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January 17, 2008

Or, What Would Fatties Do?

First let me say sorry for not being around here lately. I promise that once I get back into my school and teaching groove, there’ll be more posts and definitely more response to comments. It always takes me a bit to adjust.

Here’s my dilemma: I’m taking a nutrition class (just b/c it’s interesting, nothing to do with my major*) this semester. I’m finding it interesting except for one part. I’m sure you can guess. We’ve only had two sessions and in both the professor mentioned OBESITY (Dun Dun DUNNNNN) and thermodynamics multiple times.

Now I understand that in learning about nutrition, we’re going to be taught about the health issues related to food intake. I mean, we’ll learn about nutritional deficiencies certainly. And right now, general science is behind the idea of obesity=bad so I don’t even have a big problem learning about assorted comorbidities even though I believe these are more about lifestyle and genetics than body size.

However, I do have a problem with being taught that obesity is caused simply by excess caloric intake and can easily be “cured” by slight adjustments to diet and exercise.

So would you bring this up? The professor who teaches the class is a chemist with no actual background in nutrition or obesity so it’s possible that while she’s brilliant at teaching biochemical processes of food digestion/absorption, she’s relying on popular perception (what ‘everyone’ knows) when she says that obesity is easily reversed through diet and exercise.

Or would you just leave it?

Honestly, part of me wants to leave it because I always feel that I lack credibility in people’s eyes due to being fat. I mean, I’ve had numerous people tell me that on this blog and there’s not even a full body pic of me here.

But there are a lot of young women in the class. Several fat women too and part of me wants to at least acknowledge out loud that there are differing ideas amongst scientists about the risks, causes and ‘treatments’ for obesity.

So tell me what you think.

Also, my nutrition textbook (latest addition) talks about having to combine proteins in a veg*n diet which worries me since everything else I’ve ever read has debunked that idea.

* You know what totally fucks with admin people at college? Taking a class just because you’re interested in it. It makes me kind of sad that everyone was so shocked and kept reminding me that it doesn’t help me get my degree. Yeah, but I’m already full time so it’s not any extra money and there are no other classes available this semester that do go toward my degree. But they are all flabbergasted. Weird.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2008 5:49 pm

    I would meet with the professor during his/her office hours and bring up your concerns there first privately. Be sure to either know off the top of your head or bring evidence indicating your argument. If the professor is truly interested in promoting education and not in furthering an anti-fat agenda, I think they would be genuinely interested in opposing viewpoints on weight. Good luck!

  2. Tangerina permalink
    January 17, 2008 6:14 pm

    I probably would bring it up, but maybe in a really specific way like “maybe while we are talking about this we can also hear about these studies that show that… most fat people don’t eat or exercise differently than most thin people…” and then I’d have compiled said studies for her. Honestly, I’d probably do it by e-mail and only bring up issues I had really solid studies at hand for, but even just a few contrary viewpoints could really open the discussion.

  3. January 17, 2008 6:52 pm

    I would bring it up. A university class should be the perfect place for an enriching discussion which challenges accepted norms (OK, I admit I may be being more than a tad idealistic here).

    And it’s disturbing to hear that protein combining for veg*ns is in an up-to-date nutrition book. I’d complain to the book’s authors about their sloppy updating…

  4. Telle permalink
    January 17, 2008 6:54 pm

    Is there any point in this class where you’re going to have to write a paper? Could be a good time to most eloquently state your point of view, and give you an opportunity to include lots of cites to research.

  5. January 17, 2008 6:56 pm

    Well, if you want to say something wiithout alienating your prof (by implying that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about – even if she doesn’t), I’d go find 2 or 3 articles, preferably recent and well-researched ones, and then “ask” about them in class. You know,
    “So, prof, I was reading these 2 articles the other day in the Journal of Fabulous and Accurate Nutrition (ha!), and they mentioned that there are these 10 other things that can affect weight, regardless of the calories. Would you tell us what you think?” If you want to be more aggressive about it, you can add that they both had (x) number of backup studies done by (x) number of reliable sources, and ask if there is any movement in the nutritional field toward revising old paradigms re: obesity.

    Delivered with the proper tone, the first one will just sound like an innocent question, and the second one like a not-so-innocent-but-still-honest-and-not-challenging-her-authority question.

    Hee. I asked a lot of those questions in college.

  6. January 17, 2008 7:35 pm

    To all the people who say “obesity is easily reversible through diet and exercise,” I start with one simple question: “Have YOU ever done it?” Seriously. I want to know if they’ve ever been fat enough that doctors handed them a Weight Watchers pamphlet instead of an amoxicillin scrip when they came in with a sinus infection. I want to know if they carried said weight into middle age, and then poof, just by being a good little boy or girl for a few months, just knocked off 50 or 100 pounds or more and never saw them again. If they haven’t? They ipso facto do not know what they are talking about. And even if they have? They know only their own bodies, not anyone else’s. People spend billions of dollars, untold time and energy, trying to get thin. If it was that easy, fat people would be literally one in a million.

  7. Caasana permalink
    January 17, 2008 8:22 pm

    I’ve been arguing with my teachers since elementary school and I’m a junior in college now, so I’ve got a bit of experience in this department. First thing you want to do is determine if the teacher would even be open to a new concept in the first place. If she gets a look on her face while talking about fat as if she’ll soon start foaming at the mouth, I’d leave your commenting for during finals week. That way if any feathers are going to be ruffled, you won’t have to deal with her ever again if you don’t want to.

    If the teacher is somewhat open, you have three choices – during lecture, rebut something she says by question, “What about this study claiming the exact opposite? Or this other study, or this entire book?” If you have the option to do reports or presentations, those are fantastic times to get your own views out. During a presentation you’re going to be the teacher, the lecturer, and you’ll have the time to get out all of the facts to the class without someone butting in and telling you you’re wrong and to shut up. The last option would be to speak with the teacher in private, explain everything up front, your concern for your fellow students and why you don’t think it’s academically appropriate for her to spout such garbage without thorough research. Afterall, she deals with the chemicals of food, not human bodies.

  8. January 17, 2008 8:26 pm

    I like all the suggestions above, and I’d add that my first thought was just to bring up the obvious argument in the form of a question… sort of playing dumb. “But, aren’t there way too many variables for every human body to process calories in exactly the same way? What about thin people who can’t seem to gain weight, for instance — let alone the fact that when people diet, they often gain back MORE weight on FEWER calories than they were eating before they radically reduced their caloric intake?”

  9. pamsc permalink
    January 17, 2008 9:27 pm

    I’m a college professor, and though my field is history I run a science and technology in society for which a nutrition course was proposed. I didn’t try to challenge the nutrition professors, though I did send them some links as interesting sources for a different point of view and suggest that they look at Taubes’s Good Calories Bad Calories. Any field of science has a set of basic beliefs (paradigms) that you have to use to be an insider (for more on this the classic source is T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). I’m afraid that the only calories matter idea is still part of that for nutrition. A general education course might be more open, but at some point professors are teaching students to use the basic ideas of a field, whether they agree with them or not.

    Here’s a comparison. Imagine you were a student in a biology course and didn’t believe in evolution. How would the professor react if you wanted to talk about evidence against evolution? I’m afraid that a professor teaching a nutrition course is going to react the same way.

    I’m not very confrontational. What I would do is read through the posts in Junkfood Science and send one of those or better yet a scientific article you get from the links to the professor in an email that says “What do you think of this?” I would decide what to do next based on how the professor responds to that article. If you don’t get a positive response don’t take on the issue too directly in a paper. Instead you could write about paradigms in nutrition and how they change.

  10. jaed permalink
    January 17, 2008 10:27 pm

    Or simply point out that the human metabolism is quite a bit more complex than a bomb calorimeter, and see where it goes from there.

  11. littlem permalink
    January 23, 2008 6:28 am

    Caasana and Marste have some smart advice (I was raised in a family of academics).

    Also, Pamsc beat me to it, but if it were me (and I know it’s not) I’d read through Sandy’s Junkfood Science first to extract the relevant backup studies and statistics, and then ask your innocent questions in the prof’s office first. If you get the slightest hint of foaming at the mouth, back off.

    If you have to wait until after your final grades to say something but you’re concerned about the information that the rest of the students are getting, you might also just want to casually point them toward Junkfood Science and the Fatosphere.

    Like, casually, after class.

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