As I revealed in the comments to yesterday’s post on Big Gulps, Sarah Palin, and metabolic disease, I recently had my personal auntly body fat measured. They dunked me like a donut in a sort of clinical baptismal vat, whereupon it was revealed that the spinster aunt is comprised of 37% fat.
This, it will not surprise you to hear, blew my entire lobe (the extra fat globules made the explosion particularly glisteny). Based on my being generally underweight, of bird-like aspect and of lanky build, the assumption had always been that I am skinny. But no. I am obese. Clinically and for real obese. Some of the fat is subcutaneous, the la-di-da no-big-whoop kind of fat. But apparently a goodly slab of it can be found festering in the dank hidden recesses of my abdomen, in the shape of the far more sinister visceral fat.
Sidebar: yesterday, when I suggested that better education might help liberate the American populace from toxic diets — a remark that was perceived by some as classist — I was writing from the perspective of recent fat ignorance. Before I got dunked and subsequently gave reluctant audience to a reading of the Riot Act, I of course knew that sugar is bad and fiber is good, but I was a little shaky on the science. The fact is that although I am privileged, white, suburban, and overeducated, as well as a world-renowned expert aunt who can afford monthly road trips to Whole Foods, I had never before given a moment’s thought to visceral fat, much less its unique (as opposed to sub-q fat) characteristics or its specific role in the jolly Parade of Fatal Human Diseases. I do concede that because of the aforementioned socioeconomic factors, I am in a better position than many to address my hidden globs. But it has nevertheless occurred to me that I am probably not alone when it comes to lack of visceral fat awareness. No, education alone can’t, as blamer Saurs pointed out, make you not poor or give you a fat-free liver. But it’s got to be better than no education. You can’t fight what you don’t know.
Anyway, it turns out that, whereas subcutaneous fat — muffin tops, saddle bags, bingo arms, et al — is actually beneficial, goodly slabs of visceral fat are, in a word, not. Particularly for cancer patients, among whose ranks I am, reluctantly, counted.
To help me achieve a fully-realized panic attack over this latest healthbomb, my ever-obliging oncologist gave me this book Fat Chance by, oh what the hell’s his name, Lessig? Ludwig? Whatever, I keep calling him Dr Zaftig. He’s a practicing childhood obesity specialist who uses No. 1 Science Information to explain in terms that even a spinster aunt can understand the relationship between sugar, processed food, and metabolic disease.
Before you go all Savage Death on my ass, let me say that this Dr Zaftig is no fat shamer. He might even be construed as an advocate, asserting that obesity is not, as is popularly imagined, a function of character flaws or lack of willpower, but rather the inevitable outcome of heredity combined with the flaws in the so-called American diet. Zaftig doesn’t suggest anything new or earth-shattering. His advice consists of the usual “less sugar, more fiber, and have a little olive oil on your salad.” But he does advance a theory explaining how an aunt can be underweight and obese at the same time, which I found pretty enlightening. I won’t bore you with the soporific details about insulin, lipogenesis, the fucking Maillard reaction, and correlations with cancer and dementia and whatnot. Suffice it to say that I have beaten a hasty retreat back to Kale Nation.
Don’t construe this post as an ad for the book, by the way. In the first place, I haven’t applied to it the jaundiced eye of feminist analysis; I’ve only read it from the perspective of a skinny obese aunt who wouldn’t know a lipid if it poked her in the eye with a sharp stick. In the second place, Zaftig is a dude, he’s a privileged member of the Establishment, he’s got a NYTimes bestseller, and of course he’s been on NPR, so what are the odds that that his argument doesn’t contain hidden agendas and dominant-culture affirmations galore? He certainly does take a pretty paternalistic tone when writing about his feckless soda-swilling patients. And his attempts at humor could be used to make corn syrup. But I will say that at least he’s not as condescending as, say, the NIH. Their website says
“Our bodies have a complex system to help keep our weight at a healthy level. In some people, this system does not work normally.”
Whereas Zaftig refreshingly declines to label obese persons as “abnormal.” He avers instead that the cause of obesity rests, not with an individual’s supposedly “abnormal system,” but with the normal body’s completely reasonable response to the wackaloon processed, refined, and artificial foods that in recent decades we Americans have been conditioned, and in many cases coerced, to accept. This conditioning, he maintains, is the direct result of profit-driven efforts of the mighty Fast Food Industrial Complex.
A propos of which efforts, have you seen any reviews of that Pink Slime dude’s book Salt Sugar Fat? I haven’t read it, but it’s supposedly an expose about how the processed food industry specifically designs toxic convenience foods to be both addictive and cheap, then poisons the citiizenry all the way to the bank. Quoth the NY Times, the author
“visits with neuroscientists whose M.R.I.’s of test subjects demonstrate how the brain’s so-called pleasure centers light up when the subjects are dosed with solutions of sugar or fat. He then describes how consultants and food scientists calibrate products — ‘optimize’ them, in industry-speak — to maximize cravings.”
And did you get a load of Stephen Colbert mocking the so-called “bliss point” by using a giant taco shell as a chip to scoop up a dip made entirely of Tostitos?
You get my drift.
Anyway. Using the Zaftig argument, it is hypothesized that my high fat content is a result of my having reverted, over the past year or so, from a fancy privileged vegan life to a “convenience” diet of refined flour products, potato chips, “liquid sanctimony” smoothies, Fresca, Thundercloud Subs, too much wine, cookies, and Amy’s frozen entrees (mostly the kind with cheese sauce and potatoes). The hypothesis is on its way to being confirmed; I have lost an estimated 2 percentage points worth of fat in as many weeks, merely by adjusting this program to reflect a more lentil-heavy foodlosophy.
Which is my usual long-winded way of saying: I grasp that, though it still poses mondo health risks, skinny obesity is, at least in terms of women’s oppression and membership in the sex class, orders of magnitude less stigmatizing than fat obesity, and I’m sorry I fatshamed. And concerntrolled.