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.