Let’s talk — just not about your diet, please

Sometimes, I just can’t think “schoolwork.” I can, however, think “blog.” And as promised, I want to continue to talk about some of the toughest parts of negotiating my happy/healthy life on a day-to-day basis.

Today, I want to talk about fat talk. I consider diet talk a form of fat talk. So I’m referring to the kind of chats about how fat we feel, how bad we were over the weekend, what we’re eating or not eating…you know the type. I’m talking about the endless conversations where we beat ourselves up about diet and the shape and size of our bodies, and the significance that we attribute to all of this.

fat talk 1

Obviously as a personal trainer and a health and fitness writer, I hold health as a priority and encourage dialogue on the topic. What I don’t encourage is an obsession with it, nor the kind of bonding over misery that seems to ensue when people talk about their bodies. That is the “fat talk” that I’m talking about.

The Huffington Post goes so far as to call fat talk an “epidemic.” The article does a good job of talking about what fat talk is, and what’s problematic about it. Even Special K has tapped in on just how rife our world is with it—though they choose to turn it around and call it a “barrier” to weight management (a circular argument, in my opinion, that keeps us focused on weight and needing to fix it).

My hobbies and my job are both active pursuits and as such, maybe I’m exposed to extra body talk—and with it its associated fat talk. Given the preponderance of fat talk, I find myself, at times, going into it. Rather than being as body positive as I hope to be, there are times where I don’t feel like leaving a conversation or feeling left out. Sometimes, I want to stop someone where they are and remind them that fat talk is not helping us in any regards—it’s not helping us change our bodies because it usually involves playing the victim, and it’s certainly not helping us appreciate the bodies we have. No matter what our goals are, I think it’s safe to say fat talk can go.

But I don’t always have the energy or the guts to take a stand for body appreciation. There are some people in my life who are dedicated whole-heartedly to wanting to lose weight. They’ve been dieting for as long as I know, and they may lose or gain weight, but it’s pretty much unbeknownst to me. These are people I love, and part of their identity is their weight. And so dieting or needing to get on a diet or needing to deal with their weight is such a part of them that I fear suggesting otherwise would be overstepping my boundaries. My body is certainly my business, and offering unsolicited advice to others on their bodies is kind of dangerous territory.

When I’m at a party and eating something that someone calls “bad” or vows that they will “eat clean” again soon—you know the kind of conversations I mean—that opinion doesn’t just hurt that person. It makes me and I would think anyone else enjoying cake, maybe, think twice about it. Fat talk is toxic, it’s contagious, and I know that it’s something I have to work to resist. Hearing my gremlins externalized in someone’s voice who is speaking the language of fat talk? That’s not a very nice feeling. Sometimes, saying something or calling someone out might be the wrong choice. We risk looking inconsiderate, or maybe stuck up, or like we have a superiority complex. And we can’t always convince someone.

Yes, I consider myself an advocate for body positivity and acceptance. I struggle with it just like a lot of people. I want to inspire other people to look at their bodies not as problems to be fixed, and I know that “fat talk” isn’t a route to that attitude, but I also don’t want to seem like I know it all or have it all figured out. I also work in health and fitness and know that people can be motivated by things like wanting to fix their flaws and end up finding a healthy relationship to their bodies. It’s my job there to support them, and to emphasize relating to our bodies in positive ways—not to judge their goals.

The nature of writing about the things I find tough means that I don’t have a really solid conclusion, but I’ll end with what I think, even as I struggle to walk away from the latest discussion of someone’s current macro breakdown. What I think is that we can spend our whole lives trying to manage our bodies, but at some point, all that energy turns into an obsession. And after a certain point, we start to lose out on the quality of our lives in something (taking care of our vessels) that was intended to improve it. I think fat talk is related to that, because it overemphasizes just how important the shape of our bodies is. Of course I am pro-healthy eating and working out, because I am pro-taking care of yourself. I am not behind spending so much time and energy on this stuff that it does the opposite of what I believe it should (improve the quality of your life). I am also pro-people talking about things that matter and I fear that for women in particular, fat talk is a means to keep us focused on our own selves, and in particular our physical forms. And the illusion of willpower and thinking that if only you’d try harder and then you’d have that six pack and it’s possible and it’s entirely up to you feeds into this because it keeps us talking about it ad nauseum. And to me, that’s sad. There’s a whole world out there, and our lives are filled with so much more than workouts and diets and numbers on a scale or in a pair of jeans. Taking care of our health is about setting us up to enjoy those other things.

Like I said, I don’t have this figured out. I’d love to hear from you below in the comments, but in the meantime, enjoy these little laughs that make fat talk a laughing matter:

t talk 2

fat talk 3

Do you find yourself engaging in “fat talk”?
Have you ever called someone out on this?

Health as an enigma: why I think we all need to define what “health” is really about

My sister recently bought a house in Windsor, which is just far enough away by car to require a podcast en route. Last time I drove down, I listened to one from “Office Hours” (a favourite of my nerdy side!) where they interviewed Ellen Berrey about her book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice. I am not particularly well-versed in this area, but she did speak the language of sociology and as she talked about the way that the word “diversity is a hallowed American value, widely shared and honored,” I couldn’t help but think of my own work and the way that the concept of health has come to be taken for granted as universally worth pursuing, without critically considering even the definition of it. Her discussion about the way that the idealization of diversity can actually obscure real inequalities again got me thinking about the way that we idealize health—and particularly the appearance of it. Very rarely do we sit down and define what “healthy” really means to us.

healthy

I couldn’t help but think of some of the people I’ve met who will do extreme things in the name of health—cutting out all carbs, going on extreme diets, running themselves ragged, spending tons of money to lose weight, etc. I see it all the time in my personal life but also as a personal trainer and a professional in the world of health and fitness. Unfortunately, I often see this turn into a slippery slope. My own experience with taking the pursuit of thinness in the name of health too far and straying into disordered eating territory is just one example of the way that trying to be “healthy” can actually compromise that which we’re after in the first place.

Why is this important? In a world where we see all kinds of images offered up as “healthy” (search that hashtag on instagram, for starters), it is more important than ever to be careful not to unquestioningly assume that “health” is defined in a way that fits with us or that serves us. When I was underweight, the natural association between losing weight and getting healthy proved false—just one example of how “health” is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Consider this: with “health” held as an unquestionably worthy pursuit, the association between a thinner body and a healthier body can drive people to do things that are perhaps unhealthy (going on starvation diets, taking diet pills, etc. come to mind), albeit in the name of health. In my humble opinion, I say we get honest about it: it’s not about your health if it’s driving you insane mentally or compromising your quality of life in the process. If we talk about it as being about our health, we’re contributing to that “enigma.”

You eat whole foods and you have a happy relationship with your body, you move it in ways that feel good, but if you don’t look like the images of health offered up in the media, are you actually unhealthy? If you’re, dare I say it, “overweight” by some chart’s standards, are you shit out of luck when it comes to embodying a healthy subjectivity? I don’t think so, but I do think we need to talk about this stuff more (hence this blog). When the images we see of health are all of a narrow range of body types, and when the fitness models on the cover of fitness magazines engage in arguably unhealthy pursuits (cutting out water for photo shoots, engaging in restrictive dieting, etc.), then it’s easy to get confused—so take it easy on yourself. I don’t see the magazines and marketing gurus out there likely opening up the images of fit bodies to encompass all of those that really can be considered fit any time soon, but I do see blogs, social media, etc. as avenues for us to start to open up the definition of “health” to be more realistic and more based on what’s right for each and every one of us. I did just that on this blog not too long ago, and I have been doing my best to come back to that when I get down on myself or my body.

Cheers to blogging!

Do you consider yourself “healthy”?
Have you ever taken the time to define what “healthy” means to you?
What are the parameters you set for yourself when it comes to being “healthy”?

No Diet Day–Should it be every day?

This will be a short post because I’m already a bit late for my afternoon run — it’s a speed sesh so maybe being hurried to get there will start the workout on the right foot? I didn’t want today to go by without putting a post out though, as it’s International No Diet Day.

no diet

In honour of that, maybe check out this article by Health at Every Size advocate Linda Bacon over at the NEDIC website.  She advocates for learning to trust our bodies, which goes in line with the kind of intuitive eating and self-acceptance/love approach that I myself get behind. I especially like the part where she hits the nail on the head when it comes to the element of control that dieting so alluringly offers:

“As long as things go well, the dieter can maintain control. But if anything gets in the way or changes, she can’t. The reason is clear: Dieters don’t rely on the normal signals of fullness to regulate their eating, so there are no brakes in place.”

…I know that when I have gotten sucked into restriction, or obsessing over/tracking my every meal, judging it, etc., there’s been a sense of control and power that I have–and it felt good. It’s nice to feel like you are totally in charge. And what thinking we need to get really strict about our food does all the time is convince us that we are otherwise out of control monsters who will binge at the first chance.

And unfortunately, after restriction, that’s what happens. I still have foods that were formerly “forbidden” that I have to remind myself–it’s OKAY–or else I end up overeating them to the point of feeling like crap. My experience tells me that I am not in fact a madwoman around food, but the more I think that I eat too much or eat the wrong things, the more likely I am to go ahead and go “off the rails.”

My hope is that some day, it won’t be the exception or the one day of the year where we don’t diet–but that we’ll learn to feed and take care of ourselves in a way that doesn’t require us to feel like failures or to give all of our energy to controlling ourselves.

two diets

 

Remember: we are not crazies. The diet industry likes us to think that, so that we keep paying them for programs. And trackers. And diet coaches. And unless these products and people teach us long term habits that make it so we don’t require them, I’m weary. Our bodies are on our side!

There’s my two cents!
What do you think about ditching diets?
Do you make a point to avoid diet talk / dieting / buying diet books, or do you just go with it?
Does controlling your food work with you? Tracking? Monitoring? 
Have you given up on diets? What have you found?
What keeps you dieting? 

diet advice: think twice about who to trust

Yesterday, I shared an article that got me to thinking yesterday called “Opinion Stew”, which was by (medical doctor) David Katz and talked about the craziness that is the way in which we find our diet gurus and called for some common sense when it comes to deciding who to trust. The gist:

For now, anyone who shares opinions about nutrition or weight loudly and often enough — or cleverly enough — is embraced as an authority, with no one generally even asking what if any training they’ve had. This is compounded by the fact that, in the famous words of Bertrand Russell, “Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.

We have created a seething stew of opinion about everything to do with nutrition, including, presumably, stew. That leaves us with far too many cooks, many lacking credentials to be in the kitchen in the first place. I trust everyone knows what that means.”

 Some of my (facebook) friends shared the link and others commented in thought-provoking ways. I felt stressed out over thinking “I shouldn’t have shared this—I’ll certainly offend ____ [insert handful of names of people I know who dole out nutrition advice who are not dietitians and/or doctors].”

But if you read my post on why I think Paleo did me more harm than good from a few weeks ago, you’ll understand that I’ve personally been led astray by these not-so-credentialed gurus and books. I started to think maybe I would be better off not saying a darn thing about the way I feel about nutritionists vs. dietitians, but the shame I seem to be feeling about failing at the kinds of diets put out there by people who aren’t mainstream dietitians is something I’m probably not alone with. Even if some diet “works” for a 25 year old girl who is blessed with the ability to eat pretty much anything and still look “fit”—and is willing to talk about it on a podcast or blog about it or base a nutrition counselling practice off of it—that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or that it’s the right choice for everyone. I’m a self-conscious person and sometimes I can think that because I don’t have a six pack or haven’t got the “perfect body” figured out I should just shut up. But ouch.

A couple years ago, I was en route to becoming a Registered Dietitian. I didn’t finish my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, but I do have the (kind of crappy) orgo mark on my transcripts and the hairnet and lab coat I saved from spending a summer in Food Science to remind me that the kind of training dietitians go through is not something to be scoffed at. On top of the degree, there’s the internship, not to mention the competition those budding dietitians have to go through to earn one.

I also briefly considered taking a natural nutrition program or going through some program to become a health coach. But the warnings about those programs as “drive through degrees” or scams were enough to make me reconsider (I chose to take my Coactive Coaching instead because there are professors at Western who use it in their research, plain and simple, across a variety of issues—health and otherwise). I haven’t been through one of those “alternative” options, so I can’t speak on how hard or how easy they are. I have talked to people who have been through it and said that they don’t feel like they should be giving out advice, but then I’ve met plenty of people who do. I’ve also seen the way in which the lines of who to trust are blurry—recommending blogs and podcasts over even common sense.

And I’m mad at myself for believing the people who so confidently convinced me that everything I’d believed about nutrition was somehow wrong. But the writing is on the wall when it comes to my own story: I have been my healthiest and my happiest with my body when I’ve been working with a dietitian—not a nutritionist or someone who calls themselves an eating coach. Add to it that dietitians tend to have some experience working with people with eating disorders, and I know that I would rather spend my money paying someone who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to learning about nutrition and about how to help individuals and communities to be healthier than giving it to someone who decided to capitalize on their own success with a single diet. My biggest fear when it comes to the kind of alternative diet advice that more people will end up confused and doubting their own judgment and perhaps straying down the path of disordered eating. To pick on Paleo some more, let’s consider a nutritionist who has no formal training and then tells an individual to cut out a whole (foundational) food group. I don’t need to read the criteria of anorexia or the warning signs to know that cutting out a whole group of foods is a slippery slope. I don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists might recognize an eating disorder in their clients, but I also don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists have their own messed up relationships with food. I don’t doubt that some of them might have the guts to refer them to someone with training to help their client with their issues, but I also don’t doubt that there are some nutritionists who would just push those clients to try harder. I don’t doubt that there are some that would give up on their clients and blame them for not doing it right. I don’t doubt that there are people who are being led into disordered patterns of thoughts and behaviours around food because of the mass nutrition confusion that Katz talks about in the article I shared.

This is NOT to say that I don’t think people should talk about what they’re doing with eating and nutrition. Hearing about someone else’s experience with a diet or training program might be interesting (I read the posts that go along with the Human Health Experiment the owner of my gym is doing on himself). But I don’t think we should use that as a platform from which we can advise other people and charge money to advise them on how to take care of their own (very different) bodies.

So, that is a lot of words to come to the conclusion that I’m glad I shared that article. I want people to think twice before they share an article by someone who positions themselves as an expert—what are they really saying? I want people to think twice before they spend their money on any kind of diet or health or nutrition help or product. In short, I hope that the article—and my rambling on about it—makes you think.

Here’s the link again — “Opinion Stew” 

Did you read the article?
What’s your take on nutritionists vs. Dietitans and where to spend your moola?
Do you think there’s danger in the way things are right now?

Throwback Thursday: thoughts on Paleo, balance, and finding what works

This post has been on my mind for a while. I am going to use “Throwback Thursday” as the excuse for posting it now, even though my thoughts are still a bit scattered and I’ve got some apprehension about sharing…

Paleo didn’t work for me.

Before I started CrossFit and found out what Paleo, or Eat By Design, or whatever you’d like to call it, was, my eating was pretty balanced. I ate mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, (mostly lean) meat, nuts and seeds, and sufficient froyo with a smile on my face, and I’d been at a stable weight for a while, though I still didn’t have my period on a regular basis. I had been through my eating disorder, done a stint of vegetarianism (mostly because I read Eating Animals and got sad), and was in a super high stress state, but I was back on track—even if my body hadn’t totally sprung back to (hormonal) health just yet. Up from my lowest weight of 114lbs, I weighed a comfy 138-142lbs and when I look back at pictures, I think I looked healthy and athletic.

My half marathon, before anyone told me cardio was "bad." I ran it in 1:47 minutes.

My first (and only) half marathon, before anyone told me cardio was “bad.” I ran it in 1:47 minutes.

So what happened?

The “for me” part in “Paleo didn’t work for me” is important. I didn’t really do it right, but I did what I think a lot of people do. I also think the way in which I failed at “doing it right” is indicative more of the diet not being good for me more so than of me not trying hard enough, even if I’ve spent plenty of months telling myself I should just try harder.

When my bookshelf was stocked with The Paleo Diet, Primal Blueprint, The Paleo Solution, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Practical Paleo, and Everyday Paleo, things changed. I told myself it wasn’t a “diet” in the traditional sense and that I was after health, which was true but I was also hoping for a six pack along the way and I certainly was not ready to gain more weight.

So, I started to make changes. I replaced the chicken, turkey, fish, and beans I ate with more and more pork, sausages, steaks and ground beef. While I did do a good job and managed to track down some free range organic sources on occasion, the vast majority of this meat was just from the grocery store.

When I ate grains, they were definitely not whole grains any more. The Paleo diet says white rice is okay if you train hard enough, so I ate more of it, usually with plenty of coconut milk and sometimes butter on top (FYI, this is delicious). But I also had the mindset that if bread was bad for me, I might as well have the white stuff, so I said farewell to the whole grain options I used to buy. French fries were healthier than a hamburger bun, right? Potato chips better than whole wheat crackers? If grains—or carbs, in my thinking—are bad, who cares about choosing well?

When I went for treats, I was never satisfied with a just a little. Dark chocolate became something like a food group for me, especially the kind of dark chocolate that I could somehow combine with almond butter, cashew butter, macadamia nut butter, coconut butter, sunflower seed butter, etc….I ate all the butters. And real butter! With a health halo around it, I started to put more and more butter on the sweet—not white—potatoes I ate. Without bread as a vessel, I’d find myself spooning nut butters right from the jar into my mouth. It’s good for me, right?

paleo desserts

I started to take heavy cream in my coffee. Formerly one to add milk and maybe a sweetener or spoonful of sugar, I thoroughly enjoyed the taste of the 30% cream and the looks on the Starbucks baristas faces when I asked them for the whipping cream to add to my highly caffeinated long Americano order (which is also delicious).

Some mornings, I’d crave oatmeal so badly that I would try to fake it. I’d microwave some combination of eggs, a banana, and almond butter. I remember worrying that I was having too much sugar and one day when I “caved” and ate two bananas, I was sure I fired up my fat storage and was doomed for diabetes. I’d make granola out of nuts to go on top of this, because the old recipe I’d used also included those oats, gosh darn it. Oats might not contain gluten, but they were still grains and everyone Paleo knows gluten and oats were probably bedfellows in manufacturing.

There were other changes, but I think you get the picture. I’d gone from what was defined as “conventionally healthy” to an attempt at a fad diet that I still think can be a fine choice—if you put in the time and effort (and moola!) to get the food from good sources, like eating meat, and are on top of food prep—that totally messed with what was a balanced approach. You have to know that I have an addictive personality and that as smart as I like to think I am, I can be easily persuaded. I took things to an extreme, and I used excuses like “It’s gluten free!” or “If I’m going to “cheat,” I may as well go big.” I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I also changed my exercise habits. I started to question whether or not “cardio” was good for me. I traded my daily swimming, biking, and running workouts for more and more time with the barbell. I loved the way I could focus on getting stronger. I also read things that told me that cardio was making me fat.

I hated this photo, but I was at least having fun with CrossFit. This was at a fun competition our gym did.

I hated this photo, but I was at least having fun with CrossFit. This was at a fun competition our gym did in the thick of my CrossFit as the be-all end-all days.

But I love swimming, biking, and running.

I love oatmeal.

I love chickpeas.

I love not feeling like I need to have a huge hunk of meat with every meal.

…I gained almost 30lbs in the process of switching my exercise and eating habits. I can’t blame CrossFit or Paleo, and I should add that I added muscle.

As strong as I feel when I am lifting a really heavy barbell, I still crave the feeling I get from going for a super long bike ride. Last year, I experimented with doing both. In the process, I found my body shifting a little more and I lost some of that weight (5-10lbs, depending on the day of course). Stepping back into the world of long bike rides and runs and dips in the pool, I found myself remembering some of the common sense nutrition notions that I used to ascribe to.

Back on the bike this year. One of my first rides of the year, in Colorado!

Back on the bike this year. One of my first rides of the year, in Colorado!

While I can’t blame the Paleo diet or the ideas about exercise that came along with it or the books or the people who exposed me to them, I can take responsibility for myself and my health habits. Instead of feeling stuck, I can work on shifting my habits and thoughts back to a healthier place. Those beliefs I picked up about carbs and grains and exercise were built. As sticky as they might be—because nut butter is delicious and sausage is amazing—,they can also be replaced—because feeling light and healthy and good in my skin is another kind of amazing.

So, I’m in the process. Today, I am “back on grains.” I eat whole grains as much as I can—quinoa, oatmeal, and rice are my favourites. I like bread and cereal, so I eat them and choose the whole grain options because I don’t think they’re rife with anti-nutrients anymore. I eat lots of fruit and plenty of vegetables, and I have less room for the meat on my plate. I still overdo it on the nut butters, but I’m working on it.

wrong road

I’m writing this because I think there are other people who have dabbled in Paleo or have given up something they love that makes them feel healthy and happy in the name of something someone told them would be better. I know that it’s hard to shift back—there’s still times when I think “how the heck did I eat that many carbs?!”—but it helps me to remember that I was happier with my body when I was eating all the carbs, and wasn’t thinking about them as a villain.

I hope your Throwback Thursday isn’t as intense as this, but I also hope that you take the time to check in with yourself and ask, about your health habits, that question I mentioned earlier this week: how’s that working for you?

Have you ever gone down the “wrong” road and wanted to get back to the fork?
What have you learned from trying diets or exercise programs that don’t work for you?

coming clean: weight loss versus body love

Today on her blog, Sam tackled the “Do I want to lose weight?” question. As someone who takes a stand for Health and Every Size, I think it was brave of her to talk so openly about where she’s at and it was a perfect inspiration to go into the topic a bit myself.

Not too long ago, I had a big cry when I realized that I was scared to admit that I want to lose weight. I thought for sure that meant that I was a hypocrite of some sort. But I realized that wanting to lose weight is fine, as long as it doesn’t come from an unhealthy place. I’ve always thought that a healthy weight is the weight that comes out of the healthiest habits, and when I get real with myself, I’ve realized that some of my habits are not so healthy.

Even though in the past I know that I’ve been sucked into thinking that weight loss would some how solve all my problems, I’m at a place now where I feel confident about whether or not I’m taking care of myself or hurting myself when it comes to what I’m after. I’ve worked on—and will continue to plug away at—lots of my issues and know that five or ten or even twenty pounds is not what stands between us and happiness.

I even realized that not talking about this would be doing a disservice to anyone who follows my blog. I’ve always been open about things and I know that there are other people out there feeling like body love failures in the same way I am.speak

It’s just as shitty to beat ourselves up for not loving our bodies as it is for weighing too much. If we aren’t feeling comfy and happy with our bodies—or maybe more importantly, with our habits—I say give ourselves permission to work on them and to be open about the struggles. I know that there’s a lot of talk about the way that CrossFit, for instance, can help us to really appreciate our bodies and what they can do. This usually comes with a point about how it doesn’t matter what the number on the scale or the size in our jeans reads any more—but what if it does? Where does that leave the girl who doesn’t want the quads that won’t fit in normal jeans or the shoulders that make wearing a blazer next to impossible? Where does that leave the girl who doesn’t want to go to the beach because she just can’t get used to the body she has?

That girl is me. One of my the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves is, how’s that working for you? When I ask myself that in relation to trying to love my body/eating and training the way I am, I have to be honest: I’m frustrated and I’m looking for change this year.

To end things, I want to make it clear that I don’t think we should abandon our body love pursuits. Of course loving ourselves is a great thing! But self-love doesn’t happen overnight and it does not mean that we cannot want to change ourselves, to improve ourselves, or to be somewhere different than we are. Loving our bodies does not have to mean giving up on the pursuit of a healthy or even healthy looking body, but for some people it might. We can define what we want our relationships with our bodies to look like and then work on making that our reality. Maybe it doesn’t mean eating cake all the time, having cellulite, and being okay with it. Maybe it doesn’t mean eating clean, working out, and weighing ourselves. Maybe it means somewhere in between, where we take care of ourselves and put in a little work.

For me, I’ve started to make some little adjustments in my healthy, happy definition—with my weight as one of the things that fits into that health picture. I am working with a dietitian again, trying my best to tackle my health habits one at a time. I’ve joined in on the healthy weight challenge (no extremes allowed) that some of my fellow cyclists are doing this spring. I’m open to shifting my training and realizing that I need to do what makes me happy, not what I think I should be doing. And I’m being open about this in hopes that other people who have maybe gone through the same thing have some insight to offer.

 

Have you ever felt like wanting to lose weight made you a sell out to the body love crowd?

Where do you do things for your health out of “should”?

What do you think defines a healthy, happy weight? Relationship with your body?

 

 

meat eating and health

This morning, I read a post over on The Great Fitness Experiment that got me thinking. Charlotte talked about her own vegetarian / carnivore experience in “Are Vegetarians Really Less Healthy than Meat Eaters? New Study Says Yes.”

Like Charlotte, I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism. Also like her, every once in a while I struggle with the decision I’ve made to start eating meat again. I really enjoyed her post, which talked about a new study from Austria that found better health and quality of life amongst meat-eaters than those following a veggie diet. Charlotte made some really important posts when it comes to reading and interpreting these kinds of articles where one diet or eating approach is labelled superior to another, including a reminder of how the health argument is always changing: from lean skinless, boneless chicken breasts to the fattiest but grass-fed, organic beef you can get–the flavour of the day for what’s the “healthiest” meat choice will change and change and change again.

Nowadays, there are (conspiracy) theories about why we eat what we eat–from the corn farmers to the meat industry to the vegans, everyone seems to be out to get us. There are books that tell us that vegetarianism is the way to be–for our health, for our planet, for our pocketbooks, for our appearance. Ditto for the ones calling us to eat more meat–dive into the paleo cookbooks at the store if you want to see these in action! There are plenty of books that make the other way of eating wrong, but I think what’s important here is to decide what really is the “right” way to eat–for you.

It’s really tricky to define “good for you”–especially if we’re talking about something as generalizable as meat eaters vs. vegetarians. I know plenty of people who would identify as veggies who don’t give much thought to their diets and plenty of people who eat meat who are intentional about it. And vice versa. But if you don’t agree with eating meat on an ethical, religious, personal—whatever—basis, should health be used as a way to try to convince you to go against that? As Charlotte says, what’s healthy seems to change along with the diet trends.

It admittedly makes me nervous that the diet trends and the research go hand in hand in the way Charlotte says they do – with paleo/primal/atkins getting more popular and THEN research to back them up seeming to materialize. Diet industry, I’m onto you. Sadly, it’s easy to do the same for ourselves. I know–and have read–the books that take a solid stance for going veg and I know the ones that I turned to when I was feeling guilty about my decision to start eating meat again. It’s easy to cherry pick to support what we’ve already made up our minds to do or to believe.

When it comes to generalizable statements on diet, I think we need to look at why we’re making them. Will those vegetarians be so harmed from not eating meat that we need to make their choice wrong? I don’t think so. So why do that to ’em? More steak for you, and move on. Chances are, whether you choose to add meat into a healthy diet or choose not to, you can make up a pretty darn healthy diet–if you put in the effort. Deciding on purpose to eat or not eat meat, and deciding to hold to that decision in the midst of these narratives about how meat eating is killing you or the planet or how vegetarianism will just ravage your body (we’ve all seen both sides of the extreme argument) might not be easy. I think we are wasting our energy though, and I think that the more time we spend tearing each other’s approaches down, the less time we have to focus on what we’re actually trying to accomplish by eating that way in the first place. Stand for something, not just against something else, ya know?

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-Are you a vegetarian?
-Would you keep eating this way even if it was definitively proven that it’s not as “good for you” as having meat in your diet?

what’s microfilm got to do with nutrition?

This term, I’m working away on an independent study course that led me to a lot of reading on gender in Canada over the ages. I basically did a survey course to try to get a lay of the land and while it was overwhelmingly interesting–and overwhelming, at times–I have really enjoyed letting myself get pulled in all kinds of directions by reading. The downside to this being a course and not just free nerd-wheeling is that now I have to try to put all of the stuff I’ve learned into a term paper–or at least some of it!

I’ve decided to do a little research into representations of women’s fitness back in the 1960s or so and as such have just started dabbling in the old copies of magazines like Chatelaine in the library’s microfilm collection. After I got over the embarrassment of needing the librarian to show me how to look at the films, I’ve been getting totally into the process of digging up what was going on in terms of the messages women received about their bodies back in the day.

I’m particularly intrigued by the diet ads, the recipes, and the lifestyle advice women get. I don’t know exactly which themes are emerging just yet, but there’s certainly something interesting that I’m seeing: that “nutrition” (diet is more accurate, I think) advice has come full circle. Back then, carbs were what people knew made them fat. Fat was less of the villain and it was sort of a taken for granted given that if you overdid it on sugar and carbs, your weight would reflect it. Nowadays, people are scared of carbs again. Knowing that the diet industry just cycles through these trends and ideas makes the irony of the OMGluten situation and the popularity of low carb approaches even more frustrating for someone who just wishes that “healthy” was something we could all get back to without people trying to confuse us with messages of what’s the best for us that serve other agendas besides our health.

Along this same vein, I read a blog post that did a good job of pointing out what’s problematic about one of today’s biggest carb-villifying, dogmatic diets–the Paleo Diet–earlier this week. You should check out what Tommy had to say about it, but if you want the summarized version, here it is:

“I’m not saying that there aren’t great aspects of the paleo diet, because there are. Avoiding processed foods and eating real food as much as possible is a great thing- but why don’t we just say ‘eat real food and avoid processed food’ instead of making up all of these ridiculous rules and justifications for dieting a certain way?
Adding a label to a logical way of eating only allows companies to profit from food fads, which you can now see with low carb, gluten free, and other shitty paleo spin off foods.”

Another post from a while back from the National Post made a similar point: the dogma’s not helping us in our pursuit of healthy living! 

The point of this post was to serve as a reminder to myself and my readers that just because the magazines, the media, or the people around us say that ____ is for sure the reason we’re fat/unhealthy/unhappy/whatever does not make it fact–it makes it a trend, an ideology, a whatever–but it’s still a matter of opinion. That being said, I think it’s a safe bet to say that eating mostly unprocessed diet made up of foods that you enjoy and that you get from the best sources that you can will be the safest, most sustainable way to go about “getting healthy.” Trust me on that one!

If you still want food rules, I would refer you to two people I trust:

1. Michael Pollan – plants

2. Geneen Roth –

eat rules geneen

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s back to my nerdiness research.

bonus: This (timely) post came up this week on Sociological Images (one of my favourite spots to nerd things up!): Is Sugar a Diet Aid? The Answer Depends on the Decade is what I’m talking about!

What do you think about the diet industry trends coming full circle?
Do you have a stance on the Paleo Diet?
What food rules do you agree with, if any? 

buying (into) dieting and swallowing balloons: my thoughts

This week has been filled with all kinds of chitter chatter on social media and some of the mainstream media regarding weight, dieting, and bodies. I’ve already thrown myself into the debate over The Biggest Loser because it really got me thinking  and thought I’d round things out by chiming in on two other stories that also struck me.

For those of us who find ourselves sucked into the dieting industry’s ways–I know I’ve been guilty of this–here’s an interesting read on what one writer says the dieting trend for the year is: “Let them eat cake for breakfast.”  I think she hit the nail on the head:

“The cycle of weight loss and gain that characterizes most individual diets, applies to the industry as a whole. You bought Atkins, you failed at Atkins and now, here it is, the title you’ve been waiting for, published this month and announcing a new chapter in the whole sorry cycle…”

My (non)diet books (the vegetarian ones, the paleo ones, the “lifestyle” ones) are on the shelf right next to my anti-dieting and intuitive eating books. Ditto for my podcast collection–there’s Jillian Michaels and there’s interview with Geneen Roth. I have signed up for online coaching groups about giving up dieting right after I’ve signed up for a 30 day challenge. Usually, it goes something like this: I, drawn by the lure of “health” (a convenient stand in for “weight loss” or “getting skinny”) have found myself cutting out food groups or experimenting with my diet in a restrictive way. Then, I find myself coming back to the realization that dieting is not the answer and turning to the opposite site of the spectrum to justify eating all the cookies it to myself.

This all seems a little silly when I think about the fact that “the weight” I have gotten so concerned over in the past would probably change my BMI by about 1. Small beans. I know logically that my body is perfectly healthy the way it is and that’s the reminder I’m taking away. Simple.

This article (also from the guardian) about a weight loss gastric ballon pill that has launched in the UK, got at a more complicated issue.

My thoughts? WOW! Science is CRAZY in the things we can do. Also, people are CRAZY. I don’t understand how we’ve gotten to a point where the band-aids we’re slapping on the issue of weight are balloons that we can swallow. Jumping on a fad diet fad diet suddenly seem cute in comparison to this option, touted for being non-invasive. The article says the balloon pills could work for people who don’t qualify for traditional gastric bypass surgery.

After all the talk this week about how sad and unfortunate it is that the winner of the most recent season of The Biggest Loser appears to have taken her weight loss too far, passing into the extreme category, I did a serious face palm when I found this story. Regardless of whether someone is overweight or obese, my stance is that extreme is extreme—and when it comes to our health, extreme isn’t the answer. Weight loss should be a process that addresses nutrition and activity along with viewing the person as a whole.

I suppose that while swallowing a balloon isn’t as ridiculous as swallowing tape worms in the pursuit of a smaller body, I’m still not celebrating the pills. Those who say that more people will be able to address their weight raise a good point, but I’d rather see more people being able to address their health, taking an approach that addresses them as a whole person rather than singling out obesity as a disease and approaching it as such. We can dedicate our time and our resources towards coming up with strategies like this to deal with what we’ve decided is a problem or disease or epidemic, or we can start to look at weight and too much of it as a symptom and get busy re-approaching the way we eat, exercise, and live.

Thoughts?
Have you been on the diet train? How did you get off of it?
Do you think the gastric balloon pill is a good thing?
What do you think the best way to address obesity is: is it an epidemic we need to cure or a symptom we need to prevent?

My takeaway:

take care

on nachos and storytelling

This week, I was out with friends and something icky came up. A (lean) friend was eating nachos and in response to my (probably offside) comment about their all-star dietary choice for dinner, they responded that since they weighed ___ lbs (a low number), it was okay.

Of course, this innocent person didn’t mean to offend me, but I was put off by the comment because my immediate thought/reaction was to say something along the lines of “Good thing I had dinner, I don’t weigh ___.”

Looking back, I could blame the innocent here for saying that eating junk food is okay when you’re smaller. But it’s not their fault—that’s commonplace in our world, whether it’s true or not (my thought is that the idea that you can “get away with” things because you’re skinny is blind to the fact that you can be skinny and seriously unhealthy). Alternatively, since I don’t know exactly what anyone else eats or does behind closed doors or what’s going on in their minds or bodies, I can focus on what I can actually control: my own thoughts on the matter and my own actions.

blame

So back to the idea that if you’re skinny, eating something “indulgent” is okay, which suggests that if you’re not, it isn’t. That sounds a heck of a lot like the dieting mindset rearing it’s ugly head.

In the past, dieting has mostly left me angry. I spent the majority of my high school and university years obsessing about food and exercise and weight or thinking about how I shouldn’t be obsessing about those things—not exactly freedom or health, in my opinion. There’s irony in the fact that the weight I’ve gotten to that has made my body happy (i.e. to get my period back, mainly) is pretty much right where I was when I started down the road of my disordered habits.

So, on the outside, that weight might look the same. But when I think about all of the learning I’ve done—about myself, my self esteem, and not just my physical body or exercise and nutrition—I know I’m not at all the same.

For instance, one thing I learned is that, like with the nacho example, putting conditions on when you can or can’t eat something is a recipe for mixing up my relationship with food and myself (whether or not that holds true for other people, I don’t know). You weigh too much to eat nachos = you don’t deserve nachos = you don’t deserve things = a recipe for feeling like crap. In that mindset, I know that when I do eat something that I think I shouldn’t, I’m going to feel like crap about myself and that I’ll quite likely end up overeating. There’s also a big problem with that thought process given that no matter how small I’ve been, I still didn’t qualify myself as someone who should be allowed to eat junk food.

Slipping back into the weight loss mindset sets me up for failure: I don’t eat the food I really want when I really want it and then I end up overeating on my own; I work out two times in one day and then feel sore, spiteful, and hungrier than ever.

So if I’m frustrated about putting in effort/worrying about my weight but still weighing more than other people who I feel like worry less than I do, what really needs to change?

I think in the past I’d have argued that I’ll get over it when I get smaller, but that’s not proved successful. The real issue isn’t that I’m bigger than those people—my body is healthy and for the most part, I’m more accepting of it now than I ever was when I was smaller and fighting against it—it’s that I’m pouring so much energy into worrying about it. It’s the mindset and the behaviours that suck. It keeps coming down to this: It would be okay if I weighed this much and I was enjoying nachos without needing to write a blog post about them, or doing the workouts that I really like, or relaxing in this body.

I think I’ve got an answer, and it isn’t to change this body to one that I think will deserve those things—to a body that can go to yoga one day, run the next, and lift weights the following instead of worrying about which workouts will mean the most fat loss, or to the body that can share a piece of cake and not go off the rails and eat chocolate chips compulsively the minute she’s alone—it’s to do those things now and trust that my body will take care of itself.

If I can resist the idea that if we don’t blame and shame and control our bodies, we will be overweight slobs (I think believing this this is the main reason I spent so long buying into the diet industry), I can start trusting my body. If I give up the dieting mindset, I have a feeling, paradoxically enough, that I will eat better and move more—and in ways that I actually enjoy. I know what a healthy lifestyle looks like, and even though it’s hard to resist the messages that seem to bombard me that I should be concerned with my weight or that I need to pour tons of energy into controlling my body, I’ve always liked a challenge.

Heading into Christmas, I don’t want to resent thin people who eat what they want. I don’t want to tell myself I can’t have a cookie and then eat 12 standing over the sink when I get home.

During my recovery, I can remember being frustrated with my old habits and feeling stuck and having a dietitian say something that shook me out of it along the lines of, “That’s the way it’s been for you for a really long time. But that’s your old story and it doesn’t have to be your story any more.”

It’s time for a new one.

emvrace change

What’s your old story when it comes to dieting or your relationship with your body? What do you want your story to be?