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A refreshing look at weight loss

February 15th, 2008     by Zoe Cormier     Comments

I was out with a couple of my best girlfriends earlier this week, both of whom have suffered, and continue to suffer, from acute anorexia. You wouldn’t know it to look at them - they both make efforts to eat properly, so they don’t look underweight - but inside their heads they say it’s a constant battle. In the spirit of tackling their problem head-on, they’ve agreed to meet up once a week to eat an entire meal together. Which, they joked, will usually consist of steamed veggies, brown rice and fish, “A typical anorexic dinner!” I laughed as well. Often humour is the best way to deal with our problems.

It’s such a terrible shame that for so many women today food is such a problematic issue. While for centuries most people struggled just to get enough to eat, in the west today, where food is cheap and plentiful, different problems have become ubiquitous: chronic overeating and chronic undereating, particularly among women. For both groups, food becomes an enemy, not a friend.

Which is such a heartbreaking shame: food - along with sleep and sex - should be one of the joyful cornerstones of each of our lives. We should love to eat, and to eat well. And yet for so many of us, the simple act of consuming food is fraught with guilt and pain. Compulsive under-eating, just like over-eating, can become like an addiction.

These problems are so complex, and can be so difficult to alleviate. And yet for all the self-help books out there, endless diet tips in glossy women’s magazines, and countless exercise regimes advertised, there seems to be a real dearth of healthy and helpful information that deals with the issues. Not just from a nuts-and-bolts perspective regarding nutrition and health, but also from a psychological and - dare I say it - feminist perspective.

Which is why it’s so great to see The Guardian’s new series on weight loss, authored by the editor of the women’s pages, Kira Cochrane. Click here for the first installment - she’ll be putting out a new column every two weeks for the foreseeable future. It’s a wonderfully atypical perspective.

As the subhead neatly summarizes,

“She loathes the diet industry and hates the way women police each other’s bodies from a young age. She even found piling on the pounds liberating. But reluctantly, Kira Cochrane accepts it is time to slim down. Introducing her new fortnightly column, she explains why she wants to lose weight - and why she will not be offering recipe or exercise tips.”

I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here’s a few of my favourite excerpts:

I had never been all that huge, and in that nastily judgmental way that I guess is pretty normal, I had always wondered how anyone ever got really fat. After all, I wasn’t in the habit of denying myself anything, I thought, self-righteously, yet I was always at least in spitting distance of a healthy BMI. To get properly fat, you’d have to eat constantly, wouldn’t you?

For those of you who entertain similar thoughts, I’m happy to report that getting fat is actually extremely easy. Given the right combination of food, drink and inactivity, you can put on 4st in four months, without any real effort at all.

I grew and grew and grew.

And you know what? I didn’t mind. In fact, as I started to escape the fug I had been in, looked down and noticed my belly, I realised that being fat was kind of cool. Sure, there were downsides. I no longer looked good in jeans. My bra cups were bigger than my head. My tights rubbed together as I walked, making me sound like a particularly large and irritating cricket. But there were pluses, too.

Most of all, being fat meant that I was suddenly cast out of that uniquely depressing dance that goes on - particularly between women - of policing each other’s weight.

What a phrase.

She continues:

While I find it utterly depressing that a woman would feel that her weight - or lack of it - represents her major achievement, given that we live in a society in which women are, on average, paid 17% less than men, make up only a fifth of MPs, a 10th of leading company directors, and have little choice but to watch in horror as less than 6% of reported rape cases end in a conviction, I can understand why women often don’t feel that they or their abilities are really valued, and try to assert whatever small slice of power they can through drawing attention to their body by denigrating it. I understand it, and I don’t blame anyone who does it, and I have done it myself, but I also really hate it. It is boring. It is tiring. It is sad.

But I found that when you get properly, recognisably fat as an adult, you stop having to have these conversations… [Being overweight] felt liberating.

What made her decide to lose weight, refreshingly, was not how she looked, but how she felt.

To be clear, I didn’t hate myself - I’ve been depressed, I know what self-hate feels like, and this didn’t come close - but I didn’t feel completely comfortable in myself either.

There is a growing school of thought that when it comes to fat people’s health, the key isn’t to lose weight, but simply to make sure that you’re active. There are a good number of studies to back this up - including one published late last year by Professor Steven Blair, of the University of South Carolina, which found that, as long as they were fit, overweight and even obese people had a lower risk of dying young “than unfit people at a normal weight”.

The trouble is that, for me, being overweight isn’t conducive to activity. While I may not have been sporty, I was always active until I got fat … Essentially then, though I’ve never done a lot of organised sport, until I put on weight, I moved a lot.

The fatter I have got, though, the less I have felt like exerting myself, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising … My weight makes me feel sluggish in the most literal sense of the word.

There are a lot of people out there like me. People who feel that they should lose weight, but have done so before and seen it all go back on, and then some. People who feel that the diet industry is a vast conspiracy, predicated on failure - after all, if any diet actually worked the whole billion-dollar baby would go bust … A lot of people, then, who know that they have to lose weight, but approach the project with ambivalence.

In writing about my experiences, I won’t be including updates on lost kilos (I don’t weigh myself). I won’t be providing fabulous tips for reducing the size of your behind (what do I know? I just plan to eat less and exercise more). I won’t be declaring that Rosemary Conley was right when she said, “Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels!” (Clearly impossible, as ice cream exists.) I won’t be providing endless portions of self-loathing, as I don’t hate myself - or anyone else - for being fat. I know that many people consider being fat a crime akin to murder. I do not. I shall simply be charting some months in the life of a person who is, at best, reluctant about diets, and, at worst, disgusted by the very notion, but who knows, unfortunately, that something must be done. I warn you: there will be grumpiness.


Tags: body politics, food fight

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