A Lack of Information is Fattening

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“I am lazy, stupid and fat!” A cruel statement, right? But this is what my patient who is recovering from Bulimarexia hears in her head every day, all day long. The reality is that she is a hard worker, very smart and a normal weight after years of struggling with an eating disorder.

But her fear of suddenly or somehow becoming “fat” is so intense that it may take another couple of years for this voice in her head to go away, and it may never go away completely.

Sound crazy? It isn’t unusual for people to think this way. We are afraid of being obese as a culture. The sight of an obese person strikes fear in the hearts of many. Unfortunately we often hate the things we fear, which leads to stigma. And stigma, especially in the case of obesity, gets in the way of recovery, as it tends to be internalized by the individual being stigmatized. It also impacts members of our society that are not obese in ways that are detrimental to their health.

What I see when I look an obese patient is a person with a medical condition, a person that is often very ill. As a health care provider that has had great success working with the morbidly obese, I know that the problem can be reversed and that with the right information the person can lead a perfectly normal life.

But most people will not see or relate to the illness. They will react with fear, and/or they will stereotype the individual that is obese. Research on the stigma attached to obesity shows that overweight individuals in the U.S. are assumed to be lazy and lacking in intelligence. They are often viewed with disgust. They regularly experience bias in the workplace as well as in many other areas of their lives. Even their own doctors may be biased when it comes to treating them.

For example, according to an article in Psychology Today “A survey involving a nationally representative sample of primary care physicians revealed that, not only did more than half of respondents think that patients who are obese were awkward and unattractive, but more than 50 percent believed that they would be noncompliant with treatment. One-third thought of them as “weak-willed” and “lazy.”

I recently published an article in Western Pennsylvania Healthcare News on the failure of medicine to treat obesity effectively. While doing the research for that article, I discovered that the rates of obesity are high among physicians, many of whom are overworked and most of whom do not understand the role of nutrition in obesity. For example, the standard advice today from most physicians is still to recommend eating more grains and less fat, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing if you are overweight. (Link to why grains are bad for you and why saturated fats are good for you) So much for “Physician heal thyself”.

But the other thing that really stood out while I was researching the article was how overwhelmed physicians felt while trying to treat obese individuals. I also get this from my doctor friends. In another study the researchers found that as the patients’ weight increased, “physicians reported having less patience, less faith in the patients’ ability to comply with treatment, and less desire to help them.”

When it comes to my own patients, I am always amazed to discover that the issue of their weight does not come up with their primary care doctor even when they have serious complications of obesity and/or need to lose anywhere from 100 to 200+ pounds. One patient said “Talk about the elephant in the room! If I were oozing blood or had a terrible rash, I am sure my doctor would mention it. But because it is my weight, and he makes the assumption that I can’t or won’t do anything about it, we gloss over it.”

The problem with this is that the stigma of being obese can lead to more obesity as well as to other serious problems. Being stigmatized for being obese sets up many vicious cycles or self-fulfilling prophesies. For example, if going to the doctor doesn’t help, then going to the doctor becomes less likely. This in turn means that the complications of being obese, which include diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, may not be diagnosed until they are advanced.

Likewise, many obese individuals are uncomfortable going to a gym or putting on work out clothes because of their fear of being judged. Obviously this makes it less likely that they will workout or get fit, and more likely that they will continue to gain weight.

The obesity epidemic may also be one of the reasons that younger children, older women and more men are developing Anorexia; I believe that these conditions are over-reactions or maladaptive responses to the fear of being obese. Of course, fear of being obese also leads to bingeing and purging, or bulimia.

The point is that obesity is a serious medical condition. However I do not believe that it has anything to do with will-power or motivation, and it certainly is not related to one’s intelligence. It is the direct result of the polluted nature of U.S. foods.


The sooner we face that as a nation, the sooner we can stop blaming the victims of food pollution and start fixing the problem. Some people would have us believe that the obesity epidemic is getting better. It isn’t. The reason I say this is that nearly 30% of today’s children are obese. Nearly 72% of men and 67% of women in my generation are currently overweight or obese. When we were children, only 10% of us were overweight. This does not bode well for the future or for our children.

U.S. foods are polluted with addictants, obesogens, carcinogens, GMOs, MSG and trans fats to name a few of the pollutants. All of these “ingredients” drive overeating and/or bingeing. They also cause us to store more fat than we need and feel less like being active. Finally they damage the mechanisms for regulating eating and fat storage.

Yes, that is correct. Even if you eat a little of them, you can gain unneeded weight. (You can also develop many other problems, like vascular disease, autoimmune disorders, cancer and type 2 diabetes.)

Sound like an over statement? Consider that the U.S. is the wealthiest unhealthiest country in the world. We are also the most obese and we are nearly dead last when it comes to general health, with one of the lowest infant survival rates, despite having the best medical technology.

Are you surprised? I find that most people are surprised to hear these things despite the fact that this information is definitely out there. We just don’t think of ourselves this way. We have all drunk the coolaide. But ignorance, in this case, is not bliss. It is sheer agony and it makes those who are the victims feel ashamed and weak, which makes them more vulnerable to remedies that do not work, such as dieting, or bypass surgery, or cryochambers. (link to article on woman dying)

What disturbs me the most is that if we keep believing that we can eat anything, as long as we eat it in moderation, we are not going to fix the problem. The foods that are the most dangerous are “designed” to make us keep us eating them.

We cannot fix the problem with this kind of thinking even though it is very fixable! Find out more about what your food is really doing inside your body. You may be surprised. What I can promise you is that lack of information is fattening.

-Dr. Norton