Penn, part 2

Today I watched the live broadcast of Penn’s Sunday School, with Penn Jillette and others. I mentioned in an earlier post that he lost a lot of weight, and has been talking about it. Well, I think I’m fed up with the diet talk. The last straw today was that he mentioned the Framingham study, and he framed it as, someone who knows the weight of your friends can accurately predict your weight. (Penn usually says that no one should rely on him for accurate scientific information, but saying that doesn’t always help.) He then went on to say that his and his cohosts’ weight loss is causing their friends to lose weight. A great example of confusing correlation with causation, and this from a skeptic.

He followed this up with some antifat talk directed to his cohost Matt, saying that he had appeared in Penn’s movie, Director’s Cut, as a “fat f***” and was cut out, and now will be in the movie again. Which was light hearted banter among friends I will admit, but after the other antifat stuff I had had it.

I feel like I’ve lost a friend to religion. Dieting is like a religion in that it requires faith to believe you can keep the weight off when the science shows that most people can’t. He’s still in the honeymoon phase of his diet, and ex-dieters who are reading this can relate, I’m sure. But this sort of thing isn’t fun for me to listen to.

Penn Jillette

I’ve liked Penn Jillette for a while. He expresses the libertarian viewpoint better than anyone else. (I’m not a libertarian as currently conceived, but have been seduced by its philosophy in the past.) He is also an atheist and a freethinker, and his and Teller’s former show, Bullshit, was excellent at debunking pseudoscience in its many forms. While that show is now over, he currently does a weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, which I listen to regularly and which covers some of the same topics (skepticism, atheism, and libertarianism).

A few years ago, Bullshit did a show on fatness (described here), saying that you could be fat and healthy, and showing Paul Campos and Glenn Gaesser promoting fat acceptance.

Unfortunately, I think, Penn has evolved on this issue. From last year to early this year, Penn lost a lot of weight. I can understand why: he was maxed out on his medication doses, and his doctor advised him that he wouldn’t need the meds if he lost weight. So he’s lost weight, and I understand that he’s off the meds. I’m not going to try to present his point of view; if you want that, look here. He has talked about this several times on Sunday School, but I skip over those parts because I don’t want to hear about anyone’s GODDAMN weight loss. Not just Penn’s, anyone’s.

I did just now look at the article linked in the last paragraph. Briefly, he’s on a diet, and diets don’t work over the long term (5 years and out) for the great majority of people. So he may learn something the hard way. Or not.

In any case, I’m glad he’s doing well, but disappointed to see him fall for a diet, especially given his skeptical background.

Behind the Curve

I’m calling this post “Behind the Curve” to acknowledge how late I am with this post. There have been a few things I’ve wanted to say, but I haven’t had the passion to drop everything and say them here.

There’s another reason for the title: I want to talk about the recently completed Season 1 of My Big Fat Fabulous Life, the reality TV show starring (and in this case, “starring” is accurate) Whitney Thore.

A bit over a year ago, Whitney Thore’s series of videos called A Fat Girl Dancing became a YouTube and Facebook sensation. I was skeptical at first because she came out of nowhere . . . actually, Greensboro, NC, but “nowhere” in that she wasn’t connected to any fat acceptance group. But I started following her on Facebook, and her posts were, and are, fat positive and inspiring with few exceptions. The one exception I can think of is that she has said she wanted to lose some weight to regain some mobility. I don’t have a problem with that statement in itself, although it could get problematic in the execution.

The TV show is a somewhat different animal. Whitney is the same person as on Facebook: fun loving, goofy, and fat positive. But the show gives a negative side not seen on Facebook. You can expect to see a long scene with Whitney crying in every episode. I do understand that the show has to provide drama and conflict, and I admit that there were scenes that I really liked, but overall this is not the show for me.

But please don’t interpret this as a criticism of Whitney herself. Whitney in the show is still someone to admire, but in the editing of the show, there’s more emphasis on stay-at-home millenial vs. parent, dating travails, flirting with The One Who Was Right In Front of You, visits to the doctor, harebrained schemes (I’m thinking of a trip to Kitty Hawk for a non-paying gig), and other stuff that I’m not interested in.

So hats off to Whitney, and good luck on her show (which is getting a Season 2).


Two researchers (R.E. Brown and J.L. Kuk) looked at the issue of weight and health and concluded that

Therefore, an emphasis on maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes a high level of physical activity and physical fitness may be a more appropriate recommendation for some obese populations than just focusing on the goal of weight loss alone.

Holy crap.

Yes Virginia, the scientists think that having a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity and fitness may be better for you than focusing on weight loss alone.

I know this isn’t perfect – they do say “just focusing on the goal of weight loss alone;” meaning weight loss should be one of the goals for some fatties, but this seems to me like a big step in the right direction.

Their conclusion also acknowledges that weight loss is not beneficial for some sub-groups of fatties, and in some cases can even be detrimental.

They acknowledge a low success rate for weight loss, and that yo-yo dieting can have negative effects!

As well, due to the low success rate for obese adults attempting weight loss, it is questionable whether the benefits of weight loss outweigh the potential negative effects of weight cycling.

If nothing else, keep the chart in the middle of the article because it gives you a list of some of the pros and cons of being fat for different groups.

I found my Google Scholar search on the two researchers interesting. I didn’t delve, but it seems to me that in their research on conditions that are often associated with being fat, they found some surprises, and this article is the result of some of those surprises they encountered.

Excuse me. I now have to go find my fat ass. It got blown away, you know.



A study from August 2013 was recently published in the Journal of Health Economics.


The study looked at the impact of “weight report cards” sent to parents in Mexico.

What they found was that the behavior of the fat children did not change and there was no reduction of BMI amongst the children.

In other words, the children were still accepted and loved by their parents and life went on.

Oh the horror!

The parents still accepted their children even after they were told their child was fat.

The audacity!

In fact, the parents of the fattest children were least likely to report their child as weighing too much relative to the least-fat children.

And why is this a bad thing, you might ask (or at least I’m asking)?


“As obesity rates increase, reference points for appropriate body weights may rise, making it more difficult to lower obesity rates.”

In other words, if larger body sizes become generally accepted they might not be able to scare, guilt, and shame people into trying to losing weight.

Can I have a big round of FUCK YOU, please?

The authors conclude to give up on the weight report cards . . . Nah, just kidding! They double down, saying that the report cards need to be combined with “a set of actions helpful for reducing obesity.” Here are my problems with that:

  1. Their example “suggested action”, portion control, hasn’t been shown to work over the long term.
  2. Fat does not necessarily equal unhealthy;
  3. Creating body shame can create health problems all by itself;
  4. There is no known way to achieve significant long term weight loss for most people (and by “most” – I mean 90%+, not 51% – okay?);
  5. Making healthy food choices and keeping active are good for everyone and the health benefits can usually be achieved without weight loss; AND
  6. The best mortality outcomes are for people who are currently in the “overweight” BMI range.

Since the best mortality outcomes are for “overweight” people, it seems logical that that range of body size should be within the “reference points for appropriate body weights”. In a perfect world, all body sizes would be “appropriate” or at very least, not anyone else’s fucking business.

It seems the parents in Mexico have it going on. They know their kids are fine as they are.

I know we have NAFTA (the free trade treaty) with Mexico, but let’s not export our own fucked up agenda to Mexican fat kids and their parents.