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August 2, 2009 / Katie


Welcome to Kataphatic, a blog about fat liberation theology. We’re going to start out with a post about hunger. I would like to direct you to the right side of the page, where you can read about this blog and comment policy, learn a bit about me, or leave questions or comments. Without further ado, let us begin…

A study was released last month that seemed to imply that “calorie-restricted eating” leads to longer life (one of many examples here). I watched Seattle’s KOMO 4 news’ reporting of this study, and as part of their study they also interviewed a husband and wife team of scientists studying the effects on themselves of being constantly hungry. The interviewer choked on the goopy green smoothie (the couple’s daily breakfast) she was served by the husband, and the screen cut to the wife, whose skin was fallow and papery, talking about how they believed their lifestyle would lead to longer life.

Now, this does seem extreme, and most people don’t live like this. But this mentality permeates our culture in ways that aren’t so extreme; in ways that are in fact quite typical. Weight Watchers is currently running a series of TV advertisements (one example) for their new Momentum Program depicting “hungry” as a furry orange (and might I say rather cute!) monster. The voiceover says:

Dont let his cuteness fool you,
not even for a second.
He tempts. He taunts. He distracts.
He stands between you and losing
weight. Conquer Hungry with Weight
Watchers new Momentum Program

This is not at all out of the ordinary. We frequently use language to describe our hunger that betrays a belief that it is not only “a separate entity” rather than part of our own body, but also an enemy. It is something to struggle against, to fight, and ultimately, something to conquer. This is basically war imagery!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be at war with what is a natural and normal part of my body’s functioning. I also don’t happen to think that is God’s best for our bodies. So where does this distrust and hatred of hunger come form?

Within the Christian church today, and largely in US American society, there are echoes of a duality between the physical and spiritual, earthly and heavenly, body and soul. That which is physical and embodied is seen as corruptible and fallen, we are to be skeptical of it and do our best to control it. That which is spiritual is seen as perfect and holy; we are to cultivate it and try to be spiritual more than earthly. The spirit is at war with the flesh and anything that is “of the flesh,” hunger included (and also thirst, sexuality, emotions, and many others) becomes a prime target. These dualistic echoes come from a variety of places, including Gnosticism and a kind of Platonized Christianity (for a more in-depth discussion of this, see Kelly Brown Douglas’ book What’s Faith Got to Do With It?).

Let’s turn back to the study of the monkeys. There were a number of problems with this study, not the least of which was that the data was manipulated to show a larger correlation than there actually was between calorie-restricted eating and longevity. Moreover, even if it’s true that constant hunger might elongate our life briefly, the psychological, social, and physiological problems associated with constant hunger simply aren’t worth it. For more on this, check out this post over at Junkfood Science by nurse and blogger Sandy Szwarc.

All of this is the “bad news,” that we not only live in a society that demonizes our hunger but that our scientists are willing to skew the data in ways that support this demonization! But this blog is really about the Good News–the Gospel–for fat* folks (and really for everyone). This blog will be about the message of Jesus, the bringer of the Good News, who was a pretty earthy kinda guy, living fully into his body. In Luke 7 and Matthew 11 we see that Jesus is being called a “glutton” and a “drunkard.” The nuances around those words would fill multiple blog posts, but for now let’s just say that Jesus, the prime example for Christians of living life fully, ate and drank and partied with his friends. He affirmed the goodness of satisfying bodily appetites in pleasurable ways. And not only that, but he used food and drink as a metaphor to describe himself! He said “I am the bread of life” and at the last supper he used the bread and the wine as symbols of the gift of his body, and the new covenant, to God’s people.

Trying to control or defeat such a natural part of our body functioning does not affirm the goodness of our bodies as they are created. Sure, we are animals who have evolved along with other species. But we are also more than animals. We have been created; fearfully and wonderfully made. And our passions, our desires, our bodily hungers and needs are all good gifts from our Creator. Rather than seeing hunger as an enemy, fleeing from it or fighting it, what if we befriended it? Imagine how things might be different if we learned to listen to the message hunger has for us, to allow its subtle cues to teach us the types and amounts of foods our bodies need. What are we afraid will happen if we stop trying to defeat or control our hunger; that it will destroy us with completely out-of-control eating? This is one of God’s good gifts to us! It will not destroy us; instead, it can help us live more full lives.

Your hunger, your thirst, indeed your very body, are all good gifts, not bad things that must be fought against. Cherish your body. Treasure your hunger! With thanksgiving and rejoicing, let us eat and drink and remember that being embodied is a good gift.

* in this blog, the term “fat” will be used as a simple descriptor, no different than short or tall, curly-haired or straight-haired. I will explore the reasoning for this in more detail in a subsequent post.


Leave a Comment
  1. oliverenergywork / Aug 3 2009 2:13 am

    Another spin on this is to consider what “hunger” means to someone who can’t access food, as compared to what it means to someone who is intentionally limiting their food intake. If I can’t afford food and I am hungry, I think it is appropriate to see “hunger” as an “enemy”…and the appropriate way to fight that enemy is to EAT!

    It is interesting to note, as well, that for someone who is hungry because they can’t access food, their hunger has to do with physical weakness; whereas someone who is hungry and choosing not to eat will consider their hunger to be related to moral/character/personal weakness.

    Another-other take on this: having grown up with people with eating disorders, I believe that for many perpetual dieters hunger is not so much seen as an “enemy” to be fought, but actually as a friend to embrace, or at least as a pesky neighbor to tolerate gracefully. The person is not trying to stop being hungry (which makes sense since, as aforementioned, the way to STOP being hungry is to EAT!)…they’re trying to accept that they are going to have to be hungry in order to fight the perceived “fat” enemy.

    I’m not sure how much sense I am making at 5am? But these are some thoughts coming up for me as I read this.

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 8:38 am

      a lot of the same issues were running through my mind as I wrote this, but I didn’t want it to end up twice as long! I actually gave a sermon on the feeding of the 5,000 a week ago Sunday and looked at some of those issues, and am planning on doing a follow up post on this to address some of them.

      I hadn’t thought about the idea that some perpetual dieters consider being hungry all the time something like a “pesky neighbor to tolerate gracefully” but it’s definitely something interesting to think about, especially in light of that couple that I talked about who basically HAVE decided to be hungry all the time!

  2. Nina / Aug 3 2009 4:20 am

    hi, I am a friend of Oliver Danni Green…she made a link to this post, and I commented on the link. she told me to share it with you, so here it is:

    It’s not that it’s bad to give in to hunger that people are talking about with health. It’s more that people eat when they are NOT hungry. The ads are more talking about appetite than anything else. Also, any extreme is bad. Yes, the couple who “choke down” the green thing, and are obsessed with being skinny are unhealthy, but so are the people who are very overweight. I have been on both ends of the spectrum. I have eaten and eaten, and embraced my weight when I was big, (I am 5’4″ and weighed 275 pounds) and also worked out and eaten right and become thin again (currently 145 pounds). The trick is to work out, and eat ONLY when you are hungry, not when you are bored, or stressed, or tired, or studying or something like that. It isn’t necessary to be skinny, but to be healthy, and most obese people are not healthy. 10 percent of all medical costs are due to obesity. Anyway I guess my point is that what is important is to eat right, and exercise, and it IS good to eat when you are hungry.

    • Robert / Aug 3 2009 6:55 am


      I want to challenge the “most obese people are not healthy” comment. Certainly the extremes of thinness and obesity are not healthy (and stem from the Platonic, black and white dualism which is addressed in the blog), however there are plenty of people who are obese (or very thin) who are not unhealthy and do not lead unhealthy lives and who’s bodily conditions are due to genetics or hormonal conditions that are beyond their control.

      I know many women who are very fat who are very healthy. They eat only when hungry, they exercise and stretch and laugh and live. And they are still fat regardless of these healthy choices and are still demonized because of the condition of their bodies.

      I myself eat many vegetables, and exercise often and I am still fat due to a chronic condition and when I go to the store on an occasion to purchase ice cream I get “knowing” looks from the clerks and other customers.

      I also think that this blog is not about the “trick” to being skinny or “healthy” but being healthy, happy and whole in the body you have, not constantly striving for a body you want and don’t have, for whatever reason.

      • Nina / Aug 3 2009 8:04 am

        ooh my bad I called Oliver “she” instead of “he”

        my bad

        my apologies to anyone that I offended, including Oliver.

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 8:49 am

      Hi Nina,

      I’m glad you’re here and thank you for taking the time to comment :)

      What you are talking about here is society’s “bad news” for fat folks, and this blog is about Good News. Please see the Comment Policy, particularly number 3.

      Robert tackled some of your assumptions, and if you keep reading you will see information that will call into question other assumptions that society makes about fat folks.

      Everyone is welcome here, but I must insist that the comments stay on topic and be about Good News for fat folks.

      • oliverenergywork / Aug 3 2009 9:15 am

        Hey Katie — just wanted to make it clear, Nina had posted her comment on my FB post about the blog, and when I saw it I suggested that she post it here to bring it to your discussion under the assumption that comments generated from your posts would better be discussed on the actual post with you participating in the dialogue. I hadn’t read your comment policy before I told her to do that.

        I still will suggest to you that, rather than forbidding comments like Nina’s, they can be seen as a good opportunity for us to observe the “bad news” we are countering with good news. I have found that telling someone who is genuinely seeking a deeper understanding of a sensitive topic that their comments are “against the rules” creates discomfort (both for the original commentor and for others who may see the rules being enforced) which, rather than inviting further dialogue and opportunity for learning, silences the very people who stand to benefit most from the good news.

        • Katie / Aug 3 2009 9:40 am

          thanks for pointing that out, Oliver, because by the time I read the rest of her comment and Robert’s, I had forgotten that she said you directed her here!

          I think what I’m trying to do here is make this a space where fat people can find a kind of oasis in the desert of a society that is constantly telling them they’re not good enough. I’d hate for folks to read an encouraging post and then go to the comments only to find all the same old painful stuff. And I also don’t want fat folks to feel pressure that they have to explain or defend themselves within the comments.

          It’s a fine line, because I realize a lot of the people who think fat is unhealthy, etc. are themselves fat and in need of the good news. So I hope that people will understand the difference between, “all you fat folks need to understand you’re unhealthy” and “I really struggle with the belief that I am too unhealthy because I am fat”

          I also kind of want to nip this sort of thing in the bud because I don’t want to end up having to moderate comments or, worse, turn them off altogether. As a teacher, my general approach is usually to start of strict and get lenient later 8-)

        • Katie / Aug 3 2009 10:08 am

          also, I updated the “comment policy” to be a bit more friendly sounding and clarify a difference between personal struggles and lecturing :)

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 9:36 am

      Hi again Nina,

      By the time I read through your comment and Robert’s I had forgotten that Oliver actually directed you here, so I want to just add one more thing. I most definitely do NOT want you to feel uncomfortable commenting here :) Basically my intention here is that I’m reaching out to a group of folks who constantly, every day and all day, are reminded that people think they are unhealthy, lazy, ugly, stupid, etc. Now while many folks these days would agree that those last three are wrong, the “unhealthy” one still sticks because it is SO pervasive. But the studies, the facts, and people’s lived experiences just don’t support that fat is, by definition, unhealthy. I’ll be exploring a lot of those studies and experiences here in this blog so if you’re curious about that I do hope you keep reading.

      The thing is, I don’t want fat folks to read a post of mine and (hopefully!) find some encouragement, only to get to the comments and see “the same old stuff” …. you know what I mean? I’m not trying to silence anyone, it’s just that we already hear those messages loud and clear, everywhere else. I don’t want that to end up being a majority of the comments, and I don’t want fat folks to feel like they have to spend their time explaining these things, because I want this place to be a kind of oasis for them. I hope I am making sense and I really hope I haven’t discouraged you from participating here.

  3. J Kel Vick / Aug 3 2009 6:05 am

    I too was referred here by Oliver Danni. This is a wonderful essay that resonates with me point by point. I look forward to reading more.

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 8:50 am

      So glad you came by! And thanks for letting me know it resonated with you :)

  4. Robert / Aug 3 2009 7:06 am

    I wanted to also follow-up about what Oliver mentioned above about the access to food and how I think it goes hand in hand with fat liberation.

    Far too many people in our world and increasingly in our country do not have access to basic nutrition while the minority of the world has an overwhelming amount.

    Perhaps, Kate, you’ll address this in another post, but I would assume since this is billed as a “liberation theology” that not only will the systemic oppressions which demonize fat people (and particularly fat women) be address theologically) but also the oppressions and systems that keep many in the world hungry and powerless will also be addressed. I think they’re strongly linked oppressions having to do with the body, with who controls food and sends messages about it and how those messages are received, understood and acted upon. That couple who can choose to be hungry are displaying an almost sickening privilege. Perhaps they are attempting their constant hunger not only for their health but to be in a similar condition with an awful lot of the world, but on the surface they carry a lot of unacknowledged privilege as they smugly and willfully remain hungry.

    We all know the story of the Loaves and Fish and how Jesus was able to give all their fill, and that we should be striving to produce a similar “miracle” with the food that is already present on the earth.

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 8:43 am

      yes Robert, I absolutely want to tackle these issues in subsequent posts!

      I’ve never been “hungry” in the sense of folks who actually lack access to food, I’ve only been “hungry” in the sense that I have experienced being constantly on a diet, and it is to those people, who are “hungry by choice” that this particular post was directed. But, I absolutely think the intersections are crucial to talk about and as I wrote this the gears already began spinning about follow-up posts, and using the feeding of the thousands as a central image for it.

      Thanks for your comment because it really gives me some food for thought, especially about the unacknowledged privilege of that couple–I hadn’t thought about that!

  5. Shannon / Aug 3 2009 8:55 am

    This is a great start on a deep, rich topic. My rector had to recast the food lections in terms of material objects last Sunday, and it occurred to me that only in the first world do we have to turn the food stories in the Bible into metaphors for ipods and cars. Most people in the world still know what it means to be actually hungry for necessary food.

    It strikes me that a deep spiritual sickness leads us to demonize food and glorify living with hunger here where we have too much of everything and are so loathe to share (witness the scuttling of health reform because no one wants to pay a penny of extra tax money to benefit someone else).

    Then we turn our societal gluttony on individual human bodies which may or may not reflect individual gluttony (but most often–let me speculate–don’t). How convenient that the wealthy woman with 12 designer bags to match her designer clothes on any given day of the week and who pays a personal trainer to keep her thin can project her own ego-centric grasping onto a poor woman who can’t afford nutritious food, let alone a personal trainer.

    Ya know?

    Then of course there’s the simple matter of the vast human difference in bodies and other things–in which God delights, but which we are constantly trying to erase by glorifying one type of body (and other aspects of a human being) over all others as the single ideal.

    What a mess. You can blog this for the next thirty years easily, I’d say! Welcome!

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 8:59 am

      YES! You could have taken paragraphs 2 and 3 straight out of my own mouth!

      So glad you’re here :)

  6. Kay / Aug 3 2009 12:26 pm

    You’re brilliant. I am going to love this blog! Very interesting!

  7. Ily / Aug 3 2009 5:13 pm

    Here from fatshionista. This is a really interesting topic; I’m curious to read more. (And I also saw that commercial with the “hungry” monster and was really weirded out by it.)

  8. Jess / Aug 3 2009 6:42 pm

    Hello Katie,

    I found your blog by way of fatshionista. I am also a seminary graduate. I obtained my M.A. in Christian Education in ’05 from Union-PSCE. It was in seminary that I was first exposed to liberation theology in all of it’s glorious branches. I fell in love with liberation theology, and haven’t looked back. It was a huge a-ha moment for me and my naturally social justice minded self.

    I am very excited about your blog and look forward to reading it! It’s already stirring up so many thoughts and ponderings I had when I had more free time in seminary to ruminate on the ideas floating around in my head. I absolutely love that you are putting your focus here on liberating the oppressed fat folks with the Good News. Oh, this is just so exciting!

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 11:40 pm

      I had a very similar reaction to liberation theology! In fact, I took it my LAST quarter of seminary in combination with homiletics (strange for last quarter, I realize, but they front-loaded the clinical classes in the Pastoral Counseling degree so we’d be prepared for our internships, and then we took most theology courses at the end). And I felt like, “now that it’s my last quarter, I finally found my theological niche!” lol :)

      I’m excited you’re here! I do hope for rich dialogue in the comments from folks who can challenge and expand my thinking, so I look forward to hearing more from you :)

      • Jess / Aug 4 2009 10:35 am

        Thanks! I’m excited to be here :)

        Don’t you just hate how sometimes academic programs are arranged in such a way that you end up finding something you are really passionate about near the end?! I was fortunate in that one of the first courses I took was an introduction of sorts to theology, and my professor was a huge fan of liberation theology. Then I also had the immense pleasure of being a member of two of Katie Geneva Cannon, a womanist theologian, classes. She’s amazing. If you ever get the chance to hear her teach, preach, or speak don’t miss it!

  9. bri / Aug 3 2009 10:52 pm

    Hi Katie, I am the admin for the Notes from the Fatosphere and Fat Chat fat blog feeds. Would you like kataphatic to be added to the feeds?

    • Katie / Aug 3 2009 11:38 pm

      hi bri, thanks for stopping by. I would be delighted to be included in those feeds!

  10. Glen / Aug 4 2009 4:55 am

    War imagery aside, Weight Watchers isn’t evil and doesn’t teach anorexia. Rather, for the most part it helps people eat healthily. Particularly their “filling foods” (whole grains etc.) are very sensible. Hunger is never an enemy, but “laissez faire” indulgence of cravings for sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods is, I think, as harmful as any other unmoderated addiction. The Greeks had it right: everything in moderation!

    • Natalie L. / Aug 4 2009 6:14 am

      Glen, you clearly weren’t at the same WW meetings that I went to–in Michigan, Nebraska, and Delaware. While the leaders were different in personality, they all gave tips on how to binge eat while staying within one’s allotted points, gave recipes that were full of fillers and fake foods all designed so that you could eat as much as possible, and applauded women who got their body fat percentage down below 15%–which is well below what is considered “normal”.

      Their official materials, of course, give no hint of this sort of thing and maybe I just managed to get the crackpot leader three times in a row from three different franchises in three different states, but it certainly put me off the idea that WW cares about anything other than making money off women’s misery (yes, some men go to WW but it’s primarily women in the meetings and it’s women who are the target of their advertising).

  11. Shannon / Aug 4 2009 7:13 am

    Don’t know anything about WW except what I see on the commercials, but my limited experience in the “fitness” world leads me to believe you, Natalie.

    At a time when I was recovering from an illness that left me problematically underweight (I weighed about 99 lbs and am 5’7″), a “personal trainer” at a gym I had been given a membership to recommended I lose 10 lbs in order to bring my BMI to under 18% fat. It didn’t even cross his mind that even if 18% fat was a reasonable and healthy goal(not saying it is), perhaps I ought to get there by gaining muscle mass (which is actually what happened naturally when I started working out there–without consulting the “trainers” again, I quickly GAINED 10 lbs).

    It left me ever-after concerned about what the “personal trainers” of the world are telling women they need to do to be “healthy.” I’m just glad I knew my own body well enough to laugh at him when he told me my ideal weight was 89 pounds!

    Now that I have two daughters, I worry MUCH more about the eating disorder epidemic (which I have yet to hear called such in the media) than I am about the “obesity epidemic.”

  12. Brady / Aug 5 2009 5:08 pm

    In this country where I have access to so much abundance, I feel that it is shameful to feel hunger. I try to eat well and really relish my food choices. I’ve been considered obese since seventh grade. This is my strong and powerful body, and I am grateful for it.

  13. Susan / Aug 8 2009 9:21 pm

    I’m here via fattie_rage, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more.

    It isn’t just war imagery in the WW ad; it’s the exact same language I’ve seen Christians use to encourage people to resist the temptations of Satan. The fat=evil paradigm comes through loud and clear in this language, making enduring hunger into a spiritual victory in the fight against the fat Satan. And I bet more than a few people of faith internalize that message and, consciously or not, consider their fat spiritual peers to be somehow less “pure”.

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