The War on Obesity: A War Worth Fighting?

Marci Anderson - Thursday, October 06, 2011

A few days after the FNCE (the American Dietetic Association’s annual conference) dust has settled, I still find my emotions riled up about the very first session I attended. John Foreyt, renowned obesity research and Linda Bacon, Health At Every Size (HAES) clinical researcher and advocate stood head to head to duke out their views on the “obesity epidemic.” John Foreyt staunchly defended his position that the war on obesity is a war worth fighting and Linda Bacon asserted that this war we are waging is ineffective, misguided, and even harmful.

I cannot escape the fact that I write this post from a very biased point of view. I simply cannot give a neutral, objective review of the debate because my feet stand so strongly in the HAES camp. I use a non-weight focused approach in my nutrition counseling and I am a certified Intuitive Eating (IE) Counselor (which means I teach my clients how to respond to internal cues of hunger/fullness rather than dieting).

So, I questioned whether to write this post at all, knowing I don’t currently have access to a recording of the debate and my memory seems to have only held on to the pieces of Dr. Foreyt’s arguments that I found uniformed, inaccurate, and downright offensive. So despite all of this, I sit here writing my two cents, which are heavily influenced by my flawed memory, passion for a non-weight focused approach to health, and personal experience in my own clinical work (and in my own life).

I cannot adequately re-cap the 90 minute debate. But I will recount my top 5 assertions that Dr. Foreyt made that I whole-heartily disagree with. If you are interested in learning more about HAES and Linda Bacon’s perspective, keep reading. I’ll share some fantastic resources at the end of the post.

Top 5 Unscientific, Unsupported, Inaccurate Assertions made by Dr. Foreyt:
1. There are no negative side effects to yo-yo dieting and weight regain (except “some bad feelings like depression for some people.”)

If Dr. Foreyt had properly done his homework, he would have known that dieting is the #1 PREDICTOR OF FUTURE WEIGHT GAIN! See here and here for two examples. And I think it’s a bit crazy for him to undermine the negative mental health consequences that are a by-product of weight cycling. Anxiety, depression, and chronic self-esteem issues are serious concerns. He treated them like nothing more than a pesky skin irritation, when in fact mental health problems are like a deadly form of cancer; challenging a person’s ability to live with a quality of life everyone deserves. We cannot minimize the effects of re-bound weight gain and mental health challenges.

2. Some of your clients will be failures and some will be successes. That’s no reason to stop trying to diet and lose weight. Just keep trying.
Whoa, hold it right there. I cannot stomach the notion that anyone I work with is a failure. But I suppose if there is only one way to measure success that might be the case. If there was a chemotherapy treatment that created more cancer than it eliminated, would we keep using it? No. So why do we keep using the same methods for weight control when the research shows that a weight-focused approach leads to more weight gain? I have learned something magical in my work. When I take the focus off the scale it allows me and my clients to work on core issues which affect body weight, food choices, and self-esteem.

3. Intuitive Eating is a cause of today’s obesity epidemic. Intuitive Eating doesn’t work.
#1 I about jumped out of my chair when Dr. Foreyt stated this. How on earth can he say that Intuitive Eating contributes to obesity when virtually no one in the US practices it?!? Not practicing Intuitive Eating is THE REASON most people struggle with food and many carry more weight than they naturally would.
#2 The principles of IE are often misconstrued or improperly applied. Dr. Foreyt, have you read the book or the research on IE? It is not eating with reckless abandon. No, quite the opposite. It is eating what you want in response to physical cues for hunger/fullness, while attending to emotional needs without using food. I cannot fathom how this can lead to increased rates of obesity.
#3Please see the IE website, where there is research showing the effectiveness of IE.

4. Dieting does work.
Unfortunately, every long-term clinical trial aimed at reducing body weight by placing clients on a specific diet that I’m aware of results in the lovely “J-Curve.” The J-Curve illustrates rapid weight loss, followed by creeping weight gain over time. The LOOK AHEAD trial, led by Dr. Foreyt is an interesting example. Like all obesity research, interventions like a healthier/reduced calorie diet and exercise protocols are given. Consequently, weight decreases but a whole slew of other parameters improve (ie blood sugar, fitness levels, cardiovascular health). What's really fascinating is that the decrease in weight is sometimes quite small, like less than 10 pounds. But the researchers always cite the improved parameters secondary to weight loss, rather than a natural consequence of eating healthier and moving more. Why the focus on weight loss?

 
Many people love to cite the National Weight Control Registry as an example of permanent/lasting weight loss. Dr. Bacon informed us that weight loss must only be maintained for 6 months in order to be added to the registry, with no clear way to have your name removed if you have re-gained your weight. Dr. Bacon shared a story of a student whose name is on the registry, but has since gained back more weight than she lost and hasn’t been able to remove her name from the list. The weight loss research we have shows the majority of lost weight gained after two years. So the National Weight Control Registry may not be a reliable measure of successful "losers."

5. It’s better to be skinny than fat.
Again, Dr. Foreyt needs to check the research because it actually shows that the life expectancy for a person who is categorically overweight but exercises regularly is longer than someone of a “normal weight” and doesn’t exercise. Having dedicated my career to working with eating disorders, I can promise that it is better to be healthy inside and out regardless of your body weight. Being thin is absolutely no guarantee than you are healthier or “better” by any standards.

Please let me make myself clear. I am an advocate for HEALTH. This means I am an advocate of:
1. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet that includes all foods
2. Eating when hungry and stopping when full MOST of the time
3. Learning to cope with emotions without using food
4. Learning to eat in a way that leaves you feeling energized and satisfied
5. Eating by your own rules and no one else’s
6. Incorporating exercise in a way that keeps your body strong (this can only be done if you are eating well first)
7. Eating guilt and stress free
8. Enjoying and finding pleasure in what you eat and how you move your body

And I believe that this is possible at any weight. I stand with Linda Bacon when she says that “fat” is not the problem, it’s the war on fat that is making us sicker and more miserable.

Finishing remarks:

My regret is that the session left a divided group more divided. If we are going to figure out how to create a nation of healthier people, those of us in the eating disorder field have got to come together and truly dialog with those in the obesity field. And until then, the war will certainly continue.


This is a controversial topic. What are your thoughts?


Linda Bacon's FNCE Handout

Validity of Claims Made in Weight Management Journals

Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift


*Picture Source


 

#endED Recap with @BEDAorg

Marci Anderson - Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thanks to all that joined our #endED Twitter chat this Wednesday with @BEDAorg as we talked about weight stigma. For those of you that missed it, here were some of the "highlights."


(If you don't know about Twitter, the @ symbol is the way a username is signified on Twitter. The # before a word makes the word searchable in Twitter.)


Q1a: How has #weightstigma affected you or someone you know?
@MarshaHudnall Seems like #weightstigma affects almost everyone I know. Creates dissatisfaction with life and distracts from what's important.
@JanetZimmerman research suggest #weightstigma increases body dissatisfaction and can lead to disordered eating behaviors

Q1b: How has #weightstigma affected your or their own ED journey?
@CounselorMusing Can lead to an increase in stress/anxiety/depression, can harm relationships, and can lead to isolation
@mmarzipan My least favorite #weightstigma aspect is when people ignore the mental health aspect of weight/body politics.
@marciRD Many people invalidate the severity of their #eatingdisorder if they feel they don't "look" a certain way.

Q3 What have you done recently when you recognize a thought that is stigmatizing?
@BEDAorg We must begin to each look within. I have my own stigmatizing thoughts about myself and others at times.
@VoiceinRecovery I catch it in a net & usually say WTF and throw it out. Weird but instant thoughts dont define me. I KNOW what I stand for
@mmarzipan Stop. Process. Think: who is this comment really about? Realize that it's NOT about me. Move on.
@BEDAorg We must begin to each look within. I have my own stigmatizing thoughts about myself and others at times. 

Q4 How can the eating disorders community better recognize and address stigmatization based on size?
@akaMemily I think it's helpful to look past appearance differences & see the internal similarities & shame found in EDs regardless of dx
@BEDAorg #weightstigma interferes in the treatment of eds. In the BED population, the ed is often put aside to focus on weight loss.
@BEDAorg Nurses in study: 31% would prefer not to take care of obese patients, 24% agreed that obese patients “repulsed” them
@BEDAorg There are studies showing that #weightstigmakeeps people from getting proper physical & mental health care
@mmarzipan Q4: not assume that someone of a certain size isnt suffering. Eating disorders manifest differently in people

Q5 How does #weightstigma contribute to body image issues?
@castlewoodtc Neg Body image is deeper than societal prejudice, but prejudice breeds discontent with oneself.
@BEDAorg I feel we cannot talk about body image issues without first acknowledging that weight stigma fuels them.
@MarshaHudnall #weightstigma makes anything outside the societal ideal unacceptable. and the societal ideal is for the most part underachievable 
@BodywiseProgram I think too we need to challenge our own eyes; expand our ideas about beauty to include all sizes/ages/colors...... #weightstigma
@marciRD When a single body size/shape is presented as acceptable, it is easy for false assumptions and negative self-image to grow

Q6 How do we best address those who believe that a person’s worth & will are based on that individual’s size?
@marciRD Make a list of the top 10 things you love abt someone you love. Be surprised if includes size/shape of their body.
@MarshaHudnall Modeling is one of the most effective ways to promote change. "Be the change we wish to see." 

@mmarzipan  Relentless compassion - those people are a product of their experience. Educate, breathe, and remember it's not about YOU

Q7 How do we keep all people-of-size from being bullied and discriminated against in a society that equates thinness and health?
@ScritchfieldRD it starts w/ us - being authentic, we have to use our voices, find our tribes of supporters, and believe in a better world #endED
@mmarzipan We can't. But we CAN create safe, nonjudgmental, loving spaces and live our lives by not buying into the bias.
@BEDAorg After a lifetime, I have learned to accept my body today as it is and each day this opens the door to something new.

Join BEDA during #weightstigma awareness week Sept 26-30. www.bedaonline.com to continue to spread the word! 


Also, check out @VoiceinRecovery's blog carnival on weight stigma. It is an awesome resource.

About #EndED
The goal of #endED is to bring anyone and everyone together who cares about ending eating disorders. My hope is to end the silence and myths about eating disorders, create a place for honest and informed discussion, while offering hope and encouragement. The next chat will be on 10/19 with Michelle May. Find her on Twitter at @EatWhatYouLove!


 

#EndED Twitter Chat: Weight Stigma with BEDA

Marci Anderson - Sunday, September 18, 2011

Our next #endED Twitter chat is Wed, September 21st at 8:30pm EST with @BEDAorg to talk about about weight stigma.

You might be asking what exactly is weight stigma? Weight stigma is bullying, teasing, negative body language, harsh comments, discrimination, or prejudice based upon a person’s body size. Weight Stigma is something that shames and hurts many people (of all shapes and sizes) and it is time to spread an awareness of how harmful it is to all and talk about it. 


About BEDA
Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) was founded to help those who have binge eating disorder, their friends and family, and those who treat the disorder. BEDA provides individuals who suffer from eating disorders with the recognition and resources they deserve to begin a safe journey toward a healthy recovery. To learn more about BEDA check out: http://www.bedaonline.com/

About #EndED
The goal of #endED is to bring anyone and everyone together who cares about ending eating disorders. My hope is to end the silence and myths about eating disorders, create a place for honest and informed discussion, while offering hope and encouragement.

RSVP on Facebook and we hope to you join in!


 

Grateful

Marci Anderson - Sunday, September 11, 2011

Today marks a tragic day in America’s history. However, 9/11 is also a day that causes me to think about gratitude. So I felt inspired to share a piece of gratitude from a client of mine. I’ll be honest, when I’m in a sad or downright rotten mood, making a list of things I’m grateful for isn’t my first go-to activity. So it may be handy to have gratitude lists around all the time. You never know when you may need them the most! Below is an example of a writing exercise that relates to body image, but you can of course use the idea in any way you choose.


I’m grateful for my hair which dries naturally curly and doesn’t require a blow dryer to get ready.

I’m grateful for my eye sight which allows me to explore the beauty of the world.

I’m grateful for my shoulders which carry my heavy backpack day in and day out.

I’m grateful for my heart which pumps sure and strong when I run to catch my bus or am practicing yoga.

I’m grateful for my arms which allow me to hold my niece and nephew.

I’m grateful for my hands which are my tools for all of my creative energy.

I’m grateful for toosh which is nice and padded and allows me to feel comfy even when sitting on the ground (plus it’s awfully pinchable!).


Do you have any body parts that you feel particular grateful for? Why?


 

Connecting to Ourselves: Tuning out the Shoulds

Marci Anderson - Saturday, August 27, 2011

First off, I want to say that tuning out the shoulds and tuning into our body’s needs when it comes to fuel is a process and journey. There will be some ups and downs along the way, but the longer that you tune out what you “should” be doing and view eating in a self-care, nourishing manor, the more freedom you will start to feel in your journey with food and your body. The longer you practice paying attention to your body the more you will connect with yourself and your needs, food and otherwise.

So, what does tuning out the “shoulds” mean when it comes to healthful eating? Here are a few principles that I came up with through my journey of paying attention to my body’s needs and health.

1) Tune out what healthful foods you “should” eat and listen to YOUR body’s palate (aka what healthful foods you ENJOY eating). Healthful eating includes trying new foods but also tuning into your palate. You don’t have to eat lima beans or whatever foods you do not care for to be healthy! There are plenty of other fruits and vegetables out there. Focusing on adding healthful foods you enjoy (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts) to your eating allows you to connect with your body and keeps healthy eating from being a dirty word. It’s not about perfection- it is about learning YOUR body’s needs.

2) Tune out the “shoulds” of anytime you are feeling deprived when it comes to eating. A lovely RD, Julie Dillion, tweeted this the other day: dieting doesn't = wellness. Nourishing without deprivation is ticket to #health. I could not have said this better if I tried. So often, we hear that we need to “eat better” or discipline ourselves or have more self control around food. We can try to force ourselves into “eating right” or choosing healthful foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, etc.). But, this usually backfires just like dieting does. I tell people all the time that I have learned that the only “diet” I want to be on is one that I can live the rest of my life doing, and this means for me that I don’t feel deprived, focus on health and good fuel, use food to keep my energy up, and focus on nourishing my body (which does include sweets sometimes!). Through tuning into my body and not the “shoulds” or deprivation, I have learned that one of the most healthful and satisfying things is leaving a meal energized and not stuffed. Through the process of intuitive eating and no deprivation, I have gotten to this place because I have learned that I enjoy the feeling of being “satisfied” after a meal best, and my body is ok with this since it knows I will honor my hunger when it comes again.

3) Tune out how much you “should” eat (based upon what other people are eating) and listen to your body’s hunger/fullness.
We all have different energy needs. Our energy needs can be very different from other people (this hopefully is not a surprise!) and our own energy needs fluctuate throughout our lives. Tuning out the shoulds means trying not to compare what you eat to what other people eat. There are always going to be people who need more food or less food than you, but ultimately your body knows best and it will tell you through hunger and fullness. For example, I am a tall, active person and my body needs a good amount of fuel throughout the day. I used to feel ashamed of the fact that I would eat more than other girls and went through a period where I was trying to eat what I felt like my body “should” need instead of listening to hunger. This deprivation period was eventually followed by a period of overeating, and I have learned that in the end my body knows best and will tell me how much food it needs.

True health comes from appreciating our bodies and wanting to take care of them and nourish them. Tuning into our bodies is learning our body’s unique signs of hunger and fullness and feeling confident in our body’s ability to tell us what it needs. You see we can be told eat your fruits and vegetables, move more, don’t overeat, etc. But, none of these things will be lasting if they don’t stem from a desire within oneself to care for his/her body. So, are you tuning into the “shoulds” or tuning into your beautiful body and its unique needs? I hope we can all learn to cherish what our bodies allows you to do, care for them in a way that helps us live life fully, and nourish them to give us health and energy!

Note: Connecting to Ourselves is a monthly column written by Janet Zimmerman. Janet will be writing about a wide variety of topics to help you connect with the best ways to take care of YOU! Janet is a dietetic student, positive body image advocate, and intuitive eating promoter. You can find Janet on twitter @JanetZimmerman where she loves tweeting yummy recipes, positive quotes, and mindful tweets.
 

Guest Post: A Letter to my Hair

Marci Anderson - Thursday, August 25, 2011

Elizabeth is a RD-to-be who hopes to change the world-one self-loving thought at a time! She loves spreading this message in person, through social media, and on her blog Guiltless.

Dear Hair,

Thanks for covering my not-attractive-when-bald head. Thanks for blowing in the breeze, keeping my head warm in the snow, and obeying when I pull you up into a tight ponytail or bun. I haven't always, but right now, I really like you. And I want to say thanks.

Thanks for being red and curly (just like dad's!) when i was a little tyke.

Thanks for making my sister and I look adorably innocent for a period of time, while you were straight and blond.

Thanks for enduring endless knots and "ratsnests" as I forget about brushing you while I played in the woods, and dirt, getting quite a bit of sap stuck in you.


I now understand that below is not your fault. Curly, frizzy hair was new to me and my mother (thanks puberty) and I really didn't know what to do with you. So i brushed you. Poor decisions. (as evidenced below. am i really publishing this?)



Thanks for enduring awkward tween/teen years as I pulled bangs out of pony tails, experimented with straightening and just generally didn't know what the heck to do with you.

Thank you for being curly. Thank you for letting the sun give my strawberry-blonde locks highlights, which look better than any professional can do. Thanks for enduring the occasional straightener. I'm doing that much less now if you noticed. I've embraced my curls. Thanks for not extending the 10 minutes it takes for me to get ready every morning, by requiring that you be blown dry, or straightened or curled. Thanks for getting ready by air.


We've had our good days and our bad days, and it's been an off-and-on relationship. It's a long time coming, but I can now for sure say that i love you hair, so Thank you.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth

Do you have a love or hate relationship with your hair? are you pro-dying/ curling/ straightening or au naturale? please do tell!
 

#endED Twitter Chat with Andrea Owen

Marci Anderson - Saturday, August 13, 2011

Save the date! Wednesday, August 17th I'll be tweeting with my guest expert Andrea Owen. We'll be talking about practical solutions to staying sane and maintaing a positive body image in the summer months! Andrea is a professional life coach and speaker. She is passionate about empowering women and girls to value their character and feel beautiful by manifesting respect and love for themselves first and foremost. She has helped hundreds of people manage their inner-critic to break through and live their most kick-ass life.

Follow @marciRD & @andrea_owen on twitter and the hashtag #ENDED at 8:30pm EST on 8/17.

Not sure how Twitter works? Check out this primer. Let us know you're coming on the Facebook event page.

About: The goal of #endED is to bring anyone and everyone together who care about ending eating disorders. My hope is to end the silence and myths about eating disorders, create a place for honest and informed discussion, while offering hope and encouragement.

You can find Andrea here!
Twitter: andrea_owen
Web/blog: www.yourkickasslife.com
FB: www.facebook.com/yourkickasslife

Here's what we'll be chatting about:
In what ways does a negative self-image keep a person from living a full life?

As temperatures rise, body image issues tend to escalate as well. What are events and situations that tend to be most challenging?

Many women dread picking out a swimsuit. Any tips for swimsuit or summer clothes shopping? 

What are practical things people can do to have fun at BBQs, beach and pool parties despite feeling body conscious?

Body and weight talk tends to come up in social situations (i.e. I hate my thighs, I wish I could get a tummy tuck). Any ideas on how to deal with uncomfortable body talk?

Negative body image seems to be acceptable in our society, how can a person know whether their food and body struggles require more support such as outpatient counseling, residential care, etc.


 

Does This Uterus Make Me Look Fat?

Marci Anderson - Friday, August 05, 2011

How many advertisements and articles have you seen in your lifetime that sell you the idea of getting a "flat belly?" I've seen a zillion and I'm sick of it. In fact, I was brewing up a blog post about it and telling one of my clients about it. We were talking about the female anatomy and how as women our middles hold digestive organs (think stomach, liver, and intestines) as well as reproductive organs (think ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and uterus). Plus we need extra padding to protect all of those vital organs! A woman's belly IS NOT MEANT TO BE FLAT.


So as I was getting all worked up about this, my client informed me that she already wrote a blog post about this very issue! And it's even better than what I could have written myself. Gratefully, she has allowed me to share it with you. I am sharing part of it, but if you'd like to read it in its fabulous entirety, check it out here. Plus she has other helpful musings on how to be media savvy in our often toxic culture. Enjoy.


Thanks to photoshop, it's very easy for women to forget what a "real" woman's body looks like. My mother used to refer to it as her Kangaroo Pouch. The endless messaging of "targeting those hard to reach lower abdominals" in our core workouts, combined with the airbrushing out of any softness in a woman's lower belly has completely eradicated an all important fact from our minds - Women. Have. A. Uterus.

What's cool is that it helps us do all sorts of neat things, like ovulation, so that we can someday make some cute looking babies. Let's take a look at this before and after photo of Serena Williams shall we?



Before Severe Uterus Castration and After

See now I'm almost standing on my computer chair ready to deliver a tyrannical speech on "Saving the Uterus". Firstly, Serena is an extremely fit and strong woman, with abs that could probably survive one of those Acme weights or pianos falling on top of them.



Secondly, and this is key, she is a woman. By smoothing out (and airbrushing in) her stomach area, you are essentially removing that which makes her female, and you are perpetuating a myth that there is such a thing as a concave lower belly that occurs naturally, and not through extreme starvation. In essence, anorexia does the same thing to a woman as the photoshopped picture above - it removes the womanhood from the female, and creates a little girl. It removes any purposefulness, other than to be looked at through (or consumed by) the male gaze.

In the depths of my eating disorder, I lost the ability to menstruate. While of course women would kill to not go through the millions of annoyances of having a monthly cycle, for me it was the ultimate wake up call. I started having dreams of babies - dreams and nightmares. Babies floating on clouds, babies screaming and crying and me running through tangled woods to try and find them, babies who were hungry and I could find no food to soothe them. I recalled watching my mother try to conceive, the failure of her systems to operate properly bringing her miscarriage after miscarriage, watching as my father had to inject her with shots of infertility drugs, watching as she turned into a skeleton of herself as she cried in her room while others became pregnant when she did not. I remembered the joy in her eyes when my sister was finally born.

Suddenly, I wanted to fight for my uterus.

Now, I'm constantly amazed and astounded at my body. When I pay attention, I learn something new from it every day. I notice how my uterus ascends upwards after I ovulate in preparation for a baby (that will definitely not be coming anytime soon, but still!). I notice that this makes my stomach stick out for the two weeks prior to my period. And instead of lamenting my "kangaroo pouch", I thank it. I send it warm thoughts on how grateful I am that it is working properly. I continue to nourish my body and I recognize that underneath all the photoshopping, all women, everywhere, have a uterus.

Even if you don't want kids, isn't that a comforting thought?

 

Client Spotlight: Happiness Starts Now, Not in 10 Pounds

Marci Anderson - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I talk about body image and weight a lot. Our culture values thinness (sometimes under the guise of health) and places one image of beauty on a pedestal (thin, lean, blonde, Caucasian). Consequently, a lot of women find themselves lost in self-loathing as they don’t seem to measure up. Rather than putting their energy into positive self-care, they put themselves on unsustainable diets and exercise regimens then blame themselves for not being able to “stick with it.” (Why not blame the regimen, I wonder?)

I often hear women say that they put themselves through this because they simply cannot be happy or go after their dreams until they lose weight. If they lose weight, they’ll have the confidence (or whatever else) they need to take their dream vacation or go after a new job. I’ve got a news flash for you- life is passing you by!

A client of mine recently wrote this journal entry and I received her permission to share it.

“Lately I’ve been trying so hard to convince myself that things will get better once I’m thinner. But the past actually shows me that this is totally unrealistic. When I was thinner, I was too hungry, too busy at the gym, and too obsessed to be happy.”

Don’t lose yourself chasing after a number on the scale. Live your life now. Sure that includes moderate, healthy, balanced nutrition and exercise (and by the way, your healthy weight will naturally follow on its own). I’m not suggesting you abandon taking good care of yourself. In fact, happiness is a by-product of good self-care. But I am suggesting that life is so much more than your dream weight. It’s about relationships, experiences, and moments that may pass you by if you’re too focused on the calorie count to enjoy it.
 

Be Big

Marci Anderson - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

*Note: the post below is written by a client of mine, who happens to be extremely passionate about swimming. This article (in a longer form) appeared in the July/August 2011 New England Masters newsletter. She shared it with me and I was extremely eager to share it with you. Enjoy.

Recently at the pool I admired a guy swimmer’s newly peroxided hair. The guys around him said, “Yeah, we call him the Blond Baller now.” “Argh!” I screamed. For weeks I had been trying to come up with a female swim power phrase, the equivalent for “macho.” Our language doesn’t have many, or any, female swim power words.

The Blond Baller is a superfast sprinter, so I assumed the “Baller” part of his nickname referred to his fast (swim) stroke. I posted my female swim power language dilemma on the US Masters swim forum and got some interesting suggestions, many of them, ironically, from men—Piscine Goddess, Aqua Aphrodite, and Buff Babes—but none met my criteria of using body language words to convey power. I had my own pitiful list: Ball Busters (later on that one), Water Sweepers (thinking of housekeepers), Power Surgers, Tough-Breasted. Bleah.

Meanwhile, another thread on the masters swim forum was talking about Janet Evans’s possible return to Olympic swimming. A few guy masters swimmers close to her age began worrying that she would be able to beat them. One guy posted, “I used to think I was safe from being ‘chicked’ by masters women roughly near my age in distance races.” Another guy then suggested the term “outchicked” as a way to describe a powerful female swimmer, but this suggested a relational kind of power (aka “Ball Buster”) rather than pure female power.

I found some good nicknames for Olympic female swimmers: Faith Leech, a 1956 Australian Olympic freestyler, was known as the “Flying Fish” because of her streamlined length and “elegant” technique. Mary T. Meagher was known as “Madame Butterfly,” and AP quotes described Janet Evans as “a Force of Nature,” “a whirling dervish of a swimmer,” “perpetual motion.” There was one female-only suggestion from the masters swim forum that I sort of liked: “bitchin,’” as in “bitchin’ sprinter” (though it still has a slightly negative ring).

In the back of my mind, though, I kept thinking “Big Girls.” At a lot of swim meets, the really powerful female swimmers are big. Big shoulders, big arms, big backs, big quads, big muscles overall. They aren’t the majority, but they aren’t the minority either. I think of swimming as a sport where it’s OK to be “sized.” Big Women doesn’t do it for me—it’s gotta be Big Girls, to tie in to the link from childhood on that girls are supposed to be small. Petite. Svelte. Even if very strong, you can’t look it, else you risk being called manly or compared to former East German steroid-enhanced female Olympic swimmers.

I’ll take Evans’s “Force of Nature” any day, but I also want to say to every girl and woman who swims (or does any type of physical activity for that matter): Be Big. Take up a lot of space. Be a Big Force of Nature, a Big Whirling Dervish, a Big Powerful Bitchin’ Swimmer who doesn’t care about “outchicking” guys, but just wants to move with power and strength.

Be a Big Girl and be proud of it.