Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Bookmarks, Getting over Weight?

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Bookmarks, Getting over Weight?

Article excerpt


Getting Over Weight?

A Critic of our Cultural Obsession Goes Too Far

By Diane Cole

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight-And What We Can Do About It> By Harriet Brown> Da Capo Press. 243 pages. ISBN: 9780738217697

He who loses weight lives a long, healthy life." For many years, patients in my father's medical practice routinely went home with a free pen stamped with that fortune-cookie-like prescription. Call it a rallying cry or a nag, but presumably that pen was a reminder to patients to substitute apples and grapes for ice cream and cake on their grocery lists.

That was the 1960s. Fifty years later, almost every physician you visit will still advise you similarly, though probably without the free pen. But do we know a lot more now than we did then about what actually constitutes a healthy weight range for a given individual? What practical knowledge has research really given us about how to lose weight and keep it off without feeling like an abused yo-yo? Despite the proliferation of research studies about weight loss and eating habits, it often appears that many fundamental questions about what to eat or not to eat and why or why not remain unanswered.

Into the fray comes science journalist Harriet Brown with Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight-And What We Can Do About It. For Brown, learning to become "OK with [my] body as it is right now" has been a lifelong journey. But her larger goal in this book isn't to write her own story as much as it is to push back against our society's fixation on image and weight and our sometimes unconscious, too often blatant bias against those who are overweight or obese. (As defined by the National Institutes of Health, obesity is a body mass index above 30, and extreme obesity is 40 and above.)

In her overview of the psychological fallout of our collective fixation on body mass index and body shape, there's a lot that Brown gets right. She correctly diagnoses our plight as a society so obsessed with weight we support a diet industry that, according to ABC News, brings in revenues of $20 billion a year. She argues powerfully for the need to push back against weight-shaming. She advocates cogently for a new paradigm to transform how we think about our bodies and our body image.

In addition, Brown aptly captures how our thin-at-any-cost culture promotes an obsessive, warped relationship with the daily nourishment we can't live without but whose caloric impact we often come to fear and mistrust. Her own life history dramatizes the agonies wrought by this double-bind. She opens her book with a recollection of herself, 20 years ago, desperately seeking a therapist's help to regain control over a body she'd come to loathe for carrying excess pounds. She reveals that her daughter, while still quite young, nearly died from anorexic starvation. (Her daughter's illness is the subject of Brown's first book, Brave Girl Eating.) Brown shares some toxic anecdotes about her own diet-obsessed mother, who once "went so far as to fill an empty ice cream container with garbage and put it back in the freezer, where she knew my sister would open it. Inside, she placed a note reading, 'Gotcha!'"

And she's on the mark, too, in portraying the confusion caused by the barrage of mixed messages about food and weight that assault us daily. With medical researchers presenting a mixed and ever-changing bag of food groups to enjoy or avoid, the idea of eating wisely-whatever that is, according to the latest definition-becomes ever more perplexing. Dispirited by our latest diet experiment, our taste buds are forever ripe for temptation, especially when we're bombarded by ads urging us to devour any number of high-caloric foods dense with fat, sugar, and salt (not to mention the seemingly guilt-free, so-called low-fat versions of forbidden treats). …

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