Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Book review: Hunger by @rgay

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I don’t really feel like a review of a person’s memoir is appropriate. Who am I to be critical of anyone’s experience or how they choose to write about it? So this is not really a review, but more of a recommendation.

I’ve had this book on my reading list for about a year now. Ever since I heard about it on This American Life, I believe. Yet somehow I missed its release. Not by much, I don’t think. As soon as I saw that it was out I hustled over to the local bookstore to pick up a copy.

Hunger is Roxane Gay’s memoir about growing up, suffering trauma, and the huge role that food has played in her life subsequent to that experience. Hunger is more than a memoir though. It’s an eye opening entry into someone else’s world. A world that most people like to pretend doesn’t exist. The world of someone who is “morbidly obese”. For people of all sizes, this book provides important insight into the world and how we could all make it a little bit better for everyone living in it.

As I read, I marked the pages of passages that I wanted to refer to in this post so let’s take a little look at some of the parts that stood out the most for me.

On page 6, Gay writes about the arbitrary cut-off point for obesity and how the term “morbidly obese” essentially frames fat people as “the walking dead”. This goes to show the deep level of stigma around fat in our society and how that attitude is ingrained in medical professionals.

On page 66, Gay writes about losing weight and how as she became thinner she became more visible to those around her. It’s ironic that the larger our bodies are, the less visible we become to other people as fellow humans. Less worthy of attention, respect, and love. It’s sad that this is the way we have chosen to treat each other and I think that we should all take a hard look at our own biases and try harder to treat everyone equally, regardless of size. Pages 120-121 offer some insight into how “well meaning” friends, family members, and even strangers, provide “advice” in completely unhelpful ways.

On page 139, Gay talks about Oprah’s struggles with her weight and I love this passage so much:

In yet another commercial, Oprah somberly says, “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.” This is a popular notion, the idea that the fat among us are carrying a thin woman inside. Each time I see this particular commercial, I think, I ate that thin woman and she was delicious but unsatisfying. And then I think about how fucked up it is to promote this idea that our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates. 

Then, there are other parts that were eye-opening to me. On page 157 Gay writes about strangers taking food out of her grocery cart and offering her unsolicited nutrition advice. I cannot even imagine how it would feel to have someone pass judgement on me and remove items from my shopping cart. It blew my mind that people do this.

I also never thought about the lack of clothing options for people who are overweight and how fraught shopping can be as Gay shares on page 180. Or the pain that many chairs can cause (p. 202). Or the difficulty that flying can pose (p. 209).

There were many more passages that I marked because I thought she put so many things so well but rather than retype her book here, you should probably go buy it yourself and mark all of your own favourite passages.

Hunger should be required reading for all dietitians, medical professionals, humans.

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Skinny people should eat alone

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Last week Cornell Food Lab tweeted the above and I was all like <insert facepalm gif here>.

I think that the research the Cornell Food Lab does is fascinating. My first degree was in psychology and the work they does is pretty much the perfect marriage of nutrition and psychology. However, they really do tweet some questionable things.

On the face of it this seems like some fairly innocent advice. I mean who doesn’t want to ensure they don’t overeat? It’s the subtext of it that bothers me. It’s saying that watching how much you eat is more important than socializing, than friendships, than connecting with others. Hypothetically speaking, if my boyfriend is a delicate bird of an eater then he should probably sit at home with his lettuce leaves while I go out for lunch with friends so that I resist stuffing my face with All of the Things. Or, my light eating (why does this remind me of that woman who was convinced that she could sustain herself via photosynthesis?) co-workers should stealthily scarf their lunches in their cubicles while the rest of us gluttons whoop it up in the lunch room.

The sub-subtext is that thin is good, fat is bad and getting or staying thin should be the focus of all our food decisions. Never mind the fact that mealtimes should be pleasurable occasions. Forget that food and eating is about so much more than controlling how much we cram down our gullets. Never mind that social eating can be emotionally fraught enough for many people. Skinny people should be sure to isolate themselves lest they risk catching the gluttony of people who are overweight. Overweight people should all be forced to consume their food in locations where ever morsel they ingest can be subjected to due public scrutiny so that they’re sure to think twice before they have fries.

Lest you think I’m over thinking this tweet, in response to my retweet (with the comment “oy vey”) they shared this link to the research to clarify their point. Because research where people dined with a person in a fat suit is sooo much better than I thought this was. Sigh.

How about instead of enforcing food hang-ups and weight bias we all start enjoying our meals, be they alone or with others, again.

 

 

 

 

 


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Boycott Fit To Fat To Fit

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When I heard about the new TV show Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit I thought “that sounds a lot like that moronic trainer I wrote about years ago.” A little digging through my archives, and it looks like I was right.

For anyone who hasn’t heard about this new show, the premise is a group of personal trainers intentionally gain a bunch of weight (ostensibly so that they “know” what it’s like to be fat) and then they lose the weight again, along with their chosen client.

What I wrote about the original Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit trainer remains true over five years later, and applies to the trainers in the series. Unfortunately, by the sheer existence of a TV series it would seem that his stunt paid off, and then some.

There are so many things wrong with a series like this. Starting with the fact that these trainers are potentially putting their health at risk by gorging themselves to gain weight. And then by losing the weight, presumably through gruelling workouts and restrictive diets. And for what? Money? Fame? Even if they truly believe that “putting themselves in their clients shoes” is helping them to know what it’s like to be overweight, that’s not what this is really about and it’s not providing them with the true experience. They may gain a greater appreciation for how people fat-shame those who are overweight but they haven’t taken the same journey as their clients.

Most people aren’t overweight because they intentionally ate super-sized McDonald’s meals every day. They become overweight for myriad reasons and it happens over extended periods of time, not usually the six months allotted for the TV show. Our environment, our income, our upbringing, our genetics, our friends, our mental health, our gut microbes, our jobs, and on and on, are all factors in determining what we weigh. The trainers involved in the series aren’t experiencing weight gain in the same way that most people do. It’s simplifying a complex issue into calories in, calories out.

In addition to the detriment potentially caused to the trainers themselves there’s the harm potentially caused to their clients (and to the public watching at home). The clients are being taught that they are to blame for their weight gain. They’re also being taught that exercise is the way to lose weight. Have we learned nothing from the Biggest Loser? I guess we have. We’ve learned how to get some great TV ratings. We know that the Biggest Loser can wreak metabolic havoc, not to mention emotional havoc, on the contestants. This is the same thing. Let’s push people to their breaking points so they lose weight we get more viewers. Who cares what happens to them afterwards.

And the harm to people at home? The message the show sends it that it’s your fault that you’re fat and you can lose the weight if you just work hard enough. Even if everyone wanted to destroy their metabolisms at home, most people don’t have the time or money to undertake a punishing daily workout regimen with personal trainers. Nor is there the pressure to make the cut for a TV program looming over our heads. Who has the “luxury” of making weight loss their full-time job? Not to mention the fact that the majority of weight loss is a result of what we eat, not exercise.

Finally, programs like this are teaching us that there is only one way to be beautiful, healthy, loved, and worthy and that’s by being skinny. We all naturally have different body types and what healthy looks like on me may be very different from what healthy looks like on you. Suggesting that everyone needs to have the same abdominal definition to be fit and healthy is the same as suggesting that some of us need to grow a few more inches in height (or become shorter). It’s a ridiculous and impossible ideal.

Please don’t watch this show. By watching, you are only helping to support dangerous attitudes to weight and perpetuating false ideals and helping A&E make money from the suffering of others.


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Warning!: Your groceries may be making you fat

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My friend and fellow dietitian Gemma tweeted a link to this story: Bespoke health warnings on supermarket till receipts to fight obesity last week. After checking to see if she had a blog post planned on the topic, and receiving her go-ahead to write about it, here I am!

The idea is that supermarkets could print tailored nutrition advice on customer receipts based on the items they purchase. These would be warnings based on the purchases a customer makes. Too much fatty food? Your receipt might tell you to skip the chips next time and go for the carrots instead. Too much sugar? Your receipt might tell you to lay off the candy bars and buy some lettuce. As current efforts to curb the obesity epidemic have been failing, apparently Public Health thinks that this might “nudge” customers to make healthier choices. Because shaming works so well. *Tears out hair* Sigh.

Thankfully, this idea is still in the early stages. I hope that this means it will never see the light of day. Why? There are a number of issues with this endeavor. As I pointed out, fat shaming (or any type of dietary shaming) is not an effective method to induce behaviour change. Does anyone really want their grocery store judging their purchases? Telling them they shouldn’t have bought that ice cream for a party? I certainly don’t. I know that with all of the misleading marketing and packaging navigating the grocery store aisles can be difficult and time-consuming. However, I don’t think many people need to be reminded that what they’re buying is crap when they load up their carts with fries and pop. If a grocery store had receipts that made me feel badly about my purchases I would probably just shop at another store. That leads me to a few other issues.

One, if a public health campaign like this were to be undertaken, it would have to be implemented in all supermarkets in order to be effective. I don’t think anyone is going to choose to shop at a chain because the receipts there tell them they made bad choices. Two, would anyone even look at these nutrition statements on their receipts? I know that I rarely examine my receipts. If a campaign doesn’t reach most people, even if were well-designed, it’s unlikely to be effective. Three, public health would need to get buy-in from the supermarkets, and I don’t see that happening. Why would any retailer want customers to leave feeling worse about themselves than when they entered their store? Removing candy from the tills makes sense. It’s great publicity and it’s something that customers want. Shaming customers for their purchases is not good publicity, and as far as I’m aware, it’s not something customers are clamouring for.

My final concern is with how the algorithm to determine nutritional merit of foods would be created. Would someone be told to buy less fatty food if they bought a jar of coconut oil or a stick of butter? Would they be told to buy less sugar if they bought a bottle of maple syrup? How would “unhealthy” be determined? What about someone who buys mostly fresh produce and minimally processed foods but throws a bag of chips in there or some cheese? Would a block of cheese be given the same treatment as a bag of chips? After all, there would be more fat in a block of cheese than a bag of chips.

I see this campaign as both problematic and offensive. If public health really wants to see systemic change they should work to change the system, not the consumer.