My Medical Running/Weight Loss Paradox

Hi guys.  It has been a hot minute since I’ve written a blog post.  I hope everyone is doing well.  However, I had an experience yesterday that I need to get off my chest.

Let’s preface this story by saying that I enjoy running.  It is a form of bodily movement that makes me feel as though I am accomplishing a personal goal.  Running helps me relieve stress and is a way for me to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.  I run for many reasons, but weight loss is not one of them.

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Speaking of walks with my pup (I love any opportunity to show the world the perfect being that is my dog Tessa).

About a week ago, my foot began to hurt.  It was a dull and persistant pain but I really didn’t think too much about it.  Even though I was training for a 10K that was to take place Memorial Day weekend, I stopped running as to not aggravate any injury I might have.  However, I still led an active lifestyle and continued to take my beautiful pup for long walks and used my bike as a form of transportation.

About three days ago, my foot started to swell pretty badly.  I asked a friend with a background in sports medicine if she thought I should seek medical attention and she said that pain with delayed swelling may be a sign of something serious.  Yesterday the pain was worse and the swelling was…well…disgusting.  I decided to go to urgent care and get a professional opinion.

Let’s begin my story about my visit to urgent care by stating that being fat my entire life has made me dislike doctors.  Doctors have continually used my weight as a way to be lazy and to jump to conclusions instead of diagnosing the root causes of problems.  Instead of asking me questions about my lifestyle or about the illness that brought me to the doctor, they see a number on the scale and conclude that my diagnosis will always be “obesity”.  Sinus infection?  Lose weight.  Nasal Polyp?  Lose weight.  Common cold?  Lose weight.  Influenza?  Lose weight.  I now refuse to step on the scale when I visit the doctor because it will make her at least ask me why I refuse to get weighed and start a dialogue about my lifestyle.  However, universally, the recommendation of the doctor for how to lose weight is to increase activity and eat lots of fruits and veggies.  More on this later.

Anyway, here I am at urgent care.  I’m seen by a doctor that I have never seen before and I will never see again.  My foot is swollen and discolored.  The doctor asks how I injured it and I say “I don’t know but I am a runner so I have a feeling it is related to running”.  She replies in a snide tone “You’re a runner?” and continues to say “This may be a stress fracture.  Stress fractures are commonly caused by beginning runners who are obese.”  Beginning runner?  BEGINNING RUNNER?!?!?!?

I reply “I’ve been running for about four years.  I am not a beginner.  I am training for a 10K and hopefully will a half marathon under my belt by the end of this season”.  The doctor then replies that perhaps running isn’t the best form of exercise for someone with my BMI.

I tell the doctor “Let me get this straight.  Every time I go to the doctor, they tell me I need to lose weight.  One of the prescribed ways to lose weight is through physical activity.  Now that I’m physically active, you tell me that it is the wrong kind of physical activity for someone with my body type?  Do you even know what you’re talking about?”  Why is my weight always a problem that prevents doctors from doing their job?!?!?!

So, I’m in pain.  I’m worried that I won’t be able to do an activity that I love due to this injury.  I’m worried that a fee that I’ve already paid for a race is going to go to waste.  I don’t need the paradoxical jargon of doctors giving me a lecture about weight loss.  I need some pain killers and some advice as to how I am not going to fuck up my foot worse than it already is so I can get back to running as soon as possible.

All the doctor did was give me an X-ray, conclude I indeed have a fractured foot, give me a prescription for Vicodin and send me on my way.  I was not given any advice for care, not given a splint or a cast, NOTHING.  I was given advice about how I need to lose weight though.  How fucking kind.

Needless to say, I’m frustrated.  However, I’m not surprised.  It is much easier to tell me I’m fat than it is to heal my broken foot, I guess.  I’ll keep the blogging universe updated as to what my “real” doc says once I get an appointment.

Thanks for listening to my rant, friends!

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Magazines

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Magazines reinforce society’s view of the ideal woman. This 1930’s advertisement was for a food additive that promised to help women gain weight. The historical perspective that combines the 1930’s beauty ideal of voluptuous women and scarce food realities of the Great Depression really helps put this advertisement into perspective.

I make scenes in public on a regular basis.  My husband is used to this, even though I’m sure he still gets a little embarrassed.  Recently we were in line, ready to check out, at a grocery store and I saw two women’s magazines side by side both featuring on their covers radically different and similarly critical views of women.

One magazine lambasted Kim Kardashian for gaining weight in her pregnancy and featured several pictures of her eating various foods.  Because it is surprising that a pregnant woman would need sustenance and equally crazy that someone incubating another life might gain weight.

The other magazine had pictures of celebrities in bathing suits and criticized them for being too thin while speculating about their supposed eating disorders.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and I even shouted it loudly in line at the grocery store, much to the dis-satisfaction of the elderly couple in front of us): What do women need to look like to not be subjected to public scrutiny?!?!?!

And yes.  They’re just crappy women’s magazines.  They don’t seem important.  But historically, magazines reflect the collective expectations of women and greatly influence the roles women play within our society.

Historically, women’s magazines grew out of the gradual emancipation of women that occurred during the late 1800’s.  In an era where women were first entering college and beginning to enter the workforce, the increased spending capital of women caught the eyes of publishers and advertisers.  The women’s magazine was born.

Fast forward to the 1940’s.  Men are away at war and women must pick up the slack on the homefront to support the war effort.  Women’s magazines start featuring articles on how helping out the war effort through manual labor is the patriotic thing to do, but that women can still look feminine by wearing lipstick or ribbons in their hair while they do what used to be “men’s work”.  Magazines were filled with recipes for “quick meals for the working woman.”

Once the men return from war, magazines began to reinforce the old models of embracing   motherhood, being a wife and housekeeping.  Articles once again begin to link self-worth with cleaning products and applauding the therapeutic value of baking.  Magazines feature recipes for five course dinners that take all day to cook.

Along comes The Feminine Mystique and the second wave of feminism.  Women aren’t satisfied with their lives as mother, wife and housekeeper.  Collectively, women begin to address the “problem that has no name”.  Being free from the societal confines of woman as mother, wife and housekeeper in turn made women’s magazines scramble for another product to sell, a different way to make women collectively feel guilty.  Women’s magazines begin to reinforce that a women’s worth is in her beauty, instead.  Most specifically this transfer of guilt is about a women’s size.

Instead of making women feel guilty about a messy house, women’s magazines begin to reinforce guilt about gaining weight.  Instead of the therapeutic value of baking, we see articles about the miracles of weight loss.  Instead of making your husband happy by making a five-course meal, you can make your husband happy by looking a certain way.  Between 1968 and 1972, Vogue Magazine sees a 70 percent increase in articles about dieting.  That’s huge!  The modern diet industry as we know it begins to grow out of this transfer of guilt and affects women to this day.

ImageI guess what I am trying to say here is that it is important to see how seemingly trivial things like women’s magazines affect our lives.  I still enjoy thumbing through them from time to time.  However, we need to acknowledge that the media is powerful and makes a statement about society’s views and expectations of women.  What can we do?  Buy Ms., Bitch or Bust.  Buy DIY ‘Zines.  Donate young adult books with strong female characters to your local library.  Hell.  Just call out bullshit when you see it (even if it is in the line at the grocery store.  To quote Tina Fey (on her Bust Magazine photo shoot):

 

Feminists do the best Photoshop, because they leave the meat on your bones. They don’t change your size or your skin color. They leave your disgusting knuckles, but they take out some armpit stubble. Not because they’re denying its existence, but because they understand that it’s okay to make a photo look as if you were caught on your best day in the best light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wisconsin State Lawmaker Wants To Ban Ability To Purchase Junk Food With Food Stamps

My lunchtime routine is sitting in the break room at work and reading the local paper while I slowly eat my packed lunch.  Let’s face it, I’m not in a hurry to get back to my desk and stare at a computer screen for another four hours.  Yesterday, as I turned to the local section of the Wisconsin State Journal, I noticed an article stating that a Wisconsin State Representative wanted to ban the use of Food Stamps for foods that lack nutritional value.  I am against this proposal for many reasons, some of which I have listed here:

1) I live in wonderful Madison, Wisconsin.  My fine city continuously makes lists by various publications ranking it the most educated city in the nation, it is in the top ten for health care in the US, and is ranked as one of the best places to raise a family.  Madison is a beautiful and progressive city (with the best farmers market in America, I might add) with a strong local food movement. I love living here and am very happy to call Madison home.  Despite all these accolades (and more!), I drive through a huge food desert on my way home from work.  Food deserts are defined as areas with little to no access to fresh and affordable foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet.  Instead of access to fresh foods, the people who live in this area only have fast food and convenience stores from which to buy their groceries.  Low income people who live in the Madison food desert need to ride busses for over an hour just to get to a market that sells fresh food.  A bill like this would cause much harm to families (specifically children) who simply do not have access to the nutrition they need.  If given choices, they would buy healthier options but instead of being able to choose between junk food and fresh food they can only choose between junk food and starving.

2) My small Wisconsin home town does not have a grocery store or any form of public transportation.  The gas stations there take food stamps because low-income people in rural areas with no cars and no access to public transportation need to eat, too.  Once again, the choice for the significant population of my home town that lives below the poverty line is either junk food or starving.

3) In the article linked above, State Representative Kaufert states that “It is taxpayer dollars and maybe we should have a say on how it is spent.”  If politicians really cared about “tax payer dollars,” they would not support government corn and milk subsidies that lead to a food surplus and result in factories needing to make food-like products out of the junk (such as high fructose corn syrup and whey powder) that remains.

4)  Food policing.  Quit it. If poor people want to eat junk, let them.  After all, rich people pay top dollar for junk food labelled as “low fat”. Do you know what is in all that “low fat” garbage and diet foods you pay more money for than their “full-fat” counterparts? High fructose corn syrup. The same stuff you don’t want poor people eating.  These “diet” food items are just marketed differently.

5)  Once upon a time, those who lived in poverty did not have access to any food.  They became emaciated as a result.  Now, inexpensive highly processed foods with no nutritional value are easily accessible and the only food option for many low-income people.  The result?  Those with no access to nutritious foods eat junk food and get fat.  Being thin was once the (presumed) social indicator of poverty.  In today’s society, being fat is greatly linked to poverty.  In fact, BMI is consistently the highest among those in the lowest income groups and wages are inversely related to BMI.  In other words, those with a low income are more likely to be obese and those who are obese are more likely to have a low income.  Today’s low-income people not only have the social difficulties caused by poverty and race preventing them from overcoming their difficulties, they are now more than likely to face size discrimination as yet another barrier keeping them from gaining quality employment.  Common themes in studies (such as this one from Yale) indicate:

  • the probability of being called back for an interview decreases if the applicant is obese.
  • hiring managers prefer thin candidates over their obese counterparts, even if they have equal qualifications

So, finding a job is harder if you’re fat and you’re obese because you’re poor and you’re poor because you’re obese.  What’s a person to do?

I propose that instead of food-policing and dictating what people can eat, we should make affordable healthy foods available in communities that do not have easy access to such items. We should offer classes on the subject of proper nutrition to low-income individuals while simultaneously making it easier for them to access nutritious foods. Support grocery stores on wheels known as “food mobiles”  that can travel to low-income neighborhoods. Support community gardening plots and offer people education about how to grow their own food.  There is so much personal satisfaction to be gained from growing your own food.  If you grow it, you’ll eat it!

More people in your life than you even realize (including myself) have used food assistance programs. Instead of judging, help your neighbors get rides to grocery stores with healthy foods. Help enact positive change instead of negative rhetoric, please.  Help make my state a better place to live.

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I get to see this building every day. Isn’t the Wisconsin State Capitol beautiful?

Substantial Figures in History

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how concepts regarding beauty are fluid and continuously changing.  What is aesthetically pleasing in one era might be an undesirable trait a few generations later.  Foot binding, while an extreme example, is a practice that comes to mind when I think of beauty rituals and traits that were desirable at one time, but have since fallen out of vogue.

Foot binding was practiced for nearly 1000 years in China.  The beauty ideal of three to five inch long feet was achieved by systematically breaking and binding the feet of girls when they were as young as three years old.  The smaller a woman’s feet, the higher the implied social status and the more desirable she was to potential suiters.  The practice was eliminated beginning in the early part of the 20th century.  In the 1910’s, feminists and labor activists from the Communist Party recognized foot binding for what it was: a painful, debilitating practice intended to control women, reinforce a hyper-delicate feminine ideal and to equate the size of women’s feet with their personal moral conduct.  Eventually, the practice of foot binding was banned and contemporary Chinese culture largely views the practice as an outdated and brutal beauty ritual.  I bet those themes of “control”, “feminine ideals” and “equating size of body parts with moral conduct” sound a little familiar.

Anyway, this concept of ever-changing beauty ideals made me think I would like to do a series of themed posts called “Substantial Figures in History“.  To talk about fat people who were considered beautiful in their day, or to discuss the historical contributions of people of all sorts of shapes and sizes.  To switch to something a bit more light-hearted than foot binding (sorry to be a Debbie-downer), the first subject of “Substantial Figures in History” will be one of the FIRST documented fat people in history: Venus of Willendorf!

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Venus of Willendorf, herself.

At 4.5 inches tall and nearly 25,000 years old, this statue is said to be a representation of what people during her time found to be the feminine beauty ideal.  Her voluptuous size and accentuated lady bits reinforce what were the desirable attributes of 25,000 years ago.  You know…the “two f’s”:  fatness and fertility.  25,000 years ago, being fat would have been a sign of prosperity to her gatherer-hunter society.  And her accentuated lady bits?  Because of doin’ the nasty.  Well, doin’ the nasty AND the then-considered mystical, awe-inspiring, life-generating act of childbirth.  We can’t forget about that, I guess!

Riot Not Diet

“The way many women use scales is grossly destructive.  The scale is a cruel purveyor of personal worth for the day.  If you wanted to come up with a plot to take an entire gender and render them less effective, you’d put them on a diet and have them buy a scale.  The human energy wasted by women thinking about these numbers is enormous.”–David M. Garner, Ph.D.

It is a snowy day here in Wisconsin.  About six inches fell overnight. I help my husband dig his car out of the driveway and trudge through the snow to take my pup for her afternoon walk.  Taking off my wet, snow-soaked jacket, I notice a pin that is fastened to the lapel.  It features the classic “raised fist” image evokative of many social movements and reads “riot not diet!”.  This simple pin makes me contemplate my journey as a feminist and size activist.

I remember driving around with my dad in his old F150 and discussing how we didn’t think it was fair that our large size was never attributed to genetics.  I was in middle school and we were having a relatively profound conversation about how we believed weight was a source of discrimination towards us and that we thought our genetics were to blame.  My red hair?  From my dad.  My poor eyes?  Thanks, Dad!  My asthma?  You guessed it…Dad.  However, questions about why I was bigger than the other kids always resulted in an answer regarding my diet and assumed lack of activity.  Even as a child it didn’t make sense to me that my older brother and I had the exact same diet and spent entire summers playing outside together (an art seemingly lost to today’s children).  Somehow, he was a bean pole and I was chubby.  My mom’s side of the family are all tall and slender.  My dad’s side of the family?  A bunch of fatties.  Even at a young age, it was evident that fat people faced discrimination and weight is not entirely due to environmental factors.

My knowledge of size acceptance was rather limited until college. As a sophomore at the university, I was required to write a paper for a general education sociology class about discrimination I have personally faced.  I wrote about size discrimination.  The feedback my paper received from the (thin) professor was that she didn’t believe discrimination based on size met the criteria for the paper.  In other words, even with properly documented sources, she didn’t think size discrimination was real.

My fourth year of college, I switched my degree from Music Education to a Bachelor of Music with a Women’s Studies Minor (I joke that my goal was to be completely unemployable).  It was then that I began to delve into the more academic aspects of the societal codes of femininity.  I took classes and read books that informed me about how our modern beauty standard stresses a diminutive beauty ideal because the small size reinforces the archetypes of a physically weak woman and the passive female personality.  I began to understand why our culture wanted women to waste time worrying about food intake instead of about larger societal issues, but didn’t really modify my personal attitude towards my size.  I continued to spend money on diet plans.  I would count “points,” talk to my female co-workers for hours about weight loss, I would pay more at the grocery store for highly-processed food items advertised as “low fat” and lose sleep if I went over my weekly allotment of “points”.

Last fall, an old friend named Tasha who I hadn’t talked to in years randomly called me.  Tasha lives in Philadelphia now.  When I received the call, I didn’t even know what part of the world she called home.  Tasha called because she was following a punk rock band on their US tour.  The band had a stop in Madison and she wanted me to check them out.  In return for a place to crash, she’d pay for my ticket to the show.  I was intrigued.  I was a punk rock kid in middle school and high school but it had been years since I had gone to a concert that had a mosh pit.  The band was good, but music that loud is no longer my thing.  To escape the noise, I decided to peruse the merchandise table.  Among the stickers with the Misfits logo and the DIY zines, I saw a lovely little pin that said “RIOT NOT DIET.”  I had to have it.

It was at that moment that it finally hit me.  The energy I spent worrying about my food intake all these years could have been spent positively empowering myself and other women.  The extra money I spent on diet plans and diet foods could have been spent helping those who have nothing to eat.  Instead of eternally chattering with my female friends about the “points value” in a cup of popcorn, we could have been talking about the work-place discrimination we were collectively facing as women.

As I proudly put that pin on my jacket at the punk rock show, I thought to myself “no longer”.  That tiny little pin has made me contemplate my personal actions and the role weight loss has played in keeping my mind off bigger issues.  That little piece of flair has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.  I now refuse to let myself be pre-occupied by something as trivial as my weight when there are truly more important things to worry about.  Riot not diet, indeed.

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The pin that got me into all this trouble and the snow that just needs to go away.

How Not To Be A Dick To Your Fat Friends

How Not To Be A Dick To Your Fat Friends

I really enjoyed this article linked above because it touched upon many of the things I frequently feel.  For instance, I know my friends mean well when they say “You’re not fat”.  I also know that my friends are only trying to relate to me over statements that amount to self-loathing (“Ugh.  Don’t you just hate your upper arms?”).  However, neither of these activities are constructive and they both make assumptions that 1) Fat is a negative attribute and 2) that shared physical attributes that bother you about your appearance should bother me, too.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve done both those things, but it makes you think a little bit about how what you say effects others.

There’s all kinds of other goodies in that blog entry.  It is just an all-around excellent read.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.