Virtual book club: Anti-Diet chapter six

As we build community, we have created a Virtual Book Club, where we read a chapter of a book and discuss that chapter every week. Our first book is Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison. You can catch up on our thoughts about chapters one through five here. This week, we discuss chapter six.

Laura: I’m going to start by discussing the other book I’m reading (well, listening to via audiobook) Gorge: My Journey up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds by Kara Richardson Whitely. While I found myself getting frustrated by Richardson Whitely’s self-deprecating language throughout the book, it has been an important read: First, it has been a reminder of what it is like to live in an overweight or obese body. And second, listening to Richardson Whitely read Gorge has been a good reminder of what it feels like to navigate the world as someone perceived to be too big and too much. Despite being medically categorized as obese, Richardson Whitely climbs Mt Kilimanjaro. Climbing Kilimanjaro is an accomplishment, size irregardless. Yet, Richardson Whitely reminds the reader throughout Gorge about how much harder it is to live in a world that is structurally built to other anyone that is overweight. She describes, in detail, the struggles to get to Kilimanjaro – the plane seat not built for her, the looks from the others on the mountain, the assumption that she can’t do it – all of this was what she had to overcome before she even starting climbing. Her’s is a story everyone should read (or listen to).

Why do I bring this up? One of the things I struggle with in general and as I read Anti-Diet is how to rectify two truths: 1. It is not okay that people who are overweight are told in every way that they are wrong, bad, and immoral. Indeed, Richardson Whitely has internalized that message, which is clear throughout Gorge. 2. The world as it exists today, however wrong, is built to make anyone that is overweight feel like they do not belong. It is a dilemma that I solved by losing 120 pounds; to lose 120 pounds, I had to develop disordered eating habits that persist until this day, over ten years since I lost the weight. This is not something I recommend to anyone. Losing weight, for most, is not realistic as diets fail between 90-95% of the time. It also isn’t actually needed, as Harrison also discusses, the relationship between adverse health outcomes and size is correlational at best. What is really needed, then, is structural and systemic change. No amount of mindfulness and self-love is going to change a world that is built to tell you that you are wrong. Similarly, losing weight isn’t going to solve the problem either – I still suffer from the same pressures to look perfect that I did when I was overweight. Except, now, I fixate on whatever the theme of the week is: my chipped front tooth, the wrinkles gathering around my eyes, being too thin (yes, a thing). Society is built to tell women, especially, that they are not good enough, not pretty enough, or, conversely, too much – too big, too assertive, too loud. It’s a double bind, and the problem is not women. Just like it’s not Richardson Whitely’s fault, even though she excoriates herself throughout her book. Airplane seats shouldn’t be made for one body type. People shouldn’t think it is okay to treat her differently.

I think this is the crux of my concern about many of Harrison’s arguments and this book – focusing on how women are misperceiving the world or telling them how to think differently about the world is viewing women through a deficiency mindset. I understand that Harrison is, so far, following the psychological model for treating eating disorders, but telling women that they just need to be less affected by diet culture, that they should learn to ignore it and just be present in their bodies – that isn’t a solution. It is completely rational for women to respond the way that they do to a society built to make them feel that they are wrong. No amount of self-love and therapy is going to fix society.

I can see the need for women to learn how to cope, and I so appreciate the need for an individualistic approach to help women since society isn’t going to change overnight. But just like diets fail over 90% of the time, so does traditional eating disorder treatment. The long-term rates of success are dismal. I’m not convinced that Harrison’s approach in Anti-Diet, by replicating a psychological model and repeating a few things that has been said before, will be any different.

Rose: If I am getting what the author is implying eating whatever in social situations will make me happy even if the reason I avoid those foods is because I don’t enjoy them or because they make me feel unwell by raising my blood sugar or causing me GI issues? Why can’t I be happy being in those situations and not eating what everyone else is eating?

My body is currently using a certain threshold number on the scale like a jump rope. I am not freaking out about it or restricting food, but I am aware of what seems to make my weight go up several pounds in 24 hours. And it tends to be the foods I have tested as inflammatory for. I don’t have complete documentation, but at the same time she’s talking about numbers being too low without establishing what those numbers are or how she got to the determination that they were “too low”.  I know I am doing better with my body dysphoria right now because I’ve taken and posted at least two photos where I am only wearing a sports bra and I am nowhere near my lowest weight. But I don’t think eating whatever will make me feel happier. When I’ve lost relationships because I was focused on losing weight and being stronger and faster, it was because the other people were uncomfortable with my success, not because I was forcing anything on them. We’re six chapters in and she hasn’t even started discussing her intuitive eating concept, but at this point I am expecting it to look a lot like every other program or protocol since she is following the diet book formula to the letter. Maybe Part 3 of the book will move forward?

If you’ve read Anti-Diet, what did you think? Thoughts about our comments?

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