Your weight is not a choice

Here is the single, most potent lies of the Thindustry: that you can choose your weight.

Guess what? You can't!

You can't change your shoe size- unless you lop off a toe. You can't change your height- unless you lop off your legs. They're all inscribed in the itty bitty molecules of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine that make up your DNA. Does your environment have an influence? You betcha. But only upon the height and shoe size predetermined by your DNA.

So when did we get the idea that weight was any different?

A healthy weight for you (and me!) is a range, usually about 10-15 pounds. Sometimes more, sometimes less. And this range can change a bit over time. For example, it's common to gain a little weight as you age- something the BMI charts don't take into account.

When Tiptoe alerted me to the existence of The Pen and Paper Diet, I had to laugh. People, this is Calorie Counting 101. No big deal. You count all of the calories that you eat (and by this, I mean Every. Single. One.) on a meal plan that is designed for people of all ages and activity levels. It's the same old schtick you hear time and again: the equation of calories in - calories out=your weight. Which isn't exactly true. You start dieting, your metabolism slows. Sometimes, exercise can either speed up or slow down your metabolism.

The kicker, however, was in the press release, titled "A Simple Diet to Help People Struggling with Anorexia and Bulimia."

In it, the founders of the Pen and Paper Diet (a husband and wife team with NO MEDICAL BACKGROUND AT ALL, I might add) say this:

The Pen and Paper Diet, a new book by Michael Dow, provides a simple way for any adult of any age and activity level to control their weight to a specific pound indefinitely. This can be done as long as individuals track calorie consumption.

"If a person consumes the appropriate amount of calories for one's height, age, sex, activity level and weight, then one can maintain their ideal weight," says Dow. "This diet will be ideal for those that struggle with anorexia and bulimia because it can enable these individuals to maintain their weight at the low end of BMI like they would prefer while digesting their food," Dow says.

Can somebody please remove my jaw from the ground?

Listen to me, buddy, anorexia and bulimia are not ABOUT controlling your weight. They are ABOUT a neuropsychiatric illness over which the sufferer has basically no control. Low weights only make things worse- they continue the cycle. Furthermore, you can't recover by staying at a "low but safe weight". You will be tormented by eating disordered thoughts and always verging on relapse. You need to be at a healthy weight for you, the one determined by your genes and not your whims. Women cannot expect their weights to stay within a pound due to water fluctuations around menstruation. And Maude forbid you ever eat salt or are constipated.

This doesn't free you from the tyranny of the scale, the calorie, or the eating disorder.

You don't have a freaking clue what you're talking about. So until you have talked to people with eating disorders, have earned a medical degree and have acquired at least a margin of common sense, keep your damn mouth shut.

(And yes, I emailed him this blog post).

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Toni said...

What a bunch of BS. Hopefully, anyone who comes across that site will see how ridiculous it is after the first couple of lines and not even read any deeper.

I love how the first heading reads, "Based on scientific research", and then describes how he and his wife were overweight. So much so that he was concerned about how much stress her "physical heart" was under. That sounds awful scientific to me!

But maybe the sciencey bit is explained when the book and the reader "discuss" common sense and logic. Even a high-school dropout understood the book's discussion!

Jennifer said...

I applaud you on this. Who is Mr. Dow trying to kid?

All an eating disorder sufferer has to do to get worse or relapse is take a look in the mirror and fall down the rabbit whole with self-depraving dysmorphic thoughts.

I can't believe something like this is being published.

Vickyann said...

My jaw is wide open too! I know it's not always easy for people who have never suffered with an eating disorder to take in the complexities of them but that is just ignorance.

I love your summary on weight and shoe size, it's true, all our bodies are different and all want to be at what is healthiest for them, there are so many phyiscal factors involved.


luv said...

I'm so glad there are blogs like this one that calls this ignorant crap for what it is.

I also like the bit about height and shoe-size. Good one!

Obsessing on calories. Right. That will cure an ED. Uh huh.

Last I checked, an ED was still a psychological illness that needed treatment by profressionals such as therapists, psychiatrists, etc. Not Jenny Craig. Not Weight Watchers. Not an obsessive calorie spreadsheet. Obsessing on food/weight just makes things worse! Grrr. ;)

Life is so much more complex than the black and white thinking these folks seem to like to use. Our bodies are so much more complex than "calories in/calories out". It's a shame that big chunks of our society seem to want to boil things down to false dichotomies. It sucks so much of the wonder and diversity out of life.

grey said...

Just... wow. I can't believe that they have seriously sold copies of this plan. What would it include: A pen, a lined pocket-notebook for writing down calories, and some graph paper for creating a BMI chart? People buy some pretty stupid things in the name of weight loss (or "health"), but come on...

And right -- like anyone with an eating disorder needs help counting calories. Let alone wants "help" from the Pen and Paper diet. Thank God someone came up with a strategy for maintaining low weights! If only people struggling with anorexia and bulimia could have figured that out.

(excuse the sarcasm -- one of those mornings!)

Anonymous said...

Good Lord, talk about being clueless.

Katy said...

Wow. Just, wow.

Le Fleur said...

Nothing to say on this one, just that I found it odd that a self proclaimed miracle worker would say something so ignorant. I've concidered some pretty strange diets in my life, but I've found that the one that keeps me healthy and happy is my current vegitarian one.

Michael D said...

Carrie and all,

This is Michael, author of the Pen and Paper Diet. Carrie asked for me to reply to her email on her blog.

I understand that some people are genetically predisposed for anorexia nervosa. I also understand that most things in life are a combination of nature and nuture (not either or). I believe there are people predisposed to anorexia in the country of Tonga where over 90% of the population is overweight. I do think that if you placed a newborn Tongan in our country (especially a female due to societal expectations that some have created) there's a chance she could become anorexic. Conversely, once we find the genetic marker for anorexia and we could determine if a newborn in the US had it, we could place the child in Tonga and the chances of her actually becoming overweight are greater than developing anorexia due to the culture. I had a friend in high school that was anorexic. Myself and all of her friends couldn't understand why she starved herself only to lose a couple of more pounds. She said she didn't feel pretty and thought she would if she only lost a couple of more. I've had other friends that were bulimic (which I believe is greatly underreported). They exercised all the time to keep their weight down and couldn't resist certain sweets so they binged and then purged. Certain people and organizations in our society have placed expectations on females in general to be thin. The expectation is simply...Be Thin. No training is provided though with the expectation and you have girls accepting the challenge and doing what they can to meet it....exercising all the time to increase calorie usage, taking diet pills, starvation, and purging. As mentioned before, a percentage of females are predisposed to anorexia and our culture has created an environment in which the disorder can manifest. They instinctively know that if they control what they consume then they can help control their weight. I've simply discovered a simple way to put weight management skills into the hands of the People. Right now, there's a lot of guessing and blind attempts at weight control. Eat more vegetables (which is on the right track since the metric edition of my book shows vegetables have the least amount of calories per gram than other foods), exercise more (to increase calorie usage), dieting (avoid certain types of foods especially those with high calorie content), starvation, purging (a form of starvation), and diet pills (change your body chemistry to change your metabolism while not finding out real side effects until decades later). While my wife and I were discovering the Pen and Paper Diet ideas, we found research from the National Academy of Sciences in which they determined estimated calorie requirements to an exact number that is dependent on a person's height, age, sex, weight and activity level. They show that a person requires xxxx amount of calories to maintain a specified weight. I have found it to be true for myself and can understand those desiring to purge, etc to maintain a certain weight. I have to say that it's kind of a cool feeling to know that I can control my weight. With the ideas of the Pen and Paper Diet, I've found that I need 2100 calories to maintain 150 lbs and have done so for a while. I get to do this while eating a cookie every day if I choose, I might eat some fried chicken once a month or have some sweet tea every now and then. It's great that I can consume the types of food and drinks I like and not have to guess at how much extra exercise I need to do. Instead the diet helps you find out how many calories you require for your normal 24 hour period. Then when you do extra activity, you add that amount of calories to that day's consumption. The diet is basically a calorie budget. Why I beleive this diet will be able to help some struggling with anorexia and bulimia is that some do not have true anorexia or bulimia, but only have symptoms of it because they are determined to control their weight. This book provides the ideas our society needs to control their weight. People don't have to depend on a company to provide them the correctly sized meals or pills to control their metabolism. This book let's people control their weight as safe and as cheap as possible (no starvation, no purging, no diet pills). It is strictly a weight management book that some have called fundamental, "something everyone should know." Once people learn to control their weight no matter what they eat and how much they exercise, we can build upon that skill and help people eat more healthy and exercise daily.

I believe that People in general have common sense and can make the right choices when provided the proper training. The ideas in the book will help some people let go of their eating disorder (both ends of the spectrum...bulimia to obesity) when they realize they can eat the types of food they like and still maintain their ideal weight.

If anorexia and bulimia were truly only genetic and a person's environment had nothing to do with it then those that are concerned about the disorders should donate a large percentage of their disposable income to research for biological cures.

I believe that eating disorders are nurtured by our environment and that the ideas in the book will remove some of the traction that can initiate some people's predisposition of the disorders (i.e. "I don't have to purge to control my weight....I just have to track my calorie consumption.").

Do we not teach people to drive cars because they could wreck and kill someone?

Do we not teach someone how to write because they could offend someone?

Do we not teach people how to manage their weight because they could abuse it?

We should inform people how to manage their weight safely since this will help relieve stress from our healthcare system that is in crisis (nursing shortage of over 800,000 in the US expected in 2020 - also when the baby boomers will be peaking for healthcare problems). Weight management is a simple solution to some of our society's ills and I am very confident that the ideas in my book provide the easiest, cheapest, and safest solution.

Michael Dow

Lisa said...

A person with an eating disorder is not going to just "manage" his or her weight. That person is going to obsessively count every single calorie and strive to reduce their daily total. I followed my own version of the Pen and Paper diet three years ago, which let me "maintain" my weight at a very unhealthy level.

I understand Mr. Dow's statements about empowering people and giving them tools to achieve their goals. Recovery has to be something that you want. However, this book isn't going to help anyone reach that point.

Carrie Arnold said...

All right- my comment grew to a saga so I made it its own post.

Happy reading kids.

Anonymous said...

I have a history of eating disorder and I have noticed that if I record whatever I eat I do tend to lose weight, but I also notice that is not a good thing as it tends to be too much weight. I have to work at NOT obesssing about weight and trying to control it. Writing stuff down would definitely not help

Anonymous said...

I pray that Michael Dow is not a doctor. PLEASE tell me he's not a doctor. Not a REAL doctor, anyway. If so, God help his patients.

cassidy r said...

this man has just saved my life with all of his common sense. if only i had known that xxxx calories would let me literally control my weight, i would have never even considered bulimia for 10 years.

"somebody" coughMikecough needs to use their common sense to get a reality check

i was 8 when this started and the closest thing to a 'diet culture' there was in my house was a scale nobody used
i hope he can enjoy one of his monthly sweet teas while reading over your blog
of course i would hate for him to feel like he was
'over-indulging' or something

Carrie Arnold said...


Your prayers are answered. Neither Dow nor his wife have a medical degree or any medical background whatsoever. And I don't think this is what they had in mind when they coined the phrase "practicing medicine."

A lot of the OCD behaviors ingrained by my eating disorder were in calorie counting. Recording what I eat (especially in terms of calories!) only makes me more batty and obsessive. Food journals have their place- I'm not against them. But not to count calories.

tokaiangel said...

This just made me so, so angry!

Yes, why not give sufferers the "tools" to enable them to stay in the mental prison they have made for the rest of their lives?

Staying at a low weight IS NOT HEALTHY, psychologically or physiologically.

Sufferers need to get better, not remain ill - just because you're not losing any more weight DOES NOT mean you are cured.

Unsubstantiated opinions like this man's are DANGEROUS.

TA x

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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