A Not So Celebration of the History of Popular Diets

I Choose Respect Over Body Shame
I Choose Respect Over Body Shame

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

In honor of Respect Your Body Month, Potentia’s Coordinator of Nutrition and Wellness – Megan Holt, DrPH, MPH, RD – compiled a timeline and unpacked the history of  fad diets and their many claims. Somewhat humorous and ridiculous at times, this list is not an endorsement of any of these trends but is intended to reflect the the constant ebb and flow of claims on what is true health. We support a non-diet, intuitive eating approach to feeding – when appropriate – and are passionate about educating the community on the dangers of fad diets and the diet mentality. – Rebecca

1863 Banting’s Diet: One of the first documented low carbohydrate diets. William Banting was a carpenter and undertaker. “Bad” foods included sugar/starch, butter, milk and beer.

1830 Graham’s Diet: A Presbyterian Minister, Sylvester Graham, touted a ‘bland’, vegetarian diet free of milk, meat, alcohol, white bread and ‘excitatory’ spices (which, upon intake, cause a person to become ‘lustful’).

1920 Inuit Diet: Vilhjalmur Stefannson, an Arctic explorer, noted improved health and quality of life among persons living in Arctic regions by eating a diet consisting predominantly of whale blubber, raw fish and caribou, with minimal fruit and vegetables.  Thus, the Inuit Diet was born.

1930 Dr. Stoll’s Diet Aid: One of the first liquid supplement diets, shakes were given out as meal substitutes in local beauty parlors in efforts to popularize this diet.

1930 Hay’s Diet: Dr.Hay warned of ‘digestive explosion’ from consumption of fruit, meat and dairy at the same meal. He urged separation of foods into alkaline, acidic and neutral meal/snack categories.

1950 Grapefruit Diet: Consists of having ½ grapefruit daily, and minimal caffeine. Fatty meats, particularly bacon, may be consumed liberally, as the combination of grapefruit and saturated fat is “claimed” to accelerate the burning of body fat.

1980 Cabbage Soup Diet: This plan advises the consumer to consume cabbage soup at meal times for seven consecutive days, with the stepwise addition of beef, fruit, vegetables, brown rice and skim milk.

1980: Fat free/very low fat: Emphasized elimination of fat in the diet, given its caloric density and link to development of cardiovascular disease. Manufacturers quickly adapted by producing fat reduced versions of our favorite foods, using sugar to enhance palatability.

1990 Atkins Diet: Popularized by Dr.Robert Atkins, initial phases demand a carbohydrate intake not greater than 20g/day, and exclusion of fruit, starches/grains, added sugar, starchy vegetables and beans/legumes. Caffeine and alcohol are forbidden, but meat, eggs and oils may be consumed liberally.

2000 South Beach Diet: Essentially a tamer version of Atkin’s, partakers are allowed to include a greater percentage of calories from carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in later stages, and are discouraged from over consumption of fatty meats/foods rich in saturated fats.

2000 Master Cleanse: Users are ‘detoxified’ by adhering to a strict regimen that includes a mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and salt. The diet was originally publicized in the 1940’s by an alternative healer by the name of Stanley Burroughs.

Present day fad: The Paleo Diet, also referred to by some as the ‘Caveman’ diet, advocates a diet mimicking that of our Paleolithic ancestors. The Paleo diet features exclusion of processed grains/oils, legumes and dairy.  This sort of an eating style is not new, as it was initially popularized in the 1970’s, though it’s made a comeback in recent years.

Despite their obvious differences, many of these diets all share a few common features (aside from the lack of credentials or expertise of behalf their wealthy creators): They erroneously suggest that we can manage health/weight through black and white thinking, they don’t ‘work’, they aren’t sustainable and they lack supporting evidence.

What do you think about this list? Would you add to it?

How do you respect your body through how you feed yourself?

Please join the conversation over on Potentia’s Facebook page on Choosing Respect Over Body shame.

In good health –

Megan

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

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

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

Seeking True Health in a Health Obsessed Culture

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True Health

Is your definition of health keeping you unhealthy?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I recommend taking a critical look at how you define health in your life and to reflect on how your definition of health is impacting your overall wellness.

When you say something or someone is healthy, what drives your sentiment?

I usually hear the following impacting this statement the most:

  • Looks
  • Weight
  • Fashion
  • Food choices
  • Fitness routines

And by the frenzy of advertisements everywhere about all of the above, the definition of health in our culture has been skewed to meet the needs of for-profit industries while also fueling disconnection and shame about the food we eat, our bodies, and our stories.

It is time to start thinking critically about the messages we are integrating into our definition of health.

Any person, book, or program that touts drastic weight loss, cutting out major food groups, or specific results is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. None of these diets or “lifestyle choices” are sustaining after 1-2 years. The facts show weight cycling from dieting, disordered eating, and serious eating disorders are continuing to wreak havoc on our health.

I respect and totally get the desire to look good and feel good. Yet, there is a dark side to these pursuits when the meaning and motivations are based on fear, obsession, and untruths.

I am troubled by the loud chorus of people in the medical and wellness fields that are getting on the bandwagon of fear of fat and an over-focus on the number on the scale as a measure of true health.

And I am even hearing health preached from the pulpit. Yet when people in faith communities are equating virtue with the number on the scale or whether you eat certain foods, it only results in more anxiety, confusion, and discontent. Shaming people to lose weight or eat well in the name of God hits below the belt and increases psychological and spiritual wounds.

I am surprised how many people are still using the archaic BMI (Body Mass Index) as an indicator of health. It is simplistic, formulaic, and reductive. The BMI does not take into account your genetics, unique physical makeup, and lifestyle. Yet it is still used as the gold standard for whether someone needs to lose or gain weight.

And I am still skeptical of the FDA standards of the BMI knowing that many of the people on the board have or have had connections to the diet industry. If the BMI is a part of your definition of health, I encourage you to take a step back and reconsider its role.

We do have some serious issues to address regarding wellness in our country, but the myopic focus on weight + good food/bad food is missing so many other factors that contribute towards true health. And until we have a multidimensional view of health, we will keep spinning.

I talk a lot about what health is NOT.

I believe health is not:

  • determined only by the number on the scale;
  • achieving the “perfect” body or striving for unhealthy perfection;
  • eating food restrictively or based on a “good” food or “bad” food mentality;
  • unsafe relationships;
  • an obsession with eating healthy where there is no room for flexibility;
  • dieting and demonizing foods and food groups;
  • shaming, blaming, or judging self or others.

I also talk a lot about how I define health.

I believe true health is:

  • finding something you are passionate about and striving to spend most of your waking hours in this space. When people are bored or feel trapped in jobs or situations that drain them of their creativity, their motivation, and ability to sit in vulnerability, this has a negative impact on mental and spiritual health which in turn can develop into physical ailments.
  • having a relationship with money where you are living within in your means and have enough to give and save. Leaning too heavily on finances as a means of control or comfort gives money way too much power over your peace of mind. And using money as a means to medicate can create chaos and a cycle of stress that negatively impacts mental, physical, and spiritual health.
  • involvement in your local community. So many people are disconnected from the places they live, but emotional wellness comes when we feel safe, have purpose, and community.
  • having a faith + regular spiritual practice. Understanding we are loved beyond measure and there is a greater purpose for your life gives perspective and meaning in all circumstances.
  • having a deep soul connection with a special few individuals who you can be real with, share your fears, mistakes, dreams, and hopes. Feeling heard and understood creates connection. Connection breeds empathy and gratitude. Gratitude impacts how our brains fires and improves our well-being, body, and soul.
  • living in a body that has energy, its needs met, is rested, moves well, and is free from pain. And when many are living in chronic pain or have chronic illness, practicing the previous five points can actually help improve their physical health. The only numbers of real concern are on your labs checking your bloodwork and other internal functions.

In the days and weeks to come, I will dig even deeper into these components of true health.

I am curious: How do you define health in your life? What do you think of my definition of health?  I look forward to and value your thoughts and feedback on this important and controversial topic.

Rebecca

 

Everybody Knows Somebody: NEDAW 2013

 

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2013 is wrapping up tomorrow.  This year’s theme is a repeat: “Everybody Knows Somebody.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about the people I have had the honor to meet and work with over the last (almost) 10 years. I wish I could share with you the intricate details of their stories of heartbreak, despair, pain, victory, and perseverance.  They have taught me so much about the disordered eating spectrum, grace, humility, and redemption.

What I can do is share with you how many of the people you interact with every single day are hurting inside and masking it so well that you have no idea what is really going on in their minds, hearts, and souls.

You are around people every day who are terrified of being found out, misunderstood, judged:

  • for eating a “bad” food;
  • for binging+purging;
  • for living on caffeine and crumbs;
  • for doing things with food and their body that would make your toes curl;
  • for being overweight and seen as lazy, stupid, a burden to society;
  • for not being able to manage life without their disordered eating thoughts and behaviors;
  • for their life being so chaotic, out of control, unsafe;
  • for hurting and hating their bodies, their lives, their existence.

You see their smile, their amazing work ethic, the kind disposition. You laugh at their jokes and praise them for their faithful service and always being available to help.

Or you may be distracted by their extra weight, their health struggles, their mood swings and think it is just about the food, just a phase, or simply manipulative attention-seeking.

Think again. It is probably so much more.

We live in a culture that is not showing any signs of letting up with the pressure to fit into a certain size, shape, look, way of being.  While there are more and more people desiring authenticity and courage — and stepping up and living it — there are still so many people you know who are terrified of being seen in their pain, their darkness, their cesspool of destructive choices.

I hear many cheer on stories and acts of vulnerability. I deeply admire those sharing their stories while living a life of courage. It is medicine for the collective soul.

But when I step out of the safe zone of my home, my inner circle of support and Potentia, I am up to my eyeballs in snark, criticism, bitterness, cruelty, bullying, and fear. Yes, there is hope and light amidst the toxic culture we live in, but wow. It is intense out there and many are breaking under the pressure.

You may not notice these individuals screaming loudly from inside their minds, but look again.

You may be too busy, overwhelmed, or caught up in your our pain to see that others are struggling, too, right in front of you. Understandable. It is hard to be human.

Or you may think really seeing, sitting with, and empathizing with someone’s pain is too hard, unbearable. Indeed. That kind of connection is a full body commitment and investment. Healthy boundaries (not walls) are needed so you can discern what your limits are on any given day.

But I think we can no longer tolerate looking away from the pain of those around us. This is volatile ground to tread. But when you hear someone speaking poorly about their body, dieting (the gateway drug for eating disorders), negligent with how they nourish and care for themselves, please do not tell them how to change or look away.

Please do slow down and listen. Build a relationship with the person you are concerned about. Ask questions. Seek to understand. Listen some more. That in itself is so life-giving to someone living in emotional isolation.

I hear many people say, “I do not get eating disorders. That is not my struggle.” You may not struggle with food and body issues, but I suspect you know full well what it is like to feel alone, rejected, ashamed, overwhelmed, afraid, and helpless. So yes, you can connect with someone struggling with an eating disorder regardless of whether that is a part of your story.

Eating Disorders, Disordered Eating and all the related issues — obsessions with counting calories + dieting + eating “healthy,” good food/bad food, excessive working out, anxiety, compulsions, depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm behaviors, body shame, unhealthy perfectionism — are attempts for people to chase the ache of the core negative belief, “I am not worthy of love.”

At the heart of a lot of the wellness issues in our country is deep emotional pain. Genetics, family of origin, trauma, temperament, and distressing life events all play intricate roles in this complex and damaging illness, and the reductive solutions offered by many are fueling the pain, not relief.

As this year’s NEDAW wraps up, remember:

  • Everybody knows somebody in the process of recovering from somewhere on the disordered eating spectrum;
  • Everybody knows somebody who is painfully concerned with how she is perceived by others;
  • Everybody knows somebody giving up a food group or going on a diet with the hopes it will cure their emotional pain or physical ailments, only to be left unsatisfied and under-nourished;
  • Everyone knows someone who would rather hurt herself than somebody else;
  • Everybody knows somebody that is deceptively in deep emotional pain screaming out for help behind her smile and put-together demeanor;
  • Everybody knows someone who defines herself solely by the darkness of her story;
  • Everybody knows somebody who repeatedly talks negatively about her body, oozing with self-hatred and disgust when she looks in the mirror;
  • Everybody knows somebody who fears being fat, thinks she is fat, feels fat regardless of the facts;
  • Everyone knows someone who exercised for hours on end to the point of injury;

Everybody Knows Somebody.

You Know Somebody.

If you want to learn more about the disordered eating spectrum, check out the National Eating Disorder Association website. It is an incredible resource for those who are struggling with and those who are learning about eating disorders.

How have you reached out to someone struggling? What was difficult? What went well? Please do share!

Cheering you on –

Rebecca

 

Holding the Numbers Lightly

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Numbers.

I have a lot of conversations about numbers in my line of work. And not the numbers that my accountant or financial planner talk with me about (ugh) but the numbers that are used to help us measure our physical health.

My clients over the last decade have taught me that these numbers can be destructive, shaming, and spike their inner drill sergeant to start screaming awful things about their worth + value.

Working with those who struggle with eating disorders, negative body image, and disordered eating has taught me a lot about some numbers and how they can be draining and all-consuming.

I am referring to the number:

on your scale
of the size of your pants
of calories or points of a food item
on your labs (I like these numbers but they can often be used incorrectly)
of calories burned

While I believe our emotional, relational, and spiritual health are deeply enmeshed with our physical health, I want to address these numbers — particularly the number on your scale — and how you use them as you seek to make changes in your physical well-being.

When it becomes clear to me that these numbers are toxic to my clients and are preventing any real change from happening, I often ask them to take a big risk and leap of faith.

I ask them to get rid of their scale.

Sometimes they are not ready to get rid of it, so I hold it at my office (you should see the space under my couch) or they put it in the trunk of their car or have a trusted friend hold it or hide it.

Afraid of losing control without their scale, my clients ask:

What if I gain a ton of weight?
How will I know if I am making progress?
What will motivate me for change without the scale?

I always respect this resistance. I get it.

It’s a frightening idea to let go of this measure that helps them manage their anxiety + fear and has been serving as an emotional container for some time. But if they are in my office, I suspect this means of containing has reached capacity.

The scale simply does not serve as an effective means of control and in fact spikes obsessive thoughts about weight, food, numbers, and what other people think.

Stepping on the scale fuels the “never enough” crazy-making because:

  • If it is higher than you would like, you feel anxious, depressed, ashamed.
  • If it is right where you want it to be, you are excited but also paralyzed by fear of doing anything that will change that number in the wrong direction.
  • Even If you have achieved a weight in the range that is best for your body, sometimes the desire to go even lower gives a rush that is hard to resist.

Contrary to the many messages we are inundated with in our culture, weight is not a direct correlation to our health.  Last week, the results of a meta-analysis study of weight and mortality revealed those deemed overweight were associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality.

This study is more indication of the need to rethink how we define overweight and obese. I want to be clear, the results of this study are not a pass for those who need to make changes in how they care for their body. But shaming people to make changes to better their well-being is not effective and is destructive.

Determining our well-being is way more complex than a number on a scale or an antiquated formula or chart. These faulty formulas are pervasive in our culture and prey on those who are feeling pretty crappy about themselves, who are desperate for change and relief.

When the number on the scale is the primary measure of your success in achieving your goals, you are vulnerable to a shame spiral.

When this number has power over your worth and value, it is time to get off the scale until you can recalibrate that way of thinking and learn how to bench negative emotion so you respond to your pain in ways that are not harmful to yourself and others.

Many clients report a positive emotional benefit after taking a break from the scale. They report less anxiety and that their inner drill sergeant has dialed back the volume.

Let me be clear: I think it is important to own all of these numbers…

…at the right time in your healing journey.

At the wrong time, shame, perfectionism, impatience, and fear can take these numbers and wreak havoc on your sense of worth, your mood, your focus.

Megan Holt, Potentia’s Coordinator of Nutrition + Wellness, often monitors the numbers on the scale for our clients while working with them on strategies towards true health that are customized for each individual. (Note: We all need a Megan in this culture!)

When our worth gets tied up in numbers, we make changes — often needed changes — for reasons that do not support sustaining change.

Our goal is to help people really discover where their bodies have the most energy and function the best. We support people discovering their food preferences and moving away from calling food good or bad. It is so amazing to see people find a way to enjoy food while still nourishing well.

When we use eating, restricting, or eliminating food in unsafe ways to take away the pain or to numb, dull, and repel, we do not allow ourselves to develop the emotional muscle to bench the hard stuff in life.

Food — eating it or restricting it — is powerful. It can be fun + enjoyable, too.

But for many, tolerating joy is very triggering and even less tolerable than shame and fear. Going back to the dark space, albeit uncomfortable, is known. And our brains like known.

So, if you are starting off this new year and food + body issues are one of your primary goals to tackle this year, awesome.

But please hold the numbers lightly.

And if you notice the numbers on your scale or on food items you are eating or the size of clothes giving fuel to your inner drill sergeant, then take a pause.

Ask your dietician, your nurse, or doctor to do blind weigh-ins for a while and not to talk about numbers for a bit as you seek to recalibrate your thinking.

These numbers are one of many factors that measure your progress on the journey towards true health, but they are not the sole indicator of progress as they may fluctuate for a variety of reasons.

Hold the numbers lightly as you seek true health in your life, and fiercely guard your heart from believing your worth is tied into a number.

Cheering you on —

Rebecca

Five Reasons to Ditch Dieting

Source: google.com via Rebecca on Pinterest

 

By Megan Handley, MPH, RD and Nutrition+Wellness Coordinator at Potentia

  • For the last time, diets don’t work! A group of researchers out of UCLA analyzed studies that followed dieters for 2-5 years, and found that the vast majority of participants gained back the weight, and then some, by the end of the follow up period.

  • Diets rely on external cues to guide our eating, rather than teaching us to listen to our body’s hunger and fullness cues.  Food is fuel for our bodies and should be enjoyed, savored and appreciated!

  • Diets are often based on testimonials, rather than on sound scientific studies.  The suggested eating plan is often rigid, and does not translate to real-world living.

  • Diets often require that we severely restricts calories or entire food groups, putting us at risk for nutrient deficiencies, and robbing our bodies of the energy that we need to be active.

  • Intense feelings of deprivation and hunger set the dieter up for binge eating patterns, which are then followed by feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction.

The following links are wonderful resources for you as you seek to (re) define health in your life:

Academy of Eating Disorders
American Dietetic Association
Finding Balance
Health at Every Size  
Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon
Intuitive Eating
The Center for Mindful Eating
The National Eating Disorders Association 

Diets can be a polarizing topic of discussion these days as many seek relief from real physical and emotional pain.  What do you think about diets? Have you had positive or negative experience with a diet?  Do you agree that diets do not work?

In the name of Health

In The Name of Health

In the last several weeks, I received news about amazing women I know fighting for health in their lives.  One family member is fighting for her baby’s health as he struggles to eat and maintain his weight, another friend is planning for a radical surgery as a preventative measure against cancer.  A newer friend of mine recently discovered a mass in her lungs and has begun chemo therapy to tackle the cancer in her body.  All three of these women greatly inspire me with their courage, passion and strength.  In their quest for health, they face challenges, uncertainty and a roller coaster of emotion.  Their stories have unwritten chapters ahead of them as they seek to do what is best for their health.  Yet, my work has taught me that our quest for health can look completely different from person to person.

Health (re)defined

Health.  We hear this word a lot: In the news; in commercials for products and diets; in research findings; in schools; on magazine covers with claims of the best in the name of what is healthy. When looking further into the meaning of what all of these voices are calling healthy, I find such a wide-range of definitions.  Marriam-Webster online defines health as the following:

1 a : the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially : freedom from physical disease or pain b : the general condition of the body <in poor health> <enjoys good health>

2 a : flourishing condition : well-being b : general condition or state <poor economic health>

If I use this definition as a platform for discussing health, then that leaves many I know operating from a warped and inaccurate view of what is truly healthy.  Many of the men and women I work with are striving for health, but in a way that actually depletes their health body, mind and spirit.  50+ billion dollars annually are spent every year in our country on diet and “health” related products.  Many of these products make a lot of promises but rarely deliver.  Others leave people in bondage so that they are fearful of living life without sticking to a specific plan.

This is a big theme as I seek to propose ways we can (re) define health as we know it.   We crave, hunger, desire for so much more.  Diets, health food, fear of fat, control, deprivation, denying who we are called to be for fear of rejection, alienation are some of the many ways in which we try to manage our pain and our fear.  Yes, we have choices on how we feed, move and care for our bodies and souls.  No, there is not a quick fix to being able to sit with the tension of it all.  But if we are operating from our passions, are in touch with our true identity – not one sold to us – then maybe, just maybe, the diet industry may go out of business (OK, a girl can only hope…) and health, quality health, can be achieved.

(re)Defining Health with Respect

The news is not lacking with stories about the “obesity epidemic” and television shows focusing on radical weight loss in the name of health are very popular. I will add my voice to the discussion on:

  • the disordered eating spectrum,
  • Orthorexia and how the quest for health can turn into a debilitating and often deadly obsession,
  • EDNOS (Eating Disorder not otherwise specified)
  • the HAES (Healthy At Any Size) movement
  • Intuitive Eating and a non-diet philosophy

Challenging various definitions of what is “healthy” can be volatile and feel very personal.  My hope is to respectfully challenge some of the beliefs, philosophies and motivations behind the many definitions of health out there with the goal of moving the discussion away from fear, prejudice and misinformation towards true freedom and health with passion, love and respect. There will be other contributors to add additional perspective to the effort to (re) define health.  Stay tuned.  Some good stuff is coming! I also hope you will join in this important discussion.  Your voice matters.

  • How do you define health?
  • What do think about the struggles of obesity in our culture?
  • Do you think an over emphasis on weight will prevent obesity or create more food and body issues?