This week, some big name pagans have posted about the Obesity! Crisis! (hereon called OC), and my fears were realized. (Un)Fortunately, what you hear/read is mostly the sympathetic, "help the fatties" sentiment. Questions were raised about conventions, events, activities, and speeches about health in our community, and while I think it would be a great idea to have people like Linda Bacon, Ph.D or Ragen Chastain speak at these places, I highly doubt these are the people that they were thinking about asking.
One common thread in every post can be summed up by Peter Dybing:
"One of the most valued principles within the Wicca community is that all bodies are sacred and beautiful."
I whole-heartedly agree! If he, and the others, had stopped at that, I probably wouldn't be writing this post. Dybing goes on to say, "This is so engrained in our culture that that we have developed a collective amnesia concerning the health affects of obesity." I really don't think that is true. I think that a good portion realize, consciously or subconsciously, that the mainstream belief on obesity is false, or at least that diets suck, and have ditched the body hate.
Dybing also gave a few OC data points. Let's look at them.
1) "Obesity is the #2 cause of preventable death in the United States" - It could be considered "preventable", if those who dieted/lost weight had a better chance then the current 5% success rate. No one knows how to make a naturally fat person thin, or vice versa for that matter. Diets do not work, and study after buried study is proving that. For instance, this 2007 UCLA study (pdf) looked at 31 earlier studies and determined that:
"[D]ieters were not able to maintain their weight losses in the long term, and there was not consistent evidence that the diets resulted in significant improvements in their health. In the few cases in which health benefits were shown, it could not be demonstrated that they resulted from dieting, rather than exercise, medication use, or other lifestyle changes. It appears that dieters who manage to sustain a weight loss are the rare exception, rather than the rule. Dieters who gain back more weight than they lost may very well be the norm, rather than an unlucky minority." (Emphasis mine.)Also, this study, who were the original scientists who published the first paper on deaths by obesity, had this to say:
"According to the [second] study, obesity and extreme obesity cause about 112,000 deaths per year, but being overweight was found to prevent about 86,000 deaths annually. Based on those figures, the net U.S. death toll from excess weight is 26,000 per year. By contrast, researchers found that being underweight results in 34,000 deaths per year." (Emphasis added.)So, in with those actual numbers, Obesity would fall to #8, below firearms deaths and above STIs.
2) "60 million Americans, 20 years and older are obese" - Also, 40% of Americans have brown eyes, equaling to about 124 million.
3) "9 million children and teens ages 6-19 are overweight" - 16 million children live in poverty in the United States alone. If I had more time, I would draw the correlation between poverty, food deserts, and how that affects children. Also, this.
4) "Being obese increases the risk of health conditions and diseases including: Breast cancer, Coronary heart disease, Type II diabetes, Sleep apnea, Gallbladder disease, Osteoarthritis, Colon cancer, Hypertension and Stroke" - Actually, no. Obesity has:
"been shown shown to protect against a variety of problems, including “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Fat people also have lower rates of emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hip fracture, tuberculosis, anemia, peptic ulcer and chronic bronchitis."And being overweight and obese can actually boost your survival rate after a stroke. (If you need something a bit less science-y, check out this link.) Like Margot Adler said, "The truth is that fit overweight people usually don’t have many medical problems."
Now, specifically moving to the Firefly Chronicles post, let's talk about a few things. If you remove the mention of obesity from Iris Firemoon's post in the beginning, you have an article about the Natural Food diet (diet here meaning what you eat as opposed to diets like Weight Watchers). It's about eating healthier and being in good shape to improve your life and it touches on some of the problems people face in the U.S, like insurance coverage and questionable restaurant foods. In ways, she echos threads from Health At Every Size.
But then it starts getting dicey at the end, and I get a particular rub with "Making healthier choices is not an easy start. It hurts at first. It doesn't taste good at first. It doesn't bring us pleasure at first." and "How does the community, with the resources available, address obesity?" Obesity isn't the problem, people who think that obese people aren't doing X, Y, or Z and are fat because of it are the problem. People who think they can judge a person's health by the way that they look are the problem. People who think they can simply judge people are the problem. Fat shaming is the only discrimination where the victims actually believe they deserve it. They don't, no more than anyone else deserves it. No one deserves hatred of any kind. [EDIT: Isis Firemoon has since changed her article. For context, and to preserve the article, I'm leaving these two paragraphs up.]
How then should the Pagan community deal with it? Like they always do, with science as their partner and human rights Second in Command. With a posse of facts and the normal banter.
Here then, are my facts for a better alternative, the HAES alternative.
First and foremost:
"Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle do cause health problems, in people of all sizes. This is why it’s so fucking crucial to separate the concept of “obesity” from “eating crap and not exercising.” The two are simply not synonymous — not even close — and it’s not only incredibly offensive but dangerous for thin people to keep pretending that they are. There are thin people who eat crap and don’t exercise — and are thus putting their health at risk — and there are fat people who treat their bodies very well but remain fat. Really truly."Second,
"Health at Every Size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting good health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:
• Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
• Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety and appetite.
• Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital."
Third, HAES is more effective to long term health than dieting:
"Cognitive restraint decreased in the health at every size group and increased in the diet group, indicating that both groups implemented their programs. Attrition (6 months) was high in the diet group (41%), compared with 8% in the health at every size group. Fifty percent of both groups returned for 2-year evaluation. Health at every size group members maintained weight, improved in all outcome variables, and sustained improvements. Diet group participants lost weight and showed initial improvement in many variables at 1 year; weight was regained and little improvement was sustained."This, and this and this and this and this and this. This with tears and shaking anger. This with happiness. This with gusto and fervor. This for the bookworm in me, and this with sadness.
The question then becomes, why didn't we have this lifestyle in the first place? The next question is why don't we adopt it now that we know about it?
By accident, I stumbled across an article about stereotypes (regarding immigration and work, but whateve') and it errily fits this situation somehow.
"As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once pointed out, the problem with stereotypes isn’t that they’re untrue; it’s that they are incomplete. If you go to Mexico, you can find a guy in a sombrero playing mariachi music. He does exist. But he can’t represent all of Mexico."Yeah, you will have the stereotypical fat person who is sooooo fat that they cannot move by themselves or even get out of bed. But no matter how you cut it, that person can't represent all of the fat people. Hey, isn't that just like the saying about how no one pagan can represent the whole? Hmmm.