Goal is to provide hope to people who are impacted by eating disorders. They engage with stakeholders across the eating disorders continuum, including people who have experienced eating disorders or disordered eating, loved ones of those with eating disorders or in recovery, eating disorder treatment providers, and those interested in learning more about eating disorders.
Step one, buy a bikini, step two wear it unabashedly to the beach and enjoy the best of what summer has to offer.
Simple I know. And contrary to the swarms of advertisements to ‘fix this’, ‘adjust that’ and ‘in five simple workouts you’ll have a body deserving of the beach’. Truth is any messaging promoting ways of getting your body ready for the beach is really promoting body dissatisfaction. These messages have the devious intention of preying on your insecurities to make a profit off the latest miracle product, diet or workout routine. Most of which will shake your thoughts and emotions to the point that you’ll be wanting to curl up under the covers until the leaves change colour, and wearing a bikini is no longer an option.
Here’s what I know about getting a bikini body: Feeling comfortable on the beach has nothing to do with your shape and size. As appealing as it might be to drop a couple pounds it won’t ever be enough to tip the scales of comfort in your favour while wearing a swim suit.
To lessen the feeling of terror at the thought of a bikini, you have to work on changing how you see your body, not changing your body.
First off, stop telling yourself that a couple pounds will make a difference. There really is nothing but you and your negative self-talk getting in the way of accepting your body and allowing yourself to fully participate in the joys of the beach.
When you imagine your body as an object for everyone to gawk at as they stroll along the shoreline, of course you’re going to be self-conscious! Change your focus instead to the ways your body serves you at the beach. Without those funny looking toes you wouldn’t be able to walk along the shoreline. Without that arm that has a little jiggle you wouldn’t be able to play a round of volleyball or pick rocks along the shoreline. Without those legs that you painstakingly scrutinize over, swimming or walking wouldn’t be an option.
So next time you are standing in front of a mirror picking apart your “unready” beach body, show a little self-compassion for the flaws that you judge so harshly. Accepting yourself and owning every bit of your perceived imperfections and flaws will not only liberate you, but is sure to promise you a body that is ready to be seen in any bikini and take on beaches anywhere.
In 2014, my four-year-old daughter went off to junior kindergarten to enjoy meeting new friends, learning about the world, and of course, to enjoy nutrition breaks which are often the best part of the day for young students!
Halloween eventually rolled around and the family bundled up into a combination of ill-fitting costumes and snow pants for the purpose of collecting all the candy that our neighbours had to offer. It certainly is a strange and wonderful holiday!
When we arrived at the first house to trick or treat, my daughter politely said “No, thank you” when offered the candy. I was taken back but continued on the journey. At the next house, when offered candy again, she stated “I’m not supposed to have that; it is bad for me”. And that is when my heart sank. She was being taught in school about which foods she should eat and which foods she should avoid. This was confirmed the next day when I received a newsletter home from the classroom instructing me to begin talking to my daughter about which foods are healthy and which foods are unhealthy.
I had raised my daughter with an understanding that there are no good and bad foods, just foods that we have more of and foods that we have less of. That message was taught through role modelling alone, which is developmentally appropriate at that age. It is important for adults to remember that children are hard-wired to love energy-dense and sugary foods, and that is what has helped humankind survive and thrive through years of hardship, drought and war. There can be very negative results when children are taught that certain foods are unacceptable, even when they still love those foods. This negative sanction about what they enjoy can make them feel like they are the ones with the problem and that there must be something wrong with them. Sneaking, hoarding, and bingeing behaviours can result from such messages and feelings.
Halloween is meant to be guiltlessly enjoyed for one evening out of 365 evenings. It is most likely that celebrating Halloween - and all the candy that goes with it - will not impact a child’s health or weight, but may actually begin to foster a positive relationship with food. Food is meant to be about so much more than physical health. For centuries, food has been an integral part of celebrations, culture, connectedness and sheer enjoyment. It is important to discuss all of these issues when talking about nutrition with our youth.
So, on that night, with my daughter struggling to make the “right” decision, which she thought was to fight her natural and social drive to enjoy candy, I resolved to do my part in helping teach young students what healthy eating really looks like. I have also endeavored to support teachers in teaching nutrition by incorporating both physiological health and psychological health. It has been evident to me time and again that teachers have their students’ well-being at heart. So, when it comes to nutrition, I want to help provide teachers with a vocabulary about food and nutrition that is positive and celebratory versus negative and reproachful. It is also important to me to connect with parents and caregivers, whenever possible, to support them in also carrying on the positive nutrition messages learned at school.
Adults are increasingly putting the pressure on children to make “good” choices about foods, at a time when the adults themselves don’t have the whole picture of what our children need in order to thrive physically and psychologically.
Food for Life Program
I am a Registered Dietitian, employed by CMHA WW and working in the field of Eating Disorder Treatment.
I developed the Food for Life Program, which has now been running in elementary schools in the regions of Waterloo, and Wellington for four years. It has reached over 1000 students, over 50 teachers and over 2000 caregivers. There are currently more than five trained Food for Life facilitators in our community.
What is it?
It is a nutrition program with several units geared to different grade levels from JK to grade 4.
It is designed to educate children about a variety of nutrition-related topics including how certain foods contribute to our physical functioning, where food comes from, how we can celebrate food and the value of trying new foods.
It is designed to provide parents, guardians and caregivers with nutritious recipes and ingredients, along with information about what foods their own children have tried throughout the program, plus guidance about how to positively discuss nutritious foods and “sometimes” foods with their children.
It is based on the recommendations that Health Canada has provided in Canada’s Food Guide and meets The Ministry of Education’s curriculum guidelines.
There are typically four 1-hour sessions during which several foods from the Food Guide are offered.
Why is it Important?
The frequency of eating disorders is rising amongst Canadian youth. Parents, teachers and children are sometimes bombarded with contradicting and confusing messages regarding healthy eating.
Giving children positive messages about food counteracts this and promotes healthy living, both physically and psychologically.
This program uniquely addresses not only nutrition but also how to live in a world with an abundance of wonderful foods.
Who is Funding it?
It has been through volunteer work that the program was founded. However, it is with the generous support of CMHA WW, the Grand River Agricultural Society, and the Healthy Kids Community Challenge that the program has been able to grow and reach many of our local communities.
Is it Safe?
Yes, all food is prepared by an individual with Food Handler Certification in her/ his own home.
Public Health has approved the program’s food handling and delivering methods.
NO individual information is collected about any of the children.
Children are NOT required to sample food, but are encouraged to try new or previously disliked foods.
Facilitators respect and plan for all food allergies.
Author: Alison Elliott, MSW, RSW. Social Worker in Private Practice, Cambridge Ontario
Pregnancy can be a time filled with excitement, nervous anticipation and wonder. For those in recovery from an eating disorder, it can also be a time of uncertainty, fear and adjustment.
I have worked with many women who have concerns and questions about how to maintain their recovery, while facing so many changes to their body, emotions, appetite and life. I often hear questions like “what do I do when I’m so nauseated, and can’t stick to my meal plan?” Or, “I was okay with my body changing, but now so many people keep commenting on it, and it’s triggering my eating disorder voice.”
We know that for women who have recovered or are in a stage of recovery from their eating disorder, that pregnancy and post-pregnancy can be a high-risk situation for relapse. For some, times of change can trigger old eating disorder urges, and desire for control. Combined with unpredictable body changes, social pressure to have a ‘perfect pregnancy’, and the unrealistic expectation that a post baby body should somehow return to its former state quickly, it’s no wonder that maintaining recovery is challenging. Some research shows that women with bulimia find improvements in their recovery during and post-pregnancy, while those with anorexia show higher risk for relapse, especially post-partum (Ward, V. 2008). However, some women may feel a higher satisfaction with their body during pregnancy, and less body conscious than prior to pregnancy. Each woman, and pregnancy, is different. However, there are some key strategies to help maintain a healthy mom and healthy baby.
Here are a few tips for supporting a happy, healthy pregnancy:
1-Build Your Team: make sure that you have health practitioners who are informed, educated and trustworthy. This will likely include an OBGYN or midwife, dietitian, therapist, and perhaps a Psychiatrist. Be honest and open with your team about your eating disorder history, current urges or behaviours, fears, and areas you’re struggling with. They won’t be able to help you if they don’t know what is happening. Ideally, discuss your pregnancy concerns before conceiving or early on in your pregnancy, to ensure you have time to prepare for the upcoming changes.
2- Review Your Skills: now is the time to review those old strategies, self-help books and worksheets! Remind yourself what tools work to keep on track with your meal planning, activity levels, handling your emotions, and reducing your overall stress. Try journalling as a way of coping with changing emotions and experiences. Not only will it be a way of improving self care and awareness, it will be a special keepsake to remember what the pregnancy was like.
3- Practice Self-Compassion: positive self-talk, gentleness and forgiveness will be a way of treating yourself with kindness. Remind yourself that this is a new experience (even if it’s not your first baby), and that you’re doing the best you can in the moment. This is a great time to ensure you have time to yourself-- to spend alone and/or with friends. Setting limits with others while prioritizing your needs is a way of acting lovingly towards yourself.
4- Express Your Feelings: hormones can throw a curve ball to your emotions. Embrace the mood swings and intensified emotions, allowing yourself to feel whatever you feel. If you’re concerned about new feelings of anxiety or depression, make sure you talk with your therapist or doctor about them. Keep your close friends, family or partner in the loop about how you’re feeling, and what you need from them. If you notice new urges, or start to engage in old eating disorder behaviours, act quickly to get back on track. Slips can happen and are valuable to shine a light on areas that you’re struggling with. Be honest with yourself and others, to get the support that you need.
5- Become Educated: the more you can learn about the changes to expect, the more prepared you will feel. Find one or two good books that explain monthly changes and ask the embarrassing questions to someone you trust. You may get inundated with people giving your advice about how to handle your pregnancy, labour, and baby care. Make decisions that are right for you.
6-Meal Planning: whether you are still following a treatment meal plan or have begun to follow some intuitive eating, now is the time to put structure into your meal planning. It can be very hard to eat when nauseated or physically uncomfortable, however, both you and the baby need nutrients and fluids to maintain health. A dietitian that specializes in eating disorders can have great tips for adjusting to food cravings and aversions. Missing meals and eliminating food groups easily trigger ED thoughts again, so plan ahead and have foods readily available. Find time outside of meals/snacks to get rest if you’re tired, as naps can interfere with meal plans.
7- Move your Body: gentle stretching, activity and movement can help prevent injury, increase strength, and build endurance for the upcoming labour. Adapt your movements to lower impact as the baby grows and pay attention to when you need to rest. Move your body to nurture it, rather than to change it’s size, shape or weight.
8- Listen to your body: mindfulness can be a great skill to use during pregnancy, to tune into what your body is telling you. Skills like rating your fatigue on a scale from one to ten, or mentally scanning your body for aches, pains, or new baby movements will help increase self-awareness. While your doctor will want to monitor your weight gain during pregnancy, you may wish to ask for ‘blind weigh-ins’, so that your doctor can monitor you for concerns, while you can stay away from knowing the numbers.
9- Get Support: make a plan for how to manage the first few weeks and months with your new baby. Look into groups for new parents, connect with friends who also have little ones, or arrange for some helping hands from family or a babysitter. Fatigue and loneliness can sabotage your recovery, reducing your ability to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. Try taking a minimum of one hour per week to have to your self to get out of the house, meet a friend, or have leisure time for hobbies.
10- Concentrate on Gratitude: each day take intentional time to practice gratitude. This can be actions like writing down a few things in your journal that you’re thankful for, praying, or noting what positives you can say out loud in the moment.
For more information and where to find support during your pregnancy, visit www.nedic.ca or speak with your doctor.
Sourced from Ward, V. B. (2008). Eating disorders in pregnancy. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 336(7635), 93–96. http://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39393.689595.BE
The 2018 Olympics in Pyeong Chang provided countless examples of exceptional athletes who demonstrated incredible feats of physical and mental strength. Athletes, whether Olympic caliber or recreational, are competitive by nature. They train hard, and they want to take advantage of every possible opportunity to improve their game.
We need many factors to perform our best - intense physical and mental training, a positive support network, a love for the sport, adequate sleep, and adequate nutrition, just to name a few. If we want our bodies to perform their best, we need to treat them well, fuel them, and allow them to recover.
Unfortunately, when pressure is high, it’s easy for us to become short sighted. We wish so badly to succeed, that we grasp at opportunities that may seem helpful, but that may actually harm our long-term chances of success in our sport.
Each time the Olympics come around, a few brave athletes find the courage to speak up about the pressures and influences they face. This year, Adam Rippon, a figure skater, spoke honestly about his struggles with body image and dietary restriction . For Adam, it was an injury that caused him to rethink his approach to food. For other athletes, extreme training and nutrition practices lead to burnout and a loss of love for their sport.
Adam’s story served as a reminder for me of the importance of specialized support. It’s commonplace for athletes to work with specialized coaches and trainers that are highly qualified to give advice around training schedules. It’s equally important for coaches, trainers, and athletes to recognize facets, like nutrition, that are outside of a coach’s scope of practice. It’s important for athletes to seek specialized nutrition advice from a qualified professional. Treating your body well, rather than punishing it, is truly the best recipe for success. If you’re unsure where to start, take a look at the booklet created by the Waterloo Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition with information and resources for coaches and trainers.
When you’re immersed in a sport, it can be easy to lose perspective and to fail to recognize when you may be jeopardizing your physical and mental well-being. Coaches, trainers, family members, and friends spend a lot of time with athletes. They are typically the people that know an athlete best. They are often the first to notice warning signs such as changes in mood, behaviour or athletic performance that may indicate a cause for concern. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, here are a few warning signs that an athlete’s approach to their sport may not be honouring their health and well-being:
1. Equating weight or body fat percentage with performance. There are so many factors that determine athletic performance. Physical fitness, technique, experience, and the ability to deal with the mental demands of a sport are just a few. Weight and body fat percentage alone have very little influence on sport performance. In fact, if an athlete is fighting to achieve a weight or size that is unnatural for them, their performance is likely to decline and their risk of injury is likely to increase.
2. Avoiding eating in front of friends, family members, or team mates. Athletes needs to eat a wide range of foods often during the day. If they are going long periods of time without eating, or feel uncomfortable eating in social situations, this is a cause for concern.
3. Labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or making blanket statements that tie certain foods to a certain level of performance. We eat for many reasons, and there are no foods that we need to avoid completely. While eating cookies for every meal of every day or eating meals comprised solely of carbohydrates is not balanced, never letting yourself eat cookies, or removing carbohydrates from your meals is not balanced either. Completely cutting out certain foods or food groups in an effort to increase performance gives those foods more power than they deserve, is damaging to one’s relationship with food, and can increase cravings or feelings of being out of control around food.
4. Trading off food and activity by eating less on rest days or low volume training days. Our bodies need a similar amount of fuel on training days as they do on rest days. Rest days provide the body with an opportunity to recover and repair from training, and to prepare for upcoming training.
5. Guilt surrounding training volume. It’s important to listen to your body and allow this to determine the length and intensity of training sessions. It’s normal to have more energy on some days than on others. Striving to complete a certain amount of reps, sets, or a certain distance regardless of how you feel increases risk of injury and is counterproductive to training.
As an athlete, the drive to succeed and the pressure to perform are high. It’s important to surround yourself with a positive and educated support team that can help you perform your best, while also prioritizing your physical and mental well-being. If you feel like you need more support on your team, please take a look under the “Services” tab on this website for a list of great resources in our community.
Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) is upon us. Join the Waterloo Wellington Eating Disorder Coalition’s effort to de-stigmatize eating disorders this February 1-7, 2018.
Almost 1 million Canadians are living with a diagnosed eating disorder. Unfortunately this means there is an even higher number of people struggling with undiagnosed eating disorders or disordered eating. The purpose of EDAW is to decrease stigma around eating disorders and encourage individuals who are struggling to reach out to local support systems.
During EDAW, we are reminded that eating disorders impact people of varying race, gender, sexuality, ability and age. We are reminded that despite the unrealistic images depicted in the media, bodies are not born as “one size fits all.” EDAW is a reminder that our bodies deserve gratitude and nourishment instead of body hate and deprivation. Finally, we are reminded that despite the efforts of countless programs and advocacy groups around the globe, system issues remain and more needs to be done. More support, more advocacy, more programing and more funding.
Food for thought:
The population of people struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating is diverse, nutrition during recovery should accommodate for this and also be diverse. Just as there is no “one size fits all” body or one perfect recovery journey there is no one perfect nutrition plan to meet the needs of all people.
When I assess an individual’s nutrition intake and discuss a nutrition plan with them I cannot definitively determine their nutrition needs for recovery. Defining “normal eating” is a challenge amongst professionals in the eating disorder community. But, if there is no conclusive definition of “normal eating” then what are you striving for with nutrition in recovery? The answer is that it looks different for each individual.
What I do know is this: “normal eating” in recovery involves regular nutrition intake, a balance of nutrients and challenging food avoidances. For some this may include rice and lentil dosas with chutney for breakfast while for others it may be a pastry with butter and jam and a glass of juice or even a typical American breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast. It may require exposing yourself to eating alone, eating out at a restaurant or with your family at a holiday meal. Reflect on a time in the past when you may have had a better relationship with food. What were the things you enjoyed eating then? You may benefit from talking to family and friends about what you ate together in the past. Developing a nutrition plan involves collaboration between your team, your friends, family and yourself. It will require some deep soul searching to understand which foods are a challenge for you and why. Just as eating disorders are diverse in nature, nutrition needs in recovery are also diverse.
Just some food for thought - Michelle Johnson, RD
We are proud to be partnering with @theNEDIC and @NIEDCanada for Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Join us in raising awareness about Eating Disorders and breaking down stigmas.
#EDAW2018 (#SemTA2018 in French) #7billionsizes #PurpleforEDAW #lightitpurple #CMHA100
Here is what is happening in the Waterloo Wellington region:
Guelph City Hall & Cambridge City Hall will be lit up in purple to raise awareness. Watch for social media posts to also raise awareness.
University of Guelph’s Wellness Centre is hosting various organizations at the annual Eating Disorder & Body Image awareness Exposé displaying boards, media and cookie decorating on February 6th from 10am to 3pm
Join the University of Guelph’s Wellness Education Centre for a screening of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants Wednesday February 7th. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Join on-campus registered dietitian Lindzie O’Reilly and counsellor Samantha Durfy for an All Food Fits cooking class Thursday February 8th from 5:30-7:30pm. Class will be held in MINS 214 at the University of Guelph. The cost of the class is $3. Please register in advance by emailing email@example.com
Wilfrid Laurier University is hosting a Food and Your Mood Workshop on February 13th and 14th with Caroline Valeriote, RD and Carrie Pollard-Jarrell, MSW RSW. This workshop will discuss emotional eating and outline eating disorder resources in the community. Also look for Laurier social media posts to raise awareness.
The holidays are a time for connecting and celebrating, but they can also bring pressure and stress. Normal routines can be disrupted with social and family gatherings which are often oriented toward gift giving and eating. There can be pressure to get the ‘perfect gift’ or stress related to being around larger groups of people or having to navigate family “issues” (we all have them!). This is also the time of year when people often feel the loneliest, whether it be to losses of significant people in their lives, or feeling alone in a world full of people who don’t understand them.
For people who struggle with disordered eating and/or body image issues, the holidays can be challenging for all of the above reasons and more. Many celebrations are oriented towards food which can trigger a multitude of fears, and family functions can feel like they expose (or risk exposure) of eating disorder (ED) related struggles or behaviours.
The challenges associated with the holidays can trigger our inner critics, and cause us to overextend or even isolate ourselves. However, to help manage (and possibly prevent some of) the stress, we could give ourselves a special gift this holiday: self-compassion. Self-compassion means being kind to ourselves and understanding that we, like all people, are imperfect and that sometimes our life situations are not how we want or need them to be (Neff, 2011). We can practice self-compassion by changing the way we talk to ourselves. Instead of judging ourselves for what or how much we ate, or how much we spent on a gift, we can remind ourselves that it’s okay to enjoy treats, say “no”, and give what we can afford. If you struggle with compassionate self-talk, think of how you might talk to your best friend who is hurting or struggling in that same type of situation. We can also practice self-compassion in how we care for ourselves. It is easy to get caught up in pleasing others and doing what is expected. During the holidays it’s important to pause, and mindfully ask yourself what you need. If you need time to yourself to relax and turn off your phone—then give it to yourself. Self-care is not selfish, instead it will allow you to recharge. With self-care, you will have the energy to show caring, compassion and patience with others.
Comment below on your favourite ways to care for yourself during the holidays!
Carrie Pollard-Jarrell, MSW RSW
Reference: Neff, K (2011). Self-Compassion. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
As a professional with a career as a school psychologist and a parent whose daughter developed an eating disorder (anorexia) in her late teens, I have remained active in retirement, including supporting families struggling with the devastating effects of eating disorders. One such activity for me over the last ten years has been the facilitation of a twice-monthly Family and Friends Support Group through the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
On September 30, I was fortunate to be invited to attend a day-long conference at Homewood Health hospital organized to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their establishment of the Eating Disorders treatment program. The focus of this excellent conference in September was managing ED Therapy-Interfering Behavours within a DBT Framework. I agree with Samantha Durfy (a therapist and the main organizer of this conference) that the presenter, Dr. Anita Federicic, PhD, is such a helpful resource person that you would want to have her in your ‘back pocket’ when facing the complexities of treating ED.
My framework when listening to the presenter was frequently that of the ‘family’ which I think often parallels what therapists need to attend to. Of the many parallels I saw, the following are highlights:
A) ‘interfering’ behaviours exist both in the client/loved one as well as the therapist/family and need to be addressed openly. This means that parents must talk with their loved one and not ignore behaviours such as non-responding, lying, not following thru on agreements. Parents must discuss how some of their own behaviours such as over-emotional reacting and lack of skills in communicating interfere. The intention is not to blame but rather to openly deal with such behaviours while respecting the person; the goal is to move towards making a collaborative plan to reduce these
B) the assumptions within DBT treatment ring true for ‘successful’ treatment as well as ‘successful’ family functioning. Read ‘loved ones’ for ‘clients’ into the following key DBT assumptions: -
Clients are doing the best they can
Clients want to improve
Clients need to do better, try harder, be more motivated
Clients may not have caused all their problems, but they have to solve them anyway
Clients’ lives are currently unbearable
Clients must learn new behaviours
So what does this mean for families?
As difficult as it is at times, rather than staying angry at loved ones, the family needs to embrace the notion that their loved one is doing their best; finding out as much as possible about eating disorders is one way families can achieve this shift; increased understanding underlines that, in fact, anorexia is considered THE most difficult mental health disorder to recover from; anger may reduce and turn to compassion when learning that their loved one is struggling with overwhelming issues.
At the same time, believing that their loved one does indeed want to improve, despite behaviours like denial and refusing to follow through on helpful strategies, is a challenge for the family but important to do; in our Family and Friends Support Group, we often reinforce with families the small cues their loved one gives that indicate this desire; understanding the stages of change also helps to see that even when a loved one moves away from denial there are still many stages before they will take action; and we often comment that if it were easy for their loved one to make those significant steps to recovery, eating disorders would not be the devastating disease it is known to be.
The apparent opposite assumptions that clients/loved ones are ‘doing the best they can’ and that they also need to ‘try harder/be more motivated’ reflect the many opposites that exist within the complexities of an eating disorder. Indeed, loved ones’ lives are ‘unbearable’ but that doesn’t mean they will naturally want to leave their eating disorder behind (as rational thought would suggest). In our F & F’s Group, we regularly advocate seeking therapy for their loved one (if not already involved), and especially therapy with a specialist in eating disorders – given the huge hurdles a loved one experiences in order to become more motivated to ‘do better’; we also advocate parent(s) seeking help to deal with the huge stress of supporting their loved one wrapped up in so many contradictions.
Another of the major hurdles is for the loved one to begin taking some responsibility for making their recovery happen, even despite having little responsibility for the contributing causes; in our Family and Friends Group, we have regularly discussed Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) as a treatment strategy which focuses on strategies to deal with emotions which drive an eating disorder; part of EFFT teaches critical communication strategies (for families) which reduce our typical tendency of advice-giving and increase our recognition / affirmation of our loved one’s feelings before any problem-solving follows; with this affirmation, the loved one may not only feel more capable and but is often freed to do their own problem-solving.
We all do things that can sometimes get in the way of recovery. The main thing is to be aware and talk about them, whether in therapy, within the family or in a support group. If you are located in the Wellington-Duffering area, feel free to access CMHA’s Family and Friends Education and Support Group regarding eating disorders. Regular Meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at CMHA WWD, 130 Weber St. West (at Breithaupt Street) Suite 201, Kitchener. Enter from back parking lot to take elevator to 2nd floor. More information can be found here.
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (originally called Canada’s Official Food Rules) has been around since 1942 and is meant to provide guidance when it comes to making healthy and nutritionally adequate food choices. There has been much talk recently about the state of the Food Guide and many calls for an update.
As a science, nutrition is not new. Nutrition is, however, constantly evolving. Additionally, because we all eat, we all have our own opinions about food and nutrition. Combined together, this has created a very complicated and, in my opinion, often toxic food environment.
How is the average person supposed to make sense of all of this information? Is the Food Guide still a useful tool for Canadians?
In many ways, the Food Guide can serve as a source of guidance, but in my opinion, should not stand alone.
I believe that Health Canada will always struggle to develop a Food Guide that depicts the natural variety of a healthy diet. We eat for many different reasons, we all have different likes and dislikes, and we have each been raised in a unique food environment (i.e. the foods you were exposed to and the messages you were provided with as a child). From the Food Guide, one can learn that a serving of meat and alternatives could be two eggs or 75g of chicken, but what if you have never cooked an egg before, or are terrified of purchasing and touching raw chicken? I believe that in order to bring about healthy change in our society, we need to spend a little more time looking at issues such as busy schedules or lack of cooking skills, rather than debating whether to include 75g or 100g of chicken with dinner or feeling guilty if we include three tablespoons of peanut butter instead of two.
We have forgotten about balance, and instead have begun an unrealistic pursuit of perfection
I will admit that, when building a meal plan for clients, I typically include a bit more protein and a bit less carbohydrate than the Food Guide suggests. I also believe that the Food Guide does tend to emphasize more processed grains (i.e. cereals, granola bars, and breads) and neglects the awesome variety of tasty and unprocessed whole grains (have you tried millet, amaranth, buckwheat or teff??). That said, following the Food Guide “as is” will certainly not make you unhealthy and I work very hard to fight against many of the extreme approaches that continue to pop up in the media and in social circles.
Cutting out entire foods or food groups and labelling foods as “good” and “bad” has the potential to have a very harmful effect on health and a very destructive effect on one’s relationship with food. Instead, if I feel that an individual is consuming more carbohydrate or processed food than is ideal for their health, I believe in giving them the knowledge and skills necessary to increase their intake of fresh healthy food, rather than shaming them for eating processed food or establishing rules against it.
The Food Guide focusses on individual food choices, rather than the overall picture
All in all, I believe that debate around the content of the Food Guide has led us to become caught up in the nitty gritty details. We look to the Food Guide to provide rules and guidance and, in doing so; have forgotten the importance of enjoying delicious real food. When working with clients, I often keep the Food Guide in the back of my mind, but would almost never pull it out and use it in a session. Instead, I am more likely to talk with clients about trends in their intake and set specific and individualized goals around variety and balance at meals and snacks.
I believe that we should always have a Food Guide that provides guidance regarding balanced and nutritionally adequate choices. I believe that our current Food Guide could use some updates to reflect a greater variety of fresh whole foods. I also believe, however, that the Food Guide should never serve as a stand-alone document and that, if you have concerns about your food habits, you should work with a qualified health professional to find a routine that works for your body, that you enjoy, and that you can maintain long term.
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On January 1, 2017, The Healthy Menu Choices Act will come into effect in Ontario. This Act requires restaurants with twenty or more locations to list calorie information for foods and beverages on their menus. Moreover, fast food joints, movie theatres, supermarkets and convenience stores that serve hot food must post the calorie counts of each item – including alcohol – on their menus, menu boards, tags in display cases and at drive-thrus. Then there’s the definition of ‘menu’ which includes not only paper table menus, but online menus, menu apps, advertisements and promotional flyers – all in the same size and prominence as the name and price of the food item. The act will make Ontario the first province in Canada to require calorie information to be displayed on menus, with the goal of providing consumers with information that will allow them to make more balanced food choices, along with the (hidden) agenda of obesity prevention.
While it is true that Canadians need help eating well, I have significant concerns about the proposed approach. In recent months, many articles have discussed the potential pros and cons of this approach and I expect the conversation will continue to increase as we head towards January. Articles I’ve read thus far discuss downsides that mostly focus on the costs restaurants will incur in testing their products and changing their menus to display calorie information. Here are just three of the many potential down sides that I see, and that no one seems to be talking about.
Calorie counting is a distraction from internal cues that our body provides us with
In most situations, hunger and fullness are great ways to gauge portions sizes that are right for you. The trouble is that we often fail to listen to these cues. We often eat quickly, while on the go, or in front of a screen. Some of us may push off or ignore our hunger. Many of us finish entire meals without even tasting them. Rather than setting a calorie target for meals, experiment with mindful eating. Trust your body; it’s smarter than you think! We trust our bodies to breath when needed and to control our body temperature for us, so why do we feel the need to count and control calories?
Calorie counts are a fear tactic, not an educational tool
Many of our nutrition-related health issues stem from the fact that we are over-worked, over-stressed, lack cooking skills and are out of touch with where our food comes from. We are already bombarded with a ton of nutrition information that leaves us feeling confused. Our society makes assumptions that individuals with a body weight above the ‘normal range’ eat too much or move their bodies too little. Rather than addressing underlying issues, encouraging individuals to choose lower calorie menu options and shaming those who choose higher calorie options is likely to make the situation worse. It promotes a toxic relationship with food, an unhealthy approach to weight and weight loss, and greatly increases one’s risk of dangerous and disordered eating behaviours (and for those already struggling with these illnesses, constant exposure to calorie counts can only serve to increase obsessiveness and exacerbate eating disorder behaviours). Instead, I’d love to see a societal shift that provides education on how to purchase, store and prepare nutritious food options and that helps individuals reconnect with natural hunger and fullness cues.
Calorie counts look at foods in isolation
We all have different calorie and nutrient needs, but we also all have different schedules and routines. There is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ menu option. The option that you choose on the menu should depend on how hungry you are, what you like the taste of, and what you feel like eating, not its caloric value. If you overhear the person at the table beside you ordering chocolate cake for dessert, you have no idea if they order it once a day or once a year. You have no idea what they’ve eaten so far today or what the rest of their day will look like. A single meal is simply a snapshot in time, it does not define you and it should not be used to pass judgement on others.
Calorie counts are coming to menus at chain restaurants in Ontario January 1, 2017. We may not be able to stop them, but we can work to control the effect they have on us. Challenge yourself to slow down, to listen to the cues that your body is giving you, and to use those internal cues to make food choices rather than being drawn to calorie counts. We are more than food, and food is more than calories.
Written by Lindzie O’Reilly, MAN, RD with contributions from April Gates, MSW, RSW
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