fitness

Trying to Avoid Medications

Warning: this post talks about food and changing eating habits on a doctor’s advice.

This is a post I never wanted to write. I love FIFI because it focuses on being healthy at any size. If there is ever talk about eating, it tends to focus on enjoying our food. A few weeks ago, my doctor advised me that I now have high blood pressure in addition to high cholesterol. She prescribed blood pressure medication, with the possibility of cholesterol medication as well if I am not able to get my numbers under control.

As much as I want to be healthy at any size, clearly I am not. Cholesterol issues and slow metabolisms run in my extended family; we joke that we struggle to metabolize lettuce. I skipped getting my blood work done last year because I didn’t want to know that the cholesterol levels were still high. However, after years of avoiding medication and failing to lower my levels without it, I am forced to admit that I risk ruining my plans to live so long that no-one will care whether I signed my organ donor card, because I will have squeezed every bit of usefulness out of my organs.

I am lucky enough to have a doctor who does not talk about weight. She focuses, instead on other factors that affect the risk of cardio-vascular disease. She has clearly been reading articles like this, on the impact of physical activity on the association of overweight and obesity with cardiovascular disease. Spoiler alert: In this population-based study of adults aged ≥55 years, overweight and obese participants with high levels of physical activity were not at increased risk of CVD compared with their normal weight counterparts.

However, we did talk about maintaining my current activities, and ensuring I get lots of fish but less sodium, less alcohol, and fewer carbohydrate-heavy refined foods. My January experiment with vegetarian foods was a good start and she encouraged me to keep going with that, and think about keto principles (but definitely no elimination of food groups). Since I am at a higher risk for bowel cancer, this approach works well to help me maintain a high fibre intake and minimize refined foods.

She also suggested I look at a very gentle form of intermittent fasting. Basically, it boils down to the old adage “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper”. Have my last meal earlier in the day, and no snacking before bed. Try to give my body at least 12 hours without food so that it has a chance to burn fuel reserves, which should help reset my metabolism over time (despite my malfunctioning thyroid).

Plate full of fruits, eggs, meats and cheese on a black background with the words “Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince, Dine like a Pauper

Since I often work late and have developed really bad habits about eating dinner as late as 9 or 10 pm, I decided this was worth investigating. I did a bit of reading on the subject and decided I like the description “circadian rhythm eating” much better. There is some decent science to support the concept, see here. Tracy had a different take on intermittent fasting earlier this week, but where she focused on the fact that intermittent fasting is no better than any other diet, I focused on the ways to use the information for better health, listed at the end of the Harvard blog post: eat a sensible, mostly plant-based diet; be active through the day; limit the hours of the day when you eat; and avoid snacking or eating at nighttime.

Since my appointment, I have continued my regular fitness activities and avoided eating after 6 pm whenever possible. I have been tracking my meals with an app that shows nutrients so I know how I’m doing on the fibre, and sodium. I love to cook, and have already tried several new veggie-filled recipes. I invested in a heart rate monitor and use it daily. My blood pressure is now consistently in the normal range. And I take my medication. As much as I resent the fact that I need it, it works.

Diane Harper is a public servant in Ottawa.

diets · eating · fitness · Throwback Thursday · weight loss

Let’s Talk about the Myth of the Skinny Vegan Bitch #tbt

Here’s a #tbt for you from four years ago. Though I would venture that veganism is more popular now than it was then, and is gaining followers all the time, myths still abound. And one of them is that you’ll get skinny real fast if you opt to eat a thoroughly plant-based diet. You won’t necessarily lose weight at all. But that’s not a reason not to try it. Another myth is that you can’t possibly retain muscle if you’re vegan. You can! I’ll write about that sometime next month. Meanwhile, enjoy this old post. I’m vegan, but I’m neither skinny nor a bitch (or so I like to think anyway)!
Tracy

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

vegan-food-cc-300x400Here’s how the first installment in the Skinny Bitch series (authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin) starts:

Are you sick and tired of being fat?  Good. If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to get skinny...

This is not a diet. This is a way of life. A way to enjoy food. A way to feel healthy, clean, energized and pure. It’s time to reclaim your mind and body. It’s time to strut your skinny ass down the street liek you’re in an episode of Charlie’s Angels with some really cool song playing in the background. It’s time to prance around in a thong like you rule the world. It’s time to get skinny.

It sounds almost empowering.  Almost.

The first red flag?  If you’re full of self-loathing then…wait for it…getting skinny is the answer!  If that’s not clear from the introduction, it is made…

View original post 656 more words

Guest Post

Hygge vs The Winter Blues (Guest Post)

Spoiler alert, hygge is winning 🙂

Like many folks, I often find February a very difficult month. As I’m writing this post it’s -25C in London, Ontario and we’ve about half a meter of cold, squeaky snow on the ground and it is definitely February.

Natalie inside, -25C outside

 

The thing is, this year, I feel great in February. Usually by now I’ve lost all motivation to do much of anything. The 2 weeks of vacation in December is far behind me and time with my kids in March seems very far away, but not this year. This year I decided to stack the deck for my fitness and my mental health by learning from some of the happiest people in the world who also happen to have a very long, dark winter, the Danish.

Last fall I read about Danish hygge, the practice of being cozy, warm and in good company as a strategy for being happy in winter. So I started with inviting people over to spin at our house on weekends that rode with me in the fall.

Randonneur Dave and I sweat while my beloved takes a photo.
Randonneur Dave and I sweat while my beloved takes a photo.

I made sure to bake yummy muffins and scones, because after that hard work I think food tastes even better. Plus I find spinning indoors really mentally demanding on my motivation, good company and food help a lot!

thug Kitchen's Blueberry Lavender Scones and Post Punk Kitchen's The Best Pumpkin Muffin

Thank you Sam for introducing me to Post Punk Kitchen’s The Best Pumpkin Muffins, they happen to be vegan AND the easiest and tastiest muffins ever, clearly THE BEST.

So here’s to great friends, food and fitness keeping the winter blues at bay!

 

body image · diets · eating · health · motivation · weight loss

“Healthy stuff is still healthy, it just doesn’t make you thin”

Yesterday Sam posted about the CBC report with latest “news” about obesity research: “Obesity research confirms, longterm weight-loss almost impossible.”  This is hardly news. We’ve said this many times.  It’s one of the most controversial claims you can make that’s fully supported by research.

I responded last summer with the post “If Diets Don’t Work, Then What?”   There I promoted the benefits, mostly in terms of mental health, of the intuitive eating approach.  I didn’t lose weight when I embraced intuitive eating. But I did lose a debilitating obsession with food and weight.  That more than made up for it.

And yet, after a year of intuitive eating, I still chose to pursue the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program for Women. Knowing what I know, it may seem like an odd choice. Why, when all the advertising surrounding the program is about body transformation, would I want to do it? I blogged about it in the post “Why I’m trying PN “Lean Eating” after a year of intuitive eating.”  There, I said my main reason had to do with tweaking my nutritional habits:

One of the principles of Intuitive Eating–the last principle, in fact, because it is so loaded for so many chronic dieters–is “Honor your health with gentle nutrition.”  I don’t want to exaggerate. It’s not as if I’m living on junk food and soda pop or anything like that.  But I do feel as if I’ve not quite mastered nutrition since I became vegan just over three years ago. And while I’ve been focusing on a more intuitive approach to eating, nutrition hasn’t been the main guiding principle in my choices.

And truth be told, I’m ready for a change.  From what Sam has told me about the Lean Eating program and from everything I’ve read, it’s not a diet and it can be compatible with an intuitive eating approach to food. So let’s just say that this year, I’m honoring my health with the re-introduction of gentle nutrition.  Nothing extreme will work for me.

And so far, it’s been doing that really well.  What I didn’t know ahead of time is just how compatible with intuitive eating the PN approach in the Lean Eating program actually is. If you could just embrace the two “anchor habits” of eating slowly and stopping at 80% full, you would be a fairly successful intuitive eater. And a whole lot more comfortable after meals.

So I’m engaging in some healthy behaviors and developing some healthy habits. And since they do ask for weight and measurements on a regular basis, I can report that I have dropped a few pounds along the way. But I am not deluding myself this time. The real test of any program is not to be found by comparing the “before” with the “immediately after.” Not at all. Check back a year after. Or two years after. What about five years after?

As Sam reported yesterday, PN doesn’t track that sort of thing at all. No follow-up means no data to report.  With the stats for any program as they are, it’s not surprising no one wants to track the long term results. And the fact that lots of people do PN multiple times is evidence that despite its focus on healthy habits, the results are not likely to be sustainable for the majority of people.  If they were, they would be more enthusiastic about follow-ups and reporting the longer term outcomes for their clients.

The quote from the CBC article that I liked the most, is the one that I put in the title today. Pyschologist Traci Mann, who ran an eating lab at the University of Minnesota for 20 years, says: “Healthy stuff is still healthy, it just doesn’t make you thin.”

As Sam did yesterday, I’m concerned about people who put thinness as their primary goal for engaging in activity or for making balanced nutritional choices.  That’s not the only reason to make those choices. As the research shows, it’s not even a good reason.

I do wonder whether I will keep these “healthy habits” over time.  Does the weight come back on inevitably, or is it because habits slide? “Researchers are divided about why weight gain seems to be irreversible, probably a combination of biological and social forces. ‘The fundamental reason,’ [obesity researcher Tim] Caulfield says, ‘is that we are very efficient biological machines. We evolved not to lose weight. We evolved to keep on as much weight as we possibly can.'”

Okay, so as Sam asked yesterday: liberating or depressing?  For me, it’s helping me a lot to keep any weight loss that I might be experiencing in PN LE in perspective. Thankfully it’s not my primary goal, and even more thankfully the weighing and measuring has not fostered a new obsession. In fact, I have found myself quite capable of adopting the recommended attitude of “get ’em and forget ’em” towards the weekly updates.

I used to feel more hopeful about a different outcome, namely a change not in weight but in body composition. But now I think that aspirations of that nature are just another breeding ground for false hope.

When I reflect on what has been most amazing so far about the “fittest by 50 challenge” that Sam and I are on, for me it comes down to two things:

1. becoming adept at intuitive eating, to the point where I no longer obsess about food.  I repeat: I NO LONGER OBSESS ABOUT FOOD!

2. how much I am enjoying the activities I’m pursuing these days. I’m all geared up for my first triathlon of the season on the weekend and I couldn’t be more excited.  Weight loss and even body composition just aren’t factoring into that picture.

I also have an expanded conception of health that includes my mental health.  I feel more grounded, more at peace with who I am, much healthier in my relationship and attitude towards food, activity, and my body.  I’ve still got a bit of a way to go with respect to body image, but I am further than I was last summer when I wrote this post.

I too fall into the “liberating” camp.  Knowing the facts should also liberate us from stigmatizing fat bodies and making moralized judgments about body fat (on ourselves and others). In moral philosophy we have this principle that says “ought implies can.” It means that you can’t be under an obligation to do anything that is impossible.  If we say you “ought to” then it means you should be able to.

And the stats on long term maintenance of lost weight don’t support the “can.” Therefore, they call seriously into question the “ought.”

At the same time, that doesn’t mean we need to give up on making choices that make us feel better. But making thinness the primary motive is a set-up for feeling much, much worse.

 

 

eating

Dear Chocolate, I Don’t Love You Anymore

Squares of dark chocolate piled haphazardly on top of one another.
Squares of dark chocolate piled haphazardly on top of one another.

Dear Chocolate,

There’s no easy way for me to put this: I just don’t love you anymore. It’s nothing that you did. Not at all.

We used to spend a lot of time together.  I used to get together with you every day. You had that special place in the kitchen, handy, accessible, always there for me. I could feel my mouth watering when I pulled back that gold wrapper on the 70% cocoa dark chocolate bar at the back of the snack drawer.

When the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating lesson a couple of months ago suggested that you might be a “red light food,” I defended you (and still do — you’re definitely not something I would banish from my life).  I said I needed you and felt comfortable with the amount of time we spent together. As you know, I believe food is beyond good and evil.

I didn’t even notice that we were drifting apart. But it kind of happened like this.  The Lean Eating program started nudging me in the direction of what they call “healthy habits.”  Lots of them had to do with making sure I was including things in every meal–lean protein, veggies, smart carbs (like quinoa and steel cut oatmeal).

They also recommended that I eat slowly and that I stop when I was 80% full.  The theory was that in time, if I followed these habits, I’d experience “food displacement.”  What that means, roughly, is that trying to fit in all the healthy habits every time I ate would change the sorts of things that I turned to regularly.

I could tack you on to the end of a meal, but usually by then I’m already 80% full (that’s my most challenging habit).  Stand-alone snacks without greens or protein just aren’t a big part of my repertoire anymore.  And in that late-afternoon slump I feel better if I have a mixed greens salad with tofu or chickpeas than a few squares of dark chocolate (sorry).

I didn’t consciously seek to send you to the sidelines.  Remember how the triple chocolate cake at Veg Out used to be my absolute favorite thing on their menu?  Well, the other night I went there and didn’t even order dessert (not even to go, which is what I did in the early days of eating to 80% full–just packed up a piece of cake to eat later). Why not? I just knew I wouldn’t get around to eating it.

I feel a little bit sad that we’ve parted ways in such a low-drama kind of way. Like I said, you’ve not been banished.  I’ve just found other things that make me happier these days.  I had no idea food displacement could have this affect on our relationship.  Not that I would have done anything differently, mind you.

I’m kind of relieved that I can easily get through a day, a week, a month without feeling that hold you used to have over me, especially after a meal.   It’s nothing personal and I have nothing against you.  I just don’t need you as much as I thought I did. Thanks for being there for all those years.  I’ll keep in touch but it’s just not going to be the same anymore.

Take care of yourself. I know that lots of people still love you as much as I once did.

Yours,

Tracy

 

diets · eating · weight loss

The Mesh Tongue Patch for Weight Loss. No Thanks.

small mesh rectangle held between thumb and index finger wearing rubber gloves.Not too long ago I wrote about men who body shame women. One of the people at the centre of the latest controversy when I wrote that was an influential Venezuelan beauty pageant host named Osmel Sousa.  His name has come up again in an interview with a Venezuelan “beauty queen” who has, at Sousa’s advice, had a boob job and surgery to get rid of a slight “hook” in the shape or her nose.

But breast augmentation and nose jobs don’t really shock me much anymore.  I still wish women weren’t so fixated on their looks that they would go under the knife to look different, and I do think that it would be bad for women if the culture of cosmetic surgery (for purely aesthetic reasons) really took hold so that it was expected.  At the same time, I have known women who did indeed feel better about themselves after surgeries.

And body transformation is so rampant in our world, through means that range from extreme dieting to heavy weight training with all sorts of stops in between. But the interview made me aware of a new method for losing weight that seems like some sort of medieval torture.  It’s a mesh patch that is literally stitched to the tongue.

How does it aid weight loss?  By making it too painful to eat solid food!  If we have to draw the line somewhere on the continuum between taking good care of ourselves and abusing our bodies and ourselves so we can lose a few pounds, I’m going to say we should draw it on THIS side of mesh tongue patches that make it too painful to eat solid food.

One thing is for sure. The mesh tongue patch is a short term solution.  The patch is temporary, and so is the weight loss.  Why? Because it doesn’t work on habits. Just like any weight loss diet, the real test is not whether the weight comes off, but whether it stays off.

If you put a patch on your tongue so you can’t eat solid food for a few weeks, how likely is it that you’re going to start eating regular food as soon as the patch comes off? If it were me, I’d be grabbing for whatever solid food was in my grasp–from fruit to chocolate cake, from hummus to veggie burgers, I wouldn’t care–as soon as my tongue healed enough for me to tolerate eating solids.

A doctor who spent 14 seasons on the Biggest Loser thinks it’s “barbaric.” According to this article:

Studies show most extreme dieters who lose weight rapidly eventually gain it all back — and more, he said.

“There’s not one scintilla of hope or evidence that putting a patch on your tongue and not being able to eat for a month is going to have any effect on you at one year, or two years or three years,” he said.

That sounds about right.

Here’s more about the tongue patch fad in Venezuela:

 

eating · sports nutrition · training

Why I’m Trying PN “Lean Eating” after a Year of Intuitive Eating

fresh-fruits-and-vegetables1On Monday, after long discussions with Sam about her experience with Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program, I started my one-year commitment to the program.  If you’re not familiar with it, see Sam’s detailed review here.

I’ve been doing and enjoying Intuitive Eating for a year. When I started the Intuitive Eating approach, I was obsessed with food and weight, weighing myself daily, gaining instead of losing, and generally feeling crappy about myself after years and years of the diet roller coaster.  I didn’t think I could handle one more climb to the top of that hill even if the “wheeeeee!” of going down felt great.

The Intuitive Eating solution was to stop focusing on weight–no more weigh-ins (read about that here).  It felt very nurturing to me, and much more in line with my feminist principles than the obsessive focus on seeing a certain number on the scale.  The central principles of honoring my hunger and respecting my body really altered my attitude and refocused my attention.  Self-awareness increased.

And yet, over the course of that same year, I’ve become more interested in triathlon. I’m training harder to prep for the summer season, with regular swimming workouts, three-times a week running, and on-going resistance training in addition to my yoga practice.  And that’s not even fitting cycling into the equation (it’ll be back in the spring).  And though I have gone on record saying that to me, sports nutrition counseling is like dieting in disguise, I feel as if it’s time for me to make some changes.

One of the principles of Intuitive Eating–the last principle, in fact, because it is so loaded for so many chronic dieters–is “Honor your health with gentle nutrition.”  I don’t want to exaggerate. It’s not as if I’m living on junk food and soda pop or anything like that.  But I do feel as if I’ve not quite mastered nutrition since I became vegan just over three years ago. And while I’ve been focusing on a more intuitive approach to eating, nutrition hasn’t been the main guiding principle in my choices.

And truth be told, I’m ready for a change.  From what Sam has told me about the Lean Eating program and from everything I’ve read, it’s not a diet and it can be compatible with an intuitive eating approach to food. So let’s just say that this year, I’m honoring my health with the re-introduction of gentle nutrition.  Nothing extreme will work for me.

One of the things I like most about the Precision Nutrition approach is the focus on healthy habits.  In week one, we’re not even changing anything about eating. We’re just committing to a schedule of working out and active recovery, and adding one “five-minute action” to our day. It can be anything. Mine is at least five minutes of meditation before I sit down to work each day.

Sam has blogged about habits. Habits work well because they’re things you can do without having to think too much. At first you need to be hyper-conscious, but after a time, they become a part of life.  This kind of approach strikes me as entirely compatible and consistent with Intuitive Eating.

I like the sense of community, support, and camaraderie I’m experiencing already on the PN Lean Eating forums. So far, I’m liking my coach (Janet) a lot too, as well as the mentors in my group, who are helping to orient us newbies.

What am I most worried about? Though we haven’t started yet, I know that tracking progress is an important element of the program.  They want weekly weight. body fat, and body measurements, and I think it’s monthly photos.

After a year of staying away from this kind of tracking, I’m going in with a new attitude: that it’s just information. If I can maintain a neutral attitude to that information, I’ll be happy about that.

Of course, I could skip that part. But I have made a commitment to do the program “as directed” for at least the first three months. If I’m struggling with any aspect of it, I’ll approach the coach, the mentors, or the group through the forums. There are quite a few women (over a hundred) in my group, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find some like-minded people along the way.

I’m also kind of excited this time about learning to eat in a way that supports my activities better, and also, to be perfectly honest, about the prospect of getting leaner and stronger as I go into the home stretch of the fittest by fifty challenge and prep for a summer of triathlons and 10K races.

diets · eating · weight loss

“Vegan” Is Not a Fad Diet

cake I’m vegan. And that’s my birthday cake (back in September) from my favorite vegan restaurant.  It’s bar none the very best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten.  And it’s vegan. No eggs, no dairy.

You’ve probably heard by now about Beyonce’s 22-Day Vegan Challenge with her hubby, Jay Z.  I heard about it when it was announced, and I’m hearing regular updates about how it’s going for them on what is often described as their “health kick.”  The Daily Mail (I know) reported that one week into her vegan “health kick,” Beyonce is flashing her abs.

Everywhere I turn these days I’m reading about how losing weight is one of the big reasons to become vegan.  It’s starting to drive me to distraction!

See that chocolate cake? It’s not health food.  Vegan is NOT a sure fire way to drop pounds.  Losing weight isn’t even the best reason to eat a vegan diet.  Why? Because french fries and potato chips are vegan. That cake is vegan.  Coconut milk ice cream is vegan. Vegans, no less than anyone else, don’t just eat fresh fruit and vegetables.

Now I think it’s a good thing that you can still find all sorts of indulgences and follow a vegan diet. But what that means is that you need to do a lot more to drop pounds than switch to a plant-based diet.  I myself didn’t lose a single pound when I become vegan.  Nothing. Nada. Rien. 

So why become vegan?  The two primary reasons have nothing to do with your health: 1. animal welfare reasons and (2) environmental reasons.  I won’t go into all the details here, but billions of animals a year suffer unspeakably and unnecessary cruelty in industrial farming.  I’m not talking about cruelty inflicted over and above the regular conditions of their lives. I’m talking about the very conditions they live in day to day.  If you’d like to know more about that, read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation or Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation or even just go to the Vegan Society website.

Livestock farming is bad for the environment and the atmosphere. It’s a huge contributor to global warming.  There’s that great statistic: a vegan who drives a Hummer makes a smaller carbon footprint than a meat-eater who drives a Prius.  Yes, there are other variables, but there is no question that mass livestock production is hurting the planet.

And yes, there’s lots of evidence that it’s good for your health. But there are still all kinds of not-great-for-your-health choices available on a vegan diet. So there is no automatic free pass or anything like that, and some things, such as lean protein, become a bit more challenging (not impossible with some knowledge).

Back to the 22-Day Challenge that Beyonce and Jay Z are on.  If the reasons for being vegan are compelling (and they are!), then being vegan for 22 days just isn’t quite “getting it.”  I mean, I’m glad that Beyonce and Jay Z are bringing some good press to being vegan. They’re even saying they feel great and it’s not difficult. Lucky for vegan PR that they aren’t having a negative experience — if it was a struggle and they had an adjustment period where they felt bloated or tired what have you?  Animal welfare and the environment would still matter.

But you don’t hear about animal welfare or the planet when you hear about their vegan challenge.  Given the facts, it’s just irresponsible to promote veganism without even mentioning these other reasons for being vegan.

Most ethical vegans extend their vegan choices beyond their diet, making an effort to avoid animal products in other areas of their lives. You’re unlikely to find a leather couch in a vegan home, and if you look on-line you can find all sorts of vegan footwear.

Another misconception that needs clearing up and now’s as good a time as any to do it: being vegan doesn’t mean being gluten free.  Gluten is from wheat; wheat is not an animal product. Therefore, you can be vegan and not be gluten free.  It’s very disappointing to someone like me who loves baking to go to a bakery where all the vegan options are also gluten free. Worse yet if they’re also raw.  There are raw vegans, but most vegans are okay with cooked food. Why? Because there is no animal welfare or environmental reason to go raw.

Here’s a nice article where the author promotes the idea of veganism as a lifestyle change, not a diet.

There are also successful vegan athletes like ultra-triathlete Richard Roll (author of Finding Ultra) and the no-meat athlete, Matt Frazier (author of The No-Meat Athlete). Although both emphasize “plant-strong” over “vegan” (see Sam’s posts about the difference here and here) the point is, you can be a vegan athlete.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming vegan, in addition to the resources above that outline some of the ethical and environmental reasons, I found these books to be really helpful:

The Ultimate Vegan Guide by Erik Marcus

Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World by  Victoria Moran and Adair Moran

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy, Plant-Based Diet by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

And some good vegan cookbooks:

Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitch and Terry Hope Romero

La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer

The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay Nixon

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

diets · eating · weight loss

Let’s Talk about the Myth of the Skinny Vegan Bitch

vegan-food-cc-300x400Here’s how the first installment in the Skinny Bitch series (authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin) starts:

Are you sick and tired of being fat?  Good. If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to get skinny...

This is not a diet. This is a way of life. A way to enjoy food. A way to feel healthy, clean, energized and pure. It’s time to reclaim your mind and body. It’s time to strut your skinny ass down the street liek you’re in an episode of Charlie’s Angels with some really cool song playing in the background. It’s time to prance around in a thong like you rule the world. It’s time to get skinny.

It sounds almost empowering.  Almost.

The first red flag?  If you’re full of self-loathing then…wait for it…getting skinny is the answer!  If that’s not clear from the introduction, it is made super-clear on the first page of chapter one where it says: “Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat.”  I’m sorry, but I think that simple equation has been firmly established as utterly false.

Getting healthy is a lot more complicated and is absolutely not correlated to being skinny.  Some of the least healthy people I know are really skinny.  The authors seem to maintain a distinction between a “skinny bitch” and a “scrawny bitch.” That’s when they recommend against over-exercising. Despite warning against over-exercising, they promise that “you’ll soon become addicted to exercising.”

And the mixed messages don’t stop there. They are opposed to fad diets, like low-carb diets (and especially Atkins). They encourage people to eat bread and fruit.  This makes it seem like a not very restrictive way of eating (a lifestyle, remember, not a diet).  But they have a whole chapter that explains why “Sugar is the Devil.”  That would make it thoroughly evil.  I’ve posted about why food is beyond good and evil here.

On the pro side (for me, anyway) they promote a vegan diet for lots of the right reasons too. They quote Linda McCartney, who said that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.”  They remind you that if you adopt a vegan diet, “you’re sparing the lives of at least ninety animals a year.” They even talk about the environmental impact of livestock farming (methane from livestock contributes a lot to global warming).

But I want to take issue with two of their fundamentals.

First, the whole bitch thing.  People are annoyed enough with vegans.  We are inconvenient, not just as dinner guests (“what will we feed you!?”) but as in-your-face reminders that your food choices have moral implications for other animals and for the planet.  So associating veganism with being a bitch. It’s just not the kind of PR we need.

Second, the idea that being vegan will make you skinny.  No. It’s just as easy not to be skinny as  a vegan as it is not to be skinny as a non-vegan.  There’s all sorts of vegan crap out there.

Now of course, the skinny bitch “philosophy” does not include vegan crap.  Nope. A skinny bitch will embark on a regimen of “pure eating.”  Remember: this is not a diet:

Never feel like or say you are “giving up” your favorite foods.  Those words have a negative connotation.  You are simply empowered now and able to make educated, controlled choices about what you will and won’t put into your body, your temple.  Be grateful that you know the truth about the foods you used to poison yourself with…Be excited about feeling clean, pure, healthy, energized, happy, and skinny.

So let me say this.  I’m vegan. Have been for over two years now.  I eat a fairly “clean” diet, in the sense that I choose lots of whole foods, no animal products, I don’t drink alcohol or take any drugs, I’m more active than my peer group.  But I am not skinny. I’m kind of average, really. And I was kind of average *before* I became vegan.  So the magical transformation won’t come simply by becoming vegan.

That’s not to say there aren’t all sorts of good reasons.  But becoming vegan is not to be approached as another diet that will get you thin.  And all this “pure and cleansing” talk–getting rid of toxins and so forth–it’s just not borne out by science. See this about juicing.

That’s my myth-busting message today:  Go for it! Become vegan (which is not just about food, by the way). But you don’t have to be a bitch and don’t listen to the people who promise you’ll be skinny.

Skinny isn’t even a great goal.  It’s not empowering.  And if you are experiencing self-loathing, try loving the body you have and treating yourself with compassion and care.  We have lots of that to go around on this blog!

body image · diets · eating · fat · overeating · sports nutrition · weight loss

Overcoming Overeating: Overview, Review, and Update

oocoverA few weeks ago I announced that I’ve given up the scale — no more weigh-ins. This new commitment to dispensing with weight as a measure of my fitness progress came in part because I’ve been following some of the recommendations in Overcoming Overeating: How to Break the Diet/Binge Cycle and Live a Healthier, More Satisfying Life by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter.

The book is aimed at chronic dieters who feel ready to break free from the cycle of weight gain, weight loss, weight gain, and the food obsession and body hatred that accompanies that cycle.  I first encountered the book back in the early nineties and its methods have helped me get perspective over the years.

But the holidays, coupled with my personal trainer’s insistence on weigh-ins, had me right back in the despair of poor body image and food obsession.  And that’s why I picked the book back up, along with Intuitive Eating:A Revolutionary Program That Works, Third Edition, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Today’s post is about the plan outlined in Overcoming Overeating. The authors do an excellent job of explaining the psychology of the diet-binge cycle and the horrible feelings associated with it. They are also pretty convincing on the futility of the “Change Your Shape, Change Your Life” game. The game has a few well-known rules: 1. Fat is bad, 2. Fat people eat too much, 3. Thin is beautiful, 4. Eating Requires Control, 5. Criticism Leads to Change. The rules take us in one direction:  dieting.

The game is futile because….drumroll please…DIETS DON’T WORK.  Roughly, they don’t work because the natural response to rules and control is rebellion (i.e. the binge).  They also have a  metabolic impact that undermines our efforts. If diets don’t work, then we need a new approach.

Their approach begins with two radical ideas. The first is to accept the weight and body you have now as if it will never change (for this, they have you engage in a thought experiment where you live on a planet where they inject a gas into the air that, once inhaled, makes it impossible to gain or lose weight ever again. They urge us to think about how we would approach food in this scenario). The second is the idea that you can eat your way out of your “problem.”

I was good with lots of their recommendations. They encourage people who do not own a full-length mirror to get one and to stand in front of it, naked, and observe their bodies in a purely objective, descriptive way. For example, “I am round here, smooth there, bony here, hairy there.” This is supposed to get you in touch with what your body looks like in a neutral way.

They tell you to toss the scale.

There is the old stand-by: the closet clean-out. This is where you get rid of the clothes you plan to wear when you lose a few inches and the clothes you plan to wear when you gain a few inches.  You get rid of that dress that pinches at the waist, the beautiful blouse that pulls across the back, the bra that needs constant adjusting, anything with a hole in it. You keep only the clothes you feel good in.

If that leaves you with very little, go shopping. Buy according to fit, not the size on the label.  I’ve always liked cleaning out my closet because it serves the dual purpose of helping me declutter. Occasionally, I even discover things that I forgot I had and can start wearing again.

And finally, the one suggestion that makes all chronic dieters absolutely terrified and giddy, sad and relieved: dump the diet.  If you can’t face this idea, they remind you of the facts: 1. The vast majority of dieters regain their weight plus some, 2. Diets make you fat, 3. Deprivation ensures a fight-back response—the binge.

With the diet dumped, many of us need a new way to live. I had already pretty much resolved not to diet for weight-loss anymore. But diet-like behaviors  and thinking started creeping back into my eating when I started personal training and began to concern myself with “sports nutrition.”  For me, tracking and planning and measuring and counting, even in the name of sports nutrition, created a diet mentality. This might not be the same for everyone.

The new way to live involves legalizing food — carrot sticks are not any better or worse than carrot cake. No food is forbidden (allergies and moral commitments aside, of course. If peanuts will kill you, don’t eat them. If you don’t eat animal products, you don’t have to start).

Up to this point in the plan, I’m on board. It’s the next part where I jumped ship this time. That’s where they tell you to stock up on all your favourite foods in quantities so vast you couldn’t possibly eat them in one sitting.

If you adore dark chocolate, don’t buy one chocolate bar, buy ten. If you love carrot cake, don’t buy one cake, buy three so you can keep two in the freezer.  If you like crusty bread, buy a few loaves.  If you want the whole soy milk instead of the light, buy it! Cashews and almonds—buy the family sized packages.

This part just didn’t speak to me this year. It may be that I am already over the food categories for the most part from the work I have done over the years with the very ideas recommended in the book. I do have bars and bars of dark chocolate in my pantry already and that’s not a problem for me. Sometimes I eat a few pieces of chocolate. Other times it just sits there for weeks or months untouched. I do prefer the regular soy milk over the light so that’s what I buy.  And I haven’t found a vegan carrot cake that I like, so carrot cake is off the menu these days anyway. The triple chocolate cake at Veg Out is bar none the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted in my life. But I am happy enough to know that I can go have a piece whenever I like. I don’t need a few cakes in my freezer.

halloween2009_candy_bowlWhen I was a graduate student, my housemate and I followed the suggestion to overstock the pantry with favourites. We had a big bowl of Halloween candy on our kitchen table and we kept it filled to the brim all the time.  The first week or two, we ate a lot of candy and had to refill the bowl frequently.  By the third week, the pace slowed. And by the fourth week, it was so commonplace that some evenings it just sat there, or we might take one Aero bar.  After a few months, having convinced ourselves that candy was truly “legal,” it had lost its mystique.

Whether you need to do this will depend how game you are to legalize food.  Overstocking is part of the process of convincing yourself it’s okay.

The is all a prelude to the central idea in the book: food on demand.

The idea is this. We chronic dieters have spent our lives eating controlled, pre-determined portions of pre-planned food at specific times of the day. How much, what, and when we ate had nothing to do with how much or what we wanted or whether we were hungry. And then there were those times we ate from “mouth hunger” instead of “stomach hunger.”

Demand feeding requires learning to feel and respond to stomach hunger. Imagine a ledger (or even keep one for a few days) that has two columns — stomach hunger and mouth hunger. If a chronic dieter recorded whether she ate from one or the other each tie she ate, she’d have more check marks in the mouth hunger column.  The goal then, is to move the checks from the mouth hunger column to the stomach hunger column.

This re-calibration of eating habits requires vigilance. In particular, it requires that we attend to emotional reasons for eating, since a lot of times we seek food for comfort (mouth hunger) even though what comfort it brings is fleeting. How do you move the checkmarks?

Let yourself get hungry as much as possible during the day and eat just enough to satisfy that hunger each time.  Carry a food bag, filled with your favourite foods, so that you are never hungry and without something to satisfy that hunger.  Stop thinking in terms of meals or of food that is appropriate to specific times of day. If you wake up hungry and feel like eating a bowl of chili, eat it. If it’s “lunch time” and all you want is a piece of chocolate cake, have the cake.

Stop eating when you are satisfied — not stuffed.  This makes total sense.  Of course it does. For me, this is the one area of eating with which I have always struggled.  If I am not paying very close attention, I will eat more than I need to eat, and I will feel over full.  The authors recommend sticking with this, learning to forgive yourself, keeping at it long enough to convince yourself that you can stop now because, in an hour when you are hungry again, it will be okay to eat.  The idea is that if you know you will have permission to eat later (unlike when you’re dieting), it’ll be easier to stop at a comfortable place.

I tossed the scale and dumped the diet. I didn’t overstock the pantry and I do not carry a food bag. I have not stopped thinking in terms of meals — I like meals.  But I do pay closer attention and find myself eating smaller portions. I eat what I want. What I want turns out to be fairly nutritious for the most part.  I actually do like salad as much as I like fries, and which I have depends on what I feel like eating at the time.

The authors suggest that over time, the nutrition issue will take care of itself.  In my case, this has happened, but my issue has always been more about the “how much” of eating than the “what” or even “when” of it.  In order to keep with the program, you need to have a lot of faith in the process and just forge ahead, trusting that the authors are not leading you astray.

The plan is not designed for weight loss, but they maintain that if you have been overweight from the diet/binge cycle, you may indeed lose weight in the long run.  At the beginning, it’s pretty normal to gain a bit when all the favourite foods become legal.  What they do promise is that over time, people who follow this plan will find that their weight settles. Instead of the crazy range that many of us have become accustomed to, we’ll reach a comfortable weight and moreorless stay there.

I’m not sure about that because I’ve not followed the plan 100% and what little I have followed I’ve only been doing for about a month. Before I started, my weight had been in a four-pound range for quite some time (about a year).  Since I’ve tossed the scale, I can’t say where it is now, but I can say my clothes all fit me still.

If you are a serious emotional eater, there may not be enough in the book to help with your “core issues.”

I know I haven’t really come down strongly in favor or against the plan outlined in the book. I like some of the suggestions and think that, as an alternative to dieting, it has potential. But the suggestions about stocking up, carrying a food bag, and feeding on demand were a bit too much for me.  Still, I am more in touch with the feelings of hunger and satiety since I started reading this and Intuitive Eating (which I am more partial to and will explain why in a later post).

If you’re tired of dieting and ready to try something else, it’s worth a read and a try.  The advice that resonates most strongly with me is: toss the scale, legalize food, dump the diet, and pay attention to how you feel (both emotionally and physically) when you eat.  I like the visual of moving the checkmarks in the ledger over to the “stomach hunger” side.  Mindful or conscious eating is a good goal.

How has what I’ve tried worked for me this month? I feel freer. I’m drastically less preoccupied with food than I was just a month ago and not at all preoccupied with weight. I’m eating less at a sitting and enjoying what I eat more. All good outcomes.

For more information about the plan, check out the authors’ website.