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!

Tara and her equally astute colleague and writer Gina Kolata traded thoughts about the study in a very interesting podcast on the NYTimes page. Kolata pointed out that the study reinforces the reality that it is “absolutely, unbelievably difficult” for most people to lose — and keep off — weight. “When people beat themselves up and say, ‘I should be thin, it’s my own fault,’ maybe it’s not your own fault. How much harder can somebody try than people in this study and look what happened. They didn’t lose much weight.’’

Based on the study, Kolata noted, we shouldn’t count on dieting to solve chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure. And the nearly 250 comments (!) to the brief article attest that she and TPP struck a nerve with a lot of chronic — and discouraged — dieters.

Kolata (whose book I lauded in a previous post) thinks we should take a more positive approach and say to ourselves, “I can be attractive. I can buy clothes. I can be fit. I can be healthy. I can have a good life, and I may not be skinny, but so what?” Indeed. Why can’t we concentrate on being healthy? Why should we let a number on a scale determine how we’re going to feel about ourselves?

Although I clearly feel strongly about this topic, I have stayed away from joining the ranks of the fat-acceptance and health-at-every-size movements, which have much more articulate and long-standing arguments than I. (Start with Kate Harding or Big Fat Deal if you’re interested. They have loads of links.)

It’s not that I don’t find much to agree with in their arguments and examples, because I do. I just don’t want size to be an issue anymore. How naive is that? I just want to walk into a room and, well, walk into the room. I don’t want to be a fat person walking into the room or a fat woman walking into the room or a middle-aged fat person walking into the room. I’m tired of superficial distinctions. I’m weary of having to feel ashamed, apologize or work twice as hard to make up for a genetic difference in the way I metabolize food.

Hopefully you’ve noticed that this argument could extend to other distinctions, like sex, race, ethnicity and religion, which the law supposedly shields from discrimination. Fat people enjoy no such protection. When you look at how fat people are portrayed in the media, it is an acceptable prejudice.

It all makes me crazy. But instead of diving for a candy bar, I think I’ll take a walk around the block. That’s something I CAN do.

4 Responses to “Diet Wars: Toughing it out — for what?”

  1. onebagnation Says:

    I”m with you! I’ve set a goal that I’ll stop dieting forever when I turn 51 (next fall). I’ve been making myself nuts with this stuff for 45 years (literally) and I’m tired!

  2. onebagnation Says:

    Forgot to say I’m reading an interesting book by Martha Beck called The Four Day Win which addresses the issue of how hard it is to diet, and offers some interesting techniques for moving away from that whole mindset.

  3. msmeta Says:

    I, too, am just exhausted about the whole thing. When it comes up as a topic of conversation with friends, I find myself looking for the nearest bathroom. I also like Martha Beck VERY much. I’ll check out her book.

    Thanks for responding. You have a fun blog!

  4. onebagnation Says:

    msmeta: I tried to email you, but it came back. Is the address metafootnotes@wordpress.com?

    Thanks for visiting my blog!


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