Confessions of a chubster – a fresh first-hand take on weight issues in America

In case you missed it, my big goal series this year is “A healthy 2012 means childhood obesity in America shouldn’t be taboo.” I’m serious about this issue. Weight, exercise, calories and getting healthy as it relates to kids shouldn’t be taboo. At all. Still, seeing as how all of these same issues are, as of yet, fairly taboo for adults, it’s no surprise that when you bring kids into it, well, you face some major opposition.

People are hyper sensitive about their kids. “Not my kid” is more popular and more PC than, “Yes, my kid is overweight, and at risk for some serious health issues. I should hop into action.” Consider though that kids won’t stay kids forever. Kids do become adults, and your influence on said kid, can be as healthy or as non-healthy as you choose to make it. Also consider that it’s MUCH easier to build healthy habits now, rather than later. Lastly consider that later on, any smart kid who becomes a smart adult will realize they could have had healthy habits earlier on, had someone (and by someone I mean their parent) seen fit to fill them in on the basics about calories, weight and exercise.

Martin Cizmar is a good example of one such adult. No clue if he was an overweight kid, but according to Cizmar, “Americans are disgustingly fat. I’m allowed to say so because not long ago, I was disgustingly fat.” Cizmar used to weigh around 300 pounds, but was fairly happy anyhow, noting, “I enjoyed massive portions of rich, delicious foods and took great pleasure in passively watching the shiny flat-screen TV in front of my leather couch. It was not such a terrible life.

That all changed when Cizmar fell in love with a nurse who gave him the 411 about the health risks he was slowly accumulating due to his lifestyle choices. Long story short, Cizmar lost 110 or so pounds, then wrote a book about the experience, Chubster: A Hipster’s Guide to Losing Weight While Staying Cool. I haven’t read the book yet, but Cizmar’s piece in a recent Willamette Week, Confessions of a Chubster: The moral crusade against fatties, is an awesome read, especially if you’re a parent who may be in denial about your child’s weight.

Cizmar’s writing is remarkably straightforward in a world that refuses to discuss weight (beyond magical diet plans). He notes:

“Being fat is a choice. Genetics plays a role, sure. So does your upbringing. But you do not get fat unless you’re eating more than you need to nourish your body. That’s basic science. There are no excuses, no matter what someone from the so-called Fat Acceptance Movement wants to claim.”

Although worth a full read, the best part of the article is his ending:

“For the fat, that starts by admitting your weight is a byproduct of your choices. Then it’s a matter of recognizing those choices are unsustainable. I realized if I didn’t change my life, I was going to die—but not before burdening the people I loved and our hospitals, and not before missing out on the life I could have been living. 

Too many diet pitches start with the premise that being fat is terrible. It isn’t, really. In contemporary American society, it’s perfectly possible to live a happy life as a big, fat slob. It’s also disgusting—not aesthetically, but morally—and don’t blame anyone for saying so. There is life behind the flatscreen. Get off the couch and start living it.”

I like that Cizmar doesn’t candy coat the issue. He was fat. He ate too much and sat around. He changed his habits. Now he weighs less, he’s active and, from how it sounds, he’s still perfectly happy.

Cizmar changed his habits as an adult though, something that many adults can’t manage or aren’t comfortable managing. He also seemed to have help. It was just his good luck that he fell for a nurse. What if you raise your child to think that massive portions are okay? That excess screen time is healthier than moving? That weight, calories and healthy choices aren’t something kids need to be bothered with?

Then, what if, later on, your child doesn’t fall for someone who can change their mind? What if your child can’t turn their health and lifestyle choices around? Then weight becomes their problem for sure. As an adult, your kid can’t blame others for their choices anymore, so as the parent, you’re off the hook. In theory anyhow.

Yet, wouldn’t you feel better as a parent, if you took the risk and said something now. What if you discussed weight and calories and exercise with your child? Would the world end? Would all the PC people rain down fire on you? Would offering your child the tools he needs to live a healthy life really hurt you so much?

If you’re pondering the above issues, I highly suggest you read Confessions of a Chubster: The moral crusade against fatties. It’s great to read the words of someone who has been there as an adult, yet did change his habits, all while being smart enough to not blame Happy Meals for his choices. He took responsibility and is speaking out against those who do make weight and calories a taboo topic, something we all need to do for our kids.

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Comments

  1. Halla says

    I entirely agree that people will be healthier if they make healthy choices. I don’t agree that this will necessarily lead to thinner people or that making healthy choices is a moral obligation. So that guy lost some weight, good for him – if he had changed his habits and stayed the same weight he’d still be healthier, is that a bad thing?

    Please don’t conflate weight and health and instead of picking on fat kids to give ‘advice’ on healthy choices why don’t we tell them all, and better yet ensure that all children have access to enough food, nutritionally good food, and healthcare, and places they can run around and be children without fear. Wouldn’t that be a better approach?

  2. Anne says

    I have a problem with this. I think it is better to be for healthy living than it is to be against obesity. Especially obese children. Telling them that they are disgusting…that just does not seem like a good way to motivate anyone. A better motivation would be to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Making exercise fun, that would motivate children away from the flat screen.

  3. Christina says

    I have to take issue with Mr. Cizmar here.

    “Being fat is a choice. Genetics plays a role, sure. So does your upbringing. But you do not get fat unless you’re eating more than you need to nourish your body. That’s basic science. There are no excuses, no matter what someone from the so-called Fat Acceptance Movement wants to claim.”

    Specifically when he says “you do not get fat unless you’re eating more than you need to nourish your body. That’s basic science.”
    I would love to see Mr. Cizmar’s medical degree.Or even a list of the research he has done to back up his statement. Does he mean to say that fat babies are eating to much?Or that my fat vegetarian friend is eating to much? Over eating may be what made him fat but he can hardly speak for every fat person in America. I personally know far to many healthy,energetic,beautiful,healthy eaters who are over weight to give any real merit to what Mr.Cizmar says.

  4. Jennifer Chait says

    @Christina – Calories in calories out is basic science. When I was in college for nursing, we learned exactly that. There are VERY small extenuating circumstances that can result in excessive weight gain, but for the most part, all the major health organizations and medical textbooks agree that too large of portions and too many calories cause weight gain. Calories and portions cannot speak for 100% of Americans, but it can speak for most of them, at least according to the latest scientific research. Also, being a vegetarian doesn’t automatically mean healthy. I’ve seen too many vegetarians who live on Taco Bell and vegetarian beef jerky and canned pasta to believe that.

  5. says

    “Yet, wouldn’t you feel better as a parent, if you took the risk and said something now. What if you discussed weight and calories and exercise with your child? Would the world end? Would all the PC people rain down fire on you? Would offering your child the tools he needs to live a healthy life really hurt you so much?”

    I don’t think it would hurt *you* at all. I think it would hurt the child, who has undoubtedly already been made aware of this through the thousands of anti-fat messages already present in American media and culture. If you want to help out a child, talk to them about the joys of physical activity, and why it’s important to eat what you want rather than what the TV tells you to eat. Start teaching them about advertising and consumer culture so that they don’t mistake ad-based media for facts. Best of all, lead by example, by having fun doing active things and by enjoying food for what it is, without emotionally blackmailing yourself for eating a brownie. But don’t teach them that it’s okay to hate themselves for how they look or to hate others for how they look.

  6. Jennifer Chait says

    @Halla – I 100% agree that we should try to “ensure that all children have access to enough food, nutritionally good food, and healthcare, and places they can run around and be children without fear.”

    That said, as a country, we’re doing a bad job at all of the above. Plus, there’s more to it than that. Portion sizes and calories are out of control in this country. Telling parents that calories in, calories out is a real issue, isn’t a disservice and is a healthy thing to be aware of, as are portion sizes. I think many parents may get that healthy habits lead to a healthy body, but not all parents get that the choices they make or don’t make do affect their kids for life. Also, research does show that you lower many health risks when you’re a healthy, vs. an unhealthy weight. I don’t think discussing weight as it affects kids is bad. It’s necessary.

  7. Jennifer Chait says

    @Anne – In this country we shame all sorts of people. Take smokers. People think nothing of saying smokers are gross and disgusting. I would never call a smoker or an overweight child disgusting by the way, I’m just pointing out that some things in the U.S are considered PC, but others aren’t. Both smoking and obesity lead to real, serious health issues and costs, yet the issues are treated differently. One we rage against (smoking) the other we ignore to be polite (weight).

    Right now, we’ve ignored weight to the point where so many kids are overweight, it’s become normal, thus kids don’t always have a clear idea about what a healthy weight vs. not is. For example, studies show that the thinnest overweight girl in a group of overweight friends may be unhealthy, but thinks she’s okay because she weighs less than her friends. We’re not setting kids up for healthy habits by leaving weight out entirely and only discussing exercise. Exercise alone is not enough to offset current calorie and portion sizes.

  8. kblenkush says

    I agree that parents should encourage healthy habits in their children – eating nutritious foods and finding ways to move their bodies that they enjoy.

    However, I think many people are focusing on the wrong issue. Weight or size does not equal health, and I think instead of focusing on “the obesity epidemic” (aka encouraging weight loss) we should encourage health.

  9. Amber says

    I was a fat child. I knew it, the other kids made sure of that, even in early elementary school. My mom never made me eat more than I needed, nor did she try to put me on a diet (for which I really ought to thank her one of these days), but we were poor, and so options were limited.
    I knew all about calories by middle school, which is why I started skipping lunch in favor of a soda. I couldn’t make it through the day without something, but hey, it was only 180 calories, so it should be better than eating regular lunch, right? I was taught some basic nutrition, and Calories in, Calories out for weight control, so it made sense to me.

    “Calories in, Calories out” is not only basic but simplistic. It works for highly efficient physics experiments, but the human body is not a simple system. In addition to the physical motion, heat production and system maintenance, the system itself can increase or decrease the efficiency of its processes. We generally call this efficiency “metabolism”.
    Metabolism can be affected by a number of things, including genetics, history of weight cycling (yo-yo dieting), food access history, overall health (a number of diseases and conditions can increase/decrease the efficiency of the metabolism), medications, activity level, etc. Only a few of these things can be affected in the present tense.

    Cismar’s biggest risk factor was his sedentary lifestyle. The behaviors he changed to rid himself of that lifestyle had the side effect of his weight decreasing. Would his nurse have told him about his risk factors if he had the same eating and movement patterns but was still skinny? In a just world she would have, because the risks would be the same.

    Weight, in and of itself, is not a diagnosis.

  10. Merchimerch says

    Helping kids adopt healthy habits is such an important goal. When children are stigmatized for their bodies (among other things), that goes against health. No one can be shamed into either thinness or good health.

    I think that Cizmar’s tone is inappropriate, especially since his claims aren’t backed up by current research, which say’s that caloric intake, weight, and health are not related (and also that sustained weight loss is not feasible 95% of the time).

    Adding adjectives like “disgustingly” before the word fat doesn’t strengthen his argument (or make it seem unbiased). It is also unlikely that any child who has even the slightest hint of extra “chub” is blissfully unaware of it. Children are often remarkably blunt, and body size is one of the areas that our culture seems to encourage people of all ages to feel justified in commenting on, never mind that body size tells an observer nothing about whether the person that they are observing is sedentary or not.

  11. RDStudent says

    We seriously need to stop waging war on fat children. There is very little evidence that large children become large unhealthy adults or that skinny children will forever be skinny healthy adults. We need to stop equating weight with health and buying into a $60 billion diet industry (which I suspect is delighted with the childhood obesity moral panic – more clients!) that thrives on selling a product that doesn’t work but blames failure on the customer. People who want to know how to best feed children for consistent and healthy growth should consult the guru on this topic, Ellyn Satter (ellynsatter.com – she provides many free materials on childhood feeding).

    For adults sick of being shamed and blamed about weight but want to improve their health, I suggest the Health at Every Size approach. There are many free resources on the web to guide people through this approach.

  12. says

    The focus should always be on health, not whether someone’s body (adult or child) falls within a physical “ideal”. Don’t you think?

    See, I notice that Mr. Cizmar has only commented on the “disgustingly” fat, which is a value judgment, yet completely ignores the eating habits of those who deliberately ignores those who starve themselves to the points of bulimia and anorexia in an effort to achieve that ideal.

    To me, there’s no such thing as disgustingly fat, or disgustingly thin. To me, you’re either fat, thin, or in between. My hope for all, regardless of body type, is that you’re as healthy as you can be in the body you have.

    And that, Mr. Cizmar, is coming from a former fatty as well.

  13. catgal says

    Jennifer wrote above:
    “kids don’t always have a clear idea about what a healthy weight vs. not is. For example, studies show that the thinnest overweight girl in a group of overweight friends may be unhealthy, but thinks she’s okay because she weighs less than her friends.”

    What is a healthy weight? Is it the same for all peole of the same gender and height? What is the definition of healthy in this instance? Does healthy mean that said person does not have any of the ailments that are associated with weight? Corratlation does not equal Causation. So, If I am a person with a “healthy” weight as determined by the flawed BMI system and have high colesterol, does that mean that my weight is unhealthy? What if I am a person who according to BMI is obese, but I do not have high colesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, does that mean I am at a healthy weight?

    Weight and health are not exclusively linked.

    Fat is not a choice. Shame will never motivate good/healthy behavior. Telling children or adults that their bodies are wrong, is wrong. If you tell someone that they are “less than” others long enough they will believe it, and then well I guess they deserve to be fat.

    Children should be treated differently than adults. They should never be shamed or restricted. These things only lead to destructive behaviour.

    Please forgive my spelling…

  14. Jennifer Chait says

    @Catgal – Thanks for your comment. You bring up many good points. I agree that the BMI system alone is not perfect, which is why I suggest in another post (http://www.growingagreenfamily.com/signs-child-overweight/) that parents have frequent and honest conversations with their child’s doctor. In that same post I also suggest paying attention to belly fat, which is a key indicator of too much weight on a child, along with many other signs. But first and foremost, I think an honest conversations with a doctor, who can actually do a skinfold thickness measurement, diet evaluation, physical activity evaluation, family history eval and so on is key.

    In that study about teen girls, many fell into the obese, not even the overweight category, which should honestly, be physically apparent. However, again, kids aren’t seeing healthy weight as often anymore, so obese may seem chubby while overweight may seem perfect. It’s not about appearance either. It is about health.

    I 100% agree with you when you say weight and health are not exclusively linked, but it’s just as irresponsible to say that weight and health aren’t linked at all, because they are. There’s a lot of research to back this up – http://www.growingagreenfamily.com/dangerous-kids-overweight/ and http://www.growingagreenfamily.com/how-weight-problems-affect-teens-differently-than-younger-kids/. I’m not interested in shaming kids but I am interested in kids who receive honest information about calories, weight, exercise and health. In our rush to be overly polite, we seem to forget that discussing all these issues is NOT shameful, it’s healthy and normal – it’s as healthy and normal as telling a kid, “Hey, smoking is bad” or “You need sleep to stay healthy.” If we can’t discuss these important issues with our kids, who will? It’s up to parents to make sure kids get this info.

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