mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

weight loss is possible, but shaming kids into it isn't...

Megan McCardle has a post up about shaming fat kids into not being fat, and that she doesn't think it's a good idea.

I'll agree that telling kids they are fat and suck probably won't do much good. However, she also makes an argument she's made in a number of posts about weight loss - that it's nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off. I strongly disagree with that.

See, here's the thing. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable both about weight loss and about fat kids, because I was a fat kid - and a fat adult. In 2004, I was 24 years old, five foot five, and 250 pounds - morbidly obese by BMI standards.

The thing that got me to change my lifestyle was actually one of those silly online death calculators - which said I'd die at age 56. For the fist time, it put into real terms the idea that my weight would most likely have significant, long-term negative effects unless I did something about it. So I did. I started watching what I ate, and - for the first time in my life - I started exercising. It took me about 2 years, but I lost around 100 pounds. And since then, I've kept it off - my weight has fluctuated a little in both directions, but right now I'm 150 and a 34" waist - when 7 years ago I was 250 and a 46" waist. I'm not as careful about what I eat as I used to be, but I also work out about 2 hours a day, so it balances out.

So I think weight loss is possible. And it's not like I'm some uber-successful person who succeeds at everything he tries - in fact, when it comes to dating, careers, or finances I'm a complete failure at the first two and maybe average at the third. So if I can do it, a lot of other people should be able to as well. I'm not saying it's not difficult, but there are many things that are difficult but still accomplished by a number of people.

But as far as the shaming fat kids thing goes, it's not going to work. Part of it is that, as Megan mentions, fat kids tend to be pretty ashamed already, and more of it is unlikely to change anything. But what got me to lose weight wasn't shame or even disgust at the way I looked - it was finally understanding the long-term consequences of my actions. And let's face it, kids are inherently bad at understanding long-term consequences, as well as at making decisions that place long-term consequences over immediate gratification. I can think of plenty of things that, looking back on, I would do differently if I had really understood the consequences and trade-offs - and those are things I did in my teens and 20's, never mind the ones I did as kids.

Losing weight takes a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of doing things that aren't particularly fun now - like 90 minutes on the precor or not eating that donut - in order to gain benefits later. In order to do those things, you need to really want those long-term things - and kids aren't good at that, they tend not to think long-term. They probably don't even understand long-term well enough to care about it.

So I think that means it's difficult to find any way to motivate kids to lose weight. I think the best you can do is educate parents on how to feed their kids right and encourage them to exercise regularly. But kids are still going to find ways to go around those things, and I don't think we'll ever find a way to stop it.

And btw, the pics at the top of this post are of me - the first picture was taken in December 2004. The second one was taken in March 2010.


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