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.

The Beauty Trap:Can You Escape It?

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Beauty is a loving dad

I don’t remember his name but I will call him Jake. I was a sophomore in college and had just transferred to a new school, and Jake was the guy all the girls were smitten with. He had a perfect head of long blond hair (hey, it was the 70’s!) and a nice tan with perfect straight white teeth. His smile melted us. So you can imagine how excited (and nervous) I was when he actually asked ME on a date! I can’t remember the details, just that he picked me up in some clunky car and away we drove to go get a bite at the local ice cream parlor. He smiled politely, but pretty much said nothing. I remember struggling to engage him in a conversation. What I thought was going to be a dreamy evening turned out to be one of the longest nights I ever had. I could not wait to get home. I was bored out of my mind. Nothing against poor Jake, but his beauty did not help at all. I knew I could never torture myself like this again, and when he dropped me off I was so relieved, but also disappointed. He was so cute, I guess I just assumed he would be fun too. Nope. I was only 19 years old but this was a good lesson.

This has happened again in my life where I may have had expectations or made assumptions just because of appearance. I remember another time when I met Scott, a man who my husband had hired to do some work at the house. He rang the doorbell, and there he stood, gigantic arms with tattoos everywhere he had skin. He looked like a scary biker, the kind of guy you might be afraid of. But this guy was one of the sweetest men I have ever met in my life. I felt bad for having that initial feeling of fear. How stupid.

I don’t think I am the only one who has made the mistake of making assumptions by the way someone looks. In our culture, in my opinion, we are somewhat brainwashed about “beauty”. People make money off of selling “beauty”and companies play off of this. For example, being thin is in, and diet products and clothing that makes you look thinner sells. Being young is also a good thing for sure so any product that makes you look younger is really appealing. Women in particular (if you ask me) get sucked in. Women want to feel pretty. Not sure why I don’t like that word, pretty. I think it is old-fashioned and feels shallow. I do like the word “beauty” though. So let’s talk about beauty.

When I was young, say back in high school, I thought straight hair was beautiful. That is probably because the style back then was straight long hair, and I had curly long hair. It was a nightmare when it rained. The iron worked but was a pain and eventually I invented a technique that was even better than ironing. I would wash my hair, pull it back into a low ponytail, split that ponytail in half and wrap each half around my head and secure with bobby pins. In the morning my hair would be dry, I would remove the bobby pins and ponytail and except for a few telltale bumps from the bobby pins my hair was somewhat straight. Unless it rained. I wasted a lot of time and emotional energy caring about something as insignificant as hair. I have had friends who have lost their hair because of chemotherapy. I should have appreciated God’s gift of a head full of curly brown hair. But I didn’t.

These days I look at “beauty” with a whole different lens. Think for a minute about someone you know who when you met them was not thrown by their “beauty”. Maybe they did not have Jake’s perfect white teeth, or that perfectly blonde head of hair. But then you got to know them and they were the most beautiful person you knew. They are that person who makes you smile when you are down. Maybe you have witnessed them helping someone in need. Or maybe they are that person who never complains and takes on all the work nobody wants to do. In my world I encounter so many people like this. They make me smile and laugh. They go above an beyond. They take the time to stop and engage a special needs child. They wear funny hats just to make people happy. They put on costumes not caring that they might look like a fool to most normal adults, but they do it anyway because they know people will smile and be so much happier because of it. Those people who might fry dough for 120 people they work for because they want to make an event special. They aren’t getting paid extra for this mind you, it is just because. Or, that nurse who allows the same boy with Down’s Syndrome to come into the office with a fake illness just to get a hug. …..to witness that is witnessing beauty.  Yes, I really don’t notice the texture of someone’s hair or the number of tattoos anymore. And I definitely don’t care about the wrinkles on anyone’s face. Beauty radiates in a different way, and unfortunately, we don’t always see it.

I do sometimes question myself, and wonder why it is that I feel so much better when I buy something new to wear. Am I being shallow? I am falling into that trap, the one we buy into that says we have to look a certain way? I just bought a new dress for a wedding, in a gorgeous dark salmon, so simple and elegant and comfortable and appropriate for my age and I love it. It makes me feel, well, good. I can’t lie, I love new clothes (that are on sale especially), and that are comfortable and look good on me (in my mind, and that is hard when you get older, just saying). So maybe I am not free from that beauty trap if wearing certain clothes makes me happy. But at least I am proud of myself when it comes to pocketbooks and shoes….I don’t like pocketbooks with the letter C on them…I know that means something and many women I know and love just adore pocketbooks. They have an appreciation I just can’t relate to. And I am happy about that because it saves me lots of money. You might notice if you know me that I always have my black pocketbook I got at TJ Maxx. Apparently, it is a designer one, but I did not know it, it just serves my needs perfectly, was not too expensive and is very durable. And black goes with everything. A new pocketbook does not make me happy, although new clothes often do For a little while. It doesn’t last.

The bottom line is focusing on the outside, I have found at least, is not what makes me happy or feel good about myself. Making someone laugh or smile does make me feel good. When I look at someone now, when I don’t know them yet, I don’t know if they are beautiful. I now know that it takes time to see who they are. Then beauty comes through (or not). It makes me sad sometimes how many people (women especially, at least in my experience) don’t see their beauty. They look in the mirror and they look at the wrong things. They make up the stuff in their own minds as to what they are looking for in themselves that may meet the standards of beauty. They buy into the stuff our culture or the media pushes us to think is the only thing that matters if you want to feel beautiful. Back then it was straight hair. Now, it is a number of things that seem to change depending on what is trending. It may be being skinny, being muscular, having a bigger butt, tattoos, rainbow hair, who knows…..if you try to keep up, you lose yourself. Eventually.

I think it would be much cooler to make up our own definition of beauty. Face it. In real life, who are the people you are drawn to? Who are the people you want to emulate? Who do you want your children to be like? It has nothing to do with anything like clothing or hair or body shape. Beauty to me means kindness and acceptance and a sense of caring, and humor or course, modesty and humility, being grateful and forgiving. You may have your own definition. I challenge you to come up with one, your own definition of beauty. One that has nothing to do with outside appearance and everything to do with what is truly important to you.

And the next time you look in the mirror and curse your frizzy hair or anything else staring back at you, I hope you stop and see what others see.

 

 

Weight Wars: What Really Happens When You “Try to Help” Your Partner Lose Weight

Every morning was the same. Margaret would sit at the table for breakfast with her husband before he left for work. She would have her measured cup of Special K with 8 ounces of skim milk and a cup of black coffee. Her husband, on the other hand, would have his usual 2 large pancakes dripping with butter and thick maple syrup and several links of his favorite breakfast sausage. His coffee was sweetened and lightened with cream. He would read his newspaper as usual, and then when they were done, she would clear the table. On his way out the door she would bid him to “have a good day” and out he went. After she closed the door behind him she would go to the window and peer through the blinds as he left the driveway, made his way around the corner, and then out of sight.

The next thing that happened was predictable because it had become somewhat of a habit, or maybe it was something different (an act of rebellion?) As soon as she felt safe, Margaret would head to the fridge. The leftover sausage was thankfully still warm. She would pop a few in her mouth and gobble them down fast while standing in front of the open fridge. What else could she have? Leftover meatloaf, some pie from a party, cold french fries from a restaurant (her husband’s leftovers, not hers, she never ordered fries). Then, one after the other she would eat these random foods in a manner that was not enjoyable. No, she was not savoring some good food because she was hungry. There was little enjoyment here, and she really didn’t know what was going on. But I had a feeling because I had seen it one too many times before.

You see, Margaret’s husband was trying to help her lose weight. Over the years her weight creeped up and she often complained about it. Whether he also had an issue with it, or was only trying to help her I don’t recall, but the affect was the same. He became the food police and she became the prisoner. But she got to break free when he wasn’t around. Deep down, she was also angry and resentful that he was trying to control her, yet she didn’t have the awareness or strength to speak up. I ended up referring her to a therapist to help her with these issues and we worked on ways to stop her binge eating. Margaret’s story is not unique, and trying to help a partner with weight concerns and dieting is not unusual. Being partners together working on healthy eating and exercise can be a great thing. Understanding when it spells trouble, however, is critical.

Whether you relate to either side of this scenario, I have some suggestions from having witnessed so many situations where good and loving intentions backfire. Are you the person who is adamant about eating healthy and feel your partner should too? Have you listened to your wife or husband complain about his or her weight for years and so you feel compelled to say something when you see them taking 2nds? Are you worried about your husband’s newly diagnosed hypertension and now your fear for his health causes you to point out the sodium content of everything he puts in his mouth?

Or, maybe you are the person under the microscope (at least that may be how you feel). Do you find yourself choosing what to eat in a restaurant because it won’t cause your partner’s eyes to roll? Do you quickly hide the snack in your hand when your husband or wife enters the kitchen (because you are sneaking something and don’t want to be found out?). Do you feel sad inside because the person who is supposed to love you seems to be focused on your body size and shape instead of the real you?

When we care about those we love rarely do we do or say things to hurt them on purpose, yet when it comes to weight, dieting and eating, it happens all the time. If you have someone you care about or who complains about weight and you want to help, or, if you feel like the victim in this dynamic, here are some suggestions I have learned are helpful to restore peace and hopefully, happiness.

  1. Have a conversation. Stop pretending. If you are feeling hurt by the fact that you feel like you are being watched when you are eating, say something. Wait until you are not feeling angry and think about what you really need for support. Since every situation and every relationship is different, you may or may not feel comfortable with this. If you don’t feel like you can have a peaceful and productive conversation, and you truly are finding yourself eating out of resentment or if you are binge eating in secret, consider getting some support from a professional therapist who specializes in eating issues. Life is too short and if you can’t have a conversation it is likely the situation will get worse.
  2. If you are the one who has taken on the “watch dog” or food police role, but sense that your partner does not appreciate, or even gets angry at your diligence, why not ask them? Even if your partner asked you for support initially, you need to find out what that means. It may not mean they need comments from you, or maybe they thought they did need that kind of policing, but now it is not helpful anymore. The best thing you can do when you want to help someone is to ask: what can I do to help?
  3. Take a chance. Eat it in public. Eat it in front of your partner. Don’t hide when you eat. When you go to grab that snack and find yourself gobbling it down while standing in front of the fridge before you get caught, stop and ask “is this really enjoyable?” Eating food you enjoy is one of the blessings of life. Instead, walk over to where you normally have a meal, get a plate or napkin, and sit down. Enjoy your snack. Being aware of what you are eating, how it tastes, how your tummy feels, how hungry you are (or aren’t) is the first step to getting more in tune with your body and intuitive eating.
  4. Do some self-reflection. Do you recognize a pattern in your life when it comes to dieting and weight? Does your weight fluctuate depending on if you are dieting or not? Sometimes, we get into patterns in our relationships involving dieting and this can affect our relationships. The non-dieting partner may not know how to help and just assume they are being supportive when they become the food police after the big dieting announcement. If you recognize a pattern, my suggestion (of course!) is to consider getting off of the dieting band wagon. There are lots of resources and support for ways of living that are focused on intuitive eating and health (instead of weight). Check out Health at Every Size as well as a great non-dieting blog Dare Not To Diet

In this world focused on dieting, eating fads, weight, fitness and all that, changing your ways in not easy. I always have believed that caring about your health is way different than obsessing about your weight (which is not exactly in your control). There IS a way for us to work together toward a sane goal, but it has nothing to do with the scale and no food police needed. Instead, it involves partnering with each other to agree to make time for meals together. To agree to take a walk together or do yoga together, or turn off the TV during dinner time. It may be to learn to cook together, to try new vegetable recipes, to learn about special diets together (if one spouse needs to follow a low sodium diet for hypertension, for example). In this case, working on keeping giant bags of chips out of the house for the person who does not have the issue (they can buy a bag for lunch at work, instead). Creating a healthier eating environment at home to be supportive of each other’s health goals is way different than watching and commenting on what we eat. At the same time, deciding to go out for pizza and enjoying every minute (no comments about “breaking the diet” please!) does not mean you gave up on health. No, it means you are learning to incorporate normal balance in your life, and enjoying pizza on occasion does not mean you don’t care about your health.

With spring around the corner, I can almost smell that feeling of hope in the air when I walk outside in my garden and see some new life emerging (among the finally diminishing layer of dirty snow). I hope you consider a new life with no food police, no guard dog, just complete freedom and peace. Wherever you live, with whomever, that is the way it should be.

The Crazy Confusing World of Food

 

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It dawned on me recently that the simple act of eating is anything but that. Something as basic as obtaining and preparing food shouldn’t be that complicated. But it is. It struck me when I witnessed my Italian mother frying burgers this weekend. I had just finished making a few pounds worth of turkey burgers for her which I freeze so she can have them for a few weeks. I add in diced peppers, onions, garlic, grated carrots, cheese and seasonings then fry them in a bit of oil in a non-stick pan. They are yummy and healthy. My mom, however, had a few burgers that she had bought and also needed to cook those. So she proceeds to pull out a heavy fry pan and pour in about an inch of olive oil. She is known for her yummy sauce and eggplant Parmesan, however she rarely cooks much for herself.  Except apparently burgers on occasion.Anyway, I was a bit surprised and asked her if she was aware that those beef burgers probably had enough fat and wouldn’t stick so she really didn’t need all that oil (I was thinking about the cost and waste as she would surely have to dump most of it when she was done). Well, she just rolled her eyes. You can check out her reaction for a good smile, Mom frying burgers  Needless to say, hot oil splatted everywhere, but she does what she does, cooks the way she likes to, and it’s all good.

This happened after a fun day out. I often take my mom on little adventures on Saturdays since my dad passed to get her out of the house. This burger frying day was one of those days…anyway, the day involved lots of choices about food, meal planning, grocery shopping, restaurants etc. and as much as I do enjoy it all, it hit me that making all these choices and decisions can’t be easy for everyone, especially dieters, people with health issues, or those with disordered eating and body image concerns.

For example, have you ever gone to a restaurant with a 99 page menu, or how about 3 different menus? Do you struggle, like me, to make a decision on what you want to eat? Or, think about planning dinner, or lunches for work, or even a meal for a dinner party with friends. A birthday celebration, holiday, or even a camping trip. Being someone who loves to cook, and on top of that a dietitian who understands food and nutrition a bit more than most people, you would think decisions like this must be easy. Yet, I often find myself struggling and confused. And then I feel like a bit of a hypocrite.

You see, one of the things I also talk about when trying to help people be healthier is the importance of creating a healthier environment. Part of this involves purchasing better foods when you grocery shop, planning meals, and packing healthier lunches so you aren’t forced to buy something from the vending machine or fast food joint just because you are not prepared. I have educated people about choosing the healthier options in restaurants and also how to prepare foods to modify them to be healthier. And yet, there I was, sitting yesterday at the Cheesecake Factory with my mom, staring at this gigantic menu filled with choices (actually, there were a few menus), and all I initially wanted was something hot and soupy and tomatoey. On top of that, the calorie content of most of the items was listed and I wondered how their sales were affected after they started sharing that info. My mom was pretty funny in the way she reacted to it. “That can’t be right!” and I assured her it probably wasn’t. She is not a big eater (unless it’s sweet) and we both settled on chicken chili which came with bread and a salad and was perfect. I was glad there was something hot and tomatoey on the menu, which made it easier since I already had it in mind, however I think we both felt overwhelmed with all the choices. What do other people do? How do they figure out what to order?

And then we went to the grocery store. I wanted to be sure to cook something for my mom to have for the week (we decided on the turkey burgers) but also needed to get something for my “Sunday Cookin'” which I do most Sunday’s. I turn this into a relaxing but productive event as it is a way to relax before work starts again Monday, but I also prepare enough food for lunches for a few days, or even dinners. The problem lies in making a decision on what to make. I usually do some research into different cultural meals (Italian of course, Mexican, Asian, finally tried Indian which was challenging). This time I had no idea and couldn’t decide what to make, so was somewhat dazed and confused in the grocery store. I remembered my mom had an eggplant to give me so impulsively decided to go Italian. I bought Italian turkey sausage, beef for meatballs, tomato paste, I had the rest I was sure. Oh, and I also needed to make something for my nutrition class for our “tasting”. Maybe homemade potato chips using the mandolin I just purchased on my outing with my mom. Potato is a vegetable, so that counts. Plus I was guessing they would love it over my usual green things I push on them.

So we finished our shopping, finished our cooking, cleaned up and it was time for me to head home. On the way home, I remembered I needed to remember to find some ripe avocados to make some guacamole for “green food” tasting as March is National Nutrition Month (FYI) and I was planning another tasting for our school. I would need to go to Costco’s to get what I figured would be enough, about 20 hopefully ripe avocados at a cheaper price. I was definitely not in the mood to go and decided to wait until the middle of the week (I still had time). I was tired of thinking about food and cooking. When I got home and walked into the kitchen, I could tell my husband had been cooking. He was so excited to inform me that he had made his famous “chicken a la king” from the leftover roasted chicken we had. He puts pimentos and mushrooms in it and serves it over rice which he loves and I don’t love. He showed me what looked like 3 quarts of the stuff with additional large tupperware containers full of cooked rice. He ALSO made taco filling, so much so that he already had frozen a container. Apparently, he DID go to Costco’s and bought a gigantic package of beef.  Talk about food for the week. I put away my groceries, and did not want to think about meal planning, grocery shopping or cooking anymore.

Even though cooking is one of my passions, the rest of it isn’t. But what if cooking isn’t a passion of yours, then I imagine the rest of it is even less fun. How much easier to spend your time doing all the things you do enjoy doing rather than thinking about food, shopping, cooking, planning. Add on top of this the need to know a bit about nutrition if you care about your health. How do you choose what to buy considering both nutrition and what you enjoy eating? Add onto this the challenge of our abundant food and restaurant environment and you have triggers galore that make most of us want to throw our budgets (and nutrition) to the wind just for some sanity. And relief from thinking about it all. Trying to eat healthier just feels like too much work sometimes. Even for a dietitian who loves cooking.

Do we give up? Or instead, do we pick our battles? Does it really have to be perfect? I think of my mom and her olive oil. At 85 years of age, she walks 4 miles a day, goes to church every day, has a great sense of humor and an active and social life despite all she has gone through. Clearly, frying burgers in an inch of olive oil, or living off of ice cream for a few days hasn’t hurt her. The bigger picture is more important. Nurturing herself in ways that don’t involve food or nutrition clearly helps. Laughing, being active, having faith, reading, crossword puzzles, enjoying  her simple life. But most people, especially those with health issues or eating or weight issues can’t ignore the need to deal with food, and it is not simple at all. I think we underestimate how hard it really is to deal with all these decisions and do all the work to create a healthier lifestyle. I see people go gung-ho and then I see them totally give up. I wish instead that everyone just is gentler with themselves, and knows that it is ok not to be perfect at this. It is ok to “just not feel like it” sometimes and to treat yourself because you deserve it (and sanity comes first). I believe in taking advantage of the times you DO feel like cooking or reading about healthy recipes. That is why on Sundays I do my cooking because I find that is the one day I actually do have time and nothing on the agenda and I can take my time and enjoy the process. And that is why I may make a few things, too much food for sure but that is what freezers are for and tupperware and freezer bags. So then, when Thursday rolls around and there is “nothing to cook” for dinner, lo and behold, it’s like a restaurant right in my own freezer! Chicken a La King anyone?

So, don’t give up. Meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, freezing food, etc, is not the easy way. But you don’t have to be perfect. Just start somewhere. And, who knows, this Sunday I may try some deep fried burgers……

 

Trying to Lose Weight? 5 Reasons You Should Never Have a “Goal Weight”

Mannequins head“I want to look like a supermodel” she said. Her answer to my simple question of “how can I help you” threw me. “Have you ever seen a supermodel?” I asked. “No” she said. “Then how do you know you want to look like one?” was my response. She was a young woman who needed some nutrition guidance, referred to me by someone who was worried about her eating habits. Although I loved her brutal honesty, I had to regroup to figure out what direction to go with this. Before I did anything I needed to find out much more. Oh, and she had a very specific weight in mind that she felt would accomplish this goal.

As is usually the case, when someone is bent on focusing on such a specific physical goal, there usually are other matters going on. I was relieved to hear that she had a therapist so I proceeded to find out more regarding her eating and exercise habits before I rushed into education and explaining why wanting to look like a supermodel was not a reasonable goal. To be clear, although this is a true story, it could be anyone I have seen over the past 30 years (and although I am changing a bit of the specifics as I usually do, her eating and lifestyle are not unusual and could be anyone’s). It was her statement about the supermodel that was a bit more direct than any I have heard, as usually people don’t come out and admit this. Somehow, deep down, I am guessing most of us understand this is not a smart goal and would never say it out loud.

The funny thing is when I asked her if she had ever actually seen a supermodel, she said “no” but then asked “have you?” I answered yes, because I had worked with a male model years ago who gave me lots of details about the unhealthy behaviors the models did before a shoot. Basically, they would starve and dehydrate themselves to look “cut” and then when the work was done, the binge eating began. Clearly, the image you saw in the finished photo was not the image of a body that was natural or that could be maintained more than a week or two (without serious consequences, such as hospitalization due to dehydration which happens often). Or worse. Yes, there are many people who are naturally super-tall and super-thin, and there may indeed be models who eat normally. In his situation however, this was not the case.

Anyway, it was her honest statement that motivated me to write about the insanity of having weight goals. I realized that so many people go blindly on their way getting themselves into ridiculous, stressful, self-esteem damaging lifestyles that sometimes go on for years, all because of a stupid “weight goal”. I hate numbers in general, and when it comes to a fluid, changing, living body, something that will never be static, never be the same day to day, I dislike the use of numbers even more. What baffles me sometimes is how a person decides on the magical number. In many cases, people pick a number from their past. “When I was in high school, I fit into size ‘x’ and I weighed 140 pounds, so that is what I should weigh”, or “I read that ‘famous model/actress so and so’ is my height and weighs ‘x’ so that is what I should weigh”. And on and on. For most of the people I have seen, there is no way to reach that magical weight and live a life in any healthy, sane or even safe way.

You might be wondering “what is the big deal? Why not have a definite goal in mind?”  Here are the 5 reasons to forget about weight goals:

  1. Your body has a “Set-point” weight range it will fight to keep. I think of my father who was living proof of the meaning of “set-point” weight range. He was someone who I believe truly listened to his hunger cues and ate what he wanted. Being a traditional Italian and growing up with salami, sausage, fried peppers, Parmesan and fresh Italian bread he knew nothing about calories or nutrition. This is not why he ate. He ate the foods he loved and the meals my mom cooked. Every Sunday was pasta, meatballs, sausage, bread and sauce. He would sit there for what seemed like an hour and devour and savor his meal. He wasn’t big on sweets most of his life unless he craved something, then would have a good serving. His weight never really changed. How could this be, when he never spent a minute trying to figure it out? Set-point.
  2. You can ruin your set-point if you diet. I will never forget a patient I had years ago who had an eating disorder and would restrict then binge eat. She was in the health field and she understood what was going on when she did this however she had it stuck in her mind that she should weigh 125 pounds. She weighed 135 pounds. She had reached her goal at times through extreme behaviors however these could not be maintained due to the triggers for binge eating that resulted from her restrictions. She dropped out of treatment and I had not seen her in years. About 5 years had passed and lo and behold, she returned. The reason she returned she said was “I don’t want my set-point to go any higher”. She weighed 145 pounds (still within a normal weight range for her, but 10 pounds above what had been her norm). She knew it was her disordered eating behaviors that affected her natural set-point weight. All because she would not accept her natural body weight. When you have to experience extreme hunger every day in order to stay at a certain weight, then this is not your set-point weight range. And if you are binge eating then alternating with strict dieting as a result of wanting to be a certain weight, then you are at risk for ruining your natural set-point.
  3.  When you focus on a number you get disconnected from your body’s natural signals. Most people who have a weight goal in mind weigh themselves on a regular basis. When they jump on that scale and it does not move, they tend to jump up the restriction (“I am going to be good today”). What happens is they become more “cognitive” and less “intuitive” with their eating. They “figure out” what they should have for lunch and eat only the amount they believe will result in weight loss. What happens instead is they most likely do not eat enough calories, fat or carbohydrates. This imbalance triggers the brain to step up the appetite, and especially cravings for those particular foods that are being restricted. The cravings kick up a notch. Finally, whatever the trigger the dieter breaks down and has “just one” but then, that “just one” leads to another and another…..and another. The body is smart and won’t shut up until it is in balance again. The problem is the mind takes over and leads us to binge because we “are going to start tomorrow”. And the cycle of disconnection begins. Does this lead us to our natural and healthiest body weight range? No.
  4. That magical number has nothing to do with health. The issues of health and “obesity” has been argued before, with those saying weight is related to health. The reality is that having a healthy body is much more complicated than a number on the scale and has much more to do with lifestyle (and genetics of course). If you have a goal weight in mind, as you can see, the behaviors people tend to engage in do nothing to enhance their health. In fact, the opposite is likely true. Dieting to lose weight rarely contributes to health. If being healthier is something you care about then if you focus on restricting and losing weight you are missing the boat.
  5. It is only when you let go of that magical goal weight number that you will be able to actually move in the sane direction of achieving a healthy (and happy) you. I don’t try to talk people out of wanting to feel good about the way they look.We all want that. But, from what I have seen, most people who diet to lose weight and are successful (for a while) do feel good about themselves at first. But if they don’t get off the yo-yo diet cycle and regain that weight, they do not tend to feel good about themselves at all. If, however, they stop focusing on that number and instead begin the road of truly reflecting on their health habits (which yes, do include healthier,not perfect, eating) then the journey can begin. This is a long journey and is not predictable like a diet. There are no promises. It is about exploring your lifestyle and identifying the things that are doing you in.  Do you notice yourself mindlessly eating in front of the TV at night? Do you hate to cook so Chinese and pizza are a daily thing? Do you work late and struggle to fit in any kind of physical activity? Are you up until 3 am playing video games? Do you eat out of stress because you hate your job? Or, are you in a dangerous spiral of self-abusive disordered eating habits that you are yet to get help for? These are the types of things that need to be addressed that NO one diet can fix.

 

If any of this rings a bell, I hope you think long and hard about picking some random magical goal weight. Instead of wasting the energy doing unhealthy and impermanent things to get there (a place that probably has nothing to do with the real you), consider going in a different direction for once. Learn what healthy eating and healthy cooking is. Take the time to reflect on your lifestyle, and start with even one thing you want to change. Educate yourself about what it means to have a healthy lifestyle. Talk to friends you know well and trust, who you think manage to live this way and you might find out some strategies that might work for you, too, in this busy world. Work on intuitive eating and pay attention to all of the messages your body gives you every single day. Make your mistakes, feel yucky, but then learn from them. Over the months and years, guess what I have seen happen when people do this? They often just naturally land within a weight range that is truly natural for them. They do this while enjoying eating and good food, and living life to the fullest.

For more information on the negative impact of dieting, check out: Has Dieting Ruined Your Metabolism?

 

 

 

“Clean” Eating:Finally, the Answer…or Just Another Craze?

Image may contain: 2 people, people eating, food and indoor
Mom’s homemade Minestrone Soup: Is it “Clean” I wondered…?

A co-worker approached me last week to share that she had lost 10 pounds recently after she started to “eat clean”. I smiled the way I usually do when I really want to be happy for someone because they are happy….. yet my insides start churning because I absolutely hate the diet industry. I have learned that it does not help to freak out on anybody who is on a diet. It does not help to tell them that over 50 decades of research prove that diets don’t work in the long term and they often lead to food obsession and binge eating. People don’t want to hear that. They tune me out. So I just smile, but then usually ask what it is they are doing (if it is something scary I WILL share my opinion). It struck me that I honestly was not sure exactly what “clean eating” was. When I hear the word “clean”, I don’t think of food. I think of Lestoil. Or Comet cleanser, Windex, Pledge. Maybe Mr. Clean. You know, soap kind of things.

 

Anyway, when I asked this sweet person what it was exactly, she said it was about eating more whole foods instead of processed foods. Now that sounded pretty harmless. Still, I thought I should check it out a bit.

As it turns out, “clean eating” can mean a lot of different things to different people. The diet industry and diet world is pretty confusing (I think because they must have to change it up a bit, to keep making money off of promising something our culture values more than anything else: weight loss). Anyway, some clean eaters might fast intermittently, while others might eliminate many foods, considering some foods to be “bad” while others are “good”. But the basic premise of “eating clean” is to focus on whole foods verses processed foods. Hmmmm. Sounds like eating healthy, which can’t be bad. Or can it?

If we have the means to buy fresh foods, such as good meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, real cheese verses processed, good yogurt and bread made from real ingredients, then of course we should do that as much as we can. The problem lies in the extremes people go to eliminate foods, the guilt they feel when they break down and eat something processed, and the ultimate goal of eating this way (to lose weight). The thinking is at risk of morphing into the typical “diet mentality” or black and white thinking when it comes to foods and eating that lead to trouble. When this happens, then it becomes just another “diet” that will likely end in just another failure. Not good for our bodies or our self esteem (in other words, our physical and mental health).

If you are curious about this fad you need to be smart about it (sorry, I have to call it a fad because of it’s focus on weight loss). There is also sometimes a focus on unscientific claims about promoting fat-burning, and a yucky feeling of superiority I have sensed (if I don’t want to eat clean, does that mean I am eating dirty? I don’t get it). If you start believing you are totally going to eliminate any food from your diet (such as your favorite cookie, or favorite fast food burger) then you are setting yourself up, just like any other dieter. If, on the other hand, you truly are working on eating healthier, then trying to do more cooking, buying more whole foods instead of processed foods and being more moderate in your intake of those “fun foods” that don’t contribute much to your nutrition might be ok. Denying yourself totally of foods you really enjoy will only make you obsess about them more, and could likely lead to binge eating the very foods you have decided you shouldn’t eat.

So, as usual, my advice is to continue to care about your health and work on learning how to cook healthy but yummy foods. Work on getting more in tune with your body, your hunger and fullness, and getting rid of impossible food restrictions that do nothing to promote your health while draining your spirit and enjoyment of life. Eating should not be a moral issue and we should not be judged by what we do or don’t eat. In reality, it is quite simple, just like it always has been. I just wish we could return to the good old-fashioned lingo of “healthy” verses “clean”. To me, clean will still always refer to Lestoil.

For a great article on the topic, by another dietitian, see Clean Eating from Good Housekeeping Magazine.

PS If you are not eating any healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, meats and grains, and you drink lots of soda instead of water, and then suddenly stop drinking that soda and start eating more healthy foods, you may indeed lose weight. It has nothing to do with eating “clean” and more to do with making some healthy choices.

When Your Thighs Change Size Overnight (or do they?)

Waves, Sand and FeetI have never heard a man complain about the size of his butt. Women, on the other hand, seem to scrutinize almost every inch of their bodies. Their hips are too big, their tummy too fat, their arms jiggle too much. Their neck is getting saggy and so are their breasts. We just can’t win in the body image world (or sometimes it seems). With eating disorders awareness week coming up, and without a week going by when I don’t hear at least one complaint from someone about their physical body, I thought it might be good to write about it. In particular, I was remembering a handout I used to use with my eating disordered patients  called “The Theory of Expando Thighs” by  Karin Kratina, PhD, RD. She is one of the most respected among the eating disorder and body image experts, so check out her website and the resources she provides (and she has a new book coming out soon).

I do want to be clear that although in my work and life I tend to hear more body image complaints from females, males are not immune. Body image concerns are not discriminatory. I bet we all know a man who complains about his abs. But for the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on women.

Anyway, I loved this handout because it was a great visual explanation of what is really going on when we look down at our thighs and it seems they have grown overnight. Sometimes our eyes don’t see the reality.  Can a body part truly change overnight? No. So why is it that sometimes we feel that way? We look in the mirror and feel good. Then, we go to get ready for work, take another look and see something totally different. How does this hijacking of our mind, this total takeover happen?

The reality for most of us is we have so much going on in our lives. Stress at work, children to deal with, families, careers, school, and so many other things to think about. Yet, somehow, the size of our thighs (butt, arms, tummy) take center stage. The need to diet, count calories, lose weight, get these thighs back to normal becomes a priority. You should be trying to figure out what to do when your senior year ends. You should be filling out applications for that new job. You should really call that marriage counselor because for once, you told yourself you were determined to make your marriage better….or to end it.

None of these challenges sound like fun. Who enjoys worrying about getting a job? Who wants to think about the future? And who in the world really wants to see a therapist and delve into something that has the potential to turn your world upside down?

That’s where those thighs come in. And the calorie counting. And the gradual obsession with numbers and food. When you see your thighs as a sudden problem, you get to stress about it. Suddenly, you conveniently have something else to worry about. This is awful, these suddenly huge thighs! Time to diet, count calories, plan menus, etc, etc, etc. Who has time to think about the “real” (difficult, painful) issue. It works. As torturous as it may sound to have your thighs grow overnight, it is much easier to deal with than the real issues.

So, instead of seeing what is actually there, our eyes just might be seeing what is going to enable us to avoid “something”.

I don’t consider myself a body image expert by any means, however I have had the privilege to be educated over the years by my former patients who often had extreme body image distortion. There was no way for me to ever understand how someone who appeared emaciated to me could look in a mirror and see themselves as someone who needed to lose weight. One day, over 20 years ago, one of my patients, a very intelligent professional woman who had suffered for several years with an eating disorder was in for a weekly visit. Her weight was dangerously low and she had been in and out of the hospital. She told me she had had an amazing thing happen. She was in the process of applying for a new job and had to go shopping for a business suit. She first went into a department store at the mall, and no matter how small of a size she tried on, the suits just were too big. She figured it was just the brand, so she went to a different store. The same thing happened. Still, she told herself, it was the store, their clothes just ran big. After several stores, she was finally in the last one, a very expensive store that she was confident would have accurate sizing. She put on a suit jacket and looked in the mirror, and for a second, she said, she saw this emaciated woman swimming in a giant coat…..which was a size double zero. She left the store. This was the first time, she said, that she had ever seen herself as others see her. She said to me, “but, the eating disorder will not allow me to see myself as I truly am because then I would have to eat”. I will never forget that woman and the story she told me. For once, it kind of made sense.

Of course, someone with a clinically diagnosed eating disorder may suffer from the extreme as far as body image. Anyone, however, can get sucked into focusing too much on their bodies and end up wasting a lot of precious time. Whether you are having body image concerns or not, if there is something in your life you are not happy with (job, relationship, etc.) I always recommend getting some help. Life is too short to not be happy. Some things we just can’t control, but if we can, why not try? Even if you are in the worst of positions, and feel stuck and immobile, making that phone call is a step. It counts. You did something. You are moving in a better direction.

So next time you glance in the mirror, and something appears vastly different than the day before, don’t beat yourself up. And please, don’t take any drastic action. Instead, ask if there might be something in your life you could be avoiding….make a vow to work on your health (a very positive and rewarding goal). If you happen to be going through a difficult time, ask yourself if you can do it alone. With Eating Disorder Awareness Week starting tomorrow, make a pledge to start with yourself by loving and appreciating the body you have.

For more resources on body image check out:

Books by Dr. Margo Maine

Pursuing Perfection: Eating Disorders. Body Myths, and Women at Midlife and Beyond (with Joe Kelly) (Routledge, 2016)

Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies (Gurze, 2000)

The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect, with Joe Kelly (John Wiley, 2005)