HAES


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 just wanted to toot my own horn by announcing that I finished the half-marathon I have been training for this morning in 2:15:49. I also finished in the top half of my age/sex group. I am thrilled with this result–my goal was 2:30:00, and near the end of training I was somewhat concerned I wouldn’t be able to meet it. But prior self-doubt notwithstanding, the race itself was a ton of fun and the course (over the Ambassador Bridge and back through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel) was so scenic and enjoyable. Crowd support and the weather were also great. Interesting factoid: other than a refueling stop in Gander, NF on a flight to Europe in 1992, I have never been to Canada before. This is despite growing up in Michigan and working for 3 years in an office building overlooking the Detroit River from which I could see Windsor every day. (No, I’m not really sure why I never just drove over there.) Well, now I have been there–on foot! 🙂 Very cool. Overall, the race was an amazing experience for me.

I also wanted to report that despite rumors to the contrary (I saw a couple of Facebook comments–which I’m sure posters  considered positive and complimentary–about how it was great to see such a “fit, good-looking” crowd at the pre-race Health and Fitness Expo–presumably they meant by contrast with the typical convention center crowd), my visual observations indicate that a number of ACTUAL REAL LIVE FAT PEOPLE, even apart from myself, participated in this morning’s races. Many of them even finished AHEAD OF THIN PARTICIPANTS. Photodocumentation of this remarkable fact is available (possible headline: “OMGWTF FAT WOMAN STOPS EATING DONUTS FOR SEVERAL HOURS, RUNS MARATHON”). But… but… Fatosphere readers, you don’t seem shocked at this news! Huh. Oh well. 🙂

In any case, congratulations to everyone who participated, and on a very sad note, my thoughts are with the loved ones of the 3 runners (certainly an unusually high number for one event) who died during the race. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a friend or family member under such shocking circumstances.

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.

I received a promotional email from Title Nine today about their swimwear. So what’s wrong with this picture?

Title Nine swimwear email

I’m guessing even without my helpful editing, it wouldn’t have taken you too long to figure it out. Title Nine is pretty much the antithesis of “all shapes and sizes.” And I say this as an admirer of their company and as a customer (when I can afford it, usually at clearance, because their prices are pretty much insane). Of course, the only reason I could speak from that position of relative leverage in my response to them below is because I happen to fit into their clothes right now. How deliciously ironic (as the Robot Devil might say).

Anyway, here’s the email I sent:

I am writing to comment on the fact that your recent email advertising the 2009 swimwear collection was headed “Swimwear in all shapes & sizes.” This is laughable coming from T9, which is famous for a complete lack of diversity both in its product sizing and that of the models/athletes featured in its catalogs.

(Incidentally, those models–and I realize they are not “models” per se, but that’s how they function in the catalog–are also usually quite racially homogeneous, and other differences including age and disability are not addressed at all. I appreciate T9’s use of a more athletic, fit, active “look” in presentation of its products, but I would suggest that you are simply substituting another difficult-to-attain aesthetic for the usual super-thin catalog model, when the emphasis should be on function. I’m sure your customers come in a wide variety of sizes and even among the very fit and competitive, not all are a tan, weathered size 2 with 6-pack abs.)

Getting back to the issue at hand, I happen to fit into your swimwear, so the email subject line I mentioned does not affect me personally, but I know a number of active women who love the outdoors and participating in sports who simply throw your catalog in the trash without opening it, because the sizing range is even more restrictive than that of most women’s clothing lines (e.g. a large or XL often represents anywhere from a 10-14, and in my experience the sizing tends to run small even within that range), and there is not a single garment in the catalog that comes anywhere close to fitting them.

I love your quality and focus on women’s health, strength, and achievement, and I admire T9’s commitment to customer service and involvement with women and its community. I would, however, encourage you to blaze a trail by selling clothes that active larger women can wear and enjoy–and by that I mean a full selection of your regular and most popular items in the full range of colors for extended sizes, rather than the usual trajectory for plus size lines at major retailers (that is, halfheartedly offering one or two unattractive, dumpy selections in a limited color selection, followed by poor sales, a quick discontinuation of plus sizes and a bewildered claim that there must just not be a market for the stuff because nobody’s buying it).

Or if you can’t do that, then at least refrain from blatantly false claim that “all shapes and sizes” of women are represented by the narrow range of swimwear sizing offered by T9, when in reality even the average American woman is probably near the top of your swimwear size range. I know this one email subject line is just a few words and easy to overlook–in theory, as a woman who fits into your clothes, it would be fairly easy for me to overlook too. But for larger straight-sized and plus-sized women looking for high-quality sports attire that is pretty much nonexistent in their size range, the subject line demonstrates once again that in retailers’ eyes, they (and their clothing and equipment budget) are invisible, unimportant, and unwanted. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Feel free to lend your voice if you like using their email contact form. I don’t think they’re an evil company, and I do appreciate the fact that models in their catalog are allowed to have wrinkles and not be blonde, and their attempts to promote an aesthetic of strength, health, and accomplishment rather than simply that of decorative thinness, devoid of normal “flaws” and bodily variation, which is more like what you see in most women’s catalogs. I just think they’re a little clueless that not every female athlete or fitness enthusiast is as thin (not to mention as well-off, able-bodied, and–almost always–white) as their featured athlete/models. Of course, it amounts to pretty much the same thing from a customer’s standpoint, if the functional sports apparel you’re looking for literally does not exist in your size.

ETA: I received the following response today (4/1) from Title Nine customer service (as I said, I do think they are a good and service-oriented company). However, I’ve been receiving their catalog for years with no sign of an expanded size range yet, so who knows when or if they will ever actually start doing this.

Thanks for contacting us. Please know that we would love to be able to carry so much more as far as sizes and styles. We definitely don’t mean to exclude anyone and encourage women of all shapes and sized  to stay active and fit.  You might be surprised but we have quite a range of ladies her at title nine from size 0 to 16+, from petite to tall, and muscular to skinny.

We actually get a lot of requests from women of all shapes and sizes (including us here in the office) requesting that we carry a wider range of sizes including petite, plus, and tall. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the warehouse space right now to stock as much inventory as we’d like.  We’re hopeful that as we continue to grow as a company that we will be able to offer a wider range of sizes to accommodate the needs of more active women of all shapes and sizes.

If you’re coming from the Fatosphere feed, you’ve already seen this, but please check out Rachel’s post on the Academy for Eating Disorder’s new guidelines for childhood obesity prevention programs. According to Deb Burgard, who was on the panel that developed the guidelines and who commented at The-F-Word.org post, the AED is “the premier international association of academic and clinical eating disorder specialists.”

Just read the guidelines, and imagine a world where they are implemented. A world where kids aren’t scapegoated, othered, or punished for being fat, but are taught and encouraged in healthy habits and activities just like the thin kids. Blub. It makes the world we actually live in (where kids are sent home with shaming notes about their weight and encouraged into dangerous weight loss surgeries… in fact, a world where low self-esteem is blamed on fat itself instead of on anti-fat bullying and harassment where it belongs, and where kids can actually be taken away from their parents on presumption of “abuse” simply because they are fat) seem like a bad dream. I hope one day that’s all it will be.

Check out this article in Women’s Running magazine, which exhibits a great focus on health at every size, a recognition of “fat talk” as a routine social phenomenon among women that negatively affects body image, and several examples of successful larger female athletes. There are mentions of the BMI and Waist-to-Hip Ratio as guidelines for health, but the article is quick to point out that the BMI might not mean much among athletes–which is a positive step on the way to understanding that it might not mean much for anyone else either.

I am thrilled with the confidence that is allowed to shine through on the part of the athletes, and the notable lack of judgment in the article itself. Not to mention the recognition that thinner is not always better in terms of performance. Incredibly, there is no standard useless, patronizing “but this isn’t an excuse to sit on the couch and eat donuts all day” or “maybe you can be healthy if you’re 10 lbs. overweight, but nobody who’s 100 lbs. overweight can be healthy” punchline either!

(As an aside, I think the Athena Class concept is cool and probably does encourage larger athletes to compete, but I do find it pretty irritating that it’s a 150-lb. cutoff regardless of your height. The 150-lb. Athena competitor interviewed for the article is 5’8″ and is not close to “overweight” even by BMI. Come on. Of course, this is not the magazine’s fault.)

I clicked over to the article (it’s ominously titled “Your Perfect Weight”) expecting to be frustrated and angered by the content as usual, but I was pleasantly surprised. Way to go, Women’s Running!

Having finished my 10K a couple of weeks ago, I am now switching my running strategy to a method of training that hopefully will improve my aerobic fitness. See, I can run fairly long distances (my longest 10K training run was 8 miles, and I did that), but in any given run my heart rate takes about 5 minutes to get up into the 170s or 180s, and then stays there for the rest of the time. I also find that for any distance over 5 miles or so, I am generally finishing on sheer force of will. I lose my form, slow down, and get exhausted by the end of the run, because I can’t seem to stop myself from starting out faster than I should. I usually do average out to an overall faster pace than I set out to accomplish (which is not necessarily great anyway; “long slow” training runs are supposed to be, well, slow), but from what I understand, in general I should be doing the second half of any given run faster than the first half. I just can’t seem to resist pushing myself overly hard to start with, then not being able to control how I finish because I’m too tired.

This started because while I was researching training plans, paces, heart rates, etc. in preparation for the race, I came across some information on a method of training for people with poor aerobic fitness that caught my attention. The descriptions at the link seemed about right for what I was experiencing, especially the following bullet points:

b. You are incapable of running at low heart rates, for example, you find you have to walk at a heart rate of 180-your age. [spacedcowgirl note: In my case, I generally can’t get my heart rate up to 180-my age when walking, but I certainly can’t keep it down there for long when running.]

[…]

d. You have difficulty completing your long training runs and your pace slows down in the last several miles, just in order to finish them.

e. You are completely shot at the end of your long training runs, or even your short runs. (You probably will be after most forms of speed work, that’s expected, to a degree).

I think this might be good for me for a couple of other reasons too; first of all (I suspect like many people who grew up dieting and viewing activity solely as calorie-burning or punishment) I have always tended to push too hard, having to actively fight against beating myself up if every workout isn’t longer or faster than the last. So for my own well-being and to avoid burnout, I want to break this cycle. I also have a very fast resting pulse (nearly 100 before I started running–even though at that time I was already a regular gymgoer doing other activities such as the elliptical–and it’s still around 80), and lowering it further is one of the outcomes that I have been hoping to see from running. From what I have read, this type of training may help.

I read somewhere (though I can’t find it now) that 6 months is the best “basebuilding period” for someone with very poor aerobic fitness. I don’t have any more races scheduled this year, and I am planning to run another 10K and possibly a half marathon next year, so the next 6 months are a convenient time for me to work on this. Plus, I was starting to get some aches and pains near the end of my 10K training program, so I think it probably won’t hurt me to take it easy for a while anyway.

So, yesterday I went out on my first low heart rate “run.” Wow, was that an eye-opening experience. I started out thinking I would try to keep my heart rate between 139 and 149 bpm–it’s harder to find information online about what the low end of the range should be, but many people seemed to be using about a 10-beat range–but soon found that I was nowhere near being able to control it that well. I soon started letting it drop to 125 during the walking intervals just to give myself somewhere to go on the running intervals. Even so, I couldn’t run for more than probably a minute at most before having to drop back to a walk for a couple of minutes.

Of course, the local high school was letting out early when I went by for some unknown reason, which meant there were little groups of teenagers seemingly everywhere I went for about 3/4 of the run. So I think I was panicking a little and my heart was going faster than it would have otherwise, because I find it stressful enough to run my fat, tights-clad ass past teenagers anyway, much less in a circumstance where I’m stopping and starting every 2 minutes and I’m sure everyone watching is assuming that I have never run before in my life. (And whether they actually were or not, this is another good opportunity to remind myself that you can’t tell a single thing about a person’s health or eating or exercise habits by looking at them.)

I did find that even within this one run, my ability to keep my heart rate down while running did improve somewhat. Eventually I got better at forcing myself to go so slowly that I had a fighting chance at staying in the range. The source I linked above indicates that a lot of runners have trouble either mentally or physically with going as slowly as they need to at first, so at least this one isn’t just me. But on the whole–although in many ways it was quite a pleasant run/walk since I wasn’t even tired, much less pushing myself to anywhere near the exhausting level I normally would–I think we can agree that the results were kind of discouraging. Still, I’m going to keep it up for at least 8 weeks and see if I start to improve.

I was thinking about this and why–other than genetics or the possibility that this training isn’t appropriate for me for some reason–I might have such poor “aerobic fitness.” Why, in other words, it’s possible that all of my knocking myself out with strenuous exercise over the years may have actually not done me much good in certain ways. And I have concluded that it’s likely the fault of… dieting and fat hatred. I realize this may seem like a stretch, but bear with me here.

First, take calories in-calories out monitoring such as Activity Points, which I recently chucked. (This is specific to Weight Watchers, but I think a similar focus on exercise “intensity” applies to most diets.) I won’t bore you with the details, but essentially you get more of them if you work out at a more intense level, measured either by heart rate or perceived exertion level. For that reason, since I started WW, I worked out at or above 85% of my maximum heart rate as often as I could. I often cut warm-ups short and started out at an exhausting level so I could get my heart rate up really high and keep it there, because if I didn’t, I felt like I was being “lazy.” (Incidentally, I knew this probably wasn’t good for my heart, but I wanted as many APs as possible, so I did it anyway.) I was also afraid that I would accidentally slip below the zone for “high-intensity” activity without knowing and therefore overestimate my Activity Points, so it seemed safer to stay well above the cutoff.

(I hesitate to make this comparison, because I have never experienced the horror of anorexia and I don’t want it to sound like I’m trivializing the condition in any way, but this type of behavior–which so many of us engage in–strikes me as perhaps a distant cousin of how folks with eating disorders live in constant fear that they may accidentally be ingesting more calories than they realize. Whatever the case, I consider this behavior destructive to me personally, but I couldn’t seem to break away from it while APs were in the picture.)

Secondly, and this is more general, all of us who grew up fat know what a relentless push there is from early childhood to diet and exercise. I was encouraged to run, ride bikes, and do aerobics from a very young age–and perhaps this wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except that I was at the same time made very aware that these activities were “for exercise” and to burn calories, which I feel kind of sucks as motivation for anyone and can be especially problematic for young children. (Though it wasn’t all bad; I do remember greatly enjoying exercising with my Mousercise record. 🙂 ) Maybe it was partially the fact that it was the ’80s, age of “no pain, no gain,” but I think it was also the fact that I was the fat kid that made me feel like no level of exertion was enough. The more I sweated, the more I felt like it was my fault for being so fat and out of shape. It was this weird dichotomy where I wouldn’t have felt like I had done “enough” if it weren’t grueling, but the fact that it was grueling made me feel ashamed because I assumed whatever I was doing would have been easy for the thin kids.

This carried on into adulthood. It manifested itself in the idea that if you are fat, you are held to a higher standard than everyone else. After all, thin gymgoers are just there to stay thin (never mind that they are actually there for a variety of reasons), but as a fat person you have to get thin. Until you get thin, you aren’t allowed to rest. What’s more, you’re fat and lazy, or so you’ve always believed; you can’t trust your body to tell you whether a workout is too hard or too easy or whether you are too fatigued or injured to continue, any more than you can trust your body to know when you’ve had enough food. Better to exercise as much and as hard as possible, and eat as little as possible, just to be on the safe side. The risks of appearing foolish, deluded, or lazy, or of not atoning sufficiently for your sin of being fat or “greedy,” are just too great.

Now, I am not a physiologist, and actually I don’t really know if there’s anything to the low heart rate training regimen I’m undertaking; it’s just something I’m going to try to see if it helps improve my fitness. I also realize that different things work for different people, and there is nothing inherently “better” about working out at a lower intensity, any more than there is about working out at a higher intensity. Maybe some of you have found that you get bored at lower intensities, or that your fitness level stagnates unless you work a little harder. Or perhaps your aerobic fitness is already good, and you wouldn’t get the same utility from a program like this as I am hoping to. And “aerobic fitness” is both kind of a vague concept, and only one measure of fitness and health–perhaps your goals are different. So obviously this is a very individual thing.

But speaking for myself only, all of this makes me a little mad. All my life I’ve been told, implicitly or explicitly, that harder is better. If I wanted to get thin, after all, I’d have to overcome my “lazy” nature and really bust my butt. And I believed this and believed that following this strategy would make me not only thin, but fit. If the sources I’ve seen are to be believed, this strategy has worked for me to a point (don’t get me wrong; I’m still very proud of my running accomplishments, and pleased with the endurance, strength, and mental health improvements that I have experienced as a result of increasing my cardiovascular activity and strength training over the past few years)–but may also have increased my risk of injury and burnout, as well as being possibly useless or at least suboptimal for improving my aerobic fitness. What a fucking shock–messages sent to fat people about what they need to do “for their health” may actually be ineffective or even detrimental, and furthermore actually rooted in hatred of fat people and their perceived “moral failings.”

But because I am so much more capable now of seeing this kind of stuff for what it is, and so much more focused on taking care of myself than I used to be (though I still have a long way to go), let’s look forward instead of back. I’m excited about this training because for maybe the first time in my life–and maybe it just took being a little older to come to this point–I have a plan that is truly focused on improving my health (and, as a secondary goal, improving my running performance, which is sort of separate from health but also worthwhile for me), not weight loss or calorie-burning. Maybe I’m making more progress on this HAES thing than I thought.

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