Short Cuts: Tall tales edition

By | April 26, 2011


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Vintage ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes features a winsome curly-bobbed woman and the advice: "To keep a slender figure, no one can deny... Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet."

I was paging through CNN’s Compulsory and Gratuitous Weight Loss Stories (i.e. Health) section the other day, looking for blog fodder, and ran across a story about a woman who used “4 tips” (four? I thought all I needed was “1 old rule”!) to lose 232 pounds. The story itself is a standard weight-loss fairytale. Fat lady has fat and ill elderly family member she has seen suffering; doctor informs her she’s gonna die soon even though she’s not sick; she sees an unflattering photograph of herself and decides today is the first day of the rest of her life and she’s ready to make a lifestyle change! There are a couple of interesting deviations, however.

…Mills went into her purse and pulled out the tips the doctor had given her:

1. Eat 8 ounces of food every 3 hours

2. No sugary drinks

3. Do not skip meals

4. Do not tell anyone what you’re doing

Mills embellished these rules a bit by adding exercise. Her doctor evidently considered exercise optional for improving her health, an oversight both astonishing and illustrative. Tips 2 and 3 I don’t have a problem with, myself: I don’t care for sodas or other sugar-heavy drinks, and it’s pretty rare that I skip a meal. But Tip 1 sounds like a fad diet, and too like a breastfeeding infant’s eating schedule to be a coincidence. How do you live like that? What if you’re not hungry every three hours? Should you wake yourself up every three hours during the night in order to feed? If you’re going to be out all day, must you carry a bunch of individual ziploc bags each containing 8 ounces of nourishment with you? Isn’t that kind of weird and likely to further divorce the dieter from her natural hunger cues, if she was divorced from them to begin with? And isn’t Tip 1 in direct conflict with Tip 4? Wouldn’t your friends and colleagues eventually notice your iPhone alarm going off every three hours, and you immediately chowing down from a pre-measured bag of food like some weird doctor-instructed Pavlovian response? (And mightn’t they attempt to talk you out of such behaviors, which is probably why the tip is up there to start with?)


Mills seems happy enough with her weight loss, and that’s awesome for her. She’s even started doing public speaking engagements in schools on the subject, which is less awesome. Mills’ experience was successful, but it still relies on adopting a disordered eating pattern, one that requires consumption on a schedule that disregards natural biological impulses, for the rest of her life. And it won’t work for everyone in the same way. If it did—if any of these “rule” diets actually worked—we’d have a lot fewer fat people. There is no magical arrangement of foods and times and values and bites and and and! that will uniformly reshape fat people into thin people. The secret is that there is no secret, but so long as people believe there is, they’ll keep trying everything, no matter how strange, no matter the cost.

I never understand the logic behind this stuff anyway. If fat people are a recent development (as so much of obesity hand-wringing seems to suggest), and humans existed for thousands of years with neither fatness nor ridiculous eating “rules” for keeping trim, then why do we need rules now? Unless, of course, it’s not simply a matter of what fatties eat, and that there are lots of intersecting factors that contribute to statistical fattery, only a few of which are within the personal control of each fat individual.

Nah.

From my inbox, sent in by reader Annabel, we have a new study in Pediatrics in which some sciencey types have published the results of a study on risk-taking behavior in death fat teenagers. For the most part, fat teens tend to participate in high risk sexual behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide at the same rates as their thinner peers. Evidently the researchers expected this not to be the case, because nobody wants to hang out with the fat kids, am I right? The hypothesis was that that obesity stigma and isolation would render fat teens into armored beacons of virtue (because engaging in drug use and sexually-risky scenarios have nothing to do with feeling isolated—are these folks sure they’re scientists?). But no, the behaviors of both groups were mostly about the same. Gosh, it’s almost like fat kids are real people!

The new findings surprised lead author Meg Zeller, an associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She said in an interview:

“Given what we do know about what their day to day life is like, extreme obesity in particular being highly stigmatized, we expected that these teens would be more socially isolated and more peripheral in a peer group, and therefore less likely to be exposed to high risk scenarios that a typical teen is exposed to.”

Zeller said she could have guessed an opposite conclusion—that socially, obese teens “are so impaired they are hanging out with kids who are more peripheral as well.”

There were a few exceptions to the overall similarities, however. Both male and female teens of extreeeeme fattery were more likely to have tried cigarettes, and more likely to be active smokers. Also, fat girls tend to be riskier in the sex they do have, being a little more likely to have sex before age 13, and a little less likely to use condoms. However, they were markedly more likely to use drugs or alcohol immediately prior to engaging in sexual activity.

Although the researchers still seem a little flummoxed by these results, I think they’re pretty self-explanatory. For one, it makes sense that fat kids would be more likely to smoke: smoking can be pretty effective as an appetite suppressant, and the concept of using cigarettes to eat less and lose weight was a popular idea even when your parents were kids.

As for the drugs and alcohol before sex? Teenagers are the age group most likely to be obsessed with the imperfect nature of their bodies, and understandably so: they have recently faced all the weirdness of puberty, are beset by wildly fluctuating hormones, and are possessed of bodies that seem to become more monstrous and unfamiliar by the day. And this is all normal! For fat girls, however, who are also affected by the aforementioned obesity stigma, the anxiety and self-loathing may be overwhelming. As fond as I am of saying that I’m not a scientist, I do have a damn MA in developmental psych, and it seems pretty obvious to me that fat girls would be much more likely to self-medicate their body-anxiety away with drugs and alcohol prior to having sex.

Speaking of fat kids! (And ending on an up note!) Helpful reader Alex sent me a heads up regarding a new film starring Jacob Wysocki, whom we all know as Dante from the dearly departed Huge. It’s called Terri, and it co-stars John C. Reilly (whose appearance in anything will always remind me of how I found him so unexpectedly attractive in that mediocre-but-compelling vampire movie whose title I forget right now). The trailer looks charming and heartwarming and all that good stuff, and so I’m looking forward to this film now, as I hope it’ll tread that narrow line between capturing the isolation of a marginalized teen without being overly depressing and tragic about it.

Also? While I love to see sympathetic fat characters in good roles, I do wonder where the charming and heartwarming movies about fat teenage girls are at.


35 Comments

Shieldmaiden1196 on April 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm.

‘Armored beacon of virtue’ made me giggle. Yeah, I was an ‘armored beacon of virtue’ until I got a smoking hot (and also fat) boyfriend in 11th grade. Then the beacon was a little dimmed. There was probably a pair of discarded pants hanging on it.

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Christine on April 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm.

I keep waiting for a smart funny movie about teenage girls that isn’t just about them being mean and catty to each other. (Basically I’m looking for Apatow for the ladies) I know someone was supposed to get on that (Drew Barrymore? maybe?) and yet: nothing I’ve wanted to watch.

Well, I’d write more, but I hear my 3 hour feeding alarm going off. I guess I should go get my scale to measure out my 8 oz. of pound cake!

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Lesley on April 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm.

Actually, speaking of Drew Barrymore, I watched Whip It not long ago, expecting to hate it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not perfect, but it was a really fun lady-centric movie.

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G on April 26, 2011 at 2:27 pm.

8oz every 3 hours? Hmm… I can fit a lot of Trader Joe’s cheesy puff things in 8oz… At least the “do not tell anyone what you’re doing” kept her from being an annoying dieter? Maybe?

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Ashley on April 26, 2011 at 2:55 pm.

I’m not sure about eating 8 oz every 3 hours, but I do like the idea of eating smaller, more frequent meals. The average American is extremely busy. We work all day, run our errands. Many people tend to skip either breakfast or lunch and then have a big dinner, then go to bed with that big dinner just sitting in our bellies. Terrible.

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JillyX on April 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm.

Glad you covered that Pediatrics study – I was hoping you’d have something to say about it. I only read the notorious CNN’s take on it, which was a typical sky-is-falling, “not only are they killing themselves with their fatassery but they’re also into sex and drugs!” story. They found a statistic that the fat chicks were having slightly less sex than their peers and quoted someone saying “…which wasn’t surprising”. Har, har – can’t get through a whole article with no snark. I hope the takeaway for professionals reading this study is to avoid making easy assumptions about the fat kids.

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Alexie on April 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm.

What a peculiar diet! Eight ounces could either be a lot or not very much, depending on what it was you were eating. It’s incredibly unhelpful advice for someone who’s worried about diabetes. I’m sorry to hear she’s giving talks on the subject. There’s already enough bad advice out there on eating without someone else adding more to the pile.

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LadyWhoKnows on April 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm.

I didn’t really like the film Easy A but I did have to commend it for tackling the difficult subject that is the old highschool standard of if you do it you’re a slut, if you don’t you’re a prude. I really thought that the scene that made the biggest statement was at the party after she pretended to have sex with the first guy and everyone congratulated and darn near hero-worshipped him, but ignored her.

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BuffPuff on April 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm.

“How do you live like that? What if you’re not hungry every three hours? Should you wake yourself up every three hours during the night in order to feed? If you’re going to be out all day, must you carry a bunch of individual ziploc bags each containing 8 ounces of nourishment with you?”

Why, yes! Yes, you do! I advise commercial artists for a living, and once advised one who had a timer go off right in the middle of our session. Turned out he was a devoted competitive bodybuilder, and had to mix up and drink some revolting powdered supplement at specific times of the day and that was one of them. (Apparently he’d once been fat but lawdy lawdy he saw the light and was saved!) I remember wondering what ill he thought might befall him if he postponed one of his faux milkshakes for half an hour. Like would one of his biceps deflate? Or would his pecs no longer match? FFS, get a bleeding grip, mate!

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Kirsten on April 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm.

I find it disturbing because it’s a little unrealistic. Most people, you know, have lives and jobs and responsibilities, most of the time that doesn’t cater for them to be so…………..obsessive-compulsive about dieting and weight loss. I already get obsessive about it, so I don’t need more things to obsess about. I have a job that gives me a meal break, but there is no way I can just stop what I’m doing because my iPhone alarm says it’s time to eat yet again. Plus I don’t want to be beholden to that lifestyle if I don’t have to be–like someone else said, it sounds a lot like the care and feeding of an infant (although an infant would be so pleasing for me!)

And what about if at the 3 hour alarm you simply aren’t hungry? Most peoples natural hunger cues are already scrambled. And I really don’t think anyone can take that and say, “That’s right so they could be hungry and not realise it”. No, it doesn’t work that way. Often people confused being thirsty with being hungry, but I’d say that a large part of western society wouldn’t have a clue what true hunger feels like. I know I have a very hard time with it myself.

Once again, the one odd person who is able to make some changes and loses weight, but let’s talk to her again in 5 years and see what she has to say about it. If she’s maintained it, THEN she’s qualified to gives talks about it. If not, then all she’s done is give misinformation and false hope, to children none the less.

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Lesley on April 27, 2011 at 9:10 am.

Like would one of his biceps deflate?

Oh, this killed me.

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Ashley on April 27, 2011 at 11:02 am.

Well that’s how he chooses to live. You might not live that way and that’s your choice but you are being very condensending.

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BuffPuff on April 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm.

Assuming you’re referring to me, Ashley, I thought it was pretty bizarre, (some might say rude and/or unprofessional) behaviour to engage in during a business meeting. It smacks of exactly the kind of obsessive, borderline OCD behaviour Lesley was discussing in her post, which is why I recounted the incident. (And I know from OCD; I have four friends who suffer with it in some form and in varying degrees of magnitude). Also, I take a dim view of somebody I’ve never met before blithely assuming I won’t be offended while they discuss in great detail the measures they’re taking in order for their body not to resemble mine. In my own home to boot.

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kbryna on April 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm.

*Terri* got quite good reviews when it showed at Sundance this winter. I’ve made a point of keeping tabs on some of those kids from Huge – (Ari Stidham, of Ian lust-fame, Jacob Wysocki, our old pal Dante/Piznarski, Ashley Fink, aka Carter, aka Lauren Zizes on Glee) – and I want to see *Terri*. The official trailer makes it seem awfully heartwarming, which isn’t a compliment in my book, but the Sundance reviews made it seem a bit less cloyingly sweet. And I do like that Jacob Wysocki.

Curiously, I just heard about that 4 “tips” diet (from my therapist who is quite awesome). I also feel confused about the 8 ounces – 8 ounces of what? Can I eat 8 ounces of ice cream every three hours, give up sugar drinks, never skip a meal, and remain behind a veil of secrecy and lose 200 pounds? (which would almost totally erase me from this mortal coil, but whatever).
8 ounces of salad?
of chocolate? of cheese? of bread? does it matter?

it IS shocking to learn that Fat teenagers behave just like other teenagers! wow! who’d have guessed?

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jaed on April 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm.

Hmmm. Am I the only one to whom it seemed obvious that the woman profiled at CNN had had weight loss surgery at some point? The “after” picture definitely has the characteristic look. And the story mentioned that she couldn’t eat as much because her stomach had “shrunk”.

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roxie on April 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm.

Cirque du Freak The Vampire’s Assistant
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WSAAtNZwTw

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Lesley on April 27, 2011 at 9:06 am.

THAT WAS IT. Why did I like that movie so much? And why is John C. Reilly so hot in it? I don’t understand!

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roxie on April 27, 2011 at 11:27 am.

I loved it too. It was fun and not dumb. Too bad it doesn’t look like the sequels will be made.

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Lesley on April 27, 2011 at 4:20 pm.

I KNOW. I AM SO BUMMED. I think it was just promoted all wrong. I plan on checking out the books eventually.

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ErinLala on April 28, 2011 at 6:42 am.

I know! My ten year old sister made me watch and I was all “here we go” and I loved it! Was SOOO good! Books are prety awesome i recommend! Also, is it cause he is a bad boy vamp? Cos I have never though he was hot-to-trot before!

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Mary on April 27, 2011 at 12:06 am.

I love how this woman’s goal was to ride a roller coaster at Dollywood and to go to Gatlinburg. Idk, it cracks me up because I worked there during high school. It just doesn’t seem like it would be a life goal for anyone.

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thirtiesgirl on April 27, 2011 at 12:49 am.

I’ve loved John C. Reilly since Chicago. I’m excited to see this movie. Did you notice his uncle is Creed from The Office?

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Lesley on April 27, 2011 at 9:09 am.

I don’t watch The Office myself! But the reader who sent in the link said she found it via an Office message board. :)

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Erina on April 27, 2011 at 7:28 am.

Speaking of the Huge stars, I’d be interested in Lesley’s take on the most recent episode of Glee. Ashley Fink’s character has a big part in it that I think is mostly positive. She’s involved in a helping Quinn, the pretty, blonde, tiny “perfect” cheerleader come to terms with her own body insecurities. I won’t give away too much because it is a major plot line of the episode.

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CTJen on April 27, 2011 at 8:56 am.

Random and, I know, not the point of your post, but I can’t let this go. Keeping a breastfed infant to such a schedule (8 oz. every 3 hours) is a sure-fire way to sabotage breastfeeding. Breastfeeding works best if infants are fed on demand, allowing them to feed whenever they want for as long as they want. It’s the only way to ensure they are getting the correct balance of fore milk (kind of like skim milk) to hind milk (kind of like heavy cream). Babies are natural intuitive eaters.

whew, I feel so much better now.

Keep up the good work, Lesley!

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Lesley on April 27, 2011 at 9:08 am.

Haha, no worries. That’s pretty fascinating.

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Loquaciouslaura on April 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm.

Lesley, I’m surprised you thought you’d hate Whip It! I hope you’ve had the chance to see some actual roller derby, it’s really awesome (and incidentally very body-positive in most all leagues).

Oh and I’m totally planning to eat 8 oz of Waffle House scattered smothered n’ covered hash browns every three hours. Including in my sleep. For the rest of my life.

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Lesley on April 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm.

It’s actually BECAUSE of my familiarity with roller derby that I was dubious! I was worried it wouldn’t be an accurate representation. But I dug it a lot.

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Abbe on April 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm.

I think I understand the don’t tell anyone tip. In my dark days on Weight Watchers I guarded it as a huge secret. All paraphernalia had to be hidden before anyone came over and I would rather avoid social contact than explain my weird food. I think it came from knowing I was going to fail. It was crushing enough to know for myself that I was going to eventually fail, but to tell anyone else and be judged or praised or have any outside input at all was more than I can bear. Especially my mother, god, I would purposefully wear dumpy clothes around her because I knew if I took her weight loss praise then eventually I would have to take her weight gain scorn.
Recalling that is a powerful reminder of how much better I am letting go of all that BS and just being the most fun, stylish, and healthy fat person I can be.
Also, Love love love Jacob Wysocki!

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ToeDipping on April 29, 2011 at 10:40 am.

I just wanted to pass along a link to something I thought you might enjoy Lesley. Happy fat dancing!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcPaN4xiRyY&feature=share

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marjorie on May 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm.

Oh, I fully get the John C Reilly bangability. He just hasn’t had many roles where he’s not a doofus.

I predict we will find him hot in The Hunger Games trilogy.

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antifat on May 20, 2011 at 2:04 am.

OK!!! I’m screaming here… 8 oz every three hours is a small bit of food every so often, similar to if we were GATHERING our food. Like we did for thousands of years…. SHOCKINGLY ABNORMAL. People here talk of natural hunger blah, blah blah… we’re supposed to be hungry sometimes!!! It’s natural! If you feel like this is a prescription for an infant, it IS!!!! An infant can’t feed itself successfully… apparently some need to be treated as such.

EAT REASONABLY, FOLLOW THE FOOD GUIDE IN SMALL AMOUNTS, AND FOR FUCK’S SAKE, WORK OUT LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDED ON IT. GUESS WHAT!?!?
IT DOES!!!

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Lesley on May 20, 2011 at 10:18 am.

Hi! You totally don’t need to scream. I think you might have misunderstood the criticism being levied here, though. I’ve got no beef with folks eating small amounts frequently throughout the day. I know lots of grazers! And if that works for you, then go for it. But I DO think that literally meting out 8 oz. packets of food and, like, setting three-hour timers all day long is awfully pathological, and not really in keeping with our natural hunger cues.

I also think you’re misunderstanding the conversation about hunger itself—responding to natural hunger cues is about knowing when you are hungry and when you are not, and eating accordingly. It’s not that anyone’s saying we should never feel hungry. I’m not sure where you got that.

If you’re upset, which you seem to be, you may not have read things very carefully. I do that too sometimes, so I get it. :D

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antifat on May 20, 2011 at 2:05 am.

and of course my comment is awaiting moderation, you couldn’t let honesty in this fatosphere…
sick

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Lesley on May 20, 2011 at 10:10 am.

All new comments go to moderation. It’s not personal. It’s simply to weed out the rare gratuitous personal attack. As stated in the FAQ, so long as a comment is written in the spirit of continuing a conversation, I’m happy to put it through.

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