Thursday, February 24, 2011

Someone Be More Eloquent than Me

So I read Slate Magazine mostly because one time I was linked to a pretty cool article and every so often they have something I'm interested in. If nothing else it's neat to check up every day or couple days and see what's being talked about.

Well, right now, it's Childhood Obesity (booga-booga!). There's a reader-submission contest for your solutions to this horrible problem. I was just ignoring the prompt and clicking to different articles for the last few days since it first showed up. Tonight, Slate decided not to want me to read it. Because a pop-up advertising the contest came up. And when I clicked the "close" button, not only did it NOT close the giant window-filling ad about how to Cure Childhood Obesity, but opened a page in another tab about the contest.

I wish I were eloquent and well-studied and brave. Because I want to answer this the way I think the majority of the FA community would. Stop the War ON Childhood Obesity. Stop teaching young fat kids that they are lazy - that they MUST be lazy and eat too much if they are overweight. That they should cram as much physical activity into every day as possible, even the thin ones, lest they become Fat Lazy Overeaters. Food Ogres. Stop teaching the thin kids that fatness is caused by a lack of self-responsibility, because it just gives them ammunition to further the bullying that fat kids already get for being unattractive or unathletic.

Start caring that fat kids are bullied. Stop thinking that shaming them for their weight is only a good thing if it causes them to start dieting in elementary school.

Start caring about the kids who develop eating disorders out of fear of Obesity. The fat kids who are told that they need to lose weight or they will die, and hear nothing but praise for how well they've done losing. The thin kids who diet for fear of becoming fat, who go unnoticed because it's expected that they need to diet in order to stay thin.

How to solve Childhood Obesity? Stop making such an enormous deal, start promoting healthy, balanced diets (that include healthy, balanced treats) and encourage physical activity as simple as playing outside for ALL children.

But I don't know how to say that, and be taken seriously.

I don't know who's reading this blog, what experiences you have had, what medical knowledge and social knowledge you have. But if anyone feels up to the task of putting that out there...if anyone feels willing to tell Slate that solution, please, someone do.

I've read through so many archives that I can't find specific posts very easily. But I will say that a search for "school" or "children" or "childhood obesity" in the Junkfood Science archive turns up some pretty heartbreaking posts (leave yourself some time, it's easy to spend a lot of it here). This post in particular always sticks in my memory:

"If we have a 6-year old girl who is 3 foot, 9 inches tall she would be considered to be a “healthy, normal weight" at 49 1/4 pounds (BMI 17.1). If she gained 1/4 pound more, however, she becomes “overweight” at 49 1/2 pounds. For untold numbers of children classified as “overweight” they are within a fraction of a pound or few pounds of “normal.”
However, if this little girl grew a mere 1/8 inch, she would be considered to be a “healthy, normal weight” again!
At 54 1/2 pounds (BMI 18.9) she crosses the 95th percentile cut-off and is now labeled “obese.” A very different picture of childhood obesity than the mainstream media is portraying.
However, if this little girl was a mere 1/8 inch taller, at 3-9 1/8 inches tall, she would be merely “overweight” again.
So, for a 6-year old girl who theoretically isn’t growing taller, around a mere 5 pounds makes the difference between being labeled as a “normal” weight or all the way to being “obese.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Calories Without Context

*If you find it uncomfortable to read calorie counts, you might want to skip this; I don't think I can illustrate my point without numbers

So, I live in NYC, where chain restaurants are required to post their calorie counts next to every item on the menu. I count myself lucky that for me, it's just kind of a grating little annoyance, and not a full-blown trigger like I've read happens to many people in recovery from eating disorders. When it first came out, it did make me second-guess myself, and there were a good few days when I was picking the lowest-possible choices, because the ones I liked made me feel like, well, a Horrible Food Ogre for daring to eat them.

The problem with the counts though, I don't think it's just that they exist. I don't even think it's just that they're posted up in big letters for all to see, although I am on the side that would rather have say a small pamphlet listing the information avaliable at the counter, or counts otherwise avaliable by request only. I haven't done all my research, so I don't know how the amount of calories in one food over a similar food might be an indicator of how much fuller it would make you feel. In an ideal world, calorie counts would just be a number to help people gauge how much they'd like to eat based on how hungry they are, or how they're planning their day.

But this isn't an ideal world, and a whole lot of us have grown up with calorie-counting issues. Overwhelmingly, counting calories is about eating as few of them as possible. It's difficult to shake those associations, even as one moves into a more intuitive way of eating. I think for me at least, the problem was a lack of context.

For years and years, I thougth that 500 calories should be about the biggest you get for a meal. That's a fair size. But if you could have a 400 or 300 calorie meal, that was probably better. I have no real idea how I got this in my head, beyond the fact that my mom's Lean Cuisine meals topped out at around 450 or so. I knew that these meals were Healthy, so clearly that was a good number for a meal, i suppose. I got all that praise for eating Lean Cuisines, even though I would always be famished several hours later, after dinner time was over and I wasn't allowed to eat any more substantial food. I remember eating a lot of ramen noodles for dinners when I was young. They only had 300 calories, surely that made it a good meal.

I remember it occuring to me as a child that 500 sounded perfect if you were in a 2000/day calorie plan, like they did teach was necessary at the time. (When I was in school, I was personally getting dieting advice from my doctor, but I don't remember it being emphasized as a school-wide thing the way you hear about today). If you had 500 calories for breakfast, and 500 for lunch, and 500 for dinner, you only hit 1500 which meant you lost weight, right? Or there was an extra 500 left over for a snack. Sounded perfect.

So eventually I got through high school and went off to college, where I was in control of my food. I settled into a pattern well enough. I tend to wake up too late to eat breakfast, and I'm not usually hungry when I wake up. So I have lunch first thing, dinner some five or six hours later, and a third small meal at night. I got used to the dining halls (and after a few weeks of joyously eating chick-fil-a every day, finally decided to get a little less fried chicken in my diet).

And then the counts came out. I discovered that my Quiznos sandwiches I was eating so often tallied up above 500 calories. My tuna salad was a whopping 700! When I first saw that, I refused to buy it for a week. 700 whole calories in one meal? God, what kind of a whale does that make me to eat a 700 calorie sandwich?! That's the most calories on the whole menu!

Oddly enough, Chick-Fil-A was looking more appealing at that time. Their fried sandwiches topped out around 500, and grilled ones around 300. They even had a salad that listed itself as 200 calories before dressing. A few times, I tried to eat that as a meal. And while it was a delicious salad with brocolli and carrot and grilled chicken and a lot of was never enough. Never filling, as soon as I finished eating it, I was hungry again.

I finally told myself to relax, take a breath and think logically. 700 calories times two meals a day plus a smaller something later couldn't add up to being a whale. It couldn't just be about the number of calories in one single meal. It should be about the overall amount of food I was getting each day, and whether it was enough for me. There were several days when I only ate those two meals, and 700 was more than appropriate. There are other days when I've eaten more for lunch, and I go for a smaller sandwich elsewhere in the dining hall instead. Or vice versa, days when I go for a smaller sandwich because I know that I'll be eating a lot of dinner later.

The trouble isn't calories necessarily. It's calories with no context. It's seeing 700 as a giant whale number, and not thinking about how much food you actually need to get through the day.

This is probably tangential, but leads to the same place in the end. Before the winter holidays this year, I started seeing posters in the bathrooms and such put up by the health center about how to avoid overeating at the holidays. One tip they had was that if you were going to a party where there'd be a lot of food, eat first. So you wouldn't be hungry, and wouldn't eat at the party. And this struck me, frankly, as terrible advice.

Why not advise to eat lightly, so that when you have an opportunity to enjoy a lot of tasty food with friends, you can enjoy it? Have a small lunch, because you're aware that there will be a lot of food later in the day. Maybe it was just my imagining how badly that advice would backfire on me, especially earlier in my life when my binge-eating was under less control. To this day I tend to prefer to eat a little of everything - the difference is that if I'm stuffed full at a party now, I'll take just a bite of everything instead of cramming one of everything down. Everything is just more enjoyable if I go into it hungry, because if I go in full it really won't stop me from wanting to try all the tasty things my friends made.

Where this anecdote connects to the post is that I was thinking about the party scenario in terms of calorie context. If I eat a light meal the morning of a big party, call it under 500 calories, and then over the course of a 4-5 hour party I eat another 1500 a few bites at a time, I'm hovering around the 2k/day that's the benchmark for "enough food". I can't think of any reason for anyone to have issue with that pattern of eating a few times a year (substitute thanksgiving or Christmas dinner or 4th-of-July picnics or whatever else for big fun food events). Except, I would have eaten 1500 calories in one party. And that's SO much food. That's WAY too much food. It CAN'T be healthy to eat that much!

When it's all about counts, it becomes really difficult to remember the context. It all boils down to whatever number you get into your head is a meal's worth of calories, and then judging everything you eat by that contextless number. That's the part that causes the trouble. Not the number itself.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why This Matters

 Carrie at ED Bites posted the following story as part of her Sunday Smorgasbord this week. It is a heartbreaking read by a woman named Kath, chronicling the mistreatment and lack of treatment she faced for her eating disorder. Kath was diagnosed with EDNOS - Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified - which in the context of her post sounds suspiciously like Bulimia While Fat. Kath's story almost reads like a checklist of the things that the FA movement aims to change. It isn't about pigging out on junk food all the time and asking not to be judged (although the non-judgment is part of it), it's not about neglecting exercise in the name of Fat Rights, it's not about encouraging anyone to be fat who wasn't already. It's about making sure what happened to Kath stops happening to anyone.

The link is here; I'll be posting excerpts to go along with my list of what went wrong in this story.

*The idea that fatness is caused, always, exclusively by overeating, and no other possible explanation.
 Despite the fact that Kath's ED behaviors were restrictive eating and purging, "On learning that I am fat, most people assume that my eating disorder is binge eating or overeating because I must have been gorging myself to get this way. Until a few years ago, every single doctor or medical professional I went to diagnosed me with overeating, often without ever asking me what I eat, or if they did and I told them, they didn’t believe me. They said I must be cheating, or lying, or not counting some things that I ate. I simply had to be an overeater to have “let myself get that fat.”"

*A dangerously casual attitude among young women about ED behaviors, or even the disorders themselves. Or a variant; the believe that ED behaviors are less dangerous or more desirable than being fat.
"I started when I was about 13 or 14. Some bullies (girls) forced me to stick my fingers down my throat and make myself vomit because, “That’s what fat ugly bitches like you should do.” A year or so before this incident I had actually been shown what to do by another slightly older girl. I worked with her at an after-school job, and she thought she was being kind to the fat kid. She did it and it kept her slim, so she showed me how to stick my fingers down my throat and how to disguise that I was doing it."

*A tendency in the medical community to focus on weight above and beyond other symptoms; or a refusal to see weight gain AS a symptom more than a cause.
"For 20 years, I kept presenting doctors with the same physical issues: An irregular menstrual cycle that manifested itself as constant bleeding, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle), or dysmenorrhea (pain during menstrual cycle). In my early 30s, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS); I discovered I had been showing symptoms and characteristics of it since I was 12. I was told yet again that the way to “cure” PCOS is to lose weight."
This deserves more commentary. PCOS is notorious for CAUSING weight gain. Yet her perscription - multiple times - was to lose weight and the pain would go away. It couldn't be that her syndrome had made her gain weight as fast as she had at puberty, or that treating the actual causes might result in both less pain and a return to whatever Kath's natural weight set-point was. Just lose weight to cure the weight-gain-causing illness.

*An unshaking belief in the theory of Calories-In-Calories-Out; that more exercise and less food will never fail to produce weight loss, and can not be unhealthy. In fact, the idea that exercise obsession is virtuous, and never the sign of disordered behavior, especially in someone who may be starving, but is not thin.
"I was exercising between six and eight hours per day. I had lost over 50lbs (about 25kg) and dropped five dress sizes. I was desperately unhappy and my physical health was failing. I was not coping at work and it was suggested that I should see the counseling service through the employee assistance program. I saw a few different psychologists—they all focused on my weight. Eventually, out of desperation I begged one of them to help me, told him of my suicidal thoughts and explained my obsession with diet and exercising. His response was to suggest that I add another half hour to the six to eight hours I told him I was already doing, “To get you over the plateau.”

Kath attempted suicide after multiple doctors refused to see past her weight to her actual emotional emergency and other health issues, and thankfully survived. Her story is brave and painful and heartwrenching, and this is why we're here, why this movement matters. I am lucky as anything that my own issues about food and weight are limited to a few warped ideas and mental blocks.

I'll leave you with Kath's final words, which sum up everything else I meant to say.

"It is important to me to talk about having an eating disorder as a fat person. Where thin or normal weight patients often get sympathy and understanding, and even simple recognition of their disorders, fat patients are ignored, considered lying or “cheating” somehow. So often disordered behavior is sanctioned in fat people simply because there is a belief that fat people must have got that way through inactivity and gluttony.
How many people have to suffer, or even die, because of the belief that no matter what the cost, thinner is always healthier?"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Beauty: Pretty vs Sexy

I'm not totally sure that this is going to make sense to people other than me, or that it's strictly a Fat Acceptance topic all the way through. But it's been rolling in my head today and I think it's related enough. I've been thinking  lot about beauty, and perceptions and standards and different types. I think I can boil down most forms of beauty and attractiveness to two categories. There's Pretty beauty - characterized by youth, innocence, flowy skirts and hair, maiden-ish charms - and Sexy beauty - characterized by fullness of figure, confidence and assertiveness and revealing clothes. I make no claims about the feminist implications of these categories and I don't think one is any better than the other, but I do think there's a lot of personality involved in which one different people aspire to be.

I think that for the most part, there's a place that's carved out for fat women to be Sexy, but I don't see the same place for fat Prettiness.

I can't really come up with a lot of specific examples beyond Queen Latifah in Chicago. But in general, I feel like I see a fair amount of FA bloggers touting their sexiness and virility and strength, which is wonderful. But...I kind of like being a damsel. I always have. I like the quieter, maidenly Pretty beauty that I don't ever really see applied to people with bodies like mine. I remember when i was younger and thinking about my looks that I did think I had a pretty face. I liked my eyes, and I love my hair, but I remember thinking it didn't really matter. My Pretty face was sort of wasted on my fat body,  which couldn't match.

I think in some way, it makes sense why the culture would allow for a space for Sexy fatness. If you're starting with the assumption that fat people are fat because they overindulge in food, then it follows that you can assume they overindulge in sex as well (not in part because there's this really weird and, for me, kind of icky connection between food and sex: see my post on the Truvia commercial). Therefore, there logically has to be a place for fat people to engage in sex, and thus be Sexy. There's also the issue of curviness, which has its place to be considered Sexy and comes with fat bodies more obviously than thin.

I think a lot of the difference in my mind at least, is that Sexy beauty is associated with the act of having sex. Pretty beauty is sort of divorced from it. Calling a young girl "pretty" is a compliment, that speaks only about her looks and traits, while calling her "sexy" is creepy because it associates her with the behavior of sex. Sexy is a loaded kind of beauty that's predicated on an ability and openness toward sex itself. I don't think it's possible to think of oneself simultaneously as Sexy and as chaste or modest or shy (Although if you do, please feel free to comment). Whereas I think there's a possibility for Pretty sexuality - Pretty maiden-y-ness is also easy to fantasize about and bring sex into, but I feel like Pretty can occupy both a sexual and nonsexual space, while Sexy just can't.

Where it becomes kind of personal is the part where I don't always like to feel Sexy, because I don't always want to have sex. But I still don't always feel Pretty. I imagine Pretty and it's always slim. This isn't to say that no one has ever called me Pretty, because I have been told that. But it doesn't internalize the same way. I've been called Sexy also, by my partner, and it's different the way that that absorbs into who I am. Some nights, I love being Sexy. Sometimes it makes me feel strong and confident as well. But I want to have the place to be Pretty, too, and more often. If I'm having a night where I just want to cuddle on the couch, it's okay to think of myself as Pretty. But if he starts telling me that I'm Sexy, there's a sort of loaded, light pressure that comes in (not from him at all, but from myself). I don't know how to think of myself as Sexy if I don't want to engage in sex.

I don't really know how to conclude this. I suppose it's just one of those things where there seems to be more variety for thin than for fat. More acceptable personae to take on. I feel like if I were a thin person, I would always be able to think of myself as Pretty, it wouldn't be a question whether or not I could fit into that label. I'd be better able to slip back and forth between Pretty and Sexy at different times. But as it is, I've always felt that I couldn't really be Pretty the way I am, and while it's great to have Sexy as a choice, I sometimes feel like I'm missing a safer, more natural to my personality space to slip back into.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Junk Food vs Real Food

So, I suppose coming off the heels of yesterday's Nutella Lawsuit post is as good a time as any to try and work this idea out.

I grew up, as I'm sure most people here have, and as I'm not yet convinced is a terrible problem, with a distinction made between Junk Food, and Real Food. Real Food is what you eat at meals - meat, vegetables, pasta - and also some snacks like fruit. Junk Food is what you eat otherwise - chips, candy, soda, etc. I think everyone deals with these distinctions. And I think it's a good distinction to make. Nutritionally, there's a difference between a bag of chips and a bowl of pasta, even if I'm eating both as a snack.

But since getting into the FA movement, I've started to wonder about how to phrase this properly. I don't want to demonize any given food to myself or others by calling it "junk". Food is food, and it's not like it isn't okay to eat Junk Food. But the word is so loaded.

I've been thinking of it lately as a difference between Substantial and Insubstantial food, instead. It's basically the same breakdown. Substantial food is what's going to keep me full and provide some real energy. Protein is big in this for me, since I can not stay full from meals that don't contain enough of it. Nice substantial starches, veggies. Insubstantial food is more of a compliment to Substantial Food. A bag of chips with my sandwich for lunch helps finish filling me up, but by itself it only lasts a little while. And I've talked before about the trouble I have if I try to get full by eating sweets.

Part of what this does for me is to kind of re-orient myself to concentrate on how hungry I really am. I do still have trouble allowing myself to eat Substantial food after a certain hour, but I'm working on eating something filling and bigger instead of eating 5 snacks to try and get the same effect. I feel like this is healthier, to put something nutritionally sound into my tummy, and save the insubstantial snacks for when I only have a small bit of hunger or just want something to taste good. 

I guess I wonder if it really does anything to re-label the groups in my head. I'm not really sure it helps me sort them any more efficiently. Maybe it just makes me feel like a good Fat Acceptance-ist to try not to exclude snacks and candy from "real" food.

I wanted to write more about the way that the world draws such a line between the groups, that was what the point of this post was supposed to be. That even when "junk food" is allowed in a house, a lot of the time it's off-limits except for very specific cases and times. Going back to the Nutella thing, the idea that if something is in the Junk Food category, it can not possibly be part of an otherwise balanced meal. I do think that's something that my Substantial/Insubstantial categories might help with. If a food is Junk, then it doesn't belong in a meal, but if it's just Insubstantial it can be a compliment to something else, it just doesn't stand on its own.

The more I type about all this though, the more I do get stuck wondering if it's worth a whole lot of words. It feels more like something that I just have to make a tiny change in my head, just change my attitude a tiny bit, and then basically go on the same way I always have.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nutella Lawsuit - the tastiest kind

A California mother decided to sue Nutella because of its "hyped nutrition claims".  I don't even know where to begin here.

First of all, I knew exactly what the "health claims" were when i saw the article. Because the Nutella commercial that goes on about how it's made with "skim milk and a hint of cocoa" is, frankly, hilarious. Let's not pretend here that it's anything other than delicious hazelnut chocolate ganache in a jar. (It's under "silence" at this link)

From the article: "
In its marketing, including in claims made on its website, Nutella touts its cocoa and hazelnut spread as ideal for busy moms trying to "nourish their children with whole grains" and says that "Nutella can form a part of a balanced meal."
The suit, filed in federal court in San Diego, alleges that many consumers of the product would not have purchased it had they been aware that the health claims surrounding it were overblown."

I don't see a false health claim in there. I see a statement that balanced meals can include something with saturated fat in it. The marketing doesn't claim that Nutella has any health benefits, or that it's healthy to eat it as a meal on its own. Just that you can put it on toast for god's sake. And I know absolutely zero people who buy Nutella as a magic Health Food and would stop buying it now that this "news" about its healthiness has come to light.

So, let's just try to break this down here:

A) No, Nutella is not going to be classified as a Health Food anytime soon. It's chocolate. It's yummy. It's sugary. These are all true.

B) The commercial never actually made any claims that Nutella, in and of itself, IS a Healthy Food. All it said was that it's tasty, and can be put on wheat toast and what-not as part of a healthy breakfast.

C) Yes, wheat toast with Nutella on it can count as a healthy breakfast. The same way that a bagel with cream cheese can count, or pancakes with maple syrup. (Or dressing on a salad, or butter on a potato or...) Just because it's chocolate doesn't mean that Nutella is inherently less healthy than any number of other flavor-adding fat-or-sugar-based condiments that we use on food all the time.

*Edit: I was discussing this with Thlingan last night, and he tells me he's looked into it, and Nutella is nutritionally (as far as fat, calories, etc. go) about equal to peanut butter. I had a suspicion that it couldn't be worse than most other foods, but it's nice to have an actual food to compare with.

D) You're really suing the company because they claimed that you can add an unhealthy food into a healthy breakfast and it doesn't discount all the rest of the nutrition involved?

E) No seriously, that commercial still cracks me up. I'll eat a spoonful of Nutella for dessert, that isn't a "hint of cocoa".

Gee, it's like there's some kind of.....middle ground, here? About food? It's almost as if it's possible for a food to be both sugary/fatty AND part of an overall healthy meal. It's like adding things that taste good to foods that are healthful makes kids - and adults - more likely to eat it!

I want to make some kind of comment about being sad that the society we live in produces people who listen to "can be part of a healthy breakfast" and hear "must be 100% Healthy Food". That there is such a sharp divide between Healthy and Unhealthy that there could even be this misunderstanding in the first place. But honestly, I'm too busy giggling.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Little bit of nothing

I love watching Let's Plays on youtube. I suck at video games, but I'm madly in love with the medium, and I have a lot of fun watching other people play.

I was quite excited to see someone take up a game called Paper Mario, one of the first games I ever beat and a long-time favorite.

Until I saw half the comments cheering at the player's description of Princess Toadstool as a "fat-bottomed bitch".

Thanks, guy. Thanks for killing any interest I had in watching your project because it's kewl to hate on the game's female character and calling her fat. It's a frickin sprite! Thanks for letting me know before I watched it that you were gonna make it nice and uncomfortable for me to watch.

It's silly, it's not going to ruin my whole day that I got disappointed by a Let's Play. But it's nice to know I have a blog I can let this out where people will understand why it's annoying, instead of throwing it on facebook and worrying I look like I'm over-reacting and over-sensitive.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Big-E Exercise

I have a lot of baggage about exercise.

I've been trying for a while now to get past it, to stop remembering how it felt when I was a teenager and to start moving forward to life as an adult, who wants to be healthily active and feel good about it. I've finally gotten to a point where exercise generally feels kind of nice. Not if it's too rigorous, but a nice walk in the park, or a few rounds of wii sports or a little bit of freestyle dancing can feel really good, can get some tension out of my body and help soothe me in a bad mood. But it was so much not always that way.

When I was young, exercise was just what I was supposed to do in order to lose weight. In my last post about The Sign, I noted that this baggage is why I was so pissed off, and why I think it's so important that people learn that exercise has other benefits. Because this is what I remember - this is what it feels like when the only thing exercise does for you is make you slimmer.

I'm going to stress that I don't mean for this post to reflect things that I was taught about exercise, necessarily. This is just the way that it felt and the things that went through my mind. Even if I were being taught the opposites, these were what i learned.

(ironically enough, I write this post while under doctor's orders to limit my walking due to an oh-so-lovely strained muscle in my foot. Thanks, ice.)