Posts Tagged 'fat'

International No Diet Day

Today is International No Diet Day.
This, as wikipedia so kindly informs me, was invented by Mary Evans Young in 1992, to fight the diet industry and draw attention to eating disorders.

It’s difficult to tease out what is at the core of the social and cultural attitudes that support the diet industry, in spite of scientific evidence that all diets are only effective in the short term.

We have somehow developed the idea that to be fat is also to be generally possessed of a cloud of negative character traits: lazy, irresponsible, unhealthy, stupid, etc. It has become acceptable to look down on people, including oneself, who don’t meet particular physiological criteria.

Studies have already shown that, while being fat is correlated with various health concerns, it depends on the kind of fat and how generally healthy one is. However unbelievable it may seem, one can be considered technically obese and still be fit and properly healthy. One is far more likely to suffer various, permanently damaging, ailments if one is too skinny.

Also, given the long-term uselessness of diets (yes, even when you stick with them), any serious mind must begin to assume that body shape and size is only moderately related to consumption. Even the earliest studies of caloric intake showed that if one has more calories one day, metabolism goes up, and fewer calories the next, it goes down. Our bodies adapt to the conditions we find ourselves in.

So, why do we have such a poor opinion of fat people? Why is fat pejorative? Why does every issue of every women’s magazine (and not a few men’s magazines) include information on reducing calories and losing five pounds by Friday when it’s really not that critical for health?

Why is fat supposed to be ugly?

Historically, fat was fabulous because it implied wealth – a larger person had sufficient nutritious food for growth and didn’t have to work the fields.

Now? Calorie dense, nutrient poor foods are the cheapest, and a lot of low-paying jobs don’t require much physical labour. It’s the wealthy who can take the time and money to eat nutritious food and go to the gym. Obviously not all larger people are poor, but assuming that there is a roughly equal distribution of body shapes and sizes across class, but only the upper classes have the wherewithal to temporarily disguise whatever shape is natural, if one is visibly fat, one is more likely to be of a lower class.

Anthropologists will tell you that beauty is about looking fertile and disease free. Psychologists will add that attraction is also about association – maybe a person looks like their father or share their eye colour. It is not much of a leap to assume that part of attraction, in the psychological or anthropological sense, might include class as a positive or negative association and survival trait.

And then, of course, we are inundated with marketing that tells us thin is beautiful, and that we should be spending time and money to become so. If marketers of Slimfast can convince us ‘an extra ten pounds’ is a problem, then they can sell us the solution. And then sell us more when it returns three months or years later.

In the news, from time to time, there will be articles about how the fatties are bad for the environment or should pay extra for plane seats – (often well responded to, and refuted here) which are essentially the self-congratulatory musings of the less big. Who, I have no doubt, worry about their waistline or saddlebags as much as anyone.

Today, at least, seriously think about the validity of the fat bias, and whether life is long enough to spend time and money doing something that isn’t actually good for you, and if the people who you might silently mock really deserve your disparagement.

Eat well, enjoy your food, and move your body. It is enough.

Kate Harding is interviewed at Salon on the subject of diet myths and fat prejudice:

“The problem is, there simply is no long-term cure for obesity — even weight loss surgery isn’t a permanent fix for everyone (not to mention it can have hideous side effects), and I suspect that as we see more long-term studies, we’ll learn that the regain rate is higher than anyone expected. So as long as obesity remains, in the public imagination, a dragon that must be slayed, all they can do is keep telling people to eat less and exercise more — because that produces short-term results that look good enough in short-term studies.”