Tuesday Reviewsday–Harriet Brown’s Body of Truth

For today’s Tuesday Reviewsday, I am pleased to discuss Harriet Brown’s recently released book “Body of Truth”.  Harriet Brown is already well known for her previous book, “Brave Girl Eating” about her experiences with her daughter who suffered from Anorexia.  “Body of Truth” uncovers Harriet’s epiphany regarding her own weight obsessed life within a society who complemented her daughter’s svelte figure even when they knew she was recovering from anorexia.

Like many of us, Harriet’s weight obsession and body hatred started early in life and lasted through most of middle age.  It wasn’t until she saw the devastating effects of anorexia that she even began to question society’s readiness to conflate thinness and health and began to question her seeming moral obligation to have thin thighs.  Harriet describes her own struggle in the midst of her Jewish family and describes the dichotomy of being in a culture that loves food and values hostesses who provide abundance at the dinner table while being terrified of fat.

Throughout the book, Harriet’s journalistic roots shine through clearly.  She provides a wealth of current information and facts to back up her assertion that we as a culture are a bit off the rails when it comes to body image and weight.  Much of the ground covered here will be familiar to those of us who have studied this area for some time.  There are the statistics about the failure of dieting.  There is an in-depth discussion of the “obesity paradox”.  And she covers Flegal’s research and the ensuing shameful medical backlash.  She follows the money and describes the intense conflicts of interest displayed by so many who serve on boards and are paid to do research to support the “war on obesity”.  However, there is much recent research covered in the book, and a significant portion of the anecdotal materials (for example on Professor Miller) are new and fresh.

Above all, I feel Harriet does a terrific job of weaving her personal narrative with a tight journalistic style that presents facts and evidence in a way that makes for a fast and enjoyable read.  I really  enjoyed the book and I think it may especially resonate with middle-aged readers who are just coming to HAES at this point in their lives.  I strongly recommend this powerful and enjoyable book.

Now, before I close, on to a bit of business.  Have you heard about our new Fit Fatties Virtual Events?  Have you signed up yet?  It’s super cool and you don’t want to miss it.  This time around the events feature a quintathlon option as well as Fit Fatties Flair.  Learn more HERE!

Also, this year I am seeking to earn a new fitness certification and so I am offering special discounts off of my regular speaking fees.  To learn more, send me an email describing your speaking request to jeanette at the fat chick dot com.  Learn more about my speaking HERE!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

Weight Stigma and Trekking Barefoot

I’ve talked before about how much meditation has helped me to live mindfully and peacefully.  Part of my practice involves meeting with a group up in the woods in the foothills.  Recently we engaged in a group walking meditation.  This meditation along some of the woodland trails is silent and very slow and deliberate.  We take a step, pause, and take another step moving through heel, sole and toe on each foot.  I had done walking meditation before, and I think it’s absolutely wonderful.  And I know from past experience that walking meditation works better barefoot.  I asked the teacher if it would be okay for me to do the meditation barefoot, and he said sure.

I was the only student in the class to do this barefoot.  And I remember spending just a moment before entering the trail wondering if I really wanted to do it.  What if I stepped on something sharp?  What if I hurt myself?  What if I ended up being miserable?

Just before I left the lodge, another student asked me if I was really sure I wanted to do it?  And I said yes and I took a chance.  And I’m so glad I did.

Yes, there were some moments when I stepped on twigs or leaves that were a little bit sharp.  My feet didn’t always feel perfectly great.  But the point is my feet FELT so very much.  The texture of the grass and soil and gravel and sand under my feet.  The temperature of the soil in the sun versus the soil in the shade.  The moisture in the grass versus the dry, sliding sand.  All of this made the walk so much better and more meaningful.  And as I walked I had a moment of clarity.  If I had allowed fear to control my actions, I would have missed so very much.  I would have protected myself and would have felt safe.  But I wouldn’t have experienced all those things through the soles of my feet.  And it made me ask myself an important question.  How am I “wearing shoes” to protect myself in my life.  How am I “wearing shoes all over” to keep from the potential of experiencing pain?

Another interesting moment came when we went back to the lodge and talked about our experience.  I mentioned my theory of “wearing shoes all over” to protect myself from the possibility of feeling pain.  And I wondered how much of life I am truly missing because of this virtual protection.  Another person in the group mentioned that they were worried for me.  And she said that that concern was distracting for her during the walk.  I also mentioned that before I started walking I was worried that other people would worry about me.  But I ultimately concluded that the other people on the walk had to be responsible for their own journey–and that concern for their journey shouldn’t prevent me from experiencing my own.

As I drove home, I thought about all I had learned and how it relates to the experience of weight stigma.  How often do we allow fear of pain–physical pain, emotional pain or spiritual pain–to prevent us from experiencing something potentially wonderful?  How often has past pain of weight stigma convinced us to avoid the whole mess, deaden our feelings and put shoes on our souls?  I think this is one of the most significant costs of weight stigma.  It robs us of what could be experienced, built and created by people who are too battered, too tired and too scared to do or dare or be all they can be.  It robs the world of the best of all of us.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Fit Fatties Forum that I run with Ragen Chastain.  We set it up, but it’s the wonderful members that make it such a wonderful place.  Nearly every day I read about somebody who found encouragement, pushed past fear and tried something new and fabulous.  Nearly every day I see how being in a group of people who truly support one another can encourage us all to bare our soles and bare our souls.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want to join Fit Fatties and engage in our new virtual events that encourage you to break out and try new things?  Click here.

P.S.S. Want to participate in the upcoming Fat Activism Conference which helps fight weight stigma all over the world?  Click here.

P.S.S.S.  Want to book me to speak about pushing past fear and experiencing joy?  Click here.

New Study Suggests Fat Correlated With Lower Risk For Dementia

FatBrain

Nearly 60 percent of the brain is composed of fatty acids.

Previously we heard that obesity increased your risk of dementia.  Now a new study contradicts these former findings and suggests that increased body size is correlated with a decreased risk for dementia.  I say correlated with, because no causal link has yet been found.  And we don’t want to go the way of those finger pointers who say that being fat “causes” sickness by saying being fat “prevents” sickness.  We simply don’t know that much yet.

However, this new study does seem to indicate that there is a strong correlation between low body weight and dementia in middle aged people.  The study reviewed statistics for nearly 2 Million people from the United Kingdom Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD).  The CPRD data included people over 40 who had their BMI measured between 1992 and 2007.  (The median age for those measured was 55.)

The study found that compared to those of a “healthy weight” (heavy airquotes here) those who were underweight (BMI less than 20) had a 34% higher risk for dementia.  As people got fatter, their risk for dementia decreased–with the fattest people (BMI over 40) experiencing a 29 percent lower risk of dementia than those with “healthy weight”.

Cue the inevitable articles about the “obesity paradox”.  This is the title given to the fact that fat people are at lower risk for certain conditions than skinny people, despite the medical establishment’s insistence that this shouldn’t be the case.  This is the label given to the fact that overall, “overweight” people live longer than “healthy weight” people.  It really makes me wonder when they are finally going to do away with the “healthy weight” label, since in many cases, other weights are healthier than the healthy weight level.  And it also makes me wonder when they are going to stop calling something a paradox, when it clearly isn’t one.  Some weight ranges come with higher risks in some areas and lower risks in other areas.  And maybe we will come to realize that there isn’t one healthy weight, but rather a range of risks that slide around in various places on the BMI chart.

As reported by the BBC (LINK WARNING, HEADLESS FATTY PHOTOS GALORE) Alzheimer’s Society’s Dr Doug Brown said: “People should make positive lifestyle choices to keep their brains healthy by taking regular exercise, not smoking and following a healthy balanced diet.”  This seems sound HAES oriented advice to me.  Naturally, despite the fact that this study is much larger and more detailed than previous studies that claimed that obesity increased the risk for dementia, there’s a lot of head scratching and backpedaling going on.  The article is careful to point out that there is no clear causal link yet evident (hence the opening of this blog post).  If you have the sanity points to spare, you can click on that BBC link earlier in this paragraph to read things like, “Sure you’ll be less likely to get dementia if you live long enough.”  and “This is no excuse to sit on the couch and eat an extra piece of cake.”  Because somehow, no matter what the evidence shows, some medical professionals just have to get their jab in at the fatties.

I am just hopelessly naive enough to imagine a day when the “healthy weight” category is called something else.  I imagine that over time we will find more and more evidence that being fat has risks, being skinny has risks and being midsized has risks.  After all, being alive has risks, for people of all sizes.  Maybe we can finally focus on living the best, most productive, most joyful and healthiest life in the bodies we have right now.

Food for thought.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

Paris Cracks Down on Super Skinny Models

French MPs have voted to make it illegal to put models who are too thin on the catwalk.  Modeling agencies who put models on the catwalk who are deemed too thin face significant fines (up to $75,000) and even more astonishingly up to six months in prison.

The MPs are engaging in this crackdown in an attempt to help curb anorexia and other eating disorders in France.  The fashion industry, especially in Paris, has a very important cultural effect on young women.  And there is no question that the average Paris fashion model is startlingly thin.  According to the WHO, a BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight.  18 is considered malnourished and 17 is considered severely malnourished.  The average fashion model is 5ft. 9in. and weighs in at just over 110 pounds.  This makes the average BMI in the fashion industry a 16.  The French MPs have thus far failed to determine what BMI will be considered too low for the fashion industry.

The lower house of Parliament also voted recently to mark all photos of models that have been retouched to change body size or shape and to make promotion of anorexia on the Internet.  One supposes that it is fairly easy to legislate the first of these ideas, but I admit, I’m not sure how they will enforce the latter.

While we all know that BMI is an unreliable indicator of health, nevertheless extremely low weights (along with extremely high weights) are associated with health risks.  In particular, extremely low weights are sometimes indicative of Anorexia–a serious eating disorder which has proven the most deadly of all forms of mental illness.  While one could imagine that some of these women are simply naturally very thin, it is unlikely that all or even most of them have a natural BMI that low.  And first hand accounts from many models who speak of living on diet coke and cotton balls, and who pass out at photo shoots from lack of nutrition, lead us to believe that achieving a weight this low for many models requires extreme measures.

Naturally the fashion industry is fighting back.  They state that just because their models are thin, does not mean they are anorexic.  And there is a certain amount of truth to that.  If we are going to argue for body diversity, we must accept that some people are naturally very thin, just as some people are naturally very fat. And if we ban very thin models, shouldn’t we ban very fat ones too?

Personally, I think it’s important to recognize that the Paris fashion industry is not representing body diversity on the catwalk.  The average Paris fashion model’s body size is far, FAR below the national average for BMI.  And there is virtually no representation of even averaged sized women on the catwalk.  By focusing the fashion shows on body sizes that are way below average, the modeling industry creates a “new normal”.  As people come to see a body type that is not healthy or normal for the vast majority of the population as the right and most desired one.

So what say you?  Do you think these proposed French measures go too far?  Or not far enough?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

New study says weight stigma signficantly reduces Quality of Life–and water is wet.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am deeply glad that they are studying the negative effects of weight stigma.  But I am wondering when this will finally be considered obvious.  I am waiting for the moment when somebody says, “shaming fat people is bad” and the primary response is, “well, duh”.

I recently read this study which was released as an online precursor to publication in Obesity magazine.  The study seeks to understand the affect that weight stigma and discrimination on conditions like depression and overall quality of life.  As the study states:

Weight stigma is often cited as a potential mechanism leading from obesity to poorer psychological well-being [4, 5, 7, 9]. Prejudice against individuals with obesity is pervasive and rarely challenged in Western society [10]. As a result, many individuals with obesity, and particularly those with severe obesity, report being discriminated against because of their weight in their everyday lives [11, 12]. Given that weight stigma and discrimination have both been shown to have a negative impact on psychological health outcomes, including well-being [10], depression [13, 14], self-esteem and self-acceptance [13, 15], and body image dissatisfaction [13, 16], this might explain why people with obesity suffer psychologically.

You would think that this had been studied in depth before.  However, according to the introduction of the study, this hasn’t previously been explored in a lot of depth.  According to the study:

Only one study to our knowledge has tested the mediating effect of weight-related discrimination, showing a significant reduction in the association between obesity and self-acceptance after adjusting for perceived weight discrimination [15]. None have examined the role of discrimination in relation to more global indices of psychological well-being, such as quality of life or depression. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate the extent to which perceived weight discrimination mediates associations between obesity and three markers of well-being: quality of life, life satisfaction, and depressive symptoms.

In other words, many studies have suggested that fat people experience a lesser Quality of Life (QOL) than thin people.  However, this study seeks to determine whether that reduction in Quality of Life is simply because of person’s body size or whether it is caused by the world’s reaction to their body size.  I won’t keep you hanging too long.  The study determines that 40% of the person’s reduction in QOL is from perceived discrimination.

We used mediation models with bootstrapping to test the proposition that associations between obesity and well-being are mediated by weight discrimination and found that approximately 40% of the total effect of obesity on psychological well-being could be explained by perceptions of weight discrimination.

This is I think an important distinction.  So much in the “War on Obesity” suggests that the solution is for all fat people to simply lose weight.  The study suggests that the reason fat people are depressed might be–in large part–the “War on Obesity”.  As Ragen Chastain frequently states in her blog, Dances with Fat, “The way to deal with oppression is not to remove people from the oppressed group.  The way to deal with oppression is to fight the oppression.”  And I have to wonder to what extent this 40 percent takes into account the internalized oppression experienced by people of size.

I hope that this, along with so many other studies regarding the harm caused by weight stigma will finally convince some of the folks in the Obesity War to consider the harm they are causing–the millions of lives ruined by “friendly fire” in this war that makes people sadder and sicker rather than healthier or happier.  And  I hope that those proponents of “tough love” and “the ends justify the means” will reconsider their stance.  Because in the case of weight stigma, love is indeed very tough to come by.  And when the ends are actually worse that the starts, it’s time to carefully consider some new means.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S.  Want to hear me speak about weight stigma at your school or organization?  Learn more about me here.

Reviewsday: Amanda’s Big Dream

BookCover

For today’s blog post, I’m very excited to review for you a brand new children’s book called Amanda’s Big Dream.  This book, written by Judith Matz and illustrated by Elizabeth Patch is a great way to begin a conversation about body diversity, body acceptance and HAES with young girls.  And the situation described in the book will be familiar to many of us.  Amanda dreams of landing a solo slot in the upcoming ice show.  But a few careless words from Amanda’s coach about her body size, send her into a tailspin.  Amanda also faces giggles and whispers from others on the ice.  However, with the help of an incredibly supportive family and an enlightened pediatrician, Amanda makes her way through the situation.

There was a lot to love about this book.  The illustrations were colorful and lovely–conveying Amanda’s emotions as she struggled with this situation.  And the book demonstrates that adults are not always right about everything especially when they disparage us for our bodies.  But I think the best thing about this book is the gentle approach.  There is no big showdown.  Amanda doesn’t have to engage in a big confrontation where she wins.  She doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.  There’s not a lot of magical thinking here.  And without giving too much away, I love that there was no fairy tale ending.  We don’t know if Amanda will earn the coveted spot in the ice show.  We don’t know if she suddenly lands the jump she’s been practicing.  We don’t get a big apology from the skating coach.

We do, however, see the damage that a mere few words of body shame can do for a young girl.  This was no evil diatribe from the coach.  There are no big Disney-style villains here.  The coach merely suggests that Amanda’s sit spins might be lower if she loses weight.  But the damage from this statement winds its way through Amanda’s life until she is ready to give up skating altogether.

But the book also shows us the power of some supportive words about body diversity as well.  Amanda’s parents echo the words so many of us were aching to hear as children.  And the pediatrician serves as an authority figure–sharing a few basic HAES principles with Amanda that help her understand what she really needs to do to be healthy.  (I think we all wish this pediatrician were real and that every child in the world could go to her.)

And the book doesn’t demand that Amanda do anything special.  She doesn’t need to confront anyone or educate them about her weight.  She doesn’t need to skate harder or better than the other kids.  She doesn’t need to “win” to be okay.  She just needs to accept that she’s okay.  I think this is a very important aspect of the book.  So often in these sort of stories, the bullied character needs to impress everybody, change everybody’s mind and be such an obvious winner that the whole world changes.  But real life doesn’t often work like that.  And putting pressure on kids to “prove everybody wrong” about the fat kids is not only inaccurate, but dangerous in its own way.  We don’t want to teach kids to hate their bodies.  But we don’t want to teach kids that it’s their job to be so special that they change everybody else’s thoughts about their bodies either.  Amanda doesn’t need to convince everybody that fat kids can skate as well or better than any other skater.  She simply needs to put on her sparkly costume and lace up her pink skates and skate.  What other people think about her is not her problem.

The beauty of the book is its role in fostering real and nuanced conversations around the world of body acceptance for young girls.  It’s not magic.  There’s no perfect thought or behavior that will guarantee you will get the solo, be elected class president or prom queen.  There is no magic approach that will get coaches to be nice to you and ensure nobody ever laughs at you again.  There is your life and your choice.  Do you choose to hate your body or to cherish it?  Do you choose to put your skates in the closet or do you choose to lace up your skates and do something you love?

In short, I think this book would make a lovely and thoughtful gift for all the young girls in your life–especially if you also give the precious gift of a conversation about any feelings that might come up for the young reader.

You can learn more about the book HERE.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want me to come to your school or club and talk about body acceptance and size diversity?  Click here to learn more about my speaking program.

P.A.D.S Saturday will make you “Happy”

If you are wondering what PADS stands for, it is:
Public
Acts of
Dancing
Spontaneously

And for our very first PADS Saturday, we have this totally epic dance to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy”. This kid decided to bust a move at the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s basketball tournament last Friday. Since then his crowd-pleasing spontaneous boogie has gone viral, and why not. This kid has got some epic moves.

You’ve got the boogie down the steps. You’ve got the point. You’ve got hand claps up, down, behind and under the leg. And you’ve got the layback dance down. This kid is totally and completely committed to this groove, and for that, I salute him. You danced that like a boss! You totally earned the ovation you got at the end.

The dance has garnered so much attention, that word got to Pharrell Williams who reportedly said, “He experienced no limits. Every kid needs to know they all possess the potential to access that feeling.”

That, my friends, is what PADS is all about. It’s about seizing the moment.  It’s about letting joy overwhelm you.  It’s about parking shame at the door and not worrying about what anybody has to say.  It’s about fully committing, I mean really GOING FOR IT–damn the torpedoes.

So what can basketball Happy dancing kid inspire you to do today?  If you get a crazy idea, and ACT on it, I want to hear about it right here in the comments.  Extra bonus points for photos and videos.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)