Sunday, July 6, 2008

Response and Responsibility

As a young woman I was innundated with messages about dieting. My mother was the prime messenger but she was merely carrying the societal banner that said I needed to be thinner. My pediatrician lectured me each time I went in no matter if it was for a sore throat or a regular check-up and made suggestions like choosing sherbet instead of ice cream. Ironically, we rarely/never had ice cream in the house and would go out for a cone maybe 3 times a summer so making that change wasn't going to make much of a difference. I usually ended up crying in his office and my mother would then lecture me for being too sensitive. My mother was constantly on a diet herself (as she is to this day) and our house was full of low-cal bread, skim milk, fresh vegetables, non-fat cottage cheese and skinless chicken breasts. My mother is a good cook and we ate dinner each night as a family. Every meal had a protein source--usually chicken, turkey or occasionally steak all baked or cooked on the grill, a carbohydrate--usally rice or baked potatoes, and a green vegetable or two. We rarely had dessert. If I reached for seconds my mother would ask me if I "really needed that?" There were snacks in the house and even occasionally store bought cookies though my mother would make sure to point out that they were for my thinner brother, not for me. Is it any wonder that I started to sneak food? To hide it under my bed and to buy it myself when I had access to pocket money? I was a growing child and I was being fed non-fat fake food in quantities that were probably too small for what my growing body needed. Yes I was heavy and I continued to get heavier. I hold no grudge against my Mom. I know she was doing this from a place of love and wanted to prevent me from struggling with weight in the ways she has all her life. She even states that one of the prime reasons she chose to breast feed was that she had heard that breast fed children were more likely to be thin as adults. I never had a chance to develop normal eating habits. I learned how to diet and how to sneak food.

I wish there was some way I could help prevent this from happening to someone else. I wish there was a way I could communicate some of what I've learned about food and fat and eating to the young women who are just beginning their relationships with food. Last week Sandy on Junkfood Science did her usually brilliant job of dissecting a recent item in the news. She writes about Bodyworks, the Department of Health and Human Services program to prevent obesity for "tween" girls (aged 9-13) which touts itself as a plan to teach healthy eating that is not a "diet." In reality it is a restrictive eating plan that makes food the enemy and encourages parents to provide inadequate food intake for their children.

You should definitely read the whole article, but here's a quick summary of the numbers that Sandy came up with.

Even if the girls are allowed dessert, a full day following this “healthy” meal plan would provide them with 902.45 calories — about one-third (37.6%) of the daily calories needed by girls this age and activity level, according the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutritional Research Center at Baylor, used by the Dietary Guidelines.

Equally troubling, even if the girls are allowed dessert every day, this “healthy” eating plan provides a total of 17.37 grams of fat each day, about 7% total fat, based on their daily calorie requirements. This is about one-fourth of the total fat they need each day. Remember, even according to the Dietary Guidelines, children this age need 25-35% of their calories to come from fat. The total fat in a day’s worth of these “healthy” meals is less than the saturated fat advised by the government for adults with heart disease.

Any girl whose parents follow this program is going to be literally starving and she will do exactly the same things I did as a child whose food was restricted. She will sneak and hoard food and develop an unhealthy relationship with eating and her body. If she's lucky she won't develop a severe eating disorder but she certainly will feel shame for not conforming to the societal norm, for failing to follow this "healthy eating plan."

I wish I knew a better way to get this message out. I wish I had a plan and a platform for talking to more parents than just the ones I work with about how they feed their children. I wish I could make everyone who has a baby read Child of Mine and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Familyby Ellyn Satter.

I wish no young girl would ever have to learn that food and hunger are to be fought against and that her body is somehow wrong.

In the meantime since wishing doesn't get me very far, I am going to look for a way to write to the Depeartment of Health and Human Services and express my displeasure at the fact that my tax dollars are supporting development and distribution of a program such as this!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Was George Carlin Fat?

I just saw on the news that George Carlin died today. Now he could make me laugh and he could make me cringe and he sometimes wasn't very nice to fat people. I won't link to the video of his rant against commercialism, consumption and over-indulgence which he unfortunately ties to being fat (and seems to be universally labeled on YouTube as his bit on "Fat People" when it's surely about much more) but it's out there and though I think he can be very, very, funny (see the video below for one of his milder pieces), he was out of line with this one. Thin people over-indulge too, they buy too much, and eat junk-food and drive cars that are too big, and wear shirts that say "I'm with Stupid." Of course Carlin seemed to enjoy being out of line, saying the things no one else would, but I think the power of his good rants were that there was truth to them. That Carlin had found a grain of truth in a situation that hadn't been seen before, but in the case of the fat rant, I don't think he really understood what the truth was. He went for the cheap laugh at the expense of those who were different without digging for the nuggets of truth.

Carlin died from heart disease and if you look at the videos on YouTube, you'll see he was a man who was always thin. We can't know what contributed to his death at a relatively young age of 71, but it certainly doesn't look like it was fat. I wonder if people will be suprised by this.

I'm still kind of fascinated by the fact that thin people often get a free pass on watching out for their health. I think it's dangerous to have so thouroughly associated thinness with health that people don't worry about the other risk factors for heart disease. When do we ever hear people talking seriously about stress reduction techniques? Where's the latest best selling book on meditation or the public service announcement on progressive relaxation techniques?

George Carlin seemed to be a man who lived life with his light shining brightly so I hope he did the things he most wanted in life and said the things he most wanted to say. The many times he did get it right, he often pushed the boundaries in ways that made me think and stretch my brain and I think he'd be pleased with that. What I've seen of his work often made me laugh, frequently made me uncomfortable and sometimes made me mad but I'm glad I watched it.

Head Meets Body

If you haven't read it yet, check out this brilliant post by my favorite author Kate Harding over at Shapely Prose. The following quote in particular hits home for me:

“Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.”

I once told my yoga instructor that she was responsible for re-attaching my head to my body. At some point in my childhood I had completely separated them and started mostly ignoring the parts below my neck. I had been a clumsy child who almost never succeeded at anything physical and though I was always interested in participating in those activities that others seemed to enjoy so much, I usually found the experience disheartening and so I focused completely on living through my mind. I read everything I could find and concentrated on establishing my worth based on my grades and my emotional responses to people. I got really, really nice.

Luckily a few years ago a friend dragged me to a yoga class and through the help of an amazing teacher, I suddenly started to realize that my body was there for more than just to give my brain a ride. I got strong and developed an awareness of my body that allowed me to move each part separately. The slow nature of the poses allowed me to use my brain to override my clumsiness and suddenly I was succeeding at something physical. It completely changed my life and even allowed me to start being less nice and being more real. I also found that when I was doing regular yoga I could succeed at other physical activities that had previously been out of my reach and I took up salsa dancing and got to have some of the most exhilarating experiences of my life as I spun and shook and whirled around the dance floor. So though I understand one of the commentors points about not focusing on bodies, I just don't think it is realistic or even desirable to pretend we don't see bodies. I don’t want my body ignored. Getting connected or perhaps re-connected to it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

On a side note, I think one of the reasons yoga has been such a successful modality for me was that it gave me tons of proprioceptive input through my joints and muscles. As a pediatric occupational therapist I use this all the time to help children organize their motor activity and improve their motor planning. I was finally able to really map each muscle in my body into my brain through this slow focused work that I did in yoga. My teacher, the amazing Marni Greer, was adept at helping us isolate movement and understand how our bodies worked. I don't think I could have done it without her. One of the biggest compliments of my life came last year when she told me I had excellent body awareness and that I should think about becoming a yoga teacher. I've made that one of my long term goals as I think it is important for people of all sizes to be represented in the yoga community but unfortunately the PhD needs to come first!

Friday, April 11, 2008


I haven't seen this movie yet but I've tottaly been inspired by the clips I've seen from it. One of the most remarkable is a cover of Coldplay's song "Fix You" sung by Fred Knittle.

He's a very fat man who is in his 80's and is doing something he obviously loves. So much for all us fatties dying young. Yes, this man is on oxygen but he still is able to participate in a group that performs all over the world. Just look at the "Staying Alive" video and you'll see how vibrant he is!

I hope I'm able to be part of something like that when I'm in my 80's. Hell I hope I'm doing that in my 70's!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Supporting Sandy at Junkfood Science

I know that she and her blog are controversial but I just made a small donation to the Junkfood Science blog. This is the first time I've given money to someone over the internet just because I respect the work she's doing. As I mentioned in my last post, her latest series is both enligtening and inspiring and I am sooooo thankful that there is someone out there doing the work that she is doing even if some of it may be motivated by ulterior motives than just Fat Acceptanc. Her committment to truth and the disemination of accurate interpretations of scientific news is very strong. Of course she doesn't cover everything, but I like the way she covers what she does and I respect her habit of linking to the original sources so that I can go read the science behind it myself.

Here's a bit of her intro that says it better than I ever could. I think she believes this and that she actually is living it.

"The more I’ve learned, the more horrified I’ve become. Science is being misused for marketing and political purposes. Evidence is being distorted and bias has inundated media, research, government policies and clinical guidelines. Unsound information proliferates in professional and advocacy organizations, academic institutions and journals; and even professionals aren’t reaching beyond beliefs to critically examine studies and recognize credible information. So much valuable and critically important information, and the very best science — well documented in careful, objective, evidence-based research — is never reported and almost never published. Fear sells and unfounded scares, exaggerations and “what-ifs?” are being used to terrify people about their foods, bodies and health.

And all of this is costing, frightening and hurting people.

For years, I have traced virtually every science, food and health story in mainstream media to their original press releases, which are reported verbatim. Literally everything we hear and read today is marketing and created by those trying to sell us something: a belief, cause, product, service, or themselves. That’s why we hear “science” finds something one day, and something entirely different the next. “Pop” science, what is popularly believed and marketed as “science,” is oftentimes really the junk science.

I’ve also gone to the original source, the study behind each of those stories, and been even more alarmed to realize that the evidence is nothing like what we hear, or even what appears in the conclusions of many study abstracts. In fact, it’s often the exact opposite! Simultaneously, I’ve watched the very best science that counters popular beliefs and could put fears to rest, go unreported. And after a decade of unsuccessfully trying to get any mainstream or alternative publication to publish articles with the fact-based information, I realized it wasn't possible.

That’s not right. I believe people deserve to know the truth and not be taken advantage of, needlessly terrified or put at risk.

People also deserve the soundest facts to make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones, and so we can all ensure public policies and clinical guidelines are based on sound evidence and risk analysis.

My personal commitment is to give people information that is as true as I know it to be."

Thank you Sandy! Thank you to all of you out here in the blogosphere who are fighting the good fight.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another Ah Ha Moment

This article on Junkfood Science (one of my favorite blogs) has really stimulated my brain. Sandy points out that the authors of a new study on the effect of negative body image have shown a link to poor health outcomes including diabetes and heart disease. They posit that this may be due to the stress response from discrimination and internal dissatisfaction rather than the actual body fat itself (they controlled for actual BMI!). That right there is a big old WOW! and thank all that is good that someone is doing this kind of research but this went even further for me.

In the last paragraph of the entry she mentions her plan to discus how "Those very same health problems associated with the stress response and obesity, are also found among other groups in our culture most targeted by prejudices and discrimination." I work on a multi-million dollar research project that is looking at health care disparities for African American families. We've been looking at what might be some of the causal factors that lead these families to have poorer outcomes even after you control for socio-economic status. I'd never thought to put internal stress related to self-perception into the equation, stress caused by being in a group that is consistently dealing with societal messages that they are "too dark" or somehow less than people of different skin tones.

Thank you Sandy! Thank you researchers at Mailman School of Public Health! You've certainly opened my eyes to some new possibilities today.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

But it's Soooo Easy

I've been thinking about this all weekend.

I was sitting at happy hour on Friday with my brother and a co-worker/friend. She was asking me where I plan to go once I finish my PhD and suggested New Zealand. I joked "Nah, they won't take me cuz I'm too fat." and she replied "Well you can fix that easily enough."

Easily fixable? Really? Does she honestly think I would stay 100+ lbs. over weight if it was easily fixable?

She's recently been doing Weight Watchers and has lost a significant amount of weight. She's mentioned to me several times how easy it is. This is of course the first time she's ever been on a plan like this. She just turned 40. I was on my first diet at age 7. Believe me, if it was easy I would have done it. I've dieted many, many times. I've lost over 40 lbs three different times. I've spent thousands of dollars on diet plans, support groups, special foods, and exercise programs. If I could find a way to maintain that kind of weight loss I'd do it in a heartbeat!

Maybe I'm weak. Maybe I'm lazy. I don't know but for me maintaining any kind of weight loss has NEVER been easy. It breaks my heart. I'd give so much to not deal with this struggle but here it is and here I am and it doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon. So as far as I can tell, I've got a few choices. I can continue to try each new diet that comes out, try the diets that worked but didn't stick again or maybe try something different--not focusing on losing weight. Not hating myself for the shape of my body, not beating myself up for every morsel of food that goes into my mough, and celebrating the good things about this body I have.

Yeah, I think I'll go with option number three.

Friday, February 1, 2008

No Soup for YOU!

This Mississippi Bill is a bunch of baloney. It made me mad enough to write a letter to the jerks who sponsored it...something I don't do nearly enough. Check out some of the other letters that the infinitely more articulate Shapelings wrote, read mine, and send one of your own!

Here's what I wrote:

Representatives Mayhall, Shows, and Read:
I am writing in opposition to House Bill 282. I saw a report on this bill on my local news here in California. I'm certain this must be a ploy for publicity but that does not excuse the ignorance and biggotry that this bill contains. It is both discriminatory and frankly ridiculous which I assume you already know. I'm not sure what your true motives are but I know they can't be good. How exactly do you propose that stopping fat people from eating at restaurants will decrease obesity? Are you going to stop them from buying food at the local grocery store? Do you think that people will let their heavier friends and families starve? In at least 95% of cases people who have been on a diet gain back more than they initially lost. The body is designed to resist starvation by slowing the metabolism and storing additional fat.

I am a professional who works with children with eating problems. One thing I can say for sure from my experience is that shame and restriction DO NOT WORK. If you really feel that this is one of the biggest challenges facing your state (a notion I highly doubt, take a look at this website for some clear critical reading of the actual research that is out there, and you actually want to help people be healthier there are all kinds of things you can do to promote the health of your constituency. Perhaps you could make cities friendlier for bikers and walkers, perhaps you could subsidize fresh vegetable farmers, or support campaigns that promote Health at Every Size ( The news report that I heard this evening mentioned that you have brought up this bill because the programs Mississippi has tried so far have not helped decrease the rates of obesity in your fair state. Perhaps Health at Every Size might be a humane answer.

I urge you to revoke your support for this bill in order to show that you are a person of character and to remove this blight from your states image which certainly doesn't need more association with discrimination."

It's time to speak up. Fat discrimination is real! Feel free to copy my letter or let your own passion speak.

Contact info here.