Diet Culture: E’s Story

Does diet culture kill?

My sister E was the oldest of five children; I was the youngest. Growing up in a house where our father was at work most of the time, and our mother was tired most of the time, E did a lot of the work of raising me.

She was one of the most independent minded people I knew. She had friends and liked doing things with them, but she made her own decisions and they weren’t always what her friends would do.

She worked hard, but always on her own terms. She would use up all her vacation, and all her sick days, and she felt no guilt about it. She felt that there was no point working if you didn’t also have fun.

She’d say what was on her mind, pretty much unfiltered. Of course, she came of age in the 1970s, when “tell it like it is” was everyone’s motto. But she also knew how to sweet talk, and she could get me to do chores like no one else could.

But for all this independence, she had one weak point: she was a fat person. She was one of the most beautiful women I knew, but because she was fat, society put her in the “such a pretty face” category. She’s been on and off diets for as long as I’ve known her. They never worked long term, until about 11 years ago.

That’s when she had weight-loss surgery. I tried as best as I could to talk her out of it, but it didn’t work. She had so much self hatred because of her fatness that she wanted more than anything to lose weight and keep it off. She felt that she’d never have a husband unless she was thin, or at least thinner than she was. She knew that I was and am attracted to fat women, and was and am married to a woman much fatter than her. That didn’t matter. She just couldn’t imagine that there were others like me out there. Or maybe it didn’t matter what others thought: it was what she thought, and she thought the worst of herself simply because of her fatness.

I saw her a few years after the surgery at our father’s burial. She was a lot thinner than she had been, although not thin at that point. But she kept on saying how bad a person she was because she still ate more than she should, in her opinion.

At that time she was living near where my dad had lived, where it’s very cold in the winter, and she didn’t spend much time with other people. She talked about being depressed, and going for days without showering or bathing.

A little bit after that, she moved back to New Jersey, where we’re from. She was able to find a fairly nice place to live within her budget, and it seem like she had gotten her life in order. But she was still talking about not bathing or showering, and being sad. Another sister, C, lived nearby, and E had friends nearby as well. But she was still lonely.

C had been sick for decades, and last year, 2015, she died. After that, phone calls from E got fewer. In November 2015, E went into the hospital. She was diagnosed with an iron deficiency, got a blood transfusion, and was sent home with supplements.

She was back in the hospital in December, this time with a gallstone that had migrated to her colon. They wound up removing her gallbladder. In January 2016, she was back in the hospital again, then again in March, and again in April. Since then she’s been in an infinite loop, going from the hospital to a rehab center and then to home, but never home more than a few days until she’s back in the hospital.

Her ailments, according to the hospital doctor who has seen her the most, come down to her not eating enough. Somehow last year, through a combination of her weight-loss surgery, depression, and drugs, she had attained the ability to starve herself. Put another way, she developed an eating disorder.

I went to visit her earlier this summer on our way to a family reunion, and at that point she was in a rehab facility. The problem was, though, she wasn’t getting better. She didn’t like any of the food offered to her, and wanted special food brought in like chocolate flavored Ensure. And sometimes she didn’t like that either.

Her mental confusion increased over that period. She could never understand why she was sick, why she kept going into the hospital, why she was losing her ability to walk and do things for herself.

Eventually E went back home, but this time she had an in-home aide to help her. And for a couple of weeks, it seemed like she was actually getting better.

But she wasn’t. She wasn’t doing the physical therapy, she still wasn’t eating enough, and she wasn’t on a path to independence. A family member decided that the in-home aide was too soft on E, and so she went back east herself to nurse E back to health.

Things didn’t go as hoped. E went back into the hospital a few days later, then to rehab, then back in the hospital. We still have hope, but she’s been in decline for a long time, and it doesn’t look good.

Is diet culture killing my sister? E was an independent woman, but she could never reconcile herself to being fat. When she found a way to starve herself, there was no turning back.

Binge Eating Disorder

This post isn’t really about fatness, but I was thinking about binge eating disorder as a diagnosis. You can take a look at the diagnostic criteria here, but it seems to get into a thorny realm because one criterion is a sense of lack of control. To me, that sounds like saying “addictive behavior” while avoiding that phrase. It leads to some questions:

  • Is binge eating itself a problem, or just a symptom of a deeper problem?
  • Does this diagnosis really help people?
  • Is there an issue with the diagnosis being incorrectly applied to fat people?
  • The diagnosis also mentions distress, disgust, etc. If one binges without these feelings, does one have the disorder?

I don’t have a firm viewpoint, but I’d like to hear yours.

September NAAFA Newsletter

I forgot to post the link to this month’s NAAFA newsletter last week; sorry about that. But here it is, and I’ve pre-clicked for you so that the link below takes you straight to the fat news. Enjoy!

August NAAFA Newsletter

Fans of fat news will be happy to hear that the NAAFA Newsletter is available right now right here:
Why be happy, you may ask? Because included with other fine articles is the Media and Research Roundup, where you can find the fat news for the past month. You don’t even have to subscribe, although if you do (click on Join Our Mailing List on the right side of the newsletter) you’ll get the NAAFA Newsletter every month for free.

Let me know if getting the fat news this way works for you.

Fat news through July 27, 2016

We’re back, and talking about fatties again!

July 20, 2016: Emily Baines discusses a run-in between Whitney Way Thore (star of My Big Fat Fabulous Life) and comedian Kerryn Feehan (first link), when Feehan made some fat-phobic remarks during a guest appearance on a radio show where Thore interned. Thore continues to be an activist for positive body image and has a TedX talk on the subject (second link).

July 22, 2016: People with lipodystrophy, a rare genetic disorder, are thin but suffer from the same conditions that are associated with being fat such as high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. Scientists have found a clue into why some fat people are metabolically healthy and how this knowledge could help everyone be healthier.

July 24, 2016: Laura Bogart is fat, and she is okay with that. She shares her journey to fat acceptance and the lessons learned along the way. (Comments on this page are the usual sort of fat shaming, though.)

July 27, 2016: Ka Leo O Hawai’i, the campus newspaper of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, explains that the body positive movement is not the promotion of fatness, but rather a “feel-good cause” for people who don’t fit society’s ideal.

Fat news through July 15, 2016

Here’s the latest in our (roughly) weekly series, bringing you the latest news and research that affects us fatties.

July 8, 2016: A study finds that increased BMI is not associated with higher morbidity or mortality for hospitalized patients, whereas being underweight is an independent predictor for hospital complications.

July 10, 2016: A market research firm claims that Americans are shifting their focus from weight loss and dieting to health, which is hurting the diet industry. One can only hope.

July 12, 2016: Several past studies have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and increased appetite. Now, researchers in Australia show that these sweeteners trigger a neuronal fasting response, explaining the increased motivation to eat.

July 13, 2016: A meta-analysis of 239 prospective studies on four continents shows increased mortality among overweight and obese people. Although people with chronic disease, smokers, and those who died in the first five years of the study were filtered out, there was no correction for other confounding variables such as socioeconomic status or ethnicity.

July 14, 2016: A recent study finds that one in five “healthy” weight Americans has prediabetes, a sharp increase from 20 years prior. Although abdominal fat has also increased, it does not appear to be the primary cause of this.

July 15, 2016: Diet firm Herbalife gets hit with a $200 million fine for unfair and deceptive practices, and is told it needs to restructure its business. The fine is due to Herbalife operating like a pyramid scheme.