Thursday, August 06, 2009

In Case You Hadn't Already Figured This Out

If I were in the financial departments the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute on Aging, I’d ask for my money back. Specifically, I would want a refund on the money spent to find out that overweight people gain more weight when stressed out by work and financial pressures.

Come on -- all of you out there -- a show of hands? Who hadn't already figured this out? Who out there who struggles with weight problems hasn’t reached for the comfort of Ben and Jerry or a bag of chips or a bag or two of mint Milano cookies after a bad day?

And if spending money on this study (published in July’s American Journal of Epidemiology) put any of the employees at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation or the National Institute on Aging under financial pressure, they could see the results for themselves. No study necessary. End of story.

But wait…what is this? Another finding from the study? Ah. People without weight problems who were under the same financial or work stress didn’t reach for goodies and didn’t gain weight. And – surprise – while both men and women with weight problems ate more when under financial stress, overweight women also ate more from family pressures, unresolved conflicts, or feeling out of control of their lives.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but being a woman who has battled a small weight problem for most of my life (and for living immersed in American culture for the past…oh, let’s not mention how many years), I bet I can draw one big fat conclusion:

People who don’t have weight problems use outlets other than food to manage their stress.

Did everyone in the back row hear that? All right then, one more time, for the people in the cheap seats:

People who don't have weight problems use outlets other than food to manage their stress.

I'm sorry, but this kind of stuff just pisses me off. After years and years and God knows how much money spent doing these studies, scientists keep reaching the same kinds of conclusions. Sometimes these conclusions are used for good: weight-loss counselors and doctors have additional gold-standard double-blind study ammunition to help people who struggle with their weight better manage the stresses in their life so they're not automatically reaching for food as comfort. As the authors of the study suggest, “weight-loss programs should incorporate stress-reduction techniques as part of their plans to help people lose weight more successfully.”

But what really grinds my gears is when the conclusions are used to 1. Take advantage of people, like restaurants who “know their audience” and serve mega-portions of tasty, fattening treats, and food manufacturers who front-load their goodies with extra sugar, fat and salt; 2. Give people who have weight problems one more excuse for why the state of their bodies is no longer their responsibility.

And that kind of stuff just has to stop. Unfortunately, I can't do much about it personally except squeak my little voice and wave my little arms and try to tell all of you lovely people what's going on in the world of food science.

But maybe if enough of us do that, someone out there will get the message.

That we’re tired of people telling us why we’re overweight. I can't speak for everyone, but I would like to see more focus put on helping people deal with the stress of finances and work and every other load of crap on the crap pile. I would like to see some good science on stress management techniques that help people with weight problems reach for, say, a pair of sneakers instead of a pair of Hershey bars. And not just a list of things to do -- we all know what we should be doing, right? -- but concrete ways of staying with these new behaviors until they stick.

Who's with me? If you’re under stress and trying to lose weight, what techniques work for you? And for those of you out there who don't struggle with your weight? How do you unwind after a tough day?