Dear Nicole Arbour,
Sometimes, you just have to take the high road.
As deeply offended as most food addicts and I were by “Dear Fat People”—a nauseating, six-minute rant recently posted on YouTube — we could be forgiven for ranting back at its creator, Canadian comedian/actress/model Nicole Arbour.
Anyone who has ever tried and failed, repeatedly, to lose weight who felt shamed and hurt by Arbour’s “comedy,” could be given a pass for calling her a few names.
And the devastated overweight viewers told that they smell “like sausage,” could be excused for slamming this previously obscure celebrity for her “helpful” effort. (Indeed, the Internet is still abuzz with anti-Arbour critiques.)
Yes, the food addicts of the world could justifiably rise up in rage. But most won’t. They won’t because many of them have tired of trying to explain their disease, or perhaps more importantly that they have learned it is healthier to stay out of other people’s business.
And they won’t because many of them are more inclined to suicide than homicide. Yes, sadly some food addicts, after viewing this attempt to shame people into losing weight, will actually eat more not less. They may even slide into a binge-eating relapse from which recovery seems out of reach.
That’s because overeating is what food addicts do when they experience strong feelings of the sort evoked by this video. Ironic, isn’t it? That Arbour’s attempt to prompt positive actions may instead have released an avalanche of self-abuse. (The actress, who at least appears to have never had a weight problem herself, has refused to apologize, claiming that she was just trying through satire to motivate the overweight to shed a few pounds.)
So back to the high road. I asked a few food addicts, all binge-free and in recovery for a year or more, for their reactions to “Dear Fat People.” Their inclination to turn the other cheek was heartening. Said one, “If I engage in projecting my anger toward her, I am no better than she … To send her compassion and love is the solution.” Another remarked, “Obese people need treatment in a safe environment … I wonder if she’s just as inconvenienced by blind people.”
As for me, someone who treats, studies, lectures and writes about food addiction, I prefer to approach the brouhaha sparked by Arbour as a useful, teachable moment. If we can look beyond her and her supporters’ misguided attempt to be helpful, the real tragedy here is not even so much that people felt bullied, although that’s tragic in and of itself, but that there is still so much ignorance about obesity, food addiction, and the power of the fast food industry.
Here are just a few key facts about those three topics:
- First, obesity is not just the result of laziness and a lack of willpower, as this video implies. It has multiple causes. It can result from a genetic condition (as I discussed in an earlier post), a hormone imbalance, as a side effect of certain medications, physical inactivity, or from nutritional illiteracy. It can also be one of the consequences of overeating high-carbohydrate foods. (As an aside, people who overeat are not always overweight and the overweight do not always overeat.)
- Second, food addiction can also cause one to become obese but addiction is now recognized as a disease and no amount of shaming or bullying can touch it. Would you rant at a person with cancer? Would you make fun of someone hooked on drugs and tell them to just say no? The science is in and we now have concrete proof of what happens in the brain when it is hijacked by certain food substances, primarily sugar.
- Third, the fast food industry is a $574 billion business worldwide, according to a CNN report, and Americans spend $100 million on fast food every year. That’s in part because thousands of chemists in sophisticated laboratories work tirelessly to concoct foods that will hit the “sweet spots” for sugar, fat and salt that keep consumers coming back for more. And more. And more. Junk food is the new tobacco.
If Arbour’s intention was to start a conversation, then hooray for her. She’s done it. If her goal was to inspire the overweight to shape up, then not so much. Finally, if she thought she was truth-telling, I would encourage her to check more of these types of facts. The truth, when it is really the truth, is illuminating, not humiliating.