Congratulations on completing week one of the 52 weeks of 2016!
If you are like most people in our country, some of your goals/resolutions/intentions for the new year are around your health: how you feed, move and rest your body.
It is absolutely important to make health a priority (though not an obsession) in your life.
Yet, breaking through the noise about what it really means to be healthy is quite the challenge these days.
There are so many differing views on how to eat, how to move your body, what food is “good” and “bad” for you.
As a result, the meaning of health has become so skewed and good marketing that speaks well to your struggles and desired goals can also add to the confusion of what it means to be well.
Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet by Traci Mann, PhD is a gem of a book that reads with ease while digging into some involved research around the science behind a lot of the narratives around health, obesity, food choices and more.
I really appreciate how she guides the reader:
- through the history and evolution of dieting
- how to better discern the quality of the research so many health “facts” are based on
- figure out what the key factors are which impact and define health
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book along with my additional thoughts and reflections. It was really hard to decide which nuggets to quote from this book as Dr. Mann has packed in so much wisdom. It is a worthy investment, for sure!
1. The use of the BMI is controversial because the formula for calculating it is not based on any understanding of how height and weight relate to each other, and because people who have high muscle mass tend to get categorized as overweight, despite having very little fat. (p.4)
- At Potentia, we have educated our clients and community for years on the flaws of the BMI as a measure of health. It is more of a marketing tool and not an evidenced based measure of true health. Be wary of how you use this information to define your definition of health. It also can be very shaming and trigger behaviors that are unsafe.
2. If their (the weight loss industry) products were effective in leading to long-term weight loss, they would soon put themselves out of business. These businesses count on repeat customers. Richard Samber, the longtime financial chairman of Weight Watchers, likened dieting to playing the lottery. “If you don’t win, you play it again. Maybe you’ll win the second time. When asked how the business could be successful when only 16 percent of customers maintained their weight loss, he said “It’s successful because the other 84 percent have to come back and do it again. That’s where your business comes from. (p.9)
- Caution against investing in businesses which profit from your failure. This is particularly concerning as weight-cycling (repeated gaining and losing weight) is shown to be more dangerous than carrying extra weight. This fact is cited extensively in this book, too!
3. Researchers have known for a long time that diets don’t work. Now you know it, too. (p. 15)
- In this chapter, Dr. Mann shares how she and her students dug into all the studies often used to validate why a particular weight loss programs/diet will work. She found three major flaws in various health and weight related studies on weight. It is also noted why it is important for you to understand the gold standard of research and how to be a better consumer and questioner of the data being quoted. “The research says…” need not shut down the conversation but instead be a conversation starter.
4. Think of willpower as brute strength. The amount of you need is larger than the amount of it you have, and the amount you have is nearly depleted by nearly everything you do. (p. 48)
- Unpacking the science behind willpower, Dr. Mann points out that willpower – when used as a tool to maintain health – is not the best approach to lifestyle changes. She eloquently helps you understand the science of willpower so you can make better choices and decrease the physical, emotional and spiritual struggles around food + your health.
5. Shame is more painful than guilt, and to add injury to insult, shame has been shown to lead to a release of the stress hormone cortisol, and another kind of cell in the immune system (called a proinflammatory cytokine), which, among other things can promote the growth of disease. (p.62)
- When shame is running your life around how you care for your body, diets – or some kind of restrictive or rigid rules around feeding and moving your body – are often a go-to response. Diet related behavior is one of shame’s bff’s.
6. But variables such as exercise, weight cycling, socieoeconomic status, fat distribution, and discrimination all factor into a person’s overall health…I hope you’re not still under the impression that you have to diet or obesity will kill you. If you exercise, eat nutritiously, avoid weight cycling, and get good quality medical care, you do not need to worry about obesity shortening your life. Especially if you shield yourself from weight stigma and the stress it causes… (p. 82+84-85)
- Chapter 5 is powerful and provocative. It digs deep into the topic of obesity and myth-busting many narratives around carrying extra weight. The above words outline the complex factors which are a part of an accurate definition of health.
7. The benefits of exercise simply cannot be denied. Regular exercise can increase your life span, prevent disease, improve your mood, aid creativity, help you sleep better, and allow you to age more gracefully. These benefits are more easily attained than dramatic weight loss, and can be yours even if you do not lose a pound. (p.185)
- Activity is a powerful indicator of your health. Finding an activity you will be motivated to do regularly is key. Now over-exercise, over-use injuries and complications related to hydrating and nutrition are flags that your activity has crossed over from being a positive positive part of your health into a negative one. At Potentia, we help our clients (re) define activity when this happens so moving their body can return to being a part of wellness and not the sole manager emotional pain.
There is so much good information packed into this book. I hope you check it out.
If you read the book, I would love to know what impacted you the most on how you view health.
All the best as you continue to challenge yourself to (re) define health in your life.
With gratitude –
Rebecca Bass-Ching, LMFT, Founder + Director of Potentia Family Therapy, Inc.