Food for thought

PJ, a personal trainer in Brunswick has decided to stack on 40kg (on his current 80kg) and maintain that weight for 3 months, then lose it through diet and exercise at the gym with his clients, so that he can understand what they are going through. Interesting idea. Not sure if I had the choice I would do it myself, but if it helps other people to be healthier then go for it.

What I found interesting was the comment by Prof Swinburn, director of the World Health Organisation Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University. He says that a better way, health wise, for PJ to understand what his clients are going through is to wear a fat suit.

While I think wearing a fat suit can help people understand some of the issues about being large, I don’t think it really gives you a real insight into living large, primarily because at the end of the day you can take it off. A fat suit doesn’t really allow you to experience actual body fat. [edited to delete offensive nuances ~Mindy) Rather like those fake pregnancy bellies they get some men to strap on that are just heavy, but don’t really show what it’s like to be sharing your body. But that’s another argument.

You should know, PJ is an aspiring actor and plans to make a documentary out of this as well. So what do you think? Is this a legitimate way to help clients?  Is he exploiting people, or could this genuinely lead to something helpful?

  Link to whole article here



Categories: ethics & philosophy, health, medicine

31 replies

  1. Is it more demonstrative than a fat suit? Sure. A seriously overweight person can lose more weight than they could possibly lift by hand, but which they had been able to live and exercise with previously because it was distributed more or less evenly (same way that you don’t actually have to be hoisted onto horseback in chainmail and full plate armour though it weighs a ton).
    Is this ‘experiment’ of any actual use? No it’s self-publicising b*ll*cks.
    People don’t go to the gym to lose weight having stacked on 40 kilos in three months of ‘letting themselves go’. They go to the gym having reduced the amount of exercise they get due to work commitments or ill health and putting on a kilo or two each year for over a decade.
    Being 40 kilos fatter is NOT going to teach you what losing or putting on weight is like.
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me…

  2. It’s a gimmick. This guy wants to be Morgan Spurlock – remember ‘Supersize Me’?

  3. I think it’s crap. Being fat is not the same for everyone. Perhaps he’ll find he has to eat a huge amount of food each day to gain that much weight – is he going to assume that all people that weight and height eat that much? Perhaps he’ll find he goes back to his previous weight without much trouble. Is he going to assume that a client who is struggling to lose weight is lying about what they ate and secretly stuffing their face?

  4. A fat suit doesn’t destroy your will power, addict you to fatty foods,
    Neither does actual fat. Just saying.
    I don’t think the way he’s doing this is going to give him a genuine “fat” experience, either. Most fat people did not get that way by gorging themselves over a very short time period — he’s no doubt going to feel logy and exhausted all the time, and blame that on the “fat” instead of the fact that he’s eating crap and not moving. (Because, of course, it wouldn’t occur to him to question the premise that fat people eat loads of crap and never move.)
    Second, he’s going to feel uncomfortable in his body, because it’s had a huge change very recently. When your body shape changes significantly (ask any dieter/former dieter or any woman who’s been pregnant) you don’t necessarily get used to it right away. But you also don’t walk around for the rest of your natural life feeling clumsy and awkward — once your body settles on a new shape, you get used to it. He’s not giving himself enough time to adjust, so all we’ll get to see is the clumsy and awkward phase, which will translate to “Fat people must feel this clumsy and awkward all the time!”
    And finally, when he goes to lose the weight, he’s going to find it pretty easy — because the weight gain was forced in the first place. When naturally thin people deliberately gain weight, it flies off as soon as they resume eating normally — much like naturally fat people will regain to their setpoints when they resume eating normally after giving up dieting. Except that everyone assumes we’ve actually gone back to gorging ourselves, not eating normally. And in this case, everyone will assume he’s gone back to being virtuous after being naughty, and if he can do it, so can anyone!
    So, uh, no, I don’t think this stunt is likely to be useful or encourage healthy behavior. I think it’s just going to reinforce cherished stereotypes about fat people’s lack of willpower, “addiction to fatty foods,” unhealthiness and lack of grace. The only hope I have is that if someone treats him crappily while he’s fatter, he might develop a shred of empathy. But that could indeed be accomplished, at least in theory, by donning a fat suit.

  5. Also, I don’t really like the ways this:
    A fat suit doesn’t destroy your will power, addict you to fatty foods,
    sounds. Are you saying that all fat people have no will power and/or are addicted to fatty foods?

  6. Some people are fat because they are addicted to SUGAR, rather than fatty foods. I have a friend who is grossly overweight but who is a vegetarian for both health and moral reasons. However much she eschews meat and fatty foods that might contain animal products, she seems to have no such qualms about downing cakes, biscuits, chocolate bars, ice creams etc. Hence her size. Amazingly, she isn’t actually diabetic, although I suspect it’s not far away…

  7. It’s a stunt. He may be well-meaning, but he won’t have nearly as much trouble trying to lose that weight as people who have put the weight on slowly over years. It’s much harder to lose ‘old fat’.
    M-H’s last blog post..Review: The removalists

  8. @lalaroo, I’m sorry I phrased that badly. What I meant was that wearing a fat suit doesn’t give you the experience that some people have of craving sugar or fat, unhealthy eating habits, or finding it hard not to eat unhealthy food because of cravings. I didn’t mean to suggest that overweight people have no control and just throw themselves on the first snack they see. It might give you something approximating the experience of being a healthy overweight person? Maybe?

  9. Heh. “Fat Like Me.” As Kate says, he’s not going to learn what it’s like to *be* fat. He’ll know what it’s like to become fat, and then (probably) what it’s like to lose weight.
    The fat suit would be better only in the sense that he can easily wear it and it probably doesn’t weigh as much as the represented amount of fat, so he wouldn’t feel quite as clumsy because he’s way off his usual weight, and then make the assumptions about clumsiness as Kate said, and he won’t feel logy and overstuffed with food he doesn’t want.
    He will learn what it’s like to exercise when you’re fat, though the negative comments are probably milder for men than women. He’ll come to know and hate phrases like “man-boobs” and “waddle.” He’ll understand that fat doesn’t make you deaf to comments made about you, or oblivious to strangers’ stares. He’ll get the special “you don’t belong here” stares that fat people participating in group fitness events seem to always get.
    He may get less of a chill since he’s doing it in his own gym with people he knows. Maybe it will help other trainers and athletes who aren’t fat if they see “one of their own” fat but still fit.
    He’ll enjoy strangers inventorying his every bite of food.
    It could help him understand why it’s not easy to do certain movements when there’s actual fat in the way. Try touching your toes with an object like a bedroll on your stomach — good luck!
    A fat person’s balance can make some movements harder or even dangerous. A person who’s an “apple” shape might not want to do a lot of toe touches, for example, because you really could fall over and hurt yourself. The same kind of stretching done from a seated position is safer. So he may learn about this, too.
    He may come to realize that fat people aren’t lazy if they don’t run up three flights of stairs when the elevator is out. Simple math: It’s twice the work to carry 280 pounds up than it is to carry 140. I remember a conditioning course in college where the instructor had us run around campus when she saw some of us fatter people not running as fast as the others during our time on the track. As we got back to the gym, she yelled at me asking why I was last. I stopped and yelled back, maybe she should strap 10o pounds on her back and see how far she could run without getting out of breath. She looked shocked. I guess I didn’t act as ashamed as she expected.
    I hope he learns these things, and even more, I hope he also learns that he doesn’t know everything about being fat even though he’s tried it. I hope he doesn’t just learn that being fat is horrible and no one should ever be fat.

  10. What Kate said. He’ll find it hard to gain weight, he’ll (probably) find it easy to lose it, and he’ll come out more convinced then ever that fat people are disgusting slobbish pigs who constantly gorge themselves on crap and need to be screamed and shamed out of their “problems”. He may also damage his body rather badly in the process, depending on what he’s doing to gain the weight – the 20 kg in five weeks that’s he’s already done is a massive sudden gain, and not even slightly typical of the bodily experience of actual fat people.
    A doltish risky grab-for-attention stunt is not exactly the example I’d ever be looking for in a trainer.
    Plus, what kate and lalaroo said. Many fat people aren’t fat because they’re “addicted to fat”. Many fat people aren’t fat because they’re “addicted to sugar”. Many fat people aren’t fat because they’re emotionally damaged. Many fat people are really no different from thin people (existing in the same relatively food-abundant environment), except for having fat parents/grandparents/etc. Many fat people are sick of random armchair psychologists/addiction specialists pathologising them.

  11. I should point out that the article doesn’t make comments about fat suits, those comments are mine. Disclosure: I don’t think wearing a fat suit would give someone the same experiences I have of craving foods, fatty, sugary or otherwise. I did not mean this to be a general comment on overweight people, and I apologise unreservedly.

  12. No experience of being fat is going to duplicate anyone else’s (and I’m glad you understood and apologised for your seriously offensive comments) but all this is going to do is cement the image of fat people as greedy, food-stuffing, lazy pigs. He might understand a little more about size issues – some physical tasks are different for fat or thin people, but there’s just as much difference for a thin or a muscular person, as far as I can tell. Even then, he won’t understand that different fat people are different.

  13. @Lynda – have you measured your “friend’s” blood glucose? Conducted fasting glucose tests? Taken her family history? Even asked her if she’s “addicted”? Wondered if there are other reasons (cancer, metabolic disorders, genetics, levels of exercise, a huge number of medications, assorted medical conditions) for her weight?
    Or are you just counting everything sugary that she eats? Living in a small town, everyone looks in everyone else’s trolleys, and I can happily tell you that the physical weight of the family members seems to have no correlation to the amount of sugar and junk food in their trolley. But the fat people are watched far more closely.

  14. “While I think wearing a fat suit can help people understand some of the issues around being large, ”
    Please, please for the love of all that’s holy, can people stop using the word “around” when they either mean “about” or “with”?
    You can dance around a Maypole, if such is your wont, but you can not have issues AROUND something. It’s the most hideous mutation of the English language I’ve seen since people started using impact as a verb.
    Sorry Mindy, I feel like we’re playing stacks on Mindy here, but I can’t stand it.

  15. No problems, edited not to cause grammatical offence too! I personally cannot stand alot. Drives me to distraction and if someone tells me it has made it into the dictionary then I will just cry.

  16. Thanks for being so gracious after being criticized, Mindy. I appreciate that.
    And Lynda,
    However much she eschews meat and fatty foods that might contain animal products, she seems to have no such qualms about downing cakes, biscuits, chocolate bars, ice creams etc.
    How dare she not avoid all sugary foods! Doesn’t she know that fat people shouldn’t eat dessert? She’s obviously not self-hating enough! Good thing she has a “friend” like you to judge her behind her back! Hopefully soon you’ll get up the courage to confront her about her eating habits like a good concern troll friend.

  17. However much she eschews meat and fatty foods that might contain animal products, she seems to have no such qualms about downing cakes, biscuits, chocolate bars, ice creams etc.

    I just had a vision of a Sacher Torte with a big label saying “no animals were harmed in the making of this gateau”…
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..The peace you have, when you’re not having a peace

  18. Some people are fat because they are addicted to SUGAR, rather than fatty foods. I have a friend who is grossly overweight but who is a vegetarian for both health and moral reasons. However much she eschews meat and fatty foods that might contain animal products, she seems to have no such qualms about downing cakes, biscuits, chocolate bars, ice creams etc. Hence her size. Amazingly, she isn’t actually diabetic, although I suspect it’s not far away…
    You know, some people are fat because it’s none of your business. Some people are thin for the same reason. Either can be as healthy as the other.
    I have a remarkably similar diet to your associate – vegan and a total sugar junkie. There isn’t a day I don’t have chocolate, biscuits or at least a hell of a lot of dried fruit. I have a remarkably stable BMI below 18. It doesn’t make me intrinsically healthy. I’m just intrinsically Kim, and Kim is a twig.
    The only thing I’d recommend to your friend is to check bakery goods for the common additive gelatine, since she’s vegetarian. And maybe find better friends.
    (And for what it’s worth, bakery goods can be a convenient way to get whole grains, and ice-cream is a superbly concentrated source of calcium)

  19. I just had a vision of a Sacher Torte with a big label saying “no animals were harmed in the making of this gateau”…
    At the RSPCA, little cupcakes mewling in cages, a toffee apple sleeping in an old basket, bowls of custard jiggling mournfully as people walk by, a couple taking an excited trifle to a new home…
    (Why yes, it is absurdism week. Didn’t you get the giraffe?)

  20. Another aspect of the stupidity of this little stunt is that exercise is his job! As is pointed out on a pretty regular basis, both anecdotally and within research, if you do multiple hours of strenuous exercise every day, you will probably lose weight and keep it off as long as you keep up the regime.
    Oh, you can’t manage multiple hours of strenuous exercise every day for medical, financial or I-have-better-things-to-do-with-my-life reasons? You’re a fat slob with no willpower and this guy will still never understand how you can live with yourself.
    At least the size zero stunt showed the reality of losing weight quickly…
    Ariane’s last blog post..The Interwebs are winning

  21. What was the size zero stunt?

  22. The amazing Kim: You know, some people are fat because it’s none of your business. Some people are thin for the same reason. Either can be as healthy as the other

    Yes, that’s true. But on the whole, as a statistical thing, the more weight you carry, the more likely you are to be unwell (unless you are too light).
    Back to the silly fella in the story: he is not normal with regards to exercise, so he’s only going to get limited insight. However I’m guessing he’ll make lots of money. Goal achieved, I reckon

  23. The other problem his ‘experiment’ doesn’t allow for is that overweight/obese people whose weight problems have developed over time are more likely to have co-morbid conditions that impact or restrict their ability to be physically active. Conditions such as hypertension, joint pain, heavy periods with extremely painful menstrual cramps, even reflux develop over time and can be debilitating. It is unlikely this person, if he gains and loses the weight quickly, will experience these conditions.

  24. Ummm, just realised one thing he will definitely never experience, no matter how much weight he gains, is painful menstrual cramps!

  25. Yes, that’s true. But on the whole, as a statistical thing, the more weight you carry, the more likely you are to be unwell (unless you are too light).
    While that’s true, genetics contribute to weight and type, so surely it would follow that you’re likely to have those illnesses because of the same genetic predisposition that makes you more likely to be overweight? That would seem logical to me :/ And all of those issues still occur in people of “normal” weights, so moving more and eating less might make you less likely to get it, but then again, it might not actually have as much to do with it as is generally assumed.
    I know people who are overweight and eat terribly, and I know people twice my weight who eat far better than I do. I also know people who inhale carbs, fat and sugar like they’re going out of style and battle to stay above 55 kilos.
    And Lynda, overeating is an eating disorder just as surely as undereating. Surely some sympathy and understanding for those who comfort eat as well as those who comfort stop eating is in order?

  26. one thing he will definitely never experience, no matter how much weight he gains, is painful menstrual cramps!
    He can have mine if he likes. And if he pays by credit card in the next 20 minutes, he can have these 20 packets of prescription painkillers free!
    Yes, that’s true. But on the whole, as a statistical thing, the more weight you carry, the more likely you are to be unwell (unless you are too light).
    Debating the relevant statistics for the illness rates of particular weight categories isn’t much use for anyone, so to rephrase my point: the presence or absence of adipose tissue doesn’t automatically indicate an individual’s health or moral standing. Lynda’s comment supposed that her friend’s weight was both an imminent death sentence and a personal failing.
    And not to completely pile on Lynda, but there’s a touch of the Vegetarian Police in her comment – that her friend is cheating by substituting croissants for bacon.
    (I’ve had enough Vegan Police pop-quizzes lately for that to ring some bells.)

  27. The size zero stunt was Louise Redknapp in the UK (apparently some footballer’s wife – I didn’t know who she was when I watched it either) who was, to use the vernacular, skinny as, when she started, attempting to lose enough weight to be a US size zero. It showed her mood alterations, and the simple fact that she looked better beforehand and all sorts of physiological disasters that impacted on her body as a result of dieting to be that thin. It was a stunt, she never needed to live with the person she became, nor did she need fear being called fat when she stopped. Nevertheless, it did show a few home truths. I wrote a bit about it here, if you are interested.
    And Oz Ozzie, a correlation does not a causation make. Eating badly is bad for you. Eating badly may cause obesity in some people. Other people are obese and eat well. Yet other people eat badly and don’t get obese. Most of the studies look at fat, not at lifestyle, when they correlate with illness. The real causality is unknown, but my guess is that a combination of bad diet (and other lifestyle factors) and genetic predisposition give you such things as heart disease. You will see a correlation with weight, since bad diet is loosely correlated with weight. But focussing on the FAT is not helping. It is a side effect of lots of things, and likely isn’t worth pursuing as a causal factor.
    Ariane’s last blog post..The Interwebs are winning

  28. Is this trainer going to take the age of the client into consideration? I could lose weight much quicker and easier when I was younger. Ever since the “change of life” weight gain seems to be a given.

  29. I agree. Not only will he fail to ‘live’ fat if he reaches a goal and starts losing weight immediately (that slow creep is part of the process which makes it difficult), but if he already *likes* fitness, healthy food and has habits which he enjoys that also burn calories, then he’s pretty much halfway there. From personal experience, I would say establishing (or changing) habits to create a healthier lifestyle are the big part of the battle. While I enjoy lots of healthy foods, I don’t enjoy most fitness/weight loss activities. Because I don’t enjoy them, and they’re not part of my routine, I find them arduous. That’s a mental battle he’s just never going to understand.

  30. The word ‘diet’ makes me want to snatch an ice-cream from the first child I see.
    It’s not only the food you eat, it’s the portion size of the food.
    At my current 135.4kgs, I can still put my hands flat on the ground by bending which just means I’m ultra-flexible or cheating by using gravity to head groundwards.
    The man is a fool and if I was a member of his club, I’d be walking out.

  31. Fillyjonk now has a terrific article up at Shapely Prose about this issue:
    Exceptions that Aren’t

    The most ridiculous trick of the asinine “calories in, calories out” oversimplification is the idea that human experience is additive. Someone who weighs 180 pounds MUST eat 60 pounds’ worth of calories more than someone with a similar activity level who weighs 120 pounds, and someone who weighs 240 pounds must eat 60 pounds’ worth again! This is a delusion so hard-fought that, like Aristotelian notions about the crocodile’s tongue, it is simply perpetuated forward against all evidence. To assert, as the scientific evidence seems to, that in most cases you just can’t turn a 120 pound adult into a 240 pound adult and even if you can she won’t stay there, and vice versa — that flies in the face of the idea that one body type is normal, acceptable, and virtuous, and others are aberrations.
    Just as a disabled person isn’t a broken able-bodied person, and a black person isn’t a darkened white person, and a woman isn’t a wangless man, a fat person isn’t just a thin person who ate too much. To think so, to cling so assiduously to thinking so in contradiction to the evidence, is to assert that there is one default body subject to any number of deliberate or accidental mutations. It is to assert that the most privileged body is also the “correct” body, the one to which everyone else should aspire. Oh sure, if you deviate through no fault of your own you are to be pitied (how many times have we heard the oh-so-charitable “but black people don’t CHOOSE to be black, fat people choose to be fat!” as though that weren’t as racist as it is fatphobic?), but if you deviate in a way that’s supposedly controlled, woe upon you. But we don’t have variations on a thin white able male body — we have human bodies, in all their many forms and functions.

    Long blockquote, sorry. Read the rest.

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