Warning: If You Read This, You Might Get Fat

So yesterday, I posted my immediate response to the “Fat Is Contagious!!!!” story on a fatty e-mail list. And someone there rightly pointed out that I ignored one crucial point: we do know how to make people fat.

Just put them on a diet.

Now, I do stand by what I wrote, which was that we don’t know how to make a naturally thin person fat. I was thinking specifically of the prisoner study, where a bunch of men ate ridiculous amounts of food and stopped exercising in order to deliberately gain weight, but the weight gain didn’t last; as soon as they went back to eating normally, they went back to right around their original weights.

A smug asshole could point to that study as evidence that all fat people must be sitting on the couch stuffing their faces 24/7, and if they just knocked it off, they’d get thin — but of course that’s not the case, and if one attempted to support such an argument with science instead of smugness, one would fail rather spectacularly.

What that study does point to is the existence of a stubborn natural weight range in every individual. Anyone who’s dieted and gained it back (i.e., pretty much everyone more than 5 years out from the last diet) will recognize an incredibly familiar pattern in the prisoner study — it’s the reverse of what we’ve lived out, but the elements are all the same. They tried to push their bodies beyond their natural weight ranges, and their bodies resisted mightily. Their metabolisms changed to account for the changes in diet and exercise and try to force them back into their natural weight ranges. And as soon as they stopped the unnatural diet, their bodies returned to what was normal for them.

That’s exactly what happens to dieters.

But because it’s a weight range we’re talking about, and because dieting is akin to starvation as far as the body’s concerned, when dieters go back to normal, they often end up fatter than they were — presumably at the top of their natural weight ranges. Dieting, as a rule, not only doesn’t make you permanently thin — it makes you fatter.

If you want a source on the above, take the advice I’ve given you eleventy billion times and read Rethinking Thin. I know a lot of people are mad at Gina Kolata right now for the Times article yesterday, and I don’t blame you. (I also don’t blame you for making me fat, despite the stupid fucking headline, which of course she didn’t write.) But at the same time, she is the only journalist I’ve seen covering this lunacy who made an effort to sincerely question the findings, talk to people like Kelly Brownell and Stephen O’Rahilly for opposing viewpoints, and end on an appropriately skeptical note. The fact that the article began on a press release-regurgitating note is probably not her fault — though Fillyjonk’s point that maybe she should have known better than to take the assignment in the first place is not a bad one. (On the other hand, if she hadn’t, we’d have ended up with one more totally uncritical article exactly like all the others. So…) In any case, I still like Gina Kolata, and gettin’ caught in the rain, and her book explains exactly what I’m talking about here in all the scientific detail you could hope for.

Now back to the important point here: this fact that I overlooked offers one simple, plausible explanation for the “fat is contagious” findings: friends recommend diets to each other. And diets ultimately make people fatter. And if those people started out at the top of the “overweight” BMI category, dieting could very easily have pushed them into the “obese” one.

It’s unlikely that that fully explains the correlation they found — but frankly, it’s a much more plausible theory than the one that has fat people calling each other up and saying, “Hey, you know what? I overeat and never exercise, and I feel great! You should try it!”

So far, I’ve avoided getting into personal anecdotes with regard to this story, because I wanted to discuss the absurdity of it without opening myself up to “The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data!'” criticisms. And of course, that’s true. The plural of “anecdote” is “anecdotes.” I have an English degree; I’m pretty sure about that one.

And here are a few anecdotes I think are relevant.

Before I got into fat activism, I never had many fat friends. In fact, I can only think of 2 fat people I considered good friends over the long term before I started writing this blog. And I only talked to one of them once or twice a year. None of us got fatter for knowing each other.

I’ve had three fat boyfriends, one skinny one, one insanely buff one, and one completely average one.

My best girlfriend since high school is a mad foodie who would probably rather give up sex, books, dog snuggles and her firstborn than quit cooking rich, flavorful food. She’s thin, always has been.

I’m still friends with several other people I went to high school with, too. They’re all thin.

My best friends from college? Thin.

The friends I hung out with regularly in Toronto? Thin.

The majority of my best friends from grad school? Thin.

I’ve never had a problem making friends with thin people, Dr. Christakis, you fucking knob. It doesn’t rub off.

And not a one of them has gained weight from talking to me, even since I started actively telling people that it is okay to be fat, and it is sensible to stop dieting — exactly the things you seem to fear.

Most of the friends I’ve made in the last year have been internet friends, and most of those are fat, for obvious reasons. As far as I know, I haven’t made any of them fatter. At least one reports having lost weight in the time we’ve known each other (and it should be noted, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that that’s not because of a goddamned intestinal disorder).

If I actually wanted to make my friends fatter? I would tell them to diet. Of course, most of them have already figured out for themselves that that’s the best known way to make yourself permanently fatter. They don’t need me to tell them.

And, despite what these recent findings suggest, I have no interest in telling people how to get fat. That’s not what I do. What I do is this: I tell people that dieting will almost certainly not improve their health in the long term and might very well harm it. I tell them they don’t have to hate themselves because they’re fat. I tell them how much I love yoga and walking and swimming, and broccoli and spinach and asparagus — and burgers and fries and bacon. I tell them that a Health at Every Size approach has been proven to have much longer lasting physical and mental health benefits than dieting, and the only “drawback” is, it probably won’t make you thin. I tell them that fat is largely genetic, and if they have fat genes, it’s better to work on loving themselves the way they are than forcing their round bodies into square holes. I tell them that being fat does not mean no one will ever love them. I tell them that they don’t need to wait to start living their lives until they magically become thin. I tell them they are welcome anywhere I am. I tell them they are awesome people.

And if those new fat friends are listening intently to every word I say, taking it all to heart, and changing their lives accordingly? I’m okay with that. I can sleep pretty fucking well at night, actually.

116 thoughts on “Warning: If You Read This, You Might Get Fat

  1. You can have them, sweet machine, the internets are obviously what’s making us ginormous.

    You know, KH, I could kick myself for not thinking of the “friends encourage friends to diet and that makes them fatter” notion myself. But the study did say that the findings of friends making each other fatter only applied to men, did it not? Are men egging each other on to diet these days in great numbers? The men I know don’t seem to bear this out, but the men I know are all proudly weird.

  2. kate – actually the latest research is showing that repeated cycles of dieting probably have no effect on long term weight gain. I can dig up the reference if you can’t find it, I don’t have it handy at the moment.

    Don’t fall into the NAAFA trap of blessing every study that comes out that tentatively supports your view as gospel, and dismissing everything you don’t agree with as bad science. For example, in the other thread Peggy was using BMI based studies to show her point, but conveniently omitting that NAAFA considers BMI completely unreliable and not a basis for sound research.

    I have what would be called a “slow” metabolism myself. However, I don’t see it as slow, I see it as efficient. When I’m on a 5 day backpacking trip I need a LOT less food than someone who can eat whatever they want and not gain a pound. Why would you buy a car that gets 15mpg when you can get one that is identical and gets 25mpg?

  3. Ssteve, if you read this blog, you’d see that I’m hardly “falling into a NAAFA trap.” I’m not a member of NAAFA and don’t plan on becoming one.

    And yeah, I’d love to see a reference for “the latest research” you’re talking about. Any chance it’s funded by the diet industry, or a pharmaceutical company developing a weight loss pill?

    If you believe dieting is harmless, fat is intrinsically unhealthy, and it’s possible for naturally fat people to make themselves permanently thin, then you might want to look in the mirror before you caution other people against falling into traps of believing what they hear without doing any research or critical thinking.

  4. You know, KH, I could kick myself for not thinking of the “friends encourage friends to diet and that makes them fatter” notion myself.

    Ooh, ooh, I thought of it! It’s one of the points in my comment on the last post!

    Hey, I basically feel like shit about myself today, what with this story and the “fat girls don’t go to college” story and everything, so I will bask in my one piece of glory.

    MySpace makes you Skinny On The Internet, due to the brilliant innovation of the Fat Girl Angle.

    ssteve, go ahead and dig up that reference.

  5. Ooh, ooh, I thought of it! It’s one of the points in my comment on the last post!

    Eek! Sorry for the lack of credit!


  6. MySpace makes you Skinny On The Internet, due to the brilliant innovation of the Fat Girl Angle.

    It’s going to be awfully hard for Laura to win the internets back after that line.

  7. No, no, Kate. “NAAFA” is like a cuss-word to some old-school anti-fat folk. You can’t very well take that away from them by suggesting a diverse movement in support of fat acceptance. Remember, when a study that comes out in support of fat acceptance, you’re falling into a TRAP! But if some isolated study somewhere is in any way able to be interpreted against fat acceptance, for SHAME on not bowing to the divine wisdom of the researchers who put out such a magnificent product. How dare you deny their brilliance!

    See, when we do it we’re cherry picking. When they do it, its just because its right. Better be careful, SS Teve. We might make you fat. We’re all just that influential.

  8. Haha, I love the title of this post =)

    While we’re telling anecdotes… the study basically says that someone gets fat, their friends get fat as well, right? Well, when I started college, I was skinny, skinny, skinny. I had three best friends, one was thin, one was chubby, and one was fat. I also had a skinny boyfriend, a skinny brother, and a chubby sister. Throughout the course of college, I gained a pile of weight, and ended up fat. What happened to the weights of my friends? My thin friend stayed thin. My skinny boyfriend stayed skinny. My skinny brother hiked the West Coast Trail and came back fit and muscular (still thin though). And my chubby and fat friends and chubby sister? All lost weight. My formerly chubby friend and sister are quite thin now (though not thin enough *sighs*) and my formerly fat friend has settled at a weight that our culture still wouldn’t consider thin, but that looks healthy and fantastic on her. So my fat at least has yet to make anyone else fat.

    And Meowser, the study says the results apply to both men and women, but are much stronger across same-gender friendships.

  9. Ehh, “not thin enough” in my previous comment means they don’t consider themselves thin enough, not that I don’t consider them thin enough.

  10. The folks who use the prisoner weight gain research as proof that fat people eat too much just don’t get what that research found. Many of the participants did not gain much at all, and most stopped gaining after awhile, despite continually increasing caloric intake. One participant was eating 10,000 calories a day and not gaining. So yeah.

    As for the recent studies ssteve mentions, there are some problems with them. First, some found exactly what others have found (that people do regain more than they lost) but use a different interpretation — “they would have gained it anyway!” Others have very short follow-up periods. The recent one by the CDC only followed up for 3 years and declared proudly that 60% of Dieters Are Successful! *rolls eyes* We know that regain (plus some) happens for most people by 5 or 6 years. But that doesn’t make for nearly such sexy and profitable headlines.

  11. GiniLiz, oh right, that study! I think the Fatosphere already made short work of that one for having a study period that was so dramatically shorter than the time it takes for most dieters to regain. There were other problems with it, too, but I’d have to dig up the posts, and being fat I’m even lazier than ssteve.

  12. “So dramatically shorter”? I don’t think I’m getting enough calories to my brain today. (GEE I WONDER WHY.)

  13. Yeah. And I am just too busy. Doing quality fat-and-health research ya know. ;)

    Another thing. The regain+ theory is not just “oh look what we see happening to people… how weird!” The mechanisms behind it are pretty well established. Weight loss permanently alters metabolism. (see Leibel et al 1995 for one example, ironically also published in the NEJM). Of course, when they established that the body’s energy expenditure decreased after weight loss, they concluded that this explains some of the issues of weight loss maintenance (not just “falling off the wagon” as so many assume) but then insisted it meant we should just try harder! So I guess we should all get to the levels of those in the Weight Control Registry. Continuing decrease in caloric intake to below semi-starvation and excessive exercise. With still no guarantees since the WCR is a highly selective sample and only requires 1 year of maintenance for participation. mmhm :-/ right

  14. As for ssteve’s idea about an “efficient” metabolism, that’s nothing new. That’s been the medical term for it for a long time. Sounds too positive, though, so people opted for “slow.” And it does not mean we need to eat less than our thinner counterparts, for the record. It is all balanced out by the relative body mass. And even an efficient metabolism operates on a set point, using more when we take in more than usual and using less when we take in less than usual. So on your camping trip, ssteve, I sure hope you don’t get stuck without sufficient food supplies.

  15. ginliz – umm, why exactly don’t I need to eat less than people who don’t have as efficient a metabolism? I don’t try to squeeze the same amount of gas into my tank that someone does into their SUV… I’m not trying to fill a quota on how much I can spend on groceries every month, and trust me, they cost plenty around here.

    You mentioned most of the newer studies but can you give me a technical summary of what you found wrong in the methodology? I have a degree in math and have done quite a bit of professional work with statistical analysis, so I would be glad to hear what you have found wrong, assuming you have read the actual papers and are not basing your opinion on blogs and newspaper articles.

  16. I noticed on your last thread there were a few comments about how skinny people reject fat people as friends. I think that’s true, but it’s not the whole story.

    I can’t be friends with women who are obsessed with their weight. I can and am friends with slim people who are slim without giving it a lot of thought. But have you ever tried to sit down to eat at a nice restaurant with a chronic dieter? They ask 50 questions to the food server about how the food is prepared, how much butter is in a meal, and oh, can you please prepare it for me butter free and make sure the low-fat dressing is on the side, and so on and so on. It’s embarrassing and annoying! And the way they look at you when you enjoy some blue cheese dressing on your salad! There’s just no way to have an enjoyable meal with folks like that.

    I’ve been through some weight loss recently. This is because my hubby is diabetic and I finally decided I had to stop eating sugar if I wanted him to stay away from it. I thought about calling a weight-obessed old friend of mine, because, hey, she won’t give me a hard time about my weight at this size, or at least not too much of a hard time. Then I thought to myself is a friend I only feel comfortable calling when I’m slimmer a good friend to have? No, not really. And it’s a shame because she’s a lovely person in some ways.

    Oh and, “I still like Gina Kolata, and getting lost in the rain.” LOL! That had me cackeling at my desk, your a dangerous woman, Kate, and I love it!

  17. Rose, I know plenty of fat people who I won’t hang out with for the same reason. I’m not interested in diet talk regardless of the weight of the dieter.

  18. Meowser – I’ve always assumed that a certain amount of the folks who come on to site like this to espouse the wisdom of “Put down the fork, fatty!” are probably fat people themselves. I suspect that there are a lot of self-loathing fat people out there in internet land who 1) feel very threatened by fat acceptance because it flies in the face of everything they know about how “wrong” they are as human beings, and 2) because it gives them the opportunity to pose as thin people for a little while, since nobody really knows your identity. Ssteve mentioned above that he has a degree in math and is an expert at statistical analysis, as if that means that he’s such a first-class smarty-pants that we mere laypersons must defer to his great wisdom. But really, he could be a Dominos delivery boy who likes to pretend he’s a math wiz on message boards. How could we possibly know? And Ssteve, before you come in to insist to me that you are who you say you are, keep in mind that I really don’t care!

    Most of the chronic dieters I’ve know have been thin, because they’ve succeeded in keeping themselves thin through a deep commitment to self-depravation. But I agree that diet talk is always irritating no matter what the size of the dieter.

  19. Wait, is SS Teve saying fat people are like SUV’s or fat people are like fuel-efficient hybrids? I’m getting confused as this analogy gets more tortured. Fatties are overfull fuel-efficient compacts who’s access fuel is making us look like SUV’s because we have quotas. I think.

  20. “umm, why exactly don’t I need to eat less than people who don’t have as efficient a metabolism?”

    When a body with an “efficient metabolism” reaches its natural size (the size it reaches when we eat what we are hungry for when we are hungry for it and move around as is needed for play and work each day), it tends to be larger than a body with a less efficient metabolism. Thus, the caloric needs for each day tend to balance out. This is why researchers are unable to find a consistent difference between what fat and thin people eat. If you are eating less than naturally thin people because you have an “efficient” metabolism and not because you actually are hungry less, you are “slowing” your metabolism even more. Not too smart. That is why un-naturally thin people take in alarmingly low amounts of calories and “work out” more than twice the amount recommended by fitness professionals.

    As for the technical things I found wrong with studies, I’m sure you know with some background in statistics that good stats are useless without good methodology and good interpretation. Numbers do not speak for themselves. I’m assuming that is why you asked about my knowledge of their methodology. I do believe I explained above that it was the interpretation of the analysis results that was the problem. The CDC reports that they followed dieters for 3 years and concluded that this meant weight loss maintenance was possible. (You’re not the only one who has enough stats and methodology background to read studies for yourself, you know. But then… have YOU read that one? And have you read the other studies that place that one in context?) The CDC study was ridiculous since all previous studies have found that sure, about half of people maintain weight loss for 3 years. And regain it by 5 or 6 years. Despite my fondness for statistical analysis, it’s pretty useless without proper research design and interpretation.

  21. GiniLiz and Ssteve: Which studies are you refering to exactly? I don’t think I’ve heard of them and they will be relevant to a paper I’m doing this fall.

    Thanks, Lonie

  22. Did you see the fucking chat with the head of the study, James Fowler, over at the Post?

    How does one avoid friendships with fat people when so many of them are present in our environment?


  23. Been lurking a bit, love the discussions! I was going to mention the washingtonpost.com chat also, but had to put my head back together after it exploded. *sigh* Didn’t he mention the fact that they also studied thin people influencing their friends to lose weight? Where was the screaming headline about THAT???

  24. giniliz – first, good statistics has zero reliance on good interpretation. If I tell you that men have a higher median measured IQ than women, that is a statement of statistics. It is not incumbent on me to explain why. I am not making a political statement, and I certainly don’t need to defend anything beyond the way I arrived at the numbers. Thus my question was specific as to what you found wrong about the methodology in of itself.

    Second, when you say “the recent CDC study” it makes absolutely no sense to me. What study? Which paper? The CDC does a gazillion studies a year, it’s customary to give authors or journal when referring to a particular one.

    And finally, where exactly do you see that Leibel 1995 showed that weight loss PERMANENTLY affects metabolism? Leibel was not a long term study, and it failed to take into effect lean mass. There have been other studies (eg Wyatt 1999 AJCN) that have shed a lot more light since Leibel.

  25. I have to say, Fowler’s answers in that chat didn’t bother me nearly as much as I expected. At least he really tried to drive home that you should not, under any circumstances, ditch your fat friends or avoid making new ones. Every friend makes you healthier, and even he says that outweighs the risk of “catching” teh fat.

    But then, the fact that he sounds pretty sane and reasonable in his own words just goes to show you how much these studies get bastardized in the reporting.

  26. Here’s an article from MSNBC called “Yo-yo dieting may have a bad rap”, it cites the National Institue of Health as their source. This article has a link to another article titled “All diets work about the same” and then goes on to say that they don’t work at all in the long term. So if you’re looking for an anyalysis, it’s something to the effect of “Dieting doesn’t work, but you should do it anyway, because temporary weight loss is better than no weight loss.” Anyway, science, shimance, it all has very little place in a massive propaganda push.

    I don’t know if this is regarding the study GiniLiz and Ssteve were discussing, but it is a start if you want to do more research…

  27. Jesus H. Christ. Anyone who feels the way that chat person does will find it really easy to “avoid a friendship” with me. I daresay they will never have to worry about exchanging a single solitary word with me and will thus be in no danger of catching my contagious fat. If they did ask that question in my hearing, they may find it harder to avoid a relationship with me, but it will be the type of relationship where I kill them and stack their bodies in the basement [/Clue] so they’ll only be dead, not fat. Whew!

    (Just kidding about the murder part)

  28. Second, when you say “the recent CDC study” it makes absolutely no sense to me. What study? Which paper? The CDC does a gazillion studies a year, it’s customary to give authors or journal when referring to a particular one.

    I believe she might be referring to one published in the July American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and hyped in the mainstream media prior to that. Except actually, iirc, that one only followed subjects for one year. So maybe she’s talking about a different one.

    As for the “numbers speak for themselves” argument, um, no they don’t. As a scientist I quoted in yesterday’s post pointed out, there are lots of ways to spin the same numbers. And in fact, most of the research debunking the myth of an obesity crisis is based on the very same data that promotes it. Numbers may not lie, exactly, but devoid of context — or deliberately wrapped in a disingenuous context — they can tell a lot of damaging half-truths.

  29. Yeah, reading the chat really did emphasise how hysterical the reporting on this issue was. Fowler repeatedly stressed that 1) The health conferred by friendship outweighs the possible health risk of “catching” obesity and 2) The effect works both ways, thinness is “contagious” too… where was that piece of information in all the articles on the story!

  30. The effect works both ways, thinness is “contagious” too… where was that piece of information in all the articles on the story!

    Uh, including the NEJM one. I haven’t read it since yesterday morning, but I sure don’t remember seeing much emphasis on that. So it’s not all the fault of reporters, either.

  31. Don’t be too optimistic, Kate. Fowler’s getting precisely the reporting he wanted. Scientists aren’t as naive as they prefer we think them. They got what they wanted. Also, from the quotes I’ve seen from Fowler, his reason for not ditching fat friends may be based in a desire to win them as “converts”.

    “When we help one person lose weight, we’re not just helping one person, we’re helping many,” Fowler said. “And that needs to be taken into account by policy analysts and also by politicians who are trying to decide what the best measures are for making society healthier.”

    “It’s important to remember,” Fowler said, “that we’ve not only shown that obesity is contagious but that thinness is contagious.”

  32. You’re right Kate, I hadn’t read the study yet… I just did and it doesn’t seem to mention it at all *sighs*

  33. Just a personal, non-scientific note on yo-yo dieting. And as a person who has over the past 20 years has seen my 5’1 frame be as tiny as 98 lbs, and as heavy as 175 lbs, and all sorts of numbers in-between, I know a little something about the hell of yo-yo dieting, even without my degree in mathmatics!

    Even if Ssteve and MSNBC and all the fat-shaming propoganda proponents in the world were absolutely correct that yo-yo dieting has absolutely no impact on metabolism, what is the benefit of it? Is it worth the feeling of your stomach howling in agony for food that you insist on depriving it of? Is it worth the dependence on speed (a/k/a diet pills, and honestly when I was in my teens it was a hellish cocaine addiction that kept me thin)? Is it worth the emotional agony that comes with constantly looking in the mirror and saying “I’m ugly. I’m disgusting. I hate my body.” And given that it’s nearly a statistical impossibility that you won’t regain the weight plus at least a little more within 5 years, is it worth the feeling that you are a personal failure? For me, if continuing my yo-yo dieting ways added even 10 years to my life, they would be years hardly worth living, because I’d spend every day in a state of unbearable emotional pain and constant humiliation.

    The propoganda machine keeps putting out the message that fat people should HATE their own bodies, and that somehow that self-hatred will lead to a thinner and therefore, healthier person (i.e. this “socially contagious” study – you’re friends are making you think it’s OKAY to be fat, and it’s NOT OKAY!!!!!) The truth is that you can’t take good care of your body until you LOVE it, and even then, your genes might make you a heavy person. A healthy, heavy person who loves her/his self.

    So let’s put the great god of science and statistical analysis aside for just one moment. Wouldn’t a society that valued mental well being and the non-judgemental loving of people of all shapes, sizes, colors and lifestyle choices be a better and more decent society than the one we’re currently living in? Put aside the charts and statistics for a minute, and look in your heart for the answer.

  34. “It’s important to remember,” Fowler said, “that we’ve not only shown that obesity is contagious but that thinness is contagious.”

    Then WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENS WHEN A FAT PERSON AND A THIN PERSON ARE FRIENDS? Are there fisticuffs? Do we do a Punnett square? I feel like this alone ought to be casting doubt on the study.

  35. Fillyjonk, you’re slayin’ me. You’re right. Why are “journalists” not bothering to ask these questions? Are they forbidden?

  36. Kate – I just pulled up the Weiss 2007 study in AJPM and skimmed it; hadn’t read it before. Not sure it really states anything new. They only looked at people who had large body weight loss in a year (at least 10% of total weight), in other words, the ones doing the most radical diets and fads. Given that most other research seems to indicate gradual weight loss is better, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the group of individuals going for the fad diets should be the ones to most likely regain.

    I agree that most researchers put way too much spin on these studies. The problem is that if they don’t dumb the results down so that the average American Idol watcher can understand it, they don’t get further funding. Most of these guys are completely unqualified to be science journalists, i.e. someone who can take a complex scientific result and explain it to a lay person without any epistemological degradation.

    bstu – vitriolic much?

  37. 10% of body weight in a year is not that much. If you weigh 260 pounds, that’s 1/2 pound a week… people in my Weight Watchers meetings get pretty depressed if that’s all they lose, despite it being within the ubiquitous “1/2 to 2 pounds per week” that people are told to aim for if they want to lose gradually and keep it off. By most standards, the 10% folks you mention (or even 20%… that would be 1 lb a week for the above person, still very reasonable by current wisdom) are far from crash dieters.

  38. Note, my point there is not “Weight Watchers is awesome and sane” but rather that I don’t think the study can be dismissed as only looking at short-term or fad dieters.

  39. Yeah, really, Brian, I don’t understand why you’re so worked up about these articles in major publications talking about how you’re a danger to anyone who interacts with you socially.

  40. That chat was ridiculous. He talked so much about people “eating more”–I just wanted to smack him. I do NOT eat more than average; I tend to eat less, but jackholes like him would have me on 500 calories a day if they could!

  41. They only looked at people who had large body weight loss in a year (at least 10% of total weight), in other words, the ones doing the most radical diets and fads.

    You made a pretty big leap there, I think, ssteve. 10% of my body weight is 17 lbs. Losing that in a year would hardly be considered rapid weight loss, and could easily be done without a radical diet. (Whether those lbs. would still be gone 5 years later is the more interesting question. Given that I’ve lost loads of weight and gained it back more than once, and that’s in line with the best available data even from fat-hating sources, I wouldn’t bank on it.) Ditto 30 lbs. in a year for a 300-lb. person, for that matter. I mean, how slow is acceptably slow, in your estimation?

    Regardless, this study crowed about how 60% of dieters were able to keep it off, but again, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. 1) that 60% represented dieters who lost at least 10% of their body weight and gained back less than 5% within the first year. Meaning, if I lost 17 lbs. and only gained 8 back after a year, I’d be considered a success story.

    I have no doubt that I could keep 9 lbs. off for a year. I’ve lost a lot more than that (via both radical diets and “sensible lifestyle changes”) and kept it off for longer in the past. But I’ve never kept it off for more than 5 years. Just like pretty much every other dieter who’s ever been studied for that long.

    This study claims to have useful results after 1 year. Right there, I reject it, as anyone with critical thinking skills should. Doesn’t really matter how gradual the weight loss was or wasn’t. All the evidence suggests that if they don’t follow up after another 4 years, these results are perfectly meaningless for anything other than indicating that short-term weight loss is possible, which I and every other fat acceptance activist I know fully acknowledge.

    There is no substantive difference between a “diet” and a “lifestyle change.” Eating healthfully and exercising a reasonable amount are good things, which I regularly advocate. Sometimes, they cause permanent weight loss. Much more often, they don’t. But they almost always cause health improvements.

    Changing your eating and exercise habits with an eye to losing weight rather than improving your health, however, is a sucker’s bet. Period.

    BTW, BStu’s vitriol is welcome and admired around here.

  42. spacedcowgirl, its really just an effort on diet promoters to find a way to define dieting narrowly enough so they can get some statistical proof that it works. Haven’t found the sweet spot yet, but that doesn’t keep them for “controlling” for weight loss efforts which are too obviously harmful, even if those efforts are the mainstream of weight loss.

  43. Also, yeah, spacedcowgirl is exactly right — 10% of body weight is actually what doctors tend to recommend people lose in order to magically gain all the health benefits of being 10% lighter (which somehow the person who weighs 10% less than you doesn’t have, since they’re still fat and should lose 10% of their body weight, and also you’re still fat and should now lose another 10% of your body weight, ad emaciatum). It’s not necessarily a precipitous loss. But hey, guess what, it still doesn’t stick — and if you were eating the right amount and getting enough exercise previously, or if you have a tendency towards eating disorders, whatever you did to get down there probably did a lot more damage than the weight would have.

  44. kate – the 10% isn’t the AVERAGE, it’s the MINIMUM. The median is going to be quite a bit higher than that. That means a 300lb person who lost 29lbs over a year wouldn’t even qualify as having lost enough weight for this study. And I think that’s way too much – if you feel the need to lose weight, I think 2-3% per year is reasonable, since that’s the rate most people gain weight at. That allows your BMR (referenced in other posts) to equalize without a lot of problems.

    Also, I’m not taking a pro-fat/anti-fat side here. I’m just pointing out that the study is roughly consistent with what both sides already know. I’m not claiming by any means that dieting as referenced in the study is remotely useful. My criticism is that people seem to be pulling completely unbelievable conclusions from these studes, as giniliz did with Leibel 95 and permanent metabolism change.

    And finally, not everyone who questions your analysis is a pillowcase wearing anti fat bigot who beats up overweight people on the weekends. If you can’t have a reasonable discussion without ad hominem idiocies like “SS teve” (thank you for a total lack of class, bstu), then you’ve ALREADY fallen into the NAAFA trap: anyone who doesn’t agree 100% doesn’t agree because they hate you…

  45. so if fatness and thinness are contagious, and the media keeps pushing all these images of thinness in front of us, shouldn’t we all be thin just by association? Or is the problem that we don’t KNOW all of the thin people in the media?

  46. I’m just pointing out that the study is roughly consistent with what both sides already know.

    It isn’t really. Most people outside the fat acceptance crowd consider 1-2 pounds a week an entirely reasonable and sustainable weight loss, and 1-2 pounds a week is considerably more than 10% of body weight for the vast majority of people. The idea that losing 10% of your body weight in a year is neither healthy or sustainable is not something known by “both sides”, not at all. If it’s known by you, great, but in that case I’m not sure why you’re coming on here and disagreeing. What is the completely unbelievable conclusion you feel people are pulling from this study?

  47. “first, good statistics has zero reliance on good interpretation. If I tell you that men have a higher median measured IQ than women, that is a statement of statistics. It is not incumbent on me to explain why.” *shakes head* Nope. Because I have no idea how you defined and measured sex/gender and how you measured IQ, so that statistic tells me nothing on its own. If you believe “good statistics = good math” I guess interpretation doesn’t mean much to you. (You would be going against what many scientists – though perhaps not mathematician – have written, but I won’t stop you from saying it.) I, however, want to know how you got your participants, how you defined your variables, how you measured them, how you coded them, etc. You didn’t just use numbers in your statement above. You used words that have meaning, implications. You provided interpretation of your numbers without recognizing you were doing so. If you had said “A median of 6 is higher than a median of 4,” that would be less in need of interpretation. But the statement you made needs a LOT of interpretation and is indeed political.

    I mentioned the recent CDC study without telling you which one because you asked what problems I had with its methods. Therefore, I figured you’d read it. I did mis-speak/type and it was a 1 year follow-up, not a 3 year one. It was the study in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Since, as you informed me, it is customary to give authors: Weiss, Galuska, Khan, Gillespie and Serdula.

    And if you hae a problem with the Leibel study and want something more recent (I will acknowledge that no studies have followed up very long term, but these studies do indicate that weight loss results in metabolic changes that at least last long enough to cause regain and regain+ in most participants) try the 2007 Major et al study – Clinical significance of adaptive thermogenesis. International Journal of Obesity, 31: 204-212 (plus editorial in same issue).

  48. ssteve, I’m sure you can appreciate that this is not the first time any of us have had this conversation, and you are not the first person to come in here and tell us all about your math degree and your terribly open mind, before going on to tell me why I’m wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Which means, we’re not predisposed to assume you’re looking for a reasonable discussion. Most who start arguments as you have are not. You can understand why we’re wary.

    Also, again, I think you’re making a pretty big leap with this: kate – the 10% isn’t the AVERAGE, it’s the MINIMUM. The median is going to be quite a bit higher than that.

    The median may or may not be quite a bit higher than the minimum. Knowing it’s the minimum doesn’t tell us anything about the numbers above it. I can figure that much out without a math degree.

    And frankly, as someone who has a couple degrees in analyzing texts, when I see someone build an argument based on “at least 10 %…” I’m inclined to assume the median is NOT much higher than 10%, or they would have just told me the median, because it would have made their argument much stronger.

    I might be wrong. So might you. But that’s twice you’ve made a big leap from what’s there on the page to an assumption that supports your opinions. Even if I’m doing the exact same thing, you’re not in much of a position to call me out on it.

  49. CNN aired a truly ridiculous segment on this today, wherein a woman explained the two theories behind the fat-is-contagious school of thought (1. fat people are friends with other fat people and stay fat because their friends are fat, so it must be okay!! 2. people hang out with people with similar interests, so fat people hang out with other fat people and their similar interest is clearly eating. oh! and thin people are fit and fat people aren’t!). I hate these fucking ass clowns.

  50. Eating healthfully and exercising a reasonable amount are good things, which I regularly advocate. Sometimes, they cause permanent weight loss. Much more often, they don’t. But they almost always cause health improvements.

    Exactly. My younger sister lost 150 lbs in two years after becoming a vegetarian and discovering that she could run – well and long. She has kept it off for almost 20 years. Granted, she’s fanatic about exercising (because she loves it) and the sorts of food she eats (because she cares about where it came from), but she didn’t starve herself to do it and she isn’t starving herself now. And if you ask her, she will say that her story is highly unusual and does not represent any sort of plan you should follow. The amount she lost brought her to her set point, rather than the depression-induced weight she was at before figuring out THAT little piece of information. You will never find a more vitriolic opponent of the dieting industry than my little sister, because all the dieting she had tried never helped her and, in fact, made her depression worse. If I sent her this study, her head would explode from anger – and I love her so I am not going to do that. I’ll just be angry for her.

  51. kate – again, math doesn’t have to accomodate your world view. The statistics don’t exist to make you feel all better. The median is almost certainly over the minimum, and significantly so. That is because the data in question is normal, and any time you have a Gaussian distribution this follows naturally. If you take a random sample of 10,000 people, and then subsample the tallest 100, you can be fairly certain that the average of those 100 will be taller than the shortest of the 100. I can’t make it any clearer.

    But instead of actually understanding Statistics 101, it’s easier to attack the experts. What exactly are your statistics qualifications? Have you taken any math beyond high school? You seem to be to statistics what creationists are to modern biology.

  52. You know, wrt stats, I’m willing to concede that this study in question in this post did their stats “correctly” from a mathematical point of view. My original point, which I apologize to all for allowing myself to be derailed from, was that those stats don’t matter if the methods suck. And in this study, the methods sucked. The researchers assumed that the person listed on the research application as a reliable contact was a central point of a social network (ha! I would never list one of my best friends as a reliable contact). They coded obesity dichotomously (cutting out much needed variability, a trick used by many to find conclusions that would otherwise not be statistically significant). And they chose such a highly selective sample from this otherwise huge data set that other conclusions they reached contradicted several previous studies using the Framingham data (indicating that their results are likely not generalizable). So I don’t really care much about a stats conversation (apart from, perhaps, the influence of artificially reducing variance in the BMI information) since their methods and conclusions didn’t make for good science.

  53. Right. Our similar interest (note singular) is eating. We’re obsessed with eating. All we care about is eating, eating, eating. Which we do together from 100 miles away, 1000 miles away, 5000 miles away, on the phone or at the computer! Without fail!

    Ayup. I know when I talk to my fat friends, my first question to them is always, “Do you have your food yet?”, because if we don’t each have a barrel of ice cream to stick our heads into, we can’t have a conversation. You don’t even want to know how sticky and replete with vermin my phone dial and computer keyboard are because I’m such a pig, pig, constantly gorging pig! Oink oink! And it’s all my fat friends’ fault. Or is it mine? Don’t expect me to think, brain cells can’t move so fast in such a lipid-saturated environment.

    Whereas I can talk to my boyfriend, who’s sitting right next to me, without the aid of any comestibles, even at actual mealtimes when we’re both physically hungry, and he never eats any of the food in my house and I never eat any of the food in his, and we never take walks or swim together or, ahem, do anything else that burns any calories. Oh, wait a minute…that’s right. He’s thin, so he does all the exercising, and I do all the eating. Damn, when am I gonna get smart like these skinny media people?

  54. Know what else I find interesting (and somebody may have already mentioned this)… The study didn’t find that people will fat friends become fat. They didn’t talk about those who had fat friends to begin with. They found (with their carefully picked data set) that those who had a friend who moved into the “obese” category (even if this meant only gaining 1 pound) were also more likely to move into that category (even if this meant only gaining 1 pound). And again, this happened even if the person was across the country. But here is the kicker — It only happened for men. Not people. Men. But then again, I guess people = men. Anyway, while I don’t tend to discuss how much I eat with my friends on the phone, men do tend to discuss when they have taken up weight-lifting practices. Again, that wouldn’t explain everything, but it is interesting that it wasn’t mentioned that it was only men that had this correlation with non-genetically-linked people.

  55. You know, I think that there is something worthwhile, sometimes, to arguing about semantics or statistics, but really this study is laughable. Laughable in that the sane people that I talk about this with laugh that I could be making them fat. With all of the media and obesity researchers hyping the idea that obesity is the next AIDS, I don’t think that the fact of my weight is suddenly going to make that much of a difference.

    I do hope, however, that my beliefs about my body and being comfortable in it will help people find some comfort in their own.

  56. The median is almost certainly over the minimum, and significantly so. That is because the data in question is normal, and any time you have a Gaussian distribution this follows naturally.

    I understand what a median is, ssteve, even though I haven’t taken a math class since college, was never any good at it, and never pretended otherwise.

    What I don’t see from what I can access (the abstract of the study and various media reports on it) is any evidence that there was necessarily a normal distribution. Is that something we can just assume? If it is, and stats 101 would have taught me that, then whoops, sorry. But all I know is this:

    This study examined U.S. adults aged 20–84 years who were overweight or obese at their maximum weight (body mass index ≥25) and had experienced substantial weight loss (weighed 10% less than their maximum weight 1 year before they were surveyed) (n=1310).

    To be fair, I found one article that remarked the study also showed that people who lost more than 20% of their body weight regained the most weight. So evidently, there were people who lost at least that much. How many? Don’t know. Were there people who lost 30%? 50% Don’t know.

    Again, maybe my lack of statistical knowledge is the problem here, and it’s safe to assume 10% is just one end of a wide bell curve. But from the way they describe this in words which are what I know best, all I know is, they included anyone who lost at least 10% of their body weight, and some people lost more than 20%. That doesn’t make me less inclined to stand by anything I said earlier.

  57. Maybe i’m oversimplifying here… but if fat people influence their skinny friends to gain weight, and skinny people influence their fat friends to lose weight (and let’s just toss that whole “genetics” thing out the window, eh?)… then doesn’t that mean that obesity and anorexia are self-resolving issues? I mean, sooner or later, we’ll come to the middle of the pendulum and find a happy medium.

    Honestly, even that conclusion is entirely laughable. But if that’s what they’re stating, then the logical conclusion seems (to me, at least) to be that eventually everyone will be roughly the same shape and size. Ye gods, how boring that would be!

    I think i’ve spent too much time on Fark.com; i see headlines like “scientists find obesity to be contagious” and i automatically follow it up with one of two things “still no cure for cancer” or “film at eleven”.

    My favorite part of this whole mess was reading the Junkfood Science article to find out that this all stemmed from a highly imperfect virtual simulation. I mean, that just fucking buys it for me.

  58. kate – the data would almost certainly be normal, or very close to it. If there were a significant deviation from that distribution, it would jump out at you as soon as you started running tests. You won’t get published (or last long in research) if you make mistakes like that.

    giniliz is right in that you lose some information by using dichotomous variables in this case, but this is just a preliminary study. It’s perfectly fine to use dichotomous variables to establish a correlation, then you move on to other studies which start pulling out more detail.

    And there is my point – this is a PRELIMINARY study. It should not be bandied about on TV with idiots asking about how fat their friends should be. It should not be on blogs outside certain niche areas within medical sociology and epidemiology. The only people who should really care are those in the field. Once they have digested the methodology, worked out possible confounders, run studies to eliminate those confounders, worked larger scale studies to solidify the original hypothesis, then it’s ready for prime time. Consider how long and how many hundreds of studies it took to confidently say “smoking causes lung cancer”.

    Every time one of these idiot medical researchers goes live at 5 with the “wheat bran reduces cholesterol” crap it makes the serious statisticians want to pull their hair out…

  59. Okay, ssteve, I think one problem here is that we’re talking about 2 different studies. The 10% thing refers to the study in the AJPM. The NEJM study, which you and GiniLiz are both now talking about, is a whole different ballgame. (And I read that whole thing, not just the abstract.)

    Are we on the same page here?

  60. kate, sorry about the confusion. 10% does refer to AJPM study.

    My point about the Leibel study was that it in no way indicates a permanent metabolic change. As far as I can tell, neither does the Major study that giniliz later quoted. It might be tempting to extrapolate the results from the first year to a longer period, but that’s not a given. Both studies seem to suggest that a more rapid weight loss would lead to an increased probability of regain – not that regain is inevitable. Obviously there are quite a few people who have lost weight and kept it off for an extended period. The Major study very clearly points out that the setpoint will only be an issue for “some” individuals.

    This (weight cycling=metabolic disaster) meme seems to be making the rounds very much like the 98% diet failure meme did a few years ago. It took quite a lot of work to put that one to rest.

  61. SS Teve, you’re the one who jumped on the “NAAFA trap”. That’s hardcore, anti-fat buzzwording. You think we aren’t familiar with your act? You think you invented it? The self-important bit has been done before. The “I’m smarter than you so your opinion is invalid” bit has been done before. The talking around the issue to tire people thing has been done before. The hyperanalyzing one scrap of evidence has been done before. The cherry-picking evidence while expressing your entitled disappointment in what you term cherry picking on our part has been done before. The “I’ve an open mind, you see.” bit has been done before. Its all been done before. And your dropping the “NAAFA trap” slam makes me seriously expect I’ve seen YOU do this before. So play self-righteous all you like. I’m not bowing down before your revealed brilliance. Because you’re still just old news. And your apparent belief that we all should have rolled over and declared you king as soon as you showed up just prove my point. You don’t like that people disagree with you? Your problem. Not mine. I won’t agree with you to be “polite”. I won’t agree with you to be “civil”. I won’t follow your rules because you want to set the bounds of the discussion. Deal with it.

  62. You know, an old-fart feminist like me can’t help but flash back 20 or 25 years and relate this to all the scare stories about single women who won’t ever find a mate because they’re so darn successful they scare perfectly nice guys to death, and evil working mommies who put their children in day care, that Susan Faludi documented so exhaustively in Backlash. Even the flimsiest evidence in any study that being anything but a SAHM was a terrible thing for society, a tragic thing for the mental and physical health of children, and of course utterly unsalubrious for women themelves, was seized upon and flogged to death by the “press” then and mirrored in popular culture. I remember it all too well. I guess we’ve switched culture villains now from snooty career women to fat people, woot.

  63. Obviously there are quite a few people who have lost weight and kept it off for an extended period.

    How many exactly? Cite your source(s), and why this doesn’t seem to show up as a reduction in the amount of fat people.

  64. Since it seems having a BMI greater than 30 is associated with longevity in several studies, maybe those with BMIs less than 30 should seek out a “wider” circle of friends.

    Yeah, and if we were to make being obese less socially acceptable we would have fewer fat people. That really works well with other forms of prejudice, doesn’t it.

  65. There are some discussion boards set up for this article on nyt.com, and they’re full of people bitching about I-saw-fatties-buying-too-much-food this and I-heard-about-fatties-sabotaging-their-friend’s-diets that. I certainly hope ssteve is hanging out there too, reminding everyone that they should make sure not to accept only evidence that fits their conclusion. Since he isn’t picking sides or anything.

    And I have to concur with Brian; the act is stale.

  66. And lindy, yeah, of course shame, prejudice, and ostracism are effective deterrents! They work so well, I just don’t understand why we still have blacks, gays, Jews, and women!

  67. Apologies for my bold cock up.

    I wasn’t aware that the 95% (as I’ve heard it) was put to bed. We are always being told that diets work and many people keep the weight off, I’m happy to accept this, if you could tell me how many there are. I’m amazed I haven’t heard this figure already if it was statistically significant, I’m sure I would have heard it many times.

    As for diet=metabolic problem, this seems hard to deny. This metabolic disorder doesn’t just show itself up in alteration of energy utilization, it also shows up as someone said earlier in neurological imbalances such as depression and anxiety disorders, it also triggers and causes compulsive/binge eating disorders, etc. As the brain/CNS, oversee and regulate body’s weight regulation, this is likely to affect metabolism in some way overall, although it can be reversible.

    A lot of people think that depression in fat people is a result of the way fat people are treated, when it is often mainly a side effect of not just dieting but the threat of another diet.
    People have to try and understand that diets aren’t just about calories in calories out, they disturb, terrorize even the nervous system – about 24% of your energy requirements are for the brain, means that this is not a trivial matter.
    Anyone that thinks that yo-yo dieting is harmless is showing a reckless disregard for the body, when doctors, scientists etc., can better the design of the human body, they can mock it with egregious assaults such as the diet/weight hypothesis.

    Lastly, can somebody tell me if it is possible to actually disagree with people with degrees in science / medicine if your own personal experience doesn’t tally with their findings/assertions?

    Everyone is entitled to refuse any medical advice as long as the potential consequences are explained. As for scientists, if they can never be disagreed with by lay people, science becomes a religion, if I cannot honesty disagree, I am in a state of passivity similar to that of a religious devotee, I can never question I can only receive from people who have now become god, to me as they go unquestioned by me. I don’t even need to think or be interested, what for? I’ve nothing to contribute.

  68. Lastly, can somebody tell me if it is possible to actually disagree with people with degrees in science / medicine if your own personal experience doesn’t tally with their findings/assertions?

    Of course not, Wriggles! How dare you suggest such a thing? WHAT ARE YOUR QUALIFICATIONS?

    Here are mine: I know my own body. I know how to read. And I’m really fucking smart.

    As far as I’m concerned, those are more than sufficient credentials to think critically about both scientific findings and the reporting of them.

    I hereby declare you equally qualified. Feel free to tell anyone who challenges you on that to suck it.

  69. And I have to concur with Brian; the act is stale.

    Me three. I tried saying that gently earlier, hoping that if ssteve genuinely believed he was the first person with OMG A DEGREE IN MATH to come to a fat blog and try to set everyone straight about stats — as opposed to, say, a belligerent jerk who just wanted a fight — he might pick up on that and act accordingly.

    Evidently not.

  70. I guess we’ve switched culture villains now from snooty career women to fat people, woot.

    Silly Meowser!! Haven’t you heard? Snooty career women create fat kids who grow up to be fat people, thus forming Supah Mecha Culture Villain Voltron!!!! (Which lion got to be the fat ass? I can’t remember.)

  71. I think 2-3% per year is reasonable, since that’s the rate most people gain weight at.

    Uh… no. At 170 pounds, 2-3% of my weight is about 5 pounds. As anyone who has been obsessed with the scale will tell you, your weight can easily vary that much over the course of A FEW DAYS.

    Here’s an experiment you can try at home, kids! Just for fun, weigh yourself right before and right after a meal. Even if it’s not a gigantic, Super-sized Fatty McButterpants combo, you’ve probably “gained” a pound or two. Never mind that a lot of that weight you put on is water that you’ll pee or sweat out almost immediately… the number on the scale is all that matters, right?

    (You can also try the above experiment in reverse by weighing yourself right before and right after you take a dump! Whee!)

  72. Oh, Sharn, thank you for bringing us back to that! I got so wrapped up in responding to everything else, I completely forgot about that line!

    And what I meant to say was, yeah, I gain and lose 2-3% of my body weight every time I get my friggin’ period. When I was weighing myself multiple times a day (you know, back when I was “healthy,” because I was losing weight?), I would see fluctuations of 1-2 lbs. on most days, sometimes up to 3. It was infuriating when I’d end the day 2 lbs. heavier than where I started, even when I knew I’d been “good.” But then, usually, I’d wake up the next morning 2 lbs. lighter, and all would be well.

    Yet another reason why obsessing about the numbers is pointless and makes you fucking crazy.

  73. I may not have gone far enough with my previous example… even if that 260-lb person lost 40% of their body weight in a year, that would be the “safe, recommended” 2 pounds a week. So the range can extend from 10% to something that sounds really super high like 40%, and you’re still not in the realm of crash dieting. I’m not saying the current 2 lbs/week recommendation is necessarily a good one but I agree with BStu above that you’re the one cherry-picking… the study shows that people regain, so it must be wrong. I’m kind of surprised that a statistician would jump on the “everybody knows x” or “y only makes sense” bandwagon.

    I weighed 276 pounds about a year ago when I turned 30. If I lost 2% of my original body weight a year I wouldn’t achieve a BMI of 25 until 2028. If you take that to mean 2% of my weight on Jan. 1 each year, it’ll be 2033. Having a 15-year plan for weight loss seems a little weird on the surface but let’s go with it… if you have a study that shows that losing 2-3% of weight a year is any more effective long-term than losing 10% in a year (or even that anyone has actually ever done this… it sounds to me like something hypothetical that can be held over dieters’ heads if they regain… “Well, it’s because you didn’t lose at the ssteve patented 2% rate!”), please cite.

    Also I too would love to see the numbers showing that 95% of dieters DON’T regain. If that’s been convincingly “put to bed” then I would really like to know about it.

  74. I guess that’s more like a 20- or 25-year plan. Either way, this is such a weird suggestion. How would you ever control this kind of thing?

  75. arggh.. so many comments, I’ll try to answer as many as I reasonably can!

    sharn: “Uh… no. At 170 pounds, 2-3% of my weight is about 5 pounds. As anyone who has been obsessed with the scale will tell you, your weight can easily vary that much over the course of A FEW DAYS. “

    Uh… yes. It’s called a trailing average. Plot your daily waking weight and take a 15 day trailing average. You will find nice consistent results. Excel can do that for you. It’s what most people who work out regularly HAVE to do because your water weight will make the particular measurement you take at any given time useless. Just because the temperature varies 20 degrees between sunup and sundown does not mean there is no way to measure climate change.

    Hopefully that addresses Kate’s question too. A properly done trailing average measurement in conjunction with some simple polynomial smoothing will filter out the effects of a period/Thanksgiving dinner/marathon/whatever. Taking your weight three times a day without data crunching is about as smart as taping a thermometer outside your bedroom window to disprove global warming.

    spacedcowgirl – that 2 lbs/week number you’re using is based on what the diet industry says. Yes, you can probably lose that much weight safely. Based on all the research I’ve looked at, my PERSONAL take is that the setpoint moves more like a trailing average, so that even if you lose 4 pounds over two weeks, your setpoint might have only moved 0.25 lbs. Think of the setpoint as inertia to the change of your weight. It might take spending a decade at a drastic new reduced weight for your setpoint to finally catch up. Currently there is insufficient research to make those kind of calculations.

    I didn’t say that 98% of dieters don’t regain. I said that the popular meme that 98% of dieters regain was based on a faulty premise and never valid. It’s a made up number. I don’t need to show that 98% of dieters DO regain. If you can’t grasp that then you are way over your head in this discussion.

    Also, please note that my 2-3% loss is based on someone closer to the median in the obese category. I doubt the optimal curve would be linear. More than likely the setpoint would change faster if you weighed 600lbs than if you weighed 215.

    And oh sure, Kate, having a computer and being able to spell G-o-o-g-l-e are about the only considerations you need to be an expert these days. The “blogosphere” is filled with experts on our foreign policy who can’t name the countries bordering Iran; more experts on politics who can’t name three cabinet members; and tons of experts who think epidemiologists are all wrong because their Uncle Bobby smoked and drank and lived to 90. It’s a culture of ignorance based on the feel good notion that common sense is more important than actual hard knowledge.

    And last – I just used NAAFA as an example since it’s familiar to most people here. If you want, we can use PETA. Every time a study comes out, there’s a rabid response from PETA about how it must be right or wrong, based strictly on which political side it helps. You can always count on a press release with vague crap like “small sample size”, blah, blah… After a while you realize they’re not particularly interested in the truth, just in their agenda. NAAFA has gone down the same road.

  76. I didn’t say that 98% of dieters don’t regain. I said that the popular meme that 98% of dieters regain was based on a faulty premise and never valid. It’s a made up number. I don’t need to show that 98% of dieters DO regain.

    I assume you meant DON’T regain. And yes, you do, especially if you’re going to come to a size acceptance blog and make that statement. Even Weight Watchers can’t come up with studies saying that most of their clients keep weight off permanently, and believe me they’ve tried. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Prove it.

  77. Why are we just not ignoring the troll?

    “The only acceptable response to trolls should be limited to reminding others not to respond to the troll.”

  78. If you can’t grasp that then you are way over your head in this discussion.

    And if you can’t grasp that the commenters here are highly intelligent, educated people who don’t think a concern troll represents the be-all and end-all of wisdom, you’re way over your head.

    A properly done trailing average measurement in conjunction with some simple polynomial smoothing will filter out the effects of a period/Thanksgiving dinner/marathon/whatever. Taking your weight three times a day without data crunching is about as smart as taping a thermometer outside your bedroom window to disprove global warming.

    Yeah, it’s completely idiotic; no one here would dispute that. It’s also what many, many women feel compelled to do in a culture that tells them incessantly that the number on the scale is the measure of their worth.

    And for people who have spent time in the hell of feeling that way about themselves, a “properly done trailing average” isn’t any fucking healthier. Ignoring the numbers entirely, while gauging health based on how you feel and what your doctor tells you, is far more sensible than complicating the math. (Guess what, you can still notice weight fluctuations dramatic enough to indicate health problems without knowing how much you weigh. There’s this little mathematical trick called “How do my pants fit?”)

    Comparing NAAFA to PETA is flat-out horseshit, and I’m sure you know it deep down. If you don’t, I trust that everyone else here does — including people who disagree with me — because once again, the people here aren’t idiots.

    It’s a culture of ignorance based on the feel good notion that common sense is more important than actual hard knowledge.

    Right there, you’ve given me all the evidence I need that there is no good reason to listen to you, and there never was. If you think “hard knowledge” is something that doesn’t overlap with common sense, and that numbers interpreted apart from common sense — and apart from considering the human biases of those who arrived at the numbers — are worth anything by themselves… Seriously, how old are you? Are you over 21? Because I can’t fathom an actual grown-up being so astonishingly naive.

    And, uh, yeah, please do give us a link to the evidence that more than 90% of dieters don’t gain it back. Evidence from a study that followed the dieters for at least 5 years, and wasn’t funded by a commercial weight loss program or pharmaceutical company.

    You go ahead, I’ll wait.

    Jesus Christ.

  79. Why are we just not ignoring the troll?

    “The only acceptable response to trolls should be limited to reminding others not to respond to the troll.”

    Coyote, I don’t believe that. They don’t go away if you ignore them. And sadly, with this stuff, concern trolls represent the way a LOT of people think — including, presumably, lurkers. So I don’t give a rat’s ass about ssteve in particular, but I do give a rat’s ass about the anonymous readers who might be somewhere between his position and mine, who have the critical thinking skills to determine which one of us sounds more reasonable.

    Also, every concern troll thinks he’s the first fucking person who’s ever raised these issues with us. I figure the more evidence I leave that they’re not, the fewer people will feel compelled to enlighten me.

    There, I just gave all my secrets away. Hi, lurkers.

  80. As far as I’m concerned, there are two acceptable responses to trolls. Delete them, or refute them. Ignoring them just isn’t an option. Its easy for us to say we’re above such concern trolling, but that’s dangerously cliqueish. What of the person exploring this community for the first time with a genuinely open mind? What message are we giving to them?

    I don’t think we should respect a concern troll. I think we should call them out for what they are doing.

  81. ssteve, I gather what you’re saying in your response to me is that based on your review, whatever study demonstrated that 98% of dieters regain was discredited as to its methods or data interpretation or whatever. And that in making that statement, you aren’t required to prove to me that 98% of dieters don’t regain… you’re just critiquing the study in a vacuum. If that is all there is to it, you are absolutely right.

    But in real life you have to admit that it sounds pretty loaded to come in and say “Obviously there are quite a few people who have lost weight and kept it off for an extended period. The Major study very clearly points out that the setpoint will only be an issue for “some” individuals. […] This (weight cycling=metabolic disaster) meme seems to be making the rounds very much like the 98% diet failure meme did a few years ago. It took quite a lot of work to put that one to rest.” In any practical sense it sounds a lot like you are asserting that it is common (no doubt with “hard work” and the “right attitude”) for dieters to maintain weight losses. And considering you are demanding cites and nitpicking statistics with everyone who disagrees with you, I think it is more than reasonable to request evidence for that assertion.

    Any reasonable person would interpret what you have said in this thread to mean that in your opinion, dieters have a pretty good chance of long-term success, yo-yo dieting doesn’t increase your setpoint, and setpoint is not an issue for many people anyway. That is the sense of your comments whether or not you come back to me later and change it to “I only meant that the 98% study was discredited, geez.”

    In general I find it a little suspicious that people assure me that the 98% regain statistic has been fully debunked, but never offer any evidence that diets do work long-term. Even in “Strong Women Stay Slim,” a book that I like and use by a scientist whom I consider very smart, moderate and health-focused, the reason why it can’t be true is given as “you probably know several people who have lost weight and kept it off.” (Sounds a lot like your “Obviously there are quite a few people…” that’s not really obvious to me at all. ‘Course it depends on your definition of “quite a few.”) Anyway, A, I don’t know “several” people who have kept weight off, B, that’s not scientific, and C, if there were actual evidence that any measurable percentage of dieters kept weight off long-term, people would be beating down my door to tell me about it. The National Weight Control Registry (which people also like to cite) doesn’t count because that is really not a lot of people AT ALL in terms of percentage of dieters, and it’s even fewer when you take out those who have maintained for less than 5 years. So although perhaps you are not required to prove to me that dieters keep weight off, I think SOMEBODY should do so considering the amount of time the media and “concerned” folks spend telling fat people that dieting is totally worthwhile and totally works. The data is not absent because nobody has studied it. It’s absent because the studies show that people almost always regain unless they make the term of the study so short that it doesn’t prove anything.

    You would almost think that people have some kind of desperate need to believe that diets work.

  82. Nice try, kate. When you get your ass handed to you over shoddy facts and a nonexistent understanding of statistics, everyone who calls you out is a fat-hating troll. How in the hell is someone who doesn’t understand what a Gaussian distribution is actually commenting on the methodology of a study published in a reputable journal?

    Rest assured, my comments are fairly lucid to any disinterested third party reading this blog. As I have pointed out over and over, I don’t care how much you weigh, how much you think you should weigh, or whether you should lose weight or not. My problem is that you are passing yourself off as an expert when in reality you have absolutely no expertise in the field besides good old “Grandma’s common sense”.

    I have to agree with BStu. If you can’t argue cogently with me, how are you going to convince anyone outside your clique? So far your logic seems confined to “I’m fat so I’m an obesity expert”.

    And you think PETA is so different from NAAFA? Here’s an idea – try going on one of the animal rights boards and politely pointing out the problems in some of their logic. See how fast you become the hater.

    I’ll be glad to put up my credentials against yours:

    1. B.S. in mathematics emphasis statistics.
    2. M.A. pure mathematics.
    3. 4 years work supporting research in cladistics.
    4. Support on 2 other research projects.

    Now let’s look at yours:

    1. I am fat.
    2. I own a computer.

    Did I leave anything out?

    I’ll butt out now. You can go back to your advanced analysis based on Google results. It’s pretty clear to everyone who’s impartial and reading this blog that all you have is an agenda, not any real knowledge.



  83. Kate,
    Bless you! Every person who reads your blog or knows you in person is blessed to have you there to tell them what you tell them. How I wish I had known you when I was young. How I wish there had been people who know what we now know when I was young. Before 37 diets moved me up so much farther than I would have been had I just left myself alone to be what my genes intended me to be.

  84. ssteve, (and I am honestly curious about this part) how DO you know the data in that particular study is normal? Is it presented as such in the study (I haven’t read it)? Or is that just how this kind of data is always distributed? And also, don’t you have to know the standard deviation to figure out what the median is in that data set and whether it really is a lot higher than the minimum (depending on what you think of as “a lot”)? It could be a really tight distribution. Again maybe this is laid out in the study, if you’ve read it and I haven’t.

    I’m not trying to bait you, in a statistics dick-measuring contest you clearly have me beat, but it’s not clear to me how I am supposed to know these things from the information that was presented.

    Shifting over to the part of my comment where I AM pissed at you, you are invoking “Grandma’s common sense” as much as anyone. You have presented this idea of yours (which is actually sort of interesting) that losing 2-3% of body mass a year will be more effective long-term than losing faster. You have also said “Obviously there are quite a few people who have lost weight and kept it off for an extended period.” Apart from the fact that “quite a few” is not quantitative, it implies that maintaining weight loss is quite common, and again that is not obvious to me at all. Neither one of these assertions is based on any kind of evidence as far as I can tell.

    To my mind Kate has been much more straightforward than you have throughout this discussion. Intelligent people who aren’t statisticians can also arrive at reasoned critiques of scientific studies, and their knowledge of the ins and outs of statistical details therein are not always even relevant to that. Your pure statistical analysis of the design of an experiment outside your field might be flawless but it would not mean that you actually understood the results–someone better versed in the topic of the study would be better off joining in to actually interpret the data.

    And even were this not true, the question of the actual median weight loss in a year in that study is way beside the point of this discussion. Until you started in, nobody cared what that number was anyway and it really doesn’t matter because you have presented no evidence that the study would be any more valid even if it were based on your hypothetical 2-3% weight loss per year. Your point appears to be that diets work and they work even better if you do them ssteve’s super special secret way, and when people try to ask you what evidence you have for that, you crap on them for not being professional mathematicians. You’re hiding behind your expertise to avoid admitting that you have a dog in this hunt (whether it be your own concern about your weight, your own preconceptions/”Grandma’s common sense,” your opinion or your emotions) and I find that very intellectually dishonest.

  85. “Every friend makes you healthier” was emphasised over and over in the Q&A transcript. Where does this come from? Why is he assuming unidirectional causality? Because I can tell you right now, it can be bloody hard to make friends when you have a moderate-to-severe chronic illness.

    Love ssteve’s appeal to authority. Best laugh I’ve had all day. But then, I’m fat, and I own a computer, so I would say that.

    Pure maths ain’t the end-all when you’re dealing with human bodies and social networks. A background in – oh, I don’t know – physiology, medicine, psychology, anthropology – those sorts of things, they might be useful. Whaddya think?

  86. I shouldn’t have said “intellectually dishonest.” It’s a good description of what I mean (like, using academics as a sort of underhanded arguing tool) but I don’t mean “plagiarist” or “data fabricator” or however the term is commonly understood. Sorry.

  87. I’m sorry, I am SO behind in these comments.

    However I feel the need to waltz in and wave around my 30″ B.S. in Statistics from one of the top 10 statistics programs in the country. (No seriously it’s 30″, biggest diploma EVER) I have also been working as a statistician for about 5 years now, and every week I do analysis that is released nationaly and used as an industry benchmark.

    In other words, BRING IT ON.

    You said earlier: “first, good statistics has zero reliance on good interpretation.”

    I am sorry to tell you that that statement is completely false. Interpretation is everything. You have to understand the limitations of the data and methodologies you are using as well as what it can tell you and to whom the data applies. If I send a number to my boss or my bosses boss, they want to know what it means and what it can mean and what they can use it for. While the math is key as a basis for presenting valid numbers, in the real world it isn’t all that useful. Perhaps your focus on mathmatics in your studies has not keyed you into this as much.

    The data in the fat is contagious study was completely correlative, so I don’t even need to read the study to tell you that their conclusion is probably wrong. (Correlation is not causation, stats 101, anyone? Bueller?) Saying that it is contagious implies that friendship one fat person caused another person to grow fat, I would really like to see the control group on this one.

    Also, regarding something you said earlier:

    If the minimum in a study is 10% that does not mean that the mean, median or the maximum are “quite a bit higher.” If the standard deviation is 0.1% the Maximum would be only about a 1% away. (Assuming that the distribution is normal.) Without knowing at least one other fact about the distribution of the weight loss we can draw no valid conclusions about the distribution. Again, I haven’t read the study, so I don’t know what all they included, but I would never EVER include only the minimum in a report of something like this. (Unless I was hiding something.)

    And now, let the scolding begin.

    As a statistician I feel I have to tell you that your attitude towards the people on this board comes of as being extremely patronizing and that is completely uncalled for. People who work in analytical feilds constantly struggle with working with people who are not as analytical, and helping them to understand the data and how it works. The last thing anyone in one of these feilds should be doing is working to alienate people who are not as quantitative as we are and trying to prove to them that they somehow can’t or don’t understand the studies. People like us with an education based in statistics really need to help and encourage people to use the knowledge that they have, and to help them gain more knowledge and share it with others.

    Your attitude is doing the opposite of that. You bringing out your degree and big fancy words like Gaussian (ooo I’m SOOOOO impressed) is totally inappropriate. You should really work on your people skills if you want to be heard and understood in any kind of industry outside of academia. A lot of people tend to check out when you get to quantitative on them. If anything our goal as quant types should be to help people better understand the data, not to prove to them that we know so much more.

  88. Spaced,
    I believe SSteve is applying the Law of Large numbers to assume that the distribution is normal. Initially I thought this too. The more I think about it though I am not sure that in this case that works. Since it seems that they used 10% as a cutoff.

    In theory the distribution of weight lost of a randomly selected group of dieters SHOULD be normal. However if you cut that distribution off at 10% I have no idea what the distribution would look like starting from 10% onward. It could still be normal but that would depend on what the universe of dieters looked like before the cutoff was imposed. SSteve? Theory?

  89. Ok, ssteve, you want credentials. I have a BA in History/English, a MA in Technical Communication and I’m working on a PhD in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. I worked as a professional writer for 10+ years in high tech, giving me a relatively strong understanding of the science basics. I’m currently working on my dissertation on how the medical field has spun fat prejudice into science using pretty much pure rhetoric. And if you want to see papers on how this is happening, I have at least two I can send you. Wait another 4 months and I’ll have 3, another year.5 and I’ll have a whole dissertation on it. Of course, you come from math, a hard science that isn’t effected by human prejudices (hah!), so you probably don’t respect a more human oriented degree.

    I’m not going to argue the statistics thing with you since my specialty is qualitative research, but I will tell you to show me the facts. I’m very familiar with the studies on each sides of this debate and I don’t recognize the facts you are talking about. I want references for all of it — show me! I need to know what the other side of my issue is saying.

    Do you think that a study that is any way supportive of fat people gets published without going through the ringer? Believe me, the medical establishment fights not to publish each and every one of the fat supportive studies. And, once they are published, they are nit picked apart. Where studies like the one that started this whole mess are published in respected journals, and lauded rather than questioned.

    Yeeesh! And the biggest, most important of my credentials: I dieted for 30 years. I tried everything out there and all it did was get me fatter. And before you say I have no discipline, I didn’t eat meat, milk products or sugar for 6 years. All it did was get me fatter and fatter and fatter on top of crazier and crazier and crazier.

    Don’t just tell me how much you know. You’re an academic — I want a bibliography. I’ve got one showing the opposite of many of these facts your spouting. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

  90. I believe SSteve is applying the Law of Large numbers to assume that the distribution is normal. […] In theory the distribution of weight lost of a randomly selected group of dieters SHOULD be normal. However if you cut that distribution off at 10% I have no idea what the distribution would look like starting from 10% onward.

    Thank you for explaining this, Shinobi. I have to admit I’m sort of proud of myself because in a vague way I thought “maybe it approaches normal because there are so many data points” and then “brain… freezing…up… if 10% is the minimum then it’s going to have some kind of weird shape and not be normal anymore.” I’m sure the professors of the 3 statistics classes I’ve taken in my life would weep with joy to know that a tiny fraction of what they tried to teach me might actually have made its way into my brain. :)

  91. “Intellectually dishonest” should not be interpreted to mean plagarist or data fabricator. I believe “dishonest” will do just fine in those circumstances. The word is certainly not commonly understood in such a manner. I think it was a reasonable accusation in the context of ssssssssssteve’s contributions to the thread.

    The bottom line is that he is attempting to provide a distraction. He’s trying to talk us to death, not talk with us. He’s not interested in a discussion. While I think its important to refute him, engaging him is fast proving to be a useless excerise. He will continue to only accept evidence that proves his point while accusing us of doing the same thing. Since virtually all studies on fat are interpreted or massaged into an anti-fat conclusion, he knows he is in a position of power by throwing out studies even if the methodology and conclusions of those studies are flawed. This is a lesson in how anti-fat culture opperates. They want to bury us in meaningless “evidence” and want to forbid disagreement with their evidence. Unless you have a background in science, you aren’t allowed an independent opinion. Doesn’t matter if the truth is that the science is at least inconclusive and at most in our favor. Only what supports their view is allowed at the table after all. Everything else is “discredited”. Why? By whom? On what grounds? It doesn’t need to be said. It didn’t support their opinion so someone figured out something that would justify ignoring it so long as the same rules aren’t applied to their evidence.

    And we aren’t allowed to apply those rules, because we aren’t professionals. Unless we are, of course. But don’t worry. A new bunch of excuses are made up. Suddenly, the threshold for professionalism is much higher if the person talking disagrees with the status quo. Suddenly medical backgrounds aren’t enough. Ph.D’s in science aren’t enough. They demand more. Have a Ph.D.? Well, only a medical doctor counts. An M.D.? Well, you need to have done Ph.D. level research on the subject. Done both? Well, if you aren’t running a weight loss program, you must not really be an expert in the field.

    One does not need to be a psychologist to know that being gay is not a mental disorder. One need not be a scientist to disagree with assertians of racial superiority on psuedo-scientific grounds. The reality is that all of the basic assertions made by anti-fat crusaders have not been proven and yet they demand that we disprove their assertions and mock us if we ask them to prove their own assertions. They crow about studies showing the “success” of weight loss programs even if those studies define “success” in a manner with no real-world relevance. Point that out, and you’re insulted for misinterpreting.

    This has all been done before, and ssssssssssteve’s issues with NAAFA are really strong proof that he has done this all before. Possibly many times and always with the same smug sense of superiority. We’ve heard it all before, and folks like sssssssssssssssssssssssteve are still pissed off that we haven’t folded our cards and called it quits. They are infuriated that our lives tell us that their conclusions are wrong and they are infuriated at professionals like Peggy Elam or Sandy Szwarc who reveal what a house of cards their conclusions were in the first place. So they just keep to their script and keep telling us to know our place and keep asserting that we’ve been discredited without ever offering compelling proof to that end. Its all been done before.

  92. Ah, but Shinobi, if ssssssssssssteve’s purpose is not to persuade but to intellectually browbeat, his reliance on asserting credentials and berating with technical terms seems quite in line with his intentions. Believe me, he’s done this before. He might not even have the credentials he claims. He may know just enough to pass and uses the fake credentials as a cudgel. He wouldn’t be the first person to berate a fat acceptance forum on the basis of a false authority. One thing that is increasingly clear to me, though, is that this is not his first time berating a fat acceptance forum on the basis of his authority. He knows what he is trying to accomplish. As they say, the bugs in his rhetoric you point are actually features.

  93. Thanks for that BStu, no matter how those people browbeat nothing can shake me on this because it is my life (not lifestyle), it happened so to agree with them, would be the LIE. They simply are not going to win like they used to, those days are gone.

  94. *waves* Lurker popping out to ask a question. :) I’ve been following the discussion as it develops, and I haven’t seen anyone address ssteve’s assertion that a setpoint could be used as a trailing edge. Is it even possible to change someone’s natural setpoint, or is that just hot air? If it’s possible to permanently change setpoints, you’d think diet companies would be all over it as a marketing strategy. “You’re genetically guaranteed to be fat…unless you use our exclusive setpoint adjustment program!”

  95. Kate, I hope you are having a fabulous time at BlogHer. I should have been there, and I am tired of getting text messages from my colleagues who are there and having a great time.

    I know I’m new around here, and anonymous because I’m brand new to this FA stuff, and a total pussy besidewhich (okay, that’s not fair, I’ve just gotten beat up on the internets so many times I can’t take it any more).

    I see your point. But I also knew, immediately, what BStu was talking about when he referenced “being talked to death” because I have SEEN that and it is so hard to describe. I would just tell people that there were certain people whose goal in life was to win and they had more time and more energy than you did and there was just no way you could win because they will never, ever give up. You think you are having a conversation with a reasonable human being and a reasonable human being will be persuaded by logic and fact and common sense. But people like Sssssteve who approaches you as your friend, and seems “nice” and “friendly” is really, truly only here on a power trip, because the internet is the only place he has any power at all.

    I’ve watched people like this ruin the lives of people who tried to be polite and take the high road. There is no high road with these people because their motivation of being online is, again, power. They have none in RL. They are usually highly intelligent, incredibly perceptive, mind of a sponge. They will remember everything you’ve ever said and if you once make a mistake, will be able to quote you chapter and verse.

    They are dangerous people.

    I see your point about responding to the people who aren’t sssteve but most people get the hint when they see you’re not talking to the obnoxious guy at the party that’s trying to monopolize everything. After a while, their impassioned, urgent talking to themselves becomes louder and shriller.

    BStu has him nailed cold. COLD. And I applaud you for being able to articulate his modus operandi so precisely. I have always been so paralyzed and crazed with exasperation that I could never find the words to explain this kind of behavior.

    Finally, while I am awed by the amount of years of study present here, let’s remember that Bill Gates didn’t graduate college and doesn’t have a degree in anything. I work in that industry (once worked for Bill’s company for many years) and that’s a blinding example of where KNOWLEDGE trumps degrees. Being so scared of someone being an expert without having alphabet soup after their name only points to your own insufficiencies, not theirs.

  96. Coyote, thanks for weighing in. And assuming you are who I think you are, I was certainly aware that you’re no newcomer to the internets. :) I wasn’t questioning your troll policy so much as explaining my own. (Which is subject to change at any time, for any reason, including getting sick of dealing with these fucksticks.)

    I COMPLETELY agree with you that BStu has the personality type nailed, and articulated it rather brilliantly. And I’m grateful that he posted that here.

    But one thing to keep in mind is that I responded to ssteve on my own terms. I wasn’t intimidated. I wasn’t manipulated. And frankly, at no point did I think I was having a conversation with a reasonable human being. He came in loaded for bear, then switched to politeness when he realized the commenters here weren’t just going to get amusingly hysterical because someone questioned our worldview. Politeness then lasted for five minutes, until I said something he thought he could demolish with his math knowledge. Then he wasn’t interested in being polite anymore. It was all pretty predictable even to a relative newcomer to the world of trolls. I responded where I thought it was worth it, didn’t where I didn’t. And despite what he thinks, I am quite certain that no reasonable person could read this thread and think, “Wow, ssteve really showed them!”

    There’s a difference between engaging and falling for it, is what I’m saying. But I do take your points, and might find myself agreeing with you completely after I’ve been dealing with trolls for longer. I’m still at the point where I enjoy laughing at them.

  97. Kate’s point on responding to concern trolls on her terms and not his is a very important one. He is trying to talk us to death and if we responding to him on our terms, he’d win. In not ignoring him, I certainly doin’t think we should respect his attempts to control the discussion. Indeed, at this point I would agree that responding to him directly probably just isn’t worth it any more. But we shouldn’t ignore him. Calling him out for his act isn’t ignoring him. Talking about him without talking to him isn’t ignoring him. There is a lot we can do without ignoring him that isn’t letting him win.

  98. Perlandopal, I think set points probably can be changed, but it’s a lot more likely to ratchet them up than ratchet them down. I say this because I gained about 70 pounds on a certain medication, and before I took it I had a “set point range” that was considerably lower. I think yo-yo dieting can raise the set-point range also.

    I don’t have any science degree or anything fancy-schmancy in my pocket to “prove” it, but I do know you can’t reduce the number of fat cells you have once they’re formed, except by direct surgical removal. This is a big part of why people who have been fat since they were young have a harder time losing weight and keeping it off than people who were slim as children and gained weight as adults — the former tend to have a great deal more fat cells than average, rather than an “average” number of fat cells that have become enlarged, as is often the case with people who didn’t gain weight until adulthood.

  99. I read this discussion after coming here through BFB. I haven’t read any of the studies you guys are talking about.

    Meowser, I never connected the dots until reading what you just wrote. There was a dicussion several months back on BFB I think about fat cells. Some people said the liposuction industry have heavily promoted the idea that fat cells never die, and thus liposuction is the only way to get rid of them. Someone posted some articles about how fat cells die same as othe rcells, so lipo is just BS.

    If so what you are talking about would make sense. As your fat cells die slowly your set point would move down slowly. But when you gain weight your fat cells would multiply and your setpoint would move up faster. So when you yoyo there’s more up than down.

    Oh, and if there were a way to reduce the range I’m pretty sure the industry would never let that research see the light of day. Why make money helping someone to permanently lose weight when you can make ten times as much making them lose weight ten times temporarily? A yoyo dieter is the golden goose they can’t afford to kill.

    Is the “trailing average” Steve was talking about the same as the “set point range” you are talking about?

  100. Good point, Jonah. I was coming from the perspective that, given the chance, that industry would choose to help people permanently if there were a way to do it and make money.

  101. Nobody will probably read this, but… ssteve pretty much proved he didn’t know what he was talking about and that his statistics background is made up when he wrote
    The median is almost certainly over the minimum, and significantly so. That is because the data in question is normal, and any time you have a Gaussian distribution this follows naturally. If you take a random sample of 10,000 people, and then subsample the tallest 100, you can be fairly certain that the average of those 100 will be taller than the shortest of the 100. I can’t make it any clearer.

    Yeah, the average will necessarily be a higher number than the height of the shortest of the 100, unless all the 100 tallest people are exactly the same height. But the number will be much closer to height of the shortest person than the height of the tallest, because while height as a whole has a normal distribution, you’ve mucked up the normal distribution by putting in a minimum. And how much higher the average height is than the shortest height depends on the standard deviation. We have no idea how close to a normal distribution that study with the 10% minimum weight loss has, but the average weight loss could be anywhere from 10.something% on up.

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