Feeding a fear of fat

I stumbled across an article yesterday that asked "Are we feeding a fear of fat?"

All I can say is: damn skippy we are.

Far more than freaky thin models (which most people can see as unrealistic, even if they want to look that way), the hysteria over obesity and fat is triggering eating disorders. And the really scary part is that so few people can really see it.

"What's wrong with encouraging a healthy diet and exercise?" people might ask. Well, nothing in particular, but it's the type of diet and exercise that's being encouraged, along with the premise that there's no such thing as too few calories and too much exercise and too many pounds lost.

Kids are being caught in the crossfire, internalizing these messages of fat=bad and thin=good, of dieting=morality and overweight=sinful, of exercise and lettuce being virtuous and relaxation being slothful. Nowhere in these messages are the dangers of malnutrition, the problems of the female athlete triad. Many anti-obesity activists seem quite willing to tolerate a few triggered eating disorders in the name of obliterating fat from the landscape. It's tragic, they say, but obesity is such a pressing problem that it's a necessary evil.

From the Times Online article:

At a recent conference of the British Dietetic Association, Claire Mellors, a dietitian in childhood and adolescent eating disorders for the Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, described how “a real fear of obesity is an emerging and worrying trend” that is causing a dramatic rise in the number of children with eating disorders. “From my clinical experience I would say that as healthy living messages have become more prevalent, there has been a corresponding rise in referrals for children with disordered eating,” Mellors says. “We have no hard facts to back this up yet, but it is clearly happening.”

It is difficult to escape the bombardment of public campaigns that encourage children to lead more active lifestyles. From schools to supermarkets and from cereal packets to chocolate wrappers, the overwhelming message is that being fat is bad - very bad - while being thin is all things admirable and good. At the checkout in Sainsbury's you are handed vouchers for its Active Kids campaign, designed to combat obesity, and the chain also has teams of food advisers to deliver dietary advice in schools...

...But, for all their good intentions, these and other campaigns have become so pervasive in society that they have prompted a worrying shift in perspective about weight and exercise. Whereas it was once an integral part of daily life for children, physical activity is now billed as a means to an end, that end being slimness and a low BMI. To anyone who grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, compartmentalising exercise into periodic bouts of sweaty effort is something alien. Back then, being fit, even being fat, was not a concept that readily entered the conscience of a child of school age.

Like I said, the scariest part of this hysteria is how rational it seems- to people with eating disorders and the people who love them. Being obsessed with food and weight is normal, so spotting an eating disorder can be difficult. Where do you draw the line?

And what is the next generation going to be like?


Anonymous said...

So true. People, especially women, are praised for losing weight without having to detail exactly what they're doing to get there. And even if they do have to describe their unhealthy methods, they're often still praised. In a society where a dangerous low-calorie liquid diet is known merely as a "cleanse," what does un-disordered eating really look like?

There has to be a happy medium...concern for health without obsession. I hope we get there.

Carrie Arnold said...

Exactly. Now the problem comes getting our culture to figure out how to do that...

licketysplit said...

the ironic part is that all the hype is what's fueling the so-called "obesity epidemic". There is so much shame regarding food and eating and our bodies it's nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship with food...in my opinion. :)

Carrie Arnold said...


And you just foreshadowed tomorrow's post- a fun little tidbit I found after I wrote this.

Lisa said...

Oh hells yes. I didn't stop eating because I wanted to be a model, I quit eating because I started believing that being fat was a moral issue.

Anonymous said...

This was a great post. It really breaks my heart that today's kids are learning that being thin is more important than being smart or being a good person. I grew up in the 80s/early 90s, so I didn't have to deal with this as much, but it has definitely been a trigger for me in recent years. I used to blog with a couple of "health" sites and for my sanity had to give it up because the focus was on preventing obesity and diets. I fell into a trap of thinking it was okay to "diet" as long as I didn't do anything crazy, that there was nothing wrong with being underweight as long I wasn't starving myself.

Can I just say your blog is my daily dose of sanity. I'm pretty new to recovery and I think you have a really healthy outlook.

Anonymous said...

I actually believe it all started in the 1970's when the government started to tell people, as 'guidelines', what they should eat and how much exercise they should do. Then what followed was low fat diets and huge aerobics crazes. Olivia Newton John - lets get physical. I think kids in the 80's (been one myself) definitely felt that pressure too. I know I did. But it can only be a lot worse now.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carrie Arnold said...

Yo, Mr. Viagra...

Wrong ED. Go bother someone else, alright?

KC said...

I completely agree. this fear of fat has reached hysteria and it is really unfounded. plus the fear doesn't lie in health reasons (and one could argue it's possible to be fat and healthy), but in this sin-versus-morality outlook. I don't see any end to this in sight, but I sure hope it changes.

Crimson Wife said...

I definitely worry about this. At least when I was going through the worst of my bulimia in 1994, there were a lot of "average" weight teens around. That helped reassure me that I could get back to a healthy weight without becoming fat (my biggest fear if I stopped the purging). Today, it seems like teens are either obese or superskinny without there being any happy medium. What happened to all the normal size kids?

Penis Enlargement Pills said...

You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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