Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Conversation

During a lunch meeting with my editor a couple of years ago, we were discussing topics related to book publishing, including my love of writing. She told me that it's important to pay attention to "the conversation," as I consider what I might write about in the future - "what are the topics that everyone's starting to talk about?" she asked me.

Part of being an author is that after the thrilling news that your book is accepted for publication, and then the excitement of seeing your book come to life, you have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get the word out there. I'm happy to say that several years after the release of The Diet Survivor's Handbook, I am truly part of the conversation in a way I would never have expected!

On Friday, I got a "google alert" that lets me know my name has come up somewhere. It turns out that the LA Times has a column called Cocktail talking points for the weekend. This list highlights what is front and center in the news, with a sentence to start a conversation when you're at your favorite weekend social event.

As someone who doesn't have the easiest time making conversation at cocktail parties, I sure got a kick out of seeing a quote of mine from an LA Times story, that had appeared a week earlier, in Deborah Netburn's list for the weekend of October 17.
Here's what she wrote:

2. Fat activists: It's a complicated issue, fat activism. Not all obese people are unhealthy, it turns out, although certainly many of them are. Still, does that give us a right to judge? Here's a quote from our story: "Size tolerance, fat-acceptance activists say, should be right up there with religious tolerance, ethnic tolerance and gay tolerance. 'It's the culture that has to change,' says Judith Matz, director of the Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating."

Conversation starter: I'm size tolerant; are you?

So here I am - right in the middle of the conversation - and very glad to be there!

I'd like to continue the conversation that Ms. Netburn refers to when she says, "Not all obese people are unhealthy, it turns out, although certainly many of them are." I would add that, "Not all thin people are healthy, it turns out, although certainly many of them are!" My point is that there are fat people who are healthy and fat people who aren't, just as there are thin people who are healthy and thin people who aren't. Whether you call it fat acceptance, size diversity, or even this new term of size tolerance, the goal is to become weight neutral: get rid of assumptions based on body size.

When I do workshops where people are exploring their own attitudes about weight, I sometimes brainstorm a list, asking participants, "what do you think about when you think of someone who is thin and someone who is fat?" Here are some typical responses:

happy lazy
successful stupid
sexy inactive
attractive unhappy
active unhealthy
healthy ugly

Next, it's helpful to take these words, and think about the real people you know in your life. If you're like most of us, there are people you know who are thin, but do not necessarily have the perfect life suggested by the associated words. Likewise, you can surely point to some people you know who are fat - friends, relatives and/or colleagues - who you would not characterize by the words listed in the fat column.

What's going on here is stereotyping. It has happened to every group that's in the minority - Jews, Italians, African-Americans, homosexuals - to name a few, and it happens everyday to people who are fat. At this point in our history, while it is no longer acceptable to stereotype most of the groups who fall outside of the mainstream, weightism continues to permeate our culture. The acceptability of stereotyping fat people as unhealthy, for example, can be seen in the healthcare debate that often blames those who are larger for growing health care costs, even in an administration that is particularly sensitive to the needs of minority groups.

The series of LA Times articles that originally quoted me were exploring fat as "the new normal." As more and more attention focuses on issues of quitting diets, size acceptance and Health At Every Size, we can hope to move to a future that is weight neutral. Each person can foster wellness by embracing behaviors that promote physical and emotional well-being, and wherever their body size lands - thin, fat, and anywhere between - is where they are entitled to live their lives, free from the shame and discrimination that so often rears its ugly head.

This conversation is here to stay for now. With all of the attention on the "obesity crisis," those fighting for the rights of people at any size are becoming well-organized; The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH, held it's annual conference in Washington D.C. in August organizing visits to Capitol Hill to educate legislators about Health At Every Size; Fat Studies is receiving greater attention as an academic focus, and with the release of the new Fat Studies Reader, Amy Farrell was on the popular Colbert Report (, bringing humor and awareness to a nationwide audience.

And for diet survivors everywhere, stories like the recent LA Times, Dieting? Not for these folks validates the courageous decision to let go of dieting and develop a healthy relationship with food through attuned/intuitive eating. Given the billions of dollars people have spent over the past decades to get thin, if diets really worked, we wouldn't be needing to have this conversation.

If you'd like to read the LA Times series, here are the links.

Eat well! Live well! Be well!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You Have Got to be Kidding!

Years ago, I remember visiting my dear friend in the hospital hours after she had given birth to a healthy baby girl. Holding her infant daughter, who was swaddled in a hospital blanket decorated with pastel colored teddy bears, my friend was beaming.

"She's beautiful," I said.

My friend smiled and responded, "I know. She only weighed 6 pounds and 3 ounces, and I'm hoping from day one, she'll always be petite and thin."

All I could think about was this poor little baby, only hours old, and already her mother was preoccupied with her weight and her wish for her daughter be be thin. While I was appalled, apparently the insurance companies approve of this sentiment. This was what I read about today:

A Colorado health insurance company denied 4 month old Alex Lange coverage claiming he has a pre-existing condition - obesity - which makes him a financial risk. Alex weighs 17 pounds and is breastfed. After gaining national attention, The Rocky Mountain Health Plan said this past Monday that it will reverse it's decision for babies who are "healthy but fat."

Alex's mother, Kelli Lange, said that her baby has had nothing but breat milk and that the brief insurance rejection didn't change how she fed him. She stated, "I'm not going to withhold food to get him down to below that number of 95 {the 95% on the bell shaped curve}. Good for her. Although I do worry a bit when Alex's parents joked that, "when he is ready for solid food, they will start him on slim-Fast."

I remember being in a play group way back when. There was a woman who was a nurse and the mother of 6 month old Kyle. Kyle had a healthy appetite and was exclusively bottlefed. Kyle was a big, happy, health baby until his pediatrician and mother became concerned about his weight. They decided that Kyle's intake must be reduced. They cut out a predetermined number of ounces, reducing the number of bottles he was allowed each day. From that point on, when we met for our weekly playgroup, I came equipped with a bottle of Excedrin. Kyle would scream, cry and howl. The once happy baby became miserable when he was up, and would no longer go down for his nap. He just cried and cried. Kyle was hungry, and his mother refused to feed him, "for his own good." His mother, I should add, was a chronic dieter who, I have to say, was a bit on the moody side herself.

We need health care reform, and major changes in the health insurance industry, for sure. The Alex Lange case is outrageous. But we also need some intensive care as a culture. The hope for a lower weight infant daughter to stay petite and thin? The withholding of sustenance from a happy, thriving 6 month old because he's deemed "too fat?" No wonder there is such body shame in our culture, and so many people engaged in an unhealthy relationship with food, their bodies and themselves. I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes, that babies, before the interference begins, can model for those of us who forget:

"When hungry eat your rice, when tired close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean." -Lin-Chi


Friday, October 9, 2009


In September, Judith blogged about her experience at her son's open house. She was pleasantly surprised by the physical education teacher who talked about his emphasis on celebrating body size diversity, and his intolerance of students making negative comments about weight. Voicing how impressed she was by the physical education teacher, and how rare and needed his perspective was, her husband had wondered aloud if there weren't a lot of teachers out there promoting the idea that people come in different shapes and sizes.

I thought I'd tell you about my experience at my son's high school open house this past week. My son is a senior, and after sitting in with his teachers in classes like AP Calculus, Statistics and Robotics, I was looking forward to meeting with his gym class where I figured my heart wouldn't race so much, being that I'm a bit math and science phobic.

Minutes into the physical education teacher's presentation, my heart was racing and my pulse quickening much more intensely than talk about Chi Squares and derivatives. He talked about the activities they would be focusing on throughout the year, and the importance of instilling in the students the need for both physical activity and nutrition...wait for make sure they don't become victim to the "Freshman 15" at college, that they stay thin, and that they fear gaining any weight because obesity is the leading cause of death in this country.

Now, I'm all for good nutrition and physical activity for the sake of health and a positive sense of well-being, enjoyment and pleasure. But this came from a place of fearing fat, and the inaccurate notion that obesity is the biggest killer in the country. I wanted to gather up all of the research and introduce the physical education teacher to the statistics teacher so that the gym teacher could see that he was spreading inaccurate research and faulty conclusions.

I don't think my sister, Judith, and I engage in too much sibling rivalry, but boy, did I envy her son and his physical education teacher!

As the gym teacher was concluding his short talk, he announced that we should support the student council by visiting the the bake sale in the cafeteria and purchasing some baked goods. Walking out, a parent said to me, "I'm upset by that talk." As I was about to launch in with my thoughts and join him in his concern, he continued, "He was right about kids needing to lose weight and stay thin, but then he blows it by telling us to buy something at the bake sale. That's not going to help our children lose weight."

I thought of launching into obesity and diet myths, sitting this man and the physical education teacher down and talking with them about HAES and about attuned eating. But honestly, that night I just didn't have the energy. Instead, I thought about how much my son loves chocolate covered strawberries, which they had at the bake sale, and I bought him some instead. That act itself slowed my pounding heart. Coming home that night, my son happily biting into a chocolate covered strawberry, I told him about the open house, about what it was like meeeting his teachers, sitting in his classrooms. When I started to tell him about the physical education teacher he said, "Oh, I meant to warn you about that. The whole Freshman 15, huh?" I shook my head yes. "Maybe I should give him your book," he said. When I smiled at him he said, "Are you hungry for something sweet? Do you want a strawberry?" And I smiled at him and took a big, juicy bite!