“Comparison is the death of joy.”
People have been shifting their concept of human beauty over the centuries, and with this, their view of an ideal weight. The change in perspective has not been subtle. Today, we desire teeth so white they sparkle and will employ lasers, daily strips, and overnight trays to accomplish it. During a period of ancient Japan, black teeth defined female beauty, so women drank a dye created from iron fillings soaked in tea or sake and flavored with spices. Ancient Romans found well-endowed males less sophisticated looking, and their sculptures embraced a “less is more” appearance. Before Photoshopping, sculpture-editing existed. Today, well, suffice it to say that there seems to be an obsession in the other direction. Ideal weights have also shifted from the famous Venus of Willendorf artifact, where wide was in, to today’s preoccupation with a near zero body fat. In any society, extremes, comparison, and self-judgment are all unhealthy. As Mark Twain noted, “Comparison is the death of joy.”
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Podcast: Do vets fatshame pets?
Length: 4 min 50 seconds
Written and read by the author
Pet owners may wonder if vets fat shame
In an era, where fat-shaming, eating disorders, and lack of self-acceptance abound, pet owners may wonder if their veterinarian is joining in by calling their dog or cat “fat.” Pet owners may wonder, “Do I ask much? Let me come into your hospital, get my pet’s vaccines, not have anything additionally sold to me and not have my pet called a lardbucket. His name is Jinxy, and he is happy, content and well-loved, which implies well-fed. Just let us be.”
Veterinarians wrestle with this conversation on a regular ongoing basis and often discuss their approach to the pet-obesity client discussion. Many struggle with this fear daily and as a result, vary how often they bring it up. Fear overcomes others who decide to avoid the conversation altogether, which often results in some guilt. Some recognize their duty to the pet and consistently work to frame the discussion with compassion and education. And a few take an abrasive comedic approach that risks neglecting the feelings of the owner and thereby nullifing the message. When levity does not lighten the tension and eases the conversation towards education, it generates tension by hurting feelings and giving affront.
Adipose tissue or fat claims fame as the largest endocrine organ
So why do vets prance onto this minefield? As pet owners, we know obesity causes some problems in our pets – more weight means more load on the bones and joints, but Muffin gets around fine for what she needs to do. She isn’t running marathons anytime soon, but neither am I so why a big deal make out of it? Veterinary concerns peer far beyond arthritis. Adipose tissue or fat claims fame as the largest endocrine organ in the body, in both size of organ and the total volume of hormones, released.
Adipose titsue produce both helpful and harmful hormones
Some adipose hormones fight against disease and even work to prevent us from gaining weight. Adiponectin, a powerful anti-inflammatory hormone, assists with fatty acid and glucose metabolism. Unfortunately, as our adipose mass increases, that is we get fatter, our adiponectin levels correspondingly drop with the resulting increased risk of type 2 diabetes, a form of liver disease, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. Both adiponectin and the hormone leptin work as “fat-o-meters” to facilitate a steady body mass index (BMI). As our fat level increases, adiponectin drops, leptin rises, and these changes down-regulate our hunger; with decreased fat, the inverse triggers our desire to eat.
While obesity corresponds with the lowering of helpful hormones, it overlaps with the rise of harmful hormone release with such examples as Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNF-α), Resistin, and interleukins like IL-6. In older days, we believed that the presence or absence of inflammatory hormones alone determined the level of inflammation. Today, we understand that inflammation teeters between the balance of anti-inflammatory hormones like adiponectin and inflammatory hormones like TNF-α and IL-6. And in stark contrast to the phrase, “fat and happy” science strongly links hormones like IL-6 with depression.
Veterinarians have taken an oath to be the advocate of their patient
As a result, when Fifi becomes fat, we as vets visualize a lack of good hormones and a surplus of bad ones as a serious chronic inflammatory condition. With chronic systemic inflammation, the risks for cancer, heart disease, infections, pancreatitis, and liver disease skyrocket along with conditions like arthritis. Chronic inflammation also exacerbates pre-existing diseases such as allergies and other auto-immune disorders. Without running any tests, we diagnose Fifi’s quantity and quality of life as compromised from what it could be. Having taken an oath to be the advocate of animals like Fifi, we do not prance upon the minefield of obesity but find ourselves dutybound to navigate her safely across it to a world of decreased inflammation, less pain, increased joy, and longer life.
References and Further Reading
- Dḥwty. (2016, March 17). The Allure of Blackened Teeth: A Traditional Japanese Sign of Beauty. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/allure-blackened-teeth-traditional-japanese-sign-beauty-005544
- Laflamme, D. P. (2006). Understanding and Managing Obesity in Dogs and Cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 36(6), 1283-1295. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2006.08.005
- Maes, M., Bosmans, E., Jongh, R. D., Kenis, G., Vandoolaeghe, E., & Neels, H. (1997). Increased Serum Il-6 And Il-1 Receptor Antagonist Concentrations In Major Depression And Treatment-Resistant Cytokine, 9(11), 853-858. doi:10.1006/cyto.1997.0238
- Tilg, H., & Moschen, A. R. (2006). Adipocytokines: mediators linking adipose tissue, inflammation, and Nature Reviews Immunology, 6(10), 772-783. doi:10.1038/nri1937