One of the biggest fat myths out there is that non-fat people eat sensible diets, composed mostly of organic kale, macrobiotic yogurt and lean meats, they only drink water and green tea, and they get their exercise every day. They are “mindful” eaters and savor their carefully chosen, artfully arranged meals, and don’t waste their calories on “junk food.”
I call bullshit.
One of the peculiar lacunae in the various articles discussing whatever shall we do about Teh Fatz and their horrible eating habits is that non-fat people also have horrible eating habits. And that many fat people, such as myself, have very healthy eating habits. I’m really getting sick and tired of being chided by the food police to “eat mindfully,” as though this is something non-fat people do that we fat cows are failing to do, accompanied by the presumption that of course non-fat people are doing this.
News flash – food is ubiquitous, eating is ubiquitous, most people don’t pay the slightest bit of attention to what they’re eating (regardless of their body mass), and most people have never paid the slightest attention to what they ate once they make the initial judgement “Yum, down it goes!” or “Gah, this tastes like Fresno!” People of all shapes and sizes eat the same kinds of foods, have the same unmindful eating habits, and consistently fail to be aware of what they stick in their mouths on a regular basis. On ordinary days, they eat from a limited number of standard meals at usual times. On special occasions, they eat more than usual and stuff that is often richer and more caloric than regular day meals. Mostly, they give more thought to what to watch on Netflix than what to eat for dinner.
I do think that people who are fat will, on average, consume more than people who aren’t fat. The answer to why they eat more on average has many answers. What I’m trying to draw attention to is the fact that the foods fat people choose, the settings they are in, the way they do or do not “eat mindfully” is no different than anyone else similarly situated in society. The line at McDonald’s is not populated only by fat people, just as the line at Chipotle does not just contain thin folks. People who eat less are not sitting there thinking, “Oh boy, I’m nearly at my calorie count for the day and I should be feeling kind of full by now, even if my stomach hasn’t yet sent me the “sated” message. I think I shall deliberately stop and refrain from ingesting any more food. That will be best for my health! Besides, the one bite of the chocolate mousse was really good and if I eat more, the following bites will be less satisfying than the ones before.” They, at most, think, “That was good!” and go on about their business.
If you took 100 people off the street, made sure the body mass of those selected matched up to the national body mass distribution (this % underweight, this % normal weight, this % overweight, etc.), sat those people down with a pen and paper, and said “Record everything you have consumed in the last 24 hours. Every bite, every snack, every nibble, every part of each meal. If it passed your lips, write it down. In addition, write down how much it was that you ate, ” I feel confident that the fat and obese contingent would be better at accurately writing the stuff down than normal weight people. Why? Because we live our lives being assailed by the message that we must diet, we must lose weight, we must get healthy, and so we are far more likely than a non-fat person to keep a food log and be keenly aware of what we’ve eaten.
I can tell you that I ate steel cut oats for breakfast, for example. Someone of normal weight could tell you he ate oatmeal. I can also tell you that I ate 1/3 cup uncooked Coaches Oats, with 1 cup of non-fat milk, 1 TB of dark brown sugar and 1/8 Tsp salt. I doubt the normal weight person could say how much milk he put on his oatmeal, though he might know that he did put a cut up banana on top of it. He would not have weighed the banana first.
There’s also an unstated presumption that whatever Teh Fatz are eating, it must be “junk” food, “bad” food or “processed” food, which the non-fat population knows better than to eat. If you would just stop eating that crap and started eating healthy stuff, you wouldn’t be so faaattt! Uh, no. Eating Doritos is not something unique to us fat cows. At every party I go to, everyone digs into the chips and salsa, everyone grabs a slice of the pizza, everyone drinks the soda, everyone scarfs down the cookies. I see shopping carts pushed by non-fat people that have jelly, cookies, frozen pizza, ice cream, Hamburger Helper, and corn chips in them. As I pointed out in Real Processed Food, those carts will also contain jugs of milk, some fresh produce and a few packages of meat. And so will the carts pushed by fat people. We all buy the same kinds of commonly available foods. Duh. In my food shopping last week, I bought:
- 27.50 pounds of fresh produce – Cauliflower, celery, potatoes, bananas, eggplant, cabbage, radishes, red grapes, onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, grapefruit, broccoli, tomatoes, green beans, corn on the cob, mushrooms and apples.
- Eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt
- Pork roast
- Kashi cereal, Jiffy muffin mix, sandwich rolls, sherry vinegar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, olive oil, red rice, canned green chilies, Diet Coke, peanuts, and jarred roasted bell pepper
Can you tell me what’s not healthy on that shopping list? Do you know why I’ve made any one of those purchases? Do you know what I intend to do with that food, how I’m going to prepare it, who it will be served to? No, you don’t.
I am perfectly “mindful” of what I eat because I love food, I love cooking, I love planning menus and I love serving up tasty dishes to my friends and family. I think a lot about food. I enjoy the smells, the bites, the textures, the tastes. I smile when my kitchen is scented with something delicious. I can tell the difference between cooked kale and collards just by looking at them, and know when either has been cooked in coconut oil, butter or bacon grease. I know when freekeh is the grain to use for a salad, and when farro is better. I can tell if a cake was made with yogurt or with sour cream. And so forth. And I am so very fat.
Then there’s the whole concept of how we fat cows must be mindlessly gorging on cheap fast food which is so bad for you and why we’re fat. Just stuffing our faces, not caring what it tastes like, blah, blah, blah, why don’t you eat “real” food? No, all fat people do not gorge at the trough of fast food. Many millions of us never go near fast food. Millions do go to “nice” restaurants who cook magnificent meals from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and where the serving sizes are huge, the calorie counts are astronomical, and the social opprobrium is nil. The non-fat people eating there don’t do “mindful eating” either, btw. They don’t slowly and delicately nibble on a single duck-fat french fry, then put their fork down, drink a sip of water, and count to 30 to see if they are “full” before taking the next bite. They jam their forks right into the pile of hot fried potatoes and then into the aioli sauce and take big, noisy appreciative bites, stopping only when the plate is empty, just like the fat cows do. This blind spot in the “bad people eat bad foods” script is simply the pernicious presence of class privilege.
Trying to pathologize and stigmatize fat people by insisting that we have dramatically different eating habits than the rest of society is simply wrong in both facts and principle.