Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Ember, Contributor

cw: fatphobia, disordered eating

Food is what fuels our bodies. So why is it that there is an ever increasing rise of popularity in dieting and diet culture? A movement that encourages us to deprive ourselves; to aspire to be thin. To put it plainly? A hatred for fat bodies that results in widespread disordered eating.

The way we frame different topics and discussions is very important. This especially applies to the way we talk about food, our bodies and other people’s bodies.

Caloric science is based on outdated Western scientific methods from the nineteenth century by Wilbur Atwater. It is the estimate of how much energy is contained in a portion of food by burning it in a tank submerged in water, and measuring how much burning the food increased the temperature of the surrounding water.

However, it is hard to accurately predict the energy stored in food; our bodies do not work as simply as a furnace burning fuel. There are many factors that influence the calories of the foods we eat, like how the food is prepared, if cellulose is present and how much energy it takes to digest the food.

Not to mention, there are additional factors that affect digestion, such as metabolism, age, gut bacteria and physical activity. Labels on food do not accurately represent what we’re putting into our body nor what we’re getting out of it.

Ever since Canada enforced the Healthy Menu Choices Act back in 2016, which requires food establishments to list the amount of calories in their products, there has also been an increasing number of discussions surrounding the negative impact of the addition of calories to menus.

Another measurement that is often used to determine how healthy we are is body mass index, even though it is an inaccurate measurement of “health” for multiple reasons. It was meant to analyze the weight of populations, not individuals, and doesn’t take into account whether mass is fat or muscle. As a result, BMI is a biased and harmful method to gauge health.

Along with measurements like calories and BMI, language surrounding food can also be dangerous. You may hear things like “carbs are bad”, or you may hear discourse on “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods, “cheat days” and “clean eating”, to name some examples. This language can contribute to the notion that we should feel bad for eating food, when it simply is a way to nourish ourselves and additionally, something to enjoy.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Hannah Meier, a dietitian who contributed to a project tackling women’s health, writes about how society glorifies dieting. In Meier’s article titled A Dietitian’s Truth: Diet Culture Leads to Disordered Eating she writes, “I was half-functioning. I remember filling pages of journals with promises to myself that I wouldn’t eat. I planned out my week of arbitrary calorie restrictions that were shockingly low and wrote them all over my planner, my whiteboard, the foggy mirror in the bathroom.” 

For many of us, the mindset of diet culture swallows you whole, consumes your every thought and waking moment, then spits you out like rotten food.

Oftentimes, people aren’t advocating for diets because they want to be “healthy”. Instead, they often feel passionate about dieting because of their hate and disdain for fat people since they associate being “fat” with “unhealthy”, “unhappy” or “unlovable”.

It’s also important to note that views on fatness and fat bodies change depending on the time period and culture; renaissance paintings often depict fat women in angelic and celestial aesthetics. As well, certain cultures, both past and present, value fatness as a symbol of privilege, power, wealth and fertility.

Diet culture, eating disorders, and fatphobia are so tightly knit together that they are like an ill-fitting sweater woven by your grandmother that you didn’t want or ask for. Sometimes you think about wearing it, to make things easier or simpler. But it won’t. You will only become a shell of your former self; a husk that is barely scraping by.

Any joy derived from depriving yourself is temporary. A scale will weigh how much of you is there, but it won’t weigh how much of you has been lost to an eating disorder. It is a mental illness, a distortion of reality and external factors that influence how you think. You can’t just stop having an eating disorder on a whim.

Calorie counting isn’t healthy, demonizing certain foods isn’t healthy and having preconceived notions about someone’s health based on how their body looks isn’t “just caring about their health.” Stop calling food “unhealthy” or “healthy”, start calling it “nourishing” or “not/less nourishing. Eat food that makes you happy and makes you feel good. Bodies are so many things, including wonderful and complex. You only have one — so treat it with kindness.

 

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By anonymous contributor

For a long time, my eating disorder flew under the radar. People always talk about calories, sizes, sugar, fat and new cure-all treatments so casually. Because thinner is better. So, for the most part, I was just like everyone else in our diet culture.

It sounds wonderful; I’ve really romanticized it. The weight comes back sometimes, fluctuating behind smiles and therapy sessions, but all that means is your bra and jeans never fit right. I think it is very important to mention that most people with eating disorders do not lose weight. In fact, the vast majority, like me, are never underweight. So all the crying and counting leads to nothing but more unhappiness and temporary, unglamorous fixes. And a lot of therapy.

I’m not here to discuss my eating disorder “journey.” I want to talk about Western society’s disordered-eating “journey.” About how being fat became a punchline, and the only thing your doctor wants to talk about during your five-minute appointment at the wellness center.

Let’s talk about how new students enter university with one of their top concerns being the dreaded “freshman fifteen.” It’s horrific that this expression has become so commonplace among my classmates. Even the calorie counts on the menus in the student center reinforce this obsession our demographic has with thinness.

This “epidemic” of obesity is on everybody’s mind all the time. I can’t tell you the number of people I witness who venomously insist on non-fat milk at Starbucks — ironic considering “non-fat” has more sugar which begs the question, what is the true epidemic here?

There are things the public health campaigns do not want you to know. Like how much money is generated by diet-fads and weight-loss companies. How little their guidelines are backed by scientific literature. How much easier it is to blame you than blame society. How hard your body will fight to stay at its predetermined ideal weight – and that you really can’t change that predetermined weight. And, the most shocking to me, how little weight affects health.

Your body was not designed to handle weight fluctuation. Any amount of weight loss is a worst-case scenario, and this is whether you are 100 or 500 pounds. So your body is going to fight like hell to stay where it is unless it’s below the genetically predetermined ideal size.

Ask pretty much anyone who has tried sustained weight loss. You can do it, but it will be a constant struggle. Unless you lose weight extremely gradually, in which case you are likely not doing it consciously, you cannot be happy or relaxed around food. You will be starving yourself until you are hungry enough to eat a horse, and then you’ll eat that horse.

As for weight and health, we all know about body mass index. 18-25 is normal, and then everyone below is a “model” and everyone above is “disgustingly” unhealthy. But the science says otherwise.

A high BMI is not correlated with high morbidity or mortality rates until you get into the above 30 range. And above 30, the rates of morbidity and mortality are far more correlated with physical activity than with weight. So most research would show that so long as you can move with your body, you can live with your body. How’s that for a slogan?

It is true that freshman do gain some weight during their first few months at university but nowhere near the exaggerated fifteen pounds. If you gained some weight, relax – it’s normal! Researchers at McMaster University are currently investigating environmental and biological determinants of weight change because, yes, that number on the scale really isn’t all up to you.

So drink that full-fat latte. Stop obsessing over food. It doesn’t lead to anywhere good. The world is your goddamn oyster, with lots of other yummy things on the menu. Quite frankly, weight loss is boring. But that’s another story.

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By: Emese Sykes

I know first-hand that body shape, size and even standardized charts can’t tell you whether or not someone is treating their body with the respect it needs. I also know that none of those same measurements should have any bearing on the level of respect a person receives from others.

As a person with a relatively tiny body, I find myself on the receiving end of quite a few awkward, challenging and even insulting comments about my body and eating practices. Everything from “That’s all you’re eating?” to “Where are you putting all that food?” and even “You’re too skinny. Eat some dumplings!”

I get “compliments” in the form of thinly veiled complaints about the speaker’s own body (Um, thanks for making me feel awkward, I think you’re beautiful, by the way). Yet when I go through seasons of overeating and avoiding exercise, I start getting the real compliments: “Wow! You look so healthy now!” I end up being approximately the right size, and even the perfect BMI to match someone else’s prototype of a young healthy woman when I’m treating my body poorly.

I’ve had to learn and re-learn that not everyone is going to accept that my body’s natural size is a result of genetics, rather than dieting, discipline, or an unhealthy body image. It says nothing about my character or my lifestyle, and nothing about anyone else’s either. As such, I’ve had to learn and re-learn to take care of it properly, and not force it to change into an unhealthy imitation of someone else’s healthy body.

While the size of my body has at many times apparently qualified it for public debate and appraisal, I can usually laugh awkwardly and run away. Yet I know there are many men and women who find themselves in much more detrimental situations because of discrimination against their body’s size or shape.

As it stands today in Canada, protection against sizeism is not included in human rights codes. In other words, you can’t lose your job because of your religion, your disability, or your gender. But if your employer considers your weight to be an issue, you don’t have much legal support to fight getting laid off, or getting passed over for a promotion, or even not getting hired in the first place. Sizeism seems largely overlooked by Canadian law, with only one noteworthy exception: the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling that any large persons in need of two seats on an airplane must only be charged for the one.

Even in the most recent update of McMaster’s Discrimination, Harassment & Sexual Harassment: Prevention and Response policy, body shape and weight discrimination are missing from an extensive list of individuals and groups protected by the university’s policy (which, thankfully, includes an “other” catch-all).

These and other examples of institutional blind spots, coupled with a very profitable weight loss industry can contribute, first of all, to a lot of pressure for Canadians to change their bodies (whether their weight poses a medical problem or not). Moreover, the omission of protection against sizeism gives permission to employers, teachers, doctors, and the general public to treat any adult or child they perceive as underweight or overweight with less respect than they deserve. This culture cultivates a judgmental, comparative and even competitive attitude towards body weight and shape, in which individuals must answer to strangers’ assumptions of character, choices and lifestyle based on how our bodies are perceived.

Shape, size, tests, charts and numbers are completely unrelated to the amount of respect that you owe yourself, the respect that anyone else owes you, and the respect that you owe others.

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