Let’s Move. Or Not.

I like Michelle Obama. I really do. I think she presents herself as a very intelligent, confident and compassionate woman. But I have some issues with her “Let’s Move” campaign to end childhood obesity. I think encouraging people to put a little more exercise in their life is mostly a good thing, I totally support increasing the access that everyone in the country has to fresh and healthy food. Really, I do. Her intentions are awesome, I’m sure. But there are a few problems.

1. It puts a really strong emphasis on weight loss.

Holy Jesus this is not an unreasonable concept. Its seriously common sense if you think about it. Health is related to behaviors, not just weight. It astounds me just how many people don’t understand this. I mean, I guess it makes sense since we keep being told “fat is bad. Fat is bad.” And we keep being shown these images of thin and told that “thin is healthy.” But it really isn’t that easy. Thin does not equal health and we need to stop teaching that. You can participate in healthy eating and exercise at an “above healthy” weight and still be perfectly healthy. You can be at a “healthy” weight and be eating only Doritos all day. But this program puts the emphasis on overweight and obese children. THEY are the problem, THEY need to change, THEY need to learn better habits. When THEIR weight is healthy, then the country will be saved from crisis. This is fat shaming and it is not ok. Nevermind all of the other unhealthy people with totally different body types. Despite the fact that they might have the exact same habits as an overweight person, society keeps perpetuating this idea that they are for some reason “better.” Keep blaming and shaming the overweight people because obviously they are the reason for all of the problems in America. And all fat people are lazy and eat junk all day, right? WRONG.

Focus on the eating/exercise habits and attitudes towards food/exercise that children have and let their weight do whatever it does then. This program is just feeding in to this “thin ideal” that this country has, telling us that thin is better, thin people are good and healthy people, fat people are lazy and unhealthy.

Also, 95% of people that lose weight gain it back. So really, why the emphasis on weight loss?

2. She went on “The Biggest Loser”

I have serious problems with this show. It features obese people competing to win money by losing weight. Also, they often tempt the contestants with prizes or things like phone calls home in exchange for not exercising or for eating cake or something. Really? I know I’m not the only one getting mixed signals here. They’re supposed to lose weight to win money, but they can talk to their family if they try to offset their weight loss…

Also, sorry, but when there is a quarter of a million dollars at stake here, do you really think people are going to stick with what is actually good for them rather than pushing themselves too hard. Terrible things have come out about this show. Contestants spend like six hours a day exercising and eat a pretty low calorie diet. It has been said that they manipulate filming to make it seem as though contestants have lost more weight. They use footage from two weeks time to represent a week. It sets this unrealistic expectation that people should be able to lose 10 pounds in a week, which is way beyond the maximum recommended weight loss rate of 2 pounds per week. Really. Read this interview. It only gets worse.

And this one, where a doctor admits that he counsels people against trying what the contestents are trying and contestants admit to dehydrating themselves to lose more weight.

When contestants enter the show, they sign a waiver that says “No warranty, representation or guarantee has been made as to the qualifications or credentials of the medical professionals [on the show].” Wait, what? You mean they’re doing all this crazy shit supposedly under medical supervision and it turns out that their medical supervision isn’t even legitimate? But it gets better. Contestants aren’t allowed to tell anyone about this because any unapproved interviews or comments result in fines up to a million dollars.

Also, Jillian Michaels, who is one of the trainers on the show, coined the phrase “unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going!” Don’t get me started on that one because that is NOT a healthy approach to exercise.

Seriously. Why is this show on it’s 13th season? It is entirely about money and competition. This show is not about helping people change their lives no matter how much they say it is. NBC has created a Biggest Loser diet that you can pay to participate in, various Biggest Loser supplements, they’ve made Biggest Loser themed cruise, and even Biggest Loser fitness resorts! But no way, this is about helping people.

And Michelle Obama went on this show to show support for it! I’m sure that her intentions were awesome, that she was trying to show praise for these people making lifestyle changes and exercising and cool stuff. But this is NOT the way to do it. This show does not promote healthy behaviors or realistic expectations of what bodies can do, and this should NOT be the model that she is recommending that everyone follow.

This is a super excellent but never actually published article about why Michelle Obama should not have gone on this show.

3. She doesn’t even begin to address the other end of the spectrum.

The prevalence of eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s and we are seeing eating disorders in children as young as 7 or 8. The number of hospitalizations for adolescents with eating disorders had risen 119% since 1999. Eating disorders are on the rise and they are not something to play around with.

A studyhas been recently published that researches the behaviors of children in schools that have recently started obesity prevention programs. Researchers found that 30% of the parents noticed worrisome behaviors such as over-exercising, inappropriate dieting, refusing meals, excessive worry about fat content, etc. Also, 7% of the children had been made to feel bad at school about their weight or what they ate.

And this makes sense. We’re already in a society that places so much emphasis on what we look like. Placing such a strong emphasis on obesity prevention without mentioning that the other end of the spectrum is just as bad is setting us up for disaster. Particularly when working with either very young children or especially emotionally vulnerable children (like, I don’t know, all middle schoolers?).  And when everyone around these children such as their school, their peers, their parents places such an importance on thinness, but maybe that just isn’t how this kid’s body is meant to be, what is that kid supposed to learn?

I’m not saying “tell everyone to be obese and quit exercising forever” but we don’t really want to be inadvertently pushing them to the other extreme. I went to a meeting where Cynthia Bulik, head of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, was speaking, and she said something to the effect of “we don’t want them to be decreasing obesity but increasing business for us. That isn’t good either.” We need some kind of medium. And if you’re on the topic of eating properly and talking about why it’s important to not eat too much, why not go ahead and talk about why it’s important to eat enough. Over-exercising is just as bad as under-exercising. Under-eating is just as bad as over-eating.

I’m not saying that everyone that is shown obesity prevention stuff is going to automatically have an eating disorder, but they might have already been genetically predisposed to develop an eating disorder and this might be enough to trigger someone. Eating disorders are complicated and involve a lot of factors. But this is definitely something that can be a contributing factor to eating disorders. There are SO MANY stories of people whose eating disorders started when they were told that they needed to lose some weight or they were made fun of because of their weight.

You don’t want to be telling kids that fruits and vegetables are so awesome and then find out a few months later that some kids are only eating fruits and vegetables.

Her intentions were awesome, I’m sure. Really, I am. They were just not totally done the best way that they could have been done.

 

One response

  1. I’m really happy you brought up the Biggest Loser topic. The whole blog is amazing but that one really hit home for me. I’m training to become a physical trainer even though I’m still 40 lbs overweight. I’ve lost 103 lbs to get here but no one really takes that into consideration. They also don’t take into consideration that all of my doctors are using me as an example of a “fit overweight woman”. It should be ok to love your body if you’re fit but overweight and still slowly working on it. You don’t have to be able to shed 10 lbs a week. It’s not even healthy to do that. But I know it’s going to be hard to train people at the weight I’m at now and get their trust because shows like Biggest Loser mess with peoples concept of reality. Very well written blog. Good job.

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