you missed it, I’m referring to an article published this spring in JAMA Internal Medicine called “Association of Healthy Lifestyle with Years Lived Without Major Chronic Diseases”. The researchers were looking for a correlation between some combo of what they considered to be lifestyle factors and onset of major chronic illness in a database of 116K people, followed for 15+ years. Here are the factors they used:

Four baseline lifestyle factors (smoking, body mass index, physical activity, and alcohol consumption) were each allocated a score based on risk status: optimal (2 points), intermediate (1 point), or poor (0 points) resulting in an aggregated lifestyle score ranging from 0 (worst) to 8 (best). Sixteen lifestyle profiles were constructed from combinations of these risk factors.

Okay, so smoking and alcohol intake are standardly considered to be health-related behaviors– things we do that affect our health outcomes (e.g. what diseases we get and when). Physical activity also has been well-documented to affect health outcomes; however, calling it a lifestyle oversimplifies it, for instance ignoring the many physical and economic and other barriers to activity that are beyond people’s control.

But then we get to body mass index (BMI). BMI is listed as a lifestyle factor? Huh?

One of these things is not like the others…

Why don’t I think that BMI is a lifestyle factor? Let me turn this over to one of the several responses to the article, published just this week. Authors Kyle, Nadglowski and Stanford write the following:

Treating BMI as a lifestyle behavior obscures the complex etiologies that contribute to BMI… Perhaps more importantly, it promotes a mistaken notion that is the foundation for weight bias and stigma—that [one’s BMI] is [something] that patients choose for themselves through behaviors they elect. The resulting weight bias is well-documented to harm both health and quality of life of patients [with BMI >30].

Body mass index itself is neither a behavior nor a lifestyle, even though health behaviors and lifestyle factors can influence BMI. Many other factors are contributors. 

Yeah, what they said. There are, oh, about three zillion studies showing that body weight is largely genetic and/or heritable (55–70% in many research papers). That means it’s not a health behavior in the way that smoking, alcohol consumption, or physical activity are. Health behaviors affect body weight (just like they affect our cholesterol levels), but that doesn’t make them lifestyle factors, rather they are biological measures used for many purposes.

The original authors (Nyberg, Singh-Manoux and Kivimaki) respond, saying (I’m excerpting but it’s not out of context, I promise):

Maintenance of healthy weight [BMI <25] is indeed part of a healthy lifestyle…

No. Clearly we need to back up and start again.

Spock is in shock. He doesn’t see how they don’t get this, either.

In this commentary on the article, we get another good try at explaining the situation (this is edited to insert BMI as a term):

Such is the nature of implicit bias about [BMIs >30]. … in their hearts, even some very smart people remain certain that body size must be a matter of choice.

Yes, yes, yes. Very many very smart people (including both the study authors and the editors at JAMA Internal Medicine) still believe that body size is a matter of choice. But it’s not. The replies to this article all cite loads of articles in showing that body size is largely heritable, and if you want some refs, ask me in the comments, and I’ll reply with some standard ones.

So, one last time: body weight is not a lifestyle. But I found this website with 50 lifestyle choices to browse among, if you’re feeling like a change. I claim no responsibility for anything having to do with decisions made on the basis of looking, by the way.

I hope this clears things up.

commute · cycling · weight loss · weight stigma

“On yer bike” for oh so many reasons, but weight loss isn’t one of them

In April, which feels like years ago in terms of the pandemic, Catherine asked, Does COVID-19 care what you weigh?

The answer, not surprisingly, then and now, is that it’s complicated.

Catherine concluded, “I don’t work in medicine, but I do know that there is a humongous evidence gap between what’s happening clinically in a particular hospital and its patients (each with their own complex medical and other histories), and what is true about everyone with higher BMIs in the US (not to mention other countries) with respect to risks related to COVID-19. Right now we can’t say much of anything. So maybe we shouldn’t. Which means the answer to my blog title question is, “we don’t have evidence right now to answer this question”. It doesn’t make for exciting news copy, but it’s the closest thing to the truth right now.”

But nevermind the fact that it’s complicated get in the way of a feel-good media campaign. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans an anti-obesity/anti-COVID-19 campaign, with bicycles front and center.

I have lots of complicated thoughts about all of this. And it’s not helped by all of the cycling advocacy groups which make up a good chunk of my social media newsfeed sharing news of the plan enthusiastically. Treehugger proclaims, Miracle Pill Found for Fighting COVID-19: The Bicycle.

Sigh.

First, it’s not at all clear that if you had to pick one thing to work on to improve COVID-19 control in the United Kingdom it’s weight loss. How about mask wearing? Contract tracing? Or speedy testing? There are many areas in which the UK’s COVID-19 response is lacking. I wouldn’t start by blaming individual citizens for their excess pounds.

Second, it’s not clear that there is a shred of evidence that ‘eat less, move more’ public health campaigns do anything other than shame fat people.

Here’s an obesity doctor’s assessment, “I find it impossible to fathom that anyone with even an ounce of knowledge of the complex, multifactorial, chronic, and often progressive nature of obesity should in this day and age still fail to understand that the proposed plan, which includes the usual talk of changing the food environment (largely by appealing to personal responsibility) and a 12-week weight loss plan app [sic], focussed on healthy living (read, “eat-less-move-more”), is about as likely to noticeably reduce obesity in the UK population, as taking out a full page ad in The Sunday Times stating that “Obesity is bad!”.”

And here’s Susie Orbach’s response in the Guardian: Britain’s obesity strategy ignores the science: dieting doesn’t work.

Third, there are so many, many reasons to encourage people to ride bikes–less pollution, better mental health, happiness, etc–we don’t need to add one that isn’t true to the list.

Note that Boris, like me, is a regular cyclist, who is thought to be by many people someone who could do to lose a few pounds, or even stones, as they say over there. Normally I’m out there defending fat cyclists like me and Boris. See Fat cyclists in the news and Big women on bikes and Pretty fast for a big girl and Not all cyclists are thin and Fat lass at the front?. It’s a thing I write about a lot.

But here he is, a committed, regular, everyday cyclist out there pushing bike riding for weight loss.

Note we’re different kinds of cyclists but neither of us is thin.

I love bikes but I hate to hear them promoted as weight loss tools.

Because, they’re not.

I love to ride my bike. I’m on track to ride 5000 km this year, or about a 100 km a week. You can follow me on Strava, here. On ZwiftPower I’m here. I’ve been doing this for years and I can assure you it’s not making me any smaller.

And I worry that if people start riding to lose weight, and they don’t lose weight, they’ll quit and miss out on all the other benefits of moving through life on two wheels. For example, cyclists are the happiest of commuters.

What bicycling feels like every single time!

In my post on reasons to ride I give some of my reasons for riding a bike, “There are lots and lots of reasons to ride bikes. Some are health related. It’s also a terrific stress relief, and it’s good for the environment. It’s an easy way to incorporate exercise into your day. It’s good to spend more time outside. As well, it’s a sensible financial move. Driving, once you add up the costs of car payments, parking, insurance, and gas is an expensive way to get around. And I agree with all of these reasons but on their own they might not be enough to get me out the door and on my bike. What does it then? The sheer joy of cycling. On my bike I feel like I’m 12 again. Whee, zoom!”

Here are some more reasons people ride:


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athletes · body image · fitness · strength training · weight lifting · weight stigma

Where are the muscular, larger women’s bodies?

There are four blog topics I’ve been thinking about that are all tangled together. Common threads weave through them and they are all part of the same story. Really, it’s a story about strength, gender normativity, and women’s muscular bodies.

First, Catherine wrote about the names we use to describe our bodies. Catherine’s focus is on how complicated that task is when it comes to self-description. I agree but I think it’s partly because the words I want don’t really exist. I lament that there are so many positive words for muscular and heavily built men and no such words for women. Words for larger athletic male bodies? Burly, husky, substantial, strapping, brawny, to name just a few. Note that they are not necessarily gendered but they don’t work so well for women’s bodies.

Sidebar: There have been attempts to reclaim this language.

See CampaignBrawny women wear iconic plaid in #StrengthHasNoGender campaign

Brawny women wear iconic plaid in #StrengthHasNoGender campaign
#StrengthHasNoGender

Second, I wrote about dad bods, asking yet again, where are the muscular-but-gotten-slightly-softer-with-age women’s bodies, the mom bods? Women can be svelte and muscular and desirable but most really strong women are actually large. It’s why there are weight classes in lifting. But no one sings the praises of larger, athletic women’s bodies.

Okay, Nat did in this post.

I think it is important to show that athletes come in all shapes and sizes.

Third, I’ve been wondering if we’ll ever have any idea about women’s true strength potential in sports as long as women athletes are worried about how they look and about gaining weight. I’ve written about this a lot. See, for example, Big women and strength and Bigger, better, stronger? On women and weightlifting. When even women Olympic lifters want to lose weight–see  From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holley— you know the forces at work are pretty powerful.

Fourth, and finally, it hit home again with my Zwift avatar. I’m large and she’s medium sized because in Zwift the men’s avatars come in small, medium, and large and the women’s only in small and medium. So even when I am racing with men who weigh the same as me their avatars are much larger! It’s extra odd because your weight is no secret in Zwift. If you’re racing your weight is a matter of public record and it’s easily determined by looking at your watts per kilo and your speed. It’s simple math.

I’ve written about this before saying, “I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes. So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.”

So like there are no words to describe my body type, there are no avatars either. The message is clear. No woman would want to look like that.

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Here are some images of large, strong women, stronger and more muscular than me.

Vintage Muscle
Image Description: This is a black-and-white photograph of a woman from the 1920’s, posing with her arm flexed. She has visible muscle in her biceps, triceps, forearms and shoulders. This juxtaposed with her vintage pincurl hairstyle makes for a striking image.

This photo is from a guest blog post called What are Women’s Bodies for, Anyway? Thanks Tracy de Boer.

And here’s a modern day image of a strong woman. Jennifer Ferguson is A BC nurse in her 40s who is one of the strongest women in the world. She deadlifts cars for fun.

fitness · weight stigma

It’s dessert week in nutrition science!

CW: discussion of research related to body weight, BMI, and weight gain.

While the rest of us have been busy baking bread at home, nutrition researchers have been hard at work keeping dessert science going strong. They’ve been thinking and plotting and measuring and parceling out various amounts of dessert items to various sizes of people, then watching them closely to see what happens.

A group of busy-bee food science professionals released their results this week in an article investigating associations between body weight and milkshake liking. No, that’s not me rephrasing it– it’s the actual title of the article (using the word “ob*sity”, which I strongly dislike for scientific and ethical reasons).

First, they the formed their hypothesis:

Milkshake hypothesis: Make milkshakes, they said. Boys will come to your yard, they said.
Milkshake hypothesis: Make milkshakes, they said. Boys will come to your yard, they said.

(side note: if you’re not familiar with the references in this meme, you’re in for a sweet treat! Start here, then go here. Important: this is not to be confused with the “mikshake duck” meme, which I just learned about one minute ago.)

Back to the meme at hand: that’s not their research question (better to leave it to the “directions for future studies” section). Here’s what they wanted to know:

Prevailing models of obesity posit that hedonic signals override homeostatic mechanisms to promote overeating in today’s food environment.,,Here we define hedonic as orosensory pleasure experienced during eating and set out to test whether there is a relationship between adiposity and the perceived pleasure of a palatable and energy-dense milkshake.

non-science-journal version: they want to know if people’s body weights have an effect on how yummy milkshake consumption seems to them. What they are actually looking for is whether larger people report yummier milkshake drinking experiences (which they think might partly explain their larger sizes). That’s what these scientists are really up to.

What’s next? The researchers set up their test group: 110 people with BMI 19.3–51.2. They asked them to arrive neither hungry nor full, and to have not eaten for at least one hour. The participants came, and waited.

Please note that this study took place before pandemic social distancing protocols were instituted. Otherwise, group size would be strictly limited.

Safety first: milkshakes are allowed to bring at most 9 boys to the yard. A meme with Kelis.
Safety first: milkshakes are allowed to bring at most 9 boys to the yard.

Back to the study: I can’t tell you about the exact methods because even with my awesome library access I can’t get the full article yet. But: the researchers measured hunger before milkshake consumption and also recorded how much the participants said they liked and wanted the milkshake (during consumption).

Finally, we get the results! Here’s what the article says:

We identified a significant association between ratings of hunger and milkshake liking and wanting. By contrast, we found no evidence for a relationship between any measure of adiposity and ratings of milkshake liking, wanting, or intensity.

We conclude that adiposity is not associated with the pleasure experienced during consumption of our energy-dense and palatable milkshakes. Our results provide further evidence against the hypothesis that heightened hedonic signals drive weight gain.

Uh oh! The nutrition scientists got a negative result! They found that body weight had no effect at all on how pleasurable people said their milkshakes were. Keanu pretty much sums it up:

What if the boys were already on their way to the yard, and my milkshake had nothing to do with it-- meme with Keanu.
Keanu reports test’s failure to find association between two variables. It happens.

Yes, the study did find a correlation between hunger levels pre-consumption and reported pleasure during consumption. But no one doubted that. And yes, it’s a good thing when scientists get and publish a report on failure to find correlations.

This study gives us a glimpse of something very interesting and a bit worrisome to me, as a fat woman and a health ethics researcher: medical research spends a lot of time and effort searching for causal factors involved in body weight and weight gain that are located in individual persons’ actions, psychological makeups and personal habits. Are fatter people fatter because of something they are doing or feeling or attracted to?

These scientific questions make me uneasy about what may be underlying speculations (or assumptions) by researchers, clinicians and even the general public about what fatter people are doing differently or feeling and acting differently that accounts for their increased fatness. These views are likely yet another source for deep-seated fat-biased beliefs and weight-stigmatizing judgments.

Should we stop doing this kind of research? Even as a public health ethics professional, this is not in my lane, so I can’t say. I think we should remain careful about uptake and reliance on nutrition research, lest it leave a bad taste in our mouths.