Sunday, November 4, 2012

Outside Looking In

It’s been my experience that if you’re a person who has a tendency to put on weight easily, for whatever reason, and you lose a lot of weight, by whatever method, you really don’t have a creamsicles’s chance in hell of keeping it off unless you get outside of the food culture. Oh sure, there are other hurdles to overcome, such as dealing with your body’s sensitivity to certain kinds of foods, or understanding the destructive eating habits you’ve developed over a lifetime, but the kicker for me has been food culture. Getting outside of that culture involves many challenges. I’ve had to confront the force of habit and belief, at a micro-scale that is excruciating, as I decide, meal by meal, bite by bite, what I will and will not eat every single day. But at its heart, getting outside of the food culture is about much more than what you decide to consume. At its most elemental, it’s about relationships.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of times when my family sat around a table and shared a meal, at big holiday celebrations, but also on typical nights, talking about what happened at school that day over my mother’s famous creations, Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, sauerbraten and red cabbage, or ground beef and potato casserole. There were also times with my friends, when we went out for soft ice cream cones and Cokes, or later, pizza and beer. Those foods are forever linked in my mind with feeling connected to people I care about. Now that I stand outside of the food culture, I often feel adrift and alone. It’s a lot like looking in a window, watching a group of people having a big party, and I can’t find a way to get in. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a tragedy, it’s just disconcerting.

The medical establishment seems to be working hard at developing treatments for obesity, but there’s a defect in their method. They keep focusing on the individual out of the cultural context. In my opinion, no weight-loss drug, no diet, no “healthy living” program will solve the obesity puzzle until we address the disruption in kinship that a person experiences when they lose a lot of weight. The urge to be part of a caring community is so strong that if being slender means losing connectedness, it should be no surprise if regaining the weight seems the lesser evil. How I’ve managed to cope with this, I’m not really sure, but then I have been a bit of a loner for most of my life. I’ve always thought of that as a personal flaw – who knew it might have an advantage!

Simply put, we don’t eat in a vacuum, we eat in community. I believe that until we fully accept the role of culture in our struggles with weight, we will continue to struggle to find a solution that most people can live with.


  1. Your are so right--we don't eat in a vacuum, we eat in community. And that eating in community is a good thing. I have done the avoidance thing, the 'weirdo' thing (bring my own food,) and the joining in. None of them is perfect.

    1. I have done all of those things myself and, you're right, none of them is perfect. I remain hopeful that there is a better answer that I just haven't found yet.