Friday, September 30, 2011

Expecting to be natural in an unnatural world

I've been told that modern dogs were bred from wolves, though I'm actually too lazy to research whether or not that is a fact. Whether or not they actually came from wolves is not really important, but I'm sure that domesticated animals, and the varieties of purebred dogs that people possess in particular, trace a genetic heritage to some wild species that was far more capable of looking after its interests than the current crop of creatures that have their poop scooped up by diligent and lawful owners.

Many things in modern life have been altered through time and technology while still retaining vestiges of their original biology. Many breeds of dogs would be incapable of survival if released into the wild, but they still respond in ways that their original nature dictates. We do our best to train the more unacceptable impulses out of them, and understand that we must overlay an artificial behavioral template on top of their desire to mark their territory, bite, or eat another dog's poop. We know that basic nature does not serve the modern domesticated dog (or its owner).

When it comes to humans, we seem to have a far less logical structure to our thinking. We live in a world that is very far-removed from nature then we talk about relying on our natural impulses to help us navigate it. The confusion is very pronounced when it comes to how we deal with food.

There are people who advocate eating by nature, as opposed to doing so in accord with artificial constructs such as planned meal times, calorie counts, or diet plans (and I use "diet" here as a  noun to mean - "what we eat", not as a verb referring to weight loss). They talk about how we should listen to our bodies and eat by intuition. I think if you're going to make such a recommendation, then you should be responsible enough to deeply reflect on what the nature of our bodies truly is as a result of our genetic heritage.

I'm no expert on evolution, nor on history, but I do know that humans spent a lot more time with insecure food supplies than secure ones. Even after agrarian lifestyles were implemented, it wasn't until food preservation techniques became refined and mass production common that the food supply was such that most people had food readily available at any given time. That means that the history of our biology as a species which is literally surrounded by food all of the time and capable of eating anytime anywhere is extremely brief from an evolutionary standpoint.

Most of the formative years of humanity were built around spending copious amounts of time and energy securing sustenance.  In order to ensure that we felt compelled to go find food, hunger had to evolve as a potently uncomfortable force. If we didn't feel hunger pain, we would just starve because it wouldn't hurt enough to push us to go out and gather or hunt for grub.

Our "nature" in regards to food developed in accord with dramatically different circumstances than those we currently live in. Bodies respond to food and hunger as if we were living in a situation in which food was hard to get and we needed to be strongly motivated to get it. Our impulses are in complete disharmony with our circumstances at present. Hunger pains scream, "find food, now," but the severity of those feelings came from a need to motivate activity or anticipate staving off those pains and to push us to action. They didn't evolve to drive us to wander into the kitchen and open a cabinet door and eat a snack.

So, talking about our "nature" or being "natural" about food only works if you are in a natural environment. We are not. We are in a highly unnatural situation based on technology and culture. Like the domesticated dog that can't fight for it's food to survive, we no longer have to expend energy to obtain energy. Like the dogs that we train to suppress their no longer appropriate nature in light of their residence in our homes and lives as pets, we also must be "trained" to deal with food in a manner which is no longer in accord with our basic biological impulses. Simply put, it is our nature to eat when hungry, but it is not natural to be able to do so.

The first step in dealing with the poor relationship people have with food, and this applies to everyone, not just fat folks, is to stop talking about what is natural and accept that we live in an artificial world with challenges to our nature. Just as we learned to hold our bladders until a toilet is available, we need to learn to hold our hunger at bay until we really need to eat. This is a task that should be performed by cultural norms, but the time period during which food has been a casual thing which is readily at hand, cheap, and of dubious nutritional value has been extremely short. In fact, it wasn't even a challenge my grandparents would have faced. Culture hasn't had time to catch up with this development.

Unfortunately, the way in which we deal with this particular challenge has been muddled greatly by various special interests fighting to further their agendas. Everyone has a viewpoint and they are interested only in defending or advocating whatever it is. Rather than deal with the issue, they simply want to be agreed with and we exist in a state of angry chaos when it comes to food. Additionally, the focus on behavioral extremes (excessive consumption or deprivation) and the insertion of value judgments into the equation serve to polarize and politicize the situation. Unless such emotionally-charged notions are set aside in favor of an rational and objective solution, culture will never find a way to balance our nature with the artificial environment that we will almost certainly continue to exist in.

The question of what is to be done is therefore up to the individual to build a life with this highly unnatural situation which creates a healthy relationship with food. And when I say "healthy", I don't mean merely to promote a healthy body. I mean "healthy" in an inclusive sense including that which promotes joy and mental well-being. Such a balance is possible, but you're not going to land on it "naturally", nor if your notions about food are focused on joyless and punitive ideas and idealized body concepts (such as thinness) or self-deception about the consequences of life at a high weight (such as claiming the development of Type 2 diabetes is unrelated to weight when it certainly is). If individuals, one-by-one, slowly and surely moved toward such a rational and balanced mentality, culture would catch on and catch up and there would be a critical mass that might result in an overall healthy, happy, and, yes, utterly unnatural relationship with food. It would be an artificial food culture for an artificial world. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But, I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Health Test Results

Today I received the results of the first round of regular health check tests which I mentioned in the previous post. All of my results were within the range of "normal" except for one. That one was, quite predictably, my BMI which is 30.9%.

Personally, I'm not especially bothered that this number is highlighted in red to indicate that it is a problem because I planned to lose more weight anyway. However, I can't help but feel that the HAES (health at every size) movement would take issue with this. If all of my results are okay, why is weight even being tagged as an issue?

What I realize is that this isn't about any sort of personal choice on the part of the health care provider to point at my weight and say, "bad girl!". This is about bureaucracy and a system which looks only at numbers and reaches conclusions. With this type of health care, I'm essentially being judged by a machine rather than by human judgment. The machine prints out a report and if the range of numbers is outside of certain parameters, it prints it in red. If the number is high, it spits out particular advice. If the number is low, it spits out different advice.

When I learned the results, I was not overjoyed or proud or whatever. I know some of the results could likely be better in the abstract (though there is nothing "wrong" with them now). For instance, my fasting blood sugar is 94. That is on the higher end of "normal", but is nonetheless normal. This number isn't on the high side of normal because I'm overeating or eating poorly. It's where it is because I haven't been sleeping well due to knee pain and my stress levels over the past 6 months have gotten higher and higher (due to taking on a new job and various other issues such as living close to a crisis zone). Insulin is affected by these factors in addition to diet.

The bottom line is that there are things I can do which would favorably impact these statistics and things I can't do. I can't instantly cure my knee, and, in fact, my efforts to date to improve it with self-prescribed physical therapy (exercise, bending, baths) have only made it worse and I'm abandoning that line. Right now, the pain gets better if I do nothing rather than do something. If I can't fix my pain, I can't fix my sleep problems.

The other thing which I think would improve my health is engaging in more vigorous exercise. While I walk and lift weights 5-7 times a week, I can't do strenuous aerobic exercise due to my physical fragility. Mainly, this is due to my knee, which barely tolerates the walking I do everyday. My back is generally better, but if I push it too far too fast, I will pay for it. Even now, I'm having some pain from various stretching exercises which create strain on my back. I can't change the fact that I'm unable to do more challenging exercise due to physical pain and damage.

My main concern about the numbers I was going to receive was that they would be poor and I'd feel that I was already doing almost everything I possibly could to have better health. I eat exceptionally well from a nutritional balance viewpoint. Sure, I eat a few treats a day, but I think only a nut job who derives all of his or her self-esteem and a sense of moral superiority from something as trivial as food choices would believe that a few bites of something sweet a day make a huge health difference. There's no way the equivalent of eating 3-5 Hershey's Kisses per day is going to have an appreciable impact on my health when my calories are kept consistently within a range of 1500-2000 the vast majority of the time and I eat a very good balance of nutritious food.

The tests I took validated my sense that I'm generally pretty healthy now, but I had an odd sense of foreboding even getting them because I know that a person can do everything right and still fail. Health is not something you can attain merely by connecting all of the proper dots. You can increase your chances, sure, but there are no guarantees. Each person works with particular predispositions. I'm genetically lucky in some ways since my body fat is hanging off of my behind and belly instead of collecting around my organs and in areas which tend to contribute to Type 2 diabetes. There are people at my weight or lower who have more problems, not because they are making poor choices, but because their body reacts differently.

At the moment, I'm still in limbo on the thyroid concerns that I mentioned in the previous post. I wasn't permitted to make an appointment for a test until after this first round of test results arrived. I still believe this is a precaution, but a seed has certainly been planted that I have cause for concern. I'd like to dig that seed up and throw it away before it grows any further, but I can't do that until I have another test.

Beyond the thyroid test, I've still got to have a pap test and mammogram. These are other tests that I've avoided for years because of humiliating and degrading experiences due to my weight. Last time I attempted to have such a test, the doctor put me on an electronically elevated table which would not move up due to my weight and angrily asked me how much I weighed and reacted with great and overt disgust that she had to move me to an old fashioned table to conduct the exam. Since then, I haven't gone back. Of course, I know that if I don't take such tests, I'm the one who will pay the price, but I couldn't bear to face it again after that.

Even at my current weight (around 185), I approach all medical experiences with trepidation. I am going to have all of the tests that I should have done completed despite my fears and anxiety. I'm scheduled to get the pap test and mammogram as soon as possible (around mid-October). I'm saddened that it took extreme weight loss to work up the courage to do what normal people do to maintain health and I'm angry that negative experiences made me avoid them for so long. As I've mentioned before, I often wonder if the higher mortality rate among obese individuals is related to not seeking regular health care due to the shoddy treatment they receive rather than obesity-related illness. If you don't go until something is seriously wrong, it is likely too late to deal with the issue.

For now though, I'm satisfied that I'm okay on the fronts which have been measured and relieved that doing everything I reasonably can just so happens to be "enough" for all of the machines to say I'm healthy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Secret Fear (Played Into)

I have had a secret fear related to my fatalism about life for quite some time, and I wonder if it stopped me at times from losing weight. That fear has been that, if I ever pulled me life together in any substantial way, that I would be struck with cancer and die. My feeling was that whatever force or forces of the universe  conspired to make my life to date as miserable as possible by having me born to messed up, poor parents and a biology which seemed to conspire to make and keep me fat would not "permit" me to be happy.

I realize that this is irrational, but there was always this nagging fear that if I overcame all of the emotional and psychological issues and became stronger and more capable, something bad would befall me to sabotage my happiness. I formulated the idea that my destiny was to be miserable and I think I often felt I'd rather be food-addicted and self-hating than risk whatever wrath was to befall me at the end of self-repair. This is the mindset that grew from the handful of cards that fate had dealt me.

Despite this nagging feeling, I've pressed on to be a better person in every way. I try to emotionally be better by dealing with negative emotions more positively. I've spent a good part of my life trying to turn my glass is half empty thinking around to at least a little more glass is half full thinking. I've tried to gently talk down the voice in me which is all too keen to tell myself that the sky is falling. The notion that I have fewer options in life and have to remain in a bad situation for fear of being worse off if I walk away from what I have has really been hard for me to talk myself out of, but I've made progress. I've learned to be less defensive and more open after years of feeling combative toward the world which seemed to lash out and hurt me at every turn. And, of course, I've dealt a lot with my food relationship and body issues.

So, I've made a lot of progress in my life at this point. That progress pre-dated this blog by many years. Psychological changes to my outlook in life, temper control, etc. are things which were not hampered by being very fat. One of the reasons that I don't look back on my life between 300-400 lbs. with regret as many people do is that I know how much I grew during that time regardless of my weight. In fact, I think it was part of the culmination of my mental growth that I was able to lose weight in the past two years. One could not have happened without the groundwork of the other.

Yesterday, I went for a physical examination. The results are hardly in as this was just the testing stage. No concrete results will arrive for two weeks as I'm living in a place with socialized medicine which is highly bureaucratic in nature. It rushes for no one. During the cursory exam, the doctor asked me if anyone had ever suggested I had thyroid problems. I said "no" (but later remembered that someone had suggested it in another exam about 8 years ago). He spent a few seconds feeling my neck and then suggested I should have it checked because he thought it was enlarged a bit. When I asked what it would mean if it were inflamed, he hemmed and hawed and essentially said he didn't know until they did an ultrasound, but they wouldn't give me one until I had a follow-up exam which wouldn't occur until I got the test results in two weeks. After that, I left for the next test in the battery I was being given, and a nurse came out and gave me a pamphlet on cancer detection.

Even though the doctor didn't use "the C-word", the nurse's delivery of such a document sent me into a state of numbness and fear. Here it was sitting right in front of me, my deepest fear being supported by medical professionals. I spent much of the rest of the day feeling as if destiny was going to be fulfilled, then I got angry.

The doctor didn't ask me any questions about anything related to thyroid conditions or my health aside from a few broad questions about diarrhea, constipation, smoking, medication, smoking, and alcohol. His exam was extremely cursory in every way because part of the socialized medical system in this country is a free annual health check-up. For the hospital to get more money out of me, I need to come for a follow-up (which I will pay 1/3 of the expense for) and do tests which are outside of the free regimen. While I don't think the doctor was intentionally recommending a test he felt was unnecessary, I do believe he was doing a sloppy diagnosis based on my age, weight (which he did not mention in the exam at all, but I'd be shocked if it didn't come up later in the follow-up), and a vague tactile exam of my neck.

The thing is that I was at the beginning of a cold when I went in for the exam. My throat was a little sore and a lymph node under the left side of my jaw was slightly swollen. The doctor never asked if I had a cold or was coming down with something and I never thought to mention it in the brief exam as I didn't think it had anything to do with anything. My husband later did research on enlarged thyroids and noted that colds can cause that (among many other things unrelated to cancer). The doctor should not have intimated that I could have a serious problem, which he did by telling a nurse to give a pamphlet about cancer, without at least asking about underlying conditions, but this is a bureaucratic type of health care and such behavior on the part of doctors is not rare. Dire and sloppy diagnoses have been given to friends of mine, and even to me on one occasion before, and they have been wrong.

If I hadn't had my fatalistic notions about my future if I lost weight, I don't know if I would have been more level-minded about what happened. I doubt that I would, but this experience has taught me that I need to continue to work on my outlook. Unfortunately, I also have to have a test on my thyroid in the near future because nothing will quell the nagging sense of fear that I could have a serious issue if I don't. However, after thinking it through and my husband's research on the topic, I'm pretty sure that I don't have thyroid cancer and that what I did have was a doctor who is part of a system which deals with people in what amounts to a cattle call system of health checks and who has a poor bedside manner as a result of both culture and a system, which is better in many ways than America's, but is still flawed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Seesaw

People who are "getting healthy" love to talk about all of the things they gain as a result of their "lifestyle changes". They talk about increased energy, feeling stronger, and gaining health. In many cases, it is true that changing your habits will add to your health in appreciable ways. However, it's not all sunshine and roses.

I try to be honest about what it has been like to lose weight, and part of that honesty is talking about the bad along with the good. While the benefits have outweighed the demerits, there have, nonetheless, been things which have been a problem. Sometimes I feel like I'm on a seesaw in which one problem vanishes, and another pops up on the other side. Here is some of what I'm talking about:

  • Walking has largely eliminated my back pain (as has weight loss), but the increased movement has left me with strong and painful knee issues. Before I started walking, I occasionally had knee pain, but what I have now is persistent and troubles me at night when I'm trying to sleep, especially if I lie on my side. Even modest exercise (just regular walking, usually for between 40 and 90 minutes most days) can cause difficulty depending on your age and history, and I have a history of two or three accidents in which my knees have been slightly damaged/twisted.
  • I have not caught a cold since improving my diet and exercise. I have, however, suffered from persistent cold sores on and off (one in my nose at present which I'm having problems shaking). Losing weight is very hard on your body. My husband used to catch a cold shortly after going "on a diet" in the past. It stresses your immune system, even when you are following a nutritious diet. 
  • I have patches of an itchy rash on both of my hands. These are not contact rashes, but due to stress. I've had this sort of rash before in very small spots on my fingers during times of difficulty, but the patches are bigger and in greater number than before. This is because my increased ability as a result of decreased disability has me doing more than I have for quite some time which has resulted in stress. My body is reacting with this rash and in a slightly more severe fashion than before.
  • I have increased stamina, but I still experience fatigue which comes in waves and is stronger on some days than others. This is likely related to age, but it's also probably connected to weight loss since, as I said before, it is hard on your body and immune system. It takes it out of you, especially over the long run.
I'm going to have a very complete physical exam in four days. If there are any underlying issues, all will be revealed. Frankly, I don't expect any serious issues, but rather that this is all a reflection of running at a caloric reduction for a long time. Though my caloric reduction has been quite modest (1500-2000 calories most days, hitting near 1600-1700 more often than not), it's still enough to cause bodily stress. 

When I see a doctor in the next several days, I will mention it, but I expect any mention of my knee issues will yield the advice that I always get, "lose weight". I think a doctor is unlikely to do anything for me until I ring a bell on the scale and "deserve" treatment, but it would be nice if I was taken seriously. Since my expectations of getting any help are so low, I'm trying to deal with the knee issue as best I can on my own. This mainly involves painful exercises in which I attempt to stretch what feels like very tight muscles over the inside of my kneecap and efforts to strengthen supporting muscles in my legs. 

So far, this has resulted in more pain overall as the muscles are so sore and not really feeling any stronger, but better flexibility than before. I've been doing these exercises both in the tub while soaking in warm water and while working (I can stretch and hold muscles under the desk while talking with clients). Over time, it is my hope that there will be a reduction in pain. I've only been at it for about a week, so it's  hard to tell if this is helping. It doesn't feel like it is making it any worse though.

I wanted to make this post because so many people act like weight loss is a form of refreshing rebirth. They underplay other issues, such as poor skin health or hair loss (neither of which I have suffered in any way). On balance, I'm certainly better off now than I was two years ago, but I'm not waking up every day bursting with energy and thinking how great it is to be alive. I'm waking up wishing my knee pain didn't cause me to sleep poorly and that my sinuses weren't screwed up or my hands weren't itchy. I'm going off to work knowing there will be two or three times throughout the day when I'm going to feel so tired that I'd like to lie down. Things are definitely better, but far from perfect. However, it's not like going back to things as they were is even an option. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Wastrel's Lifestyle

I have known of Hugh Laurie as an actor long before he became well-known as the stubbly, mentally disturbed and gruff Dr. House on American television. In fact, my first experience with him was as the dim-witted, jovial, and light-hearted  Bertie Wooster in the BBC's Jeeves & Wooster T.V. series (based on the P.G. Wodehouse books). The setting for those stories was the 1930's and depict the lifestyle of a privileged young man of that era.

For me, one of the interesting things about the series, besides watching the chemistry between Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as their energies bounced off of one another, was the lifestyle of that time as represented in the show. Bertie is a wastrel, which is to say he's pretty useless and unproductive, but he does indulge in healthy lifestyle habits which have fallen by the wayside in modern living. He takes a constitutional (a walk) after dinner. He plays golf, tennis, and other sports on a regular, but not obsessive, basis. He does these things for amusement and socialization, not because he feels he "should". He takes baths rather than showers, drinks tea frequently, and reads the newspaper. He walks a lot when he talks to people, when he's not busy hanging out at a club drinking alcohol and playing pool.

I was reminded of the lifestyle on the show recently because after many years of being unable to take baths, I've been able to take them again. I told myself that the tub in my apartment was unusually small and that's why I couldn't fit in it. The truth is that it is short and deep, but is no less wide than a standard American tub. In fact, it may actually be a bit wider. It wasn't that the tub was too small, but simply that I was too big. I've been taking the baths mainly for therapeutic reasons, but another dimension has been added to the experience.

Back before I gained so much weight, I occasionally took a bath in that tub and never really liked it anyway. The reason for this was that I was bored sitting in the water and could not quiet my mind. I had something else I should have been doing or would have preferred to do. This experience has greatly changed. Now, I sit in the tub with the lights out and three candles lit and just enjoy the feeling of being in the water in the dim calm. Occasionally, I'll work on painfully flexing my problematic knee (as I'm trying to do some self-rehabilitation with it to improve flexibility and perhaps reduce pain), but mostly, I just drift mentally.

I realized how relaxing a bath can be if you know how to take one without allowing your thoughts to stampede over the experience. I also realized that part of what contributed psychologically to my weight gain was not laziness, but being too stressed and overwhelmed to even take 20-30 minutes and zone out in the tub on occasion. My mind was chaotic and overwhelmed then. Now, it's much more relaxed and orderly. I attribute that as much to age as my psychological conditioning and the resulting changes in my thinking, but I think it is something I built rather than fell into. 

The wastrel's life of leisure and having free time is one that we can't choose to have, but some of the things old Bertie did are possible and good for the soul and body. I already like to take a walk after eating dinner (and lunch, if I have time) and think that this is a good choice for anyone capable of doing so. It likely speeds metabolism and prolongs digestion (as it redirects blood flow from digestive organs to the leg muscles), which means you're fuller longer and burning more calories. The old-fashioned habit of a "constitutional" is a good one, but we're so busy being busy that we don't set aside the time for one. 

I think that a walk is a better choice in many ways than a rush to the gym. This is both because it is an emotionally better experience and because I personally think that we improve our physical condition more by engaging in real and natural activity than using hamster-wheel like machines. Note that I don't think that "burning calories" is the end-all and be-all of physical activity. I think overall condition (stamina, muscle fitness without stress that causes damage, etc.) is more important than focusing on fat burning alone. 

I also now think that the occasional bath is something that should be prioritized as much as any other lifestyle change. It's good for circulation (just don't make the water too hot or you'll have an increased risk of orthostatic hypotension) and muscle relaxation in addition to providing time to clear your head. I'm not talking about some girly bath salts and bubbles thing, but just a tub of clean warm water after a shower that you can soak in. Don't soap up and wash yourself in the water because then it is associated with cleanliness instead of relaxation (and you can be distracted by the dirty water floating around you).

When it comes to food, meals are taken at a table and are satisfying and approached without judgment. Bertie eats bacon and eggs for breakfast, has white bread with the crusts cut off with butter on them, and eats meat without fretting over the nutritional content. Food is just food, but it is also confined to meal times rather than obsessed over all day. Of course, that is easier for the wastrel whose food is always taken care of for him, but most people who are trying to lose weight think about food whether they are required to do so by their dietary concerns or not. 

Finally, one thing about the wastrel's lifestyle is that it isn't focused on productivity. It's a life of single-tasking. To that end, turn off the T.V., the computer, and the cell phone. Be in the moments fully when you have free ones. Like my moment's in the tub, I want to focus more and more on being in the experience fully without distraction. Before we had the possibility of being mentally in two or three places at once, we could relax into and fully inhabit the one at hand and I think were the better for it. Instead of everything in our lives being a component of an experience, it was the experience, and I think that's something we could all benefit from in many areas of our lives.

People talk so much about "lifestyle choices", but only in order to criticize. We should be talking about them as a way to improve the quality of our existence, not dissect and improve it in ways that others measure as subjectively better. I think we should toss all of that out the window and simply find a way to live which contributes to a sense of happiness and peace, and the wastrel's lifestyle may have a lot to offer in that regard.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Leave Them Alone

I don't read many fat acceptance blogs these days, nor do I read many weight loss ones. There are a few I follow as long as they don't get me too emotionally invested. As time goes by, both sides display such disordered and irrational thinking at times that it starts to feel more like I'm watching contestants in a bizarre reality show rather than witnessing real people operating in real life.

One thing which I know from long experience is that fat advocates hate it when diet zealots and gurus post comments to their blogs trying to "save" them. When the free-thinking fatties don't appreciate this type of intervention, the dietarians (my term) get increasingly hostile with them for not subscribing to their dogma. The fatties just want to be left alone in most cases and spread their message to those who need it. They want to support those who have done nothing but suffer in their attempts to lose weight and need to find a path to acceptance and self-love. All they wish for dietarians to do is to leave them alone and I think this is an eminently reasonable request.

That being said, I think that the door has to swing both ways on this issue and recently I read a blog post by a HAES advocate which shows that is not necessarily so. This person joined an organization for people who wish to lose weight and part of her purpose was to spread her gospel to women who she felt needed it. She described how most of them had been in the group for years and had been unsuccessful. This information is meant to illustrate that they needed what she was going to sneak in and attempt to sell them. She may be right. However, what she is planning to do is wrong.

There is no difference between what the HAES advocate is attempting to do in a well-meaning effort to quiet the psychological suffering of people who have tried to lose weight and failed but continue to try and what diet and weight loss advocates attempt to do to fat advocates. Both sides are convinced they are "right" and that the other side "needs" their message. Both sides are attempting to shoehorn their way into another person's chosen lifestyle in an egotistical attempt to "save them" from themselves. Both are prioritizing their viewpoints and agendas over that of others.

This sort of behavior on either side shows that people need desperately to be right and to coerce, cajole, persuade, or bully others into adopting their lifestyle. Dietarians have been doing it for a long time because they have societal approval at their backs and their sense of righteousness is generally more intense. As the oppressed minority, fatties have been generally more reserved about preaching to a choir that has attended their church voluntarily rather than going out and proselytizing to those who are clearly uninterested in their message.

My advice to both groups, and to everyone in general, is to offer your message to parties who are seeking it. Once you start going around trying to "convert" people who hold opposing views and goals, you have become "the enemy" and lose all credibility.*

*Note that I do not include things like commenting on blogs in opposition to what people are doing or saying in general. There is a difference between disagreeing on method, attitude, and details of what a person is doing and subscribing to an entirely different worldview/lifestyle. For example, telling someone that drinking 6 gallons of water per day when on a diet may not be the best option when you are also interested in losing weight is not the same as saying you shouldn't lose weight and love yourself as you are. I feel compelled to say this because I don't want people setting up a strawman to knock down as an absurdist argument against what I have just said. I'm not saying, "never post a dissenting opinion."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Supply and Demand

It's hard to get two paragraphs into anything written by a fat acceptance blogger without mention of how the diet industry has warped all of society's thinking about weight. They talk about how their raison d'ĂȘtre is to make us hate our bodies so much that we will fork over our cash to have ourselves "fixed" using their various programs. People who are comfortable with themselves aren't likely to buy as many goods and services as those who are uncomfortable, so the diet industry plays on insecurities that it manufactures according to many people who support body acceptance.

There is an assumption, and this is not only true of those who blame the diet industry for our body hatred, that "society", "government", or "business" make a decision and then indoctrinate us into their way of thinking. The feeling is that they decide how best to profit by manipulating us and then carry out a plan. As time goes by, they fine-tune that plan and play more expertly on our fears and pain to maximize their ability to cull our cash or gain power.

Here is the thing, and people don't like to accept this because a conspiracy is much more appealing than the truth, business does not create the environment of body hatred. It plays on feelings and insecurities that are already there. You are not sold something because someone tells you you should want it. You are sold it because on some level you already want it. No one can convince you of something which is absolutely not within your mind to some extent already.

The way business and government work is like building a fire. They see a spark, a flicker, or a tiny flame, and they fan it until it is bigger. If you allow them, they will create a raging bonfire, but some part of you is the origin of the inferno. They cannot make something from nothing just as you can't build a fire from nothing but a pile of twigs. This applies to government as well. If people vote for a wild political platform offered up by some crazy politician, it isn't because they are told what to do, but because it reflects what they already believed.

The grim truth is that all aspects of society are a reflection of the people who live in it. We get the government we deserve. We have a media which reflects what we want to hear. We are sold products which we want to buy. People say they feel differently, but then their behaviors and choices betray the truth. Fat women say they love their plump bodies, yet talk about how they can get thin, hot boyfriends. Why even mention this unless this is seen as a more prized condition than having a fat boyfriend? It's essentially seen as saying, "see, despite my inferior status in society, I can get someone of what is perceived to be a superior status."

So, the diet industry didn't teach us to hate being fat anymore than they taught us to hate the smell of body odor. They expertly play on our lack of love for various conditions. Despite what fat activists would like everyone to believe, being fat has been a disliked condition for centuries. Ancient Egyptians were body conscious despite having no organized diet industry or media programming. While there has been some flexibility in what is seen as an "ideal" form, that flexibility does not often extend to obese bodies.

Aside from the Venus figurines, there is very little historical evidence that grossly overweight forms were seen as beautiful even in ancient times. The Venus figurines are often held up as an example of ancient love of the rounded form, but such interpretations are wishful thinking at best. Given the emphasis on a large belly and breasts, they are much more likely to have been fertility images, not a celebration of fatness.

The bottom line is that most people don't like being fat. They've never liked being fat and the diet industry sprung up as a result of that dislike. It heard us talk. It knew how we felt about this condition and it acted to sell us something it was pretty sure we'd buy. The diet industry didn't make us hate our bodies. They simply are supplying a demand created by pre-existing hate of our condition.