Musings


I came across an excellent post today by blogger Tony “The Anti-Jared” Posnanski, entitled “Everyone Has A Bikini Body”. Tony wrote about Amini Terrell, a 260-lb. woman who dared to defy social prejudices against the overweight by strutting up and down Hollywood Boulevard wearing a bikini. Tony published a quote of hers that was particularly poignant. She said,

Because if people say you are too fat to wear one, then you will lose weight. Once you lose weight they will say you are too flat-chested for one and then get surgery. Once you have Double D’s they will say you do not have a butt for one so you will have more surgery. Then you will not be tan enough or tall enough or shapely enough.

I found this quite astute. Just about any woman will admit that there are parts of herself that she hates. That’s not “dislikes”, that’s HATES. The sad reality is that no matter how hard women try to look “good”, they are never good enough according to the unattainable expectations of our society. And those expectations are not driven by those who have our best interests in mind. They’re driven by those who have a financial interest in keeping us unhappy with ourselves.

But a reader’s response in the comment section was what really struck me. One particular woman wrote,

Well, I admire her for having the guts to do this. I wouldn’t if I was 135. That’s being said, I find it totally disgusting! That is what I would look like and fat women disgust me and I am one. I’m 56 years old and have given up ever being “hot”.

I read this through several times: “That is what I would look like and fat women disgust me and I am one.” That’s not just hating one part of your body, which is sad enough. That is hating all of yourself.

So, I wonder, what motivation would that woman have for choosing health-preserving foods or engaging in a life-improving exercise program? Forget looking “hot”. Hotness is a manufactured concept, superficial and inconsistent. I’m talking about respecting yourself enough to take good care of your body. It shouldn’t be all about losing weight so that you can fit into a certain size or style of clothing. It should be about keeping your body in a healthy state so that you can move freely and live a long productive life.

Would you do that for someone that you found disgusting?

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My kids have an extensive anti-bullying campaign at their elementary school. They’re taught to treat others with kindness. Ironically, sometimes the cruelest instances of bullying appear in how people treat themselves.

Seems like a silly question, no? We live in an era where information is available within a few keystrokes, and certainly, the Internet is rife with health and fitness info.

And yet, people are confused. The fact is, there are so many contradictory and/or vague recommendations out in the ether that the overall impression is that no one really knows anything.

A study by Rebekah Nagler (reference below), published in the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, highlights this problem. Nagler determined that in the face of too much contradictory information, consumers understandably get confused and as a result ignore not only the contradictions — since they can’t figure out which is correct — but also the long-standing well-documented information, such as increasing intake of vegetables and some fruits. Presenting contradictions destroys the credibility of all recommendations.

And if you think that scientists don’t truly know what’s healthy and what’s not, the news media exacerbates the confusion. Science writing leaves a lot to be desired, and editors often present an over-processed, over-simplified explanation of study results, topped off with sensational headlines. People, this isn’t entertainment. This is science. But in the race for “likes”, media outlets want to reel in as many viewers/readers as possible.

So let’s extrapolate a bit to weight loss recommendations, a hot topic these days. People often repeat the mantras of, “I should eat better” and “I need to exercise more”. But what exactly do those mean? If you ask twelve different personal trainers — the professionals most likely to be sought for aid in “getting in shape”, another amorphous concept — you’ll likely get twelve different answers. Paleo vs. vegan? Moderate, consistent walking vs. high intensity interval training? P90X vs. Crossfit? Low-carb vs. low-fat? Which one is best? Or even more controversially, which one is healthiest? An “it depends” doesn’t work in a world where everyone wants a specific answer, and NOW. But really, it depends. 

The fact is, as far as food recommendations are concerned, the easy part is knowing you should lose the Doritos and drive-thru visits. The hard part is dodging the incoming missiles that tell you to eat bacon instead of whole grains, drink raw (i.e., unpasturized) milk, ignore vegetables because eating them is unnecessary, etc. Often, these recommendations go against the guidelines currently touted by the US government, which leads to an uncomfortable realization that what we thought was a good source of information is not trustworthy.

Or is it?

Or rather, is there anyone out there who really, truly doesn’t have a financial stake in this?

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Reference:

Nagler, R.H. (2014). Adverse outcomes associated with media exposure to contradictory nutrition messages. J Health Commun. 19(1): 24-40.

I’ve taken time off this blog to consider whether what I preach still aligns with the current findings supported by the latest studies. And increasingly, I’ve found that there’s a dearth of research focused on the matters that concern me most. While research must necessarily explore nutrition and exercise science, I feel that the “best” (if such a thing exists) program will be useless unless the individual attempting to implement it is prepared to accept it.

What I’ve read continues to affirm my belief that successfully reducing high levels of overweight in this country will come not from pushing dietary restrictions and creating exercise programs, such as have lead to a billion-dollar fitness and weight loss industry. It will come from developing a greater understanding of what the forces acting on modern-day humans are that make them hold on to the behaviors that contribute to the gain and maintenance of excess body fat.

And that’s not something you can market via late-night infomercials.

Gee, I would have never known I was doing everything wrong if others hadn’t generously volunteered that information. *cough, cough*

I’ve witnessed a trend of attempting to “motivate” people by telling them everything they’re doing wrong. UGH. No matter how you slice it, negativity is not a good, lasting motivator for positive changes. As a matter of fact, there’s a form of “negative motivation” that’s called bullying, and schools, community organizations, social networking sites and even the media are working to eliminate it.

I see this type of “motivation” among health- and fitness-related professionals (and I include those not educated in the field, but who have a financial interest in having people follow their advice — MLM people, that’s you). Telling people who are making concerted efforts at changing their lifestyles that they’re still doing so many things wrong doesn’t get anyone anywhere — the focus is continually on the negative. C’mon, you’ve got to be able to find something positive for people to hold on to. That’ll be the lifeline that they use as they pull themselves upward.

So, for your reading pleasure, see below for a great set of guidelines to consider before you open your mouth or start typing. It comes from an elementary school class (thank you, Mrs. Morgan at Lindbergh-Schweitzer!), which is the age at which we have to start if we want to turn around the negative trends to which our adults have fallen prey.

So easy even a school kid can do it!

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Hey, I confess, I’ve done it myself. I’ve seen people engaged in so many injurious habits that I was convinced they were on the path to self-destruction. I felt the need to point out all the negatives, figuring that they needed to hear “the truth”.

Know what? I was wrong. What they needed more than anything was to be listened to. To be understood. There was something positive there, overlooked by everyone else — I just hadn’t tried hard enough to find it.

And once they knew I was listening, they started listening back.

I was a diehard Intermittent Fasting (IF) opponent. As a matter of fact, I was frustrated by those who promoted it, believing that it was setting people up for a “starve-binge” cycle. After all, there IS evidence that people who skip breakfast tend to engage in unhealthy eating by the end of the day (here’s an easy-to-read synopsis from Science Daily of a recent study at the University of Missouri). And, being a student of psychology, I felt that it would only encourage a deprivation mentality.

Breakfast is served!

I was right, kind of. But that was because there was one aspect of IF that I didn’t take into consideration. It’s called fat-adaptation, and Mark Sisson (of Mark’s Daily Apple) does a great job of explaining it here. So, yes, if you were to try to engage in IF on the Standard American Diet, which is far too high in starchy, processed carbohydrates, you’d run into problems.

But even as I was cursing the IF fans, my own diet was becoming increasingly fat-adapted as I began eliminating starches (my simple sugars were already low) and increasing my nut intake. Then soy and beans became a rarity on my plate, and even my beloved whole-grain breads were replaced by larger amounts of fresh, in-season vegetables.

But what pushed me over to the fasting way of life was that I had a bad reaction to onions one night. And the pain in my stomach made me so wary of putting anything else into my mouth that I simply chose to skip my morning protein smoothie.

And, surprise, I felt good. Very good, in fact.

I ate about noon that day. Then tried it again the next day and lasted until 3:20. No headaches, no irritability…and no insatiable hunger either. I also found that I could train intensely (rowing, heavy weights, interval training) and simply not bonk — I even set some PRs while fasted. There was no feeling of deprivation, only an understanding that I won’t be eating now, but I will eat in a little while. Psychologically, that is the easiest concept for me to handle. I practice “staying in the moment”, the same mindset that enables me to work through high-intensity exercise. I accept what I’m feeling in that segment of time without worrying about what will happen later.

After all, why worry? I see so many people eat when they’re not hungry because they’re afraid that they’ll be hungry later. And these are not individuals who live under food-insecure conditions. Food will still be here in a couple of hours, or tonight, or tomorrow. We live in such a food-abundant nation, now more so than at any time in human history, and yet, that fear of being hungry exists.

Don’t believe me? Check out the “snack” aisle. Just a little something to hold you over until your next meal. We Americans snack incessantly. Snack foods have taken on a life of their own.

One of the things about IF…I don’t snack. I don’t worry about being hungry. I focus on what I have to get done, and if it’s not time yet to break my fast, that’s okay.

I realize that I’m simplifying the process of my dietary changes in this post, along with how I came around to accept IF (and by that I mean my own version of it), but you can see that it took a while for my body to get ready to do this, and for me to accept that this was an viable course of action to take. I have to admit, had it not been for Mark Sisson’s article on how he fasted “naturally” — not adhering to a strict schedule — I might not have succumbed to trying it. But as someone who puts a high value on being aware of my body’s cues and staying in tune with them, I felt that Mark’s comments clicked with me.

So I’m about a month into a low-starchy carb, higher protein/fat IF way of eating and I know that it’s something I can continue. I don’t have anything pulling me back into my prior feeding schedule, not that there was anything terribly wrong with that either. But this way, I am more at peace with my body’s signals. I will be doing more research into the science behind this and continuing to monitor my response, but for now, this is working quite well. Sometimes I hear water gurgling through my intestines, and I reassure myself that I will definitely eat…

…later.

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Disclaimer: I do believe that there are people for whom any form of IF is inappropriate. I do NOT feel that this is a one-size-fits-all way of eating; personal issues must be taken into consideration. However, there are individuals for whom this can be an effective meal schedule. If this is something you are interested in, DO.YOUR.RESEARCH!

Paracelsus (1493-1541) :

“All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”

If you’re familiar with triathlons, you may know that, in addition to age-groups and relay teams, it’s not unusual for there to be a race division referred to as Clydesdale (for men) and Athena (for women). In order to participate in this division, competitors must meet bodyweight requirements, generally 2o0lbs for men and 150lbs for women. This enables heavier athletes to compete and medal in a sport that’s often populated by smaller and lighter racers who have a distinct advantage at speed. In doing so, many individuals who might otherwise not consider such a race can not only get inspired to train, but also benefit from increased fitness levels as a result.

Personally, I think that’s great. But I witnessed something last weekend at a local triathlon that really drove home the concept of  “all athletes not being equal” in the eyes of society.

First, a little background about me, in case you’re new to this blog. It took me until my 40s to figure out that, for many people, the key to losing weight was more than simply the “eat less/move more” strategy that is often espoused by the already-lean. I never had a weight problem, so, obviously, I was an expert on how people should lose weight, right?

Obviously not.

It wasn’t until I was introduced to the concept of weight bias/stigma on both a personal level via friends, and an academic level through research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (Yale University) that I realized not only how widespread anti-obesity bias is, but how acceptable it’s become to berate heavy individuals. It’s probably one of the most pervasive and persistent biases that society holds, and it has been documented throughout history.

Fast-forward to last weekend. As the racers from the Clydesdale division got into the water prior to their swim, the announcers tried to explain to the spectators what a Clydesdale was. They described the competitors as “not wanting to share their pizza”, and promised them beer at the end of the race, saying “that should keep them motivated.” They giggled about trying to be politically correct in their description of this race division. All this over loudspeakers.

There was more, but I was too shocked to remember it. None of us knows why these individuals are heavier than competitors in other divisions. They are, at least, competing, which is more than I can say for myself, since I was only there to cheer someone else on. No one poked fun about the other race divisions. But comments about stereotypical eating habits of overweight individuals were okay?

If you want to call me hyper-sensitive, stop. After all, if singling out a single group of people based solely on societal biases about their body types were justifiable, why would I care? Especially when I don’t have a weight problem.

But I do have a brain. And a close friend who carried a lot of excess weight due to complex factors, whose attempts to “move more” were met with insults yelled from cars as she walked down the road. I know thin people who are self-conscious about exercising in public — you think someone who’s heavy and been dealing with colorful commentary for most of her life should be able to shrug off invectives?

My guess is, if you’re unsympathetic, it’s because you feel that insults are motivating and that a heavy individual is deserving of verbal abuse. Maybe it’s tied into your feeling that anyone who carries extra pounds is gluttonous, greedy, unmotivated, lacks self-control…and taking that further, is stupid and evil and ugly. History is replete with these types of descriptions.

What if they’re not? What if the reason someone is heavy has nothing to do with personal character?

Ponder that thought. Please.

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Here’s a side note: notice that the weight requirements of the Clydesdale/Athena divisions are not particularly high, given the relative size of the current U.S. population. Because of the direction that we’re heading, maintaining our fitness is paramount to keeping ourselves healthy.

Wouldn’t it be a travesty if someone opted NOT to train and NOT to race simply because they feared opening themselves up to ridicule?

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