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

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.”


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.


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?”



“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

3rd December 2009

Jillian Michaels: From inspiration to hypocrite at the drop of a pill

by charlynn

When it comes to workouts, I love Jillian Michaels. There. I said it. Yes, I’m talking about the trainer on The Biggest Loser. That Jillian Michaels. Normally, I despise people on weight loss TV shows, but I must give credit where it’s due.

The first time I tried her 30-Day Shred workout DVD, I went into it thinking that I was already in decent physical shape. The truth is, my muscles were exhausted halfway through level 1. My lack of endurance and muscular strength both surprised and appalled me. Despite my still-sore muscles, I repeated the workout a couple of days later and found that I went a little longer without feeling completely drained. The time after that, I went even further. Psychologically, it was just the fuel I needed for motivation. Over the course of last summer, I worked my way through the ranks of difficulty on the 30-Day Shred and found myself doing a couple more of Jillian’s workouts, too. The result: I put a noticeable amount of muscle on my body for the first time in my life.

The method to Jillian’s workout was responsible for my newfound bulk: She utilized as many muscle groups as possible in each exercise throughout the entire course. For the time spent, it was an incredibly efficient workout. I found myself feeling proud each time I pushed myself a little harder, doing just a little bit more than last time, because I hadn’t ever done workouts so intense. And I can’t help but admit that I was really proud of how much strength I added to my body over those months. My body never showed even the slightest hint at muscle definition before, so this was new and exciting.

It was also empowering. This was one of the few times I can recall in the last eight years or so that I was exercising for strength and endurance, not losing weight or maintaining the status quo. Naturally, this changed my outlook on food as well. My attitude changed from “I’ll eat because that’s what recovering people do” to “My body needs adequate nutrients for all the hard work it’s doing.” It was a much-needed reminder of why food is important and I’ve kept it in the foreground of my brain since.

Sadly, the story at this point does not have a “happily ever after” ending. I stopped working out a couple of months ago when schoolwork piled up and left me sitting on the couch with a laptop for hours on end. Sure, I could have managed my time better and squeezed workouts in, but I didn’t. And that is why my body returned to its “normal” state. I’m just not athletically built. I don’t keep muscle on my body without a lot of effort. And I think that’s why food and weight issues crept back into my mind this semester when I let stress get the best of me. My attitude towards food reverted to its old ways of thinking, delving into gradually more disordered thoughts as time went by. After all, without all those muscles, what did I need all of those calories for? (On a side note, my sleeping patterns also changed, probably due to lack of exercise and coping with stress, which only made the situation worse.) Thank goodness the semester is nearly over and a small amount of clarity has returned to my brain. The eating disorder won’t win this round.

At my university, we have an entire month from the end of fall semester to the start of spring classes, which means I will (finally!) have some free time.  One of my goals is to work out regularly again. The issue is, should I return to workouts with Jillian? I have mixed feelings.

A part of why I stopped working out was because Jillian seriously disappointed me when I saw her in a Nordic Track commercial, where she was rabidly burning off calories on a treadmill. In her workout DVDs, she denounces exercise machines because she claims that they don’t work the entire body as efficiently as good ol’ floor exercises (and besides, they cost a lot of money). I guess Nordic Track paid her enough so she’d change her mind.

Jillian also recently endorsed her own line of diet pills. I’ve looked at the ingredients for both her “fat burning” and “calorie control” pills – they’re basically loaded with caffeine and non-FDA-regulated herbs that haven’t been clinically proven safe – much like every other diet pill currently on the market. How can she back up her claim that these “new, scientifically developed” pills are anything but the same ol, same ol? Bullshit, Jillian. You sold out. Endorsing a Nordic Track machine was one thing, but diet pills? Diet pills?! Come on, Jillian. That goes against everything that’s wonderful about your no-nonsense, hard work approach to fitness.

In my mind, Jillian has lost her credibility. I don’t watch The Biggest Loser, so the fact that she’s on a show of that nature never phased me much. The Nordic Track ad was a disappointment because she went against her word, but the diet pills really crossed the line. I don’t know if I can appreciate the rewarding nature of her workouts, knowing that she’s endorsed her own line of “jumpstart” pills. Even thinking about it makes me feel like a hypocrite. I think I need new inspiration.

What’s your take? Have you ever been let down by a fitness “guru?”

posted in Author, Charlynn, Fitness/Exercise, Mind & Body, Recovery | 26 Comments

16th October 2009

The Digest: F-words making the news

by Rachel

Hard to swallow:  Washington mom Juliet Lee has eaten five pounds of ribs, 43 inches of cheese steak sub, 31 dozen raw oysters, 13 slices of pizza, 13 pounds of cranberry sauce, and 13 date-nut-bread-and-cream-cheese sandwiches — all within minutes.  Oh, yeah… she weighs 100 pounds and wears a size-zero.

Not only are “plus-sizes” considered taboo in high fashion, so too are large breasts. The well-endowed journalist Venetia Thompson delves into the issues supporting the busty bias in this Daily Beast editorial.

Progressive or just prejudiced?  After months of guised jabs at Rep. N.J. gubernatorial challenger Chris Christie’s weight, Democratic State Committee Chairman Joe Cryan blatantly “pounded” the issue home to supporters: “What would it feel like if the next governor weighs 350 pounds?” he asked the crowd.  Meanwhile, Sen. Raymond Lesniak told the New York Magazine that Christie “looks hideous! And unhealthy… That doesn’t portray the discipline that’s necessary to lead this state.”

Fat studies scholar Amy Farrell appeared on Colbert Nation this week to discuss fat-shaming, health at every size and her new book, Fat Shame.

Fox and Burger King apologize for mocking Jessica Simpson’s weight.

Meghan McCain: Still Republican, but I can’t help but like her anyway.  In an editorial for the Daily Beast, McCain responds to the Simpson bashing with a call to stop the fat jokes.  “My weight is the great constant in my life, no matter where I am or what I am doing it is an issue that comes up,” she writes.  “I could probably cure cancer and solve all the Republican Party’s problems, and people would still make fat jokes.”

A new study finds that the simple act of exercise itself can improve body image even if you don’t lose an iota of a pound.

D’oh!  The British government is spending more than a million U.S. dollars recreating a “healthier” version of The Simpsons in an effort it says to reduce the two-dimensional “obesity epidemic.”  The campaign, which began last Monday and will run through Christmas, replaces Homer’s much-loved beer and doughnuts with fruits and vegetables and ditches the image of the family sitting on the sofa at the beginning of each episode (the fact that families need to be slumped on the sofa to even view the campaign is overlooked).  No word on how Mr. Burns, the thin-as-a-rake, delicately fragile food minimalist, will be portrayed.

For more news that didn’t make the blog, follow us on Twitter.

posted in Advertisements, Body Snarking, Book Reviews, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Fitness/Exercise, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Politics, Pop Culture, Rachel, Television & Film | 10 Comments

8th October 2009

New blogs we like

by Rachel

Here’s five new-to-us blogs we love.  If you aren’t reading them already, go have a look.

  • Operation Beautiful:   Operation Beautiful is simple: all you need is a pen and a piece of paper…  So says site editor Caitlin, who’s on a mission to leave positive, body-affirming notes in public spaces and invites you to do the same.
  • The Manfattan Project: “A collection of photographs of stylish everyday people in New York City. These people are beautiful, they are well-dressed, they are confident. They are also, without apologies or contradictions, FAT.”
  • Men Get Eating Disorders Too: Okay, so it’s technically not a blog, but the site does feature personal stories and inspirational articles all penned by men with eating disorders in an effort to dismantle the gender stereotype keeping so many men from seeking help for their disorders.
  • More of Me To Love: The site’s mission is to “promote and spread the healthiness and happiness that you deserve through our welcoming community, certified experts and empowering programs. But More of Me to Love is more than the sum of its parts: it’s a lifestyle of living better and loving yourself.”
  • The Plus Runner:  Blogger Sallie has completed 12 half-marathons and another dozen triathlons and she’s done it all in sizes ranging from 16 to 22.  Her goal is to “encourage more future runners, walkers, hikers, to hit the road, and redefine your life as an active person.”

Know of any other awesome blogs or websites?  Post ‘em in the comment below.

posted in Anorexia, Binge Eating Disorder, Body-Affirming, Bulimia, ED-NOS, Eating Disorders, Fat Acceptance, Fitness/Exercise, Gender and Sexuality, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Purging Disorder, Rachel, Recovery | 6 Comments

21st July 2009

Secrets to a long life revealed

by Rachel

“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy
father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee”
Deut. 32:7

I can’t tell you what I had for lunch yesterday or where I placed my car keys, but I can remember names, faces and even phone numbers of childhood friends like Rain Man on Ritalin.  But I still couldn’t put my mental finger on the woman who contacted me several weeks ago and said that she remembered me from the electronic media program we were both enrolled in about six years ago.  I was slightly relieved when I discovered that Bonnie was an infrequent user of the computer lab I managed after losing my job.  I had helped her with some design questions and she remembered my name when she saw it in the paper.

Bonnie hoped that I could give her some good PR about an upcoming photographic exhibit she was holding in one of the communities I cover.  For her show, she interviewed and photographed 28 nonagenarians, that is, people in their nineties, from all different ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences.  It was her own geriatric mother who inspired the exhibit.  After Bonnie’s father died, her mother fell into a downward spiral of depression and dementia until her death 20 years later.  Bonnie thought poor health to simply be an inevitability of aging, but in time began to wonder if the golden years could ever truly be tarnish-free.  For the next two years, she met with 28 active and engaged nonagenerians who gave her a fresh outlook on life and aging.

The recent revival of First, Do No Harm (thanks, Vesta!) and all the heartbreaking readers’ stories of fat discrimination in health care that continue to find their way there made me think of Bonnie’s exhibit, especially since many of her subjects are clinically overweight.  Despite studies to the contrary, we continue to hear about all the alleged diseases associated with obesity and how obese people die younger from their “lifestyle choices,” ad nauseum. So, is thinness really the all powerful fountain of youth it’s made out to be?  In addition to their stories and photographs, Bonnie also compiled a list of about 30 common attributes to which each of her subjects credited their youthful vigor.  “Good fitness” was cited by many, however “staying thin” didn’t even make the list.  What did top the charts were “keeping mentally stimulated,” “having a sense of humor” and “maintaining social ties.“  And the number one “secret” to living a healthy, active and long life?  Wait for it…  “Pure luck.”

The people Bonnie interviewed are as accomplished as they are diverse. One nonagenarian man swam across the Ohio River.  Another is a famous chemist and yet another the former president of my alma mater and a respected historian.  One woman is a Catholic nun who selflessly serves the poor and downtrodden and another a well-known environmental researcher.  One black woman struggled through years of Jim Crow and racial discrimination to found a prominent African-American newspaper.  Many are published authors.  Nearly all are beloved parents and grandparents.  None obsess about the numbers on their scales…

Lest I be obtusely mistaken as pro-McDonalds and anti-parks, I don’t believe that we are entirely powerless over our lives.  I eat healthy and am physically active in part because it improves the quality of my life by keeping me physically and mentally strong.  Yet you can eat a chemical-free, low-calorie, non-processed organic diet of Ambrosia, exercise religiously and keep your BMI in the narrow range determined to be “average” and that doesn’t change the fact that most of life is one big crapshoot.  Just ask my friend, Cary, who ran nine miles a day and ate healthy foods and yet still wasn’t strong enough to withstand the impact of being thrown from his bike and landing headfirst on the hot Arizona pavement. Or my brother David who played baseball, basketball and football and barely ate because he was afraid of getting fat like his family only to be diagnosed instead with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 12.  Remember that it was his search for the famed Fountain of Youth that led to Ponce de Leon’s premature death.

Life is fragile and unpredictable and the best we can hope for is that our roll of the dice brings us a life filled with purpose and passion, good laughs and close friends.

posted in Fat Bias, Fitness/Exercise, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Mental Health | 18 Comments

12th May 2009

Target Women: Obama Arms

by Rachel

Is anyone else completely baffled and dismayed by the inordinate amount of ridiculous attention given to Harvard-educated attorney Michelle Obama’s “toned” arms and sleeveless garb?  And it’s not all gossip rags buzzing about the First Biceps.  CNN offers tips on how to get Michelle Obama’s toned arms; the Los Angeles Times questions if Michelle’s arms are too buff (for a woman); the Boston Globe conjectures that Michelle’s arms signify youth, which gives a recession-weary nation cause for hope; and the Chicago Tribune puts the underlying question more bluntly, “Do men really care about women’s upper arms?”

All of which makes Michelle’s right to bare arms perfect fodder for Target Women.  I’ll let Sarah take it from here.

posted in Feminist Topics, Fitness/Exercise, Humor | 16 Comments

12th May 2009

Taken from Twitter: Links roundup

by Rachel

Here are some recent links taken from The-F-word’s Twitter feed.  Have any headlines to share?  Post links or discuss those listed here in the comments below.

Does the hullabaloo about weight stem from health concerns, or is it all about superficial appearance?  An Associated Press-iVillage poll raises doubts.

Half [of women polled] don’t like their weight, even the 26 percent of those whose body mass index or BMI — a measure of weight for height — is in the normal range.  About one-quarter of the women surveyed said they’d consider plastic surgery to feel more beautiful. Their overwhelming choice: a tummy tuck.

Eating disorders aside, normal-skinny doesn’t automatically mean healthy, stresses University of Houston sociologist Samantha Kwan, who studies gender and body image.

“Someone who is fat or even overweight can be healthy if they have a balanced diet and are physically active,” Kwan says. “Our culture really does put a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way,” taking precedence over health measures.

Carrie at ED Bites addresses the allure of eating disorder books, as discussed in yesterday’s post on the new novel Wintergirls.  Carrie, the author of Running on Empty, writes:

It’s something I realize I have done with my memoir, and it’s not something I’m proud of. I went to great efforts during the writing of my second book to tone down as many of the lurid details as possible while still maintaining a narrative. People with eating disorders can be triggered by a wide variety of things, and these triggers are everywhere: supermarket tabloids, The Biggest Loser show, nutrition and “healthy eating” articles, you name it. Part of recovery is learning how to manage these triggers, whether it’s knowing that images in magazines are Photoshopped, or eschewing those magazines entirely.

I don’t believe in banning books but I do believe in being cautious about what I encourage my friends and family to read, especially when books can inadvertently play into the ED mindset.

A new report confirms that women are more likely than men to suffer mental illness, and stresses the need to address gender disparities in treatment.  Among other findings in “Action Steps for Improving Women’s Mental Health,” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH):

[W]omen are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from major depression. They are three times as likely to attempt suicide, and they experience anxiety disorders two to three times more often than men.

The new report also underscores the relative young age at which mental illness often sets in for both males and females. Half of all mental illnesses occur before age 14, and three-fourths occur by the age of 24, according to the publication. Among the more common mental illnesses seen among young women: eating disorders, which can start in advance of puberty and yet last a lifetime.

Dawn Langstroth, the daughter of singer Anne Murray, is the subject of this story, which also lists helpful tips for parents on how to prevent eating disorders in their children.

“The minute you start talking about it is the minute you start getting better,” Dawn Langstroth tells me. She should know. The tall, striking 26-year-old singer-songwriter started talking openly about her struggle with anorexia nervosa seven years ago, and it has been all uphill since then.

Which is to say, a tough uphill battle toward a cure that may elude her for many years yet. That’s what you call good progress in the world of eating disorders, where getting better takes heroic strength and courage — not to mention boundless support and unconditional love from family and friends.

English actress and TV personality Natalie Cassidy says she now regrets making her Then and Now Workout in 2007 shortly after losing more than 50 pounds.   She went on to gain three dress sizes after struggling to maintain her dream figure in the aftermath of the DVD’s success.

Confirming that she resorted to drastic measures to stay slim, she added: “I would take laxatives before I went to bed which was very dangerous and very stupid. I started doing this about three or four months after doing the DVD.”

Cassidy has previously confessed that she was “bordering on having an eating disorder” at the time of the press attention which surrounded her weight.

In what some are dubbing the “Supergirl” epidemic, the pressure to have it all and be perfect is harming young girls.  The Inside Bay Area reports:

In what may be the ultimate irony, there’s never been a better time to be an American girl — or one that’s as risky. Teen suicide, depression, cutting and eating disorder rates are soaring. In 2004-05 suicide rates jumped 76 percent for tweens and 32 percent for teenage girls ages 15-18, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And some experts say the troubling mental health statistics have much to do with the crushing burden society puts on teenage girls.

Do eating meals together as a family produce healthier, well-adjusted kids?  A new Canadian study suggests yes:

The latest study to trace the benefits of gathering around the table shows Canadian kids in grades six to eight drink less pop, eat less fast food, skip fewer breakfasts and even think they make healthier food choices when out with their friends, if they dine more often with their families.

Jezebel dishes on a new Saudi Arabian “beauty” pageant that judges burka-clad contestants on the basis of their inner “beauty.”  Different culture, same trappings?

Through removing the physical aspect of the so-called beauty pageants, Miss Beautiful Morals reveals our own ambitious relationship to beauty queens. It also raises a whole new set of questions about obedience – for, although the Miss USA competition is not explicitly about obeying in the same way that Miss Beautiful Morals is, we still require them to adhere to a strict set of moralized rules and regulations – and to prove their complete devotion to an empty title.

The Washington Post has a touching story on Sarah Siskin, a 19-year-old college student who recently died from complications related to bulimia.

A growing consensus suggests that for young people with eating disorders, the sooner the problem is identified and aggressively treated, the better the chance of recovery. It is a truth that haunts Sarah’s family; the tragedy of a teenager’s funeral is all the more poignant when there is an underlying question of whether the loss could have been prevented; when those left behind cry not just for the person who is gone, but for the missed moments and lost opportunities that might have saved a life.

A new study of more than 180 female student dietitians reveals a sizeable bias in how they view — and treat — fat people.  Only two percent demonstrated positive or neutral attitudes towards fat people.  The others?

• More than 40 percent of students reported that they believe obese individuals are lazy, lacking in willpower and are self-indulgent.

• The majority of students surveyed also agreed that obese individuals have poor self-control, overeat, are insecure and have low self-esteem.

• Students rated obese patients as being significantly less likely to comply with treatment recommendations and as having worse diet quality and health status compared with thinner patients, despite the fact that all patients were described as healthy adults.

Follow The-F-Word on Twitter here, and if you don’t already, be sure to also follow ED Bites’ Carrie for some good reads on issues and studies related to eating disorders and how we perceive weight in general.

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Book Reviews, Bulimia, Family Issues, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Fitness/Exercise, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Interviews, Mental Health, Mind & Body, New Research, Recovery | 1 Comment

24th April 2009

Running on empty

by Rachel

I’ve never liked running.  In middle and high school, running was punishment.  Forget your gym clothes?  Take a lap.  Late to class?  Take a lap.  My husband, who has the tall, lank runner’s build, ran cross country in high school, 5 – 7 miles each day.  I can barely last five minutes.  When I first set about losing weight, I took up power-walking and quickly found it to be not only a great way to get and stay in shape, but also one of few ways in which I can clear my ADD mind of all the monkey chatter.  I’d mentally compose research papers for class, write epic poems and stories, all of which would remain forever published only in my mind.  When I run, my mind is set on an endless loop: “Breathe, breathe, how long has it been? breathe, breathe, Can I stop yet? breathe, gasp, I’ve only been running for a minute?! breathe, wheeze.”  You get the idea.

For the longest time, I thought the reason I couldn’t run is because I’m fat.  When I lost the weight, I assumed I’d instantly become one of those joggers in the park,  the tanned, toned kind wearing only a sports bra, wind shorts and an iPod.  Finally, I thought.  I’d feel that elusive and mythical runner’s high.  After I had lost the first 100 pounds, I went back to my old high school and ran the same track that had been my gauntlet a decade earlier, but the only high I got was the false vindication that I was no longer that fat, awkward out-of-shape girl I was so desperately trying to erase.  Even at my thinnest, my size-four self could only manage a mile or so before feeling I was going to pass out (malnutrition might have had something to do with that, too).  I conceded that I simply wasn’t meant to be runner and instead took up activities I actually enjoyed, like rollerblading and biking, in addition to powerwalking.

So, I have absolutely no idea why I now suddenly want to train to run a 5K marathon.  Okay, so the fact that my middle-aged sister-in-law, the obsessed Weight Watcherer, announced at Easter that she had run a 5K in 37 minutes might have something to do with it.  If I can walk 3 miles in less than 45 minutes, surely I can beat her time if I jogged just a quarter of that. The fact that the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, always the talk of the town, is just a week away is another motivator, plus I want to just be able to lackadaisically say, “Oh, sure, I’ve run a 5K.”   I found some good training advice for the newbie  runner at and stopped into a local running store to be properly fitted for running shoes.  I own about three pairs of gym shoes, all of which I selected on two criteria: price and cuteness, with sometimes the latter trumping the former.  If you’ve never been properly fitted for running shoes, I highly recommend it.

The woman at the running store asked me to bring my old gym shoes and wear the same density socks I would wear to go running.  She looked at the wear pattern in in my old shoes, measured my feet and examined my stride, gait and walking weight.  At my heaviest weight, I wore almost a size-9 shoe and at my thinnest, a size 6-and-a-half.  I found it strange at the time, but I was more pissed that my Doc Martins didn’t fit anymore.  Weight-loss doesn’t cause your feet to “shrink,” per se; the heavier you are, the more pressure you put on the arches of your feet, flattening them and requiring a larger shoe size.   My feet have been a stable size 7 to 7-and-a-half for the past three years, but in the past eight months, I’ve noticed that my right foot is a  half-size larger than my left.  As a result, shoe shopping can be tricky, but the running store woman took it in stride and compensated for the smaller foot tying a “lace lock” on that shoe.  She also said that my current gym shoes are about a size too small, even though I checked the toe like my mom always said and thought they fit fine.  After muttering something about distal and medial gobblygook, she came back with a pair of Asics Gel-Foundation 8 running shoes that she said were ideal for overpronators (flat-foots) like me.   It was the closest thing to a Cinderella moment I will ever have.  The cushioning seemed to mold my foot into a natural arch while providing a firm, yet comfortable foundation — in short, it was a perfect fit.  I’ve gone running twice in them and consider the $90 price tag well worth it.  You can find more tips on selecting the right running shoe fit here.

The cherry on the day came after I left the running store and  when I stopped into my local Cato shop for stylish sweatpants to match my cute new shoes.  Hey, I may get red-faced and sweaty, but I refuse to look grungy.  “Will this be on your Cato charge card today?” asked the 20-year-old, heavily made-up brunette clerk as I prepared to pay.  I gave her my standard answer, “No, thank you” (we have zero credit card debt and I intend to keep it that way).  “Are you 18?” she persisted, “Cause you could save 10 percent on your purchase today.”  I looked up from wrestling my wallet out of my purse, incredulous, and said, “Thank you.  Just… thank you.”  She gave me a quizzical look and I explained to her that I am turning 30 in less than three weeks.  Her mouth widened. “Ohhh, you don’t look anywhere near that old,” she said.  So, there you have it.  Thirty is officially “old,” but at least I don’t look it… yet.

posted in Fitness/Exercise, Personal | 15 Comments

24th March 2009

AED releases awesome new guidelines for childhood obesity programs

by Rachel

Finally! A group that actually *gets* it! The Academy for Eating Disorders has issued new guidelines for childhood obesity prevention programs that take into consideration the harmful effects such programs can potentially have on children’s physical, social and emotional health, not to mention disordered relationships with food and body. As regular readers know, this is an issue I’ve been writing about for some time now — read here and here. Some of the group’s recommendations include (emphasis mine):

  • Interventions should focus on health, not weight, so as to not contribute to the overvaluation of weight and shape and negative attitudes about fatness that are common among children and have harmful effects on their physical, social and psychological well-being.
  • The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Consistent with this definition, interventions aimed at addressing weight concerns should be constructed from a holistic perspective, where equal consideration is given to social, emotional and physical aspects of children’s health.
  • Interventions should focus not only on providing opportunities for appropriate levels of physical activity and healthy eating, but also promote self-esteem, body satisfaction, and respect for body size diversity. [C]onstructing a social environment where all children are supported in feeling good about their bodies is essential to promoting health in youth.
  • Weight is not a behavior and therefore not an appropriate target for behavior modification. Children across the weight spectrum benefit from limiting time spent watching television and eating a healthy diet. Interventions should be weight-neutral, i.e. not have specific goals for weight change but aim to increase healthy living at any size.
  • It is unrealistic to expect all children to fit into the “normal weight” category. Thus, interventions should not be marketed as “obesity prevention.” Rather, interventions should be referred to as “health promotion,” as the ultimate goal is the health and well-being of all children, and health encompasses many factors besides weight.
  • School-based interventions should avoid the language of “overweight” and “obesity” since these terms may promote weight-based stigma. Moreover, several of the most effective interventions have not focused on weight per se.
  • Interventions should focus on making children’s environments healthier rather than focusing solely on personal responsibility.
  • Interventions should be careful not to use language that has implicit or explicit anti-fat messages, such as “fat is bad,” “fat people eat too much”, etc.
  • Children of all sizes deserve a healthy environment and will benefit from a healthy lifestyle and positive self-image. School-based interventions should not target heavier children specifically with segregated programs aimed at lowering weights. However, this should not discourage efforts to provide physical activities tailored for larger bodies or to address the experiences that heavier children share as a group.
  • Interventions should aim for the maintenance of individually appropriate weights—that is, that children will continue to grow at their natural rate and follow their own growth curve—underscoring that a healthy weight is not a fixed number but varies for each individual.
  • A sudden shift away from the growth curve in either direction may indicate a problem, but further information about lifestyle habits, physical markers and psychological functioning is needed before a diagnosis can be made. Changes in weight are not always a sign of abnormal development. An increase in weight often precedes a growth spurt in children and some girls begin to gain body fat as part of normal adolescence at a very young age.
  • Weighing students should only be performed when there is a clear and compelling need for the information. The height and weight of a child should be measured in a sensitive, straightforward and friendly manner, in a private setting. Height and weight should be recorded without remark. Further, BMI assessment should be considered just one part of an overall health evaluation and not as the single marker for a student’s health status.
  • Weight must be handled as carefully as any other individually identifiable health information.
  • The ideal intervention is an integrated approach that addresses risk factors for the spectrum of weight-related problems, including screening for unhealthy weight control behaviors; and promotes protective behaviors, such as decreasing dieting, increasing balanced nutrition, encouraging mindful eating, increasing activity, promoting positive body image and decreasing weight-related teasing and harassment.
  • Interventions should honor the role of parents in promoting children’s health and help them support and model healthy behaviors at home without overemphasizing weight.
  • Interventions should provide diversity training for parents, teachers and school-staff for the purpose of recognizing and addressing weight-related stigma and harassment and constructing a size-friendly environment in and out of school.
  • Interventions should be created and led by qualified health care providers who acknowledge the importance of a health focus over a weight focus when targeting lifestyle and weight concerns in youth.
  • It is important that interventions be evaluated by qualified health care providers and/or researchers, who are familiar with the research on risk factors for eating disorders, as the interventions are being implemented in schools or communities. Ideally, the assessment should not only evaluate changes in eating and activity levels but also self-esteem, social functioning, weight bias and eating disorder risk factors, such as body dissatisfaction, dieting and thin-ideal internalization.

Wow. Just… wow. I’m somewhat blown away. There is not one single guideline that I disagree with. I encourage everyone to do their part and spread word of these guidelines. Give a copy to your child’s teacher or counselor. Mail a copy to your local school. Repost them on your blog or email a copy to friends and family members with children.

(Deb Burgard of the site Body Positive, a wonderful site promoting positive body image and health at any size, had a role in crafting the guidelines — Way to go, Deb!).

posted in Body Politic, Eating Disorders, Fat Acceptance, Fat Bias, Fitness/Exercise, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Mental Health, New Research | 33 Comments

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