Saturday, September 08, 2007

Entering the dieting/FA fray

I'm going to tell you a story: I once had a friend named Mimi Orner who was a fat activist, woman of size, brilliant teacher, and all-around wonderful person. Here in Madison, Wis., where I live, she started a group that was anti-anorexia, anti-bulimia, and anti-dieting. This was about 15 years ago, mind, somewhat ahead of her time.

Mimi died seven years ago from ovarian cancer. Her appetite for food, like her appetite for life, lasted until pretty close to the very end. Her memorial service was attended by hundreds of people, many of whom got up to speak. All of these tributes were very moving, but the one I remember was a young woman who stood up, tears pouring down her face, and confessed that she and Mimi had once been close but of late had been a little bit estranged. "I found her so inspiring," she said through tears, "and I want to believe what she ways [about fat acceptance]. I'm not as smart or as good as Mimi. I just can't accept myself as a fat person, at least not yet. So we grew apart. And I've missed her so much. And now I'll never have the chance to make it right."

This young woman's words have stayed with me because they capture so vividly the dilemma of the individual and the political. Sometimes, you know, the emotions take a while to catch up with the intellect. Sometimes they never do. That's part of being human. We can't legislate our feelings.

Much as we might like to sometimes.

I miss Mimi too. I wished she was there two years ago when my daughter got sick. I wished she was there when I gained 50 pounds from a medication and struggled with that. I wish she were here now, so we could debate and argue and disagree and learn from each other.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ass-backward science

I used to think the Brits were far more evolved than we Yanks. But that was before Marcella sent me this unbelievable bit of rationalizing from the U.K Food Standards Agency.

According to guidelines passed by the FSA, cheese, honey, marmite (that's how you know you're in the UK), and breast milk* are unhealthy and therefore banned as the subjects of food advertising to kids.

On the other hand, chicken nuggets, microwaveable curries, oven chips (I assume this is french fries), and diet sodas are A-OK, according to these standards.

This is what I think of as ass-backward science: First you decide what result you want your data to show. Then you screw with said data until it shows it.

So the makers of chicken nuggets can happily continue to flog their stuff to the kiddies**, but the beekeepers and cheese makers are SOL.

Nice going, guys.

* Breast milk's fat content would render it unhealthy by the FSA's standards.

** I lived in London for a year and I speak Brit too!

A basic misunderstanding of anorexia

has got to be part of where nutrition "expert" Dr. Elliott Berry is coming from when he offered the latest in potential anorexia treatment: cannabis.

You can't blame Dr. Berry; anyone who reads DSM-IV gets the same wrong-headed criteria for anorexia front and center: Anorexia is a "refusal t maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height."

It's the word refusal that is so misleading. Those of us with personal knowledge understand that it should read inability to maintain body weight. Someone with anorexia isn't "refusing" to eat, because s/he's not really capable of making a choice on the subject of food and eating.

I'd love to see this definition change, and with it our notions of good treatment. I'd love to see a time when starvation would not be an option, when we didn't confuse appetite with illness. And I don't think cannabis has any place in the treatment of anorexia.

Monday, September 03, 2007

What obesity is

At least according to endocrinologist Robert Lustig: “Obesity is not a disease or a behavior. It’s a phenotype (a trait or characteristic in a subset of the population), which is a manifestation of many things.”

Lustig was talking about why there will never be a "one-size-fits-all" weight-loss drug.

Now if only he'd gone a step further, and questioned the need for a pill to change a phenotype.