Totally About Health


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.

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.

Robin Givhan, in an NPR interview this morning about the ongoing controversy over very thin models and the rise (such as it is) of plus-size models, basically said that the fashion industry needs to strike a balance between very thin models and the promotion of obesity. Um, I don’t really think we’re there yet considering plus-size models are still a rare novelty, and are almost all normal-weight by BMI anyway. She helped us feel the pain of magazine editors who have to use teeny models in order to fit the sample sizes but would TOTALLY be using more average models if they could! 😛 I know I definitely weep for these noble but downtrodden editors. As you can imagine, I was feeling just great and completely calm by the end of this segment. I especially love the part where she comments:

On the other hand, there’s the unhealthy nature of obesity and the politically correct aspect of saying, ‘You should be happy with who you are,’ she said.

Note that on the air, she said all of these words, not just the ones in quotes. I love when people invoke political correctness. And since when is it “politically correct” to let obese people (who, and I feel like I will probably repeat this about 80 more times in this post, are NOT ACTUALLY REPRESENTED in mainstream high fashion anyway) off the hook for being themselves anyway?

She was being interviewed because she wrote a fairly condescending article on this subject. Here are some of my thoughts.

1) In my opinion, the article is kind of badly written. No point that is made seems to follow logically from the previous point.

2)

It would be a welcome relief if the majority of those designers who put their wares on the runway in the coming months took a stand and refused to use models whose ribs are plainly visible and whose countenance cries ‘ill-health.’ What is the point of creeping out consumers, after all?

Screw you, lady, you have no idea if those models are healthy, nor is it any of your business, and how exactly does ridiculing any group of women for their bodies help? Or, since I’m a paranoid type, are you just trying to dishonestly present what you think might be the ungracious viewpoint of jealous fatties?

3)

How big is big enough? And when does plus size, in a profoundly overweight population, become just as distressingly unhealthy an image as emaciation?

I am PRETTY SURE we are NOT CLOSE to having to worry about this with regard to runway models.

4)

The star of the issue is arguably the model Crystal Renn, who captures the same air of detached, unattainable glamour as any size 0, perhaps even more so because Renn is classically pretty rather than startlingly odd.

Renn is indeed “classically pretty,” and therefore not exactly a representation of “average”… but which models are supposed to be “startlingly odd”? All other plus-size models or all standard-size models? What the heck are you talking about? (Amusingly, though I like it–reminds me of fairies and spring–Renn’s look is indeed a little on the “odd” side in the photo that accompanies the article.)

5)

Just how big does a model have to be before folks are satisfied that she represents some ever-shifting vision of what a ‘real’ woman looks like? Must she be precisely 5-feet-4 and a size 14, which is the fashion industry’s accepted stats for the average woman? And if she is, will that transform the fantasy photographs in fashion magazines into the equivalent of catalogues? After all, a large part of our fascination with Hollywood is because it’s populated with absurdly stunning men and women…

Yawn. Nobody has ever argued that every model should be exactly “average.” And if the goal is promoting general good health in the population (which of course it is not, which is why all of these arguments seem pointless if you think about them for half a second), body type should not be something to “aspire” to. (Note, I realize physique competitors aspire to a certain body shape, and that is fine, but although they are probably indeed very healthy, fine-tuning their bodies to meet stringent shape and size requirements does not by and large make them more so.)

Health, on the other hand, may be something to aspire to if you want to. But the idea that the noble fashion industry carries the torch for promoting good health is just… I have no idea what to say to this ridiculous self-righteous notion. Also note the “aspirational” argument that constantly gets trotted out (to be fair, it is not exactly her fault because EVERYONE who is on the defensive about thin models says this and doesn’t seem to consider that it is kind of disturbing. “Yes, we admit that some models are starving themselves to achieve this look, and that’s bad! But the look itself is harmless because women know it’s supposed to be ASPIRATIONAL, not real!” Without regard to the implication of why a look they know average women would have to starve themselves to achieve should be “aspired” to).

6)

And the lesson to designers is that all sorts of women can make their clothes look good. Attitude often counts more than body size. Although, there are certainly times when no matter how good you think you look, reality tells another story. See: Mariah Carey at the Golden Globes.

Don’t get above yourself, ladies! You might think you look good but that just means you need to be taken down a peg until you hate yourself again. See the next point: I guess part of an “inclusive” definition of beauty is tearing down other women. Good to know nothing ever really changes.

7)

Somewhere between emaciation and obesity lies good health. And somewhere between those extremes there is also a definition of beauty that is inclusive, sound and honest.

Yes, it is clear that you love all women and just want to be inclusive. Or that you spend very little time considering me as an obese person (I imagine that very few of our inconveniently large butts cross Givhan’s line of sight in the average work day), but think of me as more of a public health crisis than a human being, if I did happen to cross your mind. It’s so hard to tell.

Look, “good health” may encompass both “emaciation” and “obesity”–you don’t know by looking. Also, I cannot stress enough that “obesity” is basically never seen on ANY runway at this point in time, and on the one or two occasions when it has been, it has been a novelty where the entire point of the show is the model’s obesity. It’s not like we’re seeing those “unhealthy” size 24s (or even 16s) step out on the average runway without comment on a regular basis. Givhan is getting freaked out about something that will probably never happen in my lifetime, and acting as if it is happening now.

The take-home I am hearing is that it freaks her out that the UNHEALTHY FATTIES (again, like anyone in the fashion industry gives a rip about health anyway… if the ideal were 300 lbs. they would be force-feeding people to get it) might be taking over the runway, which would obviously be a CATASTROPHE. Don’t worry, though, Robin… I think you are safe for the time being.

You know that there is prejudice & manipulation at work when they constantly assure you that you are ‘too fat’ for surgery which you actually NEED, then try to pressure you to have WLS.

Patsy Nevins, commenting on “superobesity” at Living ~400lbs

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?

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