Fat


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.

As I have mentioned before, I am on the FlyLady email list and generally either enjoy the messages or at least find them inoffensive. But FlyLady’s “meal guru” Leanne Ely is getting more and more hateful lately. Here’s a “Food for Thought” message she sent earlier this month.

Buddy Hackett once said, ‘My mother’s menu consisted of two choices. Take it or leave it.’

That’s what my mother’s menu consisted of, too. We had the choice of eating the dinner she prepared or leaving the table hungry. If we didn’t like what she prepared, we weren’t allowed to make ourselves a PB & J. If we snuck a banana or anything else for that matter, we were in big trouble. Why? Was my mother abusive and mean? Was my family dysfunctional because the children weren’t allowed to call the shots on what was for dinner? Am I in therapy now because I was made to eat my vegetables?

Nope. My family had issues like any other family, but it was pretty ‘normal’. I’ve noticed however, that what was fashionable in the childrearing of yesterday is now considered barbaric and obsolete. Today, we are told, that if we ‘make’ our children eat what’s in front of them will develop eating disorders. Not giving children ‘choices’ will harm their self esteem, so say the ‘professionals’.

The very words ‘eating disorder’ sends us into a tailspin. Consequently, after years of permissive parenting at the dinner table, we suddenly realize our children may have never eaten an honest portion of veggies in their entire young lives. In our perfectionism (and boy, parenting is the place where we wear our maternal stripes with pride!) we have been more concerned about our children’s psyches than teaching them an important life skill–eating nutritiously. Because we want to be better parents than our own parents, we want our children to have ‘perfect’ childhoods with no conflict whatsoever. We buy all of that, don’t we? And, to use a food analogy, the proof is the pudding–just take a look at the kids.

Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions. According to the International Obesity Task Force, there are about 22 million children in the world, UNDER 5 that are overweight or obese! In another study, the Canadian Medical Association reported that obesity among young boys ages 7 to 13 years old, TRIPLED between 1981 and 1996 […]

Blah blah blah, so on and so forth. First of all, I really don’t appreciate the scare quotes around a large percentage of the words in this essay. Any person who would so blithely trivialize eating disorders (which, let’s remember, actually kill people, unlike obesity in and of itself)  is not someone I really care to know.

Second of all, I have an eating disorder (yikes, typing that out is scarier than I thought it would be, though I’ve said it before). And I am obese. I am not going to “blame” my parents for this, because I think it’s way more complicated than that, but let’s just say my mom followed every shred of conventional wisdom regarding how to raise kids not to be fat. We were served healthy meals with fruits and vegetables, pop as only an occasional special treat, and no junk food in the house. Surprise, I am fat anyway and have been fat ever since I was old enough to be cognizant of that fact.

Certainly, on the face of it, there isn’t much wrong with my parents’ philosophy. I’m all for vegetables and limiting pop. But I think the fact that I knew all along that it was a paralyzing fear of me getting fat (and NOT just for “health”–see, I can do scare quotes too–reasons… my mom was the fat kid in school, and seemed to consider it a fate worse than death in many ways) that was driving these choices certainly contributed to some of my current fucked-up relationship with food.

Let’s not even get into how “giving kids choices” equates to “suddenly [realizing] our children may have never eaten an honest portion of veggies in their entire young lives.” Can you tell me what, exactly, is wrong with that purloined banana? Or even a PB&J (since I’m assuming Ely’s home is stocked with 100% whole-grain bread, natural peanut butter, and local home-canned low-sugar jam)? I’d say this is all about control, and the assumption that if we “let ourselves go,” we will all weigh 400 pounds. Who’s to say your child won’t (like many of us) actually LIKE some or many vegetables? Certainly some kids will remain immune to the obesity panic that infuses this approach, and certainly some parents will be able to hide it well enough that the kids aren’t affected. I commend those parents as I do any parent who puts aside his or her own issues in the service of raising mentally and physically healthy kids. But if your actual practice of feeding your kids is anything like the snotty tone of this piece, I don’t think you are doing them as much of a favor as you think.

I don’t have kids, so I know my opinion is worth basically the paper it’s printed on. But I know from listening to my friends who are parents that helping kids eat is a situation that it is impossible to be 100% prescriptive about. Some kids eat only meat and cheese, others almost nothing at all, some are junk food fiends, and some will cheerfully eat whatever you put in front of them. These interactions can be really stressful for parents–my sister-in-law describes how traumatic it was for both her and her young son when she would finally have to force him to eat after days of refusing to consume anything, and you can still see him get anxious and push his plate away without eating a bite when he is in an unfamiliar situation or stressed out, so this was clearly not a fleeting or trivial aversion. Suffice it to say, I certainly think it is safe to say that kids’ eating issues (and the “childhood obesity epidemic”) cannot be solved with a glib blanket recommendation to force your children to choke down whatever you put on their plates, under threat of punishment.

Shame on Leanne Ely, both for being smug and comfortable enough to assume that she has all the answers for those stupid parents of fat kids, and for trivializing diseases that tear families apart, ruin lives, and even kill.

Via Jezebel, a great sentiment from Sarah Silverman about fat jokes. Definitely helps lift my mood from its earlier state.

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.”

I heard a report on NPR this morning, about a University of Buffalo study on consumer buying habits when food prices are manipulated to make “healthy food” (i.e. fruits and vegetables) more affordable. I have several comments. Don’t even get me started on how the report (it is kind of a mish-mash) starts with an example of how “In a London-based study, dieters got paid when they dropped pounds.” ‘Cause everybody needs to “drop pounds,” and everybody can do it without adopting unhealthy crash-dieting tactics, right? Anyway.

Now researchers are interested in understanding how food price manipulations may influence what ends up in mothers’ grocery carts.

Interesting. Are mothers the only people who buy food? I mean, naturally they are the ones to blame for killing their families with “junk food.” Everyone knows that.

‘Then we looked at the purchasing patterns of these mothers,’ explains Len Epstein, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Buffalo who was involved in the study. He says the mothers’ choices were somewhat predictable. When the costs went down, ‘they did buy more of the healthy foods.’

But since the healthful items now cost a lot less, the moms had money leftover. Esptein says they used it to buy more junk food.

‘When you put it all together, their shopping baskets didn’t have improved nutrition,’ says Epstein — they had the same amounts of fats and carbohydrates.

“Didn’t have improved nutrition”? Fat and carbohydrates ARE NUTRIENTS. As Kate pointed out long ago (but most people have yet to get the memo): adding cheese sauce to your broccoli does not negate the nutritional value of the broccoli. In fact–although this is beside the point that in my opinion grownups should be allowed to make their own food choices–some nutrients are fat-soluble, and limiting fat does not seem to be a priori a good thing. I thought we were all on board with that these days?

I get that in this case they are talking about people buying processed snacks, but simply totting up the macronutrients in the cart and concluding that a cart containing a variety of whole foods and some processed, fatty and/or sugary foods is just as “bad” as a cart containing all processed foods (or, to put it another way, that limiting carbohydrates and fat as much as possible is something to strive for) seems ridiculous to me. (Leaving aside that my shopping cart might contain all produce one day and all, I don’t know, baking ingredients, light bulbs, and cleaning products another.) Also, I can’t find the study, but I would be really interested in knowing exactly what the composition of those shopping carts was. Were they really outside the bounds of a reasonable carbohydrate/protein/fat ratio?

The researchers, in any case, conclude that a “sin tax” is therefore the way to go. Great. That should really help poor people get the calories they need to function and survive. WHY do these people always assume that the ideal that we should all be striving for is to live on, like, vegetables and air?

The report then jumps for some reason (under the heading “Effecting Change in the Real World”–and I’m not suggesting people stop trying to find creative ways to give kids access to healthy food, but let’s recall that we learned in Rethinking Thin that even the largest, most comprehensive school nutrition intervention programs aimed at reducing obesity, which is likely the subtext of all this since again, fruits and vegetables are emphasized whereas higher-calorie whole foods are not) to an anecdote about a school which bars any snacks other than fruit during the school day. I have no problem with fruit, obviously, but I think the more telling part of this is a statement by the teacher interviewed for the report that “Once they get it every day, they’ll eat like three bananas.” Maybe these growing kids are just hungry and fruit doesn’t always cut it? How about some dried fruit, nuts, cheese, yogurt, trail mix, or something?

It also doesn’t help that every time I see a program like this gleefully enforced by an adult (as it is by this teacher, who brags that she “has tried for years to enforce a healthful snack rule in her classroom”–yeah, let’s try to control how families spend their own food budget without offering assistance), I can’t help but think that he or she has probably been dieting his/her whole life, like most people who live in modern society, and is likely projecting those mores onto kids. Making fruit available: good. Making a moral issue out of it: bad. Assuming “more vegetables and less of everything else is always better” or “fewer calories is always better”: also bad.

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.

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