Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Children, the Casualties in the War on Obesity

CNN posted an article recently about how eating disorders among children are on the rise.  Watch the video below for an idea of what the article discusses.

One of the more alarming things I read in the article was:
A study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality showed that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119% between 1999 and 2006.
As with any war, there are always casualties.  In the War on Obesity, we are beginning to see that children are among the casualties from our focus on losing weight.  As the article points out, children in the 3rd and 4th grade are already developing anxiety over their bodies.  The unintentional result of our focus on obesity versus good health is the increase of low self-esteem and a trend of prejudice against overweight people.

Where does this anxiety, obsession or focus come from?  Sure, part of it is media driven but it also comes from the home and from other children.  How do we as parents affect our child's body image and cocern about weight?  At what age do they become aware of our own actions: weighing ourselves; saying negative things about our bodies; restricting foods; avoiding bathing suits; avoiding pictures?  They hear us talk about eating healthy but we might unintentionally reinforce poor eating habits by using food as a reward or celebration on one hand but then restrict foods because of a diet or punishment.

It's not only what happens at home but also what happens at school.  Are our children being bullied at school about their weight?  Are they targeted because they are fat or made insecure about their body?  These factors all play a role in our children's body image and how they relate to food.

How do we change? What can we do to start to spare our children a lifetime of body shaming, weight issues and dieting?  One of the new chapters in the 3rd edition of Intuitive Eating is about how you can raise an Intuitive Eater.  This new chapter provides many great suggestions and tips that will help you and your family make peace with food.  If you are a parent, the Intuitive Eating 3rd Edition and Ellyn Satter's The Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family are must haves books!

As a parent, intuitive eater and dietitian, here are some things that my wife and I have always tried to do in our house and with our kids:
1) We are responsible for providing healthy and balanced meals for our children.
2) Our children are responsible for eating the foods we provide and eating until they are full.
3) We don't "bargain" or make deals with our kids.  We never say, "Just eat two more bites of ____ and you can be done."
4) We sit down as a family, without distratctions like the the TV, and enjoy mealtimes together as often as possible.
5) We provide a "treat" or dessert at almost every meal.
6) We do not hide foods.  Cookies are placed at our children's level in a cupboard that they can open and access at any time.
7) We don't allow any adults to talk negatively about their body while they are in our house.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Don't Believe the Hype!

Being a dietitian is one of the best jobs.  I love meeting new people, telling them what I do and then, like magic, they start to talk to me about the latest new diet they are on, hoping to hear my vote of approval.  The only approval they usually get is a smile, a nod and simple comment, "That's nice." I also love just walking around and seeing all the ads and products out there that entice us to lose weight with minimal effort.  Being a dietitian is not just about having good counseling skills, you have to have a little myth busting skills also. This past week I had two different experiences that were great examples of what I described above.

Photo Courtesy of
First off, my family and I ventured to the local mall on Saturday night.  It's 100+ degrees where we live and my wife and I figured we'd give our A/C a rest and head over to the mall for dinner and some people watching.  As we were strolling along, I came across one of those kiosks they have set up in the middle of the mall.  This particular one was selling a vibrating platform exercise machine (left).  Naturally, I had to stop and take a look.  My myth busting sensors were going berserk. Could standing on a vibrating platform really deliver all the benefits they promised?  They claim that you can replace your 60 minute workout with just 10 minutes on the vibration exercise machine and "melt" the fat away.  The machine is simple, you stand on the platform and it vibrates from side to side.  In order to maintain your balance you contract your muscles multiple times per minute.  The constant contracting creates a feeling like your muscles have exerted themselves but are you getting the same benefit from other forms of exercise?  From what I've found here, here and here, the answer is that these machines do serve some purpose for a select few groups: It can provide a brief benefit to athletes, it can help prevent bone loss and may be beneficial with some improved balance.  There has not been substantial research to prove that it is as effective as a 60 minute workout especially for the benefit of weight loss.  Research aside, these products (and there are a lot of them) prey on our hunger for the easy way out.  We want so badly to think that vibrating for 10 minutes a day will pay off with six pack abs, tighter tushies and will make the fat fade away.  If this is really how desperate we have become, I shudder to think about what product is coming out next.  Your guess is as good as mine.

The second "dietitian moment" I had this week was when I learned about a new weight loss plan: the 4-Hour Body Diet.  I was at a wedding and someone who was sitting at the same table told me about their experience trying this diet. What is the 4-Hour Body plan? Well first off, the author has created this amazing movie-style trailer that would sell anyone!  The program claims: 20 lb weight loss in just 30 days, improved testosterone and sperm counts, increased energy with only two hours of sleep each day and six pack abs with just a six minute workout.  The meal plan is similar to any other low-carb or paleo style diet.  No carbs, no fruit and limited dairy.  What's new about this though is there is one day when you are allowed to eat whatever ever you want and as much as you want.  The author, Tim Ferriss has no credentials in nutrition or exercise to substantiate his boastful claims but instead says he was the "guinea pig" and tested the different ideas on his own body. So for those who love studies, when it comes to the 4-Hour Body, n=1.  There are some great articles that discuss why the 4-Hour Body is not a good idea and you can read them here, and here. Besides not being based on any sound science and totally unrealistic, if you need another reason not to do something like the 4-Hour Body, it is endorsed by my favorite TV doctor, Dr. Oz which should speak volumes enough.  So back to my encounter at the wedding, I asked the person telling me about the diet how they did and they said, "Great, I lost 5 lbs."  They also said that they stopped the diet because they got sick of eating so much meat and ended up craving more fruits and carbs.

One week and two more examples of our quick-fix mentality about weight loss.  As we focus on the scale and obsess about our bodies, we lose sight of the fact that improving our health takes work.  Getting healthy is not about the number on the scale or about your dress size or about how big your biceps are.  It takes effort.  It takes a commitment to self-exploration.  Improving your health is about learning how to deal with your emotions without food. Its about moving your body not just to sweat or to build muscles, but because movement helps relieve stress and because you feel better about yourself after a workout.

If you want to lose 20 lbs in 30 days go for it.  If 10 minutes on a vibrating machine sounds fun to you, have at it.  Once you get tired of your no-carb, no fruit, high protein diet with one day to "pig out" and once you realize that our rattling innards have had enough, call me.  I'll be here, waiting to help you on the journey to improved health.  No gimmicks, no promises of quick fixes.  Just an honest conversation about food, exercise and your health.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Exercise and Find Your Greatness

I just turned 40 this month.  As with any milestone birthday, I have taken some time to reflect and think about life; where I've come from and where I'm heading.  I'm amazed at how my life has changed over the past 10 years, I have a new career, I got married and had two amazing kids.  

I've also had time to think about my health and how that has changed (for the better) over the past 10-15 years.  From weighing 300+ pounds nearly 15 years ago to working on becoming an Intuitive Eater.  I've biked 100 miles in a day and found pleasure in running.  

I've also been watching a lot of coverage of the London Olympics.  I guess I'm like many others out there but the athletes have really amazed and inspired me.  So I guess I have exercise on the brain!

Coincidentally, there has been some news about the benefits of exercise.  This article from the New York Times highlights a couple of studies that look at which is more effective in helping people lose weight.  Each study showed that exercise did not have the same overall benefit on weight loss as did healthier low calorie diets. 

What does this mean for you?  In my experience as a dietitian (and as a person trying to lose weight and get healthy), most people exercise for one reason: to burn calories.  They join boot camps, push their bodies and go to the gym for the purpose of sweating off the pounds or burning last night's dinner.  But like the article points out, "People stick with low-calorie diet more readily than they continue with exercise to drop pounds."

There in lies the rub. You shouldn't do anything just to "drop pounds"  When you focus on weight you forget the simple goal of improved health.  By just focusing on how many calories you burn on the treadmill, you lose sight of the fact that you might not enjoy running on the treadmill and you'd get much more pleasure from walking outside.  Some people actually gain weight when they start to exercise.  Read this woman's journey with a half-marathon and her weight here

What do I recommend? I recommend finding an activity that you love.  Get inspired to try something new.  Our bodies are capable of so much.  Just watch what the Olympic athletes are doing in London.

Need more inspiration that just watching the Olympics? Take a look at these new Nike ads, "Find Your Greatness"

"Greatness is not some rare DNA strand.  It is not some precious thing.  Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing.  We're all capable of it.  All of us."  Greatness is within all of us, we just need to find it.  So go out and find your greatness, that is what I plan to do.

So in a grand gesture worthy of a 40th birthday, I'm committing to finding my greatness.  Not to burn calories or to lose inches, but because I know I have it in me, and you do too.  Huffington Post had a great article this week about an exercise bucket list and I thought that was a great idea.  Here is my exercise bucket list.  What is yours?
  1. Run the 2013 LA Marathon
  2. Ride up Alpe d'Huez
  3. Complete the Aids Lifecycle
  4. Kayak with dolphins
  5. Embrace the mindfulness of yoga
  6. Complete a triathlon (no matter how short/long)