Holding the Numbers Lightly

lifetooshort

 

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

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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?

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(re)defining health at Potentia…one word at a time

I recently discovered Wordle and it has been a very entertaining time-suckage of late.  One of the many “wordles” I put together was the one at the top of this post with the words most often heard by those who enter the Potentia world. I believe in the power of words – spoken and written – and how they can do great good and also great harm.  At Potentia, we use words to heal, to challenge old ways of thinking, to fight back against the lies we have been told and are telling ourselves.  If I missed any words you think deserve to make Potentia wordle-status, post the word in the comments below.  And please share any wordle you make that is meaningful to you.

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Is your definition of health keeping you unhealthy?

I had the chance last weekend to meet Jess Weiner, a self-esteem and body-acceptance expert.  It was a real treat to meet her as I have been aware of her advocacy work for some time and I have come to really respect her voice on issues dear to my heart.   She authored an article published in Glamour that hit the stands on Monday in the states that is bold, courageous and honest.  I encourage you to check it out.

Jess expressed some trepidation with being so transparent about her shift in ideology that involved a newly focused attention to her weight and her labs.   I could see she was bracing for criticism and comments of betrayal by many as she boldly stated her previous definition of health was keeping her very unhealthy.  Personally,  I think Jess’s story brings up some important issues around health and numbers.

As an eating disorder treatment expert, I have worked for years helping men and women detox from the diet mentality and the shaming effect of our “thin” obsessed culture.  Part of their recovery journey is the process of letting go of the stronghold of numbers (on the scale, sizes on their clothes, calorie counting) which have become entrenched in their identity.  For many, the Healthy at any Size movement created a space to seek true health while not focusing exclusively on scales and charts, such as the antiquated BMI.

I speak and advocate to my clients and large groups on theses principles of the HAES model:

1. Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes.
2. Recognizing that health and well-being are multi-dimensional and that they include
physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects.
3. Promoting all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes.
4. Promoting eating in a manner which balances individual nutritional needs, hunger,
satiety, appetite, and pleasure.
5. Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather
than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss.

Yet, discussing numbers is a touchy zone for those of us treating those struggling food and body issues.  On one hand, there is an importance to letting go of the numbers that can plague us and rob us of our peace and true worth.  But for many, if and when the individual is ready to manage this information appropriately, gaining awareness of how one’s body is functioning and performing ( ie: knowing labs and weight) can often be an important part of recovery in healing one’s relationship with food and their body. Truly empowered body acceptance involves making sure your body is operating at it’s best.

This can be a scary place for many who spent years obsessing about the number of calories they ate or burned at the gym. Many people, like Jess, who are in recovery from an eating disorder, understandably swing to the other direction and want to avoid numbers and doctors as they were a significant trigger and source of shame. It comes as a welcome break to not think about the numbers and many end up avoiding good health care for fear their brain will grab onto the numbers like the jaws of life if they go there.

Yet, denial is not a part of true health.

Neglecting your health is not true health. It may take a while, but finding the right doctor, as Jess did, who is knowledgeable and not shame based about such matters may be an effort but is necessary.

I remember when I was first asked by a client, “Is it ok for me to want to lose weight?”. I have since heard this question frequently in my office from women and men of all shapes and sizes. I respond by asking “What are your motivations and what is the meaning for you if you lost some weight?” Flushing through the answers to these questions is important to assess as you seek to make sure your definition of health is not going to keep you stuck or do your body harm.

The sole focus on weight in regards to health has and continues to be harmful. Shaming someone for being overweight does not motivate someone to make true change and reduces the chance of someone hearing important information about their body.

I still despise the scale. It really is a trap. Yet, totally neglecting our physical health in the name of health is not wise or recommended. For many, if their labs are ok, it gives them a reason to still engage in their eating disorder behavior. I see this a lot. If an individual is using numbers as a reason to avoid doing important deep soul work, than it is time to re-think this approach to living life because it will eventually spiral to a dark place.

I believe Jess is adding an important and much needed dynamic to the size-acceptance discussion. She is taking ownership of her choices and putting herself out there sharing what she has learned. I also believe she is doing this responsibly by giving out information with full disclosure and context. I am excited for a provocative discussion to follow up as a result of her leadership.

This is a nuanced and highly personal topic for many.  I am always inspired when I meet someone who walks their talk.  I especially admire those who have put themselves out there and adjust previous held beliefs while holding their head high and standing strong.  The journey towards true health in the public eye is a gutsy one and I thank you, Jess, for being you.

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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?
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