Archive for the 'Diet wars' Category

Diet Wars: Oprah packs it back on — again

December 10, 2008

imagesAll I have to say about Oprah and her 40 refound pounds is that, if America’s sweetheart, with her millions and millions of dollars and her literal army of assistants — trainers, personal chefs, doctors, nutritionists, counselors, etc. — can’t keep the weight off, then the rest of us chubby plebeians out here should step back, take a deep breath, and just be a little kinder to ourselves. I don’t just think, I KNOW this kind of yo-yo weight loss has contributed to her — and my — weight issues over the years.

She maintains that her fall off the wagon is due to a out-of-balance thyroid, and, in deference to my thyroid-deficient friends — and I have many — I’ll refrain from speculating on that excuse. And don’t go ragging on me — I think Oprah’s okay, just maybe a little self-absorbed sometimes.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll be accepting seconds on pecan pie this season (even if its ByJane’s recipe) or that I’ll quit nagging myself to get off my lazy backside and go for a walk. I’m just not looking for any more reasons to despise myself. And neither should you.

A blessed, peaceful and gracious holiday to you all! (And apologies for my absence from the Blogosphere. Life happens…)


Excuse #4,561: My indoor plumbing is making me fat

September 17, 2008

Our friends at Freakonomics, one of my favorite sites, are always thinking:

Is it possible that the availability of good plumbing has contributed to our national weight gain? This may sound ludicrous, but think about it for just a moment. Very few people have to trek through the night to use an outhouse anymore; furthermore, restroom facilities are readily available just about everywhere — which means you don’t have to worry about getting rid of your waste, which frees you up to consume as much as you’d like.

This is certainly original. Could it also be the reason why there are such enormous toilet facilities at our local all-you-can-eat restaurants? (Not that I ever go to any of them, mind you. Um, the restaurants, I mean.)

Most of the respondents to the article agree — and I concur — that it is modern technology (including improvements in plumbing) that is the real problem: too much ease, too many sedentary distractions and too much available — and right tasty — food. It’s cheap and safe and plentiful — and there are even wonderful people out there who will bring it right to your doorstep!

But I do admit that, faced with a long drive across the barren desert, I rethink what I’m eating and drinking. The Spouse thinks a successful road trip is one with ABSOLUTELY NO STOPS.

(And now msmeta returns to logging in her daily caloric intake, which is probably why she has dieting on the brain. How many calories are there in a Snickers Bar? Okay, then, how about a piece of lint?)

Update: Freakonomics also has the best, most concise explanation of the current financial meltdown of any source I’ve read.

The Biggest Loser or Queen for a Day?

August 25, 2008

When I was a kid back before the Dawn of Time, Mother and I used to watch an afternoon show called “Queen for a Day.” Every weekday, a series of sad, doughy, exhausted women in worn-out shoes and faded house dresses vied for that coveted title by exposing to the American public the full contents of their grim, dreary lives.

Too many children, too many bills, major illnesses, absent husbands, broken cars, personal disasters — each story brought new gasps from the studio audience. These poor creatures were then judged, I recall, by some sort of applause-o-meter, and each day a new winner was crowned with a tiara and a velvet cape and given an assortment of new appliances and other trinkets to try to make up for their sad circumstances.

It was absolutely ghastly. The only thing worse than being a loser on “Queen for a Day” was being the winner. It was social voyeurism on a national scale, and I now recognize that the main emotion that I felt while watching that show was guilt. Their suffering was my entertainment. Whatever became of those poor souls and their grubby, underfed children?

I have the same uneasy-between-the-shoulder-blades feeling about The Biggest Loser. NBC — and a lot of networks with similar reality programs — have made millions of dollars exploiting the misery and longing for normalcy of the more-than-just-obese. These truly brave people put their egos, health and sometimes their personal safety on the line to satisfy the demands of producers who are after just a few more percentage points in the ratings.

I wince listening to them berate themselves and their former lives, and I’ve wondered how successful the winners have been at keeping off the weight once outside that hermetically sealed POW camp that masquerades as a health club.

The NYTimes over the weekend had a great article summing up the allure of TBL and its sister shows:

Before-and-after television needs a deep reserve of misery, and particularly on weight-loss shows the “before” returns in rhythmic waves of humiliation and self-loathing… The lows drop ever more excruciatingly downward before rising up in a frenzy of exertion, deprivation, extensive weight loss and a new life…

These fat-reduction spectacles are embedded in a mixed message that mirrors a broader cultural clash of appearance and appetite — and our obsession with both. Against a loop of talk shows and made-for-TV dramas about eating disorders, Americans are goaded into ever more drastic and extreme expectations of physical perfection on prime time, while their path is mined with Double Croissan’wich specials at Burger King and Olive Garden “Tour of Italy” triptychs (lasagna, chicken parmigiana and fettuccine Alfredo)…

These plus-size transformations are spellbinding, admirable and even enviable, but they are also teases, making impossible transformations seem just a commitment away. The lonely, self-hating journey of weight loss is turned into an exhilarating and emotionally fulfilling team sport. These programs also dismay advocates from [fat advocacy] groups … who complain that they frame obesity as a character issue or a public-health menace and further stigmatize those who do not conform.

As the Times puts it, TBL “selects alarmingly overweight people and puts them through a Herculean diet and exercise regimen” that few of us out here in the real world would be able — or even want — to duplicate. That some of them who are bounced from the show actually do continue to lose at that unhealthy rate and return to the show is proof of their desperation.

I even object to the ambiguity of the title. Are the biggest losers the winners, or the ones who get voted off? Who really wins in this kind of scenario?

NBC, I suppose. I just hope that, sometime in the not-so-distant future, we’ll look back at this kind of epic, high-definition voyeurism and cringe at the inhumanity of it.

Diet Wars: Toughing it out — for what?

July 28, 2008

The always-excellent Tara Parker-Pope in the NYTimes has been dealing with a high reader response to a diet-related post that ran last week about a much-ballyhooed NEJM study. Among other things, the study sadly indicated “that dieters can put forth tremendous effort and reap very little benefit.” Well, du-uh.

Long-story-short: while the NEJM study favorably compared the Atkins low-carb diet with other plans (a good thing, since Atkins funded the study), the poor participants who stuck with the TWO-YEAR study lost a whopping 6 to 10 pounds. Total. I lasted about two weeks on Atkins and three weeks on the similar South Beach Diet, and felt sick most of the time on both, so I can’t imagine toughing it out for two years! How grim! Read the rest of this entry »

Diet Wars: Throwing in the napkin, er, towel?

June 28, 2008

* Some background: msmeta’s two BFF, msadventure and msfit, have both become single in the last few years after 30-year marriages. Following a requisite period of litigation, anger and grief, both are expressing interest in returning to the singles scene, and both have embarked on excruciating regimens significant programs of self-improvement: dieting, personal trainers, plastic surgery, dermabrasion, the usual.

Listening to the two of them over lunch, singly and together, takes me back to my college days when I and my friends would spend hours trying to come up with strategies to attract — and keep — young men, who might as well have been bighorn sheep or striped bass when it came to their predictability. Read the rest of this entry »

Diet wars: Only the French…

April 16, 2008

Ooo, la.* The French are considering legislating against promoting excessive thinness. The bill would make it illegal for any entity “to publicly incite extreme thinness,” according to the AP. (And this.)

The law would give judges the power to imprison and fine offenders up to about $50,000 if found guilty of “inciting others to deprive themselves of food” to an “excessive” degree.

I am dubious. I don’t think any amount of legislation can overcome a mindset that is so entrenched in America and Europe as thinness = beauty, at least not in my lifetime. If I could be convinced that it will made a difference for my granddaughers, then I’ll certainly get my ample behind behind it. But it would be nearly impossible to enforce.

*I actually had a friend who lived in France for years and she did NOT say, “Ooo, la la.” She said, “Ooo, la.” So there. (I’m feeling very French these days, for some reason…)

Rethinking thin: I Can Make You Thin vs. The Biggest Loser

March 24, 2008

images2.jpeg Okay, I’m a sucker for any new angle on the diet-fitness-body image conundrum, particularly after spending a glorious few days helping my daughter-in-law-to-be try on wedding dresses. She looked utterly radiant, fabulous. (I looked like a middle-aged schlump, which I am, but I am not about to rain on her parade…) So anyway, I was open to any good news on the self-improvement front.

My last serious foray into the diet world was three weeks last January on the South Beach Diet, which, after all the trouble I went to measuring and cooking and subscribing to the Website, resulted in a net loss of two pounds. Two. Pounds. And, true to form, I gained back those two pounds and about ten more, along with another generous helping of guilt and disappointment. I truly believe that I have literally dieted myself into my current predicament. I stood on that scale and promised myself I would never go through this again.

One year later: TLC has been spot advertising its I Can Make You Thin series with British self-help guru Paul McKenna, who is refreshingly unremarkable-looking. Since the price of admission was only an hour of my time, time-shifted at that (I love TIVO technology), I bit. And frankly, it  surprised me. Read the rest of this entry »

Uncle Al and the economics of obesity

February 13, 2008

a849_6.jpgThe NYTimes Freakonomics blog, one of my favorite sites, continues to poke at the “obesity epidemic,” most recently with an interview with Eric Finkelstein, health economist and coauthor of The Fattening of America. “Modern society,” he says, “is giving Americans many more incentives to gain weight than to lose it. We are, in fact, victims of our success as a nation.”

The two most obvious factors are: 1) the abundance of cheap, tasty foods; and 2) the new technologies that allow us to be increasingly more productive at work and at home while burning fewer calories. For example, between 1980 and 2005, the price of food fell 14 percent relative to non-food items, so it is thus not surprising that we are eating more food.

I remember once seeing a graph that compared the rise in rates of obesity with the rise in the use of cheap high-fructose corn syrup in America. It probably wasn’t very scientific, but it was impressive: the patterns were pretty comparable. (And just try to find something tasty on the grocery store shelf that DOESN’T have HF corn syrup in it.)

To his credit, Finkelstein rejects the notion of an “epidemic” of obesity, at one point even comparing it to an “epidemic” of flat-screen TVs in America. But he doesn’t wave away the problem. Read the rest of this entry »

The Times discovers the Fatosphere

January 23, 2008

I can’t believe the New York Times thinks this is news. I’ve been reading fat-acceptance websites and blogs for years, and I think NAAFA goes back a decade or more:

Blogs written by fat people — and it’s fine to use the word, they say — have multiplied in recent months, filling a virtual soapbox known as the fatosphere, where bloggers calling for fat acceptance challenge just about everything conventional medical wisdom has to say about obesity.

Smart, sassy and irreverent, bloggers with names like Big Fat Deal, FatChicksRule and Fatgrrl (“Now with 50 percent more fat!”) buck anti-obesity sentiment. They celebrate their full figures and call on readers to accept their bodies, quit dieting and get on with life.

The message from the fatosphere is not just that big is beautiful. Many of the bloggers dismiss the “obesity epidemic” as hysteria. They argue that Americans are not that much larger than they used to be and that being fat in and of itself is not necessarily bad for you.

And they reject a core belief that many Americans, including overweight ones, hold dear: that all a fat person needs to do to be thin is exercise more and eat less.

The mainstream media and the fatphobic public HATE this kind of talk. We people of any-size-but-a-size-six must be made accountable, must see the error of our carbo-licious ways, must toe that thin line. Well, that’s just JUNK. Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking Thin

January 14, 2008

Rethinking ThinI admire Gina Kolata’s writing. She’s a science writer for the NYTimes, and has a load of books to her credit, so I spent a little time this weekend skimming Rethinking Thin (2007), her examination of the current “obesity epidemic.” She spends a good deal of time recapping two studies (one short-term, one long-term) aimed at comparing (and, initially, debunking) some of the popular diet programs, in particular the Atkins low-carb regime. The short-term study, to everyone’s surprise, showed that the Atkins diet was more successful and didn’t elevate everyone’s bad cholesterol, as had been predicted. The study sparked a massive spike in interest in and adherence to the Atkins program (our house included). A second, longer-term study (two years) was initiated to try to verify the results of the first, and Kolata set out to document that study. The results could not have been more unpredicable — to Kolata, maybe, but not to the millions of us who have been on the diet treadmill for most of our lives.

 No one [writes Kolata] could have been more determined than the dieters in the [second] study. They committed themselves to a two-year program. They kept food diaries. They exercised. They worked on avoiding thoughts and feelings and situations that tempted them to eat. And yet, as happens to dieters time and time agin, most ended up gaining back almost every pound so painfully lost.        

At the final meeting for the study, Kolata writes, most of the dieters didn’t even show up. The bittersweet lesson?

 In the end, the lesson is, once again, that no matter what the diet and matter how hard they try, most people will not be able to lose a lot of weight and keep it off. They can lose a lot of weight and keep it off briefly, they can lose some weight and keep it off for a longer time, they can learn to control their eating, and they can learn the joy of regular exercise. Those who do best seem to be those who learn to gauge portions and calories and to keep their housers as free as possible of food they cannot resist. The effort, the lifelong effort can be rewarding—people say they feel much better for it. But true thinness is likely to elude them…        

This exchange made me particularly crazy:

I told a skinny friend about the dieters I had been following and the sad, but predictable, outcome of their attempts to lose weight. “Did they really really try?” he asked. I drew in my breath. It was like a slap. “Yes, of course they really, really tried,” I said.        

Yes, thin people everywhere, we really, REALLY try. As a lifelong dieter who believes she has actually dieted herself into obesity (every success eventually ended in failure—and an extra 10 pounds), I am really angry about the current obesity focus. I find television shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Fat Camp” humiliating. (Why do they make those people wear BICYCLE SHORTS?) And the segments on obesity surgery make me want to weep. Some of them actually border on mutilation. I fervently hope we’ll be able to look back some day on these public displays of obese people and compare them to medieval torture. (“What WERE we thinking?”) Perhaps, Kolata suggests, we need to reexamine the entire paradigm:

 What, then, is wrong with this picture? Some scientists, including obesity researchers Jules Hirsch and Jeff Friedman, suggest an intriguing hypothesis. The origins of people’s recent weight gains may hive little to do with their current environment or with their willpower or lack of it, or with today’s social customs to snack and eat on the run or with any other popular belief. Instead, they say, we may be a new, heavier human race and our weight my have been set by events that took place very early in life, maybe even prenatally… Maybe something happened early in life—better nutrition, vaccines to provide freedom from viral infections that plagued children of previous generations, antibiotics to cure infections like strep throat or pneumonia—that precipitated changes in the brain’s control over weight… Higher weights could be an unintended consequence of the nation’s generally better health, or maybe even a contributor to it.        

 For another rebuttal of the obesity crisis, go here.