Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oprah and the "brown elephant in the room"

That, according to a recent New York Times article, is how Oprah Winfrey refers to the 40 pounds she's gained over the last year or two. The piece is titled "Her Bulge, His Book and Their Plan B," and focuses on her long-term relationship with the most important man in her life: Bob Greene, her personal trainer/diet guru.

It's an interesting piece and worth reading for those who are interested in the money side of the weight-loss biz. Greene has created several hugely profitable franchises from his work with Oprah--so profitable, in fact, that he no longer charges her for consulting. (I love that--the richest woman in the world doesn't have to pay!) The recent media attention to Oprah's weight gain has been a bonanza for Greene, a fact he readily admits.

There's much to shake your head at here, but it was this quote that really got me:

Ms. Winfrey has so far accepted all the blame for her lapse, not once suggesting the fault lies with Mr. Greene or his diet plan. "This has been a wake-up call for her to let me get back to doing my thing," Mr. Greene said.

Notice anything? Oprah takes blame for gaining weight. Not responsibility. Not ownership. But blame. As in, gaining weight is obviously a moral lapse that must be atoned for. Greene's "diet plan" is blameless, as is Greene himself. Not everyone agrees: At the end of the article, another trainer comments that "any time a client falls off the wagon, the fault lies with the trainer, because it is his or her job to formulate a plan that works for the client."

Here's a radical suggestion: Maybe the fault here lies neither with the stars nor with ourselves* but with the concept of dieting, a concept we know to be fundamentally flawed because 98 percent of dieters "fall off the wagon," as Oprah put it. Maybe the real problem is the frenzy of self-loathing we are so quick to fall into, which, I submit, does more to prevent us from "living our best life" than 5 "extra" pounds, or 30, or 80.

I've been there. Just ask my long-suffering husband, who's had to talk me off the ledge of self-hatred many times. One thing I know for sure: Self-acceptance feels a hell of a lot better than self-loathing. It's not easy to pull off in this culture, whether you're fat or thin. But it's worth the effort. Really.

* I can never resist a Shakespeare paraphrase or pun.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tell President-elect Obama how you feel

Here's a chance to contribute to the next administration's health care agenda: Take 10 minutes to go to this site and post about an issue you care about. Mental health parity? Health at Every Size? More funding for eating disorders research? Whatever's near and dear to your heart, tell the change team. Today. Really. Because how often do we get a chance like this?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Six-year-olds and eating disorders

This Canadian article, published last November, is one of the few I've seen anywhere that overtly links comments and teasing about weight with eating disorders. A significant percentage of teens with eating disorders are overweight at some point. As this piece points out, other people's responses to their weight can start them spiraling down into the hell of an eating disorder.

"Research shows that when girls are teased about their size and their shape, they stop eating," says Mary Kay Lucier of the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association (BANA).

Notice that she did not say "when overweight girls are teased." That's the part that gets me. The act of teasing and making fun of a young girl's weight, even if it's "all in fun" (a phrase I loathe), can be enough to trigger self-starvation in some kids.

Lucier went on to say, "We've had 25 seven-year-olds in the past year come in in a state of acute starvation." I can imagine all too well what lies ahead of some of these girls. It's not pretty. Not at all.

BANA runs education programs, but its budget (like so many nonprofits') has recently been slashed. If you feel motivated to give away a little money in a good cause, download a donor form here.

Maybe the best thing all of us can do is teach our children that just as it's not OK to touch someone who doesn't want to be touched, it's also not OK to comment on anyone else's body--positively or negatively. We have better things to talk about.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Parent support group meeting in Madison, WI

UPDATE: This meeting has been postponed due to weather. It will now be held Tuesday, 1/20, at 7 pm at Starbucks.

The monthly Maudsley parents support group meeting in Madison will take place this Wednesday, January 14th, at Starbuck's, 3515 University Avenue, beginning at 7 p.m.

This is a fabulous get-together of parents who are in various stages of family-based treatment and who cheer each other on, help each other problem-solve, and support each other through one of the toughest experiences a parent will ever go through. If you're helping a child through anorexia or bulimia with FBT, you might feel like you don't have time for something like this. But try to find the time--it'll help keep you going through the tough moments. And as we all know, there are plenty of those.

For information, contact Denise Reimer,