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.