Maintaining Body Positivity in Light of the Obesity Crisis
Are plus-size fashions ignoring a major health epidemic?
Posted Dec 14, 2018
As the year nears an end, it is reading-crunch period in our household. It is an annual goal to log a few heavy tomes before the clock hits midnight on December 31st. The book currently in my hands is the New York Times bestseller Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD which was alas, found buried at the bottom of a box of unread books from my husband's collection.
To be honest, I scoffed and rolled my eyes initially when I saw the cover of the book with the image of an alluring stack of bagels. I am blessed to not be currently diabetic or have any major reason to start cutting out my beloved waffles, pancakes, and the occasional grilled cheese sandwich out of my diet. I even made Joanna Gaines’ chocolate chip cookie recipe the other week which was so divine that my husband insisted that there must have been chemical additives in the recipe (nope, that’s just lots of butter and sugar!).
But after reading Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD last calendar year and trying to adopt keto elements in my diet (failed!), I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to change something. While I learned of Perlmutter’s work at an ADHD continuing education seminar previously (the link between gluten and ADHD symptoms were being discussed), I found the book beyond fascinating in terms of how much simple common ingredients can be wreaking havoc on mental health concerns as well physical ones. Perlmutter’s discussion of the dangers of brain inflammation which can go unseen to the naked eye (unlike belly fat) as well as discussion of insulin spikes every time we go for that orange juice certainly left an impression.
While Davis focuses on gluten and wheat, the data is still disturbing. However you dice it, certain simple facts can’t be denied. The glycemic index of whole grain bread: 72. That of a Snicker’s candy bar: 41. No, the conclusion isn’t to drown yourself in processed and high fructose corn syrup-laden foods. But it certainly is food for thought. Davis makes a compelling argument for the dangers of gluten while discussing how the caloric void left by “low-fat” trends of the 1980s led to a spike in the consumption of “healthy whole grains.” While scientists, the FDA, and those out to make a quick buck with a “revolutionary” diet plan continue to duke it out, what still remains is a very real and serious obesity epidemic.
Flash forward to my casual perusal of holiday outfits on Nordstrom online between Wheat Belly chapters, and a disturbing thought occurs. If Davis, Perlmutter, and other researchers agree of the dangers of belly fat and its correlation to diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other medical concerns, is it ok (even ethical?) that retailers keep expanding the sizes of their clothing? A very controversial thought indeed. If we at one point in history came to the realization that Camel cigarettes were very obviously appealing to children and pulled those ads, do retailers at some point decide that encouraging growing waistlines is akin to advertising something potentially lethal?
As a psychologist my work with therapy clients is growth-oriented, focuses on self-acceptance and body positivity. I know when my clients struggle with weight and the pain and turmoil they may go through internally, but also hear of the way society treats them. It is truly heart-breaking. At the same time, at what point is it considered a fair cut-off of how large retailers make clothing?
Over the years, Lululemon has come under fire numerous times for claims of fat-shaming by employees as well as only catering to narrow range of sizes. The company’s co-founder publicly issued an apology after a remark about some women’s bodies not working for the brand’s image before stepping down from his position.
In 2018, a UK study entitled, Normalization of Plus Size and the Danger of Unseen Overweight and Obesity in England, came under fire by those criticizing the study for design flaws, and inaccurate conclusions. Whether fraught with methodological missteps or flawlessly-executed, the study highlights a very necessary area for investigation. Obesity is still a public health crisis; what severely complicates matters is the shame and emotional components of the disease. It is very different from studying a carpal tunnel epidemic due to excessive typing or optical concerns from blue light exposure. All possible medical complications of life in the 21st century, but with none of the stigma attached (in fact, some might go so far as to tout these things as a badge of honor for working so hard.)
So the controversial question remains. How do we practice body positivity while also promoting health and well-being? While in eras long past, a little healthy fat was a sign of wealth which distinguished them from the starving poor, it is now often those in the lowest socioeconomic brackets with the least access to healthy foods that struggle with obesity; meanwhile the Hollywood elite juice, fast, and if needed liposuction their way into teeny tiny apparel. While no one denies fat-shaming as unacceptable, how do we simultaneously consider it ok to keep grocery shelves stocked with hybridized dwarf wheat-products, trans fats, high fructose corn syrups, and GMO foods and then just expand our clothing sizes exponentially to accommodate the toxic waste we are being encouraged to put into the temples that are our bodies?
Davis, W. (2011). Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. New York: Rodale
Perlmutter, D. (2013). Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers. New York: Little, Brown and Co.
Muttarak, R. (2018). Normalization of Plus Size and the Danger of Unseen Overweight and Obesity in England. Obesity, Jul;26(7):1125-1129. doi: 10.1002.