Dear Penn Jillette: Your Diet is BS

Penn_Jillette_in_Denver_2015I read last week that Penn Jillette went on a crazy diet and lost a lot of weight.

Penn Jillette is a professional magician and used to have a show with his magic partner, Teller, called “Penn & Teller: Bullshit,” on which they debunked various “pseudoscientific ideas, paranormal beliefs, popular fads and misconceptions” (thanks wiki!). Oh the irony, amiright??

He said he was inspired to lose weight (ultimately 100 lbs in all) because he had been sick, and diagnosed with very high blood pressure. I agree that something like that could indeed use a nutrition intervention, but instead of making some reasonable, sustainable changes to diet and exercise, he dove in headfirst to dietland.

First he went on a diet for two weeks that consisted of only 5 potatoes a day, which provides around 800 calories and 20 grams of protein, not enough for most active hamsters. Unsurprisingly, he lost 18 pounds after two weeks. This is called a monotrophic or mono diet. It’s apparently also featured on many pro-anorexic websites according to this article.

He then switched to something called a Nutritarian diet by Dr. Joel Furhman (look it up yourself, no way I’m linking to this diet page) that he described thusly: “Turn on the TV, look at the billboards, read magazines — see all that food? I don’t eat any of that. I eat no animal products, no refined grains, and extremely low salt, sugar, and oil.” By the way, the text at the bottom of Furhman’s diet website: “There is no guarantee of specific results. Results can vary.” He’s required to put that there by law because by now it’s well-established that diets don’t work to produce sustainable weight loss, results cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy, and within 3 to 5 years most or all weight is regained…and because his diet is no different. This is Penn’s moment to pull the curtain aside and expose who the Wizard really is, but no. Instead he just goes on the diet.

Anyhoo, the rest of the article in which Jillette talks about his new transformed way of eating reads like the most disordered of food journals. Here’s an especially concerning excerpt: “I had a handful of unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts with Tabasco sauce….I guess I had two handfuls. I love eating spicy in the middle of the night. The peanuts were very filling so I didn’t eat the rest of the day. One thing I learned from my lifestyle change is that I don’t have to eat all the time. When I don’t eat, I get focused and clearer and … well, happier” [italicized emphasis mine]. That focused, clear feeling? A lot of us have had that in the early stages of dieting. I have a theory that this is your brain readying you to look for food because you’re basically starving. I had a lot of energy at my thinnest, but it was reserved only for thinking about food, looking for food, scrounging food and quickly scarfing food. I was the most ambitious and effective office-hunter-gatherer you ever saw. I may have been happier, but I didn’t really have time or emotional space left to recognize if I was since FOOD! WAS THAT FOOD I JUST SAW?! GIVE ME THAT FOOD! ME WANTY FOOD!!!

More tidbits from the Sad and Curious Food Ramblings of Penn Jillette with a little of my own interpretations thrown in:

“It had been about 36 hours without food, and I wanted to eat.” (extreme restriction)

“I had watermelon. Usually when I eat watermelon it’s a joke amount, like a whole watermelon, cut up and very cold. Watermelon is magic. It’s like candy but really good for me. There seems to be no limit to the amount of watermelon I can eat.” (binge behavior, food moralizing)

“My dessert in the middle of the night was the idea for which I will win the Nobel Prize. I invented this. I took a lot of blueberries, like four big containers (this one is expensive), rinsed them off and then put way, way, way too much cayenne pepper on them. Way too much. Lots. I shook that around and then added way too much cocoa powder, no fat, no sugar. It’s like a Mexican flourless chocolate blueberry cake. It’s my favorite food. I went to bed with my mouth on fire and my belly full.” (okay, I just included this one because it’s weird as hell, but also a bit bingey)

“…I was hungry after our Vegas show at the Rio… I got up and had a hummus wrap with Tabasco. This was store-bought and a bit too salty. That wasn’t enough, so I had a bunch of spoonfuls of peanut butter. This is my downfall — too salty, too sugary, too high fat, oil, and salt, but so good. I ate so much it would make you sick. It made me happy.” (binge and then guilt. Serious fucking alarm bells for disordered eating going off for me right now)

“I was full, but I still had some peanut butter for bedtime.” (finishing off with some superfluous eating)

I get that getting diagnosed with high blood pressure and other metabolic-type conditions can be scary and they are something that can be helped with improvement in eating habits and exercise. But look around; do all the “healthy” people you know eat even remotely like this? (Gawd, I hope not). We don’t need to become diet addicts and emotional slaves to food to drop pounds in the name of “health.” We don’t need to miss meals for 36 hours and slather hot sauce on everything because we’re not eating what we want, not really, or enough to satisfy our appetite. We really don’t need to eliminate sugar, fat and salt from our diets. Most of these changes, I’m predicting, will not be sustainable for him, as they usually aren’t for most people. So far he’s maintained the weight for 17 months; a lot of us ex-dieters did that too. It’s too early to know how this will play out for him, but based on statistics alone, he will regain that weight between 3 and 5 years after he lost it. But most significantly, what Penn has done here is conflate weight and health, and that is the ultimate bullshit.

Penn Jillette can do what he wants with his body, that’s his business. But now he’s writing a book to tell us how we, too, can lose a third of our body weight by developing an eating disorder. Penn, you didn’t find the cure to obesity, and statistically speaking, your weight loss has a 95% chance of failure by year five. If you do manage to become one of the elite 5% who maintain your weight loss longer than this you will probably have to do it by developing a sub-clinical eating disorder that everyone will applaud and will make you secretly crazy. Again, that’s your choice, but your book makes you part of the $60+ billion diet industry which fails just about everyone, and that’s just wrong.

We don’t need another diet book from someone with extreme disordered eating habits that has only maintained his weight loss for 17 months, so I’m calling bullshit on you, Penn Jillette.

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Dietitians Unplugged Podcast: Men and Eating Disorders

Cover2Do men get eating disorders too? Long regarded as a disease of girls and women, people sometimes don’t realize that men can also be affected by eating disorders. Aaron and I talked to Andrew Whalen of The Body Image Therapy Center, a treatment center for those with eating disorders, substance abuse issues and self-harm disorders. They also happen to specialize in eating disorders for men, and that’s the subject of this podcast. Andrew shares his personal story of suffering with an eating disorder, body shame and muscle dysmorphia.

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Re-Post: Congratulations, You Just Cured Obesity

thinkerI’m taking a little blog breather this week to enjoy life, so I’m re-posting one of my favorite post in the past year. I’ll be back soon with new content, but for now…enjoy some vintage Dare To Not Diet.

As a dietitian who believes in non-diet, non-weight focused nutrition, I often find myself explaining my position on intentional weight loss to casual acquaintances who always want to talk to me about weight loss. It usually starts out with someone else bringing up the topic after they have discovered I am a dietitian (there is a reason I don’t volunteer this information easily). They say something like, “Well of course diets don’t work. Permanent lifestyle changes are what lead to lasting weight loss,” or, “Eating less doesn’t work, you have to do interval training in order to lose weight and keep it off,” or, “The only way to maintain long lasting weight loss is to do resistance training.” As though fat people have never tried any of these things ever, and if they just would, they’d have their fatness cured, stat.  *Eye roll*

To which I have to answer: “Actually, no one has figured out a way to create long-term weight loss for more than a tiny fraction of people…and neither have you.” (In reality, I try to be nice about this. But for the purposes of this blog, I get to have a Snark-o-rama, ʼkay?) And then I clarify that I’m talking about basically all the weight loss science that exists out there and how it pretty much shows that long-term weight loss is pretty much a unicorn (as in, it doesn’t exist) for all but a few people. And then, of course, perhaps because I’m a dietitian and why trust someone with an actual degree in nutrition*, or perhaps because I’m a chubby woman who’s clearly just given up on herself*, they don’t believe me.

My favorite person (okay, not really) to argue with on this subject insists that the key to weight loss (even long-term!) is interval training weight weights (despite complete lack of evidence) . When I say that I lift weights and I’m still fat, the answer is invariably, “Well, you’re just not doing it enough.” When I ask how much and how often I should lift weights, the answer is, “More than you’re doing now.” Which is asinine, because he doesn’t know jack about what I’m doing now. When I say that I lifted weights very regularly when I was much thinner and dieting and that I couldn’t build any muscle to save my life AND my weight eventually returned even as I adhered to my regimen, he says it was because I was dieting. When I say I stopped dieting, still lifted weights and gained a lot of weight, it is because I’m not lifting enough. Basically, I’m a fatty who can’t win. Oh, and it’s all my fault.

This seems to be the prevailing attitude among people who all profess to have THE answer to the weight loss “problem.” What it really boils down to is, “Do this thing you might not even like to do, do it a lot, focus your entire life on this, forsake all the other things you might be interested in doing because they won’t produce weight loss, and you’ll be CURED of your fat forever!” Except that, oh yeah, there is zero proof that any of this will work LONG TERM for more than a tiny – like 5% tiny – fraction of people, even if you manage to keep at it.

And by the way, guess who’s tried these “foolproof,” “long-term” weight loss “methods”? (imagine me air quoting vigorously here). Only every fat person that’s ever tried to diet ever. Yeah, that’s right. We’ve tried it. It didn’t work and also, it sucked. If it was something most people could sustain long-term AND they enjoyed it, they’d do it. But we’re not talking about enjoying life here, are we? No, the idea seems to be that we do stuff we don’t like just to chase a body that isn’t really ours. Essentially, we are being punished for our fat. You only get one life on earth, so why don’t you do stuff you don’t enjoy to make sure everyone else is okay with the way you look?*

Let’s take weight lifting, for instance (something I actually happen to enjoy). Even if it did work to induce long-term weight loss for most people, what if someone hates lifting weights? Resistance training isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But in order to lose weight and maintain the loss, someone is supposed to sacrifice their interests and pretty much all their spare time just to make sure they have time for adequate amounts of weight-loss inducing resistance training (assuming one doesn’t make a living lifting weights, which most of us don’t)? Pfffft, thanks but no thanks.

There is a reason the weight loss industry is hauling in $60 billion a year – it keeps selling the same shoddy product over and over again to the same people (like, all of us) without ever actually working. If there was a way to produce sustainable weight loss that worked for most people, we’d have all figured it out, done it, and eventually the weight loss industry would cease to exist because we’d have all lost weight and kept it off. But we didn’t. And it keeps existing. And this weight-loss mentality is actually doing more harm than good by contributing to body shame, disordered eating and exercising, weight cycling, and even more weight gain for a lot of people.

So then I hear, “Permanent weight loss is hard work and people are just lazy.” First of all, short-term weight loss is no piece of cake either, but most of us who have tried it have lost at least some weight initially. And you know who works hard? Just about everyone. Yep, turns out the world is not full of lazy people. In a world of ever-increasing working hours and people with multiple jobs, we live in a society that is well-acquainted with hard work. Sometimes it’s hard work we don’t even like, but we do it anyway. But somehow we’re just lazy about losing weight permanently even though we’re willing to pay $60 billion a year for it? This is some serious non-logic.

So, no big surprise here, but nope, no one has “cured” fatness yet. Sorrrreeeeee!

The good news is, that doesn’t mean we need to give up on our health. Although they won’t necessarily cause most people to lose weight (yes, they may cause some people to lose weight, just not a statistically significant proportion of people), actual, doable lifestyle changes that support health are much easier to make and sustain compared to what you have to do to induce and sustain weight loss. So why not do the things that are achievable and sustainable, like listening to internal hunger and satiety cues to prevent overeating, adding more fruits or vegetables to our diet to boost our nutrient intake, or finding more ways to move enjoyably?

These things are easy to do in the absence of hunger and deprivation, or misery of doing stuff that you hate that often accompanies weight loss efforts. And while they might not “cure” our fatness (just as nothing has been shown to do), they will make us healthier. And maybe even happier.

*Sarcasm is a sweet, sweet balm.

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Is There a Fat Human Biome?

fatmouseA friend of mine sent me this article about Sandra Aamodt’s new book Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss. Check it out, she said. Lots of shares on social media.

I’m excited to read this book since Sandra Aamodt has been a pretty staunch anti-diet advocate in recent years. She first came to my attention in this Ted talk. The research discussed in the article centers on the human biome of the gut – the trillions of bacteria that live in our GI system, which is something I’ve been interested in for the last 20 years since I first discovered probiotics – and how our gut microbes might affect our weight.

The article talks about the research done on the biomes of mice and how different body sizes are produced when they alter the biome of bacteria-free mice (which are produced in the lab; bacteria-free humans or mice do not occur naturally). It then goes on to talk about the research based on children who had been given antibiotics early in life and their prevalence for overweight/obesity (the article’s words; you know I prefer “fat” as a body descriptor).  The article, however, makes some wild assumptions and conclusions, and I’m wondering how closely it hues to the tenor of the book.

I’m definitely of the mind that antibiotics have been overused and abused for the last 40 or more years and that’s one of the reasons why antibiotic resistant microbes have developed (MRSA, drug resistant TB). On the other hand, antibiotics are one of the reasons humans are living longer – even despite the supposed “obesity panic epidemic.” So I worry about this kind of information getting filtered through the fatphobic lens of our society and being turned into, “OMIGOD I cannot give my child antibiotics or she will turn out to be FAT.” I’m worried, in essence, that this will become the new iteration of the current anti-vaxxer madness. What if a baby needs antibiotics to save his or her life? Will they be withheld to prevent fatness? This might sound extreme, until you look at the increase in pertussis (whooping cough) and measles outbreaks that were most likely due to anti-vaccination hysteria.

The article closes with, “For now, we can take a couple of lessons from this research. Parents should minimize antibiotic use in children, especially in the first year of life, because changes in gut bacteria at that age can have lasting consequences. The average child in the United States receives ten to twenty courses of antibiotics before age 18, increasing the risks of asthma, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease, in addition to obesity and diabetes.” Can we really take these lessons yet? I’m not advocating for the cavalier use of antibiotics in kids with a mere runny nose, but as far as I know, there is simply not enough firm data to jump to all these conclusions (remember that correlation does not equal causation). The science is far from clear, and people still die regularly from simple bacterial infections in countries where they have no access to antibiotics. I’m afraid this kind of simplistic pronouncement is just going to panic parents more than needs to happen.

So let’s use some commonsense here, please. Yes, we shouldn’t abuse antibiotics; no, we probably shouldn’t withhold antibiotics from children if they truly need them just because there is a chance they will end up fat later on in life.

I’m also concerned about the potential for the research on the human biome to be abused by the diet industry in the name of eradicating fat people. How far will we go (read: how far will the diet industry go) in trying to change the biomes of fat people in order to make them into thin people? I’ll tell you this: I for one am not swallowing any poop pills to facilitate a bacterial transplant no matter how thin it might make me (as has already been proposed in recent research. Ew.). I already know what I need to do to be as healthy as I can be at the size I’m at now (knowing that many factors are beyond my control); I don’t need to literally swallow shit on top of everything else I do.

And what if we find out (too late, as always) that one person’s gut microbes aren’t good for someone else? Or that our personal biomes hold certain advantages for us and that changing that environment removes those advantages? Count me out, thanks.

I know that Sandra Aamodt will make the case that diets don’t make us thinner like they purport to do, and probably make us fatter in the long run. I am hoping she has used the research around the human biome to make the case that our weight is not really within our control, and that there are many complex factors that go into determining our body weight that we cannot necessarily influence.  I truly hope she advocates for size diversity and body acceptance. Because what we don’t need is another hare-brained scheme – like dieting to lose weight has proven to be – to make further assaults on the bodies and minds of fat people.

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Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – Episode 9: Why We Hate The Biggest Loser

Cover2Greetings Dietitians Unplugged Podcast fans! We’ve got a new episode for you!  Aaron and I let it all out as  we discuss a show that epitomizes our current diet culture, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” We discuss the widely-shared article in the New York Times that reviewed the latest research on how contestants’ metabolisms have yet to recover even six years after being on the show.  We also talk about Sarah Aamodt’s great article from the NYT about why you should never diet again.  And we quote one of our favorite HAES® colleagues, Deb Burgard in this great article.  Take a listen to this very important episode — it might be the one you need to hear before you consider going on your next “diet.”

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The ABCs of Weight Loss

Pacman eating dots
Pacman goes on a diet.

I was sick at home a few weeks ago and my appetite (along with my energy, my throat and my good humor) was shot. I didn’t feel like eating anything in particular, but I was still hungry and I knew I needed to put something on my stomach. I did what any sick person with no sense of smell and a craving for carby, starchy, sweet and/or cheesy foods would do – I picked and pecked at random selections of food for three days straight.

And suddenly I remembered ABC. If you’re a dieter, and maybe even specifically a Weight Watchers alum, you will know what ABC stands for. WW Leaders would chant this weekly to their loyal followers, reminding us why we might not be reaching our goal weights. “ABC – All Bites Count!” they would decree, and we’d nod our heads in unison.

Another way of saying this was “If you bite it, write it.” It means that literally every little bite you take must be logged into your journal. It means that no bite of food, no matter how innocuous seeming, no matter if it was a whole bite, or a half bite, or a measly nibble, should go unrecorded, because surely it will be that one bite that will take all your weight loss efforts down. Unless we stopped to figure out the points value of one quarter of an Oreo cookie and write it down, surely that one unrecorded bite might be the gateway drug to actually satisfying our appetites, and that would be the death knell of our weight loss. One cannot have a satisfied appetite and lose weight, we all knew that.

That’s how it eventually got for me, caught in the frenzy of weight loss and weight maintenance: seemingly innocent crumbs of foods here and there could not could not go unaccounted without worrying about how they would affect the scale the next week. And god forbid you end up getting sick, or divorced, or have a loved one who dies, or you lose a job, i.e. real life stuff…because those are prime pecking situations, and you are seriously not going to want to record anything when any of these happen (which explained why so many people dropped out when major life events occurred. Because you cannot diet and lose or maintain weight and still have a real life that can accommodate important stuff.)

And then there are those times, like at a party, when you have one bite, then another, and another and another and you think, “Oh what the hell, too many bites to remember, might as well go for broke,” and you eat so much that your belly hurts and you feel the shame of going so far off your diet that you’ll surely have to starve the rest of the week to make up for it.

What no one ever tells us is that even if we manage to write every single bite, we might not be happy or satisfied with either our eating OR our bodies. No one ever tells us, “95% of people who write down all their bites still regain most or all of their weight within three to five years after losing weight,” even though that is what all the current science tells us. No one seems to want to acknowledge that even if you are a super-bite-writer, a significant chunk of your life might be sucky because all you can think about is how you’re going to avoid the bites you might have to write. Because even if you are one of the miraculous 5% who maintain their weight loss longer than five years, your whole life will be dedicated to this one task.

Let’s be honest: having to account for every single bite you put in your mouth – whether it is “working” or not – is a fucked up way to live.

So although I was sick and sniffly and kind of miserable, I was really grateful for one thing: I didn’t have to worry about any of the bites. I could give my body the energy it was asking for, no questions asked, no bite-writing required. I’m going to stick with intuitive eating and eating competence because for me, that is eating well and enough and guilt-free. No more ABCs for me.

Dietitians Unplugged podcast – episode 6 available now!

Episode 6 is called “Clean Eating or Toxic Ideas?” and we had so much fun talking about this subject.

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The Fat Fear Factor

Big_Fat_Red_Cat
I’m okay, you’re okay.
I was talking to an acquaintance who doesn’t know what I do (this body acceptance/HAES stuff) for at least some of my time, which is why she said to me, “I’m looking for a 1500 calorie diet –  I saw pictures of myself at my nephew’s wedding and I didn’t like the way I looked. What diet should I do?”

Not being paid to treat her, I dispensed with any sort of motivational interviewing sensibility and pleaded, “Oh Harriet*! Please don’t even bother. Diets are horrible and in the end you just gain even more weight back.” She was interested in that, so we talked for a while about what all the science says and how food-and-calorie restriction just leads to crazy-eating and how in the end, almost no one loses weight forever.

But she kept coming back to one thing: I have to do something, because I’m just too big. Being a short, fat, older lady, she most likely receives confirmation, like all fat people, on a daily basis that she has the wrong body, if from nothing more than the near-total absence of fat bodies presented in every form of media that exists (but also probably from a lot more sources). I totally don’t blame her for getting stuck on this. I had talked about listening to our inner cues of hunger and satiety to regulate our eating, but that it probably wouldn’t make her thin. She concluded with, “I’ll try to listen to my hunger and fullness…but I also just need to have portion control,” which, sadly, is really just another way to say “diet.” And I totally get it, because the way she feels about her weight and needing to do something – yeah, I’ve been there.

So what I want to talk about today is not the massive failure of any sort of intentional weight loss effort, but rather the problem of body unhappiness. Because unless we at least explore the reasons for body dissatisfaction, it can be oh-so-hard to even contemplate achieving a peaceful relationship with food.

Why? Look at the above example. Harriet was interested in listening to her internal hunger and satiety cues (and she had a poignant story about childhood hunger that continues to fuel her need to overeat to this day) but she felt she needed to fix her body size first. She couldn’t get past it. She didn’t feel she had the right to exist happily in her body, no matter what her size. And we talked about the reasons for that too: the expectation of women that we always appear “attractive,” the lack of representation of fat bodies in the media, the weight loss industry who continues to perpetuate the idea that permanent weight loss is possible, the medical community who backs up this idea without acknowledging the overwhelming evidence that says that we don’t need to lose weight to be healthy, and society at large which says we need to lose weight to be happy. Everything that she’d ever heard told her that her fat body was wrong wrong wrong.

I think more than ever, thanks to this rampant fat-fear-mongering, so many of us have come to the conclusion that it’s NOT okay to 1. be in a fat body and 2. be happy with ourselves and our lives in that fat body. This is simply wrong.

So this is what I want you to know: you have the right to be happy in your body no matter what its size. You might be miles away from that, but you need to at least know that this is a possible outcome if you decide to choose it.

Permission is a powerful thing. We’re holding ourselves back from a fully-lived life when we feel we lack permission to be authentically ourselves. Your eating will suffer; your happiness will suffer; and your health will suffer.

Becoming happy in your fat body isn’t a quick trip. But you at the very least need the ticket – permission to be okay with your body – to get on board.

 *Totally not her real name

I’m Hungry…So My Body Must Be Broken

Stomach_diagram_feedme
It’s actually pretty simple.

“I’m so hungry…there must me something wrong with me.”

“I’m so hungry…it makes me want things I shouldn’t eat.”

“I’m so hungry…it’s really sabotaging my weight loss.”

I have heard all of these statements, and variations of them, A LOT. The only one I rarely hear among the general population these days is, “I’m so hungry…I really must eat now.”

We’ve attached an enormous amount of guilt to eating and worse yet, to hunger. We think our hunger is to be distrusted, that there is something wrong with our bodies when we experience hunger, and that we must do everything to thwart our hunger: ignore it, fill it with unsatisfying air food, quench it with copious amounts of water or coffee or tea or zero calorie soda (or worse yet an ungodly “master cleanse” concoction of water, maple syrup, lemon and cayenne pepper. Cocktail of champions.). We see our hunger as a symptom of a broken internal system…and that we would only be thinner if this hunger thing would just go away.

Back in the day, when I started dieting, I thought it was just us fat people ruing our hunger in secret. It probably was people of all sizes but everyone had somehow decided to keep it to themselves. Now that everyone, simply everyone, must share the intimate details of their latest weight loss regimen so they can be deemed good and worthy citizens, we know all about it. And because we know all about it…we think it’s the right thing to do. Everyone is suspicious of their hunger…why aren’t you?

I’ve heard it from fat people trying to lose weight and thin people who are secretly terrified to put on weight…I’m so hungry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Well, as a very smart person once said on the internet, hunger doesn’t lie (Was it you that said this? Please take credit for it in the comments if so!). If you’re hungry, that’s your body telling you one thing: FEED ME!

It’s so basic, so obvious, you’d think we’d understand this. Even if, on an intellectual level, you didn’t know that hunger means “eat,” it kind of tells your body exactly what to do. If you were raised by wolves in the wilderness and never spoke a word of human, and you got hungry, your body would figure out what to do – it would directly you to eat. It would make even the most unappealing foods – raw badger, or whatever wolves eat – totally appealing. And then you’d eat and your life would be go on.

But back in the “civilized” world (where we are generally not being raised by wolves), not only do we instinctively know we should eat, we have all the science at our fingertips to know that hunger means EAT…and yet we resolve to not eat. Yay, civilized world.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that, at least in part, all this started from a collective sense of body dissatisfaction, the idea that our bodies are innately wrong and must be solved (brought to us by the people who have benefited in one way or another from the body insecurity of others). Then came the misinformation that we can not only solve our bodies, but that we should and we must! So if we think our bodies are a problem to be solved, and the solution is possible, and the solution is to eat less, and this means less than we are hungry for, then yes, of course you would learn to see your hunger as the enemy.

And I get it: if you are in one body but feel you should be in another body, you may indeed feel betrayed every time you feel that pang of hunger that tells you to eat just when your diet tells you not to.

But guess what we’ve finally figured out? Our bodies are not something to be solved, and the solution doesn’t even work for very long anyway. Upon starving to lose weight (because simple “lifestyle changes” didn’t accomplish the task), our bodies learn how to use energy more efficiently and store more as fat. They learn how to gain weight on the little we feed them while we are actively ignoring our hunger. You might be able to outrun your hunger indefinitely, but your body will take its revenge down the road, either in the form of weight gain or more intense hunger – take your pick.

To all of those who lament their hunger…your hunger is most likely not malfunctioning*. Your body is not broken. Consider honoring that hunger pang with some food that you love, or that makes you feel good. See what happens. Will you eat until you literally explode? Unlikely. Only the guy in Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” ever did that but that was just mean, fat-shaming fiction.

It’s time to admit that the body has wisdom. The body decides its own weight, not the wishful-thinking part of the brain that is coerced daily by messages that profit from your body dissatisfaction. Make friends with your hunger, learn how to truly honor it, and it won’t lead you astray.

*Yes, there are some diseases and conditions that can cause excessive hunger. Most of us don’t have those diseases, and that’s not who I’m talking about.

Podcast!

Check out the latest Dietitians Unplugged podcast in which we discuss the misconception that intuitive eating is for weight loss.

Is Lean Cuisine Still a Diet Food Company?

dinner is served
Dinner is served.

Reader Nicole Geurin MPH, RD suggested today’s blog topic. She asked what I thought about how Lean Cuisine, long-time makers of low calorie, low fat frozen foods, has been retooling their brand to be less about weight and dieting. This video is one example.

 

I think the video is wonderful, so I checked out Lean Cuisine’s website to see what else they’re doing and they are clearly trying to rebrand themselves away from weight loss. They are even offering a filter for your browser that eliminates the word “diet” from your online searches (though if you don’t just search on the word “diet” that also works quite well). They have eliminated any reference to weight loss on their website, which is a pretty bold change. So for now let’s give Lean Cuisine the benefit of the doubt – they are no longer about dieting or perhaps even weight loss.

They also have a page on which they claim they are devoted to women’s wellness, although how that manifests itself in their products, I’m not really sure, and they aren’t specific. When it comes to food, women’s wellness isn’t all that different from general human wellness. I mean, there’s not some kind of menses milk that I’m aware of, or ovulation menu that we need to follow (Yes, some vitamin and mineral DRIs are slightly different between the sexes. That doesn’t usually translate to radically different diets for men and women). Unless they mean…wait, could it be? Might “women’s wellness” translate to our perceived need to eat less in order to weigh less? Which in some circles, is known as a diet. They’re definitely not saying it, so I don’t want to make any assumptions here. Maybe we just need to take a look at some of their products a little closer to see if they put their money where their (and our) mouths are…

Brief interlude: This is by no means an endorsement, but I actually like the taste of many Lean Cuisine meals. More on that in a minute.

…So I looked at the product list. I’m familiar with the Lean Cuisine products because they take up serious real estate in the supermarket freezer section, where I’m always looking for satisfying, filling, tasty and reasonably priced frozen meals without a ton of sodium in them (fun fact: these don’t exist). Looking at the images of the meals in their boxes on the website, they don’t seem to have changed significantly recently, though they do have a pretty wide selection of different “collections.” On the front of the box, they show a photo of a tasty and seemingly much larger meal than what is in the box, as well as little boxes showing the calories, fat, fiber, protein, sodium and carbohydrates. This information is required by law to be somewhere on the box in the nutrition panel so I’m not sure why it has to be displayed so prominently on the front, too — especially the calories. While it can be useful to know the amounts of certain nutrients in foods, especially for certain diseases, I always think the calorie count is useless and hasn’t done anyone a lick of good. Anyway…

Brief interlude part II: A few years ago when I was experiencing a lot of digestion problems from stress, I found it necessary to eat small, light meals more frequently. I thought Lean Cuisine would be perfect for this, and as I said, I actually found I enjoyed the taste. Lunch would come around and I’d eat one and…it wouldn’t even touch my hunger. So I decided to eat two at the same time in the hope of creating the satisfaction of a full meal. Well, it turns out 2 x 0 = 0, and even two left me craving more within an hour. After three days of that, I was ravenous and ready to eat the world. I had accidentally put myself on a diet eating those suckers!

…But here is the real problem as I see it. I looked at the nutrition facts, and the meals are roughly 250-350 calories, with most meals falling under 300 calories and one as low as 170 calories. Now, you know me, I’m not a dietitian to prescribe specific calorie targets for anyone (although clinical practice is quite different; in this setting we do actually calculate calories, protein and fluid requirements to make sure our patients are meeting their nutrition needs. But back in the not-sick, intuitive eating world…not so much), so if the meals satisfy you, by all means, enjoy them. They don’t satisfy me. Across any population, there is going to be a wide range of appetites. Some women eat less and will find the size and make-up of these meals satisfying; others, like me, need more. So here’s a lesson about women’s health and wellness: we are all a little different, with needs and appetites varying widely from person to person. Why isn’t Lean Cuisine addressing that aspect of our “wellness” by making different sizes of meals?

Brief interlude part III: I just told my significant other that I was writing about Lean Cuisine and their shift away from diet lingo and he said, “So are they finally naming them ‘Not Enough For Me Cuisine?'” Spot on, my dear, spot on. He once liked the grilled sandwiches (and I gotta admit, that microwave-grilling technology is impressive; if only they could use it for good instead of diet) but found that even two were not really enough for him. I know very few men who could tolerate eating so little at one meal, so it seems like they are targeting women after all…

What’s the bottom line, then? Yes, I think it’s wonderful that Lean Cuisine has moved away from diet lingo and has eliminated any reference to weight loss on their site. That’s a win. But for me, they’re still a no-go because they don’t meet my needs, even though I’m a woman and they profess to care about women’s wellness. It’s up to you to decide for yourself if, just because they say they aren’t diet foods, they aren’t diet foods.

For those of us that don’t want to give our hard-earned cash to diet companies this could be complicated. Because if a diet food company changes its branding but not much else, has anything changed at all? Does this represent a genuine move away from the pervasive culture of dieting and weight loss or just another example of co-opting of body positive, non-diet language to sell diet products?

Podcast!

Check out the latest Dietitians Unplugged podcast in which we discuss the misconception that intuitive eating is for weight loss.

Diets Diets Everywhere

Pizza_(22)
Warning: this food not on any of these diets.

It’s the new year and we’re in the midst of a shit storm of diet ads and articles about which celebrity lost XX amount of pounds and how. Oh, and how YOU can do it too!

Googling the word “diet” feels, in the words of one of my friends, like having my soul pelted with bean bags. But I did it for you, my beloved readers, to save you the trouble of having to do it yourself. This is what I found:

There are diets that will make Dr. Oz rich, that will line the pockets of Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig CEOs and shareholders (I’m looking at you, Oprah). There are diets that will help you to “magically” shed pounds with mystery injections (while you simultaneously reduce your intake to less than 1000 calories a day and exercise two hours daily for 8 days a week). There are diets in which you can give up actual food and replace it with powdered “food” that you eat twice a day along with a “sensible” dinner (because everything else you do on this diet is “sensible,” right?). Diets that use the magic of ketones, either in raspberries or…in your body…or maybe both?…to make you lose weight because ketones, y’know?!

Diets that will have you tracking every single calorie, or Point, or fat/carb/protein gram that you put in your mouth, because somehow tracking food will make you less hungry (it won’t). There are diets that advise you to give up major macronutrients, like carbohydrates, in order to “shed” pounds, and which means you’ll never enjoy movie popcorn ever again, or a baguette with brie if you go to Paris. Diets that teach you how to ignore your hunger signals by tricking you into eating tasteless cardboard foods or drinking massive amounts of no-calorie liquid to fill the void.

There are diets that will convince you that you aren’t your truest, most awesome self until you more closely approximate the cultural “ideal” of beauty (you again, Oprah). Diets that tell you that you aren’t worthy of love or attention because you aren’t the thinnest possible version of yourself. Diets insisting that weight is a good barometer for health, even though you could lose weight just eating candy or dirt or styrofoam all day which wouldn’t be very healthy at all (I know at least one person who supplemented her eating disorder with a lot of candy and not much else). Diets that claim they “work” and then, because they are required by law to do so, add in the small print that, really, they don’t (results not typical translated at last).

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of diets out there. And they all claim that they work. But, sort of like that scene in The Social Network where Jessie Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg tells the Winklevii, “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook,” if diets really worked, they would have worked. We’d all be thin because a significant number of people diet each year, and so at least a significant portion of that significant number would have lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for a significant time. But they haven’t, as the science reliably shows again and again. And yet the diet companies continue to NOT have to prove they work, simply because we don’t demand real evidence. Yes, most people can lose at least some weight on any diet. And yes, most people gain that weight back within 3 to 5 years. And yes, the purveyors of diets will blame that failure on their clients.

So I implore you – at least know that you can choose something different this year because you don’t deserve to be tortured. Different how, you ask? Here are my suggestions:

Choose actual health, by deciding to honor your hunger and fullness cues and by choosing foods that feel nourishing to you.

Choose picking foods not for how thin or fit or healthy it makes you but for how much you enjoy it. Choose to expand your palette rather than restrict the kinds of foods you allow yourself to eat.

Choose learning to like and respect your body by rejecting the current cultural beauty ideal and deciding for yourself what you will find beautiful (hint: it should include your own badass* self).

Choose to understand that people come in all shapes and sizes, that body diversity is not only awesome but necessary to the survival of our species and that you will honor whatever size and shape your body decides to be when you’re treating it well.

Choose to move for the sheer joy of it. Not because someone told you to exercise to be healthy or thin because that’s not really any fun.

Choose to reject the dieting mentality that has put so many people on a weight roller coaster and left them hungry and unhealthier – both physically and mentally – than they started out.

Choose life over a fantasy that never seems to come true, because life is what you’ve got right now, and you don’t have forever.

If you need some inspiration for building your non-diet, body lovin’ 2016, check out my Resources  and Blogs I Love pages for some Health at Every Size goodness!

*Young people tell me this is a good thing!

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