Why this HAES dietitian stepped back on the scale

A lot of dietitians, and health professionals who work from a non-weight focus often recommend not weighing yourself.

Scales measure nothing other than the affect of gravity on your body mass.

You would weigh differently on the moon, in space, on Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Without anything about your body changing. So really, that number you see is a bit arbitrary.

Yet many of us allow the number on the scale to dictate how we feel, not just about our body, but our entire life. It isn’t surprising that in a world filled with fatphobia the numbers on the scale can give us anxiety and stress, or glee and delight. But giving the little metal gravity measuring box that sort of power is not good for our self-esteem, our self-worth or our self-confidence.

When it comes to your health, it is more important to pay attention to the signals your body is telling you:

– a rumbling stomach for hunger.

– the glorious ache after a good run/derby session

– the fatigue that tells you resting is your weekend plan, instead of however many hours of intense exercise you might normally do

– The light headed feeling when you’ve gone a little too long between meals 

That is what is important. Knowing your weight is not really an important matter of health for the majority of people.

So, why, you might be asking, the title? Why did you start weighing yourself again if you don’t believe we need to know our weight for any reason what-so-ever?

Maybe this story needs to start from the beginning.

I have no memory of weighing myself as a child. Weight was not a big topic in our house. Body image was never really discussed either; I can remember having negative thoughts about my body as a child (I always thought I was chubby)…

The first time I remember weighing myself I was about fifteen. It was in the Fall of a year when I’d started running and actually I’d been feeling great; energized, stronger then ever before in my life, and overall great.

Enter the scale, and a number that according to the BMI (another poor measure of health) was way too high*.

Begin dieting and an unhealthy fascination with the scale. Over my high school and early university days I weighed myself weekly, or daily in a way that was mostly just a little too obsessive. And with every change in number would be a change in mood: the number went down and I was happy. That number went up and I was devastated. So it was that I went through years of feeling up and down, up and down. Eventually enough became enough, and  I gave up the scale. Yes I weighed in occasionally; maybe once or twice a year. But over the years it became less and less.

But here’s where it got sticky for me. At first not weighing myself was protective: I was stopping myself from giving my low self-esteem and inner critic food for the fodder. I could be “feeling fat” (ie not good about myself) and step on the scale and have it confirmed – by not feeding this voice in my head I protected myself at a time I needed to grow. But. But. But. Not weighing myself never felt empowering for me. It was great when I maintained a lower weight that was socially acceptable. But when I gained weight and avoided the scale, I’d feel a similar anxiety and I knew I was simply avoiding a number that in my head still held the power to make me feel terrible and bring my good mood crashing down.

So I stepped back on the scale.

A little stipulation here: parallel to this weighing/not weighing journey I also did a lot of inner work on stuff that had nothing to do with weight. I healed a lot of the other issues that had been masked by this weight obsession. After doing all this work, when I eventual decided the denial I was holding towards the scale was actually not allowing me to move forward, I had to flip the script towards the scale. Instead of allowing the number to dictate my mood, I decided my mood (contentment, acceptance if not some form of love/like for my body) would dictate how I felt about that number. A weight above the “healthy BMI range” hmmm, interesting. On with the day. What do I have to do at work today?

The truth is you don’t have to weigh yourself at all. In fact I think stepping away from the scale is an important part of the health journey for many. If you fear not knowing what you weigh that can also be something to reflect on… what does the idea of not monitoring a number on the scale bring up? Anxiety? Why? Do you trust your body enough to not need a weight to give you permission to eat? And sometimes weighing yourself can also be an empowering step towards body acceptance: towards loving yourself at any and every size you might experience. And in the end, well, there really isn’t any one right or wrong way.

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Self Care Day

Did you know today (Saturday) is national Self Care day?

I’ll be honest, the term self care always irked me a bit. When I first began to hear it, the term seemed to always be associated with a limited scheme of things: pedicures, manicures, spa days, shopping or all about pushing “me first”. (I believe my early experience with self care probably came from women’s magazines…

It always seemed to be more about spending money on unessential things that would supposedly relax you. Sadly, they were all things I never found particularly relaxing.

So I wrote off self care as overly indulgent and generally selfish (big judgements? yes. But we are talking teenage Bronwyn here, please forgive her).

After finding out that Saturday was Self Care Day, I looked into it a bit more. Self care according to the International Self-Care Foundation is actually more about daily habits that keep you healthy.

Now that’s a self care regime I can get behind. If you check out their infographic, they define self care purely in terms of health: first understanding health and improving health literacy, then as the daily habits around physical activity, healthy eating, and general life management that can be helpful for you to live a balanced and healthy life.

With this in mind I began to realize I was doing a lot more self care then I realized. Because I think a lot of self care looks like my original teenage experience, I thought I’d share some things you can do (or may be doing already) that I think are truly pieces of self care.

Get Outside

Whether it’s a run through your neighbourhood, getting your hands dirty in your garden, a walk with friends, or a hike or bike ride through the woods, getting outside is one of the biggest self care things you can do. Lots of evidence supports getting out into nature but if that’s not your thing, the next best thing is simply getting out of the indoors. Sure we now have Pokémon-Go, but usually getting outside involves less screen time, more action and definitely being more present. And if you get lots of movement from your outdoor time, even better.

Get Moving

My first point lends itself well to my second point. Move every day. As more and more jobs become sedentary, and a lot of the relax time becomes couch-centric, getting yourself moving every day is the absolutely bestest thing you can do. Don’t believe me? check out this video – I won’t spoil it for you, but I love this little video and think it’s basically kinda amazing what a little exercise can do for your well-being!

Eat Well

Eat healthy food you like, but don’t let it rule your life. I’ll be the first to admit I love healthy food. I was raised on whole grains, real peanut butter, and a decent assortment of vegetables (ok I was a picky kid who wouldn’t eat potatoes but would totally mow down some French fries, but whatever). What I’m saying is I didn’t always like ALL healthy food, but I always liked some healthy food ( such as rice, chicken and broccoli, which was what I remember having for dinner most often). Yes I want you to eat your vegetables, yes I think we live in a sugar and deep fried filled world, where all too many of us are easily overindulging, but I don’t want your pursuit of healthy eating to cause you more stress. This in fact is when healthy eating becomes a bigger issue then it needs to be. (PS struggling with healthy eating, finding a balance and making it happen? I can help with that! Get in touch, and check out my services page for more information – end of shameless plug).

Get Involved

I mentioned that when I first heard about self-care it would often have the adage of “me first” and considering I likely heard of self-care in women’s magazines or on Oprah, it makes sense: many moms and women feel a lot of guilt when putting their needs first or even just on par with those of their loved ones (you shouldn’t, this is the air plane mask rule of self-care: put yours on first then your kids because if you die you are useless to those you love). So I understand the messaging, but it always bothered me because it always seemed to be about taking time away from being involved in your family, your friends and your community to go for a pedicure. But from my viewpoint spending time with your friends and family, where you are fully present and engaged, is so crucial to taking care of ourselves. I also think volunteering is one of the best things you can do with your time; our communities are built on volunteers and the more helping hands the better it goes. For me personally this has meant being involved on my sports teams outside of just practice, or helping out when I lived in residence, as well as being active and involved in my profession. In the end taking care of your community helps to take care of you.

Reflect on what is working in your life

Self Care really comes down to the every day habits we create. Yes moving is great, but if you only go for a run every three months it’s not doing you much good. A walk every day for thirty minutes is better. The same goes for everything else: it is what you do regularly that will effect your health in the long run. So take a look at your habits: do most of them serve you? Or do you have a few unhealthy ones that just take over? Be mindful of where stress enters your life. We all have stress but a big part of it is how you deal with it: do you avoid it and complain or do you get to work tackling the nagging tasks that are haunting your sleep?

So I know this isn’t a long list, but it is a bit of a long post! So I’ll end it now but what do you feel you do for self care? Are there habits or daily things you do that you never considered self care but are?
(PS I know I did a lot of judging on the mani pedis but if those are your things that’s totally cool! I wanted to present some alternatives for those of us who don’t always like those things, or can’t always afford them. It’s more about thinking (critically) about what we call self-care and what it actually could be.)

Health–by any other name

Definitions:

Per Google Search:

The state of being free from illness or injury

A person’s mental or physical condition

Used to express friendly feelings towards ones companions before drinking

Per World Health Organization:

A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being beyond and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about health, and what exactly in means currently (in a popular culture sense). Questions have come to mind: what does it really mean to be healthy? How do we know when we are healthy? Do we reach an end point of healthiness that we just maintain? Is it about fitness or about more than just exercising and eating right? Is it about balance?

Reflecting my evolution in that area, I’ve been interested in health since I was about fourteen when I first started endurance running. My own personal health journey could be broken down like this (please note this breakdown is especially simplified): increase exercise start to feel good, step on scale realize body does not fit “health standard of appropriate BMI” and begin changing diet, see results, but begin to believe that BMI of 20 would be “healthier” than BMI of 24, spend youth obsessively dieting. But things go downhill and begin to realize perhaps this is not healthy anymore, change tactics, beliefs still centered around idea that health is mostly about fitness, eating well, and he body but do not use scale as measuring stick, gain a boost in health, self-confidence, self- esteem etc.. Get older, some life changes happen, leading to a return of some unhealthy thoughts and habits, light bulb moment where suddenly know that actually mental health, relationships, and everything else counts too, shift focus again….

As I grew into someone working professionally in the health field, I’ve come to realize health is a continuous journey. It isn’t about “achieving” something like an “after” photo or even about perfect lab values that then remain perfect forever. It’s about a myriad of different things, and for most of us it is constantly in flux. This was at one point hard for me (and I imagine many others) to really accept or understand; as culturally we look at health as an “end point” where we get healthy and stay healthy. But that health constantly changes, as parts of our life change and habits we created needed to change again.

I rarely meet people who are satisfied with their health, but a lot of these people I meet really should be okay with where they are. I’ve noticed that we have a hard time with the idea of satisfaction and acceptance (in this case how they relate to health). We seem to believe being satisfied with our health and accepting where we are means we will become stagnant. I don’t believe this is true, I haven’t seen it to be true. In fact when health is truly suffering there is usually no acceptance going on: no acceptance that parts of life are out of balance for us. Is being happy with where your health is at really bad? I don’t think so – but there’s enough pressure out there to make it a really hard thing to do.

In the popular culture of health I see (blogs, books, etc. etc.) health is something we consider to be an individual responsibility. Not only should you be disease free (or managing your illness or physical health or mental health) you should be striving to do it better than you do now (or perhaps your neighbour). So with the pressure to constantly improve our health, how do we accept it when life changes mean we have to take a few steps back? Suddenly we fail – and we no longer consider ourselves healthy.

I hope that many people can start to see their health as a continuous, often circular journey. Not simple a moment of achieving a certain desired health characteristic. I hope people can accept that sometimes aspects of health might not be perfect, as other areas need attention.

I still have lots more thoughts on health, but I’ll leave it there for now. I’m sure you’ll see a part two somewhere on the horizon.

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.

Confession

I have an embarrassing confession.

Embarrassing because I’m a dietitian, and really should know better about some things, you know? It started because I’d been feeling pretty tired and run down for quite some time. A part of it has likely been due to being burnt out, but still I wanted to eliminate any other possibilities.

So I went to the doctor and asked for some blood tests. We chatted, I said I was the dietitian in town, and when I told her what I was thinking might be up she asked me, “So if I need to send you to a nutritionist, who would I send you to?” (She was joking, I think)

But about a week later, the results were back, and indeed as I suspected my iron was low. I’m not anaemic, but I am on my way, the iron storage molecules, or the ferritin as it’s called was low.

I’ve been a vegetarian for going on 10 years now. And I’ve also always been very active, lots of running, that sort of thing. That combo (and being a woman) often leads to low iron, if not anaemia. And while I watch what I eat, I was paying more attention to balanced macronutrients rather than getting iron-rich foods.

So what did I do? I’m supplementing for now, but I’m also increasing my intake of iron rich foods; beans, legumes, pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. I’m also watching my intake of Calcium foods (bye-bye cheese!).

And this prompted a remake of my roasted vegetable soup!

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The change? Instead of coconut milk, I used beans, along with the red pepper and tomatoes for Vitamin C powerhouse (vitamin C is iron’s best friend when it comes to absorption!).

Red Pepper, Tomato & Bean Soup

Ingredients
4 Red peppers
4 ripe tomatoes
4-5 cloves garlic
Olive oil, salt and pepper
1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth

Directions
1. Slice tomatoes, peppers in half, drizzle with olive oil and roast in 400F oven for 30-40minutes. Roast the garlic as well, covering the cloves in tinfoil, and removing closer to the 20-30minutes mark.
(at this point you can allow to cool and store in the fridge until you want to make the soup, or make it all at once…)

2. Place half of everything (vegetables, garlic, beans, and broth) in a blender. Puree until smooth, and transfer to a pot. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

3. Bring to a boil (just barely, you don’t want that burnt tomato taste), then lower heat and allow to simmer for 15-20minutes.

4. Serve!

Notes: This soup definitely has a different texture, not as creamy. It is very hearty and filling though.
Variations: I actually wanted to try it with the squash, not the tomatoes, but there wasn’t any left at my grocery store here! Both Red peppers and Tomatoes are strong in vitamin C, so you could use one or the other and replace the other vegetable with something like squash, or sweet potato for a very hearty and filling soup.

What is Health?

Hello! Here I am, all “back to blogging” and what do I do but take a bit of an extended break. Sorry about that. I have to admit, despite being back to blogging I have no intention of committing to a schedule. These days I’m leaving space open for opportunities {fun opportunities} and plan to mostly write stuff, share recipes, and adventures, when the mood strikes.

Today I want to discuss a topic that has been lately on my mind. It’s a bit of tricky topic, quite broad in scope, and well, this might just end up being a bit of a rambly post (I’ll do my best to keep it short) so my apologies in advance.

Health. We all seek it continuously, for every individual the journey to being “healthy” takes on a different meaning. My journey started in high school really, when I discovered a love of running and exercise, and also how much eating well can affect our body weight.

Let’s face it, for many of us, nutrition has at one point (or maybe still is) a lot about body weight. For some people with chronic diseases, they have perhaps moved on from that. For some people there are ethical and political thoughts as well, but for many people eating well = maintaining a certain jean size. I’m going to talk about this another day though.

Today I’m talking about health in general. What is it? Can it be measured by your jean size? By your blood lipids? By your hours spend exercising? Solely by what you choose to eat? These are often the areas that many of us focus, and while changing habits in exercise or eating are far from easy, sometimes the focus on these can be a disguise from other areas of our life that are not working completely.

When I was younger and first began on my health journey, I was sure, so, so, sure that nutrition was the key to health. Of course, being a dietitian I totally believe that nutrition is A HUGE component of health. And yet, it is just one piece of a very large puzzle that is health. Health is a myriad of different things, and often illness, whether chronic or acute, is often a manifestation of different things.

What do I mean? I’d like to share this Tedx Talk with you:

She explains it much better than I can, she has done the research (though who can verify the “soundness” of her sources…). As I’ve sat in my many nutrition counselling sessions, I’ve met many people who are very sick. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, out of control diabetes.

And yes very often there are tweeks to their nutrition that should be made. But it is amazing how many of them have so many huge stressors in their life; family members passing, bills piling up, job losses. Some just have a pile of small little things that just keeps growing until they can’t handle it any more. But much of the time they don’t look to these things, sure they’re aware of the stress their lives are causing them, but they believe that they need to fix the physical first, when maybe paying some bills, or reaching out to family or friends might actually change some of their health measures.

I’d like to turn your attention to this Wellness Initiative by the New Brunswick government:

NB Live Well, Be Well

It discusses the idea of mental resilience.

I know I’m a dietitian and I should be saying NUTRITION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD. But honestly, for many people, it isn’t. If you think of what Dr. Lissa Rankin (especially her Health Cairn), and the NB Live Well, Be well initiatives are looking at, they both push the idea that for us to get to fixing the physical body through nutrition and exercise, we have to be able to handle the rest of our life.

Otherwise, fixing the weight issue, the blood pressure, the diabetes, the cholesterol with diet and exercise alone, is just a band-aide solution.

So I know that’s not a fully formed thought, with a great ending, but that’s where I’d like to end it.
And I want to hear your thoughts: have you gone on a health journey? Have you found yourself considering health beyond healthy eating and regular exercise/activity?