September 30, 2011

Plus Size Guilt

I was just responding to some comments on the original plus size post and I realized I was writing about as much as I normally do in a blog post. So here are some more of my thoughts on weight, my weighty thoughts.

I think the reason a lot of woman feel badly about being overweight and hate their body is because they feel like they shouldn't BE fat--that they obviously made a concious choice to overindulge, so it is all their fault--like being a certain size is  an indicator of virtue. Now I am NOT implying that someone else is responsible for how fat you are--you can't sue McDonalds or society. But at the same time, there are sometimes biological reasons (stress, depression, hormonal imbalances, seasonal changes, etc) that can can subconsciously push  people to over-indulge. Think PMS chocolate cravings, ice cream therapy, and fall soups, stews, and casseroles fattening you up for the upcoming winter. Then there are some naturally bigger people, who couldn't be thin unless critically ill.   We are victims of circumstance!

The truth of the matter is, Americans overindulge. It is that simple. Afterward, we guilt and anguish and self loathe, telling ourselves that if we have our legs chopped off at 45 because of diabetes it isn't our fault. (Or am I the only one who talks to myself like an indignant mother?)

Every once in awhile, we read about Europeans. How they eat "horrifically" according to American doctor standards, yet are thinner than Americans. The reason is pretty simple. Italians and French don't do guilt about food--it isn't in their lexicon. Food should ALWAYS be good or what is the point of eating it? American women (yes I am stereotyping!)  feel like they should be existing on salad, fat-free yogurt, and diet soda. Not a scrap of which is going to trigger your brain that your stomach is full and satisfied. Which means food is on your mind a lot. There is this vast realm of forbidden food, anything fried, anything with cream, anything with fatty meat, anything with lots of butter in it--pretty much most Italian and French foods.

I  remember reading an article about a mother who had a 10 year old daughter who craved chocolate all the time. It was getting to the point of being excessive and the 10 year old was gaining weight. The mother went to a doctor (or was it psychologist?) who suggested doing the counter-intuitive thing of stocking the kitchen with never ending chocolate. The girl was told she could have as much chocolate as she wanted and her mother would always replenish it. The first week, the chocolate was completely finished every day. The second week, there was a little left over each day. This went on until the mother was restocking chocolate only once or twice a month. The girl's weight stabilized at a healthy weight and she still loved chocolate. But the compulsion to eat had been removed. The article said it was due to the girl being reassured that there would always be chocolate to eat and it was okay for her to eat it. The guilt was removed.

Sounds simple enough. But how can you remove guilt that is so ingrained in our brains? If I stocked a never-ending supply of reeses peanut butter cups and fettucinie alfredo, I would be thinking "I shouldn't, I shouldn't" the entire time. I think I might go crazy. Indulgence and restraint would be yelling at each other in my head and I wouldn't be able to hear myself think over the din.

If we were going to blame anyone, I think we could trace all this back to society's Puritanical roots. The Puritans were over here making life difficult for themselves and likening laughter to the devil, while the French and Italians were living the life of Riley (what does that mean?)  and enjoying themselves immensely. We excel at guilt while Europeans corner the market on pleasure.

 Can you sue the people who founded your society? I think the Puritans would have been disdainful of  lawsuits.


Virginia said...

Oh boy, where to start. WELL, first, I think you're very right, that the mental issues surrounding women and food in the U.S. are ridiculous. Guilt, guilt, and more guilt. Recently, I've gained weight, which is a first for me, really. So now I know about guilt: when I don't exercise, when I eat food (let alone unhealthy food), etc. Now when I go out to eat and really want a hamburger and fries, I leave feeling fat and gross and ill. But is it a physical thing or is it a mental thing? I've never really felt ill before, so I think it's actually a mental thing. I feel so guilty that it becomes a physical manifestation. So I get the guilt thing. And it is no fun. Stupid Puritans.

Second, recently, the French have actually begun to have increased heart disease, etc., so they're not as healthy as they once were. But I'm sure you've heard of the Mediterranean diet and Europeans, especially the southern Europeans, tend to have a much healthier diet. Less processed foods (cheese, fresh veggies), more healthy fats (olive oil, fish), and it's all eaten in a more leisurely fashion. Stress changes how your body metabolizes food by making it less efficient. Stress increases fat. They are a much less stressed group of people by the Mediterranean Sea. Better food, less stress. Let's go!

This will not help your medical issue anxiety at all, but there are such things as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals that mess w/ your endocrine system AKA hormones. These chemicals either block hormones or mimic hormones, resulting in messed up bodily functions. Almost all the major diseases in Americans (cancer, diabetes, heart disease) can be a product of EDCs. BPAs are the most famous of these, but there's lots out there and they come not just from plastic leachates, but from pesticides, industrial chemicals, fats in foods exposed to EDCs. They're very pervasive. I attended a conference once where one of the presentations was about this and the woman presenting said she believed from the bottom of her heart, this is the biggest threat to American health and that the big diseases all stemmed from Americans' ignorant and/ore careless use of chemicals that are inadequately tested. Mom has similar beliefs. The states w/ the highest obesity rates not just have poor health habits, they also tend to have the least strenuous laws about chemical use, mostly industrial. And that's the big reason behind the push for organic food and BPA food containers. Endocrine disruptors can be directly related to obesity, so I think we also have to add Americans have that to contend w/ as well.

Sheena said...

It is interesting to learn why and how we eat (other than to stay alive:>). Wayne and I have always found it intriguing how certain families are different. Mine and his for instance. When I was growing up, we normally had a pantry and refrigerator stocked with a lot of food. Healthy stuff - fruit, nuts, and meals, and also not-so-healthy - pop, candy, desserts. As kids, we never got too excited about food, it was always around. Desserts would go bad and have to be thrown out, and pop would get stale and taste like aluminum. Wayne, on the other hand, remembers fighting with siblings over dessert, raiding the kitchen before groceries even got put away, and eating more than his share, because there wouldn't be any leftovers later. So, two very different food/eating habits. Very interesting. We have also observed other families that fall into one of the two categories.
So, I think the story of the girl having access to unlimited chocolate has a point. Not to sound like my family's way was superior, but I do think it made us learn to eat what our body 'needed' and not what our eyes 'wanted.' For example, all three of us would and still do eat lots of fruit, sometimes preferring it to dessert. I just read an interesting article about the non-diet: eating what your body is 'telling you' it needs. Might sound a little bit froo-froo, but maybe has a point.

Connie said...

It is funny how food affects each person differently. I def agree that creating a stigma about food=fat at a young age is probably the worst thing you can do. Once somebody has it in their mind that they are "destined " to be overweight I think they probably will be. The psychological effects of how we were raised def play a large part in our outlook. Like Sheena said about differences in upbringing, we weren't really allowed a lot of junk food so when we did get our hands on some it was "eat the whole bag of Halloween candy in one day" kind of thing. I think- when I was a teen and wasn't home often I began not caring about food and hence I never fell into bad eating habits. I actually ended up not liking sweets very much. As far as what's healthy. . . I think being 10-20 pounds overweight is by no means unhealthy. But when you have high blood pressure, diabetes, it high cholesterol to name a few weight related issues- it can be very hard on your body. I think people should focus on eating healthy instead lo being skinny and a lot of problems could be avoided.