Fat Versus Fiction

A caesar salad, usually considered a healthy option, right? Well it’s lettuce (mostly water) covered in dressing high in fat, cheese, high in fat, and croutons (generally bread, carbohydrates, cooked in fat). So surely it’s bad for you, right? Of course not. Everything’s fine in moderation! (Credit: Geoff Peters)

Do you know what the real beauty myth is? That anyone or anything is innately ‘beautiful’.

Do you know what the real health myth is? That anyone individual is more healthy than another.

Never mind evolution by natural selection blindly stumbling into a future in which it doesn’t know what the conditions are, rendering any mate-selective traits redundant, ultimately what we are is a gang of co-operating, interacting genetic micro-machines (cells) inevitably staving off decay.

You are a pile of rot in waiting. Does Leonardo di Caprio look ‘decent’ to our eyes, yeah, of course. But he’s still slowly rotting like the rest of us. Cut him open, he bleeds red, if he shits too hard he can suffer an anal prolapse and, at his age, he is going to be experiencing prostate problems.

He’s slowly falling apart like the rest of us. Some of us, though, can afford to gild the rotting turd and make it look a little better. But are handsome, slim genes going to help humans survive in the future? Who knows? I’d argue that with increased pressure on population numbers, more mouths to feed and less arable land due to climate change the fatties win. Those who can eat more, store more, and thus have more to use in an emergency will outlive the others.

Some genes are better at living well, or dealing with living badly, than others. Some people do nothing but drink and smoke and make 90 years, some people get leukaemia by the age of 30 despite eating well, living healthily and exercising regularly. It’s a fucking crapshoot (well strictly speaking it’s ‘risk factor epidemiology’ – our best guess as to what percentage of X people will get Y condition), and it’s the hardest thing for control-freaks like humans to understand. We spend so much of our time denying death and when it does happen we look for excuses – “well he did eat a McDonalds a week, what did you expect?” – Or confusion – “I don’t understand, she didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, worked out…how is she gone so soon?” Welcome to real life, it’s a chaotic gamble and you never know, personally, what is good for you.

We have demonstrated that there are genetic pre-dispositions towards obesity. There are people for whom fundamentally a larger body is what their genome wants. When you ask those people to ‘get thin’ you are asking them to defy their genetics. Yes, it is as difficult as it sounds. Some of these people may have had those genes activated in life due to conditions – what is known as epigenetics – when real life experience changes the expression or ‘switching on or off’ of a gene. Starvation, stress, nutritional deficiency, even overworking (how many footballers from the 70s-90s ended up huge once they stopped playing?) can all change the expression of these genes. If you were starved as a child (as I was, thanks to a condition that led to my regurgitating my food from a newborn until a few weeks old) then your body is going to prime you for a world where food is scarce and you need to eat what you can and store it.

Therefore it stands to reason there are people who are genetically pre-disposed to be thinner, and incidentally, due to fashion, these are the people we have come to respect most, admire most and take the opinions of most. It’s bullshit, of course, ‘the halo effect’ – the psychological idea that because someone is good at one thing then they must be good or well informed, at another – in full effect. It’s bollocks, someone like, say, Anthea Turner, a former television presenter, who has about as much knowledge of obesity science, the metabolic pathways, nutrition and the chaotic gamble that is genetics and epigenetics as Sue from down the road. She’s got an opinion, sure. But you know what they say about opinions – She’s an arsehole for having hers…Or something like that isn’t it? When she has me agreeing with Piers fucking Morgan she must have fucked up good!

For the first years of your life you don’t get to choose a good diet if you’re not given one. You don’t get to choose to learn how to cook if you’re not taught and you don’t get to choose to be fat or thin.

Shaming of childhood obesity is causing significant damage, through long term bullying, alienation and trauma, known to cause increases of life-long mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, known to cause early death and increased risk of things such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, to a group of people who, in the most part, are causing little burden on the NHS, and basically aren’t to blame for their problem. You might think that shame is a good social way to ‘cure’ the ‘problem’ but all you’re doing is giving kids eating disorders, stress, anxiety conditions and depression that will ultimately end up costing more. YOU’RE A FUCKING STUPID DICK! BECOME A CURIOUS IDIOT™ INSTEAD!

What is fat? Fat is one of the fundamental nutrients utilised by the human body in its metabolic processes. For the most part a human consuming zero fat is a very, very unhealthy human as fats play an important role in making and maintaining lipid membranes (you’ve not been a bio student without the words ‘phospholipid bilayer tatooed in your synapses) in cell walls, as well as their conversion into glycerols (very useful for reacting with excess glucose to dispose of it) and fatty acids, very useful as an energy source when carbohydrates are unavailable. This is why an average person will have a body fat percentage of somewhere around 20-25%. Because fat is not bad.

Fats that are not used immediately for energy production (which in people who consume carbohydrates will be a lot of them) will have that fat stored in their body in what’s called ‘adipose tissue’. This is essentially layers of fatty tissue, what we think of when think ‘fat’. Think about a nice piece of belly pork. That unctuous white structure between the layers is adipose tissue holding fat cells in storage. It also plays a good role in protecting vital organs. Thus adipose tissue occurs both subcutaneously (under the skin) and viscerally (around the organs).

Adipose tissue, where lipids (or fats) are stored. One is a diagram on the left, on the right is a microscope slide. For all the negative press this tissue gets, without it you’d be at significantly greater risk of bone and organ damage from relatively minor accidents. (Credit: Openstax Anatomy and Physiology)

So a very skinny person could, say, have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat around their liver, this could be caused by alcohol, or it could be non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), either way it is causing them problems. Just because someone appears thin, doesn’t mean they don’t have problems with fat. But fat can serve a protective role, too. Both subcutaneous and visceral fat tissue has been associated with protecting certain areas of the body, particularly organs and bones, from injury.

Certain people, indeed an increasing number of people in the West, have difficulty regulating the amount of fat in their diet – for various reasons most of which are entirely without moral implication. And that is entirely my point.

Research indicates that persistent, long-term obesity is a massive health concern. Right?

But does it?

Because when huskier adults of a relatively active lifestyle are studied we find odder results. Indeed we get what’s known as the ‘fat but fit paradox’.

What’s more, recently details have come to light that a lot of the research suggesting consumption of saturated fat was associated with an increased risk of heart disease. It was sponsored by ‘big sugar’ which sounds like a pimp’s name but it was essentially a consortia of people working on behalf of the sugar industry. Why? Because in the 1950s sucrose consumption had been demonstrated to have significant effects on heart health. What was the end result? Sugar was exonerated leading to over consumption of carbohydrates leading to a significant increase in people with Type-2 diabetes…Blamed on their being ‘fat’, of course, for since those years ‘fat’ had become the cursed word, and not the fact that they have been conditioned to overconsume carbohydrates for fear of heart disease from fats, even though sugars are just as much a culprit.

Research also indicates that for people of a certain age being slightly overweight can be a positive thing, have no effect at all, or be a negative thing – It is almost as if these people are all genetically unique and thus their bodies respond to their comparative weights differently.  As if the mainstream narrative that fat equals unhealthy and bad is…you know…oversimplified, ignorant and FUCKING WRONG!

We need to make people stop and think a minute about fat-shaming. From Prader-Willi syndrome to just having no other comfort than food, psychological issues, physiological differences, genetic predispositions – over the years we have learned that all of these things have a hand in determining whether someone is ‘fat’ or ‘normal’ – because let’s be honest, being skinny is supposed to be normal.

Larger people are often discriminated against by the medical profession. I am linking to a Guardian story about the initiative and narrative the government has taken but if you google ‘Fat shaming NHS complaints’ you will find so many Freedom of Information requests detailing individual examples. Many are the stories of people with genuine medical problems going to their GP, having their complaint ignored and put down to their weight. The next thing you know they’re in A&E needing a new ACL, or worse, the problem that a GP dismissed as being due to their weight is cancer, or something else major.

We see figures on the news of how much money obesity related conditions are costing the NHS – a quick google will give you some outrageous and out-of-context figures (£4.2bn per year and rising – immediately comes up on google when looking) – but not how much is spent fixing sports injuries (only a few cursory figures come up – buried in the articles and not at the top of the page like the obesity one – approximately £1.7bn by one estimate) However that study reveals an approximate cost per injury, of primary care, as around £5,000 per injury, and another study suggests there are around 1,000,000-1,500,000 admission to NHS hospitals (not including GP visits etc.) for sports related injuries per year. That would put an estimated cost, for sports injuries, at somewhere in the region of £5-7.5bn per annum.  I can also find a figure from a governmental source that the cost to the government of work-related injuries is around £3.5bn.

Where are all the massive campaigns against jogging when you’re too old, too fat, too likely to get injured? Where is the lambasting of health nuts, where is the denigration of Joe Wicks for encouraging injury and cost to the NHS? It’s not there because it hasn’t been marketed to be there.

The biggest killer in the fucking world is ignorance, because we ignore bigger problems to focus on the marketable ones. Everyone can see fat, but few people see your ACL tear. Everyone can watch me jiggle, but nobody can see work-related stress slowly killing your heart. Fat is visible, fat is marketable. Work related stress and that twinge in your knee that’ll grow into a bigger problem in time – not so much.

And let me get to some real fucking nuts and bolts here. If obese people are so busy having heart attacks, diabetes and stroke between the ages of 45-60, them motherfuckers is dead. No more cost to the NHS.

But those people who keep living, 65-75-85-on into their 90s? They require health care, and social care, for all those extra years, consistently. I don’t have the stats but I’d wager they are a longer-term, more costly burden on the NHS and to the government than obese people.

It’s a brass tacks way to look at it but I’m fairly certain if we really crunched the numbers, people who live longer end up costing the NHS more than people who die younger.

The point is shut the fuck up about being fat. I’ve had skinny motherfuckers on the treadmill next to me in the gym wondering how this lumpy-lava-lamp is doing more miles, quicker, than them. Then he jumps off the treadmill and goes and does weights while they go for a shower and a sauna, and as they towel their heads as they’re leaving they see that same guy on the rowing machine, doing 10k. Then he does some more weights. Then he does 5-10k on the exercise bike to cool down. I’ve had people call me a ‘beast’ in a gym setting because a man like me, my shape, my size, should not be able to go as I do and yet I fucking go.

Maybe we should ask whether a society that shames larger people is not the problem? I was very hesitant to join a gym. I worried about being judged, about being looked at, at people watching me jiggle as I jogged. I worried what the skinny people would say to me and in the end what they said was “Fuck me, I didn’t expect you to go like that!”. That wasn’t reassuring, for as much as a compliment as it was. It is a testament to a long term marketing campaign that says fat people can’t be fit – a demonstrably proven lie. I can prove it, because I exist and I’ll beat most of you skinny fuckers for time on a hill walk.

Not only that but gym memberships cost money and not everyone has that disposable income. Never mind the money needed for a gym bag, some good trainers (and you need good trainers or else enjoy your knackered ankles and the extra cost to the NHS from those) and a kit (or two if you plan on going regularly). You also need that magical thing so many people from the ground up to the middle, from the lowest class to the upper middle class – they are all paupers when it comes to – time.

Yeah, you can go out in the streets and jog but I felt more comfortable, as a fat dude, doing it in a gym where the people looking at me were there for the same reason – to work out – than on the streets where people who couldn’t run a mile without dying but with skinny hips will look at you with disgust. This is not an opinion that is innate, the human is not innately disgusted by a larger body – many people find it attractive. So this opinion is learned. It is taught. It is marketed.

Smoking was a relatively easy problem to solve. It costs money, has relatively short-lived benefits with long-term consequences and complications and is, ultimately, entirely unnecessary to live. What’s more we now have vaping, which is like smoking only it causes significantly fewer, albeit not no, harms.

When it comes to obesity, when it comes to eating, you need food to live.

What food you eat? Well that comes down to time, effort, energy and education. Not only are our schools a total clusterfuck of failure when it comes to teaching kids how to cook and eat healthy meals, but our lives are dominated by advertising from unhealthy fast-food brands and sugar-laden cereal companies. The big food brands still hold a lot of sway, and deserve to carry the weight of responsibility for the health of this nation. They will tell you how they spend X amount of money on healthy activity programmes or Y amount of money on this or that grass roots sport but that’s just tax-avoidance and philanthropic marketing. They still want to sell Frosties, Mars Bars and Big Macs.

The kind of marketing I am talking about. Associations of food with friends and lovers, and buy-one-get-one-free deals make food like this – that is okay as a once-in-a-while indulgence – a regular purchase for someone struggling to find time to cook. What’s more, these images, and others like it, will be everywhere, priming your brain to want this kind of food. It’s psychologically manipulative and it knows it and it doesn’t care it just wants your money. (Credit: Jaggery)

If a disproportionate amount of people in our population are getting fat we need to stop blaming the people and start looking at the multiple facets.

  1. Some people are just genetically predisposed to be larger. They can still be healthy if they use exercise to maintain cardiovascular health.
  2. Some people have complex psychological issues about foods. These can include those who refuse to eat (anorexia) those who eat but tend to vomit up their food to prevent digestion (bulimia) and those who eat for comfort (doesn’t have a cool sounding sciency name, it’s just called ‘emotional eating’ – branding 101 it already discredits it).
  3. Being skinny doesn’t always mean being healthy.
  4. Nutritional education is shit and whilst it remains shit people will eat like shit.
  5. Companies that make billions of pounds worldwide are heavily invested in making you fat, keeping you fat and ensuring you’re a fat fucking slave to their products.
  6. They, the medical profession, the various pundits and idiots worldwide will still convince you this is an individual, moral issue.

“But my GP says…” I once had a GP prescribe yoghurt as a sleeping aid. Sometimes GPs don’t know a damn thing, are just as ignorant and prone to trends, fashions and whatever is marketed as the rest of us and should wise up. Sometimes their very status as GPs gives them an aloofness to the rest of us unhealthy proles who should live better. They’re not better than you – remember we’re all Curious Idiots™.

GPs are ‘general practitioners’ and they’re not paid to keep up with the latest research on the genomics of obesity, the metabolic benefits of fats versus carbohydrates in your diet or quite how their bullshit advice is affecting the mental health of their patients – although that last one should be of big fucking concern to them. Some GPs are, actually, very good, very learned, very informed, very attentive and will give you an excellent service. Some are just pompous dicks. People are people, and people are varied.

Since advertising was invented big brands selling garbage have dominated the public consciousness, from Paupers to Kings, from dipshits to doctors. I could say “I’m loving it…” and so many people would know what I mean, but ‘The Man from Del Monte’ disappeared years ago. I don’t see avocados being advertised on television. I don’t see ‘big celery’ showing you how to use that wonderful, umami boosting vegetable to add extra aromatic flavour to many dishes. I see virtually racist ads from Ragu sauces telling people to pour sugar-laden pre-made, preservative filled sauce onto their concentrated, processed carbohydrates, but very little advertising on how you can literally make the same with a tin of chopped tomatoes, a bit of tomato puree, some garlic and a few basil leaves – maybe a tiny amount of sugar to taste, as it acts as an acidity regulator – but I like my tomato sauce to be sharp.

I don’t see the likes of Anthea Turner, the fat-shaming, ableist who is the catalyst for this article, asking her agents, asking the advertising workers she knows and works with, why they, their agencies and their businesses, sell their souls to kill other people’s health. I’m sure, one day, to write an article about how the single greatest effect of psychological understanding has been to manipulate us into wanting to buy things we don’t need and feel insecure. I fucking hate that the study of psychology has, for nearly the past century, been used as a tool against, rather than for humanity and its advancement.

I also don’t see Anthea Turner checking the figures, noticing age is the significantly biggest factor in covid deaths. Then what would her opinion be, we should just euthanize everyone at 70, for their own good?

Anthea Turner is a fucking moron. She needs to realise it, join the Curious Idiots™ club and accept that she doesn’t know anything about the world, like I don’t, like you don’t, like none of us do.

To me it makes perfect sense that we’re all anxiety ridden, over-eating wrecks. Our brains are being fucked with on a daily basis, without our permission, to want, to need, to desire. Adverts appeal to our baser needs, suggest we’re not good parents if we don’t give our kids X, suggest we’ll always be single if we don’t do Y and suggest we really, really need to try that new unctuous burger.

Should McDonalds be releasing a 700+ calorie burger? Why not, it’s their business. Should they market it as the must-eat thing, at a time when we’re all more sedentary than ever from covid…I’d advise not. But I don’t get to make those decisions and the palms of our politicians are slathered in so much grease from multi-billion pound companies that it’s likely an individual, with an individual vote, will find it hard to stop this bullshit happening.

To me, advertising shitty food is as dangerous as advertising cigarettes and should be banned. I speak as a food lover. I don’t want shit food not to exist, I just don’t want to be manipulated into buying it.

These companies sponsor our biggest events, including, ironically, sports events. These brands are ingrained in popular culture. They are part of the fabric of our lives and our culture and it is that culture that needs to fucking changes.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. In fact, don’t just hate the game, flip the fucking table, throw the board on the floor, stomp on the fucking pieces and make your own rules.


Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Karl Anthony Mercer is a writer, poet, author, musician and part-time dandy. He can often be found squatting in fields looking at insects (he is an unapologetic wasp fanatic), wandering around museums over-dressed, or hiding in a dank corner singing sad songs on a small guitar. His writing on WordPress consists of MercersPoems - an outlet for his poetry often using natural imagery, gothicism and decadence to explore the struggles of living as an autistic person; and We Lack Discipline - Where he writes about factual, often academic topics he has learned and is interested in (e.g. biology, psychology, Roman history etc.) with an inimitable, often light-hearted and irreverant style. You can support Karl by; Subscribing to the We Lack Discipline Patreon - https://www.patreon.com/WeLackDiscipline Or buying him a coffee (he loves coffee!) - https://ko-fi.com/welackdiscipline

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