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 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.