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Obesity: Fact and Fiction

30th May 2007

Obesity: Fact and Fiction

by Rachel

BigFatBlog alerted me to a recent article by Courtney E. Martin. Martin, who just released her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, takes on fat as Public Enemy #1, as fed by a multi-billion dollar a year “corrupt industry that keeps so many of us — women in particular — unsatisfied, obsessed and misinformed.”

In her article, Separating Fact from Fiction in the Age of Obesity, Martin writes that most diets simply don’t work because they can’t override the body’s innate “set point.” She explains:

“In our extreme makeover culture where women are led to believe they could look like Halle Berry if they just had enough will power or money, this is a powerful conclusion. Your body is genetically predisposed to exist in a certain range of weight. Your range might be higher than Paris Hilton’s, or your next door neighbor’s, or even your sister’s, for that matter, but it doesn’t mean anything about your character. In fact, you can diet with utmost determination and your body will continue to adjust your metabolism to fit its genetically determined size.”

Martin tackles the diet industry and the obsession and self-hatred it engenders within women with its deceptive messages:

“Commercials preach the gospel of thinness and equate it with success, happiness and love — the thin girl waltzes through a sunny day with a handsome man on her arm and stacks of her own money in the bank, all a not-so-subtle result of her recent weight loss. The chance to slim down becomes more than a dwindling number on the scale in the world of weight-loss marketing. It becomes an answer to all of life’s problems.”

Although happiness can never be found in the junior’s department, Martin find that “for all of our go-girling, expose-writing and finger-pointing, the diet industry marches on as lucrative and deadly as ever.”

Martin poses a provocative question: with its proven high failure rates – a 97 percent recidivism rate, according to Susie Orbach – and overall ineffectiveness (as well as the health risks yo-yo dieting poses), can the diet industry be prosecuted into warning labels and public education efforts the way the tobacco industry has been?

What are your thoughts?

posted in Body Image, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Pop Culture | 7 Comments

30th May 2007

You are what you drink?

by Rachel

GoodSoda - Nutrisoda

On the heels of the Diet Coke Plus release, which touts its sugar-free, nutrient-filled beverage as the first “healthy” soda, comes a new wave of “good-for-you” sodas.

Airforce’s Nutrisodas carbonated, nutrient-enhanced sodas with zero sugar, caffeine, sodium or aspartame “targets on-the-go, nutritionally-aware people who also enjoy new experiences and discovering new products,” says a company press release.

The bevy of flavors offered seem more like aromatherapy than soda, with flavors claiming such powers to boost Immune, Energize, Flex, Focus, Calm, Radiant, Slender and Renew. With zero to few calories in each drink, the designer line drinks promise to appeal to fashion and health-conscious consumers.

Nutrisodas might very well be among the healthiest drinks out there, but at around $21 bucks a 12-pack case, I’ll stick with fruit juice and water.

posted in Food News, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Pop Culture | 1 Comment

27th May 2007

Real grandstanding?

by Rachel

Greetings from Times Square New York City!

Okay, so not literally. But we did spend the day yesterday in New York, beginning and ending in fantabulous Times Square, long a Mecca of larger-than-life, high-definition advertising bombarding hundreds of thousands of people daily.

One of static billboards, though by far not the largest, featured an advertisement for Unilever brand SlimFast, makers of the liquid diet drink and international champions of exploiting women’s insecurities about their bodies.

Two larger-than-average smiling women cavort across a white screen, with the words “we believe in hips not hip bones” emblazoned in print larger than a semi truck. The implication is that women needn’t necessarily wear a size two, but should strive instead for their own healthy size – which, hopefully for SlimFast, is a size two. Or zero.

SlimFast appears to be following the trend of its other parent company-owned brand, Dove, which hawks its anti-cellulite “firming lotion” using full-figured models and its “Pro-Age” lotion featuring wrinkled but still stunningly beautiful older women.

SlimFast’s move comes just as Unilever announced this month that it will not use models or actors that are either “excessively slim or promote unhealthy slimness,” says Unilever home and personal care division president Ralph Kugler.

But is Unilever’s marketing tactic intended to promote healthier body images, or to fatten their pocketbooks?

Let’s consider. Why would any anyone believe a 5-foot-9-inch supermodel would need to use anti-cellulite cream, let alone lose weight on a liquid chalk diet? As a Dove ad itself reads, “Firming the thighs of a size 2 supermodel is no challenge.”

Advertising doesn’t merely sell a product, it sells an image, a lifestyle, a vision. Consumers look at advertisements and mentally replace the model with images of themselves. That connection becomes a little difficult to make when an anorectic-sized model bounces around on stage proclaiming how she lost scads of weight drinking diet shakes with a sensible dinner.

Shrinking the size of a beaming prom queen is no challenge. Reducing the weight of a middle-age, overweight mom with stretch marks and sagging breasts is.

Don’t get me wrong: Unilever’s moves reflect a positive sign signaling that companies are realizing the bottom-line benefits of making women feel good about themselves. Making a fat person feel like crap because she is fat is never an encouraging weight-loss motivator.

But before we laud the companies like Unilever for its revolutionary foresight and radical new marketing tactics, we need to consider the ulterior motives driving such strategies. Amongst all the humanitarian, feel-good, sing-it-sister ad copy, it’s easy to forget that Unilever is selling something and it isn’t altruism.

Both firming cream and diet shake drinks are “problem” products, designed to play off women’s insecurities with their bodies. It’s somewhat inconsistent to encourage women to feel good about their bodies and themselves while simultaneously selling them a product which makes women feel bad about themselves.

Size acceptance is great, however not when it parodies as deception.

posted in Body Image, Fat Acceptance, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Pop Culture | 8 Comments

24th May 2007

The Seventh Deadly Sin

by Rachel

Apparently, colleges are but mere breeding grounds for children of the devil. Or so says the fundamentalist preacher man and company who spouted this and other such hate-mongering on the “designated free speech” area at the University of Cincinnati, where I attend classes.

I couldn’t help but stop and listen in morbid curiosity yesterday as “Brother Mike” shouted out his interpretation of Christianity. Yesterday he was alone; today, my friend Ryan tells me he brought friends. Here’s a sampling of Brother Mike’s views (yes, I wrote them down verbatim because I didn’t think people would believe me otherwise).

On race relations…
“Martin Luther King is burning in hell.”

On masturbation…
“Every masturbator is a confused homosexual.” (They say even babies masturbate. So ergo, is one then “born” a confused homosexual?)

On sin and the Christian concept of original sin…
“Sinners aren’t Christian. Sinners are children of the devil. I am not a sinner because I am a Christian.” (Boy, this one sure does go against everything I was taught in Sunday School)

On women and women-related issues…

“Women have strayed from their natural uses.” (Natural uses as in, say, dick warmers?)

Of course, the sin of abortion has its own very special place in Satan’s basement of hellish horrors. But one girl asked Brother Mike about cases involving rape and incest. He said:

“You girls should dress more modestly. You’re asking for it. Close your legs.” (Right. Closing one’s legs when a man is forcing them brutally apart is a little difficult, Brother Mike)

And so on and so on, ad nauseum.

Ryan, who happens to be very secure with his openness as a gay man, called me today with news that Hate-Mongering Part Two had only gotten louder and more violent. According to Ryan, the group even devised a “god hates fags” song that they tried to make the crowd perform like some divinely-inspired musical number.

I wasn’t surprised when Ryan told me of the group’s proclamations of hate against gays, Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who believes the world to be older than 6,000 years. But I was shocked by his next words. He said the group was singling out larger women – and calling them whores.

I stopped Ryan mid-sentence and asked for clarification. But my ears did not deceive.

Ryan said – and he recorded such incidents on film – that these “men of god” were picking out fat women in particular – any such woman who happened to merely be walking by the spectacle on their way to class, the bookstore or elsewhere on the campus they pay to attend classes at – and were very vocally calling them whores and sinners and proclaimed that they were surely going to hell.

Were they picking on the thin girls also, I asked Ryan. Oh, they were, he said, but it was mostly larger women and especially any woman who sported large, natural breasts who bore the brunt of their biblical condemnations.

It seems as if fat women are quarantined in either one of two bipolar extremes: either fat women are desexualized to the point of invisibility, or they’re hyper-sexualized to the point where fat becomes fodder for fetishism.

Fundamentalist Christian on college campus
This is the scene from yesterday. I’m going to check with Ryan about posting video clips to YouTube.

UPDATE
May 24 – 3:45 p.m.
I stopped by campus again today and the fundies were still on campus. There were two preachermen and two women. The two women didn’t talk and the preachermen were quick to remind us how god placed man over woman, and that women cannot teach men.

I’ve been in contact with several people at the university, including Director of Public Safety Eugene Ferrara, who patronized me with a very asinine email about freedom of speech and the First Amendment. I am a journalist; I know the first amendment. But there is a vast difference between free speech and hate speech which advocates and promotes violence.

As students, what Ryan and I are most upset about isn’t the vitriolic spewing of hate emanating from these miscreants; it’s that the university has failed in fostering an atmosphere of true dialogue, where more than one side of a debate is presented. There is a total lack of transparency at UC; although they knew how controversial and potentially offensive these speakers would be, the university failed to notify any group on campus so that they would have ample time to apply for permits and present alternate views other than “You’re all children of the devil and you’re going to burn in hell.”

I’ve inquired numerous time to numerous offices at the college, including Public Safety, and have yet to be given the policy and procedure on how guest speakers receive these permits. I find it highly ironic that a fundamentalist speaker, with no ties to the university, can discover this procedure, yet I, as a paying student, constantly run into brick walls.

Ryan’s editing the videos today, and plans to upload them to YouTube soon. I’ll keep you all posted.

posted in Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Gender and Sexuality | 13 Comments

23rd May 2007

Reflections on the Day

by Rachel

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time, to the girl you once were, before madness and calorie-counting and dogmatic rules consumed your waking thoughts, to a time when you cared not the thump of your step or the physical space you occupied, when food was just something to be eaten, not dissected, analyzed or dominated?

Do you ever wish you could travel back and whisper over that girl’s shoulder and tell her: “You’re beautiful – exactly as you are.”

I stopped in a popular clothing store tonight in search of the elusive pair of perfect jeans. A teenage employee mindlessly folded t-shirts as I browsed the nearly empty store. A friend of hers walked in, maybe 15 or 16, pale, with skin as fine as a china doll and blonde hair so platinum it shone beneath the fluorescent lights.

As I perused the store, I couldn’t help but overhear the girl speaking to her employee friend. Standing before a tall mirror, she pinched the skin beneath her bicep, frowning at the reflection staring dismally back.

“I’m so fat,” she announced declaratively to her friend. “I’ve got to lose weight.”

The employee friend commiserated, too, her gross “obesity” (the two probably each wore a size 5/6), sharing a bond that has become almost exclusively feminine in nature. They lamented imaginary thunderous thighs and picked at rolls on their waist, mentally dissecting their bodies as fragmented parts of a broken whole, in need of perfecting.

I circled the pair, wanting immediately to go up to them, and place their hands over my chest to feel the irregular thumping of my heart, damaged by years of malnutrition, ipecac, diet pills, and forced vomiting. I wanted to show them my teeth, their edges ragged by stomach acid, the enamel veneer worn and cracked.

I wanted to hug these girls, and tell them they were perfect as they are; that really, in the end, weight doesn’t matter; that I have spent half my life obsessed with changing my body when I could and should have been out changing the world instead.

I wanted to shake these misguided girls, and make them understand that “thin enough” is just a delusion, and that while delusions contain within them an ability that allow us to live, they can also kill us.

Instead I hung back, slowly made my way to the counter and paid for my purchases, ignoring the impulse to turn back. It was a long drive home.

Cross-posted on Disordered Times, www.disorderedtimes.org

posted in Eating Disorders, Personal | 4 Comments

22nd May 2007

Update

by Rachel

Life is incredibly hectic right now, what with end of the quarter papers coming due and extra projects taken on for work. Then, Memorial Day weekend the boy and I head off for a whirlwind weekend in Philadelphia and NYC. But I have some great features in the works to whet your appetites, including feature interviews with authors Trisha Gura and Katherine Parkin.

As someone who developed an adult-onset eating disorder, Gura’s book intrigues me. Though behaviors associated with eating disorders are common amongst suffers, the experiences of adult women and why they develop eating disorders can differ drastically from that of a young girl.

When a professor friend who went to school with Katherine Parkin first told me of her latest book, my first thought was that Parkin has written the book I wanted to write. She and I share much of the same research interests, which include delving into the social history and psychology which conflates femininity with food and food preparation.

Posting might be sporadic the next week, but in the meantime, check out their newly released books:

Lying in Weight: The Hidden Epidemic of Eating Disorders in Adult WomenTrisha Gura - Lying in Weight
What happens when girls with eating disorders grow up? In her groundbreaking new book, science journalist Trisha Gura, Ph.D., explodes the myth that those who suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are primarily teenage girls. In reality, these diseases linger from adolescence or emerge anew in the lives of adult women in ways that we are only starting to recognize.

Food Is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America
Modern advertising has changed dramatically since the early twentieth century, but when it comes to food, Katherine Parkin writes, the message has remained consistent. Advertisers have historically promoted food in distinctly gendered terms, returning repeatedly to themes that Katherine Parkin - Food is Loveassociated shopping and cooking with women. In identifying shopping and cooking as an expression of love, ads helped to both establish and reinforce the belief that kitchen work was women’s work, even as women’s participation in the labor force dramatically increased. Alternately flattering her skills as a homemaker and preying on her insecurities, advertisers suggested that using their products would give a woman irresistible sexual allure, a happy marriage, and healthy children. Ads also promised that by buying and making the right foods, a woman could help her family achieve social status, maintain its racial or ethnic identity, and assimilate into the American mainstream.

posted in Personal | 1 Comment

18th May 2007

A first-hand perspective of weight loss surgery

by Rachel

My good friend Lisa just underwent bariatric surgery last week, for a procedure known as the Duodenal Switch. She’s be reporting on her recovery and progress here.

Lisa is many things, a great friend, wonderful mother of two young girls, and hilariously cynical. She kept me awake many a night when we used to work third-shift technical support together several years ago with her witty commentary and DVD player. So, I asked Lisa if she would like to be featured in a Q&A for this site, to share her experiences with weight and weight loss, and what led her to choose weight-loss surgery.


What is your weight, height and/or BMI?

280 lbs, 5’6″, BMI is 45

Briefly describe the procedure you are about to have…

The BPD/DS is two things..a partial gastrectomy, removing the outer curvature of the stomach, leaving a smaller stomach that works as nature intended. The second part is that the small intestines are rearranged to separate the flow of food from the flow of bile and pancreatic juices. This inhibits the absorption of calories and some nutrients. Further down, the two paths are rejoined to form the “common channel” and proceed to the large intestines. The common channel is where food and digestive juices are mixed and nutrients are absorbed.

Does insurance cover the procedure?

Insurance approval varies with each provider and also depends on if your company has an exclusion policy forbidding weight loss surgery. Some companies will only allow for the RNY (Roux-en-Y), which is the current “gold standard” in WLS. Your provider will want documentation, which also varies by provider.


Approximately how much does it cost?

I’ve seen prices quoted in the US from 30K-45K. A lot of people go to Brazil, Mexico, and Spain to the world renowned surgeons there. I believe the Dr. in Brazil costs 15K and that includes the amenities of staying in the hotel that adjoins the hospital for aftercare. My insurance pays 90%.

What are the risks of the surgery?

I’m pulling this straight off of my surgeon’s website at www.newlifesurgery.org:

* Anemia due to inadequate iron, protein and vitamin absorption
* Insufficient amounts of vitamin D can result in vitamin or calcium malabsorption
* Calcium deficiency which can lead to osteoporosis. If these problems occur after surgery, they are correctable with supplements
* Food is not absorbed, resulting with very foul smelling gas and
stools, which can be a social problem (this can be controlled and maintained with adjusting your diet to what works best for you. Most of the DS’ers I know don’t consider this a big deal as they know what foods cause these issues and avoid them)
* Ordinarily patients can control their bowel movements and learn to deal with this quite effectively with the use of special deodorizing sprays

What led you to choose this procedure over other bariatric surgeries?

I began by looking into the lap band due to all the advertising it gets. But then I read testimonials of people whose band eroded into their stomachs or had excessive slippage. On the word of another DS patient, I did a lot of research on the DS and noticed that there are a LOT of people with the band and with the RNY surgery who are getting revised to the DS.

I chose it over the RNY for a number of reasons. The long term success rate is higher with DS. You lose more weight overall with the DS as well. The stomach is kept intact as nature created it, just smaller, where as the RNY procedure creates a stomach pouch and bypasses the pyloric valve and the duodenum. After the creation of the stomach pouch, the rest of the stomach sits blindly in the abdomen.

What led you to consider bariatric surgery as a weight-loss solution instead of traditional means like diet/exercise?

I find it interesting that you use the word “instead” here. I think it is a huge misconception among the general public that fat people don’t exercise or eat right. But on to the question..
I have been fat since I was four years old (I’m 33, btw) and have been dieting/exercising all of my life. At most I have lost maybe 10lbs only to regain 20. After doing a lot of research and looking at my family history, I accepted the fact that my problem is not an issue of diet and exercise alone. There are others issues involved such as genetics and metabolism as well. The surgery will provide me with a tool to use in conjunction with proper diet and exercise to reach the weight that is right for me.

Why do you want to lose weight? Do you experience health problems? Is it for cosmetic reasons?

Health issues for the morbidly obese are called comorbidities. Until I hit 33, I didn’t have anything except for depression. However, now I experience joint pain in my lower extremities. Fortunately that’s the only issue I have.

The reasons I want to lose weight are future-based. On my mother’s side of my family, my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother are all overweight. The issues among them and other females in the family are: heart disease, thrombophlebitis, diabetes, hypertension, not to mention cancer. I’ve watched the pain that my great-grandma, grandma, and mom have gone through and I want to do all I can to change this course that I’m heading down.

My kids are also a factor in that I want to be able to keep up with them and be a very active parent. I want to run with them, hike with them, play tag, ride bikes, etc.. right now my 6yo beats me in tag. I just don’t have the energy to keep up.

The cosmetic thing..that’s just something extra that comes along with all the other things I’m losing weight for.

Tell me about your struggles with weight. Did it start at an early age? After childbirth?

According to my mom, I was an average kid til about age 4 and then I began gaining weight for no apparent reason. I grew up riding bikes, playing sports, etc..and was never a big eater. She had me tested for thyroid issues and anything else that may cause weight gain. A reason was never come up with. I was diagnosed for hypothyroidism in my early 20s, but never prior to then.

Do you think weight-loss surgery is a viable solution for most who are overweight and obese? Why or why not?

WLS isn’t a solution, it’s a tool to help the morbidly and super obese people to attain what they are physically unable to do on their own. I’d like to say that the simple solution is for everyone to eat right and exercise, but if that worked for everyone, then there would be no fat people. Now more than ever, we are finding out that obesity is not something you get from sitting on the couch eating potato chips and ice cream, but is something that can be caused by genetics as well. I think WLS is a very good tool to give to the morbidly and super obese so that they can have a better quality of life while eating right and exercising.

posted in Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Personal | 8 Comments

17th May 2007

Fat women in burlesque

by Rachel

In a culture that stigmatizes fat women and relegates their sexuality to invisibility, fat burlesque offers an opportunity to experience fatness as a sensuous subjectivity. – Lacy Asbill

For your viewing pleasure, a saucy video of some raucously entertaining and inspiring women who show sexy comes in every size. Video courtesy of the National Sexuality Resource Center.

It’s so great to see a bevy of full-figured gals challenging old and tired stereotypes of what is and what isn’t “beautiful and sexy.”

posted in Arts and Music, Fat Acceptance | 3 Comments

16th May 2007

Skin and bones: the hottest new fashion

by Rachel

Ann Althouse delivers a deliciously scathing diatribe on the hottest trend in the fashion world: sculpted clavicles, as reported in the NY Times.

Here’s the skinny on clavicles:New York Times - Clavicles in fashion

“As the rest of women’s bodies recede in spring fashions, the clavicles, or collarbones, and the upper chest between them, is rising to prominence. Toned shoppers who want to show off their self-discipline in the face of dessert are choosing dresses with a low, but not plunging neckline, a look that is transforming the area above the breasts into an unlikely new subject for women to obsess over.

Sharply outlined collarbones say “Don’t let this tent dress fool you: Underneath it all, this girl can fit into a sample size.”

How utterly relieving it is to know that now skinny gals can now parade about the season’s latest stylish muu muu’s without being mistaken as being, god forbid, fat. What could possibly be next? World peace?

Not only are fashion and celebrity bloggers carping about the protruding “A-list clavicles,” designers are also starting to take heed.

“One designer who has long emphasized the region is Consuelo Castiglioni, whose label, Marni, incorporates chest-baring necklines into tops and dresses… African starving child

“I think it is clear from my designs that deep cleavages, tight silhouettes, visible tummies or behinds are not part of my aesthetic,” Ms. Castiglioni said in an e-mail message. “What I try to express is elegance and femininity and a more cerebral, hidden sensuality.”

No visible tummes and/or behinds? Ehem, what does she use as a model then? A beanpole?

Etched clavicles have now come to signify a kind of sex appeal, with bony collarbones now the equivalent of Dolly Parton-sized breasts. Althouse says it best:

“Because what could be sexier that a woman who is shockingly, graphically demonstrating how thoroughly she has excluded all pleasure from her life?” she asks.

posted in Body Image, Eating Disorders, Pop Culture | 5 Comments

16th May 2007

Adult women and eating disorders

by Rachel

I picked up a copy of the relatively newly released My Thin Excuse by syndicated columnist and journalism Lisa Messinger, who writes of her experiences with an eating disorder from when she was 15 until she was 20.

The book’s blurb:
“Set against the backdrop of the “perfect” middle-class family, Lisa’s story tells of her need to excel in school, her boyfriends, her college life, and her budding career on the sets of America’s most popular television shows. But Lisa also describes her growing compulsion to record every calorie consumed, every measurement taken, and every pound gained and lost, as her obsessive behavior took control of her life.”

Frankly, after skimming through the book and reading selected passages, I was bored silly, perhaps because my eating disorder didn’t develop until my early twenties and I simply can’t relate to Messinger’s teenage angst and woes.

I find the teenage years to be a popular theme amongst most chronicles of eating disorders. Yes, I realize early adolescence to early adulthood are the times of most vulnerability (with scary new statistics of girls as young as nine now developing EDs), but I’m sure that there is a sizable number of women out there who have experienced adult-onset eating disorders. In fact, Renfrew, for example, created separate therapy sessions for women over 35 after they went from constituting 10 percent of inpatients in 2001 to 17 percent two years later.

Though some authors have bridged this gap, like Trisha Gura, the literature on adult women who develop eating disorders remains, well, relatively thin, pardoning the unintended pun. And while the behaviors/obsessions are very much the same for any eating disorder regardless of age, much of the literature on eating disorders develop simply don’t speak for the experiences of why some adult women develop the disorder.

I have a mortgage payment, a car, a professional job. I pay taxes and utility bills. If I hear one more time how my disorder stems from a fear of “growing up” and “assuming adult responsibilities,” I think I will scream.

posted in Book Reviews, Eating Disorders | 5 Comments

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