Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Book review: Hunger by @rgay

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I don’t really feel like a review of a person’s memoir is appropriate. Who am I to be critical of anyone’s experience or how they choose to write about it? So this is not really a review, but more of a recommendation.

I’ve had this book on my reading list for about a year now. Ever since I heard about it on This American Life, I believe. Yet somehow I missed its release. Not by much, I don’t think. As soon as I saw that it was out I hustled over to the local bookstore to pick up a copy.

Hunger is Roxane Gay’s memoir about growing up, suffering trauma, and the huge role that food has played in her life subsequent to that experience. Hunger is more than a memoir though. It’s an eye opening entry into someone else’s world. A world that most people like to pretend doesn’t exist. The world of someone who is “morbidly obese”. For people of all sizes, this book provides important insight into the world and how we could all make it a little bit better for everyone living in it.

As I read, I marked the pages of passages that I wanted to refer to in this post so let’s take a little look at some of the parts that stood out the most for me.

On page 6, Gay writes about the arbitrary cut-off point for obesity and how the term “morbidly obese” essentially frames fat people as “the walking dead”. This goes to show the deep level of stigma around fat in our society and how that attitude is ingrained in medical professionals.

On page 66, Gay writes about losing weight and how as she became thinner she became more visible to those around her. It’s ironic that the larger our bodies are, the less visible we become to other people as fellow humans. Less worthy of attention, respect, and love. It’s sad that this is the way we have chosen to treat each other and I think that we should all take a hard look at our own biases and try harder to treat everyone equally, regardless of size. Pages 120-121 offer some insight into how “well meaning” friends, family members, and even strangers, provide “advice” in completely unhelpful ways.

On page 139, Gay talks about Oprah’s struggles with her weight and I love this passage so much:

In yet another commercial, Oprah somberly says, “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.” This is a popular notion, the idea that the fat among us are carrying a thin woman inside. Each time I see this particular commercial, I think, I ate that thin woman and she was delicious but unsatisfying. And then I think about how fucked up it is to promote this idea that our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates. 

Then, there are other parts that were eye-opening to me. On page 157 Gay writes about strangers taking food out of her grocery cart and offering her unsolicited nutrition advice. I cannot even imagine how it would feel to have someone pass judgement on me and remove items from my shopping cart. It blew my mind that people do this.

I also never thought about the lack of clothing options for people who are overweight and how fraught shopping can be as Gay shares on page 180. Or the pain that many chairs can cause (p. 202). Or the difficulty that flying can pose (p. 209).

There were many more passages that I marked because I thought she put so many things so well but rather than retype her book here, you should probably go buy it yourself and mark all of your own favourite passages.

Hunger should be required reading for all dietitians, medical professionals, humans.

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Universal nutrition documentary review

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Do you care about food and nutrition? Do you want to learn more about what you’re putting in your body? Where you food comes from? How it’s killing us all and destroying the planet? Then this is the film for you.

I really enjoyed the way that the film makers turned their opinions into facts by interviewing “experts” for their documentary. It was refreshing to see that no experts were brought in to provide an alternate viewpoint as they were presenting only indisputable facts. Seeing these effusive self-styled experts with no credentials to speak of, or expertise in a vaguely related field left me feeling empowered to start my own wellness guru enterprise.

After eating gluten/wheat/grains/sugar/dairy/food for all of my life I found it incredibly eye opening to learn that I may as well have been mainlining heroin or injecting fat directly into my organs and veins. Why is big dietetics/pharma/food trying to hide this from us? The people have a right to know that they’re feeding their children toxins hidden in the guise of sandwiches.

The manipulative use of innocent children along with the soundtrack and cinematography really drove home the horror of the food we eat every day. It’s always nice to see film makers preying on our fears and manipulating our emotions to sell their agendas.

Without having seen this film I would have foolishly continued to eat gluten/wheat/grains/sugar/dairy/food and lived my life never having known that I was regularly ingesting deadly substances. Thank goodness it came up in my Netflix recommendations. Now I can be sure to preach the follies of eating gluten/wheat/grains/sugar/dairy/food to anyone who makes the mistake of speaking to me in the lunch room, on social media, or who stands nearby me in the grocery store. So many lives to save.


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Follow Friday: @HealthCanada consultations

TGIF fellow Canucks and happy early Canada Day!

Want to contribute to helping to make our country healthier? Now’s your chance to have your say. Health Canada has a couple of consultations open until July 25th.

Not a fan of Canada’s Food Guide? Make it better. Give your feedback on the new healthy eating recommendations at foodguideconsultation.ca. I know that I had lots to say but lucky for you, I can’t remember it anymore so you’re on your own.

Think we should stop marketing to kids? I sure do. Give your feedback at healthyeatingconsultations.ca. Pretty much every response I gave was that they should not allow any marketing to kids. I approve of the age range they give (17 and under) but I don’t think that the ban goes far enough. Marketing of “healthy” foods is problematic as it can promote overeating. It also raises the issue of how to appropriately define healthy. I definitely don’t agree with the proposal to allow marketing of things like goldfish crackers and potato chips and french fries – WTF Health Canada!? For more about my thoughts on marketing healthy foods to kids check out this older blog post. For more about marketing to kids in general, check out stopmarketingtokids.ca. Also, I love the campaign by Irish Heart. The video at the start of this post is just one of their great ads.


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Do 6 amazing body changes really occur when you give-up carbs?

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This article is nearly two years old now but given that I just saw it shared on social media recently, and the number of evangelical LCHF preachers around, I think it’s worth talking about.

Can we start by discussing that headline? 6 Amazing Body Changes When You Give Up Carbs. Stated as if magical things will occur in your cells, transforming you into a superhuman. Stated as if it’s a given that giving up carbs is the miracle cure for the imperfect vessel of flesh in which you reside. Stated as if these six amazing changes are guaranteed to occur no matter who you are.

So, what are these six amazing changes?

  1. When You Give Up Carbs…You Start Burning Fat

This is not necessarily true. It depends on what you replace the carbs in your diet with. If you replace the carbs in your diet with protein, you’ll burn protein. If you replace the carbs in your diet with fat, you’ll burn fat. If you create a caloric deficit by giving up carbs then you’ll burn fat and probably muscle because you’ll need to get energy to function from somewhere.

2. When You Give Up Carbs…You Feel Less Hungry

If you are creating a caloric deficit by giving up carbs then, sorry, you are going to feel hungry. Reducing your food intake does not immediately result in a reduction in hunger. However, if you are able to maintain a low carb diet and enter into ketosis there is some research that shows you may experience some suppression of appetite.

3. When You Give Up Carbs…Your Belly Gets Flatter

Here the author is stating that your belly will become flatter if you replace simple carbs with high-fibre foods. This is not really a benefit of a low-carb diet, but a benefit of increased fibre intake (and their suggestion to swap white bread for whole grain is certainly not low-carb). However, for many people, increasing fibre can lead to gas and bloating, having the opposite effect of that claimed by the author. That being said, most people should consume more fibre, being sure to increase consumption gradually along with plenty of fluids to avoid blockages. With time, your body will adjust to increased fibre intake.

4. When You Give Up Carbs…You Slash Your Risk of Diabetes

To date, there is no research to support this. While a low-carb diet may help some people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar, it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone and there is no data to show that a low-carb diet will prevent diabetes. A balanced diet with plenty of vegetables and regular exercise and physical activity are the best ways to prevent type 2 diabetes. There is no need to go to the extreme and cut out carbs to prevent disease. Also, depending what those carbs are replaced with, you may end-up increasing your risk of developing other chronic diseases.

5. When You Give Up Carbs…Your Muscles Get Stronger

This would only be the case if you were consuming insufficient protein (extremely uncommon in the Western world) before embarking on a low-carb diet. If you are consuming adequate protein, adding more protein will be of no benefit to your muscles. Also, without working your muscles they’re not going to get bigger. You can’t just sit around drinking protein shakes all day and expect to get swole.

6. When You Give Up Carbs…You Feel More Energized

Not all carbs are bad, of course. Your body needs carbohydrates to function properly, and they’re especially important for adequate brain and muscle function. By switching from simple carbs to more long-running fuel—fruits and vegetables, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa and other whole-grain options—you’ll ensure you have a steady flow of energy and avoid the ups and downs that simple carbs cause.

Way to stick this in the last bullet and undermine the entire premise of the article. This is not a benefit of a low-carb diet. If you are switching from refined simple carbs to complex carbs and whole grains you are simply following that lame old unsexy advice that we dietitians have been repeating for decades.

Let’s not even get into the fact that whole wheat bread has pretty much the same glycemic load as white bread per serving.

I think the author also missed a few other “amazing body changes” that happen when you “give-up” carbs such as, fatigue (which generally goes away after a few days or weeks), flatulence, bad breath, and irritability.

What it comes down to, is that the author is conflating low-carb diets with low-simple carb diets and mixing the claims about the two diets together in this list.

While some people can live happily and healthily on low-carb diets, most people can live (likely more) happily and just as healthily on diets that are not low in carbs.

 


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An open letter to police departments

To Whom it May Concern,

I see that the Ontario Provincial Police, and I’m sure many other police departments across North America, are offering “positive tickets” to youth this summer. These tickets are coupons for free “frosters” a slushie/slurpee beverage from a convenience store chain.

I applaud the police for endeavouring to create positive relationships with children and youth. Police provide an essential service to our communities that is often overshadowed by newsworthy acts of violence, aggression, and intimidation. By fostering positive connections to young people it is more likely that these youth will continue to maintain good relationships with police into adulthood. A good relationship between the police and the community better serves everyone.

A 12oz Mac’s froster contains approximately 222 calories all of which come from its 52 grams (13 teaspoons) of sugar. There are no other nutrients in this beverage. The World Health Organization recommends that consumption of “free sugars” (i.e. added sugars and those found in beverages like fruit juice) be limited to 5% of total calorie consumption per day. This equates to about 5-8 teaspoons of sugar per day for preteens and teenagers. As you can see, just that one froster alone contains about twice the daily recommended limit for free sugars. Excess free sugar can contribute to dental caries. Inadequate consumption of nutrients, due to displacement by nutrient lacking sugary foods and beverages, or excessive consumption of calories resulting from frequent consumption of sugary beverages may result in malnutrition, including obesity, and contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In addition, using food as a reward can lead to a life-long unhealthy relationship with food. Tying behaviour and emotion to food can result in children using food as a maladaptive coping mechanism as they get older.

I urge you to consider offering a healthier (non-food) alternative to these “positive tickets”. Why not partner with a local community centre to offer free swimming passes? Or a local park to offer free entry? Other options include: movie tickets, tickets to see a local sports team. I’m sure that with a little promotion that many local businesses would be happy to offer rewards in the region(s) you serve. This initiative provides both positive publicity for the police and for the organization donating the “prizes”. Do the health of the youth a favour and support local businesses while you’re at it. This would truly be a positive direction for the police and the community.

Thank you for your consideration.

A concerned dietitian