disordered eating

All posts in the disordered eating category

Fixing the Relationship With Food

Published August 5, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably already sick of me talking about my latest purchase.  Or should I say “investment”, because I’ve gone into hock to buy it!

I have bought a Thermomix.  If you haven’t seen or heard of Thermomix before, they’re a kind of multi-purpose kitchen device.  They’re so hard to explain without demonstration, because most people are pretty incredulous that they’ll do what they actually do.  Basicallly they do away with  most other kitchen appliances.  They chop, blend, process, mill, pulverise, stir, kneed, beat, whip, blend, crush, juice, mix and any other cutting/mixing method you can think of.  But that’s not all.  They also have a set of built in scales, are connected to an element so they cook through a kind of induction method as well.  But… they also have a steamer attachment that fits on the top, so you can steam food as well!

My friend Kerri bought one back in December and I’ve seen her go from someone who resented the space her kitchen took up in her house to a passionate and experimentally bold cook.  After watching her find a passion for cooking, I decided that it was time I jump in and invest in one of these wonder machines.

But I’m not here to sell you a Thermomix…

You see, I’ve always loved cooking.  I was taught by my Grandma from as soon as I could stand on one of her kitchen chairs.  But between my long history of a troubled relationship with food, thanks to a lifetime of dieting and disordered eating, and the fact that I have an incredibly busy life, with very little time to devote to cooking, I’d practically given up cooking altogether.  Which has always been something of a shame, because Grandma taught me to be a pretty good cook and I do find it enjoyable.

So what I’m hoping, by introducing the Thermomix into my kitchen, it will work with my time constraints (after all, risotto takes about 20 minutes to make in it!) and help me work through my food issues so that I reignite that love of cooking.

Food can be so fraught for we fatties.  Many of us have long histories of dieting and disordered behaviours around food, and even once we work on fixing that, it’s very hard to escape the blame and shame that is put on us.  Firstly general society likes to accuse us of being gluttons who “ate ourselves unhealthy”, and then when we are seen eating, we are shamed for it.  If we’re eating food that is considered “bad” we’re shamed for being junk food junkies and if we’re eating food that is deemed “healthy” or “good” we get told “You’ll need more than salad to fix you, fatty.” or even “Fat people shouldn’t be allowed to eat.”

Is it any wonder so many people have a fucked up relationship with food and eating?

As part of reclaiming my right to eat, and to enjoy eating and cooking, I’m going to start talking more about food, cooking and eating here on Fat Heffalump.  I’m hoping that those of you reading will find hit helpful too.

So to kick us off, tell me about your relationship with food.  What have been some of your experiences and issues with food as a fat person?  Have you been able to heal your relationship with food since finding Fat Acceptance?

*Please remember the comments policy and refrain from applying negative judgments towards food.  Fat Heffalump adheres to a “food has no moral value” policy.

When “You Look Great” Doesn’t Match How You Feel

Published June 26, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

“You’ve lost weight!  You look great!”

I’ve heard that quite a few times over the past week.  I’ve been conflicted as to what to say.  I don’t want to be rude (particularly if it’s someone at work), but I feel the need to respond with something other than positive/affirmative.  Because I haven’t looked great at all.  I’ve had shadows and bags underneath my eyes, I’m still coughing a lot of the time and I frequently turn green with nausea.

I haven’t looked great.  I have only looked thinner.

It has been two-fold.  First I was sick with a cold that turned into a chest infection.  It left me as weak as a kitten and with absolutely no energy.  I didn’t eat properly the whole week I was sick.  I was either too exhausted, too sore or when I did try to eat, it just made me cough more.  I’m lucky a friend dropped by with home made soup and rolls (and some other tasty noms for me to nibble at), or I probably wouldn’t have eaten anything solid all week.

Add to this that thanks to my recent diagnosis of T2 diabetes, I am back on Metformin again.  Diabex to be particular, though it doesn’t make much difference, all versions of Metformin make me sick.  Not to be indelicate, but they make me spend most of the day going back and forth to the toilet, with the occasional vomit in between.  At least for the first month or so taking it, and again when the dosage is changed.  I’m just settling down into my initial dosage now, and I know I have to adjust the dosage soon.

But I’ve lost some weight, so people say “You look great!”  Regardless of how I feel.

I have said many times before that this whole culture of thin supposedly equaling health actually has nothing to do with health and everything to do with appearance.  People see thin as “better” so they label it as “healthier”.

I have seen people who have weight loss surgery turn grey-skinned, lose their hair, have shadows and bags under their eyes, lose teeth, become physically frail and weak, their skin break out and develop chronic shaking.  Not to mention the things you can’t see – reflux, vomiting, bowel problems etc.  Yet they lose weight, so people say “You look great!”  When they are not well at all and their quality of life is far worse than it was when they were fat.  But we are so indoctrinated that thin = better, if anyone was to show genuine concern for how they feel physically, they become the enemy, the one who “doesn’t want me to be healthy.”

A few years ago, a friend of mine had cancer.  She had a hell of a fight on her hands and underwent huge doses of chemotherapy to try to beat it.  I remember at her lowest point, at the moment it was touch and go whether she would survive, people kept telling her she looked fabulous.  Simply because she’d gone from a fat lady to a thin lady.  Of course, she was dangerously ill and it was on the line as to whether or not she would survive.  But because she had lost weight, many people deemed that she “looked great”.

This happens a lot to fat people.  Even without any solicitation, all we have to do is look like we’ve lost even the tiniest amount of weight (even if it’s just clothing that makes us look this way) and people tell us we “look great”.  I remember in my deepest, darkest eating disorder days when I starved, purged and exercised myself down to my thinnest (which was a size 16-18 – I’m currently a size 26) and I was desperately unhappy because being thin didn’t fix my life at all, and I was physically sick from all the ways I was punishing my body, people told me that I looked great.  They told me I was awesome, fabulous and amazing.  Without ever once asking me how I felt.  Which was miserable and sick.

If that’s what I have to do to look great in the eyes of the world… no thanks.  I’d rather feel good, trust my body to show me what it needs, feed it as best I can and move it in ways that I enjoy, and stay fat than do that kind of damage to myself in the name of looking good.

“Bad Foods” – Control, Punishment and Singling out the Fat Folk

Published May 19, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve been thinking about the number of very public “health experts” that have been advocating total elimination of certain foods or food groups from the diet, either from the diets of children, or from those of fat adults.

There have been plenty over the years, but we’re seeing a rash of them here in Australia at the moment.  The most recent of which was Dr Kerryn Phelps, via her Twitter account.  Dr Samantha Thomas opened up a conversation about it on her blog, The Discourse, over the weekend.

I have also seen it from Michelle Bridges, physical trainer with The Australian Biggest Loser, who talks of guilt over eating “one or two chips”, and decries the consumption of white bread, a sentiment echoed by “non profit organisation” Obesity Prevention Australia.  Not that long ago I heard nutritionist Rosemary Stanton on the radio criticising the companies who make packet cake mixes for having photographs of children on the box, because she believes it sends the message to children that it’s OK to eat cake.  Uh-huh, you read correctly.

There have been others as well.

I want to talk about this method of “healthy eating” that advocates the complete elimination of foods because they are considered “junk”.  Junk food seems to be a fairly fuzzy concept in a lot of these cases, and can mean anything from highly processed foods with lots of added artificial ingredients, to anything containing sugar or fat, anything purchased from take-away vendors (prepared, cooked and/or served for you) to any kind of “bad” foodstuffs of the moment – these days, mostly carbohydrates.

These total elimination methods of supposed healthy eating seem to always be aimed at either children or fat adults.  It is rare to seem them recommended for all of society to practice.

It deeply concerns me to see these kinds of diets advocated for children and fat people, for anyone really.

The first thing that disturbs me is how disordered a behaviour it seems.  The connotations of fear, guilt, sin, bad behaviour, evil etc are all methods I know I employed myself while deeply entrenched in an eating disorder.  The idea that certain foods should never be eaten because they are fattening really bothers me.  Of course there will always be things like allergies and intolerances that will mean someone is unable to eat certain foods, not to mention simple dislikes, but the idea that a foodstuff should never pass someone’s lips because it is bad/junk/unhealthy is worrying, and particularly in children where variety is often an issue, and growing bodies have much broader nutritional needs.

Not to mention that it is simply impractical in our lives today to be hyper vigilant and attempt to completely eliminate the foods considered junk from most people’s eating.  The people like Phelps/Bridges/Stanton et al are proposing that children/fat people never be allowed to eat any of these foods.  That is certainly what is implied at least.

I was thinking about our eating history as a culture (and I’m speaking very generally as a white western person, as that is my personal experience – and most likely that of Phelps/Bridges/Stanton etc) and the social implications of total elimination of these foods.  Are these supposed health experts suggesting that a) children and fat people should never eat and b) that they themselves never eat or feed/have fed their children, any of the following:

  • Birthday cake, wedding cake, Christmas cake, or any other celebratory cake.
  • If they are Christians – no fish and chips on Fridays.
  • No birthday parties for children.  Either home catered or those hosted by fast food restaurants.
  • No cakes, biscuits or sweets made by their Mum, Gran, or any other loving family member (none for lunch boxes, none for special occasions, none for visitors)
  • No teenage parties or hanging out.  No pizza, chips, lollies, soft drinks, burgers etc EVER.
  • No food at the cinema.  No choc tops or popcorn.
  • No chocolate, hot cross buns or marshmallows at Easter.
  • No school dances (soft drink usually, sometimes snacks like chips)
  • No pie or hot-dog at the football/cricket/other sporting event.
  • No convenience food (pre or partially-pre made, or frozen, or take-away) for busy times.

These are just a few that have popped into my mind as I write this.  So if these supposed health experts are advocating that parents of children and fat people eliminate these things from their diet, can they say they’ve practiced what they preached themselves?  Particularly those that pride themselves on being thin, or having thin children?  Did they eliminate those things from their children’s diet?  What about when they were children themselves – did their parents eliminate those things from their diet?  Or are they only proposing that other people, particularly fat people and the parents of fat children, operate under such a strict regime?

But what really bothers me about this approach to “healthy eating” is that it is so steeped in control and punishment.  Particularly when it is solely applied to children and fat adults.  There is a sense of belief that every single morsel consumed by children and fat people should be controlled, sanctioned or approved.  It’s someowhat understandable to want to apply this thinking to children, because it is perceived that left to their own devices, children don’t have the skills to make reasonable eating choices yet.  I would dispute this however, most kids, when TRULY left to their own devices, tend to balance choices out if given plenty of options.  But it is particularly insulting to fat people.  It infantilises us, reduces us to being incompetent in making our own decisions in eating and food.

Fat people are seen as so incapable of making responsible food/eating choices that someone needs to intervene.  That we require policing in our food choices.  It also has an element of punishment.  “You have let yourself get so fat, you don’t deserve treats like everyone else.”  That fat people are bad/naughty/sinful so they don’t deserve anything “good”.

This moralising of fatness and food suggests to me that fat adults do not have the right or indeed capability of making decisions as to what they eat.  It makes our bodies and our lives public – when they are indeed private.  What an adult eats or does with their body is their own business and nobody else’s.

All in all, I think it’s high time that supposed health experts like the aforementioned stopped meddling directly in people’s lives and started focusing on real health issues, like adequate and affordable fresh foods for ALL, not just those of higher incomes, as well as safe and encouraging environments for physical activity for ALL, not just those who have the money or who look thin enough to be seen being active in public without offending bigoted people’s eyes.

Perhaps if they focused on these issues, they might actually make some real difference in public health, instead of simply moralising other people’s bodies.

Psst… Wanna Talk about Food?

Published February 10, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

So I have this piece up on Adios Barbie today.  A post I was asked to write after commenting on the piece about Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) a couple of months ago.  I would have had it written back then but between major work projects, disaster-zone flooding and various other life events, it took me far longer to write than I normally would.   Every time I picked it up to work on it again, it would bring me back to thinking about food and how we as a culture treat it, perceive it, moralise it and fear it.

Plus I’ve been home on annual leave from work for the past two and a half weeks, so I’ve had a whole lot more time to prepare, cook and eat food than I normally would have.  It gives me a lot of space to think about this stuff.

My eating habits are radically different when I have all this spare time.  I have the time and energy to shop, to prepare and cook food, and to sit down and eat it.  And when I have this time, my relationship with food is far better.  I’m not feeling guilty or shameful about eating at all.  I’m enjoying planning each dish, of writing shopping lists for the things I need to make something, and I’m eating pretty much exactly what I want at any given time, and eating the exact amount I want.

But the reality is, this is a vast luxury for me.  Even with the fact that I have a good wage and can afford pretty much any foodstuffs I want, which is a huge privilege to have, I only have that because I spend huge swathes of my life working.  When I’m working, I just don’t have the time to prepare and cook or even shop for the foods that I’m enjoying just now.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.

There’s also a vast kind of snobbery to being able to buy, cook and prepare foods.    Where once the work of feeding people was passed off to servants as “housework” by the privileged few, now it’s seen as incredibly chic to source your food locally from organic growers, choose it yourself, and take it home and prepare it in your expensive kitchen.  Time has more value than it has ever had, simply because it is becoming a more rare commodity.  And of course, that means those who have it, look down on those who don’t.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way food is demonised.  No matter what the food, at some point, somewhere, there’s someone talking about it as if it’s the stuff of evil.  Carbs are bad for you.  Sugar is poison.  Fat is going to kill you.  Fruit and vegetables are covered in pesticides.  Meat is clogging your arteries.  Milk and it’s derivatives aren’t supposed to be eaten after we are weaned.  Processed food is all chemicals.  Fast food has “zero nutrition”.  X food is “not what it used to be”.  Blah blah blah blah blah.

But what it usually boils down to, is the belief that “food makes you fat”.

I had a bit of a rail on Facebook the other week at a cultural phenomenon of young women who moralise food as something that they have to earn, something that they’ve been “good” for avoiding, but will brag about how much alcohol they have consumed.  It seems to me to be a mighty double standard.  Is alcohol not a foodstuff of kind?  Does it not get consumed and digested like any other foodstuff?  How is consuming alcohol different to consuming any other beverage, particularly one equally loaded with sugar?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with adults drinking alcohol (note: I currently don’t drink alcohol, but that may or may not change in the future), just that there is something wrong with a culture that allows women to “drink like a man” but not eat like one.

That was certainly my attitude for a lot of years in my youth.  I used to be a BIG drinker.  Not only did I drink a lot, but I seemed to be able to do so without most of the effects it had on my friends, both male and female.  Oh yeah, I’d be drunk, I’d slur and stagger, but I was still standing after a bottle and a half of Jim Beam or Absolut, when my friends had passed out long ago.  I would party because it would be an amazing escape from the real world.  And it was the one thing I could do well.  My friends and people around me celebrated the amount I could drink, cheered me on and were impressed.

But at the time, I was also starving myself of all other food.  Or purging what I did have.  It’s strange, but during one of my lowest weight periods, I was drinking far more than any other point in my life.  Nowdays with hindsight I know that I was really ill at the time and the weight loss was a symptom of this illness, not my “virtuousness” in dieting and purging.  Adding alcohol to restricting/purging made me sicker, and the sickness made me thinner.  When I got well again, and stopped drinking so much, my body put back on the weight it had lost, despite me still restricting and purging.  Friends, family and people around me celebrated my starvation and purging kicks as much as they celebrated my drinking.  “Aren’t you amazing for having the willpower to diet?  Well done you!”

Remember breatharians?  I remember seeing them on TV and just admiring them so much for not needing to eat.  I’d think “If only I had MORE willpower, and could be like them.  Then I’d REALLY lose the weight.”  What the??

Why did I have it in my head that it was ok to consume alcohol at huge quantities, but loathed myself every time I consumed anything else, even tiny amounts?  Where?  From the very culture around me.  From the people who congratulated me on losing weight (whether they knew of my disordered behaviours or not) to those who cheered me on as I drank.  From the magazines I read, the television shows I watched, the movies I saw.  Even in something like Sex and The City, which was supposed to be empowering to young women, had the characters getting stuck into cocktails but demonising food.

The reality is, every single human being requires food.  All food has nutritional value.  And as Michelle the Fat Nutritionist says in her paper on How to Eat (In Front of People)*:

“People have as much right to judge what you eat as they do to judge how much you pee, how much water you drink, or how often you breathe.”

So how is your relationship with food? What bothers you about our cultural attitude to food?  What are your challenges to eating in a way that you would like to?

Let’s talk about food folks!  Radical huh?  After all, it’s more socially acceptable to talk about sex these days than it is to talk about food and eating.

*which you can obtain by signing up to her mailing list.

Dealing with the Demons

Published January 6, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I was working on a building site for a few weeks.  It was awesome but exhausting.  The minute I hit the site each day, someone wanted my attention, something fixed, a problem solved, more information.  I would have three and four people waiting for me to be available to help them at times, people interrupting my train of thought, stopping me mid-task, dragging me off to something else so that the task that was at the front of my brain fluttered away from my attention like a half read newspaper on a windy day.  Tempers were short, folks were tired and stressed.

Don’t get me wrong, I was loving it.  I was learning so much every day, working with a new type of colleague, having to think on my feet and problem solve.  I was feeling challenged and stimulated.

But one cannot main that kind of intensity.  And things started to slip.  Firstly I was finding myself too tired to come home and follow my yoga DVD, a regular ritual of stretching my body and guiding myself into relaxation.  Then I wasn’t eating properly.  I grabbed a coffee as I rushed on to site.  I didn’t take breaks.  Lunch didn’t roll around until 2pm, 3pm.  I was too exhausted to cook at night.  And soon weekends disappeared into two days of sheer exhausted collapse, trying desperately to catch up on sleep and recharge enough for the next week.

Rationally I knew this wasn’t a good thing, but I kept telling myself “Just get the job done.  Just get everything over the line for the deadline, and then you’ll be able to go back to the routines and strategies you use to keep yourself strong and balanced, physically, emotionally and mentally.”

But my body, and my brain, didn’t want to let this happen.  It threw itself into disaster mode, because that’s what it thought was happening.

The critical moment came one day late in the job, a few days before deadline.  I realised at about 1.30pm I was really hungry and just wasn’t getting anything done.  So I slipped out to go and find a quiet spot to have lunch.  There was a nice little carvery cafe, so I ordered my lunch, a steak sandwich with the works (steak, lettuce, beetroot, onion, pineapple, tomato, cheese, bacon and egg with a few chips on the side) knowing that I hadn’t eaten anything of substance for a few days, and who knows when the next real meal was in this crazy schedule.

Just before they brought my food over, and I was just sitting there reading tweets on my phone when one of my colleagues spotted me and sat down with his lunch.  I didn’t mind at all, we didn’t talk much, just sat quietly and kind of did our own thing.

As my lunch arrived, another one of the guys I was working with on the project spotted us, and came and asked if he could join us.  The answer was “Of course!”   I really liked this guy, he’s great to work with and has a great sense of humour.  I was more than happy to have him join us for lunch.  He sat down and we talked about nothing much in particular, savouring a little time to not talk shop, just have a laugh and chat.

After about 10 minutes, it hit me.  I wasn’t eating my lunch.  I was pushing it about my plate, occasionally eating a chip, picking at the sandwich, just not actually eating the damn thing.  You have to remember, I was really hungry, and this was a damn good meal, tasty and with lots of variety.  I wanted to eat it, I really did.  But I couldn’t bring myself to either pick up a piece of the sandwich (it was cut into quarter triangles) or even use the cutlery provided and cut a piece off and bring it to my mouth.  It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t.

I started to feel self conscious.  I started to lose thread of the conversation, because I was thinking “Why am I not eating this?  I want it.  Just pick it up and eat it.”  Soon the project colleague had clearly noticed that I wasn’t eating my lunch.  I could tell he was trying to be polite and not pay attention to the fact that I was pushing my now cold lunch about my plate, almost entirely there, except for a few small bites.  I tried to pick some of it up to eat it, but simply couldn’t bring myself to do it.  This went on for almost 45 minutes.  Eventually the guys said something about going off to the shops before they had to go back to work and left me.

And then I was faced with a stone cold lunch that was edible but not exactly tasty, feeling hungry, but more tellingly, feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

The real irony is that neither of the dudes I was sitting with would have given a fuck if I had picked up that sandwich and chowed on down.  In fact, they’d never have noticed… it was my NOT eating it that drew attention.

What the hell is wrong with me?  I’m 38 years old.  I’ve been doing this fat acceptance stuff for a couple of years now.  I’ve been in therapy for self esteem and eating disorder issues for 5 years.  Why does shit like this still happen?

Now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, I know why shit like this happens.  It happens because I am STILL in recovery from a lifelong eating disorder.  It happens because when I’m tired and stressed, the tiny voice inside my head that says that fat women shouldn’t be seen eating, that women should take dainty little bites, that a steak sandwich with a few chips on the side was “too big a meal” for me to be eating.

Because no matter how far down the fat acceptance road I get, I still hear what is said, I still see what is written, about women and food and fat.  No matter how hard I work on my self esteem, on recovering from that lifelong eating disorder, on learning to be an intuitive eater, I will always carry the old burdens with me through my life.

But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at fat acceptance.  It doesn’t mean that I’m permanently broken.  It doesn’t mean that my life will always be ruled by those factors.

It actually means that those things, the low self esteem, the lifelong eating disorder, the pressure on me as a fat woman, have merely been contributing factors to who I am today.   Those factors are the things that have led me to do what I do today.  The fact that they sometimes crop up again is a very handy reminder of why I am committed to fighting for the rights of fat people, in particular fat women.

Most importantly, they serve to remind me that I am not alone, because I can talk about them here and if I connect with just one of you, it’s worth it.

Fat Acceptance and Health

Published December 29, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Inspired by this post over on the taking up of space, and some comments on my last post about concern trolls, I want to talk more about health, the various levels of it, and fatness.

One of the things that frustrates me about discussing health and fatness is how absolutely loaded the subject has become.  I am constantly irritated by the fact that if you are a fat person talking about health, or foods that are considered “healthy”, or any form of physical activity, then for some, it is assumed that you are selling yourself as a “good fatty” and therefore denigrating on those perceived as “bad fatties”.  There’s also a perception that if you feel healthy and strong, that you must be “virtuous” when it comes to your eating and exercise.  Health at Every Size, has become the keywords to justifying fatness, which is sad because it detracts from Linda Bacon’s work, and her excellent book (which I am currently reading).   You CAN be healthy and happy and indeed fat without living a HAES lifestyle.  It’s not compulsory to Fat Acceptance.

Now for any of you who haven’t come across the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, may I suggest you read the excellent post, As Fat as I Wanna Be by Tasha Fierce over on Red Vinyl Shoes.  I completely agree with Tasha when she says that any time a fat person is included in any discussion about body shape/size (and not just in the media, but anywhere), she is expected to wave her “I really do have healthy habits” card to prove that she is a “good fatty”.  And I agree that ALL fat people should be able to live their lives with respect, dignity and fairness, whether they have “healthy habits” or not.   There is no such thing as a good fatty or a bad fatty.

But what does bother me, is that the minute you do talk about your own personal health, you are at the risk of others implying that you’re buying into the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy.  And this is from your peers.

This bothers me because if anyone else talks about their health, whether they have it or not, they are not accused by their peers of selling some kind of morality via health.  If anyone else talks about enjoying a sport, or the great salad they ate, or how they went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health, then they’re simply taken at face value.

But for fat people, it is assumed that we’re making excuses for our fatness if we talk about physical wellbeing, physical activity or food that is perceived as “healthy”.  Why is it that when a fat person talks about physical activity, or “healthy” food, or physical wellbeing, it is assumed that they are either making excuses, trying to conform, or are casting negative judgement on those who are otherwise?

Of course, we do need to acknowledge the fact that not everyone has the ability to be physically active, not everyone has access to the same foods, and not everyone has the privilege of being illness free.  It’s important to be conscious of a measure of privilege when talking about health (whether you are fat or thin or somewhere in between) and to acknowledge that the measures of health for one body, are not replicated through all bodies.  We also need to acknowledge that a high number of us are dealing with histories of disordered eating and body image issues.

Not to mention, there’s no rule that says that you can’t live off fast food and get no physical activity at all, yet still feel great.  Getting a clean bill of health from a doctor, or indeed feeling healthy, does not necessarily mean you’re on a macrobiotic diet and exercise for 30 minutes every day.  It can simply mean you’ve found the balance of lifestyle that is right for you.

I feel that as well as smashing the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, and speaking out against food/health as a moral indicator, we need to also be busting open the attitudes that suggest we should not speak about being/feeling physically well, that our bodies can feel good and strong, that we can eat foods that are perceived as healthy without it being suggested that we’re justifying our fatness.  By casting any judgement on fat bodies, regardless of their eating habits, level of activity and real or perceived health, we’re creating more taboos about fatness.  By suggesting that it’s not ok to talk about feeling good/strong/healthy lest we create a good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, we’re actually perpetuating that myth.  Self censoring because of what others project onto us is as damaging as being censored by external sources.

So long as we’re not proselytising anything, and we’re mindful of privilege and body autonomy, then we need to talk about our health, our bodies, what makes us feel good, what doesn’t, and all subjects around bodies.  We need to smash the taboos around fat bodies and food, activity and physical wellbeing.  If it’s good enough for bodies that are not fat, then it should be good enough for those that are.

Food Judgement or The Post in Which I Make too Many Bad Food Puns

Published December 20, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Ahh food, we fatties just can’t get enough of it, can we?

I have always had a love/hate relationship with food.  Being someone who is highly sensory (particularly tactile, taste and smell) means that food can give me a whole lot of pleasure.  But being a fat woman, in a body that she has fought against for most of her life, food has also been fraught with peril for me in my past.  Food was the enemy for most of my life until recently.  I still have some serious issues with it, but I’m working through those.  It’s no secret that I have a lifetime of eating disorders behind me, with yo-yo dieting, starvation periods and a lot of food demonisation.  Food for me was the bad guy.  Either food in general or specific foods, for the bulk of my life, I’ve had some beef with food (see what I did there?)

While I still struggle with the food demons, they don’t win any more.  They pop up, give me some curry (oh lawdy I did it again!) and I chase them away with a whole bunch of strategies I have built up over time.  I might even blog about those later.

Today though, I want to talk about a few particular issues I have with the way a whole lot of people, including myself in the past, think about food.  So let’s get into it huh?

This *insert food* is so sinful.

Oh that old chestnut (somebody stop me!)  Here’s the thing.  Food has no moral value.  It doesn’t think, it doesn’t do or behave or respond.  It’s just food.  You actually aren’t going to go to hell if you eat it.  Or if you don’t eat it for that matter.  Nor is the world going to stop spinning, the oceans boil over or a lightning bolt hit you from the sky.  Food is either of use to you (because it fills your belly, or tastes good, or gives you nutrients, or makes you feel good, or whatever other use it may carry out) or it isn’t.  Either eat it, or don’t.  But don’t moralise or demonise it because all that does is cast judgement on those who do eat it.

Oh *insert food* can barely be called food.

Really?  Is it edible?  Then it’s food.  You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.  But you don’t need to judge other people for eating it.

Cooking for yourself and your family is showing them love.

This one really gets to me too.  Yes, cooking for people, including yourself, can be showing them love and affection.  But if someone doesn’t cook, for whatever reasons, perhaps they don’t know how or don’t have time, or just hate it, doesn’t mean they don’t love their family or themselves.

Do you really need that *insert food*?

No, I don’t.  I just want it.  Or maybe I do need it.  Either way, it’s none of your damn business.

Tsk!  Can you believe people still eat/feed their kids McDonalds/KFC/*insert fast food brand*?

Yes I can.  It’s cheap.  It fills you up.  It tastes good.  It’s easy to obtain with no preparation needed.  IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

Everybody knows that raw/whole foods are so much more nutritionally valuable/taste better.

No they don’t.  Just because you’ve read that, doesn’t mean everyone else has.  Maybe they don’t have access to the internet or fancy cable TV programmes.  Maybe they don’t have time to watch Jamie Oliver or Michael Pollan or any other food “educator”.  Perhaps they do know, but they don’t have raw/whole available to them.  Perhaps they don’t like the taste.  Perhaps all of their friends and family eat processed food, and they’ve never tasted anything else.  Perhaps they just prefer the damn box of Mac ‘n Cheese to the organically and locally grown beets, hormone-free chicken and raw milk.  Wait for it… wait for it… IT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS!

Sugar/High Fructose Corn Syrup/any other food for that matter is poison.

Maybe.  But so is parsley.  Just ask a chicken.  Or onions.  Ask a dog.  Or lettuce.  Ask me.  If it makes you sick, don’t eat it.  But don’t judge other people for choosing to eat it.

I’ve been good all week, so I can have that piece of *insert food here*.

So are you saying those people who haven’t done as much exercise or avoided eating certain foods can’t have a piece?  Remember, your measurement of “deserving” isn’t the same as other peoples.  Just have the food or don’t, there’s no need to put moral value on it.

Oh no thanks, I’ll just watch you eat it.

This one really, really burns my bread (stop it Kath, just stop it).  Not only is it rude, it’s really insensitive.  Having people watch me eat is really triggering and puts me off my food in a matter of moments.  Even when they’re not intentionally doing it.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Many people, especially those with eating disorders in their past, have had their eating scrutinised to the nth degree and don’t need someone sitting there ogling them while they eat.  Leave them alone and let them eat in peace.  Either you enjoy their company and be damned what they eat, or leave them alone.

I ate SOOOOO much!  I’m such a pig!

Way to cast indirect judgement on what others eat as well.  Ok so you ate too much, it happens, maybe now you feel sick/bloaty/uncomfortable.  But keep the judgement out of it.  You’re not a pig, nor is anyone else who eats too much.

Locally grown food is so much cheaper than anything else, you just have to make effort to get it.  Don’t be lazy.

Not everyone is able to spare the time, energy and effort to source locally grown food.  Perhaps they work long hours.  Maybe they don’t have transport.  Perhaps parking is expensive.  Maybe they can’t stand crowded places.  Or perhaps they just prefer the stuff they can get at their local major supermarket.  That doesn’t mean they’re lazy or deserve judgement for choosing to do so.

~~~@@~~~

These are just a few of the food judgements that really drive me nuts.  And yet I used to indulge in them myself.  Some of them still sneak up on me occasionally, when I’m tired or upset or stressed or my self esteem is wavering.  But doing them to oneself is one thing.  Casting these judgements on others is a whole different kettle of fish (oh look, it happened again) and people who do this just have to butt the hell out of other people’s lives.  As I’ve said several times above, what other people eat or don’t eat is not any of your damn business.  If you want to restrict, eliminate, diet, whatever, go for it.  It’s your body and you get to choose how you feed it.  I believe strongly in body autonomy and don’t believe I have any right to tell people how to eat (or not eat).

It’s when those choices are touted as the “right” way to eat that gets my hackles up.  There is no right or wrong way.  There is your way, sometimes it matches others’ way, sometimes it doesn’t.  Keep your judgement and moralising out of other people’s lives and bodies.

What are your pet peeves with the food police and privileged “foodies”?  Do you have any strategies for responding to them or cutting out the judgement that is placed on food?  Share in the comments below.

I Need a Kick Up the Bum

Published November 24, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I got talking to a guy a while ago who is really into body building.  He’s not one of those huge mega muscular Mr Universe types, but he spends a lot of time and energy in sculpting/shaping his body into a particular shape and muscle definition as a sport.  To look at him in an everyday setting, he just looks like a lean guy.  Very handsome, but not like I think of when I conjure up a picture of a bodybuilder in my mind.  But he tells me in the context of his sport, his shape and muscle definition is a class (like boxers have classes, you know, featherweight, heavyweight, lightweight etc) and he works really hard to get himself to what is considered peak for his sport category.

I’ve known him for awhile, we chat fairly often in passing, he’s a nice guy and we have some common interests, and often find ourselves chatting when we cross paths.    I knew he was into body building, but I’ve never talked to him about it because I assumed that he would have the attitude that as a big death-fatty, I would be unhealthy and he wouldn’t be at all favourable to a fat acceptance philosophy.

Well, you know what they say about assumptions?  They make an ASS out of U and ME.  In this case, I think my assumptions have made a big old ASS out of ME.

For the first time ever, I broached the subject of his body building a while back.  He eats.  All day.  But it’s very specific things, at specific times.  I had been noticing this eating pattern for awhile, and seen how much time and energy he puts into this regime, and I’d drawn a lot of parallels to my own history of eating disorders.  The strict regime, eating certain foods at certain times in certain combinations.  This particular day, I was watching him mix up some concoction and I said to him “I’m sorry dude, but that looks gross, do you actually like the taste of it?”  He told me he didn’t find it too bad, and it’s what works best for him.  We got talking about his body building and what it takes to maintain the physique he has, which is to me, a hell of a lot of work for someone to put into just the shape of their body.

Of course, I forget that I used to do that and more in my past to try to change the shape of my body.

I don’t know why, but I finally decided to broach the topic of fat acceptance and body positivity with him.  I actually braced myself for the usual ZOMGBESITY CRISIS! reaction, the lecture about health and such.  The response I got surprised me, and in hindsight, it shouldn’t have.  He simply responded “I’ve always believed that your body is YOUR body, and you know what’s best for it.”

*blink*  *blink*

Yes my lovelies, I was speechless for a moment there.

As our conversation continued, he told me how he knows that he spends a hugely inordinate amount of time and energy on his regime for his body building, but he loves his sport and knows that his lifestyle is not sustainable for a whole lifetime, and that when he decides to retire, he will have to adjust to having a body that is a vastly different shape to the one he has now.  Like any athlete, he has made a commitment in the here and now to his body and sport, and he’s fully aware that it’s not his natural body shape, and that it’s not really anyone’s natural body shape.

I told him about fat acceptance and health at every size, and he was totally on board with it.  I’ll be honest, I had assumed that this beautifully sculpted man who spends a very significant portion of his life on his diet and exercise would have a very poor attitude towards fatness.  And I shouldn’t have.  Nothing of his behaviour towards me, the fattest woman in our mutual environment, ever indicated that, he has always been friendly, respectful and pleasant towards me.  We’ve talked about subjects both very personal and small talk.

I realised that I was absolutely judging him on his eating and exercising habits.  The very judgements that I criticise other people for casting on me and other fat people.

I need a kick up the bum for that.  I have no more right to judge someone at the highly fit and regimented end of the body spectrum than anyone has to judge a death-fatty like me.

What is really important to me is to take that lesson that I’ve received from this man and use it.  To adjust my thinking, shift my assumptions, and make sure that I own up to those stupid assumptions I had.  Not to mention share the lesson with others.  We can’t judge the mega-sporty-fit people any more than anyone can judge we fatties.

A Letter to My Body

Published November 14, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Dear Body,

I owe you an apology.  I’ve not been very kind or accepting to you in our relationship.  In fact, I’ve downright hated you for most of our life.  I realise now that the hatred I had for you was very unfair, and that you were undeserving of it.  You deserve more respect than that.

I am sorry that I did so many things to hurt you over the years.  I’m sorry that I starved you, exercised you into the ground until you simply failed to function in several ways, and that I punished you for just being yourself.  I’m sorry that I cut you, filled you full of pills and other substances that affected you in so many damaging ways.  I’m sorry that I didn’t give you what you needed, that I forced you to ingest things that you hated, or that made you feel bad, simply because I hated you so much.  I’m sorry that I picked you, tore your hair out, chewed your fingertips, and didn’t listen to what you were trying to tell me.

You’ve given so much to me through all the hard times.  You kept me going when depression really, really tried to stop us in our tracks.

You didn’t deserve to be hated so much.  You’ve looked after me for over 38 years now, mostly uncomplaining in the scheme of things, and how have I repaid you?  By hating you and trying to force you to change, by picking you apart as if you’re not a whole being, by desperately trying to reduce you and starve you away, and at times, I tried to kill you.

But you kept on going.  You kept on doing your job, and doing it very well, for all these years.  Even when I wore you down to exhaustion and pain, you still kept going.  You patched yourself together as best you could, even though you tried to tell me you were exhausted and in pain, I wouldn’t listen, so you just did the best you could.

You’ve done so much for me.  You’ve allowed me to do every single thing in my life that I’ve ever done.  You’ve allowed me to experience love, and joy, and happiness, and laughter, and fun.  I’m sorry that I never acknowledged you for giving that to me.

I tried to make you do things you simply couldn’t.  Like be completely different to what you actually are.  I measured you by other people’s standards, tried to change you to be something you’re not, and tried to force you to perform in a way that you’re not designed to, just because other people’s bodies behave differently.  I realise now that I have been completely unreasonable in my demands on you.

I want you to know that I am deeply sorry, from the bottom of my heart.  I ask you to forgive me for hating and punishing you for so long, and know that I will work very hard to never do that again.

I want you to know that you are beautiful in your own way.  You are strong, powerful and healthy.  I don’t hate your big belly, or your fat arms, or your thick legs any more.  Your rolls and bumps and lumps are not objects of loathing to me any more.  They are now things of beauty.  They always have been, I just recognise it now, where I didn’t before.  You are a feminine body.  I never used to see you in that way, but now I do.  You’re all woman baby!

I don’t hate that you are hairier than other bodies.  I don’t hate that you pump out more hormones of all kinds than the average body.  I don’t hate that you sometimes have trouble keeping your skin smooth and clear.  I want you to know that I am not ashamed of you any more.  That I will stand up for your right to be as you are, and if anyone tries to change you when you don’t choose to change of your own volition, then I will fight them from doing so.

You and I, we’re going to work together.  Because we are together.  We’re one and the same.  You are me, and I am you.  We’re going to take care of each other, and make each other happy.

I love you.  You are beautiful.  Please forgive me.

Kath

P.S.  I’m going to shave your head in January, but it’s for a good cause.  You might feel a bit naked for awhile, but let’s just show your pretty scalp off and rock it huh?  We might have some fun.

On Women and Enjoyment

Published September 19, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

It was a small comment on this great post by meowser on Fat Fu that set a lightbulb off in my mind.  While talking about food shaming, this really jumped out at me:

Seriously. I will never be able to understand how the same women who (rightly) opine that women should have the right to drink like men frequently balk at the idea that women should be allowed to eat like men. Sure, you can inhale a thousand calories’ worth of Cosmopolitans or Coronas and fall off your barstool and that’s badass righteous, but gods forbid you should indulge in a cheeseburger. On a bun made with white flour. With fries. And a full-sugar soft drink. (You food slut, you.)

The emphasis is mine.

That’s what this is all about isn’t it?  That’s what the objection to fat women really boils down to.  The perception that women who are fat, must eat a lot, so therefore they are food sluts.  Because if a woman enjoys ANYTHING, be it food, sex,  shopping, alcohol, working, you name it, then she must be enjoying it to excess, be gluttonous, addicted, enslaved by her enjoyment, and by extension, a slut.

Of course, feminism steps up for most of these things, and says that women should be able to enjoy things as much as men, but as Meowser rightly says, often not when it comes to food.  The slut shaming is still there, only it’s not sex or drinking and so on, it’s food.  Because so many people believe, and some of those people are feminists, that fat is still the most disgusting vice that one can have.

The idea that women enjoying anything, regardless of how much they are enjoying it, is somehow un-ladylike is antiquated and offensive.  Surely we’ve moved past the age where women were expected to be “dainty” about everything in their lives?  We’re not allowed to please ourselves in any way, instead women are expected to be pleasing to others.  And it’s not just men.  A lot of the most hateful vitriol that women suffer comes from other women.  The piece that Meowser is responding to in her blog post is by a woman who calls herself a feminist, published on Feministe.  It was really disheartening to read this from a feminist, when it’s hard enough fighting the narrow minded expectations of misogynists, without having to deal with it from within our own sphere.

Until we can shift the thinking that women enjoying themselves in any way is somehow un-ladylike and unfeminine, we’re still going to be oppressed as a gender.  It doesn’t matter if it’s sex, or food, or anything else – slut shaming is still slut shaming.

While women are forced to feel guilt for what they eat (or what they are perceived to be eating by their body shape/size), they’re not free to be equal human beings, and disordered behaviours and damaged body image will run rife.