Let’s play Fat Roulette! Where will you place YOUR chip?

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on November 10, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Let us acknowledge that we, in the developed world, are getting bigger.  Our height is increasing some, but it only partially compensates for our increased weight. 

From 1960 to 2002, according to the most alarming study on the subject, the average weight of adults in this country, at the center of the bell curve, shifted upwards about 24 pounds, while average height increased by an inch. 

How concerned we should be about this increase and what we should do about it is fodder for another post or two or three or more.  Today, let’s just accept that it is happening, and ask why? 

I like to think of this dilemma as the Big Fat Roulette table, with dozens of boxes containing the various explanations for our increased size.  The wheel at the south end of the table has corresponding cubbies for each explanation.  Today I am handing you a single chip.  But, the contest is rigged.  Let’s pretend there is a magnet in the wheel that will attract the ball to the one reason most responsible for our increase in average weight.  

In the comments, you may place your chip on one box or on the line between two boxes.  Or you may choose black or red.  Then give your explanation for why you think the ball will land where it will.  Next week, I will award a grand cyber gloat to the commenter I think gives the most well reasoned answer (or the funniest) and I will also reveal my opinion, which may be different from the winner’s.

First, let’s divide the board into red and black.  If you’re a wimp and only willing to bet on a color, then your return won’t be as good as if you pick the single winning box.  No winning cyber gloat for you.  Maybe a cyber snort of acknowledgement. 

I’ll call Red “Personal Choices” and Black “Outside Forces.”  Of course, there’s overlap, so I had to make some judgment calls.  We may choose to drink a sweetened soft drink, for example, but we aren’t responsible for the recipe.  That’s why I put sugary soft drinks under red and HFCS under black.  If you go into the roulette table manufacturing biz, you may lay out your table differently from mine.  I’m cool with that. 

Red:  Personal choices

 Popular media routinely pick Red.  Citing scientific studies, they love to blame:

Black:  Outside Forces, sneaky ingredients and poisons that we consume unwittingly and other exposures that we have no control over. 

So, do you hear it?   Brprprprprprprprrup pup pup pup pup.  It’s your turn to bet and watch the wheel spin.  Where will you place your chip?  Perhaps you know of a box that I have overlooked.  Everything’s fair and legal, but not everyone will be a winner.  Some of us will get fat, and in this society, that sucks.

  1. I’m on Black.

    Where does “cortisol from stress” go?

    • I put stress up in Red, but philosophically it fits in black too. It was a judgment call. As I assembled the lists, black would get ahead, then red. I wanted the categories even, and I got pretty close.

  2. I’d put mine on the line between “stress” and “sedentary work environment.” (Not sure whether the latter would be black or red…maybe a combination of both? I suppose I could choose to change careers to one that’s less sedentary, but not an option right now.) My weight went up 20 pounds during my 6-month college internship desk job, I Weight Watchered it back down about 30 pounds mid-internship and back at school, regained 10 (to my pre-internship weight) and stayed steady, and then it jumped back up again after college (at my career desk job). Interestingly enough, my weight stayed very stable when I was at home with my children for four years; my post-partum weight from baby #1 seemed to be my “setpoint” during that time. And then, when I resumed my career…well, you can guess what happened.

  3. Yup. I can guess. Thanks for your entry.

  4. Very interesting list, Debra! I’d place my chip on yo-yo dieting with its rim lapping over increased stress. The reason: a lot of these obesogens have been around for quite a while. Take a look at older cookbooks and you’ll see what I mean. Also, being sedentary is not a new thing.
    Dieting is extremely common, and men especially are doing much more of it. Yoyoing, which is the most likely outcome of a diet, results in great desperation and stress, which themselves can contribute to weight gain. The book Overcoming Overeating notes that some people even lose weight when they take the stress off eating.
    Another contributor to fatness (although I wouldn’t choose it as a primary reason) is our aging population. It’s very natural to gain weight as one ages, and I don’t know if statistics on fat account for this.

  5. I gotta come back and check out all your links!

    Well, I’m in the camp that says personal responsibility = personal freedom, so I guess I’ll put all my chips on four in a row: Our participation in the fast food “supersize me” revolution
    Our love for “white” carbs
    Our refusal to make home-cooked meals
    Our reliance on chain restaurants featuring addictive, hyperpalatable foods

    But all these factors really seem to play a part in our weight.

    • We will pretend that because you are so charming and persuasive that the roulette spinner allowed you to put it on a corner in the middle of those four.

  6. Just from personal experience, I’m going with yo-yo dieting (especially since it’s been known since 1959 that diets don’t work in the majority of cases for long-term weight loss, and rebound weight gain is likely, but doctors keep recommending diets anyway).

    • I think our personal experiences are key. Our doctors and the scientists are so busy looking at us like so many lab rats in mazes chasing food pellets (then exercising off the calories), that they kind of forget to ask us what we, er, think.

  7. I think it’s a combination of yo-yo dieting and dieting during pregnancy (which makes the babies more likely to end up fat), increased stress, and ethnic groups who tend to have higher BMIs making up a larger percentage of the US population.

    If I had to choose one, it would be yo-yo dieting. That’s what’s pushing the BMIs of people who’d normally be in the 25-35 range (which has always been very common) into the 40+ range (which used to be rare). I’m positive that if I’d spent my 20s and 30s dieting instead of practicing HAES, I’d have a BMI over 40 now instead of still being around the same size I was in high school.

  8. Dieting during pregnancy. Wow. I could have found a link for that too. And then that would have pushed red back up over black in the count of “causes” (after adding “Aging Population” to black).

    This is getting more and more interesting.

  9. I vote for Red, because it gives me something I can DO. OTOH, I can also do something about Black, as in eat local fresh foods as much as I can–and enjoy the other stuff when I eat it!
    Was just reading some of Monica Edwards’ kids books, set in 1950s England. People ate bacon and butter. They also didn’t have cars or labor saving devices, and the kids spent all their time on bicycles, horses, or boats. Hmmm.

  10. Garsh, Judith, I may have to establish a category for “best fence straddling.”

    As to those kids eating bacon and butter, their vegetables weren’t saturated in pesticides and that bacon didn’t have growth hormones in it. There’s all kinds of fence straddling we may do.

  11. Er, can I change one of the red categories from “Our reliance on chain restaurants featuring addictive, hyperpalatable foods” to simply “Our reliance on addictive, hyperpalatable foods”? That I’d vote for. I just finished the Kessler book and judging from your letter to the NWCR, I’m guessing you’re not a fan. I can respect the reasons for that – it’s certainly flawed in a lot of ways. I think we have different difficulties in maintaining loss – as different as the strategies that helped us lose the weight to start with – and Kessler describes the compulsive need to eat certain foods better than I’ve ever seen before. I like the book because I’m an empiricist, so I found the chapters and chapters of data fascinating. But to get back to the matter at hand, my own anecdotal observations bear out what he says about addictiong to hyperpalatable foods. My husband and I differ on so many of the categories above: he has a sedentary office job, I chase around a young child all day; he loves TV and exercises irregularly, I don’t turn the TV on for weeks at a time and I go to the gym almost daily; he loves soda and sweetened drinks, I probably haven’t had one in 20 years. However, he has never had a weight problem and I have to be constantly vigilant to not gain back every pound of the 65 I lost. I attribute that to the fact that if he sees an open bag of Doritos, he can literally say, “Meh, not hungry. Maybe later” (Seriously. I mean, is that even a human response?!?) I will topple small children (even my own) to get my hands on that bag of Doritos and I’ll inhale more than half of it before I notice the orange gunk all over my hands and start to wonder how the heck it got there.

    Now if the solution part of Kessler’s book had as much to offer as the section identifying the problem did, it would be really useful…

    • Actually, Jen, I think we are in perfect agreement on Kessler’s book. I adored the research. Wow. I just can’t recommend the book without reservation, because of the “solution part,” as you say.

      I got the sense when I read it that he was on the downhill ski slope in terms of weight loss. And he was so proud of himself for doing this, losing weight, while living in the lion’s den, so to speak — interviewing the titans of big food, touring the headquarters of national chain restaurants, etc. How powerful he felt. I couldn’t help thinking, “Whoa, Nelson, wait a year or two! Humility with a side of exasperation is getting cooked up for you in the kitchen, even as we speak.”

    • Totally not in charge of how much it gets to count, but definitely with you on the addiction/biochemistry thing.

      Especially since I’ve had my own response change from yours — “How’d that orange gunk get on my hands?” — to your husband’s — “Meh, maybe never” — depending on both the time of the month, and what else I was eating.

      Also, yeah, his research is excellent, but Smug Kessler deserves a smack, I think — especially since, on top of his not-having-kept-it-off-for-five-years premature triumph trumpeting, did it totally slip his mind that men have a muscle mass “advantage” compared to women when it comes to burned calories?

      I mean, being a former FDA guy, and all — and touting it — you’d think he could do a little better that that.

      *looks up* Whoops. Long rant, there.

      DebraSY, can’t I put one chip on black and one on red, since environmental chemicals affect our biochemical balance, and therefore our susceptibility to addictive, hyperpalatable foods?

      Wouldn’t James Bond get to put chips on both colors? 🙂

    • That could be one of the reasons for the average weight increasing, but I managed to get and stay fat on a relatively “clean” diet. My parents were too snotty to eat at those places (or to eat fast food) and so am I.

      And if I see an open bag of Doritos and I’m not hungry, I can say, “Meh, not hungry. Maybe later” Because, I know I can have them any time I want. Although, if I AM hungry, I can get carried away with the salty snacks, and they can make me gain a lot of weight, fast. That’s why I usually don’t keep them around the house.

  12. Delusions of James-Bondism, eh? Hmmmmm. A complicated disorder, to be sure. Look, as far as I’m concerned, you and Judith P are straddling the fence walloping each other with pillows.
    Put your chip where you will, the house always wins regardless. It’s a rigged game, but we play anyway, just like in Vegas.

  13. Mine is on the RED because everything is a personal choice, and I think all on your RED list apply. The black list also applies, but each of us needs to maybe do the research so we know what we are eating. We know that the sugary drinks are not at all good for us, and the artificially sweetened ones have chemicals that will mess with the normal way our bodies process food. etc.

  14. Welcome, Dianne! Everything is personal choice? Hmmmm. That’s a bold statement. Do I choose for my neighbor to use pesticides on his lawn? Do I choose to get a virus? Shall I use anti-bacterial goop on my hands? The same anti-bacterials that may protect me from a virus may kill off my beneficial gut flora. Can I choose for that NOT to happen. Hmmmmm. What to do?

    I’m giving you a hard time in good spirits, I hope you know. We do have some control over our world, and many people don’t exercise it. You are right we must research, but how much are we going to find out if Monsanto doesn’t want us to know? Hmmmmm.

  15. Can I choose “all of the above”? Pretty please with sugar on top (or maybe not, seeing as it’s a white carb and all). But seriously, I think most-all of these factors are at play, and have a hard time identifying one grand, unified theory of obesity. While I’m drawn to the black side of the board (especially Bisphenol A, trans fats, HFCS, and other chemicals), I also think numerous red factors are at play. Especially yoyo dieting and stress (which I would actually put on the black side, were I the roulette master, err mistress, here), but also the combination of easily accessible, tasty, high calorie foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

    But leave it to the ecologist, who studies complex species interactions and eschews universal laws, to say “everything!” 😉

    • Sure, Viajera, you CAN say “all of the above” and the house cheerfully steals your chip. And the other gamblers roll their eyes, “Rookie.” But, of course, you’re probably right. There isn’t one thing. But still, I will, next week go out on a limb and name the one I think is the biggest nasty.

  16. Thanks, Viajera, for that wonderful term: the “one, grand unified theory of obesity”.

    Where to put my chip? Personal choice? Put down that whatever! You really have eaten enough!

    Societal pressure? You can’t ride your bike to school! There are too many cars, and dangerous pedophiles who are just waiting to kidnap you! Oh and stress and hormones in our food (I did a little Google search on hormones in beef here in Canada…and I thought we were safer. Ha!).

    I guess I’m leaning a bit more towards outside forces, though really Debra, you’re asking us to cut the baby in half and I’m not King Solomon, or the Queen of Sheba, for that matter.


  17. I think it is something you didn’t mention–our societal obsession with weight and food. It creates stress, sets up a backlash that makes people want/need to eat because we are always being told not too, and interferes with any natural signals that our bodies might have regarding what and how much to eat. I think the so called “solutions” have actually made the problem of obesity in society worse.

  18. I’ll take yours to be a “black” bet, NewMe. Forcing some courage on you.

    • Thanks for the nudge, Debra. I do think societal forces/circumstances are what put us “over the edge”. I really don’t think human nature has changed that much over the past several thousand years: I suspect we’ve always loved to eat to our heart’s content (for those cold winters when food was scarce) and we’ve always loved sugary, calorie-dense foods ((winter again). However, circumstances have changed immensely and we now have cars, trains, buses and automobiles, not to mention fast-food restaurants, Swiffers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and computers.

      Our bodies are still basically made to conserve energy while Western society enables us to accomplish feats of wonder without doing more than merely lifting a finger.

  19. I’ve got to go with red: pretty much everything on the “red” list applies to me.

    I love starchy, sugary food (any sort of thai noodle is my kryptonite) and I love gigantic heaping portions of food, I’m a former diet soda junkie. Even though I’m a bit of a food snob, I can appreciate the terrible – and often tasty – genius behind the addictive stuff they serve up at big chains like TGI Friday’s and Chili’s.

    I don’t hate physical activity (even at my heaviest, 230+ pounds), I could happily walk for hours and hours. Thing is, I generally enjoy sedentary activities even more (more book-reading than TV, but I can do that latter, too, for hours on end).

    Anyway, I don’t look at my propensity to eat calorie-dense food and put away large quantities in a single sitting as some kind of moral failing, or even as a minor deficiency. If anything, I think that from an evolutionary perspective, I would be ahead of the game if I had to survive in the manner of our ancestors. My body might not be as efficient at storing fat as some people (though it’s certainly not substandard in this department), but if I found 3,000 calories worth of TGI Fridays appetizers lying around in nature, I could eat the whole thing with gusto – not a bad thing, if one’s food source is scarce and uncertain.

    That being said, I’ve spent the last few years retraining myself to “prefer” unprocessed things like fresh produce, whole grains, and legumes over the beautifully-marketed processed-within-an-inch-of-its life supermarket foods. (Though if I ate these in the quantity that I used to eat yummy bad-for-you food, I’d still be fat, just healthier.)

  20. I guess this is a really good question, because I can’t stop thinking about it even though I already answered yesterday. It occurred to me that almost everyone here, myself included, has picked from the red category. I started wondering why we were all so quick to discount external forces. Part of it, I think, is a reluctance to appear to not take responsibility for our own actions – most still-overweight people have a horror of looking like whiny ‘blamers’ and most previously-overweight people tend to want to credit their own actions that caused their weight loss. More important than that, though (and pointed out by someone above), to decide that factors of personal choice are causing overweight is to make it controllable. Like you said, I can’t decide whether my neighbor uses pesticides and while I can decide not to buy products with HFCS or BPA, heaven only knows what I am still eating (or have living in my intestines) that may cause me to put weight back on and keep it on. It’s more comforting to think there’s something I can do about it.

    But to take BPA as an example: there are those of us who’ve taken every precaution to avoid it, from eliminating plastics in the kitchen to refusing to buy canned products. I’m still leaning toward overweight while so many who aren’t even aware of the chemical don’t lean in that direction at all. It just doesn’t seem as though any one environmental factor could explain the data…

    I will stop now, because if you combine my responses, I risk sounding like the student who writes 3 pages for each essay question hoping there’s some valuable information in there amid the drivvel. Thanks again for the question, though. It’s a lot to think about.

  21. Jen: No matter how many precautions we take, our bodies are loaded with toxic chemicals. See the film “Toxic Trespass” by Barri Cohen or look up the work of Prof. Miriam Diamond at the University of Toronto. Chilling stuff.

  22. Hi NewMe: I believe it! I’m not disputing in any way that we are loaded to the brim with godawful stuff and between the chemical lobbies, Monsanto, and a host of other corporate interests, we are likely to stay that way until some regulations exist that at least make these dangers evident, if not actually eliminating them. It’s discouraging that even when we try to eat a clean diet, we are still ingesting pesticides, genetically modified varieties of natural foods, etc. So I’m not saying this isn’t a problem – I think it’s a problem of epidemic proportion. I do, however, think the pervasiveness of these toxins is exactly what argues against their ability to predict overweight: everybody’s awash in them but not everybody struggles with weight issues.

    And thanks for the recommendation! I’ll check out the film (though not sure I can actually watch it; “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Fast Food Nation” were almost as much as I could handle and still continue eating anything…)

  23. Yes, Jen. I think we’re on the same wavelength.

  24. I think I’ll choose genetic. It’s sort of an outside source in that I didn’t choose it. But it’s sort of personal. I think at this point that we are all alike but we are all different.

    I am 68 and have kept weight off for three years or so now after a lifetime of yo yo-ing. Not a huge amount, say 50 lbs. more or less. I can totally agree with someone’s statement that when they were at their heaviest they were not eating all they wanted. I also was exercising then, too.

    Right now I am about five pounds more than I would like to be. I just seem to stay in that range but I am really not wanting to go any higher. And I have restricted what I will eat. To the point that my dh sometimes complains about the way I eat.

    This is all very fascinating and quite helpful.

    • Mo, 50 pounds is a bunch. The NWCR would count you a screaming success up to and including an all-time highest weight of 500 pounds, now maintaining at 450. My gut tells me, you’re percentage weight loss is probably higher than that, though you aren’t sayin’. Are you on the NWCR? I would encourage you to sign on, my apprehensions about them notwithstanding.

  25. Hello, what a great blog! I’m an outlier, too – I’ve kept all but 10 pounds off from a 70lb weight loss 15 years ago. The ten pounds came back as a result of my doctor trying Lyrica on my chronic pain, and it won’t go away, so I’m going with Black, and I think doctors prescribing drugs that cause weight gain is part of the issue.

    But if I’m going to go with one of your squares, I’m with HFCS. It became a staple of the US diet after WWII, when the US Gov’t decided to keep all agricultural manufacturing as “in-house” as possible – and started making sugar from corn, instead of buying cane sugar overseas (thereby single-handedly destroying the Phillipine economy, but that’s just a footnote!). The average US weight has been climbing since then, and HFCS is in *everything* (why the hell is it in my bread?!).

    So, yeah, Black. HFCS.

    • Hey, there, Laurel! Welcome! Sorry about the chronic pain. But nice to have another fellow maintainer here.

      You don’t say whether or not you’re on the NWCR. I hope you are. You’re obviously smart enough to answer questions beyond “Do you eat breakfast?” And if enough of us scream at them they may start asking better questions. As frustrated as they make me, they at least have done something the other experts have not — they have attempted to collect a database of the real “experts.” Eight percent of people who enter college exit with doctorates. We outliers are 3-percenters.

      Prescription Drugs! But, of course! That is one I frequently think of but just forgot this time.

  26. From my own experience, I would place my chip on white carbs, and the magnets underneath are the low fat craze (resulting in processed foods being marketed as health food) and poverty (I’ve seen firsthand what trying to replace white carbs with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein does to one’s grocery bill). I haven’t lost much weight as a result of eating a more balanced and less processed diet – I have PCOS, so I don’t expect to lose much weight without extreme restriction – but I no longer want to eat the world. White carbs are incredibly appetite stimulating for me, and they made up most of my diet for the first 26 years of my life.

    Of course, you can’t have a complete conversation about white carbs without visiting the rest of the wheel – the contaminants and additives on the black squares are present in the same processed foods that contain white carbs, and the same lifestyle that encourages consumption of white carb products (high in stress, low on time, short on money) also contributes to the other red squares.

  27. Oh, I forgot about prescription drugs. I took an anti-depressant for about four months. I didn’t need it. I needed a solution to a straightforward problem. I got my solution, but have never been able to get below a new and higher “set point” that the medication left me with (plus a dangling participle for good measure!).

  28. Hmm. Gonna go black, but just cannot pick one slot. Me, I think industrial food is largely responsible (yep, I’m a Kessler fan). And as someone who also reads a lot of Weston Price and primal/paleo, I think the likely villains are increased sugar (esp HFCS), veggie oils that put our omega 6/omega 3 ratio way out of whack, and refined grains (esp wheat). I’d bet money that these are disruptive to our appetite and weight management equilibrium systems.

    • Welcome, Beth. Nice to see black getting some equal play against red! The game gets more and more interesting all the time.

      Grrr, NewMe. Them drugs are dicey.

  29. I’ve just maintained a 157 pound weight loss for a year. To be honest, I find maintenance much harder than losing weight to begin with, and this is the first time ever I have managed to have a steady weight in my 50 odd years of life.

    My personal chip is set on DNA and body chemistry. I acknowledge that all the reasons you give above may be factors for people. However, in my case, I am susceptible to rapid metabolism of sugars, and the sudden drop in blood sugar causes a chemical reaction that signals my brain to eat more, even if I am not hungry in the tummy. Secondly, I am also quite sensitive to sodium in my diet. While it is not true for everyone, studies are very clear that we are eating more salt than we need, or in most medical opinions, than we should. Thirdly, many people are not tracking their nutritional intake, including proper portion sizes and vitamins/minerals. And finally, there is the need for self-discipline to ignore the media messages, study about body needs, moderately exercise and to usually say no to Krispy Kremes and such ilk. Yeah, I think self-control is the hardest for me as an avowed hedonist….

    • Wow, Katherine, as you and Marbles were posting your responses, I was writing my all new Entry du Jour. You mess with my numbers, but with great wisdom. Another post will follow. I still haven’t named a winner. And Katherine, by the way, you should go sign up for the NWCR. It appears you are eligible, if it’s been a full year.

  30. I like the black side of the balance, with a special category for genetic predisposition, medicine, and medical professionals.

    My friend with the best maintenance success I know – 200 lbs for 7 years – went on an antidepressant for a little bit and was struggling to keep her weight steady using every technique she has. She knows what works for her body and was incredibly frustrated until she read the drug facts: may cause weight gain. If it took every tool SHE has to maintain in the face of a drug actively sabotaging her weight maintenance efforts, those of us who are more poorly equipped or just plain don’t have the wherewithal to perform the massive efforts she did are inevitably going to struggle with any drug whose side effects include weight gain.

    I think it’s disengenuous for physicians to prescribe drugs that cause weight gain and then assume that it will be super easy for people to lose the weight and keep it off.

    For myself, I struggle agianst a few genetic predispositions to gain: a family tendency to both chub and gain muscle (both of which look like fat on a BMI scale, though only one is) on one side of my family, and a tendency to hypothyroidism on the other. I’m fairly certain that my thyroid problems were triggered by using hormonal birth control in my late teens/early 20s, but I find that physicians look at these as independent systems (reproduction and metabolic) instead of an integrated endocrine system. (You change one hormone and another part of the system goes out of kilter? No way!)

    • Two hundred pounds for seven years. Wow. I tip my hat to your friend.

      Now, as to your weight — hormonal birth control, yes. That was introduced in the 1960s. It doesn’t account for the fact that men’s average weight has increased in the bell curve too though. Hmmmmm. Food for thought.

      • I know! She has amazing self-control.

        No doubt everyone has their unique boichemical triggers. Sure, men don’t take BC. It’s just that’s what triggered the metabolic changes for me. I’m sure the genetic predispositions and variances make it harder for scientists to get meaningful data from small sample sets. Too bad they don’t often acknowledge their blindness in this area.

  31. I know I’m too late to play the game but I want to put my two cents in anyway. I have two observations and one vote.

    On the red side, I think that the confluence of three things that happened at almost the same time has had a pernicious effect: (1) Schools decreased gym from a daily class to a weekly class or elective, so there was a lot less activity at school, (2) Outdoor play for children decreased substantially because of both over-scheduling of extra curriculars, fear of kidnappers and computer games, and (3) restaurants discovered the charm of the meal deal (even before supersizing).

    On the black side, I think that the environmental toxins are a big deal. I haven’t studied the corn syrup issue enough to have an opinion, but it sure is pervasive.

    My vote goes for: Virus! The articles I’ve read proposing a virus that has emerged makes a lot of sense in terms of timing, selectivity of victims and extreme difficulty in losing the weight once it’s gained. I wish the best of all good things to the scientists who are studying in that area.

  32. I’m another late-to-the-game poster, but I’m going to give a guess anyway and then go see your results.

    Looking at my family’s past few generations, and then at my parents, then my own (and my siblings’) generation, and then my children’s, I have a few things that I suspect have contributed to the weight gain of those of us who are fat. My parents were well-rounded but not really fat until after they had children, in their early 30s… they both quit smoking, became more sedentary, and started drinking more at that point. My mother had three children in three years, and none were breastfed past a few weeks; we were all started on formula and then put onto solids pretty quickly. We were all put into childcare soon after birth. Also, my generation was the first to receive multiple, repeated vaccinations. My brother, my sister and myself are all morbidly obese. I’m not saying all kids who are formula-fed, put into institutionalized child care, and vaccinated from birth will be fat; I’m saying that it seems gaining weight can be a stress-induced defense mechanism, and things like improper nutrition, stress, and immune system challenges might trigger weight gain in susceptible individuals (this is where genetics can play a part).

    Only one of my children got vaccinated at four weeks of age, and he had a serious reaction. That same child was also the only one that got put on formula at the age of six months. He started to chunk up right away and has never lost it, despite being very active and extremely conscious of his diet. The next three children were, as a result of my research after what happened with my first kid, allowed to breastfeed much longer, and did not receive vaccinations until they were much older (and had a much more developed immune system). All four were raised together, eating the same food and engaging in similar amounts of activity. None were put into childcare; all four were homeschooled and allowed to follow their natural sleep cycles. Only the oldest has significant and lasting weight gain.

    Children in our culture are rarely allowed to wake up on their own, due to work and school schedules. I’ve seen studies that show raised cortisol levels in people who are sleep-deprived, and this could be an additional trigger. Babies in our culture also sleep on their own, and parents are encouraged to let their infants “cry it out” to go to sleep… certainly a huge source of stress to a baby. Modern children also don’t spend nearly as much time outdoors and running around as their counterparts a generation ago; could lack of vitamin D from sunshine play a part?

    So, my theory isn’t even really addressed by any of your choices, that we are fatter as a society in no small part due to the stresses we inadvertently put on infants and young children (via artificial feeding, institutional child care, vaccinations, sleep problems, lack of outdoor play).

    • A very interesting theory, Katje. If you spend some time at this site, at one point, one of my commenters, Beth, aka Weight Maven, provides a link to a seminar by Dr. Gabor Mate (pronounced Mah-tay’). If you find the link, click on it, or consider Googling his name. You will find a kindred spirit who is highly credentialed.

      We have hurt our children by not allowing them to develop the trust that they require to function. Dr. Mate ties this to his work with people who struggle with addiction — especially drug addiction — but it’s a small step to food addiction, if you buy that theory (and I do think it’s a credible theory, if not for all people who struggle with food, for many).

  33. I will definitely keep an eye out… I’m slowly plowing through your entire blog (comments included; you have some wonderful commenters!).

    I want to make sure we try to use non-blaming language when we talk about how we raise our children. It’s very easy for me to slip into a sense of feeling superior regarding my choices, which is in itself a defensive mechanism against the mainstream telling me I’m Doin’ It Rong. If I really want people to seriously consider extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and the rest of what is conveniently known as the attachment parenting curriculum, as potential choices and not just whacked-out hippie crap, I need to think hard about how to present it to people. I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly careful in my hurried rush to slap out that reply last night, so I wanted to add that now.

    Interesting that you bring the word “trust” to the table… one of my personal windmills that I tilt regularly is telling parents to trust themselves and their children, that they know more than they think they do. Unschooling is considered pretty radical, and anecdotal evidence is only good for one instance, but trusting my kids to let me know when they are ready to explore new things has worked beautifully for us.

    • I just had to go find this link to the Gabor Mate seminar I told you about and share it with you. Consider it a present. It’s over an hour, but well worth the time. He will not only give you empirical evidence to support your passions, but he also uses language beautifully. He ice skates right up to the edge of blame the victim, but does not fall over. In fact, I just can’t think of a better perpetrator of compassion.

      • And what a blessed gift it is! I’m halfway through the lecture, and up to mid-December 2010 in your blog, and stealing a few moments with each back and forth as I take care of two sick sons and a chaotic house today. I just want to hide in the closet and gulp through your whole blog… it is like water to a parched man. You both make SO MUCH SENSE. Thank you so very much!

        Now… what to do with this huge sense of validation and clarity? How to heal those who are damaged? How to stop the madness and prevent the future suffering and pain of the babies who are being born right now? Part of me just wants to hunker down and make sure my own kids are OK (which is a heck of a job all by itself, as any parent knows), and another wants to somehow make every parent (and potential parent) understand just how vital those first few years are, to figure out how to repair our cracked society so that the decision to have a baby is truly informed and supported.

        What is that E.B. White quote? “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Thank you again!

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