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Monday, January 17, 2011

What does it take to remain "thin" as we age?

I've been thinking recently about the fact that most women gain weight as they age. Our "shape" also changes, with changes in hormones during and after menopause. I have a few people in my life who are different; they aren't gaining weight like the rest of us.

I've watched them and what they do to remain thin or, in some cases, to get even thinner. For most women, this requires an enormous exertion of will, to control food intake and exercise A LOT. Some of these women really like living this way, and others do it because it's one of the (few) ways they have of feeling good about themselves. Others just have a flat out obsession with exercise.

To be clear, there are a few women who remain naturally thin. Their bodies and brains just automatically regulate food intake and they move more naturally. This is, however, the exception.

Many women, menopausal and younger, use regulation of food intake and weight as a means of controlling their internal and external environment. Weight becomes a symbol of how good they are at controlling themselves. It's something that everyone can see and admire.

Imagine that we live in a world where people have the illusion of control because they stay thin!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Food Should be One of Life's Simple Pleasures

I love food. I love everything about it. Talking about food, thinking about it, planning it, recipes, cooking, and of course, eating.

But some people just can't allow themselves to enjoy food. It's just too scary. They may feel that if they eat food they like, they are sure to be out of control. And out of control probably means they will overeat, and get fat, and that would be just too horrible to contemplate.

Other people feel they don't have "the right" to enjoy food. Somehow it's just too decadent to allow food to make them happy.

One of my patients put it really well. She told me that her life feels very out of control right now, and food and her weight feels like the only thing she CAN control. She spends a lot of time thinking about how to control what she eats, and planning what NOT to eat. For example, she loves fried chicken, but would feel awful if she ate it. She is sure that just eating this once would result in a binge and weight gain.

It's just so sad that our culture of thinness has made life with food so hard for some people.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I've been reading The 100 Year Diet, by Susan Yager, a history of dietiting. This fascinating book chronicles America's obsession with thinness as a means of controlling one's life when it feels otherwise uncontrollable. It reveals the historical roots, in terms of what was happening in US history during various times in the past 100 years, and how this affecting our cultural ideals for the human body.

Isn't it amazing that the whole idea of dieting or thinness only began 100 years ag0? Many in our society take it as an article of faith that thin is good, and says a lot about the person's integrity, self control and overall attractiveness. 100 years ago, the idea of calories was not known, and the means of gaining or losing weight was not well understood. Yager describes the popular ideas about fatness, and how being "overweight" was not a BAD thing, until several journalists began writing about the idea.

During the 1930's, when many felt that life was not in their control, one easy way of creating (at least) the illusion of control, was to control what you ate, and therefore your weight. Amazing, isn't it, that during a time when many people did not have enough food to eat, that others worked hard to LOSE weight. What irony!