Friday, August 28, 2009

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times...

People will sometimes ask me if I think things are getting better or worse when it comes to pressures to be thin and attitudes toward dieting. I always hesitate a moment before answering because the truth of the matter is: both! My emotional state during the day can easily switch from exasperation and rage at news stories or policies related to the "war on obesity," to hope and inspiration when I see the latest article or action by those committed to creating a world where people can take pleasure in their bodies and honor their hunger.

The worst of the worst occurred over the summer when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released their Lean Works web site, which included a cost-calculator so that employers can figure out how much their fat employees cost them each year. Talk about institutionalizing size discrimination. Then there was the debate over Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Obama's pick to be the Surgeon General. No one questioned her brilliance, compassion and capabilities...but sadly, many did question whether she's just too fat for the job.

Story after story reports how being "overweight" is the equivalent of a death sentence - even when there is mounting research that says the opposite. Over this past summer, two long-term studies - one from Canada and one from Japan - were released that found people in the "overweight" category of BMI actually live longer than those in the "normal" range. I heard a doctor on CNN discussing these findings who said something along the lines of "Yes, that's what they found, but you should still lose weight." I wish I could say I was shocked, but that's the mindset of most people....including health professionals.

Despite the increased attempts at the "war on obesity" I remain encouraged and inspired by what Dr. Linda Bacon refers to as the "new peace movement." The framework of Health At Every Size, which focuses on wellness rather than weight, is getting more and more attention in mainstream news sources such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. There was a fabulous article published by Newsweek online yesterday entitled, Who says americans are too fat? Overselling the obesity epidemic isn't getting us anywhere. You can be big and healthy at the same time. You can read it at file: Fat and Healthy: Why It's Possible | Newsweek Health |

The Health At Every Size movement is organized and strong! During the recent Association for Size Diversity and Health conference in Washington, D.C., participants received training in how to meet with their legislators, and then went to Capitol Hill to speak directly with their representatives. Although I was sorry not to be able to attend these visits, I understand that people were well-received and able to give factual information on the relationship between weight and health that will hopefully have a positive effect on future health policies.

I am thrilled that there are more and more resources that promote body acceptance, and that they are making their way into the culture, giving people a positive framework to think about how to best care for themselves. During my group this week, I showed a wonderful DVD called Finding Your Healthy Weight, created by The Body Positive. Medical experts and researchers offer compelling information to validate Health At Every Size as the best alternative to dieting, and real women who have struggled with eating and body hatred tell their stories of learning to eat from hunger, move their bodies in way that feel great, and discover self-love.

Perhaps that's where my greatest hope lies. People who practice Health At Every Size are in more and more places: teaching college courses, offering community programs, working in government positions and providing services to people who are ready to quit dieting and live more fully in the world. As we get our message out there, we are slowly but surely changing the world.

In fact, there's a revolution going on, and each of us has a part to play. Whether we write a letter, refuse to go on a diet, tell someone else about Health At Every Size or choose to feel more comfortable in our own bodies, each and every action will reverberate in our communities.

In keeping with my Tale of Two Cities theme (part of the fun of writing a blog!), I would have to conclude that "Off with their heads" is on the way out. Pictures of headless fat people in news stories - as if they are merely objects - are being replaced by large people out in the world and enjoying life. And of course, what could be more apropos to support the movement toward attuned/intuitive eating than the famous line, "Let them eat cake!" I would like to modify that to say, "Let us all eat cake - when that is what we are hungry for." And let us also eat anything else we darn well please!

Eat well! Live well! Be well!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

American Idol Kelly Clarkson Rocks!

Each morning, armed with a cup of hazelnut coffee, I head to my computer and read over the CNN headlines on my homepage. Probably, from a spiritual point of view, my morning cup of coffee should be a cup of herbal tea, and I should be sitting down to meditate, or taking an early contemplative walk instead of filling my head - so early in the day - with so much bad news: bombs, typhoons, deadly prescriptions for Michael Jackson, the unsolved health crisis and the dire predictions about the "obesity epidemic," house foreclosures.

But this morning, ah, this morning. I sat down to my computer and what did CNN offer me? A headline from that read Kelly Clarkson Slams Weight Critics." I can't remember if I voted for Clarkson all those years back on the first American Idol, but she sure has my vote and support now.

Over the past few months, as bloggers have been bashing Kelly about her weight, she has stepped up to the microphone and her voice - her wonderful voice - has spoken loud and clear striking the perfect tone, that resounding chord, that has those of us diet survivors clapping and thinking Encore! Here's a few choice "lyrics" that Kelly has sung out:

"Of course celebrities have cellulite."

"When people talk about my weight, I'm like 'You seem to have a problem with it. I don't; I'm fine."

"My happy weight changes. Sometimes I eat more; sometimes I play more."

About food she explains that she still eats chicken-fried steak, but also had days when she prefers salads.

She refuses to diet saying, "For me, it's the times when I'm not paying attention that I end up losing weight. But I'm never trying to lose weight - or gain it. I'm just being."

Okay, so this morning my coffee isn't Zen tea, and I'm making an internet connection instead of connecting to my inner soul. Still, reading about the enlightened spirit of Kelly Clarkson is damn close to nirvana!


Friday, August 7, 2009

"No Wonder You Look Like That!"

A couple of nights ago, a group of us sat together at Dairy Queen to enjoy some soft serve ice cream on a hot summer night. An old family friend happened to pass by and stopped to say hello. As she noticed that my daughter wasn't eating any ice cream, she was quick to comment, "No wonder you look like that!"

These kind of moments always fill me with tension. Do I explain to her that she happened to catch my daughter at a moment when she wasn't hungry, so she didn't order the ice cream? Do I inform her that on another evening she may have found her enjoying a hot fudge sundae? Do I lecture her on the intrusiveness of comments that focus on body size and make assumptions about another person's relationship with food? Or do I ignore her words, and move on to the next topic?

My daughter solved these particular dilemmas for me when she jumped in and explained, "One of the parents at our camp brought in donuts today. They were delicious, but now I'm just not hungry for ice cream." Ahhh...the joys of raising an attuned/intuitive eater!

This experience reminded me of a time when I worked in an office where cakes were brought in routinely to celebrate each other's birthdays. I remember that if I wasn't hungry and passed on the cake, invariably someone would say, "No wonder you look like that." But the interesting thing was that when I was hungry and had a piece of cake, the response was, "You are so lucky - you can eat anything you want!"

The assumptions people make about our eating - whether we are fat, thin, and anywhere in between - have much more to do with their projections than with our relationship to food. In fact, there is yet to be a scientific study validating that fat people eat more than thin people. I think that for all of us, it's worth reflecting on any assumptions we make that are connected to body weight, when we observe others eating. At the same time, it is so important to remember that when someone comments on our weight and/or our relationship with food, it says a lot more about them than it does about us.

This family friend has always been obsessed with her size. I have no way of knowing what she was thinking about or feeling when she noticed my daughter without any ice cream, but I do know that her interpretation of my daughter's body size - and the fantasy that she must not eat ice cream - had nothing to do with my daughter, and everything to do with her.

I still haven't figured out the best way to respond in these situations. To do nothing seems reinforce or accept a statement that I am uncomfortable with. To have to respond each and every time feels like a burden, and truthfully, I just don't always have the energy to engage in a discussion about the concepts of ending diets, attuned/intuitive eating, and size diversity. So I pick and about you?

Eat well! Live well! Be well!