Why it’s counterproductive to envy ‘naturally thin’ people

One of the things I do at work is edit the advice columns – Dear Abby and Annie’s Mailbox – that run in our newspaper. A letter that ran in Wednesday’s paper was about a couple of sisters-in-law who are no longer speaking because of a dustup over the one making snide comments about what the other person eats.

Usually it’s heavy people who are the wounded party in this kind of a situation. But in this case, the person with hurt feelings was a lady who said she keeps herself trim and watches what she eats but doesn’t deny herself pleasurable foods.

This reminded me of some of the things I learned doing a series of “How ‘Normal People’ Eat” interviews back in the early days of this blog.

The premise of that project was the notion that “some people” can get away with eating whatever they want without getting fat. I was dubious that this was really true. It seemed more likely that there were built-in behaviors involved that somehow limited overall calories or burned off excess consumption, whether or not the person was consciously aware of what they were doing. Either way, I wanted to see what I could learn from interviewing some “naturally thin” people – and to see if I could adopt some of their behaviors into my own lifestyle.

The wounded letter-writer was a perfect example of how appearances can be deceiving. When she ordered a cheeseburger and fries for lunch at a restaurant that doles out enormous servings, her sister-in-law — whom the advice columnists suspected was jealous — commented that “If they put something like that in front of me, I would get sick to my stomach immediately!”

But as the burger eater pointed out in her letter, not only did she take half her lunch home for later — “as it is too much for me to eat at one time” – she’s also a widow who makes these lunches out her main meal of the day.

This reminded me of a woman who responded to one of my blog interviews by noting that co-workers who see her get Oreos out of the vending machine assume that she eats a lot of junk food without apparent penalty.

But what they don’t realize, she said, is that she never keeps Oreos around the house because she knows she couldn’t stay out of them. By limiting her Oreo consumption to a four-cookie package on certain days of the week, she gets to indulge herself without losing control.

I think this is a good thing to keep in mind as so many of us start off the New Year trying to lose weight or get in better shape. Let’s all focus on our own strategy – and if we find ourselves being envious of others in better shape than we are, see what we can learn from them rather than curse their existence!

For those who are interested, you can read the Dear Annie letter here. To see some of my “Normal People” interviews, click on the “Interviews” tab at the upper left of the blog.

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4 Responses to Why it’s counterproductive to envy ‘naturally thin’ people

  1. bgddyjim says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of cases of thin people eating food that tastes good were like this… Yeah, I’ll eat a Whopper but I’ve rarely gotten to the bottom of the fries that come with it and it’s usually after I’ve burned about 1,500 calories on my Tuesday night ride. 😎

    Great post!

  2. tischcaylor says:

    Thanks! But I see now how woefully out of date my interviews tab is, because it doesn’t include yours. Even though that wasn’t one of my “Normal People” interviews — we talked more about cycling but there are some great comments on eating as well — I definitely think of you as someone in that category. (And you’ve written many great posts on this very topic on your own blog.) I’ll have to get in there and update that tab later today, but for now, if anybody’s interested, here’s the link:


  3. Sandra says:

    Great post, my friend. My older sister could eat whatever she wanted and proudly wore a 99% fat free shirt most of our JR/HS years. For a while, I got away with it too, but my metabolism changed and hers did not. It took until she was in her 40s before it caught up to her. Because she had always been thin, she knew she could be thin. Because I had been overweight for 25 years, I don’t have that kind of faith. Every now and then when I feel a hip bone (dear god I didn’t think I had one), I get motivated. Hopefully this is my year. Great reminder to focus on self.

    • tischcaylor says:

      It’s even harder when you see that divide within your own family and you have to live with it everyday, which is the case with my parents. I think my mom gets demoralized because my dad’s never been overweight and doesn’t seem to have to work at it, but it’s because he has habits that don’t lead him to overeat very often,

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