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May 6th, 2008

_Teenage Waistland_, by Abby Ellin

Subtitled: A Former Fat Kid Weighs In on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can't) Help

Here are a few statistics from Ms. Ellin's childhood. During her brief flirtation with starvation as an 11-12 year old at 4'11", she got down to 83 pounds (BMI = 16.8). Her slightly less crazy grandmother outed the insanity in her family, and while that was enough to keep this Ellin from anorexia, her older sister was not quite so fortunate.

As near as I can tell from the text, she maxed out at 5'2" 3/4s (let's just round up, shall we?) and 147 pounds. BMI sez: 26, which is slightly overweight by current guidelines, but would previously (up through the mid 90s, when she was that weight) have been considered normal weight (despite her obsession with the idea she should weigh 110, which is a BMI of 19.5). For what it's worth, the vast majority of the large studies of mortality and morbidity associated with weight show a U shaped curve, where 19 and below is about like 30 and above, and where the low point on the curve is 26-28 (some variability by gender, study, age, etc.).

While Ms. Ellin has read a lot of books on the subject and talked to a lot of people (and go her, she actually talked to white people, Jewish and otherwise, Hispanics, Blacks, and she traveled around the country as well), and is a (reasonably) effective advocate for children who are being treated badly (sometimes clearly being emotionally or otherwise abused) by their parents, she is still basically batshit crazy when it comes to food. She's gotten over her "food" vs. "non-food" days problem (that was new one for me, but in retrospect, I'm pretty sure I've met people like this), but retains an unbelievable obsession with processed/fast/junk-food and an abysmal lack of awareness of what healthy food is and what it is like to live in a healthy food environment. For whatever reasons, all of her suggestions revolve around what adults and children can and can't do as individuals within the family to deal with food and health. There are NO larger policy suggestions (altho some complaints about how hard it is to find reasonable selections in hospital vending machines).

She also is quite selective about her exercise/fat-but-healthy studies and never once mentions the results from the NWCR. It _is_ possible for more people than are usually accounted for to lose large amounts of weight and keep it off. It _is_ possible for people to live a happy and rewarding life while being overweight, including higher categories such as obesity and even "morbid" obesity. She dismissed these two possibilities as "impossible" and so do most of the people she talks to, _even tho she has quotes from others to the contrary_. The big missing piece of her understanding is also the source of her craziness: the importance of spending time with people who are _not_ batshit crazy about food, and having _something_, _anything_ else as the prime focus of your life that _is not food_.

Fortunately, she's got the sense not to eat around her family. I would argue it would be in her best interests to have _nothing_ whatsoever to do with her family for a minimum period of 2 years while she gets her head squared away. Her description of watching her grandmother (the psycho crazy one obsessed with weight) die really resonated with a review I mentioned in an earlier post of a woman who became closer to her father as he died of Alzheimer's. Here's a suggestion for anyone out there who has a close relative who abused the shit out of you as an impressionable young person. Avoid them until they're dying of something really nasty (Alzheimer's, brain tumor, whatever), and then go nurse them in their dying days. It seems to make at least some of the younger generation feel better. I don't want to think too hard about why, other than to note that maybe elder abuse isn't such a bad thing at all. Turn about fair play, what goes around, payback's a bitch, etc. (Not that I think the author engaged in elder abuse. Quite the contrary.)

ETA: Another TitleTrader acquisition. I can only imagine how steamed I'd be if I'd forked out hardcover prices for this.
(1) Offer a variety of real foods. Where real means at least the cook knows where they came from originally. It's not about fat is evil, or sugar is evil. You _know_ where maple syrup comes from, for example.

(2) Keep the portion size small; allow unrestricted additional (small) portions. DO NOT USE EXTRA LARGE DESIGNER DINNERWARE for everyday, anyway. It fucks with everyone. If your larger kids/teenagers want to switch to larger portions/fewer times a day, that's fine, but at least start them out with small/frequent portions.

(3) Do not allow any of the macronutrients to drop to zero (so, nobody is supposed to eat zero-fat, or zero-carbs, or whatever; obviously, if you've got some special medical thing, that overrides).

(4) Establish a "family palate" that runs high-fiber/low-sodium. If you let the restaurant industry define the family palate, you'll sink into the swamp of empty calories faster than you can empty the salt shaker. I'm not saying never eat out; I'm saying when you do eat out, it should taste noticeably different than your usual food, and you should basically prefer your usual food.

(5) Include regular snacks, in addition to "meals".

(6) Make water your normal drink. I'm not saying no coffee, no tea, no soda, no alcohol whatever, but those should be unusual (only in the morning, only in the afternoon, only after 6 p.m., whatever). If you are thirsty, your (as the parent) normal response should be a drink of water.

(7) Be willing to radically modify the way you live your life (commute, where the kids go to school, where your leisure dollar goes, etc.) in support of physical activity for _everyone_ in the family.

This is considerably more complex than my previous rules (Eat what you crave. Eat more than one thing. Try new foods periodically (where new means new-real, not yet-another-processed-x). Stop eating when you are full.), but not incompatible.

One last remark about something that came up again and again in the course of _Teenage Waistland_. I don't _care_ if people in a family can eat 20 pounds of chocolate for breakfast and lose a pound (I would lose more than that; I'd start throwing up after the first 8 ounces and not be able to eat any more), or eat Big Macs three meals a day and not gain weight. These are rotten food choices for _anyone_, and confuse weight with health. The idea that it makes sense for the slender folk in the family to have all this crap around the house in a secret stash when someone else is desperately trying to make more reasonable choices makes me _really_ question who in that family has the food addiction.
In the course of shrinking the library, I hauled this out (published 1999, presumably purchased and read around then). One of the authors is/was "deputy director for programs at" UCS, an organization which I respect (and I show that respect, in part, with $$$).

I remembered their take-away basically being: focus on the big stuff, and that means keep your house and car small, drive less, when you replace stuff do so with more energy efficient, eat down the chain and try not too sweat the small stuff. A number of things have changed in my life since then, which made me curious. Did I remember the message correctly? And do I still believe the numbers, now that almost a decade has gone by?

First up: Table 3.4 Electricity Use by Household Lighting and Appliances

In addition to making abundantly clear why compact fluorescents became such a hot item (and they do describe and advocate CFLS later in the text), I took a look at the stand-alone freezer number: 1240 kWh/yr. Holy moly! Huge. Worse than an average refrigerator, second only to an average swimming pool pump (yet another reason for refusing to consider buying a house with a pool! As if the death rate on those suckers wasn't bad enough). But I knew that, and bought one with that in mind (shop off EnergyStar .xls available from the guvmint). Numbers don't always stick in my brain, so downstairs to see what ours is: 282. Geez. That's lower. Like an average dishwasher in this table. Sweet!

Great quote on p 93:

"One trick to motivate yourself to reduce your driving is to imagine that gasoline is much more expensive than it really is...that every ten-mile trip costs not one dollar but three, you may find yourself coming up with creative ways to reduce your driving."

*snicker* No imagination needed any more!

The message is as-I-recalled. The biggest thing I would expect a version of this published now to include that isn't here is the peak oil stuff, and the unbelievably high cost of energy that is resulting. Also, updated information in tables of energy use.

The epilogue is an interesting historical overview of anti-consumption/pro-conservation rhetoric over the last hundred or so years. Still worth reading.

The gist of the article is that some people are complaining that foster care in Texas for FLDS children has been hearing from people like Carolyn Jessop. As usual, William John Walsh (here identified as John Walsh) is quoted without any particular analysis of the kind of crap that comes out of his mouth on a regular basis (note to mainstream LDS: better excommunicate this guy quick! He's _really_ gonna make life tough for you, trying to keep you separate from FLDS). Foster care is warned to not respond to racially prejudiced and similar offensive remarks, explained in the last paragraph in this way:

"Boys, it says, "have made derogatory remarks to staff of color" and children have made "negative comments concerning women wearing jewelry" and that "men are not clean shaven and are not wearing long-sleeve shirts."
[...clothing explanation deleted...]
Jeffs, drawing on early Mormon teachings that blacks were cursed, has preached that anything to do with black culture, music and dress in particular should be avoided."

At some point, someone is going to point out that the whole blacks-can't-be-priests (which is basically a bar mitzvah for Mormons, so being excluded was a big deal. Oh, and hey? Why was it such a big deal that _blacks_ couldn't be priests -- but women Mormons _still_ can't be priests? Hmmmm?) changed very recently. Like, it was an interview question for Mitt Romney.

1978. Yeah. "early" Mormon teachings. That were still around until 1978. Which was _such_ a long time ago. Lest you go, well, it was that way all along, so it _was_ early, well, _really early_ Mormon practice was to ordain free blacks. Apparently even Brigham Young ordained some blacks. It wasn't until 1848 that the Curse of Cain thing took off.

So that paragraph is wrong in a couple of ways that are overly flattering to regular, LDS Mormons. Which is not to say they don't get credit for getting rid of such an evil doctrine.

As usual, the coverage in the Christian Science Monitor, while infrequent, is excellent.


They describe the little Harry Reid thing and provide the obvious explanation why you can't "raid" Short Creek/Hildale/wtf the way YFZ was raided. YFZ is _one_ property so once you're through that gate legitimately, you can take any kid who is at risk. In a town with multiple properties (even if all held through UEP, they are still separate parcels), you need a report/reason to act _for each property_ -- you can't just go waltzing in to every house in town.

This was obvious to me _without_ a lawyer pointing it out. I'm surprised this is the first time I've seen someone explain it in so many words in media coverage.