The last word

I've been battered but remain unbowed over the recent attention around my Huffington Post blog. I've worked for years to try to get media attention for parents and eating disorders but it seems that the way to get calls from CNN, ABC News, and the Laura Ingraham show is to appear to mix body politics with national politics.

I'm sorry to report that my effort to make one small point has been lost, buried, perverted, and exhausted. My point: pursue health, not a body size.

Our society is so hell-bent on seeing one's body as something that can AND MUST be forced into a certain shape. We see weight as an indication of behavior, will, health, and human dignity so much so that no amount of information or rebuttal or "comment on this comment" will ever suffice. People in the eating disorder world know this kind of thinking is flawed, and are intolerant of those outside it who do not. The intolerance of those outside the eating disorder world is, well, staggering.

Not that anyone will notice, but I would like to put on the record that I am not, as reported: anti-Obama, anti-American, a right wing nut, a left wing wacko, obese, anorexic, oversensitive, racially insensitive, permissive, over controlling, politically motivated, self-promoting, not caring about children's health, against exercise, a shill for the fast food industry, promoting obesity as a lifestyle, hurting children, coddling children, making excuses for bad parenting, making excuses for my parenting, the reason my daughter got an eating disorder, or an idiot. I'm not accusing Michelle Obama of giving her kids eating disorders or implying President Obama is damaging his daughter's self-esteem. I'm not saying healthy exercise and food are bad, or that sitting on the couch is good. I'm not even talking about eating disorders. I'm just quietly saying one little thing: pursue health, not a body size. And if you can't understand that concept because you think health IS a body size, then I want you to promise me that in five years when this is common knowledge you come back here and apologize to me for your rude behavior.

I'll give Kate Harding, a wiser and better writer than I, the last word on how it is possible to worry about "Obesity" initiatives but still applaud the goal of increased opportunities for activity and wholesome foods for children. These beliefs are not mutually exclusive.


  1. It sounds like you have been sorely misused. I am sorry for that, but give you huge kudos and thank you for writing the piece. You have the stage and audience, and I'm glad you used it. You were right on. Big e-hug and thank you for keeping up the fight. Alas, with the increasing attention to the "war on obesity" I think this will all get worse. Let's all keep whistling in this hurricane and maybe we will be heard...

  2. I'm sorry you've been treated so poorly, but I want you to know that the fact that you're getting this important message out anyway means a lot to me and I'm sure many, many others. (Hopefully you already know this, but it never hurts to remind someone they're appreciated, even if it is by random people on the internet!) Every little bit will make a difference...eventually. Thanks for being willing to take the heat!

  3. Keep repeating the message, Laura. You are doing important work. (If I had some 'thick skin' cream I would send it your way!)

  4. Laura, in a world with limited resources and time, do you have a better way to measure health? Obesity measures are not perfect and on an individual basis, BMI is fundamentally and deeply flawed, but in a world where we need to communicate information to millions of people, it is hard to do so without taking a few shortcuts. What other policy could a government pursue?

    I don't think that advocating healthy eating for the sake of healthy eating would work. Again and again, behavioral experiements show that people discount the value of the future, so being happy now is more valuable than being happy later. So people are not going to be healthy to be healthy. I wish I lived in a world where everybody could take in and process health information.

    In some sense, I agree 110% with you--body size does not necessarily correlate in any way shape or form with health. However, in a world where people face constant demands on their time and mental energy, I don't know a better proxy for health. (I suppose one could use a comprehensive battery of fitness tests, but that would be difficult to orchestrate and administer.) What alternatives to weight based measures should we be advocating?

  5. My daughter has been in 5 hospitals, and 2 inpatient treatment centers and she is still trying to die by starving herself. When she heard Mrs. Obama's announcement (I LOVE the first lady and husband), my 15 year old said "Oh my God; now my brother will get anorexia".

    She is wise at 15 years old- she knows that her brother is seriously overweight; but she also knows that talking about "weight" vs. health can trigger serious eating disorders.

    Laura - please keep up the education process. My daughter knows danger when she sees it - so do you. The First Lady's intentions are all positive - but how we talk about things IS important - and can be deadly.

    Hang in there,

    Another parent

  6. Thank you so much for the support, folks. Yes, it does help!

    Hopefullygrowing, you ask an excellent question and it really is the next conversation to be having. You are right that people aren't as motivated by health as they are afraid of weight, but that isn't a justification for putting energy into messages that won't work and will do harm.

    Health and balance ARE complex. It isn't a sound byte-friendly topic.

    It won't "work" and will leave people less healthy and feeling worse, no matter how attractive the message. Targeting these messages to people based on their shape will make wholesome food and physical activity into a punishment for being fat, and make being thin seem to be a virtue instead of a body type.

    These simplified messages about weight loss don't lead to healthy behaviors. They lead to unhealthy dieting - something we have an enormous industry in place to abet.

  7. why are some people so afraid of NOT linking weight to health. i think some people are afraid of overweight. they dread that their children might become overweight OR perhaps they dread that there will simply be more overweight people in the world OR they think that if others are overweight, they may become fat by association.

    a lot of people i know who have fat phobia for themselves insist that childhood obesity is our biggest problem since typhoid.

    i do think michele obama misspoke and the leader of the free world should not have EVER referred to his children as "chubby". it would be wonderful if they came out, apologized and spoke about the problems with what they did.

  8. IHTW,

    Wow. You nailed it, and I had never thought of it that way and totally agree: "afraid of NOT linking weight to health." THat's it!

    Those who believe their average body size is a virtue would be afraid to give it up. People who are not an average size who hold onto the belief that they CAN and SHOULD be are terrified of giving that up. THANK YOU for this insight!


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