Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: Help, I am fat!

Okay, biiiig trigger warning for fat shaming, because I know you all might expect Dr. Laura to be not-an-asshole, but you’re wrong! This is one of her calls of the day, from her website.

Nancy: Fifteen years ago, when I was dating my husband, I was really good at losing weight, great abs, I was swimming and bike riding and doing great and I felt great, and I slowly, keep getting heavier and heavier since then.

Dr. Laura: Well, I guess you gotta get back to it.

Dr. Laura
Dr. Laura: living a life made possible by feminism, and then bitching about feminists.

Nancy: I know, but how do I make myself do it?

Dr. Laura: I’m sorry, ma’am? How do you make yourself go do it? You put the shoes on, you put the helmet on, you get on the bike and you go. There’s no other miracle. That’s the way everybody does it. And there’s a payoff.

Nancy: It’s just the food – I just want to keep – you know, I’ve done a lot better in the past month, but crap it’s just so hard.

Dr. Laura: You can eat yourself silly, you just have to watch what you eat. I have a huuuuge salad, I drizzle a little bit of vinaigrette, fruit vinaigrette, no oil in it, just drizzle a little, and I have a huge salad before I eat my main dish, my main dish doesn’t have to be so big. I mean, you know how to do this. Okay, ma’am, ma’am, there is no special technique. It’s called knowing the right thing and doing it. You know the right thing, you’re lazy, so you won’t do it. You want your immediate gratification, other than that, you’re damn lazy.

Nancy: I am.

Dr. Laura: Yeah, well, you’re going to get fatter, and unhealthier, and more unattractive as time goes on. So when you and your husband are sitting outside and he watches a lady your age walking by looking good, don’t bitch at him. Because you had your opportunity to make that woman be you. And no, don’t expect him to be turned on to you forever if you’re fat and sloppy and don’t care. Think about it, if you’re not going to respect your body and you’re not going to respect your commitment to him to keep yourself as healthy as is reasonably possible, don’t complain when he’s not turned on to you.

Nancy: He does a great job keeping himself healthy. It was so easy a while back, and now it’s so hard.

Dr. Laura: You came to the wrong person to bitch about it being hard. I get up at 5:30 in the morning to take care of the dogs, to feed and poop them, feed them, get them out of the way so I can work out. So you came to the wrong person to complain about that. Yeah it’s hard. So? So? I can now do 25, minimum, 25 really good military pushups. You can’t, and I’m older than you, nah nah nah nah nah. That’s it, that’s all I have to say. I work too hard to have sympathy for somebody lazy. You can tell in her voice she’s lazy. Don’t do it. Don’t complain! About him looking at other women. He’s not dead.

Dr. Susan: Hey, Dr. Laura – just stop. Stop.

First, stop with the shaming. Fat people aren’t inherently lazy. Fat people aren’t inherently sloppy. Fat people aren’t inherently unattractive. Fat people aren’t inherently unhealthy. You’re spreading bullshit and covering it with a thin (very thin) veneer of concern, as though your words of advice are going to make this woman suddenly become thin and just like that! she will be hard-working, neat, tidy, beautiful, and healthy. I know that you think that fat people are gross, but that doesn’t mean they are. It means you are an asshole.

Second, stop with the ridiculously awful advice. Telling somebody who wants to lose weight that they just have to stop being lazy is basically putting them on a path to weight gain (weight gain isn’t inherently a bad thing, but this person is clearly not hoping for that outcome).

Don’t believe me? This is from a study on weight loss by UCLA:

“Several studies indicate that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain,” said Janet Tomiyama, a UCLA graduate student of psychology and co-author of the study. One study found that both men and women who participated in formal weight-loss programs gained significantly more weight over a two-year period than those who had not participated in a weight-loss program, she said.

Or here, a summary of articles from the American Journal of Psychiatry:

“The consistent finding from all such studies is that all individuals or animals in a post-weight-loss state face considerable “˜homeostatic pressure’ that aims to drive their weight back to initial levels.”

Or the biggest study ever done on the topic:

“Consider the Women’s Health Initiative, the largest and longest randomized, controlled dietary intervention clinical trial, designed to test the current recommendations. More than 20,000 women maintained a low-fat diet, reportedly reducing their calorie intake by an average of 360 calories per day and significantly increasing their activity. After almost eight years on this diet, there was almost no change in weight from starting point (a loss of 0.1 kg), and average waist circumference, which is a measure of abdominal fat, had increased (0.3 cm).”

So what can she do? Exercise is great, as is eating well – but giving it this label of “because I want to be thin” means that she will almost certainly fail. Some people do lose weight and keep it off. The vast majority of people, though, regain all of the weight and more. Instead, Nancy can try to think about this in a different way – what kind of partner does she want to be for her husband? Does she think she is lazy, sloppy, unattractive? Because there are all sorts of things that can be done to work on being a better partner with regards to habit that have nothing to do with weight. Does she think she is unhealthy? Kick up the exercise because it makes you feel good, not because it will give you the body of a 17-year-old. Is she ashamed of her naked body? She can take a burlesque class, surround herself with body-positive people, use exercise as a way to remind herself of the strength she has in her body, what she can do with her muscles.

If she focuses on health instead of weight, feeling good instead of “looking good” (in the strictly societally prescribed meaning of the phrase), she is likely to have better results.

“Evidence from these six RCTs indicates that a HAES [Healthy at Every Size] approach is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures (e.g. blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g. physical activity, eating disorder pathology) and psychosocial outcomes (e.g, mood, self-esteem, body image). All studies indicate significant improvements in psychological and behavioral outcomes; improvements in self-esteem and eating behaviors were particularly noteworthy. Four studies additionally measured metabolic risk factors and three of these studies indicated significant improvement in at least some of these parameters, including blood pressure and blood lipids. No studies found adverse changes in any variables.”

And no. Her husband doesn’t get a pass for treating her like shit because she’s heavier than she was when they got married. If they have a monogamous commitment to each other, that doesn’t change when body shape changes. If he’s a decent human being, he wants her to be happy with herself, and not forever chasing this almost certainly impossible goal of losing 15 years off of her body.

The worst kind of advice is when the advice-giver’s hangups are shouting through the words. Yes, Dr. Laura, we get it that you think being thin is the most important thing that you could ever do, and that you have disdain for people who aren’t thin, but that doesn’t give you a pass for telling other people they should feel that way, too. Perhaps you should try to fix this aspect of your own thinking, rather than trying to spread it to others.

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Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

15 thoughts on “Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: Help, I am fat!”

  1. Not that much more needs to be added to this, but Dr. Laura doesn’t even give good advice on losing weight. Diet is a much bigger factor in weight loss than exercise, but Dr. Laura focuses almost entirely on exercise. The fastest way to lose weight is to cut calories low, not to ramp up exercise suddenly. Her advice is virtually useless.

    Now, there are valid reasons to want to lose weight. And your relationship with your partner might be one of them. But, obviously, slamming this woman as a fat, lazy slob is not going to help her lose weight. It sounds like this woman has told herself the same thing many times. Maybe talking to a therapist would help her explore why she feels the way she does, why she has this defeatist attitude, and how she can possible change her mindset to have a healthier relationship with food and her body. May people that take part in bingeing and purging (or crash dieting) have such negative attitudes towards themselves, so I can’t see how this is helpful in any way.

    1. “Diet is a much bigger factor in weight loss than exercise”

      TOO true. I was at a point where I worked out every other day doing 45 mins straight of cardio, 15 minutes of weight training and sometimes another 15-30 minutes of cardio afterwards. My appetite skyrocketed and my weight climbed. The worst feeling in the world was to mention in passing about an enjoyable day at the gym and hearing the response, with incredulity, “YOU go to the gym??”

    1. She has her PhD.  Just like I do.  But I say things like “NOBODY PANIC, I’M A DOCTOR!” as a joke, and she…somewhat intentionally misleads people about her credentials.  Hmm.  Maybe I should re-add the disclaimer that I ran with my first piece about me not REALLY being a doctor.

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