Quick Book Review: Why Diets Make Us Fat

51vhzejjbl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Okay, I’m not super wild about the title–not because I think fatness is bad, but because I think it plays into our cultural view of fat as a pejorative–and the book could use a little more intersectionality (though there is some), but otherwise, I highly, highly recommend it. It’s thoroughly researched, rigorously cited, and presents mountains of evidence I was unfamiliar with that have completely convinced me that calories in/calories out is laughably simplistic, that long-term weight loss is like a unicorn, and that the best things we can do for ourselves is find movement we like, eat nourishing foods, and not restrict.

All things I knew and agreed with politically, but had lingering “but what about”s that would pop up and fuck with my brain.

The short version is that we all have a defended range (like set-point theory, but a range) that likes to get higher but almost never gets lower (likely because pre-agriculture a defended range that lowered in response to food scarcity would be a death sentence). The number of factors that impact our defended range is mind-blowing and includes things that are never, ever talked about in mainstream discussions of weight and health. Factors including gut biome, history of dieting (diets almost always raise your defended range, leaving you permanently heavier than at the start), antibiotic use in early childhood, pre-natal conditions, famine in your grandparents’ generation (this one just blows my mind!), poverty, stress, weight-related stigma and abuse, racism, childhood abuse, and on and on and on. This is just a small number of the factors that impact defended range, but even if these were all of them, they so clearly show the folly of religious adherence to “calories in<calories out.” Especially when people inevitably start getting on their (im)moral high horse about it.

If you’re looking for another nail in the coffin of calories in/calories out, she talks about a twin study that measured total daily energy expenditure and carefully calibrated caloric intake so that all of the twins (all male) were at a 1000 calorie deficit. Now, you’d expect sizeable changes in weight based on a 1000 calorie deficit, and some had that. Some sets of twins lost 26 pounds each. Other sets on that 1000 calorie deficit? 2 pounds. Over a span of, I believe, four months. Remember, this deficit was calculated for each person to ensure it was an actual deficit. But some bodies respond to immense restriction (and 1000 calories a day is immense restriction) by refusing to budge, because they are already near or at the bottom of their defended range and their body has a whole host of biological processes that prevent weight loss.

It’s also remarkable for the times she talks to doctors about the success rate of the weight loss advice they give (about a 5% success rate–incidentally the same success rate as AA*). They agree that they wouldn’t prescribe a medication with a 5% success rate and high probability of negative side effects, and yet say they won’t stop giving patients advice they know doesn’t work because they “have to do something.”

Since reading this book I feel like I’m seeing the world with fresh eyes. While I have, for a long time, supported body acceptance and choosing healthy habits for the sake of health rather than weight loss, seeing the weight of evidence supporting this approach has made me utterly intolerant of weight loss talk, sanctimonious appeals to calories in/calories out, and the general state of Western society when it comes to bodies, nutrition, exercise, weight, and health. I highly, highly recommend this book to one and all.

*I note this both because that was my immediate thought when I saw the statistic and because I find the devotion and moralizing around both fascinating–especially given their exceptionally high “failure” rates.

How to Derail, Obfuscate, and Shift the Blame When You’ve Messed Up

hd-3-w-flagAlthough I keep my own Facebook page pretty locked down for the sake of my mental health, I often respond on friends’ posts when someone is being oppressive or just generally shitty. Through doing this I’ve catalogued some of the myriad ways people try to derail conversations where they are clearly in the wrong, obfuscate who has said what to draw silent observers to their side, and shift the blame so that they can’t be taken to task for the shitty thing they’ve said so they bear no responsibility for their harmful actions.

Nearly all of them are based on one of two principles: 1) Make someone feel like they’re overreacting or 2) Make them question their own perception of reality.

I’m sharing these because, until I started to see them as part of a bigger picture, they worked really well on me. They made me feel unable to trust my own perceptions, responses, and feelings. They made me question my grip on reality and whether I was “overreacting.”

1. “You’re humourless.”
Recently a friend posted about the unique horrors of sitting next to a screaming child on a 12 hour flight. Among other things, someone posted that hilarious old nugget of golden parenting advice to “hit him and really give him something to complain about.” When I responded unfavourably to his suggestion he responded with one word.


I’m just going to go ahead and quote myself here:

“I guess I don’t find hitting children that funny?

Thankfully I have been told enough times in my life that I’m humourless* that it bounces off of me–but I am not ignorant of the way it’s used to silence critique.

*Which is weird, because I’m fucking hilarious.”

I have encountered the accusation of humourlessness so many times I couldn’t begin to count. Challenging a rape joke? Humourless. Not laughing at a racist joke? Humourless. Pointing out that jokes founded in oppressive norms perpetuate those norms? Humourless.

And this used to really get to me. Perhaps in line with my (former) need to be a Cool Girl. Perhaps because society hates women who don’t kowtow to casual misogyny. Perhaps because earnest commitment to justice is thought of as unfunny and unsexy and uncool.

Now? Now I see it for what it is. A way for those in positions of power to try to dominate and humiliate folks with less power into rescinding their critique when someone puts forward a fucked up idea.

2. “You’re too sensitive.”
This is humourlessness’s cousin. This is the charge that you don’t have the thick skin of the person who is never impacted by the harms of misogyny/racism/ableism/rape culture/etc. This is the deluded doubling down of a claim to “objectivity” which is really just unexamined privilege.

This is the unironic temper tantrum of a privileged person so sensitive about their privilege that the mere mention that other lived experiences exist devastates them.

You are not too sensitive because you don’t brook racist bullshit, sexist garbage, or any other oppressive words or behaviours. You are brave and you are gracious for putting educating others before tending to your wounds (though it’s always okay to tend to yourself first and only).

3. I just don’t understand 
This one’s a bit tough, because often new concepts are difficult and take time to process and assimilate. Especially when they are concepts that directly counter what you have learned in a toxic culture.

But there is a way “I just don’t understand” is used to derail and it’s when the issue has been spelled out for you multiple times, in multiple ways, with multiple sources. It’s when you refuse to read and consider and instead demand more emotional labour, more education from people impacted, and refuse to consider your stance at all despite the harm you are being told you are doing/have done. It’s when you delete dozens of comments explaining why your behaviour is misogynistic and then complain that no one ever explains things to you.

4. Intent is not magic
Or: It didn’t land how you meant it to. We’ve all done it. Said something we think is right on and then been immediately called out for some implication we hadn’t considered or intended.

The correct response is some variation of: “Shit. I didn’t see that and I’m sorry. I will try to be more thoughtful about the words I use next time.”

The incorrect response is some variation of: “But that’s not what I meant!!!1! I just meant that I disagree with your reading when I called you a hysterical bitch. How dare you call me sexist?!?!”

One of the ways I’ve heard this explained that I really liked is that if someone steps on your toe it doesn’t matter if they meant to or not, your toe is still broken. Either they can step off and apologize, or they can get angry that you’re hurting because they didn’t intend to step on your toe, and besides, they’re not going to step off because they didn’t mean to do it in the first place! Either way, toe’s still broken.

5. Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a subtle and sophisticated type of emotional/psychological manipulation meant to make someone second guess themself, destroy their confidence, and, ultimately, question their perception of reality.

I would argue that the above four tactics can be used in gaslighting. Declaring someone humourless or too sensitive is meant to make them second-guess themself and question their perception of reality to change the topic from the misbehaviour of the gaslighter to the proposed inadequacies of the person calling them on it.

You might see this where someone absents themself from a conversation in which they’re being challenged by saying they don’t want to be attacked anymore (challenge is not attack)–thereby implying that reasonable and respectful challenging dialogue is an attack. Thereby conflating calling out harmful behaviour with committing harmful behaviour.

You might also see this where someone’s abusive behaviour is called out and they turn around and call the naming of abuse abusive (a very, very common tactic in intimate partner abuse, for the record). It is meant to make the person naming the abuse as well as any other readers ignore the offside behaviour of the first person in order to wonder if they were out of line by naming abusive behaviour as abuse.

6. Tagging in friends
I want to be very clear–bringing in mutual friends who can speak to something and/or act as support is fine. But tagging in friends when you are being shitty/oppressive/abusive and the other person is not backing down in the face of it? That is not okay. Recruiting your spouse to PM someone you and they have never met in order to declare your commitment to social justice–apparently every evening is filled with conversations about social justice but never about how a fundamental part of doing social justice work is being able to be challenged without taking your ball and going home then sending your partner to threaten them–in a hope to shame them for pointing out racism and misogyny is, well, not very good social justice work. But hilarious for all of us who get to read the PM.

7. You’re going to chase real allies away
Just to piggyback on the not-at-all-hypothetical PM mentioned above, here is something I see so often when someone with privilege is challenged that I can’t even pretend to consider it thoughtfully: “It’s people like you who make men not want to be feminists.” Or, “If you don’t stop being so extreme you’re going to chase the real allies away.” Or, “You’re the reason people are racist/sexist/etc. They wouldn’t be, they want to help fight for justice, but you’re so mean/abrasive/strident that you chase them away.”

If your allyship is reliant upon being treated with kid gloves, getting cookies and never-ending passes for not being overtly awful, never being challenged lest you fold up your tent and join the other side? WE DON’T WANT YOU.

If you can’t understand and weather the righteous anger of oppressed people you are no ally to them.

8. You have no idea how progressive I am!
Okay, this is last time I harp on the hilarious and very misguided PM a friend received. Responding to your (spouse’s) problematic behaviour being pointed out by incredulously declaring that you are SO progressive that it’s laughable to be accused of racist fuckery is yet another way that people try to shame and gaslight the person challenging them. Saying that the challenger would be humiliated by their challenge if they knew this person in real life because they are. just. so. progressive. is a total elision of responsibility and endeavours to prevent the person from challenging racist/sexist/etc bullshit in the future.

It also utterly fails to take into account how social justice work is a practice of constant learning, unlearning, fucking up, and learning to handle your fuck ups with as much grace as you can muster.

9. Playing Devil’s Advocate
My initial response to someone playing Devil’s Advocate is always, “Does the Devil really need another advocate? Who hears ‘The Devil’ and goes, ‘Oh, I bet he needs more people on his side!’?”

Inevitably that response is not appreciated by self-appointed Advocates. And the last time I said it I got a really haughty message back that they weren’t actually polling me on the Devil’s requirement for advocates. Which was good for a laugh if nothing else.

Here’s the thing about playing the Devil’s Advocate: You all pretend it’s some harmless forwarding of a morally neutral thought exercise. You seem to think we’re too dumb to see it for what it is: A pathetically transparent veil you use because you don’t have the guts to stand behind your oppressive opinion.

And then when you’re called on it you whine that you were just doing a thought exercise. Because if there’s anything the world needs it’s yet one more cis dude “wondering” if we should be believing women who are sexually assaulted. Or “showing both sides” about people’s fundamental right to body autonomy and right to not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term. And on and on and on.

If you’re going to forward odious and oppressive views, at least have the fortitude to stand behind them.

So that’s my list. It is surely incomplete, but it’s at least a start. You may have noticed that I slipped between “you” being the person doing the harmful behaviour and having it done to them. I wanted to recognize that we are all capable of arguing in bad faith, of utilizing shitty and harmful tactics when we feel challenged and defensive, and that we all need to be mindful of the harmful ideas, norms, and stereotypes we are stewed in from the moment we are born into this world. We all need to commit, again and again, to acting with integrity, to checking ourselves when we are challenged, and to walking away and processing shit rather than lashing out when we fuck up. Which we will.

The Five Love Languages Expanded

Two Watercolor Love Birds with Hearts

You may have heard of the Five Love Languages before. And you may have initially felt some twinge of recognition and then had that followed up with a gut feeling (or gut screaming) that it wasn’t developed for someone like you. It could be the overt heteronormativity and sexist questions, or the Christian underpinnings. Seems like such a shame, since there is some goodness there.

The topic came up today in a group chat of amazing women I’m lucky enough to be a part of and a couple of us remarked that it really needed to be reworked to reflect more people’s experiences. One additional love language struck me and was met with the online equivalent of knowing nods so I thought maybe there was something to this. My friend C suggested I crowdsource other additional love languages which was an excellent suggestion.

One of the things that I think is sorely missing from Chapman’s understanding/definitions of love languages is an understanding of power, trauma, and emotional labour. Full disclosure: I have read his website, I haven’t read his books and so my analysis is of the Love Languages as I understand them and would like to suggest they be reworked rather than a deep dive of Chapman’s work. Continue reading “The Five Love Languages Expanded”

So You’re a Celebrity Feminist

Don’t do this.

Hi there! Congratulations! You’ve recently announced to the world that you’re a feminist. Maybe it was by wearing a supes cute shirt, responding to a question about the pay gap in Hollywood, or simply a smart new marketing direction you’re going in.

Because I care about feminism I am going to offer, completely free of charge, a real quick tour through the various pitfalls you’re going to need to avoid. Continue reading “So You’re a Celebrity Feminist”

So You Think You Should Respond to That Facebook Post About Race/Gender/Etc

notallmen2So you’re on Facebook, let’s say, and you see a conversation happening about something you’re quite sure you have a lot of knowledge about, and you’re ready to jump in with guns a’blazing.

And so you do! Generously spreading your knowledge all around. Jumping in to active threads to post about your lived experience, thoughtfully challenging others’, just all around engaging in some really pointed, high-level, political debate.

Weirdly, however, it’s not being received as the act of generosity it was. In fact, they’re being pretty rude about it. And entirely missing the point. And getting pretty emotional. And, fuck, if they keep talking like this they’re just going to drive away all of the people who would be inclined to help them, right?

And, weirdest part of all, this isn’t the first time a bunch of people have been overly sensitive and completely missed how generous your contributions are. Has the whole world gone mad?? Continue reading “So You Think You Should Respond to That Facebook Post About Race/Gender/Etc”

Things I’ve Learned From Sewing My Own Clothes

For those readers who are my real life/social media friends, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve picked up a new hobby. My Instagram has been flooded with pics of my burgeoning self-made wardrobe (sorry/you’re welcome).

And I’ve learned some big lessons. Here are a few of them:

Anyone who wears women’s clothes knows that shopping is a battlefield–if for no other reason (and oh, there are so many other reasons) than that sizing is all over the place. You’re a squiggle here, a dog there, an expansive universe at this other place, and that store for teens seems to have a forcefield that repels you if you approach. Initially I wrote those as numbers but then I realized that a) some people find numbers tricky and b) they’re as nonsensical as a squiggle, dog, and expansive universe so why not be honest? Continue reading “Things I’ve Learned From Sewing My Own Clothes”

Holy Shit, Ghostbusters!

gbI saw Ghostbusters last week. I had read some of the hype, knew my lady friends who had seen it had loved it. Figured I’d enjoy it, but mostly was going because my response to men crying on the internet about female protagonists is to go with gusto to support it and flip them the bird.

The ads never looked great to me. I hadn’t seen the original. How much could I like this?

So much, my dudes. So. Fucking. Much. Continue reading “Holy Shit, Ghostbusters!”

Seven Self-Care Strategies for Those Struggling

My phone’s lock-screen and my touchstone for the last several months.

Just about everyone I know is struggling right now–between brutal acts of police violence against Black people in the US, the Orlando shooting, climate catestrophe, the spectre of a Donald Trump presidency, Brexit, and everything else we’re inundated with constantly, people are struggling with self-care, mental health, and just being okay.

Because I talk a lot about self-care people seem to assume I’m a champ at it. Rather, I talk a lot about it because it’s something I struggle with, and something I see as a fundamental part of doing justice work. So in that spirit, I’m offering a few of the things I’ve been using in the hopes they may be helpful for others. They may not ring true for you and that’s totally cool, we all have different needs and histories and self-care will look different for all of us, but they’re here if you want to give them a go. Continue reading “Seven Self-Care Strategies for Those Struggling”