You may have heard that Katie Couric, successful news anchor and former Wahoo, will be coming this November to talk about Fed Up, her star-studded documentary about obesity in America, which will be screened at the Virginia Film Festival this year.
As an intern in the Body Positive program of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center at U.Va., this film caught my attention because of its focus on weight. I decided to watch the documentary for myself to find out what Couric had to say, and to try and frame the discussion from a body positive perspective.
The film’s main purpose is to convince readers that the food industry and the nutritional guidelines touted by the USDA over the last 30 years have contributed to the nation’s rising obesity “epidemic.” I do not want to dispute the notion that sugar is mostly nutritionally void; that, in excess amounts, can be harmful and may very well lead to weight gain; or that regular exercise and well-balanced meals are important parts of overall health.
My main issue with the film is the following notion, one that may not seem so radical to you: Weight loss is equal to health.
“What’s wrong with that?” you might be thinking. “Obesity is a huge problem in the United States. People go to the gym and eat healthy in order to lose weight…right?”
Well, no. At least, this isn’t how it should be.
Over the last several decades, we have been spoon-fed this notion that being beautiful means being thin. Today, we’ve taken it a step further—we have now been lead to believe that thinness is equal to wellness. And lastly, thanks in part to the recent popularity of “fitspiration,” we think of thinness as equal to fitness.
Let me clarify what I mean by the term “body positive.” In the Body Positive program, we encourage people to exercise and eat balanced meals because these are two key components to being well—not in order to achieve a particular look or weight. On one hand, being body positive is about appreciating body diversity. On the other hand, being body positive is about loving and appreciating the body you were born with, knowing its limits, and realizing that your healthy body will be different from someone else’s healthy body.
In order to conquer the obesity “epidemic,” the documentary focuses mostly on diet; by calling out the food industry for promoting sugary foods and encouraging people to eat a “better” diet, Couric and her producers hope that people will lose weight and the “epidemic” will subside. Towards the end of the film, they even encourage viewers to visit their website, where they can learn about how to go on a ten-day sugar-free diet, which they call the “Fed Up Challenge.”
The film spends a lot of time demonizing sugar in order to propose a new solution for the obesity “epidemic”: Remove all sugar from your diet, they say, and the problem will be fixed! However, I think this solution is overly simplistic. By zeroing in on one particular kind of food and encouraging people to cut it entirely from their diets, we are missing what it means to be healthy in a more balanced sense. We should encourage moderation of all kinds of foods instead of telling people to restrict what they eat.
Although a documentary about obesity, Fed Up fails to address the fact that the concept of BMI itself—the standard by which we determine “obesity”—is a flawed concept. Every body is not made equal: This standard of measurement does not take into account body fat percentage, muscle mass, body frame, genetics or metabolic health. So why do we rely on it so much?
What would it look like if we took a more holistic approach to health? What if, here at U.Va., we valued sleep as much as we value academic success? What if we learned to eat when we were hungry, and stop when we were full? What if we focused on mental and emotional health as much as we focus on physical health and “fitness”?
This column first appeared in Iris and has been republished by permission of the author.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katelyn Hebel is a fourth year student at the University of Virginia double majoring in English and Religious Studies with a minor in French. Katelyn works as an intern in the Body Positive Program at the University of Virginia Women’s Center.