Weight of the Nation: Fear & Shame Isn’t a Motivator


HBO Weight of the Nation documentary on obesity Up for a little fear, shame and overall misdirection next week?  Then have we got something for you!

Tune into HBO’s documentary “Weight of the Nation,” produced in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.  It’s scheduled to air Monday and Tuesday night.

I haven’t seen the documentary yet, but I have seen the trailer.  I just watched it again and it’s hard to describe how I feel.  Defeated comes to mind, yet here I am writing this post.  I’m not ready yet to give up in the face of what to me seems like overwhelming tunnel vision on the part of the people “in charge,” e.g., those that have the wherewithal to truly change the national conversation about body weight into — wait, here’s a revolutionary thought — into something that actually helps people.

Just the tagline “To win, we have to lose” tells me they don’t get it. It’s not like the vast majority of people who struggle with eating and weight haven’t tried.  And there seems no recognition of the fact that the trying actually causes most to gain weight because of the methods they employ.  One fellow in the trailer says, “I always say this is the biggest I’m going to be, and I said that 20 pounds ago.”  So what was he doing 20 pounds ago?  Likely dieting.  It’s proven to cause weight gain.  Yet it seems like everything I continue to see come from government agencies charged with protecting our health advises calorie counting, the cornerstone of dieting.

And will they mention emerging information that points to underlying processes that may be at the root of weight struggles for many?  Things like chronic inflammation, which I talk a lot about in our Healing with Foods classes at Green Mountain.  And the potential protective role that fat plays in guarding our body from toxins in our environment?  Issues that take the focus away from our body size and place it where it belongs — on our health.

Weight of the Nation will surely talk about the need to improve what we eat, which is central to improving health. But with its focus on weight instead of health, the documentary is likely to offer far from an inspiring message.  

Can you imagine instead a piece that instead explores how we can help ourselves feel better and reach and maintain a healthy weight naturally?  I will guess that likely many of the same messages about food and fitness could be there, yet delivered in a way that makes people feel hopeful.  Am I a dreamer?

For more help in critically examining the messages you’ll hear in Weight of the Nation, check out the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s excellent work “Debate the Weight: Deconstructing HBO’s The Weight of the Nation.”

Are you planning to watch the documentary?  I am.  I’m still holding on to the tiniest sliver of hope that it will be a balanced presentation.  Although with that trailer, I don’t know why.  Still, I have to know what they do say in order to counter misinformation.

13 responses to “Weight of the Nation: Fear & Shame Isn’t a Motivator”

  1. Hi Marsha

    I’m pretty sure that the doc is going to take a calories in vs calories out approach to weight loss….but I’m still going to watch and support this program in the hopes that it will drive discussion.

    At some point we have to realize that our lifestyle habits are driving the spike in chronic disease – of which obesity is a symptom.

    BTW, glad to find your blog – I’m skipping through your archives now

  2. Sometimes I feel so very defeated and overwhelmed…and crazy…when it comes to this subject. Since I just commented on another blog about something similar (Is Obesity The New Normal), I will just cut and paste it here:

    “To me the key is to focus on and strive for what you want versus fighting against what you don’t want. That is why the current “war on obesity” is so off the mark. If we focused on and strove for health, there might be an interesting paradigm shift. As you point out, there’s unhealthy food everywhere and it’s slickly supersized and manufactured and marketed. And it’s because there’s a LOT of money to be made. There’s also a huge demand and market for weight loss products/diets/surgeries because there’s a LOT of money to be made there, as well. Right now, there’s no real money to be made in moderation, healthy foods, moderate exercise…it’s all about the extremes. The question is: “how did we get here?” Is it because people got fat out of nowhere and now it’s normal? How did our food industry morph into something we can’t trust? Why do we now have aisles of candy and soda in the checkout lanes of places like Best Buy? It all comes down to $$$$$$$$. Add that into a society of people who are anxious, depressed, feel empty inside, are ashamed, guilty, etc, etc, and this is what we get. Legal substance abuse. And an industry more than willing to oblige.”

  3. Deborah says:

    So true – it’s easy to address the WHAT or the obvious (weight / obesity) rather than the WHY!


  4. The dreamer in me wants to change the question….

    Can you imagine instead a piece that instead explores how we can help ourselves feel better and reach and maintain a healthy weight naturally?


    Can you imagine instead a piece that instead explores how we can help ourselves feel better and reach and maintain our well-being naturally?

  5. Victoria says:

    Well said, Karen. I also see obesity as a symptom of a much larger problem. We ARE a sick society…a culture of comsumption, convenience, and out of control comparisons. Fast food, food additives, and a population just waiting for the next fad. And certainly television (and Madison Avenue), introduced in the 50’s, has shown to be a factor in the increase of obesity rates in this country.
    I recently visited a friend who lives outside San Francisco. It’s a beautiful community, each street has bike lanes. My friend didn’t own a television. Instead we had wonderful conversation. We went to a neighborhood fair. Clean water initiatives and organic farming; fruit and vegetable stands: the way life should be. I agree we have allowed corporations to form the vision for our lives. What we should buy and what we should eat. I’m done with that!!
    One of my clients is a guidance couselor in southern New Hampshire. She told me that middle schoolers aren’t drinking as much soda these days…they’re drinking tea (hopefully no loaded with sugar). That’s awesome!
    This is as much a generational shift as it is a paradigm shift. Let’s teach our children to turn off the tube and tune into wellness. Let’s walk or bike instead of drive. And most of all, let’s stay out of the Best Buy checkout aisles!!

  6. […] and Shame are NOT good motivators for Change, Marsha Hudnall breaks down the controversial documentary The Weight of the […]

  7. Scott says:

    Marsha and Fit Woman,
    I was not surprised to see backlash from the Potato Council, Sugar Association, et al., about the “Weight of the Nation” documentary. But from a website that is dedicated to “healthy weight loss for women tired of dieting?” Well, I guess should not judge a book by its cover. Now that I think about it, I wonder if you actually watched it or are you standing pat with your prejudicial post above? In case you haven’t seen it yet, here are a few things learned by a man (yes, sorry about that) who has battled overweightness for years and found the documentary just what the doctor ordered:

    1. The doc (and other in-depth short segments) goes far into health, not just about weight. And I did not find that it villified or shamed the obese at all. If anything, to the contrary, it said what Sean (the therapist) said to Will at the end of Good Will Hunting: “It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault!” Of course it comes back to body fat. It is hard to argue against the substantial medical evidence they provide about the relationship between weight and the many chronic and life-threatening diseases. The focus on weight can’t be avoided.

    2. As you state above your desire for solutions, the doc spends a great deal of time on exploring ways to achieve and maintain healthy weight. I doubt much of this is new. But then again, you know that fads don’t work. They discuss traditional caloric intake and exercise recommendations and more radical steps like bariatric surgery. Interestingly, it also spends about 5-7 minutes on Mindful Eating that you just wrote about.

    3. The doc focuses alot on the public policy issues because of the massive driver that obesity is on national healthcare costs. And I understand that it all looks gloom and doom. I can’t control the dramatic rise in diabetes or liver disease or even the health care premiums on my own health plan. Nor can I control the genes I gave my kids which may put them at risk. But there is plenty I CAN do. The most effective thing I can do, which the documentary targets in particular, is to know what I can exercise reasonable control over. Since I am the homemaker these days, I control what kind of bacon is fried up eventhough my wife pays for it, I control what food my kids take to school or if they buy school food, I control how much and what TV programs my kids watch and the food advertising they will be subjected to. I thought the show did a good job balancing both perspectives and even added in the community/school perspectice (urban planning for healthy food stores and bike lanes, school lunch program, etc.)

    The documentary makes no bones about the seriousness of the issue. But do you have a rebuttal for the evidence or do you have different projections from theirs? I understand people dont like being told what to do. But with the statistics they provide, at great length and detail I might add, I am not sure I see the basis for your criticism. Maybe this documentary was meant more for the outsider like me – someone who spends little time thinking about health policy. Maybe you know more and were looking for something specific that you didn’t think you would find (based on the trailer alone). Or maybe I just don’t understand your position at all. But I would like to and would be interested in a response. Thanks and best wishes.


  8. Marsha says:

    Thanks for your comments, Scott. I appreciate your questions and the concern you have for your children and the steps you are taking to protect their health.

    I did watch the documentary and my objection remains. Primarily because the focus was on weight, when the issue is health (if there is an issue, that is — I say that because some people are naturally large and healthy so it’s not a problem at all, except in society’s eyes).

    When the focus is on weight, there’s a lot of shame and guilt on the part of the individual. That’s not a motivator at all, especially when a person has repeatedly tried and failed at the advice that was the bottom line in the documentary — eat less, exercise more Advice, btw, that hasn’t worked for the vast majority of people in the last 50 years that it has been advised.

    I’d much rather see a documentary that as Jules says so well above: “Can you imagine instead a piece that instead explores how we can help ourselves feel better and reach and maintain our well-being naturally?” Where weight isn’t the focus but how we feel is. Because if we’re engaged in behaviors that make us feel well, we’ll support our health, and healthy weights are an outcome of that. And it’s a sustainable and pleasant journey along the way.

  9. Marsha says:

    One more thought, Scott. You might appreciate reading this article, which goes into great detail about why the focus on health is the way to go. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9

  10. Hello,

    I am no fan of the latest media exploitation of obesity but it intrigues me that you would judge the entire content and write about it based on a 60 second trailer. Your comment that “most people regain their weight because of the methods they use to lose it” perpetuates a blame the victim mentality and a total lack of understanding of the complex metabolic medical condition that is obesity. This 1970s mentality in the eating disorder community that weight loss efforts cause eating dysregulation and metabolic damage is illinformed and has never been supported by the scientific literature . Furthermore the vast number of reputable weight control methods (surgical and non-surgical) DO focus on health promotion in the service of weight control. Weight loss is a valid and necessary goal and to suggest it is not is irresponsible.

  11. Marsha says:

    Dr. Binks,

    I encourage you to read the article in the link I posted above. It will give you the scientific information that talks about how weight loss efforts, as traditionally practiced, do cause a myriad of problems. It is quite well supported that dieting does cause eating dysregulation, and it is something we see everyday here at Green Mountain.

    Far from blaming the victim, I’m pointing the finger at the advice people keep getting from the government, health professionals and the media, to count calories, increase exercise, etc. While exercise is of course a tremendous boost to health, just focusing on the calories in, calories out equation misses, as you say, the complex medical condition that is obesity. Although I will point out again that it’s not always a medical condition; many perfectly healthy people qualify as obese, which just underscores my point that it’s not the fat that we should be focusing on. It’s the health. When we take care of our health, and discover what may be causing unhealthy weights — a symptom for many people just like high blood sugar or cholesterol — we can address what is really going on, instead of putting a bandaid on it that goes by the name of “eat less, exercise more.”

    As I tweeted just after the first two episodes, the HBO documentary did bring up some good points. But in my opinion, they got lost in the failure to really look at what’s going on with an up-to-date lens.

    Many women who come to Green Mountain do go on to achieve a healthy weight, and it is a weight that is significantly less than what they came to us at. But our focus is on helping them get to the root of what is causing their weight struggles, not on weight loss itself. We help them put in place the attitudes and behaviors that support health; weight loss becomes a natural, healthy outcome of that for very many of us.

  12. Dr Martin Binks says:

    This is a healthy conversation. As a clinical psychologist who specializes in both obesity and eating disorders and as a leader in the field of obesity management I have tried for many years to encourage better awareness and communication between eating disorder experts and obesity experts as the misconceptions in both directions abound and everyone seems more interested in winning the arguement than in whats best for the public (and our patients).

    I am aware of the bodyof scientific literature on long-term metabolic effects of appropriate weight management (there are none). If we look at the complete body of literature it appears that only extreme and innappropriate methods have been linked to eating disorders and that metabolic impacts are transitory (not long-term). Reputable approaches using appropriate nutritional and exercise intervention do not have such an impact.

    The reputable, evidence-based approach to obesity management includes multidisciplinary (dietitian, exercise physiologist, medical and psychological) treatment that includes a focus on overall health promotion, identifying and assisting with core behavioral environmental and emotional contributors to health and identification of causes and consequences of weight issues. These approaches recognize that there are a range of healthy weights and the value of physical activity as a moderator variable. We also recognize a reality that many do not. Quality of life across all areas of functioning (social, occupational, interpersonal, mobility, sexual quality of life etc) is negatively impacted in a positive and linear fashion as BMI increases. Health takes many forms and just because the obvious health indicators are ok does not indicate “health”. A second reality is that without treatment, most people continue to increase in weight over time and as these increases continue, the musculoskelatal capacity is exceeeded resulting in chronic pain and loss of mobility which is rarely reported and thus these folks are often considered as “healthy”

    By disparaging these reputable and evidence-based approaches you create barriers to those seeking legitimate and reputable help to achieve health and improved quality of life.The one-size-fits-all mentality that everyone who struggles with weight is somehow psychologically compromised is innaccurate. Many people respond very well to basic nutritional and activity instruction and others need more in-depth approaches. Approaches of those of us engaged in multidisciplinary treatment of obesity, takes into account the multifactorial nature of the weight; identifies the best approach based on the individual’s medical and psychosocial needs, and develops individualized treatment based on that person.

    I appreciate our discussion,


  13. Marsha says:

    I agree with so much of what you say, Martin, but don’t think that I am disparaging evidence-based approaches at all. And I surely don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. At Green Mountain, we guide our participants in discovering what is going to be the best path for them to achieve health. All I am saying is, let’s make it about our health, and let that support our bodies achieving and maintaining homeostasis. Healthy weights will come out of that.

    I appreciate the discussion, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

View Author Page