Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Even in 1969

I just watched the most interesting Canadian documentary produced in 1969. It's called "A Matter of Fat", and can be viewed (for free) on-line by anyone who is interested. The movie is about a the efforts to lose weight by a man who weighed around 350 lbs. as well as about the state of understanding of weight loss at that time. It also covers the attitudes and perceptions of fat people by those who have never suffered from a weight problem.

When I discovered this movie, I expected it to be full of quaint, almost comical observations and theories about how to lose weight and what caused people to become fat. The shocking thing was that everything in this movie is very close to what is talked about and believed today. If you set aside the fashions, the cheesy music and tone of the narration, and the overt nature of the diet pill scam industry, it's all pretty much as valid today as it was then.

For me, the interesting thing is that there was research into several things which I have come to believe. One point was about how people who are overweight don't know when and how much to eat and that they cannot interpret bodily cues. I have written several times that I believe my ability to know how much to eat is completely broken, so I think I'll have to monitor what and how much I eat forever. The research portrayed in this old movie validates that notion from both a biological and psychological viewpoint.

The other thing which the movie postulates which many people believe is true, but it often rejected by normal weight people is that some people will gain weight on very few calories relative to average people of their height and weight. The man who is featured in the movie is told that he may have to eat as few as 1200 calories per day for the rest of his life to maintain a normal body weight. Of course, he undergoes medical starvation as a means to lose a lot of weight, so it is possible that his metabolism by the end of the process has been damaged and could rebound. That being said, it is clear that the idea that you can eat a lot less than average people of your height and still gain weight was known over 40 years ago, yet it is rejected in this day and age.

The main difference between this movie and the way information about weight is talked about today is that the tone actually seems more compassionate. While some judgmental and self-serving commentary is on offer, the overall theme is one of understanding that fat people suffer challenges that thin people do not. They do not struggle with the same problems that we do, and therefore it is completely wrong to talk about how thin people hold their hunger in check, exercise willpower, or work hard to remain trim while the overweight give in to temptation and are weak.

Though sometimes my writing about these topics makes it seem as though our lot is hopeless, I choose not to view it that way. I think by understanding that our challenge is greater and knowing the source of those difficulties, we can find the power and the planning to overcome them. As long as we stop thinking we're like everyone else but somehow fail, we easily fall into a pattern of thinking we're inferior. We're not. We're just different and require a harsher lifestyle if we want to be at lower weights.


KyokoCake said...

I'm really curious - I'll check it out :) thanks for the recommendation!

Lisa said...

I watched about half of this last night, and I want to see the rest. It was interesting. I hope they don't do this sort of Medical Starvation anymore, it seems sooooo very unhealthy. At least up to the point I watched, there was nothing about him excersizing, just desk work and stuff. And of course what was very amusing is they don't say anything about his smoking. But then that was the 60's.

screaming fatgirl said...

Lisa: The medical starvation probably was unhealthy, but I'm guessing it was done as much for research purposes (to gather data) as it was to help him lose weight as fast as possible.

When you watch the rest, you'll see that he exercises a lot, and quit smoking.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating film! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. The attitudes were very compassionate, for the most part, although I was sickened by the humiliating preaching of the Weight Watchers leader...who would be considered overweight by today's standards.

I also was amused by the certainty towards "The Doctor's Diet" being the best. I eat a high fat diet (50% to 60% fat), and cannot imagine living on a low fat diet like the one recommended both then and now. Fat keeps me from feeling too hungry. But I did notice that the images of food made me feel hungry even though I had just finished breakfast!

My goal is still to become overweight, rather than obese. In order to be "normal" weight, I would have to feel starving and obsessed all the time. Been there, done that. Not even going to attempt it because it is not sustainable for me. Frankly, I am happy with my current weight but social standards dictate a lower weight is demanded for women in my occupation. Drat. LOL. So I guess I will lose a bit more.

The diet pills featured in the film really took me back in time! I remember my mother taking those "rainbow" pills for quite awhile...and she even hallucinated while on them. God knows what they were giving her! (Some kind of amphetamines and tranquilizers combined most likely.) Poor woman. Still, I don't think science or medicine knows much more about helping obese people nowadays than in 1969.

Taking off weight isn't the biggest challenge for me. Keeping it off has always been the harder part. It's like a switch is thrown after about 2 years of maintainance and my hunger returns ten fold. Sigh. I'm hoping this time will be different because of the high fat diet. Who knows!

Thanks again for your thoughtful and insightful posts!


NewMe said...

what an interesting documentary! Medical starvation, we now know, is totally useless if you want to actually keep the weight off. I would have loved to have known what happened to Mr. Lorrain. What a lovely, charming, good-hearted and hard working man he was. I did a Google search both in English and in French and came up with nothing that seemed to refer to him aside from the film.

I'm surprised neither the film maker nor any of the doctors mentioned the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. But then again, had they known about it, they would not have made poor Mr. Lorrain starve. Look it up, it's really interesting.

FYI: You may be too young to know that the film's narrator, Lorne Greene, played Pa Cartwright on the 60s TV show, Bonanza. Pa's son, Little Joe was Michael Landon.

Sarah@LowStressWeightLoss said...

I'll try to find time to watch this - the premise is interesting.

I very much agree that a lot of us have "broken" our ability to eat normally & that refinding that is important. I'm finally getting around to working on that again - it's a long process, because it's very hard for me :

I also agree that while the "average" person loses a pound at 3500 calories, I don't think that is univerally true, and I think some people have metabolisms that burn through calories faster and others of us much slower & I think that contributes mightily to weight. I think the science isn't there yet, and in the end the answer is still fundamentally "eat less, move more" but the HOW and expectations around it might change when that is clearer.