I finally finished Mika’s book a couple of weeks ago. It is only 228 pages, but it was very difficult for me to read. I struggled to read it because I felt as if someone reached inside my head, pulled out my innermost thoughts, and placed them on a page for the whole world to read. But, I am glad that I read it.
She confirmed for me what I have known for a long time. I have even shared this idea on this blog. That all eating disorders, whether bulimia, anorexia, or obesity, all have something in common. They are all illnesses that need to be treated as such. Anorexia and bulimia have been treated as illnesses for a long time, but obesity still suffers the social stigma of being a personal character flaw that needs to be addressed by that individual alone.
What I learned from reading Mika’s book, and from conversations I have had with a family member with bulimia, is that some of the dysfunction she has with food, and the dysfunction I have with food are the same, and they need to be treated as such.
As a child, a teen, college student, and well into her adult years, she obsessed about food much in the same way I did. I thought about food all of the time growing up. I dieted, starved myself, took diet pills, binged, purged through crazy exercise stints. I never thought I was thin enough. I always thought I was fat, even when I was not.
Reading what Mika and her friend and co-writer, Diane, had to say was like reliving all those thoughts all over again.
We live in a society that values beauty and thinness above all else. People who suffer from eating disorders that keep them thin are definitely viewed as having a more sympathetic problem than those whose disorder makes and keeps them fat. Her friend Diane, whom she confronted about her excess weight put it quite succinctly, “At least your obsession with food helps you keep the weight off…mine doesn’t” (p. 116) Mika continued, “She may be right, but it is still not healthy. One problem is that being so thin really gets rewarded. When I’m at my thinnest, I have everyone in the world telling me how great I look.” (p. 116)
This rewarding thinness and weight loss really concerns me. I have to admit that I have some concern about how everyone fusses over my weight loss. Don’t get me wrong, I love the attention. When I know I’m going out to be among a group of my friends or family, I take some extra care to look my best. I choose my clothes to carefully pick out something I know really accents the weight loss. I fix my hair. I put on make up. I prepare myself mentally to have everyone tell me how great I look. I know it’s a bit narcissistic, but I have lived a lifetime being ashamed of how I look and trying to make myself as invisible as possible. It’s nice to be fussed over. But, I am concerned about going from being known only as the fat girl to being known only as the fat girl who lost a lot of weight. I really long for people to really know me. I have always felt the real me has nothing to do with how much I weigh, or what I eat, and it would be such a relief to really be seen for who I truly am.
What I found really interesting about this book was the discussion about how food companies have made foods that are deliberately addictive. The combination of sugar, salt, and fat apparently trigger some of the same pleasure parts of the brain that addictive drugs do. That explains why it is easy to become addicted to these foods and keeps people eating long after they are full. I know when I eat processed foods, they have a different effect on me than whole, clean foods do. I feel more sated, and I definitely have a short-lived feeling of pleasure and satisfaction from eating fried, greasy, salty, sugary foods. But I also know that once I start to eat these foods, it is hard for me to stop. There are certain foods I definitely have all or nothing relationship with. Nutter Butters, for example. I have known for years that I have one of two choices when eating them. I can eat none of the Nutter Butters in the box, or all of the Nutter Butters in the box. There is no in between.
I’m sure the food companies aren’t making foods like this because they are inherently evil, but they make foods like this to increase the likelihood consumers will keep buying their foods so that they keep making money. That is, after all, why they are in business.
I think that there are several really good points in this book:
- We need to re-think our ideas about weight either thinness or obesity.
- We need to re-think our approach to rewarding thinness over non-thinness.
- We need to re-think our approach to dealing with all eating disorders.
- We need to re-think our approach to food and wellness.
- We need to ask/force food companies to be more responsible in the foods they produce and how they are marketed.
- We need to take aggressive steps to address the obesity problem in our country.
They think an open and honest dialogue is the best way to begin to address some of these problems.
“More than a year after our infamous conversation on Long Island Sounds, Diane and I are more convinced than ever that sharing our stories and providing support to one another are huge steps toward changing the way we think about weight and food. … ‘We need to be able to have that dialogue, but first thing we need to do is lay down the burden of blame and shame,’ said obesity expert Dr. David Katz. ‘Until we do that, we as a nation are stuck at this impasse on obesity.’” (p. 139)
I agree. This is primarily why I started this blog. I wanted to have an honest discussion about what it is like to be fat and facing horrible health problems. I wanted to discuss how I chose to address those health problems. I also wanted to discuss how I got fat and what was keeping me fat.
Writing about my problems, and putting my thoughts out into the world definitely helped me deal with some of my issues. I’m not saying I am completely cured. Yes, I made the decision to take charge of my life and change its trajectory, but it was not that simple. I have had a lot of struggles along the way, and I still do. It wasn’t just one choice. I still have to make the choice every day to stay on track.
The surgery helps keep me on track, but it does not keep me from making bad choices. I can choose to waste my daily caloric intake on junk food or healthy food. I can choose to exercise or not. I can choose to overeat and stretch out my new smaller stomach, or I can choose to stick to the plan.
But back to the book. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in food and health issues. In fact, I recommend it to anyone even if they are not interested in food and health issues. I don’t think Mika and Diane mean this book to be the solution to everyone’s food problems, but to be the start of an ongoing dialogue that will hopefully change the face of our nation.
So, let’s not waste any time in starting this conversation. In the words of the infamous SNL icon created by Mike Meyers…”talk amongst yourselves!”