Fat Fat Haters

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

Last week, as I’m sure most of you know, Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times did a piece called “The Fat Trap,” which was both about the virtual impossibility of significant weight loss (at least without literally making it a full-time job) — and in the end, also about Ms. Parker-Pope revealing, for the first time, that she herself is a fat person and deeply ashamed of it, and promising to do better. Like Ragen says here, even though it doesn’t make any sense.

I actually felt bad for TPP reading this story. I mean, here’s a woman with a job ten million other writers would kill for, and her size (estimated by her to be 60-plus pounds “overweight,” though it’s not clear how she defines that) has never interfered with her health in any way — and yet instead of making her date wear his dinner when he makes some snide remark about her body, she’s ashamed of herself instead. That is some fupped-up cultural programming here, folks. Here’s research, right here in your face, saying that almost nobody can do this, and the few who do don’t seem particularly happy about what they have to sacrifice to maintain it…yet you hate yourself for not being able to do it anyway, and will fall out the window with that Superman cape on again and again, hoping for a strong enough breeze? Yeesh.

But this week, TPP published a follow-up to that story, in which she tackles readers’ questions about the original article. And now, actually, I’m kind of pissed. One question reads, in part:

A Slate article on your piece argues that the mentality of these people “resembles the symptoms of an eating disorder.” They suggested that our fat problem is not obesity but that we encourage people to adopt an eating-disorder mentality to fight obesity. How would you respond to this?

To which TPP replies:

I think if a person had epilepsy and needed to adopt a very regimented diet to control that disease, nobody would accuse them of having an eating disorder.

AARGH AARGH AAAAAARGH NO NO NO NO BARF NOOOOOOOOOO.

Okay, now that we’re done with the onomatopoeia portion of our presentation…while I’m just some dumbass fatty who works in healthcare, and hence shouldn’t have to give freebies to a frigging New York Times health writer who probably makes more in a year than I will for the entire rest of my life, let’s talk about ketogenic diets for seizures for a moment, K? To begin with, this is a treatment of last resort for refractory epilepsy, almost always used on children with this condition, rarely adults. Refractory means it has not responded to any other treatment — medications, biofeedback, yoga, therapeutic nose-picking, whatever. (I’ll give those of you unfamiliar with my sense of humor a moment to Google “therapeutic nose-picking” and see if it actually exists.) The reason it’s a treatment of last resort is that you have to be monitored like a hawk by doctors and dietitians in order to go on it, and since it’s basically Atkins cranked up to 13 (with way more fat), eating any food away from home other than brown-bag is pretty much an impossibility.

In other words, this is an experimental treatment for epilepsy. Nobody treats you like a self-destructive lazybutt if you get (or your kid gets) a diagnosis of epilepsy and you don’t immediately start preparing pitchers of bacon fat to drink. Nobody thinks you’re a failure and not trying hard enough if you still have seizures while you’re on it. Nobody calls you a liar and in denial if you’d rather keep trying new meds to see if there’s one that won’t make you forget your own name or require 20 hours of sleep every day. Nobody worth listening to for half a second, anyway. You are allowed not to want to do this, not to want to even consider this, because it is a giant, huge, unremitting pain in the gazongas. (Probably literally; in the deathless words of Buffpuff in the old Shapely Prose comments, “you don’t shit for a week” when you eat like this.)

And not only that, no one is expected to remain on this diet indefinitely. Every couple of years, people who are on it are tapered off — again, under close medical supervision — for a few months’ rest. You know what happens if you’re on a low-carb diet for weight loss and you go off of it for a few months? That’s right, every single pound comes back and brings friends with it. It’s like you never did anything at all, and you’ll be treated as if you haven’t.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting fed up to the teeth with fat people who still think it’s our civic duty to sacrifice every moment of our lives to become as thin as possible, especially if they are media stars with megaphones loud enough to hear on every planet. It’s not about what TPP eats or doesn’t eat, or weighs or doesn’t weigh; I don’t give a rat’s toenail clippings about that. If Gary Taubes or whoever really likes eating super-low-carb, if they feel great doing it, if it’s worth it to them — fine. Taubes has claimed to eat no carbs at all, not even vegetables or fruit, because they make him gain weight. Hey, more cherries for me, then. Let him and the other meat-heads have all the five-pound T-bones they want, even for breakfast.

But how you talk about your diet equates very nicely with how you feel about other fat people. Do you actually expect, or at least hope, that all fat people will follow your example? I’ve rarely met a public dieter who didn’t (killer exception: Debra Sapp-Yarwood), though I’m sure there are a few private dieters who don’t make it a topic of conversation. Do you actually think it’s realistic that none of us will touch another carb of any kind for the rest of our lives? Do you actually think it’s sustainable to keep doing hours of aerobics every single day, forever, no matter how sick or how much in pain we are or what else is going on in our lives? (“Sorry, I know you’re on your deathbed, but I really can’t miss my gym time.”) Do you actually — even secretly, in the very pit of your heart — think people are fools not to give up their friends, their hobbies, anything that could possibly interfere with the job of serious weight loss and lifelong maintenance? Then you are an asshole, and I don’t care what you weigh, you are not on my side.

To be fair, I can’t imagine that Tara Parker-Pope would have her plum media job if she didn’t parrot the party line about weight. Gina Kolata can question it if she wants; she’s thin, nobody thinks she’s just looking for an excuse to shove donut holes up her nose. (Not that I can imagine why anyone who’s not on Atkins thinks that sounds like fun, but whatevs.) That boor of a date of hers, in a way, was making a very salient point: people expect someone with her job to be thin, as if she could just flip a switch and make it happen, just will all those fat cells to disappear if she’s smart enough. I’m actually kind of surprised to find out she’s not thin myself, given some of the things she’s said about weight before.

But that just makes this all the more of a letdown. What’s it going to take for us all to be on our own sides? To say, “I deserve a life too, and I’m not going to devote the time that’s pissing away rapidly on the hourglass to counting every single thing I put in my mouth, and sweating it all off for hours, and bargaining with myself about whether I can have a single bite of something when I’m shaking from hypoglycemia, and drinking enough water before bed so I can fall asleep with my stomach full, and hoping I don’t have to wake up to pee because then I’ll be hungry again”? Maybe that’s “a life” for some people. But it will never, ever be one for me.

16 Responses to “Fat Fat Haters”

  1. Andy Jo Says:

    THANK YOU!!! When I read that article, I struggled with what to write in the comments portion that she provided in her regular space. I wasn’t able to articulate what bugged me. THIS! THIS!!!

    I think you should print this off and send it hardcopy to the publisher of the Times. Seriously.

    –Andy Jo–

  2. buttercup Says:

    I love it when you post. And while I appreciated the first article to an extent (that extent being as far as the “but I’m still going to diet” thing at the end), I did not know about the second and ignorance was bliss.

    Taubes, sheesh. I reviewed his “why we get fat and what to do about it” on my blog a couple of months ago. The first part of the book was awesome sciency goodness and the second half was atkins WTFery. His blog looks pretty toxic, too.

    • Meowser Says:

      Thanks for plowing through that so I don’t have to. I was browsing Good Carbs, Bad Carbs in Powell’s, and it looks like it’s about the same thing, only 600 pages of it. Taubes has some utility as a gadfly, but the problem is, he thinks he’s more than that.

  3. KellyK Says:

    This whole piece was awesome, but especially “[you] will fall out the window with that Superman cape on again and again, hoping for a strong enough breeze?”

  4. Erin S. Says:

    Your last paragraph? I think that needs to be on a poster or something. Or win an Oscar. Or whatever the blogging equivalent is. Or something anyway.

    The idea that “I deserve a life too” should not be a revolutionary concept. And also, going to those kinds of lengths just to lose weight so you will (supposedly) live longer? Screw that. Even if it DID work to increase your lifespan by any meaningful amount, is it really worth it if you are miserable the whole time? Both miserable yourself and miserable to be around. Although my opinion is the same as that old joke… you aren’t living any longer, it just feels that way.

  5. Bluefish Altar Says:

    Great post!
    (And you know, if Gina Kolata is in fact shoving donut holes up her nose, that therapeutic nose-picking might prove helpful!)

  6. Eve Says:

    I was in the waiting room in my shrink’s office yesterday and they were interviewing the author on NPR. He always has NPR on, which is usually fine, but this was difficult to listen to. I tried turning it off, but then I could hear him with the patient before me, so I turned it on again…I should have just changed the channel. Somehow I didn’t want him to think I was sensitive to that shit because I was afraid he’d think I might want tips on how to lose weight, which I’ve shut him down on before. I just go to him for drugs; he’s not my therapist. Then when I got in for my appointment, I could still hear it through the door, not all of it, but “mumblemumble OBESE mumblemumblemumble OBESITY etc.” Very distracting.

    I understand now more about the special diet for epilepsy, though. I thought she was just referring to the way people with epilepsy often avoid their triggers. She mentioned diabetics as well…but I don’t get the sense that people with diabetes have to completely upheave their entire lives. They eat a bit differently, give themselves insulin if they need to. They don’t have to be starving all the time or exercising several hours a day to control their diabetes.

  7. Erin S. Says:

    As far as the not saying people who need to be on a highly regimented died to help control epilepsy have an eating disorder… no, nobody would say that.

    But neither would anyone say that they were healthy or eating a healthy balanced diet either. Because they’re not, and it isn’t. And definitely nobody with an ounce of sense would claim that because of their diet they are *healthier* than someone who doesn’t need to be on that diet.

    So while they do not have an underlying mental illness fueling their disordered eating patterns, they DO have an underlying illness. Which, by definition, means that their eating patterns are “disordered”, assuming that we’re using disordered in the same sense as not typical or desirable.

    • Meowser Says:

      Oooh, yeah Erin…I never thought of that, but you’re right. The diet itself is very risky; the question is whether or not your seizures pose more of a life threat than the diet. Fat ain’t like that.

  8. G Says:

    I read the follow-up too and was equally discouraged. Did you notice that she said “I did all this research, and wow, everything that had happened to me made so much sense” but her EDITOR asked for her to include her “personal stake” (aka all her self-shaming in the feature) in there? A human dimension! Someone beating themselves up about their weight. How novel.
    Ugh.

  9. Patsy Nevins Says:

    Not only has it not been demonstrated that losing weight makes people live longer, it has been fairly conclusively shown that dieting damages health &, especially as we age, increases mortality risks a good deal, several hundred percent by the time you reach my age, the 60′s. And fat is often protective against many diseases & helpful in surviving/recovering from many diseases, especially for older people. And how incredibly healthy is it to eat no bread, no fruits, no veggies, mostly meat, for an extended period? I am very glad that I have never wasted any of my time or my money on anything Taubes has written. As for Pope? I was not at all thrilled by what she wrote, but for her sake, I hope that someday she will wake up & smell the coffee…& the donuts, too.

  10. The Well-Rounded Mama Says:

    Gees, I miss it when you don’t post, and this is why. Love the Superman Cape comment!

    Yes, I deserve to enjoy my life, and this is one of the reasons why I refuse to spend every waking moment obsessing over food, exercise, and losing weight. I used to do it, it didn’t work, and it took away so much of my joy in life.

    I am willing to work at being reasonably healthy, but not at going to excessive extremes, just in the name of a thinness I will probably never achieve anyhow. Thanks for articulating that so well.

  11. The Huldra Says:

    I couldn’t resist the urge to Google “therapeutic nose-picking” anyway, and the result is really cute and moving!

    I agree with everything you say in this post. I wish more people (medical professionals, journalists, and everyone else) could shake off the fatphobic brainwashing we are all exposed to, that makes people deny so much actual evidence, even when corroborated by personal experience.

  12. BlueSphere Says:

    Great post! You make the case for why dieting is such a red herring so well. The fact is, if someone needs to drastically and permanently alter their diet to shed a little weight, then contemplating that as a course of action is at best a novelty, and at worst cruel. This is one thing I can’t help but wonder about when someone is describing the minutiae of their latest diet. I don’t want to be discouraging because I don’t know what being in their body is like better than they do, but part of me is wondering–let’s say the diet works fantastic and you lose the weight. It’s not like saving up money in a bank account. To enjoy the supposed benefits of the lower weight, you have to pay a massive amount of effort on an ongoing basis.

    I think some of the knee-jerk appeal of dieting is that human biology is so complex, so rather than gawk at the many possible causes for a condition, people like to assure themselves by pointing out some relationship between weight and the condition. Some humility is certainly a good thing, but you don’t have to be a scientist to advocate science over dieting as a means of improving human welfare.

  13. wriggles Says:

    I think some of the knee-jerk appeal of dieting is that human biology is so complex,

    Oh, this. If the calories in/out abstraction was abandoned, only oblivion awaits. For that not to be so, you’d have to find things out and all the eggs seem to be that basket. So it is clung to like a life jacket, though deflated, what else is there but the sea, the sea?

    Wow, cliche-fest


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