Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unlikely Ally

When I saw Cracked.com's list of "6 Fitness Tips Everyone's Heard (That don't work at all)" this morning, I was curious, and a little apprehensive. But pleasantly surprised. Despite the site's overall propensity toward throwing out fat jokes as much as it does casual sexism and other things that make me understand why the site makes some people uncomfortable, they had this to say about BMI:

"If you've ever tried to get fit, you've probably been introduced to the concept of BMI, or Body Mass Index. The concept is over 100-years old, and is totally showing it. BMI is more or less weight divided by height. If it's above a certain number, you're obese.

You can probably already see what the problem with that is. By that extremely oversimplified metric, Reggie Bush (pictured here) ...
... is a big old fatty. You could be 200 pounds of muscle or 200 pounds of fat (give or take some bones and blood or something) and BMI wouldn't know the difference.

That would be bad enough if BMI was just like an astrological sign or penis measurement that you use to brag groundlessly to other people. But it's not just a frivolous vanity stat, it's something that's being used to judge pretty important things, like whether you can apply for a job as a cop or firefighter, certain military jobs, or whether you can undergo surgery.

It might not be exactly the same as evaluating job applicants by reading the length of their lifeline on their palm, but it's pretty close. And do you really want anything to do with a system that has no place for guys like this?"

It was a nice little surprise, and to think of BMI as something along the same level of scientific reliability as your star sign felt like a good way to frame it. The list also features myths about eating breakfast making you lose weight, and fitness tips unrelated to weight at all like running barefoot. (Swear, one day I'll get my rant up about the Wii Fit, and the way "fitness" seems NEVER to be defined as anything other than weight-loss exercise.)

I should be sure to mention that the article does still, for the most part, subscribe to Calories-In-Calories-Out, and those who are very sensitive to statements like "Of course working out and eating less will make you more fit" might still want to stay away. I don't use the word "ally" in the title here to mean that Cracked is magically a Fat Acceptance space. Just that, given the fact that the writer of the article does say things like that, I was surprised and pleased to see BMI given the dismissal that it deserves.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weight Loss > Superheroics

This is a short memory, but one I've been meaning to share for a while. Sparked by Katja's post today about a new series of kids' books:

"Every family has it's secrets. It's just that Henrietta Sharp's family is in the business of saving the world. And now she is too. But when your ten-year-old body packs on some extra pounds, not even an uncommonly large vocabulary or the ability to travel between dimensional slices of the universe can make your hips look smaller."


What do you even say to that? The commenters at Family Feeding Dynamics are doing a pretty good job ripping that description to shreds - my 'favorite' part is how apparently interdimensional space travel isn't anywhere near as important as looking thin. Not even being healthy, either, just having small hips.

Something that I've been wondering about and concerned about is the way that the Childhood Obesity Epidemic and the general public at large treats the idea of puberty weight gain. It seems like such a common-sense, natural, totally normal, inconceivable-to-object-to idea that in the years between being a Child and an Adult, one must gain quite a bit of weight. For one thing, you're going from your ten-year-old height to your adult one. For another, in girls-becoming-women especially, the whole shape of the body is changing. You get breasts, which can add a good deal of weight to some women. You get hips - poor Henrietta is being taught that her hips widening out to adult woman proportions just mean that she's "packing on the pounds", not that she's growing up. Both new men and new women are adjusting to new hormones and everything else that comes with transitioning into adulthood.

My understanding is that when teenage boys start to develop big appetites to fuel their growth and change, it's treated as a given. Of course they need more to eat, they're growing boys. When teenage girls show the same instinct, they're letting themselves get fat.

It's sort of a lazy segue but it brings me to my memory. My doctor started worrying about my weight when I was around ten or eleven. I remember the way I used to be so proud of myself for checking out my dieting books with their recipes. I specifically remember a little chicken salad in a pita bread. I'd never had pita bread before, hell, I never made my own food before. I would make my little sandwich and my lunch so I could be all prepped out for the next day at lunch.

I remember getting disheartened when I was still gaining weight.

I remember the day I reached 100 pounds. I can't remember anymore whether this was before or after the doctor actually put me on a diet, I don't remember how old I was. But I remember that 100 had sounded like such a big number. That was going to be the number I didn't want to go over. If I reached 100 pounds, that meant I was fat. And at that point I would have to diet myself back down. I remember how huge I felt looking at the scale that day.

(I later decided that 200 pounds was the weight I didn't want to be at - THAT would be Food Ogre weight, THAT would be the point where I had to diet. Right now I'm hovering between 185 and 200 depending on how much exercise and food i'm getting and I'm trying really hard to say 'fuck it, i'm big'.)

At some point, when I was 15 or 16, I stopped gaining. And what I remember most of all was how well-praised I was by the doctor when I finally got to "maintaining" rather than "gaining". By this point, I had long since given up actually trying to diet. I was having binge eating episodes. I tried to explain that I wasn't doing anything different than I always had been - well, maybe I'm choosing to eat turkey over fatty meats more often. Maybe. If you insist that there must be something. I was kind of proud of myself, too. It was a big weight that I was at, but I stopped gaining. Something must have happened.

A few years later, I looked back and thought, "DUH! I finished growing!"

It never seemed to occur to my pediatrician that the rate at which I was gaining weight during puberty wouldn't be the rate I would gain at for the rest of my life. That I would naturally level off when my body stopped growing and widening and turning itself into a woman's body. No, I was gaining weight so absurdly fast and much that if I didn't diet at age 12, I was going to be a million pounds! As long as I was eating the way I ate as a kid, I would never ever stop gaining. Let alone lose.

It sounds so absurd to me now that I can't even talk about it without being sarcastic. But it was so real to me then. It seemed so obvious that as long as I was eating the same way, I'd keep gaining the same amount. Forever. Until I was 200 pounds, 300, 500, half-ton - who knew where it would stop? I was scared, but it wasn't enough to keep me sticking to a diet. It was just enough to make me half-lie to the doctor when she asked what I was doing differently. I couldn't really admit that I hadn't changed. It didn't make any sense to me why I had stopped gaining.

I read about stuff like poor Henrietta and I feel bad. I truly feel awful - for the fictional girl, and for however many real-life girls are going to read her story, and start to worry when their hips widen and the number on the scale goes up. For the girls who are going to assume that 100 is such a nice big round number, it must be a good maximum weight cap - and who no one is going to tell any differently, because they're being told to lose weight. For the girls who will grow up afraid of eating as much as they're hungry for, because their parents, doctors and teachers have given them the impression that their natural weight gain is too much, and the result of sloth and overeating.

But also...I have to laugh. Maybe it's just so I don't really cry. But I truly wish I lived in a world where I really could just laugh at someone who thought to write a book where interdimensional superheroics are less important than gaining a little weight. I wish that everyone in the world could see how completely absurd that idea is.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Someone was More Eloquent Than Me

Thanks to Katja for pointing this out. Someone did actually get involved in the Slate Anti-Childhood Obesity thing with a well-rounded article pointing out the cruelty inherent in many of the proposals otherwise being made. I.e:

"Schools should actively stigmatize being fat," writes one member of the Hive; "few things are more terrifying to a kid than being an outcast." Another declares, "We need to stop telling children to 'love themselves the way they are.'" A third suggests that the government take custody of any child with obese parents, as a way to "get both parents and children motivated to exercise and eat healthy."

(The linked article provides links to these other proposals. I don't want to deal with them being on my page). 
It also does a good job providing the evidence that shame doesn't work, that the more you are shamed for being obese the less healthy you are, and trying to make people actually think about the fat people involved. You can't have a War On Obesity without a War On Fat People - and having a war fought against you hurts your health more than anything.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Impressions of Yoga

So, I started taking yoga classes a few weeks ago. I found a studio a few blocks away from my dorm, for $5 a class, and figured there was very little that I could really lose out by trying it. I'm currently working at keeping a twice-a-week schedule in the beginner class, and trying to make it enough of a habit that I can potentially find a new studio to keep it up with when I move.

I'd done a little bit of yoga before, but only on the wii fit. Which I have a few issues with, which I haven't quite gotten around to writing about yet but mostly because it's really old news. Wii yoga was kind of awesome in that it gives really accurate and neat biofeedback showing where your center of balance is, and it describes the poses well enough that I felt I was getting pretty good at them. I enjoyed the fact that it's not an intense exercise, but when I'm done using it, I can feel that I've definitely worked.

But, the Wii isn't equipped to give me modifications for the poses I can't do. It can't give me advice, and the encouragement it tried to give was more annoying. So, I thought I'd try a real class.

And it's going well. I'm enjoying it. Primarily, it's the same thing - it's intense, but in a completely different way than any exercise I've done before. And the philosophy incorporated in a real yoga studio is great. There's so much emphasis on respect for the body, on energy and movement and not pushing yourself too far. In some ways, I'm more flexible than I thought I was. And in others, I'm less, but that's okay.

There are a few things that feel like my fat is getting in the way. There are a few poses that I can't quite breathe right because I'm squished a little much. There are lots of things I can't do with my legs, because my thighs are just too big to curl around. I can't put my feet together on the floor and keep my balance, so I have to keep them open.  But I don't feel shamed for it at all. The environment in the classes is so supportive, and no one cares even the smallest bit if I'm modifying something for whatever reason.

I was talking to a friend about one of the poses that I'm having the most trouble with, which they call the Corpse Pose in my studio (relaxation pose - lie on your back with your legs stretched out and arms stretched out at your side. Do nothing but breathe). The trouble is...well, my ass is too big. If my knees are bent and my feet on the floor, I can lie my whole spine straight on the ground. But if I stretch my legs outward, my butt curls up under me, and there's a big space under the small of my back that's painful to stay in for any length of time. I'm getting some help from my instructors, whether it's the advice to keep a prop under my knees to keep them up some, or to lie in a fetal position instead, or to sit up and do a different meditative pose.

But I think the biggest thing that's coming into focus is I can really say things like this now. I can just say, "I have too much butt for this position, what can I do instead?" It's still self-conscious, and sometimes embarrassing, but it's a fact. It's not something to be ashamed of, and it's not something that's going away anytime soon. The important part is that I find something else to do, and it doesn't stop me. And the important part is that I'm getting secure enough to just accept it.