Losing Weight May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Warning: if you are easily discouraged when your assumptions are challenged, you might want not want to read this. Check back the next time I have a recipe or something.

If you need an excuse to stay fat, grab a box of cookies, pull up a chair and read this: many studies suggest that people who lose weight actually have higher death rates than those whose weight remained stable, even if they’re overweight.

Just call me Debbie Downer. Hey: you want a ‘rah-rah-happy-go-lucky’ low carb blog, look elsewhere – I’m far too cynical and skeptical for that.

Another aspect for me is: I’m not scared of people whose opinions differ from mine – I’m fascinated by them.

So if you’re game, let’s explore this avenue for a little while.

Anyway, my source for this is a book called ‘The Healthy Skeptic‘, which takes a number of assumptions about health and skewers them. It’s an interesting read so far, but the weight loss being a killer is a great contrarian read.

Now, let’s be clear: nothing is cut-and-dry in the world of health and nutrition, and there’s a difference between overweight, obese, and morbidly obese. There’s also great controversy over these terms and their relation to BMI – which is itself controversial.

But let’s not stray the course and see what the book has to say about the Finnish Twin Cohort study:

Researchers…separated out the intentional from the unintentional weight losers and included only people who appeared to be free of illness. All were obese or overweight when the study began. Over an 18-year period, those who had lost weight on purpose were more likely to die than those whose weight remained stable. The researchers concluded that deliberate weight loss in healthy, overweight people “may be hazardous in the long-term.” (pg 65-66 of hardcover edition)

It sure does suck to be fat. We’re born into a world that feeds us crap food as real food, we eat the junk, get fat, then have our character put into question because of our pants size (discrimination against fat folks is still not taboo). Next, when we do realize we need to lose weight, we are provided with 1000s of options – and most don’t work – so we waste lots of time and money – and lose nothing. Then, if we finally, finally! come across something that works for us and beat the odds, which vary between 80-95% against us, and actually lose weight and keep it off – we only succeed in dying prematurely compared to our fat cohorts that kept up on the intake of Ring Dings!?!

Going back to the book, the word ‘skeptical’ used in the title is applied as the fellow who wrote it does show that it is not as cut and dry as the above sounds, mentioning that other studies show the opposite result – and some show no difference.

It is also mentioned that yo-yo dieting might have something to do with it. Fact is: most people who lose weight have done so before and gained it all back, and there’s a lot of research that says this is not good for one’s overall health.

So maybe it’s not the weight-loss per se – it’s really the long history prior to the weight loss that is the contributing factor.

The author does goes on to say, however:

As a whole, the research suggests that dieting is not a risk-free endeavor and in some cases the drawbacks may outweigh the benefits. The Editors of The New England Journal of Medicine reached that conclusion in an editorial published on January 1, 1998. Under the headline “Losing Weight – An Ill-Fated New Year’s Resolution,” Drs. Jerome Kassirer and Marcia Angell wrote: “We simply do not know whether a person who loses 20 lb will thereby acquire the same reduced risk as a person who started out 20 lb lighter.” Warning doctors to be cautious about urging all overweight patients to shed pounds, they said, “We should remember that the cure for obesity might be worse than the condition.”

To the author’s credit – and to the dismay of people who just want to be told what the heck to do, he explains that ‘neither the doomsayers nor deniers tell the full truth’. There’s a lot of money to be made selling us diets – and plenty to be made selling us food that make us fat.

Here’s a decidedly biased view toward being fat as OK. This excerpt is from Kate Harding, who is part of the ‘Fat Acceptance’ movement. She’s a little strident, but don’t confuse your impression of the messenger with the content of the message:

Weight itself is not a health problem, except in the most extreme cases (i.e., being underweight or so fat you’re immobilized). In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes. Now, I’m not saying we should all go out and get fat for our health (which we wouldn’t be able to do anyway, because no one knows how to make a naturally thin person fat any more than they know how to make a naturally fat person thin; see point 4), but I’m definitely saying obesity research is turning up surprising information all the time — much of which goes ignored by the media — and people who give a damn about critical thinking would be foolish to accept the party line on fat. Just because you’ve heard over and over and over that fat! kills! doesn’t mean it’s true. It just means that people in this culture really love saying it.

The above is an excerpt from her FAQ, which is definitely worth a read.

Ok…you’re saying ‘Thanks for sharing…NOT!‘ Well, I did warn you.

My take on all this is to reiterate my impression that science is quite clueless when it comes to things like nutrition. It is quite easy for researchers to apply their own biases – both conscious and unconscious – to the data, and while the scientific method eventually weeds out the flawed thinking, this ‘eventually’ might not happen in our lifetimes.

Remember that modern medicine is little more than 100 years old, and professors of medicine, at least the honest ones, are famous for saying to their students that half of what they teach them will probably be proven wrong in a few years.

So it comes back to you, dear reader. It’s not their life – it’s yours. Read, research, ask questions, experiment, find what works for you and don’t be swayed by the opinions of others if you feel you are on the right track.

And take personal responsibility for your decisions. They might be right – or not. You have to either live with the uncertainty, or stick you head in the sand and only consume information that confirms your biases.

I won’t pass moral judgement on either path – in the end, it’s all about being happy.

9 thoughts on “Losing Weight May Be Hazardous To Your Health

  1. I bet that the people in that weight loss study were rigourously following a low fat diet. So then it’s not ‘Losing weight is bad for your health’ it’s ‘Losing weight via low fat diet bad for your health.

    I’ve lost 60lb and my chronic IBS has vanished, if that’s not health improvement I don’t know what is.

    1. Yeah – I sort of wonder the same thing. A low-carb diet is not really mainstream – and I certainly saw a number of my ailments lessen or disappear because of low carb – so this might or might not apply to us low carb folks.

      Still – interesting stuff, isn’t it?

  2. I think you mean Kate Harding, not Kate Hudson. Kate Hudson is most unlikely to be a fat acceptance advocate. The beautiful Kate Winslet, maybe. Kate Hudson, no.

    The longer I live, the more I’m starting to think that I should listen to my body when it says 170-175 at 5′ 7″ is where it wants to be. Deviation from that requires unhealthy obsession, and I actually feel great. I work out 45 minutes to an hour 5-7 days a week, a variety of activities. I have good muscle mass and eat my daily 5 of veggies. I’m thinking I can go and have a fat cheeseburger and sweet potato fries or some breakfast tacos a few times a week, feel happy and calm, and if other people don’t like seeing my plus-sized body they can kiss my big ol’ fat patootie!

    1. I feel like the guy in the picture at the top of the post. It’s HARDING not HUDSON! My only defense is that I dash these posts out before 6am – it’s amazing I can string 2 coherent words together. I fixed it – thanks.

      As to the weight thing…who cares what other people think?

      Kate Hudson might accept fat on her plate – low carb is big in Hollywood, I hear – but not on her butt.

  3. lovely and mature text, Lowcarb.
    And by the way, let the world know the news: life kills…it´s intrinsic!

  4. In the end, it IS all about being happy. And this week, happiness equals a loss of six pounds and THREE INCHES in the waist for me. YES!!

  5. So I have read about the yo yo dieting been bad for you before. It does make senses. Perhaps been overweight isn’t that bad for you. Why would a bunch of fat cells be bad for you. But perhaps the data is skewed somewhat in the fat and obese groups because what overweight person HASN’T dieted and put it back on before. It would be interesting to look at a study between virgin dieters and veteran dieters and see what longevity they have.

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