Earlier this year, BCC did a documentary called “Why Are Thin People Not Fat?” In it, ten naturally thin people participated in a study to see how much weight they could gain within a month eating twice their normal calories. Watching it recently, I noticed all of the differences between fat people and naturally thin people’s relationship with food and with their bodies. It proved my point that naturally thin people can’t give well informed advice to those of us who are naturally inclined to be heavier.
As a formerly fat girl, I have to say that I found the participants in this study pretty annoying to watch. First of all, they complain about things like getting to eat a whole pie of pizza or a whole deliciously rich chocolate cake. While I’m watching thinking “Are you kidding me?! I’d love to eat that cake and that entire pizza.” On top of this, putting on weight is a challenge for them. Of course, all of them did gain some extra weight. They felt like they had gotten fat because some of them were say about 10-15 pounds heavier by the end of the study. To those of us who are actually fat, that’s nothing. The most one person gained in a week was about 7 pounds. I didn’t come close to eating as much as them the last time I was at Jon and Christa’s and I gained 10 pounds in 5 days. Were I to eat like they did for a whole month you can be sure I’d have gained 30-40 pounds. All of this illustrated just how different we all are.
The conclusion of the study was that naturally thin people’s bodies actually find it challenging to put on weight. Their bodies have different physiological mechanisms in place that help them to maintain a slimmer physique and stop them from becoming large quickly or easily. This is the first reason why thin people can’t quite understand what it’s like for those of us who gain weight easily, for whom gaining five pounds in a week is nothing.
This information wasn’t exactly a surprise to me. Growing up with Christa as my sister, who was constantly getting crap for being underweight while I was overweight, I knew that our bodies were very different. She couldn’t seem to put on weight and I couldn’t seem to stop (until I peeked around 240). Even now that she’s filled out, with a normal BMI, she maintains that weight very easily, whereas I have to be conscious of everything I eat, when I eat it and how much to not only keep losing weight but to maintain the weight I’m at. While we can discuss these differences, we’ve never been able to give the other real advice in this area.
This is not the only difference between thin and fat people that comes out in the documentary. What actually interested me the most was noticing the different relationship we have with food. For the participants, eating so much and such high calorie foods was a chore. They didn’t find it easy and hardly found it enjoyable. They didn’t understand how anyone could possibly have the time to eat so much. My friend Heather and I were both like, “Umm…we don’t know what your problem is. Eating like that is easy!”
The majority of the heavy people/formerly heavy people I talk to about food all have a deep and abiding love for it. Eating is rarely a chore for us. It isn’t something we must do; it is something we delight to do. Our bodies don’t bulk at high calories, they crave them. Just the other day I was talking to a runner who used to be 50 pounds overweight (which would be a lot on her 5’ 2” frame). She said that she is always amazed by her husband and daughter’s relationship with food. Both are naturally thin. Both can just contentedly eat a spoonful of icecream and be happy. She can’t. She wants to eat the whole pint.
The scene I enjoyed the most from the Documentary is a secondary study they show with children. A researcher interested in exploring why some people eat more than they need, she did an experiment to see how responsive people are to food when they aren’t even hungry. After lunch, children who all claimed to be full were allowed to color. Then a plate of snacks was sat down next to them. They were told they could continue coloring or eat the food. All of the children had very different reactions. Some pushed the plate aside and continued to color. Some devotedly set about eating the snacks. Some continued coloring while picking at the snacks. None of them seemed to be influenced by the other’s choices. It illustrates very well how some of us are simply more interested in food and have a much harder time turning it down when it is in front of us.
To me, that scene illustrates a relational dynamic between people and food that is more than emotional. It reveals how some of us are simply more attracted to food. It has an inexplicable draw on us that is precognitive. For those who aren’t like this, that is hard to understand. Unless a thin person adequately understands this, I don’t think they can give someone advice on how to control this impulse. Particularly because they won’t understand that it requires more than will power for us. They won’t understand how much we have to control our environment. It’s similar to how I don’t understand how Christa and Jon can have sweets and other snacks in their home that go stale. My kitchen is only stocked with low calorie snacks because if there are high calorie snacks in my home, I’ll eat them. (Part of the reason I always gain at Christa and Jon’s is because I always end up taking care of the snacks they’re letting go to waste).
Naturally thin people shouldn’t give weight loss advice not because you all aren’t well intentioned, but because our bodies are not like your bodies and our relationship with food is not like your relationship. Gaining weight is different for us and losing weight is different for us. Whenever I give weight loss advice to heavy people, I like to stress that you have to learn your body (how to best get it to drop those pounds it will be very reluctant to give up) and work with your love of food. Trying to have Christa’s relationship with food would have made losing this weight so much more of a chore, it would never have been maintainable or sustainable. Instead I’ve embraced my love of food and realized that it has an inexplicable draw on me. Therefore, I’ve learned how to eat less food and lower calorie meals that still satisfy my taste buds. Sometimes I still start my day off with a donut, and I’m often still able to lose weight when I do, because I’ve learned the art of balancing high calories and low calories (and stopping at one instead of eating two).