Chris Christie Weight: Why It's Hard to Get Fit (Especially When You're Famous)

Governor Chris Christie is the accidental champion of weight stigma awareness. He joins the likes of other politicians, like former Governor Mike Huckabee, Sen. Hayley Barbour, President Bill Clinton — and before any of them — President Howard Taft. He also joins the larger class of celebrities known for their struggles with weight: Oprah, Al Roker, Jared the Subway Guy, and others. Like those before him, Gov. Christie embodies the paradoxes of weight and the burden of weight expectation. Whether or not you find his policies palatable, it's nonetheless important to take note of the governor as an unwitting symbol of what it means to be obese in America.

He feels healthy, but doesn't look the part:

Gov. Christie once referred to himself as the "healthiest fat guy you’ll ever meet." Some might snicker at that as an obvious delusion, but it’s not so inconceivable. With the advent of the obesity epidemic, we've been conditioned to see obesity not as what it is, but what it signals. Obesity is not by itself a disease; it is more a category of measurement. Rather, obesity is problematic as a risk-factor for a number of diseases and ailments, like type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. It might seem like splitting hairs to label something a pre-disease rather than a disease outright, but to do so highlights an important component of the struggle to lose weight — precisely because you still feel normal in an obese body, it is all the more difficult to see the urgency to lose weight.

He has to acknowledge obesity both as a serious problem and a target of permissible ridicule:

Fat jokes abide in spite of the obesity epidemic because fat is still taken more as a symbol of excess and appetite than a condition in need of attention and support. Even if this humor is becoming increasingly tasteless, the sense that fat is funny has been around longer in the modern period. Because public figures (but one could argue all people) are expected to be a good sport about their shortcomings, Gov. Christie is frequently the subject of many a late night talk show host opening monologue. But unlike other deviations that draw a longer history of seriousness (like sexual orientation or disability), the governor is expected to take it, lest he be a person who takes himself too seriously. And yet he has to take his weight seriously because of its associated health concerns.

What he feels as deterministic biology observers will see as insufficient willpower:

By all probable expectations, Gov. Christie is not likely to lose and keep off a tremendous amount of weight. This is not necessarily because he chose a less-effective surgical procedure. Nor is it likely to be a fault of his willpower. What we're learning from studies on eating psychology and the biologic responses to weight loss is that the mind and body do not want to lose weight once it reaches an obese state. Overeating is more on par with drug addiction than weak character. Even after you lose weight, your body attempts to thwart your success with a series of physiologic shin kicks. This is the reason why so few who lose weight are able to sustain their weight loss. Even the most successful weight loss programs are shown in studies to leave a barely noticeable effect on the body in the long run. Indeed, other politicians like Gov. Mike Huckabee, or celebrities like Oprah, have been at the mercy of these effects. It doesn't help to be a public person with that an obvious private problem.

Where it's easy to poke fun or impose moralisms on the obese, the truth we know but tend to forget is that it's hard and uncomfortable and psychologically tiring to lose weight, and still worse to keep it off. Gov. Christie may or may not deserve your support at the polls, but he needs it at the scales.

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Rajiv Narayan

I'm currently a contributing curator at Upworthy and a grad student at the University of Oxford, where I study Medical Anthropology. In the last year I was an Associate at the healthcare information firm Close Concerns, where I covered research, drug, and policy developments in obesity and public health. Before that I was a Research Assistant at Social Policy Research Associates. And not too long before that I was finishing my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Davis, where I was very privileged to be a Regents Scholar and graduate Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors in a self-designed major. In college I was a 2010 Young People For fellow and the Senior Fellow for Health Policy at the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. At various points over the last 4 years I've worked on an urban farm in Milwaukee, interned at the California State Assembly, and taught classes on the Social Theory of Eating Disorders at UC Davis. On the academic side, I researched obesity legislation in Argentina, food stamps in California, the racial dynamics of obesity policy in Southern States, and fat acceptance activism in California.

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