For the last 8 years I had no reason to know what I weighed. I had broken up with the scale like it was an abusive boyfriend. My self-esteem took a deep hit every time that I got on it. So, I said “no more”. Weight loss just can’t be my focus.
Well, this winter, I had a reason to know my weight. I bought some new ski equipment and I needed my bindings set to my current weight. If I hadn’t set them to my weight, I could’ve ended up with skis that popped off all the time, or stayed on when they really needed to pop off. Either way, it could’ve led to injury.
The only other reason that I can justify knowing my weight, is if I were to need to take a medication that dosing is dependent on my weight. Again, safety is the reason. Other than that, my weight is simply one of many possible risk factors toward my overall health. And since measuring it led me to a place of questionable mental health, I chose to not bother.
When I got on that scale this winter, I saw a number that I’d not seen before (outside of pregnancy anyway). I watched the barrage of thoughts flow through my head. I remembered quickly why weighing myself had always done more harm than good. I had this urge to make that number mean something and I had to be conscious about keeping facts from fiction.
Let’s start with the facts (since there are far less of those).
Fact: this is the heaviest I’ve ever been.
Fact: my gravitational pull has increased since I last weighed myself.
Yep, that about sums up all the facts. Everything else was fiction. But that didn’t make it easy.
I could have added a few commentaries, and I certainly would’ve in the past. It happened every time that I saw “that number”. You know that number – the one that leads to a major change in the diet and the lifestyle. It’s desperate. It’s frantic.
It follows a dialogue something like this: I’m out of control, I’m so freaking lazy, I’m going to drop dead of a heart attack or get diabetes, I’m such an idiot, I’m so ugly and disgusting, I can’t believe that I let it get this bad, my husband is going to start cheating on me, nobody will take me seriously as a healthcare provider…and so on, and so on, and so on.
It’s a beating that no one could deliver with more vehemence than myself. It’s full of shame and dread and fear. It’s an awful place.
Let me share with you how this time was so different for me. Remember, 8 years of not getting on the scale because of this horrid place; and seeing a number that I had only seen during pregnancy – it could’ve so easily gone so very wrong. I could’ve easily ended up on a new diet and exercise program. I could’ve even convinced myself that it wasn’t about the weight, that it was about my health. And that could’ve been my entry point in the dieting/self-loathing cycle that I’ve happily escaped.
Here’s what I realized:
Fiction looking like fact #1: I’m so freaking lazy, I need to start an exercise program.
Nope, I already do that. In fact, I lead a more active lifestyle than most North Americans.
Fiction looking like fact #2: I’m out of control.
Actually, no. I’m still wearing clothes that I bought more than five years ago. My eating habits are more controlled than ever, since I now listen to my body and practice intuitive eating. No binges.
Fiction looking like fact #3: I’m going to drop dead of a heart attack or get diabetes.
This one is worth is exploring more. While my weight does have the potential to affect my health, it does not define my health. My weight is a possible risk factor for disease.
So, being the geek that I am, I plugged in all of my numbers into two different risk assessment tools (get yours here). One to know my risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next ten years (it’s under 5% btw) and one to know my risk of developing diabetes in the next ten years (it’s under 15%).
So, this begs the question, am I healthy? And what is heathy anyway?
For right now, let’s say that health is defined by having low risk of developing disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis.
Health also includes financial health, stress, mental health, relationships…I could go on a serious tangent here, so I’ll keep this discussion purely in the physical health world and save my overall health rant for another time.
Let’s delve into risk factors.
There’s cholesterol and blood pressure.
There’s activity level.
How about vegetables consumed? Yep.
Family history and of course, gender.
My husband, by being a man, has double the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. Just by having a penis he has double the risk. Does that make all men unhealthy then?
Since my risk factor (my weight) is visible to everyone, it is assumed that I’m not healthy. It’s assumed that I must lose weight for my health’s sake and A LOT of people feel OBLIGED to tell me that. Even though I’m in the lowest risk category for disease across the board.
But, a normal weighted (hate the term but roll with me here) woman who doesn’t like veggies, hates exercise and has high cholesterol is far more at risk than me. She also doesn’t have to endure any of the HELPFUL advice by family and friends (even strangers on the street or online) who feel compelled in EDUCATING her for her own good about her health.
This is why the body positive movement is so important.
We live and act as though someone with extra weight is a walking disease. That they’re destined to drain the healthcare system of resources and die a horrible early death.
It’s ONE risk factor folks!!
Not to mention, study after study shows that by increasing exercise and improving one’s nutrition, those risks drop. EVEN if weight isn’t dropped!! And by a lot I’ll add. Take for instance the Diabetes prevention program – the diet and lifestyle group only lost an average of 4-8 pounds; but they decreased their risk by 60%. That’s a big deal.
When we treat people with obesity with disdain, when we give Nike a hard time for making clothes that fit bigger bodies, when we shame and bully those with extra weight, we don’t contribute to their health. Not one bit.
When you bully yourself for being fat, you’re not contributing to your health.
When you tell yourself that you’re lazy and have no control, you’re not helping your health.
That’s what I used to do every time that I got on the scale. I’d criticize myself with such harsh words it’s embarrassing to admit. My mental health declined. My physical health declined. I was far more likely to say ‘eff it’ and eat my way through my feelings in that state. It was unlikely that I would get out to an exercise class in that state. I was more inclined to hide my fat, ugly body from the world.
That’s not what happened this winter. I saw a number and stated the facts. The fiction, I’ll leave to the trolls. They don’t seem to have anything better to do with their time.
All of my life I’ve felt like I had demons in my head telling me to eat. Those demons were my food cravings.
Each and every day they were a reminder that I couldn’t be trusted with food.
When I’d finally give in, I’d eat to excess and feel awful. Physically I’d be stuffed and bloated. Emotionally I’d be so ashamed.
Monday morning was my reset. The day that I’d get control.
Except that the control only lasted a few days at best. Often I’d be back into the food by Monday afternoon.
So how did that change for me? Why is this no longer my normal?
It changed when I stopped seeing my cravings as these awful demons, and started to see them as compassionate confidents.
I realized that my cravings for foods that didn’t serve me, but actually harmed me, must have a purpose. Otherwise, why would they still be there?
Think about it. Why would I continue to engage in a behaviour that didn’t give me some kind of benefit? That doesn’t make sense.
At first, I acted like a rebellious teenager. Even though I’d realized that the food cravings were a compassionate voice, I’d still yell and rebel when those voices tried to guide me. I’d push them away and act out (usually by restricting my food severely or by overeating).
Until one day, after I’d overeaten, I sat there bloated and uncomfortable and ashamed, I didn’t want to do this anymore. So I said “OK crazy food brain – what is it that you’re trying to tell me?”.
What I heard was that I was tired. Or overwhelmed. Or scared.
Each time I got a different message with the same theme.
I needed to be nurtured. I needed to be comforted. I needed to feel loved.
Sometimes it was something leading up to the cravings. Often for me it was lack of sleep or an over-scheduled life.
Other times it was something that was coming up. A presentation. An event.
No matter what the cause, it became clear that my food cravings were me trying to take care of myself.
That was hard pill to swallow.
It was easier to make it the foods fault. To tell myself that I was a food addict or that it was these deceitful food companies putting addictive ingredients in there.
Looking within is a lot more uncomfortable. And it’s worth every moment of discomfort.
Now when I have a food craving, I have choices.
I can eat some of what I’m craving. I can do it sanely. I can do it moderately.
And when enjoying that bit of food doesn’t satisfy, then I can see the continued food craving as a gift.
It means that my stress has surpassed my ability to cope with it.
It means that something needs my attention.
And just like when a baby starts to cry we go down the list “Hungry? Wet? Dirty? Tired?” I too can go down my list.
Am I getting enough sleep? Am I getting enough rest? Am I moving my body enough? Am I acknowledging and dealing with my feelings?
Once the real reason for the food cravings is unveiled, they go away. Just like that.
P.S. Watch the video on YouTube for more Food Cravings goodness
Growing up, food was always an anchor to my memories – each holiday had its special treats; each vacation spot had its special food shop or special restaurant with that special dish.
Holiday parties and family gatherings were an education that I didn’t really need, but I took it in like it was gospel. I was always watching the women as they interacted with each other and the food. They would make comments like, “Oh I shouldn’t”, “I’ll have to walk this off”, “Have you lost weight?”, “Have you seen how much weight she’s put on?”, “Well I’d better enjoy it now cause starting Jan 1st…” All they talked about was self-control or the fact that they had no self-control at all.
The same type of messages were at home too. There were so many rules around the treats – what time of day I could have them, what I had to eat first before I could have them, if there was company over, what day of the week…rules, rules and more food rules.
I took the messages to heart and got nervous about how much I ate in front of others. The idea of savouring one piece became foreign to me. I was shoving them in when no one was looking, hoping no one saw me chewing. If I could, I would bring them into the bathroom or some other far away unpopulated area of the house or party.
I was left with the feeling that something had to be wrong with me. Why didn’t I only want one chocolate out of the box? Why did I want to try them all? Why couldn’t I be trusted with my food desires, likes and dislikes?
As I got older, the anxiety around Christmas time got worse. Heck, it had already started with the lead up to Halloween. Candy was everywhere in the grocery stores and offices. Every company had some special way to make an already delectable treat even more sensational; gingerbread, donuts, cookies…there was no escaping it!
Each year I would vow it would be different. I would scour the internet and find a new plan to follow that promised to crush my cravings. When it didn’t work, I figured it was more proof that I was flawed…it never occurred to me that maybe the restrictive process was flawed.
By the end of December my “will power” was shot and my binges were strong. Each trip to the grocery store or coffee shop led to food that was purchased and eaten alone and fast, desperately hoping no one would know. The fun of holiday feasts became a long forgotten memory. I was simply scared and wanted it all to be over. I wanted all the food to be gone. I wanted to start my New Year’s diet.
Until I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t face another diet. It got to the point that even thinking about another diet, another resolution, another Monday morning that I would begin to obsess about food; all the food that wouldn’t be allowed anymore. The mere thought of restriction led to another “last supper”. Nope, I couldn’t face that anymore. I couldn’t believe the underlying message that I couldn’t be trusted with food. I’m a smart, sassy, successful woman – no way did that make sense anymore. Surely there had to be another way.
I started to reach out and find new resources. What I learned is that the answers were here all along. I was so stuck in my head that I disconnected with my heart and my intuition. I learned that I needed to slow my mind down. Its noise was blocking out my own voice and my own body’s messages.
I learned that my body is just as smart as my head. It knows and I know when I’m hungry and when I’m full; what I like and what I don’t. When I eat, it’s because nothing else can meet my needs at that moment. That it’s ok to enjoy food simply because it tastes good; simply because it smells good, simply just because.
I look back at all the meals that I missed; it was not because I didn’t eat, but because of the chatter in my head about the food or what my friends and family thought about what I was eating. All that noise had me miss out on the experience of the meal.
Humans are social creatures. We meet around food and drink so we can share love, share tears, share stories. Traditions are built in the kitchen and spill out into the dining room. I missed it for so long. I missed the fun, the laughter and the love.
My freedom to feast was always with me. It was right here. And it’s in you. All you have to do is trust your magical self.
Do you get stressed out and overwhelmed eating at a buffet? With holiday and travel season approaching, many of us end up eating at buffet style restaurants and pot-luck dinners this time of year. Instead of feeling that buffet burden, I want to share my strategy for buffet bliss!
I’ve been eating at buffets twice a day here in Hawaii. Today, while standing in line I started asking the other women how they felt at buffet meals.
Overwhelmingly they said that buffets were HARD. Top reason?
Everyone is watching!
They can’t be the first one up cause that’s no good; but fear of missing out won’t let them go last either – what if nothing’s left? They have to pick the ‘right’ balance of foods (what is that anyway.) They have to choose what they ‘should’ be eating – not too many carbs, sweets, meats…whatever their food rules dictate. Can’t pile the food too high…but what about seconds, is that okay?
So, I figured that I could share my buffet strategy with you today. Instead of the buffet burden, let’s go for buffet bliss!
Take a look at everything on the buffet first. Do a walk through. See what interests you.
Buffets are a great way to try things that you otherwise wouldn’t order. Get a selection of everything that looks appealing.
Taste, I mean really taste, everything on your plate. Not awesome? No worries. Move on to your next selection. Delicious? Wonderful. If you’re still hungry after this plate, go grab more of what you loved or at least add it to your “I like that” food list.
Buffets don’t have to be anxiety riddled experiences. Instead it can be a wonderful food experiment to try out new flavours.
Based on of the idea that you can ‘fake it till you make it’, affirmations are supposed to be powerful and life changing. But is it really all that simple? Celebrity Psychologist Sherry Gaba preaches, “As you repeat your positive affirmations, you will begin to believe the words. You will face outside stress with newfound confidence”[i]. Yes, I agree that we need to get rid of the negative mental chatter. But I cannot agree that by looking in the mirror each day and saying, “I am beautiful” that we will magically believe it. No matter how often we tell ourselves something, we cannot will it to be true without a basic belief in our own self-worth.
Back when I loathed what I saw in the mirror, I would try anything I could to make myself feel better. For months, I started my day off with a set of affirmations that was suggested to me by the experts of the online self-help world. If it worked for them, then of course it would work for me, right? Every day I would look in the mirror and tell myself that I was beautiful, that happiness is a choice and that my confidence is soaring; but every day I felt like a fraud. I couldn’t see my beauty and I couldn’t see my worth. The problem wasn’t in the affirmations themselves, it was in my mental state. For years I’d been trained by the beauty and diet industry to see where I wasn’t enough, and there weren’t enough words in the world to change that.
You see, if you believe that you are ugly and worthless while continually telling yourself that you are beautiful and loved, you’re starting an inner war[ii]. The conflict between the positive affirmations and low self-esteem creates tension within the body. Every positive statement you make is met with the voice of your inner self telling you ‘it’s a lie!’ Research suggests that the end result of this internal conflict is the increased intensity of those negative thoughts[iii]. Ultimately, the more you try and trick your mind into believing something is true, the more your mind believes it’s not.
So, what do I recommend? What did I do? I started with appreciation. Instead of telling myself that I was beautiful, I asked myself ‘what can I appreciate about my body today?’ Developing gratitude is a great first step towards building a healthy body image[iv]. Some days all that I could think to say was “thank you for not dying while I slept” or “I appreciate that my lungs kept breathing and my heart kept pumping”. It was a start. From there, I slowly started to appreciate other things about my body. My mindset didn’t change overnight, but slowly I began to realize the strength and power within myself.
Now I can look in the mirror and at least feel body neutral instead of body negative (and sometimes that’s enough for me). Mostly, I’m free from my obsessive body thoughts. I’ve realized that my life has a greater purpose than to worry about my bikini body. More often than not, I even feel body positive. I encourage all my Rebels to work on their self-appreciation and personal gratitude. Our bodies do so much for us, and a simple ‘thank you’ can make a world of a difference on both our mental and physical well-being.
Sport is all about what your body can do; Can you run faster, jump higher, and make that shot. When you’re on the field, at the court or in the arena, it doesn’t matter what your body looks like, what matters is how your body can move. Athletes work out so that they can improve their performance, but the diet and fitness industry has encouraged us to seek something different. Instead of going to the gym to increase our performance, we’re told to go to the gym to get ‘bikini body’ ready. Our primary motivation is to drop some weight and decrease our waist lines. So why after 3 months of commitment to cardio classes has your weight stayed the same? Why can’t you fit into those pants you were saving from your ‘skinny’ days yet? You’re not doing anything wrong, but the diet and fitness industry has set you up to fail; Exercising doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss.
In 2007, the University of Louisiana conducted a study led by Dr. Timothy Church on hundreds of women who were clinically categorized as overweight[i]. The women were split into 4 groups, the first group exercised for 72 minutes each week, the second for 136 minutes, the third for 194 minutes and the last group maintained their regular routines without any additional exercise. At the end of the study there was NO significant weight loss between those groups of women who exercised and those who didn’t. In fact, some of the women even gained weight. So what happened? How could it be possible that after working out regularly for 6 months the women experienced no weight loss at all?
One of the reasons noted by Dr. Church was what he called ‘compensation’[ii]. Those women who burned more calories exercising experienced increased appetites, resulting in increased food intake. Additionally, many of those women became less physically active in their daily life, with much of their energy being used up at the gym. What Dr. Church has revealed here are the effects of trying to alter your bodies ‘set point’[iii]. Your set point is the weight your body naturally maintains without consciously trying to control your size. When we try to lose weight through a drastic lifestyle change, our body reacts to try and maintain the size that has been genetically predetermined. In turn, if we do lose some weight over a short period of time, our bodies will add on additional pounds to safeguard themselves from future weight loss attempts.
The chemicals in our brains also play a huge role in our efforts to lose weight. Our dopamine response system acts as a motivating factor for all of our actions. When we’re excited, our dopamine levels rise, and when we’re disappointed, those levels drop. Our brains are hardwired to pay more attention to the negative feelings, specifically to prevent us from engaging in activities that would put our lives in jeopardy. Back in the stone ages, we had to learn to avoid danger and our dopamine levels helped us do that. This is also why it’s so stinking hard to stay positive sometimes.
The only way to make exercise a routine that you’ll stick with is if you link up good rewards with your progress. Since weight loss is not only slow, but also unpredictable and typically unattainable, it doesn’t make for such a great goal. Constantly feeling like we are failing will only set us up for more failure. So when we set our fitness goals to realistic improvements, we set ourselves up for continued success. Instead of trying to lose 15 pounds, set a goal to increase your cardio and instead of focussing on the look of your body, focus on its power. Most importantly, set goals that fit within your lifestyle and that work for you.
We all have our biases. That’s part of being human. But as a health care professional, we need to be held to a higher standard and we need to check our personal biases at the door. Far too many doctors, both in the traditional medical system and the integrative system, treat patients with obesity with distain[i]. They hold the belief that these patients are lazy[ii], undisciplined, and uninterested in their health. Regardless of a patient’s complaint, they are dismissed and told that they need to lose weight. Then, when these patients come back, at the same weight or heavier, they are tagged as ‘non-compliant’, “Clearly they don’t care enough about their health to make the necessary changes, so if they won’t take their health seriously, then why should I?” This way of thinking is leaving too many patients misdiagnosed[iii] and unheard; all the doctors see is the number on the scale. This has to change.
When I was in naturopathic medical school, the late Dr. Timothy said to me, “there is no such thing as a non-compliant patient, just poor treatment plans.” It stuck with me, and molded how I treat each person that comes into my office. As a doctor, it’s my responsibility to ensure my patient’s success. If I create a treatment plan that they can’t follow, it means that I didn’t listen to them well enough. If I didn’t account for something in their life, in their preference or in their budget then I didn’t meet them where they were. As their doctor, that’s my fault and not theirs. You see, not everybody is at the same place in this life. Not everybody has the same access as everybody else. Everybody has their own preferences on what they like to eat and how they like to move.
So how can your patients succeed when you’re only measuring the scale? When they come into your office and tell you that they are eating more vegetables, that they’ve cut back on the ‘junk’ food, and that they’re moving more than ever, but you weigh them and sigh, then they know they’ve lost. Again. And people will only rally so many times before they give up. And you know what they lose? Those healthy habits that they started to develop. They start to associate nutritious food and movement with failure. And that means that they lose out on the possibility of implementing these lifestyle changes with any long-term success. Because we are wired to avoid pain, they will begin to avoid exercise, they will avoid vegetables and they will eventually avoid YOU.
People with obesity, or even those who fall into the ‘overweight’ category, have been failing for a long time. And failing sucks. Just look at a team who can’t get ahead. Without amazing coaching, these teams stay down; the players don’t invest as much of themselves into the sport, blaming starts and their sense of worth drops. Ultimately, pride and respect slips away and the fun is gone. As humans, we like to play to win, so help your patients do just that. Give them real goals for where THEY are right NOW; in this body, in this life, and at this time.
If they show up to your office, congratulate them for making time for this appointment and making their health a priority[iv]. Ask them what you can do for them and find out what they need right now. Use the opportunity to create a safe environment where they don’t feel judged and looked down upon. Create treatment plans that allow them to win. Be kind to them, they face enough shame every time they look in the mirror. They need you to take a stand for them. Teach them how to accept and appreciate this body. That will allow their self-respect to emerge, and when you respect something, you’re far more likely to take care of it.