There was quite a piece in the New York Times this week by a writer describing his efforts to lose his pandemic weight. On its face, it seems like a straightforward article on how losing weight will not itself make you happy. But almost immediately, it becomes a lengthy and alarming exercise in body-related guilt and shame, and normalizing denial about the burden of those feelings.
In the piece, the writer insists he has “never struggled with an eating disorder,” and has “never been grievously hurt by diet culture.” Yet his weight has “somehow managed to make itself a central fact of my life, an essential part of the story I tell myself about myself”; he self-identified as “the fat kid” growing up, eating other kids’ donated desserts as a kind of performance art; he watched his mother struggle through yo-yo dieting; he has an “alter ego” whom his wife calls, “with affectionate amazement, ‘Fat Sam.’” A friend asks of the writer’s weight gain, “Did you eat my friend Sam?” a “joke” that the writer later says his friend “had every right to make.” ...What??
The writer also expresses a lot of negative feelings about eating: He eats and snacks “anxiously, obsessively, to keep my spirit from hissing out of my ear”; he was “eating when I wasn’t hungry, eating until I felt almost sick, mindlessly inhaling whatever heaps of processed food the multinational snack conglomerates managed to stick in front of my face all day long.”
To be clear, there is nothing wrong at all with eating, snacking, or being fat. There’s nothing wrong with talking about, or having, a less-than-good relationship with food or one’s body. But it doesn’t feel like a leap to say the piece radiates guilt, shame, and self-consciousness about eating and fatness in a play for “relatability” that still normalizes this retro moralizing about eating and body size, like a Cathy type going “oh my God I am so fat, I’m such a fatty for ordering pancakes; I’m so bad.”
The only direct mention the writer makes of of eating disorders is to say he doesn’t have one; how could he, if he was able to "just stop eating” long enough to lose weight? At the risk of being obvious: Having binge-eating-type disordered patterns doesn’t preclude being able to lose weight; having restrictive disordered patterns doesn’t preclude being fat; not being hospitalized for them doesn’t preclude either. It’s possible to be a “functioning” disordered eater. Just for posterity, some of the symptoms of binge-eating disorder: “eating unusually large amounts of food”, “even when you’re full or not hungry,” “until you’re uncomfortably full,”; “feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating.”
While I’m not here to diagnose, anyone who not only considers his weight and body shape to be central to the fact of his existence, but believes he deserves his friend’s and wife’s shaming over weight gain or eating “too much,” merits a second look at that question. At minimum, seeing your body weight and shape as central to your identity is the definition of being harmed by diet culture. At maximum, having people derogatorily1 comment and find you lacking in a dimension that you, however incorrectly, consider core to your identity—I have a hard time believing that that’s not damaging.
The writer is surely not alone in this; the majority of people still operate in this type of weight-related morality framework. But the piece reflects and unfortunately reinforces a lack of imagination about what is possible when it comes to healthy relationships with food and our bodies; it literally stops at “well shoot, losing weight did not fix me.” No one has to be militantly body positive, and who among us does not accept shitty behavior and circumstances because we have no good baseline? But there’s a big gray area between transcending the corporeal realm and existing as an amorphous cloud of light and love and laughing along with your friend’s fat jokes at your expense in the paper of record.
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What subscribers will be receiving this week: At the risk of being too on the nose about weight loss, my own cut is over! And since it’s the first one I’ve done and actually completed in over two years, I’m going to write about all the things I had forgotten about the process, as well as how I see it differently at even more of a remove from the worst of my disordered eating days.
~Discord Pick of the Week: A historical blog that systematically picks apart the idea that men were stronger and tougher “real men” in the olden times. Sorry to: the Liver King, Joe Rogan, Alex Jones, J.D. Vance. Also: a great overhead press video. ~
Loved this Jia Tolentino piece on the new Angela Garbes book, Essential Labor: Can motherhood be a mode of rebellion?
A lovely personal essay by one of the folks in our community about how lifting weights helps with diabetes.
Often, displays of athleticism make me cry, and that includes dogs doing agility courses. They are so happy!!
A reader sent me this Instagram post of a guy doing scapular push-ups and claiming that the muscles they work (serratus anterior, a very small layer of muscle at the origin of your ribcage) are “the most neglected muscle during exercise.” Is he right? Is this real?
A post shared by Karl • Online Fitness Coach (@livfitkarl)
This is a good object lesson in a couple dimensions: viral visuals, and the principles of fitness marketing.
First, viral visuals. The scapular pushup simply looks kind of fascinating, particularly when done in high-contrast lighting by a guy with a very muscly back. I don’t know if anyone else has the following experience often, but despite having no actual interest in, say, slimes or makeup videos, my eye is just drawn to them on the Explore page. That’s just How They Get You.
Second: the principles of fitness marketing. They are as follows:
DO: dig up esoteric exercises and post about them
DO: claim they will fix everything from posture to high blood pressure and job performance
DO: make followers feel guilty they did not already know this (”Without solid foundations all of your lifts and activities will suffer”)
DO: imply that their lack of knowledge about this one esoteric exercise means they don’t know anything about accessory work in general
DON’T: think too much about how this might be misleading
So is it real? He’s right in the sense that the serratus anterior is a muscle that scapular pushups work. But that muscle would be worked in any exercise that involves protracting the scapula, including regular pushups (done properly), overhead presses, and some kinds of benching. But his claim that "we need to specifically train our smaller, accessory muscles because they’re super important as well” is not true, and gets away with it by being a barely coherent sentence. If it were, we would necessarily “need” to “specifically train” all of our smaller accessory muscles. There are 600 muscles in the body. How much time do you have?
People do accessory movements for all kinds of reasons: as prehab or rehab, or just because they want the muscle to be bigger. I will say “weak serratus anterior” is not, as far as I know, exactly a muscle imbalance that is gripping the nation. If you had a specific reason to train the serratus anterior, you would, and you could by doing scapular pushups. But if you don’t, which you probably don’t, then you don’t.
Burnout is a collective problem. Apropos of nothing, this tweet:
The SoulCycle founders do away with the pretense of bikes and just start a regular old cult.
All saying “dismantling Roe vs. Wade only stops safe abortions” does is give rich people a reason to breathe a sigh of relief.
I thought I had craven analytics brain from working in media, but it appears any YouTuber is way worse.
Another piece on the harrowing recovery process for BBLs.
The youths are Klarna- and Afterpay-ing themselves into very bad debt. Most notable tidbit in here: There is no positive credit bump for paying off these debts, but there is a negative bump if people miss payments.
You will not believe how spot-on this is: How Different Actors Run.
As promised, I rewatched Hacks season 1 and it was even better than I remembered; just some absolutely breathtaking line reads from Jean Smart.
I’ve been reading Body Work by Melissa Febos this week and it’s incredibly good.
That is all for this week! Love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—
to be a b u n d a n t l y clear: Fat is obviously not an absolute pejorative, but all the parties involved in this story treat it that way. ↩