Friday, May 8, 2015

The Lure of Skinny: Part 2

Skinny is such a powerful thing in our society.  If you're skinny, you have power, social power; the power to attract the opposite sex, the power to get many more jobs and have more opportunities, the power to make friends and to be seen as trustworthy, the power to tell (fat) people what they need to do to become skinny as well.  For reasons that are very hard to understand, our society today puts skinny on a pedestal and makes it the highest level of moral rightness you can ever achieve.  You're seen as trustworthy, well disciplined, highly motivated, energetic, and healthy, just by the way you look. 

On the flip side, fat people are seen as lazy, lairs, gluttonous, self-centered,  having no self control, and on the verge of death every time they put anything in their mouths that isn't a leaf of lettuce.  We're told that we should be ashamed for the way we look, because obviously we just need to eat less and exercise more and we can be just like the skinny people.  And the sad thing about it is, fat people absolutely believe that 100%.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many overweight and obese people are desperate to lose weight?  The message to lose weight has become so frantic, so terrifying, it's as if it's a highly contagious disease, and if we don't take action right now, all will be lost!  Many fat people are lead to believe that they're just months away from diabetes and heart disease, even if they're physically very healthy.  And so they take on the task of losing the weight, for themselves, for their families, for society as a whole (because everyone knows that obesity is a drain on the medical system).

 This desperation is what feeds the $60 billion dollar diet industry.  If being skinny is so good morally, socially, and physically, it's worth spending money on, right?  Well, according to recent studies, no, not really.  Only 5% of dieters keep the weight off for 5 years, and the ones that do keep it off make it their life's mission.  Several of the people who told their diet stories in the book Body of Truth said that maintaining the weight loss was a full time job, and they had to stay at it constantly.  But that's the great thing about the diet industry; they know that their business model works really well.  The dieters lose weight initially, they keep it off for 6 months to a year, then start gaining it back.  They can then say, "Hey, the diet isn't at fault; you just didn't stick to it!".  And because people are so desperate to lose weight, they believe it and come back for more punishment.

I don't know how well the low carb and paleo diets work long term.  I do know of several people who have kept the weight off with low carb for many years, but I know of even more people who have gone up and down with it.  As for the paleo diet, I don't know if what we call "paleo" today (as opposed to Lorren Cordain's paleo, which I understand is low fat and anti-saturated fat) has been around long enough to see if many people can keep the weight off long term.  As I said last time, this doesn't mean I don't think these diets are great; I think they're wonderful ways to get back to health, for sure.  What I really don't know is if they're any better at keeping the weight off compared to any other diet out there.  If anyone has any info on this, I'd love to see it.

The most damaging aspect of this whole get-skinny-to-be-healthy mindset is that it skews a person's idea of what healthy really is.  You begin to think that anything that makes you skinny is healthy, even if those methods are clearly dangerous.  Or at the very least, you use that as justification.  Truth be told, I'm fairly certain that health is only an added bonus to weight loss for most people.  Even if they don't say it out loud, I'm pretty sure that the number one reason people attempt weight loss is to look good, and to be socially acceptable.  It's so easy, when you're thinking about or doing something dangerous to lose weight, to give yourself and others the justification that, hey, you were unhealthy as a fat person, so this can't be bad for me!

A case in point of this disturbing mental gymnastics is the Kimkins disaster.  I know I've talked about it briefly before in my blog, but I never went into much detail about it.  Back then, I was fascinated by the drama of what happened, and how Heidi (Kimmer) could put herself into a situation like that.  I found myself reading the whole drama again recently, though this time, I see something a lot more disturbing.  I paid special attention to the blogs of people who went on the diet and were deep into it, but because of the fraud, they left the site and started talking about their experiences.  I see people who were so desperate to lose weight and be beautiful, that they rationalized a 300-600 calorie low carb/low fat diet as a way to get healthy.  They believed, despite being intelligent well educated people, that this was enough food to fuel them for the whole day:
594 calories

And if that wasn't doing it for them and they found themselves in a weight stall, they could try this for their daily intake instead:
376 calories
 (Both pictures are from Mariasol's anti-Kimkins blog.  I highly suggest reading through their blog and those they link to if you're interested in this fascinating side of low carb history.)

The most disturbing part about this epic tale of self-deception and desperation is the long term effects.  Many people (mostly women) who stayed on this diet for months started to have side effects; losing hair, brittle nails, feeling nauseated, dizziness, blacking out, heart flutters, and in some cases, serious heart problems.  And yet, despite all of these issues, they were brushed aside as if they weren't a problem, not just by the owner of the site and her admins, but also by the members.  They were told, and believed, that there was no such thing as starvation mode, that the side effects were normal, and that whatever they were experiencing was temporary and worth it to be skinny and healthy. 

But there is such a thing as starvation mode.  It's called YOU'RE STARVING!  Anyone with a functioning brain should know that eating very tiny amounts of food is what starvation is.  By definition, it's to "die or suffer from lack of food."  SNATT is a term that was used frequently on the Kimkins website; it stood for Semi-Nauceous-All-The-Time, and it was a state you wanted to be in.  If that's not suffering from lack of food, I don't know what is. 

The other side effects aren't normal, by the way; they're signs that your body is suffering.  You lose hair  because your body is in shock.  Your nails become brittle because you're not providing your body with the proper amount of nutrients and good fats and protein.  You get dizzy and black out for several reasons, including low electrolytes, hypoglycemia, and low blood pressure, all of these things linked to the starvation diet.  As for heart problems, well... when you're on a very low calorie diet, your body starts to eat away at your muscle tissue just to keep you alive, and of course your heart is a muscle.  It's not a secret that many anorectics die from heart problems.

That's the lure of skinny.  Intelligent, healthy people, who perhaps have more padding than society deems proper, put their lives at stake just to fit into the crowd.  The really sad part is that it's usually all for naught.  Scientists have not only shown that 95% of dieters regain the weight, but that yo-yo dieting is very bad for your health and leads most people to an even higher weight than when they started.  I don't exactly trust scientists, not after reading many of the scathing reviews of studies done by the low carb/paleo community, but there's a cultural component to this idea of yo-yo dieting.  The fact that so many people have lived through the up and downs of weight cycling and ended up heavier than before should tell us that there's at least some truth to it. 

So why do we, as a society, continue to promote dieting to people who are otherwise healthy?  I think the idea of weight=health is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it's impossible to believe a fat person is perfectly fine.  It doesn't help that "health experts" are out there vehemently rejecting the idea of healthy obesity, screaming that this plainly wrong idea is costing us all money and making people sick and dead, despite the mounting science that shows that obesity isn't really that big of a health risk (or one at all, in the case of overweight).

I wonder sometimes if this will ever change.  Will doctors ever promote a good diet and exercise as ways to get healthy rather than skinny (and then be satisfied if the patient gets healthy but doesn't lose weight)?  Will women's magazines have cover stories about how to get healthy in 30 days with a beautiful round woman showing off her incredible biceps (as opposed to a tiny skeletal woman standing in one leg of her former pants)?  Will we ever be told by our government the truth that dieting is actually very bad for us, and encouraged to eat wholesome, natural, real food for whole body health? 

I suppose only time will tell.

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