Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bad Research

In May, The New York Times posted an article about a research study that found that it's possible to lose 11 pounds in four days. I'm disappointed in The Times for featuring this study, and if you're a budding researcher or at all interested in debunking weight-loss myths, follow along with me as to why.

First, the study consisted of 15 participants, an embarrassingly low sample size. Let's just say we can overlook that fact for a second. The article reports that the participants were "healthy but overweight Swedish men." Ask yourself: "Am I a healthy but overweight Swedish man?" If not, the sample doesn't represent you.

You'll also notice that the sample doesn't represent women, Swedish men of different health- and weight- statuses, non-Swedish men - you get the picture. It's a homogenous sample, and that's not the goal of good research.

Next, let's take a look at the experimental condition (note: there was just one condition and not a control group, further decreasing research validity). During the study, participants ate about 360 calories a day and exercised for almost nine hours. Like The Biggest Loser on steroids. . . When we think of research, we like to choose conditions that can be replicated in the real world, to increase the study's internal validity. How likely is it that most people could drop down to such a caloric deficit and exercise for so many hours in their "real lives?" If not, then the results we see could somehow be an artifact of the experimental conditions.

Finally, let's talk about the conditions themselves. To repeat, these men consumed approximately 360 calories a day and exercised for almost nine hours. This sounds more disordered than some of the most serious eating disorders I've encountered. Will these men go on to develop a disordered relationship with food or exercise? Who knows? But, I'm not sure where we draw the line with ethical research and what type of research review board approved this study's intervention. I could argue that infecting research participants with some sort of food poisoning could also result in such rapid and significant weight-loss, but that would obviously be unhealthy. But would it be any more unhealthy than what these researchers prescribed?

And if we're to generalize from this research and start prescribing a few days of extreme caloric restriction and over-exercise to treat those who are overweight, do we want to run the risk of some patients going on to develop disordered eating? Did the researchers look at the participants' attitudes toward food and weight as a result of the intervention? I'm reminded of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. What happens after a year? Is weight loss really the ultimate goal?


You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Body Commodity

When did your body become anything other than a carrier for you?

When did your body become something to. . .

-think about

-judge

-criticize

-dissect

-change

-punish

-abuse

When did your body become some thing?

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Critical Analysis of "All About the Bass"


You might be wondering how Meghan Trainor's "All About the Bass" fares on the body image front. Let's take a critical look. 

Trainor's catchy, end-of-summer anthem promotes body acceptance in a number of ways. Early on, she sings: "Yeah it's pretty clear, I ain't no size two/But I can shake it, shake it like I'm supposed to do." While she might not embody America's thin ideal, Trainor still moves and appreciates her body. She reiterates this point, noting that "You know I won't be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll,/So, if that's what's you're into/Then go ahead and move along." Here, Trainor defies the internalization of unrealistic, reductive beauty standards and instead rejects those who demand her compliance with such rigid norms.

Trainor goes on to decry the widespread practice of photo retouching, stating: "I see the magazines working that Photoshop/We know that sh*t ain't real/Come on now, make it stop."

Finally, Trainor riffs, "Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top," encouraging women to accept and respect their bodies in their entireties. 

Despite these self-esteem boosts, Trainor falters some in the body-acceptance quest. When she croons, "'Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase," she objectifies her body, its value determined by the strength of the male gaze it invites. The singer likely learned this message from her mother, who taught her that appeal (read: worth) can be measured vis-a-vis her shape: "Yeah, my momma she told me don't worry about your size/She says, boys they like a little more booty to hold at night." That we exchange shape for size as commodities in our relational transactions doesn't make them any less materialized.

Trainor notes she has "All the right junk in all the right places." 
One may ask, what are "all the right places"? Yet, because of our culture's widely-accepted beauty standards, we'd likely see a lot of agreement here. The designation of "right" versus "wrong" places for "junk" (arguably pejorative, even though it's the "right" junk) creates an unrealistic expectation for many women. It may be okay to shirk the thin ideal, but you'd better do so in a legitimate way.


Lastly, when Trainor sings, "I'm bringing booty back/Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches," she unnecessarily snubs thin women and creates an "us" versus "them" mentality, a dichotomy that won't go far in promoting wide-reaching body positivity.

So, yes, while championing a curvier frame, unedited photos, and body acceptance, Trainor also promotes a woman's body as object, glorifies a certain body type/shape, and marginalizes skinny women, discouraging body acceptance across the spectrum. The tune is more weight- and size-inclusive than other mainstream representations of women, and the video refreshingly includes men and women of color, but the message advocates for a certain shape, unnecessarily sidelining women whose bodies don't conform. 



You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com.





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stop Demonizing Food

I have to tell you, I'm a little sick of the sugar thing. And the carb thing, the wheat thing, the soda thing, the salt thing, and whatever thing we might be hearing about tomorrow.

Now, I'm not recommending mass amounts of any of these foods, as they're often consumed in the American diet. A daily Super Big Gulp likely won't do any body good. But to demonize any food item unnecessarily polarizes foods into healthy vs. unhealthy or good vs. bad, which sets the stage for all kinds of disordered eating.

And here's the thing: no food makes you fat. Not a baguette, a bowl of noodles, a cupcake or macaron. Overeating these foods may predict weight gain over time - eating more than our bodies need can do this - but part of the reason we're overeating is that we're so consumed by diet culture that we're hybridizing feast and famine. 

"I can't have bread. I can't have bread. I can't have bread." And then, because bread is actually available, "Oops, I had too much bread."

The more we learn about weight, the more we understand the genetic influences on this variable. What you weigh is largely a function of your genes and their products, particularly hormones that control appetite and satiation.

When we cut out certain foods to lose weight, there is often a backfiring effect, in which we end up overeating these foods due to the experience of physical and psychological deprivation. Developing a healthy relationship with food involves being able to interact with all kinds of food in a healthy way. It means moving past feared foods and and food rules.

I recently came across an eating disorder treatment program that advertises that it's food plan requires patients to "abstain from 'junk food,'" "eliminate highly processed foods," and "weigh and measure portions" while in treatment.

In my opinion, barring certain foods and requiring the weighing/measuring of foods is contraindicated with eating disorder recovery. In treatment, patients should be exposed to a variety of foods and should not be allowed to engage in food calculations and calibrations - these behaviors are symptomatic of the disorder itself and the goal of treatment is to extinguish them.

Referring to less nutritious food as "junk food" reinforces the eating-disorder mentality and eliminating certain foods in treatment doesn't teach patients how to interact with these foods, a required skill in the real world.

Food isn't the problem. It's our relationship to it that becomes distorted and dysfunctional. The more we demonize food, the more we prevent ourselves from cultivating a healthy relationship.



You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com.




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Shame in Advertising

By now, you've probably heard of Gap's Twitter fiasco, in which the clothing retailer landed itself in an uncommon, too-skinny debate after tweeting this photo last week:


The internet erupted with comments like “Seriously, @Gap? In what world do people look like this?” The model was referred to as "a pencil in plaid," and some claimed she needed to eat a cheeseburger.

Body image defenders swooped in to defend Gap's choice and accused online commenters of skinny-shaming the plaid-clad model. Many cited skinny-shaming as just as painful and dangerous as shaming those on the other side of the weight spectrum. 

And it's true, these comments are hurtful and misinformed. I'd love to live in a world where we refrained from judging and criticizing each other's bodies - period. 

But, this has nothing to do with this particular model's body. All she did was put in a day at the office. Oddly, I read five articles on this subject, and I couldn't even locate the model's name. It just reinforces the idea that no one's really interested in her.

What we need to do is step back and look at the larger context. If clothing companies routinely featured models of varying weights, the Gap ad would likely have fallen through the cracks - the model's body understood as yet another iteration of body assortment, rather than an exemplar of female beauty. Most clothing companies, however, widely promote our culture's thin ideal. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that says only five percent of American females are naturally shaped like the models we see in advertising (arguably an even smaller percentage when compared to the ultra-thin Gap model), and yet advertising sells us this ideal - at all costs.

We need to see more body diversity in the media and in advertising. We need to understand that certain images, when insufficiently balanced by others, can dangerously normalize eating disorders. And we need to recognize that the Gap controversy isn't about the skinny-shaming of a too-thin, nameless model but about an industry that perniciously thrives on selling an unrealistic, unattainable ideal. Here's where the shame lies.



You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com.





Monday, August 04, 2014

Defining Plus-Size

Plus-size model Robyn Lawley made waves on the internet a couple of weeks ago by posting an unedited, bikini-clad photo of herself on Instagram:

Photo: Robyn Lawley/Instagram

The controversy? That Lawley is defined as plus-size.

Many were outraged that the tall, thin model could ever be considered too curvy or heavy for "normal-size" modeling. But the lanky (6'2"!), Size 12 beauty is certainly plus-size when you consider that the average American model wears a Size 0 and that Size 6 is often considered plus-size.

So, yes, Lawley is thin and yes, she's plus-size. In an industry where skinny is lauded at all costs, where models' "flaws" are airbrushed into oblivion, and where Size 000 now exists, Lawley, though thinner than the average American woman, is simply too big for mainstream modeling.


You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com.






Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Changing the Conversation

In a recent Nutrisystem commercial, Marie Osmond asserts: "As women, we always talk about how we should look or what’s the best way to lose weight."

Is this the conversation all of us are having? Are we all conspiring around this goal? And if so, what we can do to challenge it?


The truth is, it's spot on for many of us. Some women are engaged in evolving dialogues that have nothing to do with weight or shape. But it's sometimes challenging to get women from the first group to the second.


In a recent interview, a reporter asked me for tips on what else women can talk about if we're to ditch fat and diet talk. My tip is, there are no tips - because the answer is infinite - if we remove fat/diet talk from our language, we get to talk about everything else.

Women have so much more to talk about than food and weight. We have jobs and families and hopes and ideas, feelings and interests and beliefs. If we remove fat and weight talk from our dialogues, we're freed up to talk about anything else - everything else - to explore and create and connect in a deeper way, and ultimately, to be more of our authentic selves.

And shouldn't this be the goal?




You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com.