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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Skinny people should eat alone

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Last week Cornell Food Lab tweeted the above and I was all like <insert facepalm gif here>.

I think that the research the Cornell Food Lab does is fascinating. My first degree was in psychology and the work they does is pretty much the perfect marriage of nutrition and psychology. However, they really do tweet some questionable things.

On the face of it this seems like some fairly innocent advice. I mean who doesn’t want to ensure they don’t overeat? It’s the subtext of it that bothers me. It’s saying that watching how much you eat is more important than socializing, than friendships, than connecting with others. Hypothetically speaking, if my boyfriend is a delicate bird of an eater then he should probably sit at home with his lettuce leaves while I go out for lunch with friends so that I resist stuffing my face with All of the Things. Or, my light eating (why does this remind me of that woman who was convinced that she could sustain herself via photosynthesis?) co-workers should stealthily scarf their lunches in their cubicles while the rest of us gluttons whoop it up in the lunch room.

The sub-subtext is that thin is good, fat is bad and getting or staying thin should be the focus of all our food decisions. Never mind the fact that mealtimes should be pleasurable occasions. Forget that food and eating is about so much more than controlling how much we cram down our gullets. Never mind that social eating can be emotionally fraught enough for many people. Skinny people should be sure to isolate themselves lest they risk catching the gluttony of people who are overweight. Overweight people should all be forced to consume their food in locations where ever morsel they ingest can be subjected to due public scrutiny so that they’re sure to think twice before they have fries.

Lest you think I’m over thinking this tweet, in response to my retweet (with the comment “oy vey”) they shared this link to the research to clarify their point. Because research where people dined with a person in a fat suit is sooo much better than I thought this was. Sigh.

How about instead of enforcing food hang-ups and weight bias we all start enjoying our meals, be they alone or with others, again.

 

 

 

 

 


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Is Canada’s Food Guide making us fat?

Oh goodie. Nina Teicholz is at it again (still at it?). In an article in the National Post the other day she purportedly claimed that the cause of obesity in Canada is our strong adherence to Canada’s Food Guide.

See, that might be a remotely good argument if Canadians were actually following Canada’s Food Guide (even then, the causal relationship is unlikely). However, we’re not. Not even close. Only one quarter of the population (two years of age and over) met the minimum recommendation for vegetables and fruit according to one study. Similar results are consistently found through the CCHS (Canadian Community Health Survey administered by Stats Canada). We don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit, we don’t get enough milk (or alternatives), we eat too much meat…

Even if it were true that we were all following Canada’s Food Guide there are significant flaws with this logic. One, it’s a spurious correlation. You know, like the correlation between the number of people tripping over their own feet and dying and the number of lawyers in Nevada.

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Just because two things happen to correlation doesn’t mean that there’s a connection between them. Just because obesity rates have been rising since the latest incarnation of CFG doesn’t mean that the CFG caused the rise in obesity.

Two, what about the rising obesity rates across the planet? Does Teicholz mean to suggest that Brits, Americans, and Australians are all strictly adhering to the Canadian Food Guide? Who knew our guide was so popular!?

Three, obesity rates were quite likely rising before we adopted Canada’s Food Guide. Both in Canada, and around the world. It’s impossible to say what the trend in obesity would have been if Canada’s Food Guide hadn’t been adopted in the 1980s. It’s possible that the trajectory would have been the same. Maybe it would have been even more rapid, slower, or dropped. There’s probably no causal relationship between the adoption of our national food guide and the increase in obesity rates.

Fortunately, there’s a voice of reason. Unfortunately, it comes in at the end of the article (after most people have likely stopped reading). Lyons says what I’ve said all too often, that we shouldn’t be demonizing or glorifying any foods. Rather than go all-in on saturated fat, we should be consuming fat from a variety of sources (save for man-made trans-fat). Rather than go from low-fat to high-fat we should consume a variety of foods. Let’s not sweat the small stuff so much.


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The truth about vegetables that will make you fat

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Image: The courgette I forgot to pick by Caroline on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

 

Following on the heels of my post last week about greens vs grains is another diatribe stemming from an article I found online. This one? 5 Vegetable Foods That Make You Fat.

What are these insidious vegetables? Vegetable tempura, veggie chips, vegetable juice, vegetable smoothies, and vegetable dips. Was anyone under the impression that these are sound dietary choices on par with fresh vegetables? I’d hazard a guess that most people would realize that deep frying, adding sugar, and adding a smattering of vegetables to a creamy cheesy base is not the same as eating a salad or a carrot. Even so, these foods are not inherently fattening. You can eat them and not get fat. As with any food, it’s the amount you eat that matters. I’d even argue that home made vegetable juice and smoothies can be a nutritious choice. Even vegetable dips can be healthy if you make them with Greek yoghurt.

Why do we keep having to label foods as “good” or “bad” anyway? It’s rarely that simple. Even if you’re having vegetable chips you may be consuming less sodium and more fibre than if you were consuming potato chips. Even if you’re not, is that really so bad if it’s an occasional treat? We need to stop calling foods “bad” and “good”. This only leads to unhealthy relationships with food and greater desire for those forbidden “bad” foods.

The real lessons from this article: 1. don’t read articles that tell you X, Y, or Z will make you fat (or skinny, for that matter), 2. prepare your own meals the majority of the time. If you’re making your own meals you can control what goes into them (and what doesn’t) and you can make a perfectly healthy and delicious veggie smoothie.


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Thoughts on “The Myth of High-Protein Diets”

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Image used under a Creative Commons Licence. Photo by Sean_Hickin on flickr.

Part of me is a little hesitant to address the op-ed piece by Dr Dean Ornish in the New York Times last week. This because, the low-fat zealots have already attacked me for criticizing Dr Esselstyn in the past. But, you know me, when something gets under my skin I can’t leave it well enough along.

The piece was titled: The Myth of High-Protein Diets. One would think that the accompanying article would be about pitfalls to following a high-protein diet. However, Dr Ornish focusses solely on animal protein, with an emphasis on meat and fat. The gist of his argument is that if you eschew animal products you will live longer, as will the planet. Okay, so it’s not the myth of high-protein diets. It’s the myth of high-animal products diets.

One of the studies Ornish cites is one that I blogged about a year ago. At the time it ignited headlines proclaiming that protein was akin to smoking and that animal protein would contribute to our premature demise. Suffice to say, the study was flawed and these conclusions were tenuously drawn. In fact, in older adults, diets that were higher in protein were actually positively correlated with reduced mortality. And there was no negative effect from plant sources of protein at any age. So, even with the poor quality of this research, some of the results were in direct opposition to Ornish’s interpretation of them.

I read articles like this and think to myself “it’s no wonder that people are confused about what to eat and don’t trust any health care professionals”. You have one doctor insisting that a low-carb diet is the key to a long healthy life, another insisting that it’s low-fat, another insisting that it’s high-carb, another insisting that it’s blahblahblah. Of course, they all have the book to sell you. Maybe they’re all right. Maybe you can be healthy one any of their highly-restrictive diets. As I’ve said before, the best diet is the one that you can enjoy and follow for life. For me, that involves eating fat, protein, and carbs from both plant and animal sources. Yeah, I know it’s not sexy, but balance and variety are the hallmarks of a nutritious diet.