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Virtual book club: Anti-Diet chapters 8 and 9

This week we read two chapters for our first virtual book club read: Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison; next week, will will wrap up the book! If you’d like to catch up on our thoughts on chapters 1-6, visit this compendium.

Laura: Last week, I was pleased overall with Harrison’s tips, but this week, I find myself disappointed again. I think part of it is because she continues to make broad generalizations about dieting, so-called diet culture, and systemic commentary without citations (or footnotes/endnotes), and that makes me nervous. Most egregiously, in my opinion, she subverted an Audre Lorde quote in chapter 8, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” to talk about how to respond to diet culture and become an intuitive eater, which I find to be in poor taste.

However, I think I am also disappointed on a personal level because I’ve been hoping to find something new that would help me in the book. Chapter 8 is basically a poorly-cited summary of the book, Intuitive Eating, and Chapter 9 talks about why foods shouldn’t be labeled “good” or “bad.” There was nothing new or innovative about intuitive eating or how to try it in Chapter 8, and I recommend that if you are interested in intuitive eating, you read the original book. Chapter 9 was a manifest against labeling foods “good” or “bad,” and I also struggled with chapter 9 because, for me, someone with Celiac’s and Crohn’s, there definitely are “bad” foods. But, even for some foods that I am not medically prohibited from eating, namely potatoes, when I eat them I get terribly sick. So, according to Harrison’s argument, I should still eat them when I feel like French Fries. Yet, no matter how much I’m craving French Fries, I’m not willing to wake up the next morning swollen like I’m six months pregnant. Finally, I am struggling again with how Harrison pathologies eating disorders – in this case, Harrison makes the blanket statement that someone with a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder should work with a team of professionals. In some ways, this contradicts Harrison’s point that everyone has an eating disorder to some extent, but I also find this either/or line frustrating. Since the clinical categorization of an eating disorder excludes so many (e.g., those who don’t meet the weight requirements), who is it exactly that needs this “team of medical professionals” and who doesn’t? The line is unclear, and I don’t think it is effective or appropriate to generalize broadly like that.

Rose: The restriction pendulum Harrison describes, where people restrict so much that they have to binge, doesn’t resonate with me. I’ve never been in that place. I know plenty of people who have, including athletes with in-season and out-of-season weights that are 15-20 lbs different. I don’t swing far enough into indulgence to feel like I need to swing way into restriction. But I also don’t trust eating until I feel “full” because the line between full enough and busting/I wanna be sick seems pretty thin for me at times. A few years ago I stopped using food as a “reward” for workouts. Caveat: I still sometimes use that language around 1-2 beers after a hard or long workout. But honestly I was probably going to drink those beers anyway.

One of the things I am curious about is how Black and Latina women experience diet culture. It seems much of media has very specific ideas about what women’s bodies should look like, especially Black and Latina women.

In chapter 9 there were a few more pesky contradictions. We shouldn’t label foods as good or bad, but fun is ok?  I do agree, based on my work and research, that a small percentage of health outcomes are based on individual “healthy” behaviors. Genetics have a role, but social determinants including where you live play a distinct role.

I have gotten less restrictive about food in the past 18 months. I occasionally have something I didn’t eat for three years…like the piece of cake I had yesterday. And sometimes before a long ride like my ride on Saturday, I might think I’m going to want Chinese food afterwards but when I finish I am done with anything sweet from the nutrition I consumed during the ride and opt for savory like tuna, olives, and goat cheese. I have learned over the past dozen years of having diabetes what causes blood sugar spikes that don’t feel good. I choose not to do that often.
Oh, I’m also 20 lbs heavier than when I was very restrictive. So there’s that.

One of the things that hasn’t been addressed yet is how to change the response of the people in your household who helped you with enforcement of what she would call a wellness culture diet if you choose to embrace the idea of intuitive eating and go through a honeymoon phase. I know my spouse is more diligent about watching my food choices than I am. Sometimes it comes across as mean but mostly it is because he cares. It’s not controlling or abusive. It just is. But as a scientist he wouldn’t read this book or give any credence to the broad sweeping statements even if I chose to.

Join us next week as we finish Anti-Diet!

Our next Virtual Book Club Read will be Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. We’ll start our discussion the second week of July, Monday July 6. We’ll discuss the entire book at once, so I encourage you to start reading now. We’d love to have you join us in that conversation.

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