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Oldie but goodie: 10 questions for Gina Kolata

27th July 2010

Oldie but goodie: 10 questions for Gina Kolata

by Rachel

I took a week off work this week, but it’s more like a staycation than a vacation. The pregnant foster cat was considerate enough to give birth yesterday morning, so now I can get to that impossibly long to-do list I’ve been mentally tabulating since, oh, February. I probably won’t be online much this week, so I thought it would be a good chance to revisit some of the more popular posts featured on the blog in the three-plus years it’s been online. The first to be (re)featured is this November, 2007 interview with Gina Kolata, award-winning science and medicine reporter with The New York Times and author.

Gina Kolata is an award-winning science and medicine reporter for The New York Times and the author of many books, including, “Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead”, “The Baby Doctors: Probing the Limits of Fetal Medicine“, “Sex in America”, the best-selling “Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It” , and “Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Health and Exercise.”

Her new book is “Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss — and the Myths and Realities of Dieting.”
Gina Kolata - Rethinking Thin

Kolata’s career in journalism began when she joined Science magazine in 1971, where she selected reviewers for manuscripts. She eventually became a writer and then senior writer. She also wrote for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including Science Magazine, Smithsonian, GQ and Ms. Magazine. She earned her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and her master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland. She studied molecular biology at M.I.T. in a Ph.D. program.

In Ultimate Fitness, you set out to discover the truth of the exercise industry and found much of fitness claims to be misleading. In your most recent work, Rethinking Thin, you blast those in the obesity industry, who promote the idea that overweight is unhealthy and diet and exercise to be effective. What prompted your interest in the study of diet, exercise and weight-loss?

I got interested in the exercise industry because I spend a lot of time exercising and at gyms and I kept hearing all sorts of things that did not seem to make a lot of scientific sense, like the “fat-burning zone.” I was interested in diet and weight loss because of my experience as a reporter. I have been writing about major research on weight and weight loss for decades, and these often involved discoveries that seemed pathbreaking. Yet the public, and the diet industry, kept on saying that all you have to do to lose weight is just eat less and exercise more.

What are some of the biggest core beliefs of dieting and weight-loss that you found to be incorrect?

The idea that anyone can be arbitrarily thin is at the top of the list. Then comes the idea that thinner people could easily be fat if they just let themselves go. Or the idea that people gain weight because they have emotional problems and are using food to fill an unmet need. Or that if you just walk for 20 minutes or so a day those unwanted pounds would melt away. Or that if you take junk foods out of the schools and re institute pe kids would not gain weight.

Read the rest of this entry »

posted in Fitness/Exercise, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Interviews, Mind & Body, Rachel | 3 Comments

23rd July 2010

I’m Back…

by Greta

Hi Everyone,

It has been months since I’ve posted, and I apologize.  I’ve been ridiculously busy… first it was school, then graduation, working two jobs, doing proposal edits for my agent, and now I finally have a minute to breathe.  I have so many posts in my head, so I guess I’ll start with my personal life and recovery.  About six months ago, my partner decided (operative word) that she was going to become spiritually enlightened through Buddhism.  I couldn’t have been more happy.  Through this process, she has drastically cut out unhealthy food from her diet, essentially cleansing her mind, body, and soul.  She has been a long-time sufferer of IBS, so she had a reason to change her nutritional regimen.  Since she made the decision to change her eating, she has never looked back.  Of course, this has caused her to lose quite a bit of weight, and she was already thin.

Enter my insanity.

As an ED in recovery, I, naturally, think that this can’t be good.  My thoughts race.  She’s be in denial.  She doesn’t realize she’s doing this on purpose.  She really wants to lose more.  She must have an eating disorder. So, I allude to her that she’s becoming anorexic and she gets offended.  Okay so that’s my first clue that she does not have an ED.  Moreover, she tells me that most people who tell her she’s too thin are people who only wish they could eat as healthily as she.

Enter my reality.

She is right.  I was completely jealous.  After struggling for years with the ED, then struggling with mental obsession (although it has lessened) in recovery, I was dumbfounded how, in one swoop, she just decided to completely change her life.  Just how is it that one can evolve so quickly?  While she is not in a recovery program, her behaviors seem to mimic the 3rd step of all 12-step programs… Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. I’m no longer a 12-stepper, but the third step just keeps popping up in my brain.  Another phrase embedded in my brain from “the rooms” was that we had a god-sized hole that we were trying to fill up with food, alcohol, people, etc.

What I’m learning is that god-sized holes aren’t just for addicts, and my partner has shown me that many spiritual solutions exist outside the rooms of AA/OA–no matter how much people in the rooms tell you otherwise.  Second, another major difference between my partner and I (besides being separate people, lol) is I’m the one with the eating disorder.  Solely losing weight does not make for an eating disorder–a symptom of an ED, yes.  But, as we all know, EDs are full of biopsychosocial/spiritual complexities, and considered a disease by most medical professionals.

I still have food patterns that bother me… though, it’s my perfection and ED voice that are most bothered by them.  By non-ED standards, my food intake is healthy.  So, because I have this “disease” hanging over my head, does that mean I cannot make a decision and evolve overnight?  It certainly makes me wonder.  I haven’t been able to do it so far, so probably not.  As “normal” as I try to be and free myself from the ED identity, it seems to always be hangin’ around in some form or another.  I remember in treatment professionals telling me that as many years as one is in the ED it takes an equal amount of time in recovery to undo the ED mindset.  So, I have about a decade to go I guess!  Something to look forward to, lol.

Anyway, that’s all for now!

More posts are on the way!!

posted in Author, Greta, Mind & Body, Recovery | 8 Comments

9th June 2010

The Wednesday Weigh-In

by Rachel

Margarita Tartakovsky of the blog Weightless interviews Cheryl Kerrigan, author of the new book Telling ED NO! and Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom.

Fat Lot of Good blogger Bri weighs in on a recent study that found that children whose mothers were chronically abused by their partners were more likely to be fat by age 5.  Because being fat is so much more pressing of an issue than being victimized by domestic violence.

Urban Outfitters removes what many are calling a pro-ana t-shirt from its website, but the “Eat Less” shirt remains available in stores.   Outraged?  Join the Girlcott Urban Outfitters group on Facebook.

Should appearance-based discrimination be treated with the same weight as we give to other -isms like racism and sexism?  That’s the question Deborah Rhodes tackles in her new book, The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law. Read Dahlia Lithwick’s review of the book on Slate.

Just when you thought the insanity would never end…  It’s not enough that some parents lose custody of their obese children because of their weight.  Now a British animal welfare council has seized custody of an obese dog.  The pudgy pup Gucci is said to now be on a strict diet and exercise regime at a special canine fat club.

FEAST has launched its Around the Dinner Table Plate Drive through June.  The fundraising initiative supports the group’s mission, which is to empower families and support parents and caregivers in helping loved ones recover from eating disorders.

The British Mail’s Lucy Taylor ruminates on on how she gave up running and learned to simply enjoy the journey.

Oprah.com contributor Karen Salmansohn looks at the Fox and ABC refusal to air the sexy new Lane Bryant lingerie commercials in a different light: “The fact that a TV network would find this Lane Bryant spot far more sexually enticing than Victoria’s Secret spots — which air all the time — simply shows they’re acknowledging the extreme sexiness of voluptuous women!”

Comments?  Any links to share?  Add your two cents in the comments below.

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Body Politic, Body-Affirming, Eating Disorders, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Non-profits, Politics, Pop Culture, Rachel | 12 Comments

25th May 2010

British “health” mag fattens up gaunt thin model

by Rachel

In a strange twist to the usual Photoshopped models debate, a British magazine has ‘fessed up to digitally manipulating an image of a shockingly thin model to make her look… heavier.

Jane Druker, editor of the ironically titled publication Healthy, admitted to airbrushing model Kamilla Wladyka’s cover shot on the April edition of the mag, explaining that the model initially *appeared* to be in good health, but had lost so much weight in the week between casting and shoot that airbrushing became necessary.   As the Daily Mail UK reports, editors added 2-3 stone, or 28-42 pounds, to Kamilla’s photo to make the 5-foot-10-inch, British size-6 model look “a little bit bigger, to make her look like she was a size ten as opposed to a size four” out of concern for the magazine’s commitment to promoting “health and wellbeing.”

‘There were plenty of clothes that we couldn’t put on her because her bones stuck out too much,’ Druker said.  ‘She looked beautiful in the face, but really thin and unwell. That’s not a reflection of what we do in our magazine, which is about good health.’

Good health?  Really?

In its defense, the magazine acted transparently and stated that they do not normally airbrush images of models to give the false illusion of health.  Yet if this model appeared to be so unnaturally thin and unhealthy that digital airbrushing was required, why wasn’t she sent home immediately and another healthier model used instead?  Oh, silly me… I forgot.  Healthy magazine, like so many others, determines health and wellbeing on almost the sole basis of appearance. And as everyone knows, thin=healthy but too thin=unhealthy, so instead let’s just made the model LOOK like she doesn’t suffer from raging anorexia, actual health be damned.

Yes, it’s a good thing that magazines and advertisers are beginning to take heed of the tragic and dangerous social implications of showing images, altered or otherwise, of super-skinny models.  But the solution is not to simply airbrush the same radically thin models into some slightly higher, but more socially-acceptable vision of conformity, but rather to actually seek out and hire models whose body shapes and sizes require very little to no airbrushing in order to meet these standards.  As eating disorder activist Susan Ringwood, who has campaigned for the use of diversely-sized fashion models, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph:

There’s a fundamental difference between using camera work to make someone look polished, and changing the shape and size of someone’s body in order to portray them looking differently, to conform to whatever ideal.  It’s just not helpful and puts huge pressure on people to keep up a hyper-perfectionism that isn’t real. If you can’t trust the health industry to be healthy, how can you expect the fashion magazines to put their house in order?

But, then again, what do we really expect from a “health” magazine that also advertises weight-loss advice on the same cover as the same gaunt-thin model airbrushed to look heavier?

posted in Body Politic, Eating Disorders, Fashion, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Pop Culture, Rachel | 14 Comments

20th May 2010

Guest post: Fasting for God or holy anorexia?

by Rachel

Speaking of women, food and god… Reader Jocelyn (who comments here by the name J.S.) contacted me a few weeks ago proposing a guest blog entry on the convergence of fasting for religious purposes and eating disorders among women of faith — and we’re not just talking here about pursuit of the Gospel of Thinness. As someone who subscribes to spiritual beliefs (Buddhism) in which followers promote many dictates around food (no meat or alcohol, eat only until you’re 80 percent full, etc…), I was intrigued to learn more about the fasting traditions held in other religions.* Many religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, incorporate fasting into spiritual beliefs, believing it to give followers a heightened sense of self-awareness and more intimate connection with god or nature. Yet I was still a bit shocked to read in Jocelyn’s guest post of the extreme fasting lengths to which some people of faith will go — and how quickly those religious motivations can morph into something entirely more dangerous and insidious.

“You have to watch it with those religious girls,” my sister murmured to me under cover of the blender noise.

I looked away from my room-mate, who was shoving a concoction of blueberries, soy milk, and bananas into the blender’s pitcher across the kitchen. “What do you mean?”

“That’s going to be her only meal today? She’s ‘fasting’?” At my nod, she added, “Didn’t you tell me she’s anorexic?”

I shifted, uncomfortable. “Well, she was. I mean, obviously she’s not starving herself now, she looks healthy…”

“Maybe she’s still trying to starve herself,” my sister said softly, just before the motor cut out.

At the time I had recently moved to the area in order to become part of a large group of Christian people who believe in something called the “fasted lifestyle.” As preached, the fasted lifestyle means voluntary restraint, from spending to housing to food—in other words, one lives in a simple fashion in order to have greater resources to devote to the Kingdom of God. As practiced by many of the early twenty-something women who devoted themselves to the cause, it became practical, religious-sanctioned anorexia.

I didn’t know this when I moved there. I had friends from a previous year spent in the city; we had all belonged to a church that was now defunct. Many of them had joined the group before I returned. I liked their message of whole-hearted devotion. I still do, which is why I’m not naming it; the leaders practice what they preach. But. When I would hang out, outside the building, I would overhear snatches of conversation that should have given me pause.

“She’s only eating one meal a day for… forever. She’s, like, totally devoted.” (This was about a church leader who was in her early twenties at the time.)

“What are you fasting from this time?” “He said we’re not supposed to talk about it so we don’t compare… Okay. I’m doing liquids only.” “Oh man. Maybe I should make mine tougher. I was just going to go no meats, no sweets.”

“It was supposed to be a 21-day fast, but I lost ten pounds so I thought maybe I should go to forty days?”

I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize it, but this was a toxic scene for me. I had recently lost quite a bit of weight through extremely regimented means, although it was all physician-approved, and I lived with the daily fear that I would gain it all back. Every time I stepped on the scale, and it was often, I would suffer a shaft of icy panic if I had even gained one pound. When my room-mate moved into my apartment, we fed each others’ obsessions. We would go and eat monster servings of frozen custard, and then declare we were fasting for the next two weeks—or at least until we could fit into our skinny jeans again. But of course, the fasting was all for God, not for us… right?

Eventually I moved back to my home state. Once there, I found a church that I felt comfortable with. They were loosely connected with my previous spiritual leaders, and preached a similar message. I slowly regained some stability in my eating habits. I stopped obsessing over weight gain. All was well for a couple of years… And then I noticed that fasting was becoming more and more commonly preached from the pulpit as a means to connect with God. Church-wide fasts were declared. The teenaged and slightly older girls grew gaunt, or gained weight—almost none stayed the same. I lost a bunch of weight, and then yo-yoed back up again. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t comprehend how dire the situation had become until my best friend, who had started attending about six months after me, came to me with the news that she and her husband were strongly considering leaving.

“Do you realize, Chris (her husband) and I added up all the days we were supposed to be fasting—I mean, church-wide fasts that were called from the pulpit? And it added up to one hundred and fifty days,” she told me. “That’s ridiculous.”

I had by no means participated whole-heartedly in that many days of fasting, though I had tried, but—150? Faced with that number, I retreated to my computer. I looked up fasting to see if I could find anybody else who had experienced something similar. The first blog I read opened with an introduction in which the author pleaded for support and understanding for her lifestyle of fasting. I thought I must have found someone from the same church… And then, as I continued scrolling, I discovered that it was a pro-ana blog. Her fasted lifestyle was one of stylized starvation. A light bulb went off in my head—not the ultimate light bulb that I was eating disordered, that came later, but I did realize, “this is not healthy. And if I’m not caring for my body, which is a temple, then it can’t be holy either.”

It took another year, but I left that church. There were other reasons, of course, but the emphasis on fasting over practical expressions of love was the main factor. I had come to realize that my relationship with food simply wasn’t healthy enough for me to deny myself all of it for a period of time without serious consequences. Nor was I ready to hear it preached as a shortcut to God’s action without experiencing crippling guilt about my inability to participate.

I have friends who are Muslim who have told me about their conflicted relationship with faith-mandated fasting. I know (partly from Rachel) that other religions recommend denying oneself food as a gateway to accessing the divine. Have you ever experienced this sort of thing, or am I the only one? I’d love to hear from The F-Word’s readership, because I’ve felt like an oddity.

* For more on fasting and Buddhism, read the last half of the post here.

posted in Anorexia, Eating Disorders, Guest Blogger, Mental Health, Rachel, Religion | 31 Comments

13th May 2010

Geneen Roth releases new book on women, food and god

by Rachel

I discovered the works of Geneen Roth early on into my eating disorder and I found them to be immensely insightful and helpful in helping me come to terms with the emotions driving my own disorder.  If you aren’t familiar with her, Roth is a writer, teacher and founder of the “Breaking Free” workshops, which she has conducted nationwide since 1979.  She is also the author of Feeding the Hungry Heart, Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating, and When Food Is Love.  Now Roth has released yet another book, which I’m sure will be a “godsend” for many struggling with food addictions and other related behaviors.  Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything is getting rave reviews, including from such luminaries as Anne Lamott.  Here’s a blurb from Amazon:

…after more than three decades of studying, teaching and writing about what drives our compul-sions with food, Geneen adds a profound new dimension to her work in Women, Food and God. She begins with her most basic concept: The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning, transformation and, yes, even God. But it doesn’t stop there. Geneen shows how going beyond both the food and feelings takes you deeper into realms of spirit and soul to the bright center of your own life.

With penetrating insight and irreverent humor, Roth traces food compulsions from subtle beginnings to unexpected ends. She teaches personal examination, showing readers how to use their relationship with food to discover the fulfillment they long for.

Your relationship with food, no matter how conflicted, is the doorway to freedom, says Roth. What you most want to get rid of is itself the doorway to what you want most: the demystification of weight loss and the luminous presence that so many of us call “God.”

Packed with revelations on every page, this book is a knock-your-socks-off ride to a deeply fulfilling relationship with food, your body…and almost everything else. Women, Food and God is, quite simply, a guide for life.

This book isn’t for everyone, obviously — it seems geared towards people who follow the Christian faith* — but the emphasis on self-examination and understanding our food-related behaviors sounds promising.  If anyone has read it, let us know what you think.

* Thanks to readers who clarified that Roth’s concept of “God” is not necessarily Christian-defined.

posted in Book Reviews, Eating Disorders, Mental Health, Rachel, Recovery | 31 Comments

5th May 2010

Skechers Shape-Ups: I’m gonna wear them for the “wrong” reasons

by charlynn

You’ve probably seen the commercials for Skechers Shape-Ups or Reebok Easytone shoes that promise to tone your calves and firm your butt, right? If not, here’s a quick refresher: Reebok’s ad features an attractive spokeslady who has obviously done more than walking to achieve her athletic figure, and the camera man is (apparently) so infatuated with her butt that he can’t take his eyes off it. Skechers debuted Shape-Ups during the Super Bowl, with Joe Montana talking about how these shoes have improved his strength. Really?? I’m not sure which is worse, Joe Montana endorsing a pair of shoes or Dan Marino talking about how great he feels after losing weight on NutriSystem. Seeing these otherwise respectable figures doing this kind of shit that makes me laugh and puke in disgust at the same time.

However, now that I’ve said that, I have a confession: I recently bought a pair of Skecher’s Shape-Ups. Yes, after months of making fun of Joe Montana for pimping these things, I just had to try them out. Damn those commercials for sticking in my brain. Sometime last week, I decided out of the blue that I wanted a new pair of shoes. Internet window shopping has been a guilty pleasure of mine for years, but somehow I took this low moment of impulsivity to its conclusion and actually bought a pair.

I typically want a shoe that is comfy and good for lots of walking, so for the last couple of years, I have bought Merrells. I put two pairs through hell and they kept on asking for more, but I retired them anyway when they started looking more like roadkill and less like shoes. On a side note, the Keen sandals I bought five years ago are still kicking and great as ever, and their sneakers lasted me a couple of years as well. The more rational side of me would have stayed with what has been tried and true, but those damn Skechers were featured on every site I was looking at as the “hottest new thing.” Why that didn’t scare me off, I don’t know. Usually, anything that’s trendy instantly turns me off, but noooo, not this time. This time I caved in and took a look at them. Advertising won this round.

Aside from all the yackety-yack about weight loss and a firmer butt – which experts claim isn’t true anyway – these shoes also boast better posture and blood circulation, which I’ll admit I could use if the claims are for real. These side effects come from the “kinetic wedge technology” which Skechers claims is like walking on sand. This changes the way you walk, and in effect, makes your legs work harder while you walk – hence the claim for weight loss, firmer muscles, better posture and circulation, etc. I likened the effect to the days in the early 2000s when I wore Street Flyers to and fro. After I found out I couldn’t roller skate for shit, I wore them anyway because they were heavy little boots. Walking around in them made me exert more energy while I was walking around and doing things I would have been doing anyway. Why not?

Why not indeed. I connected the dots between my Street Flyers and the Skechers Shape-Ups and thought to myself, “I’ll be walking around campus all summer, so this could be a convenient way to stay in shape. If I really hate them, I can return them and pretend it never happened.”

Click.

Less than two minutes later, I became the owner of a brand-new pair of Skechers Shape-Ups.

As I waited for my shoes to arrive in the mail, I frequently questioned why the hell I bought these damn things when I really shouldn’t have dropped that kind of money on something I didn’t need. Impulse buys are rarely smart decisions, so thoughts of how I would justify it tortured me throughout last week. “What a waste,” I thought. “Even if I return them, I still have to pay postage to send them back. What was I thinking?! What will my husband think when he sees them? He makes fun of them just as much as I do!”

Another voice in my head said, “Just try them. You might like them.”

Yes, I do have voices in my head and they argue with each other constantly. It’s maddening. And no, these aren’t the kind of voices that go away with medication. I’ve tried.

Anyway…

The shoes arrived yesterday. I took them out of their box, laced ‘em up and put them on carefully with all tags still attached; that way, if I did return them, they’d still look brand-new. I stood up. That’s when I discovered the “kinetic wedge technology, which is located near the middle of your foot. This causes you to exaggerate the heel-to-toe motion you make when walking. At first, it felt weird, like I was standing on little balance balls embedded in my shoes. It did not feel like walking on sand. I don’t know where Skechers got that crazy idea, but I’ve walked on sand before and this wasn’t it. The silver lining, however, was that since I wasn’t actually walking on sand, my feet weren’t filthy after a few steps. That was nice.

I walked around. Skechers does warn you that getting used to Shape-Ups might take some time, but I found that the learning curve wasn’t a huge deal. I liken it to walking around on a boat: at first, you’re a little unsteady, but you adjust quickly. Much to my surprise, I found them incredibly comfortable. I took a stroll around the house and decided that I would put them to the real test tomorrow while running around town.

That’s what I did today, and I’m actually pleased to say that the Shape-Ups passed the test. In fact, I love them. For as much walking as I do, comfort is the ultimate feature I want in a pair of shoes, and these are insanely comfortable. They really are easier on my joints as the ads claim, and I did notice that it was easier to stand up straight in them. Major brownie points if they alter my posture for the better. As for everything else, I really don’t give a damn if they give me an amazing butt. I doubt they’ll make me lose weight – for one thing, they aren’t much heavier than a regular pair of shoes, so there goes my Shape-Ups/Street Flyers connection. Second, after walking around in the Shape-Ups today, my muscles weren’t sore. It will take lots of walking – in these shoes or any other pair of shoes – to lose any weight, and since I won’t be trying, I doubt it will happen. I’m quite all right with that. I feel better knowing that I’m not wearing these shoes for the trendy reason and wearing them for the same reason I’d wear any other pair of shoes I like: They’re comfy!

Oh, and for those of you that were wondering, here’s how things went down with my husband:

“You bought Shape-Ups?”

“Yep.”

Pause.

“Don’t judge. I know I’m a hypocrite. You needn’t say anything.”

“I’m not judging,” he said with a smirk that said it all. And of course, he is right. :)

Cross-posted on Oh, the Profanity!

posted in Charlynn, Fitness/Exercise | 26 Comments

27th April 2010

Skinny dreams meets skinny reality

by Rachel

I have never liked running.  Before I lost weight, I thought I didn’t like running simply because I was physically unable to run and believed that once I lost the weight, I’d magically become one of those cross country runners sporting an armband iPod and gloating about my runner’s high.  Fast forward one year and 175 pounds lost.  I weigh 125 pounds, wear a size four and guess what?  I still can’t run more than a mile before dissolving into a huffing and puffing red-faced mess.

MSNBC has a great story out today on people who’ve discovered that the skinny dream is just that… a dream. The story profiles three women, all of whom thought their lives would be just fabulous once they lost the pesky weight holding them back, and discovered that weight loss isn’t a panacea for life’s problems nor has it made them a better person.  Self-described “accomplished fat girl” Jen Larsen had a master’s degree in creative writing, a great job working in an academic library, a great boyfriend and a slew of friends.

By age 32, she believed she’d be writing a book, “doing something important,” she says. The only thing holding her back, she thought, was weight.  “Not so,” she now says. “The only thing that’s different is the size of my ass.”

Larsen thought skinny came with a mega-boost of self confidence. And a huge dollop of happiness. She thought she’d be dynamic and brave and ready to take on the world, just because she was thin.

“I think fat people are sold a fantasy, and then get no support in the reality, because we’re simply supposed to be grateful that we’re no longer fat,” Larsen says.

…In a culture obsessed with BMIs, the tears and triumphs of “The Biggest Loser,” and the latest-greatest surefire way to lose weight and keep it off, Larsen’s take on her new lean physique sounds like heresy. But weight loss chat rooms, forums and blogs are filled with people who are wondering why their newfound svelte selves and stellar metabolic profiles are leaving them ever-so-slightly disappointed.

Jennette Fulda, a.k.a. PastaQueen, was a national merit scholar, her high school class valedictorian and graduated with highest honors from college — all accomplished while weighing 372 pounds.   “You can be fat, accomplished and pretty darn happy.  I think people forget that,” she said.  ““I guess we all really think that losing weight gets rid of our issues. But in so many ways we’re still the very same person, not that skinny woman we dreamed about.”

It’s something that Darliene Howell, 55,  knows all too well.  A yo-yo dieter since the age of 6, Howell says she’s tried “every diet on the planet” and has counted calories, points, carbs and proteins “until I thought I was losing my mind,” she says. She finally lost 100 pounds on a liquid diet.  “I’ve weighed 150, 250 and even 300, and each time I lost weight I thought I was going to live the skinny dream,” she says. “My life was supposed to have changed. I thought I was supposed to be more popular, more attractive, if only I were thinner. Well, that didn’t happen.”

I think many of us suffer from the delusion that is the “skinny dream” — that if we just lose weight, everything else will follow.  We will become vastly more interesting, creative, outgoing, self-assured.  Guys will beat down our doors laden with bouquets of roses and people much cooler than ourselves will clamor to be our friends.  We’ll finally land the dream job we’ve always wanted, become a veritable social butterfly, get the guy and live happily ever after on that thin, thin cloud of delusion.

Reality check: weight loss, in itself, is unlikely to bring about any of the above.

I’ve been morbidly obese and I’ve been on the low end of the “normal” range of BMI and have now settled somewhere comfortably in between.  Before my weight loss, I also suffered from the delusion that my weight and weight alone was the only thing holding me back from becoming the person I wanted to be.  I discovered all too quickly that happiness can’t be found in the junior’s department. If you read the so-called weight loss success stories, they’re chock full of just how awful and miserable an existence life was before weight loss and how fabulous it is after.   And yet, I have never understood (or fully believed) these people who lose weight and lay claim to some newly found self-confidence that has just laid buried beneath fat, like a diamond waiting to be mined.  If anything, I was even more insecure after my weight loss than before!  I still battled the same self-doubts and fears.  I still had the same old fat girl self-image.  I still had the same money problems.  I still had the same unresolved family issues.    The only thing that changed was that I went from being morbidly obese to morbidly afraid of regaining the weight.

This is not to say that weight loss did not change my life in any significant way.  I sincerely believe I would never have landed a contract job with a major computer corporation had I weighed 100, 75 or even 50 pounds more than what I weighed at the time.  Sales clerks, professors and classmates and even some family members treated me more nicely than before.  It was easier to find fashionable and affordable clothes in my size.  My personality even changed after my transformation to the point where my sister, the person to whom I was closest to at the time, remarked that I was like a new person.  It wasn’t that weight loss freed some skinny girl inside me clawing her way out, but rather that it took a while to reconcile my split identities between living Life as a Fat Person and Life as a Thin Person.  For a while, I felt like an imposter infiltrating a thin insider club, a fat girl masquerading in a thin suit, laying claim to a title I had no right to claim.  I always thought I wanted to be part of them, the Thin People, but after my weight loss, I found myself literally disfiguring myself with body piercings in an attempt to salvage some element of my Fat Girl identity, to show that I wasn’t one of them.

Although I struggled with my identity, being thin did not grant me membership to some exclusive club in which being thin absolves you of all your problems.  If anything, the compulsive calorie-counting, over-exercising and general obsession with my weight only created more problems and took away from the time I could have dedicated instead to facing the existing problems I had, like, oh, resolving longstanding issues with my mother, my poor self-esteem and dead-end job situation.  And surprise… once I committed to face the real problems head-on, my issues with food and  body also began to resolve themselves.  

How about you?  Did you (or do you still) suffer from the delusion of thinness?  How did your skinny dreams measure up to reality?

posted in Body Image, Mental Health, Personal, Rachel, Recovery | 41 Comments

22nd April 2010

Was your health insurance policy canceled after an eating disorder diagnosis?

by Rachel

Reuters, via MSNBC, today has an absolutely heart-breaking story on women whose insurance companies found ways to drop their coverage shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer.   WellPoint, which has the most policyholders (33.7 million) of any health insurance company in the nation, is one of the worst offenders — it specifically used a computer algorithm to target  newly diagnosed breast cancer victims and then triggered a fraud alert for aggressive investigation with the intent to find any pretext, no matter how flimsy or relevant, with which to cancel their policies.  Women who had paid their policies faithfully for years suddenly found themselves without insurance just when they needed their coverage the most.

The process of canceling one’s coverage shortly after a diagnosis of a life-threatening, expensive medical condition is known as rescission.  Insurance companies have used the practice for years and while cases of such have been well documented by law enforcement agencies, state regulators and even a congressional committee, laws restricting the unethical and illegal use of the practice aren’t enforced as they should be.  As one former federal prosecutor explained, “The industry just has these tremendous financial, legal and political resources that others don’t.  In my own state (Calif.), regulators are often afraid or unwilling to go up against them.”

According to the article, the two conditions that most commonly trigger rescission both affect primarily women: breast cancer and pregnancy.  Breast cancer can be costly to treat and pregnancy holds the potential for a child born with a disability, so policyholders with these conditions are scrutinized and probed more closely for possible rescission.  Other conditions are targeted, too.  Assurant Health was ordered by courts to pay millions of dollars in settlements after it was determined that they similarly targeted HIV-positive policyholders for rescission.

The article left me both enraged and curious…  Some 11 million people are afflicted by eating problems, ranging from anorexia and bulimia to binge eating, according to the NEDA.  And eating disorders can be very costly to treat, especially anorexia and in cases requiring in-patient treatment.  The self-pay cost at the Renfrew Center’s Philadelphia treatment center, for example, runs a staggering $8,050 per week!  We’ve heard of families suing their health insurance providers to cover more of the costs associated in eating disorder recovery — these suits, in fact, helped fuel the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 — but I haven’t heard of a case yet in which an insurance company targeted a person or family for rescission following an eating disorder diagnosis or request for coverage in the treatment of an eating disorder.

But just because we haven’t heard of one doesn’t mean that the practice doesn’t exist.   In the case of the women with breast cancer, one woman seemed to become aware of the pattern only after joining a breast cancer support group in which four of the five women in the group saw their policies canceled as the result of their diagnosis. State agencies can and do conduct audits on health insurance providers, but companies like WellPoint have fought “vigorously” to keep incriminating information from prying government eyes.  An investigation last year by the House Energy and Commerce Committee determined that WellPoint and two of the nation’s other largest insurance companies — UnitedHealth Group Inc and Assurant Health — made at least $300 million by improperly rescinding more than 19,000 policyholders over one five-year period.  But when committee investigators asked for contact information for some of the records grudgingly produced by WellPoint, the insurance company refused to give it.   Investigators then suggested that WellPoint itself could inform the ex-policyholders that a congressional committee had interest in their case and WellPoint declined to do that as well. If you aren’t aware that a pattern of criminal behavior exists, that you’re a victim of it and that there are others like you, how do you even know to fight back?

I’m curious as to whether anyone here has had their insurance policies canceled as the result of an eating disorder diagnosis or even because of their weight or other health conditions.   Share your health insurance horror stories in the comments below.

posted in Eating Disorders, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Rachel, Recovery | 7 Comments

14th April 2010

Healthy Media for Youth Act: Can I get a ‘Hell Yeah’?!!

by Rachel

Here are the facts:

  • 90 percent of girls say the media places a lot of pressure on girls to be thin.
  • 55 percent of teenage girls admit they diet to lose weight
  • 31 percent admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat as a strategy to lose weight
  • 37 percent know a girl with a diagnosed eating disorder.
  • 66 percent of girls report being dissatisfied with their bodies.

France and Britain are currently debating laws to regulate airbrushed images in advertising and now a few of our own esteemed Congresswomen are bridging great partisan political divide to take up the fight across the pond.  Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) have introduced the Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925), a bill to improve media literacy for youth and to encourage the promotion of healthier media messages about girls and women.

The bill, which draws  on research by Girls, Inc. and the Girls Scouts Research Institute, takes a three-pronged approach to promote healthy media messages about girls and women:  through a competitive grant program to encourage and support media literacy programs and youth empowerment groups; research on how depictions of women and girls in the media affect youth; and the creation of a National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media, which will develop voluntary standards that promote healthy, balanced and more positive images of girls and women in the media.  Read the bill in its entirety here.

The bill asks for $40,000,000 each year from 2011 through 2015 — a mere drop in the bucket compared to the billions we’ve given to banks and corporate fat cats.  Among its highlights:

Congress supports efforts to ensure youth improve their media literacy skills and consume positive messages about girls and women in the media that promotes healthy and diverse body images, develops positive and active female role models, and portrays equal and healthy relationships between female and male characters.

Grants will be awarded to nonprofit organizations to support programs that:  educate youth on how to apply their critical thinking skills when consuming media images and messages; promote  healthy, balanced, and positive media depictions of girls and women among youth; and counter the perpetuation and damaging effects of narrow, restrictive gender roles, stereotypes, and expectations, including the sexualization of female children, adolescents, and adults.

The Secretary, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in coordination with the Director of the National Institutes of Health and the Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, shall review, synthesize, and conduct or support research on the role and impact of depictions of girls and women in the media on the psychological, sexual, physical, and interpersonal development of youth in areas including: childhood development; academic performance; media depictions and their affect on minority boys and girls; and how food marketing and obesity campaigns affect girls’ and boys’ body image, nutrition and exercise.

While I think that this bill is made of pure awesomeness, I’m a little wary on the emphasis on promoting “healthy” body images what with all the hoopla about childhood obesity and the prevailing delusion that the only “healthy” body is a thin body. That the Centers for Disease Control will be involved in defining and filtering these “healthy” depictions of girls and women in the media is all the more cause for concern given the center’s sorry history of launching misguided programs that only foster and even enable greater economic and social discrimination against people of size.  And as we discussed yesterday, even those on obesity task forces hold negative views and disrespectful and assumptive stereotypes of fat people, so I’m concerned that these kinds of morally-based beliefs might bleed over into programs and research supported by this bill.  However, I’m reassured by the inclusion that the bill will also promote the depiction of “diverse” body types and recognizes the potential of anti-obesity campaigns and legislation to inadvertently promote eating disorders.  I’m also heartened to see that the bill encourages a greater focus on girls and women of color and from certain socioeconomic status groups and that it also does not neglect the impact of such harmful imagery on boys.

All worries aside, this bill is certainly a step in the right direction and I encourage you to lend it your support.  You can track the bill via OpenCongress and Washington Watch.  The Girl Scouts Advocacy Network as also created a draft email that you can send to your representatives urging their support of H.R. 4925.  And be sure to send thanks to Congresswomen Baldwin and Moore Capito for putting partisan politics aside in an effort to enact real change.

posted in Body Image, Body Politic, Class issues, Eating Disorders, Feminist Topics, Mental Health, Race Issues, Rachel | 6 Comments

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