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In the past few days I’ve received a number of e-mails from readers concerned that “NAAFA has a diet in their newsletter.” If you’re not familiar, NAAFA is the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance. I found it odd that they would include a diet since my understanding was that they were against promoting weight loss. The newsletter was forwarded to me and then I understood the issue. The article is called “Fabulous Fakes” and the text is below, there is an e-mail at the end of this post to share your thoughts if you would like [Trigger warning – possible diet talk]:
Due to a doctor’s visit about three years ago, my husband and I realized we needed to make a change in our eating habits. We decided that in an era where everything is synthesized, including food, we needed to “eat smart”. Our goal was to limit sugar and starch (carbs) as much as possible. It is NOT about losing weight. It IS about eating great tasting food and, in the spirit of HAES precepts, promoting healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle.
I thought I would share some of the Fabulous Fakes we have come up with and invite you to share your Fabulous Fakes. Try the recipes and tell us what you think. Send your Fakes to share to [author’s e-mail address]; each month a Fake will be selected to publish in the newsletter. [Followed by a recipe for “Fake Pumpkin Pie” that uses artificial sweetener in place of sugar and other low carb ideas]
I wanted to go directly to the source with my concerns and get clarification so I e-mailed the NAAFA board the following e-mail:
Dear NAAFA Board,
I often receive e-mails from readers asking me to address something in my blog (www.danceswithfat.org) In the past couple of days I’ve received a number of e-mails from my blog readers who are concerned with the “Fabulous Fakes” section of your newsletter and are asking me to take some action. I don’t receive the newsletter but it was forwarded to me and I share the concerns. I’m certain that you meant well and that you didn’t intend to post something that is triggering or was perceived by so many to be diet talk, so I wanted to contact you directly with the concerns before I blog about it tonight:
I won’t attempt to speak for anyone else, but my concerns are:
- Despite what I believe must have been good intentions, it sounds jarringly like diet talk – it is very common to hear “it’s not about weight loss, it’s about health” when someone is trying to suggest a weight loss diet, to have “fake foods” suggested as replacements for standard recipes as part of a weight loss diet, or have low carb diets and artificial sweeteners suggested as weight loss diet tools (Atkins etc.)
- While these recommendations may absolutely make sense for the HAES practice of some individuals, especially in concert with healthcare providers, HAES principles as I understand them do not include the general recommendation to restrict a food group, substitute artificial sweetener for sugar, or eat “fake” versions of food.
- NAAFA’s stated purpose is to be “a non-profit civil rights organization dedicated to ending size discrimination in all of its forms.” I am concerned, especially based on my reader feedback, that many of the people who receive the newsletter are recovered and recovering dieters, recovered and recovering from eating disorders, and may not be prepared to be triggered by this kind of diet talk in the newsletter of an organization that they are expecting to focus on their civil rights. I also think that it is extremely important to be vigilant in avoiding the creation of this kind of triggering diet talk within a community so many are recovering from being hurt by it.
- I read the phrase “It is NOT about losing weight. It IS about eating great tasting food and, in the spirit of HAES precepts, promoting healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle” as a broad recommendation/promotion that healthy eating is achievable for everyone through food restriction and artificial sweeteners, rather than a statement of what the writer and her healthcare providers have decided is best for her specific situation, which I find problematic for the reasons stated above and because it makes it sound like these recommendations are one-size-fits-all.
- I find it problematic that she is encouraging newsletter readers to submit exclusively “fake” recipes, but not to submit delicious recipes of all kinds – normalizing the idea that everyone is/should engage in eating “fake foods” as part of a healthy lifestyle, which I don’t believe to be part of the tenets of HAES.
Again, I’m sure that you had the best of intentions but due to the issues stated above, I am respectfully requesting that you please consider removing the section from the current newsletter and canceling plans to include it in future newsletters. I absolutely think that there is a place to talk about healthy eating and how specific behaviors apply to specific situations. I think it’s very important to do that in context, and to do our best to avoid doing it in a way that is triggering or sounds like diet talk (or at least include trigger warnings), and avoid one-size-fits-all promotions of behaviors, as well as avoiding the conflation of eating to manage a health issue with healthy eating in general. Finally, I would encourage you to consider getting the perspective of some of the many amazing health and wellness professionals with a HAES focus, I’m happy to connect you to those who I know. If there is anything that I can do to help please just let me know.
Thank you for your consideration.
I received the following response:
Thank you for writing with your concerns about the article in the newsletter. You are correct in your assumption that the writer had good intentions. It was her desire to share a sugar free, gluten free recipe for those people who can’t normally eat desserts on holidays because of diabetes and other health concerns. Maybe that should have been clearer in her message
I am curious why people would write to you about this issue and not to the NAAFA board or the newsletter editor. At any rate, we will discuss this in our next board meeting. Hope you have a happy new year.
Public Relations Director, NAAFA
I do believe that this was well-intentioned, and I also personally think it was a mistake. I’ve certainly made my share of well-intentioned mistakes, this blog is full of things that say some version of “Edit: [I screwed up]”. In my opinion what’s important at this point is how they handle it. I certainly hope that NAAFA will make the decision to change this section of the newsletter – even if it seems innocuous to some – since some of those who don’t find it innocuous find it harmful.
I think that it is crucially important that organizations working with fat populations keep it top of mind that those populations are coming from a society that systematically shames and stigmatizes them and pummels them with diet advice; and so I think it is critical that we be hyper-vigilant in avoiding anything that even seems like diet talk, or seems like a recommendation of what all people in a specific situation “should” be doing, or mirrors in any way the food policing and concern trolling that many fat people experience so often. (For example people who are diabetic are allowed to take whatever path they choose and I think it’s important to avoid even the appearance of suggesting that there is a “right way” to live with diabetes, or a “right” definition of healthy behaviors.) I also think it’s important to completely avoid perpetuating the falsehood that body size is a diagnosis by conflating behaviors that are one option for managing disease with behaviors that are for general health.
I definitely believe that there is a place for all types of discussions – I just think that discussions that include food restriction and substitution as health advice, or anything that could be perceived as diet talk etc. should take place in spaces where people have specifically opted in for that type of discussion, or at least behind a trigger warning, rather than on the general newsletter of a national fat civil rights organization.
As always I love to get your comments and your e-mails, and at Peggy’s request I encourage you to also e-mail her directly with your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org so they can have consider those thoughts at the next Board Meeting when they discuss this. I’ll keep you posted as to their decision.
I received the following e-mail from Peggy Howell, NAAFA’s PR person:
In our most recent newsletter, one of our members presented an article with a recipe that was intended to be inclusive for people who can’t typically enjoy desserts during the holidays because of health reasons, (i.e. diabetes, allergies, etc.) to enjoy a pumpkin pie without sugar or gluten. Because the recipe was presented as a “fabulous fake” and recommended the use of artificial sweeteners, some people have expressed that the framing of this article triggered a negative response for them.
It was never anyone’s intention to cause problems for people who are triggered by talk of limiting or excluding any foods. We apologize if the article caused any one difficulties or created misunderstandings. We appreciate the constructive feedback.
For those who may not be familiar with NAAFA, we encourage a visit to the website to read information about the organization and the many resources to support, educate and advocate for the rights of fat people. NAAFA does not support any method designed for the purpose of weight loss. For over 40 years, NAAFA has been on the front lines on a daily basis fighting for Equality At Every Size©.
Thanks for sending this, I’m really proud of you and the NAAFA Board for responding to the feedback and apologizing. So that I can update my readers fully let me ask a couple of follow up questions if I may: Was this e-mail sent to the same list as the newsletter? And have you decided to make any changes to the current newsletter or the plans to feature a monthly “Fabulous Fakes” recipe, or is that still pending discussion at the next board meeting?
Thanks for getting back to me. The email has been sent to people who wrote directly to NAAFA about the article, posted on the NAAFA NewsGroup and will be included in the next newsletter. We will discuss in our next board meeting whether or not to continue with a recipe exchange article. If we do, it will appear under a different title.
So it sounds like they are leaving the current newsletter as it is, and still planning to discuss this at the next meeting. if you are so moved, you can send your feedback to her at email@example.com. I’ll keep you updated.
As the year comes to a close, NAAFA wishes everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!
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