No, not that epidemic. The obesity epidemic.

Ours is a marvelously schizophrenic society, and it’s almost nowhere more apparent than in its duality regarding obesity. We hear constant concern about an obesity epidemic, about it being a public health crisis, and about politicians seeking ways to encourage or force healthier eating (sugar taxes, zoning to keep fast food out of poor neighborhoods, laws to force markets to carry more fresh produce, etc). The marketplace is awash in products and programs focused on weight loss and exercise, advertisers love to show us fitness equipment and beautifully fit people using it, and we witness cult-like devotion to CrossFit and Peloton.

Simultaneously, we are not only instructed to accept those who are obese, we are told not to even suggest that their obesity isn’t a good thing. In fact, we are supposed to admire those who celebrate their fatness, and that there’s nothing wrong with being “plus-size” (and I’m not talking about a size 18 or a 40″ waistband here, I’m talking about big). “Fat-shaming” has entered the lexicon, and it goes beyond the eternal social norm that’s reducible to “don’t be an asshole.” So has “body-positive,” which boils down to “I expect you to congratulate me for this fat or out-of-shape picture I posted of myself.” We are offered articles asking questions like “Why can’t Wonder Woman look like someone who’s never seen the inside of a gym?” as some sort of “I care more about others than you do” wokeness. And, we bear witness to people who shed the pounds they gained during the pandemic (the Covid 19, as I and many others experienced) shamed for losing those pounds.

As with so many other aspects of present-day life, we are continually told that being overweight is not our fault. While there are certainly external influences in the growing obesity rate in the nation – I put major blame on the government’s deliberately incorrect dietary guidelines of decades-ago that told us to eschew fats and proteins in favor of carbs – the bottom line is that, with rare exception, the overweight simply eat too much. Calling obesity an “epidemic” is a tendentious use of the word: you cannot “catch” obesity the way you catch a cold or the flu.

Even as we are instructed that being fat is not one’s fault, we are told not to dislike our fatness, and we are told that others who celebrate their fatness, we are also told of countless short-cut ways to combat the fatness. Everyone’s suddenly an expert on metabolic esoterica such as “inflammation,” “ketosis,” “metabolic reset,” and “fasted cardio.” Your friends and acquaintances (along with countless strangers on the Internet) offer you countless “best ways” to lose weight: Keto (or Atkins, or South Beach) diet, intermittent fasting, turmeric, plant-based or vegan (the difference, if one exists, depends on who you talk to), Paleo, “Zone” diet, cleanses, alkalinity, Mediterranean, raw food, gluten-free. Every week, we learn of the latest “superfood,” as if “eat this one thing to become healthy” makes any sense at all: Acai berries, Kale, Wheatgrass, Seaweed, Yuzu, Goji Berries, Agave, Almonds, Avocados, Green Tea, Cider Vinegar, Quinoa, Tiger Nuts, Seaweed, Chaga Mushroom Coffee, Chia Seeds, Cassava Flour, Indian Gooseberries, and on and on. We’re supposed to eat breakfast, except when we’re not. We’re supposed to go to bed hungry, except when we’re not.

The truth is boring. If you’re overweight, it’s because you eat more calories than you burn. Yes, some are overweight for hormonal or similar reasons, but that’s almost certainly not you. And, sure, there are secondary aspects (that vary from person to person). For example, protein is more “thermogenesic” than carbs i.e. digesting them burns calories. For most, that’s in the noise – you shouldn’t be prioritizing or relying on that or other effects in your effort to lose weight. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to make permanent changes in what and how you eat.

Losing weight is about calorie deficit. All the other stuff is either tactics, or bonus, or bullshit. Yes, exercise helps, but it’s primarily about what you put in your mouth. You cannot outrun your fork. While some argue about the precise percentages, the old adage that weight loss is 80% diet, 20% exercise is a qualitative truth. And, yes, different “diets” can matter – but they matter insofar as which ones are easiest for you to stick to (which includes which one makes you feel the best when you’re on it). Some people do better under the structure and stricture of a 16/8 intermittent fast. Some can most easily live with a low-carb approach, whether or not it’s full “Keto.” Some simply need to stop drinking, and the pounds drop. Some need to expunge bread from their life (yeah, that’s me) in order to lose weight. And so on.

There’s no one “best” approach. The approach that works best for you is the approach that works best for you. That said, at their core, they’re all about the boring: eat fewer calories than you burn. Ditto for what you eat. Yes, you can lose weight by eating four Snickers bars a day and nothing else, but that’s likely to make you feel like shit, do rotten other things to your health, and prove to be an unsustainable life modification.

Boring, unfortunately, neither sells nor absolves, so it languishes in obscurity.

Personal responsibility is also boring, especially in an increasingly narcissistic and entitled culture that’s fueled by social media.

Now, before the pitchforks come out, I’m not talking about folks carrying 20-30 extra pounds, “normal” vs magazine-cover, “dad bod” vs David Beckham, or what have you. Being what the government calls “overweight,” i.e. a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25-30, isn’t what the body-positivity and anti-fat-shaming scolds are about. It’s about people who are packing enough extra pounds to create real health concerns, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint problems, apnea, arthritis, gallstones, and even cancer. It is recklessly irresponsible of the political correctness tastemakers to encourage people who are ‘colloquially’ obese to deem themselves no different from those who are not so overweight.

Reckless irresponsibility does not, sadly, seem to enter into the equation for the social justice scolds who are peddling this form of “tolerance” and acceptance. I’d bet, however, that the selfsame crowd would be happy to see the aforementioned government interventions and more imposed on businesses and communities, to combat an “epidemic” that they have a hand in preserving and expanding. On the one hand, we see support for the aforementioned government interventions. On the other hand, we see the first steps of expansion of Americans With Disabilities Act protections to include obesity. How long before the government tells airlines that they can’t charge the morbidly obese for two seats when they can’t fit into one? Or, to increase minimum seat width and pitch?

And, should the nannies finally manage to turn health care into a government program, how long before the regulators descend upon our restaurants, our supermarkets, our delivery services, and our big-box stores, because fatness burdens society?

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t tell people that there’s nothing wrong with being obese, that it should be embraced and celebrated, while also deciding to socialize the cost of that obesity. Unfortunately, society is increasingly moving away from the premise of personal responsibility. The loser in that tug-of-war will (as is usually the case) be the tax payer.

A DISCLAIMER: I am not a dietitian, nor a physician, nor a trainer, nor any sort of accredited medical or nutrition type. What I write here is (somewhat informed) opinion, not advice. Do your own research. All I suggest here, diet-wise, is a critical eye and some rationality. My core interest is in the cultural and political aspects of obesity and weight loss.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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