diets · eating · fitness · food · holiday fitness · holidays · Martha's Musings · nutrition · season transitions

T’is the season to detox yourself from cleanses, diets and weird wellness claims

By MarthaFitat55

It’s not even December 1 and I have been seeing a non-stop stream of ads, posts and recommended links on all manner of cleanses. Some are short, some are long, some are liquid, and some are minimal. All are useless.

Timothey Caulfield at the University of Alberta debunks the latest holiday cleanses in this article. Caulfield writes:

The idea that we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies seems to have become a culturally accepted fact. This feels especially true around the holidays which are associated with heavy foods and even heavier shame about what that turkey and gravy and wine might be doing to our insides. After a weekend of indulgence, wellness gurus cry, your body is begging for a detox. But is it?

 While there is something to be said for countering a week (or two) of indulgence with lighter fare, unless you were born liver-less or you lost your liver along the way, the human body has its own detox system right inside you: the aforementioned liver and kidneys.

 There’s a huge market out there and if you build it, make it, sell it, they will come. The promises are endless but the long and short of it is simple: today’s cleanses and detox programs are primarily designed to relieve you of your money.

The sellers of these cleanses rely on fear and vanity, and also on society’s preoccupation on thinness. The messages are often wrapped upin social beliefs about health and wellness.

 We empower people to take charge of their health, especially women who are often responsible for managing their well being along with those of their families. Who wants to be known as someone who does not care about their health? Not me.

While the social imperative to diet, to cleanse, to eat clean is present year-round, there seems to be special pressure in December to do any number of things to ensure we have the perfect body.

 All the ads I have seen lead me to believe that we must cleanse the body the same way we cleanse our homes for special occasions this time of year. In January, when the new year has begun and we barely have had time to vacuum the pine needles and expunge the last piece of glitter from our homes, we get a different chorus but still with the same tune.

I suggest, if we are to cleanse anything, it is these sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy approaches to wellness.

So if you are confused and challenged by all that you see, remember this: everything in moderation. Your body will do what it needs to do. Fuel it appropriately.  Move lots (preferably outside if it isn’t blowing a gale). Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Have fun.

MarthaFitat55 lives and writes in St. John’s.

diets · fitness

What’s in a name? More profits, according to Weight Watchers (now WW)

How many of you readers have been to a Weight Watchers meeting? I’m guessing at least this many:

A large group of people with hands raised.
A large group of people with hands raised.

You can count me among this group. My first visit was in my mid-20s, during graduate school.  I went out of anxiety about weight gain, but without any plans or optimism, lasting only about 3 or 4 meetings. The second time I went, I lasted two meetings.  What sent me running for the exit was the leader of the meeting, explaining why we should drink a lot of water: “it washes away the fat”. Argh.  I’m outta here.

Stick person exiting...
Stick person exiting…

Times have changed since those days, 30 years ago. We all know that diets don’t work, and in fact have harmful effects– they reduce our resting metabolic rate, encourage disordered eating, and are often associated with disordered mood.

Weight Watchers has been paying attention to these developments– both in the science of body weight and in public opinion.  And they responded by changing their… name.  To this:

The new name of Weight Watchers, which is WW-- two Ws, one on top of the other, in a circle. Then the words "weight watchers reimagined." I can't make this stuff up.
The new name of Weight Watchers, which is WW– two Ws, one on top of the other, in a circle. Then the words “weight watchers reimagined.” I can’t make this stuff up.

Oprah, who owns a 10% stake in the company, assures us that the new WW is no longer about dieting– it’s about wellness.


Oprah's head with the quote "WW freestyle (their newest plan) is not a diet. It's a way of living."
Oprah’s head with the quote “WW freestyle (their newest plan) is not a diet. It’s a way of living.”


However, looking on the same web page, just above her head (so maybe she couldn’t see it), was this:


The simplest, most flexible WW program is based on science-- you'll lose weight and have freedom with your food choices.
The simplest, most flexible WW program is based on science– you’ll lose weight and have freedom with your food choices.


That sounds exactly like a diet program to me.


And then, looking to the right (on the same page), we see what their updated smartphone app looks like:

A smartphone view, showing food points for the day and week, and allotments for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. The points plan, a longtime Weight Watchers method.
A smartphone view, showing food points for the day and week, and allotments for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. The points plan, a longtime Weight Watchers method.


This looks exactly like their standard diet plan, with daily and weekly and meal-ly points assigned for total food consumption and restriction.  My friends, this is a diet. Full stop.

There’s been a lot of media coverage of Weight Watchers’ attempt to rebrand themselves. Even the fancy international economics magazine The Economist noticed.  The article is definitely worth reading, for its archness and detail. Here’s how they summarized some of the changes in the company:

… it has rebranded and adopted the tagline “Wellness that works”. It has stopped promoting before and after pictures, announced a partnership with Headspace, a meditation app, and encourages “beyond the scale” goals. Much of this is to show that the programme is not just meant for your mum.

… the firm is becoming less rigid about its system of points. Previously, members were given a strict daily allowance for anything they put in their mouths. In the early days avocados, yogurt and peanut butter were “illegal” and the banana-allowance was one a week. The new “Freestyle programme” is more flexible. “FitPoints” can be earned for exercise.

However, not everyone is applauding the shift.  The Canadian women’s health blog Chatelaine, said this about the new WW:

One of the dangers of this rebrand is that it makes certain behaviours, like counting points and tracking food and exercise, seem benign. However, Toronto-based nutritionist Emily Tam says they’re anything but. “The repackaging is problematic to me because I think it will propagate the idea that carefully tracking what you eat and how much physical activity you do are normal wellness behaviours,” she explains. “It’s still a dieting program.”

…Their WellnessWins program still counts losing weight as a positive lifestyle habit. “What they’re telling us with this is that weight management is an important aspect of wellness, so to me, Weight Watchers and WW aren’t all that different,” Tam says. “Because the notion that ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ are ‘health problems’ that need to be fixed is so prevalent, weight loss or management is widely seen as a part of wellness.”

Here’s what I think:

  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” doesn’t make it so.
  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” messes with peoples’ senses of reality.
  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” when it is so clearly a diet plan is lying.
  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” makes it seem like dieting promotes wellness– but we all know it doesn’t.
  • Changing its name from “Weight Watchers” to “WW” is a bald-faced move to prey on people who suffer from body dissatisfaction, for whom dieting will make them feel worse.
  • I liked Weight Watchers better when they were Weight Watchers– at least it was clear what they were.
  • What’s in a name?  A lot.


Hello-- my name is... IMPORTANT
Hello– my name is… IMPORTANT


Readers, have you had any experiences with Weight Watchers?  With WW?  What do you think about the change?  I’d love to hear from you.






diets · eating · monthly check in · weight loss

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the September version (CW: some discussion of weight loss)

    Bright red maple leaves against a blue sky. Photo by Unsplash.

    What’s up…

    Here’s the fun, easy thing. I’ve started swimming lessons and I’m excited about that. I love learning new things though I feel like I have been learning to swim my whole life! And maybe that’s okay. We’re working (so far) on breathing and kicking. I feel like I am learning lots, I’m not hopeless, and I feel like someday I might be able swim lengths of the pool again. The lessons are semi-private and the other student is a 4th year undergrad, an international student, hoping to learn to swim strokes. The instructor is also a senior undergrad and we’re all having fun. The lessons are short–30 minutes–but twice weekly and I can come early and stick around after for extra time in the pool. This weekend I’m shopping for a second fitness-y, swimming pool type bathing suit and new goggles. Woohoo!

    Here’s the thing that’s hard to talk about, doctors and weight loss. I met with a family doctor with some experience/expertise in the area of weight loss. Why? Well, less knee pain is the short answer. But also better surgical outcomes and quicker recovery if I go that route. I also stand a better chance of avoiding knee surgery until the inevitable knee replacement many years down the road. I know doctors recommend weight loss for everything but in this case–I’ve read a bunch of the journal literature–I think they’re right.
    I don’t think it’s a case like this.

    So in my case I’m not being extra active in order to lose weight. I’m trying to lose weight to preserve my level of activity. There’s nothing magical on offer. The best diet is the one you can live with. I knew that going in. Weight loss is tough. Read Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong if you want to know how tough. But with my active lifestyle which I love up for grabs, I have to try. The odds aren’t great. I know that. Given my size and the knee problems, I qualify for weight loss surgery. I declined. I also qualify for appetite suppressing medication. Again, for now, I declined. I might try it later. Instead I’m using MyFitnessPal and tracking all the things, trying to find a lower calorie life I can live with. I like this, from Yoni Freedhoff,

    Now, you should know that I too have a weight-loss agenda. It’s fairly easy to describe. In a nutshell, I don’t believe that there’s one right diet to suit everyone. In my clinical practice, as well as in my book, I embrace the fact that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of factors that influence an individual’s chances of long-term success. Low fat, low carb, keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, vegan, Mediterranean, meal replacement, whatever – there are success stories out there with each and every diet that exists.

    While I’ve seen proof of this in my own clinical practice, you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead, look no further than the National Weight Control Registry for evidence that, when it comes to successfully keeping weight off long term, everyone’s different. The massive database established in the 1990s tracks why and how over 10,000 people have managed to keep an average loss of 67 pounds off for over five years. And there, as I’ve described, there isn’t one answer.

    The one thing successful dieters have in common is that they reduce their calories on their new diets and like their lives and diets enough while on it to sustain its adoption for good. So, while it’s true that you might be able to lose more weight, or to lose weight faster, with one diet versus another, unless you keep living with it forever, that weight’s coming back when you head back to the life and diet that you actually liked before you lost.

    To put it even more succinctly: If you promote the notion that there’s one right way to lose weight or live healthfully, you’re part of the problem. The more weight you’d like to permanently lose, the more of your life you’ll need to permanently change. And, when it comes to something as pleasurable as food, merely tolerable lives just aren’t good enough. What’s best for you is undoubtedly worst for someone else.

    I reviewed his book, The Diet Fix, here. I’m seeing a family doctor, who as part of his training did a placement with Yoni Freedhoff.

    In the photo below, Aric is on the left and Yoni, on the right. They’re both proponents of evidence based medicine and I like that neither downplays how hard it is to lose weight and keep it off.

    At no point have I felt like I’m not believed about what I eat and my current level of activity.

    Where am I? I started at 240 lbs for my all time winter high and I’m down to 225. I’d like to get down to 175, which is still solidly in the ‘overweight’ category for my height. But I’m pretty muscular and the normal range 121-158 lbs are weights I haven’t seen since elementary school me! I’ve been keeping my weight loss updates to the monthly check-ins, complete with content warnings. Tracy and I are pretty committed to keeping weight loss talk to a minimum. But I’ve been writing about it at all because it’s very closely tied to my desire to stay active.

    Two different knee surgeons say that no matter what I’ll never run again and though weight didn’t cause that (lots of skinny people have osteoarthritis–it’s not caused by my size) if I want to keep walking, hiking etc I need to lose weight. You can read about my left knee here. You can read more about it here.

    Given that it’s tied to me having an active future, I feel like I want to write about it. The content warnings should help people avoid it, I hope.

    Why is it so hard to write about weight loss? Why?

    I know what’s hard about it for me. For years I’ve been happy and active at a larger size, sharing the message that you don’t need to be thin to be fit. I’m not throwing that message out now this larger body isn’t serving me so well.  There are so many imperatives to lose weight. See Wishing for weight loss. Looks, caring about pay and teaching evaluations even, and so many medical arguments that aren’t true. So many reasons I reject. But then there is this one, pain. It’s awful and urgent and I want it to stop.

    Wish me luck. 

    diets · fitness

    Slimming World’s new diet plan: avoid fatter friends, maintain weight loss!

    Yes, you heard it here, folks (although you may have read about this in your info stream already): Slimming World, a UK-based dieting business, considers no lifestyle change too extreme if the goal is to maintain weight loss. These changes now include “spend less time with your overweight friends.”

    As is common these days, the news was broken by an Instagrammer whose friend, upon reaching her target weight on her Slimming World plan, was given a booklet of tips for maintaining weight.  Most of them were the usual suspects, like eat a good breakfast (which, in some studies, have failed to find systematic associations between eating breakfast and weight loss or maintenance; see here for a recent study that shows an  association only for men, NOT for women… I’ll be blogging more about this later).

    However, at the bottom of (but still on) the list is this:

    A screenshot of a list of dos and don'ts for weight loss.  The last one says 4% of weight loss maintainers spend less time with overweight friends.  really.
    A screenshot of a list of dos and don’ts for weight loss. The last one says 4% of weight loss maintainers spend less time with overweight friends. really.

    There are so many things wrong with this advice. Let me state a few, and then say where in the world this may have come from, and then explain why it’s still wrong wrong wrong.

    First, the math person in me has to point this out: telling me to do something based on the fact that 4% of my group does this is not compelling advice. I’m willing to bet that at least 4% of some group of weight loss maintainers: 1) play badminton twice a week; or 2) do hydroponic gardening; or 3) vote solely based on what their podiatrist advises. This is not, by itself, a good reason for me to do this thing.

    By the way, Slimming World claimed that they got this list (including the 4% claim) from the National Weight Control Registry, which collects and does research on data from more than 10,000 people who have lost a lot of weight and maintained that weight loss. I know their work well, and spent a good bit of time looking for the study that supports this 4% claim.  I couldn’t find it.

    Their list contains a bunch of relatively common bits of advice, which, according to said list, at least 25% of the group members do.  Then there’s a big gap– from 25% down to 4%.  Where are the other things that groups between 4 and 25% of the people do? This is suspicious to me.  Either they left out a lot of more useful tips, or they had incomplete information, or…

    Or, they deliberately chose to highlight and misinterpret a complex result (why complex?  because science is complicated!) from 2007 by researchers Christakis and Fowler. You can see it here. In their social network analysis of 32 years’ worth of data from participants in the Framingham Heart Study, they found associations between social connections and chances of gaining (or losing) weight.  For mutually-identified same-sex friends, if one person gets fatter, that increases the chances that the other person also gets fatter.  It also works in the other direction, but there weren’t many data points for that association.

    The press, as you can imagine, had a field day with this study.  Even the New York Times indulged itself in the headline “Are your friends making you fat?” Shame on you, New York Times.  Of course, the real story is (wait for it)… complicated. Christakis and Fowler say in their article that their results don’t support any theories about how these influences work.  They also don’t know what amplifies or mitigates them.

    I published an article co-authored with my friend Norah ten years ago about their work, and we are continuing to study the ways that community affiliation (like being a part of the Fit is a Feminist Issue community!) influences views about health promotion, health and identity.  These are fascinating and complex questions, and their exploration involves examining deep issues about how we see ourselves, and how connections with others affect how we see ourselves. And, finally, how all this translates into how we form our own health goals.

    Nowhere in this literature is anyone who knows anything about this advising anyone to shun their friends.

    Take that, Slimming World!

    It’s a fact that we weigh what we weigh, and we have the strengths and weaknesses we have with respect to all kinds of activities (confession:  I am the most terrible volleyball player ever.  Please don’t make me play it ever again.) We navigate all of this information with our friends and community in complex ways.

    So, dear readers, what are your thoughts?  How do you manage social or community or family connections with physical activity? I tend to do a variety of activities with different folks, and also I like mixed age/experience groups for social activity– like a nature walk or beach bike ride. What do you do?  I’d love to hear from you.


    advertising · body image · diets · men · motivation

    Men, don’t change much but women, you’re doing everything wrong!

    We’ve all heard the message of small changes, Make small changes to improve your health and fitness

    And for Canadian Men’s Health week that’s the message, Don’t Change Much.

    I love the motto, “Half fries, half salad, once in awhile” in this radio spot,


    There are lots of reasons to start small. Tracy, here on the blog, has been a big advocate of doing less.  I’ve written about aiming for a 2/3 vegan diet because a fully vegan diet seems too much and it’s better overall, if it’s sustainable, to just eat fewer animal products.

    In general, lots of public health agencies push a moderate message because it’s more likely to be motivational.

    But I worry it’s gendered. We send men the moderate message, while women strive for perfection. We tell men that the “dad bod” is hot but there’s no such equivalent as the “mom bod.”

    I love this Southern Comfort ad but can’t imagine a women’s version.

    Instead, the message I hear that’s aimed at women is “OMG women, eat less, move more, sleep more, spend more time with your families, advance your careers, GO GO GO!”

    It’s hard to imagine the “don’t change much” campaign aimed at women. What might it look like?



    body image · diets · eating disorders · fashion · fitness · Martha's Musings

    We are more than a collection of parts


    Women being active and not worrying about thigh gap, or hip cleavage, or any other nonsense Photo by Kyle Pham on Unsplash

    It’s tiring to be female in this world. I can only speak from a cis-perspective, of course, but it occurs to me, that howsoever you come to identify as a female, there is an endless list of things you must have or prevent if you are to present acceptably as female.


    First it was thigh gap, that space between a woman’s thighs — the wider it is, the thinner and more desirable the women. Then it was the concave navel. Now we have a new one: hip cleavage, or what I knew as high cut underwear or swimsuit bottoms to show off the hip bones.

    We are all familar with the term cleavage as associated with breasts. Plunging necklines in dresses are designed to show off cleavage. There are right ways and wrong ways to show off cleavage in the upper body.

    Too much in the wrong way means you end up with sideboob reveals; too much in the right way means you may risk a wardrobe malfunction and subject unsuspecting bystanders to a glimpse of the “girls.” These days, the focus, and perhaps the parts in question, has shifted to the underboob (I can hardly wait to see if there is an upper boob!).

    Regardless of the terminology, the prinicpal issue is that women continue to be divided into parts. Perhaps it’s the legs (although it and the toes had cleavage back in the day). Let’s not forget the butt or the breasts, with fashion dictating whether they were perky, ample, lean or sleek.

    When I used to deliver media literacy sessions to high school students, we would talk about the techniques used to separate, disconnect, and isolate girls and women from their bodies. Instead of being seen as whole, unique individuals with our own kind of beauty, women and their bodies are broken into parts and given meaning and value by others.

    The obsession with thinnness as a beauty standard has fueled anxieties and nurtured the development of eating disorders; sadly, girls and women continue to starve themselves to fit a largely artificial construct of “female” beauty.

    In Canada, those of us who work in health promotion talk about the vitality message — eat well, be active, live smoke free, and support mental wellness. Being active offers tremendous health benefits and it makes me sad to see fitness being used negatively to coerce women into creating and maintaining a body shape that is not natural to them.


    Another picture of fabulous women not caring about articifial body constructs. Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash


    Focusing on hip cleavage is just another stick we use to bash away at ourselves. It’s a stick handed to us by the arbiters of fashion and trends (I keep meaning to ask, who died and made them the rulers of the universe?) and quite frankly, I’m tired of it all.

    We need to rewrite the script and start talking positively, frequently, and loudly about all the good things we can with our bodies: how strong our legs are to drive our bikes and our feet on our runs; how powerful our arms are so we can lift, wheel, and strike; how big our chests can be to ensure we can take in the oxygen we need to keep going; how wide our hips can be to birth children or to cuddle them.

    We are enough as we are. In fact, we always were. Let’s remember that.

    — Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.



    diets · fitness

    So many bad diet headlines, so little time…

    There’s a lot we already know about dieting, namely:

    • No matter what cockamamie diet we dream up, it is both true that  1) someone probably can lose weight temporarily with it; and 2) almost no one can keep weight off with it.

    Imagine my 1) lack of surprise; and 2) skepticism when I saw a headline saying “lose weight by eating as much rice and potatoes as you want– no, really”. This news (and I use that term lightly) story reported on a 14-week study done on participants in a UK-based  commercial weight-loss program called Slimming World vs. a control group that did self-led calorie reduction using standard nutritional materials.

    The idea behind the study was to see if eating less-energy-dense foods (of which carbs are included) could result in more weight loss, lower appetite and fewer food cravings.  And indeed the experimental group did lose more weight on average than the control group (13 lbs vs. 7). However, we don’t know that it was because of what they ate, as the experimental group had lots of attention from the researchers, peer-group support, and other treatment that (according to the study) may well have influenced the outcome. In addition, the subjective reports of appetite, satisfaction with the program, and cravings were more favorable than those of the control group. But again, they knew they were the experimental group and identified as a group.

    I might add that many of the important health metrics (blood glucose level, blood pressure, etc.) didn’t differ between groups.  However, one difference in the study caught my eye:

    RMR significantly decreased in the SW [experimental] group but did not change in the SC [control] group.

    What’s RMR?  Resting metabolic rate. The above line says that those in the Slimming World diet plan group ended up with a lower metabolic rate than those in the control diet group. That’s not good. That’s really not good. That’s one of the many bad effects on bodies that engage in dieting. It’s bad because it means that your body’s rate of energy consumption is lower, meaning that you burn calories at a lower rate.  This is part of the reason why most people who diet regain all the weight they lost and then some.

    What can help raise the RMR? Several things, but the easiest is exercise, which can contribute to increased muscle mass.

    So what are the salient results from my reading of this study?

    • You can indeed eat potatoes, rice, etc. in amounts you want. (We knew that already).
    • Being part of a group with shared goals (whatever they are), may help members feel committed to and satisfied by the group’s activities.
    • Dieting often results in lowered resting metabolic rate, which has significant negative effects on bodies.
    • Exercise has no such negative effects on bodies; in fact, exercise raises RMR.

    If you’re looking for eating advice from me, here’s something that looks good– this whole-wheat roti with bananas and peanut butter.

    What are you finding yummy these days? I’d love to hear from you.

    Whole wheat roti with bananas and peanut butter. Mmmmmm...
    Whole wheat roti with bananas and peanut butter. Mmmmmm…