Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Hell of the North - A Day at Paris Roubaix

I'm posting my descriptions of the two Monuments of cycling that I attended in April 2014, but I'm doing it in reverse chronological order. Just to annoy any OCD readers I might have. Tour of Flanders musings to follow. 

Spartacus on the first secteur
(4/14/14): Gliding from Lille to St. Pancras on the Eurostar with Monday-morning business persons, I’m still trying to process the experience of Paris-Roubaix, what made it so exceptionally cool, and why it was so important to me to see this race and the Tour of Flanders. Part of it is the history – thinking of the textile magnates in Roubaix who wanted to promote their unglamorous city in the 1890s, of the first scout sent to ride the proposed route who reported that it was too dangerous for humans to ride, of the race organizers trying to discern the route of the first race after WWI, when the whole landscape of Northern France was torn to shreds, of the miners who felt that 280 km of suffering on a bike on your day off was worth it for the chance to win a year’s pay. Any race nicknamed “The Hell of the North” has to be worth watching.

Part of it is the peculiar devotion of the cultists of cycling, way more mainstream in Europe than in the US, but nowhere near as popular as football. I doubt there was a huge crowd for Paris-Roubaix at the sports bar on the Rue Saint-Dominique, where Eric and I couldn’t get in the door last week for the Champions’ League quarterfinal. But along the French-Belgian border yesterday, a horde of semi-secret pilgrims made their way by car, bus, motorcycle, bike, and scooter from one stretch of ancient cobbled road to another. Led by helicopters, clouds of dust, and GPS, and the arcane knowledge of tour director Didier Durin, we would drive along anonymous freeways and backroads, calm and Sunday quiet, and all of a sudden we’d see a huge cluster of parked cars and people streaming down the road to some distant intersection. License plates from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Switzerland. Rainbows of team cars packed with spare wheels, bikes, food, drinks, jackets, radios. Rowdy young men, families, teenagers on all kinds of bikes, sedate middle-aged French cycling nuts, tourists like me, all converging in this magical spot.

Our first intro to the cobbles was the same place the riders meet them for the first time, at Troisvilles, after 95km of gently rolling pastoral landscapes, brick houses, rapeseed fields and poplars. We trekked across a ploughed field and clambered up a nettle-infested bank commanding a sweeping view of the first “secteur” of pavĂ©, the cobbles. Half a mile from the village, surrounded by fields, we lined the narrow lane, taking pictures of ourselves, each other, the cobbles, and swapping bits of race news in multiple languages as Norwegians, Australians, and Frenchpersons around us checked their mobiles. “There’s an 8-man break. No big names. 5-minute lead on the peloton,” then out to 10 minutes then back to 8. The first few race vehicles cruised by at about 30 mph, and the fine, fine dust that settles between the cobbles flew up and blew into our faces, over our phones, into the creases of our jackets and inside our eyelids. Fortunately our four Norwegian group members had brought multiple collections of aquavit miniatures, which they swore would ward off sore throats. The aquavit had a fine woody taste with an overtone of petroleum, cutting the dust nicely. Those of us with the best view on the high bank side of the road were also downwind of the dust. But we didn’t cross the road because cycling is about suffering, and so is cycling spectatorship. More race vehicles – team cars, press, photographers’ motorcycles, ambulances, more dust. I put my jacket over my face and closed my eyes.
The dust cloud remains but the peloton is gone

After about 40 minutes we saw helicopters to the southwest, hovering over the break and the main field. The whop-whop-whop of their rotors built the anticipation, and spectators rechecked their lenses and viewing angles. Finally we saw the race referee’s car, the lead motorcycle, and a small dust cloud. “Allez-allez-allez!” rang out on all sides and eight riders, sped by, their lycra iridescent in the morning sun, their bikes visibly bouncing on the cobbled surface. I had ridden a few cobbles in Ghent the week before on a cushy-seated heavy-framed rental, and my butt tensed in sympathy as I watched the riders on their slivers of leather saddle.

A few minutes to check pics, delete the many failures, sip some aquavit, and blink, and then another convoy of cars and the main field, 191 riders strung out in a long bright necklace, having jockeyed for front position before the pave started. The road is humpbacked, and everyone wants to ride in the middle, where it’s safest. On the sloped sides, you can more easily catch a wheel or pinch a tube in the gap between stones. I put my phone on multishot and tried to scream, watch, and shoot pictures at the same time. A couple of stragglers even at this early stage, the last car, and then the pilgrims on the side of the road turned to go, home or on to lunch or off to their next section.

Our Sports Pulsions tour group (yes, I said Sports Pulsions) was heading for the notorious Trench of Arenberg, 2.4 km of disorderly cobbles, rocks, really, running through a forest. Nobody ever drives on it now, so it’s just rocks and grass, with deep muddy ditches on either side of the road. Fortunately for the riders, these days there are barriers on either side of the road so that they won’t go into the ditch. However the barriers also block their access to the narrow dirt shoulders of the lane, where many people used to prefer to ride rather than clatter along the cobbles. The crossroads at the Arenberg were far, far more crowded. This is a critical point in the race – there are always crashes as the nervous riders fight for position, get caught in the cobbles, get flats – and people were lined up three or four deep at the exit from the Trench. I jumped two ditches and up a bank to get to the guts of the trench, up the road from the VIP stand, the sausage and beer vendors, and the cops.

In the Forest of Arenberg

The helicopters circled us a couple of times and the crowd hollered and waved. Some people had brought chairs and were surrounded by piles of Jupiter cans, or, in some classier encampments, empty bottles of Chimay. The eight man break was splitting up and the gap was down to four minutes and change by this point, about 100 km to go. The riders were bouncing more visibly this time, going a lot slower, and clearly starting to feel fatigue. A few had cuts and road rash, everyone’s skin was dark brown from sweat and caked dust. The peloton was spread far and wide now; the domestiques whose job it was just to get their teammates to the entrance of the Trench were falling behind and struggling just to ride over the cobbles. As we moved back toward the bus, one rider from Lampre-Merida, far behind the rest, got to the smooth tarmac and coasted to the railings. I couldn’t tell if he was sick, injured or just feeling generally awful, but he climbed into the team car and abandoned the race right there, with spectators snapping away on their phones. Some riders had gotten multiple flats in the Trench, I found out later, grabbing a bike or a wheel from a teammate to carry on racing, only to flat again on the sharp cobbles. Trek rider Gregory Rast hurled his bike in frustration. I hurried back to the bus so we could hit the next stop in plenty of time, even eschewing the opportunity to pee in the storied Forest of Arenberg in the interests of time. Team cars battled the crowds to head to the next danger zone with spare wheels and first aid. On our bus, Didier passed out cold fruit juices, which we all chugged with deep gratitude. Morten and Thor passed out more aquavit, which nobody chugged except the Norwegians. The bus kept heading northeast, generally towards Roubaix. A couple of times we saw a distant cloud of dust as the peloton hit another secteur out among the farms. The pave hits thick and fast between Arenberg and Hem. Graham and the Norwegians, who had ridden the course the day before, were remembering how their hands were numb and their forearms aching by this point.

As we entered Roubaix, Didier’s mysterious connections with race organizers ASO started to manifest. Our bus had a sticker on it saying “Paris-Roubaix 2014: Technique,” which apparently translates to “Magic Bus – Let This Vehicle Go Wherever It Wants.” We watched in awe as police opened barriers for us and let us rumble to the very corner of the sports complex which houses the historic velodrome. We hurried to the public entrance, which was, rather amazingly, free if you wanted to stand on the back straight or along the banked turns. But Didier directed us further along, to the VIP stands, where our “Sports Pulsions” badges opened the gates again. We bounded up the stairs, pockets stuffed with aquavit, and clambered among the concrete stands to arrive in – well, frankly, Paradise. About 30 feet from the finish line in the most famous velodrome for the most famous one-day race in cycling. I was hyperventilating. It’s an old concrete building (the Googles wouldn’t easily divulge its exact age) with a concrete track and concrete stands, not fancy. The only thing VIP about the VIP stands was the proximity to the finish, but that was enough.

The giant outdoor screen showing the race, which was by now in its final 30 kilometers, was just far enough away that we couldn’t really tell what was going on, so we depended on a variety of smartphones and international data gouging plans to keep up to date. “Hushovd is leading the front group!” Cheers from the Norwegians. “Boonen is going off the front!” (we didn’t need the smartphone updates for that because all the Belgians in the velodrome went nuts). Roubaix is practically in Belgium so there were lots of Lions of Flanders in the crowd. “Thomas is pulling Boonen back!” Small cheer from the Welsh-American woman in the concrete bleachers. “Sagan attacking again!” No cheers. 
Terpstra starts his bell lap, in serious pain

The helicopters eventually started to circle the town and the tension built. The smartphones and the big screen informed us that dark horse Niki Terpstra from the Netherlands had gone off the front of the race on his own with six kilometers to go. We all thought that Cancellara, Bradley Wiggins, et al would chase him down, but the big screen showed Terpstra coming into Roubaix and down the final boulevard all by himself.

Terpstra came through the tunnel on the far side of the stadium followed by a wave of cheering. As he crossed the finish line for the first time and headed into his final lap, his face was twisted in pain, his mouth wide open trying to take in more air. The bell ringer for the final lap worked the rope with all his might – what a great job that would be! – and the chase group with Wiggins, Cancellara, Thomas, Boonen, Van Marcke, Degenkolb came storming in. But it was too late; Terpstra had the win, one of the Monuments of cycling; the chasers had to sprint for second. Degenkolb took it out, with Cancellara in third. Groups of tired, dusty, battered riders came limping into the velodrome for a long time after, but the racing was over. The media swarmed Terpstra and the other top finishers; most of the rest of the peloton came in anonymously and headed for the legendary showers. I’m not sure what makes them legendary, other than the fact that the hot water was unpredictable for decades and that riders always really needed showers after a day of racing in the mud or dust.

One minor flaw in our otherwise amazing setup is that they held the podium ceremony in the infield and didn’t give the public access to it. It would have been super cool to get up close to the exhausted but exultant winner and to Degenkolb, and especially to Fabian Cancellara, the most gorgeous bike racer in the sport.

After the podiums, Graham and I walked around to the side street where the buses and mechanics’ trucks were lined up, but all the riders were already safely ensconced in their vehicles, or maybe in the legendary showers, so we headed back to the bar. I love that the velodrome has a bar. It’s a cramped, utilitarian place, but it’s steeped in cycling history. Signed jerseys from Eddy Merckx and Roger de Vlaeminck, a cobble from the roads and the list of every winner of Paris-Roubaix from 1896 to 2013, hand painted above the bar. It smelled of old cigarettes and beer and it was beautiful.

Niki Terpstra starts the bell lap Roubaix velodrome 2014
The historic velodrome

As we wandered out of the bar towards the bus, Graham pointed to a lone rider pedaling slowly out of the velodrome access road, almost unnoticed. “It’s Cancellara,” he said. And it was. One of the greatest classics riders and time trialists ever: last year’s Roubaix winner, this year’s Tour of Flanders winner, three Roubaix wins, three Flanders wins, four time trial world championships, alone and exhausted in the late sunshine.

The riders did 257 km, some 50 km of it over cobbles so rough that American rider Chris Horner compared it to rocks dropped out of a helicopter into a ploughed field. Paris-Roubaix requires enormous outputs of power, plus endurance, plus bike handling, plus the ability to just plain suffer for six to seven hours. Cancellara had every right to be exhausted. But we spectators were pretty knackered as well. I got dropped off at a hotel in Lille and had to rest for an hour before I could muster the energy for a (great, hot) shower. Setting off in search of dinner, I made it exactly three doors down the street before ducking into a Chinese restaurant and feasting on surprisingly good pork shu mai and fried rice. The Hell of the North recedes into history for another year.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Race Report to Come; Just Not My Own.

People of the Internet! I'm resurrecting the blog, possibly temporarily, possibly not. We'll see how it goes. I just got back from a mind-exploding trip to the spring cobbled classics of cycling, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Each race is an incredible spectacle and a testament to human toughness, grit, and the ability to develop buttocks of titanium through hard training. But one of the things that inspired me most about the trip was the people I met who love cycling and endurance events and, in some cases, push through a lot of inconvenience and pain to take part in them. I will write more on this because it's tying in with various things I've been thinking about. Meanwhle here's a picture of cycling's most charismatic rider (IMHO), Fabian Cancellara, three-time Flanders winner. Followed by Sep Vanmarcke, Spartacus is chasing down a breakaway on the way to this year's victory.  
image of Fabian Cancellara on the Oude Kwaremont, Tour of Flanders 2014

Thursday, March 22, 2012

To Fail to Plan, Planned Parenthood Northwest... to plan to fail. And I am out of my month-long blogless torpor to comment on a particularly epic fail by Planned Parenthood Northwest. Here's what I just emailed them:

Dear Planned Parenthood Northwest,

I'm pretty disappointed in you at the moment. I got right up on Facebook and supported PP when the Susan G. Komen folks did their reprehensible thing. I have been speaking out for access to contraception and women's health without interference from religious and political nuts. And then you go and say this in your press release:

"Alaska should not be the place for the next frontier on the national war on women. As a state, we need to focus on continued revenue generation, addressing critical health care issues like obesity, children’s health care, and suicide, and ensuring that all Alaskans are afforded the rights put in place by our constitution regardless of their socioeconomic status."

I would venture to say that Alaska should also not be the place for a war on fat people. And I'm deeply offended that you consider obesity to be on some sort of par with suicide as a "critical health care issue" that needs to be addressed. I am a very fat, active, socially engaged woman whose life is full and happy. My health is good, and I take good care of my mind and my body because I value them. If you are interested in people's health, and not their pants size, I suggest that you turn your focus toward access to the following: joyful, accepting physical activity, nutritious food, eliminating stigma due to physical difference, and providing people of every size, shape, color, age, and income level with decent health care.

If you would like to learn more about Health at Every Size, please contact me or just go to

Let's continue to support each other, huh?

Jayne Williams
Sacramento, CA

If you feel the need for a little activism along these lines, email PP Northwest here:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Progress Report - On the Mat

I realize that there hasn't been much Slow Fat Triathleting on this blog lately. I've been more entertained by various forms of ranting for Health At Every Size and against size prejudice and related forms of stupidity. It's the zeal of the recently liberated...

And frankly, there hasn't been a lot going on as far as moving my bod. There's really only so much you can write about using your abdominal muscles to press your lower back firmly into the mat; or bridging, or planking. Especially if you're not even doing it, which I wasn't for a while. Had my traditional post-Christmas cold, which made the thought of getting down on the floor abhorrent beyond measure. And for some reason, probably associated with my still-convoluted myofascial mess, I would arise from my floor work with a pounding headache, even after the sinus congestion had abated. So that was a disincentive.

But in the last few days I have reapplied my nose to the grindstone and my posterior to the yoga mat. And there's some real good news to report. I am stronger, I have more endurance, and I have way, way less pain. My bridges are higher and firmer with less effort. You couldn't drive a truck over them but you might manage a Fiat 500. My planks are plankier; my clamshells clammier (don't ask). I'm more flexible, and I can move between exercises with greater ease. When my SI joint was cranky, just turning over from supine to prone was a serious endeavor.

My brilliant chiro has loosened up some of the really nagging spots, which has enabled me to move more normally and get out of the downward spiral of stiffness and pain. And a lot of it I've done myself, with coaching from my brilliant trainer. Which is cool. I think the lesson here is the reminder (again), that bodies are amazing and resilient, that they can respond quickly to training, and we need to be freakin' grateful for everything they can do.

(Super-basic drawing from The Metallica Workout at Men's Health UK. How could I resist such a source? All the other bridge pix I could find were of women so thin that I couldn't put them on my Slow Fat Triathlete blog, in all honesty.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Georgia, Georgia...No Peace I Find

There's been a lot of blogging and petitioning about the Children's Health Alliance of Atlanta, and what many consider to be their utterly misguided campaign against childhood obesity. I hate to send them traffic, but these videos are just so heartbreaking because they are so wrong. In one "Bobby" asks, "Mom, why am I fat?" Mom herself is fat, and she doesn't get a chance to answer. The video ends with her just sort of staring. In another, "Tina" says that she doesn't like going to school because the other kids pick on her. The end screen states, in stark black and white caps: "BEING FAT TAKES THE FUN OUT OF BEING A KID." Um, hello? BEING BULLIED takes the fun out of being a kid.

Like so many other attempts to "battle" the "epidemic" of childhood obesity, this video campaign focuses on the wrong stuff. Oddly, there's a lot of the right stuff elsewhere on the website. Stuff about movement, about having fun running and jumping, eating fruits and vegetables. They don't say "diet," and they provide some tips for parents. Of course most of the tips seem to assume that the reader has been living under a rock for the past 15 years: "Items that are baked or broiled are healthier than items that are fried." Argh. That's your "tip"? Another egregious application of the widespread stereotype that fat people are not only lazy but dumber than a stack of mud. "If only they knew," think the concerned public health crusaders, "then they wouldn't be fat!"

I was a fat kid. Not super fat, but fattish. I'm sure my BMI (which was never intended for use on individuals) would have been outside the "healthy" range as defined today. I look back at pictures of myself though and think, "Now, why exactly was it I got put on diets?" If my height/weight ratio had stayed the same as I grew into my body, I'd probably weigh 100 pounds less than I do today. Instead, decades of weight cycling have left me with a pretty disoriented metabolism. But that's another story. The real issue is, did being fat take the fun out of being a kid?

Hells no. I had a ton of fun as a kid. Not just as a head-in-the-book, check-out-all-the-library-books-at-once kid, which I was. But as an Action Fat Kid: climbing trees and swinging in swings, playing baseball and basketball, climbing the backyard fence and tightrope walking along the top, setting up my own high jump practice pit, riding bikes, roller skating, swimming, playing tag and kick-the-can with my friends. Yeah, I had friends. I wasn't ostracized even though I was fat and wore glasses, starting in the first grade. My parents, who are neither fat nor stupid, taught me pretty good social skills and gave me lots of love, fed me mostly real food in moderate quantities, at regular intervals, and encouraged outdoor play, running around, having fun, eating fruits and vegetables, and reading. As a result, I was mostly healthy and happy,
well nourished, smart, and reasonably confident.

Wasn't I bullied for being fat? I don't recall much. Some teasing and name calling, maybe? I honestly remember being teased more for my glasses, and once, in a ghastly episode that still gives me chills to remember, when some boys from the second grade caught sight of my brightly colored underpants of British extraction - a far cry from the white cotton skivvies that all other first grade girls at Ralph O. Berry Elementary School apparently wore. Yeah, kids can be mean if you're different.

So here's my idea for raising healthier kids, Atlanta "Children's Health Alliance": Teach kids to be confident and fun-loving, proud of their bodies and minds and of their physical and mental gifts. Teach them to curb their meaner impulses when they encounter kids who are different from them - shorter or taller or redheaded, black or nearsighted or foreign, fatter or skinnier or brown or pale. Teach them to enjoy a wide range of foods. Teach them how to build good relationships. Give them love and hope and support. That's an alliance I could get behind.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Mind Trap - Paradigms Re-Found

I'm actually pretty encouraged in some ways by Tara Parker-Pope's blog post today on the New York Times website. She writes about the incredible difficulty of maintaining permanent, significant weight loss through dieting or any other mechanism, and about new and existing research showing that dieting, in particular, changes people's metabolism to the point where regaining the weight is nearly a mathematical certainty.

One weight-loss doctor finally decided to try and figure out why his patients just seemed inevitably to regain weight after being on his starvation diet of 500 calories per day for eight weeks. ("special shakes called Optifast and two cups of low-starch vegetables, totaling just 500 to 550 calories a day for eight weeks" - how could anyone fail to keep weight off after realizing how satisfying that could be?)

Anyone who has felt a diet transform herself (or himself) into a food-obsessed, irrational wreck can attest to the fact that your body and brain get messed up by the process.
A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.
Almost resisting the temptation to say "Well DUH," I read on. Ms. Parker-Pope comes to the conclusion that I have reached myself in the last little while. "This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat." Right! So this is the end of page 1 of an 8-page post. What more could you possibly say for 7 pages? How about: "So quit being mean to yourself and/or other fatties and focus on being healthy and happy in the body you have"? Would that be too simple?

Apparently. Ms. Parker-Pope brings out some really good stuff, some studies showing that some people seem genetically inclined to put on weight more easily and retain it more stubbornly. And then she gets into the National Weight Control Registry, an organization which I hold to be more than a little insidious. The NWCR purports to show that long-term weight loss maintenance is possible. Many researchers and people with common sense believe it shows the opposite. The NWCR has a few thousand "success stories" in its roster. Here's what Health At Every Size (HAES) researcher and writer Linda Bacon has to say:
First, the data they gathered is hardly long term: It includes individuals who have maintained a thirty-pound weight loss for one year or more. Studies show that two-thirds of weight regain happens within two years, and at five years all the weight has been regained.So some of the individuals in the NWCR registry haven’t even made it past these danger points. And even among this elite group, 72 percent are regaining!*
Ms. Parker-Pope then interviews a woman who lost a lot of weight and has kept it off for years. This woman's regimen includes minutely detailed food and weight journaling; constant weighing and measuring of every mouthful (she knows, for example, that lettuce is about 5 calories per cup); researching menus and performing calorie calculations before any meal outside the house; avoiding all foods with white flour and sugar; and exercising 100-120 minutes a day. “It’s one of the hardest things there is,” she told the Times. “It’s something that has to be focused on every minute. I’m not always thinking about food, but I am always aware of food.”

I find that "I'm not always thinking about food, but I am always aware of food" has just the faintest odor of semantic self-delusion to it. Hey, if that's how she wants to live, that's how she can live. But I sure as shit don't want anyone telling me that her way is the only way to achieve health just because it has reduced her body weight. What the interviews with NWCR survivors tell me is that the people who keep large amounts of weight off long term are obsessing in a way that would be unhealthy for me if I were doing it.

Ms. Parker-Pope clearly gets a hint of this too: "Just talking to Bridge about the effort required to maintain her weight is exhausting," she writes. And then there's this great, great sentence:"If anything, the emerging science of weight loss teaches us that perhaps we should rethink our biases about people who are overweight." YES! YES, YES! YES! Tara Parker-Pope, it's not your fault you haven't been able to keep weight off despite repeated attempts.

Tara is still bummed, though: "In most modern cultures, even if you are healthy — in my case, my cholesterol and blood pressure are low and I have an extraordinarily healthy heart — to be fat is to be perceived as weak-willed and lazy. It’s also just embarrassing." Well, it's only embarrassing if there is widespread social stigma and you also agree to be stigmatized. How 'bout we work to eliminate the social stigma instead of buying into it?

But no. 'Cause here's how Tara Parker-Pope ends her post:
"And even though all the evidence suggests that it’s going to be very, very difficult for me to reduce my weight permanently, I’m surprisingly optimistic. I may not be ready to fight this battle this month or even this year. But at least I know what I’m up against."

Here's the thing, Tara - and I think we can be on first-name terms now because we're talking about some deep-down stuff here - you are healthy according to your metabolic indicators. You are a writer for the New York Times, the most prestigious newspaper in the United States. I infer from your writing that you have a family of your own. You state that you enjoy exercising for 30-40 minutes at a time, which experts are finding is the single most important thing you can control for your health. You might have an awesome life! How about you get ready to fight a different battle in 2012? How about battling to spread the word that people can be just fine without losing weight at all? How about posting a pic of yourself so that the world can see that a widely-read, respected health writer isn't thin? I'll get behind that.

Meanwhile, thanks for sharing some good research.

*Bacon, Linda (2010-02-02). Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight (p. 145). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tell "Health Experts" They Are Tools This Christmas

The National Obesity Forum has told the BBC and presumably other compliant hacks that you should "Tell loved ones they are overweight this Christmas." I am, alas, not kidding. At all. I believe that the next article recommended in the sidebar on the Beeb's website -- which is not open for our irate comments, BTW -- would be "My loved one served me a hot steaming mug of Shut the Fuck Up," followed closely by "How to Repair the Psychic Damage You Did This Christmas."*

"Christmas may be a time of indulging for many, but health experts believe it is the perfect time to tell a loved one they are overweight." That's right. At the time when you want to nestle all warm and cozy in the bosom of your family, feeling the glow of peace on earth and good will to all beings that you think are important? Dr. David Haslam, Chair of the National Obesity Forum, wants your family to tell you, "sensitively," that you are fat.

This is fucked up on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin. First of all - does the National Obesity Forum think that fat people don't know they are fat? When our culture spends so much energy telling them that every single day? So we're not only fat but completely moronic? Or does Dr. Dave think that instigating hateful, misguided, and shaming (to those who will allow themselves to be shamed) conversations at this festive time will just flick on the switch? "Oh, that's what's been going on all these years! I thought the rest of you were just shrinking in the wash."

Dr. Dave says, "Suggesting to someone that they should consider losing a few pounds may not be a comfortable conversation to have. But if someone close to you has a large waistline then as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line and could even save their life."

But here's the deal, Dr. Dave: nope, it won't. And why is that? Because, in the words of Dr. Linda Bacon, who reviews and conducts real research on metabolism, dieting, exercise, and psychology: "Not one study has ever shown that diets produce long-term weight loss for any but a tiny number of dieters. Not one." Furthermore, there's actual scientific research showing that it is perfectly possible to be fat and healthy. And lots and lots of research showing that weight cycling or "yo yo dieting" is downright bad for you. And you know what else is bad for you? Being stigmatized, bullied, and stereotyped at every turn as lazy, stupid, undisciplined, and lacking in self-respect.

Right. So let's see just who this National Obesity Forum is, behind the benign-looking website oozing concern for the state of all us poor sick fatties and the costs of trying to keep us from killing ourselves with whipped butter souffles topped with lard.

Well, Dr. Dave is the "Acting Editor
of the National Obesity Forum Newsletter Advisory Board of 'WLS' Weight Loss Surgery patient support group." Weight Loss Surgery, huh? Well, clearly he has no vested interest. He claims that
bariatric surgery "is among the most clinically effective, and cost effective procedures in any field of medicine.” Uh-huh.

Who else is on the NOF Dream Team? Well, there's Dr. Matthew Capehorn, NOF's Clinical Director who was, get this, a
paid shill for a – get this – weight loss SPRAY product!!! They think fat people are too stupid to know they’re fat? How about being so stupid that you'll endorse a spray-the-fat-away product?

Then there's pharmacist Graham Phillips, who
promoted making Orlistat (Xenical) available over the counter to anyone with a BMI over 28. Orlistat is notorious for its gastrointestinal side effects (anal leakage, anyone?). Phillips also owns a chain of pharmacies in Hertfordshire.

And who funds the National Obesity Forum's website?
  1. Pharma giants Sanofi, who have pulled at least two weight loss drugs from the market amid claims that they make people so depressed they kill themselves.
  2. Mega-pharma giants Roche – they make Xenical. Surprise! Oh. No. No surprise.
  3. Giant pharma giants Abbott – they pulled their weight loss drug Merida off the market.
Makes you think it’s not an obesity epidemic, it’s a lust-for-unconscionable-profit epidemic. At least it's comforting to know that the Brits, in this as in many other areas, actually are not classier than us.

Happy Festivus!

*I normally don't swear on this blog, since I post it in places where people can see it. But this story makes me so mad that I am whipping out my profane vocab. If this offends you, try not reading words beginning with "f."