Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Invitation to Governor Chris Christie

I don't have much politically in common with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  We are polar opposites when it comes to social issues or the role of government, but the Governor and I do have one thing in common:  We both struggle with weight and deal with it in a public arena.  Granted, my public arena is much smaller than the Governor's but none the less, we are still judged by how we look.  Me because I am a dietitian and dietitians are supposed to "look a certain way" and the Governor because, well, he's a Governor.  I've written about my issues with weight here so I don't need to rehash that old story.  Regardless of the reason, people will look at us and draw a conclusion.

Gov. Christie did an interview with ABC Nightline this month where the issue of his weight came up.  Read the full article here and watch a video excerpt below.  The Governor makes some honest and personal observations about his struggle with his weight.  He shares how he as struggled with weight for 30 years and how his job makes making healthy choices difficult.  You don't have to be a Governor to identify with that, right? Those are issues that all of us deal with but there are much deeper issues that affect our food choices. Near the end of the article, the Governor says,
“I’ve been living with it for a long time, and I’m going to try to get better,” Christie said. “And if I can get better, that’ll be great for me and for my family and for the public who likes me … it’s something that’s not easy. If it were easy, I’d already have it fixed.”
Governor Christie is a very successful, intelligent and driven individual.  You have to be to run for and get elected to political office.  He is "fixing" important social and political issues every day. His career is defined by successfully dealing with problems. But, despite all that success, power and motivation, he can't "fix" his weight.  Again, you don't have to be Governor to identify with that, right?

It's a common misconception that we can "fix" our weight.  We need to realize that what we need to fix is not the number on the scale but rather the way we think about food. What the Governor needs to do is make peace with food.  You don't have to be Governor to identify with that either.

So, I'm extending an open invitation to Governor Christie.  Governor, you don't need another meal plan or diet that promises results.  Let's talk, man to man, about something men don't usually open up about: how we use food to cope with our emotions.  Let's start a conversation about how food can be our best friend and worst enemy.  Let me help you make peace with food.  Let's start the discussion so you can start listening to your body, honoring your hunger and fullness.  Governor, ditch the food rules that you've grown up with and let's talk about how you can start to give yourself permission to eat again. This isn't a fad diet, this is Intuitive Eating.  I am here waiting for your email.  I'm available for Skype or FaceTime calls so no need to come out to Los Angeles either.  You don't need to be a Governor to open up and talk about food.  My invitation extends to anyone else out there that is ready to make peace with food. 

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Yoda Was an Intuitive Eater!

Photo courtesy of Starwars.com
Just like almost every other kid who grew up in the 1970's, I am a big fan of Star Wars.  Even the new ones hold a special place in my heart.  There was just something about seeing Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star, watching a lightsaber battle and hearing Darth Vader breath that captured me.  Now as a father, it has been fun to experience all that again as I watch those movies with my son.  I've tried to get my daughter to watch but she's more interested in other things...sigh.  Watching the movies again I've been able to see some new things and messages that I had never noticed before.  I've even noticed some interesting things that connect Star Wars to Intuitive Eating.

One of the central themes in all the Star Wars movies is The Force.  It is a simple good vs. bad archetype but also something deeply spiritual.  The light side of The Force revolves around ideals and themes like mercy, benevolence, patience, healing, compassion and enlightenment while the dark side is aligned with fear, anger, aggression, hatred and jealousy.  When I thought about The Force, I realized that in some ways Intuitive Eating and dieting is just like the light vs. dark side of The Force.  I'm not saying that if you are on a diet you are like Darth Vader, but I would like to illustrate a few themes that I've thought about.

Although not written in the book, there is a definite spirituality to IE.  To make peace with food, you need to be a Jedi on some level. You must have patience, compassion towards yourself and your body, and merciful to your vulnerability.  You also need to understand that to make peace with food, you must heal your mind, body and spirit.

But dieting is the way of the Sith or dark side of The Force.  Dieting and focusing on weight is filled with fear of failure, anger at the food rules, hatred of our bodies and jealousy of the "appearance of success" of others.

If Yoda was the master of all Jedi, then he must have been the most enlightened, the most at peace and the most insightful.  With all that inner peace and wisdom, then in my opinion, it goes without saying that he would, of course, also be an Intuitive Eater.  Don't you think he was at peace enough to listen to his body and respect his hunger and fullness?  Since he was to insightful, he must have had some great coping skills when he was emotionally vulnerable instead to heading right to food.  And with all that enlightenment, he probably also loved his body.  Although small in stature, he was powerful.  For a 900 year old, it looked like he had a pretty positive body image.  Those are the exact skills all of us need to become Intuitive Eaters.

If you don't think I'm a nerd already, well then stand back because I'm going to share some Yoda quotes with you.  Yes, I'm quoting Yoda!  I added some key words [in brackets] to reframe your thinking from Star Wars to Intuitive Eating to illustrate my points.
  • Fear is the path to the dark side [of dieting]. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering [and more dieting].
  • Don't think. Feel. Be as one with The Force [Intuitive Eating]. Help you, it will.
  • Clear, your mind must be.
  • Patience!
  • A Jedi [Intuitive Eater] must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.
  • Beware of the dark side [dieting]. Anger...fear...aggression. The dark side of The Force [dieting] are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path [of dieting], forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.
  • The dark side [dieting] is not stronger, but quicker, easier, more seductive.
  • You will know the good side from the bad when you are calm, at peace. Passive.
  • You must unlearn what you have learned.
  • Not believing [in your own intuition] is why you fail. 
I know, I might be reaching on some of these but some are so perfect when it comes to our relationship with food. I honestly feel that dieting leads to anger, and anger leads to hating ourselves.  Hating ourselves is suffering and that leads to more dieting.  It is a cycle that we need to break.  I also feel that Intuitive Eating is a difficult journey and it is definitely not an easy path but there are "Jedi" out there to help you.  To trust your intuition and make peace with food is the path to calm, peace, enlightenment, self-compassion and  healing.   May The Force be with you! Or as my Twitter friend Elisa Zied said, "May the Fork be with you!"

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bad Body Image - Not Just for Women Anymore

Since diving into Intuitive Eating and using it with clients, I've made an anecdotal observation that I'm not sure is correct but here goes: Intuitive Eating appeals to women much more than men.  Intuitive Eating is not gender-biased in any way but I've noticed this because in most cases, making peace with food forces you to deal with your emotions, something us men have trouble doing.

But does that mean men are not struggling with losing weight, with improving their health or with body image issues?  Obviously the answer is no to the first two but men's body issues is not necessarily a common topic.  

Here are some statistics about male body image and eating disorder issues: 
From the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated DisordersAn estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.  Men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are “woman’s diseases.”
From the National Eating Disorders Association: Approximately 10% of eating disordered individuals coming to the attention of mental health professionals are male (Wolf, 1991; Fairburn & Beglin, 1990).  Boys are three times more likely than girls to be trying to gain weight (28% versus 9%). The cultural ideal for body shape for men versus women continues to favor slender women and athletic, V-shaped muscular men (Rosen & Gross, 1987).
If you do a Google image search on positive body images, most of the results are images of women.  They are inspiring messages that I am happy to see, but there are relatively few that show any men.  If you add the word "male" in the middle of the same search you find more randomness to the images that come up.  But the few male-specific pictures that do come up are almost all "the ideal" image of a man: six pack abs and well defined muscles.  There are no pictures of "curvy" guys holding up a positive statement about their love handles.  There are no men standing in front of mirrors with "You Are Beautiful" written on it.  I don't have a six pack nor well defined muscles and, like I'm sure many other people will understand, I've struggled with body issues.  So where is our inspiration?

The difference between the search results is striking especially for me--since I know both as an individual and as a clinician--how strongly our body image affects our food choices.  Perhaps the lack of awareness is the exact result of the problem that so often plagues us men; we don't like to share our feelings.  Until we can begin to deal with our body issues and accept that making peace with food might mean sharing some of those emotions we have buried inside, we will never break the cycle.

Maybe our body issues are not the same as our female counterparts, but they are there.  Maybe we don't care as much about being "thin" but we do care about being "bigger."  How can we lift more, build more muscle, look more cut and which foods will help us get there?  Just check out a Men's Fitness cover one day. Regardless of our goal, we have our own food rules and our own issues with food.

Intuitive Eating is not gender specific. Making peace with food has nothing to do with male or female.  Listening to your body's hunger and fullness and respecting your body is a part of all of us.  Although learning to share your emotions might come more naturally to women, it is not exclusive to them.  Men have the capacity to share and can learn the benefit of guided support to help change how they think about food.  So men, don't be afraid to pick up the phone, send me an email or pick up a copy of Intuitive Eating.  It is a journey worth taking.