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.

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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:

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fat talk 3

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

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Weight, vacation, and checking in beyond the scale

Happy Canada Day from…America!

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This is my first Canada Day as a Canadian citizen!

We are on the final leg of our journey from the trip we made for the Farm to Fork Fondo last week. I’m enjoying the trip and the extra sleep and the break from being alone with only my thesis to keep me company, but I’m also excited to be home. I am starting to feel better and am eager to ride my bike a bit and maybe swim some laps at the outdoor pool that’s open now, even though I’m tapering for my half ironman, which is coincidentally not very far from where we are staying today, next weekend.

I was thinking today about the scale, and not having one on this vacation. For a few years, I didn’t keep a scale around. I was in the thick of my eating disorder recovery, trying my best to focus on letting my body do what it needed to in terms of size while I got back to a relationship with food that was healthy. Lately, I’ve been using it, albeit consciously, to see what’s going on with my body: not a whole lot. It seems training for a half ironman vs. mostly lifting weights / dabbling in Olympic weightlifting have left me remarkably the same in terms of how much I weigh, and I think in how I look.

This trip, I haven’t had access to a scale. I also have not been wearing my FitBit or tracking anything by hand or on an app. I did see that when we were in NYC the other day, according to my iPhone, Brent and I walked nearly a half marathon – 20km in one day! That seems like a lot to me.

I got to thinking about the way I used to freak out on the last days of a vacation over the “damage” I had done while I was away. Now, this trip involved minimal exercise—one bike ride, one little run—and some admittedly junk food—pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge, s’mores, and a chocolate bar that tasted like my childhood. But, without a scale to measure where I’m at and see if I can “get away” with such indulgences, I’m forced to ask myself if I’m happy with my choices.

The answer is yes, for this trip. For the most part, I’ve been following my hunger signals. I’ve been enjoying the food along the way—the pizza was part of being a tourist, the s’mores were over a campfire, the beer in NYC—and for the most part I’ve been able to eat ‘til full and not stuffed. There have been no binges, no tears, no big fights over food—all things that used to be commonplace for me when I got out of my routine with eating and/or exercising. Do I miss the gym and want a salad? Yes! Do I wish I’d felt better and was able to run once or twice? Yep. Do I wish the weather had been better so I could get out on another bike ride? Yes. But that’s alright—that’s the kind of thing that happens when healthy is your normal and you can enjoy the change of pace on a vacation. For me this time, it’s not about “indulgences” or “cheating” but about being in the present and choosing what’s healthiest and happiest in the moment. Sometimes that’s a candy bar, sometimes it’s an apple. Sometimes it’s sleeping in, and other times it’s getting up early to fit in a workout.

chosen to be happy

When I get home, the scale won’t be waiting for me to let me know how I did. I already know that I’ve had a good trip and that I can go home feeling pretty good about the choices I’ve made, and also with a few lessons about what makes me feel my best to go along with it.

So maybe, rather than the scale, it’s about asking ourselves: How are my food choices right now making me feel? Can I look back on today and say that I made choices I can be proud of? Does what I’m doing fit with my vision of “healthy” living?*

chosen to be happy

*Your vision of healthy living might be something you’ve never thought about. For me, it’s not all kale and wheatgrass, but it’s about letting things be simple: from shopping at the farmer’s market and eating lots of whole foods to taking a break on vacation to having an ice cream cone on a hot day. It’s about doing things that make my body feel good and build it up, not break it down and wear me out in terms of training. It’s about trusting myself.  

…what’s yours?

For feminism or for health? Why the scale sucks either way…

Today, Tracy wrote a great post about her relationship with “weight loss.” As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t it be easier if we just stopped weighing ourselves? She seems to be on the same wavelength as me a lot, and she touched on this at the end of the post. Personally, I’ve tossed out my scale in defiance of my obsession with it during the earliest stages of my recovery. But since then, I have found myself weighing myself again on and off. As of late, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not really benefitting from knowing the number—so the scale’s gone again.

I would like to think that there will be a time when I could weigh myself and not use it as a tool to drive myself crazy. I am not there right now. Even now, without the scale around for daily weighings, thesporadic ones get to me. When I’ve brought the scale back into my world—either via being weighed by someone else like a doctor, or a coach—it stirs up a lot of emotion. I can feel elated if I’m lighter, but at the same time beat myself up for feeling good about losing weight since I know that weight loss is not the be-all end-all, my habits are. I can feel like a failure if I’ve gained weight, which is coupled with a reminder that weight isn’t everything. Either way, I don’t step off the thing ever feeling any happier for having done it.don't step on it.

For so long, my own focus was on weight and losing weight at all costs. I’d, like many people, gotten weight and health linked up in a way that didn’t let me see when I crossed lines and compromised my health for the sake of weight loss. As my choices became more and more extreme, I was successful at weight loss—but at the expense of my health and my happiness. It was a step by step process down this slippery slope into my eating disorder. Eating less became undereating consistently. Exercising more became overexercising on the regular. Eating better became synonymous with eating things with less calories, fat, or carbs—whatever the villain of the day in my mind was.

I know from a health perspective: weight should be the outcome or the by-product, not the focus. It’s not always “right” or perhaps a better way of putting this is that it’s not always an accurate reflection of whether or not we’ve done the “right” things. I might have eaten whole foods from great sources in appropriate quantities and have done a great job of taking care of myself, but if I just drank a bottle of water and have not gone to the washroom yet, I’ll weigh more. Do I abandon my healthy habits because they’re not “working”?

It is easier to sell weight loss than it is to sell long-term health. “Build healthy self-care habits in 3 years” doesn’t seem like it would fit on a cover of Shape quite as well as the “10 days to a flat tummy” headlines that do. People use weight loss as a goal all the time and even as personal trainers and fitness instructors we encourage folks to set SMART goals with specifics in terms of how much weight they’ll lose. I think it’s more important to think about what we will actually need to DO. You don’t wake up and just lose weight by a conscious choice. You do wake up and every day decide that you’re going to work out, or that you’re going to eat vegetables with your lunch, or that you’re going to write in a diary instead of eating a pint of ice cream when you’re stressed. Maybe it’s the allure of wanting to lose 10 pounds and be done with it, whereas deciding to build a healthy relationship with food or healthy eating habits instead would require you to keep on working on that goal for the rest of your life (I think we forget that habits get easier the more we do them).

From a health perspective, I think getting rid of the scale is a good choice for me. That’s my choice. It doesn’t have a lot to do with my status as a feminist or not, which is what Tracy was sort of talking about in her post. But do we have to get rid of our scales if we want to be feminists? Do we also have to get rid of our hair-brushes and makeup? I really don’t know the answer to this or where to draw a line or if there is a line of what makes something feminist or not. If weighing yourself feels good to you, fine. It feels like crap to me. I wouldn’t argue that women should stop wearing makeup if it makes them feel good, perhaps I shouldn’t argue that women need to stop weighing themselves altogether or wanting to be skinny. I just know that there are other people out there who feel compelled to keep weighing themselves and keep pursuing weight loss, and I think the issue becomes when we feel like there isn’t the option to get off the hamster wheel.

Like I said, I don’t know what the answer is here. But I do think I think arguing about it only keeps us all focused on something trivial instead of on the issues that we can all agree on. Think of the progress we might make if we weren’t so busy beating each other up for being truly feminist or not. It’s like when you stop to think about what kind of energy women might have if they didn’t have to focus on their bodies so darn much, or if they didn’t have to focus on whether or not they should be focusing on them, or…you see where I’m going with this.

So for now, I’ll be staying away from the scale, and I’ll be encouraging anyone else who is feeling crazy over it to do the same. Just like I learned in my recovery, the scale is not an accurate reflection of who you are, or how you’re doing, or of your self worth.

losing weight not your purpose

keep the focus: weight, normal eating, and keeping health at the forefront of my goals

Hello from hibernation! My last post was about focusing on the journey towards our goals, and in the journey towards my goals, I’ve learned again and again that I need to focus on what I can control. As much as it’s tempting to think, achieve at all costs, I know that focusing on how I get to my goals–and making it a process that makes me better–is important. 

Part of my current journey involves (continuing to) work on my relationship with food and my body and how it all relates to health. This week, I was pointed towards Ellyn Satter by Jennifer, the dietitian at NutritionRx, when she shared Satter’s “Definition of Normal Eating.” This definition is printed and up on my bulletin board where I can see it when I need a reminder to pump the brakes with my perfectionism.

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Apologies for the language, but this one also serves as a reminder not to use food for crazy-making purposes.

 

When I was procrastinating perusing Satter’s website this morning, I found an article that really resonated with me. Given her mission of “helping adults and children be joyful and competent with eating,” it makes sense that she would provide a set of guidelines that made me think, huh, this is flexible but still makes health matter. She’s sensitive to the ways that weight is a by-product of making healthy choices, which means that we are responsible for making healthy choices but that we can take the pressure off of ourselves to lose weight at all costs. Here are some of Satter’s tips:

  • Eat well and joyfully, and trust your internal regulators to guide you in what andhow much to eat.
  • Move your body in a way that you enjoy and can sustain.
  • Let your body weigh what it will in response to your positive and consistent eating and activity.
  • Develop loyalty and respect for your body.
  • Stop postponing living until you get thin.”

Amen!

I know how to resist the media. I know that weight loss is not synonymous with health. But every day, I see people around me and on the news and in my social media sphere who are prioritizing weight loss in the name of health, often at the expense of their health. I try to do my best to remove the kind of updates that promote these kinds of perspectives from my world, or to remind myself that everyone’s journey is different and that it’s not up to me to decide what’s right for other people. But I do know what’s right for me, and I do want to—even if wanting to be smaller or wanting to be faster or wanting to feel lighter—always keep my health and what is in my control, my actions, as my priority.

I think that sharing messages like this that remind us to focus on shifting our actions towards ones that are health- and happiness-promoting instead of getting hyper-focused on the number on the scale or our body fat percentage or the tag in our jeans is important because it’s not heard enough. It’s not quite as sexy to talk about how we learned to eat more vegetables or drink a little more water as it is to go on and on about a detox or what we’re not eating this week, but in the long run, it’s the way that we relate to our bodies and take care of ourselves that will keep us happy and healthy.

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Are you working on any food goals right now?
What do you think of the “normal eating” guidelines?

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?

judgement and pacemakers: checking myself

Hello from Florida! A few days ago I was flying down the side of a mountain in Vermont (I successfully learned how to have fun skiing in Vermont) and today I was biking in shorts and a short-sleeve jersey. I am pretty glad to be a grad student right now.

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My bike, in pieces.

My bike, in pieces.

For the record, my bike was sitting still. But 95km in January is pretty cool...

For the record, my bike was sitting still. But 95km in January is pretty cool…

On the news a few days ago, there was a little piece about a “pacemaker for the stomach.” You can read about it here on the Wall Street Journal’s website, but to my understanding it’s basically a device that goes into the abdomen and affects the nerve signals that are responsible for feelings of hunger and fullness. The details are not what’s important, but my reaction to it, which was initially to think that I would rather people “actually” lose the weight themselves instead of using what I sort of think is a band-aid.

But I’m not so sure.

As we were driving home from Vermont and my boyfriend mowed down on what he called a “freedom donut” (because everything in Amurrica = freedom ________), I realized that I haven’t eaten a donut in a really long time. Or French fries. Or pizza. And yeah, I don’t eat perfectly—I love me some chocolate. But I definitely pay attention to what I eat and exercise on a regular basis and still have weight on my mind—and on my thighs.

So maybe part of my resistance to weight loss surgeries or pills or quick fixes or whatever is that it frustrates me, since I am trying to “earn” my own. Of course, there’s the fears I have about compromising health and focusing on numbers at all costs, but I think it’s mostly my ideas about our bodies and “earning” them, working hard enough at it, trying…

Some women I know struggle to keep weight on. I know that some people “have it easier” when it comes to maintaining a thinner body. There are friends of mine who can eat froyo all the livelong day and who never exercise but who seem to look like they spend plenty of time at the gym. Those people don’t “earn” their bodies, either.

I think we want to believe that we absolutely earn our bodies—that we get what we put in and people get what they deserve when it comes to this stuff and to most things in our lives. And while I believe that we have a whole heck of a lot of power over our own lives, I’m not naïve enough to believe that I merit everything I have or am. I was born into a certain life and a certain body and a certain family and city and life and as much as I think I work hard, I know that there are people who started from a deficit compared to me and have had to work harder just to get even to where I am. This applies to our bodies too.

Just like there are people who are predisposed to have an easier time getting lean or getting into shape, there are people who are predisposed to have a tougher time. It’s up to each one of us to decide what we do with the bodies we are given them. I know that I want to take the best care I can of mine and I have to set the boundaries for myself and define what makes me “healthy” versus what might border on focusing too much on how I look (at the expense of health). So knowing that, I’m going to let a bit of the judgment go–anything I’m feeling towards those “cheaters” or the ones taking the “easy” route is really about myself. The more I can appreciate the body I do have and even appreciate that my “struggles” with weight have taught me so much about myself and about health, the easier that will be!

What do you think about “shortcuts?” 

 

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?

 

 

What do you want to “get away” with?: on eating for health versus eating for a healthy weight

With Thanksgiving just in the past and plenty of opportunities around the corner for “indulging” in “fun foods” (or junk foods, if you prefer), I thought I’d tackle something that I have given lots of thought to as of late. I hear over and over again people talking about how they can’t “get away with” eating those fun foods or things that they really want.

case in point

case in point — people want those metabolisms!

I’ll admit that I used to be jealous of people who could seemingly eat whatever they pleased without a care and without gaining weight. But I’ve come to realize that there is more than meets the eye, when it comes to the way people fuel themselves: we may see a person’s instagram feed and they may not really eat what’s pictured; we may see the only meal that a person eats all day; we can’t possibly know what’s going on beyond what meets our eyes. On top of that, the more I change the way I think about the number on the scale and what it means, the less I consider eating copious quantities of junk food something to be envious of.

If you think about it, unless we consider weight the most important indication of our health (above and beyond what we’re actually doing to our bodies), we’re not really getting away with anything if the anything is not healthy in and of itself. If someone is “getting away” with eating junk food, they’re still putting junk into their bodies. If they’re not gaining weight, that doesn’t mean that that food is not still driving unhealthy processes in their body or that their insides are in good shape. We think that we want those metabolisms that will allow us to eat whatever we want, but we forget that we still need to eat healthy for the sake of fueling our bodies properly, whether we can stay thin on a diet of potato chips and cookies (or whatever it is you think you can’t have) or not.

But there’s something there worth considering: what is it that we envy about those people who can eat “whatever they want”? During my recovery and when I went about making all foods fit in my diet again, legalizing even the things I forbid myself to eat for years, I did my best to eat “whatever I want.” I didn’t always nail the “without guilt” part of the equation, and I certainly overate in the process, but what I realized is that I’m not the out of control monster that I thought I am when it comes to food. When it’s OK to have dessert, I have it. When I think I shouldn’t be having it because I’m not ____lbs or a size __ yet, then I overeat it. Conditions on the consumption of any food for me are just a trigger for me to throw my hands up in the air and overdo it. Alternatively, when I’m letting myself have it easy with food, I’m always surprised at how little of those formerly oh-so-tempting things I needed when they were OK – one cookie was enough for the girl who used to eat a whole row? If I overdid it, I didn’t feel good. I found myself actually craving vegetables alongside that chocolate. But it’s a slippery slope and I feel like I live in a world where if you’re not dieting, you’re a bit of an outcast, although “diet” is a four letter word that people don’t use to describe their approaches to food.

That being said, what I’ve realized is that what I really am jealous of when it comes to those people who appear to eat whatever they want and stay fit, or healthy, or happy, or whatever, is the freedom that goes along with it. I don’t mean freedom in terms of what they’re putting in their body, I mean freedom in terms of how they approach food and how they approach their own body. The people I envy most are not even those people who eat French fries and still have six packs, they’re the ones who eat salads and burgers and cake and kale without letting it be more than it is. They’re the ones who stop eating when they’re satisfied. They’re the ones who know that if they have a bigger lunch, they’ll probably naturally eat less at dinner—and don’t deprive themselves if they end up being hungry when that time rolls around. They’re the ones who trust themselves around all kinds of food. They’re the ones who don’t turn to food for comfort, but take it for what it is: fuel. These kinds of eaters are the ones who I envy, and lucky for me, identifying what it is about them and their approach to food that I am so jealous of gives me something to aim for creating in myself.

If we have been overweight or have struggled with our weight in the past, it’s easy to feel like we are some kind of special snowflake who could never be able to be happy around food and our bodies. Talk about a limiting perspective. All thinking that way does is create all kinds of feeling of shame, of lack of control, of failure, and all that does is drive us to continue to overeat foods we think are “bad” and to live in this crazy cycle where food is consuming us instead of us consuming it. I know from experience that moving towards that kind of relationship I envy with food is not easy, but I also know that I’m getting there one step at a time. The clearer I can get about what I want for myself in terms of habits around food and thoughts around food, and the gentler with myself I can be as I move in that direction (little steps, little steps), the better I feel in the process of changing the way I think about food and my body.

I shared a Geneen Roth quote with a friend the other day and I think it fits well with this and ties it all together nicely, with the reminder to trust yourself instead:

“When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you. You walk around ashamed of being yourself. You try hard to make up for the way you look, walk, feel. Decisions are agonizing because if you, the person who makes the decision, is damaged, then how can you trust what you decide? You doubt your own impulses so you become masterful at looking outside yourself for comfort. You become an expert at finding experts and programs, at striving and trying hard and then harder to change yourself, but this process only reaffirms what you already believe about yourself — that your needs and choices cannot be trusted, and left to your own devices you are out of control.”

trust

Where do you feel jealous of other people’s metabolisms/eating?
What is it about the way that they eat that is so appealing to you?
What is standing between you and the kind of relationship with food that you want?
What do you want your eating habits to look like?
How do you want to feel about your body?
What is a healthy relationship with food?

“strong is the new skinny” revisited

I’ve blogged before about how I think “strong is the new skinny” has replaced one (unrealistic for many people) ideal—skinny–with a new one—strong—and how this isn’t really a solution for changing the way women think about their bodies. Especially if we assume that “strong” involves looking like the magazine covers and women who tell us that this is the new way to shape our bodies, going into a gym and trying to make our bodies look strong and match that new ideal is not so different from going into the gym and trying to make them look thin and toned.

Or is it?

As time has gone on, I’ve started to wonder if the “strong is the new skinny” message might not be at least partially a win for women (and the men who admire them). I’ve come to realize that just like a personal training client who comes in wanting to lose weight but then starts to fall in love with exercising and eating real food because of the way it makes them feel, women who start off trying to build a strong-looking body will (hopefully) end up in a situation where they can amaze themselves with their bodies and can build physical strength–both big wins I’ve had in my march towards loving my own body. Whether or not they are lean and mean and look like the images of strength that are typically associated with the motto, women getting stronger is, in my opinion, a good thing.

I’d be lying if I said that part of what drew me to CrossFit way back (prebok days) when wasn’t hoping that I would look a little more like one of those “strong” girls. In the process, I realized that regardless of what happens with my body, there are successes and strengths that come from working out in a way that focuses more on what I can do than on how I look because of it—I’m not perfect, but I certainly have an appreciation for what I’m capable of that I didn’t have before. At the risk of missing out on an opportunity to get into a kind of working out that just might leave women feeling like badasses and leave them physically and mentally stronger, I think we need to be careful not to dismiss “strong is the new skinny” as another way that someone is trying to trick us into driving ourselves batty chasing a new ideal. Maybe “strong” is a better ideal to go after because it can carry meaning beyond just an appearance or even beyond the physical—something skinny could never do. Am I strong enough to carry that weight? Am I mentally strong enough to talk myself into doing it? Am I strong enough to appreciate and maybe even love my body despite it’s cellulite, it’s flab, it’s whatever I think is “wrong” with it? 

Having strength as a goal, aesthetically and physically and mentally, has been empowering for me. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with my body or what I needed to get rid of (as was the case when I just wanted to be thinner), it’s been a great opportunity to think about what I want to create and cultivate. Even if many of us are working out because we want to look a certain way, I think that the pursuit of that “ideal” might as well have positive side effects. My experience of trying to look skinny was undoubtedly unhealthy; my experience of wanting to look strong has been quite the opposite. Aiming for something instead of trying to fix something is probably the most powerful switch I’ve made in terms of my own health–and while I might not think that all of the things that go along with “strong is the new skinny” are necessarily in line with that I think the switch to focusing on strength is all about, I hope the women who are in it for the aesthetic reason and end up frustrated at not looking like an Oxygen magazine model are strong enough to see that they still rock.

deadlift

What’s your take on “Strong is the new skinny”?
Do you work out mainly for aesthetic reasons?
What else do you get from working out?