Friday, April 22, 2016

Body of Truth

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight--and What We Can Do About It. Harriet Brown. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Harriet Brown's Body of Truth to be a thought-provoking read. Did I agree 100% with everything she said on every page? Probably not. But did she give me something to think about, something to consider, something to take away from reading the book? Definitely.

True or false: Our society is obsessed with weight, and, has been obsessed with weight for decades. This obsession has its dangers no matter your size at the moment.

True or false: Health is important, without a doubt, we should all strive to be healthy--healthier. But is it right--is it accurate--to say that your health is completely determined by a number on the scale or by your BMI?

I think every person--every woman especially--could probably relate to this book. Whether you end up agreeing with it or not, I think it's worth reading. Harriet Brown is one more voice in the conversation about obesity. And some readers will no doubt disagree with her conclusions.

She challenges readers to consider the fact that the number on the scale--the size clothes you wear--may not be "the determining factor" in your overall health, in predicting how long your life will be. Thin does not automatically mean healthy. Fat does not automatically mean unhealthy.

She also challenges readers to consider a few things.

She has PLENTY to say about diets and dieting. Diets don't work most of the time. If by "most of the time" you mean keeping the weight off your body for longer than a few months. Every time you "diet" you end up weighing more than you started. As frustrating as that is, she insists that diets damage your health, the way your body is able to function. She suggests that maybe just maybe "fat people" tend to be unhealthy because they've spent so many years dieting. Of course, that's just one theory. She's not saying she has ultimate proof of this.

95% of people gain back every pound they lose on a diet. Most gain a few extra pounds. Each time you start out to diet, your body has a harder time of getting it off, and a harder time of keeping it off. 5% of people are able to keep the weight off for three to five years. But most do not. I consider these fighting words! (I will be in the 5%. I will do whatever it takes to be in the 5%.)

Stressing about weight could also be a contributing factor to poor health, she argues. Stress is not good for you. We know that. People who spend decades obsessing about their weight, dieting on and off, never happy, always hating their bodies, are decidedly more stressed than people who aren't this occupied, this obsessed with their weight.

Being active is good. People who feel good about their bodies, and "accept themselves" as they are, are more likely to be active, to exercise. If you spend a lot of time beating yourself up about how you look, how "big" you are, hating yourself for eating, hating yourself for gaining weight, hating yourself for failing, then, she argues that you are less likely to be active, to exercise, to make an effort. Is this the kind of statement that IS true or does it just sound true? One point she makes in the book is that you can be classified as overweight and obese on the BMI chart and STILL be active and fit.

People come in all shapes and sizes. A healthy "right" weight for one person may not be a healthy, "right" weight for another person. We do not all have to weigh the same--around the same--to be healthy. For example, 160 may be "just right" for one person, one person's best effort at "thin and healthy." It is difficult to judge health by appearances. One should never assume that a thin person has healthy eating habits and a fat person doesn't. You cannot tell WHO is a vegetable-eater based on appearances alone.

By all means, strive for health in your life. But don't stress with numbers, with comparing yourself with others, with this racing after ultimate perfection. Be you. Be a healthy-you. But don't try to be someone else's idea of healthy.

Some people read the book, I believe, and see the premise: She's telling me I never have to diet again and that I'm healthier if I don't diet. Oh happy day, let's go to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

I don't see it in those terms exactly. I see instead: health is hard to define, and, it isn't so black-and-white as your BMI, or, your number on a scale. How do you feel? How active are you? Is your weight holding you back from living life? Or is your obsession with weight holding you back from living life? What can you let go of? What should your focus be on instead?

I agree that guilt and shame and name-calling are not good motivators to lose weight and keep it off. I know that the only true-and-right motivation has to come from within. And without that inner motivation, it's a waste of time, effort, energy. And without that inner motivation, without that true deep-down commitment you probably are just making yourself unhealthier in the long run by dieting.

Am I pro-dieting? Am I anti-dieting? That's oh-so-tricky.

I personally define diet differently than most, and a lot differently from the author. I see diet not as "what I eat in order to lose weight, or, what I restrict myself from eating in order to lose weight" but as "the food I regularly eat." My advice is simple: NEVER GO ON A "DIET" THAT YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO BE ON FOR LIFE. You could easily eliminate a lot of diets that way. It isn't just losing the weight. It is maintaining and keeping the weight off. (And as one contributor said, maintenance takes up a lot of mental real estate.) If you eat "diet food" the moment you start eating "real food" or "normal food" again, the weight comes back on. You don't need to diet. You need to commit to changing the way you eat not for weeks, not for months, not for years, but for life.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Quotes:
We're in the midst of an epidemic, one that's destroying both the quality and the longevity of our lives. It affects not just us but our children, and likely their children, too. And while this epidemic has been around a while, it's growing at an alarming rate, not just here but around the world. You'd be hard-pressed to find a twenty-first century culture that didn't struggle with it. I'm not talking about overweight or obesity. I'm talking about our obsession with weight, our never-ending quest for thinness, our relentless angst about our bodies. Even the most self-assured of us get caught up in body anxiety: 97% of young women surveyed by Glamour magazine in 2011 said they felt hatred toward their bodies at least once a day and often much more.
We're so used to that constant inner judgment, we don't even think to question it.
Many of us spend a lot of our waking hours on a hamster wheel of self-loathing. We're screwed up about food, too; one recent survey found 75% of American women report disordered eating behaviors.
Each of us thinks our obsession with weight and body image is ours alone.
As health--or at least the perception of health--has become a social and moral imperative, judging other people's health status has become not just accepted by expected.
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it--not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four, or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule your proximity to food, and your feelings. ~ Ellyn Satter
If each of us is willing to just consider the possibility that what we think we know about weight and health isn't as simplistic and clear-cut as we believe, we'd have the beginning of a truly constructive conversation.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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