Does fat acceptance mean we're giving up?

More overweight people are no longer trying to lose weight and the health implications are not good.

Last week I had a conversation with a friend after my studio cycling class. He remained in the room after everyone had left, his long legs burning calories while I cleaned the room. He’s my height—six-three—but easily has a solid 30 pounds of muscle over me, which makes sense given he spent years as a world-class rower and is currently a premier wife-carrier.

We talked about our respective obsessions with fitness. Turns out we both grew up overweight, with big ears—perfect targets for bullying, longtime victims of schoolyard taunting. At some point we grew quickly and thinned out, applying the frustrated energy of being a harassed youth into an obsession with movement that continues unabated—if anything, we’re more driven now—three decades later.

This obsession is why, 15 years ago, I decided to work in fitness. While I loved being a full-time journalist, office life left my body deflated. Since those days I’ve moved alongside and taught tens of thousands of people of all levels of fitness. Today I know a number of people who don’t have to work that hard to keep weight off and plenty of others who exercise daily and follow healthy diets yet still border obesity.

Attitude is of primary importance, which is critical in a media dominated by fad diets and workouts. Genes matter—some of us really have to work harder than others—yet body image begins with your mindset. While no one-size diet or fitness protocol is for everyone (as much as many holistic opportunists would like you to believe), your attitude about your body is important. And one disturbing trend is on the rise: giving up.

Models present creations for plus-size women by French fashion designer Jean-Marc Philippe on May 16, 2013, in the Palais Royal in Paris. (Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

That’s what a recent study published in JAMA discovered. Viewing trends from 1988-2014, the researchers, from Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, noticed that of the 27,530 participants analyzed, six percent fewer overweight or obese adults were trying to lose weight in 2014 than 1988. Fat acceptance is a driver of this trend.

Which, in some ways, is positive. We should be moving from the promotion of rail-thin models and steroid-fueled weightlifters to a more inclusive (and realistic) presentation of the human body. What fat acceptance offers us socially, however, it loses with potential health problems. As the NY Times reports:

Public health experts fear that this trend toward "fat acceptance" bodes ill for future well-being and the soaring costs of chronic weight-related ailments like heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and more than a dozen kinds of cancer.

The problem is so pressing that JAMA published an entire issue addressing obesity in January 2018. In one article, economist Mary A. Burke, whose work centers on social norms, and Baruch College professor Frank Heiland, whose research in part focuses on health and obesity, write that the normalization of being overweight is a consequence and not a cause of growing rates of obesity. The economic and social environment, filled with cheap, processed food, has greatly aided our growing waistlines.

Given that we’re always influenced by and in interaction with our environment, the more overweight people we witness, the more we normalize it. Instead of gauging our own bodies based on a healthy standard, the bar is lowered as we commune with and observe the habits of others. Dangerously, these habits hold more influence over our eating (and exercise) patterns than does information we read on a credible website or hear from our doctor.

Stigmatizing the overweight and obese, the authors continue, is counterproductive. Given the psychological distress associated with this type of bullying, the overweight are more likely to binge eat, for example. It’s a tough line to walk, both inspiring people to lose weight but also not making them feel bad about their bodies. It involves a skill set that, in our current environment, many are incapable of honoring.

Yet complacency solves no problems. As the authors conclude:

Rejecting the stigmatization of overweight does not mean becoming complacent about the health risks associated with obesity, but instead means recognizing that stigmatizing weight is unfair and counterproductive. Rather than deploying negative social stigma to encourage weight loss, a more effective strategy might seek to harness peer effects in a positive way to promote and spread healthy behaviors.

In order for new habits to be implemented, the overweight have to take initiative. And that doesn’t appear to be the case. As the NY Times notes, while Medicare covers up to 20 weight counseling sessions each year, few are taking advantage. Add to this misinformation about nutrition. Another JAMA article highlights the confusing packaging labels designed to trick consumers. Anyone curious of the marketed “low fat” foodstuff, for example, might overlook the high sugar content.

Fitness instructor Jeremy Selan (C) helps 17-year-old Marissa Hamilton (R) balance on a ball during a fitness class at Wellspring Academy October 19, 2009, in Reedley, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This epidemic might require intervention. As much as Americans love freedom fries, health care costs are also a public, not just an individual, concern—a tough lesson in an individualistic culture. Bariatric surgeon, Dr. Edward Livingston, at University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, believes we need more than a soda tax to address this issue. Even as soda consumption goes down obesity rates are increasing. Livingston instead endorses product taxes based on calories; the revenue could help make healthy foods more affordable. Instead of focusing on sugar, he believes a systemic overhaul of our entire food system is necessary.

As the Times mentions, “more fitness, less fatness” is another way to address this issue. Six days every week I watch students walk into Equinox. While everyone enters for varied reasons, the connective tissue binding us is the pleasure we collectively receive working together as a group. Community increases the likelihood students will stick to an exercise regimen. They’ve entered an environment where working hard offers an emotional, as well as physical, payoff. The experience brings with it a level of contentment and personal satisfaction not found while working out alone.

Yet there are challenges with this as well. First, you have to step inside. Many people are uncomfortable stepping into a gym, which is unfortunate. The term “group fitness” is also used in anthropology and evolutionary biology; it’s one of the reasons Homo sapiens transformed from mediocre apes to world dominators. When we work together, we evolve. We even thrive. Movement is our biological inheritance.

Considering the data, we’re not thriving right now. Yet we’re also acutely aware this path is not sustainable. The journey to optimal health does, in fact, begin with acceptance: accepting the fact that wherever you are, right now, is where you are. But it cannot end there. There’s simply too much at stake.


Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion and creator of Clarity: Anxiety Reduction for Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

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