Health Canada released its long awaited update to its food guide this week and the response has been swift. Overall I quite like it, and I wrote about it here in my bi-weekly column. The old food guide was prescriptive (eat something from these four food groups and here’s how much). The new food guide is much more aspirational and as I wrote, it reflects diversity in food choice and food culture.
I thought I would pull together a bunch of responses to the guide in this post. The Globe and Mail has several pieces I liked, with the first from one from Andre Picard, the Globe’s health reporter, in which he looks at food insecurity and the food guide’s recommendations. Leslie Beck, the Globe’s dietitian commentator, offers up her thanks for Health Canada’s building a guide on science while Ann Hui also of the Globe and Mail, provides a good overview of the key changes here.
Cassandra Lszklarski from the Canadian Press focuses on the guide’s position on alcohol. Health Canada has stepped away from recommending milk as the preferred beverage and tells us to drink more water. At the same time, it is also came out strongly against alcohol consumption (non drinkers shouldn’t start for example). Previous guides highlighted the sugar and calories in alcohol, but this version talks about the links between alcohol and obesity, cancer, and addiction.
Yoni Freedhoff looks at the implications for institutional change. On Weighty Matters, Freedhoff’s blog, he wrote how the new food guide is a radical departure from previous more modest iterations:
“Whether it was consequent to past criticisms, or the insulation of the revision process from the food industry, or a change in leadership, or some combination of those and more factors, the 2019 Food Guide is incredibly different from all of its predecessors. Gone is dairy as its own food group (that doesn’t mean the guide is recommending against dairy consumption), gone is wishy-washy language that excused refined grains, gone are explicit recommendations to consume 2 glasses of milk and 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oils daily, gone is overarching fat-phobia, gone is juice being a fruit and vegetable equivalent, gone is the notion that sugar-sweetened milk is a health food, and gone is an antiquated nutrient-focused approach.”
Freedhoff also talks about what to do next, now that the food guide is out without its dependence on food-based marketing recommendations. In this post, he looks at what needs to change for good healthy food policy to happen. Freedhoff describes them as hills but they include removal of fast food from schools, a national school food policy, a ban on food marketing to children, implementation of a soda tax, removal of front of package claims, and an overhaul of supplement regulation.
The food insecurity issue is one that I will be looking at in the future, but in the meantime, I am excited by the new food guide and what it means for reflecting diversity and health on my plate.
What do you think? How important has the food guide been in managing your nutritional needs? What do you like or dislike about Health Canada’s guide?
— Martha Muzychka is a writer living in St. John’s who swims, lifts and walks as much as she can.
As someone who has been exploring different ways to be fit, healthy, and happy, the question of alcohol comes up often.
Usually the question from the fitness point of view focuses on the calories in alcohol or avoiding overindulgence vis a vis athletic performance. When it comes to health, the issue is more about consuming too much alcohol.
Two articles of late have been making the rounds on my news feeds. The first one surveys the literature on alcohol and its link to cancer. Mother Jones writer Stephanie Mencimer began looking at this link after her own diagnosis of breast cancer even though she didn’t fit the profile as someone at risk for cancer.
The article is extensive and covers a lot of ground, but what leapt out at me was data on women’s drinking generally. As a rule, Mencimer reported, women don’t drink a lot. But that is changing, and rapidly, because of concerted marketing campaigns pitching drinking to women: “Ads and products now push alcohol as a salve for the highly stressed American woman. There are wines called Mother’s Little Helper, Happy Bitch, Mad Housewife, and Relax. Her Spirit vodka comes with swag emblazoned with girl-power slogans like “Drink responsibly. Dream recklessly.”
But it isn’t just ads selling specific types of alcohol. There’s a whole bunch of memes and cartoons online and on clothing doing this. Consider this popular image and concept. The image shows two women running. One woman tells the other her fitness tracker calculates how many glasses of wine they have earned through exercising.
The image equates exercise as a means to earn food or drink rewards. Run five miles you get a glass of wine; run ten miles and you get two.
That’s not how exercise works, and yet the message is seen as lighthearted and true. It doesn’t work if you think of two men running and saying it calculates how many beer you can have.
Then there’s this one:
With this meme, readers who are watching their weight are advised to sublimate food cravings by drinking wine. It goes further to suggest that thirst can only be quenched by alcohol.
I find this one really bothersome because the idea of moderation is dismissed out of hand. Forget having a glass of wine, drink the whole bottle. As for seeing how you feel, I doubt anyone who has drunk a whole bottle by themselves has the capacity to engage in any deep thinking.
Then there’s the marketing push from stories like this one on farm fresh vodka (made with kale!) and the latest marathon fad which includes 23 stops for wine.
I think though the worst idea for drinking came from a fitness apparel line:
We’ve come along way since Mick Jagger sang about Mother’s Little Helper (Where’s the sarcasm emojii when you need it?). There’s so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to start.
Perhaps it’s the idea that a strong woman needs help with parenting a strong girl. While parenting help is often undersold, are girl children that problematic that even a strong woman can’t cope? Or is it that the only way to cope is to indulge in strong drink (usually meaning hard liquor)?
I prefer my strength to come from lifting weights and from focusing on the ways I can cultivate resilience rather than on relying on drink to give me strength to face the challenges I have.
These memes are often shared because people find them funny but in fact, they normalize excessive drinking. Let’s take a look at what that is.
Health Canada defines low risk drinking as “no more than two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions.”
But limits aren’t that simple. The second article I read this week focused on the life-shortening effects of alcohol. The article reported on new research which found “people who drank the equivalent of about five to 10 drinks a week could shorten their lives by up to six months.”
It gets worse: “The study of 600,000 drinkers estimated that having 10 to 15 alcoholic drinks every week could shorten a person’s life by between one and two years. And they warned that people who drink more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives.”
Contrary to those memes, the research supports a new limit for light drinking or for encouraging abstinence from alcohol completely if one wants to pursue a healthier and happier life.
— Martha Muzychka is a writer getting her fit on in St. Johns.
On my daily walk to the gym, in the darkness of 5 am in London, Ontario, I began reflecting on the changes that occurred when I got into fitness. Thinking about the hours spent researching fitness and nutrition, the stacks of supplements (proteins, amino acids, greens) on top of my fridge, how I weigh out and track my food intake, I found myself wondering, “Have I just replaced one addiction with another?”
Let me back up a bit…
About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Rotman Institute of Philosophy talk at Western University by Dr. Hanna Pickard, entitled Why Do Addicts Use? Getting Real about Drugs, Identity and Adversity. In her talk, Dr. Pickard explored the power of the neurobiological myth (i.e., that addicts are neurobiologically compelled to use and cannot help it) and its social and moral repercussions. While not wholly dismissive of neuroscience, Dr. Pickard emphasized the multifaceted and complex nature of addition.
In doing so, she noted that to understand addition, we also need to have conversations about the value of drugs, the relevance of psycho-socio-economic context, and the role of narrative self-identity. You can listen/watch the full talk here.
I was particularly struck – in that full-bodied, dizzying kind of way – when Dr. Pickard read a personal narrative from a former addict (name omitted for anonymity). In this narrative, the person recounted the loss of identity they experienced while recovering from a drug-addicted lifestyle. That is, when your self-identity is so strong that it permeates almost every aspect of your life, there is a tremendous void when this identity is given up during recovery – how do you fill up that heavy, daunting space? What do you do with all your time now?
As you may have read when Tracy interviewed me here, I got into fitness after what was a couple years of problematically drinking and partying. My drinking made up my self-identity, fueling my behavior and filling most my thoughts. For instance, I would plan my week around when, where, and with whom I would drink, and when I would recover (because it was excessive enough that recoveries were required). It was the way my peers, friends, and family knew me; it was how I knew me, as if I truly did not know how else to be.
When I got my gym membership last January, I had no idea what I was in for. I had no idea that I’d fall in love with fitness like I did. As that love developed and grew, the old habits that came with my drinking lifestyle slowly faded away as new habits that came with my fitness lifestyle filled those would-have-been voids. Instead of starting off my day with a pounding headache, wondering who I could get to drink with me that day, I’d wake up at the crack of dawn, full of energy and excitement as I’d weigh out my pre-workout meal (to make sure I was getting adequate amounts of macro-nutrients to fuel my workout) and pack my gym bag. Late nights out were replaced with early nights in (to ensure I had a proper amount of sleep for my muscles to recover and grow).
I’ve often been told by my peers and others in my life that my lifestyle is problematic, excessive, and unhealthy, being told things like “well you need to be able to enjoy other things in life too”, or “weighing your food is excessive and wrong”, and “your lifestyle is too extreme, you sound like an addict, that can’t be right”, and on it goes.
So, on that early morning walk to the gym, these reflections had me wondering whether I had just replaced one addiction with another. While it may seem as if I did to some, for me, something much deeper and more complex than mere replacement had occurred. My drinking lifestyle and self-identity was life-restricting, but my fitness lifestyle and self-identity is life-enhancing. My drinking self-identity made me feel like a spectator in my own life, watching it unfold without ever really participating in it – as if I were sleepwalking through my life without ever truly feeling. And while I never felt like I was truly myself, I genuinely did not know who else to be or what else to do; in a sense, I became a prisoner to my own self-identity. It was just who I was, it was just what I did, and what people expected from me.
My fitness lifestyle and identity, however, didn’t just act as a replacement for my old lifestyle/identity; it did, perhaps, initially, but as time went on it became more than that. When we replace one thing with something similar, we usually get the same output, behavior, or end-result. I like to think of it in terms of RAM on a computer. If the RAM (random access memory) on my computer dies, I can replace that part and (hopefully) my computer runs just as it did prior to the crash. With respect to the question above, however, the result – my quality of life – was not the same (or even similar) with my new lifestyle/self-identity. It was enhanced and enriched; it woke me up. No longer was a spectator to my own life, but was a genuine part of it. Finally, I felt like I was authentically myself.
Through Dr. Pickard’s incredible talk, my reflections on what fitness means to me, and what it taught (and continues to teach) me, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the new narrative self-identity that I’ve created and fostered through fitness. So, when people offer their unsolicited, “Oh, that’s unhealthy, excessive, wrong, etc.” I smile on the inside, because I know that they cannot contextualize my current lifestyle within my deeper, complex, and often quite painful personal history.
Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London, Ontario, completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.
Last month, with a week to go before departing on a long planned holiday, I felt my left knee bail on me. When I went in to the gym for my regular Monday training, the knee was still cranky. Some moves were great, and others were not.
My trainer and I tried different exercises, and at the end of the session, I limped to my car seething with frustration, worried about my upcoming mini break which would require a lot of walking, and feeling less than impressed with myself and my knee.
When the alarm sounded its wakeup call the next morning, I was tentative, fearful, and to be frank, scared. I stood up and took that first step, and then another.
Readers, I felt no pain. The knee worked perfectly. I did a couple of practice squats, and I stood up each time with wonder. The marvelous feeling continued through the day.
I could walk steadily, without feeling a hitch in my hip or my knee. I could lace up my shoes, be it sitting, bent over, or leaning. I got up from chairs — straight ones, soft and sinky ones, short ones, armless ones – and I didn’t need to hold onto anything. I even sat on my steps and got up from those without pain and without help.
Not only was my knee functioning, everything else was too. I was full of questions: Would this marvelous sense of wellbeing and functionality disappear? Should I stop doing all the things I had been doing in case I put a foot wrong and shifted everything out of whack? So what if I was fine now, what about when I was in a foreign country away from all my supports, and the pain returned?
I wrote my trainer, both elated and panicked. We reviewed the session, and also debated the possibilities arising from my ditching the old sneakers and wearing new ones with proper support, the addition of three to four servings of fish to my meals each week, to my getting more sleep.
In the end, we had no idea of what was the one thing that changed all for the better, but we had lots of thoughts on all the pieces that could have helped. The days passed pain free and I was mobile in ways I had not been for more than a year. I went on holiday and clocked almost 85 kilometres on my Fitbit, surpassing my 10K step goal each day to reach 15K to 25K. I negotiated stairs and sidewalks of all types. My body rescue pack, containing Voltaren, Aleve, lacrosse ball, and stretch band, lay unused in the suitcase.
When I started training back in the late fall of 2013, I expected stiffness and muscle soreness as part of the deal. When my hip joint, my shoulder, and my knee went rogue though, I did not expect to deal with pain long term.
As the joke goes, “what’s best about beating your head against a brick wall is how good you feel when you stop.” Though I had been mobile in recovery and after, I did not realize how pain had become a new constant in my life, low grade as it was, until it stopped.
Women often suck it up when it comes to pain and illness. Those of us who have borne children learn techniques to deal with pain. We soldier on through illness to cook, clean, parent, manage the appointments, meet that deadline, finish that project, etc. Even in positive gym environments, there can be messages about pushing through the pain being a sign of your growing strength.
This new knowledge about what recovery means for my body has fueled my desire to keep going on my fitness path. Yes, I still get tired, and I still get muscle soreness after learning a new exercise or moving to a new volume level, but not having any pain is the best feeling. But I believe the work I have put in on strengthening my core and on relearning how to sleep and rest effectively has made a difference, not just physically but mentally too.
— Martha is a writer and columnist in St. John’s. Her body rescue pack is enjoying a well-earned retirement.
Here’s the short version: Sugar is evil, it will kill you, blah, blah, blah.
Now if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know we’re not fans of thinking of some foods as off-limits and we especially hate the language of “good” and “evil” when it comes to food choices. See Tracy’s past post Why Food Is Beyond “Good” and “Evil” for a clear articulation of why that’s so.
While there is no doubt we, as a society, are eating too much sugar (the American Heart Association recommends 9.5 teaspoons a day but the average American adult eats 22 and the average American child 32–no Canadian stats close at hand) I’m very leery of approaches to food and nutrition that involve demonizing some foods and banishing them from our diets altogether. There is a handy info-graphic about sugar and its over-consumption here.
I’m not going to defend sugar or take on the claims from Babble, but I do want to share with you a post from someone who has. Here’s Healthy Urban Kitchen’s response: 25 Things You Should Know About Sugar
I won’t rehash all 25 myths and the myth busting responses but I will include 22 as it’s a personal favourite and it’s a myth that lots of friends believe even though there’s no evidence to support it.
22 Sugar is Affecting Our Kids
Citing a single study about preschoolers and sugary drinks doesn’t support the idea that sugar as part of a balanced diet has any adverse effects on the behavior or cognitive abilities of kids.
a) ‘Although sugar is widely believed by the public to cause hyperactive behavior, this has not been scientifically substantiated. Twelve double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of sugar challenges failed to provide any evidence that sugar ingestion leads to untoward behavior in children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or in normal children. Likewise, none of the studies testing candy or chocolate found any negative effect of these foods on behavior. ‘
If you want to understand why parents believe this, look no further than the power of fear-based articles like these being widely shared and the Pygmalion effect: the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. When kids are primed to bounce off the walls because they ate sugar, most will take the opportunity to let loose.
Here is an older post on the alleged evils of sugar from one of our favourite websites Go Kaleo.
Go Kaleo: “Sugar is not THE problem. Sugar may be (and probably is, under some circumstances) A problem, one of many. But if we’re going to treat sugar as THE problem, and then ‘solve’ that problem by simply eliminating sugar, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Well, for one tree. A bush really. Inactivity is a bigger problem than sugar, and fixating on sugar gives the inactivity a free pass. To improve metabolic health we really need to address all the problems. Don’t get hung up on Sugar As The Bad Guy. You cheat yourself out of vibrant good health, and miss out on some yummy and perfectly appropriate desserts.”
And while Healthy Urban Kitchen and Go Kaleo sound all polite and reasonable, Melkor (another favourite Facebook fitness and nutrition skeptic) isn’t that restrained.
Better headline: You’ll Stop Reading Babble.com After Seeing Them Give Airtime to This Codswallop.
This new anti-sugar article that’s going around is 100% incorrect. It is false, every bit of it, it’s the perfect example of fear-mongering. It is supporting an upcoming documentary called “I Should Be Embarrassed for Believing Shit I Didn’t Research”. I’m writing a rebuttal now…
I first saw the story of Tammy Jung, a young woman who is intentionally gaining weight in order to attract an internet audience, posted on the Feminism subreddit. Tammy’s main audience is the “feeder” audience. Feeders (from what I understand based only on what I’ve garnered from the internet), including her boyfriend, gain sexual pleasure from over-feeding their partners and making them gain weight.
In the scheme of “feeders,” Tammy and her boyfriend are small potatoes, with her weight at around 250 pounds at the moment of the article. According to this report, Susanne Eman, 728 pounds, is eating 22,000 calories a day in an attempt to become the Guinness Book of World Records heaviest woman in the world.
The person who posted the story originally asked: How do you tell someone like this they are wrong without fat-shaming or is this okay?” A flurry of subreddit discussion followed.
Granted, the original source was the UK’s Daily Mail, which I take it is — ahem — not a highly regarded news source. I found more on the Huff Post “Weird News” site. So yes, I know, I know, this is not the most well-researched post you will find on our blog. But bear with me because I find the original poster’s question to be worth thinking about, first, for its assumption that Tammy is doing something wrong, and second for its concern that to call her out on it might be fat-shaming.
I want to think about that, and also to think about whether this raises any other relevant feminist issues.
But first, let me put something else on the table as contrast, something so disturbing that, like the thigh gap stuff that’s out there, I can’t bring myself to include the link. It’s the world of the pro-ana and pro-mia communities, that is, communities that are pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia and think of these not as diseases but as lifestyle choices.
Taken together, Tammy Jung’s intentional quest for obesity and the pro-ana and pro-mia followers’ intentional quest for thinness via starvation present an interesting study in contrasts. They are the equally disturbing ends of the eating as a form of body-modification (or body-control) continuum.
The discussion about Tammy Jung and fat-shaming on the feminism subreddit had some interesting dimensions to it, but a lot of them side-stepped the fat-shaming question altogether in two polar opposite ways. On the one hand, lots of people said that it’s her choice, she gets to do what she wants, and no one has a right to challenge her goal of becoming 420 pounds. On the other hand, other people criticized her decision on health grounds, saying that she is intentionally killing herself, and she shouldn’t have a right to health care insurance.
One person said that if we saw a similar story about a young woman intentionally starving herself on the internet to make money and satisfy men’s sexual fetishes, we would have more to say about it.
I have mixed feelings about her quest. I like that she feels sexy despite being, or even because she is, obese by society’s standards. I like too that there are people out there who find that sexy. Her desire to be paid for her weight gain by admirers who fetishize it is a form of sex work, broadly construed. I have no strong reservations about non-exploitative sex work and believe that it is possible to engage in sexual activities and pursuits for money (i.e. as work) without being exploited. That is not to say that exploitation never happens, but it isn’t an inherent feature of sex work (see philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s fabulous chapter on sex work in her book Sex and Social Justicefor a compelling discussion of why sex work ought to be considered work).
It’s a simple fact that from a health perspective, what Tammy is doing is very likely to shorten her life. Her doctor has said as much. But it’s not clear to me that we have an imperative to be healthy. And it’s also not clear to me that resorting to a claim about health risk isn’t a covert way of fat-shaming.
We’ve seen in past posts that the assumption that people who are larger than average are necessarily unhealthy or unfit is false. Moreover, do we really have a right to judge people for making choices that don’t promote health or longevity, or that involve risks?
Despite my concern about invoking health as an imperative, I confess that it is the slow suicide, bad-for-your-health feature of anorexia and bulimia that make it so difficult for me to read “tipsheets” that outline in painstaking detail how to starve yourself or how to make yourself vomit — and in both cases how to hide this from friends and family.
Beyond the physical health of it, I see both extremes as fostering psychological obsessions with food and body. Whether the obsession is with gaining or with losing extreme amounts of weight, the pre-occupation with food and body is not healthy. In fact, both anorexia and bulimia are regarded as eating disorders, illnesses requiring treatment. The same might be said of extreme overeating.
The choice issue enters into the picture because the women themselves frame their behavior as chosen. Let’s say for the sake of argument that they are engaging in this behavior by choice. Do we have a right to pass judgment on these choices? That is, is it correct to assume that there is something wrong with those choices?
Eighteenth Century philosopher Immanual Kant argued that among our moral duties included duties to self. He believed that suicide was wrong and that, on a more positive note, we had duties to “promote our own talents.” So, according to Kant, not only is it wrong to kill yourself, it’s also wrong to do things that hinder the development of your personal gifts. Roughly, Kant believed that no one could consistently engage in self-defeating behavior (this really oversimplifies his point, I confess, but that’s the gist of it).
I disagree with Kant that suicide and not developing our talents are morally condemnable. But I do think that we can back off from the moral judgment while still recognizing that there is something disturbing or even just plain sad going on when anyone engages in behavior that fosters obsession and is overtly self-destructive.
Do I want to go so far as to say that these women should not be able to make choices about how to treat their bodies? Is it not a significant part of feminist ideology that women are in control of their own bodies and ought to be permitted to choose as they see fit? Absolutely.
There are all sorts of choices that women ought not be denied and that yet, at the same time, do not help the cause of women’s equality. Think of these choices not so much in terms of their impact on the individual women who make them but rather in the broader context of social structures that systemically disadvantage women and stand as obstacles to women’s equality.
Starving ourselves as a lifestyle choice promotes a bodily aesthetic that puts women’s lives in peril. Much to the misfortune of women living in the Western world at this historical moment, that aesthetic is represented in media as normative. Therefore, if starvation for women is indeed a lifestyle choice, then it’s a choice that is just plain bad for women as a group because it buys into rather than challenges normative femininity as ultra-thinness.
On the other side of this, force-feeding ourselves in order to gain attention and for the express purpose of appealing to men with a particular fetish also puts women’s lives in peril. In this case, the systemic issue is less that it promotes a normative aesthetic (clearly, obese women’s bodies are not normative in the present cultural context) than that it promotes the idea that we should shape our bodies according to male desire.
I do not mean here to be negatively judging men who find large women attractive. Instead, we need to question the idea that women need to take extreme measures to modify their bodies so that said bodies are attractive to men.
Ultimately, then, to the extent that these extremes are defended as choices, I believe they are (a) choices women have a right to make and (b) choices that are bad for women in general because of the social messages they perpetuate. They can make them, but for the sake of all of us, I really wish they wouldn’t.
Whenever I talk about moderation in eating, I always hear from people who have at least some foods that they do not believe they can moderate. These foods are usually things like potato chips and cheesies, cake and cookies, nuts and pretzels, chocolate and ice cream. To a lesser degree, some avoid things like pizza and french fries for similar reasons. They can’t eat just a little bit.
My initial reaction to this claim of the inability to moderate is skepticism. The intuitive eating approach that I’ve been following lately, and that has miraculously freed me from all rules about food and from overeating pretty much anything, works on the premise that when we release ourselves from the idea of forbidden foods and eat what we want, when we are hungry, in a mindful fashion until we are satisfied (not stuffed, satisfied), we will achieve a peaceful relationship with food.
“Peaceful” may seem an odd way of describing it, but if food has been the enemy for many years, as it has for many chronic dieters, then making peace with it is a huge achievement. The intuitive eating approach does not require that we cut out any particular foods altogether.
And it pretty much promises that if followed in a committed manner, with a firm resolve never to diet again and to stop monitoring your weight with regular weigh-ins, even the most obsessive, chronic dieter, even those with severe eating disorders (whether they be at the starvation end or the overeating end of the disordered eating spectrum), will learn to eat what they want, when they want, in moderate amounts.
This has been my experience. But it doesn’t happen overnight. When the rules are first lifted, of course we feel giddy with the new permissiveness. At that stage, it’s easy and fairly common to eat what we want when we want, but in amounts that exceed satiety. That is not what intuitive eating is all about. The mindful eating part of the equation, which is also something Sam is practicing with her precision approach, is as important as lifting our judgments about good foods and bad foods.
So my first response is always to encourage people who are ready to do something radical and different in their relationship with food to think of it as a process. I urge people to believe that if they have patience and follow the guidelines, the foods that they thought might forever trigger them into binging have a good chance of losing their power.
But this outcome may not be possible for everyone with respect to every kind of food. Why? Because it may be that in some small number of cases people actually have an addictive relationship with some foods.
I’m no stranger to the ways of addiction. It’s a serious thing that can take people down hard. It wrecks lives, makes people miserable, and has a huge impact on those who suffer from it and on almost everyone in their lives.
In my experience, the minimum requirement for overcoming an addiction is total abstinence. So I am quite willing to believe that for some people, if they are completely out of control around certain foods, then moderation is not going to work.
The other thing I know about addiction is that it is not only about the thing to which a person is addicted. Reaching outside of ourselves (for food or drugs or alcohol or more more of whatever it is) to change the way we feel, i.e. to feel better, even if only temporarily, is an ineffective coping strategy. When we abstain from the so-called problem substance or behavior, we have not necessarily developed better coping skills or dealt with the core issues that lead us to seek solace in e.g. a bag of potato chips in the first place.
Abstinence is a means of beginning to address addiction, but it will not give anyone a full recovery from it.
Since I am not one to throw around the idea that someone may be addicted lightly, I want to suggest that the majority of us who appear to have certain “problem” foods in our lives might find surprising results if we took a risk and truly allowed ourselves to incorporate these things into our lives.
I’m not suggesting that you incorporate foods that you don’t even like, of course. I’m talking about foods that we wish we could eat but avoid because we can’t control ourselves when we are around them.
I have felt that way around all sorts of foods and no longer have that experience. This change tells me that thankfully I was not addicted. I was just caught in a cycle of diet and deprivation followed by rebellious eating.
BUT, if you are a person who simply cannot deal moderately with a food and need to abstain completely, then you might have an addiction. Cutting out the problem substance (be it crack or potato chips) only addresses the symptom. Addiction is much more all-encompassing than just being unable to stop using something or eating something or drinking alcohol.
If someone’s reason for being unable to stop eating peanuts is that they are addicted, then abstaining from peanuts might stop them from overeating peanuts, but it will not address the deeper issues that lead them to an addictive relationship with certain foods.
I know of one organizaton, Overeater’s Anonymous, that is dedicated to helping those with food addictions in the same way that Alcoholics Anonymous helps alcoholics deal with their alcoholism. It’s a drastic measure that from what I’ve heard includes a very restricted food plan (I don’t have first hand experience with OA, so that might not be the case). Before taking it, I would explore less drastic measures, such as the intuitive eating approach or any approach that does not involve severe food restrictions and that encourages mindful eating.
I acknowledge that I am something of an evangelist, singing the praises of the intuitive eating approach to all who will listen. That is only because I have experienced an amazing, almost unbelievable shift in my relationship with food, weight and body image since embracing this approach on January 1, 2013.
I am relieved that my “food issues” were not about addiction, and that something as reasonable as the intuitive eating approach could have such a transformative impact on my life.
I’m planning on teaching a course on sports ethics in the near future and one of the hot topics in that field is performance enhancing substances and the criteria we use to ban such substances in sports competition.
I’m very happy though that my favourite performance drug doesn’t run afoul of any of the rules.
Like many athletes, both recreational and pro, I love my cup of coffee before riding a bike, running, rowing…
Here’s two of my favourite exercise science reporters for the NY Times on the ability of caffeine to enhance athletic performance.
Gretchen Reynolds: Scientists and many athletes have known for years, of course, that a cup of coffee before a workout jolts athletic performance, especially in endurance sports like distance running and cycling. Caffeine has been proven to increase the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream, which enables people to run or pedal longer (since their muscles can absorb and burn that fat for fuel and save the body’s limited stores of carbohydrates until later in the workout). As a result, caffeine, which is legal under International Olympic Committee rules, is the most popular drug in sports. More than two-thirds of about 20,680 Olympic athletes studied for a recent report had caffeine in their urine, with use highest among triathletes, cyclists and rowers.
Gina Kolata: Caffeine, it turns out, actually works. And it is legal, one of the few performance enhancers that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. So even as sports stars from baseball players to cyclists to sprinters are pilloried for using performance enhancing drugs, one of the best studied performance enhancers is fine for them or anyone else to use. And it is right there in a cup of coffee or a can of soda. Exercise physiologists have studied caffeine’s effects in nearly every iteration: Does it help sprinters? Marathon runners? Cyclists? Rowers? Swimmers? Athletes whose sports involve stopping and starting like tennis players? The answers are yes and yes and yes and yes. Starting as long ago as 1978, researchers have been publishing caffeine studies. And in study after study, they concluded that caffeine actually does improve performance. In fact, some experts, like Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University in Canada, are just incredulous that anyone could even ask if caffeine has a performance effect. “There is so much data on this that it’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s just unequivocal that caffeine improves performance. It’s been shown in well-respected labs in multiple places around the world.”
I was surprised to read the other day in Women’s Health that the most dedicated exercisers are also the biggest drinkers. According to Selene Yeager, author of Exercise and Alcohol: Running on Empty Bottles people who exercise a lot tend also to drink a lot, far beyond levels we think of as healthy. I won’t recap the numbers, you can look at the Women’s Health story, but the trend seems especially pronounced for women. Yeager discusses the reasons why over the top exercisers are also over the top imbibers.
It’s not because they feel they’ve freed up the calories so they’ve earned their cocktails either. (That might have been my first guess.)
Instead, the researchers Yeager interviewed said it has to do with activation of the pleasure centers of the brain. “The downside of constantly activating these reward pathways is this: Your brain gets used to it and wants more, says Brian R. Christie, Ph.D., neuroscience program director at the University of British Columbia Division of Medical Sciences. So it’s not shocking that someone who craves a 10-K or a blistering CrossFit session will also readily down a couple of vodka sodas.”
This fascinated me because a)I’m a non-drinker and a pretty dedicated exerciser myself, and b)even when I did drink, I drank less, not more, while exercising lots insofar as this waxes and wanes. Athletic events that involve booze have always puzzled me.
When I first became Chair of my Department, I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was offer a broader range of social events for department members. As the parent of three young children, trying to have a an active lifestyle, I thought there was far too much focus on events that involved alcohol. “Wine and cheese” receptions and “pub nights” after talks are pretty much a mainstay of academic life.
Ironically the first event we became involved in was a 24 hour relay race, sponsored by a local brewery (profits going to area hospitals.) The Philosophy Department’s team three years in a row got ‘the most laps ran’ in The Labatts 24 Hour Relay, beating out The Running Room team, the fit looking folks from Goodlife, and even the Department of Kinesiology. I attributed our success to two things.
First, we roped in department members training for marathons to run the overnight shifts.
Second, we adopted a strict “no drinking until after you’ve had your turn running” policy. This might seem obvious but each year I was shocked and a little sickened to see people trying to run while carrying red plastic cups of beer, slurping jello shooters between each 2 km lap, and then (of course, of course) throwing up on the path. Stepping over puddles of puke isn’t my preferred running style!
Yeager concludes that in moderate doses, exercise works to replace drinking, but that as the levels and duration of exercise pick up, so too does one’s drinking. I’m still mulling this over, wondering how I fit into the story. Interestingly, links after the Women’s Health article were to yet more articles looking at the unhealthy habits of the very fit. It turns out they have riskier sex, are less likely to wear sunscreen despite spending more time in the sun, and are more likely to suffer from eating disorders.
(We’re so fit we’re invincible!)
This made me wonder about another explanation for the bad drinking habits. Maybe there’s a maximum amount of concern for our health we can have and once we’ve used it up in one area, we’re less likely to care for our health in others. Recent research about will power shows it to be limited in this way. Disciplined writing means less disciplined eating apparently. Eat carefully at lunch but then you might fail to follow through on your commitment to working out that night. Again, this is the opposite that I would have thought. Like Aristotle, I’ve often thought that virtuous habits supported one another. And that excellence, like virtue, is a habit.