Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Would you kiss your mother with that inner voice?

There is a viral video going around these days of a "fitness motivator" named John Burk ranting about obesity and overweight people.  In the video, Burk goes on an intense tirade about finding overweight people "utterly repulsive and disgusting."  Burk is not going to "accept you as you are with that bullshit excuse that 'you should love me because I'm beautiful.'  Your personality might be beautiful but your body is not," he yells.  And that is just the first 45 seconds so you can only imagine what the rest of the 5:30 clip holds.

As I watched this video, like many have already commented, I was appalled at his unapologetic fat-shaming.  I've rarely seen such weight-based hatred so clearly illustrated.  But the more I thought about it, I realized Burk has actually done something very helpful: he's given us a face to put to our own inner voice.

For many of us, our inner voice is much more critical than any other voice we might choose to speak out loud.  When we are struggling with our body image, it's our inner voice that says the most horrific things to us.  It tells us we are disgusting, repulsive, lazy and worthless.  We use words that we'd never say to another person out loud.  Silently, we abuse ourselves with words.  Burk is finally saying out loud the things we so often only say to ourselves.  Burk is bringing our private self-loathing into the light.

I wonder what Burk's inner voice is telling him? If these are the things he is saying about others, I wonder what he says to himself about his own body?  What words does he choose to use when he sees some part of his body that he does not like?

Now obviously, Burk and I have VERY different approaches.  I want to help people change their inner voice, to be more nurturing for one simple reason: most people do not respond positively to being barraged with negative messages about their body.  Just like in Intuitive Eating, where there are different voices that speak to us about food, there are similar voices that talk to us about our body. There are negative voices, like Burk, and then there are positive voices.  By developing a positive inner voice about our bodies, we make healthy choices from a place of nurturing our health rather than restricting food and exercising as a punishment.  Building that nurturing voice is important because once that voice is strong, we find the truth about our bodies: each one is different and no matter what the external shell looks like, not one of us is "disgusting" or "utterly repulsive" as Burk or our critical inner voice would say. We are unique, beautiful and inspiring beings, each of us.

I used to have a voice like Burk.  Yelling at my body for every indiscretion, every extra calorie consumed and every moment wasted on the couch.  I'd call myself lazy, fat, weak and gross.  But that voice is gone, and it's not coming back.  Instead there's a peaceful voice that is able to listen to my body and accept that some days will be better than others.  Making peace with my body is not the same as giving up; it's just the opposite.  It's taking more time and putting in more effort to gain a self-understanding that will sustain me for years.

I'll leave you with this final message to hopefully inspire to you to say goodbye to your inner John Burk voice and instead find the voice that we really need...kindness.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thank you Bryce Harper for exposing our male body image issues

Each year ESPN Magazine releases their "Body" issue.  This year there was a lot of talk about Amanda Bingson being one of the athletes featured on one of the covers.  She's an Olympic hammer thrower. Her image was a nice example of body positive messaging.  She is a larger woman who is an accomplished Olympic athlete and shows that athletes can come in all shapes and sizes.

Another athlete that was featured in the magazine was Bryce Harper who plays baseball for the Washington Nationals.  In the picture, Harper looks like the ultimate male athlete.  He is chiseled, ripped and the image of what the ideal body should look like.

But how did Harper do get that body?  Was it just his natural, everyday body or, like many others, did he do some extreme things to make sure he looked "his best?" It turns out, extreme is exactly what he did. From this Washington Post article, we see exactly what he did to make his body look this way for the photoshoot:
[It] consisted of three workouts and six meals a day until it consisted of none, that final week when Bryce Harper consumed only juice. Seven different raw juices. Over the final two weeks, before he exposed each of his muscles to ESPN’s photographers, he put salt in his drinking water so he could hydrate himself without gaining weight. On the final day, before he stripped naked and recorded the results for the world, he rose for one final workout, but when he went to refresh himself, he spit the water out. When he arrived at the field at the University of Nevada Las Vegas for the shoot, his system was completely depleted. 
He shoved raw, white potatoes down his throat because he knew the glucose and glycine they contained would run straight to his muscles — which yearned for something, any kind of nourishment they could find. 
“It makes you pop,” Harper said. “It makes you stand out.”
Stand out he does.  I'll admit he looks amazing, but should we reward Harper for looking good without examining the extreme lengths it took to look this way?  Because Harper is a man, do we judge his actions differently than if he was a woman?  If a woman did something extreme like this, would we think she's healthy or would we think it's some sort of eating disorder?

When I read what Harper did, I think it highlights just how much even the most famous men struggle with body image issues.  Heaven forbid we get in front of a camera without looking our best. For women, we are more aware of the signs and dangers.  We notice if their unhealthy body image causes them to lose too much weight, but for men it might be harder to spot.  The reason?  Because men obsess about muscles.  If we build muscle, we're healthy.  So bigger muscles equal doing more healthy things.  In reality,  we may be doing some very unhealthy things to get that body.

Starving yourself for days, avoiding water, obsessively working out, and then binging to make you "pop" and "stand out" is not healthy behavior and not does it reflect a healthy body image.

On one hand we applaud Bingson for baring all, and we do the same for Harper.  But I see it a little differently.  I love the idea of ESPN's Body issue.  Let's celebrate the amazing bodies all athletes have and the unbelievable things they can do.  Maybe next year we can celebrate the body naturally, without alterations, either by photoshop or by allowing athletes to starve themselves to "stand out." Without any of the shenanigans he went through before the shoot, Harper and every athlete is a "stand out." They are the best of the best and their bodies should be celebrated no matter what they look like.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Rolling with resistance

In working with my clients and talking to other people who advocate for Intuitive Eating, one thing that always comes up is what to do about resistance.  Resistance is the force that might prevent us from moving forward and when trying to make peace with food.  It is a feeling, belief or thought that prevents us from truly embracing our body's intuition when it comes to food.

Resistance comes at different times for each of us but it will likely come at some point.  In my experience, resistance tends to rear it's head when we've hit on a sensitive or raw nerve.  We hit something that brings up an issue we either weren't ready to deal with or something that surprises us.

Resistance can come up when we just start learning about intuitive eating. We know we might want to try something other than the diets that we've been on forever.  We know there is something better out there and we're trying to give ourselves permission to eat and BAM, there it is, resistance smacking us upside the head.  The fear of unconditional permission to eat truly anything might seem scary because what will happen if we start down that rabbit hole? The fear of uncontrollable eating or the unknown manifests as resistance.  "Maybe this isn't for me?" is what you tell yourself.  "Maybe I should just go back to what I was doing before, it wasn't so bad." is how you try convince yourself you cannot succeed.

Resistance might come up later for some.  Perhaps, you've mastered permission, you're tuning into hunger and fullness but then all of a sudden life's everyday ups and downs come along and throws your eating and intuition out of balance and suddenly you realize that your emotions are dictating your eating.  Resistance is back by your side, preventing you from moving forward.

Its not important to avoid or deny resistance, but what is important is how you deal with it. Giving up might seem like the easy way out because change is just too overwhelming.  Resistance is like a big wall in front of your ultimate goal.   A wall so wide that there's now way around it, so instead of trying to climb over, you just turn around and walk away.

There is a different way than giving up.  You can find a way to fight through resistance. It might seem scary and full of unknowns, but learning to fight through resistance is where you learn the most about yourself and the path to a different relationship with food.  So, how do you deal with resistance? Try these 3 steps:

1) Mindfulness - Becoming more mindful helps you notice what it's like to be in the moment, to be with your feelings and thoughts.  It can help you learn to be comfortable with uneasiness instead of running away from it.

2) Journal - Don't keep a food journal, but use a journal to log your feelings about food, your body, your emotions or anything else that you are struggling with. You can use that as a tool for reflection when you are calm to help you gain a better understanding of how your feelings are affecting your actions.

3) Find someone who can help you process your fear or uneasiness.  This is where I (or any other professional you trust) come into play. When you find that resistance has come up, even though it's scary and might bring up some sensitive issues, working with a professional to try to understand what's going is the best time to learn so much about your relationship with food.  It's in these moments when breakthroughs are made, when learning happens and when you finally get to a greater understanding about you and food.

Resistance is normal for all of us.  It seems to happen at the more inconvenient of times and sometimes when we least expect it.  But remember: shying away from the wall of resistance is the easy and comfortable path. Be brave, take a deep breath and climb the wall. I'll be there to spot you to make sure you don't fall. You are strong and you can climb over it, I promise.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A letter to my future client

Dear Future Client,

We haven't met yet but I already feel like I know you.  I know what you're struggling with and I know you feel like there's no end in sight.  I know what it's like to hate your body; to look at yourself in the mirror and wonder how you got to this moment.  I know what it's like to hate exercise, fearful of moving your body because, with so little faith in your own strength, you don't think you'll be able to do it.

I understand what it's like to fear food and eating.  I know what it's like to think if you eat one dessert, you'll never stop.  Should you stop eating carbs all together?  Is sugar really poison?  How much butter is too much?

I know what it's like for food to be your best friend.  It's there for you when you're happy, sad, lonely or bored.  Food doesn't judge you, but you can't do the same for food.  You label it good vs. bad or safe vs. dangerous.

I know you're thinking if you could just recommit to the diet that "worked" last time, it'd be ok. But what does "working" really mean?  Is getting on the scale once, twice or three times a day really working?  Did everything really get better in your life when you lost 10 pounds?  Has the scale really ever been kind to you?

I know it's scary to think of giving all of this up and learning to trust your body and make peace with food.  I know that it seems almost crazy to give up your food rules.  I know it seems impossible to change but I'm writing to tell you that change IS possible.

We haven't met yet, but I believe in you! You can do this and it starts with you finally saying "enough!" Enough of the diets, enough of the self loathing and enough of the fear.

You are capable of so much and I want to help you realize it.  I'm betting on you and me!  Together we'll build your new relationship with food and with your body.

We haven't met yet but I know that when we do, we will do amazing things together.

Until we meet, I wish you healthiest regards,

Aaron Flores, RDN

Monday, June 15, 2015

Body Love Conference 2015 - A day of inspiration

We all need a day just focused on body love and body positivity in our lives!  I was lucky enough to have one of those in June of 2015.

I first learned about the Body Love Conference last year from the social media page of Jes Baker aka The Militant Baker.  She's an advocate for body acceptance and active in many different ways to try to help us embrace the idea that truly all bodies are beautiful and an important figure in the HAES® and size acceptance movement.

I found out they were accepting submissions and I figured I'd submit an idea that I had for a presentation.  Luckily my submission was accepted!  We'll get to that in a few, but first let me tell you more about the conference and the time leading up to it.  As the conference got closer and closer, I was obviously nervous about being in front of a group of people but, in all honesty, there were other issues going on.  Recently I've been filled with self-doubt for many different reasons but let's just say the past six months have been a struggle.  The self-doubt that I was experiencing (like with all things negative) permeated into other parts of my life.  With the conference approaching, I was looking forward to be in an accepting environment of all different types of people, not just as a presenter but as a participant also.

The other thing that I was looking forward to was connecting with some other professionals that I've followed via social media for a while, the co-founders of Be Nourished, Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD and Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC.  These two women are inspirations for me because they embody the type of body positive practice that helps people across the country heal their relationship with their body and with food.  In addition to Dana and Hilary, I also met another HAES® professional, Carmen Cool, MA, LPC and a teen dynamo Maya Greenberg.  Together, their work at the Boulder Body Alliance is something every community needs: adults and teens working together to advocate for body positivity to local school boards and local and federal government.  These colleagues (and now friends) were a large reason why my weekend was so memorable.  Coming to a conference where you really don't know anyone can be daunting but when you're struggling with self doubt and depression, it is overwhelming to say the least.  Their sessions inspired me and their kindness towards me will always be appreciated because it made me feel accepted and a part of the community.

Being accepted was a theme that really resonated with me over my whole weekend in Tucson.  Part of what I was going to talk about in my presentation was my own personal experience with weight stigma.  As a fat dietitian, I get it almost weekly and I wanted to share my experience at the conference.  So as I got to the conference, I was excited to be in a community that was so open to all different shapes, sizes and genders.  I was not disappointed one little bit.  Over the course of the entire weekend, I felt so comfortable around everyone and it was a feeling that I continue to hold on to.  When it came to my presentation, I was standing in front of a group of people and never once did I feel judged by my size....not once! Usually when I present, I notice about 25-50% of the people there stealing peeks at my stomach, not looking at my eyes.  Well, that never happened--not once--during my entire weekend.

This leads to what my presentation was about.  It was called, "Judge me by size do you? Lessons learned from a fat dietitian."  Like I mentioned above, it was about my experience of being judged by my size, but I also talked about Intuitive Eating, HAES®, and Star Wars.  Yes, Star Wars.  I used quotes from the Jedi Master, Yoda, to bring home how making peace with food and accepting our bodies is like using The Force.  It was full of movie clips and quotes and I was thrilled with the response I got.  I was especially thankful that Jes Baker found time to attend the session!

Truly, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.  It was amazing to be surrounded by so many "body positive" activists.  It felt so amazing to meet Jes herself.  When I did, it seemed as if she was just as excited to meet me as I was to meet her.  I'll always be thankful for her warm reception and accepting hug!  I'd also like to thank the team of volunteers who organized this weekend.  It was truly a labor of love and the fact is this: their work in organizing this weekend made a positive impact on hundreds of lives.

Now that I'm home with some perspective on what this weekend meant to me, the answer is clear.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  I came home energized and ready to spread the message of body positivity, Intuitive Eating and HAES® to all the future Jedis out there.  I came home smiling but also ready to tell the world, "Your body does not need to be changed!"  Embrace the body you have now! For remember, what Yoda said, "Luminous beings we are!" and I've never been more convinced of that statement than I am today.

Monday, June 8, 2015

What Are You Prepared To Do?

It's been a while since I wrote on this blog. Why? Many reasons, really, but let's just boil it down to this: nothing really inspired me.  And with no inspiration, there was no writing.

To what do I owe the pleasure of inspiration?  Its none other than JJ Virgin.  She's  a nutrition and fitness expert with nearly 30+ years of experience in the field (per her website). She is an avid writer and her latest book "Sugar Impact Diet" was a New York Times bestseller.

So there I am, wasting time on Huffington Post (as I'm prone to do) and I came across this article, 9 Science-based Strategies for Long-Term Weight Loss.  Obviously with a title like that, I'm bound to be intrigued, right?  That's what a good headline is supposed to do, after all.  Well, it worked and I found myself reading the article. That might have been a mistake or one of the greatest things ever....we'll know after I finish this blog.

Just reading the headline, I was wondering, "Has someone finally cracked the code to successful weight loss?"  If so, then let's get the Nobel Prize for Science ready!  But before we book flights to Stockholm, let's see what the article said.

It starts by citing a study done in 2007 that found (no surprise if you've read any of my other blogs) that over the long-term, most people (around 95%) will eventually regain weight after their initial success in losing weight.  You would think that after reading the article she references, the author would say, "So, why not give up dieting?"  No way no how! She goes on to say that despite these insurmountable odds, these 9 science-based strategies will disprove the previous article she just mentioned.

Anyone--and I mean anyone--can find numerous studies that show short-term weight loss. Great, then let's get to the real crux of it then: where's the long-term data? I don't care about short-term data, show me the numbers after 5 years.  Why don't they report these?  Because they show the truth, that most people gain the weight back!

But let's get back to the article, shall we?  Her 9 strategies say that people who maintain "fat loss" do the following:
1) They measure to improve by using mobile apps to track calories, daily weights and wearing a pedometer.
2) They journal their intake and their health goals
3) They eat mindfully and I have to quote here, "They know even a few moments of mindless eating -- such as a perilous 11 p.m. cookie dough fridge raid -- will derail their best efforts." 
4) They downsize by using smaller plate and glasses to eat smaller portions 
5) They simplify breakfast by having a meal replacement shake. 
6) They add before they take away meaning they "fill up" on fiber so that they don't end up eating other unwanted foods 
7) They keep their enemy away by not ever letting offending foods into the house.  (JJ's personal example is almond butter!) 
8) They surround themselves with like-minded people and again I quote, "To maintain fat loss, studies show a person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if they had a friend who became obese in a given interval." 
9) They engage in community by being around other like minded people.  

As I read these, I realized that these all seemed so incredibly sad.  Why sad? Well, let me interpret these 9 strategies for you.  To me, what I read is that if you want to lose weight and keep it off for the long-term here's what you better be prepared to do:  

  • Forever be slave to...
    • calorie counting  
    • keeping a food journal
    • drinking your morning meal replacement shake and
    • the scale. 
  • You better be sure to be hyper vigilant and never ever ever slip up because if you do, you're doomed. 
  • Make sure you never eat too much and be sure and surround yourself with other people who are experiencing the same thing you are so you all can complain about how miserable you all are.  
  • Oh, and be sure to not have any fat friends because if you do, they'll sabotage your efforts. 
If these sound as unappealing to you as they do to me then I have an alternative for you. You have a choice and here are the ones I've made:  

I choose to enjoy my food by savoring each bite, no matter what it is.  
I choose to listen to my body, my cravings and my fullness.  
I choose to live with peace with my body and my food.  
I choose to surround myself with people of all shapes and sizes because their size does not determine what kind of person they are going to be. 
I choose to honor my body with movement that makes me feel alive.

This is Health at Every Size® an Intuitive Eating and it works.  Interested in joining me, there's plenty of room on this train! 

Thanks JJ Virgin for helping me get back in the blog world!  It's nice to be back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Embracing Our Imperfections

This week I came across two very interesting videos on YouTube.  I thought I would share them with you.  They are not really related (except that they have kids in them) but they both made me think about food and how we view our bodies.

The first video is from the Jimmy Kimmel Show.  In this bit,  he's asked viewers to film their children's reactions when they tell them that they ate all of their Halloween candy. You can see their reactions for yourself.

Let's not argue the comedic value of the bit or whether parents should be pranking their kids like this and instead let's look at the reactions the kids have.  Some reactions are sweet with the kids consoling their parents and others are full blown tantrums.  The tantrums are what make us laugh but if we examine the behavior a little more, what struck me was the fact that these intense reactions highlight our kids obsession with sweets.  I'm wondering how the food environments differ in the households. I'd argue that we saw calm and understanding reactions from households where the parents don't over-restrict sweets and the tantrums are seen more in homes where candy is restricted on a regular basis.  We'll never know and there's no way to judge that but it's just my guess.  What would your child's reaction be if you pulled this prank on them?  Would it reflect your food environment?

The second video is from the Jubilee Project.  The video asked one question to 50 different people.  The question is, "If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?"  See the reactions and answers to that question below.

Two very different types of answers, all dependent on the age of the person they asked.  Isn't it amazing how different the answers are?  Without years of body shame, the first thing that came to mind was how these kids could change their bodies to become superheros.  They didn't want smaller waists, different noses or more muscles...they wanted wings, mermaid tails and teleportation. They wanted to be larger-than life. The adult's answers were obviously much different.  Their comments reflected how most of us feel about our body and the desire to change how we look to fit some ideal. The video closes with hearing an older woman say, "A lot of people obsess about getting older and about the wrinkles.  I love my white hair.. I loved it when it started turning white.  It's one of those things, because I chose to stay this way because it just wouldn't be me if I changed the way I looked."  Beautifully put.

As you think about both of these videos, I'll leave you with this thought.  Let's support one another in our imperfections.  We don't eat a perfect diet, we might make mistakes with feeding our children and we don't have a perfect body.  But those imperfections are what make us who we are.  I for one, like many of you perhaps, could do a better job of remembering that.