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The Great Malnutrition Scare vs the Obesity Epidemic

This is Wilbur Olin Atwater. He was a pioneer in human nutrition, back in the day. He was also one of the major causes of the Great Malnutrition Scare of 1907-21.

You see, Atwater was one of the first people to try to figure out how much of what nutrients people need to function. And like many who are among the first to quantify something… he got a lot of stuff wrong. The amount of protein he decided the average person needs is today known to lead to kidney failure, just as a f”rinstance.

And between his miscalculations, misinterpretation of both his data and poorly gathered information, racially skewed height and weight charts, along with a great big ol’ dollop of cultural aesthetic preferences and prejudice over evidence, the Great Malnutrition Scare of 1907 – 21 began.

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Take Care of Your Emotional Health on Thanksgiving

It’s a fact. Not all families are created equal. Some of us are lucky enough to have families that welcome and embrace us during the holidays… and others of us spend this time of year being emotionally beaten up by our nearest and dearest.

Over the years, I’ve read harrowing tales on this site from awesome Big Girls who are expected to cook the Thanksgiving feast and then berated for every bite they dare to eat. I’ve read of others who spend the holidays in a constant round of being given diet tips by all their relatives, their spouses, and their closest friends. I’ve read about the folks who wheedle invitations to dinner and then complain about the cooking, the choice of menu, and the decor. I’ve read about families grimly sitting down to a traditional meal that took days and huge amounts of money to create, but that nobody actually enjoys eating. And I’ve read about families who take this holiday dedicated to gratitude and turn it into a chance to object vociferously to the size, body art, hair color, clothing choices, sexuality, relationships, child-rearing plans and/or skills, careers, and literary taste of everyone else at the table.

If this in any way describes your Thanksgiving guest list (or the Thanksgiving you’ve been invited to partake in), it’s time to rethink your holiday plans.

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Thin Privilege: Movement Without Comment

Okay thin people, help me out here. Is it possible for you to mention partaking in some sort of physical activity without someone mentioning how it’ll make you lose weight? I just want to know if people are universally demented or if it’s just special fat girl treatment.

Case in point:

Hot Latin Boy and I are both mad for the danzón, Cuba’s slow, sinuous answer to the Argentine tango. Although popularity has waned in its native Cuba, every week people gather in plazas or on corners all over Mexico to come together to gossip, flirt and dance the danzón.

We dance three nights a week. Excessive perhaps, but it keeps us off the streets and affords me the opportunity to dress in all white –white outfits are traditional for danzón– without resorting to the equally distasteful options of being a bride or a member of the klan.

And it’s not just fun, but SO fun.

First of all, my fellow dancers are a hoot. There’s Imperious Fruit-Themed Lady, Nose Hair Man, Disappointed Gay Guy, and Confused Teenage Orangutan, among others.

Imperious Fruit-Themed Lady with her cherry-printed skirts is my favorite, closely followed by Confused Teenage Orangutan whose feet are the size of tennis rackets and do not communicate in any meaningful way with the rest of his body. Nose Hair Man is the best dancer, while Disappointed Gay Guy fell hard and fast for HLB and shoots me death glares over his Vivien Leigh half-frames any time he gets the chance.

Although HLB and I generally dance together, we’re more popular separately.

This, of course, has everything to do with our overwhelming natural talent and nothing to do with HLB’s resident dreamboat status or that for a ballroom full of men who stand 5’5″ in their discreetly lifted Cuban heels, dancing with a woman who clocks in at six feet tall in champagne satin Capezios affords them five minutes of uninterrupted visual access to some serious USDA Grade A funbags without getting maced or divorced.

The ballroom is also beautiful, housed in a cultural center that was once a sprawling Spanish Colonial-style casino built in the late 1920′s, reputedly with Al Capone as bankroller-in-chief.

The only trouble, aside the occasional trodden-upon toe, comes when I talk about it to my fellow gringos.

“Oh that’s such good exercise, and what a great way to lose weight!”

And of course it has to be said with that extra-patronizing voice usually reserved for when someone’s two year-old makes poo poo in the big boy potty. It’s also universally followed by some riveting anecdote where someone’s sister’s cousin’s lobotomy surgeon lost seven hundred pounds doing freestyle Himalayan goat clogging.

Why? Because it can’t ever not be about weight.

It’s just so tremendously boorish, like hearing about a friend’s gastronomical tour of France in pornographic, butter-soaked detail and exclaiming “Wow! You must’ve had some really satisfying bowel movements!”

Yes, there are health benefits to dancing eight hours a week. For example, when I’m dancing I’m not out killing people who say stupid stuff, so that’s not bad. Plus good cardio is good cardio, and dancing –especially in heels– is great for your core, assuming your knees and ankles don’t protest. That’s not the point.

The point of dancing isn’t to lose weight, it’s to dance.

It’s to have fun, it’s to get dressed up and salvage a bit of elegance in a world that’s rapidly slouching towards Kardashian. It’s to twirl with men in linen pants and Panama hats who aren’t trying to bring back the hat, because for them, the hat never left. It’s to stare at a young woman’s enthusiastic sweaterpuppies without getting decked by your wife with a cast-iron tortilla press (although I have seen one particularly indiscreet gentleman of about sixty get cracked across the back of the head with a hand fan after staring too intently at the dance instructor’s admittedly magnificent backside.)

So tell me, straighties, does this happen to you, or can you just move without comment?

Isn’t Not Being Sick Enough?

Ahh, gluten, the latest bad boy of the dinner plate according to popular theory. There’s been a huge spike in the media sexiness of passing on wheat products. You can’t go anywhere without hearing the hype and seeing the products. You can’t go anywhere without someone having a hand-wringing session over it.

I’ve been around the block enough times at this point to know when a food issue is being blown out of proportion by now.

And no, it’s not that I think there’s no such thing as gluten sensitivity. If there’s a food out there, someone is allergic to it on some level. It’s more a case of stick around long enough, and some other food that a relatively small number of people have difficulty processing successfully will suddenly become the reason that ‘everyone’ is sick and become a media scare. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make anyone at all sick. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware. We just shouldn’t panic so about it.

In fact, a friend of mine was recently put on a gluten free diet by her doctor because she showed specific symptoms that can indicate gluten sensitivity. This is what we call evidence based medical treatment, and I’m wholly in favor of that.

So a couple weeks into the new regimen, the scaly hand condition that nothing could solve… yeah, it’s going away after some five or six years. She’s got more energy and less digestive issues. In short, my friend really, truly is gluten sensitive and needed to do this for her health. It’s working.

The funny thing is, that doesn’t seem to be enough for some people. Just last night, my friend and I were out grooving to a local band (as it happens, the one Mr. Twistie and my friend’s brother are in) and a couple of her friends (as in: she knows them a lot better than I do, not as in they’re people I dislike) showed up to support the band and have a nosh at the cool neighborhood cafe the band was playing. My friend told her friends about going gluten free and how much better she was feeling.

All three more or less dismissed the ‘feeling better’ bit with a desultory ‘that’s nice’ kind of comment. Then they eagerly asked if it had any other benefits. As in: how much weight have you lost?

Seriously?

The end of a series of symptoms ranging from aesthetically annoying to seriously uncomfortable are going away in a matter of a couple weeks after years of suffering, and that’s not enough for you? It isn’t a good thing until she fits into smaller clothes?

And how sad is it that I didn’t know my friend was on a doctor-prescribed regimen for a specific problem until last night? Frankly, when I saw she had a book on living gluten free and was suddenly asking in restaurants what did and didn’t have wheat or barley in it, I was afraid to ask whether this was because of doctor’s orders or because she had decided this was going to finally be The Answer to her lifelong ‘weight problem’… just like low carb, low fat, sugar free, and dozens of other food trends have been The Answer as long as I’ve known her. For the record, not one has worked for her no matter how carefully she followed instructions.

This, my friends, is a perfect illustration of how screwed up our attitudes about food, and about health are at present. I assumed a medical intervention for a specific problem was probably another trendy diet, and all her other friends discount the specific good it is doing her because it’s not having the perceived good they expected.

We desperately need to get beyond weight as shorthand for health or illness. It’s bad for everyone.

But what if I LIKE my appetite?

“Curve your appetite with yoga.”

Uh, okay.

First of all, I’m pretty sure those are just words strung together. I still can’t figure out what it’s supposed to mean other than some take on the idea that if I do yoga I’ll put the kibosh on wanting to eat.

So not wanting to eat is…good?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to bash yoga. I love yoga. I’m not an exceptionally gifted practitioner –imagine Patsy or Edina from Abfab trying to do a Salute to the Sun and you’ve just about got it– but I’m on the yoga bandwagon, and not because it’s the only acceptable place to wear yoga pants in public. Although it is.

But I’m also on the eating when I’m hungry bandwagon.

If my stomach says “Hey, we haven’t hung out in a while. Howzabout you and I go to town on some of these here black beans?” I’ll say “Great idea Stomach, do you want me to bring the cotija, cilantro and lime or will you?” and IT will reply “You should. I’m an internal organ and thus have limited citrus-picking capabilities.” and then, not being able to argue with logic, I’ll bring some limes and we’ll both get happy on some seriously luscious legumes.

My appetite is sated and I don’t die of starvation or get sick (yet again) from malnourishment.

It works out for everyone.

As big girls, most of us have had intuitive eating beaten right out of us, sometimes literally by the people who love or sometimes “love” us.

We’re told not to listen to our bodies, that our bodies are trying to betray us and we should have this celery stick instead of that deviled egg we so desperately crave. Your body wants protein? But protein often has fat in it and there’s nothing worse than eating fat. Or sugar. Or wheat. Or Salt. Or whatever they say is going to make you die from fat this news cycle and cure cancer the next.

It’s damn hard to get back to intuitive eating, and eating valuable foods. Many of us have a ton of emotional baggage and actual internal damage –my stomach prolapsed in college after I was given phen fen as a teenager and I spent the next ten years suffering malnutrition thanks to a completely shot and shell-shocked metabolism– so even the most natural thing in the world can be a tough row to hoe.

If you’re interested in learning more about intuitive eating an eating that’s both emotionally and physically healthful (no, it’s not a diet) I invite you to visit IntuitiveEating.org and my personal favorite resident of the fatosphere: Fat Nutritionist. It’s probably the best way to lose weight.

 

 

 

 

 

It Doesn’t Get Better: A Note to Fat Kids, Former and Present.

It Gets Better is a noble sentiment, and maybe for some people part of a stigmatized group it’s true. I certainly hope it is.

But I’m not convinced it’s an accurate statement for the fat kids out there; especially not those who grow into fat adults.

For people of size, I’m not sure it does Get Better, at least not naturally.

Left to its own devices, the Western Beauty and Culture Machine will happily crush you underfoot –for your own good, of course– for being too big for their britches.

Everywhere you look there will be pop-up ads and billboards and interchangeable vapid reality TV “stars” admonishing you from photoshopped pages to change your body into something society deems acceptable. Only then will you get invited to the cool parties, have a partner who loves you and finally be worthy of full human status.

Oh, and don’t you dare be angry. They’re just doing it so you’ll feel better about you! They’re “just worried about your health”. Did they mention you have Such A Pretty Face? Did they make the Pointed Sigh?

Sigh.

It’s not like people really need much of a push to treat fat people as sub-human anyway. We’re manifestations of weakness, of the laziness and sloth they fear in themselves, we deserve our bad treatment because really, we’ve brought it upon ourselves. (You can try pointing out science refuting the claim that size is more than just a case of calories in vs. calories out, but be aware it’s dancing-with-a-pig futile in many if not most cases.)

Nope, you’re a lazy cow and there’s nothing sacred about cows in this culture: They just get slaughtered…or worse, slaughter themselves.

Bullying is now news, after too many –one is too many– kids, perceived or identifying as something other than cut-and-dried hetero, committed suicide.

But bullying, we all know, is not new news and it’s not solely the domain of gay kids.

Yet how many front page human interest stories do you hear about the plight of the fat kid being bullied in school?

Whither our tearful congressmen? Where’s the garment-rending when a bullied fat kid commits suicide?

More importantly, where are our 24-hour specialized hotlines to stop those suicides before they happen?

Tormenting fat kids is less of a headline and more of a forgivable rite of passage, swept neatly under the Children Can Be So Cruel rug (Children Can Be So Cruel, a fully-licensed subsidiary of Boys Will Be Boys and She Was Asking For It In That Skirt Partners, International)

Yeah, children can be so cruel.

Is it a newsflash that adults can be too?  The “War on Childhood Obesity”, however good its intentions might be, is just another way to codify and institutionalize size discrimination against the people least capable of defending their own interests: children.

Regardless of age, if you’re fat, Society, either openly or covertly, wants you to hate yourself thin. Except we can’t hate ourselves thin, at least not in the long term. Sometimes only thing that sticks from years of being hit in the head with the anti-fat hammer until our ears ring with self-hate is…guess what? Self hate.

So it’s hard to say It Gets Better because really, it’s going to get worse. Subtler, to be sure, but worse.

What’s the solution? We can’t wait for it to GET better. We have to MAKE it better.  Individually. Put on your own oxygen mask, then help your neighbor.

Make it better by applying a critical eye (and okay, sometimes a critical finger) to anti-fat bias.

Surround yourself with positive, thought-provoking friends and resources. Read The Fat Nutritionist. Understand Health at Every Size.

Reject any media that celebrates a culture where our bodies are punchlines and our feelings don’t count but still want our precious, precious dollars. I’m not the smartest girl on the block (and it’s not even a very big block) but even I have a problem with giving companies money to insult me.

Stop watching E! and its equally abysmal coterie (Those channels make you stupid. They just do. Read a book. Watch a documentary. Just step away from the “Reality TV” before mindless describes more than just your choice in entertainment).

For the love of all things holy, stop buying women’s magazines.

Watch the runway shows if you want to be up on fashion, at least you’ll only subject yourself to the models and not hot pink headlines offering quadruple chocolate fudge bombs, plastic surgery tips and “630 Ways To Drop Fifty Pounds By Thursday You Pathetic Spinster Cow!” on the same cover.

Find your own path, define your self BY yourself.

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Secrets, Sleeping and Support

Well, it’s late in the afternoon –too much Tramadol in last night’s pasta sauce I’m afraid– I just woke up to the sad but not unexpected news that Pep Guardiola has chosen not to renew his contract as sexypants manager of futbol juggernaut Barcelona and the mango I just chopped up for breakfast tastes like onion because I gambled on “is this knife clean or dirty” and lost, so I guess now is as good a time as any to admit a deep, dark secret:

I sleep with a stuffed animal.

>Richard Parker, generally referred to simply as “Tiger” (hey, not even we creative types can be creative all the time) is a six foot-long Bengal tiger and my constant bedtime companion for close to two years.

I’ve always eyed with suspicion grown women whose beds are covered with plush bunnies, fuzzy bears and other infantilizing paraphernalia. If you are old enough to afford your own bed, you are old enough to spend the night without Mister Floppers and company. Still, when Tiger came into my life, I knew we were meant to be.

Tiger has served as my go-to body pillow since I first brought him home, adherent to his duties where many other body pillows have failed. He regally bears the indignity of being used as a knee-stabilizer on nights when sleeping on my back is a must, he plays the role of “little spoon” with silent hauteur and when I need a bit of lift to write in bed, he’s got my back, literally. Not bad for being purchased while in a 3 a.m. fugue state in the Hallmark aisle of my local Walgreen’s.

My best friend in the entire universe (“and beyond!” she’d add) is also a body pillow enthusiast. She’s a big girl too but unlike me, is naturally endowed with what is known to medical science as “spectacularly ginormous bazoongas”, so much so that, when unfettered or only slightly battened down via stretch cami, they make sleeping comfortably a serious challenge.

Last year she spoke longingly of some firm looking double-pronged pregnancy pillow she saw in either a Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez movie where the lead Jennifer was in The Family Way (I don’t know, nor am I interested, in what the movie is called. Best friend though she is, she also has the singularly worst taste in movies of any person I’ve ever met, despite having a Very Impressive Degree in film something or other).


A bit of Google-Fu led me to the Leachco Back ‘N Belly Contoured Body Pillow.

It’s her birthday on Saturday (Happy Birthday, Girl!) and this was my gift. Her initial response was “Oh Girl I ruvs it!” which is always a good sign.

I don’t have one myself, but were my sleeping arrangements other than they are, I would willingly retire Tiger in exchange for something that supported my back, thighs and stomach (my gals are travel-sized so don’t really do much of anything but sit there and tell me when it’s cold).

What about you? Would you wrap yourself in a double-sided body pillow or do you prefer some other method?

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