Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fat and food politics for breast cancer survivors.

I went to a sort of "spa day" yesterday that was held by my onc's office. It was lovely to have a positive, confidence-building experience like that with other survivors - we had healing touch sessions, massage, tai chi, etc. - but I am really rankled by the way that the issues of food and weight were handled. The nutritionist spoke in very vague ways about food, listing certain foods that had particular anti-cancer properties. That was helpful. What was not helpful was the following:

Telling a room of women of all shapes and sizes to "be as lean as possible without being underweight," which is a recommendation of the American Cancer Society. Here's the problem with that. The research on diets tells us that they don't work - including Weight Watchers. The vast majority - over 90% - of dieters (including Weight Watchers) gain all the weight back, plus more, within five years. Meanwhile, the stress on your body and heart of gaining and losing and gaining and losing weight is phenomenal. Heart disease is (I think?) the leading cause of death among women. Something to keep in mind.

Moreover, telling anxious women to lose weight (the nutritionist was rail-thin) without giving them some real guidelines for how to eat healthily and exercise sufficiently is just mean. And further telling them that the recommendation for daily exercise is 60-90 minutes a day is insane. How many of us would ever be able to do that? Most people would say, "I can't even come close to that - I give up." Further, it was unclear what she meant by "exercise," since one of the suggested activities to count into that 60-90 minutes was GARDENING. She also said that walking around in the office counted into that. So I think that the actual recommendation is for 60-90 minutes of ACTIVITY, and 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. But she was extremely vague and did not clarify this when asked. Perhaps she didn't know.

Finally, the food at this event was typical, midwestern lunch food - white bread, chicken, cheeses, green salad, and several pasta or other salads, with cake and brownies for dessert. How about using this as an opportunity to share whole foods and vegetables that women may be unfamiliar with? How about showing how delicious eating an anti-cancer diet can be?

What I came away with after her presentation were the (false) ideas that gardening is an aerobic activity; that Kosher meat is no different than conventional meat; that sugar is fine to eat in moderation (without any mention of paying attention to when you eat it and with what). I'm frustrated for the women there who are going to take this as true because the woman who said it has a lot of fancy certifications.


Green said...

I'm SHOCKED they'd serve that kind of food at this seminar/spa! Spas are all about green tea and fruit smoothies and veggie platters and all that shit.

I hope they left a feedback form and that you filled it out.

Is kosher meat saltier than non-kosher?

CrackerLilo said...

I'm sorry that something that could have been a treat turned out to be, well, a trick.

I'm also surprised by the food that was served. Never heard of such a thing in my life at a spa or health seminar.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I should explain: this was held at a retreat center, not a spa, so they may have been limited by the food the center served (though I would think whole grain breads/muffins could or should have been arranged, at the least). I did indeed fill out the feedback form.

Kosher meat, like organic meat, does not contain hormones or antibiotics. I would think that meat without hormones would be important for women who have hormone-receptive cancers and that this might be something a nutritionist would talk about.

math4knitters said...

My local newspaper recently had a story about a cancer survivor who participates in long-distance bike rides. That's fantastic. Good for her. Unfortunately, the beginning of the article and the headline focused on her "beating" both cancer and her weight. She says she "put duct tape over (her) mouth" and rode her bike like crazy to lose tons of weight, then, uh, later, survived cancer. ?? It was as if they were drawing a connection that isn't there - or saying being fat is the same as having cancer? I just thought the whole thing was very strange.

Anonymous said...

That meeting you went to sounds weird. Are you going to go back?