Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Books: Fat Karma

I have to put together a class proposal for my seminary program at the Zen Center. This proposal won't necessarily be implemented, but its purpose is for us to show our understanding of issues we learned out in the leadership and ethics class series. Since I've been thinking about this fat karma stuff, I decided to check out this first book especially because Chozen Bays is a local teacher and because I'm thinking about food and fat in my Fat Karma series. Then the second book passed over my work desk, and I got excited by that. About the time I started looking at the first, I realized this could make a really neat class series, so I hurried up, skimmed the second, and finally read the third book, which excites me most of all.

I suspect others will find this an exciting class proposal as well, and it could very well turn into a class actually offered at the Zen Center. This challenges me, and scares me at the same time. This hot button topic will be sure to bring out advice, fear, and judgment from many participants...actually great for the presentation for seminary, as I'm supposed to address problematic situations we foresee could happen in our proposed class. Not so great for my comfort-level. Not only would I be challenging the cultural paradigm in a Zen setting, I would be questioning the wisdom of a beloved Zen teacher on a particular aspect of this topic, as you'll see below. The first is difficult enough, the second makes me fear being a Bad Zen Student. I worry that I would not have the grace to balance these delicate issues.

As far as designing that class, with some more studying of these books, I think the outline will fall into place. Plus, I need a name. I'm vacillating between "Food Karma and Mindful Eating" or "Body Karma and Mindful Eating" or "Food and Body Karma and Mindful Eating." I would appreciate any thoughts my readers have on that. The primary text would be "Mindful Eating" but I would bring much material from the other two books into play, as well as other fat activist resources, and my thoughts from the ongoing Fat Karma series.

Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-repent-repeat Cycle Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn't fully read, but skimmed this book. I saw enough to know I like what the author has to say. I found it problematic that the author did not appear to mention "Health at Every Size." Perhaps this is because she seems somewhat still concerned about weight, and using her method as a way to encourage weight loss.

She presents her method as self-discovered, yet all her messages were just like those as presented in "Health at Every Size." (I read that one just after skimming this.)

I liked the way she identified 3 ways people eat: instinctive eaters; overeaters; and restrictive eaters. The book is about finding that instinctive way of eating again, and putting away the worse than useless dieting cycle of eat-repent-repeat. She talks about taking charge, rather than control, and that no food is forbidden. This is all good, but it is just the same as found in "Health at Every Size," and without what I felt was a key ingredient. The author of HAES makes every effort to warn against turning food mindfulness into another way to restrict, and to diet. I didn't see that so much here.

Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with FoodMindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I feel like I should like this book more because the author is a local and loved Zen teacher. I think the method of mindful eating is well-presented and a useful tool, but enlightened though she may be, Chozen Bays reveals her lack of need to confront fat karma.

In his foreword to the book, Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to "our disordered relationship to food and eating." I thought, wow, that's just what I've been saying. I think we have a societal eating disorder, and it just seems to be getting worse. Mindfulness practice applied to eating is very useful to get us back in touch with our bodies' true needs. It helps peel back and erase those disordered relationships.

Unfortunately, in my view Chozen Bays still buys into some of those disordered relationships. I found it slightly problematic that rather than enjoy her discovery of the tastiness of Krispy Kreme donuts, she treated it as a cancerous thought of sorts. On first encounter, she, as she viewed it, mindlessly gorged on them, then obsessed over them while she denied herself further indulgences. Her account of making a particular candy difficult to retrieve also seemed to participate in the control found in restrictive eating and diet culture. When she claimed a healthy respect for those of us who are fat because her partner made a joke about her size, and her clothes got a little tighter, it didn't sit well with me. This was participating in the disordered eating culture, not understanding it. She hasn't needed to experience a life in a fat body, and while I know her to be a compassionate Buddhist teacher, I would doubt she truly understands this karma.

Most problematic to me was her casual mention of a Mindful Eating workshop participant. This participant was taking the workshop in order to prepare herself for her necessarily changed eating style after her bariatric surgery. Like many physicians, Chozen Bays accepts the validity of this surgery, and gives no further comment. She, it seems to me, mindlessly accepts the cultural paradigm that fat is bad, so bad that it is ok to endorse a surgery that hinders the body's ability to function normally for the rest of a person's life. This is if it doesn't actually kill you.

While there are some messages in this book I would not want to endorse, especially the controlling aspect, I do like the detailed instruction on how to eat mindfully. For people who've been immersed in the diet culture that forces us to ignore our own signals of our bodies, this method brings you back to that body, mind, emotional, and spiritual awareness.

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this after reading "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat." It made me like that other book less, because this one covered all found in the other, but this one came first, and this one helped explain why there were parts of "Eat What You Love" that I found a little problematic.

This author, with her little study that proved that dropping the issue of weight, and concentrating on self-esteem, self-acceptance, and learning to trust the signals of the body and the mind actually works better than a conventional diet to improve health factors, well, this author is a David to the Goliath giant of the weight loss industry.

I've read The Obesity Myth and Taking Up Space, among others. If there were one book I would recommend on getting over fat phobia and finding a true path to health, this would be it. (Though those are good to pick up too. Both are especially good for understanding how this whole fat/food issue has its roots in culture, not health.)

Recovery from the diet paradigm includes learning to listen to the body's signals of hunger and satiety, and this is covered very well. It also includes understanding the economic and the cultural forces involved in supporting the diet paradigm, and this book covers that as well. (funding and oversight of studies being heavily intertwined with the weight loss industry; agricultural subsidies driving the production of processed food)While the author sends us to her website for further support and information, this book can truly stand alone as a guide to recovering from the damage of the diet paradigm.

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