Metabolism and movement: Calculating food and exercise or activating bodies in Dutch weight management
In this article, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the Netherlands, I explore how weight management practices adapt scientific knowledge to the pragmatics of daily life. I contrast two ‘metabolic logics’: one premises calculating food and exercise to ensure energy balance; the other, operating as a critique to the first, puts its hope in activating people’s metabolic rate. Metabolic logics, I stress, do not just present ideas on bodily functioning. They are also and importantly a practical and material affair. The first approach incites a desire and sense of responsibility in people to have control over and correct their bodies, while the second, foregrounding less measurable forms of health, hinges on a person’s responsivity and trust in other active entities. Metabolic practices do not merely follow scientific insights into how fat comes about; they include estimations of what knowledge is helpful in daily life when overweight is a concern. However, innovation is difficult, as in exercise machines, recommended dietary intakes or diet shakes, figures of food as fuel and bodies as machines stubbornly sediment. In conclusion, I suggest that when ‘thinking metabolically’ we address metabolism as part of the socio-material practices that narrate eating, bodies and moving together in particular ways.
Keywordsexercise eating metabolism health promotion food body
I confirm that the manuscript comprises original material that is not under review elsewhere. The study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review. I have no competing interests in the research detailed in this manuscript.
- Ainsworth, B.E., Haskell, W.L., Herrmann, S.D., Meckes, N., Bassett, D.R., Jr, Tudor-Locke, C.,… Leon, A.S. (2011) 2011 compendium of physical activities: A second update of codes and MET values. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 43(8): 1575–1581.Google Scholar
- Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek. (April 5, 2016) Lengte en gewicht van personen, ondergewicht en overgewicht; vanaf 1981. Retrieved from http://statline.cbs.nl/Statweb/publication/?DM=SLNL&PA=81565NED&D1=0-4&D2=0&D3=5&D4=0&D5=0,10,20,30-33&HDR=T&STB=G1,G2,G3,G4&CHARTTYPE=3&VW=T.
- Cousins, T. (2015) A mediating capacity: Towards an anthropology of the gut. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2(2): 1–27.Google Scholar
- Coveney, J. (2002) Food, Morals and Meaning: The Pleasure and Anxiety of Eating. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Gudzune, K.A., Doshi, R.S., Mehta, A.K., Chaudhry, Z.W., Jacobs, D.K., Vakil, R.M.,… Clark, J.M. (2015) Efficacy of commercial weight-loss programs: An updated systematic review. Annals of Internal Medicine 162(7): 501–512.Google Scholar
- Ibáñez Martín, R. (2014). Bad to eat? Empirical explorations of fat as food. (Unpublished Doctoral dissertation). University of Salamanca, Madrid.Google Scholar
- Just Christensen, B. (2014). Eating practices: Social and cultural aspects of hunger and fullness. (Unpublished PhD Dissertation). University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics, Copenhagen.Google Scholar
- Kendrick, R. (2013) Metabolism as strategy: Agency, evolution, and biological hinterlands. In: E. Abbots, and A. Lavis (eds.) Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters Between Foods and Bodies. Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 237–254.Google Scholar
- Landecker, H. (2013) Postindustrial metabolism: Fat knowledge. Public Culture 25(3 71): 495–522.Google Scholar
- Latour, B. (1987) Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Law, J. (1994) Organizing Modernity. Oxford UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Martin, E. (1987) The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
- Martin, E. (1994) Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
- Mudry, J. (2009) Measured Meals: Nutrition in America. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
- Rabinbach, A. (1992) The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Sontag, S. (1978) Illness as Metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.Google Scholar