Medicine

A whole nation of thin people, wildly signaling to be let out

JAMES PAUPST October 4 1976
Medicine

A whole nation of thin people, wildly signaling to be let out

JAMES PAUPST October 4 1976

A whole nation of thin people, wildly signaling to be let out

Medicine

Driven by fear of heart attack, the desire to be fashionable and attractive, the teasing of friends, or simply the determination to get back into a favorite suit or dress, hundreds of thousands of overweight Canadians suffer periodic “fat attacks” which usually lead to at least a temporary resolve to shed excess pounds. Sadly, only a few manage long-term success. For the others, weight-reduction programs—chiefly dieting or exercise, or a combination of the two—are an on-again, off-again affair, often accompanied by guilt and then anxiety. North Americans are carrying around 125 million pounds of excess fat (Health and Welfare Canada reports that half of Canadian adults are seriously overweight) and this corpulent army provides the raw material for what might be called the growth industry of shrinking. Scores of companies and individuals—some predatory, some sincerely attempting to stamp out obesity—are bombarding the public with advice and products designed to help trim the fatties. The key to obesity, of course, is overeating, but mere under-eating is not necessarily an enduring solution.

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley wryly characterized human beings as being given free will in order to choose between insanity on one hand and lunacy on the other. In today’s turbulent, bureaucratically dominated society, the contemporary choice is often between anxiety and frustration. Food has become Western man’s soma—that magical, universally ac-

cessible drug—and a socially acceptable tranquilizer. Until the 1940s, a degree of corpulence was viewed as a symbol of success. A prominent abdomen wrapped in a dark blue vest signified prominence in the business world. No more. Bud Turner, president of MacLaren Advertising (a former fatty and previously referred to by his colleagues as “His Rotundity”), observes that the fat president has become an endangered species. IBM, with its corporate zeal for FBi-style neatness, will not tolerate overweight executives. Page Wadsworth, chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, notes that none of the Canadian bank presidents is fat. Indeed, he says he can think of only one president of a Canadian company who is large—delicatessen tycoon Sam (“Shopsy”) Shopsowitz.

There is now a strong undercurrent of bias against the obese. Aesthetically, obesity is not pleasing. Whereas a slender figure is. Even the word obesity has a negative impact, coming from the Latin, obesus, meaning “that which has eaten itself fat.” As millions continue to overeat, psychiatry ruminates over the symbolic aspects. There are countless theories, including overeating as a sign of repressed hostility reactivating primitive cannibalizing impulses aimed at eating the enemy who is substituted by food; as a symptom of yearning for a lost person or situation and orally incorporating the lost person; or as the result of a desire for self-punishment and self-degradation in order to release guilt and to justify rejection by others. Psychiatrists also say many ethnic families regard food as an important means of compensating for deficient rewards in the job market. Parents who have suffered deprivation may use food to build up their own importance to their children and to buttress them against insecurities.

If the problem of obesity is growing, so is awareness of it. Sandy Keir, manager of the fitness division of Recreation Canada, says it has increased Canadians’ awareness of the need for higher levels of fitness. Canada has more bike trails, cross-country ski trails and joggers than ever before. There has been an explosion of interest in health clubs as well as in such participation sports as tennis and squash (Health Minister Marc Lalonde, a fitness buff, regularly challenges fellow politicians, bureaucrats and even reporters on Ottawa’s squash courts). But exercise is only a small part of the answer to obesity. It has been calculated that running a mile offsets only one piece of chocolate cake and. in fact, fitness specialists note that many persons who ex-

ercise vigorously are actually resistant to losing weight.

Reducing schemes such as diet pills, appetite suppressants, water pills and hormone injections fail to produce enduring weight loss because they do not alter the behavior of the obese person. Experience shows that most people who lose weight by any of these methods, including fad diets, will regain or exceed their pre-diet weight in 24 months. Marie Ludwick, who holds one of the Canadian franchises for Weight Watchers, says she doesn’t know how many clients achieve permanent weight loss. (Weight Watchers began 13 years ago and has an international membership of more than eight million. In the United States it manufactures its own food; in Canada a franchise' has been granted to George Weston Foods to manufacture Weight Watcher products.) Ludwick says her organization is now in transition, promoting permanent weight loss by behavioral modification rather than merely re-

Certainly, Canadians trying to shed pounds have no shortage of advice. There is a glut of current books for the overweight and nutritionally conscious. Among them: Dr. Solomon’s Easy No Risk Diet (“You can eat up to six meals a day”); The Psychologists’ Eat-Anything Diet by Dr. Leonard Pearson (“Free yourself and your entire family from the tyranny of food”); The Save Your Life Diet by Dr. David Reuben (“Helps you lose weight permanently, naturally, without crash diets or a feeling of deprivation”); The Barbara Kraus Guide To Fibre In Foods (“A major

deterrent to such common diseases and ailments as cancer of the colon and rectum, heart disease, diverticular disease, appendicitis, gallstones, varicose veins, hiatus hernia, hemorrhoids, and obesity”); Fasting: The Ultimate Diet by Dr. Allan Cott (“Remember, fasting is not starving!”); The Low Blood Sugar Cookbook by Francyne Davis (“Eat outrageous desserts and breads”); How To Be A Winner At The Weight Loss Game by Dr. Walter Fanburg (“How losing weight can become a richly satisfying experience!”); Better Homes And Gardens Calorie Counter’s Cookbook (“Delicious recipes for any occasion and all with low, low calorie counts”); The American Heart Association Cookbook (“Eat to your heart’s delight!”); The Prudent Diet by nutritionists F Bennett and M. Simon; and finally. The Last Chance Diet by Dr. Robert Linn. The Last Chance Diet is a protein-sparing, modified fast which promises tremendous weight loss—from seven to 15 pounds in the first week. This diet, which is going to be heavily promoted

this fall, consists of abstaining from a normal diet and takingonly Prolinn. Prolinn is Dr. Linn's private label for EMF liquid (enzymatic modular food) manufactured by Control Drug Inc., Port Redding. New Jersey. It consists of a complete protein that has been broken down by a nonchemical process into amino acid components (these are the building blocks of protein). Cherry-flavored, a quart costs $20 and constitutes a week’s supply.

Most doctors would agree that the sensible approach to weight reduction is to select a program that combines information about food and activity and ultimately will allow behavioral change. Oral gratification does not have to be the only plane of fulfillment. Understandably, some obese people resent society’s criticism. It was the German poet Schiller who wrote that it is the spirit that builds itself a body. Today’s fatties may have built fortresses to defend against a hostile world, to intimidate their enemies. JAMES PAUPST.MD

JAMES PAUPST