Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Just because it’s “always delicious” doesn’t mean it’s not a diet book

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Last week I attended the Ambition Nutrition Symposium in Toronto, to which I was fortunate enough to win free tickets. The theme of the conference was “bringing it home” and was intended to help translate nutrition theory into the kitchen and onto client’s plates. While I’m not sure the day really succeeded in that regard, I still found it to be an interesting conference with a variety of speakers and delicious food (thank you George Brown culinary students!). That being said, from my perspective, there was an elephant in the room. That elephant was the tension between professions and dietary dogma.

We started the day with a great presentation by Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the World Food Policy Centre, among numerous other titles. He spoke about the difficulty we often face when addressing food-related issues through policy as something that benefits one area (e.g. nutrition) may cause unintended harm in another (e.g. agriculture). The goal of his new centre is to bring stakeholders from all the areas together to try to develop policies that will benefit all areas. As an aside, one thing I noticed about the list of stakeholders he shared was the lack of the public. As “end users” I think that it’s essential that the public (or specific groups from the public such as those experiencing food insecurity) are involved in these discussions.

Later in the morning we had an excellent presentation by Nishta Saxena, a dietitian. Maybe I’m a little bit biased as an RD but I felt that she did a fantastic job of presenting the struggles we face in addressing healthy eating with clients when they are constantly bombarded by misinformation in social media. How do we combat “sexy” social media influencers as professionals who must provide evidence-based factual information and are less inclined to posed half naked with overflowing mason jars of green smoothies? Several years later and dietitians still aren’t sexy ;)

We also had Saxena and chef Christine Cushing call out juicing and juice diets (while a new cold pressed juice company presented at one of the breakout sessions and provided samples during food breaks). Cushing mocked the caveman diet and then we had a snack break with “paleo” brownies. Saxena belittled meal kits and our swag bags contained a coupon for Hello Fresh. Hello elephant.

Follow-up Saxena’s fantastic presentation with a discussion with Dr. David Ludwig and his wife chef Dawn Ludwig to promote their new book “Always Delicious” which we all got a copy of in our swag bags. Full disclosure, I have been critical of Ludwig in the past. I tried to come into it with an open mind though, I really did but the elephant would not settle down. Despite their protestations that it was not a diet book, if it talks about weight loss, fat adaptation, is filled with testimonials (from readers who have lost weight), and has a prescriptive DIET with three phases, it’s a goddamn diet book. I’m not going to get into the science of his insulin hypothesis here because my point is not to critique his beliefs but if you want to read more about it I recommend this short article by Stephan Guyenet. I’m also not here to question the “success” people have had on Ludwig’s diet. If people are happier and healthier following this plan, I think that’s great. My issue is with the framing of this diet as the best way to eat for everyone and that the best way of eating is one that promotes weight loss. They talked about “NSVs” (non-scale victories) but the only examples I saw in the book and heard during the talk were a reduction in blood pressure and going down a pant size (which while technically not a weight loss “victory” is still a “victory” over an “unruly” body).

For a day that was meant to promote health through food there was a whole lot of talk about The Obesity Problem which is really not the direction that we want to take if we want to encourage people to have healthy relationships with food and their kitchens. I encourage everyone to read this piece about one woman’s “life as a public health crisis”.  If obesity is a “problem” then food is the enemy. That mindset does not lead to healthy attitudes and behaviours. You don’t need to “retrain” your fat cells, they are not disobedient puppies. Rather, we as a society need to retrain our attitudes toward our bodies and our food so that we can once again be friends with both.

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Why do we care how much Trump weighs?

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I know that we all want to clutch onto every piece of evidence we find that Trump is a despicable human, hold them close, let them keep us warm at night, and build bomb shelters from them. I also know that society and popular media have taught us that “fat people” are the villains. That they are lazy and gluttonous and deserving of scorn. It’s incredibly difficult to set aside these biases, especially when we want to believe these things of a person, but that’s exactly what we need to do. Trump has given us ample reasons to believe that he is a garbage human. His objectification of and assaults on women, his racist comments and travel bans, his mockery of people with disabilities, his complete and utter lack of diplomacy, and on and on. His weight is not one of them.

Weight does not reflect ones value as a human. This is true of you, of me, of your friends and family, of famous actresses, of poor people and rich people, and yes, even of Donald Trump.
We don’t get to say that body acceptance is important and that weight is not indicative of health or personal worth for people that we like and then go around making a big deal about Trump’s weight. Sorry but not judging a person based on their weight should apply to everyone, even people we dislike.


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Is having abs incompatible with having a good personality?

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Last week I saw my social media friend Bryan Chung (@DrBryanC if you want to follow him on twitter and you probably do because he also writes the excellent Evidence Based Fitness blog) tweeting at a writer for GQ. The writer had written a column and tweeted it out as: “Stop trying to get a six-pack – try being interesting instead”. Intriguing, no?

Unfortunately(?), the article was didn’t provide any pointers on how to be interesting or how to compensate for your lack of abs with a stellar personality. Instead, it was all about how visible abs are really far too much work for anyone other than a Ryan Gosling or a Zac Efron. Plus, apparently you can’t eat anything good if you want to have a six-pack. Now, I know that having chiseled abs is probably for the minority but they are not impossible to obtain. You don’t have to give up all food and drink and pleasure in life to have abs.

The article seemed to be trying to tell men that they should magically blind women to their absent abs by having charisma. Apparently if you tell some jokes, By the time the T-shirt finally comes up, they’ll be too blown away by your mind to care.” As a woman, I can provide some inside information here: it’s true that most of us don’t give a damn if men have washboard abs or not. A great personality is essential but what defines a great personality (as evidenced by the taste of many of the women on the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise) is as unique as your body. There is no one perfect personality and there is no one perfect body.

This article reminded me of that meme I saw a while back. Why does it seem like to embrace one body type we have to shun others? Why can’t we be okay with bodies in all shapes and sizes?

If you want to have washboard abs then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that abs and personality are mutually exclusive traits. Just because you care about your physique doesn’t mean that you have a lacklustre personality. Conversely, just because you have a beer belly doesn’t mean you have a “perfectly toned personality”. You can have both abs and personality and you can have neither.


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Where did her body go?

I was standing in line at the grocery store on the weekend and I noticed a magazine with a photo of Britney Spears in a bikini with the headline “How Britney Got Her Body Back!”. I didn’t take a photo of the magazine because I felt like that would be weird. Instead, I promptly googled it when I got to the car. I couldn’t find the current issue but I did discover that this wasn’t the first time Brit got her body back.

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It would also seem that she’s not the first celeb to have lost and found her body.

Apparently, over the years, myriad celebrities have been losing their bodies and then having them returned. Someone should really get Scully and Mulder on this.

Seriously though, why do we tend to believe that we are less ourselves when there is more of ourselves? What a weird species/society we are. What a shame that we can’t celebrate and respect bodies of all shapes and sizes. What a pity that when a woman gains weight during pregnancy it’s as though she’s been invaded by body snatchers and not providing a nurturing environment to her child.

I know that it’s a difficult frame of mind to escape. It’s hard to “feel like yourself” when your body is different from the way it’s always been. But let’s start trying. Ladies (and gents) your body is always your own. Try to treat it with love and respect no matter what your weight may be.


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The irony of #fatlogic

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A few days after my post about the insanity of some government workplace “wellness” initiatives I noticed that I was getting a lot of traffic from a subreddit. Out of curiosity (yes, I never learned from the cat’s misfortune) I clicked on the link to see what it was all about. I discovered a whole little world that I never knew existed. Something called “fatlogic”. Maybe I’m out of the loop (it’s been known to happen) but I’d never heard of fatlogic before.

As far as I can tell this fatlogic is basically the opposite of HAES (Health at Every Size). People who ascribe to this position seem to think that fat shaming is an acceptable way to “encourage” people to lose weight. It’s not just thin people who think this way, there seem to be a number of people who are overweight, or who were overweight, who are staunchly opposed to the notion that people can be healthy and overweight and believe that insulting people who are overweight (or who advocate for HAES) is appropriate.

It was nice of this group to keep their insults to themselves (i.e. voicing them on reddit rather than in the comments on my blog). I was pretty amazed at the vitriol of many of the members of the group. According to them, I clearly had no idea what I was talking about and was a brainwashed moron for believing that weight is not the best indicator of health. The subreddit also went off on a little tangent from what my primary point was. Everyone became fixated on my comments about BMI not being a very good measure of body fat. Herein is one of the clear flaws of their logic. I mean, besides the fact that it’s ignorant and discriminatory. One person mentioned that BMI is a measure of body fat, interpreting that a BMI of 18.5 equates to 18.5% body fat, below which one would be classified as “underweight” according to the BMI. The thing is, BMI doesn’t measure body fat. That 18.5 is not a percent; it’s technically kg/m2. BMI is a body mass index intended to classify people as underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese based on ranges of this index. Someone with a BMI of 18.5 could have 8% body fat or 30% body fat. This is one of the reasons why BMI is widely considered to be an inaccurate tool for measuring weight (and health). You could be very fit and lean and have the same BMI as someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle and has a significantly higher percentage of body fat.

I know that it goes against the basic tenets of the Internet but wouldn’t it be nice if people actually knew what they were talking about before they attacked others? Ever notice how it’s generally those who are the most vocal who know the least?