Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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What does “healthy” look like?

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A little while ago I wrote about the importance of representation and how the health care industry is failing at it. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as saying “we’re going to use more diverse images in our marketing and materials”. Most organizations don’t take their own photos. Instead, most use stock photography sites from which staff select images. It’s not just health care that has a problem, it’s all media, and it’s the sites from which we source our images.

So many of the images I come across on the stock photo site we use at work are problematic. I’m not going to name the site because it really doesn’t matter which one it is, they’re all the same. Search the word “healthy” and you’ll likely come up with a lot of smiling, slim, glowing, youthful white people outdoors wearing athletic clothing or eating salad. Of course there might be one older person, a black person, and a “normal” (i.e. not model thin) person in the mix but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Fitness returns more of the same, minus the salad shots. On the other hand, when you search “fat” you come back with a bunch of headless torsos clutching their bellies, larger people drooling over fries, large people looking miserable, and a few “good” fat people engaging in physical activity – again, the exceptions that prove the rule. Then there’s the images of “healthy choices” in which the ubiquitous glowing youthful white woman is weighing a doughnut in one hand and an apple in the other as if this is all that healthy eating is about. Or how about the images of large women kicking “junk food” solidly away? How virtuous. Or the woman literally taking a pair of scissors to her stomach? Horrifying.

All these images do is serve to reinforce the popular beliefs that we hold around body size, health, and personal responsibility. To reinforce the stigma against larger bodies and the false assumption that smaller bodies are always healthy bodies and the result of healthy personal choices. It takes a lot of effort and consideration for people to choose images from these stock photo sites that don’t contribute to stereotypes. It’s worth that extra effort though to show that all bodies are good bodies and that your organization is for everyone, not just people who look a certain way.

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The other “F” word

I was recently perusing a copy of Big Fat Lies by Glenn Gaesser that’s been sitting on a shelf in my office since long before I started working at my current job. I think that a lot of it’s outdated now, and it’s also a little on the extreme side but I was interested by the results of a poll that found that the majority of people would rather be stupid or mean than fat. This sparked a little debate between myself and a colleague. We were both in agreement that we would never opt to be stupid over mean or fat but that it was a bit of a toss-up between the two. An article in the Globe and Mail reported that a recent diet survey found that a slight majority of women would go a full year without sex if it meant they’d be skinny. The immediate reaction many people have to these sorts of surveys is indignation that people would choose options like no sex, being mean, or being stupid over being fat. The assumption being that this indicates our ingrained fat prejudice. This was my immediate assumption too when I read the study results in the book but upon closer examination I don’t think it’s that simple. There are many different reasons why people chose as they did and they may have nothing to do with fat prejudice. For instance, if you are single or just not that interested in sex, of course you’re going to opt to be thin over fat because you’re not getting any either way. As for the mean, stupid, or fat choice. We struggled with the fact that there were no quantifiers. How mean is mean? How fat is fat? It seems like lots of mean people tend to get ahead in life. If you’re so mean that everyone hates you then I’d opt for fat. But if you’re so fat that your health is endangered and your ability to function in the world is negatively affected then I’d rather be mean thanks. Fit and fat? Sure, sign me up. I think there are a myriad of factors that influence people’s choices in surveys like these and the actual results don’t really tell us all that much other than we are far too concerned about how others perceive us. We need to turn more attention inward and be the way that makes us feel best about ourselves.