Monday, October 18, 2010

Fat Talk Free Week

This week is marks the third annual Fat Talk Free Week which was created by the sorority Delta Delta Delta.  The week, "is a public awareness effort born from our award-winning body image education and eating disorders program, Reflections."  The original program, Reflections, was established to help promote a positive body image and prevent eating disorders.

In honor of this week I'm going to share some of my personal history with regards to weight loss because I feel its is important to realize that we all struggle with body issues; even dietitians.

As a preceptor at the VA in Los Angeles, I get the opportunity to work with a lot of interns who are working hard to become dietitians.  They are a motivated group and will be great colleagues one day.  As interns they spend time with me working in our weight management program.  For many it is the first chance that they've had to counsel someone who is struggling with losing weight.  Often after a session they come to me and say, "Wow that wasn't what I expected."  After discussing the session they realize that what I told them at the start of the rotation is really true: losing weight is never just about the food.  It's about almost everything else, but almost never just about the food.

When I weighed over 300 lbs. I don't think I was ever unhappier in my life, but the truth is that even before I started to gain weight during college, I was never really happy with myself.  I had great friends, close relationships with my family, but when I looked in my mirror, I never liked what I saw. 

As I got older, food became my comfort for any and all emotions.  No matter what I was feeling, it could be soothed or celebrated with food.  As the weight came on, my image of myself sagged.  On the outside I was the happy fat guy.  Quick with a joke but inside I was crying; struggling with the reality that I hated the direction my life was going in.  Soon I realized that I had created the perfect downward spiral for myself.  I'd eat, look at myself after and get upset--at my weakness, my lack of control and my ugly body.  To cope with those emotions, I ate and then the emotions came back and so on and so on. 

Eventually I realized that enough was enough and that I had to change.  I knew that if I was ever going to be successful with losing weight I had to tackle the emotions and image of myself to really live a healthier life.  Well as you might suspect, I lost the weight.  That was they easy part.  What has taken much longer to change and what I struggle with every day is the image I have about myself.  I still look at myself in the mirror and I see that fat guy from 10 years ago.  I am still not happy with my body.  I see flaws, imperfections, rolls of fat but what IS different is I am comfortable those flaws.  I like who I am and I know where I've come from and the progress I've made.  Do I still cope with food? Yes but not like before.  But I'm not perfect and at my darkest moments, when I'm at my lowest, food is my friend and punishment.  I won't lie, there are times I eat with anger but I work hard to stop myself 10 steps before I get to this point but to be honest, I'm not perfect.

As a dietitian, I am ashamed to admit that I don't have the perfect relationship with food but I'm also proud to admit that this is who I am.  I am flawed but I have learned to embrace the things that make me me. 

I am thankful for this career.  I am so happy that I get to work with others who are losing weight.  I know that why and what they eat is not always about the food.  It's about the emotions too.  To successfully lose weight, eat and live healthfully, you need to change the way you think about food.  It's why I'm drawn to the notions of mindful eating and intuitive eating.  Along with changing how you eat, you also need to change how you see yourself. 

So in honor of Fat Talk Free week, I'm pledging to change how I talk to myself.  I'm pleding to be kinder to me and kinder to my emotions.  I am a work in progress.  What are you going to do to stop the Fat Talk and change how you see yourself?

Friday, October 8, 2010

NYC Steps Up AGAIN to Fight Obesity

In Thursday's New York Times, there was an article detailing how Mayor Bloomberg has asked the USDA for permission to ban the use of food stamps for the purchase of sodas in New York City.   The ban would apply to all sodas or other sugary drinks.  If approved, the ban would last for two years while its effectiveness would be studied. 

Why would Mayor Bloomberg and his office propose such a ban?  According to the Times article, there are 1.7 million people in New York City who receive food stamps.  It goes on to say:
City statistics released last month showed that nearly 40 percent of public-school children in kindergarten through eighth grade were overweight or obese, and that obesity rates were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods. City studies show that consumption of sugared beverages is consistently higher in those neighborhoods.
It is statistics like this that have public health officials so concerned about the health of our country. 

What's my take on this issue?  Well, as soon as I heard about this in the news, I was very supportive.  I think that because obesity is such an epidemic in this country (especially in low income neighborhoods), we should explore any possible solution to the issue.  I've said before in other blog posts here, here and here, we need a food revolution in this country.   I've also talked about liquid calories here and how they contribute to obesity.  We need to change how we think about food and I think that in this instance, government can have help us change.

I really don't have a problem with a limit on what can be purchased with food stamps.  Food stamps should be used for food, not for soda which provides absolutely no nutritional value.  Other federal grant programs like WIC limit types of food that can be purchased in the hopes of providing the most nutrtitous food possible.  So there is a precedent within our government that already exists.  No, I don't want to stigmatize low income families but I also don't want them to use my tax dollars to buy sodas.

If you read this blog you know that I'm a fan of Marion Nestle.  I value her opinion and she has already weighed in on this issue.  Read her full thoughts here but to quote one part of her post she says, "...if I were in charge of Food Stamps, I would much prefer incentives: make the benefit worth twice as much when spent for fresh (or single-ingredient frozen) fruits and vegetables."  A valid point and a more of a positive approach.

Another opinion offered in the Times article was from George Hacker, a senior policy advisor from Center for Science in the Public Interest.  He says, “The world would be better, I think, if people limited their purchases of sugared beverages.  However, there are a great many ethical reasons to consider why one would not want to stigmatize people on food stamps.”

A good friend expressed these thoughts to me about the proposed ban, "Paternalistic. . but no more than having to wear helmets when you right a motorcycle . . . or use a seat belt in a car. ."  Well put.  We don't like government getting involved in our rights but sometimes it is needed.  I think this is one of those times.  I'm sure this isn't the last time we'll hear about this and I will be interested to hear more about the debate. 

What do you think?