On the biggest loser debacle

Hello,

Happy Friday!

I was really hoping to sit down this week and write a great post about some nutrition related thing, but it never happened. So I thought I’d take a quick moment and comment on the big hubbaloo that happened last week around the study on the biggest loser that came out.

First a couple links to great blog posts discussing it:

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff: http://www.vox.com/2016/5/10/11649210/biggest-loser-weight-loss

Regan Christian: https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/the-biggest-losers-big-surprise/

Really I’m not sure I can add much more. To anyone who pays attention to research around weight loss, weight focused health or obesity research this is just one more study in a long list of studies affirming this one idea: long term extreme amounts of weight loss is not easy, very often not sustainable and in general not actually healthy.

I think Dr. Freedhoff says it best when he talks about being a runner as a metaphor for weight loss. If we considered only Boston Marathon qualifiers to be successful runners, we’d have a whole lot of not-real-runners out there.

The truth is the focus on weight, and thus weight loss, as a health measurement is a fallacy that keeps getting promoted as fact. There are a lot of companies, organizations and people dependent on this myth being taken as fact. The diet industry does not want you to win at weight loss because it would be a financial loss, they also don’t want you to stop trying because again financial loss. Even a lot of health and medical institutions have a large buy in to weight loss as a panache for all your health ailments; if they can promise you weight loss it’s a visible way for them to prove they’re improving your health, but sadly their promises fall short so often.

Tied into all this is of course some of our North American societal ideals: being thin is a desirable trait, a measurement of attractiveness, and don’t even get me started on the morality we have attached to food, nutrition, thin and fat bodies, and the constant hunt for “bettering” ourselves through health.

While I am all for people living healthy lives, health should support the best life you want (and like) living. You don’t owe health to anyone, and you certainly don’t owe anyone a constant battle for a thinner “better” you. 

One of the hardest parts with this is giving up the dream of the perfect body, and the perfect life it supposedly promises. With the amount of fat stigma, fat shaming, and fat discrimination that exists it is easy to see why many of my clients hesitate to give up dieting (until they’ve lost 10 more pounds, then they will!). This is one of the hardest pills to swallow. If I can leave you with one thing it’s that there is a lot of awesome people writing about just how they figured this shit out – you are not alone, and blogs like Dances with Fat (link above) and fabulous ladies like Virgie Tovar and many others are there to give words of wisdom on how they gave up dieting and embraced their bodies against the odds.

So I am going to leave this for now, before it becomes an epic rant – but you know I will be back to this topic sooner then later.

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Lifestyle Change Vs. Diet… a cheat sheet

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As we roll into the new year, you are probably being bombarded with commercials for all those “lifestyle changes”.

That’s awesome! You might be saying. No one is dieting anymore. Everyone is lifestyle changing!

Here’s the thing, remember that quote by Shakespeare about roses? It’s not the word rose that’s beautiful, a rose would be a rose whatever we called it.

And so would a diet.

The problem is that lifestyle changes are often actually just diets renamed, but guess what, they suck just as much.

So in case you’re wondering how exactly you can tell the difference here is a little cheat sheet for you.

How to tell if It’s a Diet

1. Asks you to cut out a food group, such as starchy carbohydrates

2. Focuses on avoiding hunger like it’s the devil

3. Talks about also never letting yourself get too full

4. Prescribes only X number of calories (often very low, and does not consider your age, gender, or activity level)

5. Talks about drinking water/eating vegetables/broth/something low calorie for the express reason of filling up or avoiding hunger (see #2)

6. Vilifies certain nutrients like sugar or fat (and tells you to Never Eat Them Again!)

7. Talks about “stages” or “phases” – as in cut out carbohydrates for 5 weeks then add it back.

8. Gets you to give yourself shots of hormones that mask your hunger

9. Describes you (the potential client) as “out of control around food”

10. Blames all your problems on either food, your eating or exercise habits or your weight

11. Talks in extremes; you are either dieting and healthy or not dieting and binging (Hint: these are actually different sides of the same coin)

12. Has you drink 2 shakes and eat one meal a day

13. Doesn’t ask what motivates your eating habits and how healthy habits around eating, exercising (and simply living) fit into your life

14. As continued from number nine – talks about how all your life problems will be fixed when your BMI is xyz

15. Describes itself with words like “detox” or “fast”

16. Asks (or requires) you to buy their special meal or supplement products

17. Promises amazing, unbelievable results (but has fine print saying results not typical – and yet still puts the blame on you if you don’t lose the weight/keep it off)

18. All the people in the commercial talk about their multiple failures… but THIS DIET is THE ONE and suddenly all their food issues are solved.

Or a Lifestyle Change

1. It talks about your life and what else might need to change other than your eating or exercise habits

2. Asks about how food, exercise, and health fit into your life – and how they can enhance your life.

3. Wonders if maybe your life problems are related to, well, your life and not your weight (ie working in a toxic environment that sends you right to a comforting bowl of ice cream or a calming glass of wine after work? Yeah dieting won’t fix that…)

 

I’m not against new years resolutions. I’m not against changing your health habits. But this year, instead of just aiming (again) to “lose those last 10lbs” consider what is really bothering you in your life… and make a lifestyle change in that area. If it turns out your health habits do really need an overhaul then that’s fine, go with it, but avoid the diets disguised as lifestyle changes if you can. And if you’re avoiding the real issues and trying to tame your life through food, then have a sit down and get honest with yourself. It’s not easy to really look at what’s bringing stress into your life, but it is the only way to truly bring permanent changes into your life.

The conversation that broke my heart

I hear a lot of stories that break my heart in the conversations I have with clients. The conversations people have around food can be a surprisingly vulnerable place.

But when you think about it, what better place for it all to come tumbling out? Food touches on every aspect of our lives; our personal history with the food we were raised on, what our culture ate, what our parents thought about food. It touches on our income and our “place” in society. It touches on the world economics, of international trades, of political power and policy, of who gets what and who doesn’t. Food is in fact simply something that can be tied in into any emotional, moral, or political conversation you want to have.

But I digress.

The conversation I want to write about today happened during a weight management course I was running. It was the response to the following question:

What situations make you uncomfortable around food?

For those not in the know, these type of courses are built around the idea of chronic dieting, and it’s cousin overeating. Often when people diet (aka starve themselves) this results in a physical (and psychological) backlash where they tend to overeat (not necessarily a binge, but often a feeling of no control around food arises).

So the expected response to the question “What situations make you feel uncomfortable around food” should be something like “I feel uncomfortable when we have Halloween candy in the house.” or “When I attend parties with buffets” or “when I’m with my frenemie who makes me feel two inches tall” etc.

But do you know what made these women (it was all women, and all of them felt this way) uncomfortable around food?

Eating with other people: their friends, their family, their loved ones.

These women, many of whom had been “big” their whole lives had had so many loved ones comment on what they were eating that eating with others was no longer something joyful.

For many people the idea of asking their dieting friend (or their “bigger” friend), “Are you really going to eat that?!” might seem the least bit harmful, but to be entirely honest it is. Can you imagine someone saying that to (accompanied by a LOOK) you (no matter what your size currently is)?

And as many of the women reminded me, as I sat listening to their confessions, they were constantly under eating, constantly dieting and trying to lose weight, and be “good” (when dieting = good is another story completely). “But,” one said sagely, “We’re only human too!”

The truth is comments like, “you don’t really need seconds” and “do you know how many calories are in that” or “you shouldn’t have dessert you know” often say a lot more about the person giving the comment than the person receiving the comment.

As a society we have been told over and over of the health risk factors excess weight provides, this has often led to the belief that any time someone is of a weight outside the BMI range they are unhealthy. This is a false assumption. Some people are unhealthy and overweight, and some people are unhealthy and skinny, yet we mostly just hear about the ill health affects related to excess body weight. So it’s understandable we might think saying these small things to a friend could be considered a helpful reminder, but mostly they’re just shaming. And shame is never the birthplace of true and lasting change. As one woman said, “When someone says that [above comments] to me I just want to go home and eat more!”

The truth is these shaming comments are part of a larger problem of weight stigma. And weight stigma is known to contribute more to ill health than weight itself.

I wish I had a better conclusion, something grand and poignant to say. Many other people have written about weight bias and stigma (great blogs such as Dances with Fat or the Fat Nutritionist have too many posts I could link to) , as well as organizations like Kelty Mental Health and even the BC PHSA has recommended a change in paradigm from weight to health focus. And courses like BalancedView are offered online for professionals wishing to learn more. What can I leave you with? Just be mindful of what you say; the language we use is much more powerful than we realize and the people we might hurt the most are the ones we care about the most.

EDAW

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Before the week is out, I wanted to touch on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Eating Disorders. For those of you who haven’t heard, February 1-7 is eating disorders awareness week (#edaw). Eating Disorders are a growing mental health issue, and something that I believe has touched many of our lives. I have encountered eating disoders both personally and professionally, and it seems in ever growing numbers.

No one knows why exactly eating disorders are growing in numbers, and it is likely that there are many different factors contributing. Sure our fatphobic and constantly dieting society could be contributing, but as many health professional working in this field can tell you, eating disoders are never truly about the weight. Yes the weight focus is often there, but mostly eating disoders are a mental health issue, and are very often a way for people to cope with stress and/or negative emotions/events in their lives.

This year for #edaw, NEDIC wants you to remember that talking saves lives. Like many mental health issues the biggest barriers to truly finding solutions and better management is not talking about it. Silence keeps myths alive, stigma alive, and just generally brushes things under the rug. The more people talk and discuss eating disorders and the many consequences of them, the more awareness there is of this issue. So let’s talk, because even if all you have are questions, it gets the discussion going.

For more information on eating disorders you can check out the following sites:

NEDIC

Kelty Eating Disorders

This Girl Can (and Does)

There’s been a lot of buzz this week about a campaign out of England to get more women involved in physical activity. The ads show women of all ages, shapes and sizes getting their sweat on in all sorts of ways. These women jiggle, they have cellulite, they’re anything but perfect.

And it’s awesome.

I read this Huffpost article on the new campaign, and this line stood out for me:

So what has been stopping us from doing so thus far? Unlike the gender pay gap, this was one area where we weren’t being held back, where we were actively choosing to not participate in something. “We did lots of research,” says Executive Director Tanya Joseph, “and there was one single unifying theme – fear of judgement.”

I have been active for most of my life. My family really emphasized the importance of sport and being active.

But I’ve never looked like an athlete; I’m chubby, I jiggle, I get super red in the face (I’m already very pink to begin with). I’ve also never been the best at any sport; I’ve never been the worst either though. I’ve felt self consciousness around both these issues (how I look and my abilities) when being active or considering trying a new sport.

In the past few years a number of friends and acquaintances have confessed to me a similar discomfort at trying new things. Either fear of judgement around their performance because they’ll be a beginner, or fear of how they’ll look. What makes me sad is that these friends of mine aren’t talking about their self-consciousness filled teenage years either; they are talking specifically about being an adult and getting active. I’ll admit that my history of being active since a young age has helped me with the confidence in my athletic ability as an adult, but still I thought I’d share a few of my mind tricks to help get me out the door for a run, or trying a new sport.

1. Be a role model: this is the biggest one for me. A lot of my self-consciousness came because I’d never see someone that looked like me doing such and such sport. A lot of the time I think about that young girl (aka me) who wanted to try dance but who believed she wasn’t flexible enough and so she shied away from trying it. I want her to know it’s okay to dance anyway, so now I try it. I figure if no one else will be the fool, I will, because the me that was ten and sees someone just like her dancing, gives her permission to go out and dance to her hearts content too.

2. Remember everyone was a beginner once too: if you think about how you work with someone completely new to something you’re really good at, you’ll realize you probably don’t judge them. Sure you may get the odd moment of being impatient, but mostly you know you started somewhere like that once too. Sometimes you will get a coach or trainer or teacher who is judgemental, but try to keep in mind that’s their stuff not yours. There are probably a number of things that you might look foolish doing, but if say it’s a beginner dance class, everyone will be in the same boat. If it’s a yoga class with newbies to advance practitioners, remember that you have no idea how long the other people have been practicing (so drop the comparing which brings me to…).

3. Change that self talk: this is honestly the hardest and probably the one I’ve been working on the most recently. Negative talk surrounds us on a daily basis; we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us we are not good enough; either through advertisements or other pieces of media (I think health related issues can be particularly damning). I used to use pretty negative self talk to motivate myself; a la Jillian Michaels, I would basically yell at myself in my head, it was not pretty. This past year I thought what if I just told myself I’m doing awesome? What if I simply started saying I can instead of I can’t or will never be able to? So now in the gym I often consciously focus on what I’m thinking. Honestly as silly as it sounds it’s been working. Strength things I never thought I’d be able to do I’ve been doing with much less effort (hello longer planks!) and I’ve made much better strength gains. And I acknowledge how far I’ve come with those. Being positive about what I do, instead of negative, has made a world of difference in my performance. I think it could for you too.

So those are a few of the tricks that work for me.

Have you seen the campaign? What do you do to get yourself out there?

The Next Challenge

Last week I finished up my Gratitude Challenge. It was amazing. When all was said in done over the course of 31 days I wrote down 496 things I was grateful for. There were a few accidental repeats, but otherwise I kept to my rules quite well.

After a few days I knew I was ready for another challenge. And I’d already decided a while back what it would .be.

Meditation

OooHooo.

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(Calm waters make me think of meditating.)

Like Gratitude, meditation has been shown to have lots of benefits. Things such as increased focus and concentration, less anxiety and depression, and more mindfulness. It might also improve things like high blood pressure (related to stress often), pains such as headaches/muscle pain etc. Basically meditation has all sorts of benefits for anyone.

The only way I’ve done meditation before is through yoga. And frankly I thought I sucked at it. Those few minutes where the teachers asks you to sit and focus on your breath usually just had me running through my to-do list or whatever worry was on my mind that.

“No,” I’d say to myself as my mind again drifted to that upcoming test or that bad thing I’d done, “FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH!”

Of course as I’ve started reading about mindfulness, living in the present, and that sort of thing I’ve come to realize that actually no one has a perfectly thoughtless experience during meditation, at least not at first. The real idea behind meditation is mindfulness.

In my last post I wrote about not really knowing how to have fun in this very minute. What I was really trying to get at was my tendency to never live in the present moment. I’m often worrying about something I did, or feeling anxious about the future. Two emotional states and thought processes that really don’t serve me.

My goal with meditation is to increase my mindfulness and my ability to live in the present. (One way I’ve worked to increase my mindfulness in a totally dietitian related way is to have  a silent-distraction-free meal a day. This was something I’d been trying to do FOREVER and somehow just naturally came to be after I finished reading Women, Food and God)

So without further ado, here is my meditation challenge.

31 Day Meditation Challenge (started October 27)

1. Meditate for 5-10 minutes (minimum) at least once a day.
(currently I’m starting in the evenings, before bed – it’s always good to have a “trigger” and this seemed like the best time to me)
2. Use free meditation guides or silence or meditative sounds/music if I find any I like, whatever I prefer.
(I googled for free meditation and found this lady here, and I’m currently using a couple of her ~10 minute guided meditations)
3. Build up to longer and/or multiple times per day
(I would love to be meditating for 20 minutes a day, possibly twice a day – I’m not forcing this though, it if this happens great! If I only ever manage to meditate for 10 minutes once a day then so be it!)

I had my first session last night, and honestly it was a struggle. I kept thinking about stupid little things, like how I have a knot in my shoulder from hockey on the weekend or how dry my lips were, or how I need to stop picking at my cuticles! But there was a small moment where a lot of that stuff disappeared and that was worth the other nine minutes of over thinking, so I’m excited to see if this gets easier or if it remains as difficult from beginning to end. It would also be cool if I gain some of the mental and physical benefits of meditation.

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(totally just posing. I’ve been meditating in the dark so photos won’t work)

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(even marina wants in on the fun)

Leave a comment: Have you ever tried meditating? Or could you recommend any free but awesome meditation guides (I like to have options!)?

I also really enjoyed this illustrated guide from WikiHow on how to meditate.