Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thanks for nothing, Houlihans

195 pounds
For a few years now, Dave and I have been fans of the Houlihan's restaurant chain.

In general we're not fans of chain restaurants, preferring to spend our dollars at local eateries, but sometimes on road trips, we look for a Houlihan's as an easy way to find fresh, healthy food.

The Houlihan's Tuscan salad and tuna wontons are possibly my favorite road meal—certainly better for me than (and less than half the calories of) an extra value meal.

So when we were at Houlihan's with my parents over the summer, I was more than a little disappointed to see that the restaurant was jumping on the thin=beautiful bandwagon.

How did they do that?

By putting an advertisment on every table that featured supermodel Kate Moss' most famous quote: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."

These words wrap around a tall, refreshing looking margarita and are intented to promote Houlihan's new "skinny" cocktails.

As soon as we sat down, my mother snatched up the advertisement, raised her eyebrows, and handed it to me. She was buying the party line. She could have her cake—or in this case, margarita—and eat it too.

"Sounds good, doesn't it?" my mother said to me, hoping I'd join her and order a $7 diet drink.

In all honesty, I'm sure that the people who do the Houlihan's advertising only intended to engage in some lighthearted wordplay. After all, they needed a clever tagline to put under their "Go skinny skipping" headline, and Don Draper certainly wasn't available to help them out last summer.

In that way, they remind me of so many other writers. . . writers who are just looking for an easy connection, an easy sell, an easy chuckle . . . not unlike the screenwriters for TV's former favorite sitcom, Friends, who regularly put Courtney Cox in a fat suit for cheap laughs.

No, they don't mean any harm, but that's not really the point is it? The real question is, do they cause any harm?

Kate Moss was one of the first models to really push uber-thinness, and we owe our current crop of anorexic-looking runway walkers to her. She was so thin, in fact, that a new description was invented for her look: heroin chic. In other words, being so emaciated that you look like a drug addict.

Nice. Real nice.

And that's why we shouldn't be recycling Moss's quips. We should be rejecting them. Shunning them. Yes, she's a part of our history and it's best to keep that history in mind as we move to a healthier future, but my God, we don't have to celebrate her, do we?

But this is exactly what Houlihan's is doing with their new "skinny" drink advertisements: promoting the idea that it's better to be skinny than it is to consume calories. In other words, they're making money by making you unhealthy.

As I said earlier, I'm sure the people who write copy for Houlihan's meant no harm, but that doesn't mean they're not doing any.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to sell papers: appeal to our vanity

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The Guardian is the latest media outlet to publish an anti-exercise article. (Time magazine did so last fall as well.) The Guardian article is called, “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” (pictured above) and is sending the absolute wrong message—which is that we should not exercise but instead just diet.

Dieting is one of the most unhealthy things you can do for your body. It slows your metabolism and often deprives you of necessary nutrients and energy.

The bottom line is that it's more important to be healthy than to be thin. And being healthy is the result of EXERCISING, not dieting. Oddly, The Guardian article openly admits this fact. As Terry Wilkin, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, explains in The Guardian article, "That's not to say that exercise is not making [us] healthy in other ways . . . just that it's having no palpable effect on their overall size and shape."

So Wilkin wants us to focus on our overall size and shape” rather than our health? What???

This guy ought to have his medical license stripped. After all the first part of the Hippocratic oath states, “First, do no harm.” And by focusing on “size and shape” rather than health, he’s doing us a world of harm.

Those of us who have brains know that health is obviously much more important than size or shape, but unfortunately this article is taking advantage of the fact that most people are obsessed with looking good in a bathing suit—whether that's possible or not.

It's also not true that long-term interval exercise won't help you lose weight, and if you read closely, you will notice how this article distorts evidence to match their ridiculous headline. Experts at The Mayo Clinic explain that "an exercise regimen… is unlikely to result in short-term weight loss beyond what is achieved with dietary change."

Did you notice what I noticed?

They said, SHORT-TERM WEIGHT LOSS. In fact, this article says nothing about long-term weight loss. And anyone who knows anything about nutrition or health knows that "short-term" weight loss is not desirable.

It’s also interesting that the people at the Mayo Clinic NEVER ONCE advocate giving up exercising, though this quote is used in support of that argument.

As has been proven time and again, over ninety percent of the people who go on diets gain the weight back, and that losing/gaining yo-yo is incredibly unhealthy. On the other hand, regular exercise is the best thing you can do for your body.

In addition, these studies focus on people who exercise once a day, but for years research has shown that we must exercise more than once a day to lose weight (not to be healthy—to be healthy you need only workout once a day—but to lose weight).

The Guardian wants to sell papers and increase readership for advertising purposes, and unfortunately, they are trying to do that by appealing to their readers' desire to be thin at any cost, ultimately, their vanity. The message they are sending is completely irresponsible and, honestly, disgusts me.

Obesity is a real problem in our society, and it keeps getting worse. Even the article admits that "Each successive postwar generation [has enjoyed] an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and those lifestyles have been accompanied by an apparently inexorable increase in obesity. Three in five UK adults are now officially overweight. And type II diabetes, which used to be a disease that affected you at the end of your life, is now the fastest-rising chronic disorder in paediatric clinics."

If we’ve become more sedentary and we're also become more overweight, it's simply illogical to think the two are not related in some way. Of course, they are.

The authors of this article may believe these limited studies prove otherwise, but as I've already said, these studies FOCUS ONLY on the short-term and don't look at interval exercise or, more importantly, consider the HEALTH BENEFITS of exercise. No, they are only concerned with weight loss, which does not necessarily correlate with health.

Yes, we must do something about obesity, and as the numbers prove, dieting does not work in the long run, which is why the message of this article is grossly irresponsible.

Oddly, if you read to the end of the article, you'll see that most researchers think the claim that we don't need to exercise is complete bunk. Interesting that they buried those researchers at the end the article, isn't it? It's because The Guardian‘s real goal is to GET READERS. They clearly have no interest in helping people be healthier.

This is obvious when you look at all of the much more helpful info that was buried in the few paragraphs before the wildly irresponsible conclusion of this article:

• Dr Ken Fox, professor of exercise and health science at Bristol University and advisor to the [British] government's obesity strategy, claims, "It's far too early to start discounting things as important as physical activity. Those who are saying it has no impact are neglecting a huge amount of the literature."

• Professor Paul Gately of the Carnegie Weight Management institution in Leeds explains, for "people who have lost weight and kept weight off, physical activity is almost always involved. And those people who just do diet are more likely to fail, as are those who just do exercise." Notice that he mentions keeping weight off . . . IN THE LONG RUN, which is exactly what this article fails to address.

• "'What we want to avoid is people thinking they can control their weight simply by dieting,' adds Dr Susan Jebb, head of nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council, who points out that this is the very scenario that encourages anorexia in teenage girls. 'Just restricting your diet is not going to be the healthiest way to live.' . . . scientific studies show that exercise is an important factor in maintaining weight loss and, Jebb adds, some studies suggest it can help in preventing weight gain."

If you care about your health at all, please don’t buy into this propaganda. Because that’s all it is . . . propaganda designed to get you to buy newspapers. I know the newspaper industry is struggling, but misleading readers about their health is not the solution.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sometimes the simplest things are the best

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My cousin Jill sent me this video yesterday, and I just had to share it. I figure that after my rant on Tuesday, it's the least I could do for all of you—give you something that will make you smile.

I hope this helps you forget about your twelve things.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The real reason our country is getting bigger

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We were on our daily walk tonight when we encountered a sea of cars and trucks sitting directly across the path for walkers and bikers in Kereiakes Park.

Because the path sits right next to the football practice area, parents use that space to pull their gas guzzlers up to the edge of the field. There is a parking lot about one hundred feet away (and half a dozen others nearby), but these people don't park in the parking lots because it would require them to walk that incredibly long distance.

So once fall rolls around, Dave and I have to contend with a maze of SUVs and pick-up trucks every time we try to go on a walk.

Tonight, these people were parked so close to each other and packed in so tight, that we had to turn to the side to get through the row of vehicles, and if I had been on a bike, I would have had no choice but to abandon the path and go a different route. It was nerve-wracking.

So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that as soon as I got past the grid of cars, I stepped on some random piece of plastic--a football apparatus or child's toy, I'm not sure which--and fell face forward into the pavement. For a split second, I worried about being embarrassed, but then the searing pain in my left knee and the strange feeling in my right ankle forced my face to turn from red to tear-covered.

When I fell, Dave crouched by my side, but though there were about one hundred parents standing around doing basically nothing, not one of them asked if I was okay or if they could help. It was still light enough out that everyone who walked by and gawked at me—and there were plenty—could see the blood oozing out of my wound and covering my knee in crimson rivers. But again none of them asked if I was okay. I guess they were too busy worrying about their ten-year-olds' football practice.

When one of the offending drivers returned to his pick-up and looked at me with disgust, I asked him if he would mind not parking on the path in the future. Rather than express any empathy, he said, "Maybe it's not where I parked. Maybe you're just clumsy."

And to think sometimes I wonder why our country has such a problem with universal health care—it's because far too often people don't care about anyone besides themselves . . . or their ten-year-old son who's probably never going to play football again after the age of thirteen.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post—we all sit around wondering why our country is getting fatter, wondering why our kids are lazy and entitled. Well, this is why—because so many parents watch their kids practice playing football, sending the message that it doesn't matter if you're good at something or just show up because the world revolves around you no matter what you do.

And that's why these kids end up in my college classes wondering why they have to be able to write a grammatically correct sentence to pass the course—never before have they had to do anything well to get the attention of their parents . . . or a trophy. Why would college be any different?

And they certainly don't understand that they have to exercise and eat a balanced diet to be healthy—that would require discipline. Something you don't learn when your parents drive up to the edge of the practice field and sit there watching you run tackling drills every night of your childhood.

And, of course, then there are the parents.

The people who can't park one hundred feet away from their kids' practice field.

Why can't they park that far? I'm not sure, but I think it's because it would require a modicum of effort. What I do know is that's another reason we're all getting fatter—people won't walk across a parking lot, much less the four miles I cover on that same path every day.

To make matters worse, not only will people not move their butts—hurting themselves and their health care industry—but they also have no respect for or awareness about the people who do move them.

That's why they park on a walking trail, that's why they honk at bikers in the roadway, that's why every year joggers are killed by passing vehicles.

No, we are not concerned about the well being of the people who try to maintain their health. Hell, we don't even see them.

We are far too concerned with having all of our things—our SUVs, our iPhones, our Starbucks coffee cups, our children—within arm's reach to even consider worrying about anyone else.

Pretty soon we'll probably all have one of those floating chairs from Wall-e too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mike & Molly premieres Monday, but still
no show with people who look like this Molly

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CBS is launching a new sitcom called Mike & Molly on Monday September 20th at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time.

In some ways, the show is not unlike all of the other half-hour comedies we've been watching for years—it's just a show about two people falling for each other.

But there is one unique thing about the show. The two main characters—played by Melissa McCarthy (formerly of Gilmore Girls) and Billy Gardell (My Name is Earl)—are both obese.

First, I need to give this show the credit it deserves. As I said in my "Couples Retreat" post, over the past ten or so years sitcoms have fallen into a big-guy-thin-girl rut that is not only trite but also offensive. So a show about a big guy and a big girl feels revolutionary.

Sure, Roseanne did it first, but that was a show about a family struggling economically, and since we all know obesity is tied to income, the stars' sizes seemed to be making more of a comment on their economic class than their romantic appeal.

On the other hand, Mike & Molly is a show about falling in love. The two leads meet in the first episode—unfortunately at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting—and the show goes from there. Two big people as romantic leads? That really is revolutionary.

It's clear that we're having some kind of moment where shows about bigger people are suddenly hip—look at Huge, More to Love, or Drop Dead Diva—and I'm absolutely thrilled about that. But my concern is that, though Hollywood is finally starting to show people who are bigger, they're still not showing anyone in the middle. There is still no one on my small screen who looks like me.

Nevertheless, I'm happy about Mike & Molly and look forward to watching it Monday night. But what I'm really hoping is that shows like this and the others I've mentioned are just the beginning. That they are opening doors that desperately need to be opened. And that though we only see two sizes on TV now—big and little—we will soon seen people of all sizes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

May I please pay you to shriek feel-good
messages at me until my self-esteem rolls
out the door like a runaway treadmill?

Brad Pitt playing a personal trainer in Burn After Reading.

195 pounds

I’m seriously considering joining a gym this fall—not because my attitude about my body has changed, but simply because I got a raise.

As some of you know, I gained about thirty pounds during my first year of grad school in 1998. As a result, I started exercising every day pretty soon after that. During the seven years I was in grad school, I alternated between working out in the gym (free of charge when I was a grad student) and exercising outside. But when I finished grad school, I couldn’t afford the monthly membership fees and had to rely almost entirely on outdoor activities for exercise—mostly walking, biking, and playing tennis.

But now that I’m rolling in dough (I'm obviously kidding), I thought it might be nice to head back to a real gym. I have mixed feelings about it, of course.

It seems so American and decadent to workout in the gym—what’s wrong with exercising in the great outdoors after all?—and it goes against my belief that we should focus on exercise that feels more like play than work. But when I was walking in the dark one night last week, I realized that the winter months are fast approaching, and I’ll be happier if I have an indoor exercise haven.

So I finally put on my big girl panties and started looking for information about the gym closest to my house. When I got to the website, they were offering a free pass for newcomers, so I clicked on the link.

Like anything else, the free pass wasn’t completely free. You had to trade your personal information—including email address and phone number so that, I’m sure, they can call and bug you about joining—and answer a few questions about yourself.

Fine. No problem. I can handle that.

Or so I thought.

Because when I came to the first question, I found myself already beginning to get irritated.

The problem is that the possible answers for this question are quite limiting. Here are the choices you could check after you are asked, “What are your primary interests?”

Weight Management

Increased Energy

Nutritional Guidance


Stress Release

Overall Better Health

Unfortunately, there is no “other” option, which is what I would have chosen if possible. But instead, I had these six, somewhat limiting options, most of which imply that you don’t like yourself the way you are.

1. Weight Management—the message is that I either don’t like my weight and want to change it or am terrified of gaining weight. But I do like my weight. Sure, it would be nice to lose a few pounds, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like my body the way it is now. And it seems to me that this option sends the opposite message.

2. Increased Energy—I’m not really joining a gym for increased energy. I already exercise every day and, as a result, have energy to spare. So this option doesn’t really apply. And I hate that there also seems to be the sense that someone who chooses this option might be feeling down. I don’t want faux happy trainers coming up to me at the gym and trying to cheer me up. That would make me want to hit somebody with a barbell.

3. Nutritional Guidance—This option is clearly just code for “diet,” and we all know how I feel about that. And I am certainly not joining a gym for nutritional guidance, nor do I don’t want ANYONE telling me how to eat, especially some hopped-up gym employee.

4. Motivation—I’m also already pretty motivated. I don’t need anyone—again especially not some obnoxious gym grunt—trying to motivate me.

5. Stress Release—same thing. I already have a stress release. I just want one that is indoors.

6. Overall Better Health—this option CLEARLY states the problem: “Better health.” Not “Overall Health,” which would be an option I’d be willing to check, but “Overall Better Health,” which again implies I’m not happy with my health right now.

I’m sensing a trend here—they seem to be implying that no one joins a gym to maintain their current lifestyle, which is what I’m doing. But rather that people only join the gym to change.

But I don’t want to change!

I just don’t want to walk in the dark all winter. And maybe I’d like to hit some aerobics classes and lift a few weights while I’m there too. Is that really so hard to believe? Why are “exercise indoors” or “use better equipment” not options??? Even something to the effect of “maintain overall health” would work for me.

We probably all know these options are not available because gyms don’t make money off of happy people. No, the workout and weight loss industry makes it money off of people who are so desperately unhappy that they’ll do anything—even go to a hot, sweaty gym with perky “trainers” who shout obnoxious feel good messages at you while you’re trying to burn a few calories—to feel good again.

Honestly, I just don’t know if I can put up with all that bullshit. And my fear is that the you-must-lose-weight-to-be-happy message will be omnipresent, blaring at me like an alarm clock I can’t shut off.

I guess what I’m really afraid of is that no one at the gym will accept that I don’t want to diet and that I like myself the way I am.

Truth be told, I’m terrified of that.

It’s almost as scary as not working out.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Cellulite Closet

196 pounds
About ten years ago, I saw an outstanding film called The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law. Maybe you caught it too.

I loved the film on many levels . . . it was incredibly smart, psychologically deep, and wonderfully tense. It's a rare opportunity that intelligent writing is matched with edge-of-your-seat suspense, but this film—probably thanks to the brilliance of the original writer, Patricia Highsmith—does just that.

But as much as I hate to admit it, I also enjoyed the film for superficial reasons:

First of all, I loved ogling Matt Damon in his retro bathing suit. It was definitely the hottest he's ever looked.

But there was something else.

(And I really am L O A T H E to admit that I was happy to see this, but I promise my happiness was for all the right reasons.)

I was completely thrilled when Paltrow showed up in her bathing suit and revealed . . .

wait for it . . .

. . . a bit of cellulite on the back of her thighs (which admittedly is hard to see in this picture, but the other ones I found were a bit too unflattering to post).

Yes, little Gwinny—at the tender of age of 27 and wearing what was probably a size two bikini—showed that even gorgeous celebrities are imperfect.

It was a huge relief.

But when I told my friend Derek, he didn't buy it. "Gwyneth Paltrow does not have cellulite!" he insisted. "She is way too skinny!"

I argued that I had seen it with my own eyes, but Derek was having none of it. He simply refused to believe that skinny girls have cellulite. Well, I'm here to tell you—size and fitness have nothing to do with it. When it comes right down to it, girls of all sizes—skinny girls or "fat" girls—have some of this unattractive skin in the thigh or butt region.

That exchange with Derek has stayed with me for years. I just could not understand why he didn't believe that skinny girls get cellulite too. So when I saw this photo of a model on Project Runway last year. . .

. . . I thought immediately of Derek.

This woman is a M O D E L for Christ's sake.


And yet she has cellulite. If models have it, then that tells me we all do.

And if I needed any more evidence to bolster my case, I saw this picture of Serena Williams the other day . . .

Yes, this is a picture of another super-fit woman sporting some cellulite. Sure, Serena is bigger than little Gwinny and the Project Runway model, but no one could argue that she is not insanely buff. Still, as you can see here, buff does not equal cellulite-free.

So if you're listening Derek, I hope you now understand . . . none of us are perfect. Even skinny girls get the cellulite blues.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cray cray on Capitol Hill

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I don't know if you've heard of Michaele Salahi or not.

To be honest, I wish I didn't know who she was. But as fate would have it, I learned of her existence when she and her husband crashed the Obamas' first state dinner last fall.

Crashing a presidential function in the post-9/11 era?

Not smart, Micheale. Not smart.

I could have written off that misstep as a one-time display of stupidity, but as of late, Real Housewives of D.C. star Salahi has been going after the stupid crown like Paris Hilton at a key party.

Because not only did the 44-year-old Salahi just pose naked for Playboy—classy!—she also revealed that she is completely cray cray in a failed attempt to deny she is anorexic. When an In Touch reporter asked what she thought of the rumors of her eating disorder, Salahi denied it and explained that "I start the day with a hot chocolate and cereal—I love Lucky Charms or Kashi GoLean—then some fruit. I don't really eat a lot in the middle of the day. I have an early dinner, which is always a salad, with plain chicken, grilled or broiled."

The woman only eats cereal and salad and thinks she doesn't have an eating disorder?

C r a z y !

To top it off, Salahi insulted all of us who are not as thin as she is when she said, "If [the women who call me anorexic] get out there and move, they will look like me and be thin, and it'll all be good."

You can call me crazy if you want, but I don't think that if we all stopped eating anything but cereal, hot chocolate, and salad, we would "all be good."

I also don't think that if we just "get out there and move" we'll all suddenly look like Salahi, nor do I think most of us want to look like a middle-aged version of Back-t0-the-Beach Barbie.

Unfortunately, the answer to our obesity epidemic is not that simple, and I guess I should have known that someone who is so desperate for attention would probably not understand the intricacies of our country's weight problem.

This whole thing just reminds me of something I already knew . . . never crash a Salahi party, especially if I haven't eaten.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"All asses were not created equal."

197 pounds
Today, Levi Strauss & Co. launched their new jean line—
Curve ID, also known as "Custom Fits" for women, which they claim "will provide nearly any woman a five-pocket pair of jeans that feels custom fit to her shape."*

Curve ID jeans come in "three fits: a slight curve (for the woman who finds that regular jeans 'fit in the hips and thighs but are too tight in the waist'), a demi curve (if your jeans 'usually fit in the waist but don't flatter the figure') and a bold curve (if jeans 'fit in the hips and thighs, but gap in the back')."*

Personally, I could not be happier to see the "bold curve" model for women whose jeans tend to gap in the back. This is a constant problem I have with pants, forcing me to either cinch my waist with a too-tight belt or wear long shirts to hide the gaping hole that gives people standing behind me a panoramic view of my Jockeys.

According to the LA Times, Levi Strauss "studied women around the world, conducting thousands of interviews and looking at 60,000 body scans of women in 13 countries" from whom they learned that "jeans shopping ranks right up there with buying bras and bathing suits."

Uh, no kidding.

Are they just figuring this out now?

To combat this problem, Levi's even offers a type of body calculator that lets you find your "Levi's Curve ID."

A Levi's rep claims that this new line "account[s] for 80% of the women's body shapes in the world" and that "when we launch the fourth one—our most extreme curve—at the end of this year or early next year, then we'll have 96% of women covered."*

What's also interesting is that the new line is "about shape not size." As the photo below demonstrates, women can have the same waist size (as these women do), but still have markedly different body shapes. Rage_levis_curve
Until now, all three of these shapes were shoveled into the same size four jeans. Now they have more options.

Waist sizes will range from 22 to 34-inch waist, and prices will go from $60-148, expensive from my point of view, but still far less than true custom jeans and, therefore, possibly worth the cash if it means that I won't have a gaping hole in the back of my pants.

Levi's is currently offering free shipping and returns on the Curve ID line. Use this coupon at checkout:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taking it all off

What's the difference between women taking off their clothes in a movie and men taking off theirs?

Find out in my column on Bitch Flicks today...