Does This Woman Need to Lose Weight?
I was motivated to write this after a friend in London (pictured) recently employed a personal trainer. This is how she described the first session, “Just endured the worst PT session in which a super-lean trainer on the unprocessed foods-only ‘caveman diet' told me I'm carrying 5% too much body fat. Time to stop eating for the foreseeable future! Makes you wonder about society when ‘you can afford to lose a few kgs' at a dress size 10.”
Ever decreasing circles – enough is enough
This recommendation cannot be for health reasons. Are women so awful we have to disappear ourselves?
This size 10 (US size 8) woman is being whipped – and used – to whip those of us bigger than her. Because if she must lose weight – what’s the message to the rest of us? Knuckle down, get on a diet and a treadmill, or stay low-key, out of sight.
Weight a moment, nothing to lose
That's my headline.
Here's a selection of headlines taken one day last week in the UK, but they but could have been anywhere in Western society:
‘Biggest loser regains weight…’
’Mexico overtakes US in obesity stakes…’
‘Diet books top the bestseller list…’
’Diet guru Doctor Dukan is censured by French medical body … ’
and to quote a blogger,
“The number on the bathroom scale was the highest I’ve ever seen… yikes.”
So, nothing out of the ordinary here… just an average news day but, if you had landed from Mars, chances are you might think Earthlings had gone a little crazy. And you may be right.
Earthlings are confused
We have got ourselves into a right old pickle about one of our basic needs, which should be nourishing and pleasurable: food.
Food, health, weight and shape are all thrown into the one confusing and vexatious box. Many of us know the fat content of an avocado, the calorie count of a stick of celery … and yet … no longer know what normal eating is, and some believe food is an enemy to fight (or make peace with).
Laughing all the way to the bank
The stories behind the headlines are of success and failure, and behind each one there is euphoria, disappointment, damaged self-esteem and a multi-billion dollar business.
The diet and food industries are closely allied. Sometimes they are joined at the hip: on the one hand manufacturing and selling ‘weight loss’ programmes and diet products and, on the other selling ‘regular’ food and ‘health’ products.
From their perspective, this makes good business sense: there’s a lot of money to be made from failed diets.
Show me a woman who has dieted once, and I’ll show you ten who have lost weight and then regained it.
Where did it begin?
So, how did we get to this situation? Well, if I could answer that I’d be rich.
Women’s self-esteem is closely linked to self-image and yes, the media, and the diet, fashion, film, food, cosmetic and advertising industries are on hand to support (or exploit) that fact.
And then there is us. Let’s take responsibility: somewhere along the line, we have bought into this painful exploitation.
A breastfed baby lets its mother know when it's had sufficient or is full. She turns her head away. The mother has no idea how much baby has had. But baby is contented. So Mother is able to relax.
On the other hand: mother of a bottle fed baby is ‘advised' that, “at four months baby needs ‘x’ ounces of formula” …baby turns away, mother get anxious…
Has baby had enough? Better prompt her to have more…. So the first steps of not trusting our internal hunger cues begin … The Company knows best.
And forgive the cynic in me, but would a company recommend the least or the most amount of formula? And let’s remember that individuals’ food needs are, well, individual. How could any company know, other than an average?
I don’t criticise mothers who bottle-feed. I did myself, and know women do it for a variety of reasons. I mention this simply as an example of how our relationship with food is influenced.Cut now to a headline in one of the UK's leading newspapers:
‘Out to lunch? Burgers and nuggets still dominate child menus’.
The article, was reporting the results of a survey undertaken by ‘secret diners’ on behalf of a charity campaigning for better restaurant food for children.
They want a number of things; that children’s portions of adult meals are routinely offered, food should be freshly prepared in the kitchen and kids’ cutlery is standard size. Many of the 20 or so popular high street restaurants were criticised for ‘turning the restaurant table into a battlefield.’ 66% of parents in the survey said provision for children is inadequate and only 11 of the 21 restaurant chains were willing to tell researchers where they sourced their food.
Isn’t she lovely? (or not!)
Add to this the endless comments on, and photographs of, women's bodies – regarding them as public property.
A few weeks ago a British sports’ commentator remarked rudely (but, apparently, in a “nice way”) on the physical appearance of this year’s Wimbledon Women's Tennis Champion, Marion Bartoli. Never the less he was allowed to commentate on the men's final the following day.
On the same day, the front-page headline in a supplement of the UK broadsheet the Guardian read: ‘Why’s that lady got no skirt on?’
It was trailing an article about how pornography has invaded British public life. (I’ve no reason to think this is different in any other Western Country). Inside, the headline read, ‘Wherever we take our kids, they’ve got to look at all these images’, and goes on to discuss how images of naked women sit next to children’s comics on the shelves, and scantily clad models are draped across the nations billboards.
Eighteen years ago I wrote Diet Breaking, a book about women's insecurities about our bodies and how this is exploited by those industries I’ve already mentioned. As the headlines confirm, the situation hasn't improved in the intervening years. I would say it has worsened.
Where do I begin?
Two important messages:
1) Eating and enjoying food is normal
2) We come in all shapes and sizes.
If you're having difficulties around food, weight or body image, my advice is to see a qualified counsellor and/or a remedial personal trainer. Before working with them, talk to them and check out their approach to healthy living.
Avoid diet gurus or organisations that make their profit from you feeling bad about yourself – and then want to sell you their magic solutions. Avoid body fascists (who may well have their own personal issues but sublimate them with punishing exercise regimes for the likes of you and me).
My experience is they may have ‘great' bodies (in their definition) but can only respect other ‘great' bodies – their loss!
What we want, what we really, really want
We need to honour and respect our bodies and make peace with food. And then teach our children to do the same.
Here are a few simple rules we can all follow that don't cost a fortune:
1) Eat when we're hungry
2) Stop when we're full
3) Buy/grow fresh food that comes from plants (not produced in plants)
4) Don’t buy food with ingredients your grandmother can’t pronounce or keeps in her cupboard.
5) Move our bodies regularly
– and then, let’s be really radical…
6) Enjoy our food and get on with life.
However much we are struggling with our own body and food issues, we women must stand up and say, “Stop! Enough is enough. I will not be part of this sexist, women-hating, nonsense.
(c) Mary Evans Young
Mary is a qualified psychotherapist and life coach. She lives in Oxfordshire, England.
Her latest book (with Derek Evans) is:
Ageing with Attitude, a guide for baby boomers not ready to hang up their boots
Her other books include:
Diet Breaking, having it all without having to diet
You Count, Calories Don’t
Mary is also the Tea Shop reviewer for The Oxford Times/Mail