Can YOU Make the Pledge? No Diet Talk for the Next 2 Weeks

IMG_3720The month of December is typically a time of joyful craziness. Young parents are scrambling to get everything on a child’s Christmas list, co-workers are organizing cookie swaps, friends are wanting to get together to make a holiday toast, toy drives and food drives are happening, the malls are insane, and on and on.

But something else is also occurring at this time of year. People are thinking about their “New Year’s Resolution”and at the top of the list is anything to do with losing weight and/or getting fit. Besides all the energy given to the fun stuff, some people are spending a lot of time thinking about and talking about how they want to change their bodies. Sometimes, the talk occurs because of a recent medical diagnosis, such as newly discovered diabetes or hypertension, or even elevated liver enzymes where it is important to make dietary changes. This is not what I am referring to. I am talking about those people who have spent much of their lives focusing on their weight and body size.

The things I hear come out of people’s mouths at social gatherings probably irritate me more than most (such as my husband) because of my work experience with individuals suffering from eating disorders, especially teenagers. Our culture’s focus on bodies has made it acceptable to promote disordered behavior around eating and exercise. Conversations  abound regarding how to lose weight, diet products, and even how to supposedly mold specific body parts into your dream “whatever”.  When young people hear adults (especially parents) discussing these things,  it becomes clear that trying to achieve weight loss and a certain body size is a good life goal indeed. Is this really what we want our children to grow up with as an ideal that is important enough to take up all that time and energy?  It makes me so uncomfortable when an adult is talking about their own body or dieting in front of young adults or children. I typically change the subject, or at lest try to. And it is not just children who are affected by this type of talk. Adults struggling with eating issues and weight are also affected in ways you may not be able to understand. One of the big struggles some of my patients experienced was having to convince themselves to stay on track with their recovery despite what felt like the entire world was doing around them. Why was it important for them to continue eating their meals and snacks when clearly it was alright for everyone else in their lives to restrict and diet? It would take a lot of work to help a patient get grounded again and fight the eating disorder voice that tortured them.

Besides focusing on their own dieting and weight goals, another topic of discussion is OTHER people’s bodies. My husband does not get it (he is an engineer and not at all familiar with a non-diet approach or the great divide in the professional world of weight management). Why would you not tell someone how great they look if you have not seen them in a long time and they lost a lot of weight? Won’t that make them feel good?

The problem is, you don’t know what they did to lose that weight. I have known countless patients who dread the holidays because of the focus on them and their bodies. Again, it gets confusing. For example, a young woman I worked with had finally been successful with gaining enough weight to stay out of an inpatient facility. She had stopped purging for several months but did not gain enough weight yet to restore herself back to her normal weight and was not menstruating. At her holiday family party, those who did not know what she had been through (and was continuing to work on) made the usual comments about how great she looked. Those who knew she had gained weight with much hard work complimented her on that too (also not good as this almost always makes someone who is recovering feel “fat”). Those who knew nothing of her ordeal told her she looked great with all that weight loss and “how did you do it?!”. Ugh. After the holidays and all of these conflicting messages, the work is never easy to get back on track.

With that said, you may know someone who you know for sure had been working hard to change habits and get healthy. Doing things like quitting smoking, taking up physical activity, eating more vegetables and learning how to cook healthier does result in weight loss for some. Instead of focusing too much on their bodies, giving praise or positive feedback for the healthy changes is different (“You must feel so good! You have so much more energy, that is great! Your blood sugar is back to normal, yay!)

So this is what I am asking you to do: Make a pledge.

  • Please pledge to try to recognize dieting and body talk.
  • Pledge to catch yourself doing it.
  • Pledge to stop doing it in front of children or young people.
  • Pledge to try to stop doing it constantly even with close friends.
  • Pledge to (try to) change the topic when others are doing it.
  • Pledge to avoid commenting on anyone’s body, especially someone you don’t know well because you will never know what they are going through and how it will affect them.

Thank you! Here’s to a wonderful holiday season and remembering what the season is about……

 

 

 

When Exercise Isn’t Fun Anymore

kids on monkey bars Remember back in the day when you had recess in elementary school? It was always the highlight of the day, the time where you could run free outside, swing on the swings, play tag, or climb the monkey bars. Then after school, if you were lucky, you were allowed to play kickball outside with your friends until it got dark. Before you ever thought about being active or needing to exercise to be healthy, you were already doing it. But you were having fun!!

Things have changed. It seems to me there are few adults that I know who do fun active things because, well, they are just FUN. Most adults, especially those with body image or weight concerns appear to be “forcing” themselves to “exercise” with the intention of losing weight and/or changing their body. Not to be stronger, feel better or have more energy. This typically organized movement (aka exercise) sometimes involves a gym, a treadmill, a video or some other activity that the person does not look forward to (not like the monkey bars back in the day). Yes, there are many people who actually really love to going to the gym and actually have a blast doing their Zumba class. These are not the people I am referring to.

In her book “Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies”, Dr. Margo Maine explains that particularly if you exercise excessively it could be a symptom of an underlying psychological condition. If you are not able to solve the issue yourself you may need the support of a therapist. She describes the following behaviors that may indicate a problem:

  • you judge a day as “good” or “bad” based on how much you exercised
  • you base your self-worth on how much you exercise
  • you never take a break from exercise no matter how you feel or how inconvenient it is
  • you exercise even though you are injured
  • you arrange work or social obligations around exercise
  • you cancel family or social engagements to exercise
  • you become angry, anxious or agitated when something interferes with your exercise
  • you sometimes wish you could stop but are unable to
  • you know others are worried about how much you exercise but don’t listen to them
  • you always have to do more (laps, miles, weights) and rarely feel satisfied with what you have done
  • you count how many calories you burn while exercising
  • you exercise to compensate from overeating

So, if any of these description ring true for you, just being aware is the first step. For more information on Dr. Maine’s book which includes many great resources for those struggling with body image concerns, check out this link:Body Wars

And remember, it is never too late to start going to the playground again!!!

Healthy or Thin?

IMG_2637My guess is these two words get different reactions from different people. It has been my experience over the years that in our culture we assume pretty much everyone wants to be “thin”. And most people equate being “healthy” with being “thin”. Most of us assume if we tell someone they look “healthy” it would be a compliment. Or, we assume telling someone they are lucky they are so “thin” is also a compliment.

What I have learned from my patients is for those with eating disorders, being told you are “healthy” is equivalent to being told you are “fat”. For some of the patients I work with who have trouble gaining weight, being told they are “too thin” is very hurtful, as their body image concerns are often interfering with their lives just as the person who is concerned about being “too fat”.

My goal is to help people see that a goal of “healthy” is the smartest goal. The first step for some is working on their “self-talk” around the word “healthy” and eventually accepting it has nothing to do with your size. For others whose goal is being “thin”, instead changing to a goal of being “healthy” because that may be a goal they can actually achieve (not to mention, a goal of being healthy is also mentally healthier!)

I will always remember a teenage patient of mine who had moved from Africa and had lost a few pounds (still a very normal and healthy weight). Dad brought her in because he was very concerned about this. When I asked about his concerns, he said “I want her to be fat. Doesn’t everybody want to be fat?” He was very serious but I couldn’t help but smile inside. I did have to explain to him that we can’t always control that but I wanted to be sure she was “healthy”. He never came back ; )