Happy International No Diet Day!

It’s that time of year again, folks. As Fillyjonk wrote two two years ago:

Of course, we strive to make EVERY day No Diet Day, but if you’ve been teetering on the edge, today is the day to try it out for 24 hours and see how you function when you make peace with food. Or maybe it’s time to spread the word to some friends, or post a flyer next to the stats for your office “Biggest Loser” competition. Or maybe it’s just a day to eat a big piece of cake.

This time last year, we were celebrating by getting Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere to the number one spot on the Powell’s bestseller list. Of course, I happen to think that’s an appropriate way to celebrate every year, so feel free to try again. (Kidding, kidding. But it does make a lovely gift.) Tell us how you’re celebrating in comments.

Gobsmacked

According to the Vancouver Sun, there’s a new way to torture yourself through dieting. Literally:

The medical procedure involves stitching a small piece of polyethylene mesh onto a patient’s tongue, making it painful to ingest solid foods and forcing a low-calorie, liquid diet.

You pay a nice man named Dr Nikolas Chugay to spend 10 minutes to stitch a torture device into your mouth, and you pay him $3,000 for the privilege, and then you eat 750 calories a day for a month. And you lose weight! And also you forgo all pleasure in life because you are combining constant pain with a sub-torture level of sustenance!

According to the article, “Since last September, Chugay says 35 people have opted for the surgery.” That’s 35 people who hate themselves so profoundly that they paid a doctor $3,000 to sew a pain patch into their mouths.

Can someone please wake me when we’re in that post-feminist world full of jolly fat people that I keep hearing so much about? I’m going to go huddle in a closet with T-Rex till then.

Quote of the Day

We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we’re behaviorally and neurochemically dependent upon food.

-MeMe Roth, during Nightline’s big fat debate

That’s right, you lazy gluttons! This is what your lack of respect for your bodies, the healthcare system, your fellow taxpayers and MeMe’s certificate from a degree mill have wrought.

We are now dependent on food.

It has gotten that bad, people.

I haven’t watched much of the debate, but kudos to The Rotund for getting in there! I don’t think I could have listened to MeMe say that (or anything else) in person without my eyes actually popping out of my head.

Monstrous cookies for cookie monsters

From the NYT comes this story about the Cookie Diet, a diet plan in which you survive on “six prepackaged cookies a day, plus one ‘real’ meal — say, skinless chicken and steamed vegetables.” The idea here seems to be that you will be so entranced by the idea of eating the sinful “cookies” that you will forget that you are, you know, starving yourself, and that these aren’t exactly your grandma’s snickerdoodles. (Ahem: “The main ingredient in the Soypal cookie is okara, or soy pulp, which absorbs any liquids you drink with the cookies.” Delicious!)

Surprisingly, the NYT actually acknowledges the cultural clusterfuck that the Cookie Diet symbolizes:

The popularity of cookie diets is hardly surprising in this culture of quick fixes. Who wouldn’t want to exert the minimal effort to get long-lasting results? Who wouldn’t want to lose weight by consuming something verboten on most diets?

“The Cookie Diet is very appealing, because it legalizes a food — the cookie — that is banned from most weight-loss programs,” said Jenni Schaefer, author of “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover From Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life” (McGraw-Hill, 2009).

“The diet gives people a false sense of control, simplifying balanced nutrition into one food: the cookie,” she added.

The same cultural forces that tell you you must always be on a diet, Fatty McFatterpants, tells you that some foods are “good” and some are “bad.” Cookies, along with cake, pie, baby donuts, and other sweet things usually made with oil and butter, are the sine qua non of bad food. They are the snack of the robot devil himself. The Cookie Diet brilliantly exploits the false morality of fat: you diet by doing what would count as “cheating” on any other diet. You can’t just eat cookies without a plan, after all. And heaven forbid that you make your own cookies rather than spend $56 a week for someone’s soy pulp with secret spices.

Look, here’s the thing: you’re allowed to eat cookies. This is true if you’re fat or not fat. You’re allowed to eat six cookies a day if you feel like it. You’re also allowed to eat a cookie today and a salad tomorrow, or a cookie for dessert and a smoothie for breakfast. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want.

Cookies are not evil. Some things are evil. Cookies are just cookies.

Once More With Feeling: We Already Know We’re Fat

kateiconZuzu sent me a link to the latest Schott’s Vocab post at the NYT, this one examining the phrase “fat gap.” Ben Schott points out that the phrase “has also been used to describe disproportionately high obesity rates among the poor, and the differing levels of obesity in different ethnic groups in Washington D.C.,” but here, he’s talking about how it’s used it in yet another article about yet another survey showing obese people are too stupid to know we’re obese. Says the Telegraph: “They are suffering from a new phenomenon dubbed ‘the fat gap’ which has blurred public perception of what is a healthy weight.”

Schott also quotes BBC health reporter Clare Murphy on the matter:

The findings appear to be fresh evidence of a phenomenon that health professionals have long suspected: as those around us get fatter, our perceptions of our own size change accordingly.

No, our perceptions of our own size are not the problem here; our perceptions of the size that constitutes clinical obesity is, and there are some damned good reasons for that. Murphy even touches on one of them — “pictures of children too fat to toddle or the adults so large they need to be hoisted from his house have transformed obesity into a freak show” — but still doesn’t quite connect all the dots.

Let’s review. As Fillyjonk said earlier this month:

This so-called epidemic is not made up of theoretical fucking people who are just as fat as you can possibly imagine. It’s made up of people you see every day AND WHO YOU PROBABLY THINK ARE “NOT FAT.”

It is also, of course, made up of the very fat people held up as “freaks,” and plenty of people in between, but the fact remains that in the U.K., as with the U.S., the majority of obese people have a BMI between 30 and 35. Which means that if they don’t know they’re clinically obese, it’s probably because they’ve never calculated their BMI, they look nothing like the media’s image of obesity, and they’ve constantly got people telling them they’re not even fucking fat.

That’s a sore spot for me, as you know, and I’ve been getting it more than usual lately. Jezebel commenters, journalists, anyone new I mention my work to — “Wait, I don’t get it. You don’t look fat to me!” My sister J’s first comment on the Chatelaine spread: “Guaranteed to garner plenty of ‘you’re not even fat’ comments!”  And the sad thing is, I’d already had the same thought. I am thisclose to making myself a skintight “This is what obesity looks like” T-shirt.

And it’s not even like I’m borderline obese. My BMI is about 35, based on my best guess of what I weigh right now (low 190s). So in fact, the only border I am on is that of obese class 2. I am, in fact, more obese than most obese people in this country. So is Fillyjonk. So is Joy Nash (at the high end of class 1, being 1 lb. heavier and 1 inch taller than class 2 FJ). So is Coco. So is Slay Belle. So is Shannon. Are you getting the picture?

I say this, as always, not to make fatter fats feel like freaks (of whom we are quite fond anyway), but to clarify why a reasonable person might be confused about the clinical definition of obesity, and just who makes up this epidemic we’re constantly hearing about. The reporters telling us that of 2000 people surveyed, 25% were obese but only 7% knew it, really seem to believe that’s because fatties are looking around at other fatties and going, “Well, gosh, I don’t look that bad, so I must not really be fat.” They don’t ever  consider that people who are class 1 obese — once again, most obese people — almost certainly realize they’re some value of “fat” but might not realize they’re over the “obese” threshold because the visual definition of “obese” they’re usually offered by THE SAME GODDAMNED MEDIA OUTLETS refers only to a tiny percentage of the population.

Oh, Murphy sort of acknowledges that, but here’s how:

The focus on the extreme in television documentaries about the very large but also in the pictures that are chosen to illustrate articles about obesity have also been held up as another potential culprit.

“If you see people with BMI of over 50, say, and you have a BMI of 40 then you may well think you aren’t too bad,” says Dr Krystyna Matyka of the University of Warwick Medical School.

OK, first, I’d just like to point out that the illustration for this very article is a close-up of belly rolls and the caption “Apparently we do not know what’s normal anymore.” Second, without knowing for sure how the stats broke down, I can almost guarantee you that the problem is not people with a BMI over 40 failing to recognize that they’re obese; it’s THE MAJORITY OF OBESE PEOPLE, WHO ARE MUCH THINNER THAN THAT.

So instead of actually teaching anyone what “obese” more commonly looks like, studies and articles like this merely reinforce the stereotype that fat people are not only ignorant but delusional. Instead of imagining people who look like Angelos or Ginny being unaware that they’re on the threshold of clinical obesity, or people like Cassie and Delilah not realizing they’ve already crossed it, the average reader imagines the headless, dehumanized, extremely fat person in the picture standing in front of a mirror, making finger guns and going, “How you doin’, slim?” Which serves the purpose of amping up discrimination against “ignorant” fat people quite well, but doesn’t actually do a goddamned thing to help the majority of obese people recognize that they qualify as such, which is supposed to be the point here, isn’t it?

Problem is, actually talking about people with a BMI just over 30 not realizing they’re officially obese, when most people wouldn’t realize it about them, either, would make it really hard to advance the thesis that fat people are idiots who lie to themselves! It’s much easier to stay vague about exactly who, among obese folks, doesn’t know it, and then “support” your thesis with lines like this:

Over half of those deemed morbidly obese believed they ate a healthy diet, while more than a third of the overweight said they had never tried to shed the pounds.

It’s not possible, of course, that over half of those deemed morbidly obese actually are eating a healthy diet. Calories in, calories out, people! Clearly, more than 50% of really fat people just DON’T KNOW THAT ALL THOSE DOUGHNUTS ARE BAD FOR THEM. Never mind that we have no idea who they are, what they’re eating, how much they exercise, or what sort of medical problems they have. Never mind that most fat people eat about the same amount as most thin people. As always, the important thing is to insist that the fattest fatties obviously know squat about nutrition and/or routinely lie to themselves about what goes in their mouths. And how about all those overweight people who have never even tried dieting — how crazy is that? I mean, just because they might look like Jessica or Kate or Meg and Jeffrey, just because they might not have been “overweight” at all before the threshold was lowered from 27 to 25, WHERE DO THOSE FATASSES GET OFF NOT EVEN DIETING?

Oh hey, speaking of which, did I mention that this is all based on an internet poll done  by market research firm YouGov for a company called Slimming World? Murphy, to her credit, does mention that. But it doesn’t stop her from ending the article with this quote from Dr. Susan Jebb of the Human Nutrition Research Laboratory of the Medical Research Council:

Everybody knows obesity is a problem for the nation, but they don’t accept it’s a problem for them – as this latest survey shows. We need to give people the confidence to recognise that it is problem, and that it’s one they can do something about.

We can totally do something about it! Like go to Slimming World! If only we have the confidence to recognize how problematic our fat is.  And of course we totally won’t gain it back within five years or fuck up our health along the way!

Now, back to that line about the morbidly obese delusionally believing they don’t eat poorly, and the overweight having the gall not to diet at all. You’ll note that there’s no mention whatsoever of the people most likely to misjudge themselves as non-obese, i.e. — sing it with me now — the majority of obese people. Do you see the bait and switch there? The story is ostensibly about obese people not even realizing how dangerously fat we are, but the examples given are of A) some obese people who surely do know they’re obese saying they eat healthfully, which is probably fucking true, and B) clinically overweight people choosing not to diet, which is probably because they’re not fucking fat (and/or they’re bright enough to realize diets don’t work).

This story says absolutely nothing about the majority of obese people, specifically. Meanwhile, 7% of those surveyed did, in fact, properly categorize themselves as obese — which happens to be a bit higher than the total percentage of morbidly obese people, suggesting that that group does, in fact, know bloody well that they qualify as obese (as do some people with a BMI lower than 40). So why are we talking about delusional death fats again? There’s also no mention of how the other obese folks categorized themselves, but I’m gonna go ahead and guess that most, if not all of them, would have gone with “overweight,” because fat people know we’re fucking fat, even if we don’t all know exactly where the BMI cut-offs are.

That just doesn’t sound nearly as good as “Apparently we do not know what’s normal anymore.”

Guest Blogger M. LeBlanc: The Fantasy of Staying Exactly As I Am (or, This Far and No Further, This Fat and No Fatter)

I’ve got a problem. And since I suspect I’m not the only one, I want to start a dialogue about this psychological artifact of Fat Hate and try to figure out what the hell we can do about it.

You see, I’m doing pretty well at accepting my body. Which is, to be sure, a fat body. I buy nice clothes that fit. Most days, I feel good about myself and the way I look. Many days, I feel downright sexy. I don’t diet, although I can’t really attribute this to fat acceptance because I’ve basically never dieted in my life. I’ve interacted with food in fucked-up ways, and tried to deprive myself of food, but always pretty much gave in by dinnertime. I have started thinking of myself as a “fat chick” in a non-pejorative way and have rid my friends/boyfriend/family of the “you’re not fat!” monkey response. I told my doctor to bug off when she prodded me about losing weight (Her: are you exercising/eating a balanced diet? Me: Yes and Yes. Look, my diet’s great. I feel great. I think I’m just fat. Her: (look of horror) I hope not! Me: (mentally) God, what a horrible thing, to just be naturally fat.)

But I still feel the instinct to diet and/or to exercise for the express purpose of losing weight. All. The. Time. Is it because I want to change the way my body looks now? Nope. It’s because although I have made peace with my fat self, I can not endure the thought of being any fatter than I am. And I think, you know, someday I’m going to get pregnant, and I’m going to age, and I’ll be even less fit than I am now, or I’ll have health problems, or I’ll have kids or a bad back or bad knees and I won’t be able to exercise. And then I’ll be fatter. Horror of horrors. I think to myself, yeah sure I look good now, when I’m young, with good skin, no wrinkles, good muscle tone, in great health. But what about in ten years?What about twenty?! The horror.

It’s an ever-changing boundary. I’m sure that if I were given a picture of my current self five years ago (when I weighed about 30 lbs less), I would have been shocked and horrified. Now, I’m cool with it. Because you know what, self-hate is a lot of work. And I don’t doubt that however I look in ten or twenty years, I’ll probably manage to be okay with it.

But still, I can’t manage to get away from the bigger-is-worse, smaller-is-better paradigm. It’s kind of hilarious, but I feel like I should lose weight now so that if I gain weight in 5 years, I’ll be back to where I am which I have decided is an “okay” place to be. The upper limit of okay. But okay.

I call it “This Fat and No Fatter.” I didn’t really put a name to the mentality until I started browsing the “women for women” section on Craigslist a few months ago and noticed a disturbing phenomenon. Unlike the m4w section, in which a lot of the posters mention a particular size of person they find acceptable (or say that they don’t care), but a huge portion of them don’t, discussions of acceptable body size are absolutely ubiquitous in the w4w section. It’s either 1) thin or “average” women looking for the same, or 2) fat chicks looking for women “my size or smaller.” These discussions are often disturbingly specific, like “no larger than size 16” or “up to size 22” or “under 210 lbs.” And I realized, because self-hatred is hard, women are forced to accept the bodies of other women who look like them to avoid cognitive dissonance. But any fatter? No way.

This mindset has been plaguing me since I was a kid. My dad used to advocate that I diet when I was a teenager because it would be “harder to lose it” when I was older. I don’t know whether this has any basis in fact whatsoever, but I believed it. Actually, I think I can affirmatively say that it’s total bullshit, because dieting doesn’t work, period. The only difference is that if you start dieting when you’re a teenager, you’re more likely to engage in disordered eating and have a fucked-up relationship to food for the rest of your life. But it ain’t actually gonna make you thin. I also think the approach was part of a “she’s okay now, but what if she keeps getting fatter?” mindset. Which I’m sure he’s hysterical about now but, since I told him I didn’t want to hear another word about my weight oh, about, ten years ago, I don’t have to listen to it. (To be fair, my dad lives in an environment with an even more fucked-up attitude towards fat than we have; would you believe that he, at 5’5″ and about 190 lbs, was told that he needed to lose some weight before the manager of the place would let him join the gym? That he needed to diet before he could safely exercise? Jesus.)

I can’t shake it. Even though I know, intellectually, that I’ll probably feel just fine about my body in five years or ten years, because self-hate is way more work than learning to love my body as it is, I feel, emotionally, that my future body will not be objectively okay even though my current body is objectively okay.

The power of social narratives about body image, shame, and humiliation, are incredibly strong. Because those social narratives govern how I feel about the future, while my own experience governs how I feel about the present and the past, feelings of shame dominate, and they infect the present. I feel like getting married while being fat, or being pregnant while being fat, or being a mother while being fat, or being sick while being fat, are all going to be impossibly awful and shame-filled experiences. Even though I’ve already had boyfriends while being fat, graduated from law school while being fat, tried a case before a jury while being fat, had to use crutches because I sprained my ankle while fat, performed in front of hundreds of people while being fat, interviewed for jobs while being fat, lived while being fat.

Fat acceptance isn’t just about accepting your body as it is now. It’s about accepting your future self, the one who might weigh a little more and look a little older. And she’ll be okay, too. Not just good, but great.

M. LeBlanc, if you don’t already know her, blogs at Bitch Ph.D., lawyers in Chicago, and frequently raises the level of discourse in comments here.