Real Quick: Remember, dramatic weight loss can kill you.

By | March 28, 2011


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2 kittens taking a nap, by Stephan Brunet Macphreak, licensed under Creative Commons

Here are some sleepy kittens, because the rest of this post is depressing as fuck.

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?


43 Comments

Heidi on March 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm.

Beyond foul and inhuman. And the thoughts on Florida? Ditto re: growing up in Los Angeles.

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Marinn on March 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm.

The kittens didn’t help. But I still love you.

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CTJen on March 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm.

Thank you for another great post, Lesley.

True story: The mother of a friend of mine is dying from lung cancer (which they didn’t discover until it had already metastasized to her brain). After radiation and chemo and two surgeries that included removing the tumor in her brain and about half of one of her lungs, she had lost about 60 lbs. She went into a store with one of her kids to buy some panty hose and when they told the sales woman they couldn’t figure out what size to buy and why, the sales woman GUSHED about how great it was and how fabulous she looked. She stopped gushing when my friend’s mom yanked off her wig and shouted “I LOST MY HAIR TOO!”

We live in a crazy mixed up world.

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siouxZQ on March 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm.

Once again debating weight loss with my doctor … he thinks I should have bariatric surgery and cannot understand my reluctance. I would love to shed some poundage but I really, really do not want to undergo surgery to do it … and then MORE surgery to get rid of the excess skin involved when you take fat out of a 62 year old with loss of elasticity!

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Ashley on March 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm.

Wow. My heart goes out to the boy’s family. But you are right about this being a basic reality. Rapid weight losss can be dangerous as rapid weight gain can be as well. It’s very important that we are reminded of this, great post.

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Tiferet on March 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm.

Starvation kills.

This is not rocket science.

I do not understand how people forget this.

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Rachel on March 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm.

I talked about what a huge scam the hGc diet was some years ago on my blog. It was the second post I ever wrote, as such it lacks a lot of what makes a blog post great, but I link to several research articles.

Anyone can check it out here.

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Erin on March 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm.

The part that kills me is the use of the phrase “Abnormal Fat” in the silly-doctors-hGC-is-for-kids! ad. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but, FAT ISN’T ABNORMAL! Everyone has it. It is necessary for human life. Were a child to be completely sans-adipose tissue… ugh. I can’t even. I hate how fat is viewed as some horrible condition imposed by the foods we eat, not as a completely natural and needed part of our bodies.

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James Rice on April 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm.

Fat isn’t the issue, it is the use of the word “abnormal”. Having some fat is beneficial. “Abnormal” here should probably be substituted with “excess amounts of”. There are great health benefits to maintaining a healthy BMI in children as well as adults, but here are a few articles discussing childhood obesity trends and outcomes:

http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/child_obesity/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21299875
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21274450
to find more just do a pubmed.gov search, and select full text for scholarly articles written on the subject.
Possible small changes helping reduce childhood obesity : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21398682

It’s acceptable to be fat and happy in one’s own body. It is unacceptable to ignore concrete science whether it is to justify radical weight loss, or to justify not making necessary efforts to lose weight. I feel for this 20 year old and his family as this was an entirely preventable tragedy. That being said, I don’t think that efforts to curb obesity and this article are as closely linked as the “anti-obesity” crusade as Lesley suggests. No physician, nutritionist, or any other medical professional would advise a patient to lose weight in the fashion described above. Typically they are taught to guide small changes, with a goal of weight loss at ~1-2 lbs per week depending on the starting weight and other health factors pertaining to the individual.

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Patsy Nevins on March 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm.

Thanks for sharing this, Lesley, it is horrifying, but a needed reminder. And I was in love with a man from Florida…a tall, naturally lean & athletic man..who told me he loved me unconditionally, but added that we would ‘sweat the weight off’ me when I came to Florida to marry him & live there. I guess I should not be shocked that Florida is such a difficult place to be fat, as I am sure California is. I live in Maine, which is about as comfortable a place for fat people as I expect we have in this country.

Dieting is always dangerous, this young man’s death was so needless & so tragic, & to SiouxZQ above, the research indicates strongly that weight loss becomes much more dangerous as we age, so that, by the time we reach our 50′s & especially as we pass 60 (I am 61 myself), weight loss increases our risk of early mortality by several hundred percent. You are fine as you are & much better than you are likely to be after any interventions.

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kam on March 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm.

Ugggggg. What a stupid pointless death. Were any of those recruiters doctors or nutritionists? No, of course not, they were basing their recommendations on a cookie-cutter set of standards based on poor science. The fact that Mr. Wilsey was able to run for hours a day already should have tipped them off to the fact that he was already likely in good health with those 70 “extra” pounds and could have made a fine soldier.

Gr. I need more fucking kittens.

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Wacky Lisa on March 28, 2011 at 6:19 pm.

This is so hard to read.
My father is being pressured by his cardiologist to lose weight. Not to increase healthy behaviors. I’m not sure if it is assumed that if he loses weight he will, of course, increase healthy behaviors or if it just doesn’t matter anymore.

The sad thing is, if my father does die due to crash dieting it will most likely be attributed to his age, heart disease, or obesity. Not to the crazy way in which he goes about losing weight. And I’m sure he’s not the only one where another answer would be seemingly more obvious.

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kbryna on March 28, 2011 at 7:10 pm.

Erin beat me to it; as my heart crunched for Glenn Wilsey’s mom, and for Glenn himself, my jaw dropped to read the phrase “abnormal fat” in reference to a child’s body.

And the construction of that sentence – “reduce a child’s abnormal fat so they can safely lose weight” – boggles the mind. You have to first reduce the abnormal fat and THEN “safely” lose weight? Isn’t reducing abnormal fat the same as “safely losing weight”? If it isn’t, then WHAT THE HELL IS IT?

My most sincere sympathies to Glenn Wilsey’s mom.

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Kate on March 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm.

I just keep coming back to this. Even if they are all right and we are all going to die when our… liver explodes from fat, or whatever. It’s STILL MORE HEALTHY THAN DIETING. And they’re not right. So, there.

It’s the same rage I get from, say, my government’s policies on renewable energy. Not only are they morally suspect, but they are STUPID and undermine their own positions.

And the kids thing… I just cannot even. I keep seeing diet/fat talk directed at kids and I literally get a haze in front of my eyes from rage. No, literally. I kind of black out for a few seconds just trying to deal with me outrage and devastation that I live in a world that thinks that is not only ok on any level, but is DOING WHAT IS BEST.

I CANNOT EVEN.

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JJ on March 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm.

I’m a long-time lurker here… I’m generally content to watch the conversation unfold, but there’s a quote in all of this that’s 100% breaking my brain and I NEED to bring attention to it:

“HCG sounds scary because it is produced by pregnant woman [sic].”

….lolwhut o.O ***head asplodes***

I mean, the whole OBESITY EPIDEMIC is already misogynist enough, but this… this just leaves the frogs standing!

Is that sentence included in the copy because it’s directed at children, and they’re trying to make the provenance of an unknown medicine more intellectually grasp-able? Not that that’s really any better, it’s just… I’m trying for the sympathetic read here, I guess, because my inner cynical feminist read this as, “Fat ladies (ew gross!) should be taking this chemical that’s generated by pregnant ladies (eww, even grosser!!) so that they can become THIN ladies, which are really the only acceptable sort of ladies after all.”

I’m seriously overwhelmed by the WHUTness of that quote. I’ve sat with this post open for a couple hours now, trying to decide whether to comment or not. However, it isn’t hurting my headany less than it did when I first read it, so… there you go. That. Out of all of the FA/HAES/feminist commentary I’ve read on the great wide intertubez, that quote is what finally broke my brain. If this were Oregon Trail, that would have been my epitaph :(

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drst on March 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm.

WHAT THE FUCK IS ABNORMAL FAT?

Gah. It’s not a tumor, it’s adipose tissue. My fat is not ABNORMAL. I AM NOT ABNORMAL.

Rar. It’s a “fuck you, you fucking fucks” kind of day.

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ErinE. on March 28, 2011 at 8:21 pm.

Thank you for the kitties.

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Opifex on March 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm.

Out of some sense of masochistic curiosity I went and had a look at the full press release for the starve-your-kids-with-chemical-help diet, and was a bit baffled by their claim that the program was medically supervised, when in the next sentence they say you can buy the crap online. I went to the website to figure out how this was possible. Apparently all you need to claim medical supervision is to call your customers a lot. From where they explain their HCG Program:

“Our medical staff will keep in touch with you once a week so you’ll receive medical support as well.”

Oh good, for a minute there I thought they were just trying to sell people a questionable quick fix to a problem that they have created without care for the actual health of their customers. Thank goodness they’ll call them once a week…

And because this apparently didn’t make my head hurt enough, I clicked their link for HCG Diet News. Therein I found a press release titled “Is Obesity in Beverly Hills Caused by Satan? And Is HCG the Solution Provided by God?” I’m currently at a loss for words, but as soon as I stop being at a loss for words, these folks are getting a seriously irate email.

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Meowser on March 29, 2011 at 1:08 am.

“Is Obesity in Beverly Hills Caused by Satan? And Is HCG the Solution Provided by God?”

Actually, reading that made me snorf, because if you’ve spent any time in Beverly Hills, you know it’s illegal to be a double-digit size there. They might actually hand out tickets for it.

But yeah, that company looks like it has “class action lawsuit” written all over it. Gurglesplak.

And what the hell about Glenn Wilsey? The freaking Army actually told him to do that shit??? They’d really rather induct people who, if they don’t die in the process of getting there, are starved and dehydrated and dizzy but make “chart weight,” over people who are perfectly healthy but over some arbitrary number? Why why why?

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daxxinn on March 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm.

Perhaps they have read Lesley’s wonderful post about Fat Satan.

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Lesley on March 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm.

FAT SATAN IS LOVE!

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shyvixen on March 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm.

I have a facebook friend who is doing that stupid hcg diet. I’ve started hiding her posts so I don’t have to be updated on her “progress”. It’s too depressing. I just want to say “YOU’RE INJECTING YOURSELF WITH PEE!” I am so sick of this culture’s weight obession.
If you’re looking for something else to cheer you up – have you seen Beth Ditto performing with Duran Duran? You can tell she’s really nervous but Simon LeBon is so lovely to her it has completely reignited my adolescent love for him.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LZbdRci51Y

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Zoe Danger Awesome on March 28, 2011 at 11:12 pm.

You know its a good thing I am eating a few pieces of chocolate as I read this, because this is fucking depressing. Thank you for the kitties, they helped

Isn’t 800 calories all the Nazis gave the people in concentration camps, like that was the minimum to keep someone alive? I think I remember reading that in Fat!So?

The other day my mother (who is the best mother in the world, but sometimes is a bit misguided) asked me why I hold on so dear to my fat identity. What if tomorrow I woke up thin.

I hold onto my fat identity because of Glenn. Because of Glenn’s family and friends. Because of people like Glenn. Because someone has to stand up and say there is nothing wrong with being fat, and it might as well be me, and it might as well be you. Because this world if fucked up and we as a people need to stop accepting the bullshit (or urine in this case) we are being fed.

Anyways, rambling post is rambling.
I’m gonna go watch this video of the muppets singing Bohemian Rhapsody until I am happy again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgbNymZ7vqY

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schmemily on March 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm.

The Glenn Wilsey story breaks my heart. Many years before I met him, my boyfriend was also a young, obese army recruit. He lost 80 pounds in the three months before he started basic training through a starvation diet and a crazy amount of exercise (although he wasn’t counseled about how to do it by any army recruiters). He survived it, obviously, but his struggle to meet the weight requirement colored his whole experience of the military. I wonder how many recruits undergo a similar process of extreme weight loss.

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Heather on March 29, 2011 at 8:39 am.

the kittens don’t seem to be making me feel better.. in fact.. i think i may cry…

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Christine on March 29, 2011 at 9:16 am.

Just heartbreaking Lesley. Poor Glenn Wilsey. My heart goes out to his family.

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Christine on March 29, 2011 at 9:23 am.

Goodness, just as a warning, if you read the article you probably don’t want to read the comments. Fucking hell.

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gidget commando on March 29, 2011 at 10:07 am.

I caught a glimmer of hope this morning from, of all places, Good Morning America (no kidding, I swear). WARNING: It includes talk of bypass surgery.

They ran a feature in the first half hour on evidence that, for some folks, bypass surgery might cure diabetes. Host Robin Roberts asked the reporter (whose name I forget) why insurance wasn’t paying for this more often in such circumstances. He replied that he really thought it was an “anti-fat” thing.

A reporter on a major network actually acknowledged anti-fat bias. I damn near fainted. It’s about time.

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Zanna77 on March 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm.

I had a friend who was a body builder and he wanted to join the Marines. He was told that he had to lose 60 pounds to get in because “by BMI standards” he was “too fat” . He had less than 10% body fat at the time.

It took him all summer but by only eating things like egg whites and not working out at all (lest he increase his muscles) he was able to do it. He only had 10% body fat to begin with, so I am assuming he lost a lot of muscle that summer. He felt weak and had dizzy spells. How do we know he did not lose heart muscle or do some other horrible damage to his system? We don’t know.

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Kristin on March 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm.

Oh wow. Vermilion, OH is my mom’s hometown. I spent a ton of time there. She went to Vermilion HS. This is awful.

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Jazz on March 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm.

Wow, this is sickening. Sometimes I just hate the world for being so ignorant, stupid, and blind about these things.

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Mulberry on March 29, 2011 at 10:40 pm.

How come 28,000 people can get mad enough to send emails from reading Maura Kelly’ stupid opinion piece in Marie Claire, but we can’t get more people mad at the senseless death of a fat and fit young man from crazy quick weight loss? Why isn’t it enough that a recruit be able to pass grueling physical tests – do they have to win beauty contests, too?

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Lesley on March 30, 2011 at 8:54 am.

In all seriousness, I think it’s because it’s very comfortable to blame the dead kid for “doing it wrong”—people are generally unwilling to admit that forcing ANYONE to lose weight by any means necessary is a bad idea. As in so many instances, with Glenn Wilsey, it’s much easier to blame the individual than the diet.

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Zoe on March 30, 2011 at 12:04 am.

All I can think of while reading this is… where is the accountability? Will the army recruiters who encouraged this young man to kill himself through starvation be held complicit in his death? Will they be considered legally or morally responsible? Because from where I’m standing, they killed him.

As for any parents who put their children on starvation diets and inject them with potentially dangerous chemicals — I would consider such parents abusive, but I’m pretty sure the general public would not. Just as parents of autistic children who put them through the dangerous process of chelation are viewed as courageous warriors, when in reality they are risking their children’s lives.

Even if parents know chelation can kill, some will still do it because they consider that it’s better to be dead than autistic. What happened to Glenn demonstrates that the army recruiters thought it was better to be dead than fat. Any parents risking their children’s health with this diet will be making the same statement.

This makes me so sad.

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Helen on March 30, 2011 at 4:05 am.

Isn’t that the pregnancy hormone derived from pregnant mares, not pregnant humans? If I’m right, it adds a whole crunchy layer of animal abuse to the horror of that “diet”. (I might be wrong and it’s some other hormonal drug that just has to come from humans?)

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Lesley on March 30, 2011 at 8:35 am.

Everything I’ve seen on the subject specifies humans! I didn’t know horse pee was even an option.

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flightless on March 30, 2011 at 12:20 pm.

I think you’re thinking of Premarin — the estrogen that many post-menopausal women take. That comes from pregnant mares’ urine.

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SugarLeigh on March 30, 2011 at 8:46 am.

My mom did that “starvation plus hormone injection” diet TWICE.

I’d add something insightful to that statement but all I really have is a quiet turn of the stomach, a slow burn of deep sickness when I think of the levels of fucked that have marked my life’s education about food, weight, health, and eating, and of the foolish, insidious reasons that have inspired untold suffering. We are willing to hate ourselves and each other and to inflict physical and psychological trauma for smoke and mirrors, frivolous superstition fueled by snake oil salesmen. More than willing, we are bound and determined to. The mind boggles.

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empressmitzi on March 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm.

newbie commenter here (who has also been lurking in various corners of the fatosphere for a couple of years and speaks up once in a blue moon). I wish I could put into words how the news of Glenn Wilsey’s death is making me feel, but they keep getting stuck in my throat. Part of what’s choking me is the knowledge that it won’t make a frigging dent in the OMG, BEING FAT WILL KILL YOU!! hysteria that’s showing no signs of abating. But Lesley already said that far better than I could.

Now for that fucking HCG diet nonsense, I can get the words out. I cannot frigging believe that insane diet is still around. It goes back at least to the late 1970s when I started my dieting career (11 years old, folks!) I read about it in the diet paperback my mother bought for me that was written by a woman doctor – which meant her advice would work, right? HA! she should see me now… Anyway, even the lady diet doctor was skeptical and did not recommend it, and it sounded ridiculous to me even at that age.

But, I guess this goes to show that every old fad diet is new again in the age of CHILDHOOD OBESITY EPIDEMIC!!! I am absolutely floored that someone is trying to market this for children. Deliberately starving children and shooting them full of hormones that may interfere with their development counts as child abuse in my book.

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JupiterPluvius on March 31, 2011 at 3:26 pm.

Heartbreaking news. I am so sorry for that man and his family. What a tragedy.

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Charlotte on March 31, 2011 at 8:32 pm.

This story is beyond heartbreaking. I feel awful for the mother and son; I feel awful for the mom because she lost her son, and I feel bad for the son because he got sucked into this fat-hating culture and it ending up killing him. It also causes me to worry for my friends who are dieting. A friend of mine just had a baby, and less than a week after giving birth she signed up for Nutri-System and started talking about wanting to lose the baby weight ASAP; it made me so sad.

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Susie Kline on April 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm.

This makes me so sad. Especially the part about the HcG diet for kids! WTF?!

I wouldn’t allow maids to play little league football because crash dieting is encouraged to lose weight allowing the boys qualify for a lower weight class. Sweating and eating very little is the norm.

I’m going to go pet a cat…

Xo Susie

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Fatshion Hustler on April 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm.

The story about that bloke actually made me cry. I appreciated the kitties.
Every time I hear about stories like this I feel angry, upset, heart-broken… I want to take every fat-hater by the shoulders, shake them, point them at my laptop screen and say “see what your hatred of fat people causes to happen?” I’m pretty new at fat-acceptance, and I wonder if maybe some day these articles will stop upsetting me and just make me angry. Who knows?

Or maybe it’s already happening, because that diet just makes me angry.

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