It is well established that collectively we got fatter during the second half of the twentieth century.expert warn us that our fat is contagious, spreading from person to person in an epidemic on the same scale as terrorism, and that it will reduce life expectancies and even further global warming. These dire warnings have fueled a war against fat. But is this war warranted? Or does it cause more harm than good? Untangling this issue is our starting point for the first chapter. We’ll invite you to consider radical new perspectives and challenge what has become business as usual in the mainstream world of weight science.
Where Do You Get Your Facts?
How do you “know” what you know? This is a question we have to think about a lot because our ideas about weight conflict so strongly with those held by most others. They conflict with what we regularly read or hear in the media. They conflict with what we learned in school. They conflict with most “expert” advice and government recommendations. They conflict with what most people believe to be common sense. We understand if you are skeptical at first about what we write. After all, there is no denying that there are a lot of fat people in industrialized countries. And hardly a day goes by where we are not warned about another health problem caused by fat.
And as we challenge our cherished beliefs about weight and health, we imagine the question will naturally arise: Why should we believe you when so many, including those who are well educated and well accepted as authorities, suggest that what we propose is misinformed and dangerous?
As scientists, we are tempted to “prove” to you that what we say is grounded in fact by jumping immediately to well-reasoned academic arguments bolstered by scientific research. You’ll get those scientific arguments throughout the book, but we’ve learned over time that academic arguments are rarely enough to change how people look at things. Misinformation about weight is so embedded in our cultural landscape that we all absorb it and it becomes deeply ingrained in us. These ideas are so strongly and commonly held that most of us don’t even recognize them as assumptions. We think they’re “fact.”
Because people filter all new information through this cultural lens, it becomes difficult to help them understand the fallacy, even when they’re exposed to statistics, logical arguments, or examples of the disparities and pain these attitudes cause. It may be particularly difficult for health professionals to consider new ideas seriously because the old beliefs have been so rooted as normal and appropriate by our education; many of us developed our very expertise and identity by buying in to those beliefs. We also may be expected to carry out practices such as mandatory weighing and weight loss counseling as part of an everyday requirement of our job. Given that our education, identity, reputation, and job expectations are shored up by our allegiance to current beliefs, it is hard for us to even notice that these belief systems are unproven assumptions, let alone to seriously question what we routinely do.
We all absorb the world around us. When we are subjected repeatedly to images of fat people as lazy gluttons and of thin people as attractive, desirable, and healthy, to notions that weight is controllable by diet and exercise or that fat causes people to get sick and die early, it should come as no surprise that these ideas become ingrained in our psyches and we come to believe them. We know it’s a hard sell for us to suggest otherwise.