Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving

This is the first time in my "Fat American Life" that I have truly realized how privileged I am. I usually think of myself as a low-income waitress, scraping along compared to the rich Americans I envy, but compared to just about everyone else on the planet, I live a life of extreme luxury. Just to be born female is life-threatening in many cultures and, if girls live, they often face lives of hardship, violence and exploitation. I not only enjoy the freedom to come and go as I please, I have a good job, my own money and resources, and no reason to expect any of that will ever go away.

My home is a one-bedroom apartment on the northside of Chicago. That means I have four rooms plus a working bathroom all to myself which, globally speaking, is an incredible amount of space for one just person (especially a woman). I have clean drinking water, heat that works all the time, refrigeration and phone service. Unlike in other countries, it's unusual for the electricity to go out here, and if it does an entire company of people will work non-stop to get it running again. I even have a television, a cell phone, an excellent computer and constant access to the Internet. I don't have a car, but the Chicago public transit service is one of the best in the U.S. and it always takes me where I want to go with a minimum of delays and interruptions. The luxuries I enjoy every day are unimaginable in many countries.

I could go on about healthcare, nutrition, law enforcement (TiVo), but I'll just say that these days whenever I start to feel sorry for myself because there's no man in my life with whom I share romance, love and intimacy I remind myself of all these things in my life, in the absence of which other people die. It's only when the basics have been achieved (food, shelter, employment) that anyone has the luxury to turn their attention to social or spiritual needs. Has anyone ever died for lack of sex?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eating dairy DOESN’T facilitate weightloss

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for months, but this is the first chance I’ve had. I am so sick of these ads that assert that eating three servings of dairy products a day helps you lose weight or, even more far-fetched, that drinking 24 ounces of milk in 24 hours will help you lose more weight than cutting calories alone. From the September 2005 Nutrition Action Health Letter (this post draws from that article, which I recommend):

Only three small published studies have found greater weight loss in people who were told to cut calories and eat dairy foods, and all were done by one researcher with a patent on the claim.

The government’s expert nutrition advisory panel has called the evidence on dairy and weight loss “inconclusive.”

Two new studies have found that dairy foods don’t help people lose weight.


Michael Zemel is the University of Tennessee nutrition researcher who, in the 1990’s, was investigating what happens when men with high blood pressure increase their calcium by eating more dairy foods. Zemel found that after the men ate two cups of yogurt a day, their blood pressures fell and they lost an average of 11 pounds of body fat. In 2000 he did three studies that put overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet for a period of time. A third of them had a regular calorie-restricted diet, a third of them had a regular calorie-restricted diet plus calcium supplements and a third had a calorie-restricted diet that included three servings of dairy products a day.

In each study, the people on the diet that included three servings of dairy a day lost more weight than the other two groups, and in 2002 Michael Zemel and his wife filed for a patent on the claim that calcium or dairy products can prevent or treat obesity. In 2004 Zemel also published a book “The Calcium Key” (“the revolutionary diet discovery that will help you lose weight faster”).

So far, that all might seem persuasive. Why doesn’t Zemel’s claim about calcium and weightloss hold up to scrutiny?

For one thing because Zemel’s published studies only used a total of 46 people. Janet King of the University of California at Berkeley, who chaired the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says, “All of our recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines report were based on multiple randomized controlled trials of hundreds of individuals. The work on milk and weightloss was very limited by comparison.”

Other things Zemel clarifies in the Nutrition Action article that aren’t mentioned in any of the dairy ads:

1) His work is specific to people who aren’t already consuming enough calcium, but when asked how much is “enough” Zemel says, “My honest answer is I don’t know exactly.”

2) His work is specific to people who are overweight and he would not expect dairy consumption to affect the body weight of people who aren’t overweight.

3) Whey and curds are the active components of dairy products. Yogurt and milk were the key dairy products in Zemel’s studies because they contain whey. Cheese doesn’t contain whey or curds (so anyone who’s eating cheese and thinking they’re helping their diet is in fantasyland).

The dairy industry conveniently leaves all this information out of its ads and wants us to believe that we can chomp down on cheese and ice cream every day while losing pounds and inches, or while staying thin. Why else would they feature women like Bebe Newirth and Lindsay Lohan in their “Got Milk?” ads?

So, let’s all take a look at the dairy-and-weightloss advertising for what it is: a slick campaign designed to rake in more profits for the American dairy industry which feels neglected by a population that would rather suck down soft drinks than milk and that increasingly sees cheese as a high-calorie source of saturated fat. More recent studies that have investigated Zemel’s claims have found that eating milk, cheese and yogurt does not burn more fat or cause weight loss. In anybody. And the “drink 24 ounces of milk every 24 hours” was completely cooked up by the dairy industry and isn’t supported by a single study, not even Zemel’s.

So there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

All I want for Christmas...

So, I've given up on love and dating and am now focusing on straight sex. Unfortunately, it turns out even straight sex is complicated when you're an almost-40-year-old single woman who doesn't want to sleep with some idiot. I guess I'm looking for someone who's morally decent and totally hot who can break the spell of my abstinence. Like a variation on Sleeping Beauty (would I be Sleeping-Not-Alone Beauty?)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Christmas Shopping

My Christmas shopping is very limited. Since I have no family of any kind in the area (neither extended nor self-created, like husband and kids), the heart of my Christmas celebrations hasn't been about gifts. But since there really hasn't been any heart to my Christmas celebrations (alone in Chicago, I never know what to do with myself), I'm going to make it about gifts, that is, gifts for myself. Last year I got myself TiVo and my first cell phone. They were GREAT gifts, just what I wanted, and that was my best Christmas in a long time. This year I'm trying to decide what to get for me. Maybe a digital camera since I really did want to post a photo of me in my bee Halloween costume, but I didn't have a camera.

I loved Christmas as a child. What kid whose parents pretty much got them whatever they wanted didn't love Christmas? There was no yelling over Christmas dinner back then, so Christmas was pretty good. But each year that I got older, the gifts stopped making that much of an impression on me. Maybe I thought getting all excited about Christmas was for little kids and I wanted to be more mature than that. After I left college and became a Grown Up, Christmases really lost their magic. Then after I turned 30, they got even worse because I began to think of myself as a loser since I didn't have a husband and kids to celebrate with. Those were some rough Christmases: living alone, not knowing what to do with myself on that most loved-one-oriented day, desperately wishing I had the family and house and storybook celebration, feeling certain I was a completely unloveable failure who deserved to be lonely during the holidays. Ugh!!

I'm extremely grateful to be over THAT mind trip, but even secure in the knowledge that being single is simply a different choice from being married, I still miss that old Christmas magic from childhood. How do I re-create it in the absence of children with which to kindle the mystery and joy of gift-giving? I've decided to do it by giving gifts to myself.

Why did it take me so long to figure it out? The magic of my childhood Christmases was about those wonderful presents I looked forward to, so if I want to feel that again, I need to be receiving presents. And not shot-in-the-dark presents like bath sets and winter scarves that well-meaning people give when they don't know what else to do. I need to figure out exactly what I MOST want more than anything and wrap that up for myself and not open it until Christmas morning. That's what I did with the TiVo and cell phone last year and it was totally great. I felt that old anticipation as the day got closer and closer. I could barely wait to open my gifts and start phoning and TiVo-ing. On Christmas morning I woke up excited, tore into my Christmas presents feeling special and loved, and spent the morning trying out my new cell phone and installing my TiVo, surrounded by torn wrapping paper, cardboard boxes and ripped plastic. Gone were the scary Christmas monsters of Loneliness, Reproductive Failure and Looming Middle-Age. I was an excited kid again, absorbed in the cherished ritual of material consumption. And this year I'm looking forward to Christmas again -- an incredible miracle for a childless, family-less spinster. So, what'll it be....what'll it be for me this year.....?

Yes, it's my return to the good old materialistic approach to Christmas and no one does it better than the children. Throughout the land at this time of year, people (especially parents) ask, "What do you want for Christmas?" I'm simply turning that focus where it makes the most sense: what do I want for Christmas?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

In Between TV

Last night I sat on my sofa and watched Law and Order: Criminal Intent). Then I got up and went to Bally's so I could attend a fitness class I've been curious about. For an hour I learned hip hop dance moves from Regan Farag, a professional choreographer. It was pretty good. Usually I don't like dance classes because I like dancing. I love dancing. Dancing for me is complete abandonment to the way my body parts feel like moving to the music. It's mindless; I'm completely focused on the music; there's an escape velocity that I reach and it goes on and on.

A dance class requires standing still while the teacher teaches, and only moving in an attempt to get the moves "right." To me, getting moves right precludes real dancing. In dance classes I haven't found a take off point at which it's time to just go. Dance classes usually disappoint me and I avoid them.

I didn't think Regan's class would be a dance class. I thought it would be some aerobic workout and I wanted a change from my usual routine, so I tried it. But it was a dance class, but it's okay because it turned out to be the only dance class I've taken that included just going. Regan called it "freestyling," but it meant just moving to the music however you wanted to, in between going through the moves she taught us. I had fun and it wasn't a bad workout and I get so bored doing the same thing every day that I might take the six week course.

Then I came home, sat down on the sofa and turned the tv back on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Take my blood, please

My dad worked in a hospital when I was growing up and he'd regularly come home with the "Be Nice to Me, I Gave Blood Today" sticker on his coat. I thought giving blood was the coolest thing and wanted to give at my high school blood drives, but I wasn't old enough. In the fall of my freshman year at U.C. Berkeley I was finally the right age, but the wrong weight. You can't give blood unless you weigh at least 110 pounds, but I decided that even if I was five pounds short, I was going to give anyway. I lied about my weight and was gratified to have my first pint of blood sucked out of me. Not long after, I began to feel quite unwell and thus did I learn to not give blood if you don't weigh enough.

Not long after, I put on the "freshman 10" (the ten pounds of weight most girls gained during our first year eating dorm food) and have been a proud blood donor ever since. I've certainly never again had trouble weighing enough. I love the "Be Nice to Me" sticker, I love the cookies and I love the feeling of helping others with such a simple action. Hospitals need blood every second of every day and it can only come from one place: us! It takes less than an hour and includes snacks, and there's nothing better than medically necessary cookie-eating! They're the only completely guilt-free Oreos I ever enjoy.

But sometimes I would get turned down because my iron level wasn't high enough. Actually, in the past few years the frequency with which I've been rejected for low iron has increased in spite of iron supplements, eating iron-rich foods and attempting to donate NOT when I have my period. The donor center assures me that my iron level isn't really "low" as in anemic. My iron level is perfectly fine for a healthy person, it's just that in order to give blood, your iron has to be a bit higher than normal, and that's the requirement my body just doesn't meet anymore. Sadly, this year I've been rejected every time I've tried to give. It's become increasingly disappointing and frustrating, especially since my diet is excellent, I take supplements and yes, I cook only with cast iron pans. I've even tried eating extra red meat in the days before attempting to give. With reluctance I'm realizing it's time to accept that I just can't give blood anymore.

I hate that I, who had such a great role model in my dad and have been a regular donor for years, am finally forced to stop. I just can't meet that iron level requirement. And then there are the millions of people who never even think about giving blood and when you do think about it, you don't actually do it. I would love it if someone who reads this goes and actually gives blood.

Think about it a little longer: don't you think it's important that hospitals stay supplied with enough blood? If a friend or family member were to ever wind up in the hospital needing blood and there weren't enough, wouldn't you give then? So why not give now? If I could influence just one person to start regularly giving a pint, I wouldn't feel so bad about not being able to do it myself.

If you're interested you can sign up with the Red Cross or in Chicago with LifeSource Blood Services. Think of me when you get to the Oreos!