Fad Diets for Positive Habit Change?

Guest post by my coaching partner, Sean Flanagan

Something I hear people say from time-to-time in defense of extreme 30-day-type diets is that they help you create healthy habits.

This is perhaps the most ass-backwards things I’ve ever heard.

Creating new and sustainable healthy habits is about incrementally adding positive changes on top of what you already do.

On the other hand, trying to create “new healthy habits” by removing a large selection of food choices would be like quitting your job so that you’ll be able to create the habit of going to the gym.

Well yeah… if you don’t have much else to do, then sure it’ll be relatively easy to start working out.

But you wouldn’t have really created a lasting habit for exercise.   You didn’t find a way to make it work with your life. You created a temporary artificial context that made it happen by default.

Similarly… well OF COURSE you’ll eat more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein if you avoid beans, dairy, grains, sugar, and perhaps other foods. You have to eat SOMETHING, right?

But this isn’t the same as creating new habits for eating more fruits, more veggies, or more protein – it’s another temporary artificial context that makes these things happen nearly by default.

When the time comes sooner or later for you to return to a less restrictive diet, you will likely find you have not truly developed the habits of integrating these foods into your diet.  You didn’t practice getting more veggies in in combination with your favorite and regular recipes – you practiced how to get more veggies when doing a super-restrictive diet.   Not the same thing.

Maybe I’m wrong.   Maybe you personally have the potential to make the habit changes stick.   So let’s look at what is at risk other than a month wasted and healthy habits not formed.

For starters, cultivating the habit of being fearful of totally safe foods after 30 days of people telling you how “toxic” they are.   So I guess maybe there is a habit-change component to these diets… but it’s not a good one.   It’s often reported that these types of dietary challenges acted as a catalyst to a full blown eating disorder.

Similarly, this period of internalizing this narrative of “these foods hurt a lot of people” or “these foods cause inflammation” and you make yourself more prone to suffering negative consequences due to the nocebo effect.

The nocebo effect is similar to the placebo effect in that one’s beliefs impact the reaction experienced. Whereas the placebo effect causes positive outcomes (“I took this pill and my knee is all better! What do you mean it was just sugar? Impossible!”), the nocebo effect causes negative outcomes (“Ever since I learned how inflammatory grains are, my stomach is hurting a lot more!”).

It doesn’t necessarily stop at the nocebo effect though. If on a diet that eliminates dairy for an extended period of time, our bodies start to down-regulate production of the enzyme needed for digestion, which can then lead to discomfort upon reintroducing dairy products.

In other words, these diets that are allegedly about helping you “uncover” sensitivities can actually CREATE sensitivities.

Side note: if you believe an elimination diet could be beneficial for you to uncover a dietary trigger for a condition you have, ask your doctor for a referral to see a Registered Dietitian.   Elimination diets require the clinical expertise of a Registered Dietitian – not fad diet gurus.

One last negative consequence to consider, though I’m sure there are dozens more, is what type of attitudes do you think you’ll develop about the “approved” foods?   If every time you want ice cream you’re force feeding yourself a sweet potato, how positively are you going to view that sweet potato?   I’m gonna guess on day 31 you’re never going to want to see a sweet potato again.

So far we’ve talked about why viewing a restrictive diet as a way to create new healthy habits is misguided and also the very serious risks long term of these types of diets.   So what do we do to create positive changes?

  • Simply focusing on ADDING the new behaviors – not randomly abstaining from other habits in hopes that good ones will fall in place.   Let’s literally just focus on adding in the good ones!   The most direct way to eat more vegetables: focus on eating more vegetables.
  • Build those behaviors on top of things you already do – for nutrition changes, this is relatively straightforward.   Examples: a salad every day with lunch, pairing your favorite pasta dish with two different types of vegetables, adding a banana to your toast and peanut butter.   This stuff isn’t fancy – it just works. You don’t need a list of 20 foods to avoid, you just need to add something you want to do on top of something you already do.
  • Focus on ONE change at a time – the fewer changes you focus on at any given time, the greater your chance for success. Zero would be a crappy number to focus on, so by default that gives us one as a pretty damn good choice.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people who are focused on creating healthy habit changes without succumbing to restrictive fad diets.   Amber and I created this community online with the Habit Project, where people work on becoming strong, confident, and healthy working on one habit at a time. In real life, you can focus on making sure to spend more time with people focused on adding positive behaviors rather than creating restrictive behaviors.

 

I hope this article helped to outline why short term diets are not only a poor approach towards creating positive changes but also have a high potential of being counter-productive.   Likewise, I hope you’re now clearer on what to do instead.

 

Talk soon,

Sean

Sean Flanagan is a fitness & nutrition coach helping people implement habit-based strategies for lasting fat loss. In addition to co-running coaching programs with Amber, they have they’ve also co-written the free download “21 Habits for Lasting Fat Loss”, which you can download HERE:  http://seanflanaganwellness.com/21habits

It’s Not Really About Protein World

iamstrong (1)“Why are you complaining about one ad campaign? What’s the big deal? This is how things ARE, it’s not like this one campaign is any different. Stop whining.”

This was essentially the jist of a twitter exchange I had a few days ago. And really, it seems to be the jist of a lot of the criticisms of the backlash against Protein World’s London ad campaign. ‘It’s just a bunch of Social Justice Warriors picking on a company that is doing what companies do.’

I have a couple responses to that line of thinking.

First, it’s not really about Protein World. Yes, this is how things are. Pictures of half naked women are used to sell everything from protein powder to cars to razor blades. Naked ladies sell. Fact. I chimed in to the Protein World fray, but the fact is that Protein World is just one small drop in an ocean of objectification. I don’t really care about Protein World. I care about the bigger picture. I’m not ‘complaining’ about Protein World specifically, or this ad campaign. I’m objecting (and have been objecting for years) to the use of half naked women’s bodies to sell stuff that has nothing to do with women’s bodies. I’m tired of seeing half naked women’s bodies used as objects to sell shit that had nothing to do with women’s bodies. I’m tired of my daughters seeing half naked women’s bodies used to sell shit that has nothing to do with women’s bodies.

This is the way the world is. Yes. And I don’t like it. So I’m changing it.

Which brings me to my second response to this line of thinking:

Protein powder won’t give you a beach ready body.

Sorry. You can drink protein shakes until you puke, and you won’t get (what Protein World declares) a beach ready body, not that way. Protein shakes don’t make you lose weight, they don’t make you build muscle, they don’t burn off fat.

What protein shakes do is..get this…give you protein.

Now, getting adequate protein, in addition to a balanced, calorie appropriate diet, and a well planned exercise program, and adequate sleep, and a LOT of time and patience and consistency, and the right genetics MAY give you (Protein World’s version of) a beach ready body. But…and here’s where it gets really crazy…you can get adequate protein without drinking protein shakes.

I know. I’ll wait for you to pick you jaw up off the floor.

Protein shakes can make getting adequate protein a little more convenient, but it turns out that protein is in all sorts of foods, and it’s possible to meet your needs through food alone! I KNOW, RIGHT? CRAZY!

Now, if you like protein shakes, well then you go on with your bad self and drink them, I won’t fault you, and in fact I may join you now and then (I have been known to imbibe a little myself). Ain’t no thing wrong with a good protein shake now and then, or heck, every day if that’s what floats your boat. Knock yourself out!

But the reality is that 1. getting Protein World’s version of a ‘beach ready body’ takes a HELL of a lot more than protein shakes, and 2. you don’t even need protein shakes to get (Protein World’s version of) a beach ready body, and 3. you don’t need Protein World’s idea of a beach ready body in order to go to the beach.

And also. The model in the ad is gorgeous. And so are you. Yes, you, the one reading this right now. Her body is awesome. So is mine, so is yours. And we can appreciate each other’s bodies, it won’t diminish our own beauty to acknowledge someone else’s. So, take your badass body to the beach (or not – take it where YOU want to go), and lift each other up, and show our daughters that our bodies are good for more than just selling shit that has nothing to do with women’s bodies.

Untitled drawing (4)Got something to say? Join the conversation on my facebook page here!

 

 

Internet Manipulation 101: Gaslighting

Once you become aware of the tricks people use to manipulate others, you see them everywhere. Marketing for sure. But also from individuals, sometimes even well-meaning individuals who are unaware they are being manipulative. I have written about this stuff before, such as my post on The Straw Man fallacy.

A couple days ago I posted on my facebook page about some of the ways people disrespect me, my audience, and the community I’ve created, by posting pseudoscience, fearmongering, or just plain emotionally manipulative content. A great conversation ensued.

Then, not 48 hours later, a person came to my public page to provide a real-time demonstration of what I was talking about (see pic below, name redacted). The topic was sugar ‘addiction’, but that’s not really what I want to focus on here, it’s the subtle manipulation, the diversion from the topic at hand. Putting someone on the defensive is a way of deflecting the conversation away from the topic and onto the person. When you feel like you need to defend yourself, you stop focusing on the topic, and the person using the manipulative tactic has effectively ‘won’, by shifting the conversation to something they can control.

Gaslighting (in internet interactions) is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation in which a person says something abusive, and then accuses the victim of abuse when they push back. I see it all over the place. “Wow, I was just stating my opinion, calm down!”, “You’re so aggressive!”, “What a bully!”, “I’ll be sure not to share my thoughts here again” – all emotional manipulation tactics.

When I push back in my facebook group, sometimes people who aren’t familiar with these tactics think I’m being unfair, that I’m ‘picking on’ the person I’m pushing back against. Because this form of manipulation can be very subtle and subversive, and the manipulation can be almost invisible, while the pushback is direct and upfront.

Learning to recognize manipulation is intensely empowering. But sometimes it can be painful to acknowledge that you’ve been manipulated – or that you’ve manipulated others. That pain can keep many people locked in the cycle of abuse and manipulation. Learning to recognize it, though, is a powerful step toward personal growth, and a skill that supports long-term mental (and ultimately physical) health. How? When you realize a person is using these manipulation tactics to control a conversation and deflect it from a substantive topic, you can be relatively sure they are doing it because they don’t have the facts and evidence necessary to back up their claims.

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Confessions of a (Reformed) Natural Mom

The blissful glow of Natural Motherhood is a lot to live up to.

The blissful glow of Natural Motherhood is a lot to live up to.

I love it when someone comes to my facebook page and tries to educate me about nutrition. Or exercise. Or natural health. Or vaccines. Or GMOs. Etc. Because the only reason they can comprehend that I don’t agree with their opinion is that I simply haven’t heard the Thing about the Thing they have heard. I haven’t read the same diet book, or googled the same blog, or bought the same MLM supplement product. The only source for my differing opinion MUST be ignorance. And that if they just share the Good News with me, I will immediately repent and be saved.

Oh oops, did I get my analogies mixed up?

A long time ago, I was a Natural Mom.

I was a brand new mom. I mean, all moms are brand new moms at some point, and none of us is ever really prepared for it. They just don’t tell you how hard it is, is what I tell people now. I had just moved to a new city halfway across the country from my home in California. I’d left my friends and family, and my job, and all the things I was good at back at home. Have I mentioned I had a brand new baby? And my body was changing daily. Not in ways I was feeling very good about, either. I know now what I didn’t know then – I had post partum depression, though it wouldn’t reach a critical level for another two years, after my second baby was born. My husband had gotten the break of his career, so he was working his ass off trying to meet the challenges his position presented. I barely saw him – even when he was home he was down in his basement office working. And even when he wasn’t working, he was grappling with his own feelings – feeling overwhelmed by fatherhood, overwhelmed by his new professional responsibilities, overwhelmed from also leaving his home and friends and family, overwhelmed by not knowing how to help his wife. It was a dark time. Certainly not the glowing bliss of motherhood I’d been promised.

In other words, I was lonely, and depressed, and desperately in need of a friend. And oh! What friends there were to be found on…Mommy Blogs. What began as a search for information on teething became a descent into shame, judgement and The Mommy Wars.

And, my rebirth as a Born Again Natural Mom.

Oops, there I go getting my analogies mixed up again.

On Mommy Blogs and their counterpart Mommy Forums, I found a veritable wealth of information! I learned that I had pretty much been doing everything wrong for my entire life. I had been eating the wrong foods, wearing the wrong clothes, using the wrong sunscreen, washing my clothes (and body) in the wrong soap, using the wrong cleaning products, and USING THE WRONG CAR SEAT FOR MY PERFECT BABY. I couldn’t believe how misled I had been. My parents, my teachers, my friends, my doctors, and EVEN MY DAUGHTER’S PEDIATRICIAN had been leading me down the path of wickedness – I mean TOXINS – all this time. Fortunately I had unwittingly stumbled upon a group of other moms with Special Knowledge. How very lucky.

I learned about how toxic vaccines are, and that moms who vaccinate their babies don’t really love their children. I learned about how to grow my own food, and make it into homemade baby food, so that I could protect my baby from toxins everywhere. Store bought baby food was lazy. Store bought non-organic baby food was child abuse. I learned I needed to breastfeed my baby until she was at least 2 years old, or I may damage her psychologically, not to mention give her brain damage and probably ruin her immunity and cause her to contract the diseases I wasn’t vaccinating her against. I learned about co-sleeping, and how it was the way moms slept with their babies for millions of years, and it was selfish modern mothers who forced their babies to sleep alone, and how it was damaging children permanently. Moms who didn’t co-sleep were selfish and lazy. I learned about baby wearing, and how I needed to do it until my baby was about 8 years old or she would be insecure and think I didn’t love her. I bought a really expensive sling, because it was The Best. Strollers were for lazy mothers. Store bought sunscreen was verboten, unless it was $30/oz organic mineral sunscreen. Anything less than that would mean I didn’t love my baby. Far better to make my own sunscreen out of organic raw virgin coconut oil though. That’s what moms who loved their babies did. I learned to make my own cloth diapers and diaper wipes, because of course. And I could only wash them in vinegar, because of course again. And hang them to dry in the sunshine, because…well, you know. I learned that I should use breast milk to ‘treat’ ear infections, because medicine is toxic chemicals. And don’t ever dream of letting your child have pain reliever. You might as well be shooting them up with heroin. I learned that the only shoes that were acceptable were these $40 moccasin type things. Everything else would deform my child’s feet for life. Moms who used other kinds of shoes were lazy. I learned that the only kind of car seat that was acceptable cost $300. And any other car seat would pretty much kill my child no matter what, even if we weren’t ever in a car accident. And she needed to be rear-facing until she was five. Only lazy moms who don’t love their kids use other kinds of car seats. Oh, and I learned about off-gassing. So I had to buy organic mattresses and bedding. Because only moms who don’t love their kids buy non-organic mattresses.

Have I mentioned how expensive and time consuming it was to be a Natural Mom? Good thing I had so much free time.

For a while, I really felt like I’d “found my tribe” (yeah, that’s the phrase we used). I had friends. They were supportive (as long as I bought the right things and never ever admitted I wasn’t blissfully happy being a mother every minute of every day). I had a community, and it helped. For a while. Kind of.

I began to base my identity on being a Natural Mom. It’s what I was. I wasn’t Amber. I wasn’t a wife, or a sister, or a daughter, or a friend. I wasn’t a pit bull rescuer any more. I wasn’t a musician any more. I wasn’t even a mom any more. I was a Natural Mom. I took great pride in being a Natural Mom. We all did. It made us feel good. It made us feel superior.

And that’s what the Mommy Wars are. They are women losing themselves. They are women assuming a new identity (one of ‘Natural Mom’ in my case), and in order to remain a Natural Mom you have to Buy all the (expensive) Things, and make everything homemade (out of really expensive and hard to find ingredients), and never ever ever let on that motherhood is anything other than absolute bliss. And in return, you get a sense of identity. And a sense of belonging. And a sense of superiority.

And those things are really, really appealing.

Especially when you are lonely. And maybe depressed. And maybe not so excited about what is happening to your body (because lets face it, our culture makes it UBER clear that the physical effects of motherhood are NOT ACCEPTABLE. Pop that baby out and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight the next morning or you are a lazy slacker. And don’t EVER leak from ANY orifice, EVER.) New motherhood is a hell of a lot to deal with, and women don’t get a lot of support for it, not really. It is no wonder so many new mothers find themselves drawn to the apparent solidarity of Mommy Blogs and the Mommy Wars. It can be comforting to feel like you’re part of a tribe, that you have special knowledge, when you’re stuck at home with a new baby and a leaky body and maybe feeling guilty because you’re really not enjoying this whole motherhood gig but don’t you ever tell anyone that because there’s obviously something wrong with any woman that doesn’t enjoy motherhood.

The Mommy Blogs were comforting at first. But ultimately, I found myself saying things I didn’t really believe. Like, I didn’t really believe that giving my hurting baby some pain medicine was child abuse. I didn’t really believe that I would damage my kid if I stopped breast feeding at 18 months. More than that, I began to really feel uncomfortable with the idea that if another mom did something differently then it meant she just didn’t know what we knew, and that I needed to educate her. Some of the women with different opinions were smart – some of them were people I knew – and I really didn’t think they ‘just needed to be educated’. I started to question the motives of the people feeding me these lines. And then one day I realized how much fucking money I was funneling into these people’s wallets, these Mommy Bloggers, who’s blog posts were full of affiliate links to products they ‘approved’ of. How I was alienating real life friends and family with my holier than thou attitude that I was a better mother because I bought XYZ and spent my days making organic virgin this and that. Worst of all, I realized how misguided I’d been to believe a Mommy Blogger knew more than my baby’s pediatrician. How much I was risking, putting my faith in the (medical!) advice of an unqualified stranger on the internet.

I began to climb out of my identity as Natural Mom. I got my kids vaccinated. I stopped shaming myself for wanted a goddamn minute of time to myself. I stopped looking down on mothers who didn’t do things the Natural Mom community did. And that was the best thing I ever did for my kids. Because the act of ceasing to judge others allowed me to stop judging myself. It allowed me to see that I needed real help for my post-partum depression. It allowed me to see that I’d lost a sense of myself, and I started re-engaging in things I enjoyed and was good at. It allowed me to nurture REAL friendships, that weren’t based on ridiculing people who did things a different way. Friendships that were based on respect for each other, and respect for the people we share the world with. It allowed me to model a healthier self-image, healthier relationships, and healthier self-care for my daughters.

Now, I would still find myself getting caught up in fad diets for a couple more years, but fortunately the things I learned extricating myself from Natural Motherhood allowed for me a quicker escape from the Diet Maze than I probably would have had otherwise.

So, when people come to my page and try to “educate” me about nutrition, or vaccines, or GMOs, or carbs, or evil sugar, or Cross Fit, or any number of other trendy food and mothering and exercise fads, I chuckle. Because I was them, like 10 years ago. I already read what they read. I already googled what they googled. I already Bought All The Things that they bought.

And then I read more. And googled more. And learned how to read a scientific study. And made friends with some scientists and doctors and even (gasp) some vaccine and GMO proponents. And those people turned out not to be heartless monsters bent on destroying the health of my children. They turned out to be kind and intelligent people with children of their own. And I know now that all the ‘Special Knowledge” I thought I had back then was bullshit, cleverly designed to separate me from my money, and make me feel ashamed of my natural body, and my emotions, and my desires and my fears. Make me ashamed of who I was, so I would want to be someone else. And buy the things promising to make me someone else.

YOU are ok. I am ok. Being a mom is fucking HARD and sometimes I don’t like it. That is normal. It is ok. We are allowed to have those feelings. We are also allowed to have cellulite and leaky body parts and thighs that jiggle and poochy bellies that our children love. And we are allowed to get mad. And sad. And sometimes be really tired and buy something convenient for our kids to eat. Those things are ok. Really. It doesn’t make us lazy or bad mothers. It makes us human. All of us. Human. With strengths and faults. Things we do well and things we suck at.

And being able to afford organic, and having enough spare time to make home made baby food, and having the space and facilities to cloth diaper doesn’t make you superior. It makes you fortunate. And that’s ok too.

And to keep this on topic, you know what the very best thing you can do for your health and that of your children is?

Take a walk. And eat fruits and vegetables (non-organic is fine, so is frozen, so is pre-cut). And get enough sleep. And nurture real friendships. And get your medical advice from your physician, not a stranger on the internet.

For me, post-partum depression manifested as anxiety and panic attacks, not as a feeling of sadness. Untreated, it produced a lot of upheaval and stress in our lives. I was shamed, by the Natural Motherhood community, into believing I must just not be trying hard enough. Post-Partum Mood Disorder can manifest in any number of ways, and can be enormously destructive to a family. If you have ANY suspicion that you may be struggling with something bigger than yourself, please seek out credible information and screening by a qualified medical professional (not a Naturopath, or a ‘nutritionist’ or a Chiropractor. None of those is qualified to treat Post-Partum Mood Disorder. See your physician or a psychiatrist or a psychologist).

I wish that I had had a better, truly supportive community during that time. I wish I’d been able to find a place where non-evidence based claims were countered with rational, credible evidence-based resources, and emotional manipulation was identified and called out. Where I’d been referred to a medical professional for what was truly a medical condition. I have never been able to find such a place, so I created one. Come join us if you’re ready (but don’t be surprised if we challenge you and maybe even piss you off sometimes). We’re mothers, and fathers, and daughters and sons. Sisters and brothers and friends. And everyone is welcome. Except assholes. We make assholes leave.

Want to join the discussion? You can find it here on facebook!

Sometimes motherhood isn't blissful. And it's ok. It's ok to ask for help.

Sometimes motherhood isn’t blissful. And it’s ok. It’s ok to ask for help.

 

 

 

Why Diets Work…and Then Fail

Guest post by my coaching partner, Sean Flanagan

On the surface, there’s a wide variety of diets for weight loss. And they all SEEM to work – yet you’ve probably gone through multiple diets trying to find the right one for you.

Some diets say that grains, legumes, and dairy are trouble makers and you shouldn’t eat those.

While other diets say that grains and legumes are among the best foods, but dairy and ALL animal foods are the root of all evil and weight gain.

Some diets say you can’t eat after 6pm.

And then some diets say you should skip breakfast!

For every diet, there seems to be the opposite diet. Like 200 politicians in the same televised debate playing “point and counterpoint”.

And ALL of the diets seem to have success stories of fast weight loss.

So how can all these different diets work in the short term? And what makes them not as successful in the long term?

If you look at the list of 4 diet rules above, they seem pretty different.

But what do they have in common?

They take away your options. Specifically, they take away the option to do things you probably do currently.

The “No Lima Beans for 30 Days” diet will never become a best seller, as unpopular as lima beans are, because you’ve probably never consumed 500 calories or more a day from lima beans. Taking those away wouldn’t make a change.

On the other hand, you’ve probably consumed at least 700 calories a day combined from grains, legumes, and dairy many days in your life. That’d just be 3 cups of 2 percent milk, 4 slices of bread, and a half cup of beans or a handful of peanuts.

Or you’ve consumed a significant chunk of your calories from animal foods. One 6 oz rib eye and the butter on a baked potato could be around 500 calories or more in one meal alone. Hardly a daunting task for the average omnivore.

So when a diet’s rules are based on removing foods that play a prominent role in your diet, there can be an instant void of calories.

A turkey sandwich and chicken noodle soup at lunch at first becomes straight up turkey meat and chicken & vegetable soup, thus reducing calories from carbohydrates. Or that turkey sandwich and chicken noodle soup becomes 2 slices of bread and veggie and noodles soup, thus reducing calories from protein and fat.

In that initial change of removing foods that are normal to you, you can be left with a confusion of “what do I eat now?” Meanwhile, your calorie intake drastically reduces (whether you’re counting calories or not).

If you normally eat 1,000 calories from a certain list of foods, and then make that list of foods off limits, you have a reasonable chance of having some initial weight loss.

But then what happens?

You’re not going to stay in a food rut forever. You’re going to find new ways to get flavor, diversity, and yes… calories back into your diet.

You get hungry…and bored. And before you know it, you’re now adding butter to your morning coffee to replace the calories you used to get from oatmeal. Or you start eating handfuls of vegan potato chips to make up for the cheese you used to snack on.

And you’re back to square one (or worse). Your calorie intake is back to normal. Your weight has plateaued, or even gone back up. Meanwhile, you’re eating foods that are mere compromises to what you REALLY want to have.

The same thing that makes diets work short term is what makes them fail in the long term.

They take away your options of foods that you can have, so you stop having your normal foods. But then you realize there’s this whole ‘nother list of foods that you can have – and then you start eating those more to make up for the difference.

But is that really the worst of it? You didn’t eat some foods and you ate other foods instead, what’s wrong with that?

The problem is the whole time, you’ve been expending massive amounts of willpower by not including foods that you enjoy. And sooner rather than later, you’re going to reach a point where you can’t take it anymore. Instead of those 2 slices of bread every morning for breakfast every day, you’re going to now want to live on nothing but bread (and cake! And cookies! And all that stuff!)

The lack of balance you created by the restrictive diet sets the stage for further lack of balance. Now you feel like you never want to see a sweet potato or soybean ever again.

So let’s say you lose 20 lbs in 6 months on a diet and then gain it all back. That’s not so bad, right? You’re just back to where you stated…

Well certainly getting back to the same weight wouldn’t be as frustrating as gaining even more “rebound weight”, let’s also take into consideration your most precious resource – time.

The most important thing for LONG TERM weight loss is learning the skills to accomplish that.

Losing 20 lbs on a trendy diet and then gaining it all back will probably just teach you the lesson that that diet sucked and gaining the weight back on was frustrating.

What if instead, those 6 months were spent on developing the skills and habits that will enable you to be successful in the long term?

Rather than getting back to the same weight and now not knowing what to do to move forward, what if you were to lose even just a LITTLE bit of what but feel confident and clear about what you need to do to move forward?

And therein lies the key towards lasting success for fat loss – by prioritizing the process.

Weight loss (like everything) is a result of our habits. Our habits create our outcomes.

That’s why the key to lasting fat loss isn’t this diet or that diet – but by developing habits one at a time that you can maintain for good so you can keep losing and THEN maintain your success.

Rather than a long list of forbidden foods or other diet rules, you can work at ways to make the process easier and more automatic. For example, cultivating awareness of how satisfied you are from your meals are WAY more powerful than avoiding a particular food will ever be.

There are lots of habits that can be used to support your fat loss goals.

In fact, Amber and I put together a free list of 21 habits that can help you get closer to your goals of lasting fat loss and long term weight management.

This free downloadable guide is called “21 Habits for Lasting Fat Loss” and you can get access by clicking HERE.

Talk soon,
Sean

P.S. from Amber: We have a few spots open for the next start date of the Habit Project, where we harness the power of community and coaching support to help you achieve better health and fat loss success one habit at a time. You can learn more and grab your spot for ½ price for your first month here: The Habit Project

Hey Dove, Where’s My Door?

A new Dove commercial presents women with a choice of two doors: Average or Beautiful.

Quite frankly, neither of those words is adequate to describe me and what I’m looking for in this life. Like the woman at 1:50 in the video, if my only two choices are Average or Beautiful, I too would turn and walk away.

My choice is Extraordinary. And Extraordinary has nothing to do with how I look. And my door, the one labeled Extraordinary, stands open for all of you.

Choose Extraordinary. Because you are.

Scientific Consensus: Most People Don’t Understand It, and That’s Why Everything is a Mess

3 terms you’ll need to recognize for this blog post:

1.) Outlier noun
– One that exists outside or at an extreme of a category, pattern, or expectation; an extreme case or exception. (source: Yahoo Dictionary)

2.) Weight of the evidence noun
the strength, value and believability of evidence presented on a factual issue by one side as compared to evidence introduced by the other side (legal definition)

3.) Scientific consensus noun
– the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity (source: Wikipedia)

Word cloud for Scientific community

I’m occasionally accused of being a ‘hypocrite’ because I promote moderation in diet, and I can also be resolute in my position that fitness and health professionals should base our advice and recommendations on evidence rather than opinion. For instance, recently one guy couldn’t understand why I would promote moderation in diet but then turn around and take a hard line on vaccines. Why am I not moderate in my opinion of vaccines like I’m moderate in my opinion on diet, he wondered?

Here’s the thing about that: I’m not moderate in my opinion on diet. My opinion on diet is based FIRMLY on the evidence. The weight of scientific evidence supports moderation as the MOST EFFECTIVE approach to long term weight management success. Most scientists agree, and most studies support this conclusion. Yeah, there are a few outliers, but like I said, the weight of the evidence supports moderation. When many scientists examine all the evidence and come to the same conclusion based on the weight of the evidence, rather than on the outliers, it’s what is known as scientific consensus. There will always be outliers, but when most of the evidence points to one conclusion, we can be reasonably assured that that conclusion is accurate. For example, scientific consensus has been reached on the topic of the relationship between the sun and the Earth. There is no debate as to whether the Earth revolves around the sun, rather than the sun around the Earth. The weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that the Earth revolves around the sun, and the vast majority of scientists agree – this is called scientific consensus.

I base my opinions on both diet and vaccines (and many other topics) on the weight of the evidence. And I’m not moderate at all in my opinion that fitness and health professionals should absolutely base their recommendations on the evidence. Not on their opinions. Not on guesses. Not on their experience. Not on their gut feelings. Not on ‘what just feels right’. Credible research. Scientific consensus. Evidence. I will discuss why at the end of this post.

A recent thread on my facebook wall regarding Google’s new proposed ranking algorithm was really enlightening for me. I suddenly recognized a big contributor to the anti-science movement, as many of the arguments used in this thread were exactly like those used in arguments made to promote anti-science rhetoric on other topics, like vaccines, GMOs, climate change and the like. But seeing them applied to a different topic than I’m used to brought the issue into better focus: lots of people really don’t understand the concept of scientific consensus. For the record, I don’t think the people making these arguments are regular readers of my page, as my regular readers have demonstrated a pretty high level of scientific literacy. I think these are people who perhaps saw my post on a friend’s timeline and this post was their first visit to my page. I’m going to synopsize the main arguments made, and explain why they’re flawed. You’ll see that these are all variations on a general theme, with nuanced differences:

1.) I don’t want scientists/doctors making decisions for me and my family! Scientists and doctors can be biased. I know what’s best for my family.

Indeed scientists can be biased, that’s why instead of drawing recommendations from one scientist, we look to the general consensus among lots of different scientists. Drawing from many different sources reduces the influence of bias. The more scientists, and the greater the level of consensus, the less chance that bias is influencing the recommendations. As far as knowing what’s best for one’s family, this isn’t always true, unfortunately. Most of us do not have the knowledge and experience level of a scientist or doctor, and have not learned how to critically evaluate scientific evidence. We are more likely than a trained scientist to confuse correlation with causation or fall victim to other forms of faulty logic. Unless you are a doctor, you really don’t know more about medicine – or physiology, or immunology, or disease – than your doctor.

2.) We can’t trust that science knows what is truth. Science has been wrong before! Just look at the recent reversal on cholesterol! And they used to believe the earth was flat!

Indeed, scientific knowledge is ever-evolving, as we make new discoveries and learn more about the world around us. This is science’s STRENGTH, not it’s weakness. Science is the exploration and examination of evidence, and we are continually gathering new evidence. Again, this is a reason to look to the evidence, and the scientific community, as a whole, and not focus on any single study or scientist. As for the cholesterol reversal, people are confusing policy with science. What we are observing is a policy reversal, not a scientific consensus reversal. There was not a strong scientific consensus that dietary cholesterol contributed to high blood cholesterol, policy was based on weak evidence. And it was never scientists that believed the Earth was flat, it was a cultural belief. It was early explorers and astronomers that proved it was round, as they experimented to determine if their hypothesis was correct. It was cultural belief that held the earth was flat, and scientific inquiry that showed it was round.

3.) How can we ever know anything is true? For every study that shows one thing, there’s another that shows the opposite! And for every scientist that makes one claim, there’s another scientist that makes the opposite claim!

Actually this isn’t true for most scientific theories for which there is general scientific consensus, such as vaccines, GMOs, climate change, evolution, the Earth’s rotation around the sun, etc. In all those cases, most scientists, and most studies, support the same conclusion. And a few outlying studies and rogue scientists make other claims. The problem is that our media tends to give equal air time to both ‘sides’ of the ‘debate’,  giving the impression that the debate is equally weighted (or that there is a debate at all), when in reality, the VAST majority of science and scientists agree and only a small handful make outlying claims. The reality is, that for most of these topics, there are hundreds or even thousands of studies that support the generally accepted conclusion, with a small small handful of studies making an outlying claim (or even only one, like the SINGLE rat study that gets trotted out over and over and over as ‘evidence’ for sugar addiction). It is not one for one by any stretch of the imagination.

4.) What if new evidence emerges? Do scientists expect us to bury our heads and just accept their word and never question consensus?

Actually, no. The scientists themselves question consensus. That’s what science is. The questioning of our understanding, they search for new information, the examination of new and old evidence. Consensus is reached when evidence becomes undeniably compelling, but it is never set in stone. Science would revise it’s stance on the earth’s relationship with the sun if compelling new evidence emerged to challenge our current understanding. That is the very nature of science. It is the opposite of blind faith. It is the eternal pursuit of truth. You’re thinking of emotional investment in a belief, ie ‘faith‘, when you talk of burying your head and never questioning an assertion. Not science.

5.) Science doesn’t have all the answers.

No, indeed. Science doesn’t have all the answers. Science DOES have more – and better – answers than guessing does, though.

You can tell from a lot of these arguments that people really just don’t understand what scientific consensus is. That they don’t understand the difference between fact and opinion. That they don’t know how to tell good science from bad science, and don’t know what outliers are. It’s not their fault – these things aren’t always taught in school, and logic isn’t natural to our human brains. Once we’ve formed a belief, we have a hard time changing it even when confronted with evidence that it’s not true. Our perceptions are influenced by our subconscious prejudices. We look for patterns and aren’t good at telling correlation from causation. These are skills that require training and practice.

Now, I mentioned that I’d discuss why I hold firmly that we, as fitness and health professionals, are obligated to act and provide recommendations based on evidence rather than opinion. It is exactly because humans are so bad at the things I just mentioned. Because our opinions may be flawed, informed by emotion rather than fact. Because we may be mistaking correlation with causation. And when we give advice from these flawed sets of beliefs, we are in essence guessing, and it is irresponsible to give people health advice based on guesses. Because it could affect their health and even their lives. It could kill them if we are wrong. And we are more likely to be wrong if we are basing our advice on anything other than scientific consensus based on the weight of the evidence.

We owe the people who come to us for help the respect of basing our advice on facts and evidence, not on our own opinions and (potentially flawed) perceptions. Basing our advice on our opinions is profoundly egotistical and self centered.

What if you are wrong?

My recommendations are firmly evidence based because I am not so arrogant as to believe I know better than the entire scientific community.

And I am critical of so many in the fitness, fad diet and alternative health industries because they ARE so arrogant as to believe they know better than the entire scientific community, and their opinion-based (and frequently magical-thinking based) recommendations put their clients’ health – and lives – in danger.

 

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!

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Cindy Crawford’s Unretouched Photo Was Leaked Without Her Permission: Here’s Mine Instead

Early this week, an unretouched photo of Cindy Crawford was released. The initial claim was that it was from a spread in Marie Claire magazine, and that Crawford had consented to her photos being published without any retouching. As new information emerged, that claim was shown to be false, and I’ve taken down my posts about it.

The picture sparked an important discussion, though. And I want to continue that discussion. Peggy Drexler, in a commentary on CNN.com, referred to the photo as ‘Cindy Crawford’s cellulite photo’. Can we talk about that for a minute? It was actually a picture of Crawford’s whole body, not her cellulite. Is that what women are now? Cellulite? Why is Crawford’s humanity completely dismissed and her entire existence, in this photo at least,  boiled down to one physical trait? Her face was in the photo. Her arms and legs and torso. Her whole body was in the photo. ‘Cellulite photo’? Really?

Drexler then went on to say Crawford “doesn’t look all that amazing”, and that “what we’re celebrating as “real” are her flaws”.

Nope.

Nope nope nope.

Cellulite is not a flaw. It is a normal function of the way women’s bodies store fat. It is normal. Virtually every one of us has it (a few don’t, but the vast majority of women do, and some men as well). Again, cellulite is not a flaw. It is normal, it is how our bodies are built. Not. A. Flaw.

Also, Crawford definitely looked amazing in the photo.

Finally, Drexler says:

“We don’t like Crawford’s image because it’s “real.” We like it because it’s a little startling and a little unattractive, and therefore makes us feel better about ourselves. “

Again, no.

1. It’s not startling. She looks like a normal healthy woman. We ALL know that the models in magazines are photoshopped. We don’t like it. We know what NORMAL women look like, so seeing one is not startling.

2. It’s not unattractive. It’s normal. She looks like a normal healthy woman. A spectacularly beautiful normal healthy woman, actually.

3. I can’t speak for Drexler, but seeing Crawford unretouched doesn’t make me feel better about myself. Because I already feel good about myself. Because I know I am a normal healthy woman. And I’m awesome. So no, seeing Crawford unretouched doesn’t make me feel better about myself. And I think most of my readers agree, as most of my readers are normal healthy women who don’t need to tear down other women to feel better about themselves.

And besides, it would be pretty shitty to tear down another woman for having cellulite, since it’s NORMAL. And virtually all of us have it. It would be like tearing down another woman for having hair. Or skin. Or toenails. It. Is. Normal.

The reason I appreciated the photo, when I thought it was from a spread in Marie Claire, is that I was really psyched to have such an iconic woman standing up for all of our daughters. Standing up and saying ‘THIS IS NORMAL. This is what women’s bodies look like. We won’t be told our normal healthy bodies are flawed any longer.’

That’s what I wanted the picture to mean. And I’m disappointed that it doesn’t mean that. I’m disappointed not to have that role model for my daughters, and all our daughters.

So you know what? I’m going to do it. I’m going to be the role model. I’m going to be the one standing up and saying:

THIS IS NORMAL. This is what women’s bodies look like. We won’t be told our normal healthy bodies are flawed any longer.

I am a strong, fit, healthy, NORMAL woman, and I have cellulite. Just like virtually every woman reading this. I have always had cellulite. I had it when my body fat was in the low teens (you can see these pictures I posted here on my blog three years ago, during my leanest period – as you’ll see, I had cellulite, loose skin and stretch marks – because I am normal). I am currently around 20% body fat – still quite lean by most standards – and I still have cellulite. I have a normal, healthy body. It is not flawed. Neither is any other woman’s NORMAL healthy body. I’m putting my ‘cellulite’ photo’ next to a full body photo so you can see that I am, in fact, fit, healthy and lean. I am a human being, not a collection of flaws.

Stand up with me. Push back against those who would distill our entire existence down to a physical trait, who would shame us for a trait that is perfectly normal.

We are not flawed.

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Is Obesity a Life Sentence?

Last week, commentary published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology made the media rounds, filling consumers with dread and hopelessness that obesity is incurable and we’re all doomed. Well ok, maybe I’m being a little hyperbolic. But the discussion in my facebook group belied an uneasiness that maybe we’re doing all this work to change our habits in vain.

First off, it’s important to understand that this paper was not a study. It’s a commentary, the purpose of which is to educate healthcare providers about the mechanisms of obesity and provide recommendations for treating it. The media made it out to be a statement that ‘obesity is incurable! eat less move more doesn’t work! OMG WE’RE ALL DOOMED’, but the authors made several very reasonable recommendations for the treatment of obesity and the support of a healthy (or at least healthier) body weight once it is achieved.

The paper is short and readable, you can access it for free by registering at the site I linked above. The authors outline some research that suggests that weight loss produces metabolic adaptations that prime the body for regain (but we already knew that), and the fairly dismal statistics on weight loss and maintenance (short story: most people regain the weight they lose). They discuss the treatment options we currently have available, their strengths and limitations.

Then they lay out some recommendations for healthcare providers. These recommendations include:

– encourage patients with obesity to consider treatment
– consider biological treatments like surgery and medication in addition to lifestyle interventions
– create a treatment plan that uses multiple interventions if necessary
– recommend bariatric surgery if appropriate
– monitor progress and adjust treatment when necessary
– educate patients about the realities of weight loss and it’s metabolic effects – namely that they may need to eat roughly 300 less calories (or burn 300 more) per day than someone their height and weight without a history of obesity

All in all it was actually a pretty boring paper, with little in the way of new information or groundbreaking interventions. We already knew most of this stuff. This paper simply put the information together and provided some evidence based recommendations for healthcare providers.

We know that it is possible to lose weight and keep it off. Check out the National Weight Control Registry. It isn’t easy. No one has ever claimed it is easy. And sometimes it requires more than ‘eat less and move more’ – I’d argue that one of the recommendations missing from this paper is treatment for those struggling with binge eating disorder and other forms of disordered eating.

Lasting weight loss requires a permanent change in behavior. Sometimes it also requires medication, or therapy, or surgery (or all of those things!). Every obese patient will need a personalized treatment plan, and a compassionate and knowledgeable treatment team. This paper is a good step in the right direction by providing recommendations for health care professionals who might not understand all the biological issues a patient may present with.

More research, and better treatment options are necessary. I hope that more and more health care professionals begin to recognize the psychological issues at play, and the need for any treatment plan to address a patient’s mental and emotional health as well as their physical health. When we address all these aspects of health, we’ll see progress.

Sorry this post is so boring. This is the reality of the paper in question. It’s pretty boring. But you’ll notice how the media hyped it up into something it really isn’t (OMG WE’RE DOOMED FEAR FEAR FEAR). That’s what the media is best at.