The Pegan Diet: if you want to be a vegan but also want to eat meat (?)

steak,meat,food,dinnerI have to admit I was a bit thrown when Dr. Oz said “and the great news is that So-and So (can’t remember her name) is going to be going to school for nutrition!”. The audience applauded. This sweet young lady had just finished explaining how to incorporate snacks and alcohol into your “Pegan” diet. For some crazy reason I was assuming she was an “expert”and already educated in nutrition? Ya’ll know I am not a huge fan of the Dr. Oz Show, but when flicking through the channels yesterday to find an update on the upcoming snow storm hitting New England, the headline caught my eye: The Pegan Diet. Apparently, I missed this new diet when it came out a few years ago. I couldn’t resist (especially because I need to be informed of these things when someone asks me a question about the latest diet trends, which they inevitably do). I had to watch it. In case like me, you were unaware of this diet, I thought you might be interested to learn some of the details, and more importantly, be able to be informed before you start something like this.

So the Pegan diet attempts to combine the popular “Paleo” diet with a “vegan” diet. The Paleo diet is based on eating like the people did back in the Stone Age and avoiding any “modern” foods.  The diet is based on eating meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts with no grains, beans, dairy or processed foods. Vegan diets eliminate all animal products but do include beans, nuts, lots of grains, healthy fats like oils and of course fruits and vegetables. But combining these two diets feels like an oxymoron to me……either you are vegan and don’t eat animal products, or you do eat them and so then you are not at all a vegan, right? Apparently, from what I read, the thinking is that following a vegan diet is too difficult for those who like to eat meat, and following a paleo diet has too many rules. The Pegan Diet is supposed to feel easier I guess? Easier if you are ok without ice cream. Seriously, the Pegan Diet has even more confusing rules if you ask me. Meat is ok but should only be used as a “condiment”. Dairy is not ok. Beans are ok but only in limited amounts (half cup) and grains are also allowed but limited to “low-glycemic” grains (do you really want to think about glycemic index?) and also limited to half a cup (do you know anyone who only eats a half cup of pasta?). Anyway, you get it.

There’s more. According to the Dr. Oz show, you can modify the diet (I think he is calling it the Pegan 365 Diet) by including alcohol and “snacks”. The catch is that only 2 drinks a week are allowed (so you can participate in Happy Hour with your friends even though you are dieting. They don’t want you to feel isolated). And the examples of snacks they gave on the show included a large plate of cucumbers (this is new?), non-dairy yogurt with berries (so creative) and a frozen dairy free yogurt pop (that might be good), oh, and black bean brownies (don’t knock it till you try it I guess). The point is that it is still a diet, and that means restrictive.

Yes, like with all diets, you WILL lose weight. I estimated the calories to be around a 1000 a day, more or less depending upon your dieting skills. No magic here, any diet will cause some weight loss with that little calorie intake. Besides the low calorie level, there are many nutritional inadequacies. These are clearly spelled out in this excellent critique of the diet (click on the link) by the true experts in Today’s Dietitian

There are some good things I did see on the show, and there are some good aspects to the diet. I absolutely loved some of the recipes and meals demonstrated. One was a vegan chili stuffed pepper that looked really yummy and is certainly a healthy dish providing lots of fiber and nutrients (I would melt some cheese on it myself). There was also a salad with arugula greens and roasted asparagus and what looked like roasted artichokes topped with chick peas and a dressing made of olive oil I think. That also looked great and would be even better with some grated Parmesan or grilled fish on top. Healthy and yummy, and nothing is wrong with that. The diet also focuses on whole foods, avoiding processed foods and things like that. I agree that cooking with real food is not only healthier but surely tastes much better. I would gladly pit my mom’s homemade minestrone soup against any canned version. Or my husband’s homemade cinnamon rolls against Cinnabon’s. Yes, I am all for whole, real foods…..but let’s face it, sometimes you just want a Snickers Bar. Or a Ritz cracker with peanut butter. Or more than 2 glasses of wine a week.

The bottom line is if you want to try a diet like this just know it is probably not a life-long way to live. Our bodies just are not wired to live in such a restrictive state. If you are one of those people who really can’t give up your dieting and you decide to try this, I hope you learn something from it. Maybe you will discover some new ways to cook, or learn that you actually do like vegetables. But please don’t judge yourself if you can’t stick to this and please consult with an expert (Registered Dietitian) or ask your doctor about supplements you may need (such as vitamin D, calcium, iron) which are not adequately provided by this diet.

Finally, what rubs me the wrong way is how gullible some people think we are when it comes to falling for the next popular diet. It seems all you need is a catchy name. So I was trying to come up with something good (that is, if I had to invent a diet). All I could come up with was The “Happivore Diet”. The rules would be simple:  Eat what makes you happy. Eat what makes you feel good. Listen to your body. Learn from your mistakes in eating, or drinking ; ) Care about your body and your health. Learn to cook. Keep trying new foods, especially vegetables and fruits. Learn about nutrition in a sane way (what you need to be your best). Respect your uniqueness (if you feel like you are addicted to sugar and can’t have it in the house, you know yourself best). If you need the structure of a meal plan or certain diet plan, do what you need to do for yourself. If you don’t want to eat animal products and prefer to eat vegetarian, do what is best for you and live in a way that fuels your passion and beliefs. Most important, never give up on your quest for health, physical, spiritual and mental health. And remember, YOU are the true expert in your own life.

And there is nothing bad about eating more than a half cup of pasta.

 

 

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.

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.

Do You Live With the Food Police?

stock-illustration-19467692-policemanI saw a patient today that made me sad. She shared a story I have heard one too many times. The reason the story is bothersome is because the things some people do in the name of caring are so obviously not helpful at all, and actually very harmful. It seems like a no-brainer to me, if that makes sense. By that I mean those simple things, like manners, that everyone should know. Saying or doing something that if you have one iota of intelligence, you would know it is wrong.

But for some reason, people don’t get it.

So I decided to write about it because even if just one person reads this and changes, or reads this and shares it then maybe someone will stop. What I am referring to is the food police. Not the one stuck in your head. The real live one(s) many people live with.

The story goes like this: the teenager, who always played soccer and was thin and fit in high school goes off to college, stops her sports so she could focus on studying and then gains weight. Mom is not happy about this (and neither is the college kid), and mom wants to help her daughter. So she makes comments about what her daughter  is eating when she is home visiting: “are you sure you want that much? Do you think you really need that?” On top of this, her dad and her younger brother have also joined the forces. They watch what she eats and feel they are “helping” her when they comment about those cookies or chips or ice cream sandwiches, “those aren’t for you, they are for your brother, you don’t need them!”

Or consider the young wife who has a few kids, gains weight and no longer fits into those tight jeans. She already beats herself up about this, and knows her husband is not happy. He says he just wants to help and that is why he feels the need to tell her when she has had enough.

What happens when mom, dad, brother and hubby leave? What would YOU do? If there was white chocolate mousse in my house (my favorite, and something you just can’t find easily), and someone said it was “not for me”, I will tell you what I would do. I would wait until they left, or went to sleep, and I would sneak it. Actually, no, that is not true because that would make me feel guilty if I had to lie. I would probably be honest and tell them directly that they better not leave it there because I will steal some!

But most people in this position are not able to be direct and stand up for themselves. They find it hard to say “look, I love chips, so if they are here, I am probably going to eat some, and I would appreciate it if you would mind your own business!” No, what I see is that children and adults alike all do the same thing when they live with the food police. They sneak. They binge eat. They feel guilty. Part of it is that they really do crave the food but much of it seems to be almost a passive aggressive resentful act against those trying to control them.

I remember clearly a middle aged woman who was in one of my non-diet weight management classes many years ago. Her husband was the food police (just trying to help her). She would sit and eat her Special K cereal with skim milk while he scoffed down his bacon and pancakes every morning. Then, she would watch through the window as he drove out of the driveway and around the corner. Once he was out of sight, she went straight to the fridge. She would binge on all of the foods he would not want her to eat. He did not understand why she was not losing weight when she barely ate. She had a lot of work to do with making that relationship healthy and one that would truly support and not control her.

So what would I recommend to family members who really do want to help? (You can share this with them if you agree):

  • ASK your loved one how you can help.
  • LISTEN to what they say. Sometimes it is helpful to NOT have certain foods in the home if it triggers someone to binge eat. Binge eating often leads to other disordered behaviors such as purging, and this is not what you want to happen. Little Johnny can have Oreo’s at his friends house or buy them at CVS, if his sister is struggling at the moment, he can live without them at home. Hubby can live without ice cream at home (go out for a cone when you want one! and take your wife if she wants to go too)
  • STOP talking about weight. Or body size. Theirs, your own, your neighbors, Oprah’s, anybody’s!
  • ACCEPT the beautiful person your loved one is that has nothing to do with the force of gravity on their body (which is all weight is, right?)
  • PROMOTE health in your home. Make healthy meals. Play outside. Dance, play games, have fun.
  • TRUST that your adult child or your spouse or whoever will figure out what is best for them. Be an example, NOT the police.
  • IF you notice any disordered eating behaviors, don’t ignore it. Educate yourself (check out NEDA)for some support.

And if you are the one feeling like the criminal living with the food police, consider sharing this post. Blame it on me! If the dietitian admits she would be sneaking the white chocolate mousse….well, maybe they will understand.