Funny? Or sad? Is there a grain of truth in the joke (... or maybe a big boulder of truth coated in a thin layer of humor?)
Is it really a dream come true for women to weigh 'nothing'? Why does our weight weigh so heavily on us? Pun intended.
Why do we waste so much energy battling our weight and how is it that all that effort doesn't burn calories?
What do we believe we will gain by losing weight? Does happiness really lie in fitting into a smaller size of clothes? Do we crave the attention of being stopped by people we know and have them cry out "Wow, you've lost so much weight? How did you do it?" As though losing weight is an incredible accomplishment.
Are we doing it for ourselves, for the admiration of others, or maybe just to try and quiet that little voice in our heads that keeps saying "if only I was thinner" good things would happen.
Maybe if I was thinner I would get that promotion, find love, and finally have the courage to follow my dreams.
Most of us diet religiously, we eat what we want and pray that we won't gain weight.
In theory dieting is a very simple matter of decreasing the input of food into our bodies and increasing the output expending more energy by being active. Easier said than done.
In fact dieting entails a multitude of rules, tasks, beliefs and social norms that influence our sense of self-worth, our control over our bodies, our social standing and our perception of who we are. Success or failure at dieting lead to celebration or self-admonishment, eating leftovers in secret out of the fridge, and the sense that if only food didn't taste so good, maybe one day, we would find out if being skinny really does feel better than eating pizza .
So why is losing weight so hard?
First of let's agree that losing weight is hard. I mean if it was easy everybody would do it. Studies show that 98% of people who lose weight regain it in the space of two years, often much sooner.
If we can understand the cultural, psychological, economic, technical and biological reasons for why we eat the way we do, it will be easier to understand why our constant dieting isn't working in the long run, and what, if anything, we could be doing differently.
The first thing that we need to do is decide: do you even want to be on a diet?
And what, for heaven's sake could possibly be funny about dieting?
Humor is a wonderful psychological tool for dealing with difficult situations. When we laugh about something we change the way we look about it. Humor allows us to express the thoughts and opinions that are not politically correct or socially unacceptable. Laughing about our hardships relieves stress and believe me, dieting is very stressful. Another thing is that humor reveals what is really going on in our heads. It is a wonderful way to get away with stating unconventional opinions, and then if faced with an angry retort, we can quickly claim "I'm just joking".
My firm belief as a humor researcher of 20 years is that jokes are never "just jokes" only the tip of the iceberg for what is going on beneath. Taking a long hard look at diet humor can allow us to see what is really going on in our minds that we don't always admit. The things we joke about highlight the hardships and challenges of dieting.
My weight story
Nice to meet you. My name is Debbie Iancu Haddad, born in 1974 (now go calculate how old I am). I weigh...
Do you really want to know how much I weigh?
If you don't really feel free to skip forward to the next chapter. And if you do, oh well, let me tell you about my weight history...
I was born in Soroka hospital in Beersheba, and my weight at birth was 2.5 kg (5 lbs). When people say they are trying to get back down to their original weight I assume that's what they mean. Because I was actually underweight, for the only time in my life, the nurses encouraged my mother to feed me to help me gain weight quickly. Babies, as you might know, are supposed to double their birth weight by the age of six months. Since I'm an overachiever I not only reached that first milestone, but I have been doubling my weight every six months ever since.
That was last time my weight was considered average or below it. I've been overweight my whole life. I've also lost and gained hundreds of pounds. In my childhood photos my younger sister and I look like Laurel and Hardy. My school photos show me next to my classmates, but closer in size to the teacher.
The first time I can recall going on a diet was at age 11. My mother enrolled me in a Weight Watchers group. I was the only child in a group of adults. The menu, way back in the day 1980's was anything but flexible or suited to a child's diet. For example you had to eat liver 3 times a week for some strange reason, talk about cruel and unusual punishment... I can't really remember how well that first diet worked, which alone should indicate that it wasn't a stellar success, but rest assured that my weight issues were not cured at that point in time.
In general my mother's feeding policy regarding my weight included the "hide and concur technique". She would hide tasty treats, dubbed "not for Debbie" in strange locations around the house, and I would play seek and destroy. My policy was that if I find a packet of cookies in the washing machine, they are probably lost and can be eaten.
Growing up as a teacher's daughter, I often found myself making my own lunch, and I recall believing that three peanut butter and jam sandwiches were a reasonable choice for lunch. My mother tried to get me to cook healthy food as I got a bit older but I didn't really have any idea what I was doing and wound up with unfortunate situations such as putting kebabs in a pot of water... (In my defense they were the same shape as hot dogs and since I knew how to make those, I applied the same method).
One important note that I feel that I should make. I know that a lot of people who were overweight as children felt socially excluded, suffered ridicule and bullying and also tended to avoid social activities due to their weight. I can honestly say that that wasn't really a problem for me. Yes other kids sometimes teased me about my weight, but then I teased them back about their weaknesses. I always had friends, participated in activities, performed in plays and with the choir. I can't remember giving up on fun because of my weight. I guess that has a lot to do with my personality and the environment in which I grew up. I stood out in lots of ways. I was also a new/returning immigrant, having left Israel at the age of 10 months and returning in second grade. I was a teacher's daughter, my mother taught English at the school where I learned so I always had my mom nearby and plenty of kids knew who I was, and I also took up a bit more space than other people. These were just parts of who I was. I know that growing up as a fat kid isn't easy, but I guess it wasn't as bad for me as It was for some.
When I started high school I finally became motivated to lose weight and invented my own way of eating. For example for a while I practiced a carrot, cabbage and frozen yogurt diet. It wasn't exactly what you would call well balanced, nutritionally speaking. By the time I was in 10th grade my weight was 80 kg (? lb) and I successfully managed to lose 10 kg in three months. The response was overwhelming; everybody complimented me on my weight loss. I was performing with the school choir in a production that included appearing on stage every day for two weeks and it felt really good to be admired for my new look. It was one of the first times I had felt a real sense of achievement at losing weight.
Sadly it didn't last.
Over the course of the next two years I regained the weight and added 20 more kilos. By the time I started my military service I had reached 100 kg. Fitting my uniform at the induction center was an issue as the military had to supply me with a special category size uniform, labeled "special size". I assure you that it did not make me feel special in a good way.
The average female soldier in Israel puts on 8 kgs during her two year service. Surprisingly, being in the army actually did wonders for my weight. Basic training with its limited meal times and mandatory exercise got the ball rolling and serving away from home helped me by limiting my access to tasty food. Over the course of my service I lost 25 kgs (50 lbs). I had to exchange my uniforms twice for smaller sizes, and finally left the army at the end of my service weighing a mere 75 kilos (I know, not Barbie doll thin, for me that was a ton of difference).
A month later on my army release day, on the way to return my uniform and soldier card I met my future husband on the bus. By the end of the month I had started school at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Learning Sociology-Anthropology and Journalism, or as I refer to it nowadays, academic unemployment training.
Over the next three years I lived in the university dorms. Short on cash and with absolutely no cooking skills (warming soup out of a packet was the highlight of my culinary expertise) I continued to lose weight and actually went down to my lowest weight since birth, around 65 kg.
I even took up running and going to the gym.
One thing you should know about me is that I actually like exercise. Funny as that may seem, there were times during high school when I would ride 20 km every evening, and ever since then I enjoy going out walking or running. There was also a time when for 2-3 years I did an indoor cycling class 3-4 times a week.
Once I finished my BA I moved back home to Beersheba and a year later my future husband and I started living together and I finally started to cook. What ensued were a lot of romantic dinners, lunches, breakfasts.. You get the picture. We liked to eat.
At that time I had started my MA in the department of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba. When the time came to choose the subject for my thesis I decided to focus on a subject close to my heart, or more accurately, my stomach, and decided to look at the practices of a Weight Watchers weight loss group on campus. I used participant observation, encouraged by my professors and during 18 months lost 17 kg and completed my thesis. I also toyed with the idea that the university might reimburse my research expenses... Yes, they also found that a funny idea. .
In 2001, as we were planning on getting married, I joined a female exercise studio called studio C and started a diet plan with the resident dietician. The exercise course introduced me to muscles I didn't know that I had and new and unusual ways in which they could hurt. I think most the weight I lost during that time period was due to wedding nerves and frantic preparations. When I finally walked down the aisle I weighed 83 kilos and I was pretty happy with that weight.
During that time I was working on my thesis. At the time I noticed that several famous Israeli models such as Bar Rafaeli, Sandy Bar and Yael Bar Zohar had one thing in common - their names all included "Bar", so since I was already getting married I added a bar too - a dessert bar at the wedding. It didn't really launch my modeling career, but the cream cakes were just delicious.
Two years later, when I became pregnant with my elder daughter, I was already back up to 91 kg. I didn't put on very much weight during the pregnancy, adding 13 kg over the nine months and dropping them immediately after my daughter was born, but staying at home with her for the next six months added another 5 kg. Back again to Weight Watchers, where over the course of the next two years, including my second pregnancy, I lost 21 kg. One of the most satisfying experiences around the time of my son's birth, apart from now being a mother to two kids, was getting weighed the week before and after the delivery. First and last time I ever lose 7 kgs in a week.
Are you keeping track? Don't worry about it; I put together a table at the end of the chapter so that you can see all the ups and downs.
My father passed away in 2006. My son was a year old, my daughter had just turned three and I was at one of my fittest periods of life. I weighed around 80 kg having been in weight watchers for several years. In the week of mourning you aren't allowed to do many things, but apparently you can eat as much as you like. After several years of dieting I started eating again and in a big way. I had just started my PhD studies, I had started my business that year, and the last thing I had time or patience for was dieting. My business was going well; I was traveling around the country giving lectures and workshops and as my business expanded... So did I.
I opened my business in 2006 when I was unemployed following the birth of my son Shahar. I had just been accepted into the BGU department of education as a PhD student but was not granted a scholarship because my grade point average was 2.5 points below the cutoff (some would call that funny…). I needed to find work that would on the one hand keep the mortgage payments going out and on the other hand give me enough time to study. My friends in the department used to joke that we would never make any money from anthropology… but there was one guy who gave lectures to schools on his MA subject. Since my MA subject was Diet Humor, and since almost everyone diets I thought there might be some people interested.
My work schedule is very crazy. I'm available 24/7. I've given a session that started at midnight, some at 8 am and every hour in between. I go wherever I'm invited. I spend lots of time on the road and you can imagine that isn’t easily connected to healthy eating.
In 2008 I joined a gym and started going to indoor cycling (spinning) class. I was probably a bit obsessed. I did between 3-5 classes a week. I lost 12 kg over the course of the year and looked really good in jeans. I stuck with the program for over two years but gradually the atmosphere I had enjoyed changed, my favorite instructors left and I dropped the cycling and went back to eating again. In 2010 I went to the USA as part of a delegation of business women from Israel and Jordan. We were hosted for a month by the town and university of Green Bay Wisconsin. I arrived in the USA at the weight of 103 kgs and by the time I left I was up to 106. I was sure that I would get rid of the weight but it stayed with me for the next 5 years. In fact I gradually added on another 10 kgs on top of that and reached an all-time high of 116 kgs.