Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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What obesity and homosexuality have in common

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A couple of weeks ago I was listening to an episode of Radiolab on which they shared an episode of the short podcast series Unerased titled: Dr Davison and the Gay Cure. They were talking about the former perception of homosexuality as a disorder and the rise of conversion therapy. As I was listening what they were saying really struck a chord with me. I found myself thinking “this is exactly how people are going to think about weight loss counselling one day”.

On the podcast, they were saying, essentially, it doesn’t matter if people come to us wanting to change. What does it actually mean to help them? “The problem that these people are asking us to solve is a problem we created. That we labeled as a problem.” Even if we could effect certain changes, there is the more important question as to whether we should… It makes no difference how successful the treatment is, it is immoral.” And I was like “YES, this exact same thing could be said about weight loss treatment!”

This belief in relation to homosexuality was considered to be fringe and most people weren’t in support of it initially. This parallels the Health at Every Size/body diversity/weight acceptance movement. There is a lot of push-back from people in the medical community and the general public when it’s suggested that weight is not a condition that needs to be treated. Just as with the acceptance of homosexuality as a normal state, there were a few outspoken pioneers leading the movement and with time, it became more accepted by the mainstream. I feel that this is beginning to happen now with weight. More of us RDs who were always taught that “overweight” and “obesity” are unhealthy are coming to realize that people can be healthy at many different sizes.

Of course, there are still hold-outs and there is still conversion therapy happening in some places. Similarly, there will likely continue to be hold-outs who believe that only thin people can be healthy and that BMI is indicative of health. However, I’m hopeful that we’re reaching a turning point and that one day the medical community will agree that weight is not a “problem” and that weight loss treatments are unethical.


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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?

recursive donald trump via giphy

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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Book Review: Health at Every Size

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Thanks to Helen at Food & Nonsense starting the RD book club I finally got around to reading Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size. Unfortunately, due to time differences, the tweet-up to discuss the book is taking place at 6 am on a Sunday morning for me. I’ve scheduled this post to go live at that time as my feeble attempt at participating in the discussion without waking up ;) If you’d like to check out the discussion just search for the #RDBookclub hashtag (was that redundant? Probably) on twitter.

Helen was also kind enough to post some discussion questions so here goes…

1. Do you agree with the HAES assertion that health not weight should be the focus of nutrition interventions?

Absolutely. The focus should be on health and well being, never on numbers on a scale. That being said, weight management is one of the main reasons that people seek out advice from dietitians. I don’t think that we can just ignore this fact. As health care professionals it’s our job to help people to understand that the numbers on a scale don’t necessarily matter all that much when it comes to health. That being said, weight is often inextricably intertwined with health and nutrition.

2. Is a health approach practical in todays aesthetic focused society?

This is an excellent question and one that I found myself thinking about quite a bit as I was reading the book. It’s all well and good that we know that people can be healthy at many different weights but how do you translate that into acceptance and understanding? As much as we tell someone that they are healthy at their current weight, if they’re unhappy with that weight should we help them to lose weight or help them to accept themselves as they are? Oftentimes, neither of these options is feasible.

3. Do you feel that the main concepts in the book were adequately backed up by the research presented?

For the mist part I did. Although I must confess that I didn’t take the time to seek out all of the research Bacon used to back-up her arguments. A couple of things did bother me: One, I didn’t like how much she mentioned that if you do this or that you’ll probably end-up losing weight. If your book is about being healthy no matter what your size, and you’re preaching fat acceptance, then I don’t think that weight loss should be a frequently touted benefit of your approach. Two, I’m not sure how credible her evidence to support that overweight and obese people generally live longer than their lower-weight counterparts is. Weight loss is an extremely common side effect of many serious diseases. Thus, thinner people may be more prone to dying than larger people as a result of an underlying illness causing weight loss, not as a result of being thin. If we’re talking health at every size we need to be careful not to tip the scale in the other direction. People who are overweight, obese, average, or underweight may all be healthy. Also, death is not the only thing to look at. Obese and overweight people may be living for longer but how many of them are healthy during these extended life spans? Health span may be a more important consideration than life span.

4. How should nutrition professionals use this information in their day to day practice?

I think that nutrition professionals should use this information to help themselves overcome their personal biases and to educate their clients that weight is not the be all and end all when it comes to health. We should also use it to help clients realise that our own weight is not an indication of our health nor of our ability to do our jobs well. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had tell me that I’m a dietitian they might actually listen to because I’m slim, as though larger dietitians don’t have exactly the same knowledge and education as I do. As with any field, our weight is not an indication of our ability to perform our jobs well.

5. Were there any ideas in this book that you reject or find difficult to accept?  Why?

I think I covered this in question three. Oops! I was also bothered with a very small point in which Bacon was advising people on how to choose whole grains (p.79). She says, “Look for the word “whole” in the ingredients list.” Not entirely accurate. This is the point where I pondered whether or not it was okay to write in a library book. You need to see the words “whole grain”. Unfortunately, “whole” on its own is not sufficient. Anyway… This is a very small quibble in the scheme of things.

I did also find it difficult to accept that there is no relationship between obesity and disease states. While I absolutely believe it’s possible to be healthy (and conversely unhealthy) at any weight I do still believe that there is increased risk of developing certain conditions such as heart disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes when you’re obese.

6. What is the main thing you took from this book? How has it been helpful to you?

The main thing I took from this book is the importance of self-worth and acceptance. We all need to stop aspiring to look like other people and learn to be happy being ourselves. Many of us also need to step away from the scale and stop letting the numbers on it define us. I also really enjoyed the chapters on food and fat politics.

For some more interesting perspectives on the HAES movement check out the following links:

http://www.weightymatters.ca/2013/12/guest-post-why-i-am-walking-away-from.html

http://www.weightymatters.ca/2012/03/why-haes-may-never-go-mainstream.html

http://www.drsharma.ca/obesity-the-science-behind-health-at-every-size-haes.html

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/does-weight-matter/


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Licence to eat?: My thoughts on classifying obesity as a disease

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Sometimes I need a little time to percolate on a subject before I weigh in. This was one of those times. A couple of weeks ago the American Medical Association decided to classify obesity as a disease. This, of course, created quite an uproar. On one side, there are the people who are saying that this will lead to a decrease in personal responsibility for the condition as well as those who believe that it will mean those of us who are not obese will be footing the bill for surgeries and new obesity drugs (1). On the other side, there are those who believe that this will lead to increased efforts to curb rising obesity rates and may be beneficial to those who are suffering from obesity (2).

Personally, I’m not sure that calling obesity a disease will lead to any improvements in obesity rates but I certainly don’t see it causing any harm. Considering how well we’ve being doing reducing obesity rates thus far I figure that classifying obesity as a disease is worth a shot. While I agree with the point made in the Globe article that the current use of BMI to measure obesity is highly flawed I would also like to point out that there are other measurements of obesity being developed (e.g. the Edmonton Obesity Staging System) and perhaps the classification of obesity as a disease will lead to wider use of these more accurate tools.

I also take issue with the notion that classifying obesity as a disease will lead to people throwing up their hands and saying “not my fault, I have a disease” and then going for a big mac meal deal. When alcoholism was classified as a disease in 1956 did alcoholics cheer and say “now I have a licence to drink!”. No. The classification raised served to raise awareness that this was a serious medical condition and increased treatment availability and options.

Did anyone else notice the photos of headless obese bodies accompanying the news articles? I hope that this classification will lead to increased sensitivity toward those who are obese.

My concern is not with the classification of obesity as a disease (keep in mind that over weight is not the same thing as obese and that individuals who are over weight may indeed be healthier than their “healthy” weight counterparts but yes, I am concerned that this classification may detract from the notion of health at every size) it’s with our current medical model in North America. Our focus is on treatment when it should be on prevention. This goes for all diseases, not just obesity. In Canada, our system will cover many treatments once you’ve fallen ill but will not cover most preventative measures. We need to start covering (at least some of) the cost of things like dietitians, certified personal trainers, gym memberships, sports equipment, etc. regardless of disease state. In the long-run it would be a lot less costly to keep people healthy in the first place rather than waiting until they become ill to provide medical and professional supports.

Yes, there is much more than our medical system that needs to be involved in preventing and curing obesity. Our food systems, environment, and societal structure are major contributors to our current high levels of obesity. However, as we’re talking about the AMA classification today I wanted to focus on the medical side of the issue.

So, these are some of my thoughts on the subject. I’ve seen many other thoughts out there as well, mostly from medical professionals and the media. What I’d really like to see are thoughts from those who are most likely to be directly affected by the classification of obesity as a disease. If any of my readers, or anyone you know, is currently (or was ever) obese and would like to share your thoughts on the recent classification of obesity as a disease by the AMA I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please email me at dmc555 [at] gmail [dot] com to let me know what your thoughts are. With your permission, I will share your thoughts in a future blog post.