God's Politics

God's Politics

Katie Van Loo: Food for Thought

Around the lunch table the other day, a few coworkers and I discussed food, healthy eating, and body image (brought on by an amateur analysis of trans- and partially-hydrogenated fats and their banning in NYC). Yesterday while scanning my iGoogle (I love that thing), I ran across this Alternet article on a similar topic. The article spends a decent amount of time talking about deceptive lures and health risks of diet pills (has anyone seen Requiem for a Dream?) as well as some interesting points regarding the myth of obesity, a section about other countries’ diets, and the “set point weight” of our bodies.


It is important that we figure out a way to advocate for healthy bodies (not just thinner bodies). A high point of the lunchtime conversation was our distinction between approaching nutrition from a “good/bad” perspective versus what is healthy, and presenting alternatives of how to better utilize what our bodies have and need. For example, we talked about “good cholesterol/bad cholesterol” and “good fats/bad fats” versus all cholesterol is good and all natural fats are good, and it is the amount, ratio, and source of each that we put into our bodies that matters.

In regard to the media’s manipulative depictions of health (read: thinness) and the idea of skinnier = happier, while the equation is hooey, it often does play out in an individual’s social circles and even their own psyche. Though damaging, distorted, and deceptive, I have found some real-life experiential evidence for that equation. After I dropped 35 pounds in about a month during my senior year in high school, there was a significant increase in the attention that I received (as well as it being much friendlier). I also felt better about myself (self-confidence, success, and good-feeling neurochemicals = a synergistic boost to the self-esteem) and enjoyed the positive reinforcement I was receiving from those around me. You really do feel “happier” sometimes – proud of yourself. And if you do not internally feel happy (but instead distressed, irritable, anxious, consumed), other people are telling you that you should be happy through their constant affirmation.


Further, in contrast to the feminist critique that women are told “to be less powerful, less emotional, less hungry, and to assume less space in the world,” from my experience and conversations with friends, this criticism is not always widely felt. By more recent ideals for women, we are expected to be successful, professional, and to excel at everything; we are to be the best, to be noticed, and to be thin and beautiful. This is the unattainable perfection we have been charged with.

In addition, I am a little wary of the “love your body day” mentioned in the article because of the way these types of reactions to an unjust point of view are often perceived by the masses. Instead of “I love my body and thus do not need to listen to people who tear me down, but at the same time realize the importance of taking good care of my body,” it is usually, “I’m just fine the way I am even if I’m at risk of a heart attack because I starve myself while binging and purging or because I am obese and stressing my body, so screw you,” and nothing is accomplished.


All of these things together contribute to a false idea, even a false reality, of what women should be and are, what health should be and is, and how both can be and are achieved. I would like to see a more holistic approach to body acceptance and love, nutrition, and overall physical, emotional, and psychological health. It seems obvious, but here in the United States we seem to be having a rather hard time at achieving such a healthy state.

Katie Van Loo is the marketing and circulation assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

+ Read more about food justice in Sojourners magazine’s special issue from May 2006

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posted May 25, 2007 at 8:57 pm

Guess who just blew her diet? Just kidding. I have to wonder if the epidemic of obesity is aggravated by unrealistic and unhealthy standards of what is an ideal physique, for both men and women. Few of us are going to attain the physical shape of a model — male or female — and while that doesn’t excuse us from taking reasonably good care of ourselves, I think it’s fair to ask if the expectations set by the media are so far out of line with reality that a lot of us, unconsciously or maybe consciously come to the point where we say “bleep it, I’m having another donut.” Wolverine

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posted May 26, 2007 at 2:55 am

I would love to see how long that conversation would have lasted if attempted with a man chowing down on a thick steak.

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posted May 28, 2007 at 6:21 pm

The ever-present commodification of women’s bodies as sexualized objects to be consumed, rated, and disgarded , and the whole discourse of “health” needs to be re-examined as partially, a project of hyper-materialism. As selves are increasingly controlled and commodified, so too do ideas surrounding the “ideal” body, and subsequently, market-driven, consumer-based “empowerment” strategies. The idea that one can eat or starve onesself towards either death or “success” is enabled by this: a world in which lifestyle precedes living itself.

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Marian Neudel

posted May 29, 2007 at 6:28 pm

I would really like to institutionalize a holiday called “You’re Just Fine The Way You Are” Day, which is to be celebrated by spending an entire day without looking in the mirror. I actually did that once(for a whole weekend, in fact) on a camping trip, and found it tremendously liberating. I know that in some convents (at least back in the 50s) there simply were no mirrors. Sounds like a great idea to me. Yes, I know obesity is a major health problem in the US. In fact, it’s a major problem in my own family. But I know people with weight problems who feel that their weight makes people see them as bad people and lacking in self-control. I think in fact many of us do regard fat people that way. It’s a kind of nouveau-Calvinism. The hardliners keep saying “All you have to do to control your weight is to eat less and exercise more. If you don’t do it, that makes you a moral slob.”But in fact, medical science seems to be increasingly clear that there is a lot more to weight control than that, and that two people can eat and exercise exactly the same amount and have two very different weight patterns. It doesn’t help that obesity tends to cluster among poor people, whom Americans like to see as moral failures anyway. And it makes things even worse that a site like Beliefnet is cluttered with weight-loss sites, as if weight control were a spiritual discipline. Ick! Okay, St. Paul says that spiritual growth is LIKE an athletic contest. But he doesn’t say physical fitness IS spiritual growth. Can we get that straight, and then learn to be as charitable to fat people as we are to people with other disabilities?

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posted May 29, 2007 at 7:25 pm

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) This message thread has been visited by a God’s Politics Blog moderator for the purpose of removing inappropriate posts. Click here for a detailed explanation of the Beliefnet Rules of Conduct: which includes: Help us keep the conversation civil and respectful by reporting inappropriate posts to: 3

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posted June 2, 2007 at 1:34 pm

About iGoogle, please check out this Amnesty International article: and this Amnesty campaign: Peace, Gratia

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posted June 2, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Here is a book I found insightful and uplifting on the topic of women and objectification – Lilian Calles Barger’s *Eve’s Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body.* Men, of course this is for you too – read it for more insight into women.

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posted June 2, 2007 at 1:46 pm

Also, women. I think this topic needs some *grassroots organizing.* We need voices out there systematically propagating a prophetic voice to tell us women who we are and how we view ourselves. Because just like any other topic, if nobody comes up from the grassroots, the rich (i.e. those who make commercials and try to sell of products) will continue to drown out our deepest spirituality of the body with LIES.

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posted June 2, 2007 at 1:47 pm

sorry, that post is *not* just for women: it is for our brothers as well. We are all accountable on this topic.

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