Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fat Acceptance Vs. The Don't Kid Yourself Diet

Fat Acceptance is everywhere this week.  The Times did a story and I keep running into responses. The movement asserts that fat doesn't necessarily mean unhealthy, that diet and exercise don't work for everyone, and that size is determined by genetics.  
I don't quite buy it.  I read a lot of medical studies in my spare time, and it seems to me that being fat does indicate poorer health.  As far as diet and exercise go, it irks me when I read about people who get gastric bypass or similar operations, and who say they needed it because "dieting didn't work."  Surgery that prevents a person from eating has the same physical effect as eating a lot less.  So it's not that a diet didn't work, it's that for complicated emotional, chemical, hormonal, or genetic reasons, the person in question couldn't stop eating.  I don't mean to argue semantics; I think it's interesting to address why so many Americans can't stop eating.  
Most of what I think on the topic of Fat Acceptance is based on the many years I have spent  listening to friends of all sizes talk about their weight.  I've never heard anyone I know say they felt great overweight.  Personally I get supercranky when I gain ten pounds, and know that my mood would deteriorate exponentially if I became obese.  And not at all because of society's expectations.  I know I am probably not allowed to have opinions on this if I've never been obese, but the subject of weight fascinates me.
I write a lot here about the Don't Kid Yourself Diet, which is what I call the harsh standards, blunt talk, and crazy plans featured in old diet books.  I find it very entertaining.  But to be honest, most of the diet and fitness advice in my old books is reasonable and moderate.  
I also haven't found a lot of evidence that wildly different body types have been "in," during different time periods.  Yes, models used in ads and in art fluctuate, but I feel the books give me a more realistic view about what actual women looked like and tried to achieve.  For example, throughout modern history, people of my height and frame, who were not seeking work as actresses or models, tend to want to weigh about 120 to about 140 pounds.  When my old books use medical or insurance charts, thats's mid-range for my height.  And it would put me somewhere between a size four and a ten.  In other words, a medium.  In decades in which plump roundness was the ideal, that only meant beauties gravitated toward the higher end of that range.  And vice versa.  
 Stella Reichman aside, my beauty authors are not much for accepting things just as they are, but much more apt to make a project out of striving for what one wanted.  Two hundred years ago, one hundred years ago, twenty years ago, my authors thought obesity was problematic for the health and the looks, and needed to be addressed at once.  
Before Atkins, before low-fat, or low-carb, before prepacked, processed frozen meals stamped with the names of weight loss gurus, the large part of diet advice has been to get up early, go for a walk in the fresh air, eat whole natural foods like vegetables, and eschew pastry and excess butter, alcohol, and treats. 
I found the full text of Health, Beauty and the Toilet: Letters to Ladies from a Lady Doctor by Anna Kingsford, published in 1886, online at Google Books.  Lady Doctor Kingsford shapes each chapter in the form of a response to a letter from a real or imagined questioner.  
I have pasted the first page of the chapter, On Obesity, below.  After you enjoy the charming and quirky tone, I invite you to click over to read the whole chapter.  You'll notice how logical most of her advice is.  One minor point of interest (to me and possibly to reader and loved one, Lu), the Lady Doctor recommends reducing fluids for weight loss, rather than the modern notion of drowning oneself in water for fitness.  There is also a lot written about massaging and pounding away at the fat, which was widely believed to be helpful.  More on that soon.  Anyway, enjoy.  The rest of the book is here.