Nutrition 101: Eat Like a Kid

Dunkin Donuts 0006

When I was a kid, I loved Sundays. My family would all go to church and after the mass my older sister and I would walk over to the rectory (where the priests lived) and go down to the basement to open the  money envelopes. It was a job we got paid for in donuts. Yup, after all the envelopes were open and counted, Father Flower (his real name) would come in with a box of donuts for all of us (maybe a half dozen of us trustworthy young Catholics). I loved donuts back then because we rarely got them. They were a treat. But it didn’t end there.

My dad would pick us up and him and I would go together to Valley Acres. This was a small local store that had the best cold cuts in town. We would wait in line and get our ham and salami and provolone. Next stop, Lin Lou’s bakery for the poppy seed hard rolls and Italian bread, the best. Finally, home for lunch. Mom would have the peppers all fried up by now. We would make the most delicious sandwiches on those fresh rolls with provolone and ham and salami  and fried peppers (nobody thought about cholesterol back then). After that, I would help my mom make the meatballs (it was Sunday after all, which was always pasta day, sauce, meatballs, sausage, eggplant if mom was feeling like it). I loved grating the Italian cheese and mixing up the meatballs for my mom. She would do the cooking and then we would all go playing outside while the sauce simmered all day. No electronics back then, and only 3 channels on the TV so not worth it, unless of course it was football season. Then I would be on the couch with my dad, glued to the Green Bay Packers, his team. Anyway, dinner would be all together at the kitchen table, a big bowl of meatballs and Italian sausage, pasta with sauce and freshly grated cheese, great Italian bread from Lin Lou’s bakery, green salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and lots of oregano and olive oil. Maybe dad would have a glass of cheap Italian red wine, and we would eat and enjoy every bite. Then we did our jobs, clearing the table, doing the dishes, putting them away. And that was it.

Today, many years later, I think about how eating was back then. Nobody really thought about it much that I can remember. When it came to eating as a kid, all I remember was that I loved the food my mom cooked. I loved the Italian traditions. And I loved those donuts. I sometimes roll my eyes when I listen to adults talk about food and diets and nutrition, and I often think “TOO MUCH THINKING!!!” Somehow, we survived, even without knowing much about nutrition. We just ate. And, mostly, we ate what we liked. What happened? Why don’t people do that anymore? How did it get to where we need to analyze every morsel we put in our mouths?

Yes, since then, we have learned a lot about how to eat to be healthy. We have learned about antioxidants and phytochemicals and fiber. Funny thing, the old advice of “eat your vegetables” pretty much covers all that. Back then, fast food establishments were far and few between. We had one McDonald’s in the state of Connecticut when I was in grade school and when we went once or twice a year, it was a treat. Those discs of a burger were very different than my dad’s burgers on the grill, but french fries were something new. Yes, we enjoyed our McDonald’s and it did no damage. But then again, we went so infrequently, and there were only normal sized burgers and fries and one size of shake. These days our food environment is much different. I think it messes with our natural ability to eat the right amount. I have worked with lots of families who don’t have much money, so going to buffets is a big treat. Back when I was in high school we had to drive to a different state to get to a buffet. It was a once a year thing all teenagers did when they got their license…I think the place was called Custy’s and it was in Rhode Island and the big draw was the seafood…lobster, shrimp and all the kinds of things you really could not afford on a regular basis. I never went but I was fascinated by the stories of how much people ate…how many lobsters, pounds of shrimp, etc. I didn’t really get it because I did not eat fish back then.

Looking back at our attitudes and behavior around food as kids or even teenagers is interesting when you compare it to how we think about food as adults. Somehow, along the line we lose something. We seem to lose (from my experiences anyway) simple appreciation for yummy food without judgment. As adults, we just can’t seem to help adding our adjectives to food. “This is bad but I am not eating carbs tomorrow”. When we go to a party or out to dinner, instead of looking at the menu for your favorite food, or to see what sounds the most yummy (like you did when you were little), most people are weighing the calories or healthiness or carbs or trying to figure out the points.  All of these cognitive methods to figure out what to eat weigh in to help you make the “right” or “healthy”decision about what to get. But, what most people are unaware of is that all this thinking interferes with your natural ability to choose food you like and enjoy.

Sometimes, of course, people who are on a “diet” or restricting to lose weight tend to behave somewhat differently. If they are being “bad” they tune out their body altogether, order too much food, overeat and feel very uncomfortable after because tomorrow, they will be “good” again. This is not what I am referring to as far as natural eating and choosing what you like. This is almost the opposite extreme, a type of “force-feeding” borne out of food insecurity, or the feeling that you may never get it again. That is what tends to happen with people who diet.

It is not easy for most people to accept the idea that you “can eat whatever you want to” and still be ok. You might be thinking “if I did that, I would gain 20 pounds!” The key word is “whatever”. The biggest mistake I have seen people make is giving power to food. Not any food, only certain foods. Somehow, a 200 calorie candy bar has more power than a 200 calorie spinach salad. People mistakenly believe that lone candy bar will “make you fat” because it falls into that “bad” category. The spinach salad with the high protein boiled eggs however, despite providing the same amount of energy (calories) is never the bad guy. Nope, most people would agree, hard boiled eggs and spinach will never make you fat.

What I have seen most people do who have moved away from eating foods they love is a tendency to walk around almost never being satisfied. As a result, they may tend to nibble and pick on more and more “good” or “healthy” food…..only to eventually consume more calories than they would had they satisfied their appetite (both physically and sensory satisfaction) by eating exactly what they really wanted. The key is they are less likely to overeat when they are satisfied. Remember, however, everyone is very different. I am referring to those who do not suffer from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and those who have typical brains and appetites that may only be off a bit because of normal dieting. There are those whose brain chemistries will lead them to eat beyond a typical amount if they allow themselves certain kinds of foods (usually sugar and fat). Most people (I hope) who have such an eating issue usually work with specialists who help them cope with their issues. The typical dieter or even the typical “healthy” eater however, is who I am reaching out to.

The bottom line is that it is NOT the “whatever” that matters, but the “how much”. If you eat just one candy bar (or burger and fries, or whatever the case may be when it comes to “bad” food) it is no different to your body than eating an equivalent of “healthy” food that may not satisfy you. The secret is to listen to your fullness. For those of you who are disconnected from this feeling, it may take time, but don’t give up. Do some experimenting. I often use the example of a college girl I worked with years ago. She had been eating very little during the day, restricting herself to a plain salad for lunch, but then began nibbling on “healthy” snacks throughout the night. She would have several fat free granola bars, rice cakes, sugar free jello and apples and by the time she went to bed, she did not feel so great. She also was frustrated with having to be thinking about food and eating all night. When I asked her what she really wanted at lunch if she could eat whatever she wanted, she said “a cheeseburger”. So she took the risk and agreed that just once she would get a burger for lunch and see how she felt. I will never forget her expression (and happiness) she had at her next visit when she shared her experience with me. “I felt so satisfied! And the best part was that I was not thinking about food all day! I actually ended up having just one snack instead of a dozen and felt much better!” She had to take that risk and try it once. But it literally changed her life.

Does this mean you should throw nutrition caution to the wind? Not care about eating healthy ever again? Of course not! I believe in choosing healthy food, learning to cook healthy meals but educating yourself on how to make food yummy, too. However I also believe in living in reality. The fact is that you may really want the onion rings and not the side salad. And that’s ok. Plus, if you eat a few onion rings and feel satisfied I bet you are less likely to be seeking out food shortly after a restrictive meal.

So go ahead, take that step, even if it means just being honest with yourself (even if you can’t actually order that favorite food, at least you are considering it). Who knows, a fluffernutter may be in your near future yet.

PS A bit of advice: if you have been eating an extremely high fat diet such as visiting McDonald’s or other fast food joint on a daily basis, your body may actually be craving more fat than is typical. If you honestly don’t have a clue about nutrition, you may want to seek advice from a registered dietitian. Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian near you. Even one visit will give you direction.

 

 

 

 

Clothing Statements: What Message are YOU Sending?

IMG_2649I love people-watching. The other night my husband and I went out for what was supposed to be a quick bite somewhere outside, but turned into a somewhat late night of watching the band that happened to be there………and dancing the night away. The outdoor venue we went to is a casual place that serves pretty good Italian food, pizza and bar food. We like it because it is not too expensive and has a nice big outdoor patio with umbrellas if you want shade. At the time we arrived it was pretty quiet. But as the band started setting up around 8 pm, people started trickling in. LOTS of people. We were planted in a good spot with a seat where we had a great view of everything. I had a fleeting thought that I should have worn something different had I known I was out for a night of dancing (especially because I was noticing that the newcomers were kind of dressed to the nines). I had thrown on a striped tee-shirt kind of dress I picked up at Marshall’s for about 12.99 which was super cool and comfortable, perfect for a muggy hot summer night. My shoes really didn’t match, as they were black Aerosole wedge sling-backs which feel like slippers. Anyway, I felt like I had my jammies on and I like that feeling. But somehow I initially felt a bit under-dressed as I saw (the women especially) strutting in with super high heels, low cut revealing slinky dresses, fancy short shorts and other glittery, attention-grabbing outfits. The men however did not seem to bother much as I can’t remember even one of their outfits grabbing my attention…..with the exception of one young man who had a really nice blazer and crisp shirt with nice slacks on and I wondered for a second if he might be a Trump…they always look nice like that. Or maybe he just came from work. He looked really hot (in a temperature sort of way) as it was about 90 degrees out, but anyway, he did stick out.

I ended up striking up a conversation with a very young woman who sat on a stool near us and seemed to be alone at first. She had a tatoo on her shoulder which appeared to be a poem or something, hard to read so of course I had to ask. She looked very different from most of the other young women there, as she was dressed in a hippie type fringed crop top with jeans, flip flops, straight black hair and looking kind of Moricia-ish (think Adam’s family). Anyway, she informed me that it was an excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. Come to find out she was the lead singer’s girlfriend and she worked at a large law firm in Stamford. She was deceivingly intelligent (I admit to pre-judging her because of her appearance and her vapor pipe as probably a bit spacey. I was wrong). After a very cerebral discussion of politics and music, she left and I continued to look around and wonder what all the other stories were in this place. Clearly, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover but some people send out strong messages by the way they present themselves which makes it kind of hard to avoid making assumptions.

That night got me to thinking about how what we choose to wear sends out a message. Our outfits say something about us that we may not realize. I also wonder how many people torture themselves because of clothes. When I worked as a dietitian in a practice of therapists who specialized in treating eating disorders, we always got ready for the predictable surge in relapse of our patients right before prom season and before the start of summer. Starving and restricting to fit into a certain dress or dieting to get ready to display your half naked body on the beach was the norm for many of our patients. I am guessing the average person engages in similar body struggles and extremes of behavior but for those lucky ones, the urge passes and goes away and they are able to deal with the body God gave them. For others, just because of the clothing of the season, they are sent into yet another downward spiral that is never easy to bounce out of.

I have already written about the aging thing and women and our struggles with clothing, but the message we are sending because of what we wear is also interesting, no matter what our age. My point is not to change anyone, because if what you wear makes you happy, who cares about the message you send to those who might happen to be people-watching? The people who love you, your friends and family, those who really count know who you are. But what troubles me is when people (myself included) dress according to what they think is expected, and NOT according to who they are or what is comfortable to them. I am not referring to dress codes at work, such as at the school where I work. We are allowed to wear shorts in the summer, but they need to pass the “fingertip rule”. In other words, when your arms are by your side, your shorts should not be shorter than were your fingertips end. Apparently, we got some girls with really really short arms. And this, I don’t get really. Why does someone need to wear short shorts to work? My only guess is either they are single and want to attract attention from one of their co-workers (who are wonderful young men who work with special needs kids, so definitely lots of great catches in that school!). Or maybe, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they honestly don’t own any other shorts, and it truly has been hot this summer. But my guess is the former, or something else altogether.

Anyway, I am not referring to dress codes, but to the habit of people dressing in a certain way because they want to portray an image that really is not them. For example, that night we were out dancing there were several young women I noticed wearing revealing shirts and dresses but fidgeting to fix things. Pulling up the bust, yanking down the bottom of the skin tight dress to cover things, fixing straps, lots of work going on. Balancing the spiky heels walking across the brick patio was also fun to watch. I wondered why, what message they were trying to send. Maybe it is just a human thing, like the way birds and peacocks and other wildlife do things with their feathers and such to attract the opposite sex. But if this is the case, wouldn’t you want to attract someone who likes you when you are wearing what is truly you?

I am not innocent of wearing things that are definitely not me (and NOT wearing things that ARE me). I have a few pairs of tighter straight leg jeans that I wear when I go out and want to look like I am in style. I prefer my baggier loose jeans with the holes in them. I have a brown cowboy straw hat my husband bought for me at a fair the first year we dated, and I love it. But I never wear it in public places because I don’t want anyone looking at me thinking I am weird. I do wear in at the beach to cover my face from the sun when I am sitting on a blanket (but I am too embarrassed to walk around with it). It’s too bad because it is me.

I have also purchased flowing loose shirts that make me feel like I am back in the 70’s yet when I put them on and look in the mirror I look a little ridiculous. Those I wear anyway. I love the new styles of loose flowing shirts, even though I look lost in them, I wear those anyway too. And the ones with the cut-out shoulders. My older sister hates them, but to me they are genius. Hot flash heaven, air-conditioning.

Dress codes and human courting behavior aside, have you ever reflected on the reasons you wear what you wear? Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time because you are dressing to impress others at the expense of being yourself? Do you torture your body with starvation or dieting just to wear a certain article of clothing? Do you feel happy and comfortable when you walk out of the door? My advice is to be yourself. Be comfortable, wear what makes YOU feel good.

And, a quote from Jack Kerouac:

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
― Jack KerouacOn the Road

 

Body Size and Eating Habits: STOP Judging!Please?

little-girl-1430293I saw an article this week on Twitter that really disturbed me. It was about “thin privilege”, and it showed a post with two pictures that went viral….one of a thin young woman getting ready to eat a gigantic burger and fries, and the other of a young (larger size) young lady on the beach. The comments were offensive, I don’t even want to repeat it. The bottom line was that the thin woman was found appealing because she was eating but the larger woman was insulted. It made me think about my own experiences with patients who have spent half their precious lives dealing with these issues.  Feeling embarrassed for eating in front of people, wondering what others thought of them as they ate.

If you have never had any issues with weight then you may not relate, but for those of you who have dieted, or had issues with weight, well, you will get it. We like to pretend all are created equal, but it unfortunately just is not true. In the past year the racists seem to have crept out of the woodwork, and we all understand racism. I am hoping most of us know that the color of our skin or our country of origin does not predict who we are. Even I know (although I like to joke about it) that all Italian women do not love to cook and feed people…just the ones I grew up with. It’s a stereotype. Well, the same thing happens with people depending on their size. We make judgments (out of our ignorance, just as racism is out of ignorance). Most people do not have a clue about how our bodies work and the physiology around body size and weight. We make assumptions about people depending on how they look.

If someone is very large and big we assume they overeat or stuff themselves, they have no willpower. People wonder why they would do something like that, and put their health in jeopardy. How awful.

And then there is that skinny person. They must have willpower to be that thin. They care about their health, they must eat lots of vegetables for sure, and exercise. We really look up to these thin, strong willed healthy people. We wish we could be like them and do that too. Or, we make assumptions about them. They must have an eating disorder, why else would they be that thin? They should just eat a cheeseburger, for heaven’s sake.

Well, guess what. It is all a bunch of baloney. That skinny person you are assuming is healthy might just be living on Coke and chips. Their blood pressure might be horrifying, and maybe they have high cholesterol. They might smoke a pack a day and be out of luck if they need to catch a bus because they can’t run more than 2 feet. Or, maybe their entire life they have tried to gain weight, but they take after dad’s side of the family, all tall and thin and no matter what they eat, they can’t gain weight. They get called names all their lives, made fun of for being too skinny, as if there is anything they can do to change it. They hide under clothes, layers of them so hopefully nobody will notice their skinny arms.

And that obese young woman you have sneered at and wondered why she doesn’t take care of herself? Well, she may have the blood pressure of a teenager, and the flexibility of a yoga teacher. She may eat more veggies in a week than you eat in a lifetime. She may eat less fast food than you. And, I am guessing, she has more willpower in her left pinky than you have in your entire body. Because, if she has experienced what most larger people have, she has dieted in her life. She (or he) probably have given in to the pressure to change. Have you ever tried to follow a diet? If you haven’t because you have been BLESSED with the metabolism and brain chemistry and genetics to be thin then I promise you, just like any human being you would not be able to do it….as long as most larger people have done it. Yes, they diet and lose some weight but BECAUSE IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT their bodies and brains fight against this. For a good article explaining why diets don’t work and what happens to some people’s metabolism after dieting check out:

TIME Magazine article “The Weight Loss Trap”    

So, unfortunately, when weight is lost quickly and then regained often our metabolism lowers and makes it even harder. So that person who originally wanted to lose a bit of weight finds her or himself after the diet with more weight than they started with. What often happens is that person tries to diet again, and the cycle begins. And the judgment from others is even worse. This makes me sad because the weightism from others leads people to diet, regain weight and then some, and then they are subject to even more of it.

I know there are a lot of people who will continue to judge. My hope is to help people be more empathetic by understanding that we are all different. For example, our brains and digestive system are connected by a complex system of neurochemicals that act as messengers or hormones to tell us what and how much to eat. For example, there is a messenger referred to a PYY that tells your brain you are full. Some people release it very quickly and want to stop eating even before they even finished a meal. You know those people, the ones who leave a quarter of a sandwich or who can’t finish their fries (what??!) This has NOTHING to do with willpower, they were born this way. Then there are those with less effective PYY and their brains just don’t get the message. They aren’t full. You wonder, “wow, how did they finish that?” It is not gluttony my friends, it is probably their chemistry. They were born with it. So stop judging. How would you like to walk around feeling starving all the time? It can’t be fun in this world we live in. And sometimes, some people have amazing willpower and have succeeded in ignoring their chemistry and have lost weight but the message eventually wins, and they give in. Think of a time when you really really really had to pee. Like when you are on a road trip in the middle of nowhere. If someone said to you, “you need to have some willpower and wait until tomorrow!” how would you feel? Well, that physiological signal that is telling your brain that you need to urinate is just as strong as the one that tells someone they need to eat something. It is not about willpower. It is about physiology. So we need to stop blaming.

If, like me, you don’t know much about “Thin Privilege” check out this website which I stumbled upon and liked (it is a feminist website, so if you are not of like-mind you may not like it but I hope you are):Thin Privilege

And next time you find yourself wondering how someone could eat that, or why on earth they can’t finish their meal…..just stop and focus on yourself. Just as I hope you look beyond skin color or race or nationality or sexual preference or religion or any other meaningless definition of someone’s goodness, I hope you look beyond someone’s body size and definitely beyond what someone is eating. Thank you.

Women and Their Aging Bodies: Not That Fun, But Then again…

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and people dancing
Mom and me dancing the night away at my nephew’s wedding

I did something really stupid about 2 years ago. Those of you over 50 but still stuck in your brain like you are still in your late 20’s will totally get it.  Well, I have never been athletic and have never liked team sports and definitely never participated in them. I hated that mile run in school because, well quite frankly, I could not run a mile when I was in high school. BUT, I could do a mean cartwheel. As a kid I would spend my time on the swing set and monkey bars, in my own little world. I admired my friend Terry who was an amazing gymnast (this was in grammar school) and she got me doing cartwheels, splits and hand stands. I would spend hours trying to perfect my back walkover, and eventually I could do it. I was so flexible, it was easy back then. In college I resorted to yoga since doing cartwheels around campus might be weird. I was good at it, able to touch my feet to my head, do handstands and back bends with ease. But as time went on, and I got older, I transitioned into biking and jogging and belly dancing classes with my friends. Well, it never occurred to me that I would lose my flexibility and strength. Until I decided to show off one day. I can’t remember who I was showing off for, maybe it was one of my 20 something year old kids but anyway, I went to do a cartwheel in the yard and it was not pretty. My arms gave way, I almost landed on my head were it not for my elbows hitting first. I was appalled, and frankly, kind of scared. What the heck??! Doing a cartwheel was nothing! and yet, there I was, almost with a cracked head.  I tried again, but very carefully, and determined, but yes, it was true. I can’t do it. And then, it dawned on me that something had happened. I might be thinking and feeling great, like I did way back then, but my body had changed. My arms could not hold me up. This was not good.

I went through a phase of trying to do something about it. I started practicing standing on my head…the easy way, you know, leaning against a wall. One problem….my neck hurt. Oh great, now even my neck is weak. Then I decided I was going to practice my back bends, and do a back bend by Christmas. This plan did not work (despite my husband promising to give me a monetary reward). I just was not motivated because doing a back bend did not benefit my life in any way. Yet, this lack of flexibility has bothered me so much that I made a plan to stretch over the winter. I am a firm believer in habits, and that you can create a healthy habit just as easily as you create a not so healthy habit. So every morning over the winter I incorporated toe touching and stretching exercises with my morning coffee and the news (which I watched anyways, so it was easy….10-20 minutes in front of the TV, not bad, kind of relaxing, 2 birds with one stone). It did work and by the end of the winter I was touching my toes with ease. Then came spring and flower season and those precious minutes in the morning had to be spent watering my garden and talking to the bunnies….so needless to say, my flexibility has lost its priority in my life.

Besides my inability to do a cartwheel or a handstand or a back bend…..there have been other changes I am not too fond of. I am guessing I am not alone. I am talking about eyesight. I have always been blessed with 20/20 vision and for that I am grateful. Yes, I went through the typical phase where you have to hold the menu 2 feet from your face to read it (I think this happens in your 40’s?) Anyway, I bought the cheap reader glasses and that solved the problem. But then I turned 50 and something else happened. Darkness. When it was dark, I could not see. So driving at night becomes an issue when you can’t see the exit until you are on top of it. Or read the signs. I finally had to admit, I needed an eye doctor to see what was going on. Long story short, I needed glasses. Expensive ones which I lost twice, so changed to disposable contacts because I lose things and that solved that problem (until I left them in overnight, because I forgot to take them out, loss of memory another issue but another topic). When you leave disposable contacts in overnight and try to get them out in the morning, you can cause a corneal abrasion which hurts and is not fun. But at least this sudden loss of night vision is treatable.

What isn’t treatable (unless you are a millionaire and kind of vain) is what happens to your skin. I can only speak for myself but it was kind of nice in just one way when I couldn’t see because when I looked in the mirror, I thought it was pretty cool that I wasn’t really getting many wrinkles. Wrong. When I got my contacts I was a bit flabbergasted. Not only could I see that my bathroom floor really DID get dirty (I always wondered how it stayed so clean…it was because I could not see the dirt)….anyway, I could now see my wrinkles. The only ones I really was not a fan of was the ones around my neck. I toyed with the idea of a bread clip in the back of my neck. It kind of works to pull everything back (but this technique is not comfortable, and I am all about comfort). Scarves work, but who wants to always where a scarf? If you hold your head high that helps. But it gets tiring. So making peace with these new neck wrinkles is the only answer.

Besides the neck, I have noticed my arms are starting to look like the principal from my elementary school. Mrs. Torrent was her name and she was terrifying. Back in my day, they were allowed to spank us if we misbehaved at school. Mrs. Torrent had a giant thick silver leather strap that she would whip the bad kids with. When she would point with her arm to walk a certain direction you shook in your shoes and went that way. Her arms shook too. She had these skinny arms with hanging skin that shook when she pointed in her dramatic scary way. And when I saw the picture of me dancing with my mom (above) all I thought was, dang, I am Mrs. Torrent.

Hair is another issue. I am not someone who has energy to put into hair. As a result, my head usually looks like a bit of a contrived mess. My issue is the skunk look. I am not ready to go gray. I am not sure why, maybe just that I don’t like the color gray. I do like white and if I was guaranteed that my hair would be the pure beautiful white that my grandmother had, or my mom now has (who says her hair was gray first, so maybe, just maybe if I am patient, there is hope). I love white. I am working on this shallow concern of mine. I just have not figured it out yet.

There are other issues that bother some other women I know who are getting older and not thrilled about the changes.  The tendency for the fat on our bodies to migrate to our tummies from our butts. Women for some reason (guessing culturally) have a big issue with belly fat. Yes, excessive belly fat is associated with some health issues, but if it is just natural aging belly fat, and your cholesterol and insulin and all your labs are normal then you have nothing to worry about. I absolutely love the new looser fashions and even the new bathing suit styles that are looser and more comfortable so that those of us who are no longer into wearing bikinis have really pretty things to wear. Although, I am all for anyone wearing anything they feel comfortable in. I totally loved the energy of the elderly women on the beach we visited on a cruise that stopped in Tortola and Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean. As I sat there on my towel feeling somewhat self-conscious in my two-piece, a women just strolled out of the water with NOTHING but a bathing suit bottom. Nobody blinked. She sat on her towel with her hubby and basked in the sun. I was jealous. I wish I had that confidence, but then again, we clearly grew up in different cultures that focused on different things. She was way older than me.

Despite all the things I am not thrilled with, there is much more that I am SO happy and grateful for. If you are, like me, noticing changes that might be throwing you a bit and making you think that you need to do something, take a moment to think of all the good things about getting older as a woman. To me, this is what I am grateful for:

  1. Knowing, through my years of experience, what is important. That someone’s energy and heart and soul is what matters, not the wrinkles on their neck or the gray roots coming in. The people I crave to be around have much more that straight brown hair or strong arms or a flat stomach. I need character and a loving and generous heart. Those who fight for a cause or care about the helpless, elderly, homeless, hungry and poor, those are the beautiful people.
  2. I am so grateful for health. Health is something worth working towards. Everyone is different so you need to do what works for you. To me, health does not really mean being able to do a cartwheel or a handstand, but it does mean being able to get up if I fall down, lifting a bag of topsoil, pushing my lawn mower, lifting my laundry basket up the stairs, and being able to bike along my favorite bike path for an hour or two. It means having the energy to make it up the multiple flights of stairs in a village in Cinque Terre Italy to be able to get to that restaurant on the top of that mountain to have a glass of red wine and watch the sun set. It means having the energy and stamina to hike down the Grand Canyon Angel Trail and make it to the bottom to camp at Phantom Ranch, and then hike back out (on my bucket list). Your idea of health may be different, but what you want for your life is what matters.
  3. The gift of time. As I get older, I am realizing that time, well, it is a slippin’ away. It feels more priceless now. So much so that I am getting a little bit better at saying no. I am guessing lots of women my age are feeling it too. We want to spend our time wisely, doing the things that mean the most to us. For me, that means being with family and friends, although my work time fills me up with more than most people have at work, and for that I am grateful. I also spend less time on having the perfectly clean house or the perfectly weeded garden. It is good enough. Good enough is now one of my favorite phrases (right along with “Here’s to….!”). Yes, time is more precious now.
  4. Comfort. Being comfortable is a priority for me now. For some reason, I can no longer stand tight clothing or belts. My shoes need to be Naturalizer or Aerosoles. I can’t wear anything itchy. I am guilty of wearing pajama bottoms underneath a long dress to work.  I have several blankets in my house for anyone who stays over to cuddle on a couch or wherever (the garden swing, fire pit, patio). I promote coziness.

I could go on and on, but my husband is waiting for me and our nightly “date on the couch” where we watch some silly show that we tape so that we get to eventually unwind at the end of the night. Yes, life is short, wrinkles and gray hair come but, in the end, if you have energy to dance the night away (like my 85 year old mom), then well, maybe getting older is not that bad. Although, if I am honest, I really do want to do a cartwheel again. And if I do get there, you will be the first to know it!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Age Comes Wisdom(But Not Always When it Comes to Eating)

Image may contain: 1 person, tree and outdoorI think of him as the “Bird Man”. I was only 18 years old and little did I know at the time it was probably because of him that I became a dietitian. I was a freshman at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts and he was the graduate student who taught my biology lab. I was a biology major because I just loved the subject and everything to do with how every living thing worked (except the paramecium or amoeba). I had no idea about what I “wanted to be” when I grew up. But I realized I never wanted to be the Bird Man. He studied birds and bird calls (apparently, his thesis was about this topic), and he had us listening to hours of bird tweets, marking down different marks according to how long or short the tweet was. This was not my idea of fun. Anyway, I had no idea at the time that I could have chosen any topic in the field to study, and maybe, it would have been more interesting. Instead, when I consulted with my adviser about changing majors, he asked what interested me. At the time, my best friend at school was a vegetarian, and the food she ate was very different from what I ate. I answered “vegetarianism”. “Well, you should be a dietitian” was his recommendations, and so I changed my focus and transferred to UConn where they had a nutrition program. If I mentioned this story before, I apologize. Age has taught me I am becoming my mother (pictured here, eating ice cream even though she is lactose intolerant).

Anyway, yogurt with sunflower seeds and honey no longer interests me, and if I am honest, I have no interest in vegetarianism either. That was short-lived, but I have no regrets because over the years, I have discovered what truly does fascinate me, and that is behavior. My passion is promoting health and happiness and peace, and being a dietitian , that means peace and happiness with food and eating. Food being such a basic part (and necessity) of life, you wouldn’t think it would be so hard, right? But for many, it is.

When I worked exclusively with patients with eating disorders, I grew to appreciate even more how hard it is for people to change. When I encountered older women or men (in their 40’s, 50’s and one woman I clearly remember in her 60’s), it struck me that age did not necessarily bring wisdom when it came to making healthier choices in life. It was way more complicated. Now, between working more with families who have children with eating issues and even with encounters with your average “dieter”, I am discovering there are many barriers to change and everyone is different.

These are some common scenarios I often see:

  • Your average middle aged person who has gained a few pounds and wants to lose it. They try a certain diet (be it paleo, juice cleanse, Weight Watchers, it really doesn’t matter), they lose weight, and as time passes they gain most of their weight back. But then, despite the fact that they regained the weight, they repeat the process.
  • The person with an eating disorder who is in denial, and despite family and friends expressing concern and worry, they refuse treatment.
  • The person with an eating disorder who does get treatment but still struggles (and often beats themselves up because they are still struggling).
  • The parent with a child who has health issues because of a poor diet yet can’t change their own eating habits.

With all of these situations (there are many more), one thing rings true among them all: despite a good reason to change and despite repeated experiences with failure, change does not happen. Why?

My thought (and experience) is that our expectations are not always realistic. No matter what the situation, we can’t change it overnight. Knowledge, and even age and experience does not translate into change. And guess what……that is ok. The problem is that most people trying to change have little tolerance for making mistakes or for failing. Instead of being accepting of themselves that it is perfectly normal to fail, the self-deprecating dialogue takes over. That leads to a very negative feeling that has the risk of overtaking everything. Feeling negative and berating oneself is not a good recipe for change.

Instead, can you entertain the thought of a different approach to eating? No matter where you are on the eating spectrum (it taken over your life because of an eating disorder, or are you just slightly concerned that what you eat may matter) YOU are the one in control of your thoughts. You may not feel in control of your eating, but there truly is hope.

My suggested steps to change? First, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Reflect. Take time to neutrally (non-judgmentally) think about where you have been when it comes to eating and dieting. Has your road been long, or are you just starting to think about what you are eating?
  2. What does your “self-talk” sound like? In other words, what are you saying to yourself that nobody else can hear? Are you being nice to yourself, treating yourself kindly as you would others, or are you being mean?
  3. How do you feel? Do you have energy galore, or is getting up and moving a battle? If you don’t have energy or you are dragging, do you know why? Have you addressed it with your doctor?
  4. Are there changes in the back of your mind that you really know you need to make for your health’s sake? More sleep, less wine, more exercise, quit smoking, more vegetables? Be honest and make a list. This does not have to do with weight. This has to do with health and feeling good and living longer (hopefully).

THEN, make an action plan:

  1. If your self-talk is negative, write down some “counter-statements”. These are positive things you could say to help put you in a better place. Instead of “I can’t believe I ate that (or did that, or whatever), try saying “nobody’s perfect! at least I am aware of what I am doing! I am working on it!”
  2. If you don’t feel good or have no energy CALL YOUR DOCTOR and get help figuring out why. I know many people who have thyroid conditions, especially later in life that after treatment changed their lives. Depression can also zap energy and will rarely get better without help.
  3. If you are trying to improve your lifestyle to be healthier, but struggling on your own, ask your doctor for a referral (you may need a therapist, physical therapist, sleep study or dietitian…check out Find An Expert to find a registered dietitian in your area.

Remember, any “mistake” you make is really a gift in disguise. It gives you insight into where your barriers and challenges are. You just need to take the time to reflect on what leads you down that path and be kind to yourself as you keep trying to find a better way. It may be that you need to seek help to get you to where you want to go, and remember, it will never be perfect. The path there is never smooth, but that’s ok. As long as you keep going. And learning. And accepting.

So what would I have been had it not been for the Bird Man? I have thought about this. I maybe would have been a Master Chef, or Master Gardener, or maybe a sommelier on a Caribbean Cruise Ship…..Maybe it’s not too late.

Your Child’s Weight: Top 10 Mistakes Parents Make

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The beautiful Zoe enjoying her nuggets and who can run circles around everyone she knows

I remember when there was only one McDonald’s in the entire state of Connecticut. It was a big treat to go once or twice a year, usually during the summer with my family. There was no drive-through and only a few choices on the menu: cheeseburger for 15 cents, hamburger or fries (just one size back then) for 10 cents and milkshakes (we shared one between four kids….it was the size of a small one today, they gave out tiny water cups). Times have changed but still, going to McDonald’s once on awhile isn’t really that big of a deal when it comes to having healthy children and helping your child grow into his or her own unique normal body size.

I have been plugging away at a book about kids and weight because after working for many years in the world of “childhood obesity” I see parents getting it all wrong. These are good parents who have been informed by their child’s pediatrician that their child is “obese” and so they typically are trying to do the right thing. I would like to share part of a chapter on what I have seen as:

10 Most Common Mistakes Parents Make

 If you are like most parents who are worried about their child’s weight, the logical thing to do is to focus on what the child is doing, right? WRONG! Well, maybe not totally wrong, because you do need to figure out how it happened that your child’s weight has become an issue. What is “wrong” is believing that your child has much power or control over his weight without you. In fact I would dare to say that your child does not ever need to hear the word “weight” to be able to be healthy and ok.

Let me describe a typical scenario I saw often as an outpatient dietitian working primarily with families whose children who were referred for issues with weight. One patient, 8 year old Peter (not his real name) had been referred for being “obese” since at his last physical his BMI was above the 95th percentile. His mother appeared a bit embarrassed as she is clearly tall and thin and it seems she feels a bit uncomfortable with having a “fat” child. She openly let me know that her other child, Suzie, is thin. So yes, they do have snacks in the home and they do get pizza on the weekends, but Suzie needs the snacks and Peter needs to learn to control himself. He also needs to exercise more but he won’t stop playing those video games. Mom often catches him very late at night with his Game Boy under the covers, still playing games at midnight. He just doesn’t listen. Poor sleep, by the way, leads to cravings for fat and sugar, a great set up for weight gain. Mom, I find out does not like vegetables so rarely cooks them. She is a snacker and tends to eat most meals and snacks on the couch in front of the TV. Although she prefers foods like chips, cookies, frozen pizza and wings, she states she is willing to cook whatever he needs for his “diet”. She also is not happy that he refuses to exercise. The family actually bought a treadmill that is in the basement and he won’t use it.

One more scene that is more common than you may think. I once had a patient (we will call her Tammy) who was referred for “abnormal weight gain”. She came to the initial visit with mom and her aunt who helped care for her. Mom was a very busy career woman who traveled often, and dad was a busy executive who worked in a business where health and appearance were important.  Mom appeared slightly overweight and admitted to struggling with weight issues. The aunt did not like to cook and because the family could afford it, she tended to take the children out to eat several times per week. The older sister was thin and gobbled up cookies by the boxful. She also liked teasing her little sister about her weight. When obtaining the history, Tammy made random comments about dad’s “crazy eating”. Apparently, dad believed in a restrictive vegan organic diet and had been following it for years. He pretty much starved himself during the day, worked out daily and then ate the same large vegan meal in the evening almost every day, with occasional binge eating (he clearly had an eating disorder that was not addressed).  Mom also tended to yo-yo diet. Auntie just enjoyed eating out. Mom was in agreement to focus on health and really understood that focusing on the number on the scale was not a good idea (she lived a life of dieting and clearly did not want this for her daughter who was only 12).  Unfortunately, over time Tammy only gained weight. The pressure from dad to diet was a bit too hard to overcome, and Tammy ended up binge eating when no one was around, which contributed to her weight gain. She did see an endocrinologist to rule out any physiological reason for her weight gain, but it clearly was due to the binge eating that resulted from the confusing messages and pressure she was experiencing at home.

My intent in sharing these stories is to help you understand the following 10 MOST COMMON MISTAKES parents make in trying to help their child lose weight. Time to “hold the mirror up” and ask yourself honestly if you have done or still do any of the following:

10 Most Common Mistakes Parents Make

  1. Treating your child differently than other children or family members when it comes to food and eating, including commenting on or judging his eating (he is such a good eater compared to you, she is a junk food eater, he always eats too much, etc).
  2. Expecting your child to behave any differently than you do.
  3. Expecting your child to behave exactly LIKE you do (or like their sibling).
  4. Expecting your child to resist any food or beverage that is in the home.
  5. Expecting your child to be able to discipline himself regarding any limits on video games or TV (Buying “live” interactive video games in the first place; allowing a TV in your child’s room).
  6. Expecting your child to exercise on his or her own (especially if the mode of exercise is your idea and not your child’s idea!).
  7. Ignoring or denying your own eating and body image issues (or failure to recognize that you have a problem).
  8. Weighing your child, talking about weight loss, a good weight goal, YOUR weight or the weight on the scale in general.
  9. Allowing verbal abuse such as name calling (fatso, chubby, etc) by ANYONE in your home or in your presence (or even verbally comparing bodies, such as “his sister’s tummy is flat” or “he has all his weight in his tummy”).
  10. Catering to a “picky” eater.

Now we are going to take the time to truly go through each and every one of these ten mistakes in a bit more detail so you can identify if you have fallen into some of these detrimental patterns. Remember, the purpose here is NOT to make you feel guilty! If you are doing any of these things, or if you have been allowing them to occur, it is most likely because you truly do care, or you may be very worried about your child’s health. Also, there of course may be other mistakes many parents make that are not listed here, however these tend to be some of the most common we see that parents may not recognize as harmful.  Many of these simple statements seem like the exact right thing to do. So do not waste a minute blaming yourself or feeling badly! You are reading this book because you care…..so now is the time to set things straight. Let’s go through each mistake to be sure you understand completely.

Mistake #1: Treating your child differently than other children or family members when it comes to food and eating.

This mistake typically happens at the dinner table, but it can happen at other places like school, celebrations, family gatherings, picnics, etc. If it is dinner time, you may have prepared a nice healthy meal that you know your family enjoys. Maybe you put some hot delicious breadsticks on the table. You watch as your family dives in, but then you notice the child who you are worried about, who people may have commented on, or even more importantly, who the pediatrician has identified as “obese” and he has grabbed a second breadstick (as did your thin daughter). What do you do? You feel you need to stop him to help. So you comment “John that is enough! You have already had one!” Or take another scenario: You are so concerned that you have talked to the school nurse and asked her to tell the lunch workers to not allow your child to have seconds, or to have dessert. They are now your food police. You can watch him at home, but now you have someone at school to keep tabs. It goes on and on, but hopefully you get the picture.

How is this harmful? It backfires. Consider this: years of research indicate that even when adults are restricted, they become more obsessed with food, and more likely to binge eat and gain weight not lose it! What do you think will happen to a child? Paying so close attention and singling out a child like this not only makes him feel embarrassed and like something is wrong with him (not good for building self-esteem), it makes him want those breadsticks even more. So when you wrap up those breadsticks and put them away, Johnny is still thinking about them after he goes to bed. He gets up when everyone has fallen asleep and sneaks down into the kitchen, quietly unzips the plastic Ziploc bag holding the forbidden breadsticks and begins to eat, when he should be sleeping. He eats in solitude, where no scolding eyes can see him. He eats, because he knows tomorrow will bring another day where all eyes at the dinner table will be on him. And he continues to gain.

Commenting on or judging your child’s eating, or in fact ANYONE’s eating is also not a good idea.  It seems to me the entire population has become totally wrapped up in eating, body size, and even health (which sounds like a good thing, but extremes of anything are not healthy and definitely not normal). Commenting on the way people eat and on bodies has become a social norm. Think about any time you go to a social gathering, especially where there is eating involved. Comments such as “she can eat whatever she wants, and be skinny! I’m so jealous!” or, “You look so good! What diet are you on?” At home it may sound like this: “Mary eats her vegetables, why can’t you?” Or consider a sibling complaining to mom that Johnny ate all the ice cream again, and he is not supposed to have it!

How is this harmful? When we talk about people’s eating as if it is a character judgment (he is good; she is bad) it has the potential to really mess up a child’s relationship to food. It becomes a judgment on character, not a naturally healthy behavior (enjoying eating). It can absolutely ruin a child’s natural ability to self-regulate (listen to his body signals) and creates great confusion about what to eat, whether to eat or how much to eat. So saying “he is such a good eater compared to you, she is a junk food eater, he always eats too much”, or any other judgmental comment is not helpful.   It makes children feel bad. It even makes adults feel bad, not a way to develop a healthy and normal relationship to food.

Mistake #2: Expecting your child to behave any differently than you do.

The truth is, parents who expect their child to behave differently than they do is more common than you could imagine. We see it every day while working with parents who truly do care about their child’s weight and health. It may seem like a no-brainer to some of us who understand that children tend to do what we do; however it clearly is an issue that many parents are not even aware of.

Here is a very common scenario: Mom sits down in the counseling room with 10 year old Joey who is overweight. She wants me to tell him that he needs to start eating vegetables. He also needs to stop drinking soda because the doctor said he had elevated insulin levels and should not have sweetened beverages. After going through the diet history, the reality is that mom hates vegetables also and does not eat them. She may cook them for the family on occasion, but neither she nor Joey eats them. In addition, it appears that she has a Coca cola habit. She starts drinking it in the morning because it gets her going, similar to those of us who love our morning coffee. But she does not have any weight issues or anything wrong with her insulin, so she feels she can drink her soda. He (10 year old Joey) should have the will power to skip the soda and he needs his vegetables (not sure why mom doesn’t feel she needs them, but it seems because she is an adult, she has earned the right to eat whatever she wants).

How is this harmful? The old saying holds true: The apple does not fall far from the tree. Your child will do what you do, not what you say to do. Your child just will not believe you. Why should they? Your actions speak louder than your words. So many clichés, I know, however in this case, all true. If you really want your child to eat vegetables, you need to not only prepare them, you need to eat them. If you don’t want your child to drink soda, you may need to stop drinking it too. (Note: nothing wrong with enjoying a soda but if you were told your child has hyperinsulinemia or pre-diabetes, a healthy move would be to decrease it).

Mistake #3: Expecting your child to be exactly like you (or like their sibling).

What does this look like? It may involve body size, eating or exercise. Imagine a tall thin dad and a tall thin mom. Then Betsy is born. She tracks at the 95th percentile for weight and at the 50th percentile for height for most of her young years. She does not appear tall and skinny like her parents. Then her brother Brian is born. He falls at the 10th percentile for weight and the 75th percentile for height most of his young life. He looks skinny, just like mom and dad. All of Betsy’s young life the difference between them is pointed out. In fact, her parents have tried to work with her to lose weight as she appears chubby next to her brother and they feel they can fix this.

Not only is Betsy different in body size and shape than her younger brother, he absolutely loves sports and competition, “just like his dad”. Betsy, on the other hand, prefers art and reading. Her parents however force her to join the basketball team and she dreads every minute (although she does enjoy after the games when she gets to run around and just play with her friends on the court for fun!) She just hates the pressure of competition. Brian, on the other hand, thrives on competing. He is not only plays basketball but also plays hockey, soccer and lacrosse.

How does this harm? Expecting a child to change their genetic body type and tendency is impossible. It instead typically makes a child feel “less than” and contributes to low self-esteem.  As mentioned earlier, it also tends to backfire, and causes a child to become more, not less obsessed with food and eating (remember, restriction leads to “food insecurity” and food obsession). So, we tend to see the “chubby” child slowing become even more overweight, and eventually going off of their growth chart due to sneak eating, etc.

Expecting a child to be active like you or a sibling sets up all kinds of problems. Forcing a child to do something they do not feel comfortable doing may alienate them from all activities and being active in any way. Even worse, they may grow to really dislike that sibling who you seem to accept just because he is like you.

Mistake #4: Expecting your child to resist any food or beverage that is in the home.

Do you just love your potato chips? Do you need your chocolate fix? Gotta have that caffeinated soda to keep you going? Many parents are of the mind-set that their children need to respect them by not eating “mom’s chips” or drinking “dad’s soda”. Or, they feel a child should be motivated to resist the goodies that are there for the other thin people in the home. I am so baffled by people who expect a child or even a teenager to have “willpower” when even adults do not have the ability to resist foods they love.

How I explain it is usually like this: Imagine your very favorite food. For me, it may be white chocolate mousse, which is very hard to find. For someone else it might be Godiva chocolate or even something luxurious such as lobster. Now imagine that someone brings it home, and puts it in the fridge. Everyone can have some except for you. How would you feel? What would you do? I can tell you what I would do, and that is wait until nobody was around, then take some! Starting to see a theme? Not only does restricting food make you want it more, having it around and expecting a child to have willpower is not going to happen.

Mistake#5: Expecting your child to be able to discipline himself regarding any limits on video games or TV (Buying “live” interactive video games in the first place; allowing a TV in your child’s room).

I feel bad for the children and teens today because it is not their fault they were born into this era of technology. Ask yourself these questions: Does your child have a TV in his or her bedroom? Do they have an IPod? An IPad? Or how about a notebook or laptop? Smart phone? Are you even aware of how many hours your child or teen is on these devices? Do you allow them to have them in their bedrooms at bedtime? Does your child tell you the TV helps him fall asleep? Do you trust your child to turn off the device and go to sleep on his or her own? Big mistake!!

Why is this a problem? Children who do too much screen time get affected in so many ways, but one of the major issues in how screen time, TVs in the bedroom and video games interfere with sleep.  Because poor sleep has been identified as one of the major contributors to childhood obesity, I sometimes say “fix the sleep problem first” as the other issues are almost impossible to address without adequate sleep. And if you think your child is turning off the TV or Game Boy or laptop to go to sleep, you are kidding yourself. These devices are sometimes addicting and simply, just way too much fun. Don’t expect your child to control themselves.

Mistake #6: Expecting your child to exercise on his or her own (especially if the mode of exercise is your idea and not your child’s).

Often we see parents who are extremely physically fit, into a sport, or maybe dad works out at the gym and does marathons. Or mom goes for a walk or jog after work every day while their child or teenager prefers to sit on the couch and read. Or watch TV. The word “lazy” comes up frequently.

Consider this scenario. Everyone in the family is sedentary. A family of couch potatoes, some thin, some not so thin. When “Jose” is identified as “obese” at his doctor’s visit, he is now expected to exercise (that is what the doctor recommended) while the rest of the family continues in their couch potato mode of living.

Or how about this situation: mom is an avid tennis player who belongs to a league. She meets her friends at the club almost daily after work. “Steven” comes home to an empty house almost every day during the week, because mom is at tennis. He is supposed to be exercising. When mom gets home at 6:30 pm to cook dinner, she is appalled that again he did not use the treadmill. Again, this is a case where the teen has been identified as obese and mom is taking this seriously (or so she says). So seriously that she invested in a treadmill for him. It was not cheap and she is pretty disgusted that he can’t discipline himself to use it.

What is wrong with this picture? You can’t expect a child to do something he does not enjoy, and you certainly can’t expect him to do it without your support. It is unfair to require one child to exercise while another is allowed to sit on the couch just because of differences in body size. It is understandable that a parent would not want to give up their fun or exercise (such as the example of the mom tennis player) however if we want our children to develop healthy habits, we may need to sacrifice, or at least compromise. Again, role modeling is good, as children eventually do what you do (not what you say), however they don’t drive cars, can’t take themselves to the gym and so they need your support.

Mistake#7: Ignoring or denying your own eating and body image issues (or failure to recognize that you have a problem).

This may be one of the most important mistakes parents make. Answer these questions honestly:

  1. Do you weigh yourself every day? If not, do you talk about your weight or your body? ”I need to lose this stomach! I’m not putting on that bathing suit until I lose ten pounds!”
  2. Do you count calories? Measure portion sizes? Talk about “bad” foods or being “bad” because you ate something unhealthy?
  3. Do you have a history of an eating disorder? Have you ever received treatment?
  4. Are you a slave to your exercise routine? This means you just have to do it almost every single day or you feel bad. Or, you go to extremes (run for 2 hours on a treadmill, or outside, but do not enjoy it at all)
  5. Do you use food for comfort? Were you rewarded with food when you were a child?
  6. Did your parents restrict your food intake as a child, or were you put on a diet?
  7. Were you forced to eat everything on your plate as a child and feel that all children should clean their plates?
  8. Do you ever binge? This involves eating a very large quantity of food (such as a box of cookies or half gallon of ice cream) and feeling very out of control.
  9. Do you feel like you had a binge (felt out of control) even if the amount of food you ate would not be considered too much by most people, but felt like too much to you? Such as eating a grinder or finishing an ice cream cone. This is sometimes referred to as a “subjective binge”. It may not be a lot of food, but how you feel about it is similar to those who have an “objective binge” which means pretty much everyone would say it was a large amount (such as an entire package of something).

This is not a test, where if you answer “yes” to 2 out of 9 you may have issues. These questions are only meant to help you reflect on your own history with food, body image and eating so that you may start to understand how you may be affecting your child. Certainly, if you had an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa when you were young, and never received treatment, or even if you did, it is important to be aware of your relationship with food now that you are a parent. If some of these statements resonate with you, chances are you may have some work to do, or at least should really pay attention to what you say or do in front of your child.

Mistake#8: Weighing your child, talking about weight loss, a good weight goal, YOUR weight or the weight on the scale in general.

It amazes me how socially acceptable weight obsession seems to be. It also strikes me that so many people, parents, teens, health professionals and even children seem to be so intensely interested in that number. Ask yourself, what answer does that number give you? Does it tell you if you look good? Does it tell you if you are healthy? Does the number measure how much fat you have? Why is it that a mother would be so focused on the weight of an eight year old, when they have so many more years to grow? Why do so many of the young women I have seen for eating disorders want to weigh 100 pounds? Why do people think their weight is going to possibly stay in one place on that scale? Why do people weigh themselves so often, as if something big could change in one day? Or one hour? I actually have had one mother tell me she weighs herself before and after a shower because she often loses a pound! Wow, that’s a lot of dirt!

Why is it a bad idea to focus so much on a number, on the scale, on weighing yourself or your child so often? Why is it bad to openly ask the doctor “how much did he weigh?” Well, your anxiety and worry over that number teaches your child about what is important. They will begin to worry too. When they see YOU feel bad after you get off the scale, or talk about your weight, they learn it is very important and they need to worry about it too. They may attach a lot of meaning to it, just have you may have learned to do. You may have heard the slogan “Don’t weigh your self-esteem, it’s what’s inside that counts”……well, focusing on that number on the scale is bound to make you feel bad, not too good for a child’s self-esteem. Not too good for a parent’s self-esteem either.

I know what you may be thinking. I hear it all the time! “Then how am I supposed to make sure he is not gaining too much weight?” Ask yourself, has this helped? Does it motivate your child to want to eat healthier? The opposite tends to be true. Just like adult “weight watchers”, children tend to become more, not less focused on food. The scale (and that darned number) tends to go up, not down. Yes, it is ok, and definitely a good idea to be aware of your child’s growth pattern. You do want to ask the doctor to see the growth chart. But be sure to do this privately if possible. You can check to see if your child is trending off of the curve or not. Then, it is time to focus on health and what YOU can do as a parent to be sure your child stays on track. Your child does not need to know the number. The “talk” should NOT be about weight! Talk about healthy eating, talk about being active for a healthy heart, but please, do not talk about weight. If you absolutely cannot get rid of your scale, consider at least not leaving it in a family bathroom. Please do not weigh yourself when your children are present. And absolutely do not complain about or even talk about your weight. Do you really want your children to have the number attached to the force of gravity on their body be a priority in their life?

Mistake#9: Allowing verbal abuse or name calling (fatso, chubby, etc) by ANYONE in your home or in your presence (or even excessive “body talk”-she is so skinny! Wow, he gained a lot of weight!).

Bullying is front page news these days. We all have heard the horror stories of people who have been bullied, and the sometimes extreme consequences. Bullying is taken so seriously in some states that it is even against the law in schools, and violation of the anti-bullying laws may result in a permanent bad mark on a school record or transcript.

Why is it that teasing about weight, especially in homes often goes unnoticed? Why is calling your sister “fatso” ok in some households? I have heard parents say, “oh we tease her all the time. She doesn’t care, she knows we are just kidding!” Seriously?

It is not that family members or friends are intentionally trying to hurt someone they love. It seems to me that it has just become socially acceptable to tease in this way. I also believe, as I stated in Mistake#9 that it is harmful to regularly engage in “body talk”. Body talk involves making comments about someone’s body, either your child’s, your own, your neighbor’s, your spouse’s, or even a movie star or someone you don’t even know. How is this harmful? When we talk so much about bodies, it just reinforces that body size is what is important. Or body shape. It suggests to a child that HIS or HER body size matters to you.

Avoiding talk of bodies is not an easy task. Think about someone you know who has lost a lot of weight. Of course you want to say “you look great!”  What could be so bad about this? You are trying to pay a compliment to someone who clearly has been dieting and exercising and working really hard to change their body. But how do you know what they did to lose the weight? What if it was not a healthy way to lose weight at all? What if they are suffering from disordered eating and feeling imprisoned by their disease? Hearing comments like “you look so good!” just serve to reinforce the bad behavior and eating disorder (a disease that people die from). So what should you do in this case? Well, if you don’t know the person well, why even comment? Why risk the chance that this person may not be healthy at all, not in a good place, and you just did your part in keeping them unhealthy. Compliment her hairdo, or dress, or shoes if you feel the need. “That color looks so beautiful on you!” feels good to say, yet does no harm.

What if, on the other hand, the person who lost weight is a good friend and you know they have been working on getting healthy for a long time. Instead of focusing so much on talking about weight and body size, why not compliment how hard they worked, or ask how they feel? Have they started doing yoga? Zumba? Walking? Are they sleeping better? Feeling energetic? Why not enjoy talking about all those good things? Yes, it does feel good to be able to fit into clothes you may not have before (especially if they are clothes you used to wear, and can now wear again because you got back to your original healthy lifestyle). But our culture unfortunately places way too much emphasis on bodies and if we want our kids to be healthy and fit, talking about body size is not the answer.

Finally, another reason to avoid complimenting weight loss is that often, those who do succeed in losing weight also succeed in gaining it back. How do you think they will feel next year when you see them again and they found the weight they lost? I see this happen over and over, and I am sure you do too.

As for name calling in your home, I always recommend forbidding it. What do you do if your child swears? Just laugh it off?  Typically there are consequences for inappropriate behavior (good parenting). Name calling is like swearing, but worse in my mind, as it hurts someone. Hold the mirror up: what have you allowed to occur in YOUR home?

  Mistake # 10:  Catering to a “picky eater”.

This big mistake may surprise you. How could being picky with what you will eat affect your child’s weight? If anything, most people think picky eating actually may make it harder for a child to gain appropriately. This may be true when a child is very young, however as time goes by and if the issue is never addressed, it often promotes too much weight gain.

Here is what we tend to see happen with many picky eaters. It starts out when a child starts to refuse foods (at a young age, such as 2). They typical scenario is that mom and dad get a bit worried when Johnny won’t eat anything on his plate. How is he supposed to grow? So they make him his macaroni and cheese because they know he loves that and will eat it.  He also likes McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries, so dad often picks that up on his way home from work, since he knows Johnny will never touch the chicken, carrots and potatoes mom has prepared.

Fast forward 10 years. What do you think happens to Johnny by the time he has turned 12? Without any vegetables whatsoever, very few fruits, and even limited protein foods (well, except chicken nuggets and maybe some bologna and salami), his diet is not too good. He does not consume enough fiber, is constipated, and because his diet is predominantly starch and fat, he has gained an excessive amount of weight, and now falls far above his normal growth curve for weight. Some lab values may be slightly elevated now (related to abnormal weight gain and poor diet). Are you starting to get the picture?

What then is a parent supposed to do?  There are some excellent resources by experts on this topic such as Ellyn Satter website as well as Give Peas a Chance, a wonderful book written by dietitian and feeding expert Kate Samela, MS, RD, CSP. These will give you some great strategies to deal with this very common problem.  In the meantime, tell your doctor about your child’s picky eating as soon as you notice it. Your pediatrician may be able to refer you for some specialized help (such as feeding therapy).

So there you have it, just a few things to reflect on to hopefully help you help your child have the healthiest body they can have while maintaining a great relationship with food, eating and YOU! More to come on actual strategies and ideas to help, but in the meantime, keep loving your child for the wonderful person they are growing up to be. And that has nothing to do with the number on that dumb scale.

 

 

 

 

Summertime Smorgasbords: How Do YOU Deal With Too Much Food?

Image may contain: foodChili Dip with Nacho chips, chicken cream cheese roll ups, guacamole layered dip with olives, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, pulled pork, bean salad, corn salad, pasta salad, fruit salad, tortellini salad, cannoli dip with cinnamon chips, homemade macaroons dipped in chocolate, brownies, sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, rice krispy treats, cheese cake, Death by chocolate, peanut butter bars, every kind of chip imaginable…..oh, and wine, beer, sangria and water. What do you put on YOUR plate????

That was only part of the food that arrived at our pot luck picnic this weekend to kick off the summer season. Needless to say, the chatter regarding food and eating was unavoidable.  My own daughter was comically stressing about what to choose when the desserts were out. “I’m so full!!! But that looks so good!!” Since she is not a baker and is also very frugal, yummy desserts like these don’t often come her way. I think she felt like she should take advantage of the situation and eat a bit of everything. Yet, she was already full. I simply suggested taking a plate of everything home…..that way, tomorrow, when she was hungry again and eventually in the mood for something sweet, she would be very happy. She thought I was brilliant : ) Such a simple suggestion, yet I am guessing a lot of people might not do this, thinking it was maybe rude to ask to take something home? Yet, I do it all the time for the simple reason being that I am not a fan of tummy aches. Sometimes, you just have to be assertive to take care of yourself….

My daughter’s reaction to my simple suggestion of taking some dessert home made me realize that these summer celebrations, while mostly fun and something we all look forward to, can be stressful to many. That day the dieting/food chatter was impossible to avoid. Some comments my daughter and I overheard:

  • “I didn’t eat today so I can have this”
  • “I am going to do an extra workout at the gym tomorrow morning to burn this up”
  • “I have been good all week”
  • “This week already has been bad, I might as well enjoy it today because after Memorial Day I am starting my diet….again”
  • “I can’t make up my mind what I want to eat, there is too much!”
  • “Get this dip away from me!”

And I am guessing that some people were having their own private thoughts about food and eating they may not have spoken out loud. When I worked exclusively counseling individuals with eating disorders it made me much more aware of how food-filled celebrations like these were absolutely scary. Typical thoughts from my patients were: Will someone be pushing food on me? Will anyone make a comment about what I am eating (or not eating)? Will I gain 5 pounds if I eat something fattening? Yes, everyone is different when it comes to how they handle exposure to such an overwhelming amount of food choices, and it can be emotionally (and physically) draining depending on your relationship with food.

In general, in my career as well as in my daily life I have encountered a few different “types” of individuals when it comes to eating and health, and their reactions to something like my Memorial Day picnic would all be different. For example:

  1. The so-called “normal” eater: this person encompasses a wide variety of people. Picture the active young adult male (or female) who doesn’t know much about cooking, likes to eat and totally appreciates free food. This guy may not care much about how he looks as far as body size, but has the innate ability to listen to his body signals (or, really doesn’t think twice about overeating or feeling way too full). He tends to take exactly what he likes, enjoys his plate of food and may throw out what he can’t finish. He then runs off to play lawn games with friends. Or, picture the middle age or older person who no longer is as fit as they used to be, but never dieted and doesn’t know what a calorie is. They may talk more about their digestive habits than food and body size. They tend to grab food they enjoy but avoid the things they know give them digestive problems (as we age, for example, some of us can’t digest milk as well as we could before). Or maybe fried foods does not sit as well as before, so passing over the bacon chili dogs with cheese is not because of calories but because of the desire to avoid the uncomfortable repercussions.
  2. The “restrained eater”: this person does not have a clinical eating disorder (meaning they may not meet all of the criteria for a diagnosis) however they probably spend a lot of time thinking about food restriction, calories, etc. They are very weight-conscious and weigh themselves often to be sure they are not gaining weight, or because they are trying to lose weight. The way a restrained eater behaves at a picnic depends on which mind set they are in at the moment. If they are determined to be restrictive, they may choose only “safe” lower calorie foods (such as the grilled chicken and salad). They might be experiencing some inner turmoil because the food choices available are especially appealing to someone who tends to restrict them on a daily basis. They may actually break down and have something, but the guilt they feel after eating triggers a repetitive and negative, blaming message inside their heads. Or, they may overeat once they have “blown it”, knowing that days of restriction will follow. Yes, restricting intake and dieting is associated with binge eating. It may not make sense to a naturally intuitive eater why on earth someone would eat so much as to feel ill (sometimes referred to as a “food hangover”). The person who has never dieted won’t get it, but those who have put themselves in “diet jail” understand that you gotta eat while you can, because inevitably, the dieting days will start again. The bottom line for restrained eaters is picnics can be challenging.
  3. The eating disordered person: without going into detail, someone with an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder) faces challenges beyond most people’s comprehension. They may have some great strategies to cope with these overwhelming situations if they have received treatment and this can help get them through it all. Sometimes, the hardest part for them is the scrutiny of others. That is why I make it a point to never comment on what someone else is eating (or not eating). It is none of my business. So please, do me a favor and keep your eyes on your own plate. Intentions may be good (they usually are from caring family and friends) but I promise you, unless your loved one personally asked you to be the food police, don’t do it.
  4. The “healthy eater”: this person may not be extremely restrained, but they prefer healthier types of foods. They may know little about calories and may not care about their weight at all. But they like good, wholesome and also delicious food. I know a lot of people like this (some may be referred to as “foodies”). They love to cook and discover interesting ways to make kale or beets. When you go to a party and there is that one unusual salad that you just can’t get enough of (and yet it’s main ingredient is vegetables), this is the person who likely brought it. Just this week I had a salad made of shredded broccoli, dried cranberries, walnuts (I think) and poppy seed dressing that was to die for. I also had a fresh corn salad with blueberries and cucumbers (go figure) that was also an unusually delicious combo. Besides enjoying cooking healthy type foods, these are the people who don’t eat much processed foods, not because they are worried about gaining weight but because they would rather make it themselves and know what is in it. I admit to being somewhat of a dessert snob in my old age (I can now taste the chemicals in a Twinkie). It needs to be homemade to taste good to me. Anyway, at a picnic these types of people may tend to be a bit selective but it is not the same as the “orthorexics” who will only eat super-healthy foods to the point of eliminating many fats, carbohydrate foods, etc. and who stress about eating perfectly. Normal, healthy eaters who prefer healthy food don’t waste a lot of time making their decisions about what they want to eat……they just may pick the more wholesome and homemade options (they really don’t miss the hot dog because they don’t enjoy them). But they won’t be passing up that homemade guacamole.
  5. The weight-conscious “healthy eaters”: these are people who have what is often referred to as “normative discontent”. They may be weight-conscious and try not to overeat, but they are going to enjoy themselves. As I may have written in another blog, in our culture it is difficult to not notice or care about body changes or weight gain as we age. Working on eating healthier and exercising but in a way that does not make you stressed out and does not affect your life in any big way is a different story than the restrained eater who feels guilt after eating. Still, focusing on weight in any extreme way (where it leads to meal skipping or restriction after a picnic or party day) may be a red flag. While it is reasonable to want to have a stable body weight as you get older, if too much energy has to be spent thinking about eating and food choices, or if guilt with eating enters the picture that is a different story.

The message I wanted to send today is that the summer fun has only begun, and my hope is that you will find a way to truly enjoy it at the same time as you honor your health, both physical and mental. That means accepting the person who YOU are and reflecting on your relationship with food. Do you find yourself feeling excessive guilt after eating at picnics? Do you starve or restrict before a party, then overeat and feel awful? Or, do you embrace and enjoy the great variety of foods you don’t ever get to have (because, honestly, who has the time to scrape corn off a cob for a blueberry corn cucumber salad?) If you find you really don’t enjoy these fun summertime food-centered events, try to figure out why….are you trying to be too healthy? are you afraid of gaining weight? Do a reality check. One meal or one day honestly has little affect on health or body weight. If you work on intuitive eating and listening to your fullness, you truly can eventually figure out a way to enjoy the entire event, food and all.

And, remember, you can always take home a doggie bag : )

 

The “Eat Whatever You Want” Diet

20160326_132628I just stumbled upon a really fun and mindless activity in the process of doing some research for today’s blog. I wasted a bit too much time because I was kind of blown away. A few weeks ago I was slightly enraged after a Dr. Oz show promoting the miraculous grapefruit diet, implying some magical activity of “nootkatone” the substance in grapefruit that supposedly leads to increased metabolism (long story short, I could find no meaningful research other than it also repels tics). The reality is the eating plan promoted was an extremely low calorie diet (on the verge of starvation if you ask me) which clearly would cause weight to be lost (from muscle breakdown, water loss mostly and probably not the grapefruit). Oh, and nootkatone is found primarily in the skin. Yum.

Anyway, I decided to google food words followed by the word “diet” just to see what came up. I decided to go with some of my favorite foods. I googled “ice cream”. Yup, there is an ice cream diet. Then chocolate. Yes again, The Chocolate Diet. Cookies. Bananas. Pizza. And finally, The Pasta Lover’s Diet. I concluded it would never end. Try it, it’s kind of funny.

What isn’t funny is the extreme feelings of guilt and shame many dieters get when they eat something that is not on their diet. Typically, people watching their weight avoid certain foods like the plague, but then break down and eat them due to many reasons (cravings related to inadequate intake which triggers your brain to have the craving is the usual reason). Often, a distorted assessment of the “damage” done by eating that piece of cake or slice of pizza or side of fries occurs. People tend to assume (imagine) that weight will be gained from eating that specific “bad” food. “If I ate pasta I would gain so much weight!” I hear people say. Or, “how can she eat that and not gain weight?”

Yes, lots of foods have a bad rap and assumptions that they can make you gain weight as if they have some super-power to magically add weight. And yet, many of those same foods have their own weight loss diets named after them. Don’t you find that interesting? Or a bit crazy? Even infuriating if you ask me.

I am here to keep repeating the truth. As a woman who has been around the block a few times (as they say) at least when it comes to working within the weight loss world and eating disordered worlds, as well as just observing those who diet, and those who successfully evolve into a happy eating lifestyle, I have something to say. I wish I had a magic wand that make it stop but I don’t, so let me explain:

  • There is no one magical food or drink that makes you lose weight. I remember a mom from years ago whose child attended the Headstart preschool where I worked. She was trying to lose weight, so she bought some “Slimfast” shakes. She did not understand why she was not losing weight because she was drinking one after every meal she ate. She thought she just needed to have one of these magical shakes after everything she ate (mostly fast food) and it would make her “slim-fast”. Don’t be fooled into buying anything that sounds magical.
  • Most diets, any diet based on any food (even the grapefruit claim) causes weight loss because of the calorie deficit that results with restriction. They all come with a “diet plan”. Losing more than a pound or 2 a week almost always translates into muscle loss (and resulting lowering of metabolism). In the long run, when people fall back to old eating and lifestyles, weight returns. Don’t waste your time or money.
  • You actually CAN eat your favorite foods every single day of your life. If you can work on the principles of intuitive eating, and understanding your own feelings of hunger and fullness you will figure out how much and when you want to eat what. This is not easy for everyone. Some people have true fears of foods and need help getting over it. Others have the brain chemistry as well as genetic make-up that makes it difficult to feel fullness. If this is you, getting help from a registered dietitian and a therapist to help with strategies to work on coping mechanisms and an eating plan that works for you is often called for.
  • Nutrition matters. You don’t have to be a health-nut but it is helpful to understand the effect of different meals and nutrients on your body, hunger, appetite, fullness, digestive system, etc. For example, I may prefer sweet foods in the morning (maybe your favorite thing for breakfast is a donut and coffee) but the physiological response to this will be crashing a few hours later because there is no protein in donuts and they won’t sustain your blood sugar. So should you add an egg or two on the side? Eeeeww if you ask me….eggs don’t go with donuts, and personally, I can’t eat an egg at 7 am. You can however, have that donut but chances are, when you crash, you will want something with protein (your brain and body tends to work that way). So bringing a Greek yogurt or peanut butter and crackers, or leftover chicken wings, whatever floats your boat in the protein world should do the trick mid morning. Get it? Nutrition matters because the more you know about it, the better you can blend your food preferences with feeling good and getting through your day with both health and  happiness.
  • Please don’t feel bad if you like to buy some diet products that might work for you. People ask me to check out bars, shakes, etc. all the time. One bar someone shared recently was from some type of diet plan which also sold its products. This particular bar was supposedly a “meal replacement” and per the nutrition label it actually was pretty good. The problem was it cost about 5 dollars. That is a lot, but then again, that’s the diet industry. This person loved the convenience and could afford it. Like I said, whatever works for you as far as foods or products. I just hate wasting money and I hate supporting the diet industry.
  • Regarding those people who “gradually evolve” into a healthier lifestyle and tend to maintain their genetically determined natural body weight? I have noticed they focus on healthy eating but without dieting. They tend to structure meals and snacks (such as having 3 meals a day with a snack in between) so they don’t get overly starving and tend to maintain energy levels (which feels good compared to dieting, skipping meals, etc). Although they do tend to do some planning to have the foods available they like, they also go with the flow when there is a celebration or pizza party, or happy hour and enjoy what everyone else is eating. They do come prepared and bring lunches they like to work that also tend to be healthy (maybe leftovers from the night before). They also tend to exercise, walk, jog, work out on a regular basis because they are not on a “diet”, just working on all aspects of health. And that feels good, too.

Where do you go from here? If you want to move away from that dieting mind set and get to the point where you feel you are moving in a healthy direction, yet also getting to eat your favorite foods, I always suggest checking out Intuitive Eating for a great introduction into the world of normal eating and for guidance on how to get there. And remember, you know yourself best. If this journey is too overwhelming for you, seek support from a therapist who specializes in eating issues (you can ask your doctor for a referral near you).

In the meantime, go google your favorite food with the word “diet” after it. I hope it makes you laugh and see the insanity. No food is magical after all.

PS I just googled “wine diet”…..yup, it’s there.

 

Eat Like a European (or “How to Put the Joy Back” in Your Meals)

Image may contain: food and indoorI stood at the kitchen counter watching the past few minutes of the news as I gobbled down some leftover cold chicken wings I made on the weekend. When this happens to me (being in such a rush that I end up standing as I shove food in my mouth) I chuckle to myself. I am not “practicing what I preach” for sure! That morning I failed to look at the clock as Tuesdays are my later days and I enjoy taking my time. Unfortunately, my needing to rush resulted in a quick meal that was not as enjoyable as the first time I had it (Saturday night with candles lit in a peaceful and relaxing setting).

After my visit to Italy a few years ago I felt like a changed woman with regard to eating and meal preparation. I had an even greater appreciation for how much joy cooking and family meals, or meals with friends brings to one’s life. And yet, here I am a few years later, forgetting all I learned and falling into what I sometimes refer to as “the modern American family” way of eating. I use that phrase often when working with families because I don’t want them to feel judged by me or bad about the fact they rarely have family meals. When I ask a parent to describe what meals look like, this is what I often hear:

“Well, I get home kind of late so the sitter gives a snack to the kids after school”….(think gold fish crackers, shriveled up fruit leather, yogurt in a tube thingee, mini muffins)……….”and I usually pick up something. It could be Chinese or pizza or sometimes burgers and fries. Johnny takes his food to his room because he likes to relax with his video games and Suzy sits on the couch in the living room to watch her shows, and I watch the news in the kitchen.”

Yes, the modern American family has changed since I was little. Of course we didn’t have all the fun electronics, and mom got to stay home and was able to cook a simple meal every night for us. We were not well off and meals were simple (yes, the old meat, potato, vegetable for dinner, or sometimes pasta fagioli). And it was unheard of that all four children would not sit at the table as a family. Now, things are different. Every situation is different of course, but what I see is that things cost so much, usually both parents have to work (or maybe it is a single parent, and this is even harder). Children get involved with sports, homework is getting harder and harder (according to my friends who have young children) and performance matters. Responsibilities at work often spill over to home (now that we have computers and internet, it sometimes feels like we have no excuse to tune out our working world). Before, when we punched out, work was over. Not anymore. And so, we make our priorities, and cooking a five course dinner, spending an hour eating leisurely while we chat is almost a joke to even think about.

And yet, we have an epidemic of people worrying about their weight, their children’s weight, their health, etc. People are not just having an occasional, fleeting thought about weight. They are sometimes spending lots and lots of time and money on products, books, plans, supplements, shakes and mental energy on this stuff. We have a nation of weight watchers and dieters who feel guilty eating sometimes. Lots of energy is spent on trying NOT to eat, not on enjoying food. In fact, food is often treated as “the enemy”. How many times have you heard someone say “get that away from me!” or “don’t leave that here, take it home!” or better yet, “Why did I eat that? I feel so bad”. I promise you, I never heard words like this in Italy (but then again, I don’t speak or understand Italian….). Anyway, food and meals were treated differently. Is there a connection between the way we Americans treat food and our obsession with weight? I think so.

There is not only an emotional/psychological connection, there is a physiological one. We know that eating fast does not give our body enough time to detect fullness. Therefore, running around nibbling or grabbing food and gobbling it down leads to a disconnect from our mind and body. People tell me “I am never hungry” or “I never feel full”. We also know that in order for our brains to release the messenger to make us feel “satisfied” and want to stop eating, we actually do need to look at our food and be aware of the taste, and appreciate the flavor. Researchers have found that one of the roles leptin may play is to gradually increase dopamine (a feel-good chemical). When we are in need of energy and our body detects it, leptin drives us to eat but it also helps us feel satisfied because of the “pleasure” of food. When ample dopamine is available, there’s less need to generate more (in other words, no need to overeat). Important Note: all brains are not the same. Some people truly can’t control eating some foods and it is not their fault. To those of you who struggle with this I always support whatever strategy or coping skill you know works for you. But for those of you who are simply struggling with random mindless eating, working on slowing down and being more cognitive of your enjoyment of food is important if you are one of those people who are always dieting and concerned with weight.

Here is an example: have you ever had a desire for a specific food (say, pizza) but did not feel it was a healthy choice, or maybe you are dieting and it definitely is not on your diet plan……so you do everything in your power to resist giving in. You decide you will make a salad with grilled chicken instead, but after eating it you just don’t feel satisfied (plus, you really weren’t in the mood for chicken and there was absolutely no enjoyment). So you decided to grab a few crackers. That didn’t help. How about some fruit, that’s healthy. Still no satisfaction. Add on rice cakes, yogurt, more fruit. Now, your tummy is feeling a bit full and confused. You finally break down and order some pizza. After a few slices you are definitely too full, and not feeling too good. Instead, wouldn’t it be a better idea if you had originally just ordered pizza? If you sat down and enjoyed a few slices with no distraction, you would definitely have felt better. Yet, people (especially dieters) get it stuck in their heads that they can only eat certain foods and they will surely gain weight if they eat something not considered diet-friendly (in other words, fattening, like pizza, right?) But is pizza really “fattening” if you only eat enough to satisfy your hunger, feel normal fullness (no tummy ache) and get rid of that craving? If you avoid eating all of those “permitted” foods that don’t get rid of your craving anyway? Can you just give yourself permission to choose a food just because you really enjoy it?

If you can start to pay attention to your true preferences, that is a first step. The next step is taking just a few minutes for a reality check. Your schedule is different than mine, and mine is different than my neighbor’s, co-worker’s and my sister’s. I am the only one who knows what I have to do this week. YOU are the only one who knows what YOUR week looks like. What do you HAVE to do and where do you HAVE to be?  I don’t have teenagers to cart around anymore so I don’t have to pick up my son at football practice at 6 pm or drive my daughter to her friend’s house to do a project. Instead, I may have flower beds to weed, and windows to wash, or parties to plan. I like watching The Blacklist, or Designated Survivor but thanks to modern technology, a favorite TV show is not a HAVE TO anymore. But I do know that on Sundays I have to get to that grocery store so I can cook in the late afternoon, usually making something extra (such as grilling or roasting extra chicken that was on sale) so that I can pop into freezer bags to use later in the week when I come how and there is “no food” in the house. I have found you can make a variety of fast meals with grilled chicken (chicken quesadilla, chicken Caesar, chicken and pasta, chicken salad, chicken and rice, etc). The point being, I have learned the only time I can carve out is usually on Sunday afternoon. I arrange visiting my mom, socializing with friends, writing, work stuff, etc. at other times. But I have made it a priority to be sure I have healthy but yummy food available during the week so that I don’t have to spend money ordering out and so my husband and I can easily have time to connect during the week (even for that short dinner time, it still is quality time). When you have kids who are doing things and going places, this is not as easy, but even more important to look ahead and plan. If you are the type of person who kind of “flies by the seat of your pants” then this may not be easy. It means stopping for a minute, finding a calendar and writing things down. Who has what and when? Is there a flexible day or consistent time where you can carve out a time to cook? Freezer bags help. Then, even if it is only one day a week to start (that is how busy families are these days) at least you can plan that one sit-down dinner with your partner or family, or even if it is just yourself. Make it special by lighting a candle. Turn off all electronics. If you are not someone who is ever going to cook, then whatever it is (can of raviolis, frozen dinner or take-out) just practice slowing down. Take it out of the wrapper or whatever, put it on a plate, take the time to look at your meal and then slowly enjoy it in a mindful way. As you practice this slowing down and derive some pleasure with eating a meal, you will find yourself not only enjoying the process but feeling more connected to your body and your fullness. For those of you with families and kids, giving them this experience is a gift they will pass on. It will be a memory they likely will cherish forever. Even if it is only on Sunday.

The bottom line: slow down.

Food is not the enemy. It should be a joyful part of life that adds to your health in more ways than protein, vitamins and minerals. Bon appetit!

The Military Diet: 5 Reasons Why You Should March in a Different Direction

marchingWith spring here and all the fun yard work and garden planning going on in my life right now, I was struggling to come up with a good idea to write about. Starting my zinnias, cosmos, bachelor buttons and nasturtium and scaring away chipmunks has overtaken my life. But then I saw a client whose goal was to lose some weight she had gained (just about 10 pounds over a few years) and I knew I had to do some investigating after she told me what she was doing. I was aware of the Military Diet after reading about it briefly in a review article on the latest fads, but I had never really encountered anyone who had tried it. Apparently, she had started this diet about 6 months ago and “it worked”….but….she has since gained the weight back and was starting it again. After making it clear that I was not going to help her “lose weight” but would help her try to figure out how to ease into a happier and healthier way to eat, she shared what she was doing. Apparently, she was restricting her calories pretty severely for a few days of the week only. She explained the diet called for following this restricted plan for part of the week and the rest of the week you could “eat whatever you wanted”.

When I pried a bit further into her diet eventually she admitted to an increased obsession with eating. She had started to binge eat on her “off” days and these were not “subjective” binges . A subjective binge is when a person may feel as if they had a binge when in reality, it was a normal amount of food, such as a large piece of cake for dessert, or 3 slices of pizza and dessert. They feel guilty and out of control after eating which is still very disturbing and upsetting for that person. But this young lady assured me it was a real binge (which can be referred to as an “objective” binge). She actually consumed an amount of food that anyone would consider much more than normal eating. On the days she was not following her diet she was consuming boxes of cookies and half gallons of ice cream. And she was not happy about this, yet, it was hard for her to make the connection to the trigger for this behavior, the diet itself. I explained in detail how our body responds to being deprived of carbohydrates and fat and how our brain then reacts to drive us to make up for the lack. Thank goodness it all made sense to her, and she did realize her entire life this binge behavior never occurred…..until she started the Military Diet.

We came up with some ideas she agreed to regarding what she needed to add to her meals to prevent these extreme cravings, and also how to fit in the foods she loved in amounts that she would feel ok with her, both physically and emotionally. But, I realized I needed more facts about this new craze of starving your body part of the week.

I found  a recent scientific review that helped explain this approach and its repercussions, January 2017 Review Article on Intermittent Fasting. This type of dieting is referred to as Intermittent Energy Restriction (IER) as opposed to a typical diet referred to as Continuous Energy Restriction (CER). Much of the research on this type if energy restriction is done with mice, and there are very limited studies of the effect on humans. The bottom line from the review is that as far as weight loss, there is no difference between IER approaches and CER diets. The same failure over time happens. The review makes it pretty clear that we need many more studies that are longer term with larger sample sizes to be able to determine the negative physical, metabolic, and psychological effects of these types of diets on humans.

So, the Military Diet is no miracle diet (no diet is). And you should march in a different direction because:

  1. We don’t know the effects of intermittent fasting and starvation on our metabolism (which is what restricting calories this low is considered: starvation). In other words, it is possible that doing intermittent type of restricting may shift your body to burn less calories, lower your metabolism, and it might be permanent. So, if research over time discovers this to be true, a person who used to burn 2000 calories a day may only be able to consume 1500 calories after doing this diet over time. But, weight would stay the same despite eating less. We know that extreme dieting burns muscle mass and lowers metabolism, and weight regain is usually body fat, resulting in a lower overall metabolism. I have seen patients totally mess up their metabolisms for life with repetitive diets. This diet is different and we still just don’t know. The repercussions could be even worse.
  2. Dieting usually increases obsession with food and eating. Although everyone is different, my client who was never a binge eater, became one. According to the review article, this may not happen to everyone however we need more research with larger samples over a longer period of time. I can tell you from experience (decades of working with dieters) that nothing good comes of this type of starvation in the end. Inevitably, weight is regained and even worse, disordered eating behaviors result.
  3.  There is no way to meet nutritional needs or to feel good on this type of diet. Even a few days of starvation wreaks havoc on our body systems. Bone loss, decrease in muscle mass, dehydration, strain on our kidneys from fluid loss and breakdown of muscle mass may affect those at risk. With such a low energy intake, performance at a job or in school certainly suffers as hunger interferes with thinking. Feeling crappy affects your daily life.
  4. This type of dieting promotes a truly unhealthy view of food and eating. To me, meal preparation, cooking, socializing with meals and entertaining is a part of the joy of life. Just yesterday, which happened to be a beautiful warm sunny spring day when we had a chance to do some yard work, our friends stopped in to drop off some kindling wood for our large fire pit. We ended up having our first cook-out of the season. I picked up some bratwurst (which I never had before and by the way, was really good), Swiss cheese burgers and an arugula spinach blue cheese and balsamic salad thrown together, chips on the side and a good red wine served in a glass pitcher, Italy style. I threw a colorful tablecloth on the picnic table and we had a roaring fire as the sun was setting. It was lovely. Imagine not being able to participate in the joy of a simple evening like this because you were on a restricted diet. Or, just as bad, imagine feeling like you better eat as much as you could because this was an “off” day and tomorrow (or the next day) you would not be allowed to have this food. This is just not a normal way of looking at food and it certainly can’t be enjoyable. It is a total tuning out of your natural body signals that are trying to communicate to you: “you need more”, or “you are full”.
  5. Every day that you try to follow a diet such as this translates into one less day of working on the solution to your eating habits. In the end, what we have learned through research is that most people fall back into old habits once they go off of their “diet” or meal plan. That is because eating is a very complex behavior for those who are struggling with weight issues. The reasons we gain weight or lose weight, or are not at our natural body weights are varied. Lifestyle changes, stress, age, genetics all affect our bodies in different ways. Some people eat more, some less with stress. Our metabolisms change with age and lifestyle changes. Our weights fluctuate. But following a diet is a temporary and not permanent solution. Instead, identifying non-hunger eating triggers (such as stress) and working on strategies to deal with stress evolves into a permanent solution. Figuring out how to incorporate healthy and fun movement promotes strength, endurance and joy into life. Learning about nutrition and healthy cooking and eating carries over into a healthier lifestyle. All of these are a movement into long-term health and a stable body weight that you don’t have to stress about on a daily basis.

The bottom line is the Military Diet is just that, another diet. It could work in the short term if the goal is temporary weight loss. Although I am adamantly against diets because of the repercussions I have seen throughout my professional life, I always like to share that I respect the decision of people who say they need the structure of a diet to help them at first. There are some individuals who actually can safely learn to eat healthier by first starting a “diet”. The problem is that you never know if you are at risk for becoming more obsessed with food and eating or more prone to binge eating or disordered eating when you start a diet. So if you are one of those people who feels immune to these disordered eating behaviors, then I suggest you just reflect on your past experiences so you can learn about yourself. Maybe you never dieted before, and you just need to be aware of the dangers. Or maybe you have, and you regained your weight, but you learned some good healthy recipes your family loves and you can keep making. Maybe your “diet” helped you learn a bit about nutrition or label reading. Just remember, anything you go “on” means eventually going “off”……and back to real life. Do you know how to deal with that? real life, real eating, reality.

The funny thing is that my client who told me about this diet said”it lets you have ice cream every day!” as if that made it better. Yes, the diet called for a half cup of ice cream with the low calorie dinner. But if that made it better for some reason, then why, I wondered, did she still feel compelled to eat a half gallon on her “off” day? In time, after much research, we may learn the answers, but in the meantime, I am going to bet we find out the same thing with IER that we know about CER…..it is not the long term answer.