Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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How much do you weigh?

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How much do you weigh? That question seems to be asked of us all too often. It’s something that I never really gave all that much thought to as someone who had maintained relatively the same weight since university. However, as I’ve learned more about taking a weight-neutral approach to healthcare, and experienced the changes that my body went through during pregnancy and postnatally, it’s something that I find myself thinking about a lot.

So many of us tie our identities up in our size and part of that is our weight. We think of ourselves as being a certain height and weight and we talk about those things as if they’re static numbers but for many of us, that’s not the case. When we gain or lose weight unintentionally it’s as if suddenly our identities are called into question. We’re not the person that others are meeting for the first time; the real me is someone who’s 20 pounds lighter, or 10 pounds heavier.

The thing is though, our bodies change, and that’s normal and okay. Many of us gain a few pounds in the winter (there’s even a word for it in German: winterspeck) only to shed them again in the warmer months. Most people will weigh more in middle age than we did as young adults. And yet, we think that we need to be the same weight as our youthful selves. We talk about losing those “last 10 pounds” as if some weight on a BMI chart is our “true” weight. As if once we attain that weight we will have reached our final destination and our weight will never change again.

We are all changing all the time. Our bodies are always changing and it’s foolish of us to think that our weight is a magically unchanging fact about ourselves. It’s okay not to be the same size that you were 20 years ago, or two months ago. You are no more or less worthy of love and acceptance if your body is larger or smaller than it was in the past or will be in the future. You are no more or less yourself if you gain or lose weight. Your identity does not hinge on numbers on a scale.


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Lose the Weight Watchers

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Last year Weight Watchers rebranded as WW because they wanted to pretend that they were about healthy lifestyles and not just weight loss. This week they announced the release of their new weight loss app for kids (as young as eight!) and teens. They’re trying to frame it as “helping kids and teens build healthy habits” but when the central feature of the app is food tracking don’t be fooled; this is Weight Watchers points for kids and creating a “bad food” “good food” dichotomy is likely to do anything but help these kids build life-long healthy habits.

An eight year old tracking every morsel of food they eat with the sole aim of losing weight is pretty much the antithesis of a healthy habit. Rather than help kids develop healthy habits this app is far more likely to instil them with an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. And while I personally ascribe to the belief that weight is not indicative of health, I hope that all healthcare providers and parents can see why an app like this could be damaging to children whether or not they view “overweight” and “obesity” as a “problem”. Weight is not a modifiable behaviour and focusing on weight loss as an end goal doesn’t promote the adoption of healthy behaviours. Rather, it promotes restricted eating and quite probably disordered eating habits in order to attain that goal.

Given that very few adults successfully maintain intentional long-term weight loss, I find it baffling that WW claims that their new app is “evidence-based” and will somehow be more successful (if you are measuring success by pounds lost) in children and youth than similar programs have been in adults. It also makes me sad to see the quotes around “stopping arguments about food” so that parents and children get along better. Placing the responsibility for food choices in the hands of an app rather than working on fostering a healthy food environment at home may seem ideal but this doesn’t truly promote healthy behaviours. I know not everyone can afford to work with a registered dietitian (and not all RDs ascribe to the same school of thought when it comes to body weight); however, I recommend Ellyn Satter’s books which can be found at your public library if you want to help your child attain a healthy relationship with food.

It’s also important to keep in mind that WW is a for-profit business. They are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing this because there’s money to be made – one month use of the app is $69 USD. They’re doing this because a “fun” app is an easier sell to parents who are concerned about their children’s weight than working on the division of responsibility, role modelling healthy behaviours and positive relationships with food, and cooking and eating nutritious balanced meals together as a family. They’re doing this because weight bias is so rampant in our society that many people can think of few things worse than being fat and parents are desperate to save their children from that plight. I get that. Parents just want their children to be healthy. Unfortunately, an app that encourages a restrictive diet mentality is likely to achieve the opposite of health promotion.


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Book Review: @thefuckitdiet

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This review is not going to be as thorough as I like to be. I listened to this book on Audible while I was doing other things like cooking, cleaning, and walking the dog so I didn’t take notes and I wasn’t always paying the closest attention. That being said, for the most part, I thought it was great.

The overall message of the book is that we need to stop being so hard on ourselves for doing something as natural as eating food. That in order to reestablish a healthy relationship with food we need to stop dieting altogether and give ourselves permission to consume food in ways that we have told ourselves is “wrong”. For example, allowing ourselves to eat foods we’ve told ourselves are “bad” and allowing ourselves to overeat. This book is basically about undoing the conditioning we’ve done to ourselves over the years by making eating emotionally fraught.

The only real issue I took with any of the book was with some of the science, which I found to be questionable. I should have taken notes because I can’t remember exactly what Dooner was saying and having listened to the audiobook it’s not like I can easily flip to the references to look things up. I do remember her talking about the causes of candida overgrowth and mention of heavy metals being the cause (not sugar consumption). As far as I’m aware, there is still a lack of quality research in this area, and we really don’t know what causes some women to be prone to yeast infections. Dooner also mentions Chris Kresser as a source at one point (no, not a source of candida, but as an expert on something – again, I should have taken notes). I’m not a fan of Kresser. He’s got something to sell and claims to have the cure for everything that ails us. His website is a trove of red flags when it comes to nutrition information and he’s an acupuncturist and anti-vaxxer who cured his own chronic illness. Not someone I would want to be associated with. Anyway… as long as you don’t get hung-up on the science, I think that a lot of people could benefit from this book.

Dooner offers practical actions for the reader to undertake that should help move them closer to a healthy relationship with food. I think her attitude and approach are refreshing. I mean, her entire “diet” is literally: fuck it. Stop stressing so much about food. Stop trying to force your body to conform to some fucked-up wealthy white patriarchal ideal. Forget everything you’ve learned or told yourself over the years about diet, food, and what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Stop wasting time and energy obsessing about your weight and start living life to the fullest.

If you’re interested, Dooner is running an online book club starting on May 26th (you only have a few more days to enrol – enrolment ends on May 24th – so get off that fence if you’re thinking about it). This will include weekly Q&A sessions, discussion, and more. Check-out thefuckitdiet.com/club to learn more and sign-up. You can also follow Dooner on twitter and instgram @thefuckitdiet where she shares snippets from the book, quotes, and stories of her adorable dog.


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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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Response to: The Rise of the Anti-Diet Movement: Is it No Longer P.C. to Want to Lose Weight?

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Someone I follow on twitter recently shared this blog post: The Rise of the Anti-Diet Movement: Is it No Longer P.C. to Want to Lose Weight? by another dietitian, Janet Helm. In the post she mused about dietitians promoting themselves as “non-diet” and what this might say about other dietitians. She agreed with many points made by dietitians, quoted in RD/writer Cara Rosenbloom’s recent excellent piece for the Washington Post about non-diet dietitians, but seemed unwilling to go so far as to embrace the philosophy herself. She ended her post with the following questions: “Can’t we all get along? Can’t intuitive eating and body positivity coexist with losing weight?  Why must we line up on two sides?  Why the conflict?” I’m going to do my best to respond to these questions.

First, I too have asked that same question: “Can’t we all get along?” at times. Remember craisingate? Personally, I don’t think that as dietitians we have to agree on everything. It’s okay for us to have different perspectives and approaches. Also, in the case of diet vs non-diet, I don’t see it as an issue of getting along. Maybe I’m blissfully unaware, but I haven’t seen any “non-diet” dietitians attacking other dietitians for promoting weight management. I don’t see dietitians referring to themselves as “non-diet” as lining up on an opposing side or creating conflict. Rather, I see this identification as a way for dietitians to let prospective clients know that they do not promote weight loss as a goal. In a profession which so many believe our sole mission is to help people lose weight I think that it’s necessary for RDs who do not promote weight loss diets to make this clear up-front. I don’t believe the intent is to pass judgement on other dietitians who haven’t embraced the same approach, or to create a professional divide. However, I can see how a dietitian who has built a career around weight management counselling might see this new-ish movement as a personal judgement.

My friend Cheryl Strachan, aka “Sweet Spot RD” wrote an excellent blog post last week (while I was mulling over how best to respond to Janet’s post): Why I can’t help you lose weight. This heartfelt post explained why she would no longer work with clients on weight loss. Providing the current evidence on weight loss and health and the struggle she went through to reach this position. Rather than having me regurgitate all of the evidence here, I recommend you take a few minutes to go read it and then come back.

Done? Okay, great. So you’ll note that Cheryl mentions that when she studied nutrition in 2003 it was accepted without question that weight management was a significant part of being a dietitian. I can tell you that it was the same when I went back to uni to study nutrition in 2006. I’m not sure if things have changed since then. I suspect that they haven’t, at least not completely. It takes time for institutions and society to change. As a dietitian who has worked in weight management in the past I too have struggled to fully embrace health at every size. I understand why a fellow dietitian would ask: Can’t intuitive eating and body positivity coexist with losing weight? It’s an incredibly tough question and the answer is nuanced and it may not be the same for everyone.

I do believe that intuitive eating and body positivity can peacefully coexist with weight loss. However, I think that this can only be the case when weight loss is not the ultimate goal. For me, body positivity is appreciating your body as it currently exists and continuing to appreciate it if you gain weight or lose weight. It’s about treating yourself with respect and compassion and providing your body and mind with the nourishment they need. If you are doing these things with the clandestine goal of losing weight then you are doing yourself a disservice. That being said, it’s okay to want to lose weight. We live in a society that has conditioned us from a very young age to believe that being thin is important. It’s unrealistic to except this engrained belief to vanish overnight. It takes time to relearn to listen to your body and to treat it with respect when you’ve been viewing it as the enemy, a captor, keeping the real you the thin you hidden away. So, no, body positivity and weight loss can’t coexist but yes, body positivity and weight loss can coexist.

I think that as time goes on and nutrition programs update their curriculums, as old-school dietitians are more exposed to evidence regarding the harms of weight bias and weight loss diets, and the hold-outs retire, that things will change. After all, as dietitians we are supposed to provide evidence-based best practice and the evidence against weight loss diets is mounting. Eventually there will be no non-diet dietitians because that will be the approach we all take.