Saturday, April 12, 2008

Answering the wrong question

An article from BBC News announces that eating breakfast "keeps teenagers lean", quoting one anti-fat proponent as saying this revelation is "ironic". The researchers noted that those who ate breakfast were less likely to be lethargic and inactive, so their higher activity levels resulting from this morning fueling compensated for the calories eaten, and then some, leaving the breakfast crowd thinner than those who avoided eating breakfast.

What bothers me is that they were looking at how thin the subjects were, instead of how healthy they were. The message of "eating breakfast will make you thinner" is less important, in my opinion, than "eating breakfast makes you feel more energized, and lets you do better in school and other activities." The fact that they need to use the carrot of thinness to grab peoples' interest makes me very sad, because I know that, even if the researchers felt that feeling better is more important than being thin (and that's a BIG if), our anti-fat atmosphere really promotes thinness over actual health and well-being. In fact, thinness seems to be regarded as shorthand for health and well-being, even though that isn't really true.

What researchers really need to be looking at is whether or not something makes people feel better and live more fulfilling, productive lives. I can definitely argue that eating breakfast DOES do those things, which is a good reason to eat it. Instead, we're worried about what will make people thinner, and it's a neurotic obsession that drives people to waste their lives weighing food, deliberately going hungry in an atmosphere of plenty, and eat foods they don't actually enjoy. Even when we ask about quality over quantity, those seeking thinness claim that there can be no quality of life without being thin--and I, and all the other FA bloggers, want them to know that it is simply not true.

Believe me, I do understand that discrimination and cruelty affect quality of life--I do! But instead of torturing your body in trying to make it more acceptable, which is usually an exercise in futility, join us in fighting for social change. Know that you've got a whole group of smart, strong, outspoken fat folks who are ready to support you. Know that yours is a shared experience.

So ask this question when a new study comes out: How will this make my life better? Don't worry about whether it will make you thinner.


Heather said...

When I saw a nutritionist the first thing she said was she wanted to see me getting more of my energy from food, rather than caffeine. It makes sense that maintaining adequate caloric intake is essential in keeping one's metabolism in good working order.

People keep forgetting that when your metabolism is trying so hard to maintain body fat, it'll sometimes consume muscle instead of fat. Muscle like, say, your heart muscle.

The importance of eating is lost on most people, which is the true irony of the dieting craze. When I started eating regularly - full meals - I felt immediately better than when I'd been starving myself.

mumboj said...

I don't like the way they describe an obsession with thinness at all costs, as 'body consciousness'.

To me body consciousness is when you don't just own your body but it acts with you as one, it is indistinguishable from you, like your mind.

Treating your body as an object that you have to watch and admonish lest it reveals its tendency to misbehave is not a 'consciousness' worth having.

Erin said...

It is my observation that medicine has become very lazy in recent years. At one point in history, doctors were trained as diagnosticians and looked at, if not the whole person, multiple factors in diagnosis. Now most rely heavily on numbers from blood tests -- they are easier to read and quantify. It's the same with weight vs. health. Health is complex and multi-faceted, and well-being moreso, while weight (or BMI) is just a number, and it is far easier to analyze and give concrete results with numbers. Combine that with the OMG EPIDEMIC and *poof* breakfast makes you thinnner.

Anonymous said...

The focus on thin over healthy is definitely *un*healthy. Especially since the article itself demonstrates this; many women and girls skip breakfast because they think they need to lose weight. But more annoying to me is the presumption of causality.

Just because thinner people eat breakfast more often does *not* mean that eating breakfast causes them to be thinner. That kind of pseudo-science makes me grind my teeth, and, tragically, sometimes lost my appetite.

If you have a naturally high metabolism, you will be pretty hungry after sleeping for eight hours. If you have a slow one, forcing food into your unwilling stomach may not change your metabolic rate. The article doesn't even address the difference.

Though possibly somebody could actually *check* that, and then if the results were repeatable, we'd know. Crappy science makes the fat lady cry, news people.

Yummy Rum said...

It really bothers me how they have to break down the "benefits" of breakfast as more energy => more active => calories of breakfast plus more burned off, and that's supposedly "ironic". As if breakfast was the exclusive domain of fatties before this ground-breaking, world-changing insight into human health was revealed.

Anonymous said...

a-freakin'-men, sister. thank you!

this horseshit makes my head explode every time it comes up; usually my poor sweetie has to apply burn ointment to whatever side of his head was facing me when the flames shoot out of my mouth, sputtering over the appalling stupidity. i think he might be more thankful for the feminist/fatosphere blogs than i am - it spares him a lot of pain.

Cherie said...

Excellent, timely post! Thanks!

Good observations on the difference between 'thin' and healthy.

"'s a neurotic obsession that drives people to waste their lives weighing food, deliberately going hungry in an atmosphere of plenty, and eat foods they don't actually enjoy. "

YES! Great point.

Once my daughter and I realized that we should embrace food for the colorful, tasty, bit of life that it is instead of trying to manipulate food 'products' into serving us with weight loss results we began to know satisfaction in eating, and the fat slowly leaves. But more importantly, we ENJOY eating again - maybe really for the first time. We set a beautiful table, bring the foods to it with joy, eat mindfully, savoring REAL food, and all that needing to be 'thin' and the obsessions it creates just vanish.

Society is really messed up when it comes to health and 'body image' and 'thinness' etc.

I appreciate your blog so much! Thanks.