Skip to content

Unskinny Bob —

May 6, 2013

The following is an open letter to Director, and original fierce fatty, Kevin Smith about dieting and weight loss.

Hey Kevin,

I’ve been a huge fan of yours for nearly two decades, first through your iconic movies and then through your Q&A sessions at colleges across the country. I love your story-telling skills, both through film and in person. My wife and I still still randomly quote shit like “Chaka mad. Chaka real mad.” just to make each other laugh.

Not only can you weave an engrossing and hilarious story, but you’re one of those rare celebrities who manages to keep his feet on the ground even while cruising among the stars. Somehow, along with all the acclaim you’ve earned and criticism you’ve endured, you have managed to keep it real in a way few other icons have.

Except in one area: your weight.

I follow you on Twitter, and a few weeks back you posted this:

Kevin Smith

I recalled reading about your past weight loss efforts and was curious what your full history was. So, I created a timeline of sorts. As far as I could tell, most of your weight loss efforts have been through Optifast, the very low calorie diet (VLCD) program:

  • Late 1997 from your blog — Highest weight is 270 pounds; begin Optifast for first time
  • August to November 2005 from your blog — Lost 70 pounds
  • January 2007 from your blog — Lost 30 pounds
  • September 2007 from your blog — Beginning Optifast again
  • October 2008 from LA Times — “Kevin Smith plans to start counting his calories.”
  • February 2011 everywhere — Lost 65 pounds after February 2010 airplane incident

These are just the diets I was able to track down through Google, so I’m sure there plenty more I’m missing. As I tracked down a rough timeline of your dieting, I was also able to track down a rough timeline of your disappointments. For instance, when you talked about your 2005 diet for Clerks II,  you explain why (as you prepared your latest attempt) you hadn’t kept the weight off:

I can lose weight – I just have a problem with getting off my fat ass. What can I say? I’m just a lazy fuck.

When I apply myself in the pursuit of better health, I get good-to-great results. But I know I’m not expressing anything new here when I write that eating right and working out aren’t nearly as interesting or fun as eating garbage food and laying around. There are two many DVD’s to watch, and too much pizza to consume while doing so. And I’ve always been able to justify my position by reframing the negative as “I busy myself professionally; the down-time is mine to do with as I please.”

And that’s what’ll put me in an early grave.

There’s a few things I’d like to respond to here. First, you say that when you apply yourself “in the pursuit of better health” you get great results, but your problem is being sedentary. This makes me think that what you really mean is that “When I’m on Optifast, I get great results without exercising.” And it’s true: if you’re eating 800 to 1,000 calories per day, you will lose weight as long as you can maintain that lifestyle. It’s also true that if you’re able to exercise as well, you have slightly improved odds of keeping that weight off. But what’s even more true is that most of the people who try VLCDs fail in the long-term, not just you.

Nestle boasts on their Health Science Page that “the typical OPTIFAST patient loses over 50lbs in 18–24 weeks” which seems to correspond with your experience. But then they say “In follow-up studies, 2 years after completing the program, 78% of men and 60% of women maintained medically significant weight loss; after 5 years, over 45% of patients maintained medically significant weight loss.”

What Nestle doesn’t tell you is that weight loss researchers define “medically significant weight loss” as between 5% and 10% of your starting weight. If you started at 270 pounds, that would be between 13 and 27 pounds. To put it graphically, this is what two years looks like for the average Optifast user (PDF):


The line that drops, then rises, are those who did just the Optifast diet, and 67% of patients from that group regained more than half of their reduced weight. The line that drops and stays relatively low are those on Optifast who also engaged in a behavior modification plan. But even with all that work, they lost an average of 23 pounds, and after two years managed to lose an additional 3 pounds. Is that how you define success?

In a two-year study comparing commercial weight loss programs, Optifast was described this way:

One randomized trial and several case series of medically supervised very-low-calorie diet programs found that patients who completed treatment lost approximately 15% to 25% of initial weight. These programs were associated with high costs, high attrition rates, and a high probability of regaining 50% or more of lost weight in 1 to 2 years.

And the UK group Dietitians in Obesity Management concluded the following regarding VLCDs (PDF):

There is some evidence to support the notion that VLCD suit some individuals but not others. In studies using VLCD as part of comprehensive clinical trials approximately 25-35% of subjects managed to maintain a clinically significant weight loss of ~10% over 2-7 years but the majority of participants return to their pre-treatment weight.

This is the reality of Optifast, Kevin, and you’ve seen it first-hand. Now, you blame it on your weakness, on your laziness and on your character flaws, but can you really point to studies like this and say “Well, that’s just Kevin Smith being a gluttonous, slothful fat-ass”? Perhaps, but then you have to look at why Optifast won’t cure you of gluttony or laziness. If anything, Optifast makes it worse.

It all comes down to hormones, namely leptin and ghrelin. I will summarize briefly, but I’ve got a great resource if you want to learn the facts straight from the man who discovered leptin in 1994, the same year Clerks was released. His name is Dr. Jeffrey Friedman and he’s on the short-list for a Nobel. It’s an hour long, but I guarantee that if you watch this video you won’t look your weight loss failures ever the same:

Here’s the long and short of it: ghrelin makes you hungry, leptin makes you satisfied. When you’re hungry, your ghrelin is high and your leptin is low, and then you eat and your ghrelin falls and leptin rises. When you’re on a diet, your ghrelin levels stay high and your leptin levels stay low, which creates the constant, gnawing hunger you repeatedly describe in your blog (remember the turkey meatball?).

Now, why does your body fuck with your dieting attempts? Because your body doesn’t know that you’re just worried about the media snarking at your fat-ass. It simply interprets the reduction in calories as a famine and puts your appetite on high alert to eat anything and everything to keep yourself from starving. In a real famine (or, say, during the Cuban embargo of the 1990s) this means you lose weight and keep it off because you have no choice. But once the famine ends, your body pushes you to eat your fill (and then some) until you replenish your fat stores (and then some) to prepare for the next fast.

Which brings me back to your weight. I did some research to find a chronological timeline of your weight fluctuations. I was able to go back as far as 1994, when you were a skinny-ass bastard hanging with Quentin Tarantino. What is striking about this timeline is how your weight creeps higher and higher and higher as each successive weight loss attempt wears off.

Kevin Smith Weight Cycling

The constant up and down via Optifast is known as yo yo dieting or weight cycling. There’s a lot of controversy over the effects of weight cycling on heart disease, diabetes and mortality (which I’ve summarized here), but the one thing that is not controversial is that people who lose and regain a lot of weight a lot of times have much higher weights overall.

That is you, sir.

And here’s how it looks in a study by Walter Willett, who is a staunch anti-obesity advocate from the Harvard School of Public Health (PDF):

Weight Cycling

In the red box you can see that those who didn’t weight cycle gained an average of 21 pounds since age 18, while those who were severe weight cyclers (losing more than 20 pounds three or more times) gained an average of 40 pounds.

Compare this to your experience. Since you were 18, how many times have you lost and regained more than 20 pounds? What is the difference between your weight now and when you were 18? Finally, ask yourself whether you think this trend is worth continuing for the rest of your life.

You wrote an interesting post on December 30, 2010 to @thedarkknight98, who felt suicidal because of his weight. Your response to him was that “weight loss, while a frustrating proposition, is the key – because when you’re thin, you’re healthy, & nobody bothers you – so life’s always a non-caloric-cupcake-&-firework party!”

But what if @thedarkknight98 had the same experience you had? What if @thedarkknight98 tried to lose weight, only to regain it again? If he were standing there with a gun to his head right now, would you still give him the same advice again? Or would you try to reassure him that his worth is tied to something far more valuable than a number on the scale.

The key is not to lose weight. Losing weight, as you know, is temporary for most people. Basing your self-worth to something that most people can’t achieve is setting yourself, and others, up for disappointment, despair and, possibly, self-destruction.

Neither you nor @thedarkknight98 need to lose weight to embrace life and enjoy what you’ve been blessed with. You can do that right now, today, without drinking another nasty-ass shake. You simply have to stop putting so much emphasis on your weight.

“But Shannon,” I hear you say, “I have a family history of type 2 diabetes, so I want to stay healthy for my family.”

I’m glad you said that, Kevin, because here’s the awesome part.

A year ago you wrote a great piece for The Guardian about being fat. It was a really moving article about being self-conscious of your body as a child and now as a grown-up. A lot of what you wrote resonated with me, as I went through the same things as a young, fat kid (or, more accurately, a young kid who was constantly told he was fat).

But what I noticed was this:

When I’m at home, I do this mile-long walk near my house, and if you do it once a day, it keeps you in a good place. But I couldn’t run. The moment I’d start, I’d think, what must I look like with my flab going like this?

You say that you’ll never run, but the question is, why do you think you need to? Walking a mile a day is great exercise by itself, regardless of whether you lose weight. You don’t need to run to get healthy. You just need to keep walking.

As far as diet goes, stop making this an all-or-nothing proposition. You go from binge eating to starvation diet, then act surprised when the diet ends and you’re binging again. This is absolutely normal behavior with dieting, and any nutritionist worth your time will tell you to knock that shit off.

Here’s what you do instead: focus on improving your diet without restricting your options. We know what a healthy diet looks like: lean meats, healthy fats, whole grains and fruits and veggies. Work more of those into your diet, but if you want a Ho-Ho, don’t tell yourself you can’t have it. Have one, then move on. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t think about how much you’ll have to walk to burn it off. Obsessing over the food you eat is unhealthy, period. Skinny-ass people eat Ho-Hos too.

What you need is balance, not Optifast. And balance is about respecting what your body craves and understanding what your body needs. Make improvements in a way that you can balance these needs for the rest of your life.

This approach is known as Health at Every Size, and I would gladly tell you more about it, or you can check out the book by Dr. Linda Bacon (yes, Bacon) that explains everything in detail. Rather than judging your health by how much you weigh (which hasn’t worked out so well for you thus far), measure your health by your metabolic indicators: blood pressure, blood sugar, blood lipids. Focus on improving those numbers through diet and exercise and forget what it does to the scale. If you approach your health from this perspective you will find that you can be healthy, even if you don’t lose 70 pounds for six months before putting it back on and then some.

I adore you, Kevin Smith, and all the wonderful, hilarious, thought-provoking ideas you bring into this world. I hate to see you continue to buy the myth that losing weight is the end-all-be-all of health. Health is about behaviors, not body size, and if you can alter your perception on this issue, I guarantee you will find the long-term health and happiness that you seek.

Today is International No Diet Day, and I hope that you will take some time to research this subject and find out why you should join us in saying no to Optifast and the millions of other diet plans that do not work. Hell, even The Biggest Loser has a depressingly high failure rate. You are not alone.

Thank you for your time and I wish you all the best in your life and work.

Shannon Russell (aka atchka)
Chief Fatty at Fierce, Freethinking Fatties

12 Comments leave one →
  1. JeninCanada permalink
    May 6, 2013 2:31 pm

    I hope he reads this and takes it to heart. Well done, Shannon!

  2. May 6, 2013 2:39 pm

    I’m guessing you tweeted this to him too? I really hopes he reads it. I love KS too – I had no idea he was going through all this.

  3. vesta44 permalink
    May 6, 2013 2:42 pm

    ↑ What Jen said ↑

  4. May 6, 2013 2:51 pm

    What Jen and Vesta said!

  5. the fat aspie permalink
    May 6, 2013 3:08 pm

    I hope he does read it. I want to cry when he’s talking on SIR about how much he hates his body, even when he’s joking. Kev, Jen thinks you’re sexy, not that your sexiness is an indicator of your worth, but she did choose you for her last sex partner ever, that’s got to count for something!

  6. May 6, 2013 4:22 pm

    Brilliant,. Thank you so much. On a day when I was seriously considering moving back to dieting and calorie monitoring. I needed this. Kevin, please listen..You are awesome and smart and sexy. Please take care of yourself.

  7. Inara permalink
    May 6, 2013 5:10 pm

    Maybe Michael Moore can have a wee chat with him. MM used to be on the weight loss bandwagon but has since changed to a HAES approach, encouraging his Twitter followers to go for walks “with” him, and walking not for weight loss but to feel great. Some of his writing about it is a bit healthist but the overall message is pretty good. Whatever you think of MM’s films etc it’s nice to see a fat celebrity pulling the plug on dieting and fat shame.

    • JeninCanada permalink
      May 6, 2013 7:20 pm

      Just wanted to say I love your handle.

  8. May 6, 2013 7:30 pm

    My husband and I LOVE Kevin Smith, and think he is Hilarious! Here I had no idea he struggled so with his weight, I guess because I really don’t follow news. Here I thought he was out of the fat closet and proud. Anyway, what an awesome article Shannon! I, too, hope Kevin Smith reads this too!

  9. violetyoshi permalink
    May 6, 2013 8:01 pm

    When you mentioned Linda Bacon’s last name, as in (yes, bacon). It reminded me how fat haters seems to think it’s such a clever joke, to make fun of her last name cause you know those fatties can’t stop eating the bacon. I mean, really, fat haters are immature. Do they really expect anyone to respect them behaving that way?

  10. LittleBigGirl permalink
    May 6, 2013 9:22 pm

    I find it interesting and sad that Kevin Smith has taken on so many other institutions and issues (religion, relationships, geeks and fans, Hollywood, etc.) in both his movies and real life – yet even he hasn’t seen through the diet industry bullshit. He was mad at the airlines but then he let them shame him into thinking he had to lose weight, like “Oh you shouldn’t have treated me like crap and embarrassed me, but I *am* a fatty so I guess if I want to be treated better I need to get skinny.” This goes against everything FA is working for.
    I can’t understand how such a smart and successful guy can get so hung up on one little perceived imperfection. His self-deprecating about his weight always sounds horrible to me – like he is taking the first and worst shots before anyone else can. He deserves to treat himself better!
    Can you imagine how amazing it would be if Kevin Smith could take on our culture’s obsession with thinness the way he took on religion in “Dogma”? I mean let’s face it: diet culture is very cult-like, requires blind unquestioning faith, and encourages proselytizing and recruitment. It’s a crazy aspect of our culture that is treated as normal, and is just begging for the treatment by someone like Kevin Smith (my 2nd choice would be Trey Parker and Matt Stone but they prefer to continue mocking fat people).
    IMHO, If Kevin could practice some self love (other than the masturbation he likes to talk about), he would deserve a spot on the FFF banner. I thought after the airplane incident he was going to use that indignation and hurt to fuel some activism, but he went the other way instead. 😦
    I will continue to hope he finds some peace with his body so he can concentrate on being the awesome artist and creator that he is clearly meant to be.

  11. May 7, 2013 10:03 pm

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Kevin, you’re great just the way you are. Don’t go changing to try and please people who can’t be pleased anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: