Saturday, June 23, 2007

Shame on you, Dear Abby

I'll cop to reading Dear Abby, despite the often off-the-mark advice she doles out. But today's column went beyond off-the-mark and into just-plain-dangerous-and-wrong territory.

Here's the letter in question: "I'm an attractive, single, successful, 27-year-old woman who has struggled with anorexia ever since I was 12. I have learned to live with it and feel no need to advertise it to the world. However, I find that many strangers, including a large number of people I associate with at work, feel a compulsion to comment on my weight (105 pounds and 5 foot 9), the size of the clothes I wear, or what I eat. It's as uncomfortable a subject for me as I imagine it is for people who are overweight, and I have no 'pat' answer for them." --Annoyed at 105

Here's Abby's response:
Dear Annoyed: Clearly, your weight issues are more obvious to those around you than you chose to believe. However, you are under no obligation to answer these intrusive questions if it makes you uncomfortable. When confronted, reply, "That's a very personal question (or subject) and I'd prefer not to discuss it." Then change the subject.

Argh! Please write to her and set her straight about anorexia: It's not a "lifestyle choice" but a lethal mental illness. Ask her why she would sanction this writer's settling for a life distorted by anorexia. Invite her to list resources that might be helpful to "Annoyed" and her family, including, NEDA,, and others.

This is a teachable moment on a national scale. Go for it!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Couldn't resist this one, either

Check out this satire on all the "war on obesity" news of late. Hee hee.

Because I can't resist . . .

You won't be able to, either. It's a musical love letter from a young Brit to the "big girls," and it really rocks!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Fitnessgrams" for kids

My 11-year-old daughter's report card came in the mail today. Along with the usual list of academic subjects and grades came another piece of paper with a big orange bar at the top. In blue blue letters it read FITNESSGRAM. Below was a graph of how my daughter had performed on a series of fitness tests, including a one-mile run, abdominal curl-ups, trunk lifts, push-ups, and flexibility. Then there was another little box labeled "Body Mass Index," showing her past and current BMIs plotted against a bar graph. Her scores were in the green "healthy fitness zone." To the right was a large red area--danger! fatsos coming!--labeled "Needs improvement." That's where your bar graph ends up if your BMI is "too high." To the left was a tiny red box labeled "very low," which is, I suppose, where your bar graph ends up if you're anorexic.

I guess this is supposed to be a cute, non-threatening way of communicating with parents, a kind of casual, unofficial, "Say, did you know your kid's in great shape?" or "Hey, by the way, your kid's kinda fat!"

This is insulting on any number of levels, of course, but let's just pick one: the suggestion that it's better to be too skinny than too fat, which as we know is not supported by any actual science.** Why isn't the "too skinny" area labeled something like "needs medical attention now!"? Why isn't the "too fat" area labeled "plenty of nutritional reserves!"?

My daughter was more upset about the fake activity pyramid on the back of the fitnessgram, modeled after that most famous of irrelevancies, the USDA food pyramid. At the bottom, the widest section was labeled "lifestyle activity," and it listed walking, biking, skateboarding, housework, yardwork, dancing, and playing active games. The next level held two smaller squares labeled aerobic activity and aerobic sports. One level up, another two squares were labeled muscular activity and flexibility activity. The smallest section, the point of the pyramid, was labeled "rest," and it included schoolwork, homework, reading, computer games, TV, videos, eating, resting, and sleeping.

Clearly these are the things you're supposed to do as little of as possible. My daughter was outraged. "I wonder what the teachers would think about this!" she cried. "You're not supposed to read?"

Imagine boot camp. Then imagine a sergeant from boot camp running the schools. "You there, cadet, stop wasting time with your nose in a book and give me 50 on the floor!" Never mind the fact that kids are supposed to be developing their intellectual capabilities at this (and every) age; in the new Fitness World, only activities that burn calories are sanctioned. Even by schools.

I feel like we're living in a Kurt Vonnegut story. And it's only gonna get worse.

** Calorie reduction (CR) nutcases notwithstanding.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why dieting is the ultimate health risk

Big kudos to Sandy Szwarc, whose most recent post looks at how the American Heart Association's "heart-healthy" diet recommendations don't actually add up to better health or longer lives for women.

Eating healthy, in other words, doesn't protect you from heart disease. (We're talking about women who aren't sick; the statistics are different for those who already have heart disease.) And eating "not-healthy" doesn't put you at higher risk--at least, no studies have been able to show a cause and effect relationship.

In fact, all "eating healthy" (read: dieting) does, as we know, is make you fatter by messing up your metabolism with the deprivation-and-binge cycle. So dieting itself is a risk factor for obesity.

Obesity, it turns out, is a risk factor for diabetes, but not much else. Fat people actually do better after heart attacks than thin people. Older people who are fat live longer than their skinny peers.

Another thing dieting does is trigger eating disorders in those who are susceptible. Once more, dieting itself is a risk factor for anorexia, a serious illness that kills up to 20% of those who suffer from it.

Oh yeah, it does one more thing: Make money for the multi-billion-dollar weight loss industry, for the bariatric surgeons, and for the obesity researchers. Cui bono, baby?

So forget the war on obesity, which is as ill-conceived and well-funded as the war in Iraq. I think we need a war on dieting.

**This post is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Marilyn "Mimi" Orner, who founded the Anti-Anorexia/Bulimia/Dieting Project. She was an advocate of size acceptance, a survivor of anorexia, and a powerful inspiration to a generation of young women. She died of ovarian cancer in 2000 but has not been forgotten. You still rock, Mimi!

How can you tell if your child is developing an eating disorder?

Go here to listen to my radio essay on the subject, which aired today on "To the Best of Our Knowledge." The essay aired as part of the show dated 6/17/07.