The Healthiest (and Leanest) I’ve Been Was When…

A few years ago I had a blog series called ‘Inactivity and Metabolic Health‘. It was an examination of the science of physical activity as treatment for metabolic issues caused by insulin resistance. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity. As far as I’m concerned, that is exercise’s most important effect on the human body. The reason I was interested (and continue to be) in the subject was my own experience – a long history of hormonal and metabolic issues that disappeared when I changed my habit of inactivity and became physically active.

I’ve written about it before, but to review: from my early teens I struggled with a constellation of symptoms that traced back to insulin resistance. Severe cystic acne, weight gain, irregular (and frequently absent) periods, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts, elevated blood pressure as I got older, blood sugar dysregulation and panic attacks, depression, migraines. My doctor told me year after year after year to exercise, and I resisted and resisted. Went so far as to convince myself she was ‘blowing me off’ and just didn’t know what to do. I consulted natural health books and tried things like putting garlic suppositories in my vagina and drinking bentonite clay. Funny thing, those things never worked. I tried fad diet after fad diet, some worked temporarily, but most just made the problems worse.

At 35 (eight years ago), weary from the decades of being battered by the predatory winds of natural health mythology, I decided to finally do what my doctor had been admonishing me to do for so long – start exercising. And the rest is sort of history. It completely changed my life and my health. I lost weight I’d been unable to lose for years. Many of my health issues resolved. My depression and anxiety receded. It was pretty amazing. And flew in the face of the entire diet industry which ties weight and health almost solely to diet, and the fitness industry, which fixates myopically on the aesthetic results of exercise with very little attention to the health benefits (which are much more profound).

As I got more into fitness and began to lift weights, I became aware of the ‘cardio bunny’ meme, and noticed a certain disdain for cardio among the crossfire/strongman/dude bro element of the fitness industry. I read lots of blog posts about how ‘cardio makes you fat’ (hahahahahhhhaaahahhaahahahhhaah, yeah right), and how people who did cardio were all ‘skinny fat’, blah blah blah. If you’ve been around for a while, you are probably aware of the memes I’m talking about.

But I did enjoy cardio, especially the way it made me FEEL, and so I kept doing it even if it meant I would end up the dreaded skinny fat (PS, what the fuck is wrong with being skinny fat? Nothing.)

The more cardio I did, however, not only did I not get fat or even skinny fat, in fact I continued to get leaner. And I continued to get healthier. By 2012 I was training for a half ironman. I was doing as much as 4 hours of cardio a couple times a week. Don’t get me wrong, I was lifting too, but not nearly as much as I was doing cardio. I can look back at the time I was training for the half ironman and see that that was the leanest and healthiest I’ve been in my life. I had tons of energy. My depression was non-existence. My blood tests showed I was off-the-charts healthy. My period was like clockwork. And I was maintaining a body fat percentage of like 15% while eating as much as 4000 calories a day. See for yourself:

160-ish pounds. Training for a half-ironman. 1-4 hours of exercise a day, 4 days a week, including 2 strength trainign sessions a week. 4000+ calories a day.

I. Felt. Fucking. Awesome. I felt like I could take on the world, and win. I didn’t just feel physically awesome, I felt emotionally awesome. Confident. Strong. Outgoing. Optimistic. It was one of the best times of my life.

And so, I talked a lot on my blog about the benefits of exercise, especially for those with predispositions to insulin resistance (like me). Exercise did for me what no dietary intervention had ever been able to – normalize my blood sugar regulation, improve my insulin sensitivity, allow me to eat anything and my body metabolize it just fine and use it for fuel. Exercise made my body work right. And all of this was supported by decade upon decade of credible peer review research showing exercise – specifically cardio – is a primary intervention for metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, there is absolutely NO question of this in the scientific literature.

And when my body was working right, it was able to use the food I ate – WHATEVER food I ate – to build muscle and create energy. Energy I used to go out and live an awesome life. Write prolifically. Make huge waves in the fitness industry. Piss off the fad diet gurus ROYALLY.

Ah, but it was fun.

Things started to fall apart a little about a year and a half ago when my knee arthritis got really bad, bad enough to affect my ability to exercise the way I had been. The first thing to go was running. Then cycling. Then I had to cut down the amount of time I was spending on the elliptical, because it would make my knee swell and ache badly. I had surgery 9 months ago in an effort to increase my range of motion and pain levels. That sidelined me completely for a couple months, and then when I got back to exercising, it was more lifting than cardio. I like lifting, don’t get me wrong. And I’m glad I’ve been able to keep doing it!  but it’s been a long slog through recovery and trying to get back to the amount and intensity of cardio that was so helpful for me. I’m still not there.

And the result has been that in spite of still lifting, I’ve seen my depression came back. BOY did it come back. I’m still really struggling with it, somedays I can’t even get myself out of the house. Recently my cystic acne has cropped back up. I recently had my first migraine in 6 or 7 years. My HDL is creeping downward. My period is no longer like clockwork. And my weight has crept up in spite of reducing my calorie intake (this is due in large part to some meds I’ve been taking, but I have a gut feeling that my weight gain would have been smaller if I’d been able to keep exercising the way I need to exercise). Creep may be an understatement, I gained 25+ pounds in 2015.

A year without the kind of cardio that my body needs has resulted in a lot of my health issues re-emerging.

FUCK.

Cardio, not lifting, completely turned my life around. And the more cardio I got, the better. My friend Sol (from examine.com) did a guest post here a couple years ago addressing head on the ‘cardio makes you fat’ meme. In short, it’s bullshit. Cardio does not make you fat. And if you’re like me and prone to insulin resistance, it may even make you leaner and healthier than lifting alone. The research certainly bears out the value of cardio for metabolic health. Sure, ‘lifting weights faster’ may work for some young healthy people. Heck, it may work for some older healthy people.

For me? Older and predisposed to insulin resistance? I need the cardio. And lots of it. I get my hour a day of heart pumping cardio and I can eat pretty much anything and take it in stride, and THRIVE. Take away my ability and access to that level of cardio and my health deteriorates.

This is important. KEEP THIS IN MIND next time you start judging ‘lazy people’ for not ‘doing what it takes’ to get the exercise they need to be healthy.

Some people simply don’t have access. You know what I had that allowed me to get 1-4 hours of cardio a day? Lots of spare time. A gym membership. Safe spaces to exercise. Money to spend on equipment. Did I mention time? Lots of free time? Oh, and transportation to and from the gym. And different options at that gym. I can swim, well, because I had years of lessons as a child and access to a pool.

Do you know how many people don’t have any those things I just mentioned, let alone all of them? At times, I fell into thinking ‘if I can do it, anyone can’. But, not everyone can. Many, MANY people can’t, whether it be because they don’t have access to a gym, a safe space to exercise, money for equipment, or the ability to swim (or one of any number of other privileges that makes exercise a luxury).

For many people, exercise isn’t a matter of ‘priorities’. They are not ‘making excuses’. They simply do not have access.

Let me tell you about how things are for me now. I am semi-disabled. There are a lot of physical things I can’t do. Yet, at least. My knee is healing very slowly. And, I am depressed. There are days I can’t make it out of my house. This isn’t a matter of not being motivated. This is a real medical condition. I know that getting more active will help with the depression, but sometimes the depression is so bad it keeps me from being active. And when I CAN be active, I am not strong enough yet to exercise as long and as intensely as I could when things were going so well for me physically.

I have lost several of the privileges I enjoyed 3-4 years ago that gave me the option of getting the exercise I needed to thrive. I will probably get them back – and I still have several other privileges that increase my likelihood of getting them back. I still have the gym membership. I still have transportation. I still have a safe space to exercise. I still have enough money to afford equipment. As my knee (and head) heals, I’ll be able to continue building my activity back up.

But there are many people out there that are far more trapped than I am. Who may not have ANY of the privileges I enjoy. People for whom the fight to be active isn’t currently winnable. Judging those people as lazy and unmotivated isn’t fair. The answer isn’t to judge and ridicule them. It is to create safe spaces. Make facilities accessible. Provide reliable transportation. Provide fair and equal medical treatment (I will be writing about this in the near future). Taking mental illness seriously. No, it’s not laziness or lack of motivation. Depression is REAL, and debilitating. Mental illness deserves compassion and treatment. NOT ridicule. And that’s just the invisible disability. Many people are visibly disabled, and they need access to safe fitness options as well.

Why? Because fitness isn’t about APPEARANCE. It’s about health. It’s about quality of life. It’s about saving our country billions of dollars in medical costs. It’s about guaranteeing everyone the same quality of medical care, fitness accessibility and compassion.

We need to do a couple things.

  1. Reframe fitness from ‘aesthetics’ to health.
  2. Improve accessibility. The Y is on the frontline of this massive endeavor, and has been for decades. Look into what your local Y is doing in your community. Volunteer, donate.
  3. Stop judging and ridiculing people for not exercising (if you do). You don’t know what barriers they may have, and just because YOU have been able to overcome barriers doesn’t mean everyone has the same barriers and abilities to overcome them. Welcome people of all shapes and sizes and colors and ages and abilities to your gym. Fitness can and should be for everyone. Not just the already fit and able.
  4. Stop spreading the elitist and misguided meme that cardio makes you fat. It can be LIFESAVING for people with insulin resistance. It can also be more accessible than lifting for many people without access to a gym and equipment. And it doesn’t need to be an either/or question either – both are beneficial and it’s perfectly fine to combine them. And EVEN IF CARDIO DID MAKE YOU FAT, there are worse things to be than fat. Like, an elitist asshole.
  5. Stop, also, spreading the myth that exercise is for aesthetics and isn’t important for health. IT IS VITAL for health. VITAL. An exercising body doesn’t need fad diets. An exercising body can metabolize carbs and fat and protein and use it all for fuel. People with medical conditions may need special diets, but those diets should be prescribed and administered by medical professionals, not diet books and internet gurus. Fad diets serve NO ONE, except the bank account of the fad diet book authors. They are also generally quite elitist, time consuming and rely on expensive, and hard to find foods that most people simply don’t have access to. OR NEED.

Cardio is awesome (especially for people with a predisposition to insulin resistance). Lifting is awesome too. Fad diets SUCK and no one should be using them. People with medical conditions that require dietary intervention need to work with a medical professional to administer that dietary intervention. Fad diets offer false and misleading hope that all our problems can be solved with diet. NOPE. The research suggests that if there is anything close to a magic pill, it is EXERCISE. Not magic diets.

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I mentioned that it was the habit of inactivity that kept me from improving my health. In order to make long-term changes, I needed to change my habits to support regular and sufficient exercise. I did it by focusing on making one small change at a time, and practicing those changes consistently over time. It worked. It worked so well that it’s the approach I take with my coaching clients. And it’s the foundation of the group coaching program I created with my coaching partner Sean Flanagan (The Habit Project™). We’ll be enrolling our next session of the Habit Project on April 5th. If you’re interested in learning more about this approach to behavior change that we’ve seen work for hundreds of clients over the years, get on our pre-enrollment list here. Only people on the list will be getting the invitation to enroll in the program! Putting your name on the list does NOT obligate you to join the program.

 

 

Want to get started making new healthy habits? (here’s a free habit from the Habit Project)

On Tuesday, Sean Flanagan and I will be enrolling the next group of the Habit Project On-Ramp.

We know that the approach we use is in such a stark contrast to the rest of the fitness industry, that it’s tough to be an outsider looking in and imagine what it’s like to go through.

But while you need to experience focused community support, and autonomy-focused coaching, to know what those are like, there is one aspect we can easily give you an inside look at…and that’s the habit building approach itself.

For this next On-Ramp group, we’ll be using a different habit sequence than with previous groups.  

And while we have had a great results starting groups off with the “Record What You Eat Without Judgment” habit, we had to make the tough decision and remove it to make room for the other habits we want to walk you through.

However, there’s no reason you can’t do this one without us.  🙂  

This pseudo habit (“pseudo” because it’s only intended for you to do it temporarily) is a great way to supercharge your awareness of your current eating patterns (without unnecessary negative self-talk), and use it to practice the art of habit personalization (and re-personalization) as you get some initial momentum.

If you end up joining the On-Ramp, this will help give you a running start for your future habits and will directly lay a foundation that can help you with the first habit we’ll do as a group. And if you don’t join us this time around, this habit will give you some insight into what’s going on on your plate, so to speak!

The Habit:  Record What You Eat Without Judgment

“Why Do I Want to do This Habit?”

Getting a really good picture of what you’re eating now, and what your eating patterns are like day to day is going to be a great starting place for your habit change process. The most important step in change is to create awareness.  If we can get an honest look at what “Point A” is, we can be more realistic with what we’re aiming for when we try to define “Point B” for a given habit.

As crazy as it sounds, at this point we don’t want you to work at changing your diet.  You’re not trying to get the “perfect” balance of carbs, protein, and fats; or hit a certain target with your fruits or vegetables; or even trying to keep your number of treats low.

You might be tempted to make drastic changes – but here is a good opportunity to practice the courage it takes to make slow changes.  Drastic changes are easy – do something big all at once and crash and burn.  Instead, you need to sharpen your commitment to realistic change.

The goal with this habit is creating awareness without judgment.   The goal is not to say to yourself “this is what I ate today. I’m such a bad person for eating all this junk”; the goal is to simply say “this is what I ate today”.

“How Can I Make This Habit Easy?”

You might want to track only specific meals (just breakfasts, lunches, or dinners) or only one component of your diet such as treat foods, vegetables, or protein.  The more you can track this week, the better for your potential at getting really great insights.

There are two apps that seem to have been the biggest hits with Habit Project members.  The first is YouFood (formerly known as TwoGrand), which helps you to journal with photos and notes.  The second is Recovery Record, which was created for patients with eating disorders and also is great for this habit as it allows for detailed journaling but from an awareness perspective rather than a good foods vs bad foods or calorie perspective.

You’re welcome to use a tracking app that has calorie counting such as MyFitnessPal, but be careful that you don’t end up turning this into an “Aim for a Specific Calorie Count Every Day” habit.  Calorie counting itself isn’t always helpful for the habit creation process we’re embarking on and for some people can even get in the way.

This is very important: Whatever you pick, it should be as easy as brushing your teeth. You start the process of habit change by choosing a behavior you know you can succeed at. And then, when that behavior is a habit, you add something slightly more challenging. And so on, and so forth. This way, the process never becomes overwhelming.

“When Am I Going to do The Habit?”

You should plan to do the recording right after a habit you do already. So if you are going to track what you eat during dinner, finishing your dinner might be a good trigger to remind you to track what you just ate.

If you’re doing this habit with pictures as with using YouFood, you’ll want to take a picture when you’re about to start eating (and maybe for what remains as well, depending how you want to roll with it).

If you can’t for whatever reason record what you eat at the mealtime, my suggestion would be to choose a habit trigger that is as close to your mealtime as possible.  For example, if you have a meeting every day after lunch, you’d use the end of the meeting to do your recording.  You may also want to send a reminder on your phone.

Personalizing This Habit:

Once you know what the habit goal is, you personalize it to your specific schedule, skill level and personal tastes. Here’s your template for personalizing this habit:

“I am 90-100% confident that I will record what I eat without judgment by [insert how] after I [insert the thing that reminds you here] every day for the next 14 days.”

Here’s an example:

“I am 90-100% confident that I will record what I eat by writing down what I eat at dinner in my journal after I am done eating dinner every day for the next 14 days.”

If you come up with a version of this habit where you’re less than 90% confident, you’re almost there!  Now you just need to identify the part that is giving you less confidence and either remove that from the habit or figure out a way to increase your chances of success with it.

Every day for the next week, I’ll make a post on my facebook page to follow up on this blog post. Join me there to let us know how you’re doing (and what you’re learning) from this habit. I think it’ll be fun community building!

If you can learn how to increase your awareness without engaging in negative self-talk about your eating, that will be a very valuable skill that can serve you for moving towards your goals.

Every day for the next week, I’ll make a post on my facebook page to follow up on this blog post. Join me there to let us know how you’re doing (and what you’re learning) from this habit. I think it’ll be fun community building!

If you want to get coaching and community support on the 8 habits in the Habit Project On-Ramp, Click HERE.  Enrollment for the April group will open on Tuesday April 5th and this time around, we ONLY plan on announcing enrollment to those who are on the VIP notification list.

Here’s that link again:  http://seanflanaganwellness.com/comingsoon2

-Amber
P.S. Got questions about the On-Ramp?  Email Sean: Sean (at) SeanFlanaganWellness.com

What it Means to Take Up Space

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.41.43 AMTaking up Space means recognizing your right to exist, have opinions, speak without apologizing, pursue your own goals, and have a body. Any kind of body. A body you don’t apologize for. A body you don’t feel ashamed of. A body you get to dress and decorate and shape and display and use exactly the way YOU want to.

That’s it. You can stop reading now.

But, if you’re still reading, Taking up Space means YOU get to choose. You get to choose what to eat. You get to choose how (and if) to exercise. You get to choose who to love. You get to choose who to have sex with. You get to choose how big or small to be. You get to choose what to think. You get to choose what to say. You get to choose what to wear. You get to choose how to behave. You get to choose. You get to choose. You get to choose.

This may all seem obvious, on the surface. But from day one we are inundated with messages about the appropriate way to exist. The appropriate way to have a body. The appropriate things to do with our bodies. The appropriate way to behave. The appropriate way to love. The appropriate people to have sex with. The appropriate amount to eat. The appropriate THINGS to eat. The appropriate amount to weigh. The appropriate way to feel. The appropriate way to speak. The appropriate opinions to have.

And those messages become so deeply ingrained that we don’t realize they are messages from outside. We don’t recognize that they are cultural demands that we are expected to bow to. We just accept them as The Way Things Are. The Way WE Are.

Taking up Space is the gradual recognition of the way we’ve been conditioned. The gradual discovery of our own voice, our own opinions, our own preferences for our bodies. And then the expression of those things. The defiant acceptance of our natural healthy bodies as perfectly NORMAL. The rejection of the expectation of culture that we change ourselves to conform to it’s demands. It’s not just about our bodies, although our bodies are the most outwardly visible manifestation of Taking Up Space. We stop trying to shrink into nothingness in the physical world. We allow our bodies to be the size of strength, and health, and power.

But we also raise our voices to fill a room. We remain confident in our choices even when others try to undermine us. We cultivate within ourselves the strength and resilience to meet and conquer challenges and doubt. We decide what is right for ourselves. We decide. We decide. We decide.

Call it the patriarchy. Call it the suffocating weight of cultural expectation. Call it the overbearing voices of shame. Whatever it is that is holding you back: Taking Up Space means recognizing it. Taking Up Space means rejecting it. Taking Up Space means replacing it. Taking up Space means overthrowing it. Taking Up Space means becoming wholly YOU. Choosing. Deciding. Acting in ways that honor YOUR goals and preferences and opinions.

And that is what Taking Up Space, The Coaching Program is here for. To teach you how to recognize what isn’t working. To reject the expectations of others. To replace them with your own goals and preferences. And to cultivate the internal resilience and strength to keep doing it even when the dirty rotten fingers of doubt and discouragement start to creep in.

Taking Up Space isn’t a diet program or exercise routine. Those things are a dime a dozen all over the internet. It’s something BETTER. It will give you the tools to change the behaviors holding you back from your goals. It will build your self-reliance and self-confidence, so that you’ll know when something isn’t serving you or supporting your goals. It’ll give you the perspective to spot people and programs that are designed to keep you spinning your wheels. It’ll teach you why true, lasting change only happens when it comes from a place of self-love, not self-loathing.

Taking Up Space teaches you how to be a badass. And once you know that, nothing can stop you.

Taking Up Space: Three Years Later

Amber_Rogers_Cover2Three years ago when I wrote my eBook “Taking Up Space: a Guide to Escaping the Diet Maze”, I had an idea that I’d like to ultimately create a coaching program to go along with it. “Taking Up Space” isn’t a diet book or exercise program, it’s actually much more than that. It’s the story of all of us – the story of how we’ve been conditioned to make our lives small, to keep our goals and dreams within the confines of our bodies, to expect perfection from ourselves and then punish ourselves most cruelly when we fail to live up to those expectations. to prioritize looking good over being good or doing good or creating good.

The coaching program I envisioned to accompany my book wasn’t a nutrition or exercise coaching program. It would focus on the thought processes that keep us spinning our wheels in the endless pursuit of smaller. It would create a support system for establishing new ways of thinking and communicating and moving through life.

But instead of creating that coaching program, I ended up creating Eating the Food, my Facebook group. Now, don’t get me wrong, ETF is awesome, and I’m SUPER proud and honored to have been the one who started it. And, it took off and grew and evolved in ways I NEVER imagined it would. I’m so grateful and honored to have been supported by my moderator team and the community in creating the living, breathing, vibrant force that it has become!

ETF took all my emotional and mental energy for the last few years. And I don’t regret any of it. Bt what it meant was that that coaching program I’d wanted to create kind of got pushed to the side, where it waited patiently, waving hello from time to time, imploring me not to forget it – but not getting the attention it needed to become a real live thing.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 4.36.22 PMA few months ago I approached Sean, my coaching partner over at The Habit Project™, with the concept of a new kind of Habit Project, one devoted to body image rather than nutrition and exercise habits. It took a lot of hashing out and rehashing, but as we zeroed in on a way to make it work, it kind of became clear that what we were talking about creating WAS the Taking Up Space coaching program I’d envisioned all those years ago.

And, over the last few weeks as a confluence of unrelated and unplanned events have resulted in me handing the reins of leadership of ETF over to my moderator team, my ability to really devote my time and energy into this program has blossomed.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 4.35.24 PMThe time is finally right. That coaching program I wanted to build to support Taking uUp Space is being born, at long last.

This program is designed to address, and change, the psychological and emotional barriers to success that keep SO many of us from being able to effectively reach our goals (whether they are weight or fitness related, or something completely unrelated). It’s not a diet program. It’s not a fitness program. It’s a finding-your-voice program. It’s a claiming-your-space program. It’s an owning-your-power program. It what’s MISSING from the diet and fitness industry. It’s the work so many of us need to do before we can even start to THINK about losing weight or getting in shape. It’s the program that will teach you how to find, within yourself, the power to overcome the barriers and obstacles that have held you back your whole life.

It’s Step One. And the entire industry, our entire culture in fact, has been operating as if we can all simply jump straight to Step Two and begin kicking ass. And it’s pretty clear that that is not the case.

So. Watch this space over the next few days as we roll this new program out. I think it’s going to be big. I think it’s going to change everything. I think it’s what we’ve all been waiting for all along. I think the time is finally right, and the program is finally here.

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Imagine, If You Will…

Imagine, if you will…

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 10.19.35 AMA person. A person who is afraid of food. A person who has eliminated multiple foods and food groups from their diet because they believe those foods are ‘toxic’ or unhealthy or fattening. A person who spends a tremendous amount of their day worrying about food and eating. A person who agonizes over their weight every moment of every day. A person who’s primary focus in their life is making their body smaller and smaller. A person who collects recipes but never prepares them because they are too high calorie, or contain foods they’ve forbidden themselves from eating. A person who starves themselves for days on end, and then binges uncontrollably when their willpower finally fails. And who then heaps shame and punishment upon themselves for being so weak, and goes back to eating as little as possible. A person who collects and reads diet books, and jumps from diet to diet in search of the one that will finally give them the perfect body. A person who exercises to extremes, and injures themselves repeatedly because of it. A person who believes their value as a person hinges upon the size and shape of their body, and who goes to extremes in the pursuit of perfection, always falling short, and believing they are worthless as a result.

Imagine that person now.

That person has disordered eating. Maybe even a full blown eating disorder.

And, if that person you imagined is thin, it would be obvious that they need treatment for their disordered eating.

But. If that person you imagined was fat? What if that person is fat? If that person is fat, then most people, including most health professionals, would dismiss all the signs of disordered eating, and fixate on the person’s weight. That person may be judged as being weak, or lacking willpower. That person may be told they’re just not trying hard enough. That person would maybe be put on another diet by their doctor. That person may consider themselves a failure at weight loss.

We treat thin people and fat people differently. And nowhere is it more obvious than by the way we treat them when they exhibit disordered eating. A thin person is afforded compassion, and prescribed treatment. The fat person is shamed and prescribed another diet.

This has to end.

Disordered eating can affect ANYONE, any size, any age, any gender. We MUST stop treating some of them and shaming others. They ALL need and deserve compassion, and appropriate treatment for their disordered eating.

A diet is not an appropriate treatment for disordered eating.

Eating Disorder Resources:

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eating_disorder_treatment.htm
http://www.something-fishy.org/treatmentfinder/

Check out my ebook ‘Taking Up Space: A Guide to Escaping the Diet Maze’.

 

So This is Obesity, Huh?

One of the reasons I’ve been laying low lately is that I just haven’t been well. My health (mental AND physical) started deteriorating about a year and a half ago. I had a surgery, I’ve been on several different weight-gain inducing pain medications and my capacity for exercise has deteriorated significantly.

I tried to power through for a long time, knowing that I am a role-model for my kids, and that many people ‘out there’ expected me to maintain a certain level (and look) of fitness. But recently I realized I need to take my own medicine and back-the-fuck-off of pushing myself so hard when my body is demanding rest and recovery time.

I wanted to post this now because I’m at a weight I doubt I will stay at, and I wanted to use it to make the point (again) that BMI is a God-awful measure of a person’s health status, and that when people imagine what overweight and obesity look like, they aren’t always right. What do YOU imagine an obese person looks like? I doubt you imagine this:

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According to BMI, I am obese now.

I’ve gained roughly 25 pounds over the last year and a half. My ‘Sanity Setpoint’ weight is 170-175 pounds (which is itself overweight). I am now, depending on the time of day and where I am in my menstrual cycle, 195-205 pounds. I say I doubt I will stay here because I am successfully reducing the number and amount of medications I’m using, and my capacity for exercise is slowly, slowly increasing. But my current weight, at my height of 5’9, puts my BMI right at 30, the point where ‘overweight’ ends, and ‘obesity’ begins.

I am obese! Huzzah!

Up until the last year, I’d been successfully maintaining my Sanity Setpoint weight for several years. It was a weight I could maintain without having to engage in any extreme measures. A reasonable amount of exercise, a reasonable level of calorie intake, and a balanced, varied diet that included both foods I eat for nutrition and foods I eat purely for pleasure. I don’t doubt that as I slowly work back to those behaviors and continue to reduce the medications that have affected my weight, my weight will trend downward and I’ll eventually get back there, or close. But hell, if I stay where I am, I don’t think it would be the end of the world.

The reason I wanted to share this image and this post is that I want to provide perspective for all the people out there agonizing about the obesity epidemic, BMI numbers and the number on the scale. See that picture up there? That’s what obesity can look like when the obese person is active and eats a relatively healthy diet. In spite of my pain, arthritis and surgery, all my health markers are excellent. My pain is affecting my health, but my weight isn’t.

I’m going to continue to call on healthcare providers and the general public to shift their focus away from the number on the scale, and toward BEHAVIOR. Balanced, healthy habits will contribute heavily to health outcomes, regardless of what the number on the scale is. It’s clear that our cultural fixation on numbers hasn’t resulted in improvements (and in fact is probably making the problem worse). I’m calling for a complete paradigm shift. Screw the numbers. Work on the habits. And we’ll begin to see progress.

3 Characteristics of a Healthy Body Positive Group Coaching Program

Untitled drawing-12I’m happily back home after a weekend presenting at the Body Positive Fitness Alliance Affiliated Professionals Workshop, and I want to share with you guys some of the characteristics of healthy coaching programs. I don’t mean just programs that deliver health, but also programs that ARE healthy, programs that will support not only the clients who participate in them but also that will remain strong and viable themselves. This was really the focus of the weekend – how not only to build a program that will support the mental and physical health of the client, but also that will continue to grow and evolve in a healthy and sustainable way.

I shared more than 3 characteristics at the workshop (and you’ll have to take the next one to learn the other characteristics, heh), but I felt like these three were a great place to start for anyone looking for a good program to participate in, or trying to build a program that will serve their clients in the healthiest way.

Number 1: Evidence, evidence, evidence

Or, as I more affectionately refer to it, EVIDENCE OR GTFO. Why is evidence so important? For a couple different reasons:

  • clients deserve recommendations that we know work, not recommends based on the coach’s ego. The coach’s recommendations should be sound, tested, and evidence-based. When a coach diverges from the evidence and starts creating programming based on their own opinions and preferences, they are putting their clients’ health at risk, all because they believe they know better than all the scientists and doctors and physiologists who establish science-based recommendations. Don’t hire the coach who thinks they know better than the entire scientific community. Don’t BE the coach who thinks they know better than the entire scientific community.
  • when pseudoscience and woo are allowed to take root in a group, they create confusion and chaos, and ultimately undermine the credibility of the coach. The coach can begin to prevent this by creating evidence-based programming – but there is more to it than that. Pseudoscience (much like a virus) can be introduced to a group by group members. If the coach hasn’t created a culture within the group that challenges baseless claims, that pseudoscience-virus can fester and spread among the group members. The coach can ‘immunize’ the group against pseudoscience by teaching their clients how to spot bad science and logical fallacies. The best way for a coach to keep their coaching groups healthy is to promote (and teach, if necessary) critical thinking within the group.

If the words ‘critical thinking’ and ‘evidence based’ feel clinical and cold to you, it’s time to re-frame. You’re not alone, by the way – lots of people have a hard time reconciling the concepts of warm and fuzzy body-positivity with science-based terminology. But body positivity IS evidence-based! The research continues to show that empowering and supporting people is the best way to encourage long-term positive behavior change. Evidence and body positivity go hand in hand. To be evidence based, a program must be body positive. To be body positive, a program must be evidence based.

Number 2. All bodies are good bodies.

We talk about this one a lot. Because we get a lot of pushback from popular culture for it. Many people, people still stuck in Diet Culture, people who’ve invested their time and emotions in Fit 1.0, think ‘All Bodies Are Good Bodies’ means that we all just give up on self improvement. That we stop trying to get better at things, that we stop practicing behaviors that improve our health.

It means exactly the opposite, though. It means: YOUR body is awesome and worthy of self care. No matter what your body looks like or can do, it is worthy of self-care. You are valuable, your body is valuable, and it’s worth caring for in the best possible way, and we are here to meet you exactly where you are and help you pursue YOUR goals for YOUR body.

All Bodies Are Good Bodies means we work on our self talk, AND WE ALSO work on the things we say about OTHER bodies. We are kind and compassionate when we talk about and to ourselves, and we are also kind and compassionate when we talk about other people’s bodies. Celebrating one body doesn’t mean denigrating another. We can all be awesome. ALL bodies are awesome. And worthy of care.

A coach can foster a culture of compassion toward all bodies by modeling self care for themselves. And by teaching clients to treat themselves with respect and compassion. They can also foster that culture by not making derisive comments about celebrity bodies, or bodybuilder bodies, or skinny bodies, etc. And they can address those kinds of comments when they’re made by clients as well. A group culture in which all bodies are respected will help everyone in that group feel respected and supported in striving for their goals while ALSO appreciating their bodies for what they can do today.

Number 3: Eyes on your own plate.

“I would never eat that.” “That’s a lot of food!” ” What did you eat to lose weight?” “People who eat [insert any food] don’t care about their health.”

We here in western culture LOVE to judge the food choices of other people. We love to tell people what we eat and why it makes us superior. We love to look down our noses at people who eat things we believe are unhealthy. We love to make sweeping judgements about people based on their food choices. We love to endeavor to eat in ways that we believe signify that we are smart, healthy and more informed than others.

We are obnoxious.

If I’ve learned anything from running an online coaching community, it’s that when people start talking about what they eat and don’t eat, things go to hell quickly. People either forget or don’t know how important context is, that people make food choices for perfectly valid reasons that may not be obvious to other people.

The best way to keep a coaching community from devolving into shame and judgement about food is to simply make the topic off limits. “Eyes on your own plate” is actually a formal rule in all my groups. Group members worry about their own food and no one else’s. And each group member can feel safe from the judgements of others, because there is an expectation that each member will focus on their own diet and no one else’s.

“What you eat is your business and no one else’s” is a common refrain in my groups, and the result is a safe place for members to give and seek support without fear of being judged or told they’re “Doing it Wrong™”.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug my own coaching group program here. Habit-Based coaching has become very trendy lately, but I’ve been doing habit-based coaching longer than just about anyone in the business. I was writing about habits before it became a ‘thing’, and in fact some of the people who used to ridicule my approach are now copying it! If you’re looking for a sound, experienced coaching program that embodies the characteristics I’ve talked about here, you can’t do much better than The Habit Project, my joint venture with Sean Flanagan (bonus, we’re running a sale right now!).

If you’re a coach who’s interested in creating the kind of program I’ve talked about here, join us over at the Body Positive Fitness Alliance and attend one of our future workshops. In the future, ALL fitness coaching will be body positive, and you can help us get there (and get a jump on the competition) by getting involved now!

 

Body Positive Fitness Isn’t Always Rainbows and Unicorns

Untitled drawing-11I think one of the things people are frequently surprised by when they join my Facebook group is that we don’t always tell people what they want to hear. Nor are we unquestioning cheerleaders. This throws people for a loop if they’ve joined under the impression that “Body Positive Fitness” means perpetual cheerfulness and consummate harmony.

I think that general Body Positive culture, and the size acceptance movement (both of which I support) DO tend to be those things, so when one of my coaches calls someone out on their self-destructive or manipulative behavior, things can get uncomfortable.

Body Positive Fitness isn’t always comfortable. Body Positive Fitness is, at it’s core, about respect. Respecting ourselves, and respecting others. And where there is respect, there are boundaries. Run up against those boundaries, and you should expect things to get uncomfortable.

In my last post, I spoke to fitness professionals. This post is for clients. It’s for the people who are curious about this new approach to fitness but not quite sure what it’s all about. This is what you can expect, from the movement and from the Professionals driving it.

Respect For The Client

We, the fitness professionals representing Body Positive Fitness, will treat you with respect. We will respect you as a person, we will respect you as a grown adult, and we will respect your body regardless of it’s size, shape, ability, color, age or gender.

We will respect you as a person. This means we will spend time learning about your goals and limitations. We will create programs for you based on those goals and limitations, as well as your personal preferences, time constraints, and available resources. We won’t dismiss your circumstances by assuming we know what you want to look like or be able to perform. Your program will be what works best for YOU, in your circumstances, and with considerations for your limitations.

We will respect you as a grown adult. Essentially, this means we will be honest with you. Sometimes, being honest with you means telling you that your behavior is self destructive. Sometimes it means telling you that you’ve been given bad information by someone else (Fit 1.0), and it’s keeping you from being successful in your goals. Sometimes it even means telling you that the actions you’re taking will hinder your progress toward your goal. But none of these things means you are a bad person. All of these things happen to EVERYONE, and it’s our job to help you identify barriers to success, and overcome them. When those barriers are coming from yourself, it can be hard to hear. We know that. So we do our best to present compassionate honesty. Being honest with you, even when it’s hard to hear, is one way we respect you. Being dishonest is disrespectful, even when it’s the easier thing to do. Respecting you as a grown adult means we treat you like one. We tell you the truth. We are honest. Because that is how grown adults treat each other.

We will respect your body. Respecting your body means we support you in creating habits that will help you reach your goals. If we recognize that your habits are hindering your progress toward the goal you’ve identified, respecting your body means we will let you know. If increasing your daily step count is one of your stated goals, and we recognize that you’re passing up opportunities to work more walking into your day, respecting your body means we’ll discuss it with you. Compassionately. It also means that if we recognize that you may be struggling with disordered thinking about food or your body, we will talk to you about it and refer you to an appropriate professional. Sometimes this can be a very uncomfortable conversation for both of us – but respecting your body means we place your health ahead of our own comfort.

On the other hand, we will NOT project our own assumptions about what your goals should be on to you. For instance, if you haven’t identified weight loss as a goal, we won’t give you advice on creating a calorie deficit. And if one of us slips up and does something like that, please speak up. Your own goals are what we are here to support. Not our own projected goals.

Respecting Each Other

I mentioned boundaries above. Most Body Positive Fitness interactions will happen in group environments. Creating a culture of respect for each other often means that BPF professionals will have to create firm boundaries that clients will be expected to respect. Respecting those boundaries is a way the clients can support each other. It may not always be easy – sometimes one person in a group may have to compromise their own preferences because they don’t work for the group as a whole. But respecting boundaries is the way we show respect for each other in group settings.

One example of this is the rule in my Facebook group that if a person makes a health claim, they are expected to provide evidence to support it (read my last post about why Body Positive Fitness MUST remain evidence-based). Ultimately, this rule (i.e., boundary) is there to prevent pseudoscience from taking root and spreading within the group. Sometimes an individual will run up against this boundary, make a claim, and not have evidence to support it. That individual may feel they are being treated unfairly by being required to provide evidence – but the rule is there to respect the group as a whole. In this case, an individual has to either compromise (not make the claim), or decide the group isn’t the right place for them. They won’t be able to disrespect the other people in the group by making unsupported claims. Even though that one person may feel like the group isn’t ‘positive and supportive’ to them specifically, in the end, the boundaries and rules are there to respect and support the group as a whole. All the other people in the group, who matter every bit as much as the person in question, will recognize that the group’s boundaries are there to protect them.

Body Positive Fitness group interactions require boundaries, and those boundaries must be designed to respect and protect the cohesiveness and safety of the group as a whole. Individuals within the group can show respect for each other by respecting the group’s boundaries and rules. Sometimes those boundaries might make an individual within the group feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make the boundaries ‘negative’ or ‘unsupportive’. That individual might see them that way (as sometimes happens in my Facebook group), but people who can’t see that respecting a group’s boundaries is in itself body positive simply aren’t ready for Body Positive Fitness.

One way coaches can affirm the group’s boundaries is by calling out manipulative behavior when it arises. This takes some wisdom and skill, and the ability to first recognize manipulative behavior (which is why critical thinking skills are SO important to Body Positive Fitness coaches). Again, this can be uncomfortable for the entire group, but in the end, addressing and challenging manipulative behavior will help everyone in the group learn to recognize the way they, and others, can sabotage their progress. Calling out manipulative behavior in the group ultimately supports every individual’s personal journey. It is a vital skill for Body Positive Fitness Professionals, and is there to support the clients’ goals.

Body Positive Fitness will have uncomfortable moments. This is one thing that sets it apart from more general body positive culture. We expect those uncomfortable moments, and approach them with respect, as adults.

If Body Positive Fitness were rainbows and unicorns all the time, we’d miss opportunities to recognize and overcome barriers to success. We’d lose clients and coaches to the chaos of boundary-less classes and programs. We’d allow people to continue on in self-destructive behavior patterns without understanding why they can’t seem to make progress.

Respect means telling the truth, with compassion. Respect means creating boundaries, and respecting them! Respect means saying things that are hard to say, and sometimes harder to hear. These things are the way we show we respect each other, and respect is the foundation of Body Positive Fitness.

 

 

 

 

Why Body Positive Fitness MUST Be Evidence Based

Untitled drawing-9The Body Positive Fitness movement is growing. More and more fitness professionals are realizing the value of this approach to coaching, and more and more individuals are being drawn into fitness for the first time by this brand new way of approaching fitness and health. The focus on quality of life rather than appearance is changing the climate of the fitness industry, and it is exciting!

There’s something really important I have to say about it though.

 

We MUST leave the pseudoscience and woo behind. That bullshit has to stay with the old fitness industry. The Body Positive Fitness industry we’re building needs to be evidence based, and STAY evidence based.

What pseudoscience do you mean, Amber you may ask? There is so much. Oh my god, so much. I can’t list everything, so I’ll share some of the most egregious examples. Fake diseases like adrenal fatigue, candida overgrowth, “broken metabolism”, and leaky gut. Most supplements. All MLM products. Fad diets. So. Many. Fad. Diets.

WHY do we need to leave the pseudoscience behind? Don’t some people like it? Doesn’t it work sometimes, even if it’s not supported by science? Placebo is powerful after all! What’s the harm, Amber? 

The HARM is that when we use these non-evidence based products, diets and practices on our clients, we are essentially experimenting on them.

And experimenting on our clients is disrespectful. Come on people! Stop experimenting on your clients!

RESPECT for the bodies of our clients is the core value of Body Positive Fitness. We put that respect into action by grounding our coaching in proven, established, evidence-based practices. We do NOT subject our clients’ bodies to unproven techniques and fantasy-based diets. I mean, best case scenario, nothing will happen. Your client spends a lot of their money on magical pills and potions and nothing happens. Worst case scenario, though, is that you hurt or even kill someone by making unproven, fantasy-based recommendations.

Do you know what drives the use of unproven techniques and fantasy based diets? Ego. The ego of a coach who thinks they know more than the kinesiologists, doctors, dietitians  and scientists who develop standards of practice and nutritional guidelines. The opposite of evidence-based coaching is EGO-driven coaching. I see it all around me, douche-bros who belittle women for having the wrong kind of body, coaches who use crystals and herbs to treat their clients’ adrenal fatigue, gurus who tell their fans that they got their abs from isagenix (and not the combination of genetics and calorie restriction that is reality), trainers promoting paleo or low carb or vegan diets…EGO. These coaches are basing their recommendations on EGO. Not evidence.

Sometimes a person will come to my page or group with some beliefs they’ve gotten from a coach or trainer – beliefs that are inaccurate. That carbs are evil for instance, or that paleo is the ideal human diet, or that they have adrenal fatigue, or that they need to buy shakeology to succeed, etc. And they sort of look foolish to the people in the group, because they believe the bullshit they are spouting. But it’s not really their fault. Someone they looked up to, someone they PAID, taught them bullshit. Someone they trusted with their health taught them bullshit. THAT is what Body Positive Fitness MUST LEAVE BEHIND.

People trust us with their health. We can’t teach them bullshit. We can’t make them look foolish. Let ‘professionals’ from the OLD fitness industry do that to their clients. Not us. No.

Body Positive Fitness Professionals need to stick to evidence-based practices. It is the way we put Body Positivity into practice. We respect our clients’ bodies by not subjecting them to unproven methodology. We respect our clients’ bodies by basing our coaching practices on evidence, not our egos. We respect out clients’ bodies by not gambling their health on something that might or might not be true, by not experimenting on them with new fad diets and supplements.

Join the revolution. Leave the bullshit behind. Whether you are a fitness professional or an individual getting active for the first time, there is a place for you in the Body Positive Fitness movement.  And some day, there will be enough of us to completely shut down the old, ugly, shame and ego based fitness industry of before, and all there will be will be the awesome evidence and JOY based fitness industry of the future.

 

Image courtesy of Real Body Stock Fitness Photos

Thinness and Asian Culture, with Jen Lam

On this past Sunday’s youtube show, I sat down with my friend and colleague Jen Lam, to discuss Thinness and Asian Culture. Jen has been helping me moderate Eating the Food for several years, and is also a member of the Fit 2point0 leadership team. She’s pretty freaking amazing, and has a lot of wisdom to impart. I’m so grateful for her influence and leadership as part of our team.