Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lipid II

I seem to be surrounded suddenly by obesity discussion. I posted on it two nights ago, and suddenly a report comes out which shows an increase in obesity and unhealthy eating, particularly in young people. Hack did a show on it (which I missed, but plan to catch up on).

Spilt Milk very kindly dropped by from her blog to take me to task and pose some interesting questions about my own perceptions of obesity, body image, diet and weight. As usual I began in the comments box, hit Chapter 4 of my response and admitted that this was an issue which required its own blog.

You can read Spilt Milk’s entire response to my previous post in its comments section, but I was most interested in the questions she posed to me and I’ll answer them in sequence here.

Can the majority of people achieve long term weight loss?
This is a yes/no question in which both answers can be successfully argued as incorrect because its parameters are unclear enough to leave open debate. What is meant by “majority”, “long term” and “weight loss”? In fact, given that there is no perfect weight, why focus on loss?

Does attempting to lose weight (dieting) carry health risks?
Yes. Again, if the focus is on losing weight, instead of living healthily, then absolutely yes. But the word ‘dieting’ here needs qualification because it is an extremely loaded term. Technically, we are all ‘dieting’, we all have ‘diets’. However, the word ‘diet’ has come to mean ‘eating less’ or ‘eating plan focused on simply weight reduction as opposed to long term health’. The factor at variance is the quality and balanced of the food consumed.

Is dieting in one's lifetime associated with higher weight?
Again, this question is too broad to successfully give a yes/no answer without qualifying one's response, or clarifying the terms used.
I'm of the opinion that 'dieting' is an old-fashioned, unhelpful word for 'eating' - as old-fashioned and unhelpful as 'fat'. Taken literally, this question asks 'Is eating associated with higher weight?' to which of course the answer is 'yes', even if only because the converse is also true - 'Is not eating associated with lower weight?'
I'm going to assume that the underlying meaning of this question is more specifically:

'Is attempting to modify one's diet purely with the goal of losing weight (as opposed to overall health) associated with long-term, low health patterns; one of the indicators of which can be higher weight, particularly if an individual is already pre-disposed to higher weight?'

To which of course the answer is yes. But the implication of this question is a moral one, pointing towards a negative attitude towards impelling people to change their diets with the singular goal of losing weight. This is a straw man - no one seriously involved in this discussion would agree with telling an unhealthy person to reduce their eating or change their diet purely for a change in body shape.

Is correlation (obesity with diabetes) causation?
No. But correlation can be indication. An indicator (obesity) is more useful than a cause in this discussion because it is given equal relevance to a discussion on health to other indicators (of diabetes, for example) and can also be addressed as part of a health plan, rather the focus of it. The removal of cause also removes blame, which I believe is one of the primary reasons for FA or HAES activism.

Does social isolation cause health problems?
This is another straw man, the implication being that without a FA or HAES societal attitude, people are given the unwelcome choice between the documented health problems caused by unhealthy attempts at weight loss and the documented health problems caused by the social isolation currently visited upon fat people.

Is a 'personal responsibility' approach the best to take towards public health problems?
This is one I can't answer. Public health is a really broad area, and by definition, not personal. Hand washing is a public health issue, but requires personal responsibility for its function to succeed. Ditto immunisation.
I'm not sure obesity is a public health problem, but it can have public policy implications (increased need for treatment for ailments indicated by obesity, etc), but this is a democracy and that's what we pay our taxes for: to help each other.

What percentage of obese people are the obviously fat, 'morbidly obese' size?
(I'll answer that one - it's about 6%. The vast majority of people counted in obesity statistics are not considered very fat by societal standards.

Check out the BMI gallery at Shapely Prose to see what I mean).

I guess what I'm saying is that many assumptions underpinning 'mainstream' beliefs about fat and health can be proven wrong or at least a little wobbly. Always great to have people join in the conversation :)

I guess what I'm saying is this that in order for the whiff of denial to be eradicated from this discussion on bodies, these types of questions and implications need to be respectively answered and avoided.

More to the point: medical discourse surrounding weight is results-focused. It simply does not have the complexity or depth to take into account the lived experience of existing in a body which it has termed to be insufficient. Medicine is purely a science. Science is based on quantifiable results, not the external realities of how those results are interpreted and utilised. Science cannot predict, explain or treat some dickbrain screaming 'You ate all the pies!' from their car window at a diabetic.

But I’m still wondering: in a Fat Acceptance or Health At Every Size disourse, can obesity or even body size can be discussed at all? Is discussing ours and each other’s bodies out completely?

Elephant In The Room: This is the one I'm not qualified to discuss, but cannot move forward without addressing. Fat is a Feminist Issue. I'm a man. The experience is and will always be different. This doesn't mean I should bow out of the discussion but it needs to be acknowledged that most of the discourse surrounding health and weight is carried by women. Before we start making rules about how obesity and weight should be discussed, it needs to be acknowledged that men's bodies and women's bodies are treated differently in our culture and so the solutions and strategies for Fat Acceptance and Healthy At Every Size activism need to take that into account - something which I'm yet to see happen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Got a real hit spike from blue milk for my sleepovers post. I went back to leave a responce and noticed the metric-shitload of feminist motherhood/parenting/but mostly motherhood blogs she has in her linkage. So I hit up Spilt Milk and found a post about something called Fat Acceptance or Health At Every Size. It was crafted as a responce to a blog of John Birmingham's.

Instead of blogging on someone else's comments page, I decided to put off the PhD for (yet another) night and think this one out right here. I would welcome any thoughts on this issue.

I'm having a bit of trouble getting my head around this concept of Fat Acceptance. I'm not going to read JB's blog because I like him as a gonzo journo, but as a blogger it's obvious the pressure to push instead of polish is getting to him.

I'll roll with Fat Acceptance and Health At Any Size. I'm completely in agreeance with a philosophy of body autonomy and I realise that divorcing external moral pressure from health care is of primary concern if we're all to move forward to the spaceships (Bill Hicks - not me - not crazy!).

But I'm still curious. Is there a line? I'm assuming that FA/HAES is about having each person draw a personal line between 'Screw everyone, I'm just fine actually' and 'My chances of heart disease could be lowered if I changed'.
I also assume that it's at the other end too - skinny people cop the inverse kind of hatred. Instead of you succumbing to self-loathing when someone makes a salad comment, skinny people (I've known, loved, etc) are equally as alone when someone makes an envious comment about their figure. Any body image problems are automatically negated and silenced because 'You're skinny'. This is body hate lingua for 'Shut up you cow stop saying I'm fat'. Skinny people are not killing anyone with their bodies any more than fat people are.

The most reasonable argument for losing weight that I can think of is the one which puts the body in the national perspective. An increase in the national rate of obesity equals greater pressure on health care resources in the future. Call it a 'Lose Kilos For Your Country' platform. This increase will occur in much the same way that the Baby Boomer population will be draining resources when they hit retirement en masse from now and for the next 30 years or so. Perhaps the losing weight argument could be put as a warning, not about heart disease, but about competition: 'You'd better lose weight or else you'll be fighting a bunch of geriatrics for a dwindling number of heart surgeons who will have more insurance than you.'

However, this denies body autonomy and is an exercise in exerting possibly the largest (per capita) amount of external moral pressure possible (ie. the entire country doesn't really want you to get thinner so you'll feel better, they want you to do it in case their future taxes go up).

I am still wondering whether there is a line, a personal, subjective line between feeing okay in your body, whatever you name it's shape, and flat-out obesity.
The kind of obesity in which blame is not important.
The kind of obesity which is as unhealthy as consistent sunburn.
The kind of obesity which sits at the upper reaches of thousands of statistics which all begin with the words 'Increased risk of ...'
Nothing is guaranteed. You could eat healthy, exercise regularly, but still have to buy two plane tickets and you could live to ninety-eight.
But where does Fat Acceptance and Healthy At Every Size draw its line and say 'You are probably going to die sooner and suffer longer because of the size of your body'?

Monday, February 7, 2011


Mele's mum dropped around a bucket of home-grown tomatoes last week. On the weekend we discovered that a few had gone rotten and the rest would probably follow if something wasn't done about the bucket of tomatoes.

A bucket of tomatoes is a weird kind of gift at this stage of our lives, when everything is measured by minutes and worried about for the lack of time.
I'll steal someone else's story to illustrate.

Sheila (not her real name) has a two year old daughter who loves The Wiggles. For Xmas, Sheila's sister wraps up two tickets to The Wiggly Ones and gives them to Sheila.
"Oh wow!" says Sheila. "Thank you! Wiggle-loving daughter will love this!"
"My pleasure!" replies Sheila's sister. "You two will have the best time!"
"Us two?"
Sheila's sister had never for a moment considered that the present would be about taking a Wiggle-loving two-year-old off her hands for the afternoon. She thought she was giving an experience, a memory, a genuine moment to bond between mother and daughter.
Sheila inspected the tickets. "Public transport is advised as Entertainment Centre parking is limited".
Sheila had instead been given about five hours of negotiating Adelaide public transport with an excitable two-year-old to and from a venue whose main feature by volume would be around ten thousand happy, screaming children.
Sheila was not excited.

Back to the bucket of tomatoes. A handful of garden-fresh tomatoes can be stored in the fridge and eaten slowly on bread or in salads. An entire bucket needs to have something done to it - most productively, sauce. This involves a serious time commitment: you can't just chop them up and throw them in with some herbs. They have been grown with love and care and must be treated as such. The skins need to be removed. This is laborious but worth it. Other ingrediants need to be sourced, chopped, diced and monitored. Cooking time, stirring, tasting, seasoning, cooling and freezing. Making a bucket of tomatoes into an admittedly smaller bucket of sauce takes time. The bucket of tomatoes is no longer a gift. Like the Wiggles tickets, it is the removal of time from something else: housework, homework, sleeping, sitting on the couch, playing with Charlie, laundry, gardening. Pick your chore/entertainment, now postpone or cancel it.
Not such a great gift now, eh? It's like when the tomatoes arrived, out went two hours of study, a mown lawn or chasing Charlie around growling "Oi!".

Or is it?

Because the bucket of tomatoes takes you away from all of that. The bucket of tomatoes is a job to do, but not just for yourself, for your family, for that sense of culture and heritage that it brings. Peeling each tomato, you're a tomato closer to feeding the family in the future and even honouring the work in the past. On a cold winter's night, Mele will come home tired and have that momentary 'starving family' panic alleviated when she pulls out the tub of frozen sauce from the freezer.
'These are from Nonna's garden.' She will remember and it will be better than just the plain old 'Tom sauce 7/2/11' label.
These tomatoes are sweet. These tomatoes mean something a bit more than food. They're not a drain on time, but a historical use of it. They are a reminder that your hands work along with your heart and your stomach and all together they produce something which combines and affects all three.

And they smell great too.

Thanks, Nonna.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bobo sad

I'm sick today.
I hate being sick because it's like a weekend, but you're not allowed to do anything fun and you have to wait in bed until Monday when work starts again. Except that when work starts it just starts for you and everyone else has already had the 'boring shit I did on the weekend' conversation. All they are left with is the 'what was wrong with you' (emphasis on the 'you' part) conversation at which you just have to go 'I was sick', which is a code phrase for 'I couldn't think of anything more boring than discussing past ailments can we stop now please'.

Also, I have a new laptop with a web-cam that does facial recognition:

An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32