Saturday, December 14, 2013

Coming Clean: My Biases and What They Mean for You

I’m no different than the rest of you. I too, have my biases—my prejudices, my leanings, my preconceived ideas about what makes sense. They influence my actions, my reading of scientific studies, and they impact my professional recommendations.

I make no apologies; my biases effect what I tell you as patients and as blog readers. Like conference speakers obliged to disclose who profits from their research or their words, I’m giving my full disclosure. Here are some insights about why I lean as I do:

1) I’m biased against the weight loss literature's conclusions. In spite of the dismal research that only a small percentage of overweight dieters maintain their weight loss, I’m biased against these results. Weight loss, and maintenance is not an unreasonable goal—for some people, that is. Yes, I realize that the weight suppression data may suggest otherwise, as mentioned in my previous post.

Yet I’m skeptical about how study participants lost the reported weight and that impact on weight regain. And I’m cautious about who should have been losing in the first place. If someone had been binge eating and normalized their eating, why wouldn’t they lose weight and keep it off—as long as they remained free of binge eating? If you were disconnected from your physical cues, from your hunger and your fullness, but then turned that around, why couldn’t you maintain the lost weight? That is, if your higher weight was not your healthy normal that you had always been. Which gets me to the next point.

Many patients have appropriately lost and maintained significant weight loss. They were not on diet plans—not calorie counting, no categorical exclusions such as “no white flour” or “no carbs”. Rather, they have slowly modified their actions, and their thoughts. And ultimately, their weight adjusted. Read about my patients such as Erin and Maggie.

I fit into the category above. I have lost about 35 pounds since graduating from college—35 pounds that were not a part of my usual size. My weight had always been in the normal range—I had never experienced weight issues until college, when my yo-yoing began. Dieting, binging, denial of my needs failed to bring my weight back to normal. But changing all that did. I do not work to maintain my weight at this point, but I continually embrace honoring what I feel like eating, and responding to when I need to eat.

2) I believe that you know best about yourself—until your disordered thoughts, your restrictive rules, your lack of trust in yourself take over. Yet I believe that deep down you really know just how much you need to eat—just like when you were a young child before all this craziness began. It’s just so damn scary!

3) I’m biased against light products and diet packaged meals. No, they are not simply better than not eating (shout out to Thursday's patient—thanks for inspiring this!) Why? Because they mislead you! Tricky Weight Watcher’s meals and Lean Cuisines? Sneaky Arnold rounds? Indeed. 

First, they may look like they’re supposed to be enough. The light bread (that has half the calories than the regular bread) looks like a full sandwich. But then when you’re hungry from eating what amounts to only half a sandwich, whom do you blame? You only fault yourself, believing that it should’ve been enough, that you’re the one with the problem. Not so, my friends!

As for the frozen meals, I must say that in all my (50) years I’ve never eaten a diet frozen dinner, so my bias does not come from my experience having them. They just look like not enough to me—or for anyone. Admittedly, you can add a glass of milk, and a fruit or a dessert and it may be just fine. But somehow I don’t suspect that’s what you intend to do.

4) I’m biased against omitting what we enjoy eating. I believe that sweets and all things that taste good have a place in our diet. Maybe it’s because I personally eat things I like, including baked goods and good chocolate quite frequently. Excessively? Mindlessly? Not usually. Not when I’m driving or watching TV. Ok, sometimes the popcorn comes down to the family room (notice how passive that statement was?) while I’m watching TV—there, I’ve said it. Maybe it’s because I see the consequence of banning them, of making them forbidden, that I fight for making them available.

5) Yes, I’m biased against eating disorders.  Eating disorders lie. Which is not to say you are a liar. Have you lost me yet? They distort what you perceive you’ve eaten—yes, you overestimate your calories if you are under eating, and you may minimize or exaggerate them if you overate—it can go either way. 

Eating disorders mislead you into thinking that a yogurt is a meal, or that a black coffee, or even a latte is an appropriate means to respond to your hunger. They don’t volunteer information—I have to ask, and beg and probe to get a full and honest response.

6) It’s not your fault—again, that’s my bias. I don’t believe you want to be struggling with binge eating, or purging, compulsive exercise or laxative abuse or restrictive eating. And I’m convinced that I, that we can’t simply wait around until you’re simply ready.

7) I’m suspect when I only hear that everything is always great. And I’m cynical when I hear that everything is always terrible. Your bias, I suspect, is a lack of honesty with yourself.

8) I’m partial to the value of the relationship. I’ve not reviewed the literature on this, but my bias is that you’re more likely to work to change—at least initially—for your soon-to-be-born child or for your young children. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a positive relationship with a healthcare provider, you’ll work for them too.

9) Oh, and regardless of what they tell you, I believe it’s never too late to change. And this bias is based on the many clients I’ve seen, at all ages, at all stages of their disordered relationship with food. Yes, you too can recover from an eating disorder. And you can change your relationship with food. Even now.

So call me biased.


  1. Of course we are all biased. There are about another 50 reasons that people overeat, and the severity varies, as does the difficulty of recovery. Wrong information does not help either. The more I learn about this problem, the closer to "recovered" I become. It is those who just use willpower that gain it all back after the end of their diet. It is lifestyle change that is the ultimate solution, but much more work. Also, the life style required for recovery may not be the lifestyle they desire, and those backslide.

  2. The "Yogurt is not a meal" caught my attention. My response was "It's not?" and "That's what my therapist always says."

  3. Never eaten a Weight Watcher's or a Lean Cuisine! Whoa! Although I do believe you - that's unbelievable! There was a time when that was pretty much all I felt safe enough to eat, because it was all there - the calories, the portion, even the word "Lean"! And besides, it was/is truly a societal norm. Walk into any lunch room and you'll see them everywhere, the people who don't eat them are the atypical ones. Yes, Arnolds thins (and do they use these words on purpose?!) and light food in general is so alluring for those of us who restrict. It feels like a 'compromise'. From ed's perspective at least I am eating, from your perspective not enough is not enough no matter how you slice it (pun intended). I get it, and since you said it to me, I try to take it into consideration - although sometimes I get frustrated because, as you said, eating disorders lie. Thank goodness I have you to reveal the truth!! And although my eating disorder hates it, I have always appreciated and respected your skill at asking, begging and probing. Nothing gets past you!
    Lastly, "It is not your fault" are five of the most powerful words that any of my providers have ever said to me. I sometimes want them on tape. Instead, I could always just reread this post as a good reminder.

    1. It's true-never a Lean Cuisine or WW dinner or the like.
      Yes, it's not your fault, but it's your, and my, responsibility to hold you accountable to recover.