Five Myths about Obesity & Weight Loss

Last week the Washington Post published an article entitled Five Myths about Obesity, by Deborah Cohen. Below, see the article’s main points, along with my own two cents (’cause you know I can’t keep quiet about these things).

Note: I put her words in quotes, even though I rearranged some of her sentence arrangement for brevity’s sake. I believe her points still come across. Use the links above and below to see the full article.

1. It’s Genetic.

“Many researchers have blamed genetics for the obesity epidemic, but obesity rates have doubled since 1980. Meanwhile, genetic adaptations occur much more slowly, so this explanation doesn’t hold up.” [my italics]

Sam’s two cents: I agree. Our genetic code cannot adapt as quickly as the obesity epidemic has spread. From my understanding, genes are indicators of potential – what you eat and how you live determines the expression of that potential. This is a myth.

2. If you’re obese, you lack self control.

Sam’s two cents: I feel so strongly about this that I don’t even have time to tell you what Ms. Cohen thinks. I agree – MYTH MYTH MYTH! Of all the clients I’ve ever trained or coached, the “obese” men and women have been the most dedicated, the most hard-working, and the most likely to push through obstacles and plateaus.

The clearest explanation of the origins behind this myth, as well as the truth about dietary fat and obesity (in my opinion), is Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes.

3. Lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is responsible for the obesity epidemic.

“The statistics tell us that less than 5% of the American population lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but 65% of us are overweight. So, the issue isn’t lack of availability, but rather the choices we make.”

Sam’s two cents: Agree, and have something to add. The healthy foods we’re told to eat by the U.S.D.A. receive the least amount of government subsidies – check out this information, posted on

“Taxpayers have subsidized $19.2 billion dollars of junk food ingredients in the last 18 years…during that same period, $689 million subsidized apple crops (and only a third of that subsidizes fresh apples.)

Put simply: If you gave these subsidies back to the taxpayers, earmarked for the same purchases, 146 million Americans could buy 20 Twinkies each and just half an apple each year, according to a Tuesday report by U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.” [my bold]

That’s messed up.

4. Obesity is caused by being too sedentary.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), there was no significant decrease in overall physical activity levels during the 1980s and 1990s, yet obesity rates soared. So, if our activity levels haven’t changed that much then something else is to blame – the amount and types of calories we are consuming. People take in an average of 500 calories per day more now than they did in the 70s- it’s nearly impossible for most of us to exercise enough to burn that off.”

Sam’s two cents: I agree that this is a myth, but I wish the experts would start separating the conversation about exercise from the one about calories. I believe “calories-in-calories-out.” is a flawed paradigm to begin with, and why I believe that is beyond the scope of this writing.

The benefits of regular exercise are many – but using it to create a calorie deficit is misguided. Again I would refer to Why We Get Fat.

5. Obesity can be conquered through better education about diet and nutrition.

“According to recent health studies of health care workers, 44% of doctors and 55% of nurses are are overweight or obese. If the experts are overweight, better education doesn’t seem like a viable solution.”

Sam’s two cents: Firmly and strongly disagree. Most doctors and nurses will freely admit to having minimal nutrition courses in their medical training. In-depth study about the healing effects of food is just not part of medical school. My point? “Doctors and nurses” and “people who know a lot about food” are two different groups of people. (No offense to the medical staff in the house).

Ms. Cohen’s bottom line: If Americans did not live in a world of buffets, fast food, soft drinks, and all kinds of foods with excessive sweeteners, fat, salt, an other flavor enhancers, the incidence of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes would probably plummet.

Sam’s bottom line: I agree – this issue is systemic, in the individual and our society at large. I would love to know what her proposed solution is, because in my opinion, the only way to move toward a society where healthy, high-quality foods rule, is for the American consumer to start demanding it.

The full article can be found at

Written by Damon

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