Who SHOULD Be On The Cover of The Swimsuit Issue?

(Instead of Barbie.) Here’s my suggestion: Lynne Cox. (Diana Nyad would be another good choice.)

An offline acquaintance of mine recently recommended a book by Lynne Cox, Swimming To Antarctica. I haven’t read it, but I found a couple of good articles about Cox and her cold-water swims online. She also has her own website. Her background page lists many swims where she was either the first person to swim a route, or she broke both the women’s and men’s record. Her photo page shows a baby-boomer-aged, smallfat-sized woman with light brown hair past her shoulders, sometimes tucked up in a swim cap.

According to CBS News, it should not even be possible for Cox to do the cold-water swims she’s done:

The swim [in 40-degree water from Alaska to the Soviet Union] also fascinated scientists. Based on all they knew, Cox should be dead after that swim.

Professor Bill Keatinge of the University of London, a pioneer in the study of hypothermia, brought Cox to London for experiments in his lab.

“We were able to confirm that she can maintain stable body temperature with her head out of the water and in water temperatures as low as 44 Fahrenheit,” he said. “We’ve got one other person that we know can do that. He was an Icelander who swam ashore from an overturned boat.”

Anyone else would immediately feel the pain like an electric shock, their muscles would flail and the heartbeat would stop in minutes.

“The whole beating of the heart goes completely adrift,” says Keatinge. “In technical terms, ventricular fibrillation. Then, you’re dead in a matter of minutes.”

Keatinge thinks Cox has somehow trained her body to keep most of her blood at her body’s core and away from the skin where it’s exposed to the cold. The blood stays warmer. But there is something else — call it her natural insulation.

“She’s got an extremely even fat layer going right down the limbs and it’s an ideal setup,” he says.

Cox herself thinks this is the key to her success: “If you look at the marine mammals in Antarctica, the whales, the walruses, the seals all have body fat to stay warm. Their blubber is very dense whereas mine will be more like a cotton sweater. But I’m not going to be in as long as they are.”


More on Barbie and Sports Illustrated:

A Modest Proposal

Barbie Pursues New Career As Internet Troll

The Problem Isn’t Barbie in the Swimsuit Issue. The Problem is the Swimsuit Issue.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fat, Food, and the Anime Series ‘Silver Spoon’

I’ve been watching an anime series called Silver Spoon. (It’s free to watch the first eleven episodes here.) It’s about students at an agricultural technical school in Hokkaido. The protagonist comes from a prep school and is unsure what he wants to do with his life, and chose the school because it was a boarding school*, but the other students all come from farming families and have fairly specific dreams for what they want to do after school. So far I’m on episode 7. I was a bit worried going in, because I noticed that there were a couple of fat characters featured in the theme song montage, so I wondered if the way they were portrayed would ruin the series for me. Given the choice between no fat characters and characters who are a walking fat joke, or for whom fat is one of many traits meant to signal that they’re contemptible, I’ll take no fat characters. So far, although they’re not perfect, I’m relieved that they’re portrayed fairly sympathetically. And I’m somewhat impressed by the way the show portrays food and the process of making it.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Walmart, Poverty, and BMI

Truthout published an op-ed called Walmart Is Not The Bargain You Might Think. (I’m not a regular reader of theirs, but I occasionally read things by them.) It has some interesting I-knew-they-were-rich-but… facts–for example, “The six heirs of Sam Walton have more money than the bottom 41.5 percent – or 48.8 million families – of all Americans, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data.”

The op-ed argues that while Walmart has cheap prices, it leaves communities worse off economically:

Stacy Mitchell wrote in Grist in December 2011, pointing to a study in Social Science Quarterly that showed that neighborhoods where a Walmart store opens have more poverty and food-stamp usage than communities without a Walmart. This might have something to do with Walmart’s record of putting other employers out of business – and more people out of work.

And then they talk about the effect on BMIs as though it’s a separate issue:

If that’s not bad enough, another recent study concluded that Walmart makes us fat. “An additional supercenter per 100,000 residents increases … the obesity rate by 2.3 percentage points. … These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart supercenters explains 10.5 percent of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s.”

It seems likely to me that the primary way in which Walmart increases local BMI is by increasing poverty. Our phenotypes (bodies) are influenced by both genes and environment, and in an environment of poverty a lot of people end up with a higher BMI than they otherwise would. (The “if that’s not bad enough” phrasing makes it sound like they may think that an increase in BMIs>30 of 2.3% is worse than higher poverty and food-stamp usage.)


Walmart and fast food chains, with their low prices, convenience and addictive high-fat, high-sugar content, are really just a part of a much bigger picture

I can’t muster much more than an eyeroll and a link to a Fat Nutritionist post for this line.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Elephant in the Room

Jack Marshall at Ethics Alarms reports that Time Magazine’s cover story is called “The Elephant in the Room”. It’s about Chris Christie. Yup, their cover story’s title is a fat joke. Time thinks that that’s in good-enough taste to print.

The Ethics Alarms post is right on in its description of Time’s use of “a desperate, tabloid-style habit of using intentionally gross, disturbing or controversial cover graphics”, but it quickly takes a strange turn….

As I have mentioned here often, fat-bashing and weight-related slurs are among the three culturally acceptable forms of prejudice (the others are anti-elderly and anti-male) embraced by the Left, including journalists, when they want to denigrate a denizen of the shadowy right—even one who peeks into the light of moderation from time to time, like Gov. Christie. (Hillary, last I looked, was looking decidedly portly and long in the tooth, but she’s a woman, see, and also a “progressive.” Would Time ever, ever dare to reference her age or weight on a cover? If the National Review did, would it not instantly be used as more proof of the Right’s “war on women”?)

In what universe is Hillary Clinton “decidedly portly”? It occurred to me that it was possible she’d gained weight recently and I hadn’t noticed; I did a Google Image search on her and found photos showing most of her body here and here. I guess I wouldn’t quite call her thin, but “decidedly portly” she’s not. I suspect the reason that her weight is not generally being mocked is because she has a lot of size privilege relative to Christie. I’d guess that Clinton’s BMI is around 25 or 26, and Christie’s is probably over 40.

I remember reading a news story or two about George W. Bush being just barely overweight, i.e., BMI of 26. (I dug one up, but I don’t recommend reading it.) Strangely, although George W. Bush was neither progressive nor a woman, I don’t remember anyone, left or right, making fun of him for being fat. A search for “george w. bush fat” doesn’t turn up anything on the first page actually calling him fat, though a couple photoshopped fat versions of him pop up in the images. Most of the first page of a search for “hillary clinton fat” is articles about the “2 fat thighs 2 small breasts” buttons that were sold at a California GOP convention. (Actually, her breasts don’t look small to me, not that that’s one of the qualities I look for in my politicians.) The only exception is a Daily Fail article about an author saying that Clinton looks “overweight and tired”. On the other hand, Michelle Obama has been mocked for her supposed weight problem (though not on the left, as far as I’ve seen).

I’m not exactly inclined to take a statement that we’re surrounded by anti-male slurs seriously, and even less so when the writer demonstrates moments later how much more harshly women are judged for even slightly straying from the thin ideal.

As to the “long in the tooth” bit, I will say that I agree with Paul Campos that if we’re really concerned about health, we should be more worried about Hillary Clinton dying in office than Chris Christie. But we’re not really concerned with health, are we?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Short Halloween Linkspam


A couple pretty good articles from Slate about Halloween candy:

Let Them Eat Candy!

But what if your kids don’t want to barter with the tooth fairy or set off controlled Kit-Kat explosions or sell you their Butterfingers? What if they really, really want to eat 8 pounds of candy? Right now I bet some of you are thinking—commenting, probably—What’s the big deal, lady? Chill out and let your kid eat some candy. (I know former Slate contributor KJ Dell’Antonia would agree.) And you know what? Research suggests that you might be right. As much as I’m going to hate watching my kid swallow eight Snickers bars in 90 seconds, letting go of my controlling tendencies may be the best thing for my son’s long-term well-being. That’s because when parents try to restrict their otherwise healthy children from certain foods, or when we actively pressure or coerce them to eat what we want, kids retaliate. Worse, our well-meaning interventions may cause our kids to develop abnormal relationships with food, increasing their risk for emotional eating and eating disorders.

How Dangerous Is Candy?

Noah’s mom, Laura, stocked their pantry with normal kid stuff—Popsicles and juice boxes and Teddy Grahams—so I didn’t think much about offering the jelly beans. But Laura seemed taken aback: “Well, he’s never really had that before … I suppose it couldn’t hurt.”

Couldn’t hurt? Could she really believe I was harming my child, and threatening to harm hers, by holding out a few tiny pieces of candy? But greater condemnation was to follow. Her husband, Gary, had been listening to the exchange, and with a dark glare in my direction, he hissed at Laura, “Oh, so I guess you’ll start giving him crack now, too?”

I have a few quibbles with that last one.

It’s a sensory symphony of fat, sugar, and salt: perfectly delicious and completely impossible to recreate at home.

I don’t think that’s exactly true. Peanut brittle=salt+sugar+fat (from the peanuts.

“People who think about these things every day, like indefatigable candy reviewer Cybele May, who posts at candyblog.net, sort candy from not-candy with a few specific qualities in mind: a sweet substance with a base of sugar, not liable to spoilage, ready to eat without preparation or utensils, and consumed primarily for pleasure.”

Snickers sometimes promotes utilitarian usage, though. I think at least some people use it that way.

The Fat Nutritionist has a Halloween post up. I haven’t checked out her links yet, but she has a pretty cool picture to accompany it!

Speaking of pictures, I keep thinking I should include more images. I included a heraldic image of a boar’s head, because boars are awesome.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ludicrously Long List of Links

Fat-Shaming Leads to Weight Gain, Not Loss

Having been a reader of fat-acceptance writers like Kate Harding for a long time, I can safely say that there are many people/commenters who are deeply concerned that if we don’t shame and insult fat people for their weight, they won’t be motivated to lose it. This “idea” was just dealt a major blow by researchers from the Florida State University College of Medicine, who that found that shaming fat people about their weight correlates to weight gain, not loss

I’ve noticed a common theme in reporting on fat: People will report something as though it’s new and surprising, when there have been previous studies with the same result. We’ve known this for a while. Why is it never “further confirmation that fat-shaming leads to weight gain”? The same thing happens every time there’s study showing that the “overweight” BMI category lives longest, or that BMIs are plateauing.

Oops! Roosh V’s #FatShamingWeek rallies Fat Acceptance activists, makes fat shamers look like the dicks they are

Happily, the hashtag has been pretty much taken over by feminists and fat acceptance activists and other people countering the douchebaggery of Roosh et al.

And the only real media coverage the campaign has gotten — from Buzzfeed and The Daily Dot — has focused on the sheer douchebaggery of the fat shamers.

So it seems that the main effect of Fat Shaming Week has actually been to advance the cause of Fat Acceptance, not to undermine it.

Brilliant, dudes. Just brilliant.

Reality TV Gets One Right: Shark Tank Calls Out Quackery

I’m mostly sharing this because the Skeptical Hippo illustrating the page might be my spirit animal.

Research Shows That Cocaine and Heroin Are Less Addictive Than Oreos

It would be easy to mock Schroeder and Honohan’s discovery that cookies are addictive, especially since they started out knowing that Oreos are “highly palatable to rats” and then concluded, based on the maze experiment and biochemical analysis, that Oreos are highly palatable to rats. But the study inadvertently highlights an important truth: Anything that provides pleasure (or relieves stress) can be the focus of an addiction, the strength of which depends not on the inherent power of the stimulus but on the individual’s relationship with it, which in turn depends on various factors, including his personality, circumstances, values, tastes, and preferences. As Peele and other critics of neurological reductionism have been pointing out for many years, the reality of addiction lies not in patterns of brain activity but in the lived experience of the addict. Locating addiction in the unmediated effect that certain stimuli have on “the brain’s pleasure center” cuts the addict out of the picture.

Making the Case For Eating Fruit

May be triggering–talks about weight loss, etc.

Experts agree that we are eating too much sugar, which is contributing to obesity and other health problems. But in the rush to avoid sugar, many low-carb dieters and others are avoiding fruits. But fresh fruit should not become a casualty in the sugar wars, many nutrition experts say.

I like this part because it helps me not feel defensive when one of my coworkers is talking about how great their kale-beet-zucchini smoothie or juice concoction is:

“You can’t just take an 8-ounce glass of cola and add a serving of Metamucil and create a health food,” Dr. Ludwig said. “Even though the fructose-to-fiber ratio might be the same as an apple, the biological effects would be much different.”

Fiber provides “its greatest benefit when the cell walls that contain it remain intact,” he said. Sugars are effectively sequestered in the fruit’s cells, he explained, and it takes time for the digestive tract to break down those cells. The sugars therefore enter the bloodstream slowly, giving the liver more time to metabolize them. Four apples may contain the same amount of sugar as 24 ounces of soda, but the slow rate of absorption minimizes any surge in blood sugar. Repeated surges in blood sugar make the pancreas work harder and can contribute to insulin resistance, thereby increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Disability and Discrimination at the Doctor’s Office

One out of five offices refused to even book an appointment. Some explained that their buildings were inaccessible to people in wheelchairs, but most refused simply because they had no equipment like height-adjustable examining tables and chairs, specially designed weight scales or trained staff members to help move the patient out of the wheelchair.

But even the offices that agreed to see the patient were not necessarily offering appropriate care. When pressed, some acknowledged that they had no plans or equipment for moving the patient. Others said that they would complete only the parts of the exam that they could — and forgo the rest. Fewer than 10 percent of these offices had appropriate equipment or employees trained to help patients with disabilities.

Doctors put lower value on lives of the disabled, study finds

In some cases doctors may even be making orders not to resuscitate “because” patients have learning difficulties, the three-year study concludes.

In other cases, it found evidence of doctors making more “rapid” and “premature” life-and-death decisions in cases involving the disabled than other people.

People with special needs are also less likely to be diagnosed quickly with conditions such as cancer and “all aspects” of medical care were “significantly” worse for them than for the wider population, it concluded.

Things That Won’t Necessarily Prevent Fatness

You Don’t Need an Excuse

Imagine a picture of the Dalai Lama who is looking way more at peace than you ever will. Across the top is, “What’s your excuse?”

Well, that’s ridiculous, isn’t it, because the Dalai Lama would never do something so silly but still wouldn’t you laugh and think, “Ummm, I’m not the Dalai freaking Lama, that’s my excuse!”

“Hot Mom” Maria Kang Is A Self-Obsessed Narcissist

Admittedly a little mean. I mean, it includes grammar-snarking.

I gather that communication isn’t your forte, but when someone says “What’s your excuse?,” that statement contains an implied assertion that the individual addressed has done something wrong, or failed to do something he or she has an obligation to do, and thus requires an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for a failing.  That negative thought isn’t the independent creation of members of your photo’s audience: the negative element is entirely yours. The suggestion of inadequacy is an unfair assertion. It is a presumptuous, arrogant, offensive and insulting assertion, made more so by your obvious implication that how every woman should live her life, judge her success, choose her goals and prioritize her time must necessarily match your choices in these deeply personal matters.

We Don’t Need An Excuse

Beyond Obesity: Reframing Food Justice With Body Love

The Body is Not An Apology operates from the framework that says injustice starts in many ways from the inability to make peace with the body, our own and others.  From that premise, the issue of promoting health is not about the failure of the body but the failure of our society to protect and care for EVERY BODY equally and the ways in which we as individuals and communities have internalized that lack of care.  If we cared for each person in our society we would have those things that are required for basic human sustainability in all communities.

Musings on Taft’s “modern” diet

“Levine says this article illustrates the long-standing problem of patients’ not sticking with a plan, something that still frustrates doctors, dietitians and nutritionists today, she says.”

Wow. That’s not what my take-away was. How can we continue this kind of thinking, and poor ‘treatment’ that makes the dieter less, not more healthy? If a lawyer, president of the United States who did everything he could, with every expert and chef and personal trainer couldn’t lose weight (reminds me of modern day Oprah weight saga) how can we still say it’s just about willpower, or adherence… The story is tragic, and inevitable.

αEP: Shut up and sing!

Sound familiar? It should. It’s a problem in more than just entertainment and politics — it’s also a problem in skepticism. What it really is is an authoritarian defense of orthodoxy that dismisses criticism unless it comes from the right kind of person — preferably one comfortably embedded deeply in the orthodox position. It’s a version of the Courtier’s Reply, only in this case it’s used to defend science, or a political position, rather than theology. Shut Up and Sing Syndrome imposes unjustifiable barriers to criticism: you don’t get to criticize the subject at hand unless, for instance, you have a Ph.D. in the relevant subject, or some other lofty credential, even if the criticism is based on obvious and trivial flaws that a layperson can see.

The layperson could be wrong, of course, because they’re lacking some deeper understanding and are focusing on superficialities. But even in that case, the proper response isn’t to declare that they should not be allowed to voice that opinion because they don’t have the right credentials, but to address the criticism. And if the layperson is right about the problem, hoo boy, but are you screwing up if you’re trying to silence them.

Stones, Glass Houses, Etc.

This procedure should all sound familiar: remember Alan Sokal? He carefully hand-crafted a fake paper full of po-mo gobbledy-gook and buzzwords, and got it published in Social Text — a fact that has been used to ridicule post-modernist theory ever since. This is exactly the same thing, enhanced by a little computer work and mass produced. And then Bohannon sent out these subtly different papers to not one, but 304 journals.

And not literary theory journals, either. 304 science journals.

It was accepted by 157 journals, and rejected by 98.

So when do we start sneering at science, as skeptics do at literary theory?

Responding to No name Life Science Blog Editor who called me out of my name

The Blog editor of Biology-Online dot org asked me if I would like to blog for them. I asked the conditions. He explained. I said no. He then called me out of my name.

A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free

On Science, Communication, Respect, and Coming Back From Mistakes

So let’s just unpack what happened. According to Dr. Lee, the only notice she received that her post was considered inappropriate was its vanishing from the blog site. SciAm did not communicate with her about it other than by the tweet above. And SciAm said nothing about the uncalled-for abuse of one of their bloggers by one of their partnership representatives.

It is worth adding here that other bloggers on the SciAm network have protested that there have never been any standards elucidated or curbs indicated on what they can write. (Small sample: NerdyChristie, KateClancy, Krystal D’Costa.) And as many other bloggers (including Maggie Koerth-Baker, Josh Witten, David Wescott, Tony Martin) pointed out, who does science, and what barriers they encounter as they try, is an integral part of the conduct of science.

Loneliness is Deadly

Things that have a bigger impact on your health than your BMI include loneliness.

Archaeologists Discover 2600-Year-Old “Warrior Prince” That’s Actually A Warrior Princess

As generally fun as this story is (yes, stories about ancient archaeology and gender mix-ups are fun, OK?), it actually highlights a serious problem in the realm of archaeology: Namely, that researchers take their gender biases into the field with them. Archaeologists saw one skeleton with a lance and another with jewelry and assumed that the former was a man and the latter a woman. But that doesn’t take into account the diversity of ancient civilizations.

To My Student, On Breaking Up With Her Boyfriend

I know you are heartbroken. I see you sobbing in the hallways.

You think things will never be the same.

And you are right.

Let’s Read 50 Shades of Grey!

The bran muffins at my work cafeteria are pretty darn chewy (and consequently don’t crumble much either). They’re also godawful and the least sexy foodstuffs ever.

It adds a whole new angle to the scene if he’s eating a bran muffin:

“These keep me… *wink* *smirk* *eyebrow waggle* …regular. They keep things moving, if you know what I mean. I like to maintain a certain degree of power over my… movements.”
*Ana swoons*

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How is food like a drug?

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: Food is not a drug.

But drugs do tap into the natural reward pathways used by food (and other things). Which is why I think that Rat Park is relevant when we look at the ways food, eating, fat, and weight are studied.

Why? The Rat Park experiment, in a nutshell, shows that few rats become addicted to morphine when they’re given an interesting environment, one similar to conditions they’d find in the wild, where they’re able to interact with other rats, play with toys, and exercise on wheels. Rats kept in small cages, on the other hand, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, and self-administer morphine, will self-administer until they die.

I touched on this a bit in an earlier post, We aren’t caricatures. One problem with the way that lab animals are studied, including the animals they use to study fat, is this:

Without toys or exercise wheels to distract them, the mice are left with nothing to do but eat and sleep—and then eat some more.

The fact that mice and rats are studied under these conditions not only causes problems in general in applying the results to humans who do have more to do than eat and sleep–it is also one reason scientists applied the addiction model to eating in the first place. It seems likely that rats would not act “addicted” to food (or certain categories of food) if they weren’t so often kept in small cages with nothing to do but eat and sleep.

I suspect part of why humans with lower socioeconomic status are fatter on average is the same reason(s) why they are more likely to be abuse drugs. (Exactly what that reason is, I’m not sure. It could be stress, it could be the need to escape an unpleasant life, it could be that–like the mice–their life simply has more periods of boredom.) They are still subject to most of the factors making people with higher SES fat, e.g. genes and plentiful food. But there are multiple reasons why people become fat, and this could be one reason why people with lower SES are more likely to be fat.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments