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Calories Are Not Immoral


For most people the problem is not their size but the torment of fat weighing on their minds

Susie Orbach reports in The Guardian, Friday March 10, 2006

Poor old Waitrose. The supermarket really must think it is doing right by its consumers, helping them to discern the good, the bad and the ugly sandwich. After consultations with its customers, and following well-meaning but idiotic recommendations from the Food Standards Agency, traffic light signposting will be affixed to Waitrose's sandwiches from Monday enabling us speedily to identify which sandwiches are low in fats, saturates, sugars, salts and calories.

Sensible, right? Well perhaps at first glance. But not at second or third. Out of the best of motives, Waitrose, and doubtless the other supermarkets, will go down a route which will, almost certainly, raise the level of fats and calories eaten. Worse, it will reinforce the over-simplistic thinking about food intake that ought to embarrass those charged with understanding a complex issue. It's a version of the Department of Health's useless mantra, calories in, calories out.

Shall we have a green sandwich with a chocolate bar or crisps today, but a promise not to have it again tomorrow? Consider the magnetism of that naughty red sandwich. How can one resist. You don't need to be a shrink to know that what becomes designated a naughty, or immoral (since fat has now taken on moral proportions) or dangerous treat is then eaten guiltily and thus with decreased, rather than enhanced, pleasure. So decreased, in fact, that one misses the experience and craves another. Such are the dilemmas that turn eating into a considerable and often debilitating problem for millions of women daily.

We know that eating in a guilty or surreptitious manner affects how your food is metabolised. It simply is not a question of calories in, calories out. Adiposity depends upon many factors, including metabolism and set point. Our metabolism is a labile thing. Eating just what you want, when you are hungry for it, and stopping when you are full, is the only way to ensure a stable weight, the weight you are meant to be.

With the government's declaration of an Obesity Crisis, the food and pharmaceutical industries are revelling in commercial opportunities that await them to scoop up the problem with pills and specialised foods. But, as with the green sandwich, beware. The epidemiological analyses that originally had the US Surgeon General putting obesity-related deaths at around 400,000 have been reanalysed, and we find they've dropped to less than 26,000. Not good by any means, but not enough to drive our own House of Commons committee on obesity and the Department of Health to respond robotically. Reanalysis also shows that the "overweight", that's to say people with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9, live longer on average than those with a "normal" BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9.

Of course, the facts don't penetrate, because we've bought into a scare and an aesthetic that fat starts the minute you can pinch a bit of flesh. It is a form of local terrorism aimed at our bodies. For most people, the problem is not their fat intake or their actual size, but the torment associated with fat in their minds. They imagine they are too large, they feel that they must get smaller. They worry about food intake incessantly. An epidemic of eating and body image problems plagues us. Every study shows women and girls of perfectly average and low weights consistently judge themselves to be too large. We've conspired with the idea that obesity is a kind of pandemic-like disease against which we must be ever vigilant. Fat, we've come to believe, is a curse on the culture, which we have a moral duty to combat. And Waitrose has inadvertently moved towards aggravating the problem, as it endeavours to sanitise our lunchtime.




Reader Comments (21)

The medical community and government agencies have declared an obesity crisis. The focus as the article states is on 'calories in calories out. Such organizations fail to mention the underlying painful issues that accompany ALL eating disorders. Why is it that they seemingly do not want to accept compulsive evereating as even BEING eating disordered?'s because we all know that all those larders REALLY need to do is get up off their lazy asses. Who needs a treatment centre when you can just hire a personal trainer and be like Oprah? If the 'powers that be' ever acknowledged compulsive overeating as a disorder, the system would not be able to handle this colossal problem. To crack the denial, educate and implement treatment would be far too daunting a task to consider. Besides -in this world of political correctness who would be left to hate? We can ALL agree about FAT though....even the fatties themselves. What a BONANZA! Someone/something to hate AND make so much money off of.
I am a woman on the verge of risking to be the weight I am meant to be. I was recently asked why I choose to remain a target for everyone's hatred and fear - my own included. Great question. So why in the world would I? What would happen if we ALL gave up the struggle? ALL OF US. There would be outright pandemonium. The fear of fat is really quite convenient. There are fewer and fewer socially acceptable outlets for our collective hatred. It's something for us to fear, despise and bond over. It's a place where we can deposit all of our disowned feelings.
In 'Fat is a Feminist Issue', Susie Orbach says "The fat itself does not actually so the job it was meant to do. By attributing to the fat a powerful and protective role, a woman sets herself up for a situation in which life without the fat would be a defenseless one." Letting in this truth leaves me with a huge dilemma, and I'm sure I'm not alone. It leaves us in a dangerous place. Having to FEEL the underlying hatred that motivates this growing trend. It's not okay to be fat or grow old. {the trouble is we're all going to die, but I guess the goal is to look as good as we possibly can. Die with lipstick!!} I think we're afraid we'll be killed if we don't 'do what we're told'. We don't want to be killed so we settle for being hated and hating ourselves. We don't want to die so we kill. We kill ourselves with every unconcious and or fearful little bite. We kill ourselves and our sisters with every cruel judgement. This IS war.
The increasing focus on fat/food is being distilled down and the intensity is growing exponentially. We are living in a veritable pressure cooker. Are we as women unconsciously trying to release some of the pressure by acting out so the whole damn thing won't blow us to kingdom come? After all WE'LL be on the plate next if the lid flies off.
There's this awful rape energy about it. It feels like we're being used in a violent spectator sport. Like a cockfight. Women fighting to their deaths. Being either fat, hated and ridiculed - deemed 'unfuckable' in male's eyes; or dying and scrambling to be thin...but you better not ever attain that magic number or size because you'll get fucked and die there too. It's a conspiracy against women.
I noticed as I was writing this I became fearful of expressing all of this. Fears of what could happen to me for speaking out were soon covered up by wondering if I was just crazy. How sad.
March 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertricia
Tricia, trust me you're not crazy. You just put into words what alot of women feel and yet try to supress and cover by stuffing more food into their mouths to numb the pain. If we all started using our mouths to speak out instead of drowning the pain maybe we could over power this conspiracy against women. Knowing we shouldn't feel the way we do, and trying not to engage in body hatred is the best anarchy (ie not buying the beauty creams they tell us to) - but you can logically analyse how you should feel regardless of fat, and yet still not feel good - fat hatred is so ingrained in the media, diet, medical and other cultural industries it is a giant to fight. Now I have to re-read your entry - it got me so revved up!
March 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterK.H.
K.H. - thanks for your support.Here Here to Anarchy! You've re-revved me in turn.

I just read Susie Orbach's new intro to 'FIFI'. Powereful. I'm enraged, encouraged and so incredibly grateful for this website and to the women and men who make up this organization.

This satisfies one big hunger.
March 30, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertricia
Dove's latest study "Beyond Stereotypes
2005" is a reminder the "Body Programming" that limits our thinking is not an isolated issue. It continues to influence and impact women, not just in the U.K.and North America but all over the world. The programming is pervasive, it is floating about us all of the time and we battle it on a daily basis.

But it is not with placards and rallies that next shift in this area will take place. It is when women will realize our power to elicit forward momentum by getting together. There are so many women and organizations all over the world saying the same thing and we have no idea that each other exist. The female consciousness is fragmented and this gives the programming more influence on our thinking than need be.

We have progressed no doubt about it. But the statistics and research keep pointing to the same end: in general women are not happy with themselves. But ladies the world needs us in so many areas and if our thinking continues to resonate with the "Body Programming" the female consciousness will remain stalled in a holding pattern. Our young girls deserve to be passed more momentum, don't you think?

We continue in the holding pattern because the major side effect of all of the programming is the question "WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?" Maybe just maybe ladies this is simply the wrong question. The correct question that may put an end to all of this inertia is:


A simple play on words? No. A major shift in our thinking? Yes.

So ladies please let's get together. Let's talk about how we can progress the female consciousness to a place where it no longer asks "WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?" A place where the young girls coming up behind have to visit the museum of ancient history to see what a diet was for, because we will begin to teach them that there is such a thing as natural weight and maybe if the D.N.A. determines our hair colour, eye colour and height to name a few, Maybe it also contains the valuable information of our natural weight. Imagine each women knowing her natural weight, what her body is destined to be instead of always having to fight it?

Let's get it together ladies. It all starts with one thought because an imagination with wheels travels far beyond what the eye can see!
August 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Diane
There is glutony and starvation. Neither are good. We need to learn to put the fork down if we are too fat and we we need to learn that fitting into a size 0 unless it's your normal size such as myself is no feather in your cap. Us naturally skinny people get some slack and nasty stares and discrimination too. I'd love to be 5'6" tall and 130 lbs. I'm only 5'2" small boned and weigh 95 lbs. I eat plenty food, trust me on that one but I do know when to push the plate away too and I don't eat donuts, pastries and icecream often.
December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDD
DD, i would venture to say that many skinny people eat donuts, pastries, and ice cream often. the sizeism debate isn't saying thin people don't get discrimination, but you just spoke with hateful discrimination to people bigger than you. it's not about willpower. read up.
January 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
Listen, this isn't just a woman's issue, and I really take offense to feminism need to take every issue an pillory themselves with it.

Over eating affects everyone, men included and is result of these times of plenty. Most of us have never known what it means to be hungry or even have to exert a true days effort in our lives. There are people that suffer, and there are people that need help both the author and Tracia sound like you could use some time talking with a psychologist, given that both of you write rounds in hyperbole and in Tracia's case descend in to literally incomprehensible babbling.

You want to learn to be grateful, go live in Darfur for a while, if you manage to come back I am pretty sure your body dimorphic disorder will be put firmly in its place.
April 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterholy crap
Yeah, I think you shed lights on this topic, thanks a lot!
September 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjessie
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October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWhiteMelon
I am insulted by this ad, and in fact have contacted Dove about it. The idea that "real women have curves" is what bothers me. I don't have curves, I'm a petite woman from a petite family.
October 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteruggs outlet
It's so so sad to see that many women live miserable lives counting calories of what they eat. Some women can't even enjoy a piece of cake or chocolate or a nice home-cooked meal.

There are many women who live of salads, fruits and water, everyday.

There is nothing wrong with calories.

Eat what you like and work it off by exercising everyday!
November 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWritersforHire
Many country that have citizen that live below the poverty line. This is become our problem too if we don’t help them faster. They cut tress and this can become a global warming for our earth.
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March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBulk Coffee Mugs
I dont think this really hit the mark did it....I hear that there are now far more stringent mesaures being introduced in order fo consumers to really be told the truth about what is in food. This applies to the packging as well and the fact is it needs to be much clearer - perhaps they need some advice from these guys?
May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLogo
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February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia Skkag

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