Saturday, June 03, 2006

Food Wars

Interesting article on the "food wars" going on in the school system . If the changes were about health, I'd love to get behind them: put more juice choices in schools, more trail mix as opposed to Snickers bars in the vending machines, making lunches palatable so you're not rummaging around for snacks all day and scarfing somebody else's pizza... I'd love a food program like that.

But having a pizza party once a week and a cupcake during a birthday party isn't the end of the world. And the more neurotic we get about food, the more we start encouraging binge and purge dieting, particularly in children. If you're not getting enough to eat or eating the right kinds of foods, you're more likely to binge. If you're getting the message that you're supposed to be skinny but your body's set point keeps bringing you back up into the silly "overweight" range on the bizarre BMI scale, you're more likely to start purging or cease eating all together (in my reading about diabetes, I discovered that many teenage type 1 diabetics, particularly girls, will take less insulin and keep themselves at a higher glucose level because they'll burn more fat that way, just like I was unintentionally doing before I was diagnosed. The problem with maintaining a high blood glucose level for a long time is that it puts you at risk for nerve damage [feet get chopped off], kidney failure, and blindess... but you'll be skinny, so you're Really Healthy, right???).

The more you try to limit a person's choices, the more you teach people to agonize over food, the more likely you are to encourage an eating disorder.

Food was a major subject in our house and among our relatives. Everyone wanted a say in matters of our weight. My mother - like, I suspect, many children's mothers - was always obsessing about weight and food. You pick that up pretty quick as a kid, and as kids who were just naturally bigger than everybody else, trying to "lose" those 20 extra pounds ended up sending all three of us into spirals of binge and purge eating styles. Sure, we lost the 20 - then gained 40, lost 30, gained 50. You end up putting more weight on than you would have had if you hadn't dieted.

It's taken me a fuck of a long time to break that cycle.

The first thing my buddy Stephanie's mom said when Steph told her I had type 1 diabetes was, "You mean type 2 diabetes."

Um. No.

The reason it took me so long to crash was because I was in such good shape.

At 200 lbs, obese by BMI standards, I was working out regularly, lifting weights, and for some time, doing boxing classes and jogging as well (looking back on it, I realize I ended my boxing classes about the time I started getting sick. I was just too tired to take that on, and the high-maintenance stuff in my life went first as I got progressively worse).

Now I'm 176, still "overweight" by BMI standards, and sicker than I was 25 lbs ago (working on being less sick, and gaining back some weight).

180 is a "fit" weight for me - below that, as now, is scary. It took me getting deathly ill to get me here.

But what about that pesky type 2 diabetes epidemic (type 2 being linked to excess weight), particularly in children? Well, it turns out those numbers are a little fuzzy, too:

We often hear, for instance, of a rising tide of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, especially in children. But the science behind such pronouncements is shaky. A study of nearly 3,000 children presented at the American Diabetes Association's 2005 conference suggested that a third of the children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with being overweight, were later found to have Type 1 diabetes, linked to genetics.

I would love to encourage kids in particular to eat right, have fun, exercise, make the most of their bodies, live forever. But kids know it's not really about being healthy and living forever. It's about being thin and popular.

When we approach the issue, seriously, as about health and not weight, I think it can be positive and successful. But as long as everyone's completely neurotic about food and weight, we're just going to go on perpetuating unhealthy ideas about exercise and nutrition.

(via bfb)

4 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Spot on.

The truly perverse thing about the BMI system is that it still registers you as "overweight" if you replace fat with muscle. Given that muscle is denser than fat, you could actually be getting skinnier while having the contextless* BMI telling you that you were becoming even more overweight!


*: Because bone structure has nothing to do with how much you weigh, of course. 

Posted by Alec Austin

Krissy said...

Good luck :)

More about BMI:

It is VAIRY dodgy, especially for women. According to a friend of mine (his sister is a PHD in nutrition so I'll take his word), the BMI was developed for the US military some decades ago, and you know how many women were involved in it then. So they Reeallllly stretched what data they had (from nurses and other female staff presumably, of limited age/"race"/life stage categories) and tried to make it fit all women everywhere.

I work at an indoor rock-climbing gym (tho I am too gutless to climb myself - but, as you said, life is short, so I'm lining up a climbing buddy for after holidays)... and some of the girls on the squad, Australian champions and world-class athletes at age 16, still get on the scales at least once a week... even though the coach forbids them to because they freak out about the "FAT" result they get (these kids are pure muscle).

Basically scales are BAD. (Especially ones I saw in Japan, with 3 bars over the weight indicator - thin, good, and FAT. FAT was in red. So sad..!)

Anonymous said...

excellent, excellent post.

future hubby is type 1 also and is going through almos the same thing even though he was diagnosed 20+ years ago. weight constantly fluctuates (sp?) and we're all to blame for making him feel guilty for the extra (even though he is by no means obese on any scale).

Posted by faither

ScottM said...

For once, I have good news to share. A local principal looked at food, free lunch stigma and more. Now cafeteria food is more often eaten; even with an open campus [students can leave during lunch], 90% stay and eat the meals. All it took was listening to the students, some persistance...

(Article here: )