That was the title of the article in Muse (a local feminist 'zine) that made me furiously angry. I believe it's anti-woman, and I have a huge problem with it being in a feminist magazine.
Activists keep on putting out really mainstream advice on nutrition, and then pretending it's radical because they use slightly different phrases (for instance if you don't want to talk about low-carbs, you can condemn wheat, or refined carbohydrates, for similar effect). There's this idea that nutritional information is hard to find. But much of the advice given in this article is also in a mainstream article, on how to keep well during your menstrual cycle, which was printed a few pages earlier in the same 'zine (I assume they were making fun of the mainstream article, but you can never be sure). You could find any of the advice (and much of the language) in Cosmo or Cleo. I would pay $100 to any woman who read that article and hadn't already heard at least 80% of the advice it contained many times.
Nutirtion appears to be one of the few areas where repeating mainstream ideas is portrayed as radical. I wouldn't think it did any harm, if I didn't think those mainstream ideas were harmful. But it's hardly a controversial idea that mainstream ideas about food and women's bodies are bad for women. I think most people would agree with me. Just a straight comparison shows that there isn't much difference between mainstream ideas and the ideas that keep popping up in feminist zines and so on. Therefore the ideas we're promoting are harmful. That's not a particularly hard bit of logic to follow. And yet...
It makes me particularly angry because knowledge about how to manage menstrual problems matters. I dealt with premenstrual depression, serious depression that would last up to two weeks and made it very difficult to cope, for three or four years. It was solved by changing my diet (I'm intolerant to dairy). My life is incomparably better now than it was before. But the advice in this article won't help any woman who is in the position I was in.
There are some truly ridiculous phrases in the article, that are begging out to be mocked, so I will oblige. But then I'll try and examine the article in more depth, and explain why I don't think it actually promotes wise ways for women's wellness.
2. Avoid Refined Carbohydrates: [...] They rapidly convert to sugar in the body which contributes to hypoglycaemia, and any excess (that is not burnt off with exercise) will turn to fat.Well obviously food which might turn into to fat (unless you burn it off with exercise) must be avoided at all costs. Every feminist magazine should condemn food that might be turned into fat.
3. Avoid saturdated animal fat and hydrogenated oils. As well as contributing to obesity and heart disease...Obesity and heart disease: one is medical condition that can kill you, the other is being fat. Notice which one is first placed first.
...Limit dairy products other than low-fat organic yoghurtIt's not just that she maintains a 'we must avoid evil fat' mentality, it's that she doesn't explain why. Why is low-fat organic yoghurt OK? Why isn't full-fat organic yoghurt? Will low-fat non-organic yoghurt turn you into a pumpkin? And what if you eat cheese?
4. Increase Your Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Intake. These are the good fats...Yes, these fats tidy their bedrooms, write to their grandmothers and look both ways before crossing the road. I would never take nutirtional advice from anyone who can't confuses food and morality.
5. Maintain a health body weight. A very low body weight will lower oestrogen levels to the point where periods may stop and bone density is reduced, increasing the risk of osteoperosis later in life. On the other hand, obesity, especially if concentrated centrally in the body, can lead to insulin resistance.Number one this is just plain wrong. Insulin resistence is only just beginning to be understood, and while there is evidence of a correlation between body fat around the middle and insulin resistence, there is no evidence that fat around the middle causes insulin resistence.
Number 2 obesity is classified as having a Body Mass Index over 30. Obesity and fat are not synonymous, you are classified as obese even if you have a very low body-fat and lots of muscle. Presumably what she was trying to say was that you are more likely to get insulin resistence conditions if you are an apple shape as opposed to a pear shape. But that's not obesity concentrating centrally (and as I always said correlation does not prove causation).
Number 3 Advising other women to lose weight, in a feminist magazine? What the fuck ever.
6. Avoid Environmental Hormone Disruptors[...] Choosing to eat organically farmed meat, fish and poultry (including eggs) will reduce your exposure to the synthetic hormones which are conventionally used to encourage animal growth and milk production.Whether or not we eat organically farmed meat is entirely a choice. Some of us choose to buy organically farmed meat, others choose to be too poor.
But there are other problems with the article. The author tells us to avoid aerobic exercise during menstruation without telling us why. She's also constantly warning us against excess hormones, without explaining how you'd know if you had excess hormones, and why they're are a problem.
That's the fundamental problem with the article. It reads as if the author thinks that all women's bodies are the same, and that all menstrual symptoms can be alleviated by the same behaviour.
She doesn't provide any actual information, just instructions. There's no talk about how your hormones work. Nothing concrete, just more reasons women should control different aspects of our diet.
There are huge variations in menstruation related symptoms, and not a lot is known about how they fit together and what they mean (this is at least partly because a decade or so doctors started prescribing prozac for menstrual problems, so from a medical perspective the problem is solved). For anyone who wants to try and alleviate any of their symptoms, either medically or alternatively, it's exhausting, not made any easier by the people who are trying to help you (and I'm more than willing to pass on my limited information, if anyone has any questions, because it sucks doing it by yourself).
I remember researching this, searching desperately for something, anything that could explain what was happening to me. All I would find was these long lists of things that I shouldn't eat, much like the one in this article, although most of them had salt as a forbidden food. I remember being incredibly frustrated with these lists, because they wouldn't tell you what would help what symptoms. I think, although it didn't say, that getting rid of salt was for people who got bloated round their period. I've never had that. I wouldn't necessarily be able to recognise if if I did. I didn't need to get rid of salt, but salt was included on the list, because you're supposed to eat less salt. These books all took the attitude that their goal was to perfect women's diet, rather than allievate our symptoms.
In the end I discovered how intolerant I was to dairy by accident when I got a really bad cold. About six months later my Mum found one of the books she'd bought me. It said that if you suffered pre-menstrual depression you could try and eliminate dairy. But it also said you should eliminate sugar, caffine, wheat, and a whole bunch of other things I don't even remember now. I never found the useful information because it was so crowded out with other 'useful' information.