4 Weight-loss tips from my month in the mental ward

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Most people who are overweight blame their job for their inability to eat right and get enough exercise. Too much work, too tired after work, too much travel. The list is endless. But losing weight is so important for you career that you should go so far as to cut back on your work-officially or furtively — in order to lose the weight.

Because beware: Heavier people do worse at work than everyone else, employers discriminate against overweight people, and it’s even legal to do. (via Management Line).

So stop putting your work before your weight. Miss deadlines, cut corners, and disappear if need be. Do whatever you require to lose the weight because no amount of workplace genius can overcome being overweight – people subconsciously underestimate the quality of work a fat person is doing.

Now I want to address all the people who are going to say that it’s not fair to pick on fat people, and that I’m obsessed with fat, etc.

It is true that I am obsessed with fat. It started freshman year of college when I was under lots of stress from being a straight-A student (it was a miracle because I’m not the school success type) and from going on the kind of dates where girls take their clothes off (yes, believe it or not, I didn’t do that in high school.)

It was too much for me. So I hung out at the buffet to calm myself down. And I am a smart girl; It didn’t take me long to realize that I could take refuge in the buffet for hours and hours as long as I threw up at the end.

I did that all of freshman year. And I became an evangelist. Yep. You can do that if you’re a girl in college. You can talk with your friends about how handy throwing up is. Some people said, “You are messed up.” Most people said, “Can you show me how to do it?”

Of course I had it down to a science. You have to drink something milky first, or eat something really mushy, like pudding, so that everything comes up easier. After all, I was throwing up to decrease stress, not increase it, and nothing made me more anxious than eating something I couldn’t throw up. So I learned really fast what won’t work. (I don’t want this to be a primer for the uninitiated, but I know you’re curious. So here’s one: Plain, uncooked bagel. Very difficult.)

Here’s what happened the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I had a Ford Foundation grant to research mass movements in colonial America. I kept skipping out on the voting records in Salem, Massachusetts archives in order to throw up in the Salem Witch museum (very private bathroom there) and my research was going to be late. Very late.

I went to my parents’ house to gear up for what was supposed to be a summer of catching up on research, and my first night there, I ate pretty much everything in the refrigerator. And threw it up, of course.

My mom woke up and said, “Where’s the bread?” and “Where’s the ice cream?”

I told her I threw it up. I told my parents I was throwing up about five times a day and I was dying to stop but I couldn’t. They checked me into a hospital – a mental ward masquerading as an eating disorder clinic. There were not many eating disorder clinics back then, but I grew up in a really rich community where eating disorders are fashionable, and the place was filled with anorexics and bulimics.

1. Understand that any weight problem is an emotional problem
I learned a lot in that clinic. I learned that people who throw up or starve themselves treat food the same way as people who are obese: Obsessive patterns of trying to calm oneself down with food. I had to learn coping skills that did not hurt my health.

But the first thing I did was worry that my research on mass movements wasn’t getting done. I told everyone in the hospital that the Ford Foundation would be after me and I’d lose all my money. I also panicked that my professor — who was holding a chapter in her book for my reports on seventeenth-century town records in Marblehead Massachusetts — would kill me. Or at least not recommend me for graduate programs in history.

I went on and on about how my life as an historian would be ruined if I didn’t get out of the mental ward and go back to Marblehead. And this is how I know that you should stop working in order to deal with overeating: Because my work improved once I better understood my relationship to food.

2. Take time off so you can change bad patterns
The mental ward turned out to be one of my favorite places ever. It was so peaceful. No kidding. I spent most of my time with spritely vixens seducing young doctors (Yes, I dated one. Trust me. It’s common.) The hospital was a haven from all the stuff we distracted ourselves with. I couldn’t focus on food (it was regulated) or my professor (she couldn’t reach me) so I focused on all that was left: Myself. And it worked. I started to understand why I was eating and how I could change my patterns.

And once I changed my patterns with food, other things that require self-discipline improved as well. This phenomena is supported by lots of research – we want to change a lot of things in our life. For example, I wanted to stop thinking about food all the time and I wanted to work faster on the grant. Trying to do everything at once was overwhelming. But changing how I dealt with food had a positive ripple effect throughout my life.

3. Don’t be a snob
To be sure, I was not the worst off in the mental ward. There was shock therapy. There was suicide watch. I was surely one of the highest functioning patients: I was writing up my research at a brisk pace, I stopped wanting to throw up, and I got day passes from my shrink to date one of my ex-doctors.

But I learned quickly that there is no point in being high and mighty. We each have problems, and the only way to solve them is to face them. You might be fifteen pounds overweight, or fifty, or ten pounds underweight, it’s all the same. It’s all about getting to know yourself so you can take care of yourself more effectively and you can start reaching your real dreams – the stuff that really matters to you.

4. Stop using your job as an excuse
I knew as early as my sophomore year that I needed to get serious help. I knew I wanted to stop throwing up but I wasn’t stopping myself. What I focused on was the idea that I needed to graduate on time. I couldn’t let people know I had a big problem or I’d never fit in. My teachers would dump me. I wanted the problem to go away.

But the truth is that I was not really fitting in anyway, because I had to hide so much of my eating life. And my professor did dump me eventually, but it wasn’t because I didn’t get the work done. I did. It was just late and on hospital letterhead. She dumped me because after I stopped focusing on food and focused on myself instead, we both realized that being a historian was not right for me.

Taking a big pause in my work in order to deal with my issues around food was crucial to getting to know myself and creating stability in my life. So I’m telling anyone with an eating problem – if you are overweight or underweight — work can wait. Stop kidding yourself that doing your work is more important. People are always worrying that they will mess up their career by stopping their work to fix themselves. But the worst job is the job that you use to avoid your personal life.

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  1. Joe Fusco
    Joe Fusco says:

    Terrific posting, Penelope, and not just because it is honest and vulnerable — which it clearly is.

    It’s a great essay because it speaks — or should speak — to everyone, even those without eating disorders or weight problems. It further illuminates the intersection between life and work, and that so many of our hopes and capabilities for high performance, mastery, or making a contribution to society — whatever our goals, personal or professional — need to be addressed at that very intersection.

    I work with a lot of mid-career executives (a little older than what I gather is your audience) and, let me tell you, that intersection still haunts too many of them. Tell your generations X- and Y-er’s life and work will be so much more rewarding if they get it under control now.

  2. nicole
    nicole says:

    wow Penelope, what haven’t you gone through in your life?

    I like this post. Reminds me of a lot of girls I knew in college. And of myself, a bit. I dealt with my own issues, an even though they weren’t about eating, I can relate to everything you say here.

    Still, it does concern me how, in a way, you romanticize your bulimia and the whole process of throwing up.

    * * * * * *
    Yeah, the romanticizing. That’s a good point. I think bulimia is a lot like being addicted to drugs. And there is a wide body of literature written by drug addicts who are clean/sobor but write about the experience in a romantic way. It’s messed up. But it’s the reality of addiction, I think… Or maybe I don’t know. Maybe someone else will have something to say about this in this comment string… I am curious.


  3. David B. Bohl at SlowDownFAST.com
    David B. Bohl at SlowDownFAST.com says:


    Excellent post. Thanks again for offering of yourself so that I can relate.

    You hit the nail on the head when you talked in #1 about coping. We all have taught ourselves various ways to deal with and create our own realities. It’s dealing with life on life’s terms (instead of on our terms) that becomes a problem. We cannot or will not accept what we see before us, so we try to alter our perceptions of the world around us by looking for, and often doing anything to achieve, comfort – emotional peace of mind – however fleeting that might be.

    When I stopped drinking some time ago, I replaced the perceived comfort that provided me with food. After realizing this is what happened, I acted to change these habits. I set goals and disciplined myself.

    I’m far from perfect. I now realize that I’ve replaced drinking and food with an overwhelming desire for accomplishment. I’ve become an achievement junkie. I now have to correct this character defect through discipline and learning to enjoy the moment I’m in instead of always looking forward.

    One thing that works for me when all else fails is to remember a definition of ‘balance’, something that I often deviate from in my life: taking care to avoid the extremes.

    Thanks for the reminder today.


  4. David B. Bohl at SlowDownFAST.com
    David B. Bohl at SlowDownFAST.com says:


    Just caught your response to Joe.

    I can speak to your thoughts about the nature of addiction.

    As I mentioned earlier, I stopped drinking. I had to. I understand the nature of alcoholism and addiction, and it’s widely misunderstood.

    The fact of the matter is that addicts and alcoholics lose control over whatever it is that they’re using because it changes their reality. For example, a ‘normal’ person doesn’t drink specifically to change reality – they have some drinks to be social,to ‘take the edge off’, or to relax a little bit. An alcoholic drinks because he/she perceives a change in the world when he/she feels the effects of the alcohol. He/she becomes smarter, quicker, more likable, funnier, etc., but only is his or her own mind.

    That’s the nature of addiction. Arguments can be made that people can become addicted to many things: food, exercise, gambling, sex, chocolate, etc. Can someone really become ‘addicted’ i the truest sense of the word to chocolate? If eating that chocolate changes that person’s thinking – his perception of himself and the world in which he lives – then yes, he can become addicted to chocolate.

    There’s absolutely nothing romantic about addiction, despite what’s been written. When a person becomes lost in his head, there’s no place that’s scarier to be. It leaves a person powerless and with an unmanageable life.


  5. Joe Grossberg
    Joe Grossberg says:

    "I spent most of my time with spritely vixens seducing young doctors (Yes, I dated one. Trust me. It's common.)"

    Wait a minute – just to clarify, you're saying that psychiatrists (1) "dated" (ahem) their patients (2) in a mental ward and (3) did this often?


    I'm surprised you don't mention the volleyball. Athletes are under even greater stress to keep their weight down and there is no uniform so revealing as the one a beach volleyball player wears. Was this not a factor?

    * * * * *

    I love blogging because the comments always surprise me.

    The mental ward is crawling with medical residents who are 23 years old and have no idea what they are doing and just sort of hang out with the patients getting to know them.

    Beach volleyball players are in incredible shape because the game is so physically difficult. Being thin is a non-issue among these athletes. Side note, though: Having large breasts is an issue. The body type that is good for volleyball does not typically include breasts that are great for bikinis and there seemed to be a surge in implants just as I left the tour.

    – €“Penelope

  6. Alvaro
    Alvaro says:

    Penelope, great post. I had the fortune to interview Judith Beck recently, you will enjoy the notes:

    “I became particularly interested in the problem of overweight and was able to identify specific mindsets or cognitions about food, eating, hunger, craving, perfectionism, helplessness, self-image, unfairness, deprivation, and others, that needed to be targeted to help them reach their goal.”

    “The main message of cognitive therapy overall, and its application in the diet world, is straight-forward: problems losing weight are not one's fault. Problems simply reflect lack of skills–skills that can be acquired and mastered through practice.”



  7. Shefaly Y
    Shefaly Y says:

    “Understand that any weight problem is an emotional problem..”

    Ooh, Penelope, you know I could disagree with you there. Massively. A doctoral thesis worth :-)

    But I know you know it is more complex than that.

    Eating disorders (binge eating is one but does not involve purging which earns it a different classification in DSM-IV) are very complex. The general wisdom for bulimia and anorexia used to be that it afflicted teenage girls who did not feel “in control” of their lives. But now prevalence is increasing in women in their 20s/ 30s/ 40s and in men, who somehow did not seem to suffer the same neuroses as us.

    I know your tone in the post is non-chalant but many recovering sufferers will not see it that way. And those aspiring to be ‘ana’ will probably indeed use it as a primer. Last time I checked, there are over 35 pro-ana groups on Facebook! All closed groups and I imagine requiring some proof that one is indeed pro-ana.

    Specifically for weight loss:

    The only way for weight loss to tilt the caloric balance such that the expenditure outweighs the intake. I blogged over on my Obesity blog today about an inadvertent population-wide experiment in Cuba which reinforces this wisdom.

    Adults reportedly do not find exercise “fun” and “cognitive eating” and “aisle arithmetic” get too much for some too.

    The link between mental health and weight is not well understood (as in they co-occur but which way the causal arrow points, nobody is yet sure). I do definitely know that mental ward stay is not the way to get slim. I know someone whose depression got the better of her and she tried to commit suicide. The criminal case was narrowly avoided by her psychiatric diagnosis. She had to have considerable plastic surgery to repair the fire damage to her body. She lost a lot of weight but I doubt very much she wants to do it again (although her medication is making her put it back on, faster than she can spell depression).

    That said the workplace issues related to bias, stigma and discrimination – that you mention – are rife and well-documented going back to the 1960s. Even the medical profession suffers from it so many overweight people cannot get help.

    Good post, controversial framing, as usual :-)

  8. MyNameIsMatt
    MyNameIsMatt says:

    Has your time as an athlete played much of a role in your perception or ability to manage your weight?

    Personally, I have a low tolerance for people who gripe about their weight. Now, I think there is a different between something like bulimia or anorexia as a mental problem. However, I don’t think most people have such serious mental issues, and they’re just lazy in my opinion.

    I played both soccer and tennis in college (and some after, but nothing special), and I know what it takes to excel in physical situations. When I hear people say they tried a diet or some workout and they couldn’t reach their goals, I just think they don’t know what hard work means when it comes to physical situations like weight management.

    It’s physical improvement is certainly as much mental as it is physical, but I just think that people don’t appreciate the efforts put in, so complaints rub me the wrong way pretty easy. Do you see things different from your experience?

  9. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    “There is a wide body of literature written by drug addicts who are clean/sober but write about the experience in a romantic way.”

    Some people talk about their terrible romantic relationships in the same way.

    I also think that biographers tend to brag or swoon over their subjects’ romantic liaisons with famous people as if they were something of great value no matter how terrible they, in fact, were.

  10. John
    John says:

    Thanks for posting this Penelope. My wife is obese and likes to sit around the house, eat Chinese take-out, drink cheap wine and watch tv.

    After I show her this article maybe she will be motivated to take care of herself and realize it affects her career and not just our marriage.

  11. J.D.
    J.D. says:


    I have eating issues, too. I eat too much. I don’t purge — I just eat. Sometimes I feel like I can’t stop. I know I should, and I’ve managed to do it before, but I eat to cope with stress. I’m not morbidly obese, but I’m fat. I don’t fit my clothes. I’ve been wearing the same damn thing all week because everything else is too tight. And yet I’m eating crap food.

    I don’t know what made me click through on this item in my feed reader, but it was just what I needed to see. I’ve often wished I could check out of life for a month or so to get control of my eating issues, but it just doesn’t seem feasible.

    Do you have any book recommendations?


    * * * * * *
    JD, I really appreciate the honesty of this comment. It seems fitting to tell you that the books that had the most influence on me were the ones where people just wrote about the daily grind of their addiction — just like you are writing here. It’s all the smalll things, like wearing the same clothes all week, that really influenced me.

    I read all these books a while back, but they are probably still out there — My Name is Caroline, and The Best Little Girl in the World, and My Name is Alice.

    It’s fitting that the books I read were mosty about young women, becuase that’s what I was. But just writing the titles makes me a little teary. The books helped me so much to see reality by seeing it through someone else’s story first, and then, slowly, through my own story.


  12. Dale
    Dale says:

    Thanks. My sister was bulimic. This is similar to her in that she was stressed out about looking good and not being overweight anymore. I know it wasn’t easy for you. Kudos.

  13. CL
    CL says:

    Okay, where to start?

    1.) What “weight issues” your speaking about? Most women in America think they need to lose at least 10 lbs. regardless of what they weigh. If you’re going to talk about weight you need to define what you’re talking about. Overweight, obesity, etc. You bring up eating disorders as if this were automatically linked to being overweight. One does not need to be disordered to put on some extra padding on one’s tuckus.

    2.) The link to “heavier people do worse at work” proves nothing. Is this the link you intended? Because it just takes me to another BC post about the candy dish experiment (which is an OLD experiment, btw). All that experiment proved is that people will eat what’s in front of them, not that heavier people don’t do perform well on the job.

    3.) And btw, what is “heavier”? The entire country is “heavier” than it was 20 years ago. Is our society as a whole going down the tank in the work place?

    4.) Funny, being overweight didn’t seem to impede the success of Merv Griffith, Carol Moseley Braun, Barbara Mikulski, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Drew Carey, Barry Diller, Rosie O’Donnell, Carlos Slim (the richest man in the world, who’s definitely NOT skinny), ADM’s Pat Woertz, P&G’s Susan Arnold, HP’s Ann Livermore– or the success of the thousands of fat cat CEO’s (there’s a reason for that name, you know) and politicos who run the world. Then there’s also a whole category of people whose career success depends on being on the fluffier side of the scale: sumo wrestlers, chefs, medical records coders (trust me), dietians Macy’s santas, and obesity researchers at major universities (oh yeah most of them are fat, check out Kelly Brownell, one of the foremost experts on obesity http://www.yale.edu/psychology/FacInfo/Brownell.html)

    5.) Despite whatever Oprah may say, all weight problems are not due to emotional issues. Read Gina Kolata’s excellent book “Rethinking Thin” to learn about the science behind weight loss.

    6.) Forget about fat and concentrate on getting FIT, regardless of how much you weigh. Exercise has been found to be good for the BRAIN. And that’s good for your work life.

    7.) Work out during your lunch hour. It’s a great stress buster.

  14. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    @ CL: I know this is P’s blog and she should really address your points but I think I could handle a few:

    1. Although she talks of bulimia (binge eating followed by purging), binge eating in itself is a disorder that co-exists in many cases of obesity.

    That said I think she is not talking about obesity but general weight related anxiety when she was in her late teens (from what I understand). I would recommend Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s body project related readings or her history of Anorexia Nervosa to see a good discourse on how societal, psychological and familial pressures can shape an eating disorder.

    2. The candy dish experiment is Bryan Wansink’s experiment to establish a link between mindless eating and weight gain.

    I think P is being diplomatic by saying ‘heavier’ people, when she really means ‘obese’ people. For that there is plenty of data from NHANES, BRFSS and other US based data gathering exercises.

    3. Indeed the whole society in the UK and the US and in other nations is “heavier” than it was before.

    4. You cite so many names, but the fact that you know their names shows that this is unusual. For every overweight person’s name, one can cite a few hundred non-overweight people.

    Including the work done by Kelly Brownell and his centre, there is a lot of evidence of weight related stigma and discrimination in the workplace.

    BTW you really need to see Kelly Brownell’s before-book and after-book pictures. He is a tall man, and a larger man no doubt but he put on a lot of weight in his most recent book-writing. Ask him!

    5. I agree on this point. But a better book on the science of weight is Ellen Ruppel Shell’s “The Hungry Gene”.

    On 6 & 7: I have to say that Penelope has written about a time in her life when most girls feel vulnerable about their bodies. To project it on to her as an adult is not really suitable I think.

    As for exercising in lunch hour: few people do. Which is why we have a population wide weight issue. Fewer than 3% of Americans, despite knowing the 4 basic rules of health, practise all 4 rules (one is about weight and one is about exercise; the other about fruit and veg, and the last one about smoking). This is acc to BRFSS data. In the UK, over 2/3 adults would only exercise if their life depended on it. Only 4% report it to be fun so you can imagine how many are really getting out and exercising. This is true even when we use a lot more public transport and walk and cycle a lot more than the US public does (data available from UK stats office and from the US Health Surveys).

    Easy to say, harder to do.

    All said and done, P describes a time in her life, when a tad extra weight looks like obesity setting girls into damaging eating-purging patterns.

    I agree she should not have written so non-chalantly about it. Some young girls may take it as a primer. Some of her points are spot-on. Others less so.


  15. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    I’m with Nicole – what haven’t you done in your life?

    This seems obvious but should be pointed out – some people have weight problems but absolutely no emotional problems. Their issues are medical. Thyroid problems are just one example.

    * * * * * *
    Yes. Good point. Although I want to add that people do not cut you slack in the discrimination department if it is medical. It’s not fair. But it’s true.


  16. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    @ CL:

    Another quick one about why most obesity researchers are fat:

    Most research philosophy and methodology related text books outline that a researcher of social issues usually has a stake in the matter. Gender issues are usually studied by women; race issues mostly by black and brown people;

    Likewise, those who study weight have a direct or indirect stake in that issue. In my case I chose obesity as a case study because I saw a photo of my mother at a young age. She was not tall but looked big. Since she is not alive, I could not have seen the ‘trajectory’. My sister is thin and tall, I am petite and athletic. I just wanted to know and understand weight gain. That drove me.

    So with Kelly Brownell I imagine. BTW the rest of them at the Rudd Centre (with 1 or 2 exceptions) are all slim and mostly women. What does that say? :-)

  17. JC
    JC says:

    I’m with you on the uncooked bagel Penelope(and most things bread-y)! Having something “stuck” was the most awful feeling! But i’m happily in recovery now for 8 years…and yes, we are like drug addicts.

  18. Prashant Jejurikar
    Prashant Jejurikar says:

    Penelope, after looking back on my eating habits I realized that I was munching on stuff throughout the working day, most of it was processed food (high in fat and sodium). So I’ve started on a combination of changing my eating habits and physical activities:

    1. When I feel hungry, I first try to drink a little water – most of the times I’m only thirsty. Also, I carry raw veggies/fruits with high water content – cucumbers, carrots, apples etc. Eating one piece satiates me for quite some time.
    2. I try to park as far away from the office building as I can, to increase the distance I walk.
    3. I have to work from 2 different offices regularly. In one of them, my cube is on the 8th floor. I don’t take the elevator, I climb the stairs. It was very painful for the first 2 weeks, but now it’s routine.

    This change is not even a month old, but already I’m feeling less stressed and exhausted than earlier.

  19. Skhan
    Skhan says:

    How rich and full are life’s experiences – you encourage me to revisit my own past and consciously realize the lessons.

    Another interesting development in female weight management patterns is “detoxing” requiring flushing the colon and restricting foods to only natural, non allergenic types. I confess I continue to do this from time to time – it just feels so good. With a desk job we simply do not need as many rich calories as we’d like to taste.

    Ballet dancers are one form of athlete who must not only exercise, but also live primarily on veggies.

  20. Colin K.
    Colin K. says:

    My opinion, based on my own experience, is that short of a magic metabolism pill (I have a friend who is 31, my height, eats as much as I do and drinks like a fish, never exercises, and has a body like Giselle Bundchen’s), there will be no societal solution for obesity any more than there has ever been a societal solution for lust.

    You are fighting against the lizard part of your brain here, and that’s a very hard thing to do, day in, day out, for years. Obesity may be more advanced as a problem in the US than elsewhere, but it is steadily on the rise almost everywhere that people can afford it.

    My experience is that the number of people who are genetically/biologically predisposed towards obesity*, and who are able to successfully hold the line against it, is so minimal as to be irrelevant. Year-in, year-out, studies find that exercise and calorie restriction work. They also find that 95% of people are incapable of sustaining the regime. The conclusion? Continue the beatings until morale improves!

    Not so long ago, a lot, maybe most people would have said that depression was the sufferer’s fault. With obesity many of the arguments carry a similar moralistic undertone. Fat people are lazy, they’re slobs, they have no self-control, etc. Are there elements of truth to these? Sure, but we’ve come to realize with depression, schizophrenia, and other problems that there are profound biochemical issues in play more often than not. As we bring the full force of technology to bear, I suspect that our understanding of obesity–and how to treat it–will change similarly. Hopefully soon, because the costs, particularly to those who suffer from it–are profound.

    * Some people genuinely enjoy exercise, prefer the taste of fish to ribeye, and on and on. Others have good habits thanks to upbringing. The point here is how do we help those who, for whatever reason, do not start with any of these benefits in the bank. While telling them to exercise and eat better is valid advice, history suggests that there is a large group of people for whom this simply isn’t going to work, any more than telling a depressed person to cheer up will.

  21. M
    M says:

    “Understand that any weight problem is an emotional problem.”

    You do acknowledge that many weight problems can be solely a result of medical problems, side effects of medications, and the like, right?

    I like the advice on putting one’s health–both physical and psychological/emotional–first, even if it means doing something seemingly drastic if necessary. But I don’t agree with reducing all weight issues to being a result of emotional sources, as yours was. Many are purely physical and have nothing to do with obsessive and pathalogical behaviors.

    I assume you realize this but your post ignores this well documented fact and thus perpetuates the belief that weight issues are all psycholoical in nature–something that’s totally untrue.

  22. M
    M says:

    I also wanted to add that the average person does not have the ability to distinguish whether someone’s weight issue is due to medical issues or other causes.

    This certainly can’t be known at work based on observation. The only way for coworkers to know is if the person tell coworkers the cause of their issue, which is usually not done at work. So, the point that discrimination is reserved for or mostly pointed toward those whose weight issues stem from nonphysical is mostly moot, as this is not somethin the average person knows about someone else.

    That’s why I beileve that statements like the one made in your post about weight issues all being emotional in cause only serve to perpetuate that discrimination, because many in our society share that belief and since they have no or little way of knowing whose issues stem from what cause, they will just hold a bias against most or all people with weight problems and assume they all have weight issues because of overeating or other similar problem.

  23. mm-nyc
    mm-nyc says:

    M, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m usually a huge fan of Penelope’s, but posts like this perpetuate the mythology that fat people are are fat because of emotional eating.

    Many people engage in what Penelope calls emotional eating and they aren’t aren’t all fat (or bulimic). Eating and affect are intimately connected for most people — this is not unhealthy, it’s human.

    Penelope, please rethink your fatophobic post. Just because Oprah mistakenly thinks all fat is due to emotional eating doesn’t mean you need to make the same mistake.

    Look at the new and solid data that links fat accumulation with specific microbes in the digestive track.

  24. CL
    CL says:

    If losing weight were easy, then fat researchers like Kelly Brownell (who has studied obesity for DECADES) would be THIN. They have all the answers, after all.

    Being overweight is not all due to “emotional issues.” Hopefully readers of this blog are savvy enough to know that this is not the place to be getting information about their health. Btw, Penelope has not said just how “overweight” she was.

    I’m still waiting to see the evidence that overweight people perform poorly at work. (And by how many pounds overweight,btw?)

  25. Lea
    Lea says:

    Part of your story is echoed in the fabulous memoir Wasted by Marya Hornbacher.

    But this post also goes a long way to explaining why you feel that being fat is such a horrible thing and why you wrote that blog post (which you removed) about the weight of an author you criticized.

  26. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    @ CL:

    “If losing weight were easy, then fat researchers like Kelly Brownell (who has studied obesity for DECADES) would be THIN. They have all the answers, after all.”

    They are still researchers because they are looking for an answer. Indeed most are looking for answers because they are fat or overweight or whatever term du jour people wish to use.

    Most of them are intellectually honest enough to admit they do not know the answer. Yet. Others may be willing to flog partial ‘answers’ as ‘solutions’.


  27. Mary
    Mary says:

    Hello, This is Mary

    I am 36 years old with 2 toddlers. My youngest just started day care last week- which still feels a little strange. I haven’t had this much time to myself in years. First thing I want to do is lose the extra pounds I put on during the last pregnancy. One of the girls next door has suggested I join her walking group two days a week. After my first pregnancy I lost around 35 pounds using the Herbalife products, but when I called the man that sold them to me three years ago he told me this week he doesn’t sell them anymore. He told me to look on the internet. It’s disappointing because he was really nice and he called me regularly to make sure I was using their products correctly. It was nice to have someone checking in with me every week to see how I was and it kept me motivated.

    I searched on the internet for someone that sells Herbalife in New Jersey. I found many websites but I don’t want
    just to buy the products, I want to find someone trustworthy that sells the products so I can also meet them and get started again.

    Could anybody here recommend someone in New Brunswick?

    Thanks, Mary

  28. Lie
    Lie says:

    So being overweight is not just because of ur job. It has many reasons.Weight can be lost by using some good products like ‘Biotrainerusa’.

  29. ali
    ali says:

    I think it might seem a little late, but in response to shefaly (October 9, 2007), I – €Žshould mention that knowing something might not mean that you are devoted to doing – €Žit. That is, there is a difference between being “able” and “doing” in reality – €. – €
    Moreover, in my mind, the writer of the blog has truly pointed to the impact of one’s mental states on his/her outer body image.

  30. friend
    friend says:

    Your story reads parallel to my currently experience. I’ve never seen bulimia articulated so closely to, I think, my reasons for falling for it. I have not yet had successful treatment. All the psychiatrists I’ve gone to have tried to tell me I have something else, probably related to stress, or that it must have to do with my mother.

    I want to stop so terribly and it never works for more than a few days to a week at most. I’ve tried everything. Gosh darn it, in every other aspect of my life I achieve great amazing things, this is the one hurdle I can’t seem to overcome. You did.

    You’ve given me renewed hope that I can fix this. Thanks for the post.

  31. A alive
    A alive says:

    Thanks. My sister was bulimic. This is similar to her in that she was stressed out about looking good and not being overweight anymore. I know it wasn’t easy for you. Kudos.

  32. Natalie Lange
    Natalie Lange says:

    I can’t find a way around your point that all eating disorders are emotional disorders. That is absolutely true.

    Here’s my example: I’m a happy go lucky skinny kid. Other kids call me anorexic-for 8 years. I adopt a junk food diet to prove that I don’t care about my weight. I hit puberty-at age 20. I get curves. I get cellulite-! At this point I’m thinking this is just a result of nutritionally void eating habits. Just a habit I need to change.

    But you’re right. This is not about mere food preferences. Now I have skinny ribs AND cellulite, just because I felt the need to prove that I wasn’t messed up, so they would like me. Thanks for the slap on the head, so to speak.

    Excellent blog.

  33. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Bulimia and woman are included in the content of a recent article in the UK Telegraph ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/6214168/French-MPs-want-health-warnings-on-airbrushed-photographs.html ). It’s titled ‘French MPs want health warnings on airbrushed photographs’ and subtitled ‘Airbrushed photographs could be given government health warnings in France to protect women from ‘false’ images of female beauty’.
    People need to be concerned with their weight when it impacts their lifestyle or health. However, obsessing over weight is not good either. The following is a quote from the article – “These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents. Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age. In some cases this leads to anorexia or bulimia and very serious health problems.”
    Yes, I do worry sometimes more than I should but not as much as I used to I think. So here is a link to today’s meditation which I read everyday from a small booklet (Forward Day by Day) – http://forwardmovement.org/forward-day-by-day/ . The verse for today is about worrying.
    Matthew 6:25-34. And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Check it out. :)

  34. Sara
    Sara says:


    I identify with a commenter above. I’m not obese, but I definitely don’t have the healthiest of eating habits, and I require a higher maintenance diet due to a possible PCOS diagnosis. The doctor didn’t want to put me on medication for it, but did want me to improve my diet.

    I’m a Junior at a Private school, in charge of a club, running my own organization, trying to get a jump start on my career… how do I just “stop”? It doesn’t seem possible.


  35. Leila
    Leila says:

    I’ve always been fascinated about the different ways people have created to achieve one goal, the goal of weight loss. For me, it all starts with the food you eat. I filled out this survey to help out in weight loss program research — about the dieting and nutrition habits of people. For the love of weight loss, check this survey out! http://bit.ly/4TttX.

  36. Iam not obese
    Iam not obese says:

    There are some people who are not affected by their “over-weight” body basically because they don’t derive their self image from it. When being obese becomes an issue of self-image, it does get dangerous because now your body has become your enemy. Throwing up what you eat is sickening to even think of, but some people do it voluntarily because their mind has started treating the body with disregard, it looks at the body as a source of “shame” and unconsciously tries to punish it.

    All addictions have their roots in an unconscious enmity against our life situation. Being obese is a life situation, and to sabotage the body through throwing up food voluntarily is an addiction which get generated through hatred towards this life situation. Alcohol addiction and chain smoking are all the result of a deep seated hate for “life” as it’s presenting itself.

    Acceptance is the key to wisdom. Without living unconsciously, there is a need to consciously accept what life brings forth. If you are over-weight, that is the condition life has presented right now. Accept it completely, make sure you dissolve any resistance to your body. It’s not easy, but to accept is quite simple (if you are willing to be simple), all you need to do is stop believing your thoughts about the situation. Once there is acceptance right action comes forth of its own accord. You will not indulge in any self-sabotaging behavior, this will only happen when you are in resistance to what life has presented you with. Ignore your thoughts and just accept the way life is right now, this is best way to live because the wisdom of life becomes your guiding force instead of the “destructive” intelligence of the mind. When you accept your life situation completely, without any resistance, then right action will come forth. You cannot overcome suffering unless you stop resisting life.

  37. Donna
    Donna says:

    Addictions may be a reaction to life situations and do temporarily salve the pain. But when I blame current circumstances for my unhappiness I ignore the eternal unhappiness that has persisted since I first felt my separateness from the world. No success can ever fill that void? Nor faith, nor food.

  38. H
    H says:

    I have/had bulimia since 2004 and its peak was in 2005 when I purged several times a day. On that year, I also had depression and self-harmed. Now is 2010, I think my last purge was last weekend (but I wouldn’t call myself bulimic as I rarely do so now) and my last cut was sometime last weekend as well after drowning more than a few shots of vodka. I have never seen a psychiatrist or psychologist or never been to a mental ward.

    I am not sure if this “depression” business is still with me, at the moment it is but I can change my camouflage and turn into a highly productive person/entrepreneur. I use my ‘down turns’ as a motivation to be the best that I can be. Maybe out of guilt with myself? I use my passion in what I do to give myself some sort of reason why I should exist. The many different variables that can help shape our life is interesting – I might have the genes capable of running an organisation/business or set up a foundation or something good for the people yet still share with the genes leaning towards self-destructiveness like depression, bulimia, anxiety and self-harm.

    Thank you for the courage in articulating what you went through in public – I hope that I can do the same.

  39. danielgos
    danielgos says:

    Interesting article – its always intriguing to observe how some of us struggle with taking the necessary action to get to the shape that we desire, my comments to anyone wishing to overcome obesity or other image challeneges is to take it one day at a time and employ a good dose of persistence and tenacity in other words choose your training regime and keep going til you reach your desired goal. Only those that give up fail. Seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist will only help in the short term this is all about you and your own desire and how badly we want change.

  40. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to check myself in to a mental ward. I was bulimic for a good three years, and I still struggle with weight. After visiting my friend in a mental ward, I thought to myself how peaceful it could be for me to figure out what is wrong with me and how I can change it.

    Good to know I’m not crazy.

  41. Roslyn@Blogging for Dummies
    Roslyn@Blogging for Dummies says:

    I am skipping meals as a desperate move of lossing weight and I always end up unsuccessful, I gained weight instead. I realized that everything is just setting your mind to what is really important and not, so as what you really need and not. Eating a lot in one meal is too much of what you really need. Right now, I’m trying to eat less and eat healthy. At 25 I should be in shape…

  42. Becca Vance
    Becca Vance says:

    I found this very help full to my family and myself. I do these on a weekly basis and they are essential and not just for weight maintenance but health wise also :) Try it, Lose it Fast and Naturally!

    If you have any questions let me know, I would be more than glad to answer!!! Happy sunny day :)

  43. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Wow. Most pathetic excuse for an article I’ve ever read. 1- you didn’t date doctors. A person in a position with the upper-hand, a doctor, cannot date a person who is under their direct control, a mental ward patient. Thats called statutory rape. Its clear your obsession with being thin and being desired did not go anywhere. Are you sure your parents didn’t check you in to the psyc ward for other things as well? You think people will only approve of you if you are beautiful, but in reality they will never truly approve of you for being so delusional, they will only approve of how you look. Get your priorities straight- how old are you anyway? This kind of talk is sad for someone your age.

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