Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Big, Fat Truth

Tonight, DS wanted to watch, of all things, Morgan Spurlock's 2003 documentary film, Supersize Me.
If you haven't seen it, it's an expose of the health risks associated with the consumption of American fast food with a very personal twist. Spurlock embarks on a 30-day challenge to consume nothing but food from McDonald's.  His quest was inspired by a lawsuit filed a group of teenagers claiming that McDonald's was basically responsible for making them fat.  Spurlock states:

"After six months of deliberation, Judge Robert Sweet dismissed the lawsuit against McDonald's. The big reason? The two girls failed to show that eating McDonald's food was what caused their injuries. Interesting, in only thirty days of eating nothing but McDonald's I gained twenty-four and a half pounds, my liver turned to fat and my cholesterol shot up sixty-five points. My body fat percentage went from eleven to eighteen percent, still below the national average of twenty-two percent for men and thirty percent for women. I nearly doubled my risk of coronary heart disease, making myself twice as likely to have heart failure."

For someone like me, this stuff really stirs up a lot of angst.  You see, I have a confession to make.  I'm fat. 

No, I don't mean that my body is currently carrying around a lot of excess poundage.   In fact, I'm back in most of my "skinny" clothes (including my size 4 jeans, woo-hoo!!).   No, I'm talking about who I am, how I see myself and think of myself.  And that would be as a fat person.

I was born into a family of fat people that goes back on both sides for generations.  I was a scrawny kid who became a chubby teenager and a fat adult.  I had one skinny year in high school, but for the most part, I went through my high school experience feeling miserable about myself and my body.   In college,  I was so busy and active I didn't have much time to think about my weight and by the time I graduated from college, I was a size 5 and had come to think of myself as "normal."  This lasted for a few years, until I got married, had a nervous breakdown (literally), was put on an old-school tricyclic antidepressant, and promptly gained 50 lbs.

Fat again.  Which is pretty much where I stayed for the next 18 years.  My identity as a fat person just became an unassailable truth in my life.  I will always be a fat person, no matter how much I weigh or what size clothes I wear.   My divorce 5 years ago was such a horrific experience that I literally could not eat a thing for months.  I then became something I had never experienced in my adult life:  TOO thin.  I was skin and bones.  Definitely not healthy.

I admit I have a love-hate relationship with food.  For the most part, I have learned to co-exist with it.  I do have my struggles and know I am maintaining a fine balance.  There are days when I eat too much or eat things I know I shouldn't.  I don't worry about it much.  There's always tomorrow.  Then there are times I am just so stressed out and busy I'll get to the end of the day and realize I haven't eaten at all.  I have to snap myself out of it, because it gives me such a feeling of power to know that the food does not control me.  No, too far the other way!!  Balance-- remember??  

And now?  As for my weight...  well, it comes and it goes.  I try to eat well, be active, and focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  Eventually what goes on comes off.

Over the years I've learned a few things.  For example, there are worse things than being fat.  A LOT worse.  Like being cruel and judgmental.  I love clothes and enjoy looking my best, but in the end, as my gramma used to say, "Handsome is as handsome does."  If we don't treat others with the dignity, respect, and compassion we all deserve, then it doesn't matter what we look like, we're ugly.

I've learned to have patience with people who have told me, at various times in my life, "Oh, but you'd be so pretty if only you would lose weight!"  Yeah, that was almost not a crappy thing to say.  Well, guess what?  Self-esteem comes in ALL sizes.  My boss used to get after me about my weight.  I'd tell him, "I come from a long line of distinguished fat people.  I embrace my genetic destiny." (And wish I could add, "Why can't you?")

Watching SuperSize Me made me think about a lot of things I haven't thought about in a long time.  Because for the last 5 years, basically, when people see me and interact with me, they see me as a THIN person.  They don't know I am really a fat person in a thin body.  While I still have plenty of memories, I don't actively experience a lot of the things I did when others perceived me as "fat."

And you know what?  All that stuff came flooding back, and I GOT MAD.  FURIOUS, in fact.

I think the one thing that set me off was an off-hand remark from some member of the Food Police.  The person said, "In the next 20 years, obesity will become the leading PREVENTABLE cause of death in the U.S."

And here is THING NUMBER ONE I am sick to death of:  BLAMING THE VICTIM.  (I realize that's  probably not what the person meant, but it is what most people think.)

Duh!!  Now why didn't I and all the other fat people in America think of this sooner?  If we would just get up off our big fat a$$es and lose weight, we wouldn't die from obesity-related complications!

Because I think that if you look around the WORLD at populations who now eat a Westernized high-fat, high-protein diet, you will see that in places where cancer, diabetes, and obesity were formerly unheard of, the incidence of all of these is rising alarmingly.  Mexico.  Japan. China.  And in this country, the Tohono O'odham nation. Does this mean that after centuries of being thin, all the sudden all these people just have no "will-power" or "self-respect?"

The Tohono O'odham have the distinction of being the fattest people in America.  Why?  Because instead of following the traditional food-ways and life-ways they had observed for many generations, they have been forced to adopt radical lifestyle changes as well as adopting the typical American diet--  a change their biochemistry and genetics have not been able to adapt to.  White flour is literally killing them.

To me, this shows 2 key things:  1)Obesity IS a disease, and 2)the causes of obesity are complex and not well understood.

Seriously, people:  Who would CHOOSE to be fat?  To endure ridicule and scorn on a regular basis?  To face the embarrassment of not being able to fit into a chair at a theater or on an airplane?  Knowing that being obese will almost certainly end up killing us-- who would CHOOSE that?  No one would.  Believe me--  you haven't experienced hostility until you've been a fat person assigned to the middle seat in your row on a crowded airplane.

Would you blame someone for getting the flu? "Oh, you silly person.  If only you hadn't touched that elevator button someone with flu just sneezed on or if only you hadn't stood next to that person....  etc."  No, of course you wouldn't.  Then why is it ok to blame someone for being fat? Or for getting diabetes because they are overweight?  IT'S NOT OK.

Am I saying that as a fat person I have no responsibility whatsoever for my health?  Not at all.  Of course I should try to make good choices and to be active.  But it's not that simple!!  The same diet works fine for some people (most of Western Europe, for example) but causes others to become dangerously obese (Pacific Islanders, the Tohono O'odham).  And what helps one person to lose weight doesn't work for someone else.

Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity.  I hate to say this, but medical people are some of the WORST offenders ever.  They think nothing of making you stand on the scale and then gleefully (yes, I swear, gleefully) repeat the result LOUDLY so everyone in the whole office can hear how much you weigh.  If you ask why they need to get your weight, when you were just here last week, can they just answer your question?  No.  They speak slowly and loudly, as if you have the approximate IQ of a fruit bat AND are deaf too.

Now, I ask you, do you think you would ever hear THIS in a dr.'s waiting room?  "But Mr. Smith, we ask ALL our patients with ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION to step on the scale at every visit, to make sure their ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION is not causing other health problems.  Surely you can understand why that is necessary?"

If you are a woman, I'm sure you hate your yearly GYN exam as much as I do.  Yes, that, and the mammogram, are about as much fun as having your fingernails torn out with red-hot tongs.  So you can imagine how very much I appreciated the attitude I received from one very smug female doc (several years ago) who took one look at me and said, "Well, you know your weight is really going to make it hard for me to do your exam."  I was speechless.   Wish I'd had the presence of mind to say "Well, then I guess I'm lucky you're such a good doctor, not counting your little bedside manner problem."

Which brings me to my last point.  In our society, it's ok to be prejudiced against fat people.  They're just lazy.  They have no self-control.  It's their own fault.  So what if the airplane seats are too small for them?  If they wanted to, they could lose weight and fit into them.

Here's my Christmas Wish:  Let's celebrate everything we love about food this year, be grateful for our blessings, and appreciate the fact that people are basically good.  And let's make it our goal to counter prejudice with love and compassion.  Because we really are ALL ONE.

Chi miigwetch SCL: thank you to my son for creating this logo
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