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It’s Complicated

May 28, 2012

Trigger Warning:  If you get car sick easily, you may not want to read this blog… it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

It’s complicated.

No, I am not talking about my Facebook relationship status. I am talking about the world of Size Acceptance, health, fat, obesity, eating disorders, and my mind. Join me, if you dare, on the E ticket ride that is my brain. But you have been warned… there will be no neat, little, clever pat ending… just questions to consider.

Recently a press release has been making the rounds on list serves in the Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size® (HAES) communities that caught my attention. The release was originally from 2011, but I missed it the first time around. Here it is:

“Are you a Girl Scout volunteer working with Daisies, Brownies, or Juniors? If so, check out the Healthy Habits booklets created in partnership with the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. They’re available as a free download at the link below!”

It’s been decades since I was a Girl Scout and, at first, I skimmed the press release with moderate interest and a touch of amusement as I thought about how Girl Scout Cookies and a commitment to healthy weight could be in a partnership.  But then I read this sentence:

“Join America’s Leading Brands in Helping Families and Schools Reduce Obesity”

My radar always goes up when I read about collaborations between non-profit organizations and “leading brands.” It just activates that part of my brain that remembers questionable alliances like Amy Smith, the CEO of Jenny Craig, being selected as a key note speaker for the upcoming conference (May 25) of the Alliance of Girls Schools. So I cautiously followed the link provided in the press release, curious to find out more.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is a CEO-led coalition of over 200 organizations working together to help families and schools reduce obesity — especially childhood obesity — by 2015.”

When I see the term, “Healthy Weight” I usually feel optimistic. After all, one of my first introductions to the Health at Every Size® paradigm was back in the 80s when I used to read The Healthy Weight Network Journal. It was the HWNJ that first informed me that people could be healthy at a variety of weights and that there was merit to a weight-neutral approach to wellness. The HWNJ was also where I first “met” Dr. Deb Burgard, Dr. Jon Robison, and Frances Berg. The Journal became a resource for my doctoral dissertation, my work as a therapist and a college professor.

However, with the reference to childhood obesity,  my optimism quickly waned, as did my hopes that their video entitled “Brownie Elf Healthy Living” was an indication that the Girl Scouts were adopting a HAES-friendly approach in order to help young girls grapple with body image and self-esteem issues. If you are not yet familiar with the HAES approach, the short version, according to Dr. Jon Robison, is that HAES comprises three components:

  • Self-Acceptance — Affirmation and reinforcement of human beauty and worth irrespective of differences in weight, physical size and shape
  • Physical Activity — Support for increasing social, pleasure-based movement for enjoyment and enhanced quality of life
  • Normalized Eating — Support for discarding externally-imposed rules and regimens for eating and attaining a more peaceful relationship with food by relearning to eat in response to physiological hunger and fullness cues

Still, my curiosity was piqued and, keeping my mind open, I visited the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) website and found this:

Helping Families: All across America, our Together Counts program is helping families with tips and tools that help them become more active and healthy together.

Nothing wrong with that!

Helping Schools: In partnership with Discovery Education, our Energy Balance 101 curriculum provides schools with resources to help kids lead healthier more active lifestyles.

Nothing wrong with that!

Overview:  It’s a first-of-its kind coalition that brings together more than 200 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants, sporting goods and insurance companies, trade associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and professional sports organizations. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) promotes ways to help people achieve a healthy weight through energy balance – calories in and calories out.


Ooooh nooooo, not the old tried and NOT TRUE calories in calories out approach. Really???  AGAIN???

For those of you who may not be aware,  there is actually research that challenges the theory that we could all lose weight and be healthier by simply modifying our calories in and calories out.  If you would like to learn more about this point of view and the data that supports it, you can visit the ASDAH or Dr. Linda Bacon’s HAES websites.

But let’s suppose for the purpose of this roller coaster ride on my brain that the answer to raising healthy children means that all children should be thin and all children can be thin by eating the same ratio of calories in to calories out. This led to my next question: Who are these “concerned” food and beverage retailers supporting the HWCF’s mission  to regulate our young Brownie’s and Scout’s calories in and calories out?

Well, the short list includes Bumble Bee Foods, Campbell Soup Company, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg’s Company, Kraft Foods, McCain Inc., (the world’s leading producer of frozen prepared potatoes), Nestlé, PepsiCo, PureCircle (the world’s leading producer of stevia-derived sweeteners), Ralston Foods/Post Foods, Sara Lee Corporation, The Coca-Cola Company, The Hershey Company, and The J.M. Smucker Company!

Really?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this kind of like Philip Morris sponsoring anti-smoking legislature? Well, yes. And yet normal eating also means managing all kinds of foods and not labeling some foods good and others bad. So maybe these candy, cookie, jam, and soda companies may not be a problem here! Yay!

I continued to explore the website and was directed to some articles provided for “the interested reader” and found several written by people associated with the non-profit organization, A Chance to Heal. I have a great deal of respect for the work that Carolyn Rammel’s organization is doing and am familiar with them through my work in the fields of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. They do NOT support dieting and they focus on ED prevention.

Hmm, this was promising.

Alyssa Compeau’s article on stopping fat talk was wonderful.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Fat Talk.  Do I look fat in these jeans?  Uh, I think I need to lose 10 pounds. Wow, she really should not be wearing that shirt.  Have you ever heard a friend make a comment like one of the above? Have you said something similar? As summer is in full swing and we attempt to beat the heat with beach trips and swimming, there is an increased likelihood of hearing these types of commentary. Such remarks that speak negatively about body weight or shape are what anthropologist Mimi Nichter named “fat talk.” Although these comments are very common and accepted in today’s society, they may actually be harmful to you and your friends.

Nowhere in her article is there a message that dieting is beneficial or the magical solution to creating healthy Brownie Elves! Brava!!!

And then Carolyn Rammel writes about the detriment of watching too much television and how it can reinforce negative body image.


Her suggestion to combat this is to turn off the television and go outside and play!

Also true!!!

Playful, healthful movement and positive self-image, as we discussed, are two pillars of HAES, but something was missing. A kid cannot be outside playing 24/7. Even the strictest households usually allow kids to watch television a couple of hours a day. Why is no one insisting that the corporations and their advertisers take responsibility for their part of the equation?

After all, Kellogg’s is one of HWCF’s sponsors. Have you seen their Special K ads? There’s one that shows a woman, who is supposed to be fat, substituting two meals a day with cereal in order to fit into her bathing suit. How does that promote healthy eating and positive self-image? I wish that Rammel’s article had also suggested that Kellogg’s stop the fat bashing ads that support weight cycling and not put all of the responsibility on the kid to avoid the commercials.

Then this headline caught my eye: “Obesity and Eating Disorders – The Common Element”

Despite my throbbing head, I had no choice but to forge ahead! You, my dear, fortunate reader, have the option and may stop reading at any time!

As we all work to tackle the issues of obesity and eating disorders, it is important to recognize the critical link between these two epidemics. In her recent article, “The Blind Spot in the Drive for Childhood Obesity Prevention: Bringing Eating Disorders Prevention Into Focus as a Public Health Priority, S. Bryn Austin, ScD, says, “The evidence is mounting that obesity and eating disorders are linked in myriad ways.” And one of the most significant links is body dissatisfaction.

Yes, it’s true that there is often an overlap of body dissatisfaction between some people who are obese and some people who have eating disorders. Body dissatisfaction results in dieting and dieting is often a precursor to disordered eating.  Weight shaming of obese people leads to body dissatisfaction, but not all obese people became obese from an eating disorder.

The problem I see with the recent trend to consistently link obesity and eating disorders is that people are beginning to view obesity AS an eating disorder in its own right. Coincidentally, earlier in the day I read a post by Dr. Jon Robison in ASDAH’s blog entitled, “Why Obesity is not an Eating Disorder” in which Dr. Robison explains — wait for it — Why obesity is NOT an eating disorder. It is a provocative blog post worth reading that is sure to spark discussion on the topic.

So where am I going with all of this? I warned you that this wouldn’t be one of those posts that is wrapped up all nicely and neatly at the end, and I’m true to my word. I suppose that I am opening up a conversation about how the boundaries that separate the domains of health, obesity, eating disorders, body image, and Size Acceptance, can be messy.

Financial concerns and corporate interests make things even messier. After all, it is cognitively dissonant to protest programs that promote healthy children. But didn’t we learn from the Strong 4 Life, Let’s Move, and Weight of the Nation campaigns? Didn’t we learn that fat prejudice and ineffective restrictive diets may be embedded into these “let’s help the children campaigns”?  And can we agree that when we use those kinds of messages to sell a healthy kid agenda that there has been evidence they can increase bullying and do NOT result in healthy weight or eating based on internal signals?

When I was a Girl Scout I had to agree to live by the Girl Scout Code.  It was:

“I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.”

I took this oath very seriously. Although my mom, who was my Brownie leader, would probably say that I  had a problem with the respecting authority one (there’s a surprise). But let’s hope that the Girl Scout leaders of today will remember to apply those tenets in the dual arenas of size diversity and health. Let’s remind them to use their courage and leadership skills to work with the  Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and influence them to reconsider using language that defines obesity as a disease, labels obesity as an eating disorder, and proclaims that calories in/calories out is an effective vehicle for attaining healthy weights and positive body image.

Maybe it’s not so complicated after all.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    May 28, 2012 11:23 am

    I’m gobsmacked that organizations like the Girl Scouts seem to think that these huge food corporations, whose main goal is to make money off selling as much food as possible to as many people as possible, are really interested in helping people eat less, move more in order to be healthier. Really? It seems to me that, if the obesity epidemic is really caused by people eating too much food (which we know isn’t the case), these corporations would be ecstatic that people are pigging out – the more people eat, the more food they buy, the more money they spend, the more money these corporations make, which is, after all, why they’re in business. There is a massive amount of cognitive dissonance going on here re obesity and its causes/effects, weight and health, and who is responsible for all of it – is it the corporations who make/market the food, the government who regulates (sorta kinda maybe) the corporations, the medical community, the media, the individual, or a combination (including anyone I may have left out)?

  2. lifeonfats permalink
    May 28, 2012 6:56 pm

    Hmm, maybe that’s why the Girl Scouts keep raising the prices of their cookies, because soon more and more people won’t be able to afford to eat them! And as we all know less eating = weight loss for life. (Yes, that is sarcasm).

    • March 29, 2014 12:31 pm

      My husband kept bringing home the cookies this year and 7 out of 10 times, I didn’t bother with ’em. I can remember a time when the damn things tasted better than the box they came out of… back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.

      I only recently found out they’re now made by Kellogg’s™, which helps explain why they’re so foul. I think I’d rather just donate directly to the Scouts if I ever feel so inclined. Cut out the middleman.

      Those cookies are a waste of time and refined sugar. If I have a yen for “sinful” food, I’d rather save my money, go down the street to the supermarket and buy myself a Ritter Sport™ bar. (REAL dark chocolate + a billion hazelnuts = The best.)

      • March 29, 2014 1:05 pm

        Wow, Kellogg’s…That explains alot! I had no idea! And I’ve never had a Ritter Sport Bar…it’s on my list! Thanks!

        • March 29, 2014 2:50 pm

          Doc, even their White and Milk Chocolate versions are pretty good, and I say this as somebody who normally doesn’t care for either. 🙂

  3. May 29, 2012 10:22 am

    Intriguing analysis, Deah. I find this kind of double-sided approach throughout obesity research, with Dr. Stephen Blair (a personal hero of mine) being on the board for Jenny Craig. My cynical side sees it as nothing more than posturing as a shield from criticism, while the other side wants to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re trying.

    Perhaps we should be contacting the Girl Scouts and encouraging them to look into HAES, which their ED experts have no doubt heard of. Perhaps?


  4. The Real Cie permalink
    May 29, 2012 10:31 am

    Maybe Campbell’s could start by taking MSG (monosodium glutamate) out of ALL of their soups. This vile substance is known, among other things, to cause those who consume it to become hungry again very quickly after eating.
    These big food manufacturers don’t give a rat’s ass about kids’ health. The bottom line is all about profit. If they really cared, they’d stop using horrific additives to keep the costs down.
    Whatever the case, hating on larger people is not the way to solve health problems.
    I’m not saying that being large IS a health problem, either.

  5. May 30, 2012 12:25 pm

    I see this whole “healthy weight” coalition (which, btw, is the major “business” financial backers for the Let’s Move campaign of Michelle Obama fame) as a ploy to create a new and lucrative market: child dieters. And since we know that dieting doesn’t work and is often followed by binging, Big Food brings its win-win strategy to the under 18 set. This is capitalism in action.

  6. March 29, 2014 11:47 am

    I know this post is from a gazillion years ago, but this article about girl scouts and healthy image just came out and I thought it would be cool to add it as a post script to this blog post from long ago.

  7. March 29, 2014 2:32 pm

    All I can say is, “Thank you Dr. Deah!” Thank you for pulling al of this info together. Thank you for the headache you had to endure in your research on it. Thank you for highlighting all of these backwards and outdated ideas. I will be sharing this far and wide. After I take about 10 more deep cleansing breaths…
    Becky Henry
    ps. I am not sure Kelloggs could have thought through what Patty suggests but it seems like a very likely scenario.

  8. March 30, 2014 9:45 am

    GREAT synopsis. I pulled my daughter from an uninspiring Daisy troupe. There was so much talk about “healthy snacks” and even then (3 years ago) when I looked at the GS website, they pushed the whole “calories in, calories out” message… I brought up my concerns with the troupe leaders at the time, but the curriculum is pretty set, and I didn’t feel like we’d miss out. As with so much, there is 95% great info, but to me, it is all dashed if there is any attempt to get kids to eat less, not listen to their bodies or to weigh less. There is no real body acceptance in that atmosphere. Sorry to hear that it hasn’t improved.

    • March 30, 2014 10:04 pm

      Thank you Katje! Hopefully this new body positive badge the Girl Scouts are offering will have more integrity and a message to the girls that is about self acceptance that is not tied in to body weight, shape, or size.

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