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Stormy Weather —

March 1, 2012

Major Trigger Warning: I share the words and experiences of a woman who is a chronic dieter and discuss her weight changes and personal habits.

Please note: I include the names of a child actor and her mother who participated in the Strong4Life ads. Please do not contact them directly, insult them or attack them. We are not going to change their mind and we do not need to shame them for their behavior. Going after an individual for being pro-weight loss is counter-productive, as they are a product of our culture, and attacking that person will not produce the change we wish to make. I am providing the information so that people can see for themselves what is beneath the surface of the claims that Strong4Life is about health, not weight loss. I do not want to send a bunch of mad fatties to their doorstep.

I completely forgot that it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so how fortunate that I should post my interview with Dr. Rick Kilmer, Clinical Director for the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders, and my post on how over-reaction to pubescent weight gain can lead to adolescent eating disorders.

Today, I’d like to focus on something similar, but very different: the bizarre balance between adolescent weight loss and adolescent EDs.In my interview with Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Clinical Director for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), that I will be releasing soon, she repeatedly emphasizes that Strong4Life, and the Health4Life clinic that CHOA created for obese and overweight kids, is not about weight loss or dieting. Stephanie told me:

It’s all behavior related, we don’t do weight goals… For so many of these kids, getting to a weight stabilization, and living a live where they feel okay at that is probably the most we can feel like for long term success. We can actually accomplish kids who can live at a stable weight for now, kind of stop that  change and they don’t feel bad about it.

Here’s the thing: I believe Stephanie understands the risks of promoting weight loss for kids, especially young kids, and that when she says they don’t promote weight loss she really means it. The research on the effects of dieting in children is overwhelming, as outlined by Evelyn Tribole:

Here are some sobering studies indicating dieting promotes weight gain:

  • A team of UCLA researchers reviewed 31 long term studies on dieting and concluded that dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain—up to two-thirds of the people regained more weight than they lost [1].
  • Research on nearly 17,000 kids ages 9-14 years old concluded, “…in the long term, dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain” [2].
  • Teenage dieters had twice the risk of becoming overweight, compared to non-dieting teens, according to a five-year study [3]. Notably, at baseline, the dieters did not weigh more than their non-dieting peers. This is an important detail, because if the dieters weighed more—it would be a confounding factor, (which would implicate other factors, rather than dieting, such as genetics).

Currently, our culture does not accept that dieting and weight cycling are less healthy than maintaining a high, but stable weight. Stephanie also understands that stigma can have a negative impact on the health of a fat child.

So, although Stephanie herself may understand the importance of preserving a child’s dignity and emphasizing behaviors over weight, her individual ideals are being steamrolled by our weight-based health culture and Strong4Life’s messaging.

Case in point: from Strong4Life’s launch, two of the Phase 1 child actors have been used to defend the ads. Yesterday, we discussed Chloe McSwain, but an even more public defender of the ads is Maya Walter and her mother Stormy Bradley.

The Today Show interviewed Maya back in May when the ads first launched, and her story has been used in local and national stories as an example of the incredible good that Strong4Life is doing. Part of Maya’s role has been reassuring people that the ads aren’t harming the self-esteem of children:

“At first I had a little hesitation,” Maya told Vieira. “But I was like, ‘just give it a try,’ and once I got the part and I went there, I saw it was a really great opportunity.

“This ad actually helped me, gave me way more self-confidence than I had before,” she said.

Even if these are Maya’s opinions, rather than the part of the pre-interview coaching any child receives before being on national television, the fact that these ads gave her self-confidence does not excuse the countless other children who may be seriously damaged by the messages S4L sent.

Likewise, her mother, Stormy, talks a good game in front of the cameras. In an interview with a local Atlanta television station, Stormy emphasizes that the message is about lifestyle change, not dieting:

I think we need to remember that they are kids, so we’re not talking diets. We’re talking, as a parent, it being our responsibility to provide access to healthy food and activity and to not, like you said, sugar coat it.

Again, Stormy, like many people, seem to understand that it’s wrong to recommend dieting for children. They understand that the emphasis should be on encouraging healthy behaviors, not dieting behaviors. Before we continue, I need to give my definition of “dieting” so we are clear.

When most people try to distinguish between “dieting” and “healthy weight loss,” they typically point out that “dieting” means a temporary lifestyle change, but that significant, long-term weight loss  is possible if you make permanent lifestyle changes.

This definition of “dieting” tries to distance fad diets from healthy changes in order to say that all the research that says dieting doesn’t work is talking about fad diets, not lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes do work, they claim, and if you stick to those lifestyle changes, then your weight loss will be slow, but steady.

So, “dieting” means quick weight loss that fails, while, in their minds “lifestyle changes” means slow and steady weight loss that will be as permanent as the changes you make.

But when you read the research, the outcomes of “dieting” vs. “lifestyle change” becomes a distinction without a difference, as I pointed out in the research on the University of Alabama — Birmingham’s EatRight Program.

That means that after two years of following the EatRight program, they had lost nine pounds of their body weight, or 5% of their starting weight. And this is simply the mean. Consider those who weigh significantly more, say 300 pounds instead of 200. Five percent of 300 pounds is 15 pounds, or an ending weight of 285 pounds… still fat by mainstream standards.

I define dieting as follows: caloric manipulation with the intent of creating long-term weight loss.

I use this definition because even though lifestyle changes will make you healthier, they won’t necessarily make you thinner. So, a person who makes lifestyle changes believing that it will lead to long-term weight loss is on a diet, in my opinion. Why this is important is because if you are making lifestyle changes to get thin, and you don’t get thin, then, just as in “dieting,” you will abandon the healthy lifestyle changes which obviously haven’t worked.

Now that we have all that out of the way, I want to share with you a bit of what I found out about Stormy Bradley, mother of Maya Walter.

Stormy clearly cares about her daughter and wants her to be healthy, as any good parent would. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Stormy or her decision to let her daughter participate in the Strong4Life ads.

I’ve heard people ask, “What kind of parent would let their child star in these ads?” It’s a valid question, but to understand the answer you have to understand that Stormy is a product of our culture. In a weight-based health culture (WBHC), fat is always unhealthy and thin is (almost) always healthy. If you want to protect and preserve your health, or your child’s health, then preventing, or reversing, fatness is vital.

Products of a WBHC believe that healthy lifestyle changes primarily serve one purpose: fighting fatness.

So, it should come as no surprise that Stormy is a chronic dieter. An extremely serious dieter.

Currently, Stormy runs a personal weight loss blog called Big Butt Theory, as well as a kind of group weight loss blog called Real Chicks Getting Fit.  She also began (and soon after abandoned) a food log blog, taking photos of her meals, along with their caloric content. On Facebook, she explained the reason for her food blog: “Knowing I have to take pics of everything I eat is really making me think about what I eat.”

She’s also extremely ambitious and goal-oriented, having created two separate blogs (Outlier W.I.L.L. and Stormy’s 101 in 1001 Project) to document the various life goals she has, of which weight loss is prominently featured (her highest weight, current weight, and goal weight are included directly under her profile in the sidebar of both blogs).

And here’s the thing I noticed about these goal blogs: Stormy has done some incredible stuff in her life, even recently, including “repelled off a 50′ tower (1987), been in a fist fight (1988), earned Masters Degree in Education Training & Management Systems from University of West Florida (2003), climbed Mt. Hood in Portland OR (2006), climbed 50 floors to raise money for American Lung Association (2009-2010), completed to (sic) 5ks, (2009-2010), and climbed Stone Mountain in Georgia.(2010).”

At the beginning of this year, she also participated in a one-mile fun run and a 5K, and she has plans to improve her time next year. Notice that the everything after the ALA stair-climbing fundraiser, she has been fat while accomplishing those goals.

And yet, weight loss is still near the top of her goals and she spends what seems to be a significant amount of her time working toward that goal. But in spite of her obvious drive and ambition, she still struggles to get her weight from around 220 to her goal weight of 145 pounds. In her 101 in 1001 blog she includes a detailed list of her weights since December 2008.

In 2005, she weighed 195 pounds, then had a son in 2007 and a daughter in 2008. In December 2008, she weighed 224 pounds and by July 2009, she weighed her lowest: 208 pounds. Exactly one year later, she weighed 238 pounds. Her weight hovered around there, until it seems she began to lose weight to a low of 219 pounds in September 2011. As of January 9, her weight was around 221 pounds. On February 19, she wrote about having “another crappy weigh in.”

As she struggles to get her weight “under control,” take note of this July 10 post on FB:

This right up there? That’s weight cycling. That’s extremely unhealthy.

Many of the things she has done in an effort to “control” her weight are great. Exercising and getting more fresh fruits and vegetables into her diet? Awesome! But because she is transfixed on moving the scale down, down, down, none of the amazing things she has accomplished matters as much as the number on the scale.

This is the direct result of being a WBHC product. Like when she blogs about watching The Biggest Loser (a show she really likes) and laments “I want my healthy body back…” Or when she posts this “inspirational” image on FB:

And comments, “I totally love this image. I feel like I have an inner at athlete trying to get out.” Or when she posts a chart like this:

And flagellates herself by saying, “Calorie average 1725 too high.”

Because here’s the thing: you can’t increase your activity level and decrease your calories level and not have your body respond to it. What happens is your metabolism slows waaaaaaaaaay down to prevent the loss of too many calories, while simultaneously trying to physically and psychologically persuade you to increase your caloric level. Your body demands homeostasis, and sees caloric deficits as a threat to that stability, so if you reduce your caloric intake, you will have a hard time maintaining your physical activity level.

But rather than realizing that her body is fighting her weight loss efforts tooth and nail, and that weight loss is HUGELY complicated and the inability to lose weight is not as simple as Calories In/Calories Out, she turns to the only person she feels she can blame:

Guess who is to blame..? My spouse…? No. My kids….? No. My schedule…? No. My job…? No. It was me. I ate the food. I logged the less than stellar work outs. I have to results or lack there of on my person… Here are my failures or things I have to improve on 1st and foremost. [emphasis mine]

When her weight doesn’t go down, Stormy feels like a failure, and she often conflates the two:

Even going so far as to create a mock trial of all the things she’s guilty of doing to prevent herself from losing weight.

And while it’s admirable that Stormy wants to “take responsibility” for her weight, sometimes there are some serious issues that prevent us from making the best health choices every day. For example, she talks about being overworked and tired:

And in another FB post Stormy talks about how her day went from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., yet still managed to get in 30 minutes of exercising and keep on the “detox” she’s doing. What detox, you ask?

Why the one she saw on Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, a movie which I ripped apart. I also have an interview with Joe Cross on tape that I haven’t released yet and, like Strong4Life, Cross claims that his movie and detox program aren’t about weight loss, but about lifestyle changes. In Stormy, we can see just how deep those “true motives” are playing out with their audience.

And on top of all of that, Stormy reports that as her weight has increased, so has her struggles with depression.

The lack of research that went into creating Strong4Life can be easily summarized by what may be Stormy’s philosophy around weight loss and health:

But we all know this isn’t true. Sometimes just “doing it” leads one to ignore the evidence and the warnings of others who have gone down that road and failed and failed and failed again.

And standing by the whirlwind of desperation and depression and self-flagellation and weight cycling is Maya Walter, Stormy’s daughter. I imagine that Stormy thought she was doing her daughter a favor by involving her in Strong4Life and, indeed, she sees their participation as being part of the “solution” for childhood obesity.

But what effect is all of this having on Maya? She obviously sees her mother’s weight struggles, and she lives in the same toxic WBHC as her mother, so how is all of this manifesting itself in young Maya?

As it turns out, Maya has her own blog called Maya Joi’s Journey To Being Strong4Life, which she writes will include “*Weigh-Ins *Advice Column *Daily Journaling *Event Pics *Healthy Recipe Ideas *And Much More..!!”

And, indeed, like mother like daughter, Maya kept a weigh-in chart from August 28 to September 6 documenting her 5.4 pound weight loss. And like her mother, Maya wrote a blog post called “Its NOT About The Weight! Its NOT A Diet!” But this “NOT A Diet” includes what appears to be a either a vegetarian or juicing diet, like her mother. And when she “splurged” one day at school by eating a honey bun and a chicken wrap, she write a post called “My FAILure” in which she wrote:

I am so disappointed in myself. I SPLURGED. I couldnt handle the no meat & no sweets. I had a honey bun and a chicken wrap. Im so upset with myself. I am gonna get back on the diet tomorrow. But I dont even want to weigh myself in the morning. Just typing this is irritating me, I feel so weak. Like I have no self-control or will power. Its very upsetting. I hope that it isnt always like this. But I am just going to Forgive & Forget. Im gonna make my lunch and chop up my fruit  for my morning smoothie then read my book.

And in an attempt to be supportive, Stormy wrote, “You only fail when you quit trying….”

I could not have come up with a better illustration of how the best of intentions can quickly derail into the worst executions.

Strong4Life says it isn’t about dieting and it isn’t about weight.

Stormy Bradley says that it isn’t about dieting and it isn’t about weight.

Maya Walter says that it isn’t about dieting and it isn’t about weight.

Except that it is.

In fact, Stormy even shares the weight loss success of her daughter on FB:

This isn’t because Stormy is a terrible mother or that she is intentionally misleading herself or her family. Stormy is not a terrible person who deserves to be shamed for her decisions or for the example she has set for her daughter. Once again, Stormy is a direct product of a weight-based health culture that emphasizes the importance of weight loss as superior to the health benefits of lifestyle change, all while proclaiming that it isn’t about dieting, it isn’t about weight loss, it isn’t about weight.

These are the unintended consequences of Strong4Life and the WBHC: a child who is raised to believe that eating a sticky bun and a chicken wrap makes her weak, a failure who has no self-control or will power.

It is for mothers like Stormy that we promote Health At Every Size®, an approach to health that would mean that the accomplishments of Stormy and Maya are not contingent upon the number on the scale. If Maya loves eating kale chips, great! But she doesn’t need to feel like crap when she craves, and enjoys, a sticky bun, too.

It’s all about balance and not tying your self-worth to the scale. Exercise! Eat Healthy! But stop expecting those two things to lead to weight loss because they won’t. But they will make you healthier.

I hope that Stormy will take this to heart as she continues on her journey to health, and that she will begin to model self-love, as well as self-care, for her all of her children.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    March 1, 2012 1:28 pm

    That’s the really sad thing though – as long as weight and health are conflated, things like this are going to continue to happen. People are going to make those “lifestyle” changes and expect that not only will they get healthier, they will also get thinner. And when the healthier happens, but the thinner doesn’t, their doctors and society calls them “failures”. Doesn’t matter that their health has improved – according to society, it can’t be seen or proved by having a thin body because everyone has become convinced that the only way to be healthy is to be thin.
    People like Maya and her mother will continue to beat themselves up because they’re doing all the “right” things but they can’t get/stay thin, never realizing that it’s not their fault, their bodies are fighting them every step of the way, and they just need to forget about weight (and tell society to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut).

    • jaime permalink
      March 1, 2012 2:15 pm

      That’s why I love you! Both of you….summed up nicely

  2. Fab@54 permalink
    March 1, 2012 2:13 pm

    Wow, A beautiful woman / mom and a beautiful daughter… both healthy and fit enough to accomplish wonderful things physically and mentally.
    I mean seriously- mountain climbing, stair racing, and mini-marathons? She should be happy and proud of being healthy (and she IS!) and what her body can accomplish. But unfortunately, thanks to our society’s obsession with weight and body measurements, this woman is bound and determined to see herself as a failure and weak, because she’s told to see herself as a failure and weak – based solely on size.
    How sad that is, really. Sad for all of us who can’t help but crumble under the pressure of bullying, shaming and brainwashing…. Let’s all hope some day, we will *all* be free of this shame and pain of self-loathing and non-acceptance.

  3. L.J. Utter permalink
    March 1, 2012 2:35 pm

    Forgive me, my heart is aching for that little girl. And I just wanna shake some sense into her mother. That little girl is FINE the way she is, and encouraging the cycle of guilt, shame, and yoyo weight that most of US would like to forget is sickening.

  4. Theresa permalink
    March 1, 2012 3:30 pm

    Maya and I have the same mother … sigh.

  5. LittleBigGirl permalink
    March 1, 2012 8:09 pm

    I just can’t get over how Stormy has done so many awesome things and yet still considers herself a failure. Stormy and Maya both say it’s about health but they celebrate Maya losing *weight*, because they think it means she’s getting “healthier.” If thin were all it took to be healthy anorexia wouldn’t be a disorder. My mom tried to get me to “make healthy lifestyle changes” “for my own good” (which was really just a twisted fancy way of saying “diet”), and I ended up with a compulsive eating disorder.

    I am worried about all the thin kids with unhealthy habits who are going to be left behind while people mindlessly march forward to war with obesity. Who is speaking for them like we are speaking for the bullied fat kids?

    The diet industry has set up people to fail and be miserable. To me when I hear the word “diet” I think of restriction, of people being hungry, guilty, miserable and exhausted from overexercising. People start cutting things out and labeling certain food as “evil.” Just like shaming fat people doesn’t work, going to war against food doesn’t work either.

    Instead of “Eat less, exercise more”, how about “Eat healthier and find physical activity you enjoy.” – *sigh* I know, not as catchy a slogan.

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