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Archive for the tag “Weight Watchers”

Kurbo Your Enthusiasm

Buckle up, my friends. It’s a long one.

Let’s do it. Let’s talk about Kurbo, from the Corporation Formerly Known As Weight Watchers. *Sigh…*

I did a little reading, especially after all of the backlash that came up on my Twitter feed. Kurbo is an app. The app is free, but for $69/month you can get 15 minute coaching sessions with a coach. It’s aimed at children aged 8-17. It’s a “traffic light” system, with red foods being foods to eat only occasionally, yellow foods being foods to be cautious of, and green foods being fruits and vegetables which you can eat as much as you want of. It shows pictures of these kids with their “results.”  Some of these results are based on BMI. (Don’t even get me started.) And they claim it is “a scientifically-proven behavior change program designed to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight, derived from Stanford University’s Pediatric Weight Control Program.” 

When I look up Stanford University’s Pediatric Weight Control Program, I find a link to the program, itself. And there are two things I particularly took note of. 1) That the program is for *families.* And 2) this quote on the programs site: “Since 1999, more than 80% of participating children and adolescents have achieved age-appropriate weight reduction.” Which tells me nothing about whether or not they have gone on in the future to maintain the lifestyle, or if they lost the weight while in the program only to gain it back. Because every dieter I know has lost weight. The question is always “did they gain it back?” For some of us, we have gained and lost hundreds of pounds. Successfully losing weight does not add up to a “scientifically-proven behavior change.” If it did, WW would already be out of business. But they already know that.

The biggest issue I have heard about this is that it is setting children up for eating disorders by forcing them to see certain foods as good or bad. I don’t disagree. Though I am not 100% on this bandwagon. There is a saying I am fond of. “Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.” I am not saying that every kid will have a warped view of food because of this. But my guess is that it is parents who are upset about a child’s weight, who have already made an issue of it, that will be acquiring this app for their children to “fix” what they see as a problem. It will teach children that green foods, of which you can have as much as you would like, are “diet foods.” To this day, I refuse to eat celery or raw carrots. These two foods are so ingrained in me as diet foods, and I always felt so punished when eating them when I was fat, that I have given them up completely and have never looked back. They are the foods that will make you skinny and socially acceptable. And those red foods are “special,” and “something to look forward to.” I never would have been able to love vegetables the way I do, if I were just eating them as the means of “earning” cake. When I was fat, vegetables were my punishment for being fat. Cake was for “good girls” who could get and stay thin. 

Another thing I took note of was having a coach help you “set goals.” And by goals, they seem to mean weight loss goals. This screams “DIET!” to me.

When I changed my lifestyle, one of the first things I was told was to stop worrying about my weight. That in changing my eating, my weight would take care of itself. That I needed to lose my diet mentality. That I was not supposed to count calories. That I was not supposed to eat diet foods. I just had to get my eating under control, by giving up sugar and carbohydrates, because I was addicted to them. And by putting boundaries around portions and times of eating because my ideas about eating were making me feel crazy. I was encouraged to eat things I loved. I was told to eat the biggest and the best. To eat decadent meals. To use butter and oil. To find a 1 lb apple! That I get a cantaloupe bigger than my head and eat half of it for breakfast. That the problem was not with my weight, but with the fact that certain foods set up cravings. It was recommended that I quit those foods entirely. That saved my life.

I was told I did not have to exercise if I did not want to. That I was tackling my eating disorder, not my “weight problem.” Eventually I wanted to exercise, but not because of my weight. I didn’t start jogging to lose weight. I started as an act of love for my body, not an act of penance for being unattractive. 

And what is this idea that you can and should be able to eat as much as you want of certain foods? Yes, I was told I could eat a giant apple. But once the apple was gone, and the meal was over, it was time to move on to the next part of my day. In my experience, this concept that I should be able to eat all day, was a big part of my problem. And I had to relearn that I not only did not need, but also did not want, to eat constantly. That the idea that I should eat all day if I wanted to, but let it be pickles and lettuce instead of chips and cake, simply reinforced my craziness around food. I needed food to cease to be my dearest companion. And that meant not eating constantly. That meant finding things to do with my time. It meant learning to sit with situations, experiences, and feelings, and not eating.

It has also occurred to me that Kurbo is putting the burden of food choices on children at a time in life when food choices should be coming from parents as a means of offering children an “eating culture,” at least for younger children. I mean, seriously, you’re going to make an 8-year-old be responsible for what they eat? Oooooooor, you could be a parent that makes meals of whole foods with lots of vegetables and fruits and who loves them and gets excited by the prospect of eating them. Perhaps one who doesn’t keep sugary drinks or sweets in the house as a regular occurrence. You could be a parent that lives a particular lifestyle and passes it along to your children. 

What I am asking is what are the parents of these children eating at home? Are they unwilling to give up their soda and chips and cake, because they don’t have a “weight problem?” (I’m sure that would never mess a kid up…*eye roll*) Or they do, but they can’t live without their treats? Is this a case of “do as I say, not as I do?” And do I really need to explain to you how effective that is in practice? 

But here is the kicker for me. If a parent is not willing to change their lifestyle for what they claim is the health and well-being of their child, then they need to quit it with the judgement about the child’s weight. If a parent is putting it on a child to change themselves within the family, and the family culture is not changing, the parent is just going to make that child an outcast. Because of their physical appearance. And that hurts my heart. 

And of course, for me, we have to talk about sugar addiction and the “red foods.” Because one thing that I specifically read was that you are *supposed to* eat some of those red foods. And that is an excellent way to keep an addict addicted.

Just a little. Just a taste. But *nobody* can give it up entirely. That would be ridiculous/crazy/unfathomable! 

What would a doctor say if you told them you had quit alcohol, cocaine, meth? Certainly not “Oh no! You still still need to have that every once in a while. Who can live without alcohol? What a terrible pressure to put on yourself.” 

Look. Our country and our culture has been creating addicts for a while now. An opioid crisis. A subsequent heroin crisis because of the opioid addictions our medical community has created. And our food industry has created what is nearly an entire generation of addicts. With ultra-processed foods specifically/scientifically designed to make you want more. And we have let them. And belittled and shamed the people who have become fat as a result. 

And of course it is children who have been raised on this junk who are deeply affected.  So now we want these children to be shamed? Sure. What better way to ensure the next generation of weight loss, fitness, and beauty industry customers? 

Ultimately my problem with Kurbo is twofold. That it seems to be a diet being sold as a lifestyle. And that it is aimed at children. 

There are ways to really change your lifestyle. There are steps to take and choices to make. But I, for one, am not going to put my faith in a corporation that has made its money off of diets and selling “thinness” as an ultimate goal. And I am saddened that it has targeted children now. It’s an excellent business strategy. It is a great way to teach children early that they are lacking based on their size, and keep them paying money to achieve social acceptability. And when it doesn’t work long-term, because of sugar addiction, or an eating disorder, or because it’s really just another diet, it will probably keep quite a few of them coming back again and again. Because that one time they lost weight. And maybe this time, if they are just a little better, work a little harder, are a little more worthy, maybe *this* time it will work.
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If I end up in the political correctness slammer, please don’t sneak a file to me in a cake…

Perhaps you read the article in the New York Times this week called Losing It In the Anti-Diet Age. If not you can read it here

I found it interesting. Especially because the author is, herself, a fat person who can tell you first hand what it’s like to be a fat person in America. I too know what it’s like. I know how it feels to go on a diet, and lose weight, only to gain it all back, even though you don’t want to, don’t mean to, would literally do anything to not, from sticking things down your throat to make yourself throw up (something I did personally), to, say, getting your stomach removed (something I did not do, but know people who have). I know what it is like to be made fun of and have people talk about you as if you are a thing, with no feelings. To have them question your goodness, your honor, your worth; a fat person must be lazy, stupid, careless, and pathetic, or they would deal with their weight. I was struck hard by the author’s mention that a commenter on another article she wrote said, “Why doesn’t she stop eating so much?” As if we hadn’t effing thought of that ourselves already. There is talk of willpower. A doctor talked about getting an individual down to a goal weight with medication so that they could make a fresh start, but then they were going to have to get willpower. (Seriously? Screw you.)

All of this sounds to me like thin people who have no idea what it is like to be fat, trying to solve a problem they don’t even understand in the first place. Thin people don’t need to figure out how to stop eating. They already don’t overeat. That’s like having a person with a lot of hair try to cure baldness just because they have hair and bald people don’t.

But another issue in this article that I wanted to address is the change in the language of dieting in the culture. Words like “diet,” “dieting,” and “weight loss” are becoming taboo. We want to talk about “health,” and “strength.”

Except that we only want to talk about them. Ultimately, we want, as individuals, especially fat individuals, to not be obese. I didn’t want to be fat. I still wanted to be treated like a whole, worthwhile human being, fat or not, but I did not want to be fat.

Perhaps this is where the disconnect lies. See, I hate this new cultural phenomenon that I call “the feelings police.” We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, so we don’t talk openly and honestly about difficult subjects, for fear of being branded politically incorrect, hence heartless and out of touch.

But not facing these things head on is not helping anyone. Strike that. It’s helping the sugar and junk food industries. And it’s helping companies like Weight Watchers. Who are still selling a diet, but are marketing it, in true politically correct fashion, as a program for getting healthy.

Here’s the problem: Weight Watchers never changed the barometer for how you would know it was working. It’s the same barometer. Did you lose weight? If we were truly having a conversation about health, we would have a different measuring stick. Stress test results, for example. Getting off your diabetes medication. Being able to run with your dog in the morning. If you are calling your program “Beyond the Scale,” perhaps you should measure success with something other than the number on the scale.

But I am not actually condoning that; I am merely pointing out the problem with consistency. If you want to be healthy, and you don’t care what your weight is, and you use some benchmark other than weight for your own happiness, good for you! You go! Do it! I am all for fat acceptance. I will not judge you for loving yourself at any and every size. In fact, I encourage it. I truly believe that it is in loving ourselves without caveats and conditions that we can begin to make changes that are both healthy and lasting. But I think that if you want to lose weight, really, you are going to have to look at it for what it is. You have to stop worrying about political correctness. You may have to deal with a late night knock on your door from the feelings police telling you that you have violated statute whatever-whatever stating that you will not say anything that could, intentionally or unintentionally, hurt the feelings of any person, or group. You are going to have to get real.

The author talks in the article about going back to Weight Watchers for a third time in her life. And perhaps you are asking why. She already knows from her own experience that it does not work, so why yet another attempt? I don’t have to ask why. I already know all too well why. Because if you hate being fat, you will do whatever you can, whenever you can to stop being fat. And you will hold out hope against hope that this time will be the special time where the thin “sticks.” And also, because, in my experience, programs like Weight Watchers tell people that if they are “good” they will get results. If they get some willpower, they will be thin. As if willpower is out there to be had, if you are lucky enough to run across some, like a perk in a video game. You have acquired willpower. Lose 100 pounds and level up.

But here’s the thing that I found lacking in the article, perhaps because the author doesn’t have a context for it: when she talks about going around the Obesity Week conference she says, “…it [made me sad] because if you have this many hundreds of smart and educated people trying to figure this out, and nobody has anything for me but superfood and behavior modification and an insertable balloon and the removal of an organ, it must be that there is no way to solve fatness.”

To this I say, abstinence from processed, and sugary foods. Or, perhaps it is better to say, abstinence from your personal binge/trigger foods. (I know a man who knows that his personal trigger foods are “the guy foods,” like barbecue ribs, as opposed to me and cake.) Total and complete abstinence. To my mind this is not behavior modification, because that term seems to imply that the problem is with my hand, rather than my brain. “Doctor, my hand just keeps grabbing donuts and shoving them into my mouth! What should I do?” This article in no way addresses food as an addictive substance, or mentions any modification in diet (specific foods as opposed to portions) as a lifestyle change. The author talks about Thanksgiving as a kind of food hell for dieters. But of course it is! It’s a room of foods that trigger our reward centers and create a craving for more. If you go to Thanksgiving and you eat the things you have not been eating for the past week/month/year, and they are back in your system, so are the cravings.

I cannot think of a person that I have met who has had long-term weight loss by “managing.” In fact, I believe it is exactly this “managing” that keeps us in the cycle of losing and gaining it all back, feeling like this time we can do it, and then feeling like failures. If you cannot or will not give up your binge foods, then I recommend that you either get comfortable with that cycle of yo-yoing, or you stop trying to lose weight in the first place.

I am not talking about thin people. We all know that thin people are not having these problems. They can, as the author ends the article noting, lovingly lick the icing off a cupcake with impunity. They already are managing without having to think about it. I am talking about people who are fat and don’t want to be. Eat whole foods, in moderation, and abstain from foods that make you want more of them.

Perhaps you are thinking, “But cupcakes are so good!” Or “I could never give up barbecue ribs!” Cool. Then get your fat acceptance on! Work that! Eat your cupcake and love your beautiful, fat self! But if you want to lose weight and keep it off, chances are you are going to have to give up certain foods forever.

That is an unpopular opinion. Feel free to call the feelings police. I may get sent to political correctness jail, but I’ll be there in a comfortable body with my dignity intact.

Oprah, Weight Watchers, and the burden of being fancy.

I’m going to do it. I’m going to talk about Oprah’s weight. Not because I give a shit about Oprah’s weight. Seriously, I don’t. But this is an eating disorder blog, and she’s Oprah with a new commitment to (and stake in) Weight Watchers. She’s one of the most successful humans to exist in the history of the world. And she has trouble controlling her weight. And, because she is who she is, all of the rest of humanity has a front row seat to watch, judge and ridicule Oprah’s body. (*shudder* Note to self: Never get that famous.)

I don’t know about you, but I really hate that new Weight Watchers commercial. It is the same “inspirational” music, and Oprah is using that same, low, soothing voice usually reserved for charity ads that begin “for just 70 cents a day…”

She says “Every time I tried and failed, and every time I tried again, and every time I tried again, has brought me to this most powerful moment to say, If not now, when?”

Do you know why I hate it so much? Because I don’t believe her. Not because I think she is a liar. I don’t. I think that Oprah has become as powerful as she has by being authentic. But I can see the fear. I can see the resignation. She looks to me like she is essentially saying, “This time I really mean it!” And I don’t know who she is trying to convince, us, or herself.

Behind that “I mean it” is the assumption that willpower is what she needs. That this time she is going to be committed. As if she weren’t committed every time before that. But we all know that’s bullshit. Of course she meant it every time. Not being able to be in a socially acceptable body is humiliating. Even for those of us who are not scrutinized daily on the world stage. It is one of the hardest things I, personally, have ever dealt with emotionally and spiritually. I meant it “every time.” But if I went walking in to my next weight loss experiment with the food obsession still there, and no experience that it could be any other way, I walked in defeated before I even started. The fear of being broken was still there. It wasn’t until I experienced a sense of relief, the possibility of sanctuary from the obsession, that I first believed that there was a solution at all. (I didn’t experience that relief until I surrendered to both giving up sugar and carbs all together and putting boundaries around my eating.) And more, I have seen women and men who still continue to struggle with their eating, even after they have had a glimpse of sanctuary. This disease of compulsive eating is no joke. And I do not see that telltale glimpse of sanctuary in Oprah’s eyes in her Weight Watcher’s commercial.

You may have the assumption that Oprah’s wealth and influence would make her weight loss journey easier. But from personal experience, I will tell you why I believe the opposite.

I have a very close friend who has boundaries around her eating, and has for over a decade. She is a very gifted singer and performer. She is a world traveller. She has friends in high places. She’s fancy. Now, she’s always fancy, but I have found that when she is feeling fancy, that is generally the most dangerous thing she can do for her food boundaries.

Because it takes a level of humility to say that you cannot control yourself around food. For Oprah Winfrey, it would mean the woman who flouted the conventions of race and gender and overcame a difficult childhood of abuse, would have to say that she couldn’t stop eating. She had power to change the world, but not enough power to step away from the chocolate cake. (Hey, Oprah, I don’t know anything about building a 3 Billion dollar empire, but seriously, it can’t be nearly as hard as stepping away from the cake.)

I don’t know Oprah at all, obviously. Not even a little bit. But I am going to guess that she does not have a “weight problem.” I am going to bet she has a food problem. And I am going to bet she is addicted to sugar and carbs. Because seriously, think about how many pounds of fruits and vegetables you have to eat to be overweight. And what’s more, how could a woman with enough money to buy several small countries not buy everything necessary to maintain a healthy weight? Personal trainers, cooks, dudes in suits and sunglasses with earpieces to guard the refrigerator, the freezer, and the cupboards where the cookies are kept. OF COURSE SHE CAN! But who is going to stop Oprah Winfrey from eating the cookie? I don’t care how crisp your suit is. If Oprah tells you to stand aside and get out of the way of the white chocolate macadamias, you are going to damn well do it. Because she is Oprah. Duh.

My point is that nobody is going to humble Oprah except Oprah. And if you were arguably the most powerful woman in the world, it might be a little scary to humble yourself. I am going to guess that she did not get where she is today by giving up her power. But I know first hand that power, or willpower, isn’t enough when it comes to eating. I know that it doesn’t matter how stubborn, strong, or committed you are. When the cookies and the cake are calling, if you have never experienced the possibility of peace around food, there is no escaping.

I wish Oprah the best. But I don’t expect Weight Watchers to be the cure for what is ailing her. And I hope that she can experience for herself the paradox of humility as power. Because if there is anyone who can lead by example and help people (especially women) be free and peaceful around food and weight, it’s Oprah. Duh.

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