Monday, January 05, 2009
What do YOU do?
So I'm sitting at brunch with some neighbors--new neighbors, people I don't yet know very well but whom I like a lot--and the subjects of eating disorders and weight come up, as they inevitably seem to do. It is just after New Year's, after all, and we are sitting at brunch--a feast of a brunch, actually, with omelets and homemade waffles, a big bowl of whipped cream, berries, lox, roast potatoes, clementines. Everything is delicious and there's plenty of it.
So of course the conversation turns to dieting and New Year's resolutions, obesity and anorexia. And in the space of about 5 minutes I hear pretty much every myth about eating and weight there is:
"Children are much much fatter today than they've ever been and we have to do something about it."
"There's an explosion of diabetes among children today."
"Anorexia--that's all about control, isn't it?"
"Anorexics are doing that because they want to be thin. It's a cultural pressure kind of thing."
As I've said, these are people I like but don't know very well. But I can't just keep my mouth shut. I can't. I try to maintain a reasonable facade but within minutes I'm arguing, spouting statistics and opinions, trying to keep my voice friendly, hearing the urgency in my own words. I explain that one reason for the so-called explosion of obesity in America (among adults as well as children) is that the cutoffs for overweight and obesity changed overnight, so millions of people woke up one morning and were suddenly considered overweight or obese. That while more children are diagnosed with diabetes now than, say, 30 years ago, some of that number is certainly due to increased awareness and earlier diagnosis, which is a good thing. That the numbers don't differentiate between cases of Type 1 diabetes, which is largely genetic, and Type 2, which is linked to diet and activity.
I tell them about Health At Every Size, and try to conjure as many of Deb Burgard's talking points on size acceptance as I can remember. I tell them that Tom Cruise has been considered obese according to the BMI charts.
I tell them that no, anorexia is not about control, that it's not "about" anything except having the shitty luck to be genetically vulnerable. I tell them that for a person with anorexia, eating is like--oh, I don't know, maybe jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Covered in writing snakes. Giving a lecture on the way down. That for some people, restricting (aka dieting) sends them straight down the rabbit hole, that anorexia distorts thoughts and perceptions and feelings, that it's not a question of just picking up a fork and eating.
One of my new neighbors is in medical school. She's particularly interested in these subjects because she will have to adopt a professional attitude about them sometime soon. She'll have to figure out what she thinks and how to talk to people on all parts of the weight and eating spectrum--her patients. She listens. Everybody listens. We actually have a lively and interesting conversation. I think.
But I lay awake last night replaying it in my mind, wondering if I should have taken a different approach to the discussion. It's not so much that I think I was obnoxious (though maybe I was, a little) as it is the fact that I find these conversations exquisitely painful. Every time I hear the words It's all about control, isn't it? it's like some synapse in my brain starts overheating. How do I offer my knowledge and opinions without being obnoxious or driving myself beserk?
What do YOU do when the conversation turns to subjects like this?