Sunday, March 7, 2021

Exhorting Obese People to Eat Less and Exercise More Doesn’t Work

In Gary Taubes’ article “The New Obesity Campaigns Have it All Wrong” in the May 14, 2012 issue of Newsweek, he points out some refreshing facts that help shed light on our country’s obsession with thinking that obesity is caused from “gluttony and sloth” or an imbalance of energy / food intake.  He cites Hilda Bruch, the physician who in 1934 pointed out that many children in New York City were obese during the time of the Great Depression — a time when few families could afford food.  If the children weren’t able to get food (or much food), why, then, were they obese?  Bruch in the 1930’s helped us understand that

exhorting obese people to eat less and exercise more doesn’t work, and shouldn’t be an indictment of their character.

In his article, Taubes shares the effect of certain sugars on our system, or the effects of combined nutrients, etc. — but what I am most shocked about in this article is that he never once mentions the emotional aspects of eating.

He cites the Great Depression, but doesn’t once reference the fact that some folks who are struggling with obesity might also be struggling from depression (or an array of other illnesses).  He refreshingly points to new research findings and facts, but never once references the emotional or psychological state that could potentially be underneath some cases of obesity.  He never once references binge eating disorder (which can sometimes be at root of some cases of obesity).

Thankfully, he points out that

dieting and exercise are not going to be the solution to the obesity problem. 

When I interviewed acclaimed eating disorder researcher Dr. Craig Johnson in 2010, he offered this impactful warning:

encouraging dieting and exercise in obese individuals could be dangerous — these are the gateway behaviors to eating disorders.


Unless we start acknowledging and embracing the emotional and psychological along with the physical aspects of the obesity epidemic, we are spinning our wheels.

Last month I led a “feelings” workshop in New York City at Booker T. Washington Middle School with Dr. Judith Brisman, clinical psychologist.  During our two sessions, we worked in classes of 7th grade students.  The workshop was simple: to introduce kids to the array of feelings that exist, and to do it in a theatrical and creative way.  By the end of each workshop, children were coming forward to talk about an array of issues, including: bullying, self-harming, stress-eating, eating disorders and alcohol.

If we want to get at the root of physical ailments like obesity, then we must address emotional aspects and well-being, too.

Share your thoughts!  Read Gary’s article here and let us know what you think!

Robyn Hussa, MFA, E-RYT, is Founder and CEO of NORMAL, for which she was awarded the 2010 Champion in Women’s Health award from Ms. Sue Ann Thompson and the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation. Ms. Hussa is also a professional performer and New York producer and President of WhiteElephant productions in New York City. She is the Editor of the WeAreTheRealDeal blog site and author of Healthy Selfitude.


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  1. […] writing my post where I raised some questions about behavioral aspects underlying obesity, I reached out to Gary Taubes to ask him directly and gain clarification on the position of his […]

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