Dieting is NOT Self-care

DIETING ISNOTSELF-CAREOne thing that gets my angry inner goat going like nothing else is the constant insistence out there in the world that dieting to lose weight is the equivalent of “eating healthy” or “becoming healthy.”

As a former dieter, and someone who treats long-term chronic dieters and weight-cyclers in my private practice, I can tell you that while this might start out as the intention, it almost never ends that way.

And while some people who do make positive changes in their eating habits may experience some weight loss, there is little evidence that eating “healthier” will absolutely lead to significant long-term weight loss for the majority of people, or turn large people into small people. This is why people tend to resort to diets that involve calorie deprivation to achieve weight loss.

I want to point out, however, that while a nutritionally-dense diet may not lead to weight loss, it can certainly help to improve your health (but is not the whole picture of “health”) and is worth pursuing if that is what you want to do.

But let’s be honest: most diets are not about getting healthier. They are about losing weight, which we are told will automatically make us healthier. Unfortunately, this is not always true.

When I “successfully” dieted for 16 years, at my thinnest and most restrictive point, I ate few fruits and vegetables (“waste of calories”), ignored my hunger for so long I wanted to cry at times, then secretly binged when I couldn’t take it anymore, and ate a mostly monotonous diet of “safe” foods. During this time, I developed crippling back pain from over-exercising and osteoarthritis in my feet, likely hastened by the complete lack of calcium in my diet for so long (though also likely genetically determined). I fought a psychological war with the scale daily that usually resulted in defeat for me, no matter what the number said.

This was not pursuit of health in any way. These are the things I needed to do to maintain weight loss, because simply eating healthfully didn’t.

I was thin, but I was not healthy either physically (witness my body breaking down, and feeling weak, tired, and hungry most of the time) or psychologically (thinking about 24 hours a day about food in a very disordered way, feeling constantly dissatisfied with my body despite its thinness).

I am not an isolated case; many of my clients arrive in my practice with some version of the same story. Their diets may have started as an attempt to eat “healthy” (albeit focused completely on weight as the main measure of health) but they ended up in a never-ending cycle of restriction and binge-eating, feelings of shame around their bodies and failure to follow a diet, and often higher weights than they started at. They are also very confused about how to eat in a way that actually supports health and well-being without feeling deprived (which is why they have come to me).

Let me tell you this: it isn’t that hard to have a balanced, nutritionally adequate diet when you feel relaxed around food. Behavior change can be challenging, but it is much less so when you see body shame for what it is and leave fatphobia behind. That is why dieting isn’t really about health – because diets involve intense shame around your current body and a desire to make it something it isn’t.

When changes feel really hard or unsustainable (and sometimes make you want to cry), consider that you might actually be on a diet. If your diet changes are supposed to produce a tangible change in the appearance of your body, then you are on a diet.

And if you’re worried about health, know that a non-diet approach actually will support making positive changes for health.

In the meantime: This article is a great example of how diseases like diabetes are more likely related to nutritionally inadequate diets than higher weights. It makes so much sense when we look at how long-term yo-yo dieting may be linked to development of diabetes as well as weight gain. Again, “successful” deprivation does not equal health!

Looking for help with Diabetes?

Check out our group series, HAES Care for Diabetes. We will be running this intermittently throughout the year. Stay tuned for new dates soon!

Need help with your relationship to eating?

I have an online course that only takes minutes a day to get all the best tools in my non-diet toolbox to help you get more relaxed around food. Check out Dare to Eat.

Exercise For Everyone with Ragen Chastain

Ragen and DUI like to move my body, but sometimes I get sick of the same ol’ same ol’ when it comes to the exercise I’m doing. So lately I’ve been experimenting with trying some new ways to move.

I decided to try the dance studio down the street.  I signed up for a Zumba class. Long story short, it was a less than ideal experience. Despite being promoted as good for beginners, the steps were far too advanced, the instructor wasn’t cueing the steps or pointing out the direction ahead of time, and I ended up frustrated and lost. Then I looked around the class and noticed that there were only two people who could be even remotely considered fat – me and another woman. I started wondering how exercise spaces could be made more welcoming to more people – people of different sizes, abilities, and skill. And people who don’t want to think about their bodies as something to shrink or re-shape. People who want to exercise just because it’s fun to move your body.

When I told my podcast partner, Aaron Flores, about it, he had the brilliant idea of asking Ragen Chastain, speaker, writer, dancer, marathoner, fat activist and author of one of my favorite blogs Dances with Fat, about how exercise could be so much more inclusive of more people. She agreed, and we had a great conversation all about what needs to change in the world of exercise to be more inclusive and available to all people. Enjoy!

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The Weight You’re Supposed to Be

Bulldog

One of the most common reactions to what I write about learning to accept our bodies at the weight they are and taking a Health at Every Size® approach is, “But I’m not at the weight I’m supposed to be…I should be XXX pounds because that’s what I was [when I was my healthiest weight; when I was an athlete in college; before I had three kids; before I developed this knee condition; when I ran marathons all the time].” I totally get it. Lots of us have that utopian time in our lives when our weight was perfect (or so we think in hindsight), our health was optimal, and we were going to live forever…and we so desperately want to get back to it.

Even when, intellectually, we know that dieting doesn’t work, that weight loss is typically short-term (<3 years) at best, that even when our own personal experiences tell us that previous weights were not sustainable, we resist in accepting this. I recently read a great term for this: data resistance, meaning no matter how clear the science is on this topic, people still want to believe that long-term weight loss is possible for more than a tiny fraction of people. The propensity for magical thinking is strong in us humans, and weight is no exception.

Let’s roll with it, then. Maybe you aren’t at your optimal weight. Do you want to diet to try to get there? Is that something that has been sustainable for you in the past? If not, why do you think things would be different this time? What happens if, despite all your efforts, you never get anywhere close to your desired weight? How do you live your life then? What happens if the weight you are now is your weight for the rest of your life? I think it’s worth it to have this conversation with yourself, so you at least have some options.

There are also important things to know before you decide what to do next. First of all, despite what we have been told ad nauseam by the diet industry, your weight is not really within your control, at least in the long term. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you are well aware by now that intentional weight loss has a 90-95% failure rate over the long haul (>5 years). If you’re new to this blog, head on over to my Scientific Lit page and have a look for yourself.

Your weight is really determined by a combination of your genetics, your metabolism, and your environment (past and present) – and not so much by the weight you actually want to be. Do you have fat parents or family members (genetics)? Have you spent any part of your life restricting calories or foods (environment)? And if so, did you know that your metabolism is probably running slower than if you hadn’t (metabolism, obviously)? Possibly most significantly, if you have made multiple weight loss attempts throughout your life or were put on diets as a child, your natural set point will be higher than what it might have been had this never happened. Unfortunately, we’ve all been fed the calories in/calories out bullshit, and have been taught that calories out are totally within our control, when in reality our sneaky metabolism comes along and adjusts everything to make sure we aren’t spending too much energy, because Lord knows the body loves homeostasis.

So now you’re well-armed with information about the spectacular failure of long-term weight manipulation. That’s all well and dandy, you think, but maybe I’ll be one of the 5% who keep the weight off. Maybe you will be! I was for a long while – before The Diet Monster took over my life and made me more miserable than I had ever been as a fat person. It’s a dicey gamble to make – you might be one of the 5% who manages to maintain long-term weight loss by making it your life’s work, OR you might be one of the 95% who gains some, all, or even more of your weight back, leaving you even fatter than you started. In the words of Dirty Harry, “You gotta ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya??

“But I’m simply not healthy at this weight.” Hey, you might not be. I don’t know your particular health habits or your lab values. Just remember, though, that weight is not a health behavior; it’s a size. Health at Every Size® does not purport to say that everyone is healthy at whatever weight they’re at; it simply means that whatever weight you are right now, you can start to work toward better health. So maybe your health isn’t great right now – is losing weight truly the only way you can improve your health? What about improving your eating habits or activity level? If you consider yourself too large to exercise, check out The Fat Chick’s webpage for activity for people of all sizes. Plenty of studies show that fitness is a better determinant of health than fatness and recently even more are showing that weight loss in some populations is associated with greater mortality rates.

“Well, I’m just not comfortable at this size.” I understand; moving in a thin body is different than moving in a fat body. While I personally don’t notice all that much difference (I’m lazy at both ends of the weight spectrum!), I also recognize that my weight difference might not be as great as someone else’s and that my experience is not universal (I also developed osteoarthritis in my feet at my thinnest, so even that wasn’t a guard against joint problems). Whether your discomfort is physical or psychological, how much do you think our culture’s prevailing attitudes about weight are influencing your discomfort with your weight?

I used to feel like I had to suck in my stomach, no matter what weight I was. As I regained weight, my stomach was beyond sucking in – I could tighten those ab muscles all I wanted, but that layer of fat wasn’t going anywhere. Sucking in made me feel physically uncomfortable. Not sucking in made me feel psychologically uncomfortable. I felt out of proportion, and I felt like I was being outed by my tummy as a fat person. When I finally acknowledged that how I felt about my stomach had more to do with how the world views fat people and less to do with how I actually felt, I eased up on my expectations of my body. If your feelings of discomfort are 100% physical, consider a HAES® approach in which you could find activities that you are comfortable doing right now, and work your way up from there. Bodies are amazingly adaptable, especially when we are being kind to them.

I wish I could tell you that our desires controlled our weight. That it’s just a matter of trying really hard and you’ll have some satisfying weight loss that lasts forever without totally ruining the quality of your life. My own personal experience, the experiences of all the other people I’ve met in the fatosphere, and the bulk of available science on the subject does not permit me to do so. I can only recommend a kinder approach in which you let your body decide what it will weigh – it will do that eventually anyway – while you find your own way of living as healthfully as you want and can. That will give you a stable weight that is right for you. Because, with this one life you have, how long do you really want to struggle against your body?

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Is Weight Loss Body Positive?

BoPo heartI’ve been waiting a while to write this post. Like, months. Because it’s a complex issue, and it deserved some thought. (Also, I figured I’d probably piss a few people off with my take on this, and I really needed some time to galvanize myself)

I think this question breaks further down into three questions:

  1. Is it body positive to want to lose weight?
  2. Is actively trying to lose weight a body positive act?
  3. If I happen to lose weight, am I no longer being body positive?

Let’s start with the first one:

1. Is it body positive to want to lose weight?

We live in a culture that reviles fat bodies, heavily endorses one type of beauty (thin, white), and insists that if you just work hard enough you can change whatever body you’re in and suddenly fit into the impossibly stringent beauty standards that have been set up for women (and now increasingly, men).  With all this pressure bearing down on us, I see it as completely natural to still wish for thinness in order to fit into the mainstream so we can get all that love that society sends out for those who’ve made it.

So no, I don’t think it’s necessarily unbody positive to still have this desire for societal acceptance. We are geared to want to belong, which is why we humans have, for the most part, gelled into tribes and communities and civilizations. We’re also geared, in general, to strive, to move forward, to achieve (though this is not true for everyone nor should it have to be). And often we want all sorts of things that we might never get, even when that desire isn’t rational or achievable.

The problem with body positivity and weight loss is not the wanting, which stems from a society that tries to vilify or erase all sorts of bodies. The problem is with the actual attempting of weight loss. Which leads me to…

2. Is actively trying to lose weight a body positive act?

This is where it gets complicated.

Diet and weight loss culture is not body positive because it is rooted in the belief that fat bodies, bodies that do not conform to the very narrow beauty standards (thin, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered), are wrong, unattractive and/or unhealthy. Diet and weight loss culture simply does not respect the broad diversity of body weights and sizes that exist.

In addition to these nefarious underpinnings, dieting to lose weight simply isn’t sustainable, based on all the best available data (and for this data, you should read Traci Mann’s Secrets from the Eating Lab in which she reviewed all the most rigorous weight loss studies and discovered that…long-term weight loss doesn’t work). And when we say “diets don’t work,” what we mean is that they work for a little bit at first, and then, usually within three to five years, some, all or even more of the weight is regained for most people. Failure on this level is simply not a lack of motivation or willpower, and the diet industry is unable to show that long-term weight loss is achievable for more than a tiny fraction of people.

Weight loss for health is wholly unnecessary. Studies show that our health habits (balanced diet, fitness, not smoking, not drinking excessively, etc.) make more of an impact on our health and longevity than weight ever could. We can begin to work toward fitness and eating well at any weight. Weight loss may be associated with health improvements, but there are three problems with concluding that weight loss is the solution to health problems: 1. Studies that show this association rarely take into account the health habits that typically change when someone tries to lose weight, so we really don’t know if it is the weight loss itself OR the change in health habits that are affecting health. 2. We’ve seen from other studies that health improvements can be accomplished through change in health habits in the absence of weight loss (eg. Eating a more nutrient dense diet, exercising more, etc.), and 3. Since weight loss is typically short term, any improvements made to health based on weight loss alone may end up being short term as well.

Body positivity is founded on the belief that all bodies are good bodies and that a person’s value is not based on her/his body. Weight loss culture is founded on the belief that all bodies are better smaller. So no, participating in diet and weight loss culture is not, in my opinion, a body positive act.

Please know that I never blame or judge those who participate in diet and weight loss culture. They are victims of a society that profits from their insecurities. Keeping women busy with smallness keeps us from fully participating in society and therefore unable to change the rules to actually empower women; it also means we will buy whatever is offered to help us fit into this rejecting society, including weight loss “solutions.” Dieters are, by design, pawns of a $60 billion diet industry. But all of this is why an anti-fat-body culture is not body positive.

Allowing diet culture messages to highjack body positivity renders it just more of the same, and we are left with a culture that continues to insist that some bodies are good bodies, while others aren’t.

3. If I happen to lose weight, am I no longer being body positive?

Changes in body weight and/or size can occur for many reasons. Often a person’s body will change as they age. Sometimes bodies lose or gain weight with illness. Sometimes body size or weight changes can occur with improvements in diet, eating more intuitively, or increase in exercise. Change in diet or activity level is not a guarantee of weight loss, however weight loss may occur. Weight loss as a result of self-care is not inherently unbody-positive. It is simply something that happened while you were looking after yourself.

It’s important to remember that this loss may be temporary, or it may be permanent, but a focus on weight loss will eventually undermine attempts at sustainable self-care as we attempt to coax the body into a shape or weight that may not be natural for it. That is why Health at Every Size® is weight-neutral.

Focusing on caring for oneself in the best way possible while also learning to accept the inherent shape and size of your body is body positive. However, how the body responds weight-wise is better treated as a side-effect of self-care, not the focus.

These are, needless to say, my own opinions. I don’t own body positivity, I merely promote it. Also, it’s not a club where you can have your membership revoked if, heavens forbid, you do something unbody positive. It’s a movement that is trying to change the status quo of body hatred.

I did meet the woman who owns the body positive trademark (and she is pro-HAES®), so if you want her take on it, her website is here. She didn’t trademark it for financial purposes, but to protect it from the diet world co-opting this term for profit, as we see happening now.

Recommended further reading: This is a great article by Virgie Tovar that further explains why body positive spaces need to be free of weight loss talk.

Last week to register for Stop Dieting and Start Living

If you’re ready to stop dieting, or already have, and would like some help with your intuitive eating skills, check out my online course and group coaching program, Stop Dieting, Start Living, which will help you do just that. Class starts February 6 and this is the last week to register. Come join us!

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Not *My* SELF

stop_sign-please-justThis weekend I saw this SELF magazine article on Oprah’s weight loss. So, I decided to write them a letter! I’m over magazines posing as advocates for female empowerment when they are just more of the same oppression.

Dear SELF,

Your article on Oprah’s weight loss was disappointing, however not surprising.

Oprah has not found a permanent weight loss cure, she has simply found a new way to diet. And like the other 95% of people who attempt to lose weight in any way, she will most likely regain this weight in 3 to 5 years. If she manages to develop the eating-disorder-like tendencies that the few people who sustain weight loss beyond this time frame do, she may be slightly more successful, but her life will then revolve around her diet. Is this what we expect one of the world’s most successful women to be concentrating on? Her diet? This expectation is unacceptable for any woman.

The science on weight loss is now clear: all but a tiny fraction of people who attempt weight loss will regain some, all, or even more of the lost weight in 3 to 5 years after the initial weight loss is achieved. Even Weight Watchers, by their own data, cannot show better results. A weight loss-focused mindset drives the restriction/disinhibition cycle and does not yield significant long term weight loss or better health for most people.

I am a former SELF subscriber. I read your magazine faithfully in my most restrictive dieting days, and unfortunately, the weight loss-centered advice in your magazine aided and abetted my extreme disordered eating. Women don’t need to change their body shapes to achieve their best selves, but I know this is what sells magazines. The dangled carrot of a “better looking” or smaller body will always ensure you have subscribers. A focus on body appearance plays women small, though; it robs them of body autonomy and the time and energy to pursue real equality and power in society (Did you know women don’t have this yet? Surely you do.).

I’d like to invite SELF magazine to change it’s editorial focus from weight-centered to non-weight-and-body-appearance-centered. I’d like to invite you to take a truly feminist, body positive stance which does not include the promotion of weight loss or the adherence to cultural beauty standards (because why do we even need beauty standards? Are we not so much more than this?). We can have discussions about health that do not involve weight loss or our appearance. I’d like to invite you to embrace true size diversity by featuring, regularly, women of all shapes, sizes, colors and abilities in your magazine.

There are a growing number of us who refuse to any longer play the weight loss game, and have chosen a weight-neutral, non-diet path to health. We have been damaged by the diet industrial complex but refuse to let it rob of us true health and vitality any further. There is no magazine* for us.

Supporting the weight loss paradigm does not improve women’s lives. Oprah is not better because she’s smaller. Someone temporarily losing weight on Weight Watchers or any diet is not revolutionary, it’s more of the same. I hope you will decide to do better by women someday.

Glenys Oyston, RDN
Dare To Not Diet

If we want change, we are going to have to start demanding it, loudly, publicly, and all the time. It’s tiresome. I don’t want to do it, but I’m going to anyway. Will you join me?

*Except one magazine!

Ready to Stop Dieting and Start Living?

If you’re ready to stop dieting, or already have, and would like some help with your intuitive eating skills, check out my new online course and group coaching program, Stop Dieting, Start Living, which will help you do just that. Class starts February 6! Registration is open until February 2 or until the class is full.

Free Group Coaching Call January 28

I’m hosting a free group coaching call on January 28 at 10 am PST. The topic is “Why can’t I stop eating even when I’m not hungry?!” I’m only sending the call details to people on my newsletter list so sign up here if you want in on the fun.

Join our Facebook group community!

We have a very cool little community going on over at Facebook called The Dare To Not Diet Society. Members give each other support, cheer each other on in their non-diet journey. I’m there too! It’s a body positive, non-diet, non-weight-loss focused community, and we’d love to have you.

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.

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What Non-Diet Nutrition Might Look Like

food collage
All foods fit. YES THEY DO.

One day last week, I found myself mentally running through what I ate that day – not for any reason other than as a memory exercise. I started tallying the different fruits and vegetables I ate just out of curiosity: peach, banana, green pepper, red pepper, onion, tomato, tomatillo, green beans, mushrooms and scallions. Wow, that seemed like a lot of fruits and vegetables – even for me! Yet I barely noticed it till I took the time and effort to remember.

I’m not trying to brag; rather, I just want to illustrate a point about what “normal” eating – aka, eating not-on-a-diet – might look like. I probably didn’t eat a whole serving of each of these vegetables – that’s a little too much volume for me. I may have made it to the recommended 5 servings, but I rarely count so I don’t know for sure. And not every day looks like this; some days I eat less produce (or food in general), others more. I’m convinced, however, that providing oneself reasonably balanced, varied and, most importantly, tasty meals on a regular basis will provide all the nutrients you need over time, and listening to our internal signals of hunger and fullness to guide our eating will ensure we get the right amounts. Good nutrition really isn’t that hard.

And yet, I didn’t eat like this when I dieted because I would have had to prepare the vegetables in such a way that they didn’t taste very good. In fact, when I dieted early on I ate very few vegetables and almost no fruit because I wanted to save every calorie for food I liked since I got to eat so little of it.

Since embracing a Health at Every Size® philosophy toward health, my diet quality has improved immensely from those days of restriction. How, then, I do I include fruit and vegetables so easily now? First and foremost, I make everything taste good. The peppers and onions came in a cheese quesadilla in a flour tortilla cooked in some oil I had made the night before, then topped with roasted tomato and tomatillo salsa (with some cilantro in there too). The banana may have had peanut butter or Nutella on it (or not). The other vegetables were cooked in a stir fry with pork in a sauce of soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry and sesame oil and served over white rice (because I don’t like brown) by my partner. And yes, it was cooked in oil and NO not some small diet amount, but enough to lubricate the dish and make it taste good.

But just as important as making food taste good, my relationship to food is such that I have the pick of all the foods available to me that I like. I’m also not going around in a state of chronic hunger because I feed myself according to my hunger and fullness. That means I’m not jonesing for something I can’t have simply because I feel like I can’t have it (a scientific phenomenon), and I don’t go around looking for the most calorically dense food I can find to fill a bottomless pit of a stomach. And in getting to choose any food I want, I choose foods that both taste good and make me feel good, which includes a variety of “whole” foods (a term I’ve come to dislike thanks to diet culture and healthism, but it is useful here nonetheless).

To be quite frank and not very dietitian-like, I am not a fan of using serving sizes to guide our eating. Like registered dietitian Ellyn Satter states in this article, I feel strongly that government-issued dietary guidelines take away permission to eat and leave people with disordered eating and probably a dislike of a lot of foods that are good for us. This especially rang true to me:

“The 2005 Dietary Guidelines…raised the recommendation for fruits and vegetables from five to nine a day. That is 4 1⁄2 cups of virtually naked fruits and vegetables—with only the smallest amounts of salt, fat or sugar. The intent, of course, wasn’t to satisfy nutritional requirements—four or five well-chosen vegetables and fruits a day and a similar number of breads and cereals is enough. The intent is to get us to fill up on relatively low-calorie food so we don’t eat so much. Such tactics defeat consumers’ best intentions. Well and interestingly prepared fruits and vegetables are tasty and rewarding. However, as any experienced dieter knows, trying to fill up on them— particularly when they are unadorned—is quite another matter. I have worked with far too many recovering dieters who have tried to do just that, and after a while they say that they simply can’t look at another pile of vegetables.”

Nailed it. When I was at Weight Watchers, vegetables were not recommended as a tasty, satisfying part of your diet – rather, they were something to be eaten to take up space in your stomach, to prevent you from eating other potentially high calorie foods that might actually satisfy you. I could not stand unadorned vegetables and mostly I just skipped them unless a particularly good recipe called for them. Fruits – why bother? You had to count those as points. My weight loss was not about health – it was about weight and societal approval. I did what I could bear, and while I could bear to be hungry, I could not bear to eat foods I didn’t like (although later on I would do this, too).

Fast forward six years after declaring my freedom from diets. I found out that a “well and interestingly prepared” vegetable is a thing of beauty, especially when I feel I don’t have to eat it. My diet rebel has a loud voice when it comes to “shoulds”, especially around food. I could experiment with foods to see what I truly liked.

Eating a balanced and varied diet that we like, aka eating competence does make us healthier – at least in terms of having better diets, physical self-acceptance, activity levels, sleep, medical and lab tests. ( And can you also imagine the wonderful by-products of people getting totally normal with food? No more boring conversations about what people can’t or won’t eat, about being “good” or “bad” with food, about having to punish themselves later for something they’re eating now. I mean, seriously, YAWN. We could talk about so many smart or interesting or fun things instead!)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what you eat isn’t nearly as important to your health and well-being as your relationship to food is. When you heal your relationship to food and eating, you’re free to experience the variety that is available to you without stress and drama. Let’s call a definite moratorium on food rules, get curious with our appetites and start exploring with gusto!

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Aaron and I talk with Andrew Walen of The Body Image Therapy Center about eating disorders in men. Give us a listen!

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Re-Post: Congratulations, You Just Cured Obesity

thinkerI’m taking a little blog breather this week to enjoy life, so I’m re-posting one of my favorite post in the past year. I’ll be back soon with new content, but for now…enjoy some vintage Dare To Not Diet.

As a dietitian who believes in non-diet, non-weight focused nutrition, I often find myself explaining my position on intentional weight loss to casual acquaintances who always want to talk to me about weight loss. It usually starts out with someone else bringing up the topic after they have discovered I am a dietitian (there is a reason I don’t volunteer this information easily). They say something like, “Well of course diets don’t work. Permanent lifestyle changes are what lead to lasting weight loss,” or, “Eating less doesn’t work, you have to do interval training in order to lose weight and keep it off,” or, “The only way to maintain long lasting weight loss is to do resistance training.” As though fat people have never tried any of these things ever, and if they just would, they’d have their fatness cured, stat.  *Eye roll*

To which I have to answer: “Actually, no one has figured out a way to create long-term weight loss for more than a tiny fraction of people…and neither have you.” (In reality, I try to be nice about this. But for the purposes of this blog, I get to have a Snark-o-rama, ʼkay?) And then I clarify that I’m talking about basically all the weight loss science that exists out there and how it pretty much shows that long-term weight loss is pretty much a unicorn (as in, it doesn’t exist) for all but a few people. And then, of course, perhaps because I’m a dietitian and why trust someone with an actual degree in nutrition*, or perhaps because I’m a chubby woman who’s clearly just given up on herself*, they don’t believe me.

My favorite person (okay, not really) to argue with on this subject insists that the key to weight loss (even long-term!) is interval training weight weights (despite complete lack of evidence) . When I say that I lift weights and I’m still fat, the answer is invariably, “Well, you’re just not doing it enough.” When I ask how much and how often I should lift weights, the answer is, “More than you’re doing now.” Which is asinine, because he doesn’t know jack about what I’m doing now. When I say that I lifted weights very regularly when I was much thinner and dieting and that I couldn’t build any muscle to save my life AND my weight eventually returned even as I adhered to my regimen, he says it was because I was dieting. When I say I stopped dieting, still lifted weights and gained a lot of weight, it is because I’m not lifting enough. Basically, I’m a fatty who can’t win. Oh, and it’s all my fault.

This seems to be the prevailing attitude among people who all profess to have THE answer to the weight loss “problem.” What it really boils down to is, “Do this thing you might not even like to do, do it a lot, focus your entire life on this, forsake all the other things you might be interested in doing because they won’t produce weight loss, and you’ll be CURED of your fat forever!” Except that, oh yeah, there is zero proof that any of this will work LONG TERM for more than a tiny – like 5% tiny – fraction of people, even if you manage to keep at it.

And by the way, guess who’s tried these “foolproof,” “long-term” weight loss “methods”? (imagine me air quoting vigorously here). Only every fat person that’s ever tried to diet ever. Yeah, that’s right. We’ve tried it. It didn’t work and also, it sucked. If it was something most people could sustain long-term AND they enjoyed it, they’d do it. But we’re not talking about enjoying life here, are we? No, the idea seems to be that we do stuff we don’t like just to chase a body that isn’t really ours. Essentially, we are being punished for our fat. You only get one life on earth, so why don’t you do stuff you don’t enjoy to make sure everyone else is okay with the way you look?*

Let’s take weight lifting, for instance (something I actually happen to enjoy). Even if it did work to induce long-term weight loss for most people, what if someone hates lifting weights? Resistance training isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But in order to lose weight and maintain the loss, someone is supposed to sacrifice their interests and pretty much all their spare time just to make sure they have time for adequate amounts of weight-loss inducing resistance training (assuming one doesn’t make a living lifting weights, which most of us don’t)? Pfffft, thanks but no thanks.

There is a reason the weight loss industry is hauling in $60 billion a year – it keeps selling the same shoddy product over and over again to the same people (like, all of us) without ever actually working. If there was a way to produce sustainable weight loss that worked for most people, we’d have all figured it out, done it, and eventually the weight loss industry would cease to exist because we’d have all lost weight and kept it off. But we didn’t. And it keeps existing. And this weight-loss mentality is actually doing more harm than good by contributing to body shame, disordered eating and exercising, weight cycling, and even more weight gain for a lot of people.

So then I hear, “Permanent weight loss is hard work and people are just lazy.” First of all, short-term weight loss is no piece of cake either, but most of us who have tried it have lost at least some weight initially. And you know who works hard? Just about everyone. Yep, turns out the world is not full of lazy people. In a world of ever-increasing working hours and people with multiple jobs, we live in a society that is well-acquainted with hard work. Sometimes it’s hard work we don’t even like, but we do it anyway. But somehow we’re just lazy about losing weight permanently even though we’re willing to pay $60 billion a year for it? This is some serious non-logic.

So, no big surprise here, but nope, no one has “cured” fatness yet. Sorrrreeeeee!

The good news is, that doesn’t mean we need to give up on our health. Although they won’t necessarily cause most people to lose weight (yes, they may cause some people to lose weight, just not a statistically significant proportion of people), actual, doable lifestyle changes that support health are much easier to make and sustain compared to what you have to do to induce and sustain weight loss. So why not do the things that are achievable and sustainable, like listening to internal hunger and satiety cues to prevent overeating, adding more fruits or vegetables to our diet to boost our nutrient intake, or finding more ways to move enjoyably?

These things are easy to do in the absence of hunger and deprivation, or misery of doing stuff that you hate that often accompanies weight loss efforts. And while they might not “cure” our fatness (just as nothing has been shown to do), they will make us healthier. And maybe even happier.

*Sarcasm is a sweet, sweet balm.

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Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – Episode 9: Why We Hate The Biggest Loser

Cover2Greetings Dietitians Unplugged Podcast fans! We’ve got a new episode for you!  Aaron and I let it all out as  we discuss a show that epitomizes our current diet culture, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” We discuss the widely-shared article in the New York Times that reviewed the latest research on how contestants’ metabolisms have yet to recover even six years after being on the show.  We also talk about Sarah Aamodt’s great article from the NYT about why you should never diet again.  And we quote one of our favorite HAES® colleagues, Deb Burgard in this great article.  Take a listen to this very important episode — it might be the one you need to hear before you consider going on your next “diet.”

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Am I Healthy at Any Weight?

HAES graphic Someone accused me on Facebook recently of telling people that they were healthy at any size (she also told me that I was clearly unhealthy and unfit because of my obesity, despite never once having looked at my medical records. Perhaps she’s a psychic doctor?! No, just a run-of-the-mill internet troll). Aside from attributing to me words I have never uttered, it’s also a big misconstruing of the HAES® philosophy. But it’s something I hear enough that I think it warrants some clarification from time to time. If someone has not taken the time to look into the finer details of Health at Every Size® (which are encompassed in 5, easy-to-digest points, but hey, that could read like the ACA to some people), they might easily misunderstand what this philosophy is about. They might well think that what this movement says is that a person can be healthy at literally any weight, from 2 pounds to 1000 pounds.

So let me explain. That’s not at all what HAES® is about. But first let’s review the 5 tenets of HAES® as listed on the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s (ASDAH) website:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

You’ll probably notice right off that it doesn’t say, “And BTW, you’re totally healthy at ANY size.” Nope. Nowhere is that said. The essential philosophy of Health at EVERY Size® is that no matter what your weight is right now, you can begin (or continue) your journey to health. Maybe you aren’t healthy right now – you don’t need to let your weight stop you from trying to become healthier (and just a reminder that health is not entirely within our control, nor is it an obligation). Maybe as a result of changes, your weight will change, but that’s not the important part of this whole shebang.

So the question remains – do I think anyone is healthy at any weight? Given that I don’t have access to most people’s medical records, I can’t ever tell that. It’s entirely possible that a person may not be healthy at literally any weight. What we know so far about metabolism and internal weight regulation is that the body seems to know what weight it wants to be within a certain range (set point theory), and despite our best dieting efforts, doesn’t want to be too far away from that range for very long (thus the very predictable results of the recent research on The Biggest Loser contestants). There may be a range of weights that your body could be healthy at, but I truly wouldn’t know. Only your body knows that.

But this is putting far too much emphasis on the “weight” part – because weight is not what makes someone healthy or unhealthy. We cannot simply look at a person and determine if they are healthy based on their weight. Genetics, environment, and behaviors all play a part in health. You can definitely work on the behavior part. Depending on your situation, maybe you can change your environment (this assumes a certain amount of economic privilege, certainly). Genetics – good luck, that’s always a roll of the dice. so yes, we can definitely influence our health to some degree. What more and more is shown in the science, though, is that while you may be able to influence your weight short-term, in the long-term, your body almost always wins out on that decision. What’s that serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Yeah, that works pretty well here. Serenity now.

No, I can’t tell you if you will be healthy at any size. I defer to your body’s wisdom on determining those things for you. I only know that weight does not equal health. My suggestion is to stop worrying about weight and just work on the things you can and want to change. Maybe you want to eat more intuitively, or find exercise you actually like, or learn to cope with stress better, or get some much needed social or psychological support. The wonderful thing about HAES® is that it is all-inclusive – people of every size can work on those things to the best of their ability and according to their own desire.

 

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Shameless Plugs for Other People

This is something new I’m doing. From time to time I’m going to promote someone who’s work I love and think is important to the HAES® movement, because we just need more of that. This week I want to give a shout-out to Green Mountain at Fox Run for their wonderful new website! They have a great blog – check it out and share as you see fit!