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This is not why you’re fat.

March 23, 2009

I’m sure most of you are familiar with This is why you’re fat. The site that collects hilariously awful, ginormous (and generally disgusting) foods that people come up with. Frankly, I enjoy looking at the site. It’s fun in that gross way and I laugh when I find something that I have actually eaten (deep fried oreos!)

I get that the name of the site is supposed to be funny. And truly, if someone were eating the food pictured on the site every day, then it would probably be accurate. Not as accurate as “Eating these foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle and a genetic propensity toward accumulation of adipose tissue is why you’re fat” but accuracy sometimes needs to be sacrificed for brevity.

But no one is eating these foods on a regular basis. And while the myth of extreme gluttony is still regularly applied to all fat people, the fact is that it is simply not accurate. And it is damaging.

I know that some people absolutely refuse to believe this. “I once saw a fat person eat a lot of food!” they say (well, they usually have more details and colorful epithets, but the general idea is there.) How else could fat people be fat if they weren’t using the deep frier as their only method of cooking!?

To help illustrate why this kind of gluttony is not a necessary component of fatness, I’ve created two imaginary women: Karen and Kara. Both are the same age and height. Neither do any kind of intense exercise. The only real difference is that Karen weighs 250lbs and Kara weighs 150lbs. Let’s look at their daily intake, shall we? To help drive this point home, let’s give Karen and Kara the exact same basic food for the day.

Breakfast:
Two Eggs
Toast with jam and butter
Coffee

Snack:
Granola bar

Lunch:
Panera sandwich, soup and a drink

Snack:
Grande Starbucks drink and sweet snacky thing.

Dinner:
Fast food

So, how would someone support 100 more pounds on the same basic foods without sneaking in a deep fried hamburger? Let’s break it down.

Breakfast: Eggs are about 70 calories each. However, if we say Karen cooks her eggs with a half tablespoon of butter while Kara uses cooking spray, we have an added 50 calories for Karen. They eat the same bread (120 calories) with the same amount of butter and jam (90 calories.) Both take their coffee black (we’re going to not include these calories because I don’t wanna.)

So daily total so far: Karen: 400. Kara: 350.

They both love the same brand of granola bar that has 180 calories.

Karen: 580. Kara 530.

Again, they both eat the same soup and sandwich combo at panera (about 800 calories), but Kara doesn’t eat her bread (200 calories) while Karen eats about half of her bread. They have water with lunch.

Karen: 1480. Kara 1330.

At starbucks Kara gets a grande light frappucino, which has 130 calories and while waiting for her drink decides she wants a treat and grabs some biscotti (160 calories.) Karen likes the grande caramel machiato (240 calories) and she grabs some shortbread ( 150 calories)

Karen: 1870. Kara: 1620.

Both Kara and Karen work late and decide to pick up some fast food on the way home. Karen gets a plain cheeseburger (300 calories) a small fries (230) and a small coke (150). Kara gets a plain hamburger (250), small fries (230) and a diet coke.

Karen: 2550. Kara: 2100.

Now, we’re assuming here that both Karen and Kara have metabolisms that are 100% in line with the predictive equations available to us, but even then, no one has to eat a ‘meatlog’ to maintain their higher weight. Using a couple of equations for bmr gives us a range of 400-600 more calories needed to maintain a 100lb weight difference in two women of the same age and activity level. That sounds like a lot, but really look at the ‘menu’ I’ve created above. Is Karen eating a horrific amount of food when compared to Kara? In fact, if you watched them throughout the day, you would probably say they ate almost the exact same amount of food.

Really, this entry isn’t so much for my readers coming from a fat acceptance perspective. Indeed, for some people, even suggesting that generally fat people do need more calories to maintain body weight is not an idea they agree with. That’s fine. Although an exercise like the one above can be useful in shattering some people’s misconceptions about how fat people must eat.

Actually this entry is more for the people who are coming from a weight-loss perspective. Many times, these people’s ideas of what they’re eating and how ‘bad’ it is are built around the same stereotypes that convince others that fat people are ordering the ‘pizza burger’ for lunch every day. So convinced that they must be eating a massive amount, they cut intake massively which generally only helps to catapult them into more rounds of yo-yo dieting. But, to use our fake women again, Karen wouldn’t have to cut meals in half or replace they all with salad and steamed veggies to bring her intake closer to Kara’s.

Now, real people are more complicated. Their metabolisms vary a bit. They don’t always eat regularly. Their intakes vary a lot day to day. Still, there’s no need under any conditions to believe that fat people are regularly eating the kind of food featured on This is why you’re fat. Although I have been wondering how in the world you can deep fry guacamole. It does sound kind of good. :p

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2009 6:03 pm

    I’m hesitant to even comment on this post, but for me, I didn’t get fat by eating a few hundred calories a day extra, but by eating a thousand extra or more, alternating with low-fat (not necessarily low calorie) diets. And nobody would have noticed this, either.

    • March 25, 2009 2:41 am

      Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everyone eats the same way. Nor do I deny that sometimes bingeing, or at least cycles of restriction and overeating can be part of the reason people gain or maintain a higher weight. I certainly had periods of heavy restriction interspersed with periods of mild bingeing at times in my life. Only that no one *has* to eat 4000 calories/day or eat lots and lots of deep fried/glazed/supersized meals in order to maintain a higher weight. There’s this myth that any person above a certain weight (and what that weight is changes depending on who’s talking) has to engage in some kind of disordered behavior, as if there’s no way to be obese without extreme eating behaviors and I think that’s not true.

      That doesn’t mean that some people don’t binge or routinely eat past the point of fullness or compulsively eat all day. And it certainly doesn’t make those people ‘bad’ or lesser or anything.

  2. March 26, 2009 1:58 am

    These people seem to be seeking to re-gain the joy of eating, that we’re all losing due to the obesity crisis and the ‘advice’ to become oppressively aware of everything we eat.

    It dispels anxiety around food, but reflects the effects of that anxiety also.

    For instance, it delights in boundless amounts that would defeat anyone’s appetite.

    To relieve anxiety around not being able to eat your fill, which can often cause you to want to eat more than you wanted in the first place. Which is what this site looks like, someone who’s desire has exploded.

    Ditto the choice of foods. It reminds me a bit of bulimia, where the analysis of vomit tends to reveal an abundance of whatever foods they wish to deny themselves.

    There is something melancholy about this site, it’s ideas on joy and pleasure are so limited and so unquestioning, also because it shows that they do not enjoy eating in the way they yearn to, if they did, they would know that freedom to eat as you choose doesn’t cause fatness.

  3. April 14, 2009 9:29 am

    Thank you for hitting one of my hot button issues. 🙂 Nothing is “why you’re fat” or a “heart attack on a plate” unless you eat it regularly (and when I was working a job I hated, I did used to eat fast food–donuts and McDonald’s–pretty regularly, and I have no doubt that was not very good for me, particular in combination with the miserable stress). I will never forget the argument I had with someone on a message board where it turned out she actually believed that someone eating a Quarter Pounder ONCE IN THEIR LIFETIME would have some kind of measurable impact on their health (and therefore taking your kids to McDonald’s, even once or as a very occasional treat, was tantamount to child abuse). People are so afraid of food, and so much of it is totally unfounded.

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