body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Intuitive eating — beyond sports nutrition

Image description: a single fresh strawberry with leaf still attached to the top.

As long time readers may know, I am a big fan when it comes to intuitive eating. I’ve written about it lots, including this post “Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It.” So I was excited to see an article in Outside online singing its praises as the “ultimate anti-diet.”

Not everyone around here is sold on intuitive eating. Sam has written about her four worries about intuitive eating. I agree that it’s not a cure all that works for everyone. And as Sam says, it depends what you mean by “works.” She puts it like this: “I don’t mean weight, that’s for sure. I mean if you eat this way are you, on reflection, happy with the food choices you’re making? Are you leading a life you enjoy? Are you meeting your own food goals around nutrition? Do you have energy to do the things you love? “

For me, it goes back to the anti-diet idea outlined in the Outside article. Dieting breeds obsession. As someone with a history of chronic dieting and disordered eating, intuitive eating has freed me from that. It took awhile (see my post, “It only took 27 years but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater”), but as an intuitive eater I am way more well-adjusted about food than I ever was before. Intuitive eating is more a response to chronic dieting. Granted, it may not work for everyone, but it does work for some.

In my reply (in the comments) to Sam’s worries, I said the following:

…many people who are drawn to this approach are dealing with a more psychologically deep set of attitudes and behaviours around food that, if they can get to intuitive eating, they can be free of. It works for me because for the first time in my life I do not obsess about food every waking moment. I don’t panic when I am at an event with a buffet table. I don’t hate myself when I take a brownie. I don’t gorge myself beyond full because I can’t figure out when I’ve eaten enough. And I don’t go to bed every night full of regret over what I ate that day (and it’s not because I’m always making “healthy” choices) and wake up in the morning planning my meals and snacks to the last unrealistic detail. I can also go hungry without panicking and recognize that’s okay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food around, but there may be no food that will do and I would rather wait. It’s okay to subject any approach that doesn’t work for you to criticism. That is what we as philosophers do. But for myself, who has a history of extremely messed up thinking about food and of disordered eating, it’s been an absolute life saver that’s taken me 27 years to reach. I don’t have perfect hunger signals, but being in touch with my hunger feels more like a hard won battle than a privilege at this point.

That’s why it’s inaccurate to say it’s only about listening to your body. As Christine Byrne, author of the article in Outside notes, there are lots of dimensions to intuitive eating besides “listen to your body.” On its own, for all sorts of reasons, “listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice. Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of the 1995 book Intuitive Eating, identified a number of other features of intuitive eating, including the idea of challenging the food police (whether they’re other people or live in your head) and no longer moralizing food (it’s not good or evil).

Byrne also talks about the importance of a nuanced approach. A dietician interviewed for the article, Heather Caplan, comments: “For the purpose of sports nutrition, I’ll often have someone eat when they’re not hungry, before or after a hard workout,” Caplan says. “Not everyone feels like eating at 6 A.M., I identify with that. But I also identify with not eating and being hungry 15 minutes into a run.” Instead of honoring hunger, think of it as figuring out how food makes your body feel in different situations and honoring those feelings. If eating when you’re not hungry helps fuel a better workout or minimize post-workout soreness, it’s a good choice.”

A good choice serves your workouts and helps you with recovery. It’s not only about hunger signals.

I like how Byrne puts it: “Ultimately, intuitive eating is a way to make sure your needs are being met. What separates intuitive eating from traditional diets is that it’s 100 percent flexible—it can (and will) look different for everyone.”

That’s what makes it the opposite of dieting. Dieting is not about meeting our needs. Dieting isn’t flexible. The hallmark of a fad diet is that it looks the same for everyone.

If you’ve been avoiding intuitive eating because you worry that it seems not to fit with the nutritional needs of your sports activities, then thinking of it as a way to make sure your needs are being met might offer a new angle on it. My guess is that if you do not struggle or have not struggled with dieting, where food is an all-consuming mental obsession, then you really have no reason to feel drawn to this approach. But if chronic dieting of that kind is a thing in your history, then intuitive eating in all of its dimensions is an attractive alternative that can help bring some peace to your vexed relationship with food and your body. At least that is how it worked for me.

Does intuitive eating have any appeal for you?

diets · eating · eating disorders · weight loss · weight stigma

Losing My (Diet) Religion (Guest Post)

by Mavis Fenn

(This post discusses disordered eating. Please be aware it may be triggering for some.)

 Eating issues began when I was ten. There were two contributing factors. The first was that I was pre-puberty, a time when many children put on additional weight. The second was related to my mother’s health. She died at fifty-eight of early onset Alzheimer’s. It was when I was about ten that her behaviour began to change. Looking back on it now, I realize that this was also the time I began to binge-eat. I clearly remember ketchup and mustard sandwiches on white bread. Yuck!

My parents were older and came from a generation that had survived the depression of the thirties and the Second World War. Not wasting and will power were considered virtues; a lack of frugality or will power was a moral failing. Fat people were considered to be lazy, gluttons with no will power. My dad loved me and wanted the best for me. We were close until he died at ninety-four. He was a great role model and still is. Having said that, family and friends believed that teasing was a good way to correct behaviour. How well I remember, “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach,” when I didn’t finish the food on my plate. Unfortunately, that hurt my feelings; hurting my feelings makes me mad. Thinking, “I’ll show you,” I would eat everything up even if they said I didn’t have to. And the boys that called me names, I ran them to ground and sat on them until they apologized.

For a girl, being fat could be limiting. It didn’t matter how smart you were, how funny or caring you were, you weren’t going to get a good job or a husband who would take care of you if you were fat. So, at about twelve I got on the diet roller coaster. I stayed on it for well over fifty years. It eroded my confidence and sense of self-worth. I was never good enough, strong enough; I was not perfect and it was all my fault. When I was thin, I worried about getting fat; when I was fat, I was anxious and depressed because clearly I was lacking in will power. Eating compulsively was my punishment. It made things worse and I knew it.

I never had trouble losing weight, just keeping it off. I used food in times of stress, knowing that I could lose it when the latest crisis passed. I didn’t know that genetics determines most of your weight range, that only about two percent of people who lose weight are able to keep it off permanently, and that when you begin to gain weight again your body adds a bit more because dieting puts your body into starvation mode. In January 2015 I decided it was time to lose weight again. I struggled and struggled. I couldn’t; I just couldn’t. I was overwhelmed with defeat and shame. I sat down on the bench in the gym, put my face in my hands and cried.

My trainer asked me what I intended to “do” about my situation. I mumbled that I guessed I’d get a therapist to recommend something.  She said not to worry and the next morning my inbox had an email with the contact information for the CMHA Eating Disorders program. I called.

When I met with the nurse, she asked me if I could accept myself as I was if my body stayed the same. My response was, “Absolutely not!” Getting rid of the diet mentality wasn’t easy.

As the introductory workshop wore on, I realized that I had in the recesses of my mind the idea that I was still looking for weight loss. That was not going to work. So, I made the decision to go “all in.” I analysed how I used food, the mind traps I set for myself, and most importantly I examined why I was still allowing myself to be controlled by childhood beliefs about body size. Those were stereotypes of a past generation and they were wrong. I didn’t need to continue to judge and punish myself for not being someone else’s idea of perfect. I was not defined by my body; it is only a part of who I am.

Do I ever think of weight loss or body image? Occasionally, but dieting would cost me my freedom and mental health. I prefer to think about healthy eating and being fit. In the two years since I completed the program, my weight has stayed just above or below my last “set point” (where my body decided we were safe from famine).

The last day we were asked to reflect on completing the course, I wrote this: “I think I have come to peace with my body. Therefore, I am at peace with myself.”

Image description: A plaid pajama clad foot with bright blue toenails stepping on a bathroom scale.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · health · overeating · self care · tbt · weight loss

Metabolic Health Is a Feminist Issue #tbt

For #tbt posts I like to go back to the same month in a previous year. Today we go back six years, to February 28, 2013, when I posted about metabolic health. Reading posts from the early days helps me to see how far I’ve come since we started the blog over six years ago. In this post, I finally “got it” about why it’s important to eat enough.

Over the last few years, my thinking and practice has shifted completely. Rarely do I worry about “eating too much,” unless in the sense of eating to physical discomfort, which simply doesn’t feel good. I think my metabolism has recovered from any damage I did in my decades of chronic dieting with the weight loss-gain roller coaster that comes along with it. Besides the idea of Intuitive Eating, this concept of Metabolic Health really helped me get to where I am today. If that’s of interest to you, read on….

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

campfire[Note: I am by no means an expert on metabolic health. I hardly know anything about it. I just know it’s an idea with major liberatory potentialFor more information about it, check out some of the links below]

Recently, after blogging about the thigh gap and taking Go Kaleo‘s recommendation to read Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery 2, and then reading Caitlin’s post that reminded us that, hey, we actually need to eat, the penny finally dropped for me.

Yes! I finally understand that metabolic health is a big deal. Huge. Bigger than the next fad diet, bigger than any particular training program, bigger than aspiring to have ripped abs or a thigh gap.

After we posted about fitness models earlier in the month, we noticed some fascinating discussion on a figure competitors’ discussion boards about ways to train smarter with more calories. Sam drew…

View original post 1,140 more words

body image · diets · fitness

The power of a pound or two

Content warning: talk about weight loss and body image.

About two weeks ago, I wasn’t feeling so great– less peppy and more draggy walking around and going up the two flights of stairs to my office. By the weekend, I was clammy and nauseated, with abdominal pain on my left side. It didn’t get better, and I found myself reluctantly heading to the hospital emergency department on a Sunday morning.

At the end of five hours there (including lots of testing, waiting around, and generally watching the show which is an ER over the weekend), the doctor wasn’t sure what was wrong, but had a concerned urgency in his tone that I must say I didn’t like. He insisted I go to the GI specialist the next morning.

Long story short, I have a mild-ish case of pancreatitis, with no clear cause. There are some very clear risk factors for it, but I don’t have any of those. I happen to fall into the 20% of cases classified as “misc other.”

Great, I’m officially in the junk drawer of medical causes… Sigh.

It turns out that the main treatment for pancreatitis is not eating food for a while. Three doctors explained the technical details like this: “the pancreas needs to rest”. Well, okay then. Let’s be very quiet. Shhhhh…

I was on a liquid diet for 3 days, transitioning to jello, popsicles, and finally– apple sauce! By day 5, I could have chicken noodle soup. Oh joy! One key feature of this diet is severe restriction of fats. Much fat intake would cause me abdominal pain (I discovered this when I accidentally ate some ramen noodles, which apparently are high in fat. How did I not know this?)

As you can imagine, I soon noticed that I had lost a little weight. I don’t weigh myself, but I could feel the difference in the way my clothes fit.

Despite the medical circumstances and the knowledge that this weight drop is temporary (it’s water weight which will come back when I start eating properly again) I felt a small thrill. Oh boy, weight loss! Oh boy, looser clothing!

I also felt a rush of irrational hope: maybe now, maybe this time I’ll really lose that extra weight I’ve been dragging around. Maybe I can keep this going, and who knows how far I can go?

Yes, it’s understandable that I would have these feelings. I have been unhappy with my body off and on (more on than off) for almost as long as I can remember. This is so sad, and I wish it weren’t true. But it is true.

When I was 13, I had mono. I went from 115 lbs to 105 lbs in a few weeks. Of course this wasn’t good for me. But boy did I feel like I’d gotten this huge gift– a slightly lighter body, which to me looked and felt transformed. Of course it wasn’t transformed– it was undernourished and dehydrated. Over the next month I gained the weight back as I regained my health.

This time I’m paying closer attention, and I’m on to these beliefs– that this sickness-induced weight loss is a sign of what I can/should/will do to change my body weight.

These beliefs are a cheat and a con.

These beliefs are not reflecting anything true about my body. They’re reflecting my continued struggle with body image and self-acceptance.

For the next month or more, I will need to adhere to a low-fat diet. It’s possible that I will experience more weight loss. That’s fine– it won’t harm me to weigh less. What does harm me, though, is the weight I give to these small changes in my body– what meanings they have and what power they wield over my feelings of well being and self image.

These messages I send myself are a cheat and a con. Why? Because I know that my weight goes up and my weight goes down. I am still here and I am still me, in my gloriousness of intelligence, disorganization, enthusiasm, friendliness, beauty, procrastination, athleticism, and vulnerability.

Everything changes. Including weight. I don’t want to be held hostage to fluctuations, regardless of whether they cause panic or glee. So I’m sharing it with you all. Thanks for reading.

diets

Fear of fruit: reasons not to be afraid

Content warning: discussion of diets.

Don’t worry, readers– you didn’t miss a new scary press release on how bananas have all become toxic and death-inducing. Of course food safety is an important issue; the recent romaine lettuce recall has ended, but worries about agricultural methods, water cleanliness and industrial food production are real and prudent.

The fear I’m talking about here is based on nutritional advice published in popular media about how eating fruit might hinder weight loss. In an Shape magazine article titled, “Is fruit still part of a healthy diet”, the author warns dieters not to eat much fruit. Why? It contains two scary components:

What the author leaves until later in the article is the fact that fruit also contains this component:

Fiber!
Fiber!

Oops– wrong screenshot. I didn’t mean this kind of fiber:

Carbohydrates!
A colorful fiber optic cable.

Rather, this kind of fiber:

All kinds of fruits of vegetables and grains, which contain dietary fiber.
All kinds of fruits of vegetables and grains, which contain dietary fiber.

Okay, so is fruit’s threat to our existence saved by its fiber content? Is that why we shouldn’t fear fruit?

All kinds of fruits of vegetables and grains, which contain dietary fiber.
Uh. no.

Fruit is saved from the trash can and compost heap by its following features:

  • Its tastes– sweet, sour, perfumey, tart, etc.– it’s got it all.
  • Its colors– every color of the rainbow (except blue, I think)
  • Its textures– crunchy, soft, velvety, crisp— again, you can get anything
  • Its nutrients– fruit contains all kinds of vitamins and such like, which are good for us
  • Its glorious variety– you can find fruits in a dizzying variety of shapes and sizes and tastes and seasons and uses

I’ll end with my fruit suggestion of the day: Mangosteen. If you find yourself in a place where they are ripe and are sold, run (don’t walk) to get one. They have a purple leathery outer covering, and white soft inner sections. They taste a bit grapefruity, and bit perfumey. Astounding.

A mangosteen, opened to reveal white inner sections, ripe for eating.
A mangosteen, opened to reveal white inner sections, ripe for eating.

Hey readers– what’s your favorite fruit? Something exotic? Are you a classic fruit lover of apples? Share your picks with us.

diets · fitness

Why you shouldn’t buy a home DNA kit for weight loss, in 25 words or less

Content warning: mention of dieting, although not in a way that is advocating for it.

At my local CVS the other day, I was strolling in the direction of the cough drop aisle, when my gaze happened to fall on the following item:

A home DNA kit for healthy weight-- hmphf.
A home DNA kit for healthy weight– hmphf.

Okay, I promised you 25 words or less, so here is why you shouldn’t buy one of these:

  1. It’s totally made up.
  2. Science doesn’t know how to do this.
  3. You’re wasting your money.
  4. Spend the $125 on shoes.
  5. Or this porcelain essential-oil diffuser.

For a nice longer article on one person’s experience with trying a DNA kit for exercise and diet advice, check it out here. Spoiler: the advice the person received from the DNA kit more or less amounted to “eat less, move more”.

I’ve got even better and shorter advice in lieu of buying this kit or even reading that article:

Eat. Move. Sleep. Done!

Eat Move Sleep
Eat Move Sleep

There you go. No charge…

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.