Is Diet Culture Dooming Us All?

As I touched on last week, I firmly believe in distancing morality from food. There are no good nor bad foods – there are just foods, and healthy and unhealthy portions, based on your current situation.

But as a dietitian, a so-called “expert” in the realm of nutrition, how can you NOT say that there are bad foods?!?

This infuriates people. The dieters. The gurus. The zealots.

There are CLEARLY BAD FOODS! Gluten, sugar, carbs, fat, dairy…

People love to give these labels and marry them to a specific ideology around food.

Here is the deal, and the shocking truth – people are different. What may be unhealthy for one person, could be okay or tolerable for another. Gluten, for example, can wreak havoc on someone with Celiac Disease, or a major intolerance… but to someone else, it may be totally fine.

Dairy – especially milk – causes me some super unpleasant side effects within minutes of consuming. While my wife can handle it.

People are different.

While there are some fairly universal truths when it comes to what we eat being a healthy option – vegetables are one – there are STILL outliers. Some people have terrible reactions to peppers, and onions. Some to broccoli (and no, that’s not a legit excuse to avoid eating broccoli if you can).

People are different.

Do you get the point yet?

What about donuts? And pie? And cookies? How can you say that those are not bad?

Again – context matters. What is bad about the dount? The donut itself isn’t bad. It’s frickin delicious. Eating 20 donuts per week…still not bad in itself, but probably not the healthiest decision. Eating a donut once in a blue moon, while being active and balancing your diet with mostly non-donuty foods? Probably 100% totally cool.

So by adhering and perpetuating the diet culture – which is only successful 5% of the time – where has it gotten us? Not very far. Yes, 5% of people who lose weight on a diet keep it off for more than 2 years.

So 95% of people who try to diet, fail?

No.

95% of diets fail people. 

Most diets out there make it so unbearable to continue forever, that after a year, maybe two – life happens and you start back to your old ways. You see, food is pleasurable. It’s not just fuel, or macros, or sustenance to get you to a weight that will make you happy. It is supposed to be enjoyed. We cannot deny that foods bring pleasure.

When these diets deprive us of entire food groups or put us on an insanely low amount of calories, then, of course, we are bound to give up. Who wouldn’t??

So how the heck are people supposed to lose fat, improve their health, or get super sexy 6 pack abs?!?!

Awareness. Acceptance. Time. Consistency. Patience. And Effort.

Awareness as to how you have gotten to your current state, and if it is a state of unhappiness, figuring out why you are unhappy. Will losing weight ACTUALLY make you happier? Solve the root of your unhappiness? If not, then don’t even think about trying to lose weight. Solve the root problem first.

Acceptance that you have gotten to your current state because of a cumulative effect of things you have an have no done over years and years. This is not meant to shame, but to just accept ownership of your decisions. You decided to stop working out for 10 years. You decided to stop cooking meals, and eat out all the time. You decide every morning to drink 800 calories from Starbucks. None of these decisions are inherently good or bad, they just are what they are – and they have lead you to your current point. Once you accept that YOU have gotten yourself here, you can also accept that YOU can get yourself out.

Time. It will take time. You didn’t get unhealthy from eating one “bad” meal. You won’t get healthy from eating one “good” meal. Go back to awareness. Why are you here? What got you to this point? Why is it important that you not be at this point? Dig deep. Find the real “why” that will pull you out of the bed each morning, and encourage you to realize that you don’t need food to cope with your stress.

Consistency. Again – one salad, one donut – won’t change much. You need to be consistent. But not OCD. If you give yourself time, you can be more lenient. Enjoy holidays. Enjoy birthdays. But maybe don’t celebrate every taco Tuesday with 4 margaritas. What you do the majority of your time, will lead you to become the person that is a direct result of your efforts.

Effort. It’s simple, but not easy. Most will give up when they don’t see 10 pounds gone in 10 days. Most will want 7 minute abs to be true. Most will want the supplement that their friend scammed sold them on to work now. Truth is, you still need to put in the effort. The effort is needed to move your body, break a little sweat, and challenge yourself occasionally. The effort is needed to not bring foods into your house that you know you struggle with. The effort is needed to not give up when you feel you are doing everything right, but the scale hasn’t moved in weeks (scale doesn’t mean everything – never forget that).

We haven’t failed at diets. Diets have failed us – because what we perceive diets to be are miserable, unsustainable and damn near laughable.

 

Would you like more guidance on taking back your life, learning to love food again, and getting life long results along the way? IF so —> CHECK OUT ONLINE COACHING***

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Stay healthy my friends,

 

Let’s Stop Calling Foods “Good” and “Bad”, Shall We?

I sat down in my office to get to work on some client check in’s for my online nutrition coaching. The first one I opened, BAM! There it was… “I need to call you, I am really struggling”.

I remember my stomach dropped. What was going on? How serious was this? Am I going to need to refer out to someone more suited for this kind of talk?

We got on the phone the next day and I was met with such a sigh of relief. Well, sort of relief.

This client explained to me that she was feeling so guilty about tracking her bad foods in MyFitnessPal because I would see it and shame her. This was our first week working together…

I explained to her that I NEVER shame anyone, especially for what they eat and only maybe for the sports team they choose to support…but the bigger point I made was one that I make often.

Food Carries NO Morals. It doesn’t affect our morality. It doesn’t change who we are as a person. Food is not good, it is not bad, and it doesn’t make us good or bad based on what we eat.

Food is food.

I say that this call was the only sort of a relief because she wasn’t in danger or anything, but this is something I hear all too often – people calling foods good or bad or making them out to be these magical unicorns or evil trolls….it’s food people, that’s all.

The more “power” we give to foods by labeling them a certain way, the more they will affect us at a psychological level. Think about the forbidden fruit story from the Bible. Eat whatever you want, but you better not touch that delicious looking apple! Well…thanks a lot, Eve.

When certain diet gurus or magazines need to make money, they criminalize one food while promoting another. This is usually from some sort of bastardized study that someone in their research department read, and said, “yeah we can stretch this”.

At the same time, you better bet there is a paper trail connecting them to the food or supplement that they are touting as the miracle food of the week.

Food is Food. Nothing else. Don’t give it the power that it doesn’t have, and you will realize that you are more in control of your food “addictions” and impulses than you think!

So what do we call foods then? You can’t tell me that eating Twinkies and HoHo’s is good for you…

If this is you reading this, you are right – I’m not telling anyone to go out and crush beers and ice cream (terrible combo anyways).

We have 2 categories of foods or two ends of the spectrum so to speak.

Calorie Dense and Nutrient Dense

Calorie dense foods are probably the foods that most would label as “bad”. Pizza, cake, ice cream, alcohol, fries, greasy hamburgers, cookies, donuts, etc.

These foods pack a ton of calories, in a relatively small volume.

Think Snickers bar here. Pretty small, and packs 280 calories, and not a whole lot of quality nutrients. That is calorie-dense. Not BAD. Not GOOD. But calorie-dense.

Nutrient-Dense foods are on the opposite end of the spectrum. These are foods that are loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and low in calories per gram.

Think vegetables, fruit, lean meats, whole grains. The foods usually labeled “good”.

Think broccoli here. A full plate = 200 calories. It’s loaded with vitamin C, fiber, and other great micronutrients. Then we have 200 calories of delicious peanut butter…roughly the size of a golf ball. #Sad

But now there is a twist…foods that are both.

Of course, there is a twist…calorie dense AND nutrient-dense foods do exist.

These are your healthy fats – olive oil, avocado, nuts, coconut oil…

Via VeryWellFit – check out the awesome nutrients of almonds! Also, check out how 24 almonds (this is not that many) is 164 calories. Calorie AND Nutrient Dense.

Again, check out avocados. Awesome fiber, and heart-healthy fats…but also 227 calories (or more if you are getting steroid avocados).

These are usually the culprits when people say “I eat clean, and still can’t lose weight!”

You see, you can eat “clean” all you want, but if you are in a calorie surplus…you will still gain weight.

Awareness is the key to success. I’m not here to tell you how to eat, what to eat, or what foods are good or bad. Everyone is different, and everyone has different needs. If you take the time to learn about this stuff, become aware, and make some small changes, I promise you can start moving in the direction that you want to.

Would you like more guidance on taking back your life, learning to love food again, and getting life long results along the way? IF so —> CHECK OUT ONLINE COACHING***

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Stay healthy my friends,

 

Is Your Healthy Diet Obsession Really Hurting You?

The other day I was at the grocery store; I saw a quite thin girl intensely reading a nutrition label on the back of a product. She held it close to her face, scoured the label up and down, made a “yikes” face, and put it back on the shelf. What was she reading? It was a bag of carrots.

The following day a received an email asking about “a serving of almonds”. “I counted out 23, because that’s a serving, but so is 1 ounce, and when I weighed them they were only .9 ounces, what do I do?”

They MUST BE EXACT!!!

Another conversation with a client included, “well, I ate some birthday cake last night, only one piece, but I decided to skip breakfast this morning to make up for it, and because I felt so guilty.”

Whether you are constantly grilling nutrition labels of every food you eat, counting out individual grains of rice, or feeling strong guilt after eating a “bad” food, you may be over thinking your health, and potentially setting yourself up for more harm than good.

Some other habits that seem to come up are:

 

  • Preoccupation and worries about eating impure or unhealthy foods and of the effect of food quality and composition on physical or emotional health or both.
  • Rigid avoidance of foods believed by the patient to be “unhealthy,” which may include foods containing any fat, preservatives, food additives, animal products, or other ingredients considered by the subject to be unhealthy.
  • For individuals who are not food professionals, excessive amounts of time (eg, 3 or more hours per day) spent reading about, acquiring, and preparing specific types of foods based on their perceived quality and composition.
  • Intolerance to others’ food beliefs. (This is another hot button topic for another day – gluten fee, vegan lovers) 😉

Now, I’m not trying to say that reading nutrition labels, occasionally measuring foods, watching what you eat, or eating less after a big meal are bad behaviors. There are just better ways to go about them that won’t keep you feeling obsessed, stressed or guilty.

The following are a few simple tips to keep you on track, without making nutrition an obsession:

1) Don’t Obsess Over EVERY Food Label. I’ll admit it, I’m a pretty boring eater 5 days a week. I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and the same types of things for dinners. I probably could tell you the nutrition info from each of these meals roughly, but I don’t need to. I have looked up the common foods that I eat, and I also know that I am maintaining my weight goals – therefore I must be eating the right amount of food.

If you are intrigued by a new food, or honestly have no idea what is in the food, then yes, check it out and educate yourself. Please don’t stress over every single food that you eat though, especially fruits, vegetables and proteins.

Better Strategy:  Tracking calories is a great way to take your physique to the next level, but for starting out and most peoples goals, might be too overwhelming at first. Figure out the nutrition for your top 10 foods you eat, and end there. After that, practice mindful/intuitive eating. Rather than setting calorie limits for every single piece of food and meticulously counting every almond, eat slower and listen to your body. Stop when satisfied, not when you are bursting at the seams and it’s too late.

2) Don’t label foods BAD or GOOD. Yes, some foods may not help you reach your goals very well, but the quantity you consume them in may be the real problem. Once you start labeling food bad or good, you slowly can become more obsessive with labeling foods, and then labeling ingredients, thus completely avoiding foods that may not be as bad as you make them out to be.

Example: That snickers bar is a BAD food (pretty much true – but one Snickers bar in a blue moon won’t completely wreck your body – if you are following a generally healthy eating regimen) –> that snickers bar has a lot of sugar –> sugar is bad –> carbs are sugar/sugar is a carb –> all carbs are bad –> I can’t eat that one carrot because it has 6 gram of carbs. See how this can happen? It’s not as rare as one may think. Also, when you start labeling foods bad, you think about them more, crave them more, and probably end up eating them more than you normally would once you finally “break” and “give in” to the forbidden foods – because let’s be honest, we all want to be bad sometimes.

Looks so good…is having just ONE even possible?

Better Strategy:  Some foods are better for you than others – that’s a fact. Focus on eating the more healthful foods that you already know are good for you and your goals, but at the same time don’t over analyze and critique foods or lump them into super broad negative categories. This will help reduce the rebellious pleasure that comes with eating the “bad” foods, and likely reduce your cravings for them.

Labeling foods as bad can also inhibit your sense of really feeling what the food does for you because you are too preoccupied with feeling guilty or naughty about eating it. Maybe eating one cookie is enough and satisfying, but if you are too busy feeling guilty about it you may never realize this natural bodily feedback and continue to eat past satiety. This is another example of becoming more mindful and intuitive with your eating. Easier said than done, but very helpful in the long run.

3) Stop feeling guilty and beating yourself up over foods, especially on special occasions. This relates to #2. If your child is having a birthday party, eat a piece of cake and move on. You probably physically don’t need a large piece, or several pieces, but allow yourself to enjoy the birthday guilt free. Learning intuitive eating can be a great help in these situations. Once you realize that you don’t eat cake and pizza every day, you can free up your mind from the stress that you are putting on yourself and enjoy the time with friends and family.

Same is true with using food as a reward…we aren’t dogs, so don’t reward with food!

When you break it down, guilt is an emotion about morals. Unless you are stealing the food from a starving person, you really aren’t doing anything morally wrong.

Better Strategy:  Rather than feeling guilty or bad about a food, take a step back and assess the situation you are in. First identify that you are feeling guilty and then change your reaction to it. You can try changing your reaction to “Ok, this is a birthday party, I don’t eat cake on the norm – so I will enjoy this one reasonable piece and move on.”

After eating a previously labeled guilty food, the next step is to get right back to your standard healthy routine. Don’t look at it as “well, my day is ruined, I might as well eat the rest of the leftover cake now” but rather, “I enjoyed that cake, and now its back to my usual dinner of ____, _____ and ____”. End of story. Remember, there are no bad FOODS*, but there can be bad HABITS.

*Pertaining to 99% of people wanting to get healthier and lose some pounds – for people looking to get super shredded or yoked, and take their physique to the top 1% there are definitely bad foods…maybe a future article?

I encourage all my clients to take a step back if they are getting to obsessive about food, counting every morsel, and shaming themselves for eating poorly. Get more in tune with your body, and listen to your natural biofeedback cues of hunger and fullness. If you have foods that you ABSOLUTELY know that you have no self-control with, maybe you should consider avoiding them all together – at least at the start of your new lifestyle changing plan. Focus on establishing a healthy relationship with all foods, and you will start to find that you can incorporate some of your tougher control foods back into your diet.

It all comes down to finding an overall healthy balance in life, with exercise, food and also your mental approach to both.  Stop judging yourself and comparing yourself to others, and live your life with less stress. You may find that the weight starts coming off faster than you may think.

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Stay healthy my friends,

UnMiked: 3 Undeniable Truths of Successful Change

This may be the fanciest title I have ever written. This post may also upset some people, but that is okay – because chances are if you don’t agree with what I have to say here, you are probably in denial about something in regards to your own attempt at making a successful change.

As I discuss successful change here, most examples I will use are in reference to successful change from the point of someone trying to lose weight, or more accurately, lose fat or even just get healthier in general.

Point 1: You Will Not Succeed If You Don’t Want It

How bad to you want it? Really. Say it out loud, write it down – then write what you are willing to do get to your goals and what you are not willing to do. If you have a huge list of what you are not willing to do/give up (not talking freaky, creepy, unhealthy, type things here) – you will fail. You need to be willing to give up eating empty calorie crap. You need to be willing to sweat, run faster, lift heavier, push yourself past your comfort zone – or you will fail. This all goes back to the transtheoretical model or the stages of change. 

If you go to your doctor and he tells you that you need to lose weight and go to a gym for exercise, but you don’t feel that way (precontemplation), you will fail. You may start out fine, but if you truly are not ready or even aware of the need for change you will fail. However, I HAVE had clients who come to me and after our initial meeting, I make a mental note that they are in one of the early stages. This is hard to change, but not impossible. It is always fantastic to see a client clearly “buy in” or make the switch to the action phase – so much so that one day you see them working out completely on their own and doing the exercises that you taught them as a trainer.

 

Point 2: Cut Out the “Feel Good” BS

I am guilty of this one. “There is no good or bad food, only better or worse”. BS. If your goal is weight loss, a deep-fried Twinkie bar is a bad food and there is nothing good about it. This goes back to point one. How bad do you want it? If you aren’t willing to give up foods that are bad, you won’t succeed. But Mike, what about everything in moderation? Yes, if you eat one deep-fried Twinkie bar per year, and eat healthy at every other single opportunity, you will not get fat. (Does that really sound realistic?) However, this is still a bad food, end of story. Think of foods as steps. Good foods lead to a step towards your goal. Bad foods are like a step backwards, away from your goal. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as eating 2 good foods for every bad food you eat (it may be, but it may take you a MUCH longer time to reach your goal – and in that case I don’t want to hear about how slow your progress is). Do your body right and you will find success, do your body wrong and you won’t – simple as that.

If you don’t understand this picture, click below!

BACON IS GOOD FOR ME!!!

Point 3: Keep Going, and Embrace The Challenges! 

I overuse this analogy, but it is one of my favorites. “When it comes to challenges, do you treat them like speed bumps or road blocks?” Speed bumps we can get over and move on, road blocks stop us – and force us to turn around and revert back to where we came from. No one said getting fit and sexy is easy and without challenge. Just like anything else in life, it takes hard work and commitment. You may have big intentions and goals – but if you can’t stick to them and make good on your word to yourself – you will struggle and fail.

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”—Zig Ziglar

How bad do you want it, cut the BS, and embrace and fight the challenges – and you will find successful change!

Stay Heathy My Friends,

– Mike