Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The end of dieting

Just now, I overheard a woman telling someone how her husband had lost a great deal of weight. Pressed on which diet he'd used, she explained, "He decided that he's allergic to wheat." This diagnosis does not appear to have been confirmed by a doctor.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is difficult to gain weight when one is not eating wheat. I hope that I am no longer allergic to wheat after the baby comes out. (And no, no doctor has confirmed a wheat allergy-- apparently they don't do that for pregnant women, but throwing up an hour after eating anything with wheat in it, including Worcestershire sauce, has put me off of it.)

Phoebe said...

Ugh, I wouldn't wish a wheat allergy on anyone, and that includes WWPD commenters. From what I've heard, though, pregnancy can do all kinds of screwy things to the appetite, so maybe that will resolve itself? ABD in French =/= a medical degree, though, so grain of salt...

Anyway, the point of this post was not to claim that such allergies are always figments of the imagination, but rather that because it's socially unacceptable in certain circles to admit to dieting, some of the wheat allergies one hears about are just that. From the way this woman was relating her husband's story, it sounded as if she, at least, believed her husband had found a nifty way to diet. He might see it otherwise, or she might be entirely correct.

PG said...

I wonder what it means to be "dieting," though. I thought the typical, derogatory-when-said-by-HAES-types meaning is that one is *temporarily* modifying one's eating patterns. E.g., I was a reduced-salt diet for the week before my wedding so I wouldn't look bloated. It's got a negative meaning because it's a temporary fix that doesn't change your underlying lifestyle and that may even rebound in your having worse eating patterns afterwards.

Is the same term correctly used for someone who is permanently avoiding or minimizing something for the rest of his life?

I was thinking about this because I've been on a streak of baking for the last several months, which has resulted in a lot of cakes, cookies, cupcakes, muffins etc. going to two workplaces. Workplace A is made up almost entirely of men; Workplace is the reverse. I gave up bringing food to B because most people are either explicitly "on a diet" or don't seem inclined to eat sweets. (I never bake with nuts and people generally take a tiny sample to be polite, so I don't think it's that they've got an allergy either.) And I don't think it's that I'm a bad cook, since Workplace A practically licks dishes clean.

So if people just generally try to avoid something (e.g. cake baked and frosted with several cups of butter and entire boxes of sugar) because it's not good for their health, are they on a *diet*, or are they living a healthy lifestyle?

Personally, I agree with one of my bioethics professors that Quality-Adjusted Life-Years need to take cake into account, so that Life-Years with cake are higher Quality than those without, and thus worth more. But people get upset about QALYs' use in rationing and medical decision-making because of different views about what contributes to quality of life, so I assume other people may prefer more years of life with less cake, and their preferences are equally valid.

Phoebe said...


By "dieting," I just mean any change in eating habits, intended as permanent or temporary, with the explicit goal of losing weight, whether for health or aesthetic reasons, or both. As distinguished from a change in diet-as-in-eating-habits that might lead to weight loss but doesn't have that goal - starting to keep kosher, becoming a vegan, discovering a food intolerance, etc.

Re: baking, I think it might be a bit more complicated than that. Even someone not on a diet might want to eat only foods that they set out to consume, or at times that are the times they consider food times. I.e. qualms. If someone came up to me with cupcakes at 10:30 in the morning, and I'd eaten breakfast, I'd probably say no, and not because I wouldn't have said yes at 4:30.

As for why women would have more qualms than men, I could speculate. Part of it could be that even women who are not trying to lose weight are baseline watching their weights/health in a way that men would not. To keep myself gratuitousness at the center of these hypotheticals, if I were offered a cupcake at 4:30, but had already brought a brownie I was keen to eat that afternoon, I wouldn't have both, and if I'd paid a lot for the brownie, or was simply more up for that, I'd decline the cupcake. Whereas a man probably would eat both. There's this whole notion of making whichever fattening/less-healthy foods one does consume worth it (and the same goes for alcohol, I suppose), and, while I take your word that you make good cake, "good" is subjective, and someone who much prefers cookies may prefer to have her X calories-from-dessert from those. Office baked goods fall into an ambiguous social category - the cookie-preferrer might eat your cake at a dinner party, but not if you pop by with that cake while they're working.

I'd also consider that some women find the baking-and-bringing-to-the-office concept anti-feminist, given that this is virtually always something women do, and it might be perceived of as an attempt to offset an image of ruthless ambition or who knows. Other women see it as feminist - the workplace allowing women to be traditionally feminine and professional. Others still are just happy if someone happens to have brought in a good dessert. But if anyone is wary of what it means when a woman bakes and brings in the goodies, that'll be some women, but probably not so many men.

PG said...

The baked goods were usually on offer all day or until they ran out, whichever came first, so I don't think timing alone is the issue. Possibly "I'd already brought a really good brownie," though.

I'd also consider that some women find the baking-and-bringing-to-the-office concept anti-feminist, given that this is virtually always something women do, and it might be perceived of as an attempt to offset an image of ruthless ambition or who knows.

Interesting, I hadn't considered that possibility. The office with more women and less baked-good-consumption is a nonprofit without much place for ruthless ambition to go, however, so possible concerns about my being anti-feminist probably wouldn't have had that particular undertone. The Executive Director (female) is the only other person who's brought in food, but it was clearly store-bought cupcakes so there isn't quite the same barefoot-in-the-kitchen connotation. I suppose because I have a strong image of myself as non-girly (don't wear makeup, don't accessorize, etc.), it doesn't even occur to me that someone might regard something I'm doing as stereotypically girly.

Phoebe said...


If the gender connotations of baking can come up among grad students, I don't see why they couldn't at a non-profit. As for girliness, you are a woman, a married one at that (unless this is something your colleagues don't know), and I think the particular gender stereotype one might be seen as conforming to if one bakes is not the one that involves coming to work dressed as if to star in "Legally Blonde." It's more the self-sacrifice, martyr-in-the-kitchen model. Again, not that that's you, not that there's anything anti-feminist about baking. I'm just talking about how these things may be perceived.