Helpful Tips: How not to be a boorish body-policing jerk.

By | March 22, 2011

An illustration of fighting at City Hall between Municipal and Metropolitan police officers during the Police Riot of 1857 from "Recollections of a New York Chief of Police" (1887) by George W. Walling.

"But you grow up and you calm down / You're working for the clampdown"

Last week, a few of you alerted me to an article: The moments that make us fat, by CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. I’m certain Elizabeth Cohen is a nice lady whose intentions are only positive, and yet, this little bit of health-writing fluff has made a whole bunch of people very angry. The story takes form as a collection of scenarios—the “problems”—followed by suggestions for dealing with them—the “solutions”—in ways that, ostensibly, won’t make you fat.

Aye, Cap’n, thar be a blockquote on th’ horizon:

Think through your day, and you’ll see [the moments of fatness], as big and obvious as a hot fudge sundae sitting right in front of you. You’ve been good all day, and wham, your friends suggest you go to a buffet for dinner; or you’ve diligently worked out and wham, you end up at a cocktail party with an array of the most killer desserts ever.

[...]

The key is to accept the fact that your willpower will run out at some point, and plan strategies to get you through fattening situations. Here are the top five moments that make you fat, and what you can do to outwit them.

All right. So Cohen proceeds to list “moments” that are pretty broad, and solicits expert advice on how to respond to them, the sum total of which is “eat right and exercise.” Thank the maker someone finally wrote such an article! With Cohen covering the fat waterfront, I feel free to explore an analogous series of moments that we should watch out for—I daresay moments against which we must guard all the more vigilantly, if we are to get through life as kind and thoughtful human beings. I’ve therefore taken Elizabeth Cohen’s headings for her “moments that make us fat” and given them new context. Let’s see what happens.

I hereby present: The moments that make us body-policing assholes.

On vacation

The problem: You’re saved all year and finally the time has come! You’re off the plane and hitting the beach for a well-deserved rest. But wait, what’s that? Check out that fat lady in the bikini! Gross! What the hell makes her think she can wear that? What gives her the right to ruin your beach view with her disgusting body? Your initial inclination is to make eye contact with someone else—anyone else—and share a laugh over the fat woman’s utter cluelessness.

The solution: Fat ladies save all year for vacation too. Don’t waste your energy getting all worked up over someone else’s body shape or size, and don’t make comments to your neighbor, as you may embarrass the woman, or at least you will make a public display of what an asshole you are. Either admire her courage, or turn to look in another direction.

After a break-up

The problem: You were dumped by your boyfriend, and you’ve recently spotted him out with a woman whose bra size dwarfs yours by half the alphabet. When a friend asks how you’re coping, your first thought is to describe the new girlfriend as a shallow slut with implants larger than her brain, and to surmise that your ex is only using her for sex.

The solution: You don’t actually know if those are implants, for one. Furthermore, you don’t know that said woman is sexually promiscuous, and even if she is, being promiscuous isn’t an appropriate thing to judge a woman for anyway. Women with bodacious proportions have to deal with these assumptions all the time, and you’re not helping matters by piling on. Be mad at your piece of shit ex-lover if you want, but leave his new ladyfriend out of it.

A party with fabulous food

The problem: You’re on a diet, but your BFF Esmeralda is throwing her annual bash for National Handwriting Day! (This is a real thing; I looked it up.) You get to her apartment and there are writing-implement-themed hors d’oeuvres as far as the eye can see, not to mention vast stretches of sheet cake decorated to look like looseleaf paper. The other guests are digging in, and all you can think about is your diet. Damn, you should tell them about your diet!

The solution: Don’t tell them about your diet. Nobody wants to hear about your diet. The sole exception to this rule is other people who are also on diets, who may enjoy commiserating with you about how hungry you both are. Forcing calorie counts and food guilt on people who are having a good time is just rude. Keep your constant internal tally of carbs or calories or “points” to yourself.

Watching TV

The problem: It’s Wednesday night, and you know what that means: time for your favorite reality show, Fat Teenaged Pregnant Little People Who Are Getting Married and Didn’t Know They Were Pregnant.* You’re settled on the couch, but you can’t stop thinking about the one-third-full can of Pringles in the kitchen. You’re a disgusting pig if you let yourself eat them after 8pm! And now that you think of it, you didn’t work nearly hard enough on the elliptical trainer earlier today. Your dimply saddlebag thighs will never be in shape for swimsuit season at this rate, and you’ll have to spend another summer refusing to take off your sarong at the beach.

The solution: Eat the Pringles, if you really want them. Your thighs are fine. No, really, no matter what they look like: they’re fine. Trust me, you will never lie on your deathbed thinking, “I wish I’d berated myself more for not looking like a photoshopped-to-perfection model in a lingerie ad,” but you might think, “I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time worrying about what my thighs look like, when I could have been lying by the ocean and enjoying the sunshine.”

At a buffet, or a restaurant with enormous portions

The problem: You hate this inexpensive buffet restaurant, but your friend—who is a little on the girthy side—absolutely loves it. And you’ve noticed that a substantial number of the families eating here also tend toward the corpulent. These other patrons always look sloppily dressed to you, and it seems like your friend always takes one more pass at the buffet than you do. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to your friend that this restaurant is the source of her fatness! Maybe you should tell her!

The solution: Fat people aren’t homogeneously stupid. There are lots of reasons why fat people might be eating at a buffet. For example, given that fatness is more common at lower socioeconomic levels, it’s possible that this buffet is a cost-effective means of feeding a family enough for the better part of the day. One of the less likely reasons is that they simply enjoy shoveling unlimited volumes of food into their cavernous maws. If you’re curious as to why your friend prefers the restaurant, ask her. If you truly hate it, suggest that the two of you trade off choosing where to eat when you see each other. If you really are her friend, you’ll be willing to go to her choice of restaurant now and then. Also, if you really are her friend, you don’t want to bum her out by forcing her to discuss her body size and eating habits if she doesn’t want to, so don’t condemn her favorite buffet or suggest that eating elsewhere might be “healthier” or would lead to weight loss.

 

In summation, the cardinal rule for avoiding the moments that make us body-policing assholes is: Don’t comment on other people’s bodies or eating habits, not to them, not to people they know, not to strangers who may be nearby. If it would bother you to hear it said about yourself, don’t say it to someone else.

* Copyright Marianne Kirby, who dreamed up this show title a couple months back during an especially sarcastic chat conversation about cable channel TLC.


50 Comments

Joyousnerd on March 22, 2011 at 10:10 am.

Hurrah! Nice take on a very, very stupid and offensive article.

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Michelle jadaa on March 22, 2011 at 10:29 am.

On tv im seeing more and more ads for weight loss solutions including surgery and also products and surgery for looking younger and im getting worried that looks are becoming more important than anything else.
Hubby also told me of an incident of an overweight kid being physically and mentally bullied by a fellow student at school.the bullied student finally lost it and started to fight back back,guess who was suspended?Yep you know it,the overweight bullied child.What message is this sending?

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Lydia on March 28, 2011 at 2:13 am.

I’m assuming you are referring to the two boys in Australia who were filmed on a phone camera, the footage of which went viral on the internet. Just for your info, both boys were suspended.

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kbryna on March 22, 2011 at 10:35 am.

I especially like the helpful hint in the original article: you want a high-fat snack. Instead, eat grapes!
She might as well have written: you want to enjoy something. DENY YOURSELF.

What crap. the reader comments at cnn.com are beyond appalling. Reading just a couple of them make me feel so glad and – yes – thankful that you, Lesley, and other FA activists like you are out fighting the good fight.

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Paula on March 22, 2011 at 11:48 am.

Seriously, there is nothing that drives me into a homicidal rage like hearing, “If you want something sweet, have a piece of fruit!” If I want a piece of candy or a cupcake, fruit isn’t going to cut it. I have taste buds and I’m not stupid.

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Jessdr on March 22, 2011 at 5:42 pm.

Also, the good-bad food dichotomy screws up your ability to listen to what your body really wants. When I finally gave myself permission to eat what I wanted, I started wanting different things. (Not right away, of course, but a lot faster than I expected.)

I still want desserts sometimes, but now that I really truly trust that I can have desserts when I want them, I eat less of them. Not because it’s “good”, and not in an attempt to eat fewer calories or “bad foods”. It’s just that the voice that REALLY WANTS GRAPES!!! is no longer drowned out by the one that REALLY THINKS I SHOULD HAVE CUPCAKES BECAUSE I MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO HAVE THEM ANOTHER TIME!!!.

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flightless on March 22, 2011 at 11:10 am.

Love it!

QOTD that I had to immediately copy into my notebook: “Trust me, you will never lie on your deathbed thinking, ‘I wish I’d berated myself more for not looking like a photoshopped-to-perfection model in a lingerie ad’” !

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Nyssa23 on March 22, 2011 at 11:16 am.

This was awesome, as usual. I’m totally wearing my bikini this year! …When it gets warmer, that is.

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Swistle on March 22, 2011 at 11:34 am.

LOVE IT.

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Lillian on March 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm.

This all makes me sad that I live in New England and I haven’t worn a bikini for many years. It’s too cold at the ocean to go swimming and I don’t have the money for a pool membership. There is a city pool, but it has a short season. I’ve lived here ten years and I’ve been to the city pool three times. I could learn the schedule for the pool and find out what bus takes me there. Perhaps, I need a little motivation to go swimming again. It’s not the bikini. I have a drawer full of them. It’s just seems like too much effort to find a pool and go to it.

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HairyLegs on March 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm.

Love it! Your writing is awesome.

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Carol Gwenn on March 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm.

Bottom line here: You, wonderful blogger, are simply reminding people to remember the Golden Rule. Miss In-Your-Face Elizabeth Cohen seems to have let that one go right out the window.

Then there’s my all-time favorite piece of Biblical wisdom: “Judge not, lest ye be judged”.

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Willow on March 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm.

Rock on, chickie! This entry was not only full of common sense and wisdom, but it made me laugh. The “Aye, Cap’n, thar be a blockquote on th’ horizon” made me laugh out loud. (I love National Talk Like a Pirate Day, which I believe occurs in September sometime.) And in case you’re wondering about the word “chickie,” it evolved from watching Milo & Otis in which a newborn chick imprints on either Milo or Otis, I forget which. I started calling everyone “chickie” and to this day I call both my guy and girl friends “chickie.” Sometimes, if I’m feeling daring, I call them “chickie baby.” :D

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Alyson on April 3, 2011 at 12:14 am.

National Talk Like a Pirate Day is September 19th. I definitely plan on celebrating.

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raven_feathers on March 22, 2011 at 1:13 pm.

i loved this. i admit that i loved it a tiiiiiiny bit more when i thought my BFF esmerelda was having a party for National HANDWRINGING Day? but i’ll get over my disappointment on that front. also, i can totally read.

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Lesley on March 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm.

Oh, I want to make this a thing. How do we make this a thing?

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raven_feathers on March 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm.

i know, right?? i was shattered by the pure brilliance of the idea and more shattered by the knowledge that my scatterbrain just made it up from disparate letters.

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sandrad on March 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm.

National, how about continent wide Handwringing Day. I’d be there.

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gostephaniego on March 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm.

If I may, I’d like to add to the last paragraph:

Maybe she is struggling with an eating disorder, and you being an asshole is making it less likely that she’ll see an expert about it and more likely that she’ll just hate herself instead.

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Lesley on March 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm.

Additions are both welcome and encouraged!

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tigi on March 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm.

Fat Teenaged Pregnant Little People Who Are Getting Married and Didn’t Know They Were Pregnant.*

Ok, we can almost greenlight this project, but these pregnant teenage fat little people must also be able to make absurdly complicated cakes, and must be searching for the perfect wedding dress, and must judge each others’ weddings, and can we possibly add a location name in there? Also, makeovers. They all need makeovers. I cannot stress this enough. And how do they feel about flipping tables?

Back to the original article — I’m beginning to take a perverse enjoyment in these articles that share the theme of “Never, ever, ever for one moment let your guard down, because the moment you do, WHAM, you’ll be hit by the fat bus and be fat forever and people will laugh and point at you because, well, fat.” I especially laughed at her suggestion for getting over a breakup. The last thing anyone ends up doing when they end a relationship is manifesting their pain in a constructive way. My last bad breakup involved me drinking my (considerable) weight in gin and other beverages, followed by throwing up in a parking lot while my best guy friend held my hair (Ah, to be young again). In retrospect, I should have gone for the ice cream.

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Holly on March 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm.

Well, FWIW, TLC’s “My Shocking Story: World’s Smallest Mom” was totally about a pregnant, engaged little person who at one point mentions that her doctor told her to lose some weight. For enough money I’m sure she could be convinced to take up cake decorating and submit to a pre-wedding makeover.

Why the hell do I know these things?

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tigi on March 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm.

How does this world’s smallest mom feel about restoring hot rods? Because we’re almost to our hook here.

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tigi on March 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm.

Oh, and getting a lot of tattoos. I mean, a lot.

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Erina on March 23, 2011 at 7:20 am.

It doesn’t have to be all tears but any lack of tears should be substituted with sweat and talk of how much weight they’ve lost while dancing. Oh, wait I guess that defeats the purpose? Would the viewers at home like fat pregnant teenage little people in skimpy dance costumes & dangerously high heels trying to samba? and we must be able to vote! Yes, more judging please!

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tigi on March 23, 2011 at 7:31 am.

The tears were a given. Also, scenes get played for Jillian Michaels, and anytime the fat teen little moms go near a piece of cake or even consider the idea of cake, she bursts into tears and screams at the tv.*

*Totally a thing that happened when I turned on my TV one day and The Biggest Loser was on. Apparently they sent people home for a week and one guy was celebrating his birthday and his friends brought him a cake, and he was deciding if he should eat a piece, and Jillian Michaels was in full on hysterics. I don’t remember if he ate any of the cake because i was laughing so hard.

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EG on March 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm.

And will at least one of them cry every episode? Because what reality TV really needs is more crying.

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Lillian on March 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm.

On a more serious note, I was thinking about restaurants with large portions – most of them. Eat as much as you want. Only give yourself permission to stuff yourself if the food is particularly good. Why be full for the rest of the day or risk a bellyache if the food isn’t fantastic. If the food isn’t great, eat until you’re comfortably full. Examples, I went to Denny’s for breakfast a couple weeks ago, the pancake was ordinary. I ate less than one since that all I needed to feel full. This morning, I went to a local dinner and had their French toast. It was excellent. I ate two and half slices feeling uncomfortably full afterwards. The point is to enjoy the food that one eats.

I don’t much care for buffets since I’m a bit of foodie. I rather have food that tastes really good than a lot of food that tastes okay. If I go to a buffet because a friend or family member insists, I pick out what I like and eat only as much as I want. I’m a fan of appetizers so I’ll fill a plate with those first. I might only have room for half a plate of an entrée after that. That’s what a buffet is about choice.

Most of us are fortunate enough to live in a world where we have choices. When I was a girl, half the population of the world didn’t have enough to eat. Now, the estimates are one in six doesn’t have enough to eat. That is amazing considering the population of the world has more than doubled since the sixties. Here were are talking about having choices about food. It’s not about getting enough to eat, but being perceived as eating too much. Enjoy that you have choices.

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Laurah on March 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm.

That peachy article suggest that I also read this depressing re-cap of Gwen Stefani’s thankless regimen and pointed out that she rewarded herself (after a major event) with a single slice of pizza. Also, her discussion of makeup is depressing.

http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/09/gwen-stefani-my-weight-is-a-daily-struggle/?iref=obnetwork

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JennyRose on March 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm.

Someone said;
Maybe she is struggling with an eating disorder, and you being an asshole is making it less likely that she’ll see an expert about it and more likely that she’ll just hate herself instead.

This may be true but it isn’t on her own blog, it is her speaking as the CNN Senior Medical Correspondent. The things she suggests are often part of disordered eating but it does not necessarily mean her, her editors or her readers have an ED.

I struggled with an ED for many years (sometimes still do) and I could not get enough of these articles. They seemed so helpful and sensible. But I couldn’t follow these ideas at all and only felt bad about myself. Now these ideas seem silly and are just part of the regular media cycle. This sort of articles appears every November in so many forms. A lot of CNN readers want to loose or maintain weight and this always catches some eyes.

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raven_feathers on March 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm.

i may have drastically misread the original comment (as i have proved i am fully able to do!) but i think the comment was positing an addition to lesley’s lovely response, not laying down the j’accuse on the author of the original tripe?

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Lesley on March 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm.

Seconding raven_feathers here—I’m 99% sure the commenter meant that to be an addition to the last paragraph of my post above, with regard to the buffet-lovin’ friend.

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Cute Bruiser on March 22, 2011 at 6:26 pm.

All of this buffet talk has made me very peckish and reminded me of a delicious (and cheap) vegetarian Indian buffet place my sister and I used to go to when we lived in another town. Really wish I could have some now. :C

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shyvixen on March 22, 2011 at 6:30 pm.

The article didn’t suggest eating grapes – they advise eating FROZEN grapes. What a great way to remind myself that I am unworthy of enjoying something delicious. I’ll just suck on some cold and tasteless little morsel.

*WINNING*

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siouxZQ on March 23, 2011 at 1:45 am.

I am sick to death of people/media trying to make me less than I am … I am fat … fluffy … plump … whatever you want to call it … and I am happy. I don’t want to be looked at with disgust when I go out to eat … I don’t want people telling me what I can and cannot eat. Leave me and my bodacious body alone!
As for frozen grapes – they are actually delicious :)

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Piglet on March 23, 2011 at 6:19 am.

Hey, now! Frozen grapes are tasty. Don’t be hatin’ on my frozen grapes!

*clutches* Oh! Chllly! *releases*

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JennyRose on March 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm.

Thanks for pointing out my misreading. It makes more sense. I think that may have happened because some have speculated that Mimi Roth may have an ED. She indeed may and it may drive her behavior but she is till a bully.

If you swallow the grapes whole, you won’t even need to chew.

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Anon on March 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm.

I disagree with the way in which you framed this article. There are lots of questionable ‘health’ pieces out there that promote downright silly and/or borderline unhealthy practices but this isn’t one. She suggests eating grapes (or yogurt dip, which you didn’t mention) as an alternative to snack on, than say, cookies. This isn’t exactly horrifying. She says indulge on vacation, but in moderation by sharing. She says don’t arrive at a party really hungry because you’re more likely to overeat then, rather than pacing yourself throughout the day. These are sensible comments that, more than anything, seem to offer compromise, a key notion in eating a balanced diet (which, more often than not, has a direct effect on a person’s weight). Additionally, her article is about things people can do for themselves. Your piece isn’t analogous because it focuses on people’s attitudes towards others. The implication is that the author is offering judgments on fat people, while she is, in fact, simply giving advice, for those who want it, in how to eat in a manner that will, in general, help one stay at a desired weight. And finally, you scoff at the advice given of “eat right and exercise”. How can you be so dismissive of these basic tenants of leading a healthy life?

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Lesley on March 22, 2011 at 11:51 pm.

Hi Anon! I think you’re new to this blog, so I’d suggest you check it out a little further before commenting again, as reading more posts will help you to understand my perspective on such matters. It’s kind of difficult to sum up several years’ worth of writing in one response, but believe me when I say everything you mention above has been discussed ad nauseam here before.

Lastly, with regard to how I “framed” this article: say what now? I framed it as a user-friendly list of “problems” and “solutions” in which people may engage in body-policing behaviors, and how they might avoid such pitfalls. I didn’t comment on the original article at all, because there’s nothing to say about “eat right and exercise” that hasn’t been said a bazillion times before, both here and in many other places. The original article is linked so people can read it themselves, if they like, and draw their own conclusions. Truly, the only connection between the two is my recycling of the various situation headings, which I did because in reading the article I thought, hey, these are also situations in which body-policing can take place!

I do not get you, anon. Not one bit.

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kbryna on March 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm.

I’m not even going to bother reading about Gwen Stefani’s “daily struggle” with weight. I *will* say, along the lines of “my deathbed wish won’t be wishing i’d spent more time hating my body,” that all these stories about “struggle” and working on your diet/weight seem to miss that point that there’s NEVER an end. The war is NEVER over. You don’t reach a point in life where you’ve struggled enough and now you get to sit back and enjoy the rewards of the struggle. It NEVER ENDS, except when you die. And what do you have then? A life of struggle? Of self-denial and hours and hours on the treadmill or whatever when you could have been reading a book or playing with your puppy or your child or your vibrator or whatever?
I guess it’s no secret that the “daily struggle” has no happy ending when the struggle ceases and you can relax and be happy, but *I* only recently put all that together in a meaningful way.
I have enough other crap to struggle with every day. Denying myself food, forcing my body to do things that cause me pain, hating myself until I can cram myself into my high-school jeans – that is a struggle I can do without.

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Willow on March 23, 2011 at 1:48 am.

Erma Bombeck wrote an essay in which Sixties era housewives, including her, were reminiscing years later and saying they wished they had eaten more ice cream instead of cottage cheese. I wish I knew which essay that was. She was hilarious.

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Miss Minx on March 24, 2011 at 2:40 pm.

I don’t recall the essay either, but just wanted to chime in with some love for Erma. She was really the best.

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eli on March 23, 2011 at 10:57 pm.

I love the “Damn, you should tell them about your diet!” line.

This has happened SO MANY TIMES. I feel like I should put on running shoes to go into the kitchen at work, so I can make sure I’ve got the speed to get out fast as soon as someone starts talking about their damn diet.

I hate diet talk so much.

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Heather on March 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm.

“Keep your constant internal tally of carbs or calories or “points” to yourself.”

Amen! Because I sure as hell don’t want to hear about them, and I can’t help but think you are telling me to make yourself look like a martyr and to make me feel bad.

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RedPickle on March 25, 2011 at 2:09 pm.

Tomorrow, as I walk around London with hundreds of thousands of other people of various shapes and sizes protesting about cuts to public services, Working for the Clampdown will be running through my head. Thankyou – for me reading this article was brilliant timing!

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Cath the Canberra Cook on March 30, 2011 at 1:15 am.

Wait, what’s wrong with cottage cheese? Sourdough toast plus some fancy gourmet jam + cottage cheese = NOMZ! Love it for breakfast.

Have you ever noticed that the diet police manage to make perfectly innocent foods seem unattractive by association?

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Rebe on May 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm.

This whole article can be summarized with:

“Body policing is bad because I am fat. Instead we should police what others feel, think, say and do.”

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Lesley on May 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm.

Body policing is bad no matter what size someone is. If you think it’s ever appropriate, helpful, kind, or called for, then I am afraid you and I shall have to part ways on this matter, my friend.

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Nynaeve on August 31, 2011 at 7:41 pm.

I was telling my size 0, very athletic, 10% body fat (seriously) friend about how difficult it is to find clothes in my size, and she blurted out, “I’d run my ass off before I got fat!”

O_O

Perhaps “Friend Is Moaning About How Difficult It Is To Find Clothes That Fit” could be a category? :) At any rate, I learned my lesson: keep irritation at dearth of clothes in my size to myself.

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