eating disorder

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The Educated Eater

Published January 23, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

Recently I was part of a conversation on Facebook about the concept of fat tax/junk food tax/whatever you want to call it.  The current food being demonised is sugar, and this particular conversation was about a proposed sugar tax in New Zealand, but I’m pretty sure that wherever you are has had something similar in the not too distant past.

A lot of the conversation centred on how taxing any particular food is over-intervention by the government, however it ended up in the territory of possible ways to get people to eat “healthier”.  As always, there’s a faint air of moralisation around even the most well meaning conversation about improving people’s general eating habits – the old binaries of fresh/processed, healthy/unhealthy, junk-fast/”real” are ever present, as though food is somehow either all good or all bad, which no food ever is.  Foods have varying levels of usefulness/nutrition/substance to every person.  Not to mention that food has absolutely no moral value at all.  It is not good or bad, it is just food.

Repeatedly the suggestion was that we need to “educate” people about food, where it comes from and what it’s value is.  The implication was that it was poor people in particular that need this education.

I believe that people already understand food.  Let me give you an example.

As I walk to catch the train each morning to go to work, I pass a Dominos pizza franchise.  The other day I noticed a poster in their window for a meat-lover pizza. The calorie count was in a font twice the size of the price of the actual pizza. A third of the page was taken up with the calorie count.  It is deemed more important to tell people how many calories are in a pizza than the price of that pizza.  Who actually thinks that anyone who is likely to buy a meat-lover pizza is either ignorant or cares about the calorie count?  Either you’re buying it because it’s dirt cheap and will fill the bellies of your hungry family, or you just want a greasy pizza and don’t give a flying fuck about how many calories are in it. You could put the calories in big scary jaggedy font with flames coming out of it saying that you’ll go to hell for eating it, and people would still buy it, because they want it, or because they have no other option that suits their needs.

I really do have a problem with the whole “We need to educate people about food” thing. Particularly when it’s aimed at poor people, who are statistically the biggest consumers of fast/processed food.  This is because fast/processed food is CHEAP.   The attitude that poor people need to be educated about food reeks of classism and almost always comes from those with the privilege of being able to afford tertiary education.

Honestly, poor people know about food and it’s value, better than any affluent person ever will. As someone who has lived through extreme poverty, I can tell you, you know EVERY single iota about the thing you’re spending the tiny bit of money you have on. You spend your whole life bargaining against yourself for how to get the most filling, calorie loaded food that will last the longest for the least amount of money possible. Poor people aren’t ignorant, they’re poor. They’re not choosing fast food because they don’t know any better, they’re choosing it because it’s cheap, easy, filling and available.

Then there is the belief that fat people are ignorant about food, that we don’t know which foods are “good” for us and which are “bad” (again, using scare quotes because food has no moral value – it is neither good nor bad).  I am a very fat woman.  I can tell you the approximate calorie count of pretty much any food out there.  I can also tell you how many Weight Watchers points it is, whether or not it is allowed on the Atkins diet, what carbs are in it, how many grams of fat, and in most cases, what it’s key ingredients are.  I have been forcefully “educated” about food since I was about 5 years old,  and I am now 42.  I have spent decades calculating every little fact about food because I have spent decades dieting and with fucked up disordered eating habits.   I bet I am not in the minority of fat people who have been forcefully “educated” about food their whole lives too.

Fat people are the least ignorant people about the nutritional information of food.

Poor people are the least ignorant people about the nutritional information about food. 

Both groups of people (and often they intersect), have HAD to know this information out of necessity.

Want to help people eat more nutritious, fresh food? Make it cheap. Pay people a living wage.  Make sure that they learn the skills needed to procure and prepare fresh foods, right from school level.  Ensure that they have the time that it takes to actually procure and prepare fresh food.  If you’ve worked a 16 hour day just to cover your rent and bills, you don’t have time to shop for prepare vegetables. You have kids you have hardly seen, who are hungry, and very little money to feed them, you need something quick, hot and filling available now.

Think poor people need to be aware of the conditions of production? HELL NO, they ARE the conditions of production. They’re the ones working split shifts in factories prepping frozen meals. They’re the ones working in fast food restaurants for minimum wage.  They’re the ones working shitty jobs at weird hours to pay the bills.  They’re the ones labouring on farms for less and less pay as the supermarkets cut back the price of produce on them. THEY KNOW.

Want to help change the way food is consumed? Legislate so that food processing companies have to pay a fair rate for produce. Legislate so that supermarkets have to pay a fair rate for produce. Legislate so that food producers have to pay their workers a fair living wage and employ them in reasonable conditions so that they can go home and shop and cook for their families.

The whole fresh/healthy food movement is rampant with patronising attitudes towards people who are the most aware of the problems with fast food, but with the least means to do anything to rectify it.

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Not New At All

Published January 3, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

Happy New Year!!

This is where I spend at least a month being absolutely astonished that it is 2015 already.  It happens to me every year, you’d think I’d get used to it by now.

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year.  I love the fresh feeling of a new year, all the potential laid out in front of me, even though it’s arbitrary.  I love having Christmas (which is a difficult time for me) behind me.

But for the love of all things sacred, I fucking hate all the resolutions, New Year/New Body/New Me, let’s get fit/get healthy/off the couch, the public announcements of how “good I’m going to be this year” bullshit.  It’s like a fucking tsunami of thinly veiled moralism coated in self aggrandisement.  It’s the once-a-year parade of “Look what a good cookie I am!”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for self improvement.  I’m all for setting useful goals and working towards them.  That is, improvement and goals that are about being your best you and living your life to the best of your ability, not changing your appearance to meet some societal standard.  I simply believe that these things should a) be all the time, not just on an arbitrary date change and b) NOT be announced publicly to draw attention to what a good little person you are.

A lot of people don’t even realise they’re doing it. They’re not aware of the air of self congratulation, of moral superiority they’re emitting.  Hell, I used to even do it myself, before I realised what a vacuous societal performance it all is.

But most of all, I hate how unaware people are of just how harmful all that bullshit can be for the people they subject it to.  I don’t know about you, but my social media feeds are all a massive minefield of moralising, diet talk, “fitspo”, food policing, and New Year bandwagon jumping.  It has absolutely fucked with my head over the past week or so and I find myself spiraling into some really dangerous territory.  Every day I have to dodge trigger after trigger from people I do love and care about.  I’ve struggled with all of those old dark thoughts about food and eating and dieting to the point where I had to really sit down and work hard to pull my thinking back into a sensible place.  Thankfully, I’ve reached a point in my life where I can recognise it creeping up on me, not everyone has got there yet and the spiral can head downward faster than they can keep up with.  It sends them into a horrible place that takes forever to claw back from.  But that said, even though I can recognise it, I still have to work REALLY hard to undo the damage.

What it all boils down to is needing to engage in real self care.  Which I know is really difficult to do, particularly when your brain is being dragged down a dark path by constant triggers from those around you.  So what I thought I’d do is share with you the things I do that help, and if they are of use to even one of you, it’s worth it.

  1. Use the block, unfriend, hide, mute, list, or whatever functions on social media you can.  Have a purge.  Get rid of the people who deflate you.  For the rest, that you do care about but are hurting you with their New Year crap, hide/mute them or create a list on the site that is ONLY the people who make you feel strong and positive, and focus on that list.  Each site has a bunch of different functionalities, but most of them have options that will at least reduce the harmful crap.  Don’t feel ashamed or harsh for doing this.  You have to take care of you first.
  2. Fill your social media platforms with fabulous people who make you feel strong and positive.  Start a Tumblr following a whole bunch of fat positive accounts.  Follow a bunch of intelligent, witty people on Twitter who bring good things to the table.  Seek out blogs that talk about food in a way that helps you balance your thoughts.  Jump on Facebook and find pages that are by people who share empowering content.  Follow lots of fab feminist accounts of people of marginalised identities on Instagram so you can see representation of lots of awesome diverse people.  Make yourself a playlist on YouTube that fills you with joy.  Whatever social media of your choice, build it in to something that empowers you.
  3. Hang out with someone you know makes you feel good about yourself.  If you have a buddy who suffers from the triggery shit as much as you do, get together and have a good vent about it, and then move on to something positive and fun.
  4. Relax.  Whatever your method of relaxing is, do it.  Take a bath.  Read a book.  Have an orgasm (alone or with someone, doesn’t matter how).  Go for a walk somewhere nice.  Watch a movie that makes you laugh.  Listen to good music.  Have a cup of tea and a biscuit.  Build Lego.  Whatever that thing is that makes you sort of forget time, and just relax… do that.
  5. Make sure you feed yourself.  God this is a tough one.  The downward spiral is ever present for me on this one.  Have breakfast.  Eat lunch.  Get a decent dinner.  It’s easy to skip meals or live off simple things (ramen anyone?) when your brain is being bombarded with triggery stuff.  But if you focus on feeding yourself properly, you will feel better in the long run.
  6. Take your medications.  Yep, that’s one that I find VERY difficult when triggered by New Year shit.  Set an alarm on your phone and take them when it goes off.  Portion them off in a pill box if you need to.  Just get in a routine and take them.  Not taking them makes the downward spiral faster.
  7. Get some sleep.  Even if you have to leave other things undone, get some sleep.
  8. Get some fresh air.  Go outside and fill your lungs.  Just breathe for a while.  We all spend too much time in air-con/heating without getting a little fresh air once and a while.
  9. Treat yo self.  A bunch of flowers.  A really, really good cup of coffee.  A new dress.  Some nice hand cream.  Whatever is a nice little moment of pleasure.
  10. Remember this: You are awesome.  No, you’re not perfect, but you’re awesome.  The only person you need to impress with self improvement is YOU.

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