Eight feminist ways to love your body | Van Badham

A young woman from Perth has declared next month to be Weigh Free May. I am so in

I always end up feeling like shit when I look at Instagram, said Selena Gomez, who has 133 million Instagram followers, when she was interviewed by Vogue last year.

Selena. Freakin. Gomez.

Of course, shes not the only one. In 2017, the UKs Royal Society for Public Health released a survey of 1,479 young people analysed on their attitudes to social media and found that Instagram, where personal photos take centre stage, received the worst scores for body image and anxiety.

Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies arent good enough, admitted a respondent.

But blaming social media for womens poor body image is easy. Harder to face is that Instagram is just the latest platform for the insidious syndrome of relentless body-hating our culture encourages in women. On this subject, a Glosswitch piece in the New Statesman exhorted feminists to remember the analysis in older tracts like Susie Orbachs Fat is a Feminist Issue and Naomi Wolfs The Beauty Myth, that oppression was structural and bodies were real.

Once upon a time, we may have been angry about this, she despaired.

Is feminism failing in the fight for the female body? The $160bn global beauty industry is growing at up to 7% a year, more than twice the rate of the developed worlds GDP.

My own belief is that its hard to escape a cage with a shape that keeps changing. Feminism may have accepted Naomi Wolfs 1990 dictum that dieting is the most potent political sedative in womens history but in 2018 #cleaneating and #fitspo dont admit to being diet cults, even 37m or 54m Instagram posts later. In her latest book, Natural Causes, Barbara Ehrenrich criticises the recent paradigm shift in which now, health is indistinguishable from virtue. The last decade has witnessed the emergence of orthorexia an eating disorder in which a fixation for healthy eating is what causes one harm.

However the propaganda message redesigns itself, we cant we must not abandon a feminist imperative to own our bodies as sites of our unconditional love.

Its an activist mission thats inspired Grace Ritter to declare Weigh Free May. The 24-year-old student from Perth is now in recovery from an eating disorder that dominated her life for 10 years. Shes created a website and Facebook group, encouraging others to let go of obsessive, aesthetic self-assessment for just one month.

Her campaign requires no donation, there are no events beyond your own commitment: I just wanted to start up a way to get people talking and thinking about ways they could be valuable and things they could do, she says, that werent about shrinking themselves.

Grace, I am so in. And in the belief that bodily comfort is a feminist act, Id thought Id share my own super scientific recommendations for simple ways to celebrate your body in a weigh-free May.

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A poster from Grace Ritters Weigh Free May campaign. Photograph: https://www.weighfreemay.com/

My eight feminist ways to love your body again

Take an Epsom salt bath. You can buy box of magnesium crystals for about five bucks (2.50) in the supermarket, and poured into a bathtub of warm water they make a sound like fairy magic. The Epsom Salt Council claims the magical properties of a long soak include relaxing muscles, nursing bruises, softening skin and relieving irritations like sunburn. At the very least, you can relax in the tub safe in the knowledge that somewhere in the world theres an Epsom Salt Council.

Wear comfy slippers. A fancy pair of slippers not only make your feet feel like kissed princesses, they also decrease your risk of catching colds and flu by keeping you warm. Changing into slippers stops you from traipsing gross germs from outside to inside, keeps your carpets cleaner, reduces risk of foot infections, prolongs the life of your socks, prevents floorbound slips, and makes you more productive. Relaxed workers as it turns out get more work done.

Cuddle a puppy. Puppies are fluffy bombs of love and adoration that keep you warm and cosy and live for your physical presence. Theyre also powerful chemical weapons that activate oxytocin in the brain, reducing bodily stress, improving the immune system and lessening the impact of pain.

Enjoy casual sex. Researchers from NYU and Cornell University concluded that if you want to have casual sex, you definitely should as doing so lowers stress and raises overall emotional wellbeing. Only when people bring their hangups to hookups do they become problematic. And theres a really easy way not to get emotionally hung up on a sex partner. Have a shower and leave, deleting their number on the way out. What you experienced can live on forever in your own smug smile.

Share a cake. Cake is delicious. And according to researcher Penny Wilson from ANU, the consumption of cake also connects us to its social role as a symbol of joy and celebration; the conveyor of history, culture and tradition; as a token of love, belonging and social occasion. These are lovely feelings to share with another person. So get someone over and have another piece.

Get around in bamboo underpants. Theyre so soft! Theyre made from sustainable material! They hug your bum like a baby blanket all day and even better discourage the proliferation of vaginal thrush. No, they do not resemble any costume of a Vegas showgirl but, girls, anyone who kicks you out of bed for being comfortable is not gonna provide you much comfort in bed.

Have a cup of tea. Sure, tea reduces risk of heart attack and stroke, may help protect your bones, can alleviate depressive symptoms and studies suggest it can diminish cancer-risk, but the main reason to have a tea is that its tasty. Its dreamy flavours and perfumes are transportive. If you brew a quality teabag of black tea in boiling water for no less than three minutes, no more than five, remove the bag and add milk to taste, take a deep sniff and sip … hating anything is really hard.

And, remember, Celeste Barber is good for you. If ever there was an antidote for the body hating blues, it would have to be the Australian comedian. Her legendary Instagram account doesnt only mock the falsity of Instaperfection, but inspires a vision of female experience in every way superior for a failure to live up to it.

Because we can starve ourselves, measure our pieces, work ourselves into the metal of the gym-machines, suck in our cheeks and become obsessed with our own shame for doing so.

But maybe May is a good month to put on our slippers, get comfortable, watch Celeste and observe that eating chips off the floor, dancing around in your pants and spraying yourself in the face with a hose really does look a lot more like fun.

  • Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/13/eight-feminist-ways-to-love-your-body-without-even-leaving-the-house

Italian ‘sect’ that imposed macrobiotic diet broken up police

Followers, whose weight fell as low as 35kg, said to have been manipulated into following eating regime

A well-known guru of macrobiotic food who met Pope Francis is among the five people under investigation in Italy after police dismantled a bizarre sect that allegedly denied its followers contact with the outside world.

Mario Pianesi, the 73-year-old founder of a group in the central Marche and Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy, and his wife, Loredana Volpi, are suspected of being the ringleaders of a network that manipulated victims into following a strictly controlled diet known as Ma-Pi.

Authorities said Pianesi convinced followers of the diet, modelled on the teachings of the Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa, that it would provide miracle cures for their illnesses and that traditional medicine did not work. It aims to avoid foods containing toxins and is based on whole grains, vegetables and beans.

Carlo Pinto, an Ancona police chief, told the Guardian that the victims were so devoted to the diet and their teacher that the sect managed to coerce them into giving donations and working for free in the associations macrobiotic centres and restaurants. The diet was so destructive that the weight of one follower plunged to 35kg (77lb).

Ive never come across a case like it in my life, Pinto said. These were people suffering from physical or mental illnesses. They were convinced that the diet did them good and in return they offered to help the macrobiotic food chain, working for free and effectively sacrificing their own life.

Pianesi, Volpi and three others are being investigated for alleged maltreatment, tax evasion and criminal organisation with the aim of reducing people to slavery.

The inquiry began in 2013 after a young woman told police Pianesi promised her that the diet would cure her illness. Pinto said there were eight victims, whose illnesses instead worsened, but he expected more to come forward.

Pianesi would say that doctors were assassins, traditional medicine didnt work and that only he could help, said Pinto.

Pianesi, who along with his wife attended a mass with Pope Francis in 2016 followed by a private meeting with the pontiff, was well respected in Italy and dominated the macrobiotic industry, Pinto added.

Originally from Albania, Pianesi started his empire in Marche in 1980 and went on to cultivate a business that claimed to help cure illnesses including diabetes.

He once claimed that 26 scientific journals had endorsed the Ma-Pi diet as a tool for the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses. He also boasted of having collaborated with UN agencies including the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). His popularity is such that he is an honorary citizen of 12 towns in Italy and across the world.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/italian-police-target-sect-which-imposed-macrobiotic-diet

Bizarre rules of Italian macrobiotic ‘cult’ revealed by victims

Members of group under police investigation not allowed to laugh excessively or use internet

People who broke free from what police say was a macrobiotic sect in Italy have described gradually losing control over their lives through a web of archaic rules and subtle manipulation.

Some said they spent more than 20 years within a system that police say was carefully cultivated by Mario Pianesi, an influential businessman celebrated around the world as a guru of macrobiotic food.

Pianesi, 73, is among four people accused by the authorities of reducing people to slavery by strictly controlling their diets, denying them contact with the outside world and leaving them impoverished by forcing them to work for free or a pitiful salary.

The group was exposed by police last week, following an investigation which began in 2013 when a young woman, whose weight had plummeted to 35kg (77lb), told police Pianesi had promised her that his Ma-Pi diet would cure her illness.

Pianesi has not commented on the allegations. Manuel Formica, a lawyer representing all four accused, said: This thing is far-fetched and the suspects will do everything to defend their integrity.

Six people have made formal complaints while two more have come forward over the last week. Carlo Pinto, the investigator leading the case, suspects there could be hundreds more who are still under the cults influence.

Complainants described a sinister network which allegedly wielded power through a diet claimed to provide miracle cures for viruses and illnesses such as HIV, cancer and diabetes. Rules allegedly included banning women from wearing short skirts, make-up and from washing during their period. More bizarre customs were said to include having to get out of bed on the right side and cutting hair and nails on any day of the week other than Tuesday or Thursday.

People were also allegedly banned from laughing too much, using the internet and going to the gym, while men were told that wives who left them were akin to prostitutes.

The rules came about over time, said Vanda Secondino, who became involved with the group in 1989 after attending one of its first holiday camps.

Pianesi was charismatic. People who were sick would ask for his help with food. Then we started to seek advice for every aspect of our lives and, over time, we lost power and he gained more. We believed we were incapable of managing our own lives.

Originally from Albania, Pianesi is said to have discovered the macrobiotic diet, modelled on the teachings of Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa, after becoming ill during his military service. Seeing a positive impact on his own body, he set up his first clinic in Sforzacosta, a hamlet close to the Marche town of Macerata, in the 1980s.

Locals, who jokingly referred to Pianesi as a witch doctor, would go to him for consultations. He allegedly told followers that traditional medicine did not work and that real doctors were killers.

Pianesis UPM empire, which comprises a network of 85 macrobiotic product hubs and restaurants across Italy, began making bold claims in the early 1990s, a period when many people, particularly those diagnosed with HIV, would attend his seminars in the hope of finding a cure.

Pianesi earned prestige by wooing those around him, allegedly giving gifts to local officials and free meals to police officers.

He would say that for a town to be safe the police needed to eat well and have a clear mind, said Gilbert Casaburi, who was a chef within the association before leaving it in 2011.

Police believe this was a tactic for Pianesi, who is also facing tax evasion charges, to avoid financial checks.

The Ma-Pi diet was endorsed by scientific journals. Pianesi is an honorary citizen of 12 towns in Italy and across the world. He met Pope Francis in 2016 along with his second wife, Loredana Volpi, who is also under investigation. The meeting infuriated the groups followers, who claimed Pianesi had always harshly criticised the church and the pontiff.

But such was his popularity, people in Macerata are struggling to believe the revelations. The local macrobiotic restaurant, offering cheap and healthy meals, is well-visited.

I know many who work at the restaurants and are not exploited, said Marco Ribechi, a journalist who reflected on Pianesi as a potential Jekyll and Hydecharacter in an article for the local online newspaper, Cronache Maceratesi. Some of it may be exaggerated, but this is just my opinion.

He said there may have been layers within the movement, whereby some people were exploited and others were not.

A macrobiotic diet aims to avoid foods containing toxins and is based on whole grains, vegetables and beans.

At the beginning the diet was the same one taught by George Ohsawa, then it became completely different, said Secondino.

Originally from Campania, Secondino moved to Macerata to get closer to the movement. Within months she had abandoned her studies and reduced contact with her family.

Suffering from anaemia and anxiety, she said the group initially gave her lots of love and attention. I was only 26, had a fractured relationship with my family and little faith in myself, she said.

She met her husband Mauro Garbuglia, who has a benign brain tumour, within the group. Pinto said followers were so devoted to their teacher that they gave donations to the association and worked for free within its centres and restaurants, believing they were contributing to society.

Secondino and Garbuglia ran one of the restaurants, into which they ploughed about 160,000. Police said the operation worked like a franchise but in reality, followers invested while the accused took most of the profit. Followers were also obliged to buy produce only from UPM and pay to attend the associations workshops and holiday camps.

Secondino, her husband and two sons left in 2012 following a series of events that made them finally realise that things werent right.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/23/bizarre-rules-of-italian-macrobiotic-cult-revealed-by-victims

It’s not just in the genes: the foods that can help and harm your brain

Our diet has a huge effect on our brain and our mental wellbeing, even protecting against dementia. So, what should be on the menu?

It’s not just in the genes: the foods that can help and harm your brain

Our diet has a huge effect on our brain and our mental wellbeing, even protecting against dementia. So, what should be on the menu?

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/12/its-not-just-in-the-genes-the-foods-that-can-help-and-harm-your-brain

How to feed your gut

Want a healthy gut? Reach for the kimchi, sauerkraut, artichokes, coffee and chocolate. But watch out one category of food will make your microbes wither

Magical microbes how to feed your gut

Magical microbes how to feed your gut

Want a healthy gut? Reach for the kimchi, sauerkraut, artichokes, coffee and chocolate. But watch out one category of food will make your microbes wither

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/29/magical-microbes-how-to-feed-your-gut

I just want to cut it off: the weight-loss patients who no longer fit their skin

Bariatric surgery is a highly cost-effective way to lose life-changing amounts of weight but the NHS rarely removes the excess skin that is left behind. Desperate patients are now crowdfunding their operations while struggling with anxiety, depression and identity issues

When Haze Atkin passed the 32kg (5st) mark on her weight-loss programme, something strange began happening to her skin. First it grew softer. Then it grew emptier. By the time she had shed her 64th kilo, her body had shrunk so much that her loose skin needed to be folded into her clothes. Now, when Haze sits, a hovercraft of skin skirts her seat. When she takes a bath, her spare skin floats. In bed, her husband Chris accidentally rests an elbow on it; he cant always be sure where Haze ends. The edges of her have become mistakable.

To her childrens delight, Haze can wobble her skin and make it talk like a puppet. Sometimes her daughter holds out her hands like a set of scales and Haze places her stomach skin on them. She thinks it weighs a stone. It has become oddly plastic, so that Haze can gather it in her hands and stretch and shake it, fold and mould it. But the one thing she can never do with her skin is forget it.

Like many people with excess skin, Haze lost a lot of weight after bariatric surgery. In the 10 months after her gastric bypass an operation the NHS has come to see as highly cost-effective she shrank from 149kg (23.5st) to 70kg (11st). She met all her targets. Her surgeons called her a model patient. And yet, just when Haze should have felt she had achieved her goal, her skin held her back. The scales said she had reached the end of her journey, but the mirror told a different story.

Haze is one of the 9,325 UK patients who in 2013 underwent bariatric surgery on the NHS, according to statistics held by NHS Digital. The same year, NHS England reported that the price of keyhole bariatric surgery for diabetes patients with a BMI of 35, for instance, is recoverable in just 26 months. According to projections from the Department of Health, the cost to society and the economy of people being overweight and obese could increase to almost 50bn in 2050, so it is easy to see why bariatric procedures make financial sense. But is the surgery causing a different kind of health crisis? Is such massive weight loss MWL, as healthcare professionals call it solving one problem only to create a new one, a generation of weight-loss survivors tormented by anxiety and depression because they no longer fit their skin?

Haze has a simple message to the NHS. You dont just leave people half-done. Finish it.

The NHS does perform some skin removal operations. But the only mention of skin removal in all Nices recommendations is that a multidisciplinary bariatric team provide information on, or access to, plastic surgery (such as apronectomy) when appropriate (an apronectomy is a mini tummy tuck to remove the apron of skin that hangs over the pubic area). This provision varies hugely by region. In theory, a patient needs to show that skin removal surgery is a health rather than a cosmetic intervention.

In practice, the local clinical commissioning groups, which commission NHS healthcare, rarely approve such applications which is why crowdfunding websites are full of people who have lost massive amounts of weight and are desperate to remove their skin, even if it means posting explicit, naked or near-naked photographs that play to a sort of pornography of excess skin. Hazes page has raised 332 of the 6,600 she needs for surgery. She applied to the NHS she suffers from skin infections, anxiety and depression, and believes the extra weight exacerbates her fibromyalgia (she is registered disabled). But she was rejected.

Lisa
Lisa Riley, who had skin surgery. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

So each week for the past four years she and Chris have laid aside 20 every spare penny towards the cost of the fleur de lis abdominoplasty on which Haze has set her heart. This double incision runs vertically and horizontally, and was part of the suite of operations carried out on the actor and TV presenter Lisa Riley in her documentary Lisa Rileys Baggy Body Club. The fleur de lis leaves a wound so severe that Rob Winterton, the cosmetic surgeon who performed it on Riley, says it is comparable to a 20 or 30% burn.

But for Haze, the surgery is the only way out of an unbearable predicament. At 30, she finds her skin so invasive, so mentally hard to deal with, every day I just want to cut it off myself. It invades my thoughts, my feelings, all the time. Every time I get dressed.

If you catch yourself in the mirror, Chris interjects. If I touch you wrong. If I roll on you. If I see you getting dressed.

Hazes skin is always on her mind which is not, of course, where skin is meant to be. Her daily life has evolved to make dozens of minute accommodations. She must wash carefully, lying down and stretching her skin out in order to clean and dry it thoroughly. Where the skin is folded, bacteria grows, she says. Dressing is a military operation. Everything is tucked away. And her relationship, the way she and Chris interact, has changed too.

Haze has gone from one kind of person to another, and the speed of her transformation has caught both her and Chris by surprise. You went from having a plus-size, curvy, full wife which you never had a problem with to suddenly this petite woman with hanging sacks of skin, Haze says to Chris, who is seated at her side. And it really threw you.

It was trying to remember who she is, Chris replies. Not mentally but physically. Its like, are you sure its you?

The pair have been married for 13 years. But the surgery, so hyper-efficient and cost-effective, has not given their emotions, their instincts, their bodies, time to adjust. Ill get there in the end, Chris says. Its because the process is so quick. Very shocking.

They had a small amount of savings, which Haze spent on a breast augmentation to save my sanity because she was so depressed by her new paper bag breasts. Even so, in their most intimate moments, Hazes skin still comes between them. If Im on top and I lean forward, she says, my stomach gets there first. She turns to Chris. You literally hold it back, she says, putting her hands at her narrow waist to demonstrate. To try and make you feel better, he nods, and they reach for each others hands.

Two further years of saving lie between Haze and Chris Atkin and the promised land of an operation so extensive that Winterton says it puts two and a half feet of scar on a patient. Providing, of course, that inflation does not outstrip them. But Paul Watling, 34, from Manchester, has barely a week to wait. Like Haze, he was rejected for the operation on the NHS after months of psycho-evaluation. He was trying to get along with his skin, to live with it, until last summer when he picked up a friend from hospital after body lift surgery.

The sight of his friend in his new skin made Paul see himself with unexpected clarity. At lunch with his mother and his girlfriend, Charlotte, I turned around and said: I need it. I just felt the time had come to put this part of my life to bed.

We are talking in a breakout area of Manchester Metropolitan University where Paul works as a night-time duty manager for halls of residence. While students amble down the corridor, Pauls voice quickens. This is it! Something that has been a negative aspect of my life for all my life is banished for ever.

Paul
Paul Watling: I feel great. But I dont look it. I look awful. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The negative aspect of Pauls life began as a child with a tendency to overeat. At 22, he weighed 191kg (30st). He was offered a gastric bypass after doctors discovered a lung tumour (he was too fat to operate on) and this was in 2005 was promised that his excess skin would be removed on the NHS. However, by the time his weight had stabilised, he was turned down for the skin surgery. Depressed by what he saw in the mirror, the nipples that sagged far below his chest, the reams of spare stomach and undereye sacks that made him look permanently tired, Paul began to eat and drink heavily.

I thought: If Im going to look this bad, I may as well fill it out and just be the fat guy again, he says.

Over the next 10 years his weight rose as he ate to fill up his skin; a gastric bypass is only a tool to help with weight loss, and depends on adjustments to diet and exercise to work. While his stomach expanded, Paul kept telling himself: Im nowhere near as bad as I was. Then, last Christmas, he woke up after a binge and needed the bathroom. Looking down at the toilet bowl, he realised he couldnt see what he was doing; his stomach was too large. I thought, thats not normal. I dont remember that.

He was staying at a friends house, and his friends bathroom contained a set of scales, something Paul hadnt seen in a long time. He stepped on. I was like: Wow! This is insane! The scales said he weighed 162kg (25.5st). He found his friend in the kitchen. I took my shirt off and said: Take a photo. And I could see, in that photo, the 21-year-old me. I said: This has to stop.

He researched nutrition and exercise plans and began to adjust his diet and lift weights. After 11 months, in an entirely self-directed effort, he had lost 64kg (10st).

I feel better than I have ever felt in my life, Paul says. I feel great. But I dont look it. I look awful. While we talk, Pauls right arm disappears beneath the table to shield his stomach from passersby.

Im happier now with the way people treat me and it is a world of difference. But when I was bigger, I was happier with the way I looked. I was just a fat guy. Thats all I was. Yeah, people take the piss and are cruel but its there for everyone to see. This, he says, looking down to where he can feel his skin pulling over his belt line, is a hidden shame. Even the fat guys in the gym hang around in the dressing room. But Im ashamed. I sneak into the family room and lock the door.

Paul is troubled not only by his skin but also by the fact that it troubles him. Its a constant internal struggle for me. Why are you spending 10 grand on this? Its just appearance. Come on! You can rise above this. Of course, how you look shouldnt matter, he says, but it does matter, because of the experiences you had when you were younger, the years of verbal and physical abuse. He is a heavy metal fanand has always identified as an outsider, found comfort in it. But his skin has made him feel more privately misplaced, estranged in a way that is unfamiliar he has become an outsider in his own body.

I know I should be proud of my excess skin. It should be a battle scar But the flip side, which is the stronger side that always wins, is: Look at the state of you, youre gross, youre disgusting, you cant let anyone see you I dont want to fit in with society, I want to fit in with myself.

Paul is right that not everyone with excess skin feels as he does. Krystina Wright, 31, from Grendon in Warwickshire, lost 44kg (7st) with the help of Slimming World, and has a pouch at her stomach.

She knows she has undergone a transformation, and that her skin tells the story of it. Last year she was shortlisted for Slimming Worlds woman of the year. Out dress shopping, she stood in the fitting room in her underwear, and her mum remarked, You can see youve lost weight. But I never see that in the mirror, Krystina says. When Im walking, [the skin] around my legs is obviously looser than somebody who hasnt lost weight but I just ignore it. Im so happy with my journey that everything negative about my old self doesnt seem to matter.

Even in her contentment, however, Krystina still associates the experience of being fat with an old self, and it is this sense of disjuncture between an old self and a new self, a fat self and a thin self, that challenges people who have lost a transformative amount of weight.

Skin is a boundary between ourselves and the outside world. But for Haze Atkin, her skin, in its looseness, provides an untrue border; her skin seems to stop beyond her true edges. Instead, she strongly demarcates the line between old and new selves. When she was fat, she was Hayley. Two years ago, after weight loss, she changed her name legally. Its weird to see pictures of me before, she says. You cant I cant tie those two people together.

Im very proud of Hayley. But thats not me. Theres a real separation. She picks up her stomach. The thing thats hanging on is this. Hayleys skin.

Elna Baker can relate to Hazes divided self. The American writer and performer, 35, has documented her weight loss and skin removal surgery in blogs and podcasts such as This American Life. Between losing weight (nearly 50kg/8st) and losing the skin, she lived in the same sort of limbo as Haze she thinks of it now as a transitional place between fat and this idea of thin.

Elna
Elna Baker: I feel like Im wearing a disguise. Photograph: PR

But Baker also says she has travelled further along the timeline I dont know how to explain it. But theres, like, a core thing that youre still running from, she says, speaking on the phone from New York. And not to sound ungrateful for the means and the experience of getting to transform, but I also feel its more complicated than I expected, because its about identity and gender and worth. The thing that still saddens me is that I lived too long in the world as a fat woman to forget the way the world exists when youre fat. So now I feel like Im wearing a disguise, which allows me not to have to experience on a daily basis judgment, shame and hatred. But I also have all this muscle memory of that. So I sometimes feel confused like Im still experiencing a side-effect of a thing I no longer am.

Baker had implants to return her breasts to their former size, a body lift, a thigh lift and a circumferential body lift a cut around the circumference of the body. The scar draws a line between her top half and bottom half and has left her feeling, literally, a little divided.

Despite complications afterwards that meant that she had to pack her wounds with gauze, pushing wads into the holes left by burst stitches as if she were stuffing a soft toy, Baker is glad that she had the operations. But she has spent the past year using therapy, meditation and self-help to address the boundary between old Elna and new Elna. She hopes the division is an illusion and it is possible to reach into the depths of me and meet the person [I was] and integrate it.

Haze, meanwhile, hopes for the opposite, that surgery will not only make her proud of her body but sever her from the past. And Paul, only a week away from his operation, sometimes has to quiet the small voice that asks: What if I go through this and Im still not happy? He reminds himself: Ive set this up in my mind. This is closure of a lifetime of not being happy in my body.

All he, and Haze and anyone, really want is to be comfortable in their own skin.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/02/i-want-to-cut-it-off-weight-loss-patients-excess-skin

Health mutt: proposal to put shelter dogs on vegan diet divides Los Angeles

A possible plan to move the citys dogs onto a plant-based diet has the backing of prominent vegans such as Moby, but others warn it could get messy

Proponents say it will make Los Angeles the worlds progressive capital. Sceptics say it will mean diarrhea, lots of diarrhea.

The proposal, which has divided scientists and animal rights groups and inflamed social media, is to put dogs in the citys public shelters on a vegan diet.

The Los Angeles animal services commission is considering the idea after lobbying by prominent vegans, including Moby, the dance music pioneer.

The commission unanimously voted earlier this month for a feasability study and analysis of the benefits and risks. A report detailing pilot project options is expected in February.

Roger Wolfson, a commissioner and television screenwriter who is driving the initiative, cites ethical, environmental and health reasons to switch dogs to plant-based food.

Currently more than 20,000 chickens, 10,000 turkeys and 1,000 lambs die each year in order to be churned into food for the 33,000 dogs in LAs public shelters, he said.

We are the department of animal services, not the department of animal companion services, he told the Guardian this week. So we need to start from a place of avoiding unnecessary killing of animals. We already shelter pigs and chickens and turkeys and we wouldnt think about killing them unnecessarily. So if dogs can get their needs met without killing animals we owe it to the citizens of Los Angeles to try.

Wolfson, who was a political speechwriter in Washington DC before moving to LA and writing for shows such as Fairly Legal and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, also cited the impact of meat and dairy consumption on deforestation, greenhouse gases and ocean dead zones.

Several high-profile allies endorsed Wolfsons proposal at a public hearing in November, including the musician and DJ Moby, who owns a vegan restaurant in LA. If we adopt this, its just one more thing that proves to the world that Los Angeles really is the progressive capital of the world, he said, according to meeting minutes, which used his real name, Richard Hall.

Musician
Musician and vegan restaurant owner Moby is a supporter of the plan. Photograph: Kris Connor/WireImage

However, the citys chief veterinarian, Jeremy Prupas, cited clinical nutritionists, a veterinary toxicologist and other experts who advised against a vegan diet. In addition to health questions, workers at the understaffed shelter would confront canine diarrhea, a big issue, Prupas said.

Armaiti May, an LA-based veterinarian who supports the proposal, told the Guardian that abrupt changes in diet can lead to looser stools but that a gradual transition would avoid major problems. Its a small issue in the grand scheme of things. May believes meat-based kibbles have fuelled a cancer and allergy epidemic in dogs.

Tracy Reiman, executive vice-president of the animal rights group Peta, said a vegan diet was healthier and more ethical than feeding dogs factory farmed animals who have endured miserable lives and gruesome deaths and whose dead, dying, diseased, or disabled carcasses are found in most commercial dog foods.

Other voices urge caution. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and Tufts university professor, told the New York Times earlier this year there were no long-term studies on the effects of veganism in dogs. We know a lot about dog nutrition, but there are unknowns as well it isnt easy to formulate a high-quality diet for dogs, and its particularly difficult with a vegan diet.

Social media has bristled with arguments for and against, the latter insisting dogs need meat.

Owners who have put their dogs on vegan diets say diarrhea fears are overblown and that health benefits are tangible. Winky had been plagued with recurring ear infections which disappeared permanently after I phased the meat-based food out of his diet, Karen Dawn, an author and activist, wrote in an LA Times op-ed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/29/los-angeles-vegan-dog-diet-animal-shelters-moby

Introducing Halo Top: the ‘healthy’ ice-cream taking over America

Marketed as the low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar alternative to ice-cream it is now outselling tubs from Ben & Jerrys and Hagen-Dazs

Everyone you love is gone. There is only ice-cream is the darkly humorous sign off used in a recent ad for fast-growing American ice-cream brand Halo Top.

The Black Mirror-style commercial, which ran in US cinemas before films including the horror flick It, features an elderly woman being force-fed ice-cream by a robot in some dystopian future.

It was directed by Mike Diva, who has built a YouTube following with his advertising parodies, and who typifies the offbeat digital marketing aimed at millennials that has helped turn Halo Top into serious competition for bestselling brands such as Magnum, Ben & Jerrys and Hagen-Dazs.

The somewhat noir US TV ad for Halo Top ice-cream.

The Los Angeles-based company was founded at the start of the decade by Justin Woolverton, a former lawyer who suffered hypoglycemic episodes when he indulged his sweet tooth. So he bought a $20 ice-cream maker on Amazon and began trying to create healthier alternatives. It was just something that I was making in my kitchen because I didnt like sugar, he told one interviewer about his Eureka moment.

While most ice-creams are a sugar and fat-laden treat, Halo Top bills itself as a low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar alternative to mainstream brands, with flavours such as mochi green tea and rainbow swirls. Its recipe uses sugar substitute Stevia, which means a scoop of its Vanilla Ice contains 60 calories versus 250 in a similar sized dollop of Hagen-Dazs.

Reports in the US media have begun to question whether Halo Top is really as healthy as the marketing makes out, with some dieticians raising concerns about the use of artificial sweeteners.

Halo Top is now stocked in supermarkets across America, with the company shifting nearly $50m (38m) worth of ice-cream in the US last year. Its sales accelerated in 2016 after GQ writer Shane Snow lived on Halo Top ice-cream for 10 days and the resulting article went viral.

The brands rise has been propelled by social media: it has 590,000 followers on Instagram and more than 700,000 on Facebook.

The social media buzz helped Halo Top chalk up another milestone in the summer when industry data showed its pint pots were outselling Unilevers Ben & Jerrys and Nestls Hagen-Dazs in US grocery stores for the first time. Halo Tops parent company, LA-based Eden Creamery, is seizing the day with one recent report suggesting it is exploring a sale that could value the company at up to $2bn.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/20/introducing-halo-top-the-healthy-ice-cream-taking-over-america

Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths, global disease study reveals

Study compiling data from every country finds people are living longer but millions are eating wrong foods for their health

Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths around the world, according to the most comprehensive study ever carried out on the subject.

Millions of people are eating the wrong sorts of food for good health. Eating a diet that is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and fish oils and high in salt raises the risk of an early death, according to the huge and ongoing study Global Burden of Disease.

The study, based at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, compiles data from every country in the world and makes informed estimates where there are gaps. Five papers on life expectancy and the causes and risk factors of death and ill health have been published by the Lancet medical journal.

It finds that people are living longer. Life expectancy in 2016 worldwide was 75.3 years for women and 69.8 for men. Japan has the highest life expectancy at 84 years and the Central African Republic has the lowest at just over 50. In the UK, life expectancy for a man born in 2016 is 79, and for a woman 82.9.

Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes.

causes of death graphic

This is really large, Dr Christopher Murray, IHMEs director, told the Guardian. It is amongst the really big problems in the world. It is a cluster that is getting worse. While obesity gets attention, he was not sure policymakers were as focused on the area of diet and health as they needed to be. That constellation is a really, really big challenge for health and health systems, he said.

The problem is often seen as the spread of western diets, taking over from traditional foods in the developing world. But it is not that simple, says Murray. Take fruit. It has lots of health benefits but only very wealthy people eat a lot of fruit, with some exceptions.

Sugary drinks are harmful to health but eating a lot of red meat, the study finds, is not as big a risk to health as failing to eat whole grains. We need to look really carefully at what are the healthy compounds in diets that provide protection, he said.

undernourishment graphic

Prof John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, said the studies show how quickly diet and obesity-related disease is spreading around the world. I dont think people realise how quickly the focus is shifting towards non-communicable disease [such as cancer, heart disease and stroke] and diseases that come with development, in particular related to poor diet. The numbers are quite shocking in my view, he said.

The UK tracks childhood obesity through the school measurement programme and has brought in measures to try to tackle it. But no country in the world has been able to solve the problem and it is a concern that we really need to think about tackling globally, he said.

Today, 72% of deaths are from non-communicable diseases for which obesity and diet are among the risk factors, with ischaemic heart disease as the leading cause worldwide of early deaths, including in the UK. Lung cancer, stroke, lung disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and Alzheimers are the other main causes in the UK.

The success story is children under five. In 2016, for the first time in modern history, fewer than 5 million children under five died in one year a significant fall compared with 1990, when 11 million died. Increased education for women, less poverty, having fewer children, vaccinations, anti-malaria bed-nets, improved water and sanitation are among the changes in low-income countries that have brought the death rate down, thanks to development aid.

People are living longer but spending more years in ill health. Obesity is one of the major reasons. More than a billion people worldwide are living with mental health and substance misuse disorders. Depression features in the top 10 causes of ill health in all but four countries.

Our findings indicate people are living longer and, over the past decade, we identified substantial progress in driving down death rates from some of the worlds most pernicious diseases and conditions, such as under age-five mortality and malaria, said Murray Yet, despite this progress, we are facing a triad of trouble holding back many nations and communities obesity, conflict, and mental illness, including substance use disorders.

In the UK, the concern is particularly about the increase in ill-health that prevents people from working or having a fulfilling life, said Newton. A man in the UK born in 2016 can expect only 69 years in good health and a woman 71 years.

This is yet another reminder that while were living longer, much of that extra time is spent in ill-health. It underlines the importance of preventing the conditions that keep people out of work and put their long term health in jeopardy, like musculoskeletal problems, poor hearing and mental ill health. Our priority is to help people, including during the crucial early years of life and in middle age, to give them the best chance of a long and healthy later life, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/14/poor-diet-is-a-factor-in-one-in-five-deaths-global-disease-study-reveals

Hunger by Roxane Gay review how the world treats fat people

A catalogue of horrors and public humiliations, Gays memoir responds to societys condescension and disgust about her body size

This is a book its author Roxane Gay has, over many years, earned the right not to publish. Even though she has found great success as an essayist, writer of fiction and university teacher, and attracted a large, passionate online following, its clear from her account that her weight is still the first thing strangers notice about her, and that she must spend much of her time dealing with their unsolicited responses to it. These range from rude to abusive, encompassing all sorts of casual mockery, faux concern and outright aggression along the way.

Shopping for clothes or food, visiting a restaurant or getting on a plane frequently involve a humiliating ordeal. Doctors not only patronise her but routinely refuse her basic care. Simply leaving the house means navigating a physical and emotional obstacle course. No doubt Gay is thoroughly sick of being reduced to her body and of enduring constant inquiries, prejudices and criticism, and she has evidently worked hard to make space for herself to talk and write about other things. People asking those kinds of questions dont deserve an answer, and yet here Gay has decided to give them one.

Hunger comprises at least two stories: a partial but more or less linear telling of Gays life so far, and a more halting, spiralling description of her everyday experience as a fat woman. The first of these hinges on the horrifying rape visited on her as a 12-year-old by her boyfriend and several of his friends. Gay blames herself, and her suffering is compounded when the boys report their version of events to their peers at school; she keeps hers quiet, unable to say anything about it to her family. The brief evocation of her childhood before this point conjures an almost fairytale-like atmosphere of love and optimism, peopled with adoring parents and siblings. I fell asleep most nights, Gay writes, flush with the joy of knowing I belonged to these people and they belonged to me.

Afterwards, everything changes: she begins to overeat and her weight gain is swift and dramatic, to her familys dismay. Various attempts to reverse it, some undertaken willingly, others under parental pressure, never last long, and both the traumatic event and her highly visible response to it overshadow everything else that happens to her. Gays mother and father are well-to-do Haitian Americans who clearly have high expectations of their children. Gay, who attends an elite boarding school followed by Yale, drops out and moves to another state without letting anyone know where she is. She eventually completes a PhD and garners acclaim as a writer, but this book is still a catalogue of horrors large and small: there are abusive relationships and public humiliations. Particularly striking are the depictions of what its like for Gay to go to the gym or on a date. Unable to fit on a restaurant chair and denied a more comfortable booth, she spends an entire meal holding herself up in an excruciating squat. At the supermarket, random people entitle themselves to remove foods they deem unsuitable from her cart.

Gays tone shifts between a breezy, conversational style and something harsher, and she recounts painful events in short, almost incantatory sentences: There was a boy. I loved him. His name was Christopher. Thats not really his name. You know that. She occasionally makes light of the cliches that surround public discussion of weight loss (though she herself cant avoid some of these). Scoffing at Oprah Winfreys metaphor of the cheerful, skinny alter ego lurking inside every fat person, she notes, I ate that thin woman, and she was delicious but unsatisfying.

But in general theres not much to laugh about. Gay alludes to or summarises difficult conversations, but rarely recounts them in full, and the overall effect is often one of claustrophobic intensity, as if the reader is trapped inside her head much the way she describes feeling caged in her flesh. Some of the books repetitions may be due to its origin in shorter pieces written for various publications, but most reflect the near-constant frustrations of living in a body the world both fixates on and refuses to accommodate. One of the few scenes rendered in detail is the gruesome early description of her father taking her to a group consultation with a doctor who performs gastric bypass surgeries. They must watch a video of patients steamy red and pink and yellow insides being carved up in an exorbitantly expensive and devastating procedure that even in the best case scenario will leave them permanently malnourished.

Though Gay does not owe anyone a single explanation of her size, she gives her readers an abundance of them. If some can seem a little too neat and familiar, that effect is complicated by how many accumulate, often directly contradicting each other. She characterises her initial weight gain as an attempt to take up more space, growing bigger and more powerful, but also as an effort to disappear and avoid ever attracting male attention again. She deliberately eats to create a protective shield of flesh, or simply cannot resist using food to soothe unbearable emotions. Gays mixed feelings often feel inevitable, though, in a culture that gives fat women no safe place to stand: you must feel bad about your size, but not enough to make anyone else uncomfortable; you must feel good about yourself as you are, but not too good. I am a product of my environment, she writes, explaining why her feminist convictions cant protect her from the cycle of selfblame, from longing to be thinner and accusing herself of weakness or lack of discipline when her body doesnt change.

Elna
Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss sheds light on Hunger.

Most of what Gay endures is neither her fault nor within her control, but since she believes society will not change fast enough, if at all, she makes no apology for yearning to adjust herself to it. And of course, much of the more or less veiled fear and disgust expressed by others is a self-fulfilling reaction to their own conditioning: People know how they see and treat and think about fat people and dont want such a fate to befall them. The book is crammed with agonising ironies, some more strongly emphasised than others. Gay gains weight as an outward expression of her unhappiness, but those around her dont get the message, and only make her more miserable in their reactions to her changing body. In trying to develop a defence mechanism after her rape, she inadvertently invites half a lifetime of invasive threats to her physical autonomy and violations of her consent. When her parents want her to go on a liquid diet or to a fat camp, she agrees because I had learned that saying no meant nothing.

As she has before, in her hit essay collection Bad Feminist, Gay proclaims her refusal to represent anyone but herself. Among other things, that means she isnt interested in trying to make anyone feel better including other people of size who would rather not hear that she hates her body and blames herself for her inability to change it. This is not, as she notes repeatedly, a story of triumph neither of triumphant weight loss nor triumphant self-acceptance.

Stories that skirt those two possibilities are far rarer than they should be, and the exceptions, whatever their individual failings, stick in the mind. Reading Hunger reminded me of radio producer Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss and its aftermath, which in some ways holds up a funhouse mirror to Gays experience. Its only after losing a huge amount of weight that Baker fully discovers the miseries the world inflicts on fat people. As a thin woman, she finds her love life, job prospects and everyday existence suddenly transformed. And she encounters head-on the stubborn denial that enables other people to enforce sadistic norms: when Baker insists to her husband that hed never have fallen for her at her previous weight, he tries to weasel out of it, suggesting that all the benefits Baker derives from being thin are simply due to how much happier and more confident she must now feel. But that isnt true, she says she was fine before, whereas now she must live with the knowledge that her new life and relationship require her to keep up an unnatural (and unhealthy) struggle with her weight for ever. Bakers story helps shed light on one of the most intractable knots in Hunger. Gay knows that losing the weight would not solve everything or grant her happiness, and yet she longs for the entirely different, less painful life she imagines she could have had without it.

Early in the book, Gay characterises it as a confession, that term so often flung as an insult at women who write about themselves. These, she writes, are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. Its more a provocation than a promise. There are certainly flashes of confession, passages in which Gay lays out, say, the precise effects her rape has had on the formation of her sexual desires. But mostly she is not prepared to be so bare and weak as all that. Its the world around her that comes off as out of control in its appetites hate-filled, obsessed with womens body parts, eager to punish what it helps create.

Hunger is published by Harper. To order a copy for 11.89 (RRP 13.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/19/hunger-by-roxane-gay-review