Susie Orbach in the New York Times Magazine

Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, was interviewed in the New York Times Sunday Magazine this week.   In part: 

 Fifi, which is what I call my book “Fat Is a Feminist Issue,” was in part a plea to give up dieting and learn to recognize hunger and appetite and respond to them. Dieting, I argued, caused compulsive eating and destabilizes our relationship to food.

In what way?
If you continually diet, you are putting your body in a quasi-famine situation. It slows your metabolism down and breaks the thermostat. Diets don’t work. They don’t help you understand why you’re eating more than your body wanted in the first place. 

I do question whether everyone who diets was eating more than their body wanted in the first place.  Oftimes overeating is a reaction to – and rebellion against – food restrictions.  But “diets don’t work” is still a really useful message to get out to a wider audience, and I’m glad to see it.

6 thoughts on “Susie Orbach in the New York Times Magazine

  1. I don’t agree that everyone who is fat is eating more than their body wants, and that was the message I took away from “Fifi.” Maybe she should have called it “Dieting is a Feminist Issue.” (However, the acronym wouldn’t work out so well, since “DiFi” already stands for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in certain circles.)

  2. Warning: possibly overreacting rant ahead.

    Oh, okay. So you can tell who eats in response to hunger by who is not fat yet also not dieting themselves to death. If you are fat, you are obviously doing it wrong, because those times when you take a candy out of the candy bowl as you walk by, despite your stomach not being growling, or politely ate a square of chocolate someone shared with you, or you had an extra sweet roll at Christmas because you only get those at Christmas, obviously made you gain 100 pounds. But don’t eat too little, that is also bad and just makes it harder to eat correctly so you won’t be able to find the don’t-be-fat line. But don’t eat too much or you will be fat. You must walk the arbitrarily perfect line and then you will stop being fat, effortlessly!

    Until someone comes up with an objective, quantitative measure of hunger, there will be NO WAY to prove to her that any fat person has mastered the art of eating when hungry (as well as a control group of acceptably-bodied people). Fat people who think they are pretty good at responding to hunger signals are obviously delusional! Because if they were, they wouldn’t be fat!

    Rant over.

    I find it odd that she hasn’t been weighed since 1988. I get weighed by doctors once or twice a year.

  3. I don’t get weighed & for some of us, that is part of fat acceptance. However, I must agree that there is nothing fat-positive or fat accepting about Susie Orbach. She is one of those who genuinely believe (like Geneen Roth) that if people resolve their ‘food issues’ & only eat appropriately in response to real, physical hunger that they won’t need to diet &, most of all, that they won’t be fat. It has been years since I read Orbach, but I was not impressed. If I remember correctly, we ‘overeat’ in response to unhappiness & low self-esteem, &/or we sort of deliberately become fat in response to the patriarchal culture which prevents us from living fully & expressing who we are & also to shield ourselves from unwanted male attention. When we develop confidence & self-esteem & are truly liberated & self-directed, we no longer “need” the “extra” food or “extra” fat, & we can eat the way Orbach (& Roth & more than a few others like them) define as ‘normal & healthy’ eating & not eat more than they, in their infinite wisdom & their knowledge of every woman’s body & metabolism, need to eat. As far as I can see, Orbach has never accepted or even remotely grasped that most fat people do not eat more than most thin people & that, for most of us, being fat is largely genetic & not a flaw or a sign of psychological problems will be ‘corrected’ by getting ourselves together & just eating ‘right’.

    For some fat activists, btw, it is a political act & a declaration of self-pride & acceptance to refuse to be weighed. I believe that Marilyn Wann has always taken that stance. I prefer not to be, but the biggest reason I have not been weighed more than maybe 3or 4 times in the past twenty years or so is that I virtually never go near a doctor.

  4. Orbach comes out of the therapeutic space and works with people who self-identify as binge eaters or “emotional eaters”. I imagine that her structuring of the issue might be liberating to some of her clients.

    Where she fails spectacularly, in my opinion, is where she believes that all fat people are binge eaters or “emotional eaters” and extrapolates her model beyond the people who self-identify with those eating styles.

    And I was just weighed (by my doctor) for the first time in 10 years.

  5. It’s a pretty good interview, and I like that she’s managed to put it all into the context of marketing and the export of impossible beauty standards.

    The problem is that she hasn’t actually really integrated that feminist, social critique into her psychological approach to eating in terms of “inner trauma” and compulsion.

  6. Jupiter makes a good point. If one happens to be a compulsive overeater, or have other disordered eating, Susie Orbach may well be helpful. But if you aren’t, it doesn’t seem like she would be.

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