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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watching FA Bloggers on You Tube

I realize this is old news, but I thought Monique and Rachel came across remarkably well in that show, and I have to admit that of all the FA bloggers these two are the ones I disagree with the least. Rachel's history is, I believe, that she did at one point diet down to "normal weight" with a very restrictive and low-calorie diet combined with plenty of high-intensity aerobic exercise (running I think). What happened was that she couldn't keep it up without making herself ill and deteriorating into an eating disorder. I'm no expert, but I believe that this is what might well happen if you use too drastic methods for weight loss for an extended period of time: your metabolism slows down (thyroid ceases to function normally), and the more you restrict your diet and increase your exercise, the harder it becomes to loose the weight or even maintain it - and in the end both your physical and mental health will suffer, and you run the risk of malnutrition, injuries and burnout. This is why very low calorie diets, detox-regimes, liquid diets etc should never be used without medical supervision (in my neck of the woods VLCDs are recommended only for the very severely obese), and especially not combined with a strenuous exercise regime.

"HAES" (health at every size) and "Intuitive eating" then? Sure, both sound lovely at a first glance. Of course you should exercise for pleasure and general wellbeing rather than just for weightloss, and eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full is very sensible. However, HAES and the FA's interpretation of intuitive eating don't stop there.

There's something of an exercise industry built around HAES, and the best known fitness pros are, I believe, Kelly Bliss and Jennifer Portnick. Bliss sells DVD's and books over the web and Portnick runs a chain of dance studios. Both claim that you can be both fit and fat, and that you don't need to lose weight in order to improve your fitness, and maintain that you can't in fact tell by looking at a person whether they are fit or not. At the beginning of her career Portnick actually filed a lawsuit against a gymchain that refused to employ her because of her being overweight, the case was settled but Portnick essentially came out the winner, conclusion being that as she claimed that she taught several aerobic dance classes a week she had to be right in her statement that she is fit even if she is "fat". Her level of fitness was never actually put to the test though.

My main objection against HAES is that it doesn't take into account the degree of obesity or a person's age, nor does it define what exactly is meant by the word "fit". I fully agree that you can well be "just" overweight but also quite fit and healthy. For instance, someone who is in his 60s and overweight, but enjoys regular walks, has no problems walking several flights of stairs, has no medical issues and so on is probably doing just fine and doesn't need to lose any weight - but should not gain any weight either in order to avoid future problems. On the other hand, someone in her 20s who is overweight and does the same amount of excercise as the 60+ chap above is very likely not "fit" at all, and if she continues to gain weight is likely to end up with a host of medical problems in her 60s or even much earlier. The 20 year old might not have any medical issues now, but unless she keeps a keen eye on her weight and increases the amount and intensity of her exercise she will not be okay for very long.

Furthermore, when you are above the "obese" marker your weight will quite literally start to weigh you down. It's no longer possible to exercise vigorously enough to improve your fitness, and unless you lose at least some of the weight your overall health is not going to get much better. In the real world this means, that Kelly Bliss' "sit-down aerobics" might be good and beneficial as a start for someone who is morbidly obese and can't carry their weight around without support, but weightloss has to be part of the equation if this person is ever to become even reasonably fit and healthy. And in case you think that my views are coloured by bias and fat-hatred, imo many super-muscular "heavyweight" bodybuilders are facing this problem as well: They have enormous muscular strength and a minimal fat percentage, but the weight of their body (ie the musclemass) is making cardiovascular exercise very difficult and thus their level of cardiovascular fitness tends to seriously deteriorate at some point. (On an other note, super-slim endurance athletes tend to have poor muscular strength which makes them prone to overuse injuries, they would do well to dedicate some of their time to the weight room - I have nothing against natural bodybuilding per se and strength-training is very important for overall fitness and health as well).

As for intuitive eating, as far as I know this concept has been used successfully in the treatment of anorexia an other eating disorders. However, the FA has bought in to the idea that you could rely on your body to tell you what to eat. If you are deficient in iron you will crave red meat, and if your body is lacking in vitamin C you'll have an appetite for oranges. This is BS with capitals pure and simple. Our bodies are not designed to function this way (however appealing the idea would seem), and no amount of "tuning into the signals of your body" is going to make you actually "feel" a specific nutrient deficiency. This way of thinking could be downright dangerous if you wait for a craving to set in before you eat your fruit and veg or make sure that your diet is sufficient in iron and so on.

Mary45 Posted her review on the My Fat Spouse Forum


  1. Hi. I do not run a chain of dance studios, but i did teach aerobics and do personal training for several years . I never filed a lawsuit, it was a civil complaint of discrimination against Jazzercise. My fitness level was put to the test, many times over, oftentimes on national television.

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