Friday, 19 December 2008

“It’s All Your Mum’s Fault!”

Susie Orbach (author of Fat is a Feminist Issue) has an open letter to Sir Liam Donaldson in the ‘Times’ today:
Obesity is the manifestation of a food- and size-obsessed society that most shows us we are in trouble where eating is concerned. The latest information from the EarlyBird Diabetes study of 233 children from birth to puberty, published in the journal Paediatrics, shows that one in four children aged 4 to 5 in England is overweight despite normal birth weights. But, says Terry Wilkin, the study's lead researcher, it is difficult to know what is causing the upsurge.
Not for Susie, obviously:
Difficult? Well perhaps. But not that difficult. You don't have to be a psychoanalyst to know that childhood is formative and that one's earliest eating experiences - entwined as they are with our fundamental feelings of security, love, attachment and caring - form the basis of how we approach food and succour throughout our lives.

Mothers strive to and want to give their children all that is best and most reassuring. But in many cases, this doesn't happen because mothers themselves are troubled by erratic eating, fear of food, preoccupation with body size, frequent dieting, and its sister – bingeing.
I guess Philip Larkin was only half right then, according to Suze…
People eat when they aren't hungry because they are bored, anxious, angry, conflicted, nervous, sad or overexcited. They reach out for something cheap and tasty that feels momentarily like a treat; something that takes their mind off what hurts. The upset feelings don't get dealt with; they sit there and the next time they emerge, the person will again turn to food for soothing.

This behaviour is learnt when we are little - whether it is by being rewarded with food, by being given food to cheer us up after falling down or by observing a mother who is constantly dieting but then eats off a child's own plate. Food becomes not food but something imbued with magically comforting properties.
And there’s something wrong with being comforted?
Sir Liam, you are calling for early interventions. Thank goodness. But is anyone in the Department of Health listening? Will they now? For at least ten years, I have been pestering the departmentM (as, I imagine, have others) with economical, nay cheap, plans to provide support to help new mothers not pass their eating problems on to their babies. Helping mothers to come to grips with their own eating difficulties is surely the sanest and most effective way to help two generations in one go.

It's not difficult to see how to train midwives and health visitors to take a more nuanced and psychobiological approach to expectant and new mothers so that their eating attitudes, habits and psychological issues are addressed rather than their being told to feed on the right breast for ten minutes and then the left.
Yup, we need an army of midwives and health visitors to slap the spoons from mothers’ hands and bark ‘Don’t let them eat cake!’, all paid for on the NHS. That’ll work….
So please, Sir Liam, can I talk to you about implementing some programmes that stand a good chance of addressing the eating problems that beset so many - and that are contributing to the epidemic in the next generation.

As Erasmus told us nearly 500 years ago “young bodies are like tender plants, which grow and become hardened into whatever shape you've trained them”. He wasn't wrong where it comes to food. So let's train people to relish it rather than fear or laud it.
That’s going to be a bit hard to do with your proposed army of Mary Poppins suggesting a spoonful of vinegar to help the medicine go down, won’t it…?

And I’m not sure how this sits with her scorn over food labelling in the ‘Guardian’ earlier this year. If people aren’t given basic facts of nutrition, how do you expect them to view food as anything other than a mystery?

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. She does have a new book out soon, and what better way to promote it than by spouting hysterical feminist rubbish in the dailies?

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