Dieting


Body Love Wellness has a very revealing interview with a Biggest Loser finalist here (Part 2 here, and some additional thoughts on the interview here). I think it is awesome that Golda got the straight story on this.

Whether to diet is a very personal decision, but I think it is bad news bears to make it dramatic enough to be a reality show–the kind of slow, moderate weight loss that people seem to agree is “healthy” (not that I personally am even particularly convinced of that, of course) does not exactly make good TV. Even worse now that clueless workplaces have weight loss competitions loosely based on this concept (my complaint being that–even if you buy into weight loss as a positive–it should never be a straight “competition” based on the scale because, since different people lose at different rates, that all but guarantees people will do stuff that is risky or ill-advised. Adults can do what they like with their own bodies, but feeling coerced to participate in a weight loss competition is not cool).

Individual fat people may be unhealthy, and I’m sure some individuals have benefited from The Biggest Loser. Statistically it seems likely enough, I guess. But it is by no means a given that any particular fat person is so unhealthy that it justifies overexercising in 90-degree heat, purging, diuretics, and a caloric intake so low that it is likely to screw up your metabolism for life. These things are a bad idea on principle, and fat people are being used as guinea pigs in a way that is very irresponsible. I am far from the first to make this observation, but I suppose something actually beneficial, like a HAES show, would be far less popular because fatties would be empowered, not punished.

I understand what it is like to want this badly to be thin, but The Biggest Loser just preys on that desire and feeds into viewers’ beliefs about fat people (all for entertainment value–it’s not like this is an altruistic venture designed to benefit humanity) in a way that is very distasteful to me.

I was alerted to this article by the fan page of New York State Senator Diane J. Savino, of whom I am indeed a big fan even though I don’t live in New York. The article is a sad (from my standpoint) laundry list of diets that politicians follow to avoid being called or thought of as fat on the campaign trail. What made me perhaps most sad, though, was Sen. Savino’s comment when she posted the article:

Here I am quoted in a NY Times article on campaign season and dieting: ‘Most women are going on a diet whether or not they have a campaign,’ she said. ‘Since I hit puberty, there hasn’t been a week in my life that I haven’t been on a diet. It’s kind of like an ever-present condition for me.’

Well it’s true! Also we will soon be announcing a get healthy campaign this summer. We will keep you posted.

I can’t think about this too hard because I have seen enough fat hate today and already feel pretty much like shit about both my body and my diet. But I hate to see a woman who has accomplished so much just blithely accepting that it is a woman’s lot in life to diet from puberty until death. How can people consider this unproblematic or entirely a health issue? There are few things in life more apparent to me than the fact that the push to be thin on the campaign trail (and really most other places) is NOT. ABOUT. HEALTH.

One of my Facebook friends posted this article containing “19 New Reasons to Keep Fat Off.” I swear it is like an FA manifesto. 90% of these “new” reasons (not so new to those of us who are fat and deal with this crap on a regular basis) are about how fat people get inadequate medical care due to ignorance or bias on the part of physicians, or how assholes in society treat fat people badly in general. It seems to me like any logical person would see this list as a wake-up call to start examining some of our more poisonous and destructive attitudes toward fat people. Also, if I had done some of the studies they cite that look into these biases and negligence, I would not be well pleased that they were included in a pro-weight-loss article. Miss the point much?

Also, do you love as much as I do the total scientific and statistical FAIL in the #1 reason on the list, which refers to a published study to support its claim that EVERY SINGLE ADULT in the U.S. will be overweight or obese in 40 years? There will be NOT ONE exception. LOL.

“Enjoy.”

Remember how I was praising Women’s Running magazine a while back for what I thought was its breath-of-fresh-air approach to body size and diet, and balanced, technical focus? As we all know, most women’s magazines (and other magazines and web sites, let’s be honest, especially if they are fitness-related… I had to de-fan Cool Running on Facebook because 90% of what they posted was inane diet tips… too bad, since they have some great training plans and other information when they are not catering to the lowest common denominator) focus way too much on dieting, fashion, and beauty, and every other topic is covered so superficially that you might as well just read those self-published “informational” “articles” that seem to clog up my every Google search these days.

Well, so I asked for a subscription for Christmas. The complimentary copy I picked up at the Detroit Free Press Marathon expo was thin and boring, but I hoped they were maybe just having an off month. But 3 or 4 months after my mom ordered the gift subscription for me, I finally received my first issue, and I fear that instead my first impression was just plain wrong. There are 5 cover blurbs, and 3 of them are:

  • Run Your Way to Lasting Weight Loss! (this is of course the first and largest item)
  • 16 Flirty & Fun Running Skirts and Dresses
  • Build a Strong Core (whatever the content of the actual piece, including this type of thing on the cover is lady code for “get a flat sexy tummy!” in my experience)

Hmm.

Inside we find the following:

1) A roundup of races that “entertain you on and off the course,” including the SkirtChaser 5k. The copy says “Women runners tease their male competitors in athletic skirts as they get a friendly three-minute head start.” Post-race entertainment includes a “sexy DriLex fashion show.” I have heard of this race series before, and EWWWWW. How about I run a “race” where I deliberately position myself so men can ogle my ass, then reinforce imagery of a group of guys chasing down women in “tantalizing” clothing. Granted the existence of this creepy event is not the magazine’s fault.

2) A whole article entitled “Secrets to Healthy Hair” (???)

3) The promised weight-loss article, which features a hypothyroid woman who lost 130 lbs. from a starting weight (during pregnancy, though) of 260. Her endocrinologist “advised her that because her metabolism was so sluggish, she would need to double what other people do to lose weight.” As a result, she started walking for 2 HOURS every morning PLUS 1 hour every night, and now runs 8-10 miles per day with strength training 3 times a week. Her meal plan is listed as “oatmeal with ground flaxseed, walnuts, and blueberries” for breakfast, “turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onion and mustard on sprouted whole-grain bread” for lunch, yogurt for a snack, “lean protein like chicken or fish, vegetables, and a salad” for dinner, and a “special indulgence” of ICED COFFEE. People, iced coffee does not contain any calories.

My rough calculations put this daily menu at about 1150 calories (and that’s assuming she eats regular yogurt and full-fat salad dressing, which I doubt). Now, I realize we all eat different amounts, and the diet of many readers here may resemble this description. I don’t judge individual food choices. But once you publish something like this in a magazine article, it becomes less of a personal choice and more of a “recommendation,” and I hope we can agree that this level of intake is not, on average, reasonable or adequate for many sedentary people, let alone someone this active. Mainly this irritates me because it seems that her endo may be a candidate for First, Do No Harm–I have no idea what they tried in terms of medication, but telling someone they will just have to suck it up and do twice as much as everyone else, case closed, is never a good sign as far as I am concerned. The folks here do not, by and large, care for endos, and although I am sure there are many great ones out there, this is another data point on the negative side of the ledger AFAIC.

4) An article with some yummy-looking recipes, but with an intro that states “Women runners seem to have a natural aversion to the C word [carbs]. For many of us, consuming the usual carbs (think pasta and potatoes) seems like a bad idea when trying to lose weight and eat better.” Leaving aside that the article is written by a man, so what’s with the chummy “just us girls” tone, why are “we” assumed to be trying to lose weight at all times? Aren’t we mainly just trying to become better runners? I can get as much of this crap as I want from Good Housekeeping or Cosmo, so I fail to see why I should pay for a running magazine that feels similar in content.

To be fair, there is some good stuff in there too, including a sprint triathlon training plan for beginners, an article on vegetarianism that does not promote weight loss, a list of top trail running destinations that includes Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (woo hoo!), and a heart-rate-based training plan that I actually want to study further… it looks similar to the low-heart-rate plans I am aware of, but with some additional interesting information. But on the whole I was disappointed. I’ll keep reading the new issues as they come in, of course, but I can’t in good conscience renew my subscription if there is going to be this much weight-loss dreck.

The size and somewhat amateurish feel of the magazine tells me that it may not be doing that well anyway, so perhaps I will not have to make that choice. If my beloved Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion can go under (they filled out my subscription with Martha Stewart Living, which I have no specific issue (ha!) with, but it’s no MEHC) then I guess I won’t shed as much of a tear for Women’s Running should it suffer the same fate.

On that note, time to head out for a run! I have a race in 3 weeks that I am not as prepared for as I’d like to be.

But this would seem at first glance to be one of the wackiest (I ran across it accidentally while trying to find… not a naturopath, exactly, but I need a new doctor now that I no longer work in the city where my previous doc is located, and am interested in one who is both fat-friendly and open-minded about various types of therapies. These features would unfortunately seem to be mutually exclusive as far as I can determine through internet searches, seeing as most alternative practitioners also seem to be super-fixated on weight loss, colonics, and restrictive ways of eating such as raw diets, but that’s another story).

I especially love an argument I read in the Amazon reviews of a book associated with this plan, basically that it’s a human hormone, so compared to HFCS and trans fats, how could it possibly be dangerous? (After all, he or she argues, it’s used as a fertility treatment! So therefore it must be totally safe for everyone!) Anyway, everyone knows that there is absolutely no way hormones or related substances can cause problems.

The same reviewer states “I am very surprised by the negative reviews of Trudeau’s book. Amazon’s suggested tags have words like ‘fraud’ although this book has mostly positive reviews.” I mean, how can something be fraudulent or misguided if it is POPULAR, am I right?!?! LOL.

I would certainly never go off-topic and start ranting about a pet peeve (ha), but come to that, most diet books I have seen on Amazon have mostly positive reviews. That is because they all seem to say “I have been following this diet for 3 months and feel great and have lost x pounds!” or “I am 30 pounds into a 60-pound weight loss and better yet, I am keeping it off!” Um, I don’t think that means what you think it means. Rarely do you see an update from someone saying “I lost the rest of that 60 pounds and 8 years later, it’s still gone!” I wonder why that might be.

In any case, I think most of us can probably agree that eating 500 calories a day and injecting pregnancy hormones is perhaps not the most sane-sounding plan ever hatched.

I just read Kate’s entry on diet and fitness guru Bob Greene’s recent claim (pulled from his ass or at the very least not established fact, as you can see from the information she cites) that yo-yo dieting is actually healthier than maintaining a higher weight. I was thinking about how we are willing to accept the statements of “experts” unquestioningly, and how we are so desperate to believe that permanent weight loss is within reach that we are all too willing to uncritically believe comments like Greene’s, or casual, unsupported claims that lots and lots of people are permanently successful at dieting, which I seem to hear a lot.

As I thought about this, I recalled that I was watching this asinine talk show called The Doctors yesterday, because I was stuck at the car dealership for what turned out to be nearly 4 hours. I had already taken a long walk, so I couldn’t think of anything to do other than sit in the customer lounge and watch questionable midday talk programming. This particular episode behaved much like an infomercial involving that one trainer from The Biggest Loser, and was hosted by a dude in scrubs who appeared to be about 20. (Yes, I know he’s really not. I did do a cursory check of the show’s web site, and the guy is an actual doctor. But he kind of reminds me of either a stereotypical frat boy or Devon from Chuck, except NOT so awesome from what I can tell.)

So anyway, the episode included a segment where they browbeat “Chunky B,” an employee of the show (who admitted to a poor diet, lack of exercise, and not seeing a doctor in 20 years, which, OK, is maybe not such a good idea, but I can understand how it might happen), into agreeing to go on a diet. And because no such dramatic change is complete without public fatty-shaming, they weighed him and checked his body fat percentage, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose right there on the stage, then made him exercise with the trainer lady to demonstrate how unfit he was.

(Incidentally, I had to laugh when she had him stop exercising and measure his pulse. It was 155, and she said with great alarm “that’s way too high!” First of all, the upper end of my recommended heart rate range during exercise is around 160, so 155 does not seem “call the ambulance” bad to me. Second, I realize I’m kind of unusual and most people have lower resting and active heart rates, but I have been running for a few years now and was a regular gymgoer before that, currently log 20-25 miles a week including running for 90 minutes straight the last couple of Fridays, and I have to consciously work to keep my heart rate down near 155 during my runs! I don’t doubt it would be right up there if someone had me start doing all kinds of crazy strenuous stuff–the point of which on the show was probably “look at the clumsy, out of shape, pathetic fatty!”–without warming up. What if the guy had been thin? Somehow I think she’d have found a way to explain away that “way too high” heart rate.)

Anyway, the results were as follows: body fat percentage, 29; blood pressure, 170/100; cholesterol, 189; LDL, 40; and blood glucose, I can’t remember, but it was quite low in relation to the reference range they showed onscreen. Host dude was unflatteringly deflated and surprised that the cholesterol result was OK (though he seemed happier about the borderline LDL number, no doubt because it better aligned with his worldview) and glucose low (by the way, weren’t these supposed to be fasting tests? Of course, maybe he did fast and they just didn’t mention it). Because we all know that every fat person in the world has clogged arteries and Type II diabetes. Also, I’m not a health professional, but I could envision that being publicly shamed for your weight on national television, in addition to possible miscuffing (this dude had huge tree trunk arms) might account for some of the scary BP number.

Or maybe not; maybe the guy really is at death’s door. The point is, they couldn’t know just by looking at him, and to me the segment just reinforced my and many other fat people’s experience with “experts” and with the medical profession–doctors presume to know that you’re unhealthy before they look at a single test result, and if you raise a legitimate concern–like miscuffing accounting for inflated blood pressure readings or possible hypothyroidism, or a concern that you have tried reasonable measures to lose weight and they don’t seem to be working, or a joint injury that is making exercise painful–their need to keep you from “making excuses” for your weight seems to trump their interest in actually looking into these factors and addressing them.

Of course, it is not a coincidence in my opinion that most doctors, dietitians, and personal trainers are naturally thin (fat people are told they’re unhealthy from Day One, are given no credibility for knowing what constitutes a healthy diet, and are not encouraged to excel at physical challenges and probably couldn’t get hired as a trainer in any case because they don’t look the part), so many seem pretty much unable to see that the relationship between diet, exercise, weight, and health can differ from their own experience. So maybe eating and exercising in a similar way to your doctor or Jillian Michaels will make you thin (especially if you used to be thin and happened to put on weight somewhere along the line). Maybe it will not make you thin, but will improve your health. Maybe that regimen would be actively unhealthy for you.

Perhaps most importantly, maybe the thin guy who is seen at the next appointment has habits that are just as (or more) unhealthy than yours, but your doctor doesn’t ask him about it or suggest changes to his diet or activity because he’s thin, so he must be healthy, right? (Or he simply asks “Are you eating a healthy diet and exercising? Still not smoking? Good for you!” whereas a fat person is grilled in detail about the number of calories she consumes and minutes of aerobic exercise per week that she performs, and more often than not is assumed to be lying about both.) At that point, your doctor’s assumptions have resulted in a disservice both to you AND to the thin guy.

I just think that suspending–even for a few moments–the snap judgment that convinces an “expert” that he or she knows everything about the state of my health just from 1) my appearance, and 2) the weight the nurse entered on the chart, would go a long way toward actually improving fat people’s health, rather than using them to make oneself feel superior or viewing them solely as reflections of statistics and stereotypes. And isn’t that the goal, if “The Doctors” in this case truly care about the well-being of their colleague and friend?

Recent status update from one of my Facebook friends:

One week into Daniel Fast with church…Focus is on prayer but added benefit: I’ve lost 8 pounds so far.

Not that it matters, but this guy is in a very appearance-focused field and does not “need” to lose 8 pounds even if you buy that weight loss should be a goal of everyone who falls above the “normal” BMI range. It just goes to illustrate how weight loss is now considered a positive for everyone (thus paving the way for things like workplace “Biggest Loser”-style weight loss competitions where everyone is supposed to participate regardless of whether they are thin or fat).

Religiously-based methods of dieting where you feel like you’re doing something morally worthwhile by going to Weight Watchers or the gym are also a pet peeve of mine. I am not really of the opinion that it particularly warms God’s heart to see you make it in under 1,200 calories a day, or log an hour on the treadmill as you stare at yourself in the mirror. I am definitely not into telling people how they must spend their time, and I firmly believe that exercise is an important part of my own mental and physical health and valuable for that reason, so I am certainly not minimizing the value of healthy choices–but I think this comes into focus when you ask yourself whether you think God would prefer you spend that hour planning low-carb meals or doing the elliptical (even taking into account the “self-discipline” angle that most people would cite as justification) vs. playing with your kids, volunteering, or visiting shut-ins, for example. People make personal choices, and that is totally fine with me even if those choices “only” benefit themselves, but I am highly skeptical of the idea that something like giving up chocolate for Lent is actually usually “for” Jesus and not just for the benefit of the person making the change. All I would like is to see religious people be able to be realistic and honest about why they really prioritize various goals related to dietary changes, weight loss, or exercise.

So I have no problem with fasting disciplines undertaken for religious reasons, but when you mix something like that up with weight loss or obesity or “health,” it automatically crosses the line to creepy and offputting for me. My FB friend (from what I know of him, anyway… I haven’t spoken to him since high school and didn’t know him well then) is quite devout, and I’m sure he is doing this fast for the “right” reasons, and in any case it’s none of my business if he’s not. But I still wish all the self-righteous weight loss crap–from which it is just a short step to “fatties are consuming all the resources, destroying our environment, and driving up the cost of health care with their immoral gluttony”–weren’t so common a part of this type of undertaking.

It sort of sucks, because although the Daniel chapters referenced by the fast seem often to be used (like so many Bible passages) to advance the agenda of whoever is citing them–to promote vegetarianism, environmentalism, low-calorie diets, or what have you, generally in contrast with the supposed gluttony of royalty, the rich, or present-day society–there is a lot of apparently very healthy food on the Daniel Fast food list (which, since it is a list of “acceptable” foods and a lot of the links associated with it are going to include diet talk, might be triggering, so approach with caution). It’s too bad we can’t all just pursue our goal of good health joyfully–or our goal of religious discipline, as the case may be, deliberately and meditatively–without weight-loss dieting, which in my opinion is antithetical to both goals (because it tends to take the focus off health and onto weight loss for its own sake in the first case, and off God and onto the self in the second) creeping in and ruining everything. As usual.

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