What’s Next, an Atherosclerosis Acceptance Movement?

The Hidden Danger of the “Fat Acceptance” Movement

You know the old saying, “If something is too good to be true….” Well, the “fat acceptance” movement is telling people something that sounds too good to be true. They are insisting that people can be “healthy at any size” and sometimes even that being overweight is healthier than being slim. They’re wrong, and the smarter and more educated people among the “fat acceptance” movement should know better. They “cherry pick” misleading findings from a few studies and ignore a vast scientific literature on the effects of diet on health. Such behavior is sickening, and the advice they give is dangerous.

Here’s the simple truth: excess body fat is only one of the possible bad effects of eating the wrong kind of food. Eating too much fat and too much animal protein can send you to an early grave even if you are thin and exercise a lot. The classic example is Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, a 1977 bestseller that launched the running boom. Fixx had claimed that his grueling exercise regimen, which had enabled him to lose 60 pounds, allowed him to eat as much as he wanted of whatever he wanted. When I read that in his book, I thought, “But what about cholesterol?” So I was saddened, but not surprised, when Fixx dropped dead at age 52 of a heart attack while running. To my disgust, the media reacted to his death by asking whether running was good or bad for you, ignoring the obvious dietary angle to the story.

The simple truth is that eating the wrong kind of food can kill you, even if it doesn’t make you fat. Another simple truth is that you can’t outrun cholesterol. As a member of the high-IQ club Mensa, Fixx should have been smart enough to figure that out before it was too late. Unfortunately, he believed what he wanted to believe, and ate whatever he wanted to eat, and in the end it killed him.

As I mentioned, obesity is only one of the bad effects that is likely to result from eating the standard American diet–not just the heavily processed “junk food” that everyone knows is bad for you, but the meat and dairy products and eggs and fish that the US Department of Agriculture has been encouraging us to eat.

Collectively, the bad effects of eating the standard American diet are called “Western diseases.” This is because medical doctors who had been trained in Europe and the United States were stunned to find that these health problems, which were common back home, were rare to nonexistent in Asia and Africa. Besides overweight and obesity, they include heart disease, diabetes, various cancers, arthritis, varicose veins, multiple sclerosis, etc. etc. etc. Western diseases were (and still are) the major causes of death and disability in the United States and Europe because people there eat too much animal protein and too much fat. These diseases were rare in Asia and Africa because the populations were eating a low-fat, largely plant-based diet. A monumental study of nutritional epidemiology in China (http://www.thechinastudy.com/) showed in detail how closely the consumption of animal protein and fat were linked to many of these diseases. The less animal-based food and fat people ate, the healthier they could be.

The good news is that if you eat the diet that will protect you against the other “Western diseases,” your weight problem will solve itself. People who eat a low-fat (<10% of calories) diet based on unrefined plant foods rapidly become heart-attack-proof (total cholesterol, <150 mg/dL) and can prevent and even reverse many of the other Western diseases. It’s hard to stay fat when you are eating a truly healthy diet. When overweight Americans switch to a low-fat, purely plant-based diet, they lose weight easily without having to count calories or limit their portions. They can eat to their hearts’ content and still stay slim. The “fat acceptance” advocates overlook that obvious fact.

The “fat acceptance” advocates are right that thin does not equal healthy. But they are wrong when they say that you can be healthy at any size. Rather than wasting their time trying to make people feel better about being fat, they should work toward educating people about a truly healthy diet, which will enable people to improve their own health and maintain a desirable weight without feeling hungry. The activists should also use their political clout to improve the nutrition curriculum at medical schools, which has been shown repeatedly over the past 40 years to be inadequate.

On one point, I do agree with the fat acceptance advocates. I think that people should be treated with respect regardless of their size and state of health. However, I feel that overweight people deserve to be told the truth about how their weight affects their health and about how their food choices affect both their health and their weight.