Moderation: the Alcoholism Argument

When I talk about moderation, very frequently I get the argument ‘would you tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation?’.

Here’s the thing about that argument. Alcoholism is a medical condition. As I said in my blog post yesterday, we are so accustomed to giving and receiving medical advice on the internet that we don’t even recognize it when we see it. No, I wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to ‘just drink in moderation’. Because that would be telling them how to treat their medical condition. I would refer them to a professional. People seem to think that telling an alcoholic how to treat their alcoholism is normal – it isn’t. No one should be telling an alcoholic how to treat their condition but THAT PERSON’S DOCTOR OR THERAPIST.

Likewise, if a person isn’t capable of eating in moderation, it indicates they have some disordered eating going on. Disordered eating has been so normalized in our diet culture that we think  binging is normal, but it is not. It is a sign of disordered eating. If a person can’t eat in moderation, if they are eating in excess of their body’s calorie requirement on a regular basis, if eating one thing triggers eating ALL THE THINGS, there is a problem. And it needs to be addressed by the proper professional – an eating disorder therapist, a dietician, their physician.

No, one hopefully wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation, one hopefully would be responsible and refer them to a professional for treatment. And one wouldn’t tell someone with disordered eating to just eat in moderation, one would refer them to a professional for treatment.

Moderation isn’t a switch you turn on and off. It is a skill. It is a goal. It can take some work to get there. For some people, it will take more work than they can do on their own, and they will need the help of an eating disorder professional. The answer isn’t to tell those people to ‘just eat in moderation’, NOR is the answer to tell them to ‘NEVER EAT THE THING’. The answer is to refer them to the proper professional for evaluation and treatment. That is the ONLY responsible answer there is. Just as referring an alcoholic to a professional is the ONLY responsible answer.

The ‘would you tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation’ argument is flawed, because telling an alcoholic how to treat their alcoholism is unethical and irresponsible. Yet we don’t recognize it as such, because we’ve normalized getting and giving medical advice over the internet.

Here are some eating disorder and alcoholism resources if you feel you are dealing with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or food (or both):

http://bedaonline.com/
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/binge_eating_disorder.htm
http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/binge-eating-disorder
http://www.something-fishy.org/binge_eating/resources.php

http://www.addictionresourceguide.com/
http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/resources
http://www.psychology.org/links/Environment_Behavior_Relationships/Addiction/

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Vaccines, magic diets, and getting medical advice on the internet

I think people have become so accustomed to giving and receiving medical advice on the internet (namely facebook, lets be honest here), that it’s come to the point that people really don’t understand what is and isn’t medical advice.

This is a bad thing. It can hurt people. It can even kill people.

The other day, I posted on facebook about getting my MMR booster. As per usual, MOST people understood what I was saying and appreciated it (the post has over 2000 likes), but a few whiny ass bitches (who are male, by the way) are running around facebook calling me names and accusing me of giving medical advice. Now, here is what I actually said in the post:

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.55.21 PM

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the advice I actually gave was to talk to your doctor about whether you should get one. This is like the opposite of medical advice. This is referring my readers to the proper professional to determine their medical need. I didn’t even say you should or shouldn’t get one, I said ask your doctor.

This happens pretty frequently and I’ve thought about writing about it in the past (and in fact have touched on it frequently in posts about other topics here and on my facebook page). In virtually every post and video I make, I at some point remind my readers not to take my word for anything, but to ask their doctor about any health issues they may have. Because doctors are, you know, the ones who should be answering those questions.

Here are some examples of medical advice I’ve seen dispensed by well meaning but completely irresponsible people on facebook:

“Your baby may have an ear infection, just put some breast milk in it.”

“Oh, well if you have diabetes you should be eating a ketogenic diet.”

“Vaccines cause autism, don’t let your doctor give them to your kids!”

“Your doctor’s advice is terrible! She’s just a shill for Big Pharma! Don’t listen to her!”

“Oh, it sounds like you have food allergies! You should try this elimination diet!”

“There is a cure for cancer that the government is suppressing! Chemo is toxic! Eat [insert magic diet] and take [insert magic supplement]!”

“You want to stop taking that medication? Just slowly decrease your dose. That’s how I did it, and it worked great!”

Now, I know that most of my readers are quite sane. You are reading this and noting the inherent irony in me being accused of ‘giving medical advice’ for telling people to talk to their doctor about a medical issue, when unqualified people give medical advice willy nilly all over facebook every day and no one says a word.

You know why it makes people mad that I tell my readers to go to their doctor with medical questions? Because they know that if people actually DID ask their doctor, their doctor would give them sound, evidence-based advice. And that sound, evidence-based advice would undermine the illusion of expertise they’ve cultivated online. And if more and more people start to actually go to their doctors with medical questions, well then, all the people doling out unsupported, unqualified medical advice on facebook won’t be able to sell their diet books and miracle cures and magic supplements. Doctors (and scientists) are the enemy of the magic diet/cure/supplement industry. That’s why the magic diet/cure/supplement industry works so hard to villify doctors and foster science-denialism.They’re making a crap-ton of money off of people denying science and looking for magic, and they don’t want to see the well dry up.

So, at the end of the day, in the matter of vaccinations, why should you trust me? You shouldn’t. You should trust your doctor.

If more people got their medical advice from their doctor rather than facebook, we wouldn’t be having a measles outbreak right now. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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The Fitness Snowball

By Sean Flanagan

In this article, I’m going to talk about how lessons learned from paying off financial debt can be applied to reaching your health and fitness goals.

Dave Ramsey is an author and speaker who mainly teaches people how get out from underneath debt.   His foundational technique for getting out of debt is his “debt snowball” technique.   It goes against the conventional recommendations of how to get out of debt – what makes the most sense on paper – and instead focuses on the realities of human behavior.

You see, what the rational thing to do and the usual recommendation is to focus on reducing your debt with the highest amount of interest.   And it makes total sense on paper – if your interest charges each month reduce, you’ll have more dough to spend on the other debts.

The method Dave popularized though breaks these rules.  It’s a HORRIBLE idea on paper.  But it works – because it focuses on the realities of human behavior rather than cold math.   Instead of going the logical approach of target high interest, you target the easy wins.

You pay the monthly minimum on all of your debts, and then with any remaining money you throw it at your SMALLEST debt.   You pay off your $250 credit card, then your $500 credit card, and work your way up so by the time you’re staring your $10,000 car loan in the face, you know “I got this!”

By tackling the smallest challenges first, you build your confidence. You feel the momentum grow.   And you keep getting that positive reward of fast success rather than staring that big challenge in the face.

Are you starting to see how this ties into your health and fitness goals?

You could say that fat loss, like paying off debt, is a matter of math.   Instead of a 19 percent interest rate, you “just” need to create a deficit of 500 calories to lose 1 lb per week!

But you know it’s more than that.  It’s a personal challenge that often brings up old baggage.   You WANT to get off the couch and start your 5x/week exercise program, but you think to yourself “I’m not ready for this.   This is what fitness types do and I’m not one of them”.

It’s a matter of behavior change.  And behavior change that slowly changes your self-identity.

So the FITNESS snowball method, so to speak, is to attack those easy wins that help you build momentum and start to change your self-image from someone that fails at their fitness goals to someone that succeeds.

So where do you start?  Well… what are you 90-100 percent sure you can succeed at?   Not “what are you ‘kind of’ sure you can succeed at?”.  I mean what are you REALLY sure you can do?

Let’s say you start off with walking 2 minutes every day after lunch.  If it’s too easy, GOOD.  It should feel too easy.   And if you’re 90-100 percent sure you can move onto a harder version – in this case walking for 5 minutes – then go for it.

What we’re trying to do is break the cycle of trying things that are way too hard and then inevitably failing.   How many times can you try to avoid sugar for 90 days and not succeed before it starts to wear on you?   We’re undoing that shit.  It’s time to build your confidence back up and to create the snowball effect.

Make it easy.   Follow through.  And reward yourself for your successes, no matter how small you think they are.   You want to see your little wins add up – I’d even suggest doing this literally, making this visual by writing down every habit you’ve successfully implemented.

As time goes on, your challenges will become bigger and bigger (if you want them to).  But you’ll be ready, because you’ve accumulated so many victories before.
So I ask you…

What’s the SMALLEST change you can make this week that will help make even a microscopic impact on your health and fitness that will help you build momentum?

-Sean Flanagan is a fitness & nutrition coach helping people implement habit-based strategies for lasting fat loss.  Working with Amber Rogers, they co-run the group coaching programs The Habit Project and the 4 Month Fat Loss &Body Recomposition Program

They’ve also co-written the free download “21 Habits for Lasting Fat Loss”, which you can download HERE:  http://seanflanaganwellness.com/21habits

No, Pubic Hair is Not Dirty

'The Union of Earth and Water' by Peter Paul Rubens

‘The Union of Earth and Water’ by Peter Paul Rubens

When I was ‘coming of age’ in the 80’s and 90’s, pubic hair was sort of a non-issue. We shaved enough to not show when we wore our swim suits, but that was the extent of it. I don’t remember ever feeling like pubic hair was unfeminine or undesirable, and I certainly didn’t think it was dirty – it was just a natural part of adult human bodies.

I never even really noticed that pubic hair removal was becoming more of a ‘thing’. I do remember raising an eyebrow when I first heard of Brazilian waxing, but since I wasn’t interested it quickly faded from my consciousness. I assumed it was a small niche market, as I couldn’t imagine the expense and discomfort of the upkeep was something most people would acquiesce to. As it grew in popularity, I was deep in my work as a pit bull rescuer, and then motherhood, and it just wasn’t on my radar.

Over the last couple years, as my tween daughters have brought more and more popular culture to my attention, I have begun to notice the change in the perception of pubic hair as something undesirable. My first realization that the complete removal of pubic hair has actually become The Norm was listening to an Amy Schumer bit on the radio, wherein she described the cultural expectation that women be hairless, and a session with her waxer. It dawned on me that our culture’s view of pubic hair has shifted fundamentally, and I began to notice the language people used to describe it. “Gross”, “dirty”, “disgusting’, “smelly”, “unfeminine”. (Those words were in no short supply in the comments on my facebook page when I shared Dr. Jen Gunter’s post on the topic of pubic hair). Ads for pubic hair removal promising a ‘clean’ look (the implication being that the hair is dirty, or that the hair makes the woman dirty). In short, our culture now EXPECTS women to be hairless, and deviation from that expectation is considered dirty and unfeminine.

How did this happen? We were making progress in the late 60’s, the 70’s, even into the 80’s. Womens’ bodies were held to much less stringent ‘standards of perfection’ as women burned their bras, let their hair down and embraced sexual liberation. We were ‘allowed’ to be fully sexual adult human beings (oh Madonna, I will never forget the torpedo bra). And pubic hair is a characteristic of sexual maturity. It was normal. Everybody knew it was normal. Every sexually mature adult had it. No big deal. I may have been insecure about my thighs, or my height, or my acne, but I don’t remember ever being insecure about my pubic hair.

Body hair, and more specifically pubic hair, is an indicator of sexual maturity. Not all cultures remove pubic hair or see it as undesirable (see: our own culture 30 years ago). Pubic hair on a woman indicates that she is sexually mature. So what does it signify when we associate the REMOVAL of pubic hair with ‘femininity’? (1) That a fully sexually mature woman is undesirable? That to be ‘feminine’ a woman must resemble a pre-pubescent child? That a woman’s body is not acceptable the way it is naturally? (2,3) Those are certainly the messages I glean from this cultural expectation placed upon women.

And what of the perception that pubic hair is “dirty”, or that pubic hair signifies dirty genitals? This is perhaps the most unfortunate belief to stem from this cultural expectation. Pubic hair serves a purpose. Like the hair in our noses and ears, it actually PROTECTS the delicate skin and mucous membranes of the genitals from dirt and bacteria we may be exposed to in the environment. There’s a reason we’ve retained pubic hair even as we’ve evolved to be more hairless elsewhere – it provides a biological benefit. And removing it can open you up to bacterial and fungal infection and faster spread of STDs (should you be exposed). (4)

Hey – if you enjoy removing your pubic hair, more power to you. This post isn’t meant to judge your personal choice. We need to STOP associating hairlessness with cleanliness though – not only is it inaccurate, the truth is that the hair is there to keep you cleaner. And we need to recognize the culturally imposed idea that hairlessness is ‘feminine’, as the truth is exactly opposite: pubic hair signifies sexual and reproductive maturity. Sexual and reproductive maturity are what makes a woman a woman and not a little girl. Sexual and reproductive maturity are what make a woman truly feminine, as before sexual and reproductive maturity there is much less physical distinction between the sexes. Promoting a hairless ideal as ‘feminine’ infantilizes women. We need to do better for our daughters. They deserve to know that their bodies are healthy and desirable in their natural state as they mature into adults. That their bodies are not ‘gross’ the way they naturally are. And if they want to remove their hair, great! Lets just make it clear, to them and to ourselves, that it is a cultural fashion trend, and not something they must do in order to be ‘feminine’ or ‘clean’. They are feminine simply by growing into a gloriously sexually mature woman. And hair does not make them dirty, it in fact helps them stay clean. And our sons deserve to know what women’s bodies look like in their natural state, and that that natural state is not ‘dirty’ or ‘gross’.

This fashion trend is another way our culture tells us our bodies are unacceptable the way they are, and marketers have created mythology about cleanliness to further shame us into giving them our money. If it’s something you want to do, and you’re fully aware of the cultural issues and the potential health risks, then wax away. But lets stop with the ‘dirty’, ‘gross’ and ‘unfeminine’ language. Because it’s just plain not true.

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Citations:

1. Toerien, Merran, and Sue Wilkinson. “Gender and body hair: Constructing the feminine woman.” Women’s Studies International Forum. Vol. 26. No. 4. Pergamon, 2003.
2. Chapkis, Wendy, and Gon Buurman. Beauty secrets: Women and the politics of appearance. Boston: South End Press, 1986.
3. Ussher, Jane M. The psychology of the female body. Taylor & Frances/Routledge, 1989.
4. Trager, Jonathan DK. “Pubic hair removal—pearls and pitfalls.” Journal of pediatric and adolescent gynecology 19.2 (2006): 117-123.
5. Tiggemann, Marika, and Suzanna Hodgson. “The hairlessness norm extended: Reasons for and predictors of women’s body hair removal at different body sites.” Sex Roles 59.11-12 (2008): 889-897.
See also:

How to REALLY Succeed With Your New Years Resolutions!

It’s that time of year again! When we take stock of our failures and shortcomings and resolve to do better in the new year!

Just kidding. Some people do that but I sure don’t, and I hope you guys don’t either.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the spirit of fresh starts and renewed motivation though, and those things aren’t bad at all! So if you’re taking the beginning of the new year as an opportunity to make some new goals and commitments, here are some tips for maximizing your chances of success.

1. Be realistic.

Set goals that will work with your schedule and lifestyle. Do you work full time? The time commitment involved in training for an Ironman Triathlon probably won’t work with your schedule. But a Sprint or Oly triathlon could. This seems like a no-brainer, but I think lots of us fall into the trap of biting off more than we can chew, and then getting discouraged when we aren’t able to meet our own high expectations. Discouragement tends to translate to giving up. Set yourself up for success by setting achievable goals in the short term! Succeeding will bolster our confidence and motivate you to set more goals.

2. Be specific.

We tend to make fairly vague resolutions like ‘lose weight’, ‘get in shape’ or ‘eat healthier’. Nebulous targets like this don’t provide much structure though, and are easy to veer away from. Make a specific goal like ‘lose 30 pounds’, ‘exercise 3 times a week for 40 minutes’ or ‘eat 5 servings of vegetables a day’.

3. Make a plan.

Once you have a specific goal, outline a plan to reach it. Give yourself a realistic time-frame, and work up to your goals over time!

4. Plan in steps.

Jumping right in to new behaviors can be overwhelming and exhausting. If your goals is to exercise 3 days a week for 40 minutes, start with 10 minutes twice a week and add duration over time. If it’s to eat 5 servings of vegetables a day, start with 1 or 2 servings a day and work up. Drastic, sudden changes are less likely to become habit than small, sustainable changes that compound over time.

5. Monitor your progress.

Keep a journal of your success! Track weekly or even daily to document the challenges you’ve met and overcome. Seeing your progress in this objective manner can be very motivating. We tend not to notice our progress as much subjectively, as changes happen slowly and we get used to them and don’t recognize how profoundly those small changes add up over time.

6. Be flexible.

You may hit a roadblock you can’t figure out how to overcome. Having the flexibility to alter your plan and goal will allow you to navigate challenges and roadblocks without feeling like you’ve failed. For instance, if your goal is to run a 5k, but you injure your foot, being flexible to change, rather than quit, your training to allow your foot to heal will help you maintain your cardiovascular conditioning and endurance.

7. Allow for setbacks.

Bad news. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. Sometimes we just miss the mark. It happens. It happens to everyone! Re-framing setbacks as learning opportunities, rather than failures, keeps you on the road to success.

8. Focus more on how far you’ve come, and less on how far you still have to go.

If you’ve set a lofty goal, sometimes fixating on how much further you still have to go to meet it can feel overwhelming and discouraging. Recognizing and celebrating each success can remind you how capable you are. It may take time, but you will get there if you keep moving forward. Getting mired in frustration over the pace of your progress won’t help at all. Focus on the positive! Keep going! You’ll get there in time.

9. Enlist social support.

Seek out a supportive community to cheer you on. One of my collaborative habit based coaching programs with Sean Flanagan, for instance! One of the blessings of the internet age is that finding people with similar goals and interests is as easy as typing a few words into a search bar. Follow supportive people on twitter and facebook, find chat rooms and forums with relevant themes and find people locally who have similar interests. The other side of this coin is that it’s easy to get caught up with people who will try to tear you down and undermine your progress. Be aware of the way people talk to you, and remove yourself from negative situations and people. They will not help you.

10. Be patient!

I saved this one for last, because it’s not only the most important, but the hardest. Humans want what we want NOW. Being able to step back and apply patience objectively is a skill that must be learned through practice. Remind yourself that changes happen slowly over time sometimes. That doesn’t mean they are not worthwhile or profound. Patience is a superpower, and many times it is THE factor that will determine success or failure. Practice every day.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last several years is how fundamentally important it is to zoom out and take a more reasoned, balanced approach to behavior change. Trying to CHANGE EVERYTHING all at once rarely works out well, and expecting things to always work according to plan is a recipe for disappointment. Humans, and life, are imperfect. Take the long view, worry less and enjoy the moment more. As long as your trajectory is forward, you’ll get there eventually.

Need some ideas for reasoned and balanced approaches to behavior change? Here’s my top three ‘Resolution Suggestions':

1. Learn to cook, or cook better.

Preparing more of your meals at home is the best way to improve the quality of your diet. Our culture has lost touch with food and food preparation in the last few decades. For many people, this means either re-learning how to cook, or completely starting from scratch. I had to change the way I thought about and prepared food when I began making changes to improve my health. I relied on watching America’s Test Kitchen on PBS and Cooking Light magazine to learn cooking skills and cookbooks like Super Natural Cooking for ideas to incorporate more fresh foods into my diet.

 2. Walk more.

It really doesn’t get simpler than walking. People underestimate the power of walking to improve health, quality of life and fitness level. Read my blog post on Walking for Health and Fitness to learn more about how powerful can be, and how to create a walking-based fitness program. Pick up a pedometer or fitbit to see how much you’re currently walking and make reasonable, sustainable changes that will dramatically improve your quality of life.

3. Get more, and better, sleep.

Most of us don’t get enough and it manifests as weight gain, illness and decreased quality of life. A few simple changes can improve the quality of your sleep, and your life. Turn off electronics an hour before bed, get some natural light early in the day, and reduce your consumption of caffeine and other stimulants later in the day. If you still struggle with insomnia, I highly recommend The Promise of Sleep by Dr. William Dement to get a handle on what may be causing it and finding resources to resolve it. Improving sleep quality may be the single most powerful change you can make to improve your health.

New Years’ can provide inspiration and motivation for making positive lifestyle changes, and stepping back and taking a sustainable approach can help ensure that those changes are successful and long-term. Small changes really do compound over time, and if you’re able to stay the course you will be able to look back next year and see just how much you’ve accomplished. 2015 is going to be a great year!

Sean and I will be enrolling two new group coaching programs to start right after New Years, so get on the waiting list now!

 Originally posted December 27, 2013

5 Things They’re Not Telling You About Sugar

It seems like you can’t turn around anymore without being confronted with another shocking news story or blog post about the evils of sugar. It’s almost exactly like the 80’s and 90’s, when you couldn’t turn around without bumping into another shocking news story or diet book about the dangers of dietary fat. Thank goodness we figured out that it’s not fat that’s the issue, it’s sugar, right? Whew, the real culprit has been identified. Now we can simply eliminate sugar and all our problems will go away. It’s not like we’re oversimplifying the issue like we did with fat or anything. Not like that at all. We totally learned from our previous mistaken oversimplification and it’s repercussions. Totally.

For all the alarming news stories and blog posts about sugar, there are a few things the media and bloggers aren’t telling us. I’ve compiled 5 of them.

1. The intake of added sugars has been declining steadily since 1999.

“Americans are eating sugar in unprecedented amounts! I heard it on the news!”

Actually, according to this study, the average consumption of added sugar had decreased by 24% by 2008 since it’s peak in 1999. That’s a pretty significant decrease. It’s mostly due to decreased soda consumption, but sugar from almost all sources has decreased. The decrease is across all ethnicities and age groups. We’re consuming less added sugar. Still more than we need, but significantly less than we were. Diabetes rates continue to rise in spite of reduced sugar consumption. As do obesity rates. There goes the hypothesis that sugar causes diabetes and obesity. Perhaps there’s something else at work? Or maybe more than one thing? Nah, if it were more than one thing diet book authors couldn’t oversimplify the issue and sell sugar free diets, like they sold fat free diets in the 80’s and 90’s. We smart humans would never repeat past mistakes. Right?

Next time you’re reading an article about how much more sugar we’re eating now, check the citations to see if the author is using pre-2000 statistics. Sugar consumption rose until 1999 and then began to fall. Many sugar scare-mongers continue to rely on pre-2000 statistics though.

2. Sugar is not addictive to humans.

I know what you’re going to say. “But Amber, there’s that rat study where food was withheld for 12 hours, and then 4 hours into their normal active period they were given free access to sugar and chow, and they ended up preferring the sugar! And that other rat experiment done by a couple college students that showed oreos affect the same brain pleasure centers as cocaine!!! CLEARLY sugar is a highly addictive evil substance!”

Where to begin. How about with this review of the actual human studies in this area? A review which concluded that animal models of sucrose addiction (like the rat studies above) aren’t supported by human studies, and that there is no evidence in the available literature (of which there is quite a bit) that sugar is addictive to humans.  Turns out we’ve actually examined the possibility of sugar addiction in humans and it hasn’t panned out. Interesting.

Not to mention that when you deprive rats of food, they end up overeating energy dense foods (like sugar) when given the chance. That’s not at ALL like what happens when people go on diets that restrict their calories and/or food groups, and inevitably end up binging. Not like that at all.

This study supports the conclusion that sugar itself is not addictive, and suggests instead that it is the behavior of eating that is addictive. I propose that when a problem is behavioral, it is best addressed by a behavioral-based therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) rather than a ‘therapy’ (such as a ‘Sugar Detox’) that instead targets a macronutrient that has been shown repeatedly to not be addictive. What I’m saying is that YES, some people experience addiction-like symptoms with food – but the evidence suggests that it is a behavioral issue, not a physiological one.

And none of this begins to address the vilification of things that ‘light up the brain’s pleasure centers’. Our nation’s Puritanical origins clearly mandate that things that light up the brain’s pleasure centers are BAD. You know, things like sex, food, laughter, singing and dancing…things that lead to babies, and getting enough calories to survive, and forming social bonds with other humans…following this logic, those things must be evil because they light up the brain’s pleasure centers. I guess the pleasure centers of our brain were put there by the devil to tempt us into behaviors that would propagate our species, or something like that? Can’t have that. Can’t have that at all.

3. Sugar is beneficial in some contexts.

What? Surely that can’t be right? Mercola Natural News Food Babe A random blogger A Facebook meme my trainer told me sugar is toxic! TOXIC I tell you. No way can it ever be beneficial. That’s like saying Vitamin A (toxic in high doses) or water (toxic in high doses) can be beneficial! There’s just no way that something can be both toxic and beneficial. It’s not like dose and context are ever important!

Actually, there’s a significant body of evidence that sugar is beneficial (beneficial, meaning improved performance) in the context of high intensity and endurance exercise. Sugar is also used therapeutically (as part of therapy) in cases of several gastrointestinal conditions, starvation recovery (including during eating disorder treatment) and cancer. It’s called Parenteral Feeding and involves administering a solution of glucose (sugar, folks), amino acids and lipids via an intravenous drip. Sugar is beneficial and even therapeutic in the right dose and context.

4. Sugar doesn’t actually make you fat.

I know what you’re thinking – well since we know it’s not fat, it must be sugar! We’re fat, we eat sugar, case closed! Right? (Just kidding, I know most of you aren’t actually thinking that.)

Well, as I said above, obesity rates continue to rise in spite of falling sugar intake. Lets take a closer look. This review of epidemiological and metabolic literature concluded that “high intake of sugar is negatively associated with indexes of obesity”, meaning that more sugar was actually associated with lower rates of obesity. Note that this doesn’t mean sugar is protective, simply that it doesn’t appear to be the cause of obesity. Perhaps there is more to the story? This review, while calling for more study of specific forms of carbohydrate in relation to satiety, concludes that “there is little evidence that sugars have direct negative effects on body weight control”. Both of these reviews support the American Heart Association’s conclusion that excess sugar in the diet can be problematic not because it is inherently obesogenic but because “high-sugar foods, which are sweet and calorie dense, may increase calorie consumption and lead to weight gain.” In other words, it’s not the sugar itself, but rather the excess calories from sugary foods that produces weight gain.

All of which brings me to my final THING THEY’RE NOT TELLING YOU ABOUT SUGAR:

5. A lot of the data on sugar is confounded by excess calorie intake.

This review of the scientific literature on the association of sugar and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) concluded that “the apparent association between indexes of liver health and fructose or sucrose intake appear to be confounded by excessive energy intake. Overall, the available evidence is not sufficiently robust to draw conclusions regarding effects of fructose, HFCS, or sucrose consumption on NAFLD. ” What this means is that the science showing that sugar was associated with NAFLD ALSO showed that excess calorie intake was associated with NAFLD, and that the researchers did not believe there was sufficient evidence to conclude that sugar was causative. Call me crazy, but I suspect further investigation will yield similar findings in relation to other diseases. I have a hard time believing that this phenomenon (excess calorie intake as confounding factor) is specific to just the studies of NAFLD.

Which, again, recalls the conclusion of the American Heart Association that “high-sugar foods, which are sweet and calorie dense, may increase calorie consumption.” Perhaps it’s not the sugar itself, but the excess calories? Which would explain why diabetes and obesity are not going away as our sugar intake falls. We are eating more calories than ever. So while we repeat the mistakes of our past and fixate on a single macronutrient, it’s likely we are failing, once again, to address the true problem, and it will be that much longer until we start to make progress on reducing disease and obesity rates.

The Take-Home Message

Sugar is the latest scapegoat in a long history of macronutrient vilification. Public health agencies have been giving us the very sound advice to eat a balanced, calorie appropriate diet, with sweets in moderation, for decades. This does not mean SUGAR IS THE DEVIL NEVER LET IT PASS YOUR LIPS! It also does not mean EATING NOTHING BUT SUGAR IS A FANTASTIC IDEA! Both of those are extreme interpretations of the word moderation. What it means is that some sugar, in the context of a balanced, calorie appropriate diet, is fully within healthy eating guidelines for the general population (if you have a medical condition, follow your medical professional’s dietary advice). Some people seem to fixate on the ‘sweets in moderation’ part of the recommendations, approaching it with all (nothing but sugar!) or nothing (sugar is the DEVIL!) thinking, and ignore the more important ‘balanced, calorie appropriate’ part of them.

No, you do not need to eat sugar to be healthy. You do not need to avoid it altogether to be healthy, either.

It seems fairly evident, though, that you DO need to pay some attention to how much food you eat in general to stay healthy. And you need to make sure you’re eating a variety of foods and macronutrients, as well. You should also exercise and get enough sleep, but that’s a post for another day.

Now, some people will interpret this blog post as saying YOU SHOULD EAT LOTS AND LOTS OF SUGAR. Most of you won’t, but there are always a few, aren’t there? No, I will reiterate the American Heart Association‘s conclusion:

“To improve the overall nutrient density of the diet and to help reduce the intake of excess calories, individuals should be sure foods high in added sugar are not displacing foods with essential nutrients or increasing calorie intake.”

In other words, make sure you’re not eating so much sugar that you’re missing out on important nutrients or consuming excess calories.That sounds an awful lot like moderation to me, no?

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Thinking of going on another diet? Screw that! Check out The Habit Project, my collaborative coaching program with Sean Flanagan, for a habit-based approach to health and fitness.

 

 

 

Introducing The Habit Project

Sean Flanagan and I have been at it again, thinking up new ways to foster behavior change. We’ve created a new program, and it’s a new kind of program. Probably different than any program you’ve participated in before.

We wanted to do something different from our Four Month Fat Loss Program. Not that there’s anything wrong with our Fat Loss Program! It’s actually awesome, and it’s not going anywhere! But we wanted to give you guys another option, because we know our Fat Loss program isn’t right for everyone.

Enter: the Habit Project.

The Habit Project is focused specifically – and solely – on the small, day to day habits that impact our bodies and our health. Within the Habit Project, each small team supports one another in the systematic implementation of new behaviors, focusing on one habit for two weeks, before moving onto the next.

Unlike our Fat Loss Program, there are no meal or workout plans. In fact, it’s up to you, with the support of your coaches and teammates, to decide the specific ways you are going to modify the habits to work with your life and schedule.

Which Program is Right for You?

So, you’ve decided you want to invest in one of our coaching programs – now the task of figuring out which one! I’ve put together a short quiz that will help you make that determination. Just answer the following questions honestly, and use your answers to help steer you toward the program that makes the most sense for you.

1. How does the prospect of following a meal plan make you feel?
a. Bored and rebellious.
b. Relieved!

2. Do you feel like you’ve got a pretty good exercise routine going?
a. Yes, maybe just needs a few tweaks.
b. No. Help me!

3. How do you do your best work?
a. I like to work collaboratively with others!
b. Everyone needs to leave me alone so I can focus!

4. How do you feel about calorie tracking?
a. Never again as long as I live.
b. I dig it! Or at least tolerate it.

If you answered mostly As, The Habit Project may be a better fit for you. Mostly Bs, and you should check out the Fat Loss Program. If you’re still not sure, feel free to ask for guidance! In both programs, our focus is long term behavior change. The Habit Project takes a longer view, moves at your individual pace and allows you to call the shots. The Fat Loss Program is more structured (at least in the beginning) and works in a shorter time frame. The end result – behavior change – is the same, just different approaches.

Click here to check out the Habit Project.

Click here to check out the Fat Loss Program.

Sean and I are looking forward to working with you!

habit-2

Granola and Parenting

I saw this Nature’s Path granola commercial today while I was watching TV on the treadmill at the Y. It kind of made me want to vomit, and as I’ve stewed on it I’ve gotten more and more disgusted with it.

It’s a scene of a couple eating breakfast (granola). Their teenage son comes in and grabs the cereal box and pours the cereal right into his mouth. The Dad says ‘There’s milk you know’, and the son grabs the milk carton and drinks out of it. The Dad shakes his head and asks ‘Where did we go wrong?’. The Mom replies ‘He’s eating organic. We did good.’

The message here is crystal clear: feeding your kids organic makes you a good parent. This is an attitude that is rampant in diet culture. How many times have you seen someone post something like this posted somewhere:

“I was at the grocery store this morning with my kids and there was a mom with two little children in line behind me. Her cart was full of nothing but processed junk. Her poor children are missing out on so much, and they have no idea! My heart is just breaking for them!”

While the people who post things like this present their feelings as concern for the poor little children, what their words actually belie is an elitist and arrogant attitude. The message they are really sending is “look at what a GOOD parent I am and what a BAD parent that other mom is. I am better than her”. It’s incredibly obnoxious, and a really bad example to set for their own children.

Eating the ‘right’ way (organic, clean, paleo, vegan, whatever the diet du jour is) is equated with moral superiority. This isn’t a healthy way of thinking about food. It’s actually disordered. A person with an eating disorder has tied their identity to their food choices. When they eat the right way they are good. When they eat the wrong way they are bad. Fixating on what other people eat is also disordered, as is judging a person good or bad based on their food choices. This is too much power and morality associated with food choices.

This commercial is offensive to me because it is normalizing the attitude that feeding your kids ‘right’ makes you a better parent than people who feed their kids ‘wrong’. It’s normalizing the association of morality with food choices. The subtext of the commercial is that people who don’t feed their kids organic are ‘doing it wrong’, or are morally inferior parents. This is disordered thinking.

It’s also incredibly elitist. Not everyone has the option of feeding their children organic, but this commercial sends a quiet message that it’s ok to judge those who can’t afford or don’t have access. That if you have the resources to afford organic and the access, you are a better parent. Buying organic makes you good.

And that is ABSURD. There are many, many ways to be a good parent – buying organic is not one of them. There are plenty of good parents who feed their kids conventionally produced food. There are good parents who take their kids to McDonalds. Having the resources and access to feed your kids organic means…you have the resources and access to feed your kids organic. That’s all. Congratulations. You are fortunate. Very fortunate. Being fortunate does not make you better, though.

And that’s why I find this commercial offensive. Not only does it promote and normalize disordered thinking, it also feeds into elitist attitudes and fuels the mommy wars. All that in one commercial? Yes. I don’t think I’ll be buying much Nature’s Path in the future.

Sugar Addiction and Food Obsession

This is what a healthy relationship with food looks like:

You enjoy a wide variety of foods. You fill your diet with lots of different foods from every food group, so that you meet your nutrient needs through variety. You do not force yourself to eat foods you don’t enjoy (or that you have a medical reason to avoid).

Sometimes you eat purely for pleasure (like that cupcake, or glass of wine) but most of the time the choices you make fulfill both your nutrient and pleasure needs. You eat a salad because you WANT it, not because it’s what you think you SHOULD eat. And if you don’t want salad, you have something else. When you eat purely for pleasure, you savor the experience and then move on. You don’t assign shame or guilt to your food choices.

You eat when you are hungry, and you eat foods that nourish you, make you feel awesome, and help you meet your goals. You also realize that there is no such thing as perfection, and that your habits over time are far more important than any specific food you do or don’t eat. You understand that one meal doesn’t cancel out all the other meals you eat over the course of a week. You understand that there is a lot of room for flexibility within the context of a balanced, varied diet.

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Now, I frequently get comments like:

“Eating whatever you want whenever you want isn’t going to result in healthy lifestyle or longevity. Eating Doritos every day would land you in the hospital!”

Or:

“Sugar lights up the reward centers of the brain, which makes you want more sugar. Copious amounts of sugar is really bad for you!”

The people making these comments have a disordered idea of eating. They may not have an eating disorder, but they are making these comments from a place of fear. They are projecting their own fears and beliefs, about how they think they would behave if they allowed themselves to eat what they want, onto other people.

Do you see how the belief underlying both of these comments is that if a person eats what they want to eat, they will only eat ‘junk’, and eat excessive amounts of it? In the first comment, there is an assumption that if they ate what they wanted, they would eat Doritos every day. And in the second, there is the assumption that if they allowed themselves free rein, they would overeat sugar.

Both of these assumption belie a disordered relationship with food. Because you see, if these people had a healthy relationship with food, they would understand that they would be able to eat Doritos and sugar in moderation, enjoy them, and move on.

The answer here isn’t to ‘force’ oneself to eat a certain way. The answer is to address the disordered relationship with food. Because when their relationship with food is healthy, they won’t be compelled to eat Doritos and sugar in excess. They will be able to eat them in moderation, freely, and without forcing or feeling deprived.

Because that is what a healthy relationship with food is like.

I believe that the entire diet industry is deeply disordered, so these disordered ways of thinking about food are normalized and even promoted as healthy. Far too many people believe that the way they think about and approach food and eating is normal and healthy, when in fact it is disordered and destructive. The diet industry is dragging us all down into a spiral of disorder, shame and obsession. And telling us all the while that it is normal and healthy.

Need some help healing your relationship with food? Check out these free resources, and consider seeking out treatment from a qualified Eating Disorder professional:

NEDA
Helpguide
ED Referral
Youreatopia

How to Deal With Setbacks

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