Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The thing about Rupaul’s Drag Race and Tic Tacs

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I love Rupaul’s Drag Race. I know that I’m late to the party but I only started watching it after it was added to Netflix last year. I think it’s fantastic how diverse the contestants are. I mean, can you think of any other American reality show that consistently has contestants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and such a range of body types? Despite this, it’s becoming increasingly disturbing to me that the show promotes eating disorders.

Even though there is always at least one larger queen on each season they are often among the first to be sent home and (at least from the seasons I’ve watched so far) a larger queen has never won. Contestants regularly make comments about each others (and their own) weight and size. There is clearly a huge amount of pressure to conform to an ideal.

The thing that highlighted the eating disorder aspect to me the most is the “lunch” with Ru that the contestants participate in toward the end of the each season. I put lunch in quotation marks because this so-called meal consists of a plate of tic tacs which contestants inevitably make jokes about being far too much food. Like, “oh, I couldn’t possibly!” Or “but I’m watching my figure! Ha ha ha.” I have never actually seen Ru, or any of the contestants, eat even a single tic tac. Generally, this is the only food featured in the show (although there was one challenge in which participants had to design their outfits based on cakes. Naturally, there was an observation made by Ru about the amount of cake gone from one of the larger queen’s cakes and an overwrought admission by a very thin queen to having eaten a slice of their cake). To me, this only serves to glorify eating disorders and disordered eating. Look at us, we’re so virtuous. We never eat. Not even a damn tic tac for lunch.

Given that a number of contestants have openly spoken about their past (and present) struggles with eating disorders on the show I find it really unsettling that disordered eating is being promoted by the show itself. I hope that future seasons, now that more contestants are openly talking about their personal struggles with eating disorders, will stop with the segments that glorify these illnesses.

We know that eating disorder rates are likely higher among LGBTQ+ populations and I can only assume that they are just as high, if not higher given the immense importance placed on appearance, in the drag community.

Given that it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week I think it’s important to emphasize that eating disorders are not trivial. They are not something to be made light of nor are they something to aspire to. For instance, did you know that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders? Bulimia can lead to electrolyte imbalances that can also result in death. These disorders take an immense physical and emotional toll on those experiencing them and on their loved ones. Sadly, rates of eating disorders appear to be on the rise.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder know that you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to and you live in Canada you can call the National Eating Disorder Information Centre for free at 1-866-633-4220. In the US you can contact the National Eating Disorder Association helpline (at the time that I’m writing this their phone line is down but you can chat with them online).


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AspireAssist: a tool for weight loss or developing an eating disorder?

Twitter was all worked-up about a new weight loss treatment, called AspireAssist, earlier this week (thanks to @markjmcgill for telling me about it). This treatment involves the insertion of a tube into the stomach that can be opened after a meal to allow a person to discreetly ditch half the food they just consumed into the nearest toilet. I think that the gut (pun fully intended) reaction of many is “gross”. I can understand that reaction. Thinking about pouring half of the gnocchi and broccoli I just ate for supper through a tube in my stomach for about 5-10 minutes does kind of gross me out. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reacting that way. I also find vomiting gross. Essentially this is just vomit by-passing the stomach. Gross no matter what the route.

Maybe you don’t find vomit gross though. That’s fine. To each their own. Moving on to the real issue…

How this can be marketed as a “non-surgical weight loss procedure” is a little puzzling to me. Sure, it’s not nearly as invasive (or risky from a physical standpoint) as standard bariatric surgery. It still involves putting a hole in a person’s stomach and inserting a tube with a valve. If cutting a hole in the stomach isn’t surgery, then I don’t know what is.

Suggesting that patients can be home in a couple of hours really hits home that “quick fix” mentality. It says, here’s an easy way to deal with something that you’ve been struggling with for years. I assume that anyone willing to undergo such a procedure will have been struggling to lose weight for years. I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t desperate to lose weight being willing to go the AspireAssist route. However, I can imagine a whole lot of people who don’t need to lose weight being willing to undergo the surgery and I hope that any surgeons offering this procedure will be following very stringent criteria to ensure that it doesn’t become the “new bulimia”.

I know I wasn’t the only one who immediately thought, this is just bulimia by-passing the vomiting. It’s slightly better than binging and purging, in the sense that you won’t be destroying your esophagus or your teeth. There’s of course risk of infection, as you would see with enteral tube feeds. I could quite honestly see this becoming the “new cleanse” if we’re not very careful. I could see stars having the tube inserted to help them lose weight for movie roles or for red carpet events. I can see Gwyneth talking it up on Goop.

While the makers say that “over time, as patients learn to eat more healthfully, they can reduce the frequency of aspirations.” I worry this sort of procedure/device won’t promote better eating habits. Are being forced to chew your food thoroughly and consume plenty of water with your meal going to be good enough to help a person develop healthy eating habits. Is learning that you can dispose of 30% of the food you eat giving a positive message about food? It’s certainly not encouraging reduced food waste. Is it telling people that food can be pleasurable and nourishing?

What about the social ramifications? People who struggle with over eating and weight loss often struggle with self esteem and confidence issues. Is hiding in the bathroom for 10 minutes after every meal going to help improve a person’s sense of confidence? If I had to spend 10 minutes draining my stomach after every meal I would avoid eating with others. I wouldn’t want to eat at work. I wouldn’t want to eat at a restaurant or a friend’s house. I would only want to eat in my own home (never with guests) because I would feel so embarrassed about the time I would need to spend in the bathroom after we ate. Maybe that’s just me. But maybe not. Would that foster a positive relationship with food? I think not.

I have huge concerns about this sort of device. About the message it sends about the importance of being skinny above all else. About the potential physical and emotional consequences it might have on the users. And about the message it sends that there’s a “quick fix” for obesity. As far as I can tell, this is nothing but a medically endorsed form of bulimia.

 


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30+ bananas a day is bananas

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Originally, I wasn’t going to comment on a recent article spouting nutrition nonsense. As fired-up as I was, I felt that addressing the article would only provide more publicity for the individual featured in the article. I was torn between commenting on her ridiculous (and dangerous) assertions and leaving it alone because I think that giving this woman more coverage may do more harm than good. After mulling it over, I’ve decided to comment on the article without linking to it and without naming the woman featured. If you’ve already heard of her, I’m sure that you’ll have no trouble figuring out to whom I’m referring, even if you haven’t, you can likely google her quite easily. Still, I don’t want to assist anyone in accessing her foolishness.

Getting to the point… The article begins by discussing her belief that chemotherapy is deadly and that a raw vegan diet “will heal your body”. Yes, chemotherapy is dangerous and extremely hard on your body. It’s basically about finding the balance between the amount of toxins that will kill the cancer but not the patient. And yes, good nutrition is important for health. However, the notion that a raw vegan diet will cure cancer is total bunk and telling people to choose this over medical treatment is potentially harmful.

She also insists that losing her period on her raw vegan diet was healthy because “my feeling at the time that it felt good. At the time I think it need to happen for my body to balance out”. Since then, she has resumed having her period but they are very light. She alleges that having a period is your body ridding itself of toxicity. Umm… Actually, your period is your body shedding the unused uterine lining prepped for pregnancy every month. Not having your period (amenorrhea) is the opposite of evidence of good health. It’s an indication that your body is lacking in nutrients as it is unable to support a pregnancy. Suggesting that women who experience painful and heavy periods are consuming unhealthy diets is both incorrect and unfair to women who suffer from endometriosis.

The article mentions that she suffered from anorexia and bulimia before finding health with the raw food vegan diet. She prides herself on eating massive quantities of fruit (sometimes 50 bananas in a day!) as part of this diet, which is nearly all carbohydrate, very low in fat and protein. To me, this appears to be just another manifestation of an eating disorder. She mentions the weight loss she experienced after starting this diet and posts many photos of herself that look like those you would see on proana or fitspo sites. This bizarre eating pattern and obsession with food is not indicative of a healthy lifestyle. Yes, her figure may make her diet tempting for those who wish to be very thin. However, it is not healthy, and her advice is woefully incorrect and not based in scientific fact. Please do not be drawn in by internet sensations who promote dangerous self-serving agendas.


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Food photos; more than just annoying?

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Apparently posting photos of your food online is the latest indication of an eating disorder. The idea is that frequent postings of food photos is an indication of food playing an extensive role in your life. Interesting theory.

The people I know who are posting food photos are those whose work is related to food. That would include myself. While I appreciate that some people find the posting of food photos to be annoying (sorry guys… I’m not going to stop), I know that others enjoy seeing them and we can often be inspired by seeing each others meals.

Until I see some research to back-up these claims that posting food photos is related to unhealthy relationships with food I’m going to conclude that this must have been a slow news day as it seems to be a fairly inane article.


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Avoiding teaching disordered eating

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New evidence is surfacing that healthy eating initiatives in schools may be backfiring. It seems that some students have developed eating disorders (or disordered eating) after participating in obesity-prevention and healthy living programs in schools. While cause and effect can not be known for certain (i.e. there is no way for us to know if these students developed these food-related issues as a direct result of these programs) this news does raise an element of concern. I think that there are a number of strategies we, as health care providers and educators, can employ to avoid these unintended consequences.

Firstly, we need to be careful about our messaging. Telling students what they should and shouldn’t eat has the potential to instil in them a sense of guilt when consuming foods they come to believe are “bad”. Infusing eating with negative emotions is definitely a good start for disordered eating. Far better to emphasis healthy and delicious foods and how to incorporate them into diets regularly than to tell kids not to drink pop or eat candy. This reminds me of an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. While I know that he meant well I was horrified when I saw him making students run laps to teach them how much effort it would take to burn off the calories from their chosen snack (snacks were oranges, chocolate bars, or pop if my memory serves me correctly).

Beyond our messaging, we need to teach by example. It’s one thing to have a dietitian come in and tell the class about healthy eating and nutrition. It’s another, and far more meaningful lesson, thing for children to see their parents, teachers, and other adults living the lifestyle we’re telling them to live. I know that it can be hard to find the time to cook supper some days. I know that after working for 9 hours you don’t want to go to the gym, or run, or whatever your chosen exercise is. Honestly, these activities are the best medicine; both for yourself and for the future generation.