For our first virtual book club, we are reading Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison. Catch up on our thoughts on chapters 1-6 here. Read on for our thoughts on chapter seven.
Rose: I agree that diet culture is a big part of what we are exposed to. Whether it is my social media feed or TV commercials it seems to be everywhere. I find myself talking back to ads pointing out what is wrong with their claims. I also speak negatively about my body and, sadly, sometimes others’ bodies.
Early in chapter 7 Harrison seems to be asserting that diet culture is part of the patriarchy and only affects women. From what I know and see this isn’t the case, eating disorders do exist in men, and it has been suggested that gay men are at a higher risk, too.
While diet culture may have “stolen” some things from me, it is more accurate to say that the culture around sports, strength, and competitiveness stole something from me, from childhood on. But in many ways my lifestyle change that came from my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis a dozen years ago has been life giving and life affirming. Without finding my way to people who were passionate about swimming, biking, running, and racing I wouldn’t have found my joy or the experiences and friendships that have formed during that time.
I was hurt/outraged when I was diagnosed as morbidly obese. But rather than channel it into activism against the medical community (or anyone else) I channeled it into life affirming activities that will support a healthy and joyful existence well into my older years. Not eating what makes me happy in the moment is worth more than that.
I have a lot of boundaries around how people talk about people with diabetes, especially people with Type 2 who are in larger bodies. I will shut that shit down hard. But I also understand that I may be on the outside of that population in terms of how I have grappled with my disease.
I’m not sure that being angry and following her intuitive eating “plan” would make me happier. But if it worked for her, I am happy for her.
Laura: This was the first chapter that really resonated with me. Harrison describes eating disorders a being gendered and related to the patriarchy, which I (and a large body of research) agree with. While disordered eating patterns are not gender exclusive, in that only those who identify as women suffer from disordered eating, expectations that one must look and behave a certain way certainly are gendered. Indeed, societal requirements and expectations for “othered” persons are different and increased in general from the expectations for white men. The pressure to look a certain way (thin, lithe, muscled, wearing them right things, etc) before one can even attempt to be, say, professionally successful in society is a function of a white, cisgender, and yes, masculine society where anyone who isn’t a member of that default “normal” group must prove that they belong. But, because “othered” people can never be white, cisgender, and/or a man, they are expected to futilely pursue societal expectations of perfection in an attempt to belong. Pressures to appear perfect are just one way that a masculine, classist, and racist society put extra and unnecessary expectations on people who aren’t white men. One symptom of those pressures is disordered eating. Indeed, the gay and trans community has been found to have a higher incidence of disordered eating than even women, and research suggests that too is because of pressures to appear a certain way and/or body dissatisfaction. Disordered eating is inherently gendered; it is also racist.
In this chapter, Harrison transitions to the focus of her book—strategies that will hopefully help readers to have a healthier approach to food. While I still chafe every time eating disorders are presented as pathological (i.e., have/had, something one either has or does not have), many of the strategies Harrison mentions in this chapter are also ways that helped me to understand the pressures I felt to appear perfect and to respond to them. First, Harrison mentions embracing anger—anger, specifically at the diet-industrial-medical complex that tells us we must appear a certain way. I am still mad, quite frankly, and sometimes more than others I mourn what I lost in the years I was so focused on my weight. Could the Laura before she began to lose weight be, say, in a successful long-ter, relationship? Would she have been a better sister, friend? Could she have been a mother? I’ll never know. And acknowledging that and allowing myself to mourn what might have had been very good for me. Similarly, Harrison mentions a client asking herself, “what am I feeling right now?” Asking myself that whenever I feel the need to restrict has been a huge win. The other tips Harrison mentions in this chapter have been helpful to me as well, and I recommend reading the chapter for a deeper look.
Overall, I was heartened by this chapter, and I hope that when I keep reading I’ll learn new strategies.