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.

You are a cool expert, I opine.

–fake bot-person in my spam comments filter

I couldn’t agree more!

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.

Wow… I thought I sort of liked Tony Kornheiser, not that I know a whole lot about him, but this is ridiculous. It’s just so… funny, I suppose, that the system that gives rise to women in sports reporting wearing more provocative or at least “cute” clothing (which, not that I care, but I think the outfit she is wearing looks fine), while men wear the typical no-brainer suit uniform, also allows men to judge out loud whether their colleagues are being compliant enough with said system. (Wear frumpy clothes and you don’t get noticed, but go “too far” the other way and people feel free to make fun of you for being “old” and pathetic.) I mean, sure, you might see a sports analyst joking about another guy’s loud suit but I think we all know that would have a far different tone. Why… it’s almost like this is a no-win situation for women or something.

Of course, this is what happens when we have 24-hour news and people have to think of stuff to say to fill the time. Eventually they are going to say something stupid and usually it’s something that reflects their true colors.

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.

I love graphic design and especially fonts, but I am an amateur at best… I barely use Photoshop and do most of my layouts (such as they are… this consists mainly of making posters for our local community band) in Word or PowerPoint.

Anyway, I was having trouble recently with a font that wouldn’t embed properly in a pdf file that I had made from the PowerPoint slide containing my poster design. The substitute system font came out looking OK on the print considering that this is, after all, a community band poster, and by no means a professional one, in the first place (and I had at least used WordArt, which I guess I need to stop mocking–I didn’t know it was as customizable as it is–to do the text that was the focal point, so that saved me from having the entire thing end up irredeemably weird-looking), but it would have been a lot nicer to have the original. I was a little bummed because one of our members does the reproduction for free, so I can’t really ask him to print another set… I’ve never had this embedding problem before, so it didn’t occur to me to ask him for a proof.

Still, I also email the file to the membership in case they want to make their own, and the poster goes out as an electronic announcement to our email list, so I wanted to at least rectify the problem before I did that. It seemed like the only way to be truly sure it would come out right would be to convert the text block in question to an image.

Now, I would love to learn how to create a good-looking image of text in Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, but have been totally inept at this so far (almost certainly my own fault, but I just can’t figure it out despite copious googling and checking the help files). First I tried using the software’s text tool and saving the image as a transparent background gif. I eventually did get it through my head that this is not a format for print, so I tried again with a tif and other file types, using various settings. I have probably saved text “pictures” 50 times trying to get something that looks decent. But each time I import it into Word or PowerPoint, it looks like crap on a cracker, especially compared to the existing text box. The letters are blurry, pixellated, or otherwise unacceptable, no matter what options or anti-aliasing I select. I have also had this problem to some degree when trying to create simple images for use on items in the band’s Cafepress store. The images look basically good in the end, but I have to be careful to make them very large and scrutinize the results to avoid a lack of crispness.

So, back to what I know–Office–as much as I’m sure that makes most of you want to cry. 🙂 I tried WordArt again but the line spacing was constrained and wrong and, for some reason, pasting the WordArt object as a picture/drawing object and ungrouping it so I could manipulate the spacing (a suggestion I found) made the “i” character look weird. However, this gave me the idea that I could possibly also just select and Paste Special the original text box as an enhanced metafile. Voilà! The text I wanted, looking just as sharp and crisp as it did before, but in image form so hopefully I won’t run into any more embedding problems. This seems so simple, but it would never have occurred to me had I not seen the WordArt tip.

Anyway, I just wanted to share because sometimes these “101” types of suggestions are difficult to find by googling… either they are not widely applicable, or most people already know about them, so you tend to get higher-level results that are difficult to put into practice if you are a beginner. I mean, I’m sure this isn’t even considered good practice (not that anything else I do would be either), but at least it solved my problem. Hope it helps someone else!

I am a big fan of FlyLady because she has helped me get my life in order. For nearly 12 years of marriage (to say nothing of my single years), my husband and I have had goals that include washing and putting away dishes every day, cleaning house once a week, and going to bed early enough to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep. We’re still working on the sleep part (and let’s be honest, probably will be for the rest of our sleep deprivation-shortened lives), but FlyLady has enabled me to, for really the first time in my life, meet the dishes goal (and certain other goals) on a consistent basis. This may not sound like a big deal to those of you who are, as she puts it, “born organized,” but it is a huge deal for me after beating myself up over this issue for years.

So anyway, I get her emails and am generally a big believer in the system. She is kind of cheesy and occasionally throws a bit of a petulant fit when people disagree with her, but who’s perfect? Certainly not me. That’s why I like her.

One of the offshoots of her philosophy that I don’t so much enjoy is the concept of “body clutter.” She tries to loosely apply her strategies for decluttering to weight loss, and predictably, it doesn’t seem to quite work out. For one thing, she herself is still fat, which is certainly fine by me and none of my business, but it’s interesting since I have no doubt she has tried to lose weight using her own system.

Note that I haven’t read the book and the description sounds like weight loss is de-emphasized, so I’m sure this is not the worst diet ever invented or anything… I just feel like the whole “fix your emotional problems and get skinny” thing has kind of been done to death, and surprise, we are not all skinny. Anyway, the email list is not terribly diet-y but there is an overall attitude (to be fair, this hardly originated with FlyLady) that getting your weight “under control” is part of getting your life under control.

There is also an emphasis on cooking at home to save money and improve your health–and there’s nothing wrong with that unless it becomes a moral imperative. The tips and recipes provided are probably helpful to a lot of readers. Unfortunately, in a recent email from FlyLady’s food expert, Leanne Ely, it did become a moral imperative, in a way that really pushed my buttons. Ely put together a “top ten list” along the lines of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules (unfortunately I can’t link to it because it was posted to FlyLady’s email list and login-required message board, not to Ely’s blog), and number 10 read as follows:

10)To afford to eat food worthy of consuming, eat only quality, real food and eat less of it.

Who does she think she is? “Eat only quality, real food and eat less of it.” So basically, in the real world, if you are poor, this means you’ll be taking the same food budget and using it to buy more expensive food (usually read: fruits and vegetables), necessarily in smaller quantities than you were buying before of other foods. This could result in a huge loss of available food energy. Possibly enough of a loss that you will no longer be able to afford enough calories to live on. It is not necessarily the overall concept of changing the choices you make that bothers me–perhaps if you are lucky enough to not be all that poor, you can make some substitutions and still be able to afford adequate nourishment. (After all, leaving aside non-trivial issues of the time it takes to prepare such things and whether you can find them in your local store, say, dried beans or canned vegetables–which she also nixes in one of her other “rules” due to sodium, but screw that–can actually be affordable compared to prepared foods. In fact that makes the “rule” kind of bewildering because it seems to imply that “high quality” food is always going to be more expensive. Kind of leads you to wonder what she means by “high quality,” but anyway.) No, as screwed up as some of the other assumptions implicit in this rule are, it is the apparent belief that less is always better when it comes to food intake that is causing me to experience a  simultaneous sort of white-hot rage and terrible hopelessness.

I think this reaction is mostly because deep down I know how common this view of fat people is–that somehow, because we have larger bodies, we can subsist on air and a few broccoli florets and that will actually be good for us, whereas a thin person gets a pass to consume, you know, an actual reasonable quantity and variety of food, as needed to live and thrive. (I wish I could find it now, but I remember someone in the fatosphere being told by a doctor to buy a head of broccoli and make it last all week as the entirety of her dinners.) Ely seems to make it even worse by extending this “less is better” belief to all people, probably because “everybody knows” that Americans are pretty much all too fat, right? This “rule” implies–intentionally or not–that it is a universal moral good for all people to constantly strive to eat less and less and less.

Anyway. Wrong. Fat people need adequate quantities of nourishing food–note: 1000 calories is not usually an adequate quantity, and you need protein and fat too–in exactly the same way that thin people do. To think otherwise is to deny that fat people are… well… actually people; and, in this case, to dismiss the difficulties of poor people and those who can’t afford “high quality” food as something they could overcome if they just tried a little harder. There is way too much of this crap out there as it is.

Thumbs down, Leanne. Keep the cooking tips coming, but lose the self-satisfied judgment next time.

(Incidentally, in rule #6, she also states “They are the enemy” with reference to regular and diet sodas. Dramatic much?? I tire of the scapegoating of soda. Sure, it’s bad for you. I am just finding it harder and harder to care.)