My husband and I are streaming and watching Season 5 of Mad Men (spoiler alert).Last night we watched the episodes in which Betty Draper (now Francis) begins to struggle with her weight, initially because of a growth on her thyroid gland and then because of her overwhelming cravings.
It was eerie to see how well the writers and actress capture her food rituals and emotions as this “always thin and beautiful” woman shifts in her identity. Some examples:
- When she fakes sick to get out going to a party because her dress won't zip.
- Her daughter leaves a half-finished ice cream sunday on the table, and after a couple of beats, Betty finishes it.
- After joining one of the first Weight Watchers groups, she accepts a bite of steak her husband offers her after midnight because she can “count it toward the next day's food.”
- Starving, she runs to her fridge and squirts Redi whip into her mouth, savors it for a moment, and then spits it out, so the calories won't “stick.”
- Nervously discussing the impending Thanksgiving Holiday with her WW group and how they will prepare emotionally. Smash cut to Betty with the most pathetic Thanksgiving plate in front of her–four small bites of each entree and a single brussels sprout lording in the center of the plate.
- Betty catches a glimpse of her ex-husband's very thin wife putting on her shirt. The look on her face is a perfect mix of envy and sadness.
These episodes evoked a variety of emotions in me–sadness, dread, fear. Mostly, I recognized myself and my struggle with weight in every scene. In one episode, Betty is waiting in line to get weighed in front of everyone at her WW meeting, as the “weigher” proclaims “you had a good week!” to one of the women. I was right back in all of the WW meetings I had ever attended. I could almost feel the heat rising in my face as I remembered getting the “good week” message, and the devastation I felt when I got the silent treatment or “next week will be better!” message.
This story arc also showed me how my mother's generation became lifelong dieters, and then passed all that they knew down to my generation (and on and on). This generation forgot how their mothers ate to stay slim, and started blaming themselves for being weak willed and lacking in self-control. They also started trusting experts with products to sell, relying on diet pills, eating processed foods, and going on diets like Weight Watchers that reinforced the idea that their overeating was all emotions based.
We have spent a long time in the wilderness of low fat, low calorie eating. It's been a long time coming for advice like that from Julia Ross (her book: The Diet Cure) and Gary Taubes (his book: Why We Get Fat) to take hold, so women like Betty Draper don't have to suffer. They can finally understand the biochemical connections to their weight gain, and stop punishing themselves for their lack of will power.
I am a little late to the party commenting on these Blue Cross Minnesota ads that address the obesity epidemic. First, a couple of statistics:
- By 2019 obesity will become the leading cause of death.
- By 2030 50% of Minnesotans will be obese.
In the face of these terrifying numbers, you can see how it seems like a good idea to highlight food choices and how these choices look to our kids. These ads have been roundly criticized for being too shaming and down right mean. See for yourself.
I think the ads would be appropriate if we had a consistent and coherent message about what people need to do to lose weight; if the people in the commercials knew better, they could do better. But we don’t have these consistent messages. We live in the land of “calories in, calories out,” “Move more!” and other overly simplistic maxims about how to lose weight. We also live in a land where heavily-subsidized foods (corn, soy) are promoted as healthy, but they are making us fat.
It’s all about cravings
Anyone who reads this blog, and who is trying lose weight differently (something other than a one-size-fits-all diet), knows that losing weight takes more than this overly simplistic advice leads us to believe. If we truly want to help people, like the ones in these ads, make better choices, we need to shake off the overly simplistic advice and get real about what it takes to lose weight for the LONG TERM. Until we address the issue of people’s biochemical cravings for the bad stuff, people cannot lose weight. If we are relying on people’s will power to lose weight, which much of the advice does, they will fail over and over like I did for 30 years. No number of ads will change that.
What are your thoughts on the ads? Leave a comment.
Even when I was at my heaviest (270 pounds), I always tried to dress well (despite what my before picture says). It isn’t something I talk about all that often, but I think dressing up despite my weight was key to my weight loss success. Hear me out.
Looking good made me feel pretty, something that we are told we are not because we are fat. Dressing well was critical to my being able to accept myself as I was. If I looked good, I felt better about myself. The better I felt, the more likely I was to care for myself. Part of this caring for myself was making good food choices and living a healthy lifestyle. See the connection? I had to invest in myself as I was to truly change my body.
Here are some tips to help you look and feel your best as you lose weight:
- Take a look at Nordstrom’s plus size department, either in person or online. They have the most flattering plus size clothing around. Their buyers, Corinne Snedeker and Breanne Holcomb (see photo below), are actually plus-sized women (not the wispy women I imagine are behind most of the bad plus-sized fashion out there). Before I knew this, I would always ask, “Who are your buyers?” I asked because the clothing was cut perfectly for a plus-sized body. The colors were always flattering. I felt beautiful in the clothes. The styles are also consistent with what is on trend for the misses sizes–making you feel like you are a part of the party and not excluded!And what’s best? Nordstrom offers you $100 in free tailoring, so what doesn’t fit perfectly can be adjusted to your unique body. The style consultants in the Encore department are all plus-sized women, so you are comfortable no matter what your size is. They work hard to get you items that you will shine in and challenge you to try new styles and shapes.
If you’re not plus sized, you can’t do better than Nordstrom’s Point of View or Narrative departments. If you’re on a tight budget, all of these services are available at the Nordstrom Rack, which sells regular Nordstrom items at dirt cheap prices.
- Get your makeup done! With a minimum $50 purchase, any MAC counter will do your full face of makeup for free. I love this service so much. Whenever I feel like I’ve gotten into a rut or if I just want a new way to do my makeup, I make an appointment. The makeup artists are so friendly, and they are really focused on making you look pretty. And MAC cosmetics are fabulous. They wear well and have awesome colors.
- Re-think your hair style. A good hair cut can make you feel great and look thinner. I got bangs cut into my hair and it did wonders for my face. I also recommend getting highlights put into your hair to brighten your overall look. If you are looking for a great stylist in the Twin Cities, Christina Selmer at Beau Monde Salon knows how to make plus-sized women shine!
I hope these tips will help you feel beautiful as you lose weight. Remember, this can be a fun and fulfilling journey–why not look good for it!
What is your favorite style advice? Leave a comment!
I was on Dishing Up Nutrition this past Saturday talking about habits that hold back weight loss. You can listen here or download the show from iTunes. We talked about a lot habits that keep us from reaching our weight loss goals, including “closet eating” episodes like wolfing down a bag of M&Ms in the Menard's parking lost. It was a great show, and I hope you enjoy it!
For over 25 years, I searched for a quick fix to my weight problem. I chased so many different diet plans and pills that promised quick and effortless weight loss: the cabbage soup diet, appetite suppressants, herbal supplements, etc. My plan of choice for many of those years, Weight Watchers, trained me to expect predictable and steady weight loss with very few ups and downs (side note: A shout out to all Weight Watcher alums–remember the look you would get from the weigher lady when you would lose weight, as opposed to the look you would get when you either stayed the same or gained? I do. I would open my little weight tracking book with a pit in my stomach every time. Yuck!)
What did I get for the 25-year, quick-fix chase? An extra 110 pounds and a sense of hopelessness about the problem.
In my last post, I talk about Dr. Amr Barrada’s sage guidance around processing the emotions around weight loss. He taught me to be very wary of the quick fix. He also taught me a way to think about weight loss that, when paired with a great approach to nutrition, led to my losing 90 pounds. So, by choosing a slower more mindful approach, as opposed to the “lose 30 pounds by summer” approach, I lost 90 pounds in 2 1/2 years. That’s a much better result than the quick-fix chase I was on for 25 years.
Here are five of the items Dr. Barrada taught me about how to approach weight loss differently:
- Set out on a course to lose weight in a quiet, gentle way. Take an easy going approach and try to accept imperfection. As opposed to the high-effort, all-consuming plans that yield poor results (Slimgenics, Jenny Craig, etc.).
- Have low, reasonable expectations. Maybe you will only lose small amounts of weight, but over time those losses will add up.
- Try to accept your current weight and like yourself as you are. This will take time and practice.
- Try to be okay with uncertainty with your weight loss. Tell yourself to “see how it goes.”
- Listen to your body and try to accept the rhythm of slow weight loss. Losing weight slowing definitely has its own rhythm. It is not a straight line down, but more of a wavy line of small weight losses and gains with a downward trend.
I have more of these ideas and will continue to keep this conversation going. I hope this new way of thinking about weight loss helps you find your own way.
Over the past week, I have been watching the HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation. Overall, it was a very interesting overview of the rising obesity problem in America. However, while stressing the complex nature of treating obesity, they kept offering the same old tired, simplistic advice–“calories in, calories out” and “eat less, move more.” Additionally, when talking about foods like breakfast cereal, there was a lot of talk about how to make these “choices” healthier for kids. The fact is that cereals of all kinds (yes, even diet cereals) turn into large amounts of sugar in the body–about 20 teaspoons of sugar per 2 cup serving–and have no place in the diet of an obese person trying to lose weight.
So after viewing this episode, I decided to post a comment on the Weight of a Nation Facebook page. Here is what I wrote and a comment I received.
Now this guy, because he is thin and has always been thin, thinks he is the picture of health. I see this all of the time. We assume that because someone is thin they are the picture of health. As with Richard, he is walking around, eating what sounds like a diet extremely high in processed food and sugar, thinking he is healthy and will always be healthy as long as he stays thin. Until he starts having joint pain, chronic inflammation, constant heartburn, or any number of other conditions resulting from high-sugar diets, he will continue to be misled into thinking that being thin is the only marker of health and vitality. Richard and his diet remind me of something I used to say a lot, “America. A land where even the thin people are fat.”
Richard’s comment also reveals another ugly truth about how many thin people think about overweight people–that fundamentally being fat is about being weak willed and it is a character flaw. That he can eat “until he is more than full” and still keep his thin frame makes him better than all of us who can’t without packing on pounds. He is just like the annoying, skinny girl in high school who would exclaim, “I eat and eat and I never seem to be able to gain weight!” Ugh.
I still highly recommend the documentary. It had a lot of good information, and at least it is trying to change the conversation around obesity to be more constructive. However, with all of the experts and all of the data presented, I wonder how they keep getting it so wrong. Obesity is a biochemical problem, and not one of thermodynamics (calories in, calories out). There is such a huge difference between these two approaches–one promotes health and weight loss, while the other is a frustrating numbers game in which people always lose.
I just finished watching a special on 20/20 called “Gaining and losing Weight Means Big Paydays for Celebrities” The story confirmed what I have long believed about celebrity spokespeople for diet plans like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers: that they get paid gobs (about $30,000 per pound they lose) and they don’t really follow the plans they promote (personal chefs likely contribute more to their weight loss success).
With the success of Jennifer Hudson’s promotion for Weight Watchers, the trend of celebrities shilling for these plans is going to continue and grow. Jessica Simpson is going to be paid $3 million dollars to lose her considerable baby weight. Kirstie Ally, too, famously lost weight with Jenny Craig, only to put it all back on, and then lose it all again with her own company’s Organic Liaison diet (a pretty run of the mill, low-fat diet with a dependence on high-priced supplements).
I don’t begrudge these celebrities how great they look and say they feel now that they have “lost the weight.” I also don’t blame them for the money they make–these endorsements work on huge numbers of us, getting us to buy these tired old diet plans that fail 95% of the time. I myself followed Weight Watchers 13 times in 25 years, ending that journey with 100 extra pounds and a broken spirit.
I guess I just don’t find these loud, look-at-me commercials, filled with stunning before and after pictures, very inspiring anymore (the last time I was tricked by one of these endorsements, “Fergie, the Duchess of York” was the spokeswoman for Weight Watchers). They don’t reflect the reality that I have discovered about what it takes to lose weight for the long term. They don’t tell me that it will take time, or that my body needs to heal from years of metabolic damage (brought on by these same diets). They don’t tell me that I have to eat and nourish myself six times a day with protein, vegetable carbohydrates, and healthy fats in order to drop weight. They also don’t cause me to challenge a belief system–filled with messages like “lose 40 pounds by summer”–that promises a quick fix. I searched for a quick fix for most of my adult life. For this problem of weight, one does not exist.
So who does inspire me? I meet inspiring people every day who are taking risks by going against the grain and challenging the information sold by these tired, failing diet plans. Katherine from Andover, Minnesota who lost 100 pounds on Slimgenics, and has gained all but 10 pounds of it back. She is now looking for a better way to deal with this complex problem. Or, Mary from Cottage Grove who was a dieter her whole life and who expresses regret for modeling this behavior to her two daughters–one obese and one dangerously thin. She is now showing them there is a better way to lose weight and be healthy. These are real people with real, inspiring stories. I don’t know about you, but I’ve left the fantasy of easy, fabulous, quick-fix weight loss promises behind. For me, reality is inspiring.
Who inspires you? Leave a comment.