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November 20, 2007

You Really Haven't Come Very Far At All, Have You Baby?

I was thinking the other day about those Virginia Slims ads from my childhood, the ones that said, "You've come a long way, baby."

Ah yes... we've come so far. Now it's socially acceptable for women to smoke. Once upon a time, only men could smoke in public. Now women can destroy their health with the full approval of the capitalist system! Fab!

I was thinking of this months ago while reading the archives of Everywomanhasaneatingdisorder.

Oh, hours of entertainment for the entire family!

First, you've got to love Dr. Stacey. I really think she's onto something so much of the time, very insightful and constantly observing the world around her with a critical eye. She's obviously got the overall well-being of women first in her mind, and her work has got to be difficult. Also, I admire the way she handles conflict on her blog, and how she's quite diplomatic at almost all times.

But I find that Dr. Stacey and I get to a point, a fork in the road if you will, and part company.

Here is a prime example:

I was leaving Dunkin Donuts the other day, as the woman behind me ordered her coffee with Splenda. I began to think how our behavior sends constant messages to ourselves (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) and how these frequent messages add up.

Choosing Splenda or Sweet & Low or NutraSweet over sugar translates to, “I don’t deserve what I want, what I like, or what is available to me. I will settle for second best.?


Consuming excess calories, for no apparent reason, translates to "I deserve second best" ???

Refusing to bring certain food items into your home (especially those you crave), or to have just a couple of cookies (because that would mean you wouldn’t stop) communicates, “I don’t trust myself.?

Again, WTF?

Today, as a co-worker smoked his tenth cigarette of the day, I was reminded of how glad I am that I never started. No, I don't "have just one" in case I might enjoy it. I choose not to poison myself with a substance known to be toxic. Does that make me somehow repressed? Would I be happier if I were to smoke from time to time? Do I just not trust myself to have a cigarette now and again without becoming addicted?

Uh, not really. Why would I want to try? The stuff is bad for me... even breathing in the secondhand smoke is probably a bad idea, from a health perspective.

So... I wonder. Why is it a sign of a lack of self-esteem to choose not to use sugar?

[All you folks who have nutrition superstition about artificial sweeteners go read this before you comment, please.]

Is it also a sign of self-hatred to choose nonfat or lowfat cottage cheese over the full-saturated fat version?

What about choosing a primarily vegetarian diet over steak and foie gras?

What about when my co-worker orders broccoli with his meal instead of fries?

Do all of us healthy eaters just hate ourselves?

I consider myself a liberated woman. I make my own money, I help women workers organize unions so they can better take care of their patients and their families. I can quote Backlash and The Beauty Myth conversationally.

I am especially a huge fan of sexual liberation. I firmly believe that a woman owns her own sexuality, and should do with it what she chooses, whether she's straight or gay, married or not, monogomous or not.

But I would not walk across the street, proposition the fellows leaving the corner bar at 2 am, and have unprotected sex with them. Not because I think it would be morally wrong to do so... it would be awkward at best, but not necessarily wrong. No, I would not do it because I do not want to risk my health for a moment of physical pleasure. Having unprotected sex with people you don't know is a pretty risky behavior, ya know?

The odds of actually enjoying sex with your average Joe from the corner bar aside (unlikely, I know, but go with the analogy for the moment) that's just not safe. Sure, it's a momentary risk, a risk that you could contract a disease within seconds. That's different from the kind of long term risk of pumping your body full of sugar and saturated fat and excess calories.

But still: is it a sign of liberation to do something stupid?

Do we not have enough evidence that excess weight, sugar and saturated fat make people sick?

Is it a feminist act to have a heart attack in your fifties or sixties and wind up in the ICU?

At least, I suppose, we can love our bodies while we're intubated and on a heart monitor.

Choosing, freely, to consume fewer calories, is not necessarily an act of self-hatred. Perhaps it's an act of self-love? I mean, how annoying would it be to end up in the hospital one minute earlier than one really has to?

I do believe that we as women have come a long way in not accepting that certain practices (say, making equal money for equal work) are just allowable for men. But putting sugar in our coffee? Huh? Is it a race to the ICU? It is no big secret that the majority of the population is overweight or obese and that excess weight is contributing to their risk of disease. And that excess calories = excess weight. So why on earth would it be a *good* thing for one to consume excess calories in the form of the tablespoons of sugar Dunkin Donuts puts in people's coffee?

Maybe I'm just not a good enough feminist. But I'll skip the sugar, in fact skip Dunkin Donuts all together, and just head to the nearest Starbucks, where I can drink the coffee black.

Posted by april at November 20, 2007 2:31 AM


Is there an easier megamuffin recipe?? I'm trying to stay away from my brown rice and steel cut oatmeal and that seemed like cheating but better.

Posted by: elaine at November 20, 2007 11:29 AM

[Choosing Splenda or Sweet & Low or NutraSweet over sugar translates to, “I don’t deserve what I want, what I like, or what is available to me. I will settle for second best.?]

You know what is *so* irritating about that statement? All the smug assumptions the author is making about someone she doesn't even know.

Personally, I can't tell the difference between something sweetened with sugar and something containing artificial sweeteners. To me, they both just taste, you know, SWEET. So Dr. Stacey's first incorrect assumption is that everyone who uses artificial sweeteners would actually prefer to have sugar. It isn't true for me and I'm sure it isn't true for many other women as well.

Her second false assumption is that consuming sugar is a sign of healthy self-esteem (i.e. I *deserve* a sugary treat) and that consuming a substitute is a sign that you don't value yourself. This is obviously ridiculous. What if the woman were diabetic? Should she consume sugar - even if she prefers its taste to that of artificial sweeteners - knowing that doing so would send her blood sugar levels through the roof, wreaking havoc throughout her entire body? Of course not! True self-love is taking good care of your body. Drinking a bunch of sugar doesn't strike me as a particularly good way to care of your body even if you aren't diabetic. I wonder how she would feel if we turned it around and said that women who drink sugar instead of artificial sweeteners in their coffee are actually saying, "I don't deserve to be healthy."

Dr. Stacey also seems to assume that all self-discipline with regards to food is a sign of poor self-esteem. While it may be true that some women starve themselves out of a sense of self-loathing, this isn't true for everyone, and besides, substituting Splenda for sugar is hardly starving yourself. Even if you prefer sugar to Splenda, you might choose to consume Splenda instead because you're saving up those calories for something *really* special, like a nice glass of port or an after-dinner cheese plate. This is just being smart about your food budget.

Think of this analogy: I'd prefer to wear gorgeous suits from Ann Taylor to work every day but my budget precludes my spending $400 per outfit. Therefore, I buy cheaper clothes that look reasonably good but not nearly as good as the Ann Taylor suits would look. Yes, it's a bit of a sacrifice. However, it has nothing to do with what I believe I *deserve* and everything to do with what I can reasonably *afford*. And it isn't just expensive clothes that sparks this response. I buy cheaper toilet paper from the store not because I don't think I deserve the softer, nicer stuff but because I don't really *care* all that much about toilet paper so why not use the perfectly functional cheaper stuff and save a few bucks?

It's the same with Splenda in my tea. Sure, I could add sugar to my tea but to my palate, the artificial sweeteners taste fine, and why not shave off a few calories?

Dr. Stacey isn't God. She can't look into someone else's heart and mind and know what motivates them to eat or not eat a particular food item. In the absence of that knowledge, she should stop making all these assumptions.

Posted by: Robin at November 20, 2007 11:52 AM

Interesting point. I wonder what Dr. Stacey would say. She has said that she does not support bingeing or mindless, self-indulgent eating and that she encourages people to exercise. Possibly your idea of "excess calories" and hers is just different.

Regarding craveable foods and self-trust, I think Dr. Stacey is also operating on a different set of assumptions from you. To you, it's not worth wasting the calories on a couple of Oreos--you eat so few that it would cut into your ability to get your RDAs. For people who aren't on CR, however, it's entirely possible to toss a couple of those puppies back every day and maintain a sweet BMI. That's the constituency she's talking to. For *those* folks, refusing to bring Oreos into the house for fear they'll suddenly start binge-eating is indeed neurotic.

On the other hand, you have one huge and irrefutable point: "ordinary" eating isn't working anymore in this country. Sixty-five percent of us have gotten in trouble by ad-libbing in a way that would have been fine 50 years ago in the time of smaller portion sizes and more-limited availability.

So where do we go from here? We all have to find a new way forward, a new way to 'eat normally.' You and Dr. Stacey are both part of that struggle.

Posted by: Yvonne at November 20, 2007 12:25 PM

I just wanted to say, having stumbled upon the concept of CR, that I don't really know what the fuss is about- People saying that CR is akin to Anorexia just doesn't make sense to me- I was expecting to hear that people on CR ate 600 or 700 calories a day, something I did once, but the numbers I found were closer to 1500-1900 calories a day, which made me think- how much do the critics of CR eat?- because that seems like a healthy caloric intake to me. I myself eat between 1500-1800 calories a day, in an effort to lose weight (i now weigh about 190 and Im 5'7") and I feel like I need to cut down further because Im not losing weight.

So, basically, it was just so surprising to hear such objections about what seems to be a normal caloric intake, and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I'd love to hear a response, Im really very curious about what you think.

Posted by: jessica at November 20, 2007 2:32 PM

As you recommended I went to the article about artificial sweeteners and read it. I also searched PubMed and found another article about blood glucose levels after consuming either artificial sweeteners or sugar. The results were the same for both - no increase.

My main concern when consuming sweets of any kind is the influence on my blood glucose level. The amount of calories in a teaspoon of sugar - I use a half teaspoon in a cup of tea or coffee - is 4 grams. Since 4 grams would be 16 cals and I consume just 8 cals of sugar I dont concern myself about having sugar in my tea/coffee.

Far less healthy IMO is the Dunkin Donut itself.
Here's the MedLine article:

Interuniversity College for Health and Development Graz, Castle of Seggau, Austria.

Artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin or cyclamic acid are synthetically manufactured sweetenings. Known for their low energetic value they serve especially diabetic and adipose patients as sugar substitutes. It has been hypothesized that the substitution of sugar with artificial sweeteners may induce a decrease of the blood glucose. The aim of this study was to determine the reliability of this hypothesis by comparing the influence of regular table sugar and artificial sweeteners on the blood glucose concentration. In this pilot-study 16 patients were included suffering from adiposity, pre-diabetes and hypertension. In the sense of a cross-over design, three test trials were performed at intervals of several weeks. Each trial was followed by a test free interval. Within one test trial each patient consumed 150 ml test solution (water) that contained either 6 g of table sugar ("Kandisin") with sweetener free serving as control group. Tests were performed within 1 hr after lunch to ensure conditions comparable to patients having a desert. Every participant had to determine their blood glucose concentration immediately before and 5, 15, 30 and 60 minutes after the intake of the test solution. For statistics an analysis of variance was performed. The data showed no significant changes in the blood glucose concentration. Neither the application of sugar (F(4;60) = 1.645; p = .175) nor the consumption of an artificial sweetener (F(2.068;31.023) = 1.551; p > .05) caused significant fluctuations in the blood sugar levels.

Posted by: peg d at November 20, 2007 7:47 PM

You're right; certain practices are just allowable for men. Like being drafted into the army and dying/being horribly maimed for life.

Posted by: Suzy at November 20, 2007 8:25 PM

I actually prefer the taste of artificial sweetener (esp. Equal) to regular sugar. Sugar just isn't sweet enough for my super-sweet tooth :)

Posted by: Erin at November 21, 2007 6:58 PM

How right you are Suzy. I remember the poet Robert Bligh being interviewed by Bill Moyers and his being involved in the start of the Men's Movement in the '80's. Having four sons it gave me a new perspective on the image that males have been expected to project at the expense of their wellbeing.
Peg D

Posted by: peg d at November 21, 2007 8:43 PM

I am not smug, nor God (thank God), but I do make assumptions just like the rest of us. Mine are based largely on my target audience's experiences of not choosing to make food choices. They feel the MUST use artificial sweeteners, instead of CHOOSING to use them. If you're diabetic/like the taste better/like the pastel packagin (i.e. any other reason than depriving yourself of what you really want), you're probably not part of my target audience, which deprives and then often binges as a result. Hope this helps.

Posted by: drstaceyny at November 26, 2007 7:22 AM

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