I have my archives!

I have my archives from my old blog! They’re here! With comments and everything! They’re even in the right categories!

Images and videos didn’t make it over, and there are a handful of posts that didn’t make it and that I’ll have to put in by hand. (For some reason, it didn’t like my posts about alternative medicine, speaking at Stanford, making atheism a safe place to land, atheists having morality, and my recipe for chocolate pie. Make of that what you will.) But I can live with that. The archives are here. Years of my old work — all finally in one place. This has been driving me up a tree, and I can now finally relax about it. (A little.)

If you want to see them, scroll down in the sidebar to where it says “Recent Posts/ Comments/ Archives.” Click Archives. There they are! You can also search for posts in the archives with the handy Search box at the top right of the blog. Which works waaaay better than the search box at my old blog.

When I’m back from my Minnesota trip, I’m going to start working on (a) getting the old blog to redirect to the new one, and (b) getting the best and hottest posts listed in my sidebar, so newcomers to the blog can browse them more easily. And I’ll probably start linking to the cool stuff from the archives, so newcomers to this blog can become familiar with it. For now, I’m just going to sit back and cry tears of happiness and relief. I can haz archives! Yay!

I have to express my intense gratitude to fellow Freethought Blogger Jason Thibeault, at Lousy Canuck, for making this happen. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that atheists have no sense of community or compassion. I owe him big time. Go visit his blog, and tell him Thank You.

Why Is It Hard To Lose Weight?

Most fat people who try to lose weight aren’t successful. Does it make more sense to blame fat people for lacking self- control… or to change public policy about food and health?

Fat woman “Fat people are just lazy. The only reason they’re fat is that they have no self-control, no willpower. If they want to lose weight, all they need to do is eat less and exercise more. It’s that simple.”

You’ve almost certainly heard this chorus. Every time I write about weight management and food politics, it’s guaranteed that someone will start railing about how fat people are fat because of their own laziness, poor self-control, lack of discipline, etc. And it’s all over popular culture. According to these folks, trying to address obesity as a public health issue, by changing public policy about agriculture subsidies and food labeling and school lunch programs and city planning and so on… it’s a waste of time. Worse than a waste of time, even: it’s the nanny state run amok, coddling people who won’t take care of themselves, treating people as if they had no personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

There’s just one little problem with this notion:

There’s no good reason to think it’s true.

Actually, there are lots of things wrong with this notion. It’s grossly bigoted and insulting, for starters. And it does absolutely nothing to address the situation. If you genuinely think obesity is a health problem that people ought to do something about… telling people that they’re lazy slobs who just need to straighten up and fly right isn’t exactly being part of the solution. In fact, it may even be part of the problem.

But mostly, there’s just no good reason to think it’s true. Rates of obesity have been going up dramatically in the last few decades. And they typically go up whenever a modern American diet gets introduced to a culture. Does it really make sense to think that human psychology and human nature has radically changed in the last few decades: that as a species, we’ve somehow evolved to be lazier and less self-disciplined in just a few generations? Or that the introduction of a modern American diet somehow magically zaps the willpower center of the human brain?

And if human nature hasn’t changed that radically in a few generations, but human bodies have… doesn’t it make more sense to think that something else has changed? Something about the food environment we live in? Something about our culture, our economy, our public policy… and the way these things interact with human physiology and psychology? Something about high- calorie processed food being easily and cheaply available on every street corner? Physical education getting pared to the bone in public schools? Our government subsidizing high-calorie/ low- nutrition food? Food ads on TV approximately every six nanoseconds?

This is a huge topic, and it’s not one I can even come close to completely covering in one blog post. And I should spell out right now: I am not an expert in this field. I am not a nutritionist, or a physiologist, or an economist, or a researcher on weight loss. What I am is a smart, reasonably well- read lay person who’s done extensive reading about both weight management and food politics. And I’m a person who has personally lost a significant amount of weight… and who therefore knows, first- hand, many of the things that make weight management easier, and many of the things that make it harder.

And I’m going to break those things down into four broad categories: money, public policy, corporate greed, and evolutionary hard-wiring… all of which are intricately interwoven.

Physiology and evolution.

Origin of speciesWhen it comes to food and hunger, here’s the first thing you have to remember: Human appetites and instincts about food evolved about 100,000 years ago on the African savannah, in an environment of food scarcity and intense food competition. For that matter, we’re descended from hundreds of millions of years’ worth of pre-human ancestors, who also lived in environments of food scarcity, intense food competition, or both.

And as a result, we have some very powerful, deeply ingrained instincts about food. We are hard-wired by evolution to get hungry whenever we see food. We are hard-wired by evolution to eat whatever food is in front of us. We are hard-wired by evolution to keep eating, to eat as much of what’s in front of us as we can without bursting. We are hard-wired by evolution to want high-calorie foods, rich in fat and sugar. We are hard-wired by evolution to conserve our energy, and not expend any more of it than we really need to.

And, of course, our bodies evolved to store food in the form of fat: to store excess calories that were available in times of feast, so we could more easily survive in times of famine.

Now, all these evolutionary strategies worked very well for us 100,000 years ago on the African savannah, when we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from, and food rotted or got eaten by someone else if we didn’t eat it all right away, and if we didn’t eat this entire gazelle right now we might very well starve to death. In fact, these strategies worked pretty well up to the last hundred years or so: obesity was a fairly uncommon medical problem until the last few decades.

Wendys baconator But these strategies really, really don’t work in the modern Western food environment. They don’t work in an environment where we see food, or images of food, hundreds of times a day. They don’t work in an environment where we can easily acquire as many calories as our bodies can absorb, far more than we actually need, every day of our lives. They don’t work in an environment where food can be stored in warehouses and stores and pantries indefinitely, and doesn’t have to be eaten right away and stored in the form of fat before it either rots or gets stolen by another animal. They don’t work in an environment where sugary, fatty, high- calorie foods, far from being scarce, are easily and cheaply available everywhere we look: where they’re actually the cheapest and most easily available foods around. And evolution, nifty though it is, simply can’t work fast enough to catch up with these radical and rapid changes.

We live in a toxic, obesogenic food environment. There’s a reason more people are fat now than ever before — and it’s not because we’ve suddenly become incapable of controlling our appetites. It’s because our food environment has radically changed in the last few decades, and our appetites are now completely out of whack with it. Blaming fat people for getting fat and not losing weight is like blaming people in the Middle Ages for getting the bubonic plague. Yes, some people get fat, and some don’t. Some people in the Middle Ages got the plague, and some didn’t. Some people had a natural immunity to the plague, or happened to live in a part of the continent where it was less virulent, or just got lucky and didn’t get exposed to it. And some people have natural resistance to obesity: more active metabolisms, less powerful hunger triggers, quicker satiety points, whatever. If they’d been born on the African savannah 100,000 years ago, they might have been hosed — but they got born now, so they’re lucky.

What’s more, we live in a food environment that doesn’t just make adults fat. It makes kids fat. Childhood obesity is one of the strongest predictors of adult obesity — and people who were fat as kids have a harder time losing weight and maintaining weight loss as adults. (There are probably a whole host of reasons for this, both physical and psychological: from altered metabolism, to altered hunger and satiety triggers, to eating and exercise habits that are harder to change when they get ingrained early in life.) Are you going to blame kids for not having the willpower to reject the food their parents and schools are feeding them? And are you going to blame the adults they grow up to be for having had the bad luck to be fat kids?

But, of course, all of this really just begs the question. Yes, we live in an obesogenic food environment, one that makes unhealthy food choices easy and cheap and available everywhere, and that makes healthy food choices scarce and expensive and a pain in the butt. But why do we live in that environment? What created it?

Corporate greed.

Fast food nation Well, for one thing: You want to know who else knows, in intimate and thorough detail, everything I’ve been saying about human food psychology, about hunger triggers and satiety triggers and so on?

Multinational food corporations.

Who are using this information to make themselves obscenely rich, by selling us food we don’t need and that makes us sick.

We live, as I said, in a toxic/ obesogenic food environment. The food that’s readily, easily, cheaply available on just about every street corner in America is the food that makes people fat. Sugary, starchy, fatty, highly processed: this is the food that’s everywhere. It’s high calorie, which makes us fat for obvious reasons… and it’s low in nutrients, which means it’s not satisfying, which means we keep on eating.

And there’s a reason we live in this food environment. We live in this food environment because it’s been created by multinational food corporations — who are making money hand over fist doing it.

Omnivores Dilemma As Michael Pollan reported in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, food corporations used to think that the basic demand for food was inelastic: that people would only eat a certain amount of food, so you could only increase your market share by cutting into your competition. But ever since the advent of supersizing in the 1960s — charging more for larger portions instead of making people buy multiple servings — food corporations have been geared, not only towards encouraging Americans to eat more of their particular brand of foods, but to eat more food, period. (According to Pollan, agribusiness now produces 3,800 calories of food a day for every American — 500 calories more than it produced 30 years ago.)

We see this all over food packaging and marketing. It’s not just about supersizing… although that’s a huge part of it. It’s about the kinds of foods we’re hard-wired to eat — our evolutionary wiring makes us want sweet and fatty foods, so those are the foods that are manufactured and marketed most heavily. It’s about smaller unit sizes — people will eat more of a food if the individual pieces of it come in smaller sizes, so food corporations started marketing bite-sized cookies and crackers. It’s about merging salty with sweet — people will eat more overall if they’re eating salty and sweet things at the same time, so processed foods are increasingly being tailored to include both. And, of course, it’s about making food ubiquitous, so we’re constantly being triggered to get hungry, and to eat.

Dominos-pizza-tv-ad But it isn’t just the food itself that’s everywhere. Food triggers are everywhere. There are ads for food on TV approximately every six nanoseconds — and the food being advertised on TV is overwhelmingly junk food. There are ads for junk food in magazines, newspapers, billboards, buses… all around us. Our brains evolved to get hungry when we see food — and we now see food, or images of food, all the freaking time. We’re exposed to far more advertising of all kinds today than we used to be — which, of course, includes more food ads. And the advertising is very carefully designed, by people who are experts in human psychology, to manipulate our hunger triggers, and to maximize how much and how often we want to eat.

What’s more, food corporations have been intensely engaged, not only in getting Americans to eat more, but in getting Americans to believe that eating more isn’t what’s making us fat. To put it bluntly: Big Food is making a calculated effort to make people believe that obesity should be treated, not by changing what and how much we eat, but with exercise. Which, alas, runs contrary to a significant body of research showing exactly the opposite: that while exercise is somewhat important for weight management, it’s not nearly as important as reducing calories. I’ll quote Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, the nutrition/ weight management expert behind the Weighty Matters blog, who says it way better than I could: “The message that obesity can be prevented or treated with exercise is an important one to the food industry as it shifts the blame for obesity from the consumption of their calorific products to a decline in fitness, a link which at best is described as debatable and at worst, inconsequential.”

Finally — well okay, not finally, I could rant about this topic for pages, but I need to get on with it — food corporations are very powerful politically, and they have their hands all over public policy. From agricultural subsidies to obesity prevention programs to food education in schools, Big Food is actively and vigorously engaged in making sure that government policy about food and health is designed to be as friendly to the food industry as possible. Largely because of the influence of Big Food, government policy about food and health is internally contradictory to the point of being bonkers, and much of it is designed, not to keep people healthy, but to keep Big Food rich.

Public policy.

Usda_logo So what are these public policies that Big Food has its hands all over?

Well, let’s start with agricultural subsidies. In the U.S., we heavily subsidize corn, wheat, feed grains for meat and dairy. Broccoli and apples… not so much. Fruits and vegetables are considered “specialty” crops by the USDA. And corn doesn’t just appear in our diets in the form of yummy corn on the cob — it appears freaking everywhere, in processed foods of almost every kind… and of course, in high- fructose corn syrup. Michael Pollan writes about this a lot, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and elsewhere: the deceptively low cost of processed food and fast food comes in large part from government policies that encourage the mass production of high- calorie processed food that stores easily and for long times. Those cheap sugary breakfast cereals made of corn and high- fructose corn syrup? They’re not actually so cheap. You’re paying for them with your taxes.

Dairy management i love cheese Here’s a classic example of this: how government subsidies and policies work to increase the sales of high- calorie food, even while they’re supposedly trying to get people to lose weight. An organization called Dairy Management — a marketing creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — has been teaming up with fast food companies, from Wendy’s to Burger King, Taco Bell to Pizza Hut, to increase the amount of cheese they include in their products. When sales of Domino’s Pizza were lagging, they stepped in… not only to help them sell more pizza, but to advise them to make their pizza more appealing by making it cheesier. They even promoted and publicized research supposedly showing that consuming dairy products aided in weight loss… and continued this publicity campaign even when the research clearly showed that this claim was entirely without merit. And in their reports to Congress, the Agriculture Department tallies Dairy Management’s successes in millions of pounds of cheese served. The organization exists solely to promote the sale and consumption of dairy products, especially cheese, to Americans.

And at the exact same time, the Department of Agriculture is pushing a federal anti-obesity drive that, among other things, discourages the consumption of high-calorie, high-saturated-fat food.

You know… like cheese.

I could gas on about this topic for hours. School lunch programs filled with fatty, starchy, sugary, high-calorie food. Physical education programs being cut back all across the country. City planning that supports fast-food strip malls at the expense of grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Transportation systems built around driving instead of walking, biking, or even public transit (which usually requires at least some walking). But I want to move on, so I’ll wrap up my policy wonkage by saying this:

Csa-box Think about all the tax money that subsidizes the big agribusiness production of cheese and meat and high-fructose corn syrup. And think about what our food environment would be like if, instead, that tax money was subsidizing farmer’s markets. Or companies that deliver organic produce to your home. Or small farmers who sell primarily to local stores and customers. Or even just, for heaven’s sake, growers of fruits and vegetables. Think about what things would be like if it were cheaper to go to the farmer’s market instead of McDonald’s; if it were cheaper to get oranges and yogurt delivered to your house instead of pizza. Think of what our food world would be like — and what our bodies would be like as a result.

And speaking of money:

Money.

Money There are a lot of reasons losing weight is hard. But one of the most insidious ones is also one of the simplest. It’s that fact that, in modern Western culture, staying fat is cheap, and losing weight is expensive.

Decades and centuries ago, being fat probably meant you were pretty rich. Food was hard to come by — high- calorie food especially so — and poor people tended to do intense physical labor, while rich people had leisure to hang about in the parlor.

Poverty-and-obesity Today, pretty much the exact opposite is true. Yes, there are rich fat people and thin poor people. But being fat in America is increasingly correlated with being poor… and losing weight, or maintaining a healthy weight, is increasingly a privilege that’s associated with the comfortably off.

For starters: Cheap food tends to be high-calorie food. This wasn’t true a hundred years ago… but it sure is now. There are a lot of reasons for this — the gradual switch to centralized and industrialized food production leaps to mind (people aren’t growing their own crops so much these days) — but again, government subsidies have a huge amount to do with it. Our taxes subsidize corn and sugar, dairy and meat. Our taxes make fatty, starchy, sugary food the cheapest food around.

And healthy food tends to be perishable… which also makes it expensive. Buying fruits, vegetables, fish, yogurt, etc. means letting some of it go bad. If you’re on a shoestring budget, you simply may not be able to afford that. The food you can get from centralized, industrialized food production sources — the stuff that can sit on grocery store shelves until Armageddon — is the stuff that will sit on your own pantry shelves until Armageddon, and you’ll never have to throw it away.

Healthy food is also more expensive if you’re buying the good stuff — i.e., the edible stuff. It’s a lot easier to sustain a low- calorie diet if you’re eating delicious food from the farmer’s market or the organic delivery basket or Whole Paycheck. If you’re buying tasteless, mealy, cardboard produce from the megafood supermarket — because that’s all you have access to in your neighborhood, or that’s all you can afford — it’s not so easy. I don’t know if I could have stuck with my own weight loss plan if the only produce I could eat was from Megalomart. I’d probably be back on mac and cheese and Snickers bars within a month.

Then there’s the connection between money and time. Successful weight management takes time: time to shop, time to cook, time to clean up the dinner dishes. And lots of poor/ marginal/ struggling Americans are working two jobs, or have long terrible commutes, or are juggling work and family and other commitments. Given all that, it’s hardly surprising that many Americans subsist largely on fast food and convenience food — food that makes us fat.

Fitness_center There’s also the little matter of gym memberships. No, they’re not absolutely necessary for good health and weight management. But they sure do help. For a lot of people, anyway. I, for one, find it a hell of a lot easier to get motivated about working out at the gym than working out at home. After all, all I have to do to make a gym workout happen is to get myself there. Once I’m there… what the hell else am I going to do? Working out at home is way, way harder to sustain. Too many distractions and comforts. What’s more, many fat people report that, when they jog or exercise in public, they get publicly mocked by strangers… making those cheap forms of exercise really, really difficult to sustain. (And can I just say: How fucked up is that? What the hell kind of person derides fat people for being lazy and undisciplined… and then derides them for actually trying to take action on managing their weight and health?)

And we haven’t even touched on the problem of food deserts. There are large sections of the Western world where there are no grocery stores or supermarkets for miles and miles. The only food available — literally — is food from convenience stores, gas stations, fast food spots, and the like. If the only way I could get a fresh vegetable was to take the bus across town and schlep my grocery bags back home, I’d probably be eating at McDonald’s, too.

There’s a famous saying that fat is a feminist issue. It is. But fat is also increasingly a class issue. Staying fat is cheap. Losing weight is expensive. There’s no two ways around it. It’s not about being lazy, or weak-willed, or undisciplined, or anything like that. For a whole lot of people, it’s about struggling to make ends meet. And unless you want to start blaming poor people for being poor, it doesn’t make any sense to blame fat people for being fat.

Part of the Solution — or Part of the Problem?

Greta simpsons avatar thin It may seem a little odd for me to be saying all this. After all, I am someone who’s lost a significant amount of weight (60 pounds in a year and a half), and who so far has successfully kept it off for several months. And I’ve written a great deal about the process… with an eye towards helping other people lose weight if they want to. If I didn’t think weight loss was within individual people’s grasp… why would I bother giving advice on how to do it? Why would I have even tried to do it myself?

Because it’s not that simple. Because weight loss was extremely difficult for me… and I’m someone who had just about everything going for me to make it work. Because I know that I have enough time to shop and cook for myself, enough money to afford healthy fresh food, enough money to afford a gym membership, a neighborhood where healthy fresh food is readily available, a health- conscious city that encourages good eating and exercise habits, a supportive partner, supportive family and friends, a stable enough life to support the hard work needed to make major behavioral changes. Because I have all these things going for me… and losing weight was still really freaking hard. And because I know that not every fat person who wants to lose weight has all these advantages, or even most of them, or even some of them. Because, even though I know that I worked hard to lose weight and can take pride in the accomplishment, I also know that I was lucky. Privileged, even.

I care about all this for a lot of reasons. Partly, I care because I get viscerally angry at the stupid, hateful, contemptuous bigotry that gets aimed at fat people. I was fat myself for many, many years; in many ways I still see myself as a fat person; and I get furious when I hear fat people called lazy and undisciplined and weak-willed, simply because they’re fat.

But I also care because I think obesity is a health problem — and I care about finding a solution.

This is what I always want to ask people who are ranting about how lazy and weak-willed fat people are, and how their fatness is entirely their own fault: How, exactly, do you think this is helping? How do you think this approach is likely to improve things? Trust me — it is not news to fat people that the world thinks of them as lazy, pathetic, weak-willed, helplessly compulsive failures. They’ve heard it before. And it isn’t helping. If anything, it makes things worse: depression and anxiety and low self- esteem can make weight management harder, and hearing at every turn that you’re a lazy, undisciplined failure doesn’t exactly help with depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

Of course personal choices are part of the equation. The reasons that weight loss is difficult and rare are legion, including economics and politics and biology and more, and all these reasons are intertwined… but personal behavior is part of that intertwined equation, too. And at the moment, until public policies and so on are changed, personal choices are what we have the most power over. I absolutely encourage anyone who cares about obesity as a health problem to get involved in reforming public policy about food and health. But until those policies are changed, if you want to take your body back from the people who are trying to sell you quadruple-patty hamburgers and Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick, you are, alas, ultimately going to have to do it yourself. (Hopefully with the support of your family and friends.)

Finger point But pointing the finger at behavioral changes is still just begging the question. Yes, personal choice is part of the equation, and lots of people aren’t very good at changing their behavior. So why is that? Why is behavioral change of all kinds so difficult? Why is it so hard to get people to recycle, to use condoms, to not drink and drive? And why are some people better able to do it than others?

The science of behavior change is still something of a mystery. But there are some things we know about it. And some of what we know is that insulting people is not an effective technique. It’s much more effective to simply make the desired behavior easier. Getting recycling picked up at the curbside. Putting free condoms in bars where people cruise. Popularizing and supporting the concept of the designated driver.

And the same principles apply to weight management.

If you see fatness as a health problem, ask yourself this: Would it be a more effective solution, for a significantly larger number of people, to change our public policies and cultural strategies about food and health? Would it be more effective to change our policies about agricultural subsidies, city planning, food labeling, food and health education, food marketing to children, physical education in schools, etc.? Would it be more effective to have healthy choices about food and exercise be made easier and cheaper and more accessible, so more people are more likely to choose them?

Or would it be more effective to deride fat people as lazy, undisciplined, weak-willed slobs — more than our culture already does, I mean — in the hopes that they’ll be shamed into changing their habits?

Do you really think that’s going to make a difference?

Why Is It So Hard To Lose Weight?

Most fat people who try to lose weight aren’t successful. Does it make more sense to blame fat people for lacking self- control… or to change public policy about food and health?

ScaleYou’ve almost certainly heard the chorus of offensive myths and falsehoods about overweight people. Every time I write about weight management and food politics, it’s guaranteed that someone will start railing about how fat people are fat because of their own laziness, poor self-control, lack of discipline, etc. And it’s all over popular culture. According to these folks, trying to address obesity as a public health issue, by changing public policy about agriculture subsidies and food labeling and school lunch programs and city planning and so on… it’s a waste of time. Worse than a waste of time, even: it’s the nanny state run amok, coddling people who won’t take care of themselves, treating people as if they had no personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

There’s just one little problem with this notion: There’s no good reason to think it’s true.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Why Is It So Hard To Lose Weight? To find out how money, public policy, corporate greed, and evolutionary hard-wiring have a far greater effect on making weight loss difficult than laziness or lack of self-control, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

How This Weight-Loss Skeptic Lost 60 Pounds and Kept it Off

Scale 1 AlterNet has just published a revised, updated version of my “here’s how I’m doing it” piece on weight management, “The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet,” which they’ve re-titled How This Weight-Loss Skeptic Lost 60 Pounds and Kept it Off. Here’s how it begins:

How, exactly, do you lose weight while maintaining progressive ideals about body image?

In the last year and a half, I’ve lost 60 pounds. I’ve done a fair amount of writing about it, here on AlterNet and on my own blog: about the politics and cultural issues of weight loss, the psychological and sexual and weird emotional stuff connected with it, my changing and conflicted thoughts about the fat- acceptance movement and its ideals of accepting our bodies the way they are.

But I know that when people talk about weight loss, all that political and cultural crap is, for most people, only of moderate interest. When you’ve lost weight, what most people want to know is, “How did you do it?”

So here, for anyone who’s interested in losing weight or maintaining weight loss, are the nuts-and-bolts details: the specific “how-to” of my so-far successful effort to lose weight and maintain weight loss in an evidence- based manner, while retaining my feminist ideals and my resistance to body fascism. (And for anyone who’s not interested in losing weight — that’s totally cool. I’m not evangelizing for weight loss for everyone. The cost/ benefit analysis of weight loss is different for everyone, and I completely support fat people who are genuinely happy with their bodies and aren’t interested in losing weight. I just also happen to support fat people who do want to lose weight, and who want to do it in a healthy and sustainable way. Our bodies, our right to decide.)

I’ll tell you right now: This isn’t a diet in any traditional sense. I’m not going to tell you that I eat twelve meals a day every two hours, or that I limit myself to six servings of pork a week, or that I only eat plankton and spelt and a vodka martini on the full moon. What I’m going to talk about is practical strategies that have helped me lose weight… and emotional/ psychological strategies that have helped me stay on track with the practical strategies.

I should spell out very clearly before I begin: I’m not an expert. I’m not a physiologist or a nutritionist or a researcher on weight loss. I’m a lay person who’s staying on top of the research as best I can, and who’s found some things that are working for me. Some of it may work for you. Take what you need; leave the rest; pay attention to the current research; talk with other people about what works for them.

To read the revised and updated details of my weight loss and weight management plan, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

New Browsing Category: Weight Management

Hi, all. I’m back from my trip, and will be ready to start blogging again soon. In the meantime, I’ve made a slight change to my blog that I wanted to let you know about.

ScaleAs regular readers know, I’ve been doing a lot of blogging lately about weight management. For a while, I was just putting those posts in my “Food and Drink” category, along with recipes and weird food dreams and musings on the parallels between food and sex and such. But since I’ve been doing so much writing about weight management, and it seems to be a topic that’s of particular interest to a lot of people, I decided to give my posts about it their own category.

So from now on, if you want to find my posts about weight management — the strategies, the politics, the weird emotional stuff, etc. — you’ll be able to find them in my new “Weight Management” category, without having to dig through the weird food dreams and so on. Happy reading!

Caught Between Fat and Thin: When a Fat Acceptance Advocate Takes Off the Pounds

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Doll tape measure I’m always going to be a fat woman.

Don’t get me wrong. At five foot three and 135 pounds, I am not, by any useful definition of the word, fat.

But I have been fat. I was fat for many, many years. And for years, I was an ardent advocate of the fat acceptance movement. I actively resisted the idea that there was any point whatsoever to losing weight. I believed that medical statistics on the health effects of fatness were exaggerated at best, part of the cultural conspiracy to make women hate their bodies at worst. I was convinced that I could be just as healthy at 200 pounds (and with the eating and exercise habits that kept me at 200 pounds) as I would be with less weight. And I was convinced that losing weight never, ever worked… or at least, that it worked so rarely it wasn’t worth trying. If there was even any reason for trying. Which I was convinced there wasn’t. (It wasn’t until my bad knee started getting worse that I saw the writing on the wall, and decided that, given a choice between losing mobility and losing weight, the weight would have to go. Here’s how I did it, if you’re interested.)

You’d probably think that losing weight would make a person stop thinking of themselves as fat. And you’d almost certainly think that making a concerted effort to not be fat would make someone abandon the whole idea of fat acceptance.

If so, you’d be wrong. I thought all that myself once… and I was wrong.

Greta fat avatar I still see the world as a fat person. My perceptions of myself, and of society, and of how society views fatness and bodies and health, have been profoundly shaped by my years of being fat… in ways that are never going to change. And while I have huge disagreements with the fat acceptance movement — especially with its more extreme denialist edges — I still think many of its ideas are important, and perceptive, and entirely fair. I have serious disagreements with FA, but I am still very much shaped by it, and I would like to think of myself as an ally of the movement, and even as a member of it.

It’s just that they don’t feel the same way about me.

Or about other fat people who choose to lose weight.

The Thinnest Fat Woman in the World

Shallow Hal My years as a fat woman — and as a fat acceptance advocate — have made me hyper-conscious of anti-fat hostility, contempt, and discrimination. When I hear mocking or insulting comments about fat people, I stand up for them. When I see rigid, internally contradictory, impossible- to- attain standards of physical beauty promoted in pop culture, I rant about it ad nauseum. When I hear about fat people being discriminated against in employment and medicine and so on, I get seriously ticked off. When folks call fat people “lazy slobs” and say that “as a society we should not look up to successful people who are fat. We should tell them we admire their acting or philanthropy, but look down on them for being lazy” (direct quotes from comments on my Facebook page, btw), I smack them down with every weapon in my rhetorical arsenal.

And I still take it really, really personally. I don’t hear anti-fat bigotry the way I hear, say, racial bigotry, as something to be passionately opposed but that isn’t aimed at me personally. I hear it as being about me. When someone in a comment thread on AlterNet linked to an older photo of me and mocked me for being fat, I felt the shame and the sting and the anger… before I remembered, “Wait a minute. I’m not fat.” And was left with only the anger. On behalf of myself… and every other woman who’s ever had her ideas irrelevantly dismissed because of her personal appearance.

I sometimes feel like the thinnest fat woman in the world. (Well, probably not the thinnest… but you know what I mean.) Some people say that, inside every fat person, there’s a thin person trying to get out. I feel the exact opposite. Inside this relatively lean body, there’s a fat person nobody can see. People think they can say stupid, bigoted, hurtful things about fat people to me, because they don’t see me as one of them. They couldn’t be more wrong. I am fat. Not in a body-dysmorphic way — I don’t look in the mirror and think I’m still fat — but because this fat identity shaped me for years, and it will always be with me.

Medical journals It’s true that my feelings about fatness — my own, and other people’s — have been changing since I’ve lost weight. The biggest change is that I now acknowledge the health problems associated with fatness: problems I was in deep denial about during my fat years. So I have some concerns about the health and well-being of the fat people in my life, in a way that I didn’t before.

But I also see it as none of my freaking business.

I do think weight loss is both possible and worthwhile. But I also think that the cost-benefit analysis isn’t the same for everyone. Weight loss was really freaking hard: it wasn’t as hard as I’d initially thought it would be, and it got easier with time, but it still took some extremely hard work. And I had everything going for me: easy access to healthy food, money for things like healthy food and a gym membership, a health-conscious city to live in, a supportive partner who was going through the process with me. Not everyone has all that. And even people who do have all that still may not make the same cost-benefit analysis that I did.

So if some other fat person looks at the time and work and emotional effort that weight loss takes, and decides, “Nah, that isn’t where I want to put my energy”… I think that’s a reasonable decision. As long as they’re making it with their eyes open — as long as they understand the costs and risks of fatness, and decide that they’re willing to accept them — then I support them. To me, that’s the essence of fat acceptance. Their body, their right to decide.

And in a totally freaky paradox, fat acceptance has helped me lose weight and keep it off. My years as an FA advocate have actually given me essential tools for weight management.

Perfect Here’s what I mean. One of the hardest things about maintaining weight loss has been accepting the fact that my body is never, ever going to be perfect. It’s never going to be the culture’s ideal; it’s not even going to be my own. Even though my weight and body fat percentage and so on are now well within a healthy medical range, there are still plenty of things I’d change about my body if I could wave a magic wand and make it happen.

That’s been hard to accept. For years, I projected all my body anxiety onto my weight. If I was unhappy with how I looked or felt, I assumed it was because I was fat. Period. And when I was in process of losing weight, even though I was healthier and happier with my body than I’d been in years, I was still very focused on trying to change, to reach my goal weight, to make my body different. Now that my weight is where I want it… I have to accept this body. With my thin hair, my veiny hands, my droopy breasts, my funky loose skin from the weight loss, my chronic middle- aged- lady health problems. I have to accept this body, and live with it, and love it.

And my years in the fat acceptance movement have been helping me do that.

Greta on porch The idea that I can love my body the way it is? The idea that I can focus more on how my body feels and functions than how it looks? The understanding that the cultural ideal of physical beauty is not just insanely rigid and narrow, but internally contradictory and literally unattainable? The understanding that everybody, even fashion models and movie stars, is insecure about their bodies and their attractiveness… and that becoming more secure happens, not by hating our bodies and trying to change them, but by loving our bodies and learning to accept them? The idea that there are lots of different ways to be beautiful and desirable? The idea that confidence and joy make people way more attractive than any physical traits? The idea that I can make the body I have be as healthy and happy as possible, instead of trying to cram it into someone else’s ideal? The idea that I should eat well and exercise, even if it doesn’t make my body look exactly the way I want it to, because it will help my body feel the way I want it to? The wacky notion that a “good body” is one that gives me pleasure and does most of what I want it to do?

All of this comes from my years as a fat acceptance advocate. And I can apply it to how I feel about my body now, in ways that have nothing to do with my weight: my age, my skin, my hands, my short square frame. Heck, I can even apply it to my weight… which is totally healthy by medical standards, but is still seen as grossly fat by the standards of, say, TV actresses. Even though my weight is well within a healthy medical range, it’s still not always easy being okay with it. And the ideas I learned from FA have been of invaluable help.

And I’m tremendously grateful for that. I am still very much shaped by the ideas of fat acceptance, and even though I’m not fat anymore, I would like to think of myself as an ally of the movement, and even as a member of it.

I just wish the movement felt the same way about me.

And about other fat people who choose to lose weight.

My Body, My Right To Decide

AtherosclerosisI am grateful for the FA movement. But I also have serious differences with it, and some serious anger. Among other things, I spent years buying into the hardcore FA line denying any connection between fatness and health problems. And this denialism gave me a years-long excuse to not try weight loss. I spent years ignoring the serious health problems my weight was creating for me… because I’d been persuaded by the FA movement that weight loss wouldn’t make any difference to my health, and that I’d never succeed at it even if I tried. I wasted a lot of years being a lot less healthy than I could have been. I’m pretty ticked off about that.

But that’s nothing compared to the anger I’m experiencing now that I’ve lost weight.

When I first started blogging about my weight loss, I was met with a faceful of extremist denialism, concern trolling, and outright hostility from many FA advocates, in both blog comments and private emails. The health benefits of successful weight loss were denied. The extremist attitudes of many FA activists were denied. Connections between weight and health were denied, and medical researchers publicizing these connections were called “crusaders.” I was told that all diets fail everyone. I was told that there was no way my weight loss would work in the long run; that I might succeed in losing the weight initially, but would almost certainly fail to keep it off over time. I was told that weight loss is never the right decision for anyone, and that there is no health problem that could appropriately be dealt with by weight loss. I was told that there are no serious health risks caused or exacerbated by being fat, and that health problems that appear to be caused by fatness are always really caused by something else. I was told that weight is entirely controlled by genetics, that eating/ exercise habits have absolutely nothing to do with it, and that weight management is therefore a complete waste of time. I was told that it was okay to incidentally lose weight as part of a “healthy at every size” eating and exercise plan, but that deliberate weight loss was horribly unhealthy… even if the “conscious weight loss” plan was identical to the “healthy at every size” plan in every way. I was told that even when weight loss is successful, the harm done by it — physical, psychological, or both — is terrible: so terrible that, in all cases, it completely outweighs the benefits.

Knee And the specific health concern that inspired me to lose weight — namely, a bad knee that was getting much worse, to the point where my mobility was becoming seriously impaired — was met with a callous, trivializing dismissal that I still find shocking. Many FA advocates were passionately concerned about the quality of life I might lose if I counted calories or stopped eating chocolate bars every day. But when it came to the quality of life I might lose if I could no longer dance, climb hills, climb stairs, take long walks, walk at all? Eh. Whatever. I should try exercise or physical therapy or something. Oh, I’d tried those things already? Well, whatever. As long as I didn’t try to lose weight. That was the important thing. For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, whatever else I did, I should not try to lose weight.

Essentially, when I started writing about weight loss, I was treated like a traitor. I was treated like a threat. Even though I made it clear that I wasn’t advocating weight loss for everybody, the mere fact that I was choosing to lose weight myself was seen as undermining the principles of the movement. And I was told, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off.

Our bodies out right to decide This didn’t just piss me off. It baffled me. I’d always thought of the fat acceptance movement as essentially about empowerment and self-ownership. Our bodies, our right to decide. Apparently, not so much. Apparently, the decision to manage my health by losing weight was not really mine. Apparently, my body didn’t belong to me. It belonged to the fat acceptance movement. Many of whom felt entirely comfortable telling me what I should and should not do with it.

And I’m not the only one. When I started blogging about my weight loss, I wasn’t just met with toxic denialism from FA advocates. I was also met with a hugely positive response from readers who were dealing with the same stuff. Like me, a lot of my readers identified as fat-positive, but because of serious health concerns, they were now working on losing weight… and were trying to reconcile their fat-positivity with their weight loss. And a number of these readers had dealt with the same hostile, concern-trolling, denialist reaction from the FA movement. They felt the movement had made an important and valuable difference in their lives, they felt a connection with it that they wanted to maintain… and yet they felt like they’d been abandoned by it, even pushed out of it. Margo put it best in her email to me: “The body / fat positive communities don’t seem to have any place for me, even though these are communities I’ve sought out, identified with and gained a lot from over the years. Firstly, I’ve done the unthinkable and dropped my body fat percentage intentionally, and secondly, the scientist in me just can’t deal with the faith-like basis for some of the debates on health, weight and weight loss anymore. I just wish there was a place to talk about the intersection of these issues with feminism without feeling that I’m a FA and feminism drop-out.”

What. The. Hell.

What kind of feminism is this?

What kind of movement claims to be about empowerment… but disavows people for making their own choices about their bodies?

What kind of movement claims to be about self-ownership… but abandons people who deviate from the movement’s norm?

What kind of movement claims to be about self-esteem… but treats people like traitors for loving their bodies and wanting to take care of them the best way they know how?

Full body project I still think there is a hugely important place in our society for a fat acceptance movement. I think we need a movement that advocates for treating people with dignity, equality, and respect, regardless of their size; a movement that resists the impossible cultural ideals of beauty; a movement that encourages fat people to love themselves and take care of themselves, regardless of whether they lose weight; a movement that speaks out for fat people’s right to make their own choices about their bodies and their health.

Greta avatar But it needs to accept that not everyone is going to make the same choices. If the fat acceptance movement is going to advocate for fat people who don’t choose to lose weight, it needs to be every bit as supportive of fat people who do.

Our bodies.

Our right to decide.

Period.

Caught Between Fat and Thin: The Pounds Come Off, But the Label Stays

Doll tape measureI’m always going to be a fat woman. Don’t get me wrong. At five foot three and 135 pounds, I am not, by any useful definition of the word, fat.

But I have been fat. I was fat for many, many years. And for years, I was an ardent advocate of the fat acceptance movement. I actively resisted the idea that there was any point whatsoever to losing weight. I believed that medical statistics on the health effects of obesity were exaggerated at best, part of the cultural conspiracy to make women hate their bodies at worst. I was convinced that I could be just as healthy at 200 pounds (and with the eating and exercise habits that kept me at 200 pounds) as I would be with less weight. And I was convinced that losing weight never, ever worked… or at least, that it worked so rarely it wasn’t worth trying–if there was even any reason for trying.

It wasn’t until my bad knee started getting worse that I saw the writing on the wall, and decided that, given a choice between losing mobility and losing weight, the weight would have to go.

You’d probably think that losing weight would make a person stop thinking of him or herself as fat. And you’d almost certainly think that making a concerted effort to not be fat would make someone abandon the whole idea of fat acceptance. I thought all that myself once… and I was wrong.

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Caught Between Fat and Thin: The Pounds Come Off, But the Label Stays. To find out more about how fat acceptance has been both an ally and an enemy in my struggle to love my body — and how I still see the world through the eyes of a fat person, even though I’m not fat anymore — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The Fat Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Phase 2, Part 2: How Do You Know When Enough Is Enough?

This is Part 2 of a two-part post. In yesterday’s piece, I talked about the process of switching from weight loss to weight maintenance… including the strange attraction of the process of losing weight, and the challenges of letting go of that process and embracing lifelong weight management. Today, I talk about how you even decide what a healthy weight might be… and how loving and accepting your body is part of that decision.

Done button So, like I said yesterday: I am officially done losing weight. I’ve reached my target weight. Or, to be more accurate: I have reached the bottom of my target weight range. Or, to be even more accurate than that: I have made a final decision as to what my target weight range should even be — something I wasn’t sure of at the beginning of this project — and have reached the bottom of that range.

But how did I make that decision?

Feet on scale Deciding when to stop losing weight was an interestingly tricky question. Much trickier than I’d thought it would be. I knew I didn’t want BMI (weight to height ratio) to be my only metric of healthy weight. I knew that BMI, while a fairly good measure of healthy or unhealthy weight in populations as a whole, isn’t the best metric for individuals. It can give some good broad strokes — I knew that at five foot three and 200 pounds I should definitely lose weight, and that at 160 pounds I should probably keep going for a bit — but when it comes to the fine-tuning, it’s really not the best gauge. There’s too much variation in how people of different heights are built — different frames, different muscle masses, etc.

So once I got closer to my “ideal” BMI, I had to decide when to stop.

And I had to decide how to decide.

Which metric of healthy weight should I use? Body fat percentage? Waist circumference? Waist to hip ratio? Should I use body mass index after all? Some combination of the above?

Yoni Freedhoff (of the Weighty Matters blog), an evidence-based doctor/ weight loss expert I’ve been following and whose work I greatly respect, advises his readers not to get too hung up on external metrics. Instead, he says, we should find a weight we’re happy and healthy at, one with a calorie budget we can sustain and not be miserable with. And there’s some real value in that. When I was hovering near my “ideal” BMI and trying to decide whether to stop or keep going, one of the factors I considered was whether I could be happy dialing down my calorie budget a little more to lose a few more pounds… or whether that would restrict my eating too much for me to be happy with.

Broken plate But there are also real problems with this approach. The whole point of this weight control project is that my own instincts about what is and is not a healthy weight are pretty broken, and I can’t trust myself to make that decision without some external metrics. After all, I deluded myself for years into thinking that I was happy and healthy at 200 pounds… and that eating any less than I was eating would make me miserable. And on the other side of those broken instincts lurk eating disorders. Like I wrote yesterday, the process of losing weight itself has a strange appeal, with its constant cycle of victorious accomplishments and new goals to reach for. I could see myself coming up with a rationalization for continuing the process, even if I had no earthly health-related reason to do so. And since even at a completely healthy weight, my body still isn’t the exact perfect body I’d choose if I could, it’d be easy to delude myself into thinking that more weight loss would solve that imperfection. I could see myself deciding that I’d be happier with my body if I lost just a little more weight… and then lost a little more… and then just a little bit more after that…

Target 1 So I knew this “decide for yourself what weight you want to be” method wouldn’t work. I didn’t just want to paint a target around myself and call myself “done.” I knew that my powers of rationalization would make that a dangerous path. It’d be way too easy, if my weight slid up again (or slid too far down), for me to just keep re-painting that target at every new place that I landed. I needed some other way of deciding.

But what else? BMI isn’t great, for the reasons I detailed above. Waist-hip ratio isn’t bad, it’s pretty strongly linked to health outcomes… but the problem is that you can’t really do much about it. Spot reducing (i.e., losing weight in one particular part of your body) doesn’t work — so if you want to improve your waist-hip ratio, all you can do is lose weight, and hope you lose more of it in your waist than your hips. Waist circumference? Seems a bit weird for that number to be the same for everyone, regardless of height or frame. But sure, I’d gotten that below the danger point. Was that enough?

I decided to go with a combo of BMI, waist circumference, and body fat percentage. I figured if all three were in a healthy range, I was probably fine. So when the first two were where I wanted them to be, I signed up with a hydrostatic body fat testing company — you know, one of those places that measures your body fat percentage by dunking you in a tub of water — and got that number.

And here’s where it got interesting.

Digital-23 According to the Tub of Water Dunking Company (no, not their real name), my body fat percentage is 23%. And according to the company’s calculations and categories, this puts me squarely in the “healthy” range. In fact, it puts me close to the bottom of that range.

I had my answer. I was done.

In theory, anyway.

But according to the Tub of Water Dunking Company and their calculations and categories, my 23% body fat percentage put me very close to the “athletic” range. And the moment they told me that, I found the idea almost irresistibly appealing.

Book_Nerd I have never, in my entire life, considered myself “athletic.” I’ve always been nerdy, indoorsy, a bookworm. Growing up, I was always a fat, gawky, “last picked in gym class” kid. Even when I lost weight in my teens, even in high school and college when I was taking tons of dancing classes and getting an A in fencing — hell, even when I was dancing at the Lusty Lady peep show fifteen hours a week and making a living being professionally beautiful and sexy — I never once thought of myself as “athletic.” And now, finally, according to the Tub of Water Dunking Company, if I lost just a few more pounds of body fat, I’d officially be in that category.

And I thought: Maybe I’m not done after all. Maybe I should lose a few more pounds, and get my body fat percentage into that “athletic” range. Maybe it would be worth it to keep going, just a little bit longer.

It took some time, and some thinking, and a bit of Googling, to realize that something was very wrong here.

The Tub of Water Dunking Company had ranges for body fat percentages that they considered too high — but they didn’t have any that they considered too low. Their categories were Obese, Overfat, Healthy, Athletic, and Excellent. They had no category for You Don’t Have Enough Body Fat. They had no category for You Are Dangerously Thin And Need To Start Gaining Weight Now.

And that was very disturbing.

Body fat percentage So I did some Googling. Mostly to get a reality check on my “Yes, a 23% body fat percentage is totally healthy, you can stop losing weight now” answer… but also to get a reality check on my disturbance. And I got both. Yes, the body fat percentage range that the Tub of Water Dunking Company called “healthy” is also called “healthy” by the somewhat more reliable World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health. I really and truly didn’t have to lose any more weight. Yay!

But here’s where it gets really interesting. The body fat percentage range that the Tub of Water Dunking Company called “athletic,” the WHO and NIH call “underfat.” Yes, many athletes have a body fat percentage in this range… but athletes often have serious health problems, and sacrifice their long- term health to reach short-term goals. Serious athletic training is about achieving extraordinary feats of performance — not about good health.

And I started thinking:

Why was I so eager to be in that “athletic” range?

Why was I so eager to keep losing weight?

A lot of it, I think, has to do with what I talked about in yesterday’s post. There is a powerful appeal in the process of losing weight, and in the sense of accomplishment and approaching a concrete goal that it gave me. That’s been surprisingly hard to let go of. I also knew how much harder weight maintenance is than weight loss, and I think I was nervous about embarking on this new leg of this project that everyone says is so much more difficult. So as relieved as I was at the thought that I was done, a part of me was disappointed, even somewhat scared… and eager to jump at an excuse to keep going. And again, even at my “ideal” weight, my body still wasn’t the perfect body I would choose if I could …and since weight loss had gotten me so much closer to where I wanted my body to be, it was seductive to think that a little more weight loss would get me a little closer to that ideal.

But some of the appeal, I’m embarrassed to admit, has to do with that word “athletic” — and the feeling of validation and approval I could feel in having someone else, someone with some sort of objective eye, apply it to me.

Even if it was just the guy at the Tub of Water Dunking Company.

War of the simpsons There’s a Simpsons episode that perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about here. (Because there’s a Simpsons episode to illustrate everything important about life.) It’s the one where Homer and Marge go on the couple’s counseling retreat, and Homer sneaks off to go fishing for the legendary giant catfish the locals are obsessed with, and thus be respected and admired. When Marge asks him, “By whom?”, he answers, “Those weirdos down at the worm store!”

Why on earth did I care about those weirdos down at the worm store?

Why on earth did I care whether the guy at the Tub of Water Dunking Company thought I was an athlete?

And this is where I come back around to Yoni Freedhoff, and his “whatever weight you’re happy with and can sustain without being miserable” metric.

Foot on scale The truth is that we don’t really know what a healthy weight is. A lot of research is being done in this area, but right now, we just don’t know. There are lots of different metrics, and not much agreement about which one is best, or where on each metric it’s best to be. The answer is almost certainly a range, not a single fixed number. The range is almost certainly different for different people. And we don’t really know exactly what that range is, or how wide it might be. We have some clear ideas of what a definitely unhealthy weight is… but we don’t have a clear idea of what a healthy weight is. We have some very broad outlines… but for any given person, the question, “What should I weigh?” does not have an obvious answer.

So ultimately, I do need to take responsibility for this decision myself.

Yes, I need my decision to be evidence-based, informed by the best available research I can find. Yes, I need to avoid denialism about the serious health problems connected with overweight and obesity. (And, for that matter, denialism about the serious health problems connected with underweight and disordered eating.) Yes, I need to be aware of my human ability to rationalize and justify decisions that I find comforting and convenient. And so yes, I need to find reliable outside sources that will give me a good reality check.

Biceps But I don’t need the guy at the Tub of Water Dunking Company to tell me I’m athletic. I know I’m athletic. I pump iron three days a week, most weeks. I’m doing bicep curls with 25-pound dumbbells. I can run up a flight of stairs without getting winded or breaking a sweat. I can dance for hours, and be disappointed and ready for more when the night is over. I can bench press half my weight. (Not that I would, usually: my trainer says bench pressing is a waste of time.) And when I flex my biceps, I look like a freaking Amazon goddess. I don’t need to get my body fat percentage below some essentially arbitrary line, above which I’m just an ordinary schlub, and below which I am somehow magically transformed into Martina Navratilova.

Greta full I know I’m athletic. And more importantly: I’m healthy. My body does most of what I want it to do, most of the time. In fact, lately it’s been doing things I never in my wildest dreams would have thought to ask of it. It’s not perfect, and it never, ever will be. But it’s strong, and it’s sexy, and it’s awake and alive and happy, and it connects me intimately with this universe I love so much.

And I’m learning to be okay with that.

Also in this series:
The Fat-Positive Diet, 7/28/09
The Fat-Positive Skeptic (Part 2 of 2), 7/29/09
An Open Letter to the Fat-Positive Movement, 11/11/09
The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet: An Update, 3/8/10
Weight Loss and Strange Emotional Stuff: The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Part 2, 3/9/10
The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Part 3: The Actual Diet, 3/10/10
Some Evolving Thoughts About Weight and Sex, 3/17/10 (reposted here 6/28/10)

The Fat Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Phase 2: Switching from Loss to Maintenance

Done I’m done.

I am officially done losing weight. I’ve reached my target weight. Or, to be more accurate: I have reached the bottom of my target weight range. Or, to be even more accurate than that: I have made a final decision as to what my target weight range should even be (something I wasn’t sure of at the beginning of this project), and have reached the bottom of that range. My goal was to get my weight between 135 and 140 pounds; as of this writing, I weigh 135. I’m done. I am off of weight loss… and am now on what everyone informs me is the much harder project of life-long weight management.

As I always do when I write about this stuff, I promise yet again: This is not going to turn into a weight control blog. If you want to know the details of how I lost the weight, you can read them here: but I’m not going to bore you every day, or indeed every month, with the tedious details of what I’m eating and how much I weigh and how I feel about it all. I’d rather lock myself in a box with snakes. And as I always do when I write about this, I want to make it clear: I’m not evangelizing about weight loss for every fat person. I know that weight loss takes a lot of work, I know that it’s harder for some people than others, and I think the cost/ benefit analysis of whether that work is worth it will be different for everybody.

But enough of you have been interested in the other writing I’ve done about this project, so I wanted to update you on where I’ve gotten… and where I’m going from here.

Road_work_sign Or, to be accurate, where I think I’m going from here. Because everything I’ve read tells me that, as difficult as it is to lose weight, it’s more difficult by an order of magnitude to keep it off. Lots of people lose weight; relatively few people lose weight and keep it off. It does happen, but it’s less common by far. I do have some ideas of what I need to do (and not do) to make this work: I’ve done a lot of reading about this, I know what many of the pitfalls and success strategies are, and since forewarned is forearmed, I feel reasonably confident that I’ll be able to make this happen. But this part of the project is very new to me — I’ve only been on maintenance for a couple of weeks now — and this post is going to have a lot more questions in it than answers.

Lose it The first question, of course, is, “What am I going to do to maintain my weight?” And in an entirely practical sense, that question has a very simple answer: I’m going to do exactly what I did to lose the weight in the first place. I’m counting calories, and I’m exercising almost every day. The only difference — and I mean the only difference — is that my daily calorie budget is a little higher. I am not changing anything else… and I don’t plan to.

Couch_potato Everything I’ve read about maintaining weight loss says the same thing: One of the biggest mistakes people make with weight loss is that they think they’re done. They think that, once they’ve lost the weight, they can go back to their same old eating and exercise habits. And their old habits are what got them to gain the weight in the first place. As I’ve said many times when I’ve written about this topic: Our “natural” food instincts cannot be trusted. Our “natural” food instincts evolved 100,000 years ago on the African savannah, in an environment of food scarcity, and they are not capable of coping with a food environment where Snickers bars are easily and cheaply available on every street corner. Our “natural” food instincts are dummies. That’s just reality. Weight control isn’t something you do once and then forget about. It’s a permanent lifestyle change. Like any lifestyle change, it becomes less self-conscious and more automatic as time goes on… but it’s still a permanent lifestyle change, and not a one-time project. (That’s why it’s so important for weight loss programs to be sustainable: if you lose weight, but don’t learn healthy eating and exercise habits that you’ll be happy with for life, it’s not going to work in the long run,) When people stop consciously managing their weight, and go back to their old unconscious eating habits, they gain the weight back.

Peets-freddos And I can see exactly how that could happen. The day I decided, “I’m done,” one of the first thoughts that came rushing into my head was, “Woo hoo! Now I can go have a frappuccino at Peet’s! I can get a double cheeseburger with fries at the Double Play! I can eat anything I want! I’m not losing weight anymore!”

Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed. I knew this was coming. And I knew it was a bad, bad idea. I knew that this inner “Woo hoo!” was the siren song leading me back to 200 pounds. So I ignored it. I kept up my program. The day I decided, “I’m done,” I ate exactly as I would have if I’d still been on the weight loss program. I think I ate a cookie, and let myself go over budget by about 50 calories. (Both of which are things I did fairly often, even when I was on weight loss.) I’ve since dialed up my calorie budget slightly, and am still trying to decide what it ultimately ought to be… but the nuts and bolts of my program are the same. Counting calories; staying within a daily calorie budget; exercising almost every day.

Doll tape measure But weirdly, and very unexpectedly, the other thought that rushed into my head when I decided I was done was, “You could lose a little more.”

“Come on.” the voice said. “Keep going. Five more pounds, and you’d be a Size 6! Ten more pounds, and your body fat percentage would be in the ‘Athletic’ range! You can do it!”

This wasn’t about anorexia, or any other body image distortion. I didn’t think I was too fat, or even fat at all. This was about being weirdly attached to the process of losing weight. The little victories, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling of having a goal that I was getting closer and closer to every week… that’s been very deeply satisfying. And it’s been strangely hard to let go of. As difficult as this process has been, I’m going to miss it. I clearly have to find some Zen-like way of seeing ongoing weight management as a victorious goal in itself. (I’m thinking anniversaries. Celebrating six months of maintenance, a year of maintenance, two years, three years… those are goals, too. And getting to a year of successfully maintaining weight loss will mean getting to sign up for the National Weight Control Registry… and I’m enough of a nerd to think that will be loads of fun.)

Attention What’s more, the process of losing weight has been bringing me attention and compliments that ongoing weight management probably isn’t going to provide. There’s going to come a time when the people I’ve known for years are finally used to the weight loss, and they’re going to stop mentioning it. And new people I meet aren’t going to know that I ever looked any different. I do have seriously mixed feelings about the compliments — there is a “What was I before, chopped liver?” quality to them that annoys me — but they’re still compliments, and I know I’m going to miss them when they start to fade.

And some of it is just a mental habit I need to break. For a year and a half now, I’ve been thinking that losing weight was Good, and that maintaining the same weight was Not Good. I now need to unlearn that mental habit, and learn the new one. Maintaining Weight Good. Maintaining Weight From Week To Week = Success.

But there’s another reason the “losing weight” part of this project is proving hard to let go of.

It’s that I now, officially, have to accept my body the way it is.

Road ahead For many months now — for the year and half since I’ve been on this project — I’ve been very focused, not on what my body was like at the moment, but on what I was trying to get it to be. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been very happy with my body during this process. I’ve actually been happier with my body during this process than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve been getting tremendous pleasure out of my body, and I’ve had many, many stretches of being intensely present in it, and very much in the moment with it. But as much as I’ve been enjoying my body, I’ve also been very focused on the goal of getting it to a different place. And it was easy to displace any anxiety or unhappiness I had about my body onto my weight… and to assume that, as the weight dropped, the unhappiness would too.

And some of it has. A lot of it has. But it’s not like my body is now the exact perfect body I would choose if I had the power to. I still have a flat butt, droopy breasts, chronic middle- aged- lady health problems I won’t bore you with (nothing life-threatening, just annoying). Since I’ve been losing weight, a lot of my anxiety about my body has transferred from my size to my age — something I really can’t do anything about. And the weight loss itself has brought on a few changes in my body that I’m not thrilled with. (Have we talked yet about loose skin? Oy fucking vey.)

Peace So now that I’m officially done losing weight, I have to accept it: This is the body I have. Sure, there are a few things I can tinker with still — getting my abs stronger, my legs more muscled, my bicep curls back up to 25 pound dumbbells and maybe even higher. But when it comes right down to it, this is my body. It’s not going to change that much, except for a few gradual changes from strength and stamina training, and the gradual changes of getting older. I have to learn to accept it, and to love it, and to find peace in it. I am way, way happier with my body than I have been for years; it works better, it feels better, and I’ll admit that I think it looks better. But it’s not perfect. And it never, ever will be.

And I have to learn to be okay with that.

To be continued tomorrow. In the meantime: If any of you have been through this process, I’d love to hear what you have to say about it. If you’ve lost weight and kept it off successfully, I’d like to hear what maintenance strategies have worked for you; if you’ve lost weight but then gained it back again, I’d like to hear what you think made maintenance harder. Forewarned is forearmed.

Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia

Dont-feed-stars“It’s sort of awful. Yesterday for lunch? Spinach… and some seeds.”

“I swear by almost nothing for breakfast. Mugs of hot water!”

“The other day I realized as long as I’m in this business, I’m going to be hungry.”

“I hate dieting… I’m hungry all the time.”

These quotes aren’t from a medical journal. They’re not from a psychology book on body image in modern society. They’re not from a Lifetime Channel docudrama on eating disorders.

They’re from an Us Weekly Magazine half-page celebrity puff piece (Sept. 13, 2010, Page 18), titled “Don’t Feed the Stars!”, on how “these celebs admit it’s a diet struggle to keep their fab figures.”

Encapsulating the celebrity gossip magazine’s bone-deep schizophrenia about dieting and body size… in one neat sentence.

*

Thus begins my latest Media Darling column on CarnalNation, Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia. To find out more about the celebrity-industrial complex’s freakishly self-contradictory attitude towards diet and weight loss — and the deeply mixed messages it sends the rest of us about food, beauty, bodies, and sex — read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to Carnal Nation — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!