The Promotion of Obesity.

I think I may have thought or drafted this blog post out a few times, so the easiest way to do it, is to shoot from the hip.  This will be a long read, but I want to argue and justify my comments as clearly as I can.

Overview:   There's a blogger who blogs and does "activism" regarding Fat Acceptance.  Their headline claim is "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not size dependent" and she claims that there is no connection between body mass and health.   Her message is wrong and dangerous and should be challenged.   In addition to this, she claims that mentally and physically, obesity has no impact on ability and is putting this to the test by attempting an Ironman.  I've followed, challenged and been motivated by her blog.   Her blog hasn't been my primary motivation, but in some ways has contributed to it.   The likes of Big Mig, Merckx, Wiggo, Steve Abrahams, James Haydon and Kristof  Allegaert are all names who dwarf me and showed me what I should be build towards..........whilst this blogger showed me what I should be moving away from and inspired me to do it right.

In the big picture of life, the Universe and everything; this blogger is a nobody with a modicum of internet notoriety.  She did have a moderate and slowly growing following of obese people who were looking for acceptance of their bodies.  But as her message has become increasingly nonsensical and typifies (to us Europeans at least) the stereotypes of the mid-West US attitudes to.....everything......  her notoriety has arisen from her fanciful claims, pseudoscience, cherry picked comments, authoritarian and draconian censorship of anything under her digital control and just outright lies.  In some areas it's anti-intellectualism (typified by encouraging contradicting medical professionals when ever you visit a physician) while she tries to masquerade as an intellectual herself.   Where a few years ago her readership was like minded people, today her major readership are those critical of her ideas.   She has the draw of a failed reality TV star and a car crash you can't avoid watching.   I hope that puts it into context and explains why I'm about to write about her and my motivations.

I don't want to name her here or link to her digital presence, as this isn't what this blog is about nor do I want to give any further traffic or notoriety to this person.

So why am I writing about her and why has this got anything to do with this blog?

This person had been spouting out a lot of false science regarding weight loss for a number of years which is what first gained my interest and idle curiosity.   Claims such as "only 5% of any diets work", "childhood anorexia is a faster growing problem and has a greater impact than child obesity" and that "correlation doesn't prove causation therefore diabetes is not related to obesity" are a few of her salacious claims.  Some claims are far out of the norm and instantly dismissive, whereas others appear to have a half truth hidden in there or lack the context to check how robust the claim is giving a dangerous veneer of credibility.   Looking through the research these claims are invariably shown to be historic and retracted by the researches, superseded by more detailed studies, ignore current statistical evidence, cherry picked data and/or have no context in current dietetics, medical practice or health programs.   For someone with a skeptical mind or the inclination to dig into these studies, then it becomes more and more obvious how untrustworthy her "advice" and comment is.   To those with neither the time nor motivation to check then the "advice" or comments, these can appear to hold water and may become convincing enough to get lodged in someone's head.   Studies by multinational health bodies such as the WHO she dismisses as being part of a corporate agenda by diet companies.   If one or two of these claims had been minor slips in a body of well researched and documented text, then it could be forgiven as everyone occasionally finds an incorrect or duff source.   The nature of knowledge sharing with peers and public and self improvement should lead to a retraction, edit and improvement in the next text or discussion.   However these are claims that this person keeps repeating, publicising and pushing as an excuse not to lose weight for your own health.  Instead she actively promotes obesity against all better knowledge.  She repeatedly claims to be a "trained researcher" but gives no evidence of qualifications.

There are other bloggers, YouTube personalities, columnists, opinion piece writers and other media darlings who are all more visual in the public eye and fleetingly exploited by publicists and PR teams.   They're pretty much transient faces with 15 minutes of fame who I could argue are doing more to promote obesity that this person does.  But I think it comes back to credibility and turn over rate.   YouTube and Blogs are increasingly fickle and the number of people interested in them fluctuates depending on flavour of the month, or who is promoting what campaign or agenda.  The YouTubers and Bloggers who base their defence on vanity are superficial noise whereas this person doesn't have that.
I have no idea who these people are except I Googled "Fat +bloggers +group" and the blog I found the image on confirmed that they are indeed fat bloggers who blog about fashion for fat people.   No Nobel prizes between them, but they know how to use Instagram, and likely that in a couple of years they will have been superseded by others.
To build a credible reputation long term and have gravitas to an opinion, she's trying to appear (superficially) to be the authoritative opinion and voice of obesity defence.   It is as much the difference between the TV science presenter who'll show the whizzes, pops and bangs compared to the Nobel Laureate behind the scenes who deduced and proved the chemical reactions pathway and reaction kinetics - one is the face you attach to, but the other is the less TV friendly brains behind the subject matter and less disposable (Brain Cox and Carl Sagan being the exceptions).  The blogger in question is trying to gain the reputation as a "Big Thinker" or "Thought-Leader" in obesity acceptance and related fields rather than being the face of a short lived obesity related brand.

Tomas Lindahl (pictured), Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar found a range of molecular systems to monitor and repair DNA, to prevent genetic materials from disintegrating and won the 2015 Nobel Prize for science after years of dedicated hard work.  Each of them have remarkable reputations and funding opportunities that'll impact millions of lives.  None of them are bothered by how many Twitter followers they have or how many local radio/TV PA's.  But their work will be cemented into Cancer Research for decades/centuries to come.
At this point, you could easily say "yeah yeah, move on, move on, in the bigger picture this blogger is a minor ripple in a blogosphere, a side note in internet browser history and not worth writing a blog post about."   However, two things come to mind and appear like a big red "DO NOT PUSH" button:

1) The spreading of misinformation regarding research, science and weight management which has real world feedback.  

Where she claims to be fighting for fat acceptance, the global scientific, policy and opinion is that humans being excessively fat is a bad thing all round.   For examples; the obesity related public health service burden [1], generational obesity [2], childhood tooth decay and poor oral hygiene cofactor with higher obesity rates [3], loss of productivity in the workplaces [4, 5, 6], economic cost [7], impacts on sexual health [8, 9, 10, 11, 12], reduction in potential employment pools and employment mobility[13, 14, 15], inequality in resource distribution and negative impact on social groups and mobility [16, 17], reduction of IQ in young adolescents [18], exploitation by food companies and more.

She will try to defend all of this with lies, mistruths, misrepresentation, misleading comments, poorly research and cherry picked arguments with strawmen, bad science, blurring of pseudoscience with factual claims and spin.   Add into this that this person makes fantastical claims about her personal accomplishments to get public speaking opportunities with her resume shows a massive gulf between what she claims and what she actually is, and you have someone who taps into the logic of those who want to blinker themselves from the reality of obesity by confirming the patient's own confirmation bias.  What the fallout of this is is that this person is destroying people's lives - the lives of those who fall for her Health At Every Size (HAES) mantra and the lives of the HAES followers families and friends who'll lose people to obesity, a 100% preventable disease.

Her public and social media platforms to other fat people genuinely prevents health workers getting their message across to fat people -   greater than 95% of scientific consensus, peer reviewed literature, medical reporting and advice repeats the same message that if you are overweight or obese you will have more health complications and you will die earlier.  Whereas the blogger claims fat acceptance is a social issue isolated from any physical health implications and not something to worry about therefore go against your medical experts at a time when medical intervention is most critical.

In much the same why you would be critical of an alternative therapist, herbalist, homeopath or any other fringe quasi-medical practitioners advice when the reality is that there are tried and tested, well known, supported and resourced therapies and tests are out there, people who are promoting the the miss-information of obesity denial should equally be criticised for what they are promoting.

NOTE:  Although with the exception of my motivations (see below)  I've tried to keep this impersonal.  However the thought of my kids coming home from seeing any pseudoscience practitioner who has give advice which is contra to scientific evidence scares me.   At some points in my life and my kids, I will have conflicted health advice but I want to make sure the pseudoscience is shown to be discredited no matter who or where it is coming from so I can make informed and logical discussions.   The blogger I'm referring to isn't giving an alternative choice, they are giving contradictory advice which is proven to be wrong.   I don't want my children or anyone else's to be susceptible to this..

2) The Fat Acceptance Blogger puts out a physical, finite, quantifiable endurance test.

This person is such a focus because not only has she said we should accept obesity and that body mass isn't in our control, but she has made the massive claim that an obese person is just as capable as an non-obese person in every respect.  On the internet, anyone can fudge and give half truths as much as they like about their history and interpretation of their qualification.  But what she has made is a massive claim and she's gone further by making it testable. What she is claiming is that an obese person can complete sporting events that normal people partake in and that obesity is no barrier to this.  The first event she was involved in was a marathon which is ambiguous - a marathon is a distance usually run, but in this  case she walked it and due to the charitable runners and fundraisers these days, time limits are very lax. She did the distance, taking well over 13 hours, but does it count with how long it took?  I'd love to know Pheidippides opinion.

So the next claim was a step up in the game.  A full IronMan with a half-IM in the run up.  Both the Ironman and half-Ironman events are very testable - very specific disciplines, over a set course with stringent time limits.   If you don't make the cuts, that's it.  There are no excuses or fudging of results which makes it very clear cut - either a Class III obese person can do it or they can't.  She has made her own litmus test for her own claim and she is the only one that can answer it.

Over the course of the last 18 months or more while I was working through the whole Test Subject and Eds-Lon project, she has claimed to be training for these events and blogging extremely redacted updates with very little training information.   Where others have been able to check, a lot of the blog appears to be falsified or embellishments of minor events.   Her claim is that she can do the full IM without any weight loss.   To date she has only taken part in a half IM (which she was timed out at T1) and a charity 5km run (which she was DQ from for cutting the route short).   No regular super sprint, sprint or Olympic Tri's on the build up.  No Park Runs, 5km's, 10km runs or half marathons.   No open water swim events or duathlons.

And why would  I have any interest in all of this?? 

In reality, there's a lot of things that go on in my life and I really shouldn't have any interest or time to give it any credence.   I read the updates about her blog when I have a few minutes sitting on the toilet or waiting for the kettle to boil.  However as someone who enjoys physical activity, holds a higher degree and has general fitness interests, I feel that in some way this blogger needs to be challenged.   Her name is becoming increasingly marked so that anyone who does any research on the woman doesn't just find these false claims, but the clearly challenged rebuttals and arguments. She doesn't peer review or present any new findings or opinions, she doesn't represent or work for any of the major organisations which tackle with the issues of obesity, equality or mental/physical health, but her name does come up in general Google searches in related subjects as if she could be someone knowledgeable in the area - and she makes money off this.  Just in the same way you should challenge homeopathy advocates, alternative medicine, miracle cures, snake oil sellers, juju preachers and anyone else who makes unfounded salacious claims, this person even with minor notoriety needs the same treatment.

2016 appears to be the year where this takes a step closer.

So how has this involved or motivated me?

I admit that I have used my research skills and knowledge in a number of forums and discussion places to help find some of the missing papers, links, data and details to refute what these claims have been and linked to the likes of Sciencedirect, national health bodies and credible publications.   I am not any form of an authority on research, obesity, societal impacts of health factors or have any qualifications in this specific field but I do know how to research, cross reference, check primary sources and construct an argument.  Although some of the things I've typed may have appeared personal attacks on her personally, my primary personal motivations are to counter the bad science - it's a bit like a game to me and personal challenge to look at where the Bullshit button has been pushed and find what the researched rebuke should be rather than just shouting "BULLSHIT!" increasingly louder.   There are a number of people who have looked at countering this person over personal claims, but for me the academic claims are far more compelling to verify.

When this person moved into the IM training, I confess that this did motivate me to blog, and had it not have been from reading her blog I think I would have been less inclined to write my experiences and provide the details and evidence I have.   After seeing the amount of falsified training information this person was putting out there, I wanted to run the Test Subject 1 blog as open, frank and as detailed as time would allow.   The data, biomechanics, training, quantifiable and qualitative details of the process compel me to want to look at the numbers and was my motivation to work with Loughborough Uni.   My openness to research makes me want to share my data, donate the files and metrics to upcoming researches and I'm more than happy to release my data to any research groups studying the kind of exercise I do.   There is more information I'd love to part for as much of a story this is for other people reading my blog, this is still a personal record of what I have done, a method of reflection on what I've learned and helps consolidate/improve what I want to do.  I think my achievement and progression is far from exceptional and dwarfed by other riders, and my blog style still leaves a lot to be improved on but this is the person I am.

This blog isn't and I've never intended that this blog would be the antithesis to hers, or that it would become a pissing contest between my training and hers - my motivations were always to try and beat Steve Abrahams distances, raise the NSG money and be "TestSubject1" but reading her blog motivated me to do it my way, commit fully and execute the whole project to my best ability.   I had/have no miraculous weight loss story or any other motivations but the motivation to see how far my middle aged body can go and what I'd learn on the way.

Am I being hypocritical?

If you're going to throw stones, make sure you're not in a glass house.

If I'm going to be critical of  what she has blogged then I should be critical of what I have blogged.  What I have done to my body through October 2015 to July 2016 arguably was not healthy.   I'm sure some will argue that although I have a degree of fitness, I may not have been healthy and gone towards the other extreme end of the spectrum.  I have had a physical and medical impacts from what I did and what I continue to do and some of those are still with me.

The damage I did to my body was/is a result of  my personal choices so for me to be critical, I feel like I have to at least acknowledge that I am probably the spectral opposite of her blog - I am relatively healthy, and from what I've blogged  have I promoted a healthy sustainable lifestyle?  Or have I promoted an unhealthy attitude from over reliance on exercise and physical exertion?  So to contrast or defend my choices, what short, medium and long term impact do I have from what I did and what I do?

Cycling is proven to have long term health benefits [11] therefore in a net effect, I am likely to have a lower medical burden than those who don't do any exercise in the coming years (assuming I'm not doing crazy distances and extreme races constantly for the next couple of decades!).  From the number of minor alignments I've had through the last year, reducing my exercise load has allowed repair rather than having to take proactive interventions and my body has rebounded fairly quickly.   I have learned a lot about nutrition and health as part of the process and will take these on as life long habits.   I've see what I've done and what I do as my way of banking health for my old age, not a mountain that I'll have to tackle in later life to keep going.   My recent health I see as largely preventative of potential health complications in later life rather than the large restorative battle that many will encounter as they age.

So am I hypocritical?   Partially (in the sense of the taking my body to an extreme), but with the correct long term objective and awareness of the path to get there, on the whole I don't think I am.

You've found the link between my blog and Fatlogic /u/.

One of the things I've been very hesitant to do is link this blog to what I've commented online via my Reddit username.   Riding Edinburgh-London I wanted to be very discrete to any comments or criticisms I made of the FA blogger to ensure that everyone saw my true personal and charitable motivations - the NSG and riding 450 miles.   I keep this blog and my Reddit username as discrete entities to ensure that there was no cross contamination between the two - I do use a cycling username and a general interest alias too, not to confuse things just to compartmentalise aspects of me.

I know a number of the Reddit communities know about this blog via my cycling username.   I tipped off a few on the Fatlogic area but largely only hinted what I was up to however wanted to tell all in relation to and contrast to the blogger as there were/are many contrasts and similarities between the IM training process and what I put myself through - the long hours of training, bouts of anxiety, relationships strains, depression, mechanical setbacks, jubilation in achievements, food choices, aches and pains.   Done right, both of us should have had similar experiences, scenarios, viewpoints and mental/physical hurdles to cross before our respective events.  Posting any reference to their blogger earlier than this blog post would have jeopardised both my project and may have influenced others - a bit like the Schrodinger's cat hypothesis where the observer can influence the observed outcome.

Before those who contact me to point out some of the obvious ramifications of linking this blog to a selection of subs that have had backlash from certain areas, yes I have thought about this, hence the long and carefully worded post.


Firstly, the words I have typed are my own, are my opinion and do not reflect the opinion of employer etc etc etc.

What I've typed is not a personal attack on the blogger or in any relationship to her self promotion.   Anyone can self promote.   This blog is my self promotion.   The attack is on her work, philosophy and influence on others.

If she or anyone else wishes to be overweight or obese or have poor food habits, then that is entirely their own choice BUT everyone should have equal access to all of the knowledge regarding what personal and societal impact those choices have.   Many thousands of words have been typed on this person's personal life, lifestyle, motivations, public speaking, activism and personality traits on blogs, forums and the wider web.   My attack is on the message she supports and the impact this has on susceptible minds, public health and those who are working hard at combatting both personal/public health issues and societal responsibility.

Obesity is an extremely damaging and global problem.   It is an extremely simple but complex subject.   The simplicity is that if you consume more than you burn, your body will conserve the energy as fat.  If you consume less than you burn, you will utilise those stored energy reserves.   The biological complexity lies in the metabolic pathways, gut microflora, absorption rates, hormonal response to foods and muscle efficiency.  The absolute extreme complexity is the societal factors which have lead to the ability of humans to vastly overeat while having an increasingly sedate lifestyle and whose responsibility this is - and if one blogger writes a long winded blog post with the science and experiences to point out the problems of another blogger and has even the smallest impact on reducing that complexity; then so be it.

EDIT/UPDATE:   The blogger flew to the start of the IM to defer/re-register for 2017 and DNS'd IMAZ 2016.  After 2.5 years of "training", a lot of hype and claims, the IM fizzled.  No start, no attempt at the swim, no timeout at T1, nothing.   Just a FB post and a pre-written/prepared blog post announcing her withdrawal 40 minutes before she was supposed to start.   Where her claim still stands that "An obese person can do everything a normal person can without any weight loss," she hasn't done anything to prove it.  She claims she will return in 2017 and complete the IM without any weight loss.  But the interest even before the IMAZ 16hr cut off strikes has already gone and I won't be using her for any further inspiration.   I'll keep an  idle eye on what she's claiming (especially the science bullshit), but for training, sport and cycling, Kristoff, James, Steve, Martin Cox and the other hard men of  the bike will keep me inspired.

EDIT EDIT:   Just found out Cav and Wiggo have won 6 Days of Ghent.   #EPIC!

Popular Posts