Fat Talk Free Week 2013: Interview with Natalie Lynn Borton

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Note from Rebecca: In honor of Fat Talk Free week, I chatted with my friend, Natalie Lynn Borton. Writer, editor, and creative consultant, Natalie is also an advocate of redefining culture’s definition of beauty and worthiness. Her blog, Thoughts by Natalie, is a community for women dedicated to honest talk about beauty, style, wellness and life. I met Natalie several years ago and have since grown to greatly respect and value her voice, heart and mind. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer questions for this post. I appreciate you!

How do you define “fat talk”?

I define “fat talk” as any kind of negative talk—to others, about others, or in our own heads—about body size or shape. I think talk that creates shame about eating habits could fall into the “fat talk” definition as well.

Where and when do you most often hear fat talk?

I hear it everywhere, in almost any conversation between women. It’s become part of normal conversation and is accepted as normal, which is so sad. Also, I admittedly hear it in my own head, which I hate. Thankfully, I’ve found a lot of positive ways to counteract it, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t there.

How do you respond to fat talk?

When I am in a conversation that turns to fat talk, I try to negate it immediately, reminding the person who is being down on herself that she is beautiful as she is, and that looking different has no impact on her worth. I also proactively strive to prevent fat talk by not engaging in it myself publicly.

What do you think are the roots of fat talk?

Insecurity and fear of inadequacy. There is nothing about our appearance that makes us more or less valuable or attractive as human beings—but our culture suggests otherwise. We are conditioned from a very young age to believe that we are most worthy of love and adoration from others when we look a certain way—and when we feel that we don’t fit that mold, we seem feel the need to make sure others know that we know we’re not ideal.

How have you struggled with fat talk in your life?

Overhearing others engaging in fat talk was definitely one contributor to the eating disorder I developed while I was in college—though my disorder was related to feeling out of control, the object of my control became my body, I think because of all of the lies I’d heard over the years about how not to look, and how looking a certain way makes us unacceptable.

Additionally, I’ve struggled with creating fat talk in my own mind, and to this day find that when times are difficult—whether it’s a tough day, a fight with my husband or a death of a loved one—I tend to engage in fat talk in my mind as some kind of strange coping mechanism, perhaps as a way to refocus my frustrations toward something I feel like I could actually change.

What self-talk helps ground you in your true worth and value today?

I choose to focus on my character as much as possible. When I’m feeling down about my appearance, I remind myself that 1) I’m likely seeing something distorted in the mirror, and 2) that my beauty comes from the way I interact with others, not from how I look in my jeans.

You are passionate and fascinated with the topic of beauty. How do you define beauty?

Beauty is defined by who we are, not what we look like. Our appearance plays a small role, I suppose, but it’s our character that makes us beautiful people, attractive people and loveable people. Specifically, some of those traits are joy, kindness, generosity, confidence, compassion and love.

How do you think fat talk harms our perception of beauty?

Fat talk reinforces the lie that beauty is determined by a certain type of external appearance.

You are also passionate about fashion. Fashion and fat talk often go hand-in-hand, as clothes can be such a trigger for those who struggle feeling comfortable in their skin. How do you avoid the dark side of fashion but still enjoy its beauty?

For me, fashion has provided so much freedom for me in terms of embracing and loving the body that I have. Style has become my personal creative expression, and a way for me to be more authentically myself, rather than try to fit a mold. It’s counterintuitive, I suppose, but that’s just how it’s played out in my life. I don’t worship high end brands and expensive products, but rather let style be something that is playful, fun, authentic and enjoyable.

What advice would you give to women who have a love/hate relationship with fashion mags?

Don’t look at anything that makes you feel bad about yourself. There are plenty of fashion magazines and blogs out there that celebrate real beauty through the images they share and the language they use surrounding fashion. Personally, some of my recent favorites are:

What words of encouragement do you want to share with those struggling with fat talk?

Choose to redefine beauty in your life. Invite your friends and loved ones to encourage you about more than just your appearance, opting instead for complimenting you on who you are and how that is beautiful. Also, when you feel the fat talk coming out or creeping into your thought life, choose to squash it down as a lie, replacing it with a truth about something that is good and truly beautiful.

Natalie is a writer, blogger and creative consultant who lives in north county San Diego with her hilarious and charming husband Brian and their very scruffy adopted pup, Maggie. A lover of the written word, avocados, beach picnics and champagne, she believes that beauty comes from who we are—not what we look like—and lives life accordingly. She shares her thoughts on beauty, style, wellness and life at thoughtsbynatalie.com.

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Taking a break from the “F” bomb talk – Are you in?

Starting tomorrow – October 21-25, 2013 – the Tri-Delta Sorority is hosting their annual “Fat Talk Free Week”.

Fat talk is when you make negative comments about your body or the body of someone else and is way too common in our culture. In fact, a 2011 study noted 93% women engage in fat talk.

Wow.

You have heard it and your probably have engaged in your own version of fat talk:

“Friend 1: My thighs are so big.
Friend 2: Oh my gosh. If your thighs are big, then mine are GINORMOUS.”

…and so it goes… the bonding over body bashing.

Fat Talk Free Week week may seem trivial, idealistic, even Pollyanna to some.

I have had many discussions with people on whether this type of awareness really makes a difference. I often hear something like the following:

“Rebecca, you need to lighten up. It is normal for people to talk negative about their bodies. And even if people take a break from talking badly about their body, they still with have their negative thoughts and feelings.”

True. But I believe a break from the collective voice of toxic self-loathing and vitriol attacks on the looks of self and others could do all of us some good.

Is stopping fat talk a cure to negative body image and subsequent disordered eating?

Nope.

But it is a movement I will gladly get behind because our words matter.

Never forget – people are listening to you what you have to say. You have power and impact on your surroundings with the words you choose to use when talking about yourself and others.

Do not underestimate the impact the off-hand comments you make about:

  • the latest crashing+burning celebrity
  • body changes in your friend
  • displeasure with how you feel about your own body

Fat talk fuels disordered eating, eating disorders, orthorexia, bad body image, depression and anxiety by fueling distrust, disengagement and fear.

Measuring your personal health solely on the image in the mirror, the opinions of others, the number on the scale or the size of your pants is a slippery slope to a dark place.

Buying into the shame narrative perpetuated about the unrealistic ideal of beauty and health does not protect – it only binds you more to the belief you are not enough.

True health looks different for everyone. Draw on your courage and push back on the norm of comparing, competing and attacking with abandon.

Nothing good comes of fat talk. Its attempt to create ease and to seek validation infects everyone within hearing distance.

This week, set yourself apart from the crowds, the 93%, and take a break from the fat talk.  Be an outlier.

Be a leader.

Change the conversation.

And join the movement to use your most powerful tool – your voice – and spend the next 5 days being mindful of how you talk about yourself and others.

Are you in?

This week we will feature some inspiring quotes on Potentia’s Facebook page. In addition, we will post some inspirational interviews here on the Potentia blog with friends of Potentia who are using the power of their voice to advocate for true health, true beauty and true worth.

Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts about fat talk and how it has impacted your life in the comments section below.

Cheering you on –

Rebecca

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Obsessing about eating healthy is not healthy.

1. Beware of using...

This morning my beloved cousin and life-long friend, Lissa Rankin, sent me an email noting a post she wrote for Mind Body Green, titled 10 Signs a Juicing Habit is Hiding an Eating Disorder.  In it, she addressed an issue near and dear to all of us who work at Potentia: when eating healthy can mask the serious emotional and physical issues of an eating disorder.

I am so grateful for her post as it is important to continue the discussion around this often lightning-rod issue. A continued conversation helps push back on a common narrative in our culture that if you do not meet the criteria for an eating disorder and you are eating whole, fresh, organic food, you don’t have a problem. But when lifestyle change leads to obsession, it is this narrative that can keep people stuck in an emotionally paralyzing state.

Obsessions are connected to a multitude of factors: low sense of worth, traumas/distressing life events, family of origin, temperament, and even under-nourishment. And many people are genetically loaded to be more vulnerable to obsessive-compulsive traits, which are found on the anxiety spectrum.

The obsession with eating healthy is called orthorexia.  Orthorexia is a sub-clinical term coined by Steven Bratmen, MD who is also the author of Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa – Overcoming the Obsession with Healthy Eating. I will explore orthorexia more deeply in an upcoming post, but for now,  it’s enough to know that the problem is not simply about the food (I say “simply,” since we need to eat to live), but mostly about the obsessions and related impact on your life based on how you respond to your food obsessions.

Any obsession, whether it be with food or otherwise, can be mentally and emotionally crippling. When the desire to make lifestyle changes and improve how you feed yourself is taken to an extreme, it can lead to orthorexia and eventually develop into more debilitating disordered eating and eating disorders.

In her post, Lissa noted key signs you may be using juicing as a mask to your disordered eating.  Below, I add some additional thoughts to unpack the important message of Lissa’s post. And thank you again, Lissa, for keeping this discussion going. It is a hot topic for sure, but I am so grateful for the conversation!

Here are Lissa’s 10 signs that you (or someone you love) is masking an eating disorder with juicing or cleansing:

1. Your BMI, or body mass index, reveals that you are underweight or normal weight, yet you replace meals with juice regularly.

Additional Thoughts: Yes, many people who are experiencing discomfort from negative body image want to lose weight or change their body. Restricting helps decrease the anxiety of this distress by the endorphins that are produced when their body is not getting enough nourishment. At Potentia, we use the BMI lightly. For most people, it is not an accurate indicator of ideal weight range. Plus, your worth is more than a number. Connect with Megan Holt for a consult to learn more about determining your ideal weight range.

2. You’re terrified of gaining weight, even if your BMI is normal or underweight.

Additional Thoughts: Regardless of your BMI, the fear of gaining weight needs to be addressed. Even if losing weight would be helpful to your overall wellness, a number of markers will be taken into account – not just your BMI. Your labs, your activity, physical pain, how you feed yourself, illnesses, medications, stress, social and emotional support and current life situation are all taken into account.

3. Other people think you’re skinny, but what you see in the mirror is a big fat slob.

Additional thoughts: Regardless of what other people think, if the image in the mirror triggers obsessive thoughts and behaviors, it is time to get help. And to those who are friends with someone struggling, be careful about compliments and encouragements around looks. If your loved one is in deep with this struggle, she will have a hard time trusting your words.  Validating her struggle and encouraging her to get help is a very loving support without feeding the obsessions.

4. For women, skipping periods or not menstruating at all can be a sign that you’re not getting enough calories. The body is genius. If it thinks you’re not at a healthy enough weight to have a healthy pregnancy, your periods will disappear.

Additional Thoughts: Yes – your body is genius! Osteopenia can lead to re-occurring injuries and is a sign your body is struggling. Getting your period back does not mean the recovery work is done. Until you do the deep soul work to manage your anxiety, this cycle of obsessions is likely to continue.

5. You binge on unhealthy foods and then either induce vomiting, exercise excessively, misuse laxatives, or use juicing as a sort of penance to undo the damage.

Additional Thoughts: Binging does not just have to involve food deemed unhealthy. It can be any kind of food, even healthy food. Many people attempt to mask their shame of binging by eating food that is not shamed by our culture and “junk food”.  And on that note, there is room for all food, even something that is not organic, processed or corn-fed – if the majority of your body’s needs are met with whole, fresh and organic when available and affordable.

6. You embark upon juice fasts that last more than a week. For example, a month of nothing but juice just isn’t healthy.

Additional Thoughts:  Lissa referenced our popular Q&A post on juice fasts.  This is an important resource as you think about the meaning and the motivation of your cleanse or fast. Even if you do not have a clinical eating disorder but are struggling with body image issues or eating issues, we caution against trying a fast to help manage your emotional distress. This choice could send you to a dark place that could take years of recovery.

7. You find yourself avoiding meals out with friends and family “because I’m cleansing.”

Additional Thoughts: This is such  a common struggle for those with orthorexia.  When eating fuels isolation, this is a red-flag.

8. Other people worry about how often you skip meals or cleanse.

Additional Thoughts: When those who care about you are concerned, it is not because they are working against your goals for health and wellness. Your disordered eating thoughts want to isolate you and be your only friend. In truth, eating disorders are toxic BFF’s.

9. Being away from your juicer or a juice bar triggers anxiety or even panic.

Additional Thoughts: If you lose flexibility in your lifestyle, it is a warning you are becoming a slave to your eating patterns. This is not how we are called to live.

10. You obsessively weigh yourself, and change your cleansing behavior as a way to diet yourself back to your target weight.

Additional Thoughts: Your worth is more than a number and dieting does not work. No matter what you call it, trying to lose weight by restrictive eating will only set you up to regaining the weight, even more than you lost, sending you on the dangerous weight-cycling path of disordered eating.

What do you think about the obsession of eating healthy? Is it an important response to weight issues in our country? Have you or someone you cared about ever struggled with orthorexia?

Cheering you on as you (re) define your definition of health –

Rebecca

 

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Weekend Wonderment: Inspiration from the Interwebs 9/15/13

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“Being courageous requires faith.” Heartfelt words from a mother of a Sandy Hook victim to teachers and school employees as they start their school year.  Wow.

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“Failing forward means using mistakes or failures in the service of moving ahead.” via Karen R. Koenig.  And if you have not checked out Karen’s workbook, Food and Feelings: A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health, it is a worthy resource on your bookshelf.

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“It’s hard: to keep your eyes on your own paper; to not want what others have; to detach from outcomes.” Parenthood, unhealthy perfection, and faith all collide in this lovely, sweet, tender post by Andrea Mauer.

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Never underestimate the power you have on those who cross your path in life.  Moving ad captures this sentiment beautifully.  Have some tissues nearby.  You have been warned.

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Are we passing down to the next generation the relentless pursuit of perfection? On parenthood, the pressures of high school students today, work and juggling it all – this provocative interview with Debora Spar, president of Barnard College and the mother of three children, touches on a lot of tender/lighting rod issues around parenting, working and being a woman.

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1. Settling + Starting

Sometimes we hesitate to start deep soul work because we are uncertain of the out come or how long it will take to reach our desired outcome. Trauma and distressing life events – and if you have been through middle school, you have had a distressing life event – can keep us stuck in fear, uncertainty, depression, loneliness, unhealthy perfection and enslaved to the opinions of others. EMDR is a wonderful to support for many who are stuck and the quick fixes are not working. Find a specialized therapist you trust and feel understood and start. This may be one of the most important seasons in your life.

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In Awe and Wonder –

Rebecca

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Weekend Wonderment – Better Late Than Never!

1. Your Health -

No surprise those with weight issues are more vulnerable to developing eating disorders. As long as we make weight a primary factor in determining health – and rewarding weight loss over overall wellness – we are contributing to the serious food and body issues in our culture.

Spread the word: You cannot be replaced!

A refreshingly honest, hilarious, and a little bit frenetic look inside the tension of being seen, authentic and vulnerable.

Love this blog on everything rustic and vintage on a budget. I just scored some of their amazing mini bread boards. I plan on getting more for gifts. You can even have each board engraved with up to 10 letters.  Sweet!

This is inspiring me to get my creative via my i-Phone photos. Who knew creativity and tech could be so fun and easy?

I am SO grateful for this website as I now have both kids in school and my oldest is needing lunches everyday.  The lists of recommended lunch gear saved me hours of research and the meal ideas and pics help with quick and easy planning.  Exhale.

This is an important post on bright girls, bright boys, and (re) defining perfectionism and being good enough.

Props to Matt Knisley for the heads up this new platform for books.  While I will always be a fan of old school books-in-hand, I am embracing technology and books. Netflix for books: count me in!

Donald Miller never disappoints with his powerful and convicting words. Read and be challenged to be brave and love without conditions.

In Awe and Wonder –

Rebecca

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Weekend Wonderment: Inspiration from the Interweb

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Be the Gift.  Give yourself the gift of forgetting about yourself, the to-do lists, the plans, the appointments, the shoulds and have-tos. Thank you, Ann, for this heartfelt reminder. I needed it this weekend.

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Never, ever, ever forget: You are Loved. Thanks to Jeanne Oliver Designs for bringing this to my attention.  Blessed.

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Beautiful, grounding, convicting.  Read this and then take note where you feel your heart tugged to redirect how you spend your time today.

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Yes, let’s change the world for Greyson, my daughter, all kids.

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Darling is taking orders for their fall issue.  Order now and receive their latest print magazine full of beautiful photo shopped-free pictures, lovely words printed on gorgeous paper and receive the digital version as a free bonus.

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Here is more brilliance from Barn Owl Primitives (where I purchased the We Can Do Hard Things sign seen as you enter my therapy office). These are words that I want to flow out of my heart to my kids – especially during this season of preparation for and transition to school and the big, big world.  May we all live these words and not just say them. Actions indeed speak louder than words.

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No, juicing is not an eating disorder but for some it can be a disordered eating ritual masked in the spirit of healthful living. I appreciate this honest and humorous perspective of a world where the efforts to be healthy are sometimes a bridge to orthorexia (the obsession with eating healthy) and, well, deep hunger.  Now head over to Kayla’s Q&A with Megan on juice cleanses for some facts on this practice.

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A common area of struggle I see in my office is managing the in-betweens of life: relationships, jobs, school, physical health, and so on. Jeff Goins’ new book will encourage and challenge you to savor your in-betweens. The tension created in times of waiting can be the catalyst for our best art, so slow down and do not rush your in-betweens.

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In awe and wonder –

Rebecca

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The Dark Side to Celebrating Eating Contests

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For the last several years, I have started writing posts about the mixed messages of celebrating eating contests and the dangerous impact reverberated by these mixed messages – but I have never finished them.  This year, I am pushing back on my unhealthy perfectionism and finishing a post I started earlier this month.  I hear the PR voice in my head saying it is too late and the peak for sharing this has passed. 
Well, so be it.

The fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I am a fireworks fanatic and this year we brought both of our kids to watch the glorious display of firework fun in the sky. This holiday is a lovely time to rest,  play, and celebrate.

But one tradition around this holiday frustrates and concerns me: Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest and the many iterations that have followed its popularity. Some of my friends and family think I am a bit of a buzzkill for not being a fan of this kind of eating. Such is my life as an eating disorder specialist – I cannot unlearn what I know about the physical and emotional dangers of binge eating and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

I like this write up by the Mayo Clinic staff on BED:

You may have no obvious physical signs or symptoms when you have binge-eating disorder. You may be overweight or obese, or you may be at a normal weight. However, you likely have numerous behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food
  • Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
  • Experiencing depression and anxiety
  • Feeling isolated and having difficulty talking about your feelings
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
  • Losing and gaining weight repeatedly, also called yo-yo dieting

After a binge, you may try to diet or eat normal meals. But restricting your eating may simply lead to more binge eating, creating a vicious cycle.

(Notation from Rebecca: Many fall somewhere along the spectrum of BED. You do not need to have all of these symptoms to struggle with the issue. Denial, minimizing, and rationalizing often keep people from getting the help they need because they do not feel like it is that serious.)

5 reasons eating contests hurt our collective psyche around food

1. Eating contests give the impression that binge eating is always a choice. As of May, Binge Eating Disorder is now a clinical diagnosis in the new DSM-V. This is a huge victory for those who struggle with these issues along with those who are passionate about treatment and advocacy. Prior to BED officially being placed in the DSM -V, there was a lot of controversy around whether this diagnosis should be included; many thought this diagnosis was making excuses for those making bad choices. If this struggle was simply fixed by a choice, there would not be millions of people struggling with this serious issue. Addressing core issues such as attachment wounds, anxiety, depression, distressing life events and traumas, perfectionism, shame, and identity issues are at the heart of this struggle, not a simple choice. The choice available to those with BED is reaching out and asking for helping instead of staying stuck in the cycle of shame, pain, isolation, and physical distress.

2. Eating contests make BED and related behaviors a joke and sport to many. We laugh. We cringe. We build up the hype. It is a business and we are buying into it. This recent Forbes post on whether eating contests should be considered a sport noted:

“While spectators question the validity of such a label, its organizers say there is no confusion – competitive eating is a serious business in the world of sport.”

Man Vs. Food with Adam Richman (I confess, I adore Adam — he is so endearing!) is a perfect example of eating as sport. Adam travels to a new town each episode to discover a city’s best sandwich or meal and then engages in a restaurant’s food challenge by eating an insane amount of food in a designated time period. People are around him cheering him on as he takes his body on a dangerous episode of binge eating — for all the world to watch.

But my work with people on the disordered eating spectrum has taught me food competitions do great harm to our collective understanding of eating disorders and related health issues. This double standard keeps people struggling with BED spectrum in silence, fear of reaching out for help and making binge eating behaviors a joke. A sport.
Binge Eating Disorder is not a sport. Though many who participate in these eating contests may not fit the clinical diagnosis of BED, many of the behaviors mirror this serious illness. When we make binge eating cool to watch, we decrease the seriousness of this issue. It is time to stop the jokes and change the dialogue around this issue.

As long as we are watching, cheering on, and participating, eating contests will be good for business. And bad for health – mind, body, and soul.

3. Binge eating is very hard on your body. If you have ever seen the line-up at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, you can see a representation of different ages, genders, and sizes of those who down dozens of hot dogs in a matter of minutes. Physically, binge eaters are at risk for developing: type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis, joint and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, sleep apnea, and other related health concerns. Professional binge eaters have the same health risks as those who are clinically struggling with BED. This is not something to be celebrated or perpetuated.

4. We have become obsessed with talking about food and eating contests just add to this unhealthy obsession. Food is personal and how we choose to feed ourselves is a very vulnerable topic. How we eat, what we eat, when we eat, and where we eat are all hot topics that can breed food shame and discord instead the joy of breaking bread with family and friends. Eating contests (and most reality shows for that matter) encourage us to become professional judgers and blamers. We talk about “good food vs. bad food” as if we are talking about sinning or staying pure; we Instagram our meals with a sense of awe and worship; the latest trends in eating, dieting, health dominate the majority of our conversations. We are obsessed with food. This obsession masks core issues of identity, worth, shame while fueling anxiety and depression. And the resistance to looking deeper is intense – understandably as it is much easier to talk about food than the messy, vulnerable, deep soul stuff.

5. Eating contests are a waste of food when so many are food insecure in our country and our world. In our country alone, food insecurity impacts about 15% of households. I often wonder about the positive impact companies and businesses that promote eating contents could make if they took their resources of time and money and fought hunger instead. We can change this demand by choosing not to watch and not to participate – which will shift how companies spend their advertising dollars.
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Post your feedback below and let me know what you think about eating contests? Do you think binge eating is just a choice?  I look forward to your thoughts on this controversial subject.

Happy belated 4th of July (take that perfectionism!)  –

Rebecca

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Q&A Series: Cleanses

Q&A Series: Cleanses

Kayla Waler, MFT Intern at Potentia: So, we’ve recently tackled pertinent topics such as Paleo and gluten-free diets. My friends have expressed interest in a Q&A about juice fasts and cleanses. I know juice fasts and cleanses are popular, especially around certain times of the year…what can you tell me about this practice?

Megan Holt, RD, MPH, Ph(c) and Coordnator of Nutrition and Wellness at Potentia: In my experience, people tend to be interested in cleansing for one of four reasons: 1) weight loss, 2) detoxification, or 3) as a means of hitting a ‘reset’ button when they’re feeling particularly bad about their current diet or 4) for an energy boost. Cleanses usually involve one or more of these components: 1) a fast 2) some sort of product or regimen purported to remove toxins from the body, or 3) a colon cleanse.

Kayla: Let’s start by talking about fasting…

Megan: I tend to discourage fasting because it can reactivate disordered eating behaviors–whether that’s restriction or feeling out of control with food or feeling disconnected from hunger and fullness cues when one does start to eat again. I generally recommend against it for anyone who has suffered from disordered eating in the past. But for someone without a history of disordered eating, there’s really no harm in doing a juice fast or any fast for one or two days, as long as the person is hydrating appropriately. Beyond a few days, there’s no way one can really meet his/her micro and macronutrient needs for vitamins, minerals, fat, fiber, and protein through a fast (including a juice fast). So, if the fast is prolonged, say for two weeks, he/she will start to break down muscle tissue, resulting in a weight loss (muscle tissue is heavy and dense, about 1.7 or 2 times the weight of fat mass). This can’t be sustained without becoming malnourished, nor is it ideal to waste muscle tissue and lose strength. In such a state a person can expect to be in ketosis, a state characterized by elevated levels of ketones in one’s urine or a fruity or acetone-like smell in one’s breath. Ketosis is one of the hallmarks of starvation/malnutrition.

Kayla: I know detoxification is a trendy concept. What are the toxins people are trying to rid from their bodies?

Megan: Usually the claims about detoxification on these products are overstated and generalized/non-specific. Most refer to PCBs, lead, heavy metals, or environmental toxins like food additives, food coloring, pesticide residue, etc.

Kayla: And would a cleanse rid the body of these toxins?

Megan: Actually, there’s no evidence that a cleanse or fast would (although, as long as one is fasting, one is likely taking in less of these compounds, though they’re reintroduced once the fast ends). There seems to be nothing about a cleanse that is as beneficial as adopting a good quality of diet consisting primarily of plants and whole foods. But there isn’t much research out there; there haven’t been many high quality studies on cleanses because higher preliminary studies show no benefit. Cleanses are typically promoted by testimonials given by celebrities or people who have no training/educational background (major red flag).

One problem with cleanses/detox diets is that if someone had a poor diet before doing on a cleanse, they usually revert back to that diet afterward, as they often don’t build skills to enable sustainable changes. So, unless he/she makes a concerted effort to change diet and lifestyle, he/she will return to feeling just as poorly as prior to the cleanse.

Kayla: …because he/she is just reintroducing all the old stuff…?

Megan: Right. The benefits are not sustained and not sustainable. So if you wish to feel better, or are seeking the reported benefits of something like a cleanse or detox diet, the best bet is really working on changing quality of diet and increasing activity, both of which sustainably promote feelings of well being (without undesirable side effects).

And it’s most important to note that not everyone reports feeling better during or after a cleanse. Most people report feeling disorientated or lethargic, dizzy, weak, a little confused or groggy because they’re malnourished and not getting enough glucose to the brain to fuel proper cognitive processes and physical functioning. Some people often report feeling lighter, and I can see that because one may lose weight in the form of fluid and stool bulk primarily (and perhaps a smaller proportion of fat mass and muscle mass depending on how the cleanse or fast lasts). But most often, participants complain of weakness, confusion, or just feeling “out of it.”

Kayla: Then why do people believe a cleanse is beneficial?

Megan: In part due to the power of testimonials—some people do report feeling better. Certainly people can report feeling better after adhering to a really nutrient-dense juice cleanse for several days in a row. But when someone is coming from a place where their diet is poor, of course they are going to feel better when diet improves. The problem is that it’s short term. We know that fad diets don’t work in terms of sustaining weight loss, and cleanses/detox diets are not exceptions.

Some people notice that a one or two-day cleanse or fast helps them to break habits of mindless eating and get back to a cleaner quality of diet. For example, someone who takes a one or two-day fast or cleanse after the holidays. Having said that, if you’re someone who is willing to stick to a juice fast or cleanse for just a few days as a means of hitting a ‘reset’ button, then you’re probably also apt to resume your pre-holiday eating style without doing the cleanse/fast.

Kayla: I know fasting can be dangerous because of the risk of malnourishment. Are there other risks? Can a cleanse regimen be dangerous?

Megan: Cleansing and fasting can be especially difficult and contraindicated for people with altered nutrient needs due to illness (diabetes, kidney disease, etc.). So, prior to participating in a cleanse or fast, I’d suggest consulting first with your physician.

Kayla: Earlier, you mentioned colon cleansing. Will you explain what a colon cleanse is? Why do people do it, and what are the pros and cons?

Megan: A colon cleanse is usually performed with an enema, commonly salt water or purified water injected into the colon. The idea is to remove any metabolic waste that the colon hasn’t removed on its own. Conventional physicians usually don’t support colon cleanses because there isn’t evidence to support the reported benefits. The colon is self-cleaning… it does a really good job of getting rid of metabolic waste on its own. So, we don’t need a procedure to cleanse the colon. In fact, introducing a foreign object into the colon can actually be pretty risky. Perforation of the bowel is another big risk with colon cleansing, as are infections and electrolyte disturbances.

Proponents of the colon cleanse will say they are introducing higher levels of good bacteria and getting rid of “bad” bacteria in the intestines, but there is really no evidence of that being the case, and the introduction of good bacteria is something you can get from eating probiotic-containing foods and a primarily whole-food plant based diet.

Also, we have a liver and other important organs that perform that function for us without prompting. Environmental toxins can not be metabolized or cleared by a cleanse or fast, unfortunately. If you are looking to make a change to feel better, my advice is to follow something that is sustainable for you, preferably a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet—though not necessarily vegetarian—with a high intake of whole foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and plant based fats.

What are your experiences with cleanses and fasts?  Have they been helpful or triggering of disordered eating thoughts and behaviors?

And thanks so much for your interest in this Q&A series.  Please keep us posted on future topics you would like us to cover in future Q&A posts.  Thanks for reading!

In good health – Megan and Kayla

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Q&A Series: Gluten-Free Diet Unpacked

Unpacking Gluten-Free Diet
Unpacking Gluten-Free Diet

After getting the scoop on the Paleo Diet, I sat down with Megan Holt, DrPh(c), MPH and Registered Dietitian, to get more information about another popular diet craze–the gluten-free diet.  –Kayla

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Kayla: So, what exactly is gluten, and what is the gluten-free diet?

Megan: Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, but it has been incorporated into a lot of different food products.  Rye, barley, bulgur, triticale, some oats (due to cross contamination), and wheat products, of course, contain gluten, as do many sauces and meat tenderizers or seasonings.  Gluten tends to slip its way into many products because of its elastic structure and ability to act as a thickener. A gluten-free diet is simply an exclusion of gluten, which means the diet rules out all of the pastas, breads, pastries, and cookies that are gluten-containing, but also many other sauces and seasonings.

Kayla: I know that I’ve heard a lot about gluten-free products and the gluten-free diet within the last year or two, but how long has this diet been around?

Megan: The idea of a gluten-free diet gained popularity about 5 years ago, but it really exploded about two years ago in conjunction with the Paleo diet.  A number of studies have supported benefits of a gluten-free diet for certain subsets of the population, and largely as a result of the popularity, we have an increased awareness (and an increase in the number of people being tested).  We are now more aware of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity, and, given the availability of gluten-free products on menus in stores, sticking to a gluten-free diet is far less stigmatizing and isolating than it was in the past.  These are real benefits for people who are genuinely gluten-sensitive.

Kayla: What are the benefits of gluten?

Megan: There are decades of research that supports the use of whole grains in our diet.  High intake of whole grains are protective in terms of lowering risk of major causes of death in the United States:  cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome (in part due to the fact that low intake of whole grains is associated with higher abdominal fat and obesity).  Breads, grains, and pastas make up the bulk of the western diet (for better or worse), so one benefit of gluten intake in the US is that many of our grain products (which are gluten containing) are vitamin-fortified.  So, we tend to get a lot of vitamins and minerals, like folate, fiber, iron, and zinc, from gluten-containing products.  Of course, there are other, sometimes better sources for these vitamins, but gluten-containing products are a really common accessible source in the US.  Finally, whole grains themselves are very satiating, and they contribute to sustaining normal levels of blood sugar, even more so than a lot of the gluten-free counterparts.  One example would be whole wheat pasta versus (gluten-free) brown rice pasta.  Whole wheat pasta is a little more stabilizing and has more fiber and protein than brown rice pasta.  That’s just one example of a not-necessarily-healthier gluten alternative.

Kayla: Can you explain gluten sensitivity? What is the difference between that and celiac disease?

Megan: So, with the explosion of the gluten-free fad, we’ve become better at recognizing the symptoms of gluten sensitivity, which is milder than celiac disease and usually characterized by physical symptoms, with no damage to the small intestine.  Symptoms can include: diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, rashes, joint pain, and other inflammatory symptoms.  Celiac disease is characterized by an immune response to gluten, which can lead to the destruction of the villi in the small intestine, which can be severe and debilitating.  Many of these folks suffer from serious nutrient deficiencies just because they can’t absorb what they’re eating, so the removal of gluten from their diets is imperative.  But true celiac disease affects less than 1% of the population.

Kayla: How does one confirm gluten sensitivity or celiac disease?

Megan: Well, the gold standard to check for celiac disease is a biopsy of the small intestine to look for flattening of the villi.  Some doctors will perform an endoscopy to actually look for damage to the small intestine, but some look to blood tests that reveal the level of antibodies that have developed.  If these antibodies are outside a normal range (high), it may indicate a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.  But usually people will just try an elimination diet–eliminating gluten and then reintroducing it and looking for symptoms.

Kayla: But that only works if you’re only eliminating gluten, not adding in other things, or completely changing your diet…

Megan: Exactly.  Most of the people I see are just starting to pay attention to quality of diet or trying to improve their quality of diet and may feel like one the markers of improving their diet would be excluding gluten.  When I see people who want to follow a gluten-free diet, what I typically ask them to do is see their physician to check if they can get a test to confirm non-celiac gluten sensitivity or celiac disease if that’s what they suspect.  If there’s no confirmation, we work for a few weeks to clean up the overall quality of diet and I ask them to pay attention to the appreciable benefits they experience from simply improving the quality of diet.  Then, we can exclude the gluten-containing foods, substituting them for something comparable for a month or so before reintroducing gluten and noting any symptoms.  Changing the overall diet while excluding gluten is not ideal.

Kayla: Are there any benefits of a gluten-free diet for people without gluten sensitivity?

Megan: None that are evidence-based.  If we’re just excluding gluten or substituting whole grains for gluten-free grains, then no, there’s no benefit.  Moving away from genetically-modified foods and toward organic foods is beneficial, and this is a shift that is often made at the same time as one decides to go gluten-free.  But generally, gluten-free products tend to be more highly processed and are not fortified, compared to many gluten-containing grains, so you actually get less fiber and have a higher intake of processed foods when you’re just swapping out whole grains for gluten-free grains–unless you have legitimate gluten sensitivity.  That’s always the exception to the rule.  For most of the clients I see, those who don’t have gluten sensitivity, reintroducing gluten after elimination brings on no symptoms, other than perhaps a bit of an adjustment to a higher intake of fiber.

Kayla: So how can someone going gluten-free for a legitimate reason do so in a healthy way?

Megan: There are ways to be gluten-free more healthfully, that are more than just swapping out the gluten-containing grains for gluten-free ones.  For example, someone can get a lot of nutrients from beans, lentils, and other whole grains that are gluten-free like brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, and gluten free oats, or from fruits and vegetables.  Using these foods as staples is very healthy.  I’m a firm believer that you can have a balanced diet that excludes things you don’t want to eat or things that don’t make you feel well, but you have to be intentional about adding other food sources to make up for what you’re losing.  You have to take a balanced approach.

Kayla: How can I tell if someone going gluten-free is really struggling with disordered eating?

Megan: Unfortunately, I often see people using the gluten-free diet in the service of disordered eating, that is, as a reason for restricting their eating.  Then, if weight loss happens, it’s because of the restriction, not because their diet is gluten-free.  If you’re concerned about someone going gluten-free, you can always suggest that they see their physician for confirmatory testing.  Other red flags:  Is he/she restricting food /calories outside of those that are gluten containing? Has there been an undue or unnecessary weight loss? Is he/she unable to enjoy food or participate in activities involving food?

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We would love your thoughts on our conversation about the gluten-free diet. Post your thoughts and any additional questions for us in the comments section below. Also, let us know if there are any other diet or wellness trends you would like unpacked in future Q&A blog posts.

In good health –Megan and Kayla

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Q&A Series: Paleo Unpacked

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Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of chatter amongst my friends about the Paleo diet. Naturally, I’ve been a little curious about it, so I thought I’d talk with my fabulous colleague, Megan Holt, Ph(c), MPH and Registered Dietician, to get the scoop on the science behind the Paleo diet and her thoughts on how to eat right and stay safe in our diet-obsessed culture. – Kayla

Kayla: Thanks for taking time to talk with me today, Megan! I have some questions about the Paleo diet.  It seems like half the people I know are on it. Can you talk a little about what the Paleo diet is?

Megan:  So there have been versions of the Paleo diet around for 30-40 years–the idea of eating like our ancestors first surfaced in the 1970’s. Today’s Paleo Diet was coined and popularized by a professor, Dr. Loren Cordain. The idea behind it is that our bodies can’t process some of the foods–grains, for example–that have become staples in our diets since the industrial revolution. So, we are better off eating like our ancestors, the cavemen, with a diet that consists primarily of meat & vegetables with no dairy, grains, or processed foods.

Kayla: Well, that sounds pretty good, in theory.

Megan:  With this diet, as with any of the other fad-type diets, like Zone or South Beach or Atkins, there are always a few really positive and helpful features. A favorable aspect of the Paleo diet, for example, is the suggestion that you take an 85/15 approach to food…that is, you should follow Paleo principles 85% of time and the other 15% of the time non-Paleo foods are allowed. I like the idea of that sort of flexibility, rather than having certain foods be “off limits.”

Kayla:  So, what are the drawbacks?

Megan:  Many of the Paleo principles are far from evidence-based. The cavemen, for example, didn’t suffer from the diseases that we suffer from in the western society like stroke, heart disease, or cancers, but their lifespans were very short. They didn’t tend to live long enough to experience these chronic diseases…so we’re unable to draw strong conclusions or make a fair comparison. Also, the emphasis on animal products like meat, beef, is problematic.

There is the idea that saturated fats aren’t inflammatory or linked with preventable diseases as we once thought they were. The large majority of research suggests otherwise–that saturated fat still is a risk factor for several chronic diseases. There have been some studies that suggest a more mild relationship, but we still have lots of research to support keeping saturated fat to a minimum in our diet. Additionally, quality of animal products and production methods are drastically different in today’s society, and can’t be fairly compared with meat that was consumed by our ancestors.

And the problem with eliminating grains is just that it’s not evidence-based.  There are loads of high quality studies that suggest that whole grains play a supportive role in our health. Paleo diet proponents have been able to cash in on other popular diet trends in our society, such low-carbohydrate diets, gluten-free diets and emphasis on foods with low glycemic index.

Kayla:  So, what’s the rationale for limiting carbohydrates and high-glycemic foods?

Megan:  Blood sugar control. The idea is that if we ingest foods on the lower end of the glycemic index, it helps us maintain energy levels and stabilize blood sugar. Some of that is evidence based–there’s some good in that. Limiting processed foods, added sugars, and high-fat dairy and encouraging vegetable intake is also helpful.

But a high intake of animal fats from meats, beef, sausage, bacon is absolutely not protective, nor is it environmentally responsible. Roughly 10-15 calories of grain is required to produce 1 calorie of meat, and ten times the amount of fossil fuel/energy is required to produce 1 calorie of meat versus 1 calorie of grains.

Kayla:  And what about limiting grains?

Megan:  We have decades of evidence in support of whole grains, unless someone has a legitimate gluten allergy or intolerance. Some really good things have come out from exploring the relationship between gluten intake and inflammation, but it is way overrepresented in our population. When we cut out a lot of processed foods and dairy and peanuts (not allowed on the Paleo diet), we have to remember that these are the most likely culprits of food allergies/intolerances.

So, it makes sense that when someone with an undiagnosed intolerance or allergy removes these foods from the diet, they will tend to feel remarkably better. And when someone without allergies cuts down intake of processed foods and added sugars, and increases intake of fruits and vegetables, they will naturally feel better.

This is nothing new, and it is not unique to the Palo diet. Anytime we improve quality of diet and move away from foods with poor nutrient density, particularly those which are easy to passively over-consume (think milkshakes, frappuccinos, pastries), we will experience improvements in terms of health.

But with nutrition research, it’s hard to tease out which aspects of a diet are resulting in the change…Are we benefiting from the foods we’ve removed or from the foods we’ve reintroduced in place of them? For example, when we cut out gluten, we cut out all the processed grains and many grain-based desserts/pastries.

When we cut out these foods, we’re going to notice some sort of benefit or resulting weight loss. We may substitute our Cocoa Puffs for something much more protective and energizing, such as a greens smoothie.  Of course we’d feel better, but this doesn’t warrant demonizing grains.

There are many factors to consider. If we feel better after cutting out a food, what are we replacing the food with? What other lifestyle factors have changed? Has there been a shift in our activity level? Are we sure we can attribute feeling better to the elimination of a food, like gluten? More often than not, it’s unclear. Roughly 20-30% of people who identify themselves as sensitive to gluten actually are.

Kayla:  Those are good points. So, what is your advice for someone who wants to be healthy, to eat cleanly, and/or to lose weight in a healthy way? How would you advise her to go about making food choices?

Megan:  I support eating styles that are evidence-based and sustainable in terms of how well they support health and lower risk of preventable diseases. What that tends to look like is roughly half, if not 60%, of food intake coming from carbohydrates, mainly whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables. About 15% should derive from lean protein and fatty fish.

We get a lot more protein from plant-based sources than we think (whole, minimally processed grains, legumes, nuts, seeds), so we don’t need to rely on meat. The rest–roughly 30-35% of our calories should come from plant-based fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado, or grapeseed oil, versus saturated or trans fats like butter/dairy fat or lard. A small amount of saturated/trans fats are OK, but they shouldn’t represent the bulk of our intake.

Many of my clients have a long history of dieting and weight cycling, and benefit from a more flexible approach to eating and meal planning. In such cases, we try to identify foods that they enjoy and are drawn to that will also be energizing and health-promoting.

If your morning ritual includes coffee and a donut, then we talk about breakfast staples that appeal that offer more in terms of nutrient density. Surely we can find something that is more energizing, such as oatmeal with almonds and fresh berries. We’re not demonizing donuts here, but we have to acknowledge them as the less supportive choice.  Enjoy them as treats, but perhaps not as a breakfast staple.

Kayla: When I am with my friends who are talking about their Paleo diet, or going gluten-free, how can I tell if what they’re talking about is just normative, fad diet stuff, or if it has crossed the line toward disordered eating?

Megan:  I tend to look for improvements in quality of life when one is following a particular diet.  If they’re feeling better, maintaining weight that is right for their body and showing signs of improved energy levels, then great.  However, if they have to take unreasonable measures to comply with the diet, such as isolating themselves from social engagements that involve food, that might raise a bit of concern. Excess weight loss, even if the person does not appear “underweight” by current standards, is also a red flag.

Kayla:  And for someone in recovery from disordered eating, how can she keep herself safe in the midst of this cultural obsession with dieting?

Megan:  I’d suggest she just voice her concerns as they apply to her and her friends openly & non-judgmentally. If she’s meeting friends for some purpose that doesn’t relate to dieting or exercise, consider setting a limit around food- and weight-related talk (so ask friends to refrain from revolving conversation around dieting/weight loss). Supportive friends will understand and will be able to respect this.

Living in Southern California makes it nearly impossible to avoid diet talk altogether, as at least 2/3 of peer groups, especially female, are going to be dieting or interested in dieting or preoccupied with thoughts of wanting to lose weight. Surrounding oneself with a safe and supportive group of peers is crucial. There are women out there who have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. 🙂

Avoid giving into the pressure of having to identify yourself by the dietary trend you follow (i.e. “vegan, paleo, etc”) as this often results in our feeling badly about our choices when we stray from the diet”s tenants.  Take a more flexible (and sustainable) approach and choose foods that you truly enjoy and make you feel well.

Given the buzz around Paleo, my clients in recovery are naturally curious about the diet:

  • What is with the Paleo diet?
  • Is it safe?
  • Why are so many people talking about it?
  • Would this be good for me?

I tell them, especially those who have been through proper treatment, that they know what foods are going to make them feel well and what their body needs in order to perform well in terms of sleep, hydration, nutrition–and they have to trust that.  I ask them to try to refrain from taking nutrient/diet advice from their peers, most of whom acquire knowledge from media sources without scientific merit.

I remind them, “Refer back to your own experience. You’ve been through numerous diets; you know where that’s taken you. Trust that you know how to meet your body’s needs.”

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We would love your thoughts on our conversation about the Paleo diet.  Post your thoughts and any additional questions for us in the comments section below. Also, let us know if there are any other diet or wellness trends you would like unpacked in future Q&A blog posts.
In good health – Megan and Kayla

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