By Lesley | March 28, 2011
Apparently, we’ve become so culturally obsessed with dieting that we’re losing sight of some very basic biological realities. It’s chilling to realize that some folks need to be told that extreme weight loss can kill you—even if you are very fat, yes—but if the shocked horror with which this story is being met is any indication, it’s a reminder we desperately need.
Glenn Wilsey, a young football-playing man from Ohio, is dead today because he was instructed by army recruiters to lose a significant amount of weight in order to qualify for active duty. No doubt cheered by the widespread conventional wisdom that weight loss is always good, no matter the circumstances, Wilsey set himself toward this goal.
To the blockquotemobile:
Army recruit Glenn Wilsey, of Vermilion, Ohio, died due to acute cardiac dysrhythmia from an electrolyte imbalance brought on by dieting, according to Lorain County Coroner Dr. Paul Matus.
Wilsey was determined to enlist in the Army’s EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Unit. [Wilsey's mother, Lora Bailey] claims he was told he needed to lose 70 pounds in a matter of months in order to go active duty.
“Glenn had never failed at anything … and he wasn’t going to fail at this,” she said.
Bailey said army recruiters pushed Wilsey to sweat weight off by wearing a wet suit under two sweat suits while wrapped in a waist band. She says they encouraged him to run for hours on 800 calories a day. Purging, she says, was encouraged.
“It was the vomiting on 800 calories a day diet,’” she said.
[...] The young man had reportedly lost 85 pounds in three and a half months, weighing 197 pounds the day he died.
I don’t even have commentary for this, kids, other than to say I feel sick at heart for this 20-year-old kid and his devastated mother. This is the damage that our cultural fixation with the manufactured horrors of obesity can do; this is what happens when we allow our concept of “health” to be dictated by the Body Mass Index. If obesity is always equated with imminent death, if weight loss is always healthy, then weight loss cannot ever be dangerous, right? Nobody seems to die on The Biggest Loser, so it must be okay, right? Put that question to the unfathomable number of young people who have died as a result of complications caused by eating disorders. Put that number to Glenn Wilsey’s mom. Our culture of diet obsession is not destructive just because it is unfair to marginalized bodies; it is destructive because it affects how we understand all bodies everywhere.
Not depressed yet? Check out this press release for a Florida* weight loss clinic that is overtly marketing the so-called “hCG diet” for parents to administer to their children. You remember the hCG diet, that grotesque atrocity I wrote about here earlier this month? It’s the one that allows the dieter to eat a mere 500 calories a day, whilst being injected with a pregnancy hormone derived from pregnant women’s pee. Now you remember. Oh, you want to hear the bullshit argument in the press release, I just know it:
One has to take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of one’s children. The HCG diet can reduce a child’s abnormal fat so they can safely lose weight. HCG sounds scary because it is produced by pregnant woman. However, it may be the perfect solution to overweight and obese children… HCG mobilizes the abnormal fat full of calories, nutrients and vitamins. The use of HCG with a low calorie diet help children lose weight so they can lead a healthy life.
YES! Feed your children a diet consisting of 300 calories less than the World Health Organization’s threshold for starvation, and then inject them with additional hormones that may or may not interfere with the normal development of their still-growing bodies and brains. You’re doing it for their “healthy life”! They’ll call you parent of the fucking year, should any of your offspring manage to survive.
The irresponsibility of this is simply abhorrent. And while I wish I could say I believe this particular diet center to be a lone exception, I’m sure it is not. Again, what we have here is the results of a cultural belief that weight loss in fat people (or children, for fuck’s sake) cannot ever be a negative thing, and cannot possibly cause health issues on its own. Does everyone take the extreme route? Of course not. But when I rant about Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity crusade, and other public anti-obesity initiatives that most folks have trouble seeing as anything but positive, this is partly why. These movements contribute to an environment in which dramatic weight loss by any means necessary is both acceptable and preferred, and is even compulsory for anyone with “extra” weight, and in which health is reduced to a fucking buzzword that stands in for “slender”.
Happy fucking Monday, kids. Now go look at those kittens until you feel better.
* Of course, it is in Florida. It seems ons ago that my husband took his first trip to South Florida with me, to visit my family and the place where I grew up. One day, watching television, after he’d seen his umpteenth television advertisement for liposuction, cosmetic surgery, gastric banding, and/or a diet center, he observed to me, “It must have been really hard, growing up here as a fat kid.” Why do you think I left?