Michael Fumento's "The Fat of the Land"
by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer
If you ever want to work up a good head of steam, read Michael Fumento's recently released book The Fat of the Land. After a sycophantic foreword by JoAnn Manson, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical who should know better, you'll find a nasty, simplistic book devoid of significant substance written by an average-sized man who lost 25 pounds and considers that weight loss one of his life's biggest accomplishments.
What is the book all about? Mostly a monument to Fumento's weight loss, and a collection of slurs against fat people. Fumento's world is simple: Fat people are all overeating slobs. Just eat less, you pigs. Scientific evidence doesn't matter. If he can do it, anyone can. In an embarrassingly clueless way, Fumento blames just about every illness in existence on fatness, often confusing cause and effect, and liberally injecting his personal biases. Throughout the book, his diatribes against fatness seldom fail to point out how much better a person would look, or how much more sexually attractive they were, if they lost weight.
It becomes apparent after reading the first few pages that Fumento desperately tries to be funny. His idol seems to be Dave Barry, but he isn't in Barry's league. Example: "I found a stack of papers so high that a pair of bald eagles built a nest on top." Ho ho. Fumento's writing mostly comes across as offensive, corny, downright mean, and all too often just lame. There's Dunlap's disease, he says, "in which the gut done laps" over the belt and which "does carry a higher risk than Thunder Thighs or Bubble Butts". Or, in Fumentoland, foreign countries are places where people eat "goose feet, fish lips, and dog."
The Fat of the Land weighs in at a substantial 330 pages, but if you enjoy lengthy books be forewarned that no less than 60 of those pages are taken up by the index and an abundance of notes. Fumento (ab)uses all those footnotes to make wild statements that are often neither explained nor substantiated. Instead, there are footnotes and more footnotes, sometimes four or five within just a couple of paragraphs, giving the author carte blanche to make just about any statement he wants. Who's going to go to the library to check what's really behind a reference like "Lawrence Garfinkel, "Overweight and Mortality," Cancer 58 (8 [15 October 1986]: 1826-29"?
And all those footnotes notwithstanding, Fumento often struggles with fact. For example, he calls executive director Sally Smith "president" of NAAFA. For an author who frequently cites the NAAFA Newsletter and Workbook, that seems a glaring error, especially for a medical journalist who must be especially careful with titles and credentials. Is the rest of his research equally shoddy? He also claims that NAAFA had polled its members and decreed that to qualify as fat a woman had to be 289 pounds, a weight which, Fumento offers, "is grotesquely, horribly, obscenely fat." In fact, NAAFA never did such a survey. He gleefully calls model Anna Nicole Smith "the first obese playmate" though at the time she was featured in Playboy, she wasn't statistically overweight. He says he lost 25 pounds at one point in the book, then later brags that he lost 20% of his body weight, which would indicate that he started at an unlikely 125 pounds. Is the rest of his math off, too?
Throughout his book, Fumento comes up with peculiar, almost weird, statements. For example, he laments that "lt's becoming more difficult for lean people to buy clothes" because some clothing manufacturers are starting to offer larger sizes. Huh? He advises the fashion industry: "It would be nice if a company advertised its line of clothing for obese women in terms of 'looking your best as they lay you to rest.'" Or take media: In the world according to Fumento, Pizza Hut's derogatory use of a fat kid is not an insult but proof that fat actors are taking over the television industry. This irks Fumento to no end and he feels compelled to call a fat man in a TV commercial "a repulsive, slobbish swine." (For no apparent reason, he also points out that NAAFA chairman Charles Van Dyke's "abdominal fat alone probably weighs more than I do.")
There is a section where Fumento bemoans that we seem to become a nation of couch potatoes. Maybe he has a point there. How does he back it up? You won't believe this one: He cites the increasing number of handicapped parking placards issued as proof that more Americans are becoming couch potatoes. These people, according to Fumento, are not handicapped, they are just lazy and don't want to walk a few extra steps. Hello!? He then goes on a rampage, blaming everything from cars to computers to television to the Internet for the fact that Americans are fatter than they used to be.
For Michael Fumento, you see, doesn't believe in any of this newfangled set-point, genetics, or slow metabolism baloney. He believes in the old "calories in calories out" school of thought that was dismissed even by the medical establishment over 40 years ago. But to Fumento, it still all comes down to calories. "They are ALL that count" he proclaims. Fumento also doesn't believe that fat calories are any different from carbohydrate or protein calories. He argues that the current suggestion to curb the intake of fat calories actually makes people fatter. Why? Because all those "engineered" low fat foods make people eat more and thus contribute to obesity.
What makes Fumento believe he's right and everybody else is wrong? What about all the genetics studies that show that identical twins end up weighing the same even when they were brought up in totally different environments? According to Fumento, it's still simply a matter of eating less. What about the setpoint? Awh, that's just a hoax that's "trickled down to the masses and is being used as a license for gluttony." As proof he again takes aim at NAAFA "president" Sally Smith and pointlessly states: "Month after month, year after year, she ate more than she burned off in energy. Setpoint be damned, she worked her way up to 150, then 200, then 250, then 300, finally arriving at 350." How about the fact that many studies showed that fat people eat no more than thin people, and often less? In Fumentoland, that's because fat people lie about how much they eat. How about the low metabolism of many fat people? A myth, lectures Fumento: "Fat people have higher metabolisms." What about all those studies that show underweight to be a better indicator of mortality than overweight? Poppycock! According to Fumento you "cannot be too thin." And what about the almost universally acknowledged fact that diets don't work and that virtually all dieters put the weight back on? Fumento says the data is bad or misinterpreted. What about the dangers of yo-yo dieting? There aren't any. Yo-yo dieting is good.
Throughout the book, Fumento seems irritated, almost threatened, by authors who question his belief that he will be the one to keep off the 25 pounds he lost. There is an endless series of less-than-scientific attacks and ridicule on the likes of Glenn Gaesser (the author of Big Fat Lies) and his "size acceptance tome". Not only is that terrible Gaesser dead-wrong, he also writes scholarly. Meaning," Fumento offers, "less-fun-to-read." He also suggests that those "fat acceptance people" who endorsed Gaesser's book didn't read past the introduction. A mistake, he warns, not to be repeated with his book, lest they all become "Big Fat Corpses." Fumento, an equal opportunity basher, spends a lot of time shredding other diet books (and also praising some). And while he's at it, that Orbach woman, of course, was wrong: fat is not a feminist issue!
Fumento is also terribly upset over health education consultant Pat Lyons' lectures at Kaiser Permanente. To him, that constitutes "infiltration of Kaiser Permanente by fat activists." Similarly, he is deeply disturbed that the media is starting to pay attention to the fat acceptance movement and wonders why NAAFA representatives are increasingly being invited to provide counterpoints. Does NASA, thunders Fumento, invite representatives from the Flat Earth Society to present their counterpoints?
He then goes on shredding the diet industry but--probably in an attempt at not burning all his potential consulting and endorsement bridges--concludes, "For all their misrepresentations and raising of false hope, commercial weight loss centers really want to help their clients to lose weight and keep it off."
How does he feel about diet drugs? As far as Fumento is concerned they are not much of an issue. Nobody really needs them. They are just for fat slackers who don't want to make a real effort to lose weight. And besides, Americans don't really want drugs that make them eat less. They want drugs that let them eat more. So what does work? Smoking cigarettes does, but even Fumento doesn't think smoking is a good idea. He suggests quitting and taking fenfluramine to ease the withdrawal. Men might consider having testosterone injections(!). What about the risk of developing primary pulmonary hypertension? No big deal says Fumento. The risk of getting it is only one in 17,000. How about phen/fen? Fumento is all for it. He tried it and lost weight, but gave up on it because he felt he was man enough to lose weight without chemical help. He says he tried to get his friend on it.
But even in this unnecessarily rude book of very little substance, Fumento makes some valid points. He argues that as a society, we've almost totally lost the ability to distinguish artificially generated appetite from true physical hunger. He points out what every foreign visitor I ever had has also noticed: "Why do American restaurants offer such huge portions of food?" Why does everything have to be super and hyper sized? Why are burgers, chocolate bars, soft drinks getting bigger and bigger? I fully agree that our society is completely schizophrenic when it comes to food. Huge burgers and huge portions of greasy fries are advertised as cool and as great values. Fumento also takes the diet hucksters to task and presents some interesting insight into weight loss centers and weight loss plans.
So what, then, is Fumento's secret to his 25 pound weight loss that he hasn't regained in a whole year? I am sure you can guess that by now: Eat less. That's the whole and rather, ahh... thin essence of this book. It's embellished by a few pages on the goodness of fiber, veggies, and exercise, but basically all we have here is an unnecessarily insulting book written by a man who has lost a bit of weight and apparently felt compelled to convert that fleeting feeling into a fat basher diatribe, the kind we see on the Internet, only much longer.
Summary: The Fat of the Land is just another exploitive book by man who lost a few pounds and now feels like he's the one who beat the odds. In most areas he is embarrassingly wrong. His slurs and insults and his lame attempts at humor at the expense of fat people are disgraceful. The fact that the press, including USA Weekend, gave this Don Rickles wannabe so much coverage (while pretty much glossing over the diet drug tragedy) is a sad testimony of the mainstream media's priorities.
Let's see what Michael Fumento has to say in a few years when he has regained his weight.
(The Fat of the Land, ISBN 0-670-87059-5, is published by the Penguin Group. Michael Fumento can be contacted at the American Enterprise Institute's Web site at www.aei.com)
Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, Ph.D., is editor-in-chief of Dimensions Magazine.