This week, I gave a workshop to a group of grade 5 students about body image and self esteem. Much of the material was inspired by the Dove Campaign for real beauty, and the kids were very bright and eager to talk about these issues. Statistics show that eighty percent of 10-year-old American girls’diet, and the number one wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner. (justthink.org). At the end of my workshop, one clever boy in my class remarked that we are “like puppets in the hands of the media, since they teach us to dislike our body to sell us their products.” Adorable.
After work, I was listening to my favourite radio show, CBC’s Q, and caught an interesting interview of host Jian Ghomeshi interviewing the diva of fat-Kate Harding. She wrote a book with Marianne Kirby called “Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Request a Truce with Your Body.”
In the interview, Harding says that she doesn’t like the term “overweight” because it’s founded on the belief that there is an initial weight to begin with, that if one falls “over” they are labelled “overweight” or “obese.” She prefers the term “fat”. To Harding and many others, the BMI (Body Mass Index) is an arbitrary measure of health since it does not distinguish between body fat and muscle mass. Instead, it estimates body weight based on a person’s height (which doesn’t bode well for short people, or athletes). Some question how effective it is for gauging a person’s health even though alternative tools can be better predictors, such as the hip-to-waist ratio in the case of heart attacks. Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN discusses his view in the NY times.
Harding cautions people to be critical of the view that “fat kills.” She advises anyone who believes dieting is the answer to their body woes, to think again;
Diets do not lead to permanent weight loss for the vast majority of people. Not even if you call them “a whole new way of eating” or a “lifestyle change.” If your lifestyle change involves putting restrictions on your food intake, you will almost certainly be fat again in five years.
Wait just a second Miss Harding – why the discouraging attitude? A diet to me means a quick fix to a larger problem. Diets usually result in feelings deprivation, followed by rebellion and then shame. What I try and show people is how to read ingredient labels so they are informed eaters. I teach them to cook and prepare whole foods that will keep them fuller longer, and at the same time I create programs that cater to their unique habits, tastes and individual bodies.
It sounds like for many people the word “diet” is loaded with emotional angst. It summons up images of standing on a scale naked with eyes half closed, eating celery sticks and skipping dessert. According to Harding, everything under the sun is considered a “diet”- even healthy habits!
For my clients, lifestyle changes are an empowering shift into a place of balance. With a holistic view of health, there are no weigh-ins, no discussion of calories and no restrictions. Lifestyle change means:
1. Incorporate whole foods; such as brown rice, (or even all bran cereal to keep you fuller, longer) plenty of leafy greens, protein like tempeh or fish and natural sweeteners. Adding in whole foods slowly replaces processed “white” flours, pastas and sugars that keep us hungering for more, and puts our insulin levels out of whack.
2. Cook at home more often. Pack a lunch!
3. Don’t deprive yourself. If you restrict, you end up rebelling- so have some dessert but when you eat it, enjoy every bite- relish it, eat it slowly and in the company of others- rather than with the fride open and the lights out.
3.Learn how to listen to your body`s cues for hunger and fullness. When you are not hungry for food, ask yourself “what am I truly hungry for?” Often we eat to cope, when we are really seeking our primary foods (see #4)
4. Primary foods! When our primary foods are in balance, so is our relationship with food. Surround yourself with meaningful relationships, find meaning in your career, discover an activity that keeps your heart rate going-that you enjoy, create a spiritual practice to ground you when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed; yoga, meditation, nature walks..
Why does a healthy lifestyle need to be restrictive? Yes it takes work, but think about your intention when you fall for any diet promising a quick fix. The goal here is to create healthy patterns that will stick with you for life!
While fad diets like cabbage soup and cookie diets will always exist in some form or another-that is not where balance will be found.