Montreal Gazette columnist June Thompson writes on diet, fitness, and health issues. Her latest column this week is a disgraceful perpetuation of a common myth that should have died long ago, were it not for the ravings of self-appointed diet gurus like Steve Siebold. Read her column first and then my response below (published today):

June Thompson’s column highlighting weight-loss author Steve Siebold’s premise that fat people lack mental toughness is a relief. As a psychologist and member of the Canadian Obesity Network (Canada’s official representative in the International Association for the Study of Obesity) I am relieved that I can now tell the thousands of scientists around the globe that they can halt their research on obesity; the answer is that fat people just need to get mentally “tough.”

The fundamental flaw in Siebold’s argument is that fat people run the gamut of success, from doctors, lawyers, accountants, company presidents, writers, artists, and even politicians. How is it that they have sufficient mental toughness for the rigours of their professions, yet lack the toughness to lose weight? Certainly, getting through medical or law school must require some discipline and mental toughness!

Simplistic answers create barriers to actually finding the answers to very complex problems such as overeating, while providing the smug satisfaction of blaming the individual for their problem.

Eating and our relationship to food is perhaps the most complex of all human experiences. Food is our first contact with the outside world and with another person. We are “hardwired” to use food for comfort and to eat as much as possible when food is available (survival mechanism). To reduce the problem to simple answers such as “eat less,” “move more,” or “get tough” may sell books, but it doesn’t really help anyone.

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