Just because you’re thin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy

Over the past week, I have been watching the HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation. Overall, it was a very interesting overview of the rising obesity problem in America. However, while stressing the complex nature of treating obesity, they kept offering the same old tired, simplistic advice–“calories in, calories out” and “eat less, move more.” Additionally, when talking about foods like breakfast cereal, there was a lot of talk about how to make these “choices” healthier for kids. The fact is that cereals of all kinds (yes, even diet cereals) turn into large amounts of sugar in the body–about 20 teaspoons of sugar per 2 cup serving–and have no place in the diet of an obese person trying to lose weight.

So after viewing this episode, I decided to post a comment on the Weight of a Nation Facebook page. Here is what I wrote and a comment I received.

Facebook exchange

Now this guy, because he is thin and has always been thin, thinks he is the picture of health. I see this all of the time. We assume that because someone is thin they are the picture of health. As with Richard, he is walking around, eating what sounds like a diet extremely high in processed food and sugar, thinking he is healthy and will always be healthy as long as he stays thin. Until he starts having joint pain, chronic inflammation, constant heartburn, or any number of other conditions resulting from high-sugar diets, he will continue to be misled into thinking that being thin is the only marker of health and vitality. Richard and his diet remind me of something I used to say a lot, “America. A land where even the thin people are fat.”

Richard’s comment also reveals another ugly truth about how many thin people think about overweight people–that fundamentally being fat is about being weak willed and it is a character flaw. That he can eat “until he is more than full” and still keep his thin frame makes him better than all of us who can’t without packing on pounds. He is just like the annoying, skinny girl in high school who would exclaim, “I eat and eat and I never seem to be able to gain weight!” Ugh.

I still highly recommend the documentary. It had a lot of good information, and at least it is trying to change the conversation around obesity to be more constructive. However, with all of the experts and all of the data presented, I wonder how they keep getting it so wrong. Obesity is a biochemical problem, and not one of thermodynamics (calories in, calories out). There is such a huge difference between these two approaches–one promotes health and weight loss, while the other is a frustrating numbers game in which people always lose.



6 Comments on “Just because you’re thin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy”

  1. Brenna says:

    After listening to this past weeks episode of Dishing up Nutrition, it makes me think that Mr. Kennedy is addicted to wheat and sugar. He got exceptionally defensive at your comment, and was probably feeling a little threatened.

  2. minnasgirl says:

    Some people do fine, or so it appears on the surface, eating the SAD, or Standard American Diet. Up to a certain age. But what is actually occurring on a cellular level? Insulin resistance? Inflammation? Eventual ill health? The addictive quality of the foods “we” as Americans typically eat leads to emotional defenses like this Facebook comment. The guy is married to his pancakes and French toast. Plus, anyone who has ever struggled with weight would never be so arrogant.

    He is not typical of what I see around me in public. I see obesity everywhere I look. Most disturbing are the children and young women I see that are clinically obese. I’m in my fifties, and when I was 20, 25, or even 30, I was not overweight, and heavier people were the exception, whereas now it has become almost standard. It’s a situation heading straight downhill. You deserve credit for finding a solution for yourself and for sharing it with others.


    • Thank you so much Sue! You’re so well spoken about this. I agree. What is happening on the cellular level? I think that is a great thought for people to hear.

      Thanks again for reading!

  3. Jessica says:

    Nell, thank you for your steadfast commitment to sharing a better-informed position on nutrition and healing obesity with a sound approach to weight management. We have to let the Dicks (Kennedys et al.) out there cling to their cereal bowls until they are ready to hear the truth about sugars, processed foods, and so on.

    I wanted to share a link to Dr. Robert Lustig’s 2009 lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”, presented through the Mini Medical School for the Public presented by the University of California (UCSF).


    The lecture was updated with a few new slides and is presented in 2011 as “The Truth About Sugar” on YouTube (and in various other fora) from the Santa Clara County Education office.

    This lecture is specifically directed at the metabolism of sugar and fructose, in particular. The layperson-level biochemistry is understandable, and the nod to a political origination is particularly interesting. (Michael Pollan posed a more in-depth analysis of politics and a country-wide nutrition sea change – for the worse – in Omnivore’s Dilemma, 2006). Dr. Lustig’s is certainly a provocative position, and one that allies him with Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories; Why We Get Fat), Dr. William Davis (Wheat Belly), Dr. Diana Schwarzbein (Schwarzbein Principle), and others who are attending to essential nutrition changes beyond the worn-out-and-not-always-effective “low fat/whole grains/reduced calories.”

    Dr. Lustig was recently interviewed for a 60 minutes 14 minute feature on nutrition and obesity. The interview was a “hit” with our Clinical Nutritionist and Dietitians at Nutritional Weight and Wellness. You can access his interview through the http://www.weightandwellness.com website or directly through CBS/60-minutes websites.

    Keep up the good fight. I’m here with you. Until the Dicks and others “get it” we will ignore their misinformed scorn and judgment and fight for and enjoy our balanced meals and snacks.

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