Sunday, February 2, 2014

Essential Weight Loss Tips? There Has to be a Better Way.

A winter storm has its risks. The biggest? It keeps me home with time on my hands trolling the Twitter feeds and Facebook messages. I read, filter my thoughts, read, filter, read—and then I can’t take it any more and feel the need to speak out. Earlier, I tweeted: ‘The only #cleanse you should be doing is a facial one. You know, soap & water or alternative. GI cleanses are disordered’, after reading an MD’s unintelligent praise of ‘cleanses’ (in quotations, because there’s nothing cleansing except your perception that you are removing those treacherous toxins.)
Then I came upon my professional organization’s tweet, “If you're hoping to lose weight before winter's end, these tips can help!” with this link.

It’s hard for me to say just why it annoyed me, but I’ll try my best to explain.

Is this the best message we as RDs can offer? It’s a message of calories in/ calories out. Pick from all food groups! Exercise! Eat smart (as opposed to stupid, I suppose). Personally, I’d run the other way if I were looking for weight management guidance. It feels insulting to intelligent, well-informed readers. And it fails to acknowledge a couple of major points.

1) Actively dieting is not the answer and 2) eating and activity are not simply information-based decisions.

Were the authors thinking readers would respond with “Wow, I had no idea calories and activity were involved?” or “So simple! I’ll just choose from all the healthy food groups! That should work.” Or “Ohhh, it’s about moderation!”

As for BMI

For some, self-acceptance of a weight higher than the population-based weight and BMI charts is in order. A high BMI based on the population charts may be perfectly acceptable for you, if you maintain a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, a normal BMI hardly defines you as healthy (or normal) if your behaviors aren’t so healthy—if you engage in restricting and overeating, use purge behaviors, including compulsive exercise, have a rather restrictive diet, or poor quality intake.

Perhaps instead of having a “Calculate your BMI” ad on their page, they could include a ‘plot your personal BMI’, to help you evaluate whether you’ve been maintaining a healthy pattern over the years; a high BMI at the earliest ages suggests that genetics may play a role in your weight and size. Just as you wouldn’t expect that your shoulders would become narrower or your eyes would change shape, you shouldn’t believe that your BMI percentile should be changing much. Acceptance of this not-so-minor-point may be the best medicine for many!

But if your weight or BMI have been climbing inappropriately, you could use much better guidance than my national organization provided.

So in an effort to redeem them from the pitiful piece, I’m pulling a few thoughts together. Ask yourself:

Is it legitimate to be concerned about your weight? Has it changed inappropriately? Or are you focusing unnecessarily on your weight, the New Year’s phenomena, when really you are a reasonably healthy and fit person? I caught an episode of Sex and the City today at the gym, and Carrie said a most fitting line: “the problem isn’t with your thighs, the problem is with your head.” (This, in response to her friend kvetching about the size of her thighs and her body image.)

If it is legitimate, explore what’s in place, and what needs to change.

Are you aware of your hunger? Do you allow yourself to respond to it, or are you living inside your head, counting calories, or points, or carbs, for instance?

Do you let yourself get to the point of famished, only to overeat, then regret it, then set more rules again, perpetuating this cycle?

Do you eat beyond a comfortable level of fullness? Do you let your black and white thinking get in the way, suggesting that you’ve already blown it, resulting in you throwing in the towel, so to speak? Some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) may be in order.
Yes, there are other ways to self-soothe.

Or do you eat for comfort—because you’ve had a hard day—or as punishment, because you feel you don’t deserve any better? Maybe you’ve simply given up, feeling that nothing you do can even make a difference.

Are you overeating as a rebound to years or months of restrictive, rules-driven eating? Are you overeating only on ‘forbidden foods’? Time to learn how to work those in with permission to eat all foods that you enjoy—not just those foods that fit ever-so-nicely into the food pyramid! “Eat desserts less often”, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics recommendation, is hardly the advice you need. Setting more rules is not the answer.

Must we view desserts as forbidden?
Is your eating chaotic? Do you have balanced meals and snacks? Perhaps some help with planning is in order.

And have I mentioned patience? You've been living with your eating behaviors for a very long time, many years, no doubt. Let's not expect that they will consistently change after just a week or two.

Do you set realistic goals? You’re not stupid—of course you know exercise might help if your activity is low (and your intake is adequate). But maybe the obstacle is your belief that if you don’t have 60 minutes to spend, or can’t sustain exercise at 85% of your target heart rate range that it’s not worth doing any activity! 

Perhaps it's time you acknowledge your frustration—with messages from the media and the medical community, with false promises of quick fixes for your weight, with conflicting messages about what’s the right way to eat, and with insulting guidance from those who should know better. Yes, there is another way, which includes self acceptance and insight about the limits of what you can change. And, a shift to understanding how your thoughts and behaviors play a critical role in your eating.

Your thoughts? Thanks for reading (and in advance for commenting and spreading this advice!)


  1. I agree with so much of this. I am working on a more intuitive approach to eating, but after years and years and years of dieting and compulsive eating and dieting and compulsive eating (in an endless loop), it is so easy for me to be lulled back into that mindset that if I just follow these rules, the weight will fall off. I have been working with a therapist for two years and often feel frustrated (and a little guilty for taking up her time) because I do not yet seem to "get it." And instead of remembering that I have been engaging in disordered eating for over 20 years, which means that it could take a while to break free of it, I place unnecessary pressure on myself to hurry up and just do it. And I can see more clearly, after reading your post, that is a message I carried with me from all those years of dieting. So much of what you mention rings true (from the punishment of food to the comfort of food to the black & white thinking to the lack of awareness of feelings of hunger and fullness), and it is always SO HELPFUL to see it spelled out like that, over and over again, as a reminder that what I am feeling is real, but the ability to recover from it is as well. Thank you!

  2. I think this post made me admit the obvious which I've felt for quite a time. I just can't eat in a reasonable manner. No idea how to deal with it, though.

    1. Seek out a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders for help. And check out the many related posts on this blog, including those tagged with 'black and white thinking', 'practical strategies', 'changing your thinking'. Hope this gives you some direction.

  3. Yes I'm frustrated. I want so much to not care about the number on the scale but yet I do care. I see myself as somewhat healthy yet I know I could do more. Having all the input from everyone and their dog on what I should be doing makes me nuts and my brain just shuts down. My big thing right now is knowing I've gained close to 30 pounds in the last year and I really don't want to have to buy new, bigger clothes.