Dieting as a Distraction

img_20161203_145718083_hdr_31363430996_oIs anyone else physically and mentally exhausted by the end of the Julian calendar year? This year was no exception for me, and with the addition of an emotionally draining U.S. election season that did not end in a way I had hoped it would, well, I went into a bit of a tailspin.

Actually, it was a huge, tornado-style tailspin.

Long story short, I ended up in a mildly depressed funk. I’d been here before, in the past, and I knew it would only last a few weeks during which I would remain a reasonably high-functioning human. But it doesn’t feel great. I do not sit will with the yuckiness of malaise.

As time marched on, I began to find myself preoccupied with my body. Specifically, how it looked. I found old, distant feelings arising – namely, dissatisfaction. As a result, I suddenly felt the tug of an old relfex: the desire to diet to control my shape and weight.

Now, luckily for me, I have a few things going in my favor: 1. I committed way back to never diet again. I never wanted to experience the bitter combo of futility, sadness and hunger that dieting left me with. 2. I have wholly committed to honor the wisdom of my body and have promised to fully support it in whatever shape and size it takes, even if it’s a size and shape that takes me out of the realm of societal acceptability. So dieting again IS NEVER an option for me, and for that, I’m so glad. I know that feeling bad about my body in these instances is the symptom, not the problem.

I started to remember other times I experienced depression, and my reactions in those times.

At the age of 22, when my mother was dying, I turned to dieting to distract myself and exert some form of control on my clearly out-of-control life.

At the age of 31, when I found myself in a committed, long-term relationship that didn’t satisfy me, I turned to dieting to get my “perfect” body to solve my unhappiness.

It’s obvious that dieting or a smaller body could not possibly have solved either of those problems, yet that’s exactly what I did to try to ease my suffering because diet culture tells us that we only need to lose weight to make our lives better. So it wasn’t surprising to me at all that this reflex arose at this time of sadness and insecurity and fear. The urge to deny myself my most basic need – food – in order to gain control at a time when I feel I have no control over what happens is so strong, but makes so little sense and is not kind.

Instead of diving back into restriction, though, I decided to just sit with those feelings. I made space for them. I pondered them. I thought about how that solution worked out for me in the past (spoiler alert: not so well. I still had to deal with all those messy feelings and situations in the end, and I was hungry on top of it). I knew I would not diet, and I knew I would have to sit with feelings of body and life and world dissatisfaction and just do my best to deal with it.

In enough time, I felt myself emerge, ever so slowly, from the darkness of these thoughts. I have a great support system at home and that helps. I did some gentle yoga to get myself back in touch with the physicality of my body — to sense what it felt like rather than what it looked like. I’m living with uncertainty without using starvation as a proxy for control. I’m caring for myself in constructive, not destructive ways. My body is not actually the problem, and I don’t need to try to change it.

If you’re finding yourself going down this particular road, stop and give yourself a hug. Think about what you really need. You’d be better off in a Snuggie with a hot cup of tea on the couch doing some comfort-TV binge-watching than trying to diet again. If you need to reach out for help, do that. Just know that dieting and weight manipulation is not real control, it’s not real power, and it just weakens us further. That’s not something that any of us needs in hard times.

Tired of struggling on your own?

Exciting news! I’m launching a 30 day online course/group coaching program in February to help you get free of diet mentality and further along toward normal eating. I’ve created this very affordable option because so many of you have wanted to work with me one-on-one but it’s just not within your budget right now. Make sure to get on my newsletter list as this will be the first place I send out more information about the course, and enrollment will be limited and offered to those on my list first. Get on my list here.

Dietitians Unplugged News

Missing us? No fear! We’re just on a little end-of-year hiatus until January. In the meantime, catch up on all our episodes on Libysn, iTunes, or Stitcher.

How Full Should I Be?

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I now know when to stop. Even when it’s sooooo good!

I get asked this by people quite a bit, and those of you also in your non-diet, internally regulated eating journey might be struggling with the same question: “How full should I be?”

I answer this question, sometimes perhaps infuriatingly so, with, “Well, that depends on how full you want to feel.”

Pause. I read my questioner’s mind. Not helpful.

This answer, though, rescues you from the pat solutions that diets try to offer and don’t work. Think of the last diet you can remember – did it ever mention anything about respecting fullness? Or honoring your hunger? Probably not. It was likely much more concerned with teaching you how to trick your body out of feeling hungry and craving satisfaction (which never worked).

I know your frustration; after all, I was the person, back in my dieting days, who could not stop eating my favorite food, pizza, until I was absolutely uncomfortably stuffed. I had to work my way through this process, too.

So, a while back I wrote about experimenting with my fullness, having learned that there was a difference between being “no longer hungry” and the varying levels of fullness that one can experience. I decided to see what “no longer hungry” felt like as a stopping point.

I experimented and experimented. It took so much experimenting in the year and a half since I wrote that post. Here’s what I learned:

It’s not enough for me to be just “no longer hungry.” I do hit that spot while eating, I recognize it, but it does not satisfy me most of the time.

I also learned I don’t like to be really full either. So somewhere in between “no longer hungry” and “really full” is a sweet spot that I like. The beauty of this is that I get to decide what level of fullness satisfies me most.

What I figured out is that if I stop at “no longer hungry,” I’m hungry as hell in an hour. When I’m at work, I really need a meal to satisfy me for at least a couple of hours, because I don’t enjoy snacking every hour (though sometimes in my woeful lack of preparation for lunch at work, this is the reality).

If I go to “really full” – the kind of fullness that puts me on the edge of discomfort – it ruins my appetite for the next meal. That’s no fun at all.

It also depends on the meal I eat. If it’s an especially good meal, I might eat a little more than I usually do, if I feel like it. If it’s a meal that turned out just meh, then I’m probably going to eat just enough to get by to the next meal or snack.

I discovered that, as I progress through a meal, how the food tastes in my mouth works in tandem with how my stomach feels to tell me when to stop.

All of this I found out through, as I said, a lot of experimentation. Mindfulness, intuitive eating, internally regulated eating, normal eating…whatever you want to call it – that’s what I practiced. Paying attention to my meal, to my body, over and over again.

I wouldn’t have needed this experimentation if we lived in a world without diets and I’d grown up with structured family meals, if we lived in a world that had no particular expectations for the way women’s bodies looked and I had never tried to lose weight to meet them. But we don’t live in that world, so experimentation it is.

This is the hard part for those of us moving away from the diet mentality — learning to negotiate the gray areas of “What do I like?” “How much do I want?” “How hungry do I want to be?” “How full should I get?” And the hardest one: “How do I let go of judgment around food and my body?”

The answer to all of that is to keep practicing. Just keep being curious with yourself. Intuitive eating isn’t magic; we’re just learning skills, and skills just take practice. A lot of frickin’ practice.

And then one day, it isn’t intuitive eating anymore; it’s just eating. It’s not hard. You’re not thinking all the time about food and what to eat and how much to eat. You plan a bit. You feed yourself. Then you do other stuff.

It’s a beautiful thing.

So anyway, that’s how full I want to be when I eat. A little more full than “no longer hungry;” less full than “really full.” It’s hard to describe it in words but it doesn’t matter because it’s the thing that works for me and I just have to know it when I feel it. You’ll have your own thing, and even if you’re not there yet, eventually you’ll know it when you feel it too.

Tired of struggling on your own?

I’m launching a group coaching/online course in February to help you get free of diet mentality and further along toward normal eating. I’ve created this very affordable option because so many of you have wanted to work with me one-on-one but just can’t afford it. Make sure to get on my newsletter list as this will be the first place I send out more detailed information about the course, and enrollment will be limited. Get on my list here.

Dietitians Unplugged News

Missing us? No fear! We’re just on a little end-of-year hiatus until January. In the meantime, catch up on all our episodes on Libysn, iTunes, or Stitcher.

Mindful Eating in Stressful Times

cream-puff-free
Take some time to savor something good.

Have you been stressed out lately? With a tumultuous U.S. election just behind us, and the holiday season now bearing down on us, you might find yourself a little…frazzled. How then, exactly, are we supposed to keep our cool around food in stressful times?

My HAES colleague Nicole Christina, LCSW is here to tell you how in this, my first guest post!

You may be saying to yourself “Please don’t speak to me about another self-improvement project and don’t tell me to do it in “three easy steps!”” Women are so busy trying to work, grocery shop, make meals, transport kids to activities, and run the household, that there’s nothing simple or easy about living in today’s time starved world. The thought of trying one more method of improving one’s life may feel impossible. As women, we’ve never had as many choices, but as a society we haven’t figured out how to have a career and a sane home life. And for those of us high achievers striving to do it all well, burnout is always lurking just behind the corner. Being burned out doesn’t lend itself to practicing a new skill. Burnout lends itself to eating stale cookies in the pantry when nobody’s looking. But allow me to state a case for trying a practice that pays high dividends, is free, and is profoundly satisfying. Some of my clients have even called it life changing.

Mindful eating is a practice that is simple, but not easy. The goal is to get us off of autopilot, and help us stay in the present as we eat. Because we eat multiple times a day, we get many opportunities to practice slowing down and savoring our food, as well as the present moment. We do this slowly, imperfectly, and playfully. Instead of another task, mealtimes become a way to bracket our hectic lives with a few moments of precious stillness. It’s a sweet pause that is proven to do wonders for our mental state, as well as our physiology.

Here are some of the reasons that I recommend Mindful Eating to my clients who have conflicted relationships with food (and show me a woman who doesn’t!):

  • Mindful eating actually helps us digest better. Our bodies do not assimilate nutrients when we are eating in stress mode, and that includes checking our Facebook feed.
  • Mindful eating brings a calmness that can work its magic into other parts of our lives–it feels so good, and so different from the norm that often people want to try mindfulness in other aspects of their lives.
  • Eating becomes more enjoyable so it’s possible you may be satisfied with less. We taste more, savor more, and appreciate more. Appreciation and gratitude are closely linked with happiness.
  • Our bodies have some regular time to power down throughout the day. Evidence suggests that mindfulness reduces inflammation and decreases pain.
  • We learn how to manage the stress in our lives, which helps us develop a sense of mastery and competence.
  • With practice, mindful eating helps us build a relationship with one’s self. We are the experts on our own bodies, and that realization feels powerful.

Here’s a promise. Try the following exercise, and tell me if you don’t feel more calm. The next bite of food, or sip of beverage, take some deep breaths. Notice the textures, the flavors, even the temperature. Put away the screens. Allow your body and brain to rest and be still. Bring your whole attention to what you are eating or drinking. When you become distracted, simply bring your attention back to your eating again. The is a practice that is imperfect, fluid, and will get easier with time. It’s one thing to read about, it’s quite another to experience.

In this demanding, overstimulating world, mindful eating allows us to restore ourselves, and respect our need to run on human time, rather than electronic time. It’s a practice that runs counter to the multi-tasking, fast food, grab-a-protein bar lifestyle. It’s radical in that it resists the impulse to try to go faster and be more efficient. It reminds us that we are human, and eating is supposed to be satisfying and pleasurable. That’s why we have taste buds.

Nicole Christina is a psychotherapist specializing in food and eating issues. She recently launched a new webcourse: Diets Don’t Work! But Mindful Eating Does. You can find her on NicoleChristina.com.

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Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – BEDA conference live!

Aaron and I did a “live” update from the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) Conference in San Francisco last month. We had so much fun there, we wanted to share a little bit of it with you.

Listen on Libsyn, iTunes, or Stitcher.

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A World Without Diets

elevator
An elevator full of HAES awesomeness. Thanks Fiona Sutherland for letting me use this photo!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might be someone who finds it a total bummer that while you’re trying to live diet-free, everyone else isn’t. Everyone else seems to be on some sort of diet, and they’re telling you about it all the time. Everyone else is worried about their weight or how they look, or how their health is affected by their weight. It’s sometimes hard to imagine a world without diets.

Well, this weekend, I got to experience it. I had the great fortune to attend the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) 2016 conference in San Francisco. My friend and podcast co-host Aaron Flores convinced me back in May that I had to go – lots of people in the HAES® world would be there and it would be a great opportunity to meet them. And also to learn a lot! So I signed up to go and waited with great anticipation for the time to arrive.

As the date approached, many of us HAES® dietitians and therapists who hang out together in social media started planning some casual get-togethers. I managed to book a restaurant whose main feature was that it would take a large group of 15. I thought only seven people at most would end up coming out (I always figure on a 50% no-show rate for any social event taking place in California).

The first night came and we all met up at the conference’s reception. It was soon apparent that at least 15 of us were headed for dinner together, and maybe even more! At dinner, I was seated across from Evelyn Tribole, one of the authors of the book Intuitive Eating. Yes, someone who I considered one of my personal heroes was seated right across the table from me. Gulp! I hoped I didn’t accidentally drop food on my shirt. Also seated near me were Dana Sturtevant and Hilary Kinavy of Be Nourished, Fiona Sutherland of Body Positive Australia, Marsha Hudnall of Green Mountain at Fox Run, Kathleen Bishop of Body Peace and Liberation – all people who have become my online friends and mentors and who are part of a strong online HAES® community. Aaron was beside me. Dr. Linda Bacon, author of the book, Health at Every Size (and of course, the nutrition instructor who introduced me to HAES® and basically changed my life) was also there. All of these people (and more whom I will name below so you can check out their work) are people I consider personal role models and heroes. They are people who fight against the weight-centered paradigm that is so thoroughly prevalent in our society (despite the total lack of evidence to support it) simply because they know it is better for us not to diet. I was thrilled and almost a little emotionally overwhelmed to be in these folks’ presence.

As we were tucking into our dinner (and I was able to relax a little), I suddenly had a thought, which I then verbalized: “Isn’t it so great that we’re all just sitting here and eating good food and no one is talking about how ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’ they feel for eating, or how they need to eat less so they don’t gain weight? How novel!” It was something I haven’t experienced since the 1990s, when I thought I was just about the only one dieting (which I did secretly most of the time). This time, even I wasn’t dieting. How refreshing! We all ate as much as we wanted of the foods that we wanted. There was a wonderful variety of food on the table – not just salads without dressing as I’m sure some people imagine dietitians to eat!

That night, and in fact during the whole of the conference, there was an array of body weights, shapes, sizes, colors and abilities/disabilities present. I could feel the confidence and empowerment in the rooms – because nobody was expected to change their bodies. It was intoxicating! People doing great things – not just trying to fit into a narrow societal ideal. Everyone looked beautiful to me. Their brains, knowledge, experience and compassion dazzled me. I felt humbled to be in the presence of such greatness, and relieved to find others who, like me, strive to live a life of substance beyond diets.

Aaron gave a great talk as part of the closing keynote. In it, he quoted Yoda, who, in The Empire Strikes Back, says to a frustrated Luke, “Judge me by my size do you?…And well you should not…Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Luminous beings are we. Yoda tells us that we are so much more than our earth suits. It is the perfect case to let go of diets to change our body size (if you’re still not buying all the scientific data). I could see the luminosity in everyone, and it was an amazing thing. This is what a world without diets and weight oppression might look and feel like.

This weekend I was surrounded by people who advocate for good health, and who know we don’t need to suffer for it. It was a heady experience. I was among my tribe and felt truly free and accepted. There was a palpable feeling in the air that we might eventually change the world for the better on a large scale. How I felt reminded me of the mantra the football players shouted before each game in one of my favorite TV shows, Friday Night Lights: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” My eyes were clear, my heart was full, and I felt like we would eventually create a world without diets for everyone.

Check out the HAES/non-diet/body positive work of these fantastic people I had the honor to hang out with this weekend:

United States:
Green Mountain at Fox Run
Nutrition Instincts
Intuitive Eating
Be Nourished
Body Peace and Liberation
Christy Harrison, RDN/Food Psych Podcast

Body Positive
HAES Coach
Judith Matz

Linda Bacon
Carmen Cool
Daxle Collier
Aaron Flores, RDN

Australia:
Body Positive Australia
Treat Yourself Well
Fresh Approach to Wellness

Dietitians Unplugged Podcast: Are you caught up?

New episode coming soon! Listen now on Libsyn, iTunes, or Stitcher

Is Food Addiction a Real Thing?

donut
Are you addicted?

When my partner and I first moved in together, he – a naturally thin person whose eating is highly internally regulated and who has never restricted any food in his life AND even enjoys guilt-free overeating on occasion – suggested cookies as a grocery item list. I had just regained a few pounds after my most restrictive dieting period ever, and I looked at him like he was crazy. “Uh, NO! I can’t have cookies in the house or I’ll just EAT ALL OF THEM! I’m addicted to those foods!” He looked at me calmly and said, “Well, that won’t happen to me and I want cookies.” It would be four more years before I stopped dieting and the cookie tug-of-war would peacefully come to an end and I would once and for all stop feeling like I was addicted to sweets.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who considers herself a food addict and has been a member of Overeaters Anonymous for 16 years. She manages her self-described addiction by eating no refined grains and no sugar at all. She maintains a high-protein, low-carb diet. After talking a while I found out a few other things: 1. She was criticized for her weight at a young age, 2. She started self-restricting cookies when she was 7 or 8 years old, and 3. She was often a much higher weight, tried all the diets, and this total abstinence regimen is the only one that has “worked” for her in terms of keeping her weight down long-term. She also frequently talks longingly about what she can’t have but would love to eat. She sometimes bakes brownies just to enjoy the smell and gives them away to friends without having any. She said she never stops thinking of herself as fat, even though she is now “normal weight.” If ever there was a person my heart went out to, it was this person.

We hear stuff like this all the time. Sugar is addicting. Fat is addicting. Refined carbs are addicting. Salt combined with any of those foods is addicting. I was once accused of being addicted to cheese, which is ridiculous because anyone who knows me knows chocolate is my drug of choice! (If I thought of it that way, which I don’t)

To learn more, I emailed a colleague who specializes in nutrition for recovering addicts and food addiction. He sent me a paper which apparently is the foundation for food addiction treatment right now, “Understanding and Addressing Food Addiction” by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. The paper admits little is known about food addiction, which is why they have chosen to look at it through the lens of substance addiction. Food addiction was considered for the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but rejected, so in the absence of any other diagnostic criteria, the Yale Food Addiction Scale (a scale that is primarily based on the diagnostic criteria for substance dependence) is often used to determine food addiction.

The paper talks about possible risk factors for food addiction including “obesity/overweight”, early exposure to “overeating and unhealthy eating” at a young age through family or peer groups, genetics, personality trait and psychological tendencies, and more. They state that the individual characteristics associated with food addiction are being female, over age 35, and overweight or obese (interestingly, the same people that are often on a diet). It discusses the relationship of food addiction to eating disorders (there is a higher correlation than in non-ED populations).  It talks about the similar neurological responses of the brain to highly palatable foods (the aforementioned sugar/fat/salt combo) and addictive substances. And in the end, it concludes:

“The food addiction model, like that of substance addiction, describes the ways in which certain food properties or ingredients can produce addiction in individuals who are susceptible to their effects and who consume them in a manner that induces the addictive process (i.e., eating certain types of highly palatable, calorie dense, and nutrient-poor food on an intermittent but repeated basis).  It allows for an explanation and an intervention strategy for those cases of disordered eating that are not adequately accounted for by existing psychological or medical causes.”

In other words, in the absence of psychological or medical reasons for an “addictive” response to food, it blames the food itself.

I find this paper, while highly referenced, problematic. I don’t think it’s asking the right questions.

One major problem is that nowhere does it mention restrained eating or dieting behaviors and their relationship to food-addicted behavior. This is a huge omission because it’s well-documented that highly restrained eaters often have frequent episodes of disinhibition (aka overeating or binge eating), especially with “forbidden” highly palatable foods (read some of that data here and here). Who on a diet hasn’t felt addicted to the very foods they weren’t supposed to eat? It’s no surprise to me that people with eating disorders have experienced more food addiction symptoms; high degrees of eating restraint are common in eating disorders.

I have qualms about treating food the same way as addictive substances. We don’t need addictive substances to live for the most part, and most of us, in our usual activities of daily living, will never come across those substances unless we search them out. They’re easy to avoid (cigarettes and alcohol being exceptions to some degree). Food, on the other hand, is everywhere, and we need it every few hours to achieve nutritional adequacy. One might encounter “trigger” foods multiple times in a day. This puts the onus on the addicted person to try to avoid contact with trigger foods or those who are eating them, and that could lead to extreme social isolation. I had a friend who, once he joined OA, couldn’t eat with me anymore because of potential exposure to all his trigger foods – which was becoming everything except non-starchy vegetables.

Yet another problem is that this paper views highly palatable foods as inherently bad for health; they simply aren’t, and there is no adequate body of evidence to conclusively show this (and we know now that our patterns of eating impact our health much more than individual foods). Many people can incorporate these demonized foods into a balanced diet quite easily without overdoing it or feeling ruled by them (those people all live in France, plus the three I know here. Kidding! I know four here.). In my experience, these are people relaxed eaters who have never dieted and never felt they had to change their body shape or weight.

A lot has been made of the similar ways that highly palatable foods and addictive substances light up certain neural pathways. But guess what – those are pleasure pathways. They also light up when we receive hugs from people we love, hang out with our pets, or have sex. So the lighting up of those pathways alone do not indicate addiction.

There may be truly food-addicted people out there, because anything is possible – but this “addiction” does not happen in a vacuum. If you showed me a food-addicted person who had never dieted, never felt bad about his or her appearance, never been exposed to our pervasive culture of food fear, and never observed or felt weight stigma, I might buy the construct of food addiction in which food is the problem more readily. If that food was broccoli, I’d have no doubt. But it’s never broccoli, and there are few people who meet that criteria.

We’re asking the wrong questions. Based on all I know about dieting, food restriction and disinhibition, food addiction tendencies are more likely driven by high dietary restraint, weight stigma, and a toxic culture of food-fear than a chemical dependency on food. The evidence is the many people who have gotten free of this feeling of food addiction once they healed their relationships to food, eating and their bodies.

So is food addiction a real thing? I think the feeling of addiction to food is a very real thing, yes. But is it the food itself that causes the addiction? In most cases, I don’t believe it is. And I don’t believe more restriction is the answer.

My feelings of addiction to sweet foods went away when I started to feed myself without restraint and abandoned body-shame as a way of life. Once I legalized all foods, the power any one type of food had over me disappeared. I think if we started treating food addiction with liberalization, not more deprivation, we’d quickly see fewer and fewer cases of it.

Need more free non-diet support? Join our Facebook Group!

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Diets Make You Lose Weight. And then…

woolly_mammoth
Preventing diets for thousands of years since the dawn of time.
One of the reasons diet culture is so persistent and refuses to die is that diets do cause weight loss – for at least some people, for a little while.

Low fat or low carb or high fat or high protein or no sugar or all butter (whoops, did I make that one up? Patent pending!) have all worked pretty much equally well at some point for some people. Studies from a few years back even compared all the current diet methods and said no one diet method was better than any other for shedding pounds (and these studies mentioned nothing about keeping the pounds off long term). I remember back in the early 2000s when Atkins was making a comeback and people, having dropped all manner of carbohydrate out of their diets, did lose weight like crazy (or at least I heard some people did; one guy I worked with didn’t but smelled like deli meat all the time and friend of mine ended up with the worst constipation ever for a month but lost no weight) and the scientists were all, “It’s just because they’re eating fewer calories!” and the Atkins people were like, “No, we’re eating a shit ton of fat, we’re getting lots of calories.” In truth, no one knows why these diets work at first, whether it’s calorie restriction or macronutrient deprivation or what.

So I have a theory on this – and it’s JUST a theory, so take it for what it’s worth. Our bodies seem wonderfully adapted to eat all manner of food and that’s been great from a survival aspect. Some groups of people probably did well just on, like, animal blood and milk, and others did great on mostly some sort of starch and whatever else they picked up off the nearby ground. No diet was necessarily better than another because that’s what was available and we’re great at adapting to what’s available.

Flash forward to the future (now)…and we are like diet nomads, wandering from one restriction to another but on purpose. Like, we have that food but we decide not to eat it for reasons of conforming better to society’s standards of beauty and thinness (something I’m sure our cave people ancestors could have totally gotten behind had they not been busy running from woolly mammoths all the time in between picking up mongongo nuts from the ground half the day). So our body goes without that food and because a WHOLE part of the diet has been eliminated, the body loses weight at first which triggers a biological feedback system that, when it hits a certain point, signals the metabolism that it’s maybe never getting that food again, and it makes some live-saving adaptations, like slowing down your metabolism, making you crave high-energy foods to replace the missing food, getting more efficient at using the available energy (meaning it can use fewer calories for the same functions it used to use more calories for before your diet), and also getting hella good at storing fat, because who knows how long this famine is gonna last. The problem with any diet is that it does make you lose weight and we see that as a good thing while it’s probably just some part of an elaborate feedback system to keep you alive and thriving. The weight loss is quite possibly a symptom of something going wrong in your environment.

Of course, it’s just a theory. And it doesn’t even matter really, because whatever the reason, weight loss is pretty much almost always temporary, unless you manage to develop some seriously disordered eating habits and make maintaining this weight loss your full-time job (which I don’t recommend. You’ve got better things to do).

I like my theory, though, because it also explains why each dieting attempt seems to get harder and harder each time, and no one diet works as well the second time you go on it, am I right? So you’ve got to hop around from diet to diet, and each time you drop some food group out of your diet, your body goes, “OH SHIT this again?” and it goes through the whole feedback system and in the end makes you gain even more weight because that is safety.

But even if I’m wrong about the mechanism, I’m not wrong about what happens. You lose weight on pretty much any diet, your body overwhelms you with a desire to eat, your body makes adaptations (this much we know), and next thing you know, you’ve regained all the weight you lost in those first few halcyon moments of a diet.

And those halcyon weight loss days are soooo fucking seductive. They keep us coming back for more, again and again, just like a cheatin’ lover you just can’t shake.

Meanwhile, we look at the French paradox (that thing where they seem to eat all the foods and they aren’t as fat as us, so we’re told) and go “Zuh, it must be the wine” when in reality it’s probably that they didn’t starve themselves systematically and consistently as we have here in North America for all of the 20th and 21st centuries. They’re bodies probably didn’t get all adapty – until Mireille Guiliano came along and told everyone how French women didn’t get fat and I bet all those French fat women that do exist are on diets now trying to prove her right. (also, it was totally disingenuous of her to tell everyone to just enjoy their food and they’ll get slim, because there is absolutely no evidence that enjoying your food makes you go from fat to thinner. She couldn’t just tell us to enjoy our food and leave the body shame at home?).

All this to say: don’t be fooled. Weight loss from diets IS temporary. We don’t really understand WHY it happens but we do know it IS temporary unless you manage to develop the most disordered of eating habits and devote your life to maintaining your body shape. Trust me when I say, there are so many more worthy causes out there to spend your time on.

If you are so very sick of this diet-and-weight rollercoaster but don’t know what to do next, schedule a free 30 minute no-diet strategy session with me and we’ll figure it out.

Dietitians Unplugged: Virgie Tovar is a Fierce Fat Babe

Cover2Aaron and I got to interview one of my fat-activist heroes recently, Virgie Tovar. Virgie drops some serious knowledge on us about fat phobia, sexism, dieting and fighting a toxic culture. Oh and Babecamp! She is way fun and I’m addicted to her laugh.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as we did making it.

#LoseHateNotWeight

 

 

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How Tim Gunn Got it Wrong

yellow skirt
Warning: May add volume …and fabulousness.

By now you’ve seen the article Tim Gunn wrote in The Washington Post about how the fashion industry has long-ignored plus-sized women and how that needs to change.

In a statement I can totally get behind, he said:

“I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”

Yep, we can’t figure it out either. Though soon enough, the picture becomes clear:

“I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.” Why? “I don’t want her wearing my clothes.” Why? “She won’t look the way that I want her to look.” They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt. “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel, said in 2009.”

It’s no surprise that size bigotry and a laziness to design for any body outside of the narrow range of sizes represented by fashion models that leaves us with so little to wear – but it’s shameful as all hell. Again, nothing new to those of us who live in the plus-sized fashion world, though that designers find our bodies so repulsive to dress hurts a little a lot. If you’re a skilled designer, how hard it is to draw a few more round lines?? So I really liked that Tim was calling out this bullshit front and center.

But then he rounded a corner at the intersection of WTF and Hell, No!:

“The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes. Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. Done wrong, and we look worse than if we were naked.”

And later:

“Half the [clothing] items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade.”

Oh. That old trope. Adjust the proportions and the fat body simply just disappears into slimness! Pastels, ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads are all fine for thinner women – but not fat women. Yes, our bodies are different – but they aren’t so different that we can’t wear the same styles that thinner women wear. With limiting rhetoric like this, no wonder fashion designers don’t want to make plus-sized clothing.

Tim, allow me to enlighten you: that “flattering” shit is old and doesn’t even work. We don’t want to hear it anymore. We don’t need tips and tricks on how to appear less or different than we are because it’s damaging to our self-esteem to think that way. What many of us want (I won’t speak for all of us) is simply the same cool clothing choices that are available for “straight” sized women. We’ve all tried that small patterns/wear all black/vertical stripes are slimming/avoid ruffles and ruching crap and guess what – we were still fat, and with a boring wardrobe. Worse, we were paranoid that we looked fat and that looking fat was so, so wrong. In short: it sucked.

That’s when it hit me: Tim still thinks fat bodies are wrong and need to be disguised. That he can’t envision fat women in anything other than the most slimming silhouettes tells us that he can’t envision a fat body that is just fine as it is. Even worse, he tells us how bad we would look if we were naked. Gee, thanks a bunch!

He then takes Project Runway to task for allowing Ashley Nell Tipton to win with the first plus sized collection the show has had because she dared to design haute couture clothing that looked easily as ridiculous as it usually does for thin women. High fashion, in my opinion, is more about art than about practicality, and from what I saw of her collection, it didn’t look all that different from what is usually designed for thin women, except that it was on fatter bodies.

The article was a much-needed plea to the fashion world to make clothing for bigger women, and for that, I truly do thank him because he has a public platform to affect the kind of change that most of us can’t. But I do hope that he doesn’t get to be in charge of this project. His comments about what fat women should wear smacked of old-school patriarchy and condescension toward fat bodies, and I’m not having it. Tim, please challenge your assumptions about fat bodies, and maybe even consider asking a few more fat women what they want to wear and how they want to feel in their clothing. My guess is it would simply be a request for more more more choices, from the sublime to the silly.  I also invite you to check out the work that fat fashion bloggers have been doing for the last few years to bring about change in the fashion industry (see my list of favorites below). They don’t worry about whether their clothes “hug” vs “skim” their bodies, they just wear what they like and they look fucking fabulous because their best accessory is confidence.

I want to embrace Tim’s plea wholeheartedly but I’m weary of any sort of non-change change, ya know what I mean? This kind of “disguise your body” thinking is what led me to hide my French Connection sample sale orange and teal floral satin dress in the back of my closet in 1997 with nary a wear because I thought it made me look “fat” (this was back when I wasn’t). So what if it did make me look fat? It was a fabulous dress and it deserved to be worn. Worse, the mentality of creating the illusion of thinness from my very wrong fat body is what led me to starve myself more and more, wanting to create the reality of thinness instead of embracing exactly what I was.

“Flattering” is the concept I now eschew when I’m putting on my swishy pleated floor-length skirts that make me feel like a fierce and formidable fashion princess. It’s the symbol of all that I’m not supposed to wear on my fat body. We all deserve our own version of that swishy skirt without worrying if it transforms us into alternate versions of ourselves.

Here are my favorite fat fashion blogs:

Gabifresh
Curvy Canadian
GarnerStyle
Le Blog de Big Beauty
Flaws of Couture
The Curvy Fashionista
Curvy Girl Chic
Life and Style of Jessica Kane
Nadia Aboulhosn
Nicolette Mason
And one for the dudes: Chubstr

Sign up here for the Dare To Not Diet Insider Newsletter!

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The Dietitians Unplugged Discuss Dani Mathers

Cover2Greetings lovely readers and listeners! I’m on vacation this week so just bringing you our latest Dietitians Unplugged podcast in case you hadn’t heard it yet. In this episode, Aaron and I discuss the Dani Mathers fat-shaming  incident. Was she a lone gun-(wo)man in this crime, or did she have the permission of a fat-phobic society?

This wasn’t an easy episode for me to record. In addition to being really tired, I found the topic personally hard to talk about. Fat-shaming happens to so many people every day, it’s happened to me, it’s nothing new, and it’s deflating and abusive. We’re only now beginning to talk about how wrong this is, and using the correct term for it: bigotry.

Tell me what you think in the comments here or on our Dietitians Unplugged Facebook Page!

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Dear Penn Jillette: Your Diet is BS

Penn_Jillette_in_Denver_2015I read last week that Penn Jillette went on a crazy diet and lost a lot of weight.

Penn Jillette is a professional magician and used to have a show with his magic partner, Teller, called “Penn & Teller: Bullshit,” on which they debunked various “pseudoscientific ideas, paranormal beliefs, popular fads and misconceptions” (thanks wiki!). Oh the irony, amiright??

He said he was inspired to lose weight (ultimately 100 lbs in all) because he had been sick, and diagnosed with very high blood pressure. I agree that something like that could indeed use a nutrition intervention, but instead of making some reasonable, sustainable changes to diet and exercise, he dove in headfirst to dietland.

First he went on a diet for two weeks that consisted of only 5 potatoes a day, which provides around 800 calories and 20 grams of protein, not enough for most active hamsters. Unsurprisingly, he lost 18 pounds after two weeks. This is called a monotrophic or mono diet. It’s apparently also featured on many pro-anorexic websites according to this article.

He then switched to something called a Nutritarian diet by Dr. Joel Furhman (look it up yourself, no way I’m linking to this diet page) that he described thusly: “Turn on the TV, look at the billboards, read magazines — see all that food? I don’t eat any of that. I eat no animal products, no refined grains, and extremely low salt, sugar, and oil.” By the way, the text at the bottom of Furhman’s diet website: “There is no guarantee of specific results. Results can vary.” He’s required to put that there by law because by now it’s well-established that diets don’t work to produce sustainable weight loss, results cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy, and within 3 to 5 years most or all weight is regained…and because his diet is no different. This is Penn’s moment to pull the curtain aside and expose who the Wizard really is, but no. Instead he just goes on the diet.

Anyhoo, the rest of the article in which Jillette talks about his new transformed way of eating reads like the most disordered of food journals. Here’s an especially concerning excerpt: “I had a handful of unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts with Tabasco sauce….I guess I had two handfuls. I love eating spicy in the middle of the night. The peanuts were very filling so I didn’t eat the rest of the day. One thing I learned from my lifestyle change is that I don’t have to eat all the time. When I don’t eat, I get focused and clearer and … well, happier” [italicized emphasis mine]. That focused, clear feeling? A lot of us have had that in the early stages of dieting. I have a theory that this is your brain readying you to look for food because you’re basically starving. I had a lot of energy at my thinnest, but it was reserved only for thinking about food, looking for food, scrounging food and quickly scarfing food. I was the most ambitious and effective office-hunter-gatherer you ever saw. I may have been happier, but I didn’t really have time or emotional space left to recognize if I was since FOOD! WAS THAT FOOD I JUST SAW?! GIVE ME THAT FOOD! ME WANTY FOOD!!!

More tidbits from the Sad and Curious Food Ramblings of Penn Jillette with a little of my own interpretations thrown in:

“It had been about 36 hours without food, and I wanted to eat.” (extreme restriction)

“I had watermelon. Usually when I eat watermelon it’s a joke amount, like a whole watermelon, cut up and very cold. Watermelon is magic. It’s like candy but really good for me. There seems to be no limit to the amount of watermelon I can eat.” (binge behavior, food moralizing)

“My dessert in the middle of the night was the idea for which I will win the Nobel Prize. I invented this. I took a lot of blueberries, like four big containers (this one is expensive), rinsed them off and then put way, way, way too much cayenne pepper on them. Way too much. Lots. I shook that around and then added way too much cocoa powder, no fat, no sugar. It’s like a Mexican flourless chocolate blueberry cake. It’s my favorite food. I went to bed with my mouth on fire and my belly full.” (okay, I just included this one because it’s weird as hell, but also a bit bingey)

“…I was hungry after our Vegas show at the Rio… I got up and had a hummus wrap with Tabasco. This was store-bought and a bit too salty. That wasn’t enough, so I had a bunch of spoonfuls of peanut butter. This is my downfall — too salty, too sugary, too high fat, oil, and salt, but so good. I ate so much it would make you sick. It made me happy.” (binge and then guilt. Serious fucking alarm bells for disordered eating going off for me right now)

“I was full, but I still had some peanut butter for bedtime.” (finishing off with some superfluous eating)

I get that getting diagnosed with high blood pressure and other metabolic-type conditions can be scary and they are something that can be helped with improvement in eating habits and exercise. But look around; do all the “healthy” people you know eat even remotely like this? (Gawd, I hope not). We don’t need to become diet addicts and emotional slaves to food to drop pounds in the name of “health.” We don’t need to miss meals for 36 hours and slather hot sauce on everything because we’re not eating what we want, not really, or enough to satisfy our appetite. We really don’t need to eliminate sugar, fat and salt from our diets. Most of these changes, I’m predicting, will not be sustainable for him, as they usually aren’t for most people. So far he’s maintained the weight for 17 months; a lot of us ex-dieters did that too. It’s too early to know how this will play out for him, but based on statistics alone, he will regain that weight between 3 and 5 years after he lost it. But most significantly, what Penn has done here is conflate weight and health, and that is the ultimate bullshit.

Penn Jillette can do what he wants with his body, that’s his business. But now he’s writing a book to tell us how we, too, can lose a third of our body weight by developing an eating disorder. Penn, you didn’t find the cure to obesity, and statistically speaking, your weight loss has a 95% chance of failure by year five. If you do manage to become one of the elite 5% who maintain your weight loss longer than this you will probably have to do it by developing a sub-clinical eating disorder that everyone will applaud and will make you secretly crazy. Again, that’s your choice, but your book makes you part of the $60+ billion diet industry which fails just about everyone, and that’s just wrong.

We don’t need another diet book from someone with extreme disordered eating habits that has only maintained his weight loss for 17 months, so I’m calling bullshit on you, Penn Jillette.

Want to get over YOUR diet for good?

Are you tired of the restriction/binge cycle running your life and making you crazy? Are you ready to finally learn how to eat drama-free? Yeah? Then click here…

Dietitians Unplugged Podcast

Time to catch up on all our episodes!

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