Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Will new nutrition labels make us all thinner?

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Not to be negative, but I saw this headline: How much will new nutrition labels help fight obesity and I immediately said “not at all” (in my head because I was at work and our office is open-concept).

I know the new (American) nutrition facts panel is supposed to help curb obesity because they’ve made the calories so damn big but personally I think it’s not going to help anyone to lose any weight. If people are counting calories and trying to lose weight making them bigger isn’t going to make weight loss any easier. If someone’s not counting calories it’s unlikely that a big bold calorie count is going to prompt them to change their minds about their purchases. I also think the emphasis on calories is not beneficial to anyone.

Yes, lots of people find calorie counting helpful when they’re trying to lose weight. I still yearn for a simpler time when we didn’t need this information. When we didn’t rely to heavily on prepackaged foods that managed to jam in so many calories and so few nutrients. Personally, I think that, for the average consumer, the ingredients label is where they should be looking more often than the nutrition facts panel. The NFP doesn’t tell you anything about what’s in the food you’re potentially putting in your mouth. It just tells you about the artful mastery of the manufacturer who wants to make sure you buy into the charade of fortified highly processed products as healthy choices.

Putting calories front and centre puts a negative lens on food. It takes away from food tasting good, being pleasurable, and providing us with energy and puts the emphasis on guilt and shame. Neither of which are things we should be associating with food.

Rather than focusing our efforts on fighting against obesity we should be fighting for health.


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Let them eat chocolate cake for breakfast!

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I saw the headline: Chocolate cake for breakfast? Research says it’s good for both your brain and your waistline and thought “this should be interesting”.

The author suggests that we should eat chocolate cake for breakfast because one study found that higher chocolate consumption was associated with improved cognitive function. While another study suggested that those who ate larger breakfasts (including a dessert) lost more weight and ate less later in the day than those who started their day with a less substantial meal. A bit of a leap, if you ask me to then conclude that we should be eating chocolate cake as part of a weight management cognitive enhancement regimen.

Looking at the study that ostensibly concluded that chocolate improved cognition, it immediately jumps out at me that the study drew from data from food frequency questionnaires. As you know, these are notoriously inaccurate. I also think that it’s important to note that the questionnaire in question didn’t differentiate between dark, milk, and white chocolate. White chocolate being up for debate as to whether or not it’s truly chocolate, and the form of the chocolate not being recorded (chocolate bar, ice cream, cake, cookie…) it would be difficult to conclude that there was any one attribute of these forms of chocolate that could improve cognition. As the authors point out, there is no way to infer a causal relationship. Just because people who ate chocolate at least once a week fared better on cognitive tests than those who ate it less than once a week doesn’t mean that there’s not some other reason that they fared better on these tests. While the results were statistically significant, I wonder how meaningful they are in actuality.

While I can attest to the benefits of “front loading” your day for many trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, I wondered about the study the article referenced. Fortunately, someone else had already thrown shade on it (back in 2010!) so I don’t feel the need to duplicate their comments. For anyone who can’t be bothered to click the link, suffice to say the study author has come out with a diet book and the study upon which she based this plan is flawed.

Okay, what’s the takeaway? I’ve got nothing against chocolate. I’ve got nothing against chocolate cake. In fact, writing this post prompted me to fetch a slice of leftover chocolate cake to munch on while I typed. That being said, I wouldn’t include it as part of a nutritious breakfast. If you were eating chocolate cake for breakfast on the regular you’d be hard-pressed to get all of the nutrients you need without getting more calories than you need. If you want to add chocolate to your breakfast in a healthier way you could add some cocoa powder to your smoothie or some raw cacao nibs to your oatmeal. Save the cake for special occasions (and blogging).

 

 


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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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Should doctors be treating obesity?

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Image “Bigger than your head” by Mandy Jansen on Flicker. Used under a creative commons licence

I was thinking about Western medicine the other day and how all too often it seems that the approach is to treat the symptoms rather than to determine the cause and to try to remedy that. That got me to thinking about our approach to obesity and how, in a sense, having doctors (or any medical professionals) treat it means that we’re treating the symptom rather than the cause.

Yes, there are many causes of obesity. But when we boil them all down it really comes to our environment and collective lifestyle as a society. The way our lives are set-up it’s a battle to avoid becoming overweight or obese. Our jobs, our food system, our neighbourhoods, our social activities, our sleep habits, etc. are all contributing to the ever climbing obesity rates.

Sure, many medical professionals are fighting the good fight. Some are trying their best to help their patients learn to reengineer their lifestyles to lose weight. Some are pushing for changes to our built environment. But these battles are large and weren’t intended to be fought by MDs, RDs, and RNs. None of us learned how to design communities, to build grocery stores, or to structure offices while we were in school.

The real battle needs to be fought by government officials, engineers, designers, and planners. These are the people who can get to the root of the problem. Maybe as healthcare professionals we can help direct them to the sources of the issue. We can also continue our efforts to treat the symptoms as they surely deserve some tending to. However, until we can create some sort of coordinated widespread interdisciplinary approach to curbing obesity we’re just going to be continuing to give out bandaids to those in our care.


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Boycott Fit To Fat To Fit

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When I heard about the new TV show Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit I thought “that sounds a lot like that moronic trainer I wrote about years ago.” A little digging through my archives, and it looks like I was right.

For anyone who hasn’t heard about this new show, the premise is a group of personal trainers intentionally gain a bunch of weight (ostensibly so that they “know” what it’s like to be fat) and then they lose the weight again, along with their chosen client.

What I wrote about the original Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit trainer remains true over five years later, and applies to the trainers in the series. Unfortunately, by the sheer existence of a TV series it would seem that his stunt paid off, and then some.

There are so many things wrong with a series like this. Starting with the fact that these trainers are potentially putting their health at risk by gorging themselves to gain weight. And then by losing the weight, presumably through gruelling workouts and restrictive diets. And for what? Money? Fame? Even if they truly believe that “putting themselves in their clients shoes” is helping them to know what it’s like to be overweight, that’s not what this is really about and it’s not providing them with the true experience. They may gain a greater appreciation for how people fat-shame those who are overweight but they haven’t taken the same journey as their clients.

Most people aren’t overweight because they intentionally ate super-sized McDonald’s meals every day. They become overweight for myriad reasons and it happens over extended periods of time, not usually the six months allotted for the TV show. Our environment, our income, our upbringing, our genetics, our friends, our mental health, our gut microbes, our jobs, and on and on, are all factors in determining what we weigh. The trainers involved in the series aren’t experiencing weight gain in the same way that most people do. It’s simplifying a complex issue into calories in, calories out.

In addition to the detriment potentially caused to the trainers themselves there’s the harm potentially caused to their clients (and to the public watching at home). The clients are being taught that they are to blame for their weight gain. They’re also being taught that exercise is the way to lose weight. Have we learned nothing from the Biggest Loser? I guess we have. We’ve learned how to get some great TV ratings. We know that the Biggest Loser can wreak metabolic havoc, not to mention emotional havoc, on the contestants. This is the same thing. Let’s push people to their breaking points so they lose weight we get more viewers. Who cares what happens to them afterwards.

And the harm to people at home? The message the show sends it that it’s your fault that you’re fat and you can lose the weight if you just work hard enough. Even if everyone wanted to destroy their metabolisms at home, most people don’t have the time or money to undertake a punishing daily workout regimen with personal trainers. Nor is there the pressure to make the cut for a TV program looming over our heads. Who has the “luxury” of making weight loss their full-time job? Not to mention the fact that the majority of weight loss is a result of what we eat, not exercise.

Finally, programs like this are teaching us that there is only one way to be beautiful, healthy, loved, and worthy and that’s by being skinny. We all naturally have different body types and what healthy looks like on me may be very different from what healthy looks like on you. Suggesting that everyone needs to have the same abdominal definition to be fit and healthy is the same as suggesting that some of us need to grow a few more inches in height (or become shorter). It’s a ridiculous and impossible ideal.

Please don’t watch this show. By watching, you are only helping to support dangerous attitudes to weight and perpetuating false ideals and helping A&E make money from the suffering of others.