New Years Resolutions with Nia Shanks!

I sat down with Nia Shanks yesterday to talk about New Years Resolutions. We discussed better ways of making changes. We ended up talking for 30 minutes, so cue this video up to play while you’re doing a quick New Year’s workout this week!

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Our next Habit Project On-Ramp is enrolling this week. If you’re interested in a habit-based approach to weight management and health, get your name on the email list to get first dibs on our Facebook and iPhone app groups.

An Inside Look at Herbalife (and Every Other MLM)

Yesterday I sat down with Laura from Surf City Fit Club, as part of one of my side project’s Fit2point0’s youtube show. Laura used to be an Herbalife ‘Coach’ and gave me an inside view of the training she got (or more specifically, DIDN’T get) in order to give her clients fitness and nutrition advice as part of the Herbalife program.

Laura is now training to be a fitness professional through an actual accredited fitness certification institute.

Here ya’ go.

Thank you for watching! Be sure to check out the Fit2point0 Facebook page here.

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Are you looking for a coaching program with real coaches who actually ARE trained in fitness and nutrition, and who won’t EVER sell you shakes? Check out my coaching program, The Habit Project™, with my coaching partner Sean Flanagan, here. We have a new group enrolling in January!

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Cognitive Dissonance, Or: How People Convince Themselves That Dude Didn’t Lose Weight Eating McDonalds

Imagine that you believe something very strongly. That “fast food makes you unhealthy and fat”, for example. And then someone comes along and presents you with some evidence that conflicts with that strongly held belief. Lets say that they present the case of a man who lost a large amount of weight and improved his health markers eating nothing but fast food, for instance.

In the above scenario, you would experience an uncomfortable sensation called “Cognitive Dissonance”. Cognitive dissonance is a state of anxiety that occurs when one is confronted with evidence that conflicts with one’s deeply held beliefs. In order to resolve this anxiety, one must either determine that the evidence is false, or examine and change one’s beliefs.

The scenario I presented is, of course, true. There really IS a guy who lost a bunch of weight and improved his health markers eating nothing but fast food (McDonald’s specifically), and it really has throw the internet into a fit of cognitive dissonance. The point of the article I linked is that the guy maintained a calorie deficit and lost weight. Losing weight itself improved his health markers. As the inevitable snowball of cognitive dissonance happened, I sat back and watched, and chuckled a little, because the mental gymnastics people put themselves through to rationalize away evidence never changes. Because, of course, for most people, it is easier to try to rationalize away the evidence than it is to examine and change their beliefs. I’ve written about cognitive dissonance before; the ways people are trying to rationalize away the McDonald’s dude’s weight loss are no different than the ways people have tried to rationalize away my weight loss success in the past (read the post I linked there to read some of the ways, it can get hilarious). 

I’ve rounded up some comments from Facebook about the dude-losing-weight-eating-McDonalds story, and am sharing them here (names redacted, of course), explaining the ways people are attempting to rationalize away the evidence they’ve been presented with so they can preserve their belief system.

First, we have the “It only worked because his diet was so bad before” folks.

The message here? The McDonalds diet only worked because his diet was so horrible before that McDonalds was an improvement. It wouldn't work for ME, because my diet is already good.More on the "his diet must have been horrible before" theme.

Then there are the Concern Trolls who are supposedly worried about his health:Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 12.00.06 PMAnother "I didn't read the article, and I'm going to choose to believe McDonalds made him unhealthy so I don't have to examine my belief system".

Neither of these people bothered to read the article in which it was noted that in addition to losing weight, all his health markers improved. Perhaps they purposely avoided reading the article, subconsciously worried that they’d be confronted with more evidence they’d have to try to explain away. Again, these people are telling themselves a story so they can continue believing their narrative in spite of being faced with conflicting evidence. They are rationalizing the evidence away.

These next few are random examples, I’ll explain them individually.

"I can't be bothered to read the article, so I'm going to choose to believe he only ate salads, which I could never do. And besides, [insert something Food Babe told me that has no basis in fact]."“If I read the article, I might find out something I don’t want to know, so I’m going to choose to believe that he lost weight because he only ate salads, and not because he maintained a calorie deficit. Oh, yeah, and McDonalds is poison! I read it on Natural Avocado Babe News!”Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 12.28.40 PM

“I’m going to choose to believe that he lost weight because his gastric system is messed up, and not because he maintained a calorie deficit.”

"I'm a lady. It would never work for me."

“I’m going to choose to believe that this only worked because he is a man, and not because he maintained a calorie deficit. It would never work for me, because I am a woman.”

I'm going to choose to ignore the entire point of the article - that he created a calorie deficit, which yes, ANYONE can do - and play the old 'everyone is different' card, with a side of the irrelevant 'some people can't exercise' trope."

 “I’m going to choose to believe this could only work for a small segment of the population (ignoring that EVERYONE will lose weight in a true calorie deficit).”

The exercise bit is legit – some of his improved health markers could be attributed to exercise. But his weight loss was attributed to the calorie deficit he created, which everyone can do.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.37.18 PMTricky! This person is pulling a complete non-sequitur! The article wasn’t about how McDonalds sources it’s food, it was about losing weight via a calorie deficit, and if this commenter had actually read the article they were responding to they would have seen that the author actually EXPLICITLY said “I’m sure someone is going to claim I’m telling people they should eat McDonalds every day”. Ha. Ha. Ha. 

This is what’s knows as deflection. Putting someone’s opponent on the defensive using a periferally-related but ultimately specious argument to distract attention from the REAL subject (weight loss via calorie deficit). The person who made this comment didn’t want to confront the fact that dude-lost-weight-eating-fast-food, so they tried to distract themselves, and everyone else, by changing the subject.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 9.02.27 AMThis is the one that bothers me the most, because upon first reading it sounds almost reasonable (unless you’ve been reading my blog for a while, in which case you probably know exactly how I’m going to respond to it).

Here’s the thing. Yes, there will always be people doing that. And you know what, dear commenter? You don’t need to worry about those people. You only need to worry about your own body and your own plate. In fact. Stop worrying about other people’s bodies and plates. Because it’s not doing anyone any good, and in fact it’s PART OF THE PROBLEM. It may even be PART OF YOUR PROBLEM. See, I doubt you have a perfect body or body image, or a perfect relationship with food. If you did, I don’t think you’d be running around Facebook judging other people’s bodies and diets. So, back off of other people. Eyes on your own plate.

The only person who’s body, and diet, is your business is YOU.

You see what this person has done? They’ve distracted themselves from the affront to their belief system by shifting their attention to judging other people. A handy trope we see all too often in our culture. Can’t examine their beliefs while they’re busy condemning the behavior of others!

To wrap up…

We are human, and it is hard to change our beliefs. We are usually very emotionally attached to our beliefs. But being able to examine our beliefs critically, and to change them if they can’t stand up to that examination, is a sign of intelligence and strength. It’s also really vital to achieving a truly healthy relationship with food, and to improving your body image. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we can’t ever really start moving past the stories we tell ourselves that keep us trapped in our cycles of disorder. Being unable to examine beliefs in THIS scenario will keep people from understanding that it is calorie balance that determines weight, for example. They will go on believing that it is ALL about fast food/food quality, and not understand why they may not be losing weight on their 100% organic diet.

It’s hard and frequently painful. But learning to think critically about our belief systems is such an important part of growing stronger as individuals. 

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So Meat Causes Cancer Now? Dr. Kern Explains.

Guest post by Dr. Joshua Kern

Forward from Amber: pretty much everyone has written about the ‘MEAT CAUSES CANCER OMG’ news from the World Health Organization last week. You know me, I like to put things in perspective for you guys so you don’t have to run out and completely overhaul your entire diet and lifestyle if it’s not totally necessary. For this one, I asked my friend and coaching partner Dr. Joshua Kern to take a look at the study and provide some perspective and, well…balance for you. At the end I’ll list some of my own blog posts on other media-hyped-up health news reports like this one. So now, without further ado, Dr. Kern’s post. Enjoy!

Virus

Recently the World Health Organization released a report about processed and red meat and rates of cancer. You probably saw some coverage of it in the media.

The viral nature of both the mainstream media reaction and the science-minded backlash to the “meat causes cancer” news following this report have been fascinating to witness.  I think the strong emotions this report provokes make a pretty good case study on the reactionary nature we have when it comes to health in Western nations. As a culture we’ve become obsessed with health, as we’ve realized that we probably aren’t doing it right.  But despite the answer being pretty basic (eat more vegetables, exercise more, and eat enough to support healthy activity and weight – so simple, yet so hard to implement) we are always looking for “it”- that singular piece of news or supplement which will finally get us down the road to health. I feel like the reaction to the WHO report is no different.

Many bloggers have already covered this report, some with a balanced and science-minded view but some quite biased in favor of various diet ideologies. I saw a great piece by examine.com that looks at the science of the article and ends with a very commendable and moderate summary:

“But all that being said, the evidence is mostly observational or mechanistic in nature. Due to the practical impossibility of running multi-decade controlled trials, the increased risk from eating different amounts of red meat is not really known. In this case, as in many others, moderation may be key.”  

I don’t think I need to beat the dead horse that this report is based on pretty low-quality evidence that shows correlation only, not causation.  A diet high in processed meat also tends to be low in vegetables and fruit and associated with a lifestyle high in other risk factors for cancer. So with the type and quality of evidence in this report, there is no way it can “prove” it’s the meat that’s the issue, and yet most media coverage of it stated that a link had been proved between processed and red meat and cancer. It’s been a reaction typical of how our culture treats questions of health and lifestyle.

I’d like to spend a moment putting the reported increase in risk in context. I don’t know if we can blame “increased risk” hysteria on low science literacy of the media or the people reading it. I suspect both. We humans tend to make decisions based on fear, not fact.

One example of this is the absolute fear of hormone replacement therapy that’s ingrained already in American culture since the Women’s Health Initiative study was published in 2002. When I have very uncomfortable menopausal women as patients and suggest that we consider hormones, you’d think I was recommending cyanide pills to them.  The fact is that this fear is because of a very, very small increased risk of heart disease which was misrepresented somewhat in the initial paper and in the lay media. Something important to understand about that big study was that the average age of the women was about 75. They were taking women who had been menopausal for an average of 25 years and putting them on hormones, and that’s the study that created all this fear and hysteria.  If you are 50, your risks and physiology are pretty different from someone who’s 75 years old. So right off the bat, how can we know if anything about this study applies to an early menopausal woman with crippling hot flashes?

The actual risk of hormones increasing cardiovascular disease in the study was quoted widely as “29%”. This is only sort of true – that number is based on a hazard ratio of 1.29. The absolute risk was very small, because even the women in the hormone group had so few heart attacks!  The total number of women in the hormone group had a .37% incidence of heart disease in a group of 10,000.  The placebo group had an incidence of .30%, which means the actual absolute increase in risk was .07%.  I personally would make very few medical decisions about myself based on absolute risk increases that low. In fact, with some reanalysis, that increase in risk wasn’t felt to be statistically significant, meaning that there’s a very good chance that finding was related to random chance. Yet many people still make decisions about hormone replacement based on the fear generated by the misrepresentation of low-quality data from one study. For more information on the reanalysis of that paper view this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1630688/

With that example in mind, let’s turn our attention to the increased risk reported in the WHO report about meat.  This PBS article is pretty typical of the types of reporting that people were reading and then freaking out about eating meat.

From that PBS article:

“That meta analysis found that colorectal cancer risk jumps by 17 percent for every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of red meat consumed each day. Meanwhile with processed meat, colorectal cancer risk increases by 18 percent for every 50 grams (1.7 ounces) eaten each day.”  

Before we jump on the “OMG increased risk!” bandwagon, let’s objectively look at what that even means by putting it in perspective.  Again, I’m ignoring the fact that this report doesn’t actually prove an increased risk. It indicates a correlation, and the authors of one of the biggest studies used to create this WHO report actually state,“In the large prospective cohort of American Nurses (NHS), it was estimated that women who consumed high amounts of red and processed meat, did not exercise, had a low folate intake, and had a consistent excess in body weight.”  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0020456

Ignoring those other factors and pretending that this is a real effect purely from the meat, we are going to take these numbers at face value. The baseline risk of an average person for developing colon cancer is about 5% in their lifetime. By eating one hotdog per day every day of your life you increase that risk to 5.9%. That’s what these numbers say.  I’d argue that everyone knows that eating one hotdog per day is probably not optimal for health, but even if you did eat one every day, the overall increase in risk seems pretty small to me. Should that keep you from ever eating a hotdog? That’s for you to decide. I’ll continue to eat a few hotdogs a year when I go to a ballgame because that’s what I do when I go to a ballgame.

To put this increase in risk in further perspective, what’s the increased risk of developing colon cancer if you have a family member who had colon cancer?  That’s one of the biggest known risk factors. The increased risk of that is more like a true doubling from 5% baseline risk to 10% baseline risk. To me that’s a truly significant increase in risk, but it still means that if one of your parents had colon cancer you still have a 90% chance of NOT getting colon cancer (though I still recommend all adults follow colon cancer screening guidelines anyway).

I hope that helps put this report and the reaction to it in some perspective. This is why I don’t change my diet every time a headline comes out that claims “this kills you” or “that saves you”.  I think a recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables and get more exercise is one of the things I can really get behind, because the level of evidence is pretty overwhelming that it improves health. It’s just not sexy because it’s so…moderate.

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Dr. Joshua Kern went to medical school at University of Washington. He practices Family Medicine in a small town in southern Idaho where he does a little of everything including colonoscopy, delivering babies, and inpatient medicine. He runs a residency and trains family medicine doctors and medical students. He’s an assistant clinical professor at the University of Washington.

He lives with his wife and three children. He also is a lifter of heavy things, and author of the blog Go Maleo. He’s my partner in moderating my Facebook group Eating the Food, a friend, and an all-around awesome person.

 

 

 

Body Composition: ‘The Last 5 Pounds’, or How to Deal With Problem Areas

Originally posted September 19, 2012

Almost daily I get a question along the lines of ‘Help! I don’t need to lose any more weight, but I’ve got this (belly/thigh/butt/arm/back) fat that just won’t budge!’.

We all have that ‘last’ bit of stubborn fat that just won’t respond to dieting. The first thing I want you to consider is that maybe it’s not as bad as you think. Our bodies need a little bit of fat reserve to function optimally, and for most of us that last little bit is all in one stubborn spot. For many people it’s the belly. For me, and lots of other women, it’s the hip and thigh area. For some people it’s the arms or upper back. Everyone has ‘that’ spot, and it annoys us, but the reality is that in the vast majority of cases it’s not a health threat, so from a health perspective you can let go of the pressure to lose it.

Doesn’t make it much better from the aesthetics perspective though, right? I hear ya. So today I’m going to talk about body recomposition. Here is exhibit A. Two pictures of me at the same weight, but different body compositions:

There’s 2+ years between these pics. This is not a fast process! Patience and consistency is key.

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 8.42.32 AM

170 in both pics.

I was actually in pretty good shape in the first picture, I was competing in triathlons and eating a healthy diet and had recently begun weight lifting. But I had just come off 18 months of losing weight, so while my fitness had improved, the calorie deficit I’d been maintaining had prevented me from adding any appreciable muscle mass (you need a calorie surplus to build muscle mass). So the result was a healthy weight but a higher fat-to-lean mass ratio (I have no idea what my body fat percentage was but it was probably in the 22-27% range). I was not unhealthy in any way, so hopefully no one will interpret these images as casting aspersions on my less-lean self, or on anyone who looks like my less-lean self. I had a healthy awesome body then, as I do now.

In any case, there I was at 160 pounds, a weight at which I’m comfortable, so I stopped losing weight and turned my focus to body recomposition. “Body composition” in it’s simplest terms, is the ratio of fat to lean mass your body is at. Building muscle requires a different dietary approach than losing fat does, so I changed the way I was eating. I ate more calories. Instead of eating at a calorie deficit with the goal of losing weight, I began eating at maintenance, or even a small calorie surplus. As always, I made sure I was getting plenty of protein (I aim for about 1 gram per pound of body weight per day) and adequate fat, so it was really carbs that I increased to bump up my calorie load (note: I’m not saying that my way is the best or only way (find what works for you), but there a popular mythology that carbs make you fat, and as you can see from looking at the second picture, eating more carbs definitely did NOT make me fatter, in fact, it made me leaner). My weight fluctuated about 5 pounds either way over time, so I wasn’t exactly 160 on the nose every day in between the two photos, and what was probably happening was that my body was very organically cycling between building muscle and burning fat, but the end result was that over time my body mass shifted from fatter to leaner. Fat cells don’t turn into muscle cells, what happens is that as muscles get bigger, fat cells get smaller as your body burns off the fat inside them.

You can see from the pictures that I carry/carried a lot of my fat on my thighs. As I built muscle all over my body, the fat on my thighs burned off, because that is where the fat was. So building up my arm, back and core muscles was just as much a part of making my legs leaner as working my leg muscles was. The message I’m attempting to convey here (however inelegantly) is that you need to work your whole body, not just the body part that bothers you. Bigger biceps means less belly fat. It’s true! Add a pound of muscle to your shoulders, and assuming your weight stays the same, that means there’s a pound less of fat on you, and if your fat is on your belly, that’s where it will come off of.

So how do you know it’s time to stop trying to lose weight and focus instead on body recomposition? Here’s my tips:

1. You’re at, or close to, a healthy weight, even if it’s higher than you wish
2. Your weight loss has stalled and simply won’t budge no matter what you do
3. Your eating habits are solid, you’re getting accurate hunger and satiety signals from your body, and you’re able to eat to your appetite without gaining weight
4. All of your health markers are normal and you feel good

Alternately, here’s some signs you may be at a weight that’s simply unsustainably low, and gaining some lean mass may be of benefit:
1. you’re able to maintain a low weight, but must be overly restrictive with diet
2. you need to do lots of cardio to keep from gaining weight
3. you frequently feel hungry and struggle with compulsive eating
4. you struggle with fatigue
5. you recover slowly from workouts

In both of the above scenarios, shifting your focus away from fat loss, and toward increasing lean mass, may be what your body needs in order to continue making progress.

So how do you do that, you ask? Well, here’s some jumping off points:

1. Eat at LEAST maintenance calories. Finding that target will take some trial and error, but the calculator in my Calorie Primer post can give you a good target window. Keep in mind that if you’ve been undereating or restricting carbs for a while, you’ll see an initial ~5-10 pound bump in weight almost immediately when you increase your calorie intake, as your body replenishes it’s glycogen and water stores. IT’S NOT FAT, so don’t panic.
2. It’s ok to go over maintenance calories by a few hundred, especially on days after workouts, your body needs the extra calories to build muscle mass.
3. A healthy female body can gain about 2 pounds of lean mass a month under optimal conditions, so if you keep any weight gain around this level you can be confident that you’re gaining mostly lean mass. If you gain more than that, IT’S OK, but more of it will be fat. Again, IT’S OK. Gaining a little fat along with muscle won’t kill you, you can always lose it later (if you want. You may be surprised at how nice that extra fat looks when it’s over a foundation of added muscle!).
4. Get plenty of protein! I generally recommend aiming for 1 gram per pound of your goal body weight, or just 100+ grams a day. Get protein from food if you can, but a protein supplement isn’t going to derail you and can help bump up your intake if you’re having trouble getting enough from food alone.
5. Carbs are great! Unless you have an active metabolic condition that necessitates a specific diet (in which case you should be working with a medical professional and not getting your nutrition information from blogs) don’t restrict carbs. They give you energy for workouts, and nutrients and calories your body needs to create new muscle mass. As always, get them from mostly whole foods, but IT’S OK TO MAKE ROOM FOR TREATS in your daily calorie target!
6. Don’t restrict fat either. Most people do well getting 20-35% of their calories from fat. 
7. EAT, and don’t feel guilty about it. Your body NEEDS fuel to meet your daily obligations, to recover from workouts, and to build new muscle mass. Some days you will feel like all you do is eat. Enjoy!
8. Experiment until you find what works best for you. I do great on tons of fruit, others go for sweet potatoes or bacon or coconut. There isn’t one right way, and trying to do it someone else’s way will ultimately not be as effective and sustainable as finding YOUR best way. You don’t have to ‘get it right’ on the first day. Pay attention to how your body feels and functions in response to what you eat. Keep a log so you can start to see patterns.
9. LIFT. Do a full body resistance routine at least twice, preferably 3 times a week. Alternately, some people prefer to follow a body part split routine, which is effective as well, but I’ve found to be a little more time consuming. It really is up to you what you prefer. Both styles will give you good results. For more on weight lifting styles and specifics, check out my Taming the Weight Room program.
10. Take regular rest days. Your body needs rest to recover properly. Low intensity cardio is fine on off days, but take at least one, preferably two, full rest days a week.
11. Say no to guilt, shame and restriction. Has it worked for you in the past? No? Then you don’t need it.

And last but not least, know that most people are too busy focusing on their own ‘problem areas’ to focus on yours. So don’t kill yourself trying to perfect them. It’s not worth it, you’re valuable and lovable just the way you are.

Body Positivity: it’s SCIENCE, bitchez

To be clear: the ‘bitchez’ I refer to in the title of this post are, quite specifically, the fitpro douches running around the internet ridiculing fat women and conflating ‘loving yourself’ with ‘being lazy’. This particular brand of internet warrior isn’t able to understand the ways that self-care and self-improvement intersect, and sees any expression of gentleness or graciousness as weak and lazy. They think that ‘body acceptance’ means ‘promoting obesity’ and are happy to tell anyone who utters the words that they are fat, weak, lazy and undesirable. This fitpro’s general philosophy is ‘mock and ridicule the fatness away’.

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Oy, the internet can be an ugly place.

So today, I’m going to tell you how scientific evidence supports body positivity.

First, let’s acknowledge this: the current cultural paradigm of shaming fat people in an effort to get them to lose weight isn’t working. We can see that. We can FEEL that (as the majority of us are actually the targets of that shaming, and it hasn’t worked on us). Not only is it not helping us lose weight, it appears that it’s actually making us FATTER.

A recent meta-analysis revealed that people who perceived themselves as overweight (even if they weren’t) were more likely to GAIN weight over time than people who didn’t. The researchers said they couldn’t be sure whether the weight gain was due to habitual overeating or a cycle of crash diets followed by regain, which is a cycle most of us are all too familiar with. Diets make you fat. According to Eric Robinson, one of the study’s authors, “The widely accepted finding is that these types of diets don’t work in the long run and the debate is over how much of a harmful effect they have,” he said. “Weight regain is going to happen.” (source). Earlier research has shown that adolescents who are weight conscious tend to gain more weight over time than those who aren’t; this research shows that it’s a phenomenon that affects people over the entire lifespan, and not just during adolescence. Dieting and weight preoccupation during adolescence also predicts weight gain, not weight loss, a finding that is echoed throughout the literature. 

So, perceiving oneself as overweight predicts weight gain; what about how others perceive us? Over and over, research shows that weight discriminations and fat shaming predict weight GAIN, not weight loss. Angelina Sutin, assistant professor at the department of behavioral sciences and social medicine at Florida State University College of Medicine showed that overweight people who experienced weight discrimination were more than twice as likely to become obese than those who didn’t. Jane Wardle, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behavior Research Centre at University College London, had similar findings: weight discrimination was significantly associated with weight GAIN and the risk of obesity.

When you consider that our culture, and fitness culture specifically, fixates myopically on obesity and weight loss, frequently to the point of ridicule, it is no wonder that so many people are overweight and obese. The way we approach weight management is designed to promote weight gain. Clearly, our preoccupation with weight, fat and dieting is making us fatter, not thinner. We are doing it wrong.

So, how do we do it better? More and more researchers, doctors and fitness professionals are realizing that focusing on people’s weight is not the answer. A growing movement is afoot, one that focuses on positive, health promoting behaviors like daily physical activity, quality sleep and diet improvements rather than fad diets that eliminate foods and food groups.

I’ve written at some length about how self-compassion promotes successful behavior change. Actual scientific evidence shows that the people who achieve the best habit change outcomes are the ones who afford themselves the grace and compassion to make mistakes, have bad days, seek out community support and practice positive self-care, self-talk and self-acceptance (I will link my own posts on this topic at the end of this post). According to Angela Sutin, “We should not be classifying people as overweight and giving them a label that has a stigma attached to it, but enabling people to make healthier choices.” And Eric Robinson says “The way we talk about body weight and the way we portray overweight and obesity in society is something we can think about and reconsider. There are ways of talking about it and encouraging people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle that don’t portray adiposity as a terribly deviant thing.” (source)

Finding an activity you ENJOY is KEY to successful habit change. Enjoyment = Self-Care.

Finding an activity you ENJOY is KEY to successful habit change. Enjoyment = Self-Care.

Body positivity, self-acceptance and self-compassion. Those fitpros I mentioned at the very beginning of this post may see these things as weak and lazy, but the evidence says they are important contributors to the achievement of positive habit change. Body positivity is actually evidence based, and predicts improved health and weight outcomes. That’s why self-compassion and body positivity are central to my own coaching program and philosophy. I follow the evidence, and the evidence leads to compassion, grace and self-care. Perhaps that is why our Habit Project clients see long term results, and the fitpro douches I mentioned above just stay in their endless parade of circle jerk douchery with each other.

Got something to say about this? Join the discussion on Facebook!

Read more of my posts on this topic:
The Science of Self-Care
The Real Key to Weight Loss Success
Moderation is Evidence Based
Self-Compassion
Nurturing Self-Compassion
Self-Compassion is the Cure for Extremism
Self-Compassion and Others

 

 

This Week in Habit Change

Every time we open enrollment for the 12 Week Habit Project On-Ramp, we like to share word-for-word what people are saying about the program. There’s a lot of hype in the fitness industry and we don’t want you to feel like you just need to take OUR word for it.

Here are some things that people have said about the Habit Project in the past week alone.

If I had to describe my experience in The Habit Project in one word, it would be “empowering”. Through my personal work in The Habit Project, I have been encouraged, supported, and empowered to build self-awareness– to listen to my body and mind. I have practiced and learned to pay attention to ME throughout each day, and over weeks and months.

The group format and structure provides accountability and support to ensure maximum success. Participants celebrate and collaborate and, sometimes, commiserate together as we practice and build new habits. With each habit, I have been held accountable to the goals I have chosen, checking in daily with my teammates and coaches, and if ever a habit weren’t working for me, I had the full support of my teammates and coaches to revise it and try again. 

As I near my the end of my time in and prepare to exit from The Habit Project, I find myself feeling that the habits I’ve practiced in the group have become personal habits that I am confident I will continue for the rest of my life.“

-Cyndi Reiley

 

“1) The Habit project is EASY. Deceptively easy. You think you aren’t doing anything much at all, and then suddenly a big wave of realization hits that you’ve changed the way you think about food, movement, sleep, etc. So, I think the hardest part (at least for me) was getting over the idea that a weight loss program has to be challenging and life-changing to be effective. You don’t overhaul anything. You live your life first and your habits second, and soon they become one and the same.

2) LIFELONG sustainable habits by very nature are going to ebb and flow based on what’s going on in life. So yeah, I still struggle with different things on different days, but the Habit Project (unlike the South Beach Diet) is still in full effect on “bad” days. I had a phenomenally shitty day yesterday, I ate cheesecake for lunch (with a side salad), ate chips in the evening (mindfully, and until I was full), and spent most of my day on the couch (but still went for a 20 minute walk). South Beach Chrissey would’ve said yesterday was a setback, but Habit Chrissey looks at all those things in brackets and feels like a rockstar (btw: feeling like a rockstar is a big component of the Habit Project 😉 )

3) The accountability to the group is super helpful. You do your habit daily, you check in daily, it’s always on your mind and you always have support with what’s going on for you that day.

4) It allows you to give structure and direction to the things you already KNOW you should do or want to do, but are feeling lost or overwhelmed with trying to do All The Things. It breaks All The Things down into step-by-step things. Like I said, deceptively easy!

– Chrissey Eliot

 

“The Habit Project changed my life. I did it from April-July. All of the habits I did were amazing, but practicing the satiety habit was life changing – and I’ve kept to it since. I think a main point of the program is recognizing your struggles won’t immediately go away. And you have to practice the habits, sometimes for a while, to get the change to be meaningful and long term.

Habits not diets! Because diets try to say – you don’t have to struggle, you can make this giant change immediately and forever! But it’s all a lie. The Habit Project recognizes reality and human nature. It’s also a super supportive group of people, and the one on one attention I received from Sean was awesome. Plus you can customize the habits if one particular one doesn’t work for you.

You have to give yourself to the process, but if you do, I think you can see really positive long term results. I started seeing an ETF friendly therapist and dietician after The Habit Project and they were so excited at what I had learned and already been practicing as a result of my participation in the project. The hardest part of the program for me personally was struggling with whether to stick on my vegan diet or add in some animal protein so I could more easily up my protein intake. And I still struggle with that – but Sean helped me talk through the issue – and I’ve come to a place I’m comfortable with.”

– Sarah Kader

 

Doing the habit project has boosted my confidence. I tend to avoid some situations or keep to myself to avoid embarrassment and I find myself doing that less and less. “

-Valerie Johnson       

 

I wish that I could self-love my way into weight loss!  But, I’m realizing that eating veggies and protein, walking, being low-stress are things that work for me to have weight loss.  When I really truly love myself and my life then I make choices that enrich me.”

-Mary Kraatz

 

I now consistently stop eating before being full. I definitely do over do it on occasion but it’s rare and usually when I have been withholding particular foods or food groups. That was also something I learned.  I am definitely more aware of getting my vegetables in and also just being nice to myself.”

I learned to start paying attention to my body.  If I’m hungry I eat. Even if I think I have eaten enough. If I crave something and it won’t go away after a day, I eat it. And I enjoy it without guilt!!

-Chanda Hall

 

There’s still a few days left to claim your spot in the next On-Ramp.   Click here to learn more and sign up if it feels right for you.

 

 

 

 

A Personal Update

I tend to think ‘why would anyone want to hear about what’s going on in my life?’, but then I share something personal and you guys express interest, so maybe? I thought I’d write a quick blog post to update you on how I’m doing. 

It’s been three months since I had surgery on my knee. My surgeon told me to expect a recovery time of at least 3 months, but of course I expected to be up and back to it much sooner. I’m tough after all. I guess I forgot that I’m 42 now. Sigh.

Even before the surgery, my knee pain had been bad enough that I’d had difficulty working out. So even going into it I had already lost a good deal of strengths and muscle mass. And one of the pain meds I started taking early this year had produced a 10 pound weight gain that I’m still holding on to, mostly because losing weight hasn’t been high on my priority list. It’s been a tough year. Constant debilitating pain, pain meds that have had various side effects, a car accident in January that compounded what I was already dealing with with whiplash, and slow deterioration of function (on top of worsening depression BECAUSE of all this). I’m not looking like much of a fitness guru lately! 

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But, I AM healing. Slowly. I still have pain but my doctor and I are zeroing in on a treatment protocol that promises some relief. Getting back to working out has been my ongoing goal, and I am moving slowly in that direction. I’m doing something active 3-4 times a week now. A few times I’ve overdone it and set myself back significantly, so I’m learning how much I can handle, and working up slowly. I’m back to lifting regularly, but am keeping the weights and intensity modest. I’m deadlifting 95 pounds right now, which is a bit of a blow to my pride, but it’s better than nothing, right? 

Better to keep moving forward slowly than to try to sprint forward quickly and be sidelined for a week with pain and fatigue. This whole process has been an exercise in taking my own medicine. Patience, Amber. Patience and consistency. Just keep moving forward. 

I mentioned before the last Habit Project group started that I was going to be participating with the group as a team member, and I have been, quietly. I work on my habit every day. Just that habit. One thing at a time. Keeping track of what I’m eating. Making sure I’m getting veggies and protein in adequate amounts. Practicing self-compassion when I don’t make progress as quickly as I want. Doing something active every day, if pain levels allow. This approach to behavior change is so profound. Again and again I see it produce real and long-term changes, both in myself and in others.

The best part of all these body changes is that I’m able to fit into plus-size fashions again. Little known fact: I love plus-size fashion. I always have. I missed it when I got too small to wear it anymore. The physical changes over the last year have put me back into a size range (12-14) that just squeaks me into plus-size. And I’m really enjoying that aspect of it! Plus-size fashions are generally fun and colorful, and cut to be comfortable and easy to move in. Plus, even at my smallest, I had super curvy hips that rarely fit well into pants, which is why I was always in yoga pants in pictures! But those curvy hips are taken into account by plus size designers, so plus-size clothes just fit my shape better. So, I’m making the most of my softer, fuller figure lately and really enjoying fashion again, after a long, long time of having a hard time finding fun clothes to wear. Here’s a few pictures from my instagram account:

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Otherwise, I’m doing well. My health, despite the pain, is very good. My family is awesome, and I have dear friends. I have lots to say and I sure do appreciate you guys for reading it! Thanks for all your support through this. I really really appreciate it, and you. 

 

 

6 Bad Arguments That Make the GMO Debate Look Stupid

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Although I took a critical thinking course in college, it was really my friend and mentor, Donna from BAD RAP, who taught me how to unravel faulty arguments. She was so good at breaking them down to their faulty base assumption, and presenting  a more logical, more sound option instead.

Recognizing faulty arguments can be a challenge, because many times faulty arguments are built upon logic that is emotionally compelling. And emotion can create blinders. That logic though, when examined, frequently falls apart. Most people are not very good at examining logic, so faulty arguments can take root and grow as more people are exposed to them, because they are so emotionally compelling.

Below, I’m going to list 6 of the faulty arguments about GMOs that the GMO debate is rife with, and explain how those arguments play upon your emotions rather than utilize facts.

1. The Bandwagon Fallacy – other countries do it so we should too!

This is the argument that we should ban GMOs because other countries have banned them. The problem with this is that just because someone else does something doesn’t mean we should too. It also doesn’t mean that that someone did it for reasons based on facts and evidence. Other countries prohibit women from driving, and stone people to death for adultery, and chop people’s hands off for theft. There are lots of countries with different laws than us, and it doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean we should have the same laws as they do. Plus, a lot of countries base their laws on religion, or on public opinion, not facts and evidence.

The Bandwagon Fallacy isn’t evidence. If we ban GMOs, it should be because the evidence says we should. Not because someone else does it.

I propose that we stop using the Bandwagon Fallacy as an argument in the GMO debate and instead base our arguments (and laws) on actual evidence.

2. The Shill Gambit Fallacy – you’re being paid to say that!

Maybe that person arguing in favor of GMO technology is being paid by the GMO industry. Upon first glance, this argument makes sense – we can’t trust your argument because you’re being paid to make it! You’re an industry shill!

There are a few logic problems with this argument though. First, vocal proponents of both sides of the debate are being backed by industry interests. Dr. Kevin Folta, a vocal GMO proponent, has received grants from Monsanto for his research and education initiatives. And Dr. Charles Benbrook, a vocal GMO opponent, is backed by organic corporations such as Whole Foods, Stonybrook Farms and Organic Valley. Virtually every organization on either side of the debate has industry funding at some level. If being ‘paid’ to take a side in the debate is a reason to dismiss someone’s argument, then we pretty much need to dismiss everyone.

Second, as someone just trying to gather information on the topic, I noticed that as soon as I began expressing ambivalence about the topic, I began being accused of being a shill. I have been accused of being a shill innumerable times in discussing this topic. Lets get this out of the way: the only entity I shill for is The Y, which is an amazing non-profit organization (and where I work, although I am currently donating my entire paycheck back to The Y, so I’m not receiving any personal financial gain for said ‘shilling’). And the Y has no stake in the GMO debate.  I have never received any money from the Food Industry, biotech industry, Monsanto, the Organic industry or ANY OTHER entity for asking questions about GMO technology. Not a penny. Ever. From anyone. So even though I’m NOT a shill, I still get accused of being one, all the time. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person out there questioning GMO ideology who isn’t a shill.

Finally, the Shill Gambit, while effective for swaying people’s emotions, doesn’t actually negate a person’s argument. Even if they were a shill, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. The shill accusation isn’t evidence that a person is wrong. Once I realized this, I began watching to see if people making shill accusations would follow up with any evidence that the person they were accusing was wrong. It rarely happened. This disappointed me.

If being paid is the only motivation a person would have to make an argument, wouldn’t we have to assume everyone taking a side in the debate is being paid to by one industry or another? Shouldn’t we apply the same Shill logic to both sides? Are all people in support of biotechnology being funded by Monsanto? Are all people arguing against GMOs receiving kick-backs from Whole Foods? That is where Shill logic must lead, if a person wants to use it. Either we evaluate arguments from both sides based on evidence, or we apply Shill logic to both sides. We can’t reasonably and logically (or fairly!) allow one side to use shill logic and require evidence from the other. We must evaluate both arguments based on the same set of rules.

I propose we stop using the Shill Gambit altogether, and evaluate both sides of the argument based on evidence.

3. Appeal to Emotion Fallacy – children aren’t science experiments!

An appeal to emotion is an argument that seeks to elicit an emotional reaction in a listener, rather than address the actual topic of debate. It’s a way of deflecting attention from the issue.

Have you seen the images of children holding signs saying “I am not a science experiment”? MAN does that pull at the heartstrings! The cute little kids! We gotta protect them, right? This imagery provokes an emotional reaction, but is not evidence of harm.

There’s also the one about farmers in India committing suicide. This one is even more emotionally compelling, but it turns out it’s not really based on the facts (read this article to get a better idea of what is really happening). Facts be damned though, because once you’ve created an emotional reaction in a person, their ability to be logical is undermined.

I propose we stop using emotional manipulation to undermine people’s ability to evaluate an argument logically, and instead focus on the relevant facts and evidence.

4. Cherry Picking Fallacy – The Seralini Study.

Cherry picking is the act of selecting only the evidence that supports your argument, and ignoring any evidence that contradicts it.

A friend recently forwarded an article to me that claimed to detail new evidence of the harm caused by GMOs. I clicked through with an open mind. I am genuinely interested in this topic, and am willing to reevaluate my opinions if new evidence compels me to do so. I was really disappointed when the ‘new research’ turned out to be the same rat tumor study I’d seen a thousand times before. Just as the anti-sugar people routinely trot out the ONE rat study that hinted at an addiction-like response, this ONE (deeply flawed) rat study gets trotted out over and over and over in anti-GMO rhetoric.

I propose that rather than make decisions based on one or two single studies, we instead look at the entire body of scientific evidence on a topic before coming to a conclusion, or making laws on that topic.

5. The Naturalistic Fallacy – anything man-made is bad!

Empires are built upon the theme that ‘Natural is good! Artificial is bad!’ There seems to be a growing distrust of science, and anything that sounds like a chemical.

The Naturalistic Fallacy is an argument that something is bad because it’s not natural, or that something is good because it is natural. It stands that since GMOs are created by science, they must be bad, because they’re not natural. This isn’t evidence though. It’s an assumption based on wishful thinking. Plenty of things that are natural are dangerous (arsenic, diphtheria, snake venom) and plenty of man made things are AWESOME, like helmets, vaccines and smart phones. You can’t determine the safety of a thing based on whether it’s natural or man-made. You have to look at the evidence.

I propose we stop buying into the naturalistic fallacy (and I do mean buying $$), and instead focus on the evidence when determining if a thing is safe or dangerous.

6. The Burden of Proof fallacy – do your research!

“Do your research!” people bellow at me from the pages of Facebook. This is usually after I’ve asked them if they have any evidence to support their claim. They respond by telling me to do my own research.

This is a fallacy that shifts the burden of proof from the person making a claim and onto the listener. Except that things don’t work this way. If you want people to believe your claims, you have to provide supporting evidence. Every time a person tells me to ‘do your research!’ what they are really telling me is “I don’t actually have any evidence, I just heard this somewhere and it sounded good and/or made me feel good about myself, so I am choosing to believe it. Hey, you should believe it too!”

If GMOs are bad, there must be evidence out there to prove it (and sure there is, that one rat tumor study!). So, find the evidence and present it. Telling people to ‘do your research’ is laaaaaaazzzzzzzzyyyyyyy. And no one is obligated to believe something without evidence. So, find the evidence and have it handy.

I propose that rather than telling other people to ‘do your research!’, we all arm ourselves with the evidence that supports our claims. And be forthright with that evidence when asked for it. It’s the respectable, and respectful, way to communicate.

So, to wrap up…

Most of us don’t have the time (or, quite frankly, the critical thinking and scientific literacy skills) to hunt down all the research on a topic and evaluate it in context. So most of us need to rely on reputable science and public health organizations to do that for us. One such organization is the World Health Organization. They’ve put together an easy to read FAQ on GMO technology and it’s impact on health and the environment. They’ve covered pretty much all of the major issues that come up in these debates. The WHO is one of the most reputable health-related organizations in the world. You can read the WHO’s FAQ here: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/

My own opinion on the topic, today, leans more toward the ‘GMOs are probably safe, and offer a lot of promise for solving issues of food security around the world’. I have been on the other side of the issue in the past. I am open to new information if it should arise, and willing to change my opinion (again!) if I see evidence that leads me to believe I should.

It should be noted that it was ‘doing my research!’ that led me to go from Anti-GMO to cautiously Pro-GMO. Which is why it’s particularly amusing when people tell me to do my research – I’m like ‘how do you think I came to this conclusion!’.

It should ALSO be noted that these bad arguments, the six fallacies I’ve listed above, aren’t exclusive to the GMO debate! You will find them anywhere you find people arguing about anything. I hear them regularly in regard to diet, vaccines, health, politics, religion…and from all sides. Being able to recognize them will help you make sound, reasoned, evidence-based decisions about your health.

When a person must rely on these bad arguments to support their conclusion, you can be reasonably sure the evidence is NOT on their side. It’s not a guarantee, of course. Just because a person uses a fallacy doesn’t mean they’re wrong. But in general, the more fallacies a person must rely on, the higher the likelihood that they’re just plain wrong.

I propose that rather than make decisions and laws based on bad arguments, we examine all the evidence critically and make an informed decision. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Have something to say about this? Join the conversation on Facebook!

 

 

Knowing When to Prioritize Weight Loss, and How To Do It

 Guest post by Sean Flanagan

woman's legs on a domestic scaleNowadays more and more people are becoming aware of how weight is an imperfect predictor of health outcomes and the shortcomings of the body mass index for those with significant muscle mass.  The current state of evidence suggests that activity is more important than weight, but does that mean that body fat isn’t worth thinking about at all?

In this post, I’m going to talk about how to view weight in its proper context of health.  We’ll discuss the role of body fat in health, how to minimize your cardiovascular risk factors, as well as how much you should even focus on weight in the first place for having success changing your body composition.

The Two Biggest Limitations for Weight as a Predictor of Health

  • Weight doesn’t necessarily reflect level of leannessWe’ve all heard about the silliness of labeling heavily muscled lean athletes as “overweight” because of their body mass index.  But a more common issue that can slip through the cracks of the body mass index is that you can be a “normal weight” but still high body fat levels due to having low amounts of muscle mass.
  • Activity levels matter moreYour cardiovascular risk factors are lower if you’re overweight but active than if you’re normal weight but inactive.

But does this mean it’s time to say “F It” and never think about body mass again?

Just because weight is an imperfect predictor for health does NOT mean that body mass isn’t worth thinking about.  While it is better to be active and overweight than inactive and normal weight, you would still benefit from being both active AND have body fat within reasonable limits.  The issue is not that it’s useless to think about body mass; the issue is that looking at weight, especially by itself, doesn’t tell the full story.

Why Fat Mass DOES Matter

Moving past an overly generalized view of weight, let’s talk about body fat.  It’s common to think about body fat simply as this thing that stores calories and sits between our skin and our muscles.  The reality is though that body fat doesn’t just sit there; it’s actually playing an active role in your body.

Adipose tissue is more accurately thought of as your body’s largest endocrine gland.  Not only are hormones such as leptin released from adipose tissue, but chemicals such as inflammatory cytokines are also released from body fat.

It is these inflammatory cytokines that are the main reason we should respect the impact of body fat on health.  As body fat levels increase, so does the release of cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin-6.   Elevated levels of these and other chemicals increased by increased body fat are play roles in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, migraines, fatigue, and more.

Visceral fat is considered by many experts to be more dangerous than subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the fat underneath your abdominals and around your organs; it’s not the stuff you can pinch (that would be subcutaneous fat) but it does increase the size of your waist.

So where does this bring us?  Excessive body fat can indeed impact your health and we can use waist circumference as a more precise benchmark than weight due to the impacts of visceral fat.

The state of having a waist size considered excessive is referred to as abdominal obesity or central obesity.   Waist size is its own valid assessment tool, but also waist-to-hip ratio is as well.

Below are some of the different bench marks used by different health organizations for defining abdominal obesity:

American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Waist Circumference): Women: > 88 cm (35 inches), Men: > 102 cm (40 inches)*

World Health Organization (Waist-to-hip ratio) : Women: > 0.85, Men: > 0.9

*It’s worth emphasizing that these thresholds are for determining who is at the highest risk.  Getting further away from the cut-off (to a point) yields greater risk reduction.  The UK’s National Health Service recommends that men have a waist measurement no greater than 37 inches for men and no greater than 31.5 inches for women.

How Much Should You Freak Out and What Should You Do About It?

Okay… so maybe you just grabbed a piece of measuring tape discovered that your waist measurement is about the cut off.  What should you do?

Well unless medically advised otherwise, you should focus on developing health supporting habits as well as habits that will allow you to enter a calorie deficit.

In other words, not much changes if you were working on improving your health and/or losing body fat before.

If you’ve been exclusively focused on weight and calories in vs out before, I would suggest not just being mindful of waist circumference, but also taking an honest inventory on how much your habits are supporting your health goals.  This is important on two levels:

  • 1) As we talked about early on, being active is SUPER important for health. We also discussed how body fat (both visceral and subcutaneous) can act like an endocrine gland, releasing inflammatory cytokines. So it’s essentially not visceral fat (the more harmful to your health of the two) VS physical activity; BOTH matter. So if the degree of a calorie deficit you’re aiming for does not allow you to be active, it would be wise to start eating the food in a way that enables you to support a healthy weight AND activity level.

and 2) There appears to be at least some relationship between healthy habits and protection from visceral fat.  A 5-year study from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that for every 10 grams of soluble fiber eaten daily, visceral fat decreased by 3.7% over the next 5 years.  Some experts also suggest that exercise, and often aerobic exercise especially, are effective for reducing visceral fat levels.

And if you were working on health supportive behavior changes but were convinced that body mass isn’t a risk factor so you’ve avoided habits that support creating a calorie deficit, it would be wise to also look at what changes you can make that would support eating fewer – and/or burning more – calories per day.  You don’t need to throw away the healthy habits you’ve made and go on a crazy diet, you just need to apply the same mentality that enabled you to create behaviors that support your health towards habits that make it easier to create a calorie deficit.

You can read more about my 4 types of habits for fat loss I wrote about in a previous guest post HERE.

Wrapping Up:

Although weight isn’t the only thing that matters for your health, and your healthy habits are ALWAYS great, it would be a major act of self-deception to internalize that body mass has no importance whatsoever.

Waist circumference (and waist-to-hip ratios) is an evidence-based means of assessing disease risk.  And although you should put most of your brainpower towards having consistency with the health habits you’re working on, it would be well advised to save a little bit of awareness for what is happening to your midsection and to be skeptical of the judgment of any health “experts” who claim that body mass has no importance.

Body positivity and self-compassion are both great tools that support a happy and healthy life, but denial of the evidence on abdominal obesity is not required in order to be body-positive or self-compassionate.

Talk soon,

Sean

Sean Flanagan is a fitness & nutrition coach helping people implement habit-based strategies for lasting fat loss. Sean and Amber co-run the Habit Project, for which the next 12 Week On-Ramp is enrolling soon. You can get on the presale list and be one of the first notified of enrollment at http://seanflanaganwellness.com/on-ramp-coming-soon