Back in the 60s, dieting was just as big an obsession as it is today. Everyone wanted to be slim, though perhaps not quite as slim as today (no thanks to Photoshop), but slim nevertheless.
However, the discourse around being slim and dieting to get there was radically different from today's discourse, at least amongst adults (teens are a whole different species).
Forty years ago, we were urged to diet in order to look good: to fit into a bikini in the summer, or a sleek, black cocktail dress for the Christmas office party. Women wanted to have the waif-like look of Audrey Hepburn.
Today, dieting is no less an obsession than it was in those days. However, the motivation for dieting has changed dramatically. Looking good did not provide enough motivation to make people thin. We needed more and that "more" was our health.
In recent years, the media has been awash with the threats that overweight and obesity pose to our health as individuals and to our economic health as a society. A BMI of over 25 and up to 30 is the antechamber of death. A BMI of 30-40 means a serious threat hangs over your head and one of over 40 is a death sentence that will be carried out in short order.
Virtually every diet blog that I have read in the past two years insists on the immediate and lethal dangers of being overweight. Virtually all diet bloggers have accepted, no questions asked, that being even the slightest bit overweight is a ticket to an early death.
And the way to avoid this early death? Why to diet, of course. And to lose the weight as quickly as possible. Underlying the admonition to diet is the assumption (taken as FACT), that being over a certain BMI means that you are automatically unhealthy and that conversely, maintaining a BMI of 25 or under is an automatic "get out of jail/you are healthy" card.
Being of "normal" weight or indeed being slim is automatically equated with health. People of normal weight do not suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis or any number of conditions that people know for a fact are CAUSED by overweight. This assumption is so widespread (pardon the pun) that no one questions it.
Virtually all weight-loss bloggers truly believe that they are in a battle for their lives.
The strange thing is, this battle for our lives leaves 95% of us fatter than we were when we started trying to lose weight.
Unfortunately, fighting the proverbial battle of the bulge creates huge stress in the average weight loss warrior: additional weight gain due to yo-yo dieting, severe self-hatred brought about by the inability to fight the body type that nature gave us, not to mention societal stigma (lower pay for work of equal value, gratuitous insults, etc.) in a world where the overweight are automatically assumed to be gluttonous, lazy pigs and undeserving of decent treatment.
Actually, there are numerous studies that question the healthiness of yo-yo dieting, which perhaps has a more negative effect on our physical health than simply accepting our bodies as they are. Many further studies negate the automatic belief that low weight is a proxy for good health.
I can hear the screams over the Internet: you are advocating people accepting and embracing their bad health! Not at all!
What I am advocating is taking all this misguided energy (dieting) and putting it into learning to eat healthful foods in moderate quantities, moving our bodies on a regular basis and to the best of our abilities and seeking to understand through therapy (of whatever kind) the psychological roots of one's overeating (if that is indeed a problem). Under such conditions, weight loss may occur, but it is not the principal objective.
But first, we must understand that not everyone is physically made to be thin and that health can come in all sizes.
I recently came across an article that explains in great detail and with numerous citations, the basis for Health at Every Size (HAES). An overview of this extremely important article will be the topic of my next post.
P.S. The admittedly lovely Audrey Hepburn, who was also an extraordinary philanthropist, died at the relatively young age of 63 from cancer. Her slimness clearly did not grant her long life.