Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Politics of Dieting

I realize that I don't blog here very much, and I think one of the reasons for this is that it is really, really hard to reconcile capital-"D"-Dieting with two things I truly believe in: feminism and fat acceptance. And, most of the time, I feel like it's really not worth all the effort it would take to try.

You see, when I read diet-related writing, I often find myself agreeing with a source's premises while disagreeing with its conclusions. Take this Gary Taubes article, for example. I think the research he refers to is crazy-fascinating. When he describes how diverse human bodies are in their calorie-burning/fat-storing abilities, I'm on the edge of my seat and wondering why society can't recognize that we aren't a bunch of predictable calories-in-calories-out machines. But he sort of loses me when he uses this information to prescribe a lower-carb diet for people who are more insulin-resistant in order to regulate blood sugar and prevent fat-storage. In other words, "if you're unlucky enough to be one of those people who easily stores fat, you are doomed to have to suck it up and ditch the bread and pasta." I guess I shouldn't be surprised by it, since it's Gary Taubes and that's what he's all about, but when you try to view the world from a social justice perspective, it just doesn't work.

When I am given information about how naturally different we all are, my brain doesn't translate that information into a belief that some people need to work harder in order to be like everyone else. Instead, I tend to think that there are deeply embedded problems with the ways in which we judge and punish people for not living up to societal ideas of what is and isn't "normal".

I find something SO wrong with our ridiculous cultural expectations: 1) that fat people need to make sacrifices of time, money, energy, and dietary satisfaction in order to become thinner, 2) that fat people must maintain for life whatever strict regimen they adopted to lose weight in order to keep it off, 3) that fat people are always able to lose weight in the first place if they just try hard enough, and 4) that all fat people even WANT to be thin.

I know that there will probably always be concern trolls who yell about how "fat is a health issue!" and "isn't it irresponsible to discourage people from trying to be thin?" I strongly encourage those people to visit here and to start thinking about the complexity of the issue of body size and shape. We are being completely unfair to people when we try to make judgments about someone's health by simply looking at her or his weight.

All that said, are you wondering why the hell I keep a blog about my own low-carb diet? Why do I "diet" in the first place? I often wonder about those same things myself. I think that for me, and for me alone, my personal reasons for doing it are pretty good, but it just bothers me that hardly anyone ever recognizes how completely political fat and dieting can be.

More on this later.


gharkness said...

Hmmm....of the cultural expectations, only number four is actually an 'expectation,' and if a person doesn't want to lose, IMO that's their business, their life, their choice.

The first three are just a matter of fact. IF number 4 applies, the other three HAVE to come into play. There has to be SOME mechanism by which the extra weight can be lost, though I firmly believe it is different for different people. i.e., there are some who do quite well on a low fat/low calorie diet. I don't know what the difference is - that person certainly isn't ME (but then again, who wants to eat such a flavorless, dry diet, anyway?)

No, it's not FAIR. Life is not FAIR. We kind of have to take what's been handed to us and IF number 4 applies to US, we have to then apply number 1, 2, and 3 as appropriate.

Tracey said...

While you may personally believe it's everyone's individual business whether they want to lose weight or not, I have to argue that all four of the things I mentioned are pervasive cultural expectations about fat people. The messages we constantly receive about weight and diet are that if people have "excess" body fat, it is their responsibility to try to do something about it. It is expected that they hate their bodies and wish they were different. You communicate this expectation yourself with your "life's not fair" rhetoric. What isn't fair is that our particular culture has been rather arbitrarily constructed in a way that disadvantages anyone who isn't thin. Whether or not the fourth expectation I mentioned applies to us is highly dependent on how negatively affected we are by these messages from society.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of how unfortunate it is to be fat, it's still unhealthy. And if every person took care of their own health to the best of their abilities, with perfect information, it would be helpful socially. I think Gary Taubes is trying to provide some information to help people who try a low fat diet, don't lose, and get discouraged because they feel that they are failing because they aren't trying hard enough or running far enough or lifting enough weights or restricting calories enough. If you understand the biology and physiology, it makes it so much easier.

Tracey said...

Note: Anonymous commenters should read the post before commenting.

plumpdumpling said...

Isn't it funny that I'd never want to change gay people or other people who are just BORN a certain way, but asking fat people to change just seems like no problem to me? Maybe because being gay seems super-fun, while being fat seems super-gross.

Helena Wojtczak said...

Tracey I love your writings! I have only just found you half an hour ago, linked from a link from a surf from a link from somewhere that started on a low-carb bulletin board. I too am struggling with all this stuff. When I followed said links and found you have a feminist blog too well, I was so excited I didn't know what to do other than to say HI and I've sent you an email so you have my address and I'd so so love to read everything you've written and to be your pal in the UK. Helena