9.18.2008

News gets around

My thanks to the anonymous reader who sent this link my way -- Tara Parker-Pope, for The New York Times, on "Eating Less or Eating Better." Her article reports on a sea change in the diet wars, as long-time dieters who are tired of the yo-yo effect are turning to simpler, more pleasurable ways to enjoy their food. 

This "new" philosophy is very much the one that I have embraced in my recovery from an eating disorder, though no mention was made of eating disorders per se in the article. Although I don't necessarily use weight as an indicator of health, I was interested to learn that the more time that people spend preparing and cleaning up their food, the more likely they are to be at a middle weight, as opposed to "underweight" or "overweight." In my own experience, preparing my own food has been absolutely central to recovery from my eating disorder -- but I had no evidence for this other than my own experience, until reading this article.

The truth is, I don't read a lot of research regarding nutrition or eating disorders, but this article has me asking myself if maybe it is time for me to pay a little more attention. 

Although I don't write about it much here, in my other life I am a doctoral student in clinical psychology; I spend most of my time reading scientific publications about mental disorders and their treatments. It is certainly within the realm of possibility for me to spend a few hours researching the most current news on eating disorders. But, until now, most of what I have stumbled across in the way of eating disorders -- both in the journal articles and in the persons of the researchers themselves -- has been less than appetizing. 

A few years ago, I worked briefly as an intern in an obesity research clinic whose main project was to enroll participants in a liquid diet and monitor their weight loss while providing "supportive" counseling. Their secondary project was to give group therapy to patients considering bariatric surgery. Fortunately, I did not have to work there long, because I had a lot of misgivings about liquid diets, bariatric surgery, and the attitudes of the researchers towards the patients ("People are obese because they overeat. Period.").

Before that, I had applied for a job as a research assistant at a prestigious center that studied eating disorders. In my application for the job, I was forthright in revealing my past history -- having an eating disorder had made me very interested in eating disorders, after all, and very motivated to work in that field. I ended up in one of the most uncomfortable interviews in my life when a psychiatrist on the team asked me, while looking me up and down, if I had been "a normal-weight bulimic." The nerve! I withdrew my job application immediately and wrote a terse email to the study director, who had gone to my same alma mater, telling her that I had considered her colleague's behavior in an interview absolutely inappropriate.

And that was the end of my great career as an eating disorder researcher.

I got another job, in public health, and haven't looked back. Within psychology, I love studying health psychology -- understanding the connections between mental and physical health -- and I'm not likely to give it up to pursue eating disorder research at this stage of the game. What I write on these pages is personal, not scientific. I form a sample size of 1, hardly a reliable study design. My words are the stuff of clinical anecdote; at best, I am a case study. 

And yet, and yet -- I have the tools at my disposal to find and understand the research that is coming out. I may disagree with much of it, especial with nutrition science, but that's no reason for me not to look it in the eye and evaluate it for what it is, flaws and all. One thing that I love about the scientific method is its willingness to test out its hypotheses, even if they might be wrong. Although I am trained in this method, which is designed to examine external phenomena, my body has always been my first site of investigation -- as it is for all of us. 

These last three or four years have been an exercise in getting to know my body better, in empirically testing what works for me. If you have been reading, you know what I have found: eating whole foods that I cook has been the best form of therapy that I could imagine. Do I have the evidence to back it up? Not now, but I'll look into it.

Until then, will you accept the following? A breakfast of mung-bean and coconut porridge and tangerines, taken around 7:00 am this morning:
 

The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

~Ai Lu

4 comments:

Lisa said...

Never had mung-beans, but that looks delicious.

My Epidemiology professor went on a tangent the other day about the "obesity epidemic." I sent him some posts from Junkfood Science - got any other sources I can send him for an alternative viewpoint?

PS - you've probably already read some medical anthropology research, but if you haven't, I think you'd be fascinated.

kb said...

I love the photo - it is so beautiful!
I've found, recently, as I stop trying to wage war against my body but rather be kinder to it, that so many other aspects of my life seem to ease up.
Much of this process of recovery is, for me, about trusting myself and my body, learning, as you say, "what works for me".
- Kristina

G.R.M. said...

Wow, that photo! Just found your blog, i think i have the same fascination with food. I hope what kb said is true...that as you are kinder to your body other things will ease up in other areas in your life! Keep posting, i enjoy what you have to say!

check out my blog pretty-little-head @blogspot.com

Tiptoe said...

You know case studies do count. Maybe not completely in the grand scheme of things, but it's what brings about new research, thoughts, and ideas. You never know when you're inspiring other people and heck may even create a movement.

Reading many different blogs about the ways people are trying to recover gives me new perspectives which has helped me greatly.
I think the "learning what is best for me" approach is a wonderful way to explore recovery.

By the way, I enjoyed getting to know more about you. Health psychology is quite a fascinating field of study.