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Fat is a moral issue, according to new research that says the multibillion-dollar weight loss industry profits from manipulating people’s anxieties.
Massey University PhD student Andrew Dickson decided to look into the industry after losing about 40 kilograms over four months from a starting weight of 135kg.
His thesis, The Other Side of Weight Loss, says those involved in the industry, such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers – as well as government anti-obesity campaigns, personal trainers and reality TV shows such as The Biggest Loser – were all complicit in giving “people something to attach to their anxiety”.
Mr Dickson’s own rapid weight loss in 2006 continued when he was prescribed the now-banned appetite suppressing drug Reductil.
He began feeling “ludicrously happy” as he started shedding about 5kg a week. Exercising about once a week “to the point of moderate dehydration”, he would weigh himself “to get the thrill of a low weight appearing on the digital read-out. The scales and calorie counters were my gospel.”
The dieting see-saw forced him into a cycle of “anxious tailspins” and that was when he decided to get to the heart of the phenomenon dubbed “weight anxiety”.
After dropping to a low of about 85kg, Mr Dickson, a Massey management lecturer, now weighs 105kg. “The Western world is obsessed with the the ‘right body’ – there’s no right body and no wrong body.”
He said one of the key props of the “fattist regime” was the Body Mass Index – a flawed formula that divides weight by height-squared, which he said overstated the link between size and health.
“This allows society to judge those who are not the correct weight on moral grounds, as they deem fat people to be unprincipled.”
Mr Dickson also compared the weight loss industry to a totalitarian fascist regime that made society view the fat body with “disgust, horror and contempt” – even by those who had been overweight or obese.
Jenny Craig Australia/New Zealand managing director Amy Smith said not all people lost or gained weight in the same way.
For many people it was “not a question of anxiety about our weight that is the problem, it is simply that we do not understand or have the necessary life skills when it comes to our own weight management”, she said.
Weight Watchers did not respond directly to the claims made in the thesis but said its programme was backed by scientific evidence and had “helped millions of people lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle”.
– © Fairfax NZ News