Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Where the Magic Happens

Believe it or not, the first time I saw this image on the left was on an episode of Girls on HBO. It’s a great show and, for sure, one of my not-so-guilty pleasures. I can't recall the exact scenario for how it came up but I remember the main character, played by Lena Dunham, sitting in some sort of job interview and seeing a poster with "Where the magic happens" in big circle with a much smaller circle off to the side which was labeled, "Your comfort zone."  I recall from that episode how Dunham's character just sat there and stared at the poster on the wall, contemplating the meaning.  

I've been in that exact same position as Dunham's character, staring at this picture, for what seems like an eternity, reflecting on my own life.  "Why can’t I be where where the magic happens?" "Why am I stuck in my own comfort zone and what will it take for me to get out?"  These were two thoughts that came up most often. The words might vary but the theme was the same: "What was keeping me from stepping outside my comfort zone?"  My comfort zone was my job, my comfort zone was staying hidden, behind the curtain and afraid to step out and get noticed in my professional work. The potential magic was taking a leap to do something brave, daring and to risk failure.  The predominant vision that kept recurring was leaving my full-time job to start a private practice.  The comfort of a regular paycheck was preventing any career magic from happening.  But finally, just recently, I was brave enough to be vulnerable and make a leap outside my comfort zone to where I am now--I'm stepping out from behind the curtain, hoping to be noticed and trying to make some magic happen.

The funny thing is that, until recently, I never turned this idea of "where the magic happens" around to focus on something other than me.  Now I'm applying this notion of stepping outside your comfort zone to Intuitive Eating.  I've begun to think about the people (some clients, some friends, some just acquaintances) that I know who are struggling with or working on incorporating Intuitive Eating (IE) into their lives.  Some are struggling to get rid of their diet mentality.  Some are fighting even to start to use IE in their life.  Some are dealing with letting go of their food rules while still fearing loss of control.  No matter what the issues are, leaving one’s comfort zone is a huge challenge and I for one know full well what it’s like.

The comfort zone is where we feel safe.  It’s the familiar environment were we know what to expect.  It’s the safety of a “home base” that we never stray too far from for fear we might not find our way back.  Wanting to be comfortable is normal. But here’s the thing: sometimes we mistake safety and comfort for something positive when it can actually be negative, holding us back from that amazing magic.

The common things I hear from people who struggle with IE are:
  • “If give into my cravings, I won’t stop eating.”  
  • “I am not happy with my body unless it is a certain size and I won’t try anything that might cause me to gain weight.” 
  • “IE sounds great, but I don’t think I can do that. I need to be on a diet. I need structure” 
  • “I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe or comfortable around dessert.
If you look more closely at all of these statements, you’ll see fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of giving up control, fear of our bodies and fear of trying.

Your diet, your food rules, your cleanse, your body loathing are not your comfort zone.  You might think you are safe and supported with your structure, your meal plan or your diet, but that is a false sense of security.  Those constructs are just keeping you from landing where the magic happens.  

It’s a scary leap to truly be ready for something new.  It takes courage to put your foot down and say, "enough is enough."  "I’m done living in fear of food and my body."  "I’m done with feeling horrible about every food choice and every curve of my body." It’s time to take that leap outside your comfort zone.  

Maybe some of these simple tips will help you get started:
  1. Read Intuitive Eating - It is the basis for how I work and it will change how you think about food!
  2. Be curious - Think hard about what might really be at the center of your resistance to change.  Learning to objectively examine your thoughts is a skill that is essential for becoming an Intuitive Eater.
  3. Learn to check in - Check in with hunger levels throughout the day. Check in with what cravings you might be having and honor them.  Check in with how satisfied you are at the end of a meal and adjust what you eat the next time to ensure satisfaction.  
  4. Listen - Listen to the inner voice you use to talk to yourself about your body and about food. Is it nurturing or negative?  Just learning to be more nurturing to yourself is an important first step.
  5. Permission - Give yourself permission to ask for help. There are many people out there who are willing to help, myself included. Give one of us a call to find a partner in your journey towards the place where that magic happens when it comes to food and your body.
Take the first step toward making some magic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Not Your Ordinary Back to School Post

Across the country kids are putting their flip flops and bathing suits back into their closets.  The days are slowly getting shorter and it's starting to get a little cooler.  Kids are buying new backpacks and mentally preparing to get back into the routine of getting up early and as they start another year of school.  Parents are getting ready too.  They are setting up after-school activities and planning lunch menus.  If you go to social media or news sites, you are sure to find beautiful pictures of the "healthy" school lunches you should be packing.  There are plenty of back-to-school lunch articles, but this isn't one of them...

In some states, school administrators are getting ready to weigh your child to monitor obesity rates and some of those states are going to send you a letter telling you that your child is overweight.

These BMI letters, as they've been called, are a fairly new practice and only 9 states are sending these letters  home to parents if their child is heavier than "normal".  There was recently a study that reviewed one state's data to see if letters like this were working and--surprise surprise--they aren't. The study, done in Arkansas, found that there was no benefit to the letters (no significant weight change or improved eating habits) but they also found that there was no increase in adverse affects (disordered eating or diet pill consumption) either. So basically, these letters did not have an effect either way. Or did they?  More on that later.

So this begs the question: why do this at all? Why are some states going to the trouble?  Why are we, and more importantly schools, so concerned with our children being above "normal" weight? The answer: all of this is being done in the name of fighting this so-called "War on Obesity."  It's a war to stop the spread of fat across the land and, in many cases, our nation's kids are caught on the front lines.

If we are at "war," then we must be fighting an enemy and in this case we decided we're fighting "obesity." What if YOU are heavy/fat/above normal weight or obese (choose which word fits best for you), then YOU, (and your body) are the enemy and our country is enlisting resources in fighting you and your body.  You, or more importantly, your children are being targeted.  Whether someone is saying it to them or not, children who are heavy know what their parents, their friends, their teachers and society is saying about them. They are saying, "Your body is not ok and we are ashamed of it." You think they don't hear you whisper about them.   Do you really think they don't notice when you make them a "healthier" plate than their brothers and sisters?  Even though we're not trying to intentionally make them feel bad, the fact is, simply the act of labeling them could pose a risk for future weight gain.

Now back to the unseen effect these school letters might really be having. There is research article upon research article that describe the negative affects of weight stigma on our children and how these weight loss programs (although well intentioned) are creating some real long-term issues for children.  Consider this from the Eating Disorders Coalition:
A December 2012 report of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health examined the association between school-based childhood obesity prevention programs and an increase in eating disorders among children and adolescents. The Poll found that 30% of parents with children aged 6-14 years reported one or more behaviors in their children that could be associated with the development of an eating disorder. These behaviors included inappropriate dieting, excessive worry about fat in foods, being preoccupied with food content or labels, and refusing family meals.

So, what are we supposed to do when it comes to providing a healthy environment for our children when it comes to food, weight and exercise?  Here's what I recommend:

1) If your school district does send letters home or weighs your child for statistical purposes, you can opt out of these programs and choose not to participate.

2) Become aware of your own biases when it comes to weight.  Examine closely how you really feel about having a heavy child and the habits you may have fallen into without even realizing.  Some might be slightly embarrassed, some might overemphasize weight loss, but either way, I hope you will understand that no matter what size your child is, they can be healthy and what they want most from you is love and acceptance.

3) Don't ever put your child on a diet.  Never try to restrict what food they eat or hide food in the house.  Read Ellyn Satter's book to learn about raising a competent eater.

4) Along those same lines, I do not recommend enrolling your child in extra exercise classes or hiring a trainer.  If they are younger, encourage them to play more outside. Do more active things as a family, like going for walks after dinner, going for a bike ride to the store instead of driving.  If your child is older, teach your child the joy of movement; that moving their body is a great way to socialize with friends, build self-confidence and enjoy the outdoors. Movement should not be punitive and seen solely as a way burn calories or lose weight.

5) Change how you talk about your own body.  Don't use shaming words about yourself.  Try to model body positive actions and your child will follow your lead.

I hope these tips help you.  Remember, the goal is to raise a child that is proud of their body, knows how to eat for fuel rather than for emotional reasons and most importantly to never, ever, ever want to go on a diet in their life.

I hope you all enjoy your school year!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Open letter to the young ladies who fat-shamed me this weekend.

Dear Young Ladies,

It's been hot here in LA over the past weekend.  Really hot!  I mean, 100+ degrees hot and the only respite from the heat is to find any collection of water, put your body in it and stay there as long as you can.  That's exactly what my family and I did when we went out to my mother-in-law's community pool in Westlake Village.

Of course, we aren't the only geniuses to consider going to the pool that day so it was crowded.  We got in the pool and my son and I started playing catch in the water.  As we played, I noticed you three young women diving down under water, staring at me below the surface, then coming up for air, giggling and pointing at me.

I don't know exactly what you were saying to each other in the pool this weekend, but I could tell that you were watching my stomach "jiggle" underwater as I threw the ball with my son. You continued to stare and make funny comments to each other even after I noticed you.  I looked you right in the eyes and you made virtually no effort hide what was going on; you just continued to stare and make fun of me. I wish I had a witty comment, or some way to confront you on this but this was literally the first time something like this has happened to me.  I should have said something to you. I should have let you know that I saw what you were doing and that it made me feel very uncomfortable. I should have done 99 different things but instead I froze. I just tried to ignore you and continue to play with my son who was, thankfully, 100% oblivious to the whole thing.

I don't know why, but I was surprised that this was happening to me and I was surprised at how I handled it.  You would never know this but for a long time, I would wear a shirt when I went swimming. I told myself and others, it was because I was worried about getting sunburned, but the truth was I was ashamed to show my stomach in public.  As I've become more involved in the Health at Every Size® (HAES) and body positive movement, I finally realized that I have nothing to be ashamed of.  Quite the opposite, I should be proud of my body and if I'm going to encourage others to be as well, I better walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  They day before this incident, while swimming at another pool, my daughter asked, "Daddy, why don't you swim with your shirt on anymore?"  I told her the truth: that I used to wear my shirt because I was embarrassed of my body and now, I'm proud of what I look like and I'll only wear it if I'm out in the sun too much to avoid a sunburn.  She had no comment at all and just accepted it saying, "OK."

To the people close to me, my body shape is not an issue and, in the end, that is what really matters. After struggling so many years with showing my body at the beach or the pool, to have this experience really flustered me. Girls, I want you to know I won't be putting my shirt back on because of you. You can laugh and giggle all you want, but I won't be hiding myself any longer. I'll learn to deal with the comments and looks. I will learn to be more comfortable.  Hopefully, you will learn not to make fun of something that is different from what you might normally see.  Hopefully, you'll be nicer to others in the future who have a similar shape as me.  Hopefully, you won't tease your classmates who are in larger size bodies. Hopefully, this was a one time thing for all of us, but we all know it won't be.

Summer is not over and who knows when it will cool down, so there's a good chance we'll meet again either this summer or the next.  I'll still have my shirt off and I have chosen what I'd say to you or to anyone else who starts to  stare and giggle.  It goes something like this: "Hi there.  I'm Aaron.  I hope you are enjoying the pool today.  I sure am. Want to play catch with my son and me?"

See you at the pool.

Monday, August 3, 2015

"It Worked Before..."

It's something I hear all the time as people come into my office or talk to me about losing weight.  They say, "Well I just need to go back to what I was doing a couple of years ago, it worked before..."  There are, of course variations on the theme.  Maybe someone will say, "I know what works, I just need to get back to doing it." I've heard something like this so many times; people struggling to find what will "work" to help them finally win the weight loss battle.  It finally occurred to me just recently, the problem is we are using the wrong definition for the word "worked."

Most people I talk to, they'd probably define a program "working" as something that helped them successfully lose some amount of weight.  "I know Weight Watchers worked because I was able to lose 15 pounds on their program."  "I was doing so well avoiding carbs.  That totally worked for me.  I lost weight but I just stopped for some reason and when I did, I started to gain weight again."  It doesn't how you put it, we think, "working" means losing weight, for the short-term.  

Well guess what, starting today, you should begin to redefine what is really "working". If you look at a growing body or research, it's clear, long-term weight loss is extremely difficult to achieve.  Now when I say long-term, I mean greater than 5 years.  Over the long-term, a majority of people will regain most of the weight that they lose.  With that being said, think about the "diets" you've been on and really ask yourself, "Did that really work?" Were you able to keep all the weight off after 5 years? I'm guessing that the majority of you probably will say no, which would be completely normal.  Maybe you can't you even answer that question because you can't count how many diets you tried in a 5 year period?  

So let's change our definition of "what worked."  Let's really be honest and ask yourself, "Did that diet REALLY work for me?" and see what your answer is.

Any plan, diet or intervention whose primary focus is to help you lose weight, will likely not "work." It's not your fault and it never was.  The fault lies in the goals of the plan or diet.  The fault lies on the pressure we have in our society to be  certain size.  The fault is that we hate our bodies.  The fault lies in the fact that we are focusing on losing weight instead of trying to find good health.

Maybe it's time to do something drastic then.  Perhaps it is time for something radical, to go against the grain.  It's time to focus on something other than weight because the scale does not determine your health,  

What would happen if you measured your health in some other term than a number on the scale, the size dress or pants you wear or by the inches of your waist.  What if you were to measure health by how well you feel, how you manage your stress, how often you move your body, how many times do you laugh each day, and how you manage your relationship with food?  What if you began to accept and appreciate the body you have TODAY instead of waiting for the body of tomorrow.  TODAY is here, now and real.  

How do you start changing?  Try these 5 things
1) Try to pay attention to hunger and fullness cues as you are eating.  Learning to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full is the foundation to Intuitive Eating and changing your relationship with food
2) Move your body in any way that feels good.  Forget the punishment plan.  Don't exercise just to burn calories.  Exercise because it makes you feel better about yourself and your body. Move because it's one of the best acts of self-care you can for yourself each day.
3) Learn to pay attention not just to what you eat, but why.  If you find yourself emotionally eating, ask yourself, "What do I REALLY need right now?"  Chances are, it's not really food.
4) Develop a body positive frame of thinking.  Try thanking your body each and every day for ALL of the amazing things it does for you.
5) Consider throwing out your scale.  Starting to not weigh yourself might be the jump-start you need to learn to change the focus from weight to health.

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.