Friday, February 20, 2009

More health-related oddness, and the slow drip of ideas adding up to a need to mainstream the Fat Acceptance movement

Anyone else ever taken the Real Age test? Mine is 29.6 (my actual age is 35.4). Sounds good, right? But there are a few…issues. First off, who designed the nutritional analysis and why do they think it’s still 1965? They ask you to estimate how many servings of various vegetables you get per week, but offer only about 10 to choose from. OK broccoli is cool, cabbage sure, but where are all the other options? What about eggplant and zucchini and snow peas and bean sprouts and yams and…So they end up telling me I don’t get enough veggies, when I eat a couple of servings of veggies for both lunch and dinner. Do I need to start adding broccoli to my breakfast now?

Speaking of veggies, I get a dire warning to “vary your veggies” with a big red X for failing to do this is making you older. OK, so in an average week I eat…drum roll please…eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, yams, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, some sort of fresh green beans, and spinach. Also bell peppers and asparagus, but only in the spring and summer because in winter they, like strawberries, are a sad imitation of themselves. Plus black beans, kidney beans and garbanzos (plus lentils too). Yeah, about beans – it tells me I should be eating more of them. Problem is, the test won’t allow you to indicate that you eat more than 1 serving of beans a week. Um, what? I probably eat at least 5 or 6 servings a week. Gotta say, a bit culturally clueless there…there are cultures where legumes are a daily staple, shouldn’t the test make space for people to indicate that consumption? The whole food section is very “stuff white people like”. Then it suggests that I’m probably low in vitamin E, and recommends that I eat sweet potatoes… which I actually DO eat, but there’s no place to indicate that. So I’m baffled – why not give people a wider range of veggies to choose from, and include the option to indicate that they eat beans if you’re going to count those as veggies? Were they high when they designed this part of the test?

It also scolds me for not knowing my exact blood pressure, which is apparently really really bad because OMG everyone has high blood pressure now! Except I’ve had low blood pressure my entire life. Another scolding for not knowing my exact cholesterol numbers…and then it helpfully lets me know that I’m consuming about half the recommended cholesterol limit a day. Um, think maybe we could connect the dots here? Again, it’s been a while and I don’t know my exact numbers, but they’re low and always have been.

Then it tells me I eat too much saturated fat. I eat chicken breast almost every day, maybe 1 oz of cheese a day and no other dairy, lean beef about twice a week and lots of olive oil, and maybe 1 serving of ham or sausage a week (and I mean literally one serving, as in one sausage, in pasta sauce). That’s too much saturated fat? Seriously?

Also why does it tell me that I could be getting more fiber even though I already get tons? “Eat more grains”. Um…I eat some form of high fiber grains at each meal – unless I’m calculating the serving sizes wrong it just wants me to eat bigger portions? Basically I eat brown rice or occasionally brown pasta with lunch and dinner, and sometimes some sort of sandwich with whole grain bread as a snack. Plus a small portion of whatever I had for dinner the night before as breakfast (I don’t like most Western breakfast foods, other than oatmeal).I’m confused – how in the hell could I be getting MORE grains? Also why doesn’t it let you indicate that you’re consuming whole grains rather than the processed white versions? Makes a big difference nutritionally, that.

The one piece of nutritional advice that they’re totally right about is that I don’t get enough calcium. I’m not sure how I could get enough, though, since I’m lactose intolerant and hate the taste of milk. Suggestions?

But my favorite part was the section covering exercise. I get at least 30 minutes cardio a day, plus strength training 6 days a week, but apparently that’s not enough! Oh no, I get a little blurb about increasing my cardio plus a helpful hint to increase the number of different types of cardio I do. Not that it gave me the option of indicating the ones I already do, I guess it’s just assuming that 30 minutes a day = only one type of exercise? Not quite sure WHY it would assume that…And then a little blurb about flexibility training, which is pretty damn lulzy for someone who used to be a competitive gymnast.

So yeah, overall I think this thing is a useful tool but it could do with being a bit more precise and expanding the range of options you can choose from. Especially the food section – people, there are veggies other than peas, cabbage and cauliflower! No, seriously! And some of us eat legumes every day, not just “at least once a week”!

Pop quiz – do people really think that healthy adults under say 50 need to be constantly monitoring their blood pressure and cholesterol even if they have absolutely no indicators for developing high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Do other people constantly track this? Because from my POV, well, it’s been low every time it’s been tested and nothing about my health or lifestyle seems to have changed, so…

Also, I’m not sure I’m thrilled to see them pushing high consumption of soy products. Isn’t the jury still out on whether that’s good or bad for women with a family history of breast cancer? Because my Mom died of breast cancer, and my Dad’s sister had it too, and yet they’re still telling me that I should try to eat more soy.

Now here’s the point where all the reading of Fat Acceptance blogs I’ve been doing comes in handy. So I get to the fitness section and see the following. BTW, just FYI, my BMI is in the “healthy” range and nowhere on the survey did I indicate a desire to lose weight, and I did indicate that I already get some form of exercise every day.

If you’re not getting the results you want from your workout, try adding a different cardiovascular activity to your weekly routine. Here's why: Based on your answers, we estimate that you burn close to the number of calories needed to help you grow younger, but you may be able to do even more. Most people can safely burn up . . . to 3,500 calories per week. However, talk to your doctor before you change your workout. Regular cardio activity can make your heart and arteries younger and stronger, enhance your immune system, protect you from stress and depression, and boost your brainpower.4 Ways to Increase Your Cardio
Keep moving. Do anything that requires steadily moving your large muscles (thighs, butt, back, and chest) -- running, skating, cycling, skiing, power walking, swimming, dancing, jumping rope, and
doing household chores that take a little hustle (raking leaves, washing windows).
Hop on a machine. Try the stair climber, elliptical trainer, treadmill, stationary bike, rowing machine, or cross-country skier.
Take classes. Sign up for dance, step aerobics, kickboxing, or water workouts -- just to name a few.
Play games. Try singles tennis, basketball

OK, so, my BMI is normal…why is it assuming I’m not getting the results I want from my workout? Are we now just assuming that EVERYONE wants to lose weight, even if they’re not actually overweight? Note the part where it says that based on my answers I’m probably burning enough calories already…so why assume I need to do more?

And that, my friends, is what prompted me personally to move from passively supporting the Fat Acceptance movement as simply a moral necessity in that all people deserve to be treated decently into wanting to get actively involved. When we’re starting to assume, just as a matter of course, that everyone wants to lose weight and should do so even if the medical establishment says that their weight is “normal” (mine is in the 35th percentile for my age and height and look, I’m still automatically being offered weight loss advice) and they already work out…we have officially jumped the shark as a culture. Even if you’re not fat, don’t get too comfy – what if you GET fat? Basically everyone should worry about their weight, a lot. Because we all know that there’s nothing better for your health than stress, right?


Zan said...

The assumption that all women are on a diet just makes me want to cry and throw bricks at people at the same time. And yet -- it just is. Start to really listen to the women around you, see how many of them are on diets, see how often they make some comment about how they were bad and had a brownie last night. Or how they're so fat, they've gained five pounds! It's just engrained in our culture and I don't think most women even really realize they do it.

And you can't ever be good enough. You just can't. There is no middle ground. You can't get too fat but you sure as hell can't get too skinny either -- and the goalposts are constantly moving.

The only way to stay sane is to just tune it all out. Just refuse to give in. The only person who has the right to be concerned about your body is YOU. (And your partner, to a degree.) You don't owe being pretty to anyone. You don't owe adhering to some cultural standard to anyone. Hell, you have no duty to be healthy if you don't want to be.

Eat the foods that make you feel good, that give you energy. Do the activities that make you happy, that give you energy. Dress the way you want, shape your body the way you want. Make yourself happy. It's the only way to stay sane.

Full Tilt said...

As long as you're healthy with decent numbers for BP, cholesterol, etc and you can do the things you need to in life as well as what you enjoy, live your life and be happy. The rest is just mess...

I guess you don't check your blog a lot because you left a request in your profile to hear from other Third Culture persons...I'm one too! I left a note but haven't heard back...Hope you're okay...

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