Monthly Archives: April 2017

Choosing Not to Diet Doesn’t Mean that You Don’t Care About Your Health

If you decide to give up dieting it does not mean you are choosing to be unhealthy. They are not one and the same.

In this country, to be a woman and say that you’re not currently dieting is to make yourself an outlier. People will wonder what’s “wrong” with you and what “secret” you must have in order to not do this. It’s so normal to always be on a diet and always be “watching” what we eat that people who dare to say they’re not going to do it anymore are a touch weird, maybe even a little scary, right? It’s like that scene in Office Space, when Ron Livingston’s character Peter Gibbons tells Joanna, a cute waitress he’s having lunch with (played by Jennifer Anniston) that he doesn’t think he’s going to go to his job anymore. He doesn’t like it and he’s just not going to go.

Watch the scene here:

The idea that someone is just not going to go to their job (and not planning on getting another one and doesn’t seem worried about it) is such a foreign a concept in our society that Joanna asks him question after question in an effort to figure him out. You can see the confusion and shock on her face (that she hides with humor) as she tries to understand his angle. But there isn’t one. Thankfully they bond over kung fu movies and can move on from the confusing job subject.

What I think confuses people most when you say you’re not dieting is that they think that means you are going to throw all concerns of health out the window, that if you’re not intensely watching what you eat (like it’s out to get you!) based on some form of restriction, that you can’t possibly care about your health or be doing other things that contribute to being healthy.

That’s all crazily wrong. And it comes from a deeply held belief that dieting equals health. We think losing weight always means a healthier person.

That’s just not true.

Dieting does not automatically make you healthy.

Reducing your size does not always equal better health. There are plenty of people out there dropping pounds using incredibly unhealthy measures – eating crap food, over-exercising or taking dangerous speed-like supplements to reduce their appetites. And if you think there are no negative consequences to weight loss, you are misinformed. Here are just a few health consequences that can come from dieting:

  • Fast weight loss can have big health consequences like gallstones
  • Fast weight loss increases loss of muscle mass
  • the pressures weight loss ideals put on us can lead to eating disorders
  • weight loss can lead to bone loss (this is even more pronounced in women who are in early menopause)
  • yo-yo dieting increases the risk of death, heart attack, diabetes and stroke for people with heart disease.

And that’s not really touching on the mental and emotional risks that can come with dieting. A whole culture full of dieters is so concerned with what they are putting in their mouths and the size / shape of their bodies that they can’t live and enjoy their lives. They feel stressed out, depressed, anxious and alone for a huge chunk of their lives. Why?? Because they’re trying to squeeze into a socially accepted idea of what a body is supposed to look like and the only way to get there is to do the opposite of what their bodies naturally want to do – eat and be nourished. That’s a big burden to carry emotionally for years and even decades of one’s life.

If dieting doesn’t automatically give us good health, then we have to realize that the reverse is also likely true. Not dieting doesn’t mean you don’t care about your health and it doesn’t mean that you can’t be healthy. I’m not discounting the science that shows that our weight contributes to certain health conditions (or makes them worse). I’m just asking you to think about the fact that not everyone who is overweight is a couch potato who is eating nothing but twinkies all day long and that there are plenty of slender people who have a lifestyle that is unhealthy.

There are a ton of ways you can not diet and still live the healthiest life possible.

I can list some of them for you below, but to be really clear and brief as possible – it’s really simple!! You can live a healthy life by doing all the things the supposedly “healthy dieters” do but without dieting. Same stuff, minus one thing (we remove weight loss as the motivator).

Move your body. Do it frequently and choose things that bring you joy. It should feel good (and it’s ok if it’s really hard at first or is hard on some days and easy on others). Do things you enjoy doing – it doesn’t have to be exercise for the sake of exercise. It can be play (outside with the kids, playing frisbee, rollerskating, dancing, charades etc). It can be meditation (walking, hiking, yoga. It can be competitive (sports, races etc). It can be high intensity (like HIIT, running, boxing etc) or it can low intensity (pilates, yoga, tai chi etc). It can be the stuff you just have to get done (gardening, yard work, house work etc). It can be restorative (stretching, yin yoga, foam rolling etc). Don’t think too much about whether you’re doing the right stuff. Work your body hard when it wants to be worked hard, be gentle when it asks for gentle. The important thing is moving frequently and safely for your particular body and choosing things that will keep you able to be as active as you want to be for your whole life.

Eat trusting your body and it’s knowledge. Your body knows exactly how much to eat for it’s needs. It also knows what foods make it feels great and what makes it feel terrible. It knows how to take the foods we eat and use it to nourish, repair and replenish our body so we can live another day. Dieting removes our ability to feel this trust and intuition (so if you’re in a place where you think you need dieting because you can’t trust yourself – you are not alone!) but it is something that we are born with and you can get back there with a bit of work and time (contact me if you need some help with this).

This doesn’t mean we discount nutrition. Just because you’re choosing to walk away from the dieting lifestyle and mentality, doesn’t mean you don’t eat with some awareness of nutrition. Choosing to listen to your body means just that – listening to your body. You may think your body is telling you that it wants to eat cupcakes all day, every day but that’s really your mind telling you that. It’s the mind of someone who’s been told their whole lives that cupcakes are bad, fat is bad and that they’re bad if they eat them. When you’re not dieting and no food group is off limits or “bad”, those foods that previously made you feel out of control, now feel much more neutral. When you know you CAN have something if you want it, it’s got a bit less appeal and power than something you CAN’T have. Eating from a more trusting and intuitive place means eating a wide variety of foods, prepared various ways. It means enjoying food but also not letting that enjoyment override the nutritional needs of your body.

I LOVE chocolate, tortilla chips, cheese and ice cream but I also LOVE fresh and cooked vegetables and in general I prefer how whole foods make me feel for the majority of my diet. I can only say that because I have given myself full permission to eat whatever I truly want. Ironically, what I want most days are the foods that make me feel great (and the foods that make me feel great are primarily nutritious). I figure out what’s right for me meal by meal, by asking “What would make me feel best in this moment?”. It’s always changing.

As much as eating too much of any one type of food can be unhealthy, try to remember that being afraid to eat entire categories of food all the time is equally unhealthy (on a mental and emotional level). Trust that your body does know what it needs (the real question is: Are you listening?).

Make managing stress a priority. Stress is one of the biggest causes of health issues in this country and yet we choose to brush it under the rug and ignore it unless we hit crisis mode. Because it’s a tangible thing to do, it’s much easier to manipulate our food intake under the guise of “health” through weight loss than it is to regularly take part in self-care activities that reduce stress. Stress is a part of everyone’s life – there is no getting around it – but we’ve come to see it as badge of honor to brag about how we can keep soldiering on despite how stressful our lives are. This is not healthy, sexy or something to be proud of. It’s way healthier to find a handful of things that bring you real stress relief and make them a priority. You don’t need to lose weight to do that.

Commit to loving and accepting yourself as you are. Not the person you were 10 years ago (though you should love her too). Not the person you’d be if you got that promotion or if you do finally fit into those jeans. Not the person you wish you were more like. You. As you are. In the body you are in right now with all her flaws, beauty, stretch marks, strong muscles, cellulite, freckles, acne, unmanageable hair, imperfect teeth or whatever else you think is a problem. It’s way healthier to be in a larger body that you love and care for than in a smaller body that is hated, distrusted and shamed. Do whatever you can to be more accepting, loving and tolerant of the body you are in and the person you are. She’s all you have (this is something we can work on together too) and if you’re good to her she will repay you back tenfold.

A few others healthy things that will contribute to your health that have nothing to do with the size of your body . . . Take supplements if needed (a nutritious and varied diet helps but sometimes we need a little help). Get regular check ups. Work on your thinking (if everything is negative? Why? What role could you be playing in that?). Have sex regularly (you don’t need a partner) and work to make it more fulfilling if you’re not happy with it right now. Give and receive human touch (even more important if you are single – make room for massage and be a hugger! We all need the physical connection. Reflect on your life with gratitude. Foster social connections that nourish and make your life feel balanced.

The healthiest people in this world are healthy because of a variety of factors, not just due to the size of their body.

I’m not writing this to make you feel bad about a history of dieting, your current diet or even your desire to seek out another diet (God knows that I have been on as many as the next person). Instead, I just want you to think about some stuff:

  • What problem dieting is actually, truly solving for you? And has it been able to solve that problem in the past?
  • Might there possibly be other things you can do to be healthy that are separate from intentionally manipulating your size?
  • What would your life look like if you weren’t always watching what you ate?
  • Can you have the life you want without changing your weight? Why or why not?

Hey I know it’s tough to change your relationship to food on your own. That’s why I created You Have What it Takes“, a guide full of questions to help you improve your relationship to food using different qualities you already have. Download your copy at the link here.

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How Health Coaches Are Contributing to A Diet Culture Full of Fear and Confusion

If you go to the market and have these thoughts: “Oh, those tomatoes look so good. Thank goodness, they’re organic! Oh, wait, tomatoes are nightshades. I probably shouldn’t eat them. Oh and they’re so acidic, should I be eating more alkaline foods? And I better not eat them raw, aren’t tomatoes better for you when you eat them cooked? But cooking destroys so many nutrients, I should probably invest in a dehydrator. Screw it, I’ll just not get them.” then diet culture and the coaches you follow may be failing you.


Two weeks ago I talked about how dieting shouldn’t be our normal state and some of the normalized things that go on in our culture that contribute to entire generations of women being obsessed with getting and staying “small”. This is a huge subject and one that I’ve only scratched the surface of. In this post, I want to talk about another aspect of it and something that may seem a little strange considering my job title.

I think some health coaches are unintentionally contributing to diet culture and might be doing more harm than good.

Before I get stoned by my peers, I want to say that not all coaches are doing this and of those that are doing it, I know it’s mostly with good intentions and in all honesty, I fell into this category when I first started out too.

 

A little bit of backstory.

Several years ago, I gave up traditional dieting in favor of a healthy “lifestyle” because after a decade plus of dieting I just couldn’t do it anymore. Dieting had turned me into someone who had frequent binges and a lot of shame around my body and food. Embracing a whole foods healthy lifestyle meant I lost weight and had an easier time keeping it off without feeling crazy or deprived. I felt much better eating “cleanly” and I really came to believe that a whole foods based diet and eating as little processed food as possible was the way to health. My health coaching practice and social media reflected this.  I still eat this way for the most part but I have become much more flexible as to what I view as “healthy” and it has more to do with where my head is at than what specifics I’m eating.

If you’ve been following me from the start of my coaching career, you may have noticed that I’ve posted very little about actual food specifics the last few years. Gone are the whole food based detox programs, I rarely post photos of food I eat and it’s only on the odd occasion that I share a recipe, whole foods or otherwise. I don’t share much information about pesticides in our foods, how to sprout your own lentils and which health conditions need to avoid cruciferous vegetables. I now push intuition, body and self trust / knowledge, joyful movement and other things that sound really wishy-washy but really matter to someone who wants more peace with food.

 

Hypocrite or Evolving?

As my own relationship with food has evolved over time, I realized that some of what I was teaching and recommending in my early days of coaching conflicted with where I really want to take people – and where I wanted to be myself. I want and I want others to feel confident in themselves as their only guide to making food choices. I want people to feel less fearful about food and more relaxed around it (and just so you know this does not necessarily mean disregarding nutrition or health). I feel a little hypocritical when I look back at some of my early work but Marie Forleo says that if you don’t look back at your early work and cringe a little, it means you’re not growing (so at least I’m growing)! Growth is good.

 

Diet culture wants you to feel scared and confused so you keep buying.

One of the things diet culture thrives upon is keeping people confused, keeping them scared of making choices and teaching us that we can’t trust our bodies. If we’re scared and confused, fearful about our health and our bodies, we will run out to buy whatever it is they’re selling – shakes, exercise programs, food plans, supplements etc. If we’re not scared and confused, if we trust ourselves as smart creatures who have always known how to feed themselves, there won’t be much we have to buy.

A lot of well meaning coaches are constantly sharing information that the general public may not be aware of that the coach believes we need to know in order to feel motivated to make better decisions about health (how bad sugar is for us, how glyphosate increases gut permeability, how animal products cause cancer, how our phones are causing brain tumors and increasing ADD etc). The problem is that when we share so much of this kind of scary health information we are making people afraid of food and adding to the confusion that is already out there. After a while, this kind of information sharing creates a feeling that we can’t trust anything and we end up in a food choice paralysis.

 

More confusion and fear around food is not helping people make better choices.

Feeling afraid of food helps you develop eating disorders (fyi – aiming to eat perfectly clean and healthy all of the time and feeling ashamed and stressed when you can’t or don’t is called “orthorexia“). Feeling confused around food makes us dependent on diets and diet gurus to tell us what to eat when really we should be dialing down into listening to our bodies hunger and satiety signals, paying attention to the way individual foods make us feel, learning about what foods our ancestors ate (it’s in our DNA) and being flexible to change.

In the world of emotional eaters and chronic dieters (where my viewpoint is), fear and confusion is the last thing health coaches should promote. Two of the main lessons we learned in coaching school was that the client has their own answers inside of them and that we have to respect something called “bioindividuality” – the idea that people know what’s best for their bodies and the way of eating that works for one person may not be right for another. I see a ton of coaches instilling fear in people because they believe one specific way of eating is correct. I know it has to be hard to coach people towards their own needs when you are a die-hard vegan or strict paleo, but being that rigid about what people should be eating is moving away from coaching territory and into something different (and depending on your state you may need additional certifications to do that). It’s really not our jobs to tell people what to eat in such strict terms.

I’m not knocking all coaches – I’m still a health coach and I have a lot of health coach friends who I respect and I know they are sincerely doing work that is going to change the world. Health coaching has been incredibly helpful for tackling my eating struggles and I have a lot of tools that have helped me make peace with food (and helped me teach my clients the same). As a whole I believe the profession’s goals are to help people live healthier so that they can do more amazing things in their lives. This is a good thing but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some big problems! The intent in the health coaching community is good but sometimes the way we go about encouraging change is diametrically opposed to actually being healthy.

 

Health Coaches with Strict and Extreme Views

There is a faction of coaches who practice extreme vigilance about food and the ideas some these folks teach contribute to deeper entrenchment into diet culture. In addition to sharing lots of scary and over complicated info, they promote products and programs that perpetuate us not trusting our bodies to tell us what to eat (powdered shakes, special containers and super specific and rigid meal plans etc) and others that have such high and restrictive standards of what constitutes healthy eating / healthy lifestyle (for example, raw food only, vegan only, paleo only, organic, local, non-irradiated, soaked and sprouted etc) that by the pure challenges of following everything they recommend, we are set up to fail and become more confused and scared of food.

Let me illustrate how insanely difficult and impossible the way we seem to expect people to eat is (according to the things coaches share on social media). I personally have every opportunity to make this unrealistic healthy food movement come to life in my American home.

I have the knowledge to prepare food the “healthiest” way possible.

I have the time and ability.

I work from home, love to cook and I’m a good cook.

I also have the financial means to buy organic, free range, local, grass-fed etc foods.

We prioritize food in my house over many other things.

And I don’t have children who pull at my pant legs and beg to have heavily processed chicken nuggets and hot dogs for dinner (just a cat who is a finicky eater).

This is not a brag, this is to show you how my life and I am well suited to make this inaccessible and perfect food stuff work. I legit have all the means necessary to make foods the way people are preaching we need to if we want to be healthy and yet even I find I get fucking tired of it, overwhelmed, apathetic and annoyed and sometimes I wish there were take out places nearby. I’ve sometimes thrown all my food edicts out the window and eaten a frozen pizza (yes, even dairy and full of gluten and processed) because I can’t deal with checking all the damn boxes for another day and I want it easy. This is coming from someone who dearly loves food and nutrition.

If I can’t do “it” every day of my life and I’m the perfect candidate, then how can we expect people in other more complicated situations to get in line?

This is not really working guys!

Having a zillion rules about food, how it’s sourced, how to prep it properly and more causes stress, panic and eating disorders. It does not actually make someone healthy. How can you not fall into some type of eating disorder when you no longer know what is SAFE to eat? And if we have to depend on another person more educated than us on food to give us guidelines (that change constantly), then we will never be free and never be healthy.

An overly puritanical “healthy lifestyle” can lead you down an unhealthy path of being overly restrictive with food just as much as the average diet can and all in the name of health, energy and clear skin.

If you’ve had any food struggles in your life, learning to trust yourself and re-engage with the wisdom and intuition we had as babies and toddlers is a better path to health.

Worrying about food all the time is not healthy.

Worrying if you’re making the right choices is not healthy.

Still feeling like crap even when you’re doing all the “right” things is not the picture of health.

It is much better to trust your body, feel safe with your own knowledge and listen to your body to tell you what it needs. This leads to better mental health – and when we’re well on an emotional and mental level, we make physical choices we can feel good about too.

I’m not saying that health coaches need to throw out everything they’ve learned about nutrition, health and how food is produced in this country, but we really need to start asking ourselves if what we’re sharing and recommending is helping people to feel empowered? Is it helping them to feel secure, relaxed and confident? Is it truly making people feel well on an emotional level?

Let’s ease up and help people get back in touch with those answers we know they have inside of themselves.


How did you like that rant? Do you want to learn more about feeling confident in your relationship with food? Do you want to learn to trust yourself and discount the confusing messages in our media? If so, click the image below and grab my copy of “You Have What it Takes“, a guide full of questions to help you improve your relationship to food.