Fitness Magazine

No Person is a Study

By Danceswithfat @danceswithfat

bad scienceHere is a scenario I see all the time.  Someone posts a discussion about the massive long-term failure rate of dieting, including a number of studies that have found that most people are able to lose weight in the short term but most gain it back within a 5 year period.  Someone responds “You just have to [insert tired dieting /crappy dieting program/ that we've all heard a billion times here].  I’ve been doing it for 6 weeks and I’ve lost 10 pounds. “

Even if the person really doesn’t understand the difference between 6 week and 5 years this is still highly problematic.   I don’t know what I would pay to never have to read something like that again, but I know it’s a lot.  When I was still in the thrall of dieting and I used to hear about somebody’s recent weight loss my immediate thought would be “how did you do it?”  Now that I have done the research and become disenchanted, my first thought is always “talk to me in 5 years” because most people gain their weight back between years 2 and 5.  This is beyond “everybody knows” which is annoying enough – this is the suggestion that no amount of careful scientific study can stand up to one person’s random experience.

Just like no person is an island, no person is a statistically significant well-run scientific study.  Studies show that only a tiny fraction of people successfully lose weight long term.  So there are a tiny fraction of those who engage in intentional weight loss who will have lost weight and maintained that long term.  That doesn’t even begin to prove that weight loss is possible for everyone, or even a simple majority of people.

The idea that “if I can do it so can you” is prevalent and frequently false.  People who use this logic when dealing with weight loss like to act as if all fat people are alike – the idea being that if one fat person can maintain weight loss then all fat people can.  The trouble with this is that fat is a single physical characteristic and not a magical determiner of a person’s abilities.  It’s like saying that if one tall person lived through a skydiving accident even though their parachute didn’t open then all tall people can do it. That’s ridiculous and ignores hundreds of other variables to simply suggest that if two people have a single physical characteristic in common then they have all the same capabilities.  That’s just not the case.

The problem occurs when we try to make sweeping generalizations based on size. Because of society’s fascination with weight loss and the current campaign against fat people, people are willing to suggest that a tiny fraction of people who have successfully lost weight to prove that weight loss is possible for everyone, and simultaneously say that no amount of people regaining their weight proves that most people regain their weight.  SThe truth is that weight loss hardly ever works, people have lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and our individual experiences tell us more about ourselves, but nothing about other people – we are each a point, not a pattern.

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