Dieting/WLS, Fat, Feminism, Media, Why I Shouldn't Breed

So Many Kinds of Wrong

So, lots of people have been writing about (and e-mailing about) this new study that claims pregnant women who eat more calories are more likely to have boys. And the fun part is, everyone’s pissed off about it for different reasons. Whee!

Liss takes down the unexamined assumption at the heart of it: that “How do we make more boys?” is a question of great scientific importance, while of course nobody would ever deliberately set out to make a girl!

Tigtog notes how ludicriously scienterrific the whole thing is to begin with. 

Shapeling Alice, one of those who sent me a link to the article, remarks on the whopping caloric difference we’re talking about:

That 130 calorie difference is SO MUCH MORE!  That’s, like, a whole apple and some raisins!  Must be why impoverished nations have only girl babies and no boys at all.  </snark>

And here’s my favorite part:

The researchers say the modern trend to opt for low calorie diets might explain why the proportion of boys is falling in developed countries.

I’m sorry, what? The “modern trend to opt for low calorie diets”? I thought we were in the middle of an OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA! Because people can’t stop shoving food in their faces 24/7! And because being fat is not only socially acceptable but fashionable! Why, developed countries should be SWIMMING in boy babies! Shouldn’t they?

Yeah. Sadly, identifying that “modern trend” is about the only thing they seem to have gotten right. And I have to admit, when every pregnancy in the movies and on TV is turned into a fucking fat joke, when fat women are being told they should restrict calories and even lose weight while pregnant, it’s actually kind of nice, in a twisted way, to see researchers acknowledge the dieting-crazed culture and present a higher calorie intake as a good thing.

It’s just too bad for us freaks who actually like the idea of having girls, I guess. 

79 thoughts on “So Many Kinds of Wrong”

  1. 2 things:

    1) the comments under that BBC piece are terrifying, as is the suggestion that women not start staving themselves to influence the gender of their baby that is carefullly isolated in the side bar.

    2) this type of study makes sense in hierarchical, promiscuous (the scientific term, mind you) group living animals where one sex leaves the group at maturity, and costs and benefits of having one sex offspring over the other have an effect on not only reproductive success, but also on the survival of the mother (if the offspring stays in the group to compete with her for resources). Completely unsurprising then that they found that 56% of high-cal diet women had sons and 45% of the low-cal diet women had them. Um, that sounds pretty goddamned close to breaking even to me. There is nothing selecting for this in modern England, and the calorie differences are NOT substantial.

    Yeah, its interesting to know that you might be able to influence what gender you concieve and carry to term. It’s interesting what implications this might have for the history of human society. It’s easy to dream up ways how this might have influenced our evolution – but its just a freaking thought experiement for the moment. Seriously, report to the press when you find a mechanism rather than a weak correlation.

    Sorry bout the rant. Bad press sping pisses me off.

  2. This is so stupid as to be laughable, if it wasn’t so freaking sad that so many people have jumped in to comment that they believe it and “It makes perfect sense!”

    An alarming number of otherwise bright and educated women remain woefully uninformed about their own bodies, fertility, and even basic biology. In my opinion, the blitz of complete and utter crap like this pseudo-science “study” is part of the reason why.

    You’re just as likely to influence the sex of your baby by praying to the Great Goddess Giblasnorklepoot (who lives in your left big toe!) as you are by eating more damned Cap’n Crunch. This is lunacy.

  3. This study (or really, the way it is being reported) is effing ridiculous for many reasons. First of all, gender is determined by the sperm, not any hocus pocus on the part of the mother. Secondly, yes, 55% vs %45 is pretty fuckin close. And third, how about the possibility that women who grow baby boys in their stomachs are hungrier and that’s why they pig out on that extra apple and raisins!

  4. Whatever happened to just wanting a healthy baby? Oh British scientists, you so crazy!

    And here I thought it was a combination of the little swimmers and the biological makeup of mom and dad that determined gender, not an extra helping of Frosted Flakes. Silly me!

  5. Did they not take into consideration the men…if they are prone to one or the other since they are the ones that determine sex? Or maybe take into account the Shettles method where depending on when you conceive (closer to or farther away from your fertile days) could contribute to one sex or the other?

    With my son my diet was pretty well rounded though I did want tons of fruit. Now I am pregnant with a girl but my appetite is all over the place because of morning sickness and what I can stomach (usually “bad” foods).

    I remember reading this story and thinking what a joke it was and a waste of time.

  6. The thing that made me laugh was that even the “lower calorie” diet that produced girls was on average over 2100 cals a day, ie not at all what would be considered a weight-loss diet.

  7. I think my favorite part is where they say that women who ate breakfast cereals were more likely to have boys. Wow! There’s some scientific method right there! I’m pretty sure General Mills is going to add that to their advertising campaign: “Now with BOY POWER!”

    As a woman trying to conceive, there really isn’t enough *headdesking* in the world to cover this.

  8. There are lots of little factors that have been associated wtih having either a boy or a girl, including the time of the woman’s cycle, the social standing of the parents (which could be related to caloric intake), and so on. Nevertheless, it’s still a pretty random process, it hasn’t been shown whether there is any actual causation. The reporting seems overly simplified (as unfortunately scientific writing in newspapers usually is). Plus, as they pointed out at Shakesville, why is the focus only how why boy babies get concieved? Why not why girl babies get concieved?

    Re: Women being told to lose weight while pregnant:

    I have a cousin, who got pregnant 30 some odd years ago (before I was born, so I don’t know all the details), and lost weight during her pregnancy. She gave birth to a boy who is severely mentally retarded and will never have a mental capacity higher than that of the average 2 year old. While of course there are many factors involved in this as well, people with whom I’ve discussed the situation are convinced that it was related to her dieting during pregnancy. Just because your body has extra fat stores, it doesn’t mean that your growing child can live off of those in place of the nutrients from actual food. I find the advice to fat women to lose weight while pregnant not just irresponsible, but completely reprehensible.

  9. In school we saw a documentary about abortion of girl in India, in in that documentary they said that the sex was determend by the father!!

  10. Himawari,
    Your story just made me wonder if there is a possible link between dieting during pregnancy and the rise in autism rates. Obviously I have no basis for that theory besides your story.

  11. *brainmeats asplodey*

    This stuff just makes my brain hurt. I mean, i suppose the theory is that if we can figure a way for women to make boys instead of girls, then, yanno, that whole “female infanticide” thing will go away.

    So instead of addressing the cause, we’re addressing a symptom. Gotcha.

  12. Man, I ate SO MUCH cereal during my pregnancy. I have no idea what my caloric intake was but it was certainly plenty, and I am right at this very second nursing my brand-new baby girl. Take THAT, science!

    (anecdata, I know! I am just saying.)

  13. So . . . my regular breakfasts and “high calorie diet” of 1700/day is what made me conceive boys? Huh . . . so, this third one isn’t going to be a little girl because of my “high calorie diet” of, let me reiterate 1700?! (I’ll know for sureish if this one is a girl or boy on Tuesday. Squee!!)

    ITS ALL MY FAULT!!!!!!!

    Harken! Do I hear yet another reason why it’s the woman’s fault for not providing a male heir when we can scientifically prove that the man provides the genetic material?

    I like my dad’s explanation better. He said the first time I was pregnant that all the good engineers he knows with kids have only daughters, but he only knows male engineers. I’m a female engineer and I have only boys, so maybe the trick for engineers is that the universe just will not allow two people such as you (the engineer) to exist.

    As a result I got to be the son he never had, and never particularly wanted. I told him that silly websites rate me as androgynous because I can do my own oil changes; his response was, “that’s stupid, of course you’re entirely female, you’re just self-sufficient.” I got taken to the hardware store, and he was the one most likely to be able to figure my taste in clothes, whether I was in a frilly dress period or a t-shirt/jeans period. Men who have problems relating to their daughters are just too busy trying to think of them as “different” and aren’t spending enough time trying to figure out what they are. I’ve seen the same problem between men and sons, except that they spend too much time thinking their sons are just like them.

  14. Personally, both times I got pregnant, I weighed 175 lbs. The first time, my eating before I got preggers was normal, average, everyday eating (probably 2500 calories a day). I had an 8 lb girl. My way of eating the second time before I got knocked up, I was lucky if I was eating 1600 calories a day (the rest of my calories were from booze) and I had a 9 1/2 lb boy. Go figure. So maybe whether I had a girl or a boy depended on the father? Seeing as how my two kids have different fathers?
    Just more crap for women to worry about what they eat, as if they aren’t throwing enough of that at us as it is.

  15. I thought it was supposed to be eating more burgers than chicken or fish — or duck, for that matter — would make the dfiference. Red meat v. white would give you boys v. girls.

    Booga booga.

    Personally, at this point I don’t give a frank (*&^%## WHAT they think. If you’re going to bitch because someone is eating more calories than you think they should, and then you’re going to bitch because they’re not having the sex baby you think they should — especially when you’re not the parent in question???

    Then it’s time for your nice hot cup of STFU.

  16. So many people (women) on Shakesville are talking about how their parents let them know that they would have preferred a boy, and I just want to thank any deity listening that my parents never even considered if they wanted a boy over a girl. (They got one of each, and although we’re ridiculously heteronormative, each parent loves each kid equally.)

    Me? I want one of each, but I’ll take whatever. I’m more worried that I’ll produce twins than what friggin’ gender they’d be. (OMG two squalling infants at once?! *brain explodes* And yes, it’s in my genetics.)

    And they will have green bedrooms. Or something else neutral.

  17. I totally did a “bah-roo?” click on this “story” a few days ago because I happen to be pregnant at the moment and we don’t know what we’re having yet. What a load of nonsensical crap.

    And I’m really thankful I’ve been reading this blog for so long, because it helped me stay sane for my 1st prenatal exam. I’m 5’8″ and weighed in at 175 lbs. at that time. First of all, I caused some kind of office crisis because I weighed in with my shoes on (didn’t feel like taking them off and didn’t care if the scale went up a few extra pounds as a result). Oh! But you’ll have to keep them on every time you are weighed from now on for accuracy! Well, OK Nurse Ratched, I’ll try to remember to do that. Chill the hell out.

    Then the first midwife I spoke to said that she only wants me to gain 15 to 20 pounds for the pregnancy. Well, she’s free to wish for whatever she wants, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to purposefully comply. WTF? Would they seriously tell me to diet if I started to gain more than that? Luckily in the office I’m going to, I get to choose whichever mid-wife or OB I want to and this woman is now off of my list. Everyone else has been very cool in comparison.

  18. The researchers say the modern trend to opt for low calorie diets might explain why the proportion of boys is falling in developed countries.

    Yes, obviously it is diet and has nothing to do with previous trends of selectivly killing only girl babies that is changing with time. I’m not saying this is THE reason there’s a change in gender proportion, just that it’s as likely as the diet theory.

  19. Now let’s not get carried away in the opposite direction. The anecdote of the woman who lost weight and had a severely disabled child is just that–an anecdote. While on average optimal outcomes occur in pregnancies where the woman gains at least 15-35 lbs, the key words are “on average” and “optimal.” Healthy babies have been born to women who gained far more and far less. Most of the difference between “ok” and “optimal” are things like, an average apgar of 9 instead of 8, or an average IQ of 102 instead of 100. These are the kind of variables researchers study, and rarely are they so dramatic as to be noticable by the naked eye.

    As for a correlation between autism and weight loss diets? I’m quite sorry but that’s ridiculous. (Not to mention it’s so irritating that autism is the trendy bugbear de jour, the thing everyone wants to attribute to their least favorite vice or social problem.) Weight loss diets may not be great for most people, but let’s remember that for most of human history, many women have been on an involuntary “diet” of starvation or barely squeaking by because of food shortages, poverty, famine, etc. Autism rates are far higher in upper middle class white American enclaves than they are in any area of deprivation. If lack of calories were the cause, you’d expect to see just as many cases in starving Ethiopian women as you do in wealthy Californians. But you don’t. I have my own theories on why this is, but that may be too controversial to drift into on this thread.

  20. //You’re just as likely to influence the sex of your baby by praying to the Great Goddess Giblasnorklepoot (who lives in your left big toe!) as you are by eating more damned Cap’n Crunch.//

    Coco, I think I’ve just fallen in love with you.

    Clearly reading JFS and SP has had a huge impact on my intellectual life. My first thought on reading the article yesterday on Yahoo headlines was ‘I see a nearly null correlation and no word of causation’ quickly followed by a rousing chorus of ‘How many calories??? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!’ And yes, the mental chorus of ‘Yeah, and what about what the FATHER is eating’ was still there, loud and clear as well.

    My mother told me several times about how when she was pregnant with me people would stop her in the street when she was walking with my two older brothers and say ‘maybe this time you’ll get your girl.’ Mom always said she was thrilled to have had a daughter, but she never stopped being really pissed off at people who would say crap like that in front of two little boys. I have no doubt she would have been just as pissed off if my brothers had been girls and people were trying to tell her a boy would be better.

    If she’d been able to choose our sexes, she wouldn’t have done it. She cared a lot more about making sure we were as healthy and happy as possible when we got here than what we would zip into our pants for the rest of our lives. I think that’s a far more important priority.

  21. Uhhh…chromosomes anyone? Another fabulous case of nobody in the pop-media ever having heard of DNA.

    I cannot believe that people are dumb enough to think you can sex-select your baby AFTER YOU ARE ALREADY PREGNANT. Folks, the gender “decision” is made AT CONCEPTION. And it is the SPERM, not the EGG, that has that difference in it. ALL EGGS ARE GENDER NEUTRAL. (Of course Shapelings already are smart enough to know this, but boy is there ever a smarts differential between us and the general population, pheeeew.)

    Now, if you want to say that women who happen to have boys wind up eating more calories — because boy fetii are hungrier or wev — that’s one thing. But if they’re telling us that for once we’re actually allowed to eat because we might have the exalted BOY, it’s difficult to imagine that every obstetrician on earth is not just banging his/her head nonstop against the fridge magnets reading this one.

  22. Besides this idea being completely ridiculous, is anyone totally sick of all the baby newsbites and pregnancy/wedding movies out lately? Is it even possible for a contemporary movie to star a woman who is not either pregnant or about to get married or both? Trust me, American Media, I have other effing interests! Like, lots of them!

  23. actually the article I read said the calorie intake AT CONCEPTION so it had nothing to do with eating during pregnancy. However, the idea of calorie intake at conception so amused me, my husband and I did a list of high calorie foods for during sex and decided that according to this theory, I need to have chocolate and strawberries and whipped cream and maybe pudding. However, I want a girl, so I guess according to this article, we’d better leave the food out of it. Darn. Then the article goes on to talk about cereal, and as much as I like my breakfast, I don’t want it during conception! So, definitely girl child for me. :)

  24. Suzanne: My mother was told back in 1961 when she was pregnant with my oldest sister that she should not gain more than 15-20lbs.
    I remember my mother making disapproving comments when both my sisters gained over 30lbs with their pregnancies.

  25. sumac, i’ll totally cop to the fact that gossip sites are a guilty pleasure of mine. But the whole “bump watch” thing is has always irritated the snot out of me. It seems like it’s partially about “pretty people we obsess over will make more pretty people for us to obsess over”, but also partially “here is evidence that pretty people have SEX ZOMG”.

  26. I cannot believe that people are dumb enough to think you can sex-select your baby AFTER YOU ARE ALREADY PREGNANT.

    Given the tiny differences being talked about, it is somewhat possible. I can imagine a mechanism whereby the body miscarries more when malnourished, and since male embryos/fetuses are lost at a significantly higher rate than female, there could be an effect there.

    Which doesn’t mean that the reporting (and possibly the science itself – I haven’t seen the original paper) around this isn’t all a pile of poo.

  27. It’s been pretty clearly shown that the egg (and vagina) are not totally passive in the gender selection process, although it’s not really something we can influence consciously or with any rigour.

    The mechanism even has been explored: there are differences in Y sperm and X sperm — although not so much as you can Shettles yourself into the baby of your choice. That’s taking science the other direction.

    Still, things like mucus viscosity, vaginal acidity, and the receptivity of the egg itself can “stack the odds” one way or the other.

    Obviously – because evolution works – this can’t be anything but a slight stacking of odds, nor human controllable, or, as pointed out, you’d have all girls or all boys in a given area if the environmental conditions were sufficiently extreme. However, male fetuses miscarry more, and male kids have a harder time making it to adulthood; so it makes sense to the individual woman’s genes that her body is stacking her odds in favour of girls when other resources are scarce. It’s smart in terms of the work of the woman — although I do note how male framed sexual science always talks about things framed in male terms, like “boys beget more offspring”. Yah, whatever. I think the roots are more immediate: it’s work to be pregnant and give birth, and sometimes dangerous to the mom. There’s a pretty simple immediate return-on-investment going on that has nothing to do with the “number of offspring”.

    However, as a species, we can’t be that picky, because we need both genders regardless of what’s happening in the environment. So there’s a balancing of species and individual in the strategy.

    So I actually don’t think this is all that weird: they’ve also shown certain fat/muscle ratios in the upper arm have a slight tendency towards birth populations, and that after environmental shocks, the percentage of boys born falls off the baseline.

    What’s problematic is how it will be interpreted; and what REALLY chafes me is how sexual science is *so* often male framed. That’s a different rant entirely.


    Feminism required science to follow the data and investigate the idea that the female vagina is something more than a passive receptacle for the male seed. That’s a good and important thing, and I’ve been right up in those discussions. Yes, this can get framed as a “woman’s FAULT” issue, but that’s misogyny for you. Scientists are beginning to acknowledge that female biology actually exists as something in and of itself, not in either deviance from or reaction to the male physique. That’s really important – and health of the mother stuff, even if reported in misogyny, is also important.

  28. OK, yeah, I just checked out the link the Hoydens provided to not-Rachel-F-Word, and the the study does indeed say that it’s calorie intake at conception that makes the sex difference, not during pregnancy. But you know how our media is here, it’s like a telephone game. And I still say that if you’re not also studying the men’s calorie intake — since they provide the X’s and Y’s — you don’t know poopie about poopie.

    But gee, wouldn’t it be nice if the one thing that allowed women (at least of childbearing age) to eat their fill was the possibility that she might have a boy, let her have the fries. Oh YAY.

  29. The anecdote of the woman who lost weight and had a severely disabled child is just that–an anecdote.

    I never said it wasn’t. I doubt most women who lose weight during pregnancy end up having a child with severe disabilities; however, I do suspect there is some kind of a risk, and the subject would be worthy of research. In this particular anecdote, the mother was conciously cutting calories while pregnant. I seriously doubt this can be, in any way, shape, or form, healthy. I’m sure there’s an occasional mother who doesn’t gain weight, or who gains very little, because that’s what her body’s processes are trying to do (as you said). What I have a problem with is doctors who suggest that women try to fight their body’s natural impulses when pregnant.

  30. When I was first pregnant, in the UK, my midwife said they didn’t routinely weight pregnant women because it could lead to pregnant women restricting their diets, which is bad for them. When I was next pregnant, I didn’t ask why I wasn’t weighed – but I wasn’t weighed.

    Of course, I’m not fat, but my fat friends weren’t weighed either.

  31. There’s just already too much pressure on women to do things “right” during pregnancy (and before), and demonization of women who do things “wrong.” Not to mention what’s “right” changes every 2 minutes, and is constantly contradictory. So I bristle a little bit at any story of “WELL my cousin ate a pickle and her kid had no legs” if you know what I mean.

    Full disclosure: I personally gave birth to a baby with a congenital heart defect, which as far as anyone can reckon is pretty much a random occurrence and not due to anything I did or could control. That doesn’t stop people from “helpfully” speculating, of course. I’m not mentioning this for pity consideration–my daughter turned out just fine anyhow, thanks–but as an example of the “blame the woman” mentality that surrounds all outcomes around pregnancy and childbirth. Kind as it was, the very fact that all the doctors reassured me repeatedly without my bidding that “this isn’t your fault and you didn’t do this” speaks to a weird mentality around the whole thing. I’m a nerd and science freak and never did blame myself–I know how common CHDs are and how they tend to work and which ones are likely random versus caused by a teratogen–but people felt like they had to “reassure” me constantly anyhow. We really as a society still are in the medieval mindset of, “if a pregnant woman looks at a lobster, her kid will have claws.” It’s ridiculous.

  32. Suzanne, your midwife shouldn’t have said that at all at your weight. That standard is supposed to be for the obese, anyway, even if you accept it. If you accept the weight standard she might have been justified in suggesting you should stay to the lower end of the 25-35 lb scale, but that’s really it. Seriously, though, if the health of your baby hinges on the weight of your shoes you’re far too high risk for a nurse to be giving you advice. The standard at my OB’s office is “okay, on the scale” *writes down weight, no comment* “blood pressure” *writes down number, no comment*. Now, granted, I’m thin, but she doesn’t even comment on how I’m gaining an in/appropriate amount of weight. My doctor’s only comment when I hit 35 lbs last time was “you’re fine.” Very non judgmental, every time I suggest him to someone I find out I’m the third to do so, and there are certainly fat women in his waiting room.

    Lily, autism is such a null diagnosis anyway that its ridiculous. Whether you say “my son is autistic” to someone who knows about it or someone who doesn’t you still have to give them a ridiculous amount of information before they know anything about him. The autism diagnosis really needs to get broken down a little more than low/moderate/high functioning. My son’s seems to run in my husbands maternal line; a third of the boys seem to not talk until 3 or later.

    Meowser, it does refer to diet at the time of conception. See, now that its about boy babies, women are MURDERING the Y sperm for their own little cosmetic foibles. Never mind that their doctor/midwife is likely to freak out at them when they find out what they were eating to get the boy. And, as I say, my 1700 cal diet is totally enough for any of you to have a boy on. If you can’t have a boy on that, obviously you’re doing something wrong. ‘Cause you’re fat. /sarcasm

  33. I went away and came back realizing I misspoke. When I said this:

    There’s a pretty simple immediate return-on-investment going on that has nothing to do with the “number of offspring”.

    What I meant was “number of GRANDCHILDREN”.

    Evolution is in part about the balance between number of offspring and survival of offspring. However, to make it not about the Fucking Hard Work of Raising Human Children To Adulthood Successfully – often falling to female humans to do, and definitely for the pregnancy and feeding the infant primate pre-technology parts of our evolutionary history – but instead to make it about the Potential! Boy Child’s! Potential! Sexual Conquest!

    Well, that grits my teeth. Especially since female humans have a harder time with the whole pushing a baby with a huge neo-cortex through their bipedal pelvises then, say, horses do.

    Mom and her health and ability aren’t minor and inconsequental factors compared to Number of Sperms Launched.

    For crying out loud.


  34. Yay, yet another way to try to shuffle the blame onto women for something that is done only by men.

  35. @Faith — Yeah I don’t know how or why doctors/midwives would come up with a 15-20 lbs. max figure. It’s my 1st pregnancy, and I’m no expert, but I would think btwn. the weight of the baby and whatever fluids I lose during the birth, there’s about 15 -20 pounds right there. So I should gain NO extra weight over nine months? Whatta bunch of crap.

  36. I am in my second pregnancy…and one of the doctors I see told me that they used to think that women HAD to gain at least 20lbs (because of fluid, baby, plancenta, etc.). BUT…now they don’t care as long as mom and baby are healthy and baby is developing normally. This came up because I have not gained one ounce in the 30 weeks I am pregnant and I was worried (I was severely sick for a loooong time in the beginning).

    My OB who is going to deliver my baby hasn’t mentioned weight either. Neither of them have with the exception of the the comment above when I asked. With my first pregnancy though…I gained 40lbs…and the midwives at the time never said a word about me gaining too much. Not once.

    Maybe I am just lucky in that not one doctor has ever talked about my weight…

  37. Sorry, hopping in before reading comments, but..

    Last I took Human Sexuality 101, the X or Y chromosome that determines sex comes from the FATHER.

    My diet influences this HOW??

  38. I went from 275 to 320ish with my daughter because of the virtuous high-protein diet I was on to prevent high blood pressure. Who knew, but apparently when you feed a woman 100+ grams of protein every day she puts on a shitton of weight! Heh. Towards the end I felt like I did nothing all day but shove eggs and chicken breast into my unwilling stomach.

    Don’t think I’m going to be quite so religious about that this time. Don’t tell the midwife. :p

  39. Lily, may I say “blargh?” I’m all in favor of eggs and chicken and all, its the “unwilling stomach” I’ve never gotten on board with.

    Really, some people just blow up like a balloon when they get pregnant regardless of what they eat. I didn’t change the amount, or what, I ate at all and I gained 30+ lbs. Twice. Doesn’t sound like much, except that I started at 90-some. I was the reason you don’t swallow the watermelon seeds.

    I’m on my third and, at four months had only gaind 5 lbs, but that isn’t inconsistent, I’ll likely be gaining 5-7 lbs a month for the last four month like I did with the first two. Biology is a miracle and circus freak show all at once.

  40. All, this is completely off topic, and I apologize for that, but a friend is contemplating gastric bypass. Can someone direct me to a handy link or links to reasons why not? Thanks.

  41. Hey Kate,
    Mom always lost weight during her pregnancies thanks to most of her calories being hurled into the commode (not on purpose). And we four kids are 75% female and 100% fat.

    What’s up with THAT?

  42. Mom always lost weight during her pregnancies thanks to most of her calories being hurled into the commode (not on purpose)

    Huh. The things you don’t know when you’re the youngest.

    Lisa, Rio’s got a list of sites on her sidebar that should help you out.

  43. LOL! I read a German article about that yesterday and it had the funniest sentence ever. I’m not a very good translator, mind you, but i’ll give it a go:

    “In any case, the results have provided us with an explanation why the amount of new born boys has been decreasing steadily during the last 40 years: At the same time, the average consumption of calories has been decreasing – despite the rise of obesity, which should rather be allocated to lack of movement and energy dense foods.”

    Right. So as opposed to food that’s high in calories, it’s actually “energy dense” food that makes us fat now. Which is not exactly the same thing at all. Nope. You’re only imagining that.

  44. Lisa – check out junkfood science, and yahoo groups has a list, OSSG-gone_wrong with all kinds of information on complications and such of WLS.

  45. Karen it was the !@#$ Brewer diet, which a lot of midwives swear by. I felt like I had to be “perfect” with my first and followed it even though I thought it was a bit much. This time I’m like “eh, I know what I’m doing, I’ll do what I want!” I’m eating a lot less, actually–not starving or anything, just my appetite doesn’t seem to be that big, and I’m going with it. I was a food/calorie/protein-counting virgin when I started obediently monitoring my intake last time. (Which I was instructed to do not because I was fat, but because all their patients did this.) It was a bit traumatic, I must say. I’ve declined the “food diary” this time, rather firmly.

  46. The thing about this is that I saw it on CNN when I was feverish and delirious (the evidence: I was watching CNN) and what my poor, fever-addled brain got out of it was that women who eat bananas are more likely to have boys. The connection I made in my own mind was that if you wanted to have a male child, you needed to eat phallic food.

    Which makes about as much sense as what they were actually saying anyhow.

  47. So calorie restriction will produce only girl babeez. So dieting is a feminist conspiracy to eradicate the males. Now I see.

    Like Eve, it appears we now do science via visions provoked by fevered delerium.

  48. @ Lily: Totally understandable. I’m glad that your daughter is okay.

    Perhaps it wasn’t clear enough that I wasn’t placing blame on her; I should have mentioned that the advice she received from the medical community was to gain as little weight as possible, and if there is any blame to be placed, it is squarely on the shoulders of the doctors who give that advice. It is indeed possible that it happened by random chance (as many health issues for humans of all ages do), but I think that examining the health risks of dieting during pregnancy is something that should be done among the OMG WE MUST STOP OBESITY AT ANY COST voices.

  49. I haven’t read all of the earlier comments, but am I missing something here? The child’s sex is determined the nanosecond the sperm fertilizes the egg. So, the study could not be scientifically substantiated – unless they’re referring to the mother’s diet before conception. Right?

  50. There are in theory a couple of mechanisms that come into play, many missed by commenters on the paper:
    (1) Altered biochemistry in the mother that increases the chance of death (or implantation failure) of the male conceptus, increasing the already higher incidence of death of male concepti. This would allow diet during pregnancy to bias the gender ratio of live births.
    (2) Altered behaviour that may create a gender bias, given that timing of sex relative to ovulation affects the chance of successful fertilization (Y sperm are faster, but die quicker than X sperm), so coitus before ovulation biases towards female offspring.

    In general, a female child gives a far better chance of getting grandchildren, and also in the successful rearing of younger siblings.

    Kangaroos are an extreme case of this (as are other animals that have an alpha-male only gets to breed strategy), so matriarchs only (if at all) have male offspring last, when they are old.

    The only thing I know about that increases female foetal death compared to male is infection with toxoplasma, typically caught from cats.

    (Oh, and for Lisa, gastric bypass/stapling – depending on the specific procedure – can decrease absorption of B12 and lead to a nasty anaemia. A good starter abstract on this is National Institute of Health article (US government agency): Anemia developed in more than one-third of the patients. Nearly two-thirds of the patients developed decreased levels of vitamin B12, and other abnormalities were commonly seen (folate, 38%; iron, 49%; potassium, 56%)

  51. Suzanne, your midwife shouldn’t have said that at all at your weight. That standard is supposed to be for the obese, anyway, even if you accept it. If you accept the weight standard she might have been justified in suggesting you should stay to the lower end of the 25-35 lb scale, but that’s really it

    Yeah, I kinda thought that for a minute. The weight that happens to be normal for me is btwn. 165 and 175 lbs. But if it happened to be 275 or 325 lbs or whatever, a fifteen pound gain for a baby is still incredibly small IMO. There’s that whole, “You’re eating for two” stuff that people say that I’m starting to think is total bunk. I mean, every pregnancy is unique, but from a totally anecdotal standpoint, every woman I’ve talked to has mentioned that (nausea and cravings aside) they’re physically incapable of eating large amounts of food because they feel full much sooner than usual. Personally, I feel like I’ve been “eating for half” so far. I get the feeling that it’s the *booga booga* nonsense that if we tell women to eat whatever they want they’ll automatically lunge for hot lard smoothies and melted butter chasers and gain weight with reckless abandon.

  52. I haven’t read all of the earlier comments, but am I missing something here? The child’s sex is determined the nanosecond the sperm fertilizes the egg. So, the study could not be scientifically substantiated – unless they’re referring to the mother’s diet before conception. Right?

    Yes, they are referring to the mother’s diet right before conception. Women in the study who gave birth to males had a slightly higher caloric intake than women who gave birth to females (2,283 calories vs. 2,413 calories).

    Of course, there are so many factors involved, most of them random, that it doesn’t really mean anything for real women actually trying to conceive.

  53. Actually, I should change the wording to “Women in the study who conceived males had a slightly higher caloric intake than women who conceived females (2,283 calories vs. 2,413 calories).” Same diff, but my wording was kind of muddled beforehand.

  54. Actually, I should change the wording to “Women in the study who conceived males had a slightly higher caloric intake than women who conceived females

    How could they know that? The earliest fetal sex could possibly be determined would be chorionic villus sampling, at around ten weeks, a test that is invasive and not routine (and wasn’t done, according to the paper).

    There is bound to be a very strong correlation between caloric intake at conception and caloric intake in early pregnancy (not that they’d be identical, but that women on the higher end would, on average, remain on the higher end, and vice versa). So there is no way of telling whether the women eating less conceived more girls, or whether they miscarried more boys.

    The study is also pretty much fatally flawed by being retrospective: they recruited the women at 14 weeks, then asked them to give an account of their diet _more than three months prior_. No contemporaneous data was collected preconception, periconceptionally, or in the first trimester.

    The methodology is further described in the author’s previous paper, here: “Influence of maternal nutrition on outcome of pregnancy: prospective cohort study”. The original data collection was designed to look at the relationship between pregnancy nutrition/smoking with birthweight. (Note that the ONLY correlation they found was between vitamin C and birthweight. Pigging out doesn’t give your baby teh fat – but fruits and vegetables do.) Specifically, note that in the paper currently being discussed the contemporaneous food diary is seen at the “gold standard” for dietary data collection; and in the earlier study, it is noted that “the relatively low accuracy and reproducibility of food frequency questionnaires has been widely reported. ” So this paper is an after-the-fact mining of data collected for a different purpose, and of data collected 12-14 years ago, and of data that the authors specifically note is unreliable – a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire completed months after the fact, and collected only as “background data” for a completely different study.

    Note also that they only included data from non-obese white women in their first pregnancy attending one specific hospital in the UK. It’s hardly representative of the general population.

    Plus, if the birth of boy babies in industrialised countries is declining, but boy babies’ growth is encouraged by high glucose levels, where does that leave the gestational dibeeetus crisis?

  55. I wish what you ate did influence gender, because I want a girl sooo badly. (I’ll be happy if I can have a kid at all, of course, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer a girl just a bit more…)

  56. Re: the OBESITY EPIDEMIC vs. everyone’s on diets, ISTM that it’s an us vs them thing – at least in the British media

    THEY are causing an obesity epidemic by sitting in their council estates, gobbling up mcdonalds and benefits in equally GINORMOUS portions.

    Whereas US, the chi-chi mediaworld people in central London all have designer handbags, have extremely high heeled shoes, and only eat organic low-fat unprocessed foods so they stay thin.

  57. Coming out of lurkdom here, because my biology training won’t let me stay quiet:
    There are at least 3 separate things here, which to my mind some people are confusing –

    a) the actual methodology of the study in the paper. I haven’t read it myself, but if it’s true that the women in the study were merely asked what they were eating 14 weeks previously, then obviously that immediately throws up all sorts of questions as to how well they could remember, how truthful they were, etc, all on its own. So the methodology may well be suspect in this particular case.

    b) the social commentary that ignorant people, especially media types, have flung up around it – this divides into inaccurate reporting of what the paper said (such as saying that gender is determined during pregnancy, when we all know that’s rubbish and the paper certainly wouldn’t have been claiming anything of the kind) and value judgements about the preferred gender of babies, women’s calorie intakes, and so forth. Clearly there has been all sorts of unhelpful and stupid commentary of that sort. Most media hype around most scientific papers is inaccurate at best and misleading at worst, and this just has all the extra baggage round these issues hung on to boot.

    c) the actual fundamental basic point that sex ratios in a population may be slightly shifted by calorie intake or diet choices at conception. Just because of the issues with a) and b) doesn’t mean that c) doesn’t happen. Lots of studies in lots of species have shown that all sorts of unexpected things can make the uterine environment more or less favourable to one gender of sperm or the implantation of one gender of conceptuses, and the paper is only ever claiming an effect on a population basis, not an individual basis. Of course the issues of gender selection and calorie intake are sensitive and controversial, but that doesn’t in itself mean that no such effect exists at the biological level, any more than the fact that race is a sociological issue means that people all have the same pigmentation in their skin cells. To say otherwise is just sloppy thinking, and the posters on here are too bright for that, from what I’ve read. From what I heard on the radio, the paper found not only a slight influence in gender according to calorie intake, but also that the type of food eaten affected the balance, which is perfectly possible, given that very subtle alterations in the uterine environment might favour one type of sperm over the other.

    I heard an interview about this study on BBC Radio 4 this morning (Friday), which to my mind was balanced, accurate and without much baggage (though it didn’t cover the methodology). Anyone who’s REALLY interested can probably find it on the BBC website under the Today programme, where they have a podcast of the previous day’s programme.

    In (non-serious) disclosure, I’ve got two daughters that I’m very happy with the genders of, and as far as I remember I didn’t eat much cereal when I conceived either of them, although as it’s 14 years ago in one case I can’t be sure. So hey, that proves the study must be right, doesn’t it ; )
    Sorry to hijack comments.

  58. Just to clarify, laurelhel, I NEVER said that I thought the study was valid AT ALL. I am 100% in agreement with you that the methodology was flawed, and I’m surprised that this BS makes the news. I was just clarifying for Carolyn Lovelace that yes, they were referring to the women’s diet at the time she conceived, not during pregnancy (as the sex is determined absolutely at pregnancy).

  59. (Change the very last word from “pregnancy” to “conception.” I’m tired, a bit trigger happy with the submit button, and forgot to proofread.)

  60. The first thing I thought of when I heard about this, and they mentioned what to do to have more boys, was “What about the girls?” I guess I wasn’t the only one thinking about that.

  61. I was just clarifying for Carolyn Lovelace that yes, they were referring to the women’s diet at the time she conceived, not during pregnancy (as the sex is determined absolutely at pregnancy).

    I agree that that is what the authors seemed to think they were measuring. My post is more to clarify the fact that their methodology was so broken that they have absolutely no way of differentiating between the effects of preconception diet and the effects of first-trimester diet.

    They have no way of knowing whether the effects, if real, were on conceptions or not.

  62. Hey, sorry if this is unnecessarily pot-stirring, and I genuinely am asking so I can deal with my OWN internalized racism and be a better ally…

    With all that’s been going down elsewhere in the blogosphere regarding jungle-themed racist illustrations of spear-wielding natives threatening heroic white woman and her man, in a book by a white feminist and published by a white feminist press, with all the pursuant apologies… it just occurred to me to wonder… Is there anything white folks ought to consider before invoking “Oooga booga booga” as a phrase mocking something that’s supposed to be threatening?

    I’m 100 percent open to hearing that I’m completely wrongheaded in asking this question.

  63. Oh, also — Yeah, this story is so ridiculously wrong. This is why I hate being pregnant. Suddenly you get a level of condescension and bossiness and exclusion from adult conversation that you last had from the world at large when you were three. (Not that three-year-olds aren’t ALSO entitled to a great deal more respect, freedom to make choices, bodily autonomy, and lack of cartoon-voiced intrusive questions from strangers in the grocery store. I’m just saying, if you’re wondering what it’s like to be pregnant, that’s what it’s like. Plus nausea and exhaustion.)

  64. I don’t understand how a woman’s diet could influence the sex of the baby when women can’t make a y chromosome. Everyone knows that the male determines the sex. Why is no one talking about the effects of diet, chemicals (bisphenol-a), and hormones on a male’s ability or inability to generate swimmers with y chromosomes? All of the hormones we consume through meats and dairy along with the chemicals in our water.. those have more potential to impact the sex and health of a child than the crap in this study.

  65. And here I thought it was because my eggs went and beat the shit out of the male sperm that I had girls. Hmmm…Doesn’t explain why I ate the equivalent of that which would sustain 5 healthy robust firemen though…

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