About Redefining Obesity

These images are good examples of what you won't find in Redefining Obesity

The Redefining Obesity Project was created as a design project during my Masters in Design (Anthropology) at Swinburne University.  It has taken on a life of its own as the message is slowly, but surely, resonating with many obese individuals, their friends and families, academics, health professionals, and policy makers.


The project started in 2008, when a deep sense of discomfort left me unwilling to settle for the current model of obesity.  Because of this, I have spent the past 5 years searching for something else.  The current paradigm, which tells us that all there is to weight loss and weight gain is calories-in and calories-out, just didn't seem complete enough.  When calorie-in/calorie-out is the model, the only solution is dieting and exercise. However, we know that 83% of diets not only fail, but leave the dieter with more weight than they started out with.  There is something wrong here!


This model teaches us that weight loss is extremely simple.  So simple, in fact, that anyone who cannot manage to lose weight by getting active and restricting their calorie intake must, logically, be lazy, ignorant, and lacking in self-control.  I was not convinced. In fact, I felt a bone-deep sense of "wrongness" that has not budged. I was not lazy, ignorant, or lacking in self-control in any other area of my life and couldn't believe that there would be one area so out of line with my values. I also spoke with many other obese individuals who were in the same boat.


This calorie-in/calorie-out paradigm also opens the door for pop culture to call obesity a "choice."  Rampant judgement and discrimination have followed, to the point where, in the United States, weight discrimination is now on par with racial discrimination.  The stigma only reinforces discomfort and makes it more difficult for obese individuals to live full, meaningful lives.  This feeds in to other health problems, creating a vicious cycle in which there is virtually no exit.


The alternative is that obesity is a disease (defined as an impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors to inherent defects of the organism, or to combinations of these factors) that is both complex and individual in nature.


Redefining Obesity strives to facilitate the shift to this alternative perspective, especially in pop culture.  I believe we stand to gain an amazing amount of insight into the biological mechanisms of our minds and bodies if we can open the door to a more holistic view of obesity.  We can also combat discrimination and begin to really address the roots of obesity and sow the seeds for a healthier future.


RedefiningObesity.com is on its way and should be up and running in the next few months.  Until then, please enjoy the blogs and Tweets!



- Katie Phillips


  1. Dieting does not work, UCLA Researchers Report. (2007). Retrieved from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/dieting-does-not-work-ucla-researchers-7832.aspx​.

  2. Puhl, R. (2011). Chris Christie and our Biases about Weight. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/07/opinion/puhl-christie-weight/.

  3. Disease. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/disease.