Friday, December 02, 2005

Hara hachi bu again and thoughts on discrimination

I first heard about hara hachi bu on NPR (last month), and something about it just clicked and resonated with me. So I bought the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. I have been sampling this volume (obviously a coffee table book, but one I'm actually reading!). In Okinawa, people (especially older people) practice hara hachi bu daily, which means they stop eating when they're 80% full. They had been taught from childhood to practice this at every meal, and it's so rooted in their culture that to overeat seems almost taboo. Of course, we don't have these kinds of social restrictions, so I'm not surprised that such a concept is not easy to practice in Western cultures, where food cues are the norm (for example, the chocolate in the break room). We, of course, can't change our culture (at least overnight), but we can try to work on how we respond to it. I agree with Linda Moran, administrator at Dietsurvivors, that if chocolate and other goodies are important, then by all means incorporate your faves into your eating. Deprivation is the bane of all diets, but I think there's a huge difference between deprivation and making informed choices about what to eat and how much to eat.

Easier said than done, which is why striking a balance between "dieting" (at least in the classic sense of the word, which = deprivation) and learning permanent (hopefully) ways of fulfilling our need to eat on both physical and psychological levels, while at the same taking care of our bodies, is so difficult. And this is a very personal matter, based on physiological and psychological needs.

I AM discovering that, for me, "legalizing" all the foods I love has stripped the power they have had over me; I thought for sure I'd go over the cliff every single day, run to Dairy Queen two-three times a week for a Moolatte. But it hasn't happened. I LOVE Moolattes, but, evidently, not enough to work them in regularly, even though I KNOW I could jump into my car and get one right now.

I sincerely believe that our culture of abundance has negatively impacted several generations of Americans; my boomer generation started feeling the side effects in earnest, especially as they started aging (I was a chubby child, so I have felt this nearly all my life). Our bodies are out of whack, our sugar levels running wild--when I was growing up, diabetes was rare, type II almost unheard of.

The diet industry is getting fat with wealth, and we are staying fat despite all their promises and claims. Never mind the mixed message we are bombarded with: today, I had lunch at a strip-mall Chinese restaurant; next door is a Curves; next to that is a Steak place, and next to that is Weight Watchers; and next door is a sub place. A symbolic (and real) commentary on the state of our mixed-up food culture.

Finally, the U.S. is waking up to the issue, but, then, they want to point the blame at the very people who are struggling, a "blame the victim" mentality. The message: "Get off your fat asses and do something about it."

Yeah, right.

Try telling a cancer patient to "Get off your diseased ass and do something about it." The overweight are methodically and purposely targeted for heinous acts of discrimination, covert and overt. Did anyone happen to catch last week, on ET, the skinny woman who donned a fat suit and went undercover and recorded people's reactions to her "350 lb. body"? She was shocked at how people treated and reacted to her, and not only behind her back. Well, duh. She's just discovering what we have known all along. The way people treated her made her cry, but, at the end of the day, she could remove her fat suit and move on as a thin person. Still, I appreciate her efforts because at least she's TRYING to walk in our shoes and expose these "hateful" reactions to the overweight.

Our culture needs to change the way it feels about us, and if that means federal legislation prohibiting discrimination against the overweight, then it should be done. In Pennsylvania (where I live), an employer can fire an overweight person just for that reason, and that stinks.

Back in the late 80's, I thought our country was headed in the right direction regarding the treatment of the overweight, but we have backlashed, even as our population grows heavier. One airline (which will remain unnamed because I don't want to risk giving them publicity) actually charges some overweight people double fares.

I'm getting tired of Jay Leno's jokes about the overweight--they are NOT funny at all, just like the Steppin' Fetchin' black stereotypes weren't funny back in the 30's, 40's, and 50's. I would say this to Mr. Leno's face: fire your writers and find some REAL jokes. Poking fun at people who struggle daily is cruel and reveals more negativity about YOU (Leno) than it does about your intended target.

To wrap up: we experience many of our problems because of the way we are NOT accepted by our culture, and it does matter if we have to keep "apologizing" (albeit in subtle ways) for our size. If we could move about freely, without fear of being poked fun at (once, about 10 years ago, some kids at the mall shot rubber bands at me) or discriminated against, I sincerely believe it would be easier to move on and really do the important work of caring for our bodies and NOT feel in a rush to lose weight fast--I think that, more than anything, our shame drives us to these crazy diet programs and bariatric surgeries (which may be medically necessary for some people).

Perhaps if we were more relaxed in our own skins, we could just move on, and groups like dietsurvivors would become obsolete.

I guess I have rambled, but, somehow, writing about this stuff helps me, and maybe something I say will help someone else.

I'm not doing this for the money (despite the ads); I made .03 cents last month! (Woo! Hoo!).

Jennifer Semple Siegel

NOTE: I posted a version of the above on Dietsurvivors.

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