Showing posts with label fat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fat. Show all posts

Monday, May 04, 2009

The unbearable tastiness of eating

I heard an interview with David Kessler MD, former FDA commissioner, author of the new book The End of Overeating, last night, and it was really bizarre. The man is clearly disgusted by the fact that people get pleasure out of eating and therefore eat a lot of junk food. I would pull a quote or two, but that's a little tough with radio programs. The way he described the neurobiological picture of appetite and desire for food captured what for me has become the most irritating trend in science writing; the "neural circuitry" as separate from self. I'll paraphrase his description of what happens when you see or think of something yummy: your idiotic brain tells you to eat it. It's not you that wants it; it's your brain. If I have a memory of ice cream being delicious, the memory of it giving me pleasure is surely going to be reflected in the "neural circuitry" of my brain. That doesn't make the pleasure any less real or important to my experience of eating. Eating is much more emotionally and experientially complex than simply meeting needs for energy and nutrients. Kessler seems to think this is a problem. I'm glad, and yeah, not a religious eater of healthy food - if I need to eat several times a day, I'd like it to be pleasant. This isn't some kind of creepy mind control, it's a natural desire for tasty food that is reflected in a physical process in my brain. The things I do, feel, want, think, arise from physical processes in my brain. Is that such a bad thing? If we're going to get all excited about "the neuroscience behind" everything, we might as well appreciate and accept the unconscious processes in our brains that contribute to making a personality. Having experience with these processes being manipulated and out-and-out breaking down, I think I have a unique and useful perspective on the issue. From a BoingBoing post about the book:

Instead of satisfying hunger, the salt-fat-sugar combination will stimulate that diner's brain to crave more, Kessler said. For many, the come-on offered by Lay's Potato Chips -- "Betcha can't eat just one" -- is scientifically accurate. And the food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should or even want, Kessler found...
I think this is a pretty disingenuous thing to write in a book nominally about overeating (which isn't about liking food, exactly, but appetite). The implication of this statement is that if you eat sugar and salt and fat, your hunger will never feel sated. I haven't read the book, but the press about it implies that what this means is that eating food and liking it creates a horrible and unforgettable memory of enjoying it.

The food industry faces a unique problem in our growth-dependent economy: there's only so much people can eat. In that respect, it's not in their interest to pack as many calories as they can into a food product that will have little effect on satiety. They're not trying to sell us calories, they're trying to sell us bags of Doritos.

If I'm still hungry after I finish one bag of Doritos (and if they're light and calorically insubstantial, I am likely to be) I might buy another and eat it too. A good example would probably be diet soda, which they can sell at the same price as regular, but get me to drink a lot more of. I drink quite a lot, myself, but would get a tummy ache if I drank two regular Cokes a day. The problem with making up the nutritional defecit in volume is that there are lots of low-cal foods out there we could be burning through at an enormous rate, but we don't like them very much and in the case of fresh fruit and vegetables, they don't offer much in the way of branding.

I like rice cakes*, but I hardly see the point. I like them, but not enough to justify buying them and getting crumbs all over myself for so little energy payoff. We like fatty, salty, and sugary foods. Convincing me I want to buy and eat more calories than I need or really want is not so hard with truly yummy foods. With other goods, merchants are only limited in their sales by how much of their product people want - which they work a lot to manipulate - or can afford. I have x number pairs of shoes, but I could stand to have more. Like food marketers exploit our natural desire for rich foods, manufacturers of shoes manipulate my desire to look pretty and prestigious. Both of these desires are real, but they don't really tie directly in to the purchase of these goods. My collection of shoes doesn't include any that I like currently, but buying more won't have much effect on my standing in society. Having a nice pair that I liked would, however, make me feel like I looked better. These tactics work with foods, too, so a winemaker can say that you're living the good life when you drink his wine in an attempt to get you to buy it, but Kessler seems more offended by the appeals to taste than any other method of convincing you to put food in your mouth. If these baser motivations bother Kessler so much, you'd think he'd be worried a little about Axe brand hygiene products, the safety of which are dubious, that market themselves by appealing to young men's desire for sex. If Kessler is motivated purely out of concern for the health of poor widdow Americans that like french fries, the moral crusade he's on is equally applicable to the Axe products. We're prisoners to our desire for junk food and sex! How dare these companies exploit our weaknesses like this?!

*How did this iconic diet food lose its place in the pantry of the dieter? When was the last time you saw someone eating one?

Oh my god I'm hungry - time for breakfast.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Just take it out of your vocabulary if you don't kow how to use it

Back in the day when my fears about my weight were actually delusional, I found it enormously empowering to stop using the word "fat," because it was not a word I knew how to use as anything other than a bludgeon. Sorority Delta Delta Delta is promoting a "fat talk free" week, whose official celebration I missed out on last week.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I'm tired of the Weight Watchers game, let's play Hungry, Hungry Hippos

Clive Thompson, in a column at Wired, has written a column about the "fun" of the Weight Watchers points system, by analogizing it to RPGs, and comparing eating healthy, low-cal foods to "hacking" the WW system. It reminds me of when I once asked my husband if he ever has kept a running count in his head of how many calories he's consumed. I was pretty amazed when he said he'd never done it.

Until then, I had probably done it every day of my life since fifth grade. It's a really boring game after a while, Clive.

Keeping that tally in the back of my mind was an unnecessary stressor taking up thinking capacity. I got all excited when I realized what a difference I could make in my life if I devoted all that energy and number-wrangling to making myself happy, instead of pursuing weight management or loss, which was never the result of all the calorie counting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Subsidizing human survival - oh no!

Via Andrew Sullivan (who uses one of those great dehumanizing photos of a faceless fat person to illustrate an item on obesity), Ezra Klein writes about subsidy and obesity:
In essence, we're paying to make our country fatter, then paying even more to keep our[selves?] alive as the health costs of obesity come due. It's insane.
I sure don't think it's insane to spend money to keep people (yes, even fat people) alive.

Friday, April 18, 2008

You know, it's true: not having an eating disorder is like having cancer.

Via Gawker, Emily Brill sez:
And If I don't watch every piece of food (and drink) that goes into my mouth and keep up a vigorous cardio and strength training regimen, I will get fat again. This might sound controversial, but sometimes I do feel like a cancer survivor in the sense that every morning when I wake up, I know that there are forces fighting my body to get back to a state of existence that, for my purposes, might as well be death.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Kate Harding has put together a flickr stream of photographs of people with their BMI category (underweight, normal, overweight, obese, morbidly obese) listed, and it's a total breath of fresh air. One of the things that's always bothered me about the portrayal of fat people in the media is that for the most part, there just isn't one. Bumps are photoshopped away, thin people wear fat suits, plus-sized models wear constrictive undergarments, and people in Hollywood seem to only come in two sizes (XXL and XS). Actually seeing people of a variety of sizes - and realizing how much they represent the people you see around yourself every day - is annoyingly rare.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

We've tried nothin' and we're all out of ideas

Kate Harding's douchehound of the day reminded me of something that drives me nuts about hand-wringing over the fatness of the American people. Quoth the douchehound:
OK, how can you dismiss doctors who ask for lifestyle changes when you havent even attempted to make them?
Because for one reason or another, doctors asking for lifestyle changes has little to no long-term effect on patients' weight or health. If doctors are serious about the need for their patients to lose weight, they need to find methods that work (instead of methods that would work if they worked). What should be dismissed is the idea that dispensing instructions that are either ignored or impossible to follow at all resembles medical care.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Amen, sister!

Kate Harding rocks:

In terms of my relationship to food, I fit every stereotype of the fat chick: I love to eat. And I love to eat high-fat, high-calorie foods, in addition to dozens of other kinds. Food gives me pleasure and alleviates pain. I use it as a drug sometimes. I eat myself sick sometimes. I order dessert when I’m already full sometimes. I often eat more than my boyfriend, who outweighs me by a significant amount. I eat fast, unless I consciously tell myself to slow down and savor it. (I’m obsessed with tapas and small plates restaurants these days, because they tend to make me slow down and enjoy the food more, without my having to think about it.) I eat more than I need to sometimes. I am fat in part because of the way I eat.

And the question of the day is, what’s wrong with any of that?


But it really is okay. It’s okay to love eating. It’s even okay to love eating food that fat people aren’t supposed to eat, ever. It’s okay to take sensual pleasure in, you know, a sensual pleasure. Fuel is not the only point of food any more than procreation is the only point of sex; if we agreed, as a culture, that it was all about fuel, we would certainly have given up eating and switched over to getting nutrition in pill form by now. We don’t do that because eating tasty food is fucking fun. We all know it, we just don’t all feel comfortable admitting it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

fat fu does it again

Did you know that it has been proposed in the American Journal of Psychiatry that obesity be considered a brain disorder? ff says:
This week’s podcast for This American Life is the story of how homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, and what it took to get it out of the DSM. It’s 60 minutes, but it’s a good listen for anyone interested.

It felt apropos since psychiatrists are now talking about adding “obesity” to the DSM as a “brain disorder.” (That’s right, classifying fat as a mental illness. No, not binge eating disorder, not compulsive eating, just being fat.)

And its also a good reminder how very bigoted and oppressive the “vast medical consensus” can be, and how important activism is to keep it honest.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Judging by the cover

QD has compiled some blogger criticism of Jessica Valenti's new book Full Frontal Feminism. If there are any critics of feminist bloggers I'm interested in, it's other feminist bloggers, so I think it's a great angle through which to view the book (besides the important one - reading it and deciding what you think).

I've looked for it in stores and haven't seen it yet, but the feeling I get from this book is that it's just not for me. That is, I'm the Choir to which Valenti seems to desire to avoid preaching. (And by the way, count me as one of those who has a problem with the cover. I understand that the idea was to use Patriarchy-Approved(tm) imagery where it might be more useful than hurtful, but I would just hope that if there would be one place where I wouldn't find my body marginalized, it would be on the cover of a feminist's book.) I might buy the book for a younger (high school, I'm thinking) sibling or friend, but the vibe I've gotten from the book is that it's Not For Me. And that's cool - not everything is about me.

But heck, if I find it and read it, I'll add my voice to the Choir.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fat and genetics

I'm not at all convinced that a person'sBMI is completely genetically predetermined, but fat fu's got a point.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A fat rant multiplies

Remember Joy Nash's amazing "Fat Rant?" It's spawned bunches of responses on YouTube. Watch a few and get your righteous indignation on - or upload one of your own!

The wages of change

Hugo Schwyzer has a post about Garance Franke-Ruta's WSJ piece advocating for raising the age of consent for appearing in pornography, and while I am just sick to death of arguing about porn and who it hurts and why and how much, I do think this is a good opportunity to discuss the necessary trade-offs that come with making the world a better place.

To begin with, Schwyzer is optimistic about the utility of "moralizing sermons" in making cultural change. He says:
I’m a big, big proponent of fighting most social vices by reducing demand first. I’m a historian and a recovering alcoholic who knows damned well Prohibition was largely a failure and Alcoholics Anonymous has been, by and large, a phenomenal global success. Pot is illegal, and I didn’t have trouble finding it in my youth and my students seem to have very little trouble finding it today. Using the power of the state to reduce the supply of an addictive commodity often ends up raising its price and making it more dangerous for those who work to produce it. Reducing demand, the seemingly more difficult task, is ultimately the more successful strategy.
First off, AA is a particularly bad analogy to use here. Whatever you think of Hugo's anti-porn stance, I don't think that what he desires is a world where only the people whose lives have been consumed by pornography are the ones who quit purchasing it. Even with AA, it's not like all alcoholics who enter it are able to come out the other side as recoverees - and that's just the people who make it in to begin with, which is hardly 100% of alcoholics, let alone casual drinkers.

An analogy I think is instructive is with rising rates of obesity and diet and exercise. You have by now heard many people say that "diets don't work." And on any important scale when it comes to working for a change in the human condition, they don't. But if people would just stick to them and get off their lazy asses, they would work. Well, yeah, but they apparently don't do that - so as far as the health care system and our home-poked belts are concerned, they don't work.

There are a lot of places we can go after we arrive at this conclusion. We can re-think how important it really is to get Americans to lose weight. We can publicly fund support group programs that have been shown to help people keep weight off. We can ration food and require exercise by law. But we can't just keep recommending a diet regimen and expect weight loss to be anything other than an anomaly.

Part of the problem between Franke-Ruta and Schwyzer is that they're actually talking about two different phenomena they find to be undesirable. Schwyzer doesn't like porn at all. Franke-Ruta doesn't want young women's lives to be ruined by moments in their youth that are influenced by alcohol, lots of social pressure, and a healthy desire to experiment. Franke-Ruta's solution isn't going to end up making Schwyzer happy, and I don't think it's going to make her happy. Ditto Schwyzer's. As many have observed, the problem that Franke-Ruta is attempting to solve is not exactly that young women are exposing themselves on camera. My take is that the problem is that underaged drunk women are being pressured into signing contracts, and the simultaneous pressure women face to conform to male sex fantasies but also enforce prudish sexual morality. But please, please steer me straight if I ever say the "solution" is changing an entire nation's attitudes about sex, because I see no reason to wait generations for something I can't be guaranteed is coming.

What Franke-Ruta does have over Schwyzer is the recognition that a solution to the problem is going to involve more than just asking people to stop doing that bad thing they do. Franke-Ruta's proposed solution introduces problems of its own (big ones), and that obstacle seems to be the price of change that Schwyzer is unwilling to pay in exchange for anything resembling his actually-desired results. As my favorite tautology goes: things have to change for things to change. Schwyzer concludes:
The way to put an industry out of business that profits from exploitation and degradation is through taking away their customers, one at a time. And we do that by changing their hearts. And we change their hearts by holding them accountable, by refusing to accept or enable, by lovingly challenging them.
But that just isn't true on a meaningful scale. He uses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "moralizing speeches" as an example of revolutionary changing of hearts and minds, but it's not like King was the first person to advocate for civil rights. It's great that he did it, and I bear no grudge against moralizers (and thus can sleep at night, as a blogger). The problem is that there's really no evidence that the moralizing was the catalyst - though I hardly want to discourage discourse on morality.

Making change means thinking bigger. Girls Gone Wild does not come out of a vacuum. If we honestly believe it's a problem, we need to be honest about the things that contribute to its existence and to acknowledge that disappearing GGW will affect more than just which ads you see on late night Comedy Central.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I've been sitting around reading the wonderful Shape of a Mother, and thinking a lot about women and their bodies. I was especially moved by this, from a woman at SOAM, after the death of her second infant:
Going home with no carseat, in pre-pregnancy jeans felt unfair: I wanted something, anything, some evidence that he existed. Something other than a c-section scar that I felt ashamed of because I was forced into it. I am still coming to terms with these feelings as I await the birth of my third child. I've considered having a tattoo done of the only partial handprint the hospital offered me, so I could leave his mark on my body in a place no one but me would see unless I chose to show them.

Mamas: cherish your battle wounds, your stretch marks and bellies. They are beautiful; they are the footprints that your children have left behind as were created and nourished, and while you may have days where you want to hide them, others might be looking on at the majesty that is a mother's body and appreciating them for the art they are.
Some other good body links:

Normal Breasts Gallery (Not exactly work-safe)
JANE Guide to Breast Health (Also not exactly work-safe)
Conversation at Pandagon mostly about the JANE Guide.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What's wrong with hating fat people? They're fat!

Via the Weekly Feminist Reader, I came across this defense of fat hatred, written (natch) by the author of a diet book, India Knight. It's written in the faux-gressive why-won't-you-liberals-tolerate-my-wish-to-stone-homosexuals-to-death style favored by bigots who simply can't grasp the meaning of the progressive language they're aping. Let's take a look at this excerpt for details:
It is clear that, by losing some of the weight, the women on our forum have regained some of their self-esteem and, by extension, regained their sense of self - which, like it or not, is for the majority of women tied to appearance as well as achievement. It's all very well bleating about how this is wrong, but actually I don't see that it's wrong at all. Why is it wrong to like what you see in the mirror, or to like your body? Why is it good to be pleased that you look like a pig? I believe unhappily fat women are doing themselves an injury - literally, in health terms, but also emotionally. And I don't think them wanting to stop injuring themselves is weird, or naff, or vain, or self-obsessed. I think it is triumphantly life-affirming. Heroic, too. I see the middle-aged woman on our forum, asking for tips about how to apply eyeliner because she's feeling better about herself, her trousers are looser, and she thought she might investigate the possibilities of make-up, and I cheer for her, just as I cheer for the woman whose husband puts her and her weight down every single day. One of these days, he's going to have to stop. One of these days, she and her new-found confidence aren't going to take it any more.
Emphasis mine. Knight just can't see why we should pretend that fat people aren't inherently disgusting. She's helping people find "confidence" with her diet plan, though coincidentally, the unconfident woman with the disparaging husband won't have to put up with his fat-hatred when she loses weight because at that point, she won't be fat. Somehow, we start out with the notion that a woman should feel comfortable in her own body and not stand for others' insults, but in the end, the only solution Knight can offer is to conform to the expectations of others. No one would tease the fat kid if kids weren't fat to begin with.

This kind of thinking pops out at me because it's the kind of intellectual and moral dishonesty that I engage in from time to time when excusing my own fat hatred - whether I apply it to myself or others. Sometimes, I imagine that if I would just stop obsessing about my weight and my calorie intake and my exercise habits, I'd be happy. And then, I'd be so comfortable with myself that I'd naturally, effortlessly lose weight and be that thin person who doesn't have occasion to worry about being fat anyway. It's a perversion of the self-confidence-building language that I've internalized, even when I'm using the same indefensible standards for judging myself all along.

Instead of showing any awareness of the hypocrisy in this kind of thinking, Knight goeas ahead and does the next best thing: tells her critics they're actually the ones hating on women, not her.
There exists a very bizarre, inverted kind of feminism (invoked by critics of dieting) that isn't about what you can achieve, but what you mustn't achieve. It's about not being things - not making any effort to improve yourself, not celebrating, or even noticing, what you look like and what your body can do. Its adherents write and speak as if being a woman consisted of being under constant siege from the male gaze (yeah, right - maybe one day, eh?), which rather misses the point that many of us dieters aren't particularly thinking about the male gaze. We are thinking about our own gaze, about what we want, and about what it does to our sense of ourselves to want things - weight loss, in this instance - and not to blame or punish ourselves for wanting them.
Get that? It's constructive criticism to compare your sisters to barnyard animals, but it's misogynistic to question narrow definitions of goodness and beauty if women are adhering to them.

The inter-feminist argument from which I believe Knight is drawing her inspiration is that flamewar favorite, the Fun Feminist. At first, I found myself thinking that the lesson Knight hasn't drawn from feminist-on-feminist fighting was that we're all vulnerable to the pressures of a patriarchal, sexist society, and that we all have to make our own compromises. But she's much further behind than that - she objects to questioning patriarchy and sexism in the first place.

Yeah, losing weight has the potential to make people happy, and it's nice to be happy even if you know it's for the wrong reasons. But I can say that dieting makes me an unhappy crazy person. It causes me physical and emotional pain, and if Knight had her way, my only other option would be to go through life being a "pig," "fraudulent," and "miserable." It's perfectly understandable that it's difficult to be happy and fat, but it's immoral to enforce the pressures that make being fat and happy such a challenge, even if doing so has the potential to make a woman happy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"Let yourself go"

This discussion at Big Fat Blog about the phrase "let herself go" was really refreshing. The main article notes the way a woman claims to support fat acceptance but doesn't want to see people "let themselves go," but commenter bootness says this:
On the other hand, I personally have embraced that phrase “Let yourself go.” My mom used that one on me on the day of my wedding, when she displayed photos of me when I was bulimic in high school (I guess to prove to my husband’s family that at least I USED to be thin and pretty.) She said I had “let myself go,”, but that if I worked at it I could look that way again if I wanted to. I laughed at her and said, “I have let myself go, and now I’m free!” Free to eat what and when and how much I like, and not feel shame and fear and while I purge my meager salad after lunch. Free to be me. I should print up a t-shirt, "Let yourelf go" with a bird flying out of its cage.
I like that. Also check out the thread for some cute song lyrics fellow Palouse blogger JeanC was reminded of by the talk of liberation and letting oneself go.