posted by meowser
Sometimes, especially during this time of the year, when I have to avoid my second-favorite fruit stand because of the asinine “Start Your Diet Here!” signs they put up between now and June (why? why? they seem like such nice people otherwise), I envision Western society as being this eternal battle, West Side Story style, between the Frankenglop-Sweetened Ladycrappers and the Carbsnarfing Plebes. Only it gets confusing, because for all I can tell, about 90% of the carbsnarfers actually want to be ladycrappers, and they’re fighting on the same side as the ladycrappers even though the ladycrappers don’t make gang insignia in their size…and everybody’s squabbling over who gets the right to sing “I Feel Pretty” in the bathtub. Oy. Shouldn’t have been eating those overripe bananas, I guess. (Which I wouldn’t have been, if Uncle Paul’s would just take down their frigging diet sign already — ah, screw it, I’m signing up for Spud).
What’s this have to do with Linda Bacon, Ph.D., author of the new book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight? Well, for starters, Dr. Bacon has finally done what I hoped someone would do: written a book targeted at women’s magazine readers, that addresses their specific prejudices about the overballyhooed link between weight and health, and framed “healthy eating” as what makes you feel and function better right now, not in some mythic future wherein, if you’ve been as good as gold, you’ll never get sick and die before you’re good and ready to check out. (Almost wrote, “Never get sick and diet,” har har.) Someone could easily have Dr. Bacon (it feels funny just calling her “Bacon,” y’know?) on the night table in between the Michael Pollan and the Gary Taubes, and could easily discuss the book at a dinner party without sounding like one of those wild-eyed radicals (like me?), and a therapist could easily recommend it to a struggling-with-weight client and the whole thing would go down as easy as a Jamba Juice with extra fiber. We needed this. Badly.
Now, having said that, I’ll caution that this is not a book for everyone. It assumes that whoever is reading it has steady access to high-quality fruits and veggies and whole grains and enough time and energy and physical ability and inclination to prepare them every day — a big if, I know. Although Dr. Bacon mentions poverty, low socioeconomic status and disability in passing as obstacles to “good” eating and exercise habits, she doesn’t go into a lot of detail about how to surmount those obstacles. The perfect “how to do intuitive eating on a shoestring” book, in other words, has yet to be written. (See, I just gave you a great book idea, right there. Hey, there can’t be too many of them, far as I’m concerned, so have at it if you want to give it a whirl.)
And I’m well aware that there’s an ass-sized booby trap involved for fat-acceptance advocates when discussing HAES, as it can make people who are unable for whatever reason to live up to the prevailing standard for “healthy living” feel crappy about their alleged shortcomings. For the record, though, I’ll reiterate that HAES includes your brain too, and that people have a perfect right either not to give a rat’s whiz about “health,” or at least not to be constantly striving to be a “good fatty,” whatever the hell that is. And of course, that you don’t always have control over the ability to Eat Right and Exercise, even if you want to. (And I’ll also reiterate that most of the world would be absolutely baffled that “good fatty/bad fatty” is even an issue around here, because in their minds, we all suck — even the vegans, who they figure must be maintaining their bodsome ginormitude on way too many Cherry Cokes.)
Yes, it’s true: HAES does not equal FA. But there is overlap. And that is where Linda Bacon comes in. As some of you might know, she made her name with this study done with Judith Stern at the University of California-Davis, in which the health indices of two groups of Caucasian women (39 women apiece) between the ages of 30 and 45 were followed for two years — one group that was put on a traditional low-calorie diet and exercise plan and one that was taught the principles of intuitive eating, joyful movement, and health at every size — and the HAES group had the better results, hands down. (Dr. Bacon says in the book that they sought out Caucasians in that age group because they wanted the two groups to be genetically similar and believed they would “have a better chance of recruitment” in Davis if they chose Caucasians.) It’s worth getting a hold of this book just to read about the political BS involved in securing funding for this study; Dr. Bacon claims, “I cannot think of one obesity researcher, other than myself, with a policy of refusing industry money,” and that includes her mentor, Dr. Stern, who only agreed to do the study if Dr. Bacon agreed to stop it at the first sign of adverse health effects in the HAES group.
Another cool thing about the book is that it’s a very handy resource for studies one can whip out to rebut fat haters. Need a study that proves that most dieters regain lost weight even if they stay on their diets? That people only have limited control over their appetites? That the people who have gained by far the most weight during the “obesity epidemic” were not thin people, but people who were already fat? That insulin resistance, which is a precursor of type 2 diabetes, occurs before weight gain and not vice versa? That it’s perfectly possible for people with diabetes to control blood sugar without weight loss? Linda Bacon’s got ’em, and more where they came from. There are also some neat little factoids one can use to jam the haters’ circuits and force them to think. (Did you know that the average resident of China eats 270 calories more per day than the average resident of the U.S.? I didn’t.)
At the same time, a lot of what Dr. Bacon says about U.S. agriculture policy, how the processing of cheap corn and soybeans winds up making us artificially hungrier, and how most Americans are almost completely disconnected from their food sources would probably get the Pollan crowd nodding in agreement. It’s not so much that she believes in good food versus bad food, or good fatty who eats beans and brown rice versus bad fatty who eats hot dogs and chips, as it is that she would like to see everyone have better access to whole, unprocessed foods simply because they are ultimately more physically satisfying as staples of diet. She does seem to think that people are eating more calories than ever before (although she acknowledges and respects that some researchers interpret the data differently and reach a different conclusion), but strongly disputes that it’s only fatties doing the eating. (Yep, she’s got studies showing that fat people eat no more on average than thinner people, too, in case you’ve got a calories-in-calories-out jabberjaw on your hands.)
She does make a point of cautioning those of us who do prefer the hot dogs and chips that if we ever find ourselves doing a number on ourselves for it, that we should stop reading, because the last thing she wants to do is guilt-trip people about their eating habits. And if you think intuitive eating sounds great in theory but you’ve never been able to get the hang of it, if you’ve never managed to get to the point where you “just wanted broccoli” but would like to adjust your tastes to accommodate more veggies, whole grains, and so on, Dr. Bacon’s got tips aplenty. Since she’s pretty well convinced me that more fiber in my diet would be a good thing to help me feel fuller, keep my insulin from going all meshuggie, etc., I’m working with her guidelines to add more, since I was eating a fair bit of it but my body was oh-so-politely asking me to increase it. But sloooooowly. (Do not EVER go from 20 grams of fiber a day to 50 in one day, I am telling you, or your plumbing will hate you.) There’s one tip of hers I don’t think I’ll ever be able to follow, though — the one about not eating and reading at the same time so you can Really Concentrate On Your Food, forget it. I’ll give up reading with lunch the day you can get Solomon Burke to have lunch with me every day. And then there’d be a “don’t eat lunch with Solomon Burke” rule, right?
One thing I like about Linda Bacon is that I don’t think she’d make a “don’t eat lunch with Solomon Burke” rule. She wants us to have fun, enjoy ourselves, not worry, worry, worry about Doing It Rite. She thinks you can have all that and brown rice too — unless you really hate brown rice, in which case she’d tell you you wouldn’t get much out of eating it anyway. In my wildest dreams, Michelle Obama will read this book, and then maybe we can form agricultural and health-care policies that won’t shame, blame, and scapegoat fatasses. But ultimately, I think I’d settle for Julia Cameron reading it.