Fat Science

Investigating the science of body weight regulation

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My name is Miriam Levy Gordon. I am a biological scientist (I received my Ph.D. in Developmental and Molecular Biology from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in September 2001) and freelance science writer/editor specializing in editing NIH and NSF grants. I started this blog because I’m interested in learning more about the science of metabolic regulation, from the perspective of someone who has struggled with my weight until recently, when I discovered Health at Every Size.

I have been blogging about science and society since March of 2008, on this blog and my other blog, called Parallelaphors. From 2008-2009, I was an official blogger for Talking Science, the non-profit arm of National Public Radio’s Science Friday, and you can read my blog posts and lots of other fun science-related stuff on the blogs section of the Talking Science website. I have been a Board member of Science Writers in New York (SWINY) since September 2007, helping to run the organization and their programs. In January of 2009, I organized a panel program for SWINY on Social Media for Science Writers. Being an active member of this organization has been, and continues to be an incredibly fun way to learn more about science communications. Accurately conveying scientific ideas and discoveries to the public is a matter of tremendous moral responsibility and is something I take very seriously.

The goal of this blog is strictly long-range. My goal is that before I die (hopefully, peacefully in my sleep, many years from now), I would like to better understand the true health, social and economic consequences of “obesity” in modern western cultures, and promote this understanding in the interest of advocating for the rights of fat people to live in this society absent the vile prejudice we have been subjected to for way too long. The science to back up “Health at Every Size” is firmly established, and I fully intend to do as much as I possibly can to bring this into our social consciousness. “Health at Every Size” makes complete sense to me as a biological scientist and as someone who has undertaken every possible diet/weight loss intervention (except, thankfully, surgery) over the course of most of my life.

This is the story of my life in pounds:  As a child and young adult, I was maybe 10-20% “overweight.” I thinned out a bit in college – I had been up to 140 lbs. when I graduated high school (I was, and still am, 5’5″) but for most of college my weight fluctuated between 120-130 lbs. By the time I was 25 I weighed 150 lbs., which prompted me to go to my first Weight Watchers meeting. I attended Weight Watchers on and off for several years, my weight fluctuating up and down, and going up a bit more after every yo-yo diet cycle. On my 30th birthday, I weighed 164 lbs., and a few years after that, I hit 200 lbs. for the first time. When I reached 225 lbs., I joined Overeaters Anonymous and became “abstinent” (from all refined sugar, flour and wheat), and lost 60 lbs. I maintained my abstinence for five years, during which I gained back about 10 lbs before “falling off the wagon” and returning to my former weight of 225 lbs.  About a year after that, I repeated this 5-year cycle, again “fell off the wagon”, and again went up to 225 lbs. Obviously, there was a very distinct pattern here which should have indicated to me something very significant about my body, but because I had been so steeped in this fat hating culture that we all grew up in, and wasn’t yet aware of the concept of fat acceptance and Health at Every Size, I felt as if I had failed once again and was determined to lose that weight once and for all.

In my attempt to find THE ANSWER, I tried a different approach, by enrolling in the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Medical Center. I lost about 12 lbs during the first year, and gained it back over the second year. After 2.5 years, I left the program. In many ways, the program was very good and supportive, and I learned a lot of very valuable information about nutrition, health and fitness. On some level, though, I was still very disappointed that I had not been able to lose a good amount of weight and keep it off. By this time, I had been reading quite a bit, and came across Gina Kolata’s book, Rethinking Thin, which gave me a completely different perspective on the whole issue. Despite the valuable insights I gleaned from reading this book, I nevertheless arrived at the patently desperate and ridiculous conclusion that the only way I could ever lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off was with medication that would fundamentally alter the complex genetic/biochemical mechanisms that controlled my body weight. I sought out Dr. Louis Aronne, who is considered one of the country’s experts on “obesity” medications. I knew that despite hoping, there was no magic bullet, and Dr. Aronne confirmed this.

This whole incredibly long, painful, and ridiculously arduous journey is unfortunately not at all uncommon in this society. Because I had, from the time I was born, been steeped in the highly toxic environment of extreme hatred and fear of fat that all of us in Western society are very unfortunately subjected to,  I was STILL in the dark. This is just how powerful this prejudice is, and it is every bit as harmful and unjustified as any other prejudice, whether it be against a particular race, religion, creed or lifestyle. The truly scary thing is that despite the valiant efforts and great strides of the Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size movements, the vast majority of people in modern western society, including most prominent health professionals who should know better, are also so far in the dark about this that they are truly harming the majority of people in the western world, by emphasizing that “obesity” is a choice, and that anyone can be thin if they tried hard enough. This is truly a tragedy for all of us. Rudolph Leibel, MD, who with Jeff Friedman, Ph.D., discovered leptin at Rockefeller University in 1995, compared genetic control of body weight to that of height (I mean, I guess you could, if you stretch yourself out on a rack repeatedly, try to make yourself a little taller, no?). Dr. Leibel is one of the most prominent obesity researchers of our time. The idea that we can no more control our weight than our height, which is purely genetically determined, comes directly from him, and yet very few of us,  not even the most educated members of the public health establishment,  seems to be able to hear this. That’s how powerful anti-fat prejudice is.

As a scientist, I feel compelled to learn as much as possible about the science of metabolic regulation, and to keep up with the most current research. While the health issues associated with “obesity” are far from clear, there is no question in my mind that fat people need not lose weight in order to vastly improve their physical health and self-esteem by learning about intuitive eating, good nutrition, and incorporating enjoyable physical activity into our lives. Linda Bacon’s pioneering work, the federally funded “Health at Every Size” clinical trial, demonstrates these principles very clearly, based on sound scientific data.

Since August of 2008, I have relieved myself of the terrible burden of self-loathing based on my weight and have remained stable at 225 plus or minus 5 lbs.  for several years without any guilt. With this new perspective came self-confidence, based on knowing I was doing the best I could to take care of myself through the enlightened perspective of the Health at Every Size paradigm. I do my best to monitor my health by keeping an eye on my blood pressure, lipids, glucose and A1C levels, etc. with my doctors and take care of my body by exercising and eating intuitively and healthfully as much as possible. I practice yoga to reduce stress and improve circulation and flexibility. I love to swim and take long walks in beautiful, natural settings. Thank G-d, I have a good marriage and relationships with my  extended family, and my religious and professional communities. And I also have 2 very cute cockatiels, who like to sit on my lap when I’m at  my desk when I’m writing. Having beloved pets are so key to reducing stress in one’s life. Every one of us, regardless of our weight, can do a great deal to improve our health and quality of life without obsessing about weight loss. I hope that through my writing, I will convey this message successfully to as many people as possible.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at cactusflower99 at gmail dot com.


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4 Responses to “About”

  1. Great commentary. Good luck with your blog, and with working toward your many goals. Best of luck making peace with whatever weight at which your body seems to stabilize. It is still probably puzzled about all the stuff you’ve thrown at it to make it thinner.

    I hope that your long-term efforts will improve understanding and communication about this controversial topic for both scientists and laypersons.

    –Bill Fabrey, Media Director
    Council on Size & Weight Discrimination

    • Bill, thank you so much, I value your wisdom and friendship and look forward to working with you on these issues so dear to our hearts.

      Best, Miriam

  2. Chad Stewart said

    I am a graduate student at the University of Victoria exploring obesity through the lens of political science. I’m unsure at this point the degree to which our work shares parallel trajectories, but ultimately, I believe it must. I have been looking at a series of social development theories, as well as US tort Law in order to understand identify formation etc etc etc. I would love to speak further with you.

    With Regards,

    • Chad, thank you so much for sharing your interest in my interests and sharing your interests with me. Your work sounds very interesting and I look forward to communicating with you further. I believe we can really help eachother out.

      Best, Miriam

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