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Virtual book club: Anti-Diet conclusion and wrap-up

This week, we’re finishing our first virtual book club read, Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison. We’d love for you to join our next virtual book club read, Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. We’ll discuss the book on Monday, July 6.

Laura: I expressed in our last recap how disappointed I am in this book overall. However, I want to preface my thoughts by saying that I think the foundational underpinnings of Anti-Diet are strong and also provide the foundation for me research. By that I mean that exploring diet culture and how it is racialized, gendered, and classed is important and a key part of understanding disordered eating. It was when I was discussing the book with Rose that I realized that most of the chapters were, basically, a summary of much better book with a few personal examples plunked in. I don’t disagree with most of the conclusions and recommendations made in this book; my problem is how they are presented and discussed, an oversight that I believe not only does a disservice to the original thinkers (especially when they aren’t cited or are poorly described) but also does a disservice to the field of research itself. As such, I will conclude my thoughts with the list of books I recommend you read instead of Anti-Diet, but I wanted to share a few thoughts from the final two chapters, first.

In Chapter 10, Harrison discusses the Health at Any Size Movement (HAES), which is a movement that is, overall, a very positive one built on a strong body of research. The HAES community is strong and supportive. Again, I think read the HAES book (linked below) and join the community for a good understanding of what the community is about. It is disappointing to me that Harrison used this quote to inspire readers to get on board: “Oh, and buy big clothes. Your body will thank you every moment of the day” (p. 176). If she is trying to convince a room full of folks being told in literally every other setting that they should be smaller, telling them to buy (consumerism, too, ugh) more clothes likely isn’t the way to do it.

I did like some of the advice in chapter 10 (again, like much of the book, that advice is better discussed in detail including information about the scientific studies in the books I’ve linked to below). First, and most important, regarding your medical care team, it is key to have practitioners that treat all of you. Fat-bias amongst medical professionals is a real thing, as is bias against women generally. Do find a practitioner that listens and doesn’t fat shame you. Similarly, white I quite enjoy my Apple Watch for reasons other than it’s fitness tracking, I also like its fitness tracking in general. But, I am a compulsively quantifiable person in every way. Because of that, I do regularly have to remind myself that the fitness tracking ability on the watch is a game and not actually tracking my fitness (e.g., most recently when after running 8 miles and bike 15 it said I’d burned less than 600 calories. lol.). Finally, I agree that doctors should not to use BMI as an indicator of health, however in contrast to Harrison’s assertion, there are some cases where weight is an indicator of health. For example, when I was very underweight, it was clear that weight was an indicator that I was unhealthy; that determination led to the discovery of my autoimmune diseases. Speaking of autoimmune diseases, Harrison provided advice about not following food restriction guidance for those with Crohn’s Disease. I laugh to keep from crying, here, largely because food restriction has kept me in remission and off of lifestyle dehabilitating drugs for almost 5 years now. Thanks, but no thanks.

Finally, chapter 11 about finding community was benign but useless except for the example used to introduce the chapter. At the beginning of the chapter, Harrison describes a personal experience where a mentally ill man on the subway ruined her good mood coming home from a day at a beach as an example what it is like when someone breaks your Health at any Size-vibe. That example that shames someone with mental health struggles was in extreme poor taste. Like many examples and stories and generalized facts, that story demonstrated, to me, that this book wasn’t well-edited and was poorly vetted,

Instead, here are the books I recommend you read instead:

Fearing the Black Body

The Body is Not an Apology

Intuitive Eating

Health at Every Size (a website and a book)

Fat Shame

Rose: Chapter 10: This is not the first time I have been introduced to the concept of heath at every size. And generally I agree, though there are people on the edges of the bell curve in both directions that probably can’t actually BE healthy at their size. I feel like a lot of the author’s approach to just eating what makes you happy can be very dangerous for some of the people she thinks she’s helping. The entire exercise vs movement thing seems ridiculous to me as an athlete for the past 10 years. I don’t call it either. I call it training because I am training for a goal. And if that means a recovery week where I don’t do much, that’s part of my training. How I eat is also related to my training. And yes, I could better reach time goals if I was lighter because dragging around an extra 20 lbs isn’t efficient on the bike or running. It just isn’t. I have trained my way into competence and some speed but at my weight there will always be speeds/paces I simply can’t achieve. It isn’t diet culture or gym culture or anything but science. While doctors are service providers they are doing a disservice if they shame you for your weight and can’t see beyond it BUT ALSO IF THEY IGNORE IT. Not everyone’s job is to make you happy and comfortable all the time. Some times it is to challenge you. Food can be medicine. Exercise can be medicine. And while I believe in using medication as needed (without allergy meds I’d be wrecked) medicating your way out of chronic health conditions that can be addressed through food choices and movement is not a great long term solution as the side effects can be worse than the problem. I have horrible experiences with childhood gym class and some trauma around certain activities, but that doesn’t mean all movement is traumatic for me. Even some people who found running miserable in the military have found joy in it after their service was done. Context can be everything. I agree that many spaces aren’t designed for larger people…just the same as they aren’t designed for many women. It isn’t a nefarious outcome of “diet culture” but a standardization of design around a “typical” white American man. I do relate to the not being jazzed about what my body looks like but being in awe of what it can do. My new one piece trisuit makes me look like a whale in a sausage casing, but I know that tomorrow I will be able to ride 40 miles and then run 9.3 miles when I am done riding. That’s the reality of my life. I am a fat Ironman. I’ve had people ask if the Ironman finisher jacket I wear is mine. Damn skippy it is, even if I don’t look how you think an Ironman triathlete should look. But I didn’t get there by eating whatever I want and not moving in ways that require discipline and discomfort.

Chapter 11: Wow her “stretch” of a connection between a mentally ill person threatening people on a subway car and being “thrown back into diet culture” is way too far…even with the “hear me out” – um no. Sometimes having community support is a group of people who question you, challenge your assumptions, and make changes alongside you. That is what has been meaningful in my life over the past dozen years. Not necessarily someone to bitch with about being fat (though I do that, but that didn’t result in anything). Tatyana McFadden and a host of other para-athletes show us that people can be strong, powerful, and positive within their bodies using wheelchairs. Accepting all bodies doesn’t mean not challenging them to be strong and perform amazing things. Not everyone has to be an athlete but for people who find joy and strength in it there is nothing disordered about the food and exercise choices that get them to their goals. One of the challenging things about being ok with your own body size (mostly) while also knowing and acknowledging your fatness is that it is possible that people who hear you refer to yourself as fat may internalize that as you calling them fat too. There are many people who I see as smaller than me and don’t consider to be fat who see themselves as bigger than I am and struggle with the language around fatness. Which is why the movement around embracing fatness may not be the most sensitive thing for everyone. It is something I struggle with.

Overall this book has been rage-y for me. Mostly because I don’t think it as well researched as it purports to be and it seems to follow the pattern of every diet book. It lacks specific information. Yes, it turns out there are some footnotes at the end…after pages of “resources” that are sorta sketchy looking (but I’m looking through jaded eyes).

Have you read Anti-Diet? What are your thoughts?

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