body image · eating · femalestrength · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Dare *Not* To Compare

(CW: some mention of food regimens, food shame.)

Paul the trainer and I were gabbing in his kitchen post-workout, while I packed up my stuff and he warmed up his lunch. I was feeling invigorated by all the lifting, pulling, squatting and pressing and was looking forward to eating all the things at my fave café up the road.

I asked Paul what he was having.

“Chicken and rice; I have it every day!” was the reply.

I wondered aloud if he didn’t get bored of it; not a chance, he said. He told me he grills a batch of chicken each weekend and freezes it; he makes big piles of rice in his steamer and adds some to each chicken portion. Sometime he switches it up with meatballs, but that’s it.

kao-man-gai
A pile of white rice with sliced, skinless chicken on a blue plate. Paul didn’t mention any avocado, though.

For me, even the same (delicious and filling) thing each day would quickly get annoying; I suddenly wondered if I was doing it wrong. I asked Paul what else he ate.

He told me: protein shake or similar for breakfast; the lunch above; a small snack in the late afternoon; a small portion of stew in the evening.

My animal brain kicked in – in this case, not the brain that says “eat something now!”, but the brain, well trained by its old handlers, to fear food and loathe oneself for eating it.

God, I thought. I eat way too much!!

“Ha!” I said aloud, joshing to cover the rising panic. “That’s the opposite of me. All I eat is donuts.”

Of course this is not true; I eat many things including donuts – once a week, my ritual Saturday breakfast treat. And clearly Paul knew this, because he is a kind and supportive and body-positive trainer.

He said: “Really? No!! I mean, not all the time.”

CWlv5QXVEAEnVoq
Newman from Seinfeld: built for memes. “OH THE HUMANITY!” (NB: humanity needs many and varied foodstuffs to survive, including donuts.)

Let me translate. The above statement, said by Paul in that moment, meant: “No you do not only eat donuts! You enjoy your treats. You eat well and healthily for your body a lot of the time and your strength shows it.”

But in my head, filtered through my trained-animal-food-fearing brain, I heard:

“You indulgent slob!!”

1969-12-31+07.00.00+78+(1).jpg
OH YA BABY! 20 epic, multi-coloured glazed donuts on a wire cooling rack. My amazing local, Donut Monster, is worth the trip to Hamilton if you’re in the Toronto area!

What makes us compare our food and exercise choices to others? The same thing, I wager, that makes us compare every inch of our bodies to others’ bodies so much of the time. It’s a lived experience of being taught to compare, with the ultimate goal of shaming yourself into adhering to the promoted cultural ideal, as closely as possible. (Which of course is impossible. It. Is. Designed. To. Be. Impossible. Read that again, slowly!)

I grew up learning to compare. Maybe you did, too. My mom (bless her) would draw my attention to those around us who looked out-of-order: too big, outfit not age-appropriate, plate too full. She would quietly whisper shaming things; I knew they were directed at herself. But I’d hear them directed at me. I knew what not to do: look/eat/choose like that. I knew to compare and be wise.

Comparison is painful; we are our own worst critics, so we always come up wanting. It is also anti-communal; comparing means drawing hierarchical lines between me and you, rather than seeing what we have in common and celebrating that. Comparison has, thus, a very conservative political tendency: it discourages bonds between citizens, and therefore discourages change, revolution.

Comparison is also often limited in its nuance. It can tell us in broad strokes where the same/other stuff lies, but it usually stops there, shamed or prideful.

If you dig deeper, you tend to get more similarities than differences.

Take my experience with Paul’s lunch as a case point. After I got to my car, I reminded myself that my food, exercise and health choices lead every day to a body I want to be in and a life I want to be living. I took some deep breaths. Then I thought more carefully.

Paul trains several times a week, but he does not have the endurance regimen I do; he’s not racking up the kilometres on the bike that I do. Those kilometres contribute to my much-increased need for calories; those calories are pleasurable and they also help make me strong.

Paul’s wellness goals include maintaining his trim physique; my wellness goals are not as centred on such things anymore. I like wearing my selectively-chosen and carefully-purchased outfits; I’m cautious with my clothes budget and only buy a few items a year. It’s important to me to fit my beloved outfits well. Beyond that, I don’t care about the numbers on the scale. (And, like Cate, if I have to buy a new size next time, that’s fine; if the look is swish I’m in!)

Paul is also a man, slightly younger than me. As a woman approaching peri-menopause, I’m aware that things are changing around my middle in particular, and THAT IS LIFE, PEEPS. If I become a peri-menopausal and then a menopausal and then an older woman who can also climb the stairs up the mountain brow and cycle to Guelph and Milton to visit Sam and Susan and still dead-lift a Great Dane, who cares?

My whole life I’ve feared weight gain. Why? Somebody once told somebody who mattered a great deal to my mom, and she told it to me; all the magazines reminded me every week at the Safeway; and don’t even get me started on the bullies.

Things all these things have in common: FAKE NEWS.

Forget blanket, superficial comparisons. Try not comparing at all. What’s working in your life, your exercise, your food choices? Hooray!! What needs some work? Make a list, then maybe a plan, if you want.

But above all else, remember: the more we compare, the less of a community we are.

Do you tend to compare, positively or negatively? Does it work for you or cause you stress? Let us know!

advice · eating · food · research

Flip flopping my way down the grocery aisle

by MarthaFitat55

It’s hard to know what we are supposed to do these days. The most recent research suggests recommendations against red meat consumption are flawed, and it’s okay to plop a steak on the BBQ.

Published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study says researchers have not been able to conclude definitively that eating red meat or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease:

The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer has indicated that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, whereas processed meat is considered “carcinogenic” to humans. These recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects. Furthermore, the organizations that produce guidelines did not conduct or access rigorous systematic reviews of the evidence, were limited in addressing conflicts of interest, and did not explicitly address population values and preferences, raising questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness.”

Come again?

Three women of colour have shocked expressions on their faces.

I haven’t had time to read the study through, but let’s say that reaction was swift and blunt. After all, it was only last winter that Canada released its newly updated food guide recommending we eat less meat and more plant based options. I’m sure we are going to see more discussion because flip-flopping on food recommendations is something food scientists do really well.

Last month Catherine W looked at a study which assessed the life threatening properties of sugary drinks (aka sodas). Two years ago, the Independent trumpeted the value of sugar in maintaining our brain health. Apparently brains love sugar, even if our hearts, circulatory systems and pancreas do not.

Not even a year ago in October (18, 2018), BBC Food published an article extolling the virtues of eggs, saying the humble egg has impressive health credentials. But six months later, in March 2019, the New York Times weighed in on the risks posed by eating eggs (TLDR: cholesterol will kill you!). The study found: Each additional half-egg a day was associated with a 6 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent increased risk of early death.

In the 80s and 90s , we all ditched butter to embrace margarine because we were told the heart-clogging abilities of butter would hasten our demise that much faster (hey eggs, move over!). Butter has been somewhat rehabilitated since then because additional research says a little is okay given that margarine and other trans fasts are actually a whole lot worse.

Oh noes: buttered bread, a boiled egg and a cup of tea for breakfast! Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

In all seriousness, what are we to do? The reality is, as Paul Taylor wrote in the Globe and Mail in March 2016, dietary studies, flawed as they may be, have a huge impact on public health and can shape nutritional habits and food buying patterns. More of us are reading labels, questioning sodium content, and looking more critically at the food we eat even when it’s being marketed as healthful (Beyond Meat Burger anyone?).

It’s a good thing when we can become more critical, and it is even better when we can vary our diet to eat from every part of the rainbow. Everything in moderation so we can ensure all foods can fit (some better than others).

About that study tho — as an omnivore, I will still keep eating meat, but my family and I have embarked on meatless Mondays with a goal to to eat meat free at least two to three meals a week. I’ll still consider the latest study, but I will place in the greater context to understand its implications fully. How about you, dear readers? Are you easily influenced by the latest food research, or are you likely to go your own way regardless of the latest fad?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer in St. John’s.

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.

eating · fitness · tbt

Vegans and Protein: Yes, We Like It, Too #tbt

Yesterday a friend posted about how her kid’s lunch got knocked off the table at school and so she had to get a school lunch. The child is vegan. And because of that the school could come up with nothing but a few lettuce leaves for her to eat. That made me (and a bunch of other people ( both sad and furious at the same time. But it also sort of amazed us (not in a good way). I mean, how is it that people who specialize in food preparation can’t come up with something a little more subtantial that has no animal products in it?

That made me remember one of my favourite blog rants, which was this rant about chefs who can’t figure out a vegan meal with protein. As if a pile of veggies, no matter how wonderfully prepared, stands in as a satisfying meal. That was 2015. Things have actually improved somewhat in 2019, with more vegan restaurants or “plant-based” sections on a menu in omni restaurants. But still!

Have a good one. TI

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Photo of a vegan chickpea burger from Jamie Oliver, with lettuce, an artisan bun, and tomato. Jamie Oliver’s best vegan burger.

Last night I went out to one of the best restaurants in London (Ontario). It’s the only place in town that makes it onto lists that get national recognition. Even on a Wednesday night, there was a group at every table in the compact, dimly lit space. My two friends were already sitting at the table in the warm and bustling room when I arrived for our late dinner.  The restaurant offers a delicious winter vegetable salad, a heaping portion of beets and carrots, turnips and leeks, peas and even corn, all roasted or grilled, served in a dressing with fines herbes and excellent olive oil.

That was a definite for my starter. But I’d been at a lunch event earlier in the day where the lack of vegan options meant I’d had only a dinner roll and two kinds of salad, and I’d been…

View original post 1,300 more words

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

eating · food

Trending now: plant-based eating

Image description: square plate with one ample vegan crab cake on it, with a dollop of white sauce and chopped green onions and a wedge of lemon the side. Photo credit and recipe: https://veganhuggs.com/vegan-crab-cakes/

There are lots of things to love about millenials and Gen-Zs, but one of the best is how they are demanding more meatless food options. An initiative to have 55% of food options involve plant-based proteins at my university by next fall recently made national news. See “Western University’s cafeteria food probably not what you ate in school.

We have a little restaurant on campus that serves really good food. But they don’t always have vegan options. They accommodate, but it’s not a default. And they are well aware that if they serve me one more veggie samosa (don’t get me wrong, the first hundred samosas were absolutely amazing! And I can enjoy them with enough time in between. But not every week, thanks anyway)…well, let’s just say I like variety as much as the next person and leave it at that. If I show up unannounced, they go into a tizzy (“you didn’t tell us you were coming!”). I like that they care. But I’d rather not create panic when I come with a group whose reservation is not under my name.

I know our Great Hall Catering can do it when called upon to do it. A while back, Sam and I co-organized a feminist philosophy conference and asked for the entire thing to have vegan catering. That meant all breaks, a lunch, a reception, and two dinners (including a fancy banquet). From the cashew cheese tray at the reception, to the make-your-own burrito bowl lunch, from the banquet dinner with actual real dessert (not a fruit tray!)…many attendees remarked that it was the best catering they’d ever had at a conference. But that was by special request. And it took some work with them (like I told them where to source the outstanding vegan cheese, for example, from the local company Nuts for Cheese). But once they got the hang of it, they ran with it.

Knowing this, I’m eager to see what they come up with as they revamp the food offerings on campus to offer more plant-based selections. I have long complained that amazing chefs at high end restaurants seem to be unable to grasp the idea of plant-based protein sources. As if a plate full of side dishes is actually satisfying. Tasty, perhaps, but satisfying and well-rounded. No. I have eaten many a side salad and baked potato for dinner while the rest of the party ate ample and (apparently) delicious meals that included protein as the main event.

Western has enlisted the help of a consulting company, Forward Food, to ensure that they do this right. It’s been a slow road, but I consider this a big win. And it’s all because of demand. Young people, like a good proportion of our student population of over 30,000, want plant-based options.

The prospect of having vegan options by default, not by special request, whenever I go to lunch on campus excites me. Contrary to what some may think and much as I appreciate that they know me and my needs at my favourite campus restaurant, I actually prefer not to be given “special” treatment. I would much rather just go have my lunch and be able to pick from a range of selections just like any other customer. I’ll be first in line for the veggie “crab” cakes.

Have you seen a shift in offerings over recent years at the food services outlets you frequent?