Monday, December 01, 2008

I don't want to be that person.

So many of the choices I make about living my life are partly to mostly motivated by the sense that I don't want to be that person. Une femme d'un certain age explains why she won't diet:

If I could harness all of the wasted energy I've spent dieting/regaining/agonizing about my weight over most of my five decades of life, it could probably light up Times Square for a year. A few days ago, Duchesse linked to an article from Harpers in 1993, The Weight That Women Carry. In it, the author, Sallie Tisdale says "What I liked in myself seemed to shrivel and disappear when I dieted." That one sentence sums up why I'll never darken the door of Weight Watchers again, or sign up for the "Lifestyle Change*" du jour. Ultimately, I don't like the person I'd have to be to look how I'd like to look. (That person is obsessive, self-involved, self-righteous, anxious.) (links omitted)

I've noted similar problems with people who are obsessed with physical fitness (not just diet, but exercise too) as the path to a good life. There's a degree of one-true-way-ism to most of them (this worked for me, so it must be the way for you) and the self-righteousness that says "I did it, so if you don't, you're not trying hard enough." Neither recognizes the differences among people's capacities and choice fields; neither recognizes the limits on what we can affect through our choices. (While we always have a choice, it isn't always a useful choice, one that affects the outcome; the possibilities don't always include a good option, a choice that makes things better.)

Means and ends both matter.


Steve Perry said...

I made a comment on Lake's blog regarding this, and I might as well offer it here ...

Body nazis are irritating, and as in many things, moderation is the key; however, if you car is designed to run on Ethyl and you use Regular, it isn't going to run as well, and it is apt to die before it should.

Diets to lose weight run up against the homeostasis set-point and usually fail. Neither are diet and exercise cure-alls that will guarantee that you live long and prosper. That said, the quality of life among those who are moderately fit and those who who are not is different.

One doesn't need to look like a super-model and eat like a parakeet. Looking good is not as important as feeling good. But giving up on improving fitness because it is hard is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The argument that obese people live, on average, as long as those who aren't might have some statistical validity. The quality of life isn't the same.

Kai Jones said...

The quality of life isn't the same.

No, it's not. It can be better one way or the other, it depends. I don't want to constantly think about my food. I have reached 47 years old without finding a conventional form of exercise that I enjoy and am good at. And the only times in my life I have been at a weight a doctor would consider normal were when I was under emotional and physical abuse.

My weight gets in my way. My low degree of physical fitness gets in my way. Neither seems as burdensome as a calorie-restricted diet and daily exercise.

Stef said...

[high five]

It's ironic that your first comment comes from the same "one-true-wayism" attitude that you are talking about, only substituting "fitness" for "weight."

If intuitive eating is possible, why not intuitive fitness? I have been at many levels of fitness over the years and for the most part if I am not clinically depressed I want to move in ways I am capable of doing so. (Movement is a broader category than what is typically thought of as exercise, but it all contributes to keeping the body functional.)

I reject the notion that fitness is something everyone has to be constantly "improving," and that if you aren't improving it, you have "given up."

Lady Heidi, Duchess of Kneale said...

I need to lose more than a few pounds. However, since my metabolism is so efficient, I need to go into a state of near-starvation in order to accomplish anything.

When I'm on a diet I'm unhappy. All I can think about is food (and how I can't eat it). I'm short-tempered, easily irritable and hard to live with.

When I'm fat, I'm prone to the blues and I can't be as active as I want to be, and I don't fit into any pretty clothes.

Until I've lost the weight I need to lose, I'm unhappy. But the journey I need to take to get there is fraught with even more misery, and long-term misery at that.

Why can't the weight-loss journey be a pleasant one? I can't think of a single person of my acquaintance who says, "I really enjoy dieting."

Steve Perry said...

Uh, Stef? I'm not talking about the only path up the mountain, I'm talking about being able to *walk* the path. If you see that in my post, you put it there, not me.

For me, fit is better. Being able to haul the garbage cans out and walk the dogs and all is better than not being able to do so. If you believe otherwise, that's your right.

It's quite simple, really; skip all the statistical foo-rah, the social stigma and problems with self-image and health, and ask people who have been both which is better -- carrying too much avoirdupois and lying on the couch? Or being healthy enough to climb a few flights of stairs and not worry about having a heart attack ?

I don't expect the smart money would bet much on the former.

You might find people who have decided the notion of being sthenic is too much trouble who will offer that they don't really care.

That's fine. But writers drop dead on average a lot sooner than a whole bunch of folks, and it's not because they eat well and exercise right. (I am given to understand that symphony conductors as a group are among the most long-lived professionals, and that's probably because they are physically active on a daily basis all their lives. Plus the effects of the music and all.)

I'd bet money that most people would, if somebody could wave a magic wand and make it so, prefer to be healthy, fit, and attractive.

The problem is, that magic isn't available, and what has to be done to get there is, in a word, hard.

I know a man who has sleep apnea. He has to wear a Darth Vader mask to keep him breathing when he goes to bed. He is hugely overweight. He knows that if he drops eighty or a hundred pounds, the chances are very good that the apnea will just go away. But he would rather sleep with the machine.

His choice.

Kai has made her choice and I don't fault her for it. I am just pointing out that such a decision has consequences. If you are willing to live with those, hey, no problem. But if they kill you? That's a different game, isn't it?

When I hear people say, "Hey, okay, so I'm obese, fuck it, I'm fine with it, it doesn't matter." I believe it is their right to say so. But it does matter, medically-speaking. You don't have to like it that it does, but it does matter.

Stef said...

I am just pointing out that such a decision has consequences. If you are willing to live with those, hey, no problem. But if they kill you? That's a different game, isn't it?

Steve, speaking of things that can kill you...people who have no testicles live longer than people who don't, because testosterone shortens a person's life. If you have testicles, would you remove them to gain extra years of life? Why or why not?

Steve Perry said...

In my family, the men last as long as the women.

Your argument isn't valid -- as far as I know, there's no evidence showing that castrati routinely live longer than men who elect to keep their wedding tackle. No way to do a double-blind on that one unless you use twins and then the other parameters have to be the same.

Women on average live longer than men, but ball-less man is not a woman, in any event.

I have yet to meet anybody who prefers being morbidly obese over not being so. People who argue in defense of the condition strike me as rationalizing.

Intuitive eating is possible, but what does that mean? You get to eat anything you want, in any amount? And that is good because ... ?

Deja Pseu said...

Steve - "Intuitive eating" means listening to your body, and making food choices in accordance with what makes you feel best. For example, I've learned that I function best if I eat some protein with each meal or snack, avoid pizza, most pasta and bagels (they give me heartburn), avoid sugary snacks, and I naturally gravitate toward salads. I don't enjoy feeling full. It doesn't mean "eating whatever you want" but it also doesn't mean a lifetime of deprivation, or forcing yourself to eat cottage cheese if you don't like it.

Stef said...

Hi Steve,

There aren't any long-term studies of people who lose lots of weight vs. people who are naturally thin either, for the same reasons there are no studies about castrati vs. intact human males.

There are studies that active people live longer than sedentary ones, but that applies to people of every size. And moderate fitness isn't that hard to achieve at least in people who are not elderly. Most so-called morbidly obese people are quite capable of hauling out the trash and walking the dogs.

Here is a slide show that will help you calibrate what "morbidly obese" actually means in terms of body size:

Here is a book that explains intuitive eating and other aspects of the approach to life called "health at every size."

Intuitive eating is good because once you give yourself permission to eat what you want, your body soon decides that it wants to eat a variety of foods in reasonable quantities, and you don't have to struggle with yourself about food. Also, your weight stabilizes.

Steve Perry said...

I understand the principle, but I have some problems with how people seem to apply it. Given the rise in obesity internationally, it seems apparent that what makes people feel good to eat also makes them fat.

Ditto intuitive exercise.

If one is as fit and healthy as one wants to be, then one can make this argument from a position of strength. If not, then it is only a theory. Evidence is not the plural of anecdote.

I eat what I want, when I want, and I manage to stay relatively fit, so I suspect my intuitive eating works.

Fitness is a priority for me, and I understand that it is not so for everybody. Yet, I have never met, nor heard of anybody who says they feel better carrying eighty or a hundred pounds extra weight than not, outside of sumo wrestlers, where doing so is how they make their living.

Anybody here have more examples?

Kai Jones said...

Stef: Great slideshow, thanks for the link! Look at all those obese people out in the world, walking around, pursuing their hobbies.

Steve: I'm happier at 100 pounds overweight than I was at the normal weight for my height, which is 130. I've been down to 130 once since I was older than 12 (when I achieved my adult height and secondary sex characteristics): it was during the month before my first wedding, when I was throwing up every day from stress and so I could fit into the wedding gown I'd chosen. Even the top of the range for my height (150) is too low for me to have energy, avoid illness, and be emotionally stable--it only happens when I'm stressed out such as going through a divorce.

Stef said...

Steve, you wrote:

You get to eat anything you want, in any amount? And that is good because ...?
I eat what I want, when I want, and I manage to stay relatively fit, so I suspect my intuitive eating works.

I think you answered your own question there.

Yet, I have never met, nor heard of anybody who says they feel better carrying eighty or a hundred pounds extra weight than not

If you only ask people who think their weight is "extra" then by definition you will find they would rather be thin.

I know plenty of fat people whose only weight-related problem is that other members of society judge them negatively for being fat.

I've never met or heard of anyone who wouldn't prefer eighty or a hundred thousand extra dollars per year. But even though the lack of the extra money might change their quality of life, not all of them find the money worth pursuing.

Steve Perry said...

Fine, Stef. And for anybody who believes that being morbidly obese works for them, go with God. It's your life, you get do do it how you like. No skin off my nose. I was just pointing what I believe to be true.

I don't believe people when they tell me they are happier a hundred pounds past overweight than not. I simply don't. And I know what a host of medical problems there are out there connected to the condition, I spent years working in the medical field dealing with them every day.

Okay. I'll shut up. You've got me pegged as a body Nazi, I'm done. Have a nice life.

Master Plan said...

I thought the issue was that diet\nutrition and exercise\fitness are, in fact, very very complicated subjects and as such most folks don't know about them.

Knowing what an internal combustion engine is, having a idea how it works, AND being able to change my own oil do not in fact amount to a working knowledge of cars.

Partly I suspect the "One True Way" folks are a problem here. Always wanting to help folks by evangelizing what worked for them they are often able to trick folks in thinking that thing will work universally.

The next thing seems to be a western-ish view that the body is the enemy that we need to "lose" fat, or "diet" and then be done, like getting new shocks on the car. Follow a specific procedure, get specific results, and that's it.

Since body-image issues are strongly encouraged by the media desires to lose weight, get fit, etc, are often tied more to fear\anger and other negative emotions. Most folks get in shape to be "normal" or to get rid of a "bad" thing, the whole process is associated w. emotional negativity, which encourages failure, and of course those failures are also rolled in to the big ball of self-loathing many of us carry around.

So you're "supposed" to be skinny, but you can't be, and trying to be makes you feel crappy, and it doesn't work, even tho it works for "everybody" else, so there must be something double "wrong" with you if you can't do what "everybody" else can do, and since you don't enjoy the process anyway (dreading the gym\exercise) this all sets up very well for failure.

If it's generally not pleasant, not fruitful, AND stirs up unpleasant emotions...what's the draw again?

Kai Jones said...

Jonas: The draw? The come-on is you'll live a longer life, and during that life, you'll have more physical ability. Those are value statements and they are *always* assumed to outweigh (hehe) the negatives of getting to that "ideal" weight and fitness level.

Master Plan said...

Indeed I think that come-on is a lie tho.

Dieting, doing *things* to directly effect *weight*, doesn't make you live longer or be healthier\fitter. The way it's most often done it just tends to induce muscle atrophy due to insufficient protein\calories.

Which isn't to say I don't understand the draw, having dieted to drop weight\fat myself, just that I think the whole big issue is...well I think it's a Whole and Big issue, not something as simple as "I just can't lose weight" nor "You just need to exercise and diet more" or the other flavors "it" (because health, fitness, and nutrition are just one little subject) gets compressed in to.

It often seems to me like measuring "knowledge" or even "intelligence" using only, say, the number of encyclopedias you've read end-to-end, or strictly how well you've memorized the King James version of the Bible and discounting the rest of it.

For instance to me "health" includes "feeling good" so if one is dieting for health and it makes them feel's already not gone well.

So much of it seems flawed from the outset by very fuzzy thinking (which of course lead to very fuzzy goals).