In yesterday’s post, I was pretty hard on Dr. Sharma. I also contacted him by email and let him know that he had provoked a munity among a chunk of the HAES community who read his blog and respect his opinion, if not always in full agreement. He responded thoughtfully and at length.
Blog’s are written quickly. Dr. Sharma says he is often asked whether his is ghost written (as I did). It is not.
Now, regarding his emails, he didn’t apologize for his posts of May 9th or 10th. Following is the closest thing he offered to an apology (note that you are “they”):
Their anger, trauma, suffering, frustration, disillusionment with the medical ‘establishment’ is all very real and understandable – in short – I can fully see ‘where they are coming from’.
So while some of them may now be hurt, frustrated and disillusioned by my post (which, really was not a personal attack, but rather a reflection of the kind of ‘uncritical’ thinking and arguments that I see reflected in some of the comments left on my site), this is not really the audience that I write for or even see in my practice. I am not out to talk anyone out of HAES or Fat Acceptance or anything else that they are happy and comfortable with.
I primarily write for my colleagues, to try and help them keep up with the latest research in this fast moving field, and perhaps over time change their understanding of obesity and their attitudes to people with obesity, who may wander into their practice.
Now, while we aren’t his central audience, he isn’t completely unappreciative of us. He says that people who come to his blog and (respectfully) disagree with him “represent an interesting and important view point, which although by some standards extreme, certainly serves as a reality check to me and other readers – a reminder that there are other opinions out there.”
So, what set him off? If we aren’t his central audience, I don’t think it was us. (Even though some of us have been less than entirely respectful.) I think, and this is only speculation, that we were hit by the shrapnel of a bomb aimed mostly at Linda Bacon. Admittedly, in my first email to him I singled her out: “Some HAES commenters are prickly about you, including Linda Bacon herself, but most have appreciated that you’ve kept an open mind despite unknowable pressures from others in your field.” So, while the following paragraph may be revealing, my words may have provoked it. (Attempt to read it aloud at your own peril.)
When a Linda Bacon, whose work I have extensively followed and reviewed in great detail in a previous blog post, resorts to accusing me of ‘failure’ in promoting my “unscientific weight-loss ideology”, I can only roll my eyes and wonder about her own agenda and lack of insight and confess to feeling a deep sense of disappointment in her inability to chose her arguments carefully enough to still confer professional respect and cordiality, which I tend to extend to all my colleagues – even the ones I completely disagree with – never would I dare accuse them of being ‘unscientific’ – there are always more than one way to interpret any body of evidence as complex as that on weight management – any scientist should know that.
(You may now suck in a deep breath. Whew.) I may have hit the bug-a-bear by raising her specter or he may have only been trying to build common ground with me. Nevertheless, he had noted her comments, and taken umbrage, and I agree with him. Linda Bacon is “branding” herself as the mother of HAES (and chasing down the trademark for it), and she could stand to be more measured and politic with her language. As I’ve said before, she speaks in manifesto.
Among his other comments to me, Dr. Sharma summarized some of his contributions toward a more HAES-friendly approach to medicine:
I developed the Edmonton Staging System specifically to stop health professionals from recommending weight loss to people who are essentially healthy, I developed a diagnostic framework that looks at all potential factors that may lead to excess weight in an individual, and have written extensively about the shortcomings of BMI and why it is clinically meaningless.
I single-handedly championed the first ever National Summit on weight bias that generated over 40 million media impressions and got this topic onto the front pages of national media and we are currently preparing a position paper that will call on all policy makers to test any policies on the potential risks for increasing weight bias and promoting body-size distortion, especially in the context of the childhood obesity strategy, which may in the end do more harm than good.
I am currently working to have BMI and ‘ideal’ weight eliminated as measurements of “success” in the Alberta provincial obesity strategy.
I co-authored the book and coined the term “Best Weight” where we present an entirely different way of looking at obesity and its management.
I am outspoken about the need for regulating the commercial weight loss industry and the fashion industry for the depiction and promotion of unrealistic weights and inducing millions of people to weight-cycle themselves into obesity.
I was the first to invite the Eating Disorder folks to the table and have been actively building a relationship to them (also- note that HAES was well represented at the Summit – perhaps not by the radical ideologists, who may have liked to be there, but by those who do have the scientific credentials to speak about the issues).
AND he offered an edited bibliography of what he sees as his blog posts “that challenge the conventions ‘biomedical’ establishment,” including:
Is Weight-Loss Advice Unethical? (He says this post opened discussions among the professional, “mainstream” obesity community in Canada.)
While that’s an impressive list, he actually neglected to include my favorite HAES-friendly post:
Bottom line: I feel he took my email inquiry seriously. I think his inflammatory posts of May 9th and 10th were unfortunate (as well as his uncritical post a couple of weeks ago on the Alberta study that portrays fat people as society’s financial pariahs, and his premature post demanding political attention for obesity, yet lacking a clear plan), but I’m going to forgive (if not forget).
As for Linda Bacon, I don’t know what to think.
As a feminist during my journalism school days, I had an eye-opening experience. A professor called me “completely nutty” because in my copy I used the words “utility hole cover” instead of “manhole cover.” I also vocally supported the women professors in their action challenging the Dean’s office to attain equal pay.
Later in the year, I was talking with a feminist friend about a “rally” that embarrassed me, where some of the sisters decided to protest a campus policy that allowed men to go shirtless (but not women) by staging a sit-in . . . sans shirts, of course. I told my friend, “they make us look nutty.” She said to me, “Oh, no. We need them. The pendulum will never swing to where we want without them providing the magnetic pull from where they are.”
By the time I graduated, the J-school newsroom had adopted Miller and Swift’s Handbook of Nonsexist Writing and the women professors reached a new pay agreement with the Dean. Did the shirtless protesters advance this progress by making these requests look reasonable? I’ll never know. Is Linda Bacon our shirtless protester? If so, should she put her shirt on? Perhaps she can leave her shirt off, but speak more judiciously?
As for Dr. Sharma, he’s doing a better job of moving the medical pendulum to a more compassionate place than most other doctors in his field, and they listen to him more than they do any of us. That’s why I’ll keep reading and commenting, always with due understanding of and respect for his not-entirely-weight-neutral position, and maybe offering a little bit of magnetic pull.