bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Boycott Fit To Fat To Fit

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When I heard about the new TV show Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit I thought “that sounds a lot like that moronic trainer I wrote about years ago.” A little digging through my archives, and it looks like I was right.

For anyone who hasn’t heard about this new show, the premise is a group of personal trainers intentionally gain a bunch of weight (ostensibly so that they “know” what it’s like to be fat) and then they lose the weight again, along with their chosen client.

What I wrote about the original Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit trainer remains true over five years later, and applies to the trainers in the series. Unfortunately, by the sheer existence of a TV series it would seem that his stunt paid off, and then some.

There are so many things wrong with a series like this. Starting with the fact that these trainers are potentially putting their health at risk by gorging themselves to gain weight. And then by losing the weight, presumably through gruelling workouts and restrictive diets. And for what? Money? Fame? Even if they truly believe that “putting themselves in their clients shoes” is helping them to know what it’s like to be overweight, that’s not what this is really about and it’s not providing them with the true experience. They may gain a greater appreciation for how people fat-shame those who are overweight but they haven’t taken the same journey as their clients.

Most people aren’t overweight because they intentionally ate super-sized McDonald’s meals every day. They become overweight for myriad reasons and it happens over extended periods of time, not usually the six months allotted for the TV show. Our environment, our income, our upbringing, our genetics, our friends, our mental health, our gut microbes, our jobs, and on and on, are all factors in determining what we weigh. The trainers involved in the series aren’t experiencing weight gain in the same way that most people do. It’s simplifying a complex issue into calories in, calories out.

In addition to the detriment potentially caused to the trainers themselves there’s the harm potentially caused to their clients (and to the public watching at home). The clients are being taught that they are to blame for their weight gain. They’re also being taught that exercise is the way to lose weight. Have we learned nothing from the Biggest Loser? I guess we have. We’ve learned how to get some great TV ratings. We know that the Biggest Loser can wreak metabolic havoc, not to mention emotional havoc, on the contestants. This is the same thing. Let’s push people to their breaking points so they lose weight we get more viewers. Who cares what happens to them afterwards.

And the harm to people at home? The message the show sends it that it’s your fault that you’re fat and you can lose the weight if you just work hard enough. Even if everyone wanted to destroy their metabolisms at home, most people don’t have the time or money to undertake a punishing daily workout regimen with personal trainers. Nor is there the pressure to make the cut for a TV program looming over our heads. Who has the “luxury” of making weight loss their full-time job? Not to mention the fact that the majority of weight loss is a result of what we eat, not exercise.

Finally, programs like this are teaching us that there is only one way to be beautiful, healthy, loved, and worthy and that’s by being skinny. We all naturally have different body types and what healthy looks like on me may be very different from what healthy looks like on you. Suggesting that everyone needs to have the same abdominal definition to be fit and healthy is the same as suggesting that some of us need to grow a few more inches in height (or become shorter). It’s a ridiculous and impossible ideal.

Please don’t watch this show. By watching, you are only helping to support dangerous attitudes to weight and perpetuating false ideals and helping A&E make money from the suffering of others.


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Follow Friday:10 checks of a healthy weight management program

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I haven’t done a Follow Friday post in a while so when I came across this checklist I knew that I had to share it with you. It’s one of the many great resources available on the Canadian Obesity Network website.

I hope that some of the people who keep landing on my old post about Ideal Protein will come across this and have pause for thought.

Note that all of the boxes should be checked and that you should consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any weight loss program.


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Is slow chewing a way to prevent obesity or foster disordered eating?

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Image by Meliblair on Visually

A few weeks ago results of a study reportedly showing that chewing food slowly might prevent excessive weight gain in children hit the news. While it’s not exactly news that practicing mindful eating is healthy and can help with weight management I still had to check out the original research.

According to the authors: “The study’s goal was to test the feasibility of reducing body weight by teaching how to eat at a controlled pace and stop eating at satiety”. They did this by recruiting children and adolescents (between the ages of 6-17 years) through an open invitation to parents of children at a school in Mexico. 54 children were placed in the study group while 36 were in the control group.

There was no weight criteria for participation in the study and parents were advised that the study was not intended to alter diet or meal size.

All participants were given an hourglass to time their bites (30 seconds per bite) – it’s unclear whether or not this means that the control group was given an hourglass. They, and their parents, were also given a guide on how to follow the program,

appropriate weight by age, main causes of obesity or dyslipidaemia in children and adolescents, complications of obesity such as diabetes and which foods are recommended and not recommended for healthy growth. Instruction also promotes eating a home-cooked meal at the table.

Additional instructions to participants included:

eat slowly, using the hourglass as a guideline; drink water before starting to eat (possibly avoiding sugary drinks); do not talk and eat at the same time; no repeated portions; no overfilling; no eating or snacking between meals; and no eating off the table. The control group did not receive any instructions.

Children who stuck to the programme at least 50% of the time each week were referred to as the “adhering group” (16 at baseline and 14 after a year) for analysis. Students who didn’t stick with it at least half the time were referred to as the “non-adhering group” (26 at baseline and 20 after a year).

The average weight and BMI of the children in the adhering group decreased over the 12-months of the study while both measures increased in the non-adhering group. Weight of the control group increased, however BMI decreased. Somehow this was interpreted to mean that counselling children to chew each bite for 20 seconds can prevent obesity.

Here’s where my concerns come into play. I found it interesting that the average height of the non-adhering participants actually decreased during the first six months. This suggests to me that the sample sizes are far too small to provide any meaningful reliable data. These are growing children and can’t shrink. If the average height was shown to decrease during the study this means that the average weight and BMI results could also be easily affected by the attrition of just one or two participants. That is, we can’t say with any degree of certainty whether or not the weight reduction seen was a result of the intervention or just a lucky coincidence.

I’m also not so sure that it’s positive for us to see a weight reduction among these participants anyway. These were not obese or even overweight children. The average BMI of the children in the adhering group was 23.7 to begin with. This is perfectly healthy. Yes, we want to look into measures to prevent obesity but I don’t think that we can say that weight loss among a group of healthy weight children is prevention of obesity. The non-adhering group and the control group were already at lower BMIs to begin with (20.5 and 21.5, respectively). Despite both of these groups gaining weight, they were still at healthy BMIs after a year (21.3 and 20.3). Interesting that the non-adhering group fared “worse” than the control group. While likely not statistically significant, this does bring me to my greatest concern about this research.

Rather than teaching children healthy relationships with food, I fear that studies such as this only serve to promote disordered eating among children. Sure, family meals are great, as is mindful eating. However, timing each bite and scaring children with the consequences of obesity, labelling foods as “good” and “bad” does not foster a healthy relationship with food. While I’m sure that the researchers meant well, I truly hope that we don’t see this study expanded and replicated as the authors are aiming to do.


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21 Day Fix won’t fix much

Image of 21 Day Fix by porcupiny on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Image of 21 Day Fix by porcupiny on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I was recently asked for my thoughts on the 21 Day Fix program. Not knowing much about it, I decided to do a little bit of research.

If you, like me, aren’t overly familiar with the 21 Day Fix, essentially it’s a diet plan that restricts calories and portion sizes through the use of some colourful plastic food containers. In addition to the containers there’s a fitness program available on DVD and protein shakes (called Shakeology) that you can buy. According to Amazon, the containers alone will set you back $42.83. If you buy a kit with workout DVDs and other accessories, that can set you back up to $175.57. That doesn’t include any of the shakes or cookbooks. The price for the shakes is outrageous; $155.95 for a 30 serving bag. That’s over $5 (not including tax) for a single serving of protein. It’s even more expensive if you want to buy the powder in single serve packets ($6.50 per shake). If you’re really keen on protein shakes, there are plenty of much more affordable options out there. Just be aware that the supplement industry is notoriously poorly regulated and you may be getting ingredients that aren’t disclosed on the label, or not getting the ingredients that are.

Back to the basic program then… According to the method of determining your caloric intake I should be consuming 840 calories a day in order to lose weight. Fortunately, they do advise that if your calculated intake is less than 1200 calories a day that you should stick to 1200 calories. There’s no way that 1200 calories would satisfy me but then again, I don’t actually want to lose weight. I found it a little odd that the calculation doesn’t take into consideration a persons height or their goal weight.

Based on my prescribed intake, I’d be permitted 3 green containers for veg (1 1/4 cups each), 2 purple for fruit (1 1/4 cups each), 4 red for protein (3/4 cup each), 2 yellow for carbohydrates (1/2 cup each), 1 blue for “healthy” fats like nuts, cheese, or avocado (1/4 cup), and 1 orange for dressings or oils (2 tbsp). Just out of curiosity, I plugged some random foods fitting these measurements into myfitnesspal. I ended up with 1276 calories, 121 grams of carbs, 63 grams fat, 82 g protein, 59 mg calcium, and 19 g fibre. As far as macronutrients go, not too bad. But when we come to micronutrients, not great (and I’m sure it would be worse if my report showed more of them). 19 grams of fibre is not enough, nor is 59 mg of calcium. I’m sure each day would vary, but I’m still concerned that this diet would leave someone (especially users on the lower caloric end) nutrient deficient.

The use of the colour coded containers might be help some people with portion control and food selection; there’s no room for prepared foods or fast food so this encourages people to consume whole foods. However, that’s also a bit of a downfall. Unless you’re buying the cookbook and the recipes match your needs, the use of the containers limits your options for meals. You wouldn’t be able to follow a recipe from any old cookbook and have it fit your prescribed containers. I think that I would end-up just filling all the containers, and never eating anything interesting because figuring out recipes that match the containers I’m allowed would be too complicated. This really limits your ability to eat socially as well. Imagine showing up to a potluck with your little containers. It also seems like a great gateway to orthorexia.

Can you imagine eating this way for the rest of your life? I sure can’t. You would probably lose weight if you could stick with this plan but what about micronutrients you might be lacking and what’s going to happen when you go off it? 21 days might be bearable but what will you do once those 21 days are over? Not to beat a dead horse, but if you want to see sustainable weight loss, you need to make sustainable changes.


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5 ways fish oil supplements (probably won’t) help fat loss

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A friend recently suggested that I blog about this post touting the five ways that fish oil supplements help fat loss. Of course, the post contains no references for any of the claims so I had to do a little digging and guess at what the existing research supporting them might be. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. “They stimulate secretion of leptin, one of the hormones that decreases our appetite and promotes fat burning.”

The majority of studies I can find regarding fish oil and leptin involve mice, rats, or patients suffering from pancreatic cancer cachexia. Not exactly the general population. Off to examine.com where they reviewed two studies involving fish oil supplementation for women who were over weight. Neither study showed a significant influence of supplementation on serum leptin.

2. “They help us burn fat by activating the fat burning metabolic pathways in our liver.”

Back to examine.com (why do the work of slogging through google scholar when they’ve done it for me?). They found one study that showed no effect on metabolic rate as a result of fish oil metabolism.

3. “Fish oils encourage storage of carbs as glycogen (an energy source in our liver and muscles) rather than fat.”

Examine.com found one study that showed a very slight increase in fat oxidation with fish oil supplementation. Before you get too excited though, the study (the same as was noted in the response to “reason” number two above) participants were six lean and healthy young men. Probably not the population who is interested in taking fish oil for weight loss.

4. “They are natural anti-inflammatory agents. Inflammation causes weight gain and can prevent fat loss by interfering with our fat burning pathways in the liver and muscle cells.”

There were a lot more studies (17 to be precise) looking at this topic that were reviewed on examine.com. The results were a mixed bag. A few found a very small reduction in inflammatory markers in subjects taking fish oil supplements. However, most of the studies found no effect on inflammatory cytokines and it’s important to note that even if fish oil supplements do reduce inflammation in some individuals, we can’t be certain that this will lead to weight loss.

5. “They possess documented insulin-sensitizing effects.”

Examine.com looked at 12 studies and stated that the scientific consensus is 100% that fish oil supplementation has no effect on insulin sensitivity. There are, however, a few studies that have shown an increase in insulin sensitivity but also a few that have shown a decrease in insulin sensitivity.

Overall, there is no evidence to support the use of fish oil supplementation to lose weight. Of course, Dr. Natasha would want you to believe otherwise as the purchase of her fish oil supplements is an “essential component” of her “Hormone Diet”. Remember, it’s a red flag when someone is trying to sell you a quick fix.

Don’t forget, the best way you can get fish oil is to eat fish.