Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fat and your health

This is an odd little piece that doesn't have anything to do with anything other than that these two stories have been on my mind a lot lately.

Some time ago I read an article on ethics that took a dying man to task for not making arrangements for his practice, not telling his colleagues and clients he was sick, continuing to work after he was probably no longer competent to, etc. The writer never addressed what to me was the most poignant part of the whole story, that as he lost more and more weight, becoming thinner and thinner as he dwindled away to nothing, his colleagues congratulated him and told him how wonderful he looked. Only in our culture would drastic weight loss not be an alarm signal that something was drastically wrong. But nobody in his practice, apparently, ever thought to ask him if he were ill. My heart aches when I imagine how each of those well-meaning compliments must have only increased his isolation, and what a lonely death his must have been in the end.

The other story I have for you today is of a woman who had a tumor growing in her belly. It went undiagnosed for a long time because everybody--including her weight loss doctor--assumed it was because she was fat. She'd even complained at the weight loss clinic that no matter how much she dieted, no matter how much weight she lost, her belly wasn't shrinking. It was uncomfortable. It finally got so big that it was about to burst, as I understand it, but it wasn't until she started throwing up green bile that she went to the local Emergency Department. Surgery to remove it nearly cost her her colon, and complications from surgery to repair that almost cost her her life. It did all together cost her 15 months off work, so sick she was unable to walk around her own house. 

Only in our culture could we be so out of touch with our own bodies. 

As I wrote this, Zemanta threw up article after article, photo after photo for me to select from to illustrate my stories or to link to. Every one of them was about diets--most for useless junk like green coffee. Not one article, not one graphic raised concerns about weight loss being a sign of illness. Not one. And yet among wild animals and human cultures of the past, that's universally what it was. A nice, healthy layer of fat has always been a sign of plenty, and of well-being. Bears put on fat before they hibernate. Hummingbirds put on weight before they migrate. Old horsemen used to talk about 'good keepers', that is, horses that could maintain their weight.

But beyond that, I suspect that prior to the last 50 years or so, we've been in better touch with our own bodies. Surely people are born knowing how to eat--half a million years of evolution would have seen to that--but over the last half-century we've let the "experts" and the diet industry tell us what, how, and when we should eat. Signals that should come from within now get ignored in favor of arbitrary directions from without. It's no surprise that few of us know when we're hungry any more, never mind what for, or when we're satisfied. And it would not surprise me if that, in turn, led us to be out of touch with other internal signals, from signals that we are getting tired and need to rest to signals that we might be getting sick. 

If that is so, then might not mindful eating be the start of a path back to a lot more mindfulness, toward getting to know many aspects of our internal experience, and perhaps even a step toward approaching others' experiences free of erroneous assumptions about weight and diet?
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