Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: It’s called commitment

I’m not sure if this is a new thing for Dr. Laura or if she’s always been big on broadcasting her disgust of fat people, but this week, again, she’s got the solution for obesity. Hint: it isn’t “love yourself as you are.” This taken from her “call of the day” page.

Lynn: What do you do with an eating problem you’ve had your whole life?

Dr. Laura: What eating problem is that?

Lynn: Overeater. I have sought treatment my whole life, various different ways, and I’m in my 40s now, and I feel like I’m out of ideas.

Dr. Laura: Well, all of them would have worked had you been committed. Every one of those eating programs failed because you were not committed.

Lynn: Right.

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

Dr. Laura: A friend of mine, always a big guy, I saw him at the beginning of the year, and he was so obese I couldn’t believe it. You couldn’t get close to him to give him a hug. His stomach stuck out I think about three feet, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating. I left him a voicemail because we were in public at the time. And I told him if he died of a heart attack in the next month I was going to dance on his grave. Angrily. Stomp. And that I was very disappointed. I knew he had stress, but this was absurd, and he needed to commit himself to working out. He and I have been working out five days a week since then. He has gone from huge to just looking overweight. Every morning, he walks a quarter of a mile up a hill that I think is probably about 750 feet. He stayed committed. That’s the only way. Of course then he cut out desserts, because I gave him crap about that too. I said, “I’m not getting up at 5:30 in the morning to work out with you while you’re eating crap. Won’t happen.” So he stopped that, and he’s looking great, every place he goes, everybody says, “Oh my God, you lost so much weight, what are you doing?” There’s no magic. It’s called commitment. So, every one of those programs worked, you just quit.

Lynn: Yeah. Right. Okay. So here’s my million dollar question. What do you do with all the feelings that you have of why I’m eating?

Dr. Laura: Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing! I assume there are all kinds of feelings. So what! I mean, I have all kinds of feelings too from my life, past and present, I could be smoking dope or popping pills every day. Or, working out, shooting pool, creating art things, selling them on my website, shooting my gun, in proper places, you do lots of things with your feelings. One of the things when I’m terribly upset is a good workout is so distracting, in the middle of sweating and pumping, I’m not feeling sorry for myself! Well, yeah I am. Because I’m sweating and pumping. But I’m not feeling sorry for myself for the things that I was feeling sorry for myself about. So what you need is a buddy who’s going to bust your butt, every day, six in the morning, it took him, oh, I gave him about two months of working out before I started, he does the hill every day before we work out. In the beginning, he was sweating like a pig. Now he walks up the hill and has a full conversation. Commitment. That’s the only thing you’re missing. What do you do with all the emotions? Nothing. Screw them. You’ve done plenty of them all over these years what more do you want? How much more do you want to massage these feelings? Unloved, molested, whatever it is! All right already! I’m not discounting them, I’m just saying they’ve had their run. Now it’s your turn! So you need a buddy like he has me, you need a buddy. Find a buddy and say, “Every day we’re going to walk for 45 minutes. Not fast, we’re just going to walk.” And then after a while, it’ll be faster. Then you’re going to say, “Let’s pump iron.” And get somebody who knows what they’re doing to show you. You don’t need a whole physical trainer. There are plenty of sites on the net, just put up “Back exercises, beginner. Tummy exercises, beginner.” “¦I’m sorry for all the things that have hurt you so dearly that you have been hurting yourself all these years, but I think I’m hearing in your voice that it’s time you be the master of them, not the slave. You have to give up being a slave to those emotions and become the master. It’s time. They were terrible, but now it’s time.

I wish you guys could hear the defeat in this woman’s voice when she says, “Right.” Dr. Laura is telling her she’s lazy, that she is defective, that she is shameful, and Lynn just – she just accepts it. “Right.” Fuck. That.

I need to mention here that I’m not a real doctor, not the kind that tells you how to get physically healthy, and neither is Dr. Laura. She’s not giving this advice based on an understanding of modern medicine, but on an unconcealed loathing of fat people. The problem is not the diet, she says. The problem is you. You have a problem with commitment. It doesn’t matter if you have been married for forty years, if you served a tour of duty in the Peace Corps, if you have worked tirelessly for the same company since you graduated from college – if you are fat, you are by default somebody who can’t commit.

Except not. A recent study shows a possible link between BPAs and obesity:

One of the researchers on the study, Dr. Leonardo Trasande, theorized that ingesting extra BPA could throw off young people’s hormonal balance and disrupt their metabolism.

This isn’t to say that diet and exercise don’t impact weight – they clearly do. But there is more to the puzzle than “you are too lazy to follow through.” The world around us has been changing rapidly, as has the overall weight of the population. “There is no magic” is right, but “it’s called commitment” isn’t either.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a study from Canada:

In a commentary published in this week’s Canadian Medical Association Journal, two obesity researchers argue that the old formula – energy in must be lower than energy out – is too simplistic.

“We tend to always talk about food and physical activity and we need to go beyond that to include what I call other non-caloric factors,” said Jean-Philippe Chaput, a specialist in preventive medicine who works on obesity in children at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, in Ottawa.

“We know that obesity is very complex. It isn’t one-size-fits-all. People gain weight for different reasons. It’s not always an increase in food intake. It can be stress. It can be depression. Genes. Different factors.”

Last week I mentioned that telling somebody who wants to be thin that they just have to stop being lazy is the worst advice you can give, because you are probably pushing them down the opposite road than what they are hoping for – weight gain and further self-loathing. The other side of this is that Dr. Laura has always been thin. Her smugness at her ability to maintain her weight is misplaced: it is much more difficult for somebody who has lost weight to maintain that loss than for a thin person to maintain their weight.

Nonetheless, said Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity researcher at Columbia, while it is no surprise that hormone levels changed shortly after the participants lost weight, “what is impressive is that these changes don’t go away.”

Dr. Stephen Bloom, an obesity researcher at Hammersmith Hospital in London, said the study needed to be repeated under more rigorous conditions, but added, “It is showing something I believe in deeply – it is very hard to lose weight.” And the reason, he said, is that “your hormones work against you.”

So no. It’s not as simple as you are making it sound, Dr. Laura, and people who are fat are not lazy gluttonous sloths who are to be pitied. That “friend” of yours? Stands a good chance of gaining the weight back, and being in worse health than before because of the yo-yo-ing. So you’re smug, but you’re also wrong, and dangerously so.

Oh, speaking of dangerously wrong? Women who bottle up their feelings are four times as likely to die over a ten year period than those who talk things out. Oh! Here, keeping your feelings bottled up is linked to irritable bowel syndrome. Awesome.

So basically, Dr. Laura has shamed this woman into feeling worse about herself than she already does, tried to put her on a path that will almost certainly lead to worse health and worse self-esteem, encouraged her to ignore any feelings that she has which leads to terrible health overall, and done so while making herself out to be the example we should all hold ourselves up against.

People can lose weight and keep it off. But the chances of that happening are much slimmer than the chance of Lynn ending up heavier as a result of dieting, and feeling like it is all her fault because, duh, it’s just commitment. Why not work on something that is likely to make a difference in her life: her attitude toward her body and her health? She can learn to love herself as she is, she can learn to think about goals in terms of health instead of weight, and she can have a more fulfilling life because of it.

By 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 replies on “Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: It’s called commitment”

I bet Dr. Laura would call me a liar if I informed her that people who use the gym as a form of escapism from their life’s problems are gym addicts. And not in the flattering exaggerating way, the bad for your health, avoiding your troubles way. Like with a drug?

That’s what I’ve heard too and I’m inclined to agree. Its technically the perfect cover. “I don’t have an eating problem, I’m just really gung-ho about getting some cardio in.” I’ve heard that some people have even used veganism to hide their eating disorders =(

I think maybe you’re talking about exercise bulimia? And trying to hide an eating disorder with a “special diet” is somewhat common. It’s a way to have an excuse to avoid eating in front of others and offers one way to severely control food intake. (Although I see this more among the “paleo” or “gluten-free” dieters recently than vegans– but I do live in a fairly progressive/hippy-ish town, so I’ve met many legit vegans.)

The emotions thing just. . . completely denies the reality of mental illness. It’s less uncommon than you’d think for a person to have food as their compulsive thing. Obsessiveness, too. Some people become obsessed with losing weight, or with counting calories, or with restricting. Others might have binge-purge compulsions. And some have food compulsions.

I don’t know how well people here know what it’s like to have a real compulsion. The pain you see on things like hoarders (which is another type of compulsive behavior) when people clean out the house is real pain. Sometimes misdirected pain, sometimes fear or even terror. Resisting a compulsion can become overwhelming, keeping a person from being able to do anything but sit there and resist. Giving in is not about self control- it is about not being able to handle the driving pain, terror, and anxiety, not being able to handle not being able to do anything but sit and resist.

Compulsion is not a failure to commit, and it is not laziness or not having willpower. A compulsion isn’t desire- it isn’t about resisting doing something you want. It is having a drive that feels as though the world will end, or you will end, that the self will end if you don’t go with it. It is pain and terror.

Or at least, the compulsions I’ve struggled with for years are. I have an anxiety disorder diagnosis. While I do have health factors that mean that without surgery, I’ll never be “thin” that isn’t all of it. But very few people take eating compulsions- or any other food connected disorder or eating disorder- seriously in fat folks.

But she doesn’t even consider that someone could have a compulsive issue, or something similar. The caller didn’t talk about what kind of feelings she had, so it could be this or it could be something else entirely. I’m actually really worried about the caller if she is dealing with compulsions- having someone tell you that your actual (rather than colloquial) compulsions are just a lack of will power can trigger suicidal episodes in some people. They can also escalate behaviors to another behavior- from agoraphobia (which I think Dr L would be happy to know she won’t have to see fat folks) to hoarding to purging (which can damage you at a faster rate than binging will) etc.

Just. UGH. And that is beyond the points you’ve pointed out, or dozens of other points.

” Giving in is not about self control- it is about not being able to handle the driving pain, terror, and anxiety, not being able to handle not being able to do anything but sit and resist.”

THIS so hard. THIS has been my problem and it finally has a name. When I’m unemployed (I’m a temp), the weight piles on because I can’t just sit there and read (for very long) or just watch TV for very long without having to snack on something. I don’t even have to be hungry! My weight climbs, even though I’m going to the gym every other day. But when I’m working and planning my meals as well as going to the gym, I’m busy and I return to my healthy weight.

Because they’ve been told that shit their entire lives, and challenging those ideas is hard?

Or, for some: because they’re assholes like she is and listening to her tell people they suck makes the assholes feel superior, because they aren’t fat fat fatties who sometimes don’t want to fuck their husbands and think their careers are important and never EVER offer to pay for ANYTHING because they are Ladies and will not acknowledge that they have family members/friends/acquaintances who are gay/lesbian so their seemingly perfect marriages and lives are unthreatened by corruption?

I’m so pissed at this one, and I’m going to take Dr. Susan’s advice and not hold it in. Normally I can just roll my eyes at Dr. Laura and move on, but this one has hit a sore spot for me. I’m fat, and part of the reason is that I learned to be an emotional eater by watching my mom do it when I was a kid. I’m also fat because I have a f’ed up thyroid, PCOS, depression, and a genetic predisposition to being a big person. It has taken me a lot of years (and many, many, HAES articles on here) for me to begin to comfortable in my own skin and owning that I’m fat, I’m always going to be fat, and anyone who doesn’t like me because of my dress size is not someone I want in my life. So a big FU to Dr. Laura.

Beyond the problems of Dr. Laura fat shaming, it kills me that she’s focusing on that and not the real underlying issue that this woman is calling in about: her emotions. Dr. Laura completely discounts them (even though she says she isn’t):

What do you do with all the emotions? Nothing. Screw them. You’ve done plenty of them all over these years what more do you want? How much more do you want to massage these feelings? Unloved, molested, whatever it is! All right already! I’m not discounting them, I’m just saying they’ve had their run.

Dr. Laura, if it was that easy to just shrug off tough emotions (because being unloved or molested is the emotional equivalent to stubbing your toe), Lynn wouldn’t have called in. She really didn’t call in to talk about losing weight, she called in to ask how to deal with overwhelming emotions that she’s trying to drown with food. What Lynn needs is a therapist to talk to, to work through the emotions, and find a healthier alternative to dealing with them. Lynn’s problem is not a lack of commitment to exercise. Way to completely miss the point, Dr. Laura.

Leave a Reply