A new “diet” resolution this year – Self-Monitoring

Here’s another piece I’ve already written!  This is my Nutrition 101 article that appeared in the December-January issue of Oasis magazine discussing the strategy of self-monitoring to facilitate weight loss.

Enjoy!

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The New Year is right around the corner, which for many means resolutions.  Among the more popular promises people make to themselves this time of year are quitting smoking, reducing stress, spending more time with their family and of course exercising more or losing weight.

If weight loss is your goal this upcoming year, I’d suggest skipping the fad diets and trying a strategy that’s been shown to be incredibly effective for people looking to shed pounds and keep them off: Self-Monitoring.

What is Self-Monitoring?

Self-monitoring refers to the practice of observing and recording your thoughts and actions, and subsequently using this information to provide on feedback on your behaviors. When we talk about using self-monitoring as a strategy for weight loss, this usually means food and/or activity logs, as well as weekly weighing.

Why does it work?

To put it simply, self-monitoring increases awareness.  It is a lot more difficult to justify eating two McDonald’s cheeseburgers plus fries and a Coke, when you see it staring right back at you in your food log.

Food & Activity Logs

The most common method of self-monitoring for weight loss is maintaining a food and/or activity log.  Of course you can do this the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper, but today there’s so many resources available (apps, books, online nutrient databases, etc.) it’s easier than ever to keep track of your diet and exercise using your computer, phone or tablet.  Whatever method you choose to track your diet make sure to at least record the type of food, amount and calorie information.  Most people tend to underestimate their portions, so it’s not a bad idea to invest in a food scale and set of measuring cups.  If you’re tracking your activity, ideally you should record the exercise type, intensity and duration.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive online nutrient database, the one from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is my preferred option.  Fitday and MyFitnessPal are a couple of the more popular free websites that have accompanying apps to track your diet and exercise.

Weekly Weighing

As someone who often touts that health is not measured by a number on a scale, it may seem strange for me to be advocating that people who want to lose weight make sure they weigh themselves weekly and keep a record of it.  Weekly weighing is not a strategy intended to pass judgement on your health (or self-worth), rather as a tool in which to inform. If your goal is to lose weight, it can be empowering being able to see the direct consequences of your diet and exercise choices.  Weekly weighing increases awareness and influences behaviour, which is ultimately what we’re going for here.  For maximal accuracy pick up a good quality scale (or use the one at your gym) and make sure to always weigh yourself at the same time each day.

The Bottom Line

People who self-monitor are more likely to lose weight and keep it off compared to other dieters who don’t.  Having to be so meticulous in recording your food, activity or weight may seem onerous at first (and it probably will be), BUT it does get easier.  By the time you get good at it, it shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes/day.  Seems like a small price to pay if you’re able to keep the weight off for good this time, doesn’t it?

Antioxidants – Hype vs. Reality

Since I’m on the road right now, for the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing a few articles I’ve previously written for Oasis magazine.  This one in particular is about the topic of antioxidants.

Enjoy!

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antioxidants

Antioxidants entered the public consciousness in the 1990s when researchers began to understand that damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS), also referred to as free radicals, was linked to various chronic diseases including clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), vision loss and some types of cancer.  This led to a rush of products featuring antioxidants, as well as antioxidant supplements hitting the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies.  But with all the hype it can be difficult to know, how much do they actually help?  Let’s try to tease apart hype from reality when it comes to antioxidants.

How antioxidants work

First, a quick lesson on how antioxidants work.  ROS are compounds that steal electrons from others compounds in the body.  They are natural by-products of metabolism or exposure to sunlight, and can also be found in the food we eat, as well as the air we breathe.  The problem with ROS is that stealing electrons from other compounds not only results in damage to DNA, cell membranes and basically anything else they come in contact with, but the compounds they’ve stolen electrons from become ROS themselves in a sort of chain-like reaction.

Antioxidants are the defense against ROS.  They neutralize ROS by giving up an electron without turning into ROS themselves.  They’re basically the body’s version of using water to put out a fire.

Antioxidants in your diet

Our body naturally produces a whole host of antioxidants to deal with ROS, but we can also obtain them from food.  The best sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables (generally the brighter the color, the better), coffee, tea, nuts, whole grains, wine and, yes, even chocolate (but only the dark kind!).  Diets high in antioxidant containing foods are consistently associated with lower rates of chronic disease as well as longer lifespans, but it’s difficult to determine how much of these benefits can be directly tied to the antioxidants themselves.

To supplement or not

So, antioxidants from our diet are probably a good thing, but are you getting enough?  Should you consider supplementing just to be sure?  Some common antioxidant supplements include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, manganese, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols and phytoestrogens.

Unfortunately outside of very particular situations there is little evidence to suggest that, supplementing with antioxidants staves off many of the diseases they are often claimed to and in some cases may actually be harmful.  For example, beta-carotene supplementation appears to reduce help prevent the development of macular degeneration (a form of blindness), but had no benefit in terms of heart disease or stroke, and actually increased the chances of developing lung cancer in smokers.

The Bottom Line

Antioxidants play an important role in protecting the body from damage caused by ROS.  Your primary source of antioxidants should be food, ideally from varied sources, including fruits and vegetables.  Most people do not benefit from taking antioxidant supplements, however if you are considering doing so, you should first discuss with your physician or dietitian to minimize the risks of any potential negative side-effects.

Tips for keeping an eye on health this holiday season

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As an expat living in Egypt, the holiday season isn’t all that much different than it is back in Canada.  Besides the relatively balmy weather we still experience many of the same things we do back home (albeit admittedly it’s a little more subdued), including workplace gift exchanges, holiday-themed decorations in malls and stores, Christmas trees for sale on the street, and of course parties.  This week alone I had 3 different holiday parties to attend.  And with all the celebrations going on, it can be pretty easy to let your health slide.

Here are a few tips that will allow you to keep your health at the forefront this holiday season, whether you’re at home, abroad or even on the road…

1. Refocus on fitness. Don’t wait until the New Year to make this resolution.  Life during the holidays can get busy for us all but that doesn’t mean your exercise schedule should fall by the wayside.  Make a plan to continue being active during the break, and most importantly, make it non-negotiable.

2. And don’t use your exercise as an excuse to overindulge later in the day. We tend to give ourselves permission to overindulge with food after a big workout.  I get it, I’ve done it myself.  The problem with this logic is that unfortunately most people overestimate the amount of calories they burn during exercise and underestimate the calories the consume.  This is a recipe for disaster and can really sabotage your health goals, particularly if weight is a concern.

3.  Avoid mindless eating.  Don’t park yourself next to the appetizer platter at a party or get-together.  Try carrying a glass/bottle of water around to keep your hands busy and less likely to grab food that just happens to be in close proximity.  It only natural to eat food that’s sitting right in front of us, so don’t put yourself in a situation where that’s likely to occur.

4.  Don’t treat the buffet like a buffet.  Buffet meals are plentiful during this time of year, and don’t get me wrong, they can be great.  But just because you encounter a buffet doesn’t mean you need to eat like you’re breaking a fast.  Sample only the dishes you really love or want to try and keep the portions reasonable.  Piling your plate so that the food is as high as the plate is wide or going up for seconds is one of the surest ways to pack on the pounds.

5.  Be moderate with your alcohol intake.  It can be easy to overlook but alcoholic beverages have calories too.  And over the course of a day/evening, they can really start to add up if you’re not careful.  Alcohol also has the potential to lower your self control regarding other dietary choices.  It’s a good idea to limit yourself to no more than a couple of drinks per day.  If nothing else you may want to try alternating an alcoholic drink with a glass of water.

6.  Pre-eat for parties.  One of the most important ways to prevent overeating is to make sure you’re never feeling really hungry.  The worst thing you can do is show up to a party feeling ravenous, where food (usually mostly unhealthy options) is virtually unlimited.  Instead, have a small meal or snack before you show up and chances are you won’t be as tempted to eat everything in front of you the moment you arrive.

BUT with all that said,

7.  There’s no need to be a Nazi about it.  After all, the holidays are a time of traditions with family and friends.  A big part of those traditions is often food and drink.  Rather than avoiding, what you need to do is find a balance between being able to indulge at times without going overboard.   It can be a tough thing to do.  Doing so takes a degree of honesty and awareness with oneself that most people aren’t able to consistently demonstrate.  I suggest that when you’re faced with an unhealthy choice, whether it be skipping a workout or going for second helpings of grandma’s famous candied yams, ask yourself if it’s worth it.  Often it won’t be, but sometimes it will.  And that’s okay too.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Spreading the word about Weight Bias & Diabetes

It’s been a busy month.  Between my nutrition counselling, writing articles, editing a magazine and a big Ultimate Frisbee tourney it feels like I’ve hardly had time to breathe. Something else eating into my routine were two seminars I was asked to provide this month; one on Weight Bias to the students of New Cairo British International School (NCBIS), the other on Diabetes Awareness & Management to the CSA community.  Both seminars went over really well and I hope I have the opportunity to provide others in the future.

Weight bias is a topic I’m passionate about and something I’ve written on often in the past.  It sadly occurs all too regularly here in Egypt (and everywhere).  When I was invited to NCBIS to speak with their Year 7-9 students on a topic about “nutrition, eating disorders, sports & exercise, and/or body image”, I knew that the issue of weight bias and stigma was a perfect fit.

Unlike typical seminars for adults, my weight bias talk needed to be a little more interactive to keep the students engaged.  Fortunately, I’m married to a teacher of kids of the same age so she was able to give me awesome input for engaging them throughout the presentation.  Among other things we created a brainstorming activity of various obesity stereotypes, as well as a group exercise to get the kids thinking about how you can determine how healthy someone is (ie. body weight not necessarily being a good measure of health).

Overall I was thrilled with the participation from the students.  Perhaps it’s because I remember being that age and rarely being the one to raise my hand, but it surprised me how there was never a time I asked asked questions that I didn’t have multiple volunteers.  There were even a few times I had to cut the discussion short, just so we could stay on time.

Here are a few pics of the presentation.  Thank you to Disna Wijemuni, the Secondary School Librarian at NCBIS for the invitation and Heba Khamis for the photos.

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Activity to determine who is the healthiest of group

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Amazing student participation!

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Brainstorming obesity stereotypes

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Post-seminar autograph session. NCBIS put together a booklet of my articles and for some reason some of the students wanted me to sign it…

The second seminar of the month was for CSA on the topic of raising diabetes awareness.  Ideally it would’ve taken place on World Diabetes Day (November 14), but by the time the idea came up it was too late to coordinate so we settled on November 22 instead.  I was asked to give an overview of the disease and discuss how diabetes is typically managed, including diet.  Joining me would be Dr Ghaly, a physician and CSA sponsor, as well as Amina Young, a pharmacist from Canada.

Despite some confusion regarding the order of the speakers, the presentation itself went quite well.  Again I had plenty of audience participation, which always makes things easier. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to do future CSA nutrition seminars.  As long as there’s enough time to prepare and advertise, they’re honestly something I don’t mind being busy for.

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Raising Diabetes Awareness at CSA

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Is the poor nutritional quality of certain produce really the issue?

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I listen to a lot of podcasts.  Since moving to Egypt I find that they’ve become a replacement for having the television on in the background while you’re doing something else.  I also love that I can listen via my iPod while commuting to work or while working out.

Recently I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Freakonomics, at the gym and topic was discussed that got me pretty fired up.  It took a fair amount of self-control to avoid looking like a lunatic and stop myself from shouting out counterpoints to several the statements being made.

The podcast episode in question was titled Food + Science = Victory!, The purpose of the episode was to talk with people who are using science to challenge commonly held beliefs about food.  When I saw the title I thought it would be right up my alley, and for the most part I suppose it was, I just disagreed with some of the messaging provided by one of the guests, Jo Robinson, an investigative journalist who has written a book called Eating on the Wild Side.

Robinson is an advocate for getting back to the pre-industrial age in terms of the foods we eat.  She argues that the modernization of the food supply in the United States has resulted in homogeneous products of low nutritional quality, and when it comes to produce, low antioxidant content.

Here are a few of the statements she made that I took issue with:

  • On the preference of Americans to choose iceberg lettuce over all others because of its mild taste – “Overwhelmingly, people in this country eat iceberg lettuce…. Iceberg lettuce has fewer nutrients than any other lettuce in the store. In fact, veterinarians don’t even recommend it as rabbit food because there’s not enough nutrients to support the health of rabbits.”
  • On the change of food quality since the rise of agriculture “…it was so very clear that over time we have greatly diminished the nutrient content of our animal products and everything that we grow. For example, the antioxidant content of wild plants varies to 2-400x greater than the domesticated counterparts that we eat today.”
  • On the dangers of Golden Delicious apples1 – “…men who were eating the Golden Delicious apple (one per day) had higher levels of triglycerides, which are an independent predictor of heart disease, and the worst kind of cholesterol…..the problem with this particular variety of apple , it’s very high in fruit sugars, and it’s lower in antioxidants than many other varieties.”
  • On whether eating all fruits and vegetables are good for you – “…that’s certainly not true. Because the fruits and vegetables that most people pick in this country are extremely low in antioxidants.”
  • On the virtues of wild berries – “There’s really nothing better for our health than wild berries. Wild berries tend to have from 2-10x more health-enhancing phytonutrients than our domesticated varieties.”
  • On how soon you eat your produce after buying – “…you need to eat them the day you buy them or the next day, ideally….And if you do that, you may get two, three, five, ten times more antioxidant than if you push them to the back of the refrigerator and remember or find them a week or two later.”

Let me be clear that I’m not necessarily even disputing the specific claims she’s made here (although I’m a bit skeptical of her application of the Golden Delicious apple data, as well as the degree to which nutrients degrade over time).  Antioxidants are good.  The overall nutritional quality of the American diet is poor.  Iceburg lettuce doesn’t have as many nutrients as darker leafy greens.  Wild berries are a great source of antioxidants.  This is all true.

My issue has more to do with a message she is conveying (ie. Americans are unhealthy because they’re choosing varieties of produce the are poor nutritional quality).  The problem isn’t whether or not Americans aren’t eating quality produce.  It’s whether they’re eating enough produce PERIOD!  It reminded me of a comment I heard from a co-worker years ago who said his wife didn’t eat carrots because they were too high in sugar.  The reason that we have such high rates of certain chronic diseases is NOT because people are choosing iceberg lettuce over red leaf.  It’s because of the unprecedented availability of cheap, delicious calories.

I think that Robinson’s line of thinking creates the exact type of conditions we see too much of today.  People have a tremendous amount of anxiety when it comes to food and the choices they make.  They get so focused on nutrients that they forget to look at the big picture.  As a dietitian I’d much rather have people focus on preparing as many meals as they can using whole, unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients.  In the grand scheme of things worrying about whether you’re choosing the right version of a berry just shouldn’t be that high on your priority list.

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References

  1. Vafa et al. Effects of Apple Consumption on Lipid Profile of Hyperlipidemic and Overweight Men Int J Prev Med. 2011 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 94–100.

Your move Justin…

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For those of you who may not have heard, Canada elected a new federal government this week.  After nearly 10 years of Conservative reign, the Liberals, and their charismatic leader Justin Trudeau, will have their crack at guiding the country for the next 4 years.

As someone who’s never been a big fan of Stephen Harper and his controlling/divisive nature, I’m pretty optimistic about this shift.  Not only do I think Trudeau will help to re-establish Canada’s reputation among the international community, his election promises to pursue electoral reform, revise our tax structure and be a leader on climate change are all moves in the right direction.

A few of the more under-reported commitments Trudeau made during the campaign that really excited me were summarized by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest in a press release on October 20, 2015.

  • introduce new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec;
  • bring in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats, similar to those in the U.S., and to reduce salt in processed foods;
  • improve food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods; and
  • additional investments of $40 million for Nutrition North and $80 million for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The new Government also advocates a set of reforms that could really help breathe life into informed decision-making and, more importantly, into the health of Canadians by proposing to:

  • establish a Chief Science Officer and Advertising Commissioner for the Auditor General,
  • enhance the independence of Parliamentary committees and Statistics Canada, and
  • strengthen access-to-information laws.

Liberal plans to help charities and non-profits to be more independent of government may even help ensure that public interest groups play a more robust role in informing future election debates.

As a dietitian, I especially LOVE their promises regarding junk food marketing to children and regulations for trans fats and sodium.  Now if we just get to revising our existing nutrition guidelines (Canada’s Food Guide) we’ll really be on a roll.

Of course, these are all just promises at this point, and as we all know the track record of politicians keeping their campaign promises isn’t great.

It’s your move Justin.  Please justify my optimism.

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5 “secrets” to living longer

This November the theme of our Oasis is Forever Young, so I thought I’d write a piece on some tried and true methods to living longer.  If you can’t wait until the magazine comes out in a couple of weeks, check it out below.

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5 “secrets” to living longer

Ok, the word secret might be a bit of a stretch. It’s not like they’re things we all haven’t heard before. But I think one thing that often gets lost is by how much these simple strategies contribute to ones longevity. The truth is if we dismissed 95% of the advice we hear about the latest anti-aging gimmick and focused on these 5 simple tips, we’d all significantly increase our odds of living a long and healthy life.

Don’t smoke

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years less than that of non-smokers. Not only does smoking increase the obvious risk of lung cancer and chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), but it also leads to heart disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and many other types of cancers, including oral, stomach, colon, liver and pancreatic. If you want to live longer and can only follow one piece of advice in this article, this should be it.

Get active

In case you needed more incentive to get up off that couch a recent study that tracked participants for 14 years found that individuals who engage in just 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week (that’s 30 minutes/ day, 5 times/week) have a 31% less chance of dying compared to those who are physically inactive. When you combine this with the fact that exercise demonstrably makes your skin appear decades younger in as little as 12 weeks (unfortunately it isn’t able to counteract damage from the sun though), you’d be a fool not to get moving more.

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation

People who drink alcohol in excess have elevated rates of death from accidents, suicides, homicides, liver disease, and some cancers. There is even some evidence that people who drink alcohol in moderation live longer than nondrinkers. What exactly do we mean by moderation? Well women should have no more than 1 drink/day and men should stick to a maximum of 2 drinks/ day. In terms of your beverage of choice it appears that red wine might offer additional cardio-protective benefits over other options.

Get enough sleep

Often overlooked, sleep can be an important factor for determining ones longevity. Studies show that insufficient sleep can lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and reduced immunity, which all can lead to premature death. In fact research suggests that getting less than seven hours of sleep per night can increase the risk of death by any cause by as much as 12%.

Eat well

You didn’t think I forget to actually talk about diet, did you? Easily the most confusing of all the tips listed in this article, there is a lot of information (and misinformation!) out there about the best diet for living longer. First off, skip the latest fad about the newest longevity-inducing superfood. There’s little evidence that most play anything more than a minor role in increasing lifespan. Around the world, cultures that tend to live longer and have less rates of disease follow diets built around plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. It’s really that simple. If you’re looking for something a little more specific, the Mediterranean diet, with its reliance on vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and peas, unrefined grains, olive oil and fish, has garnered a lot of press in recent years for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease and preserve telomere length (a component of DNA that naturally shortens as we age).

So, despite all the amazing claims you see on TV, read on the internet or hear from your friend, the truth is that we already have a pretty good idea how best to live longer. And we’ve known for long time. It’s really just a matter to doing it.

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I don’t do (generic) menus…

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For anyone that’s lived in Egypt for any length of time it will come as no surprise that the quality of the professionals giving dietary advice can vary tremendously.  I’ve written before about the lack of oversight of the profession and the fact that most people working as nutritionists/dietitians have little formal training (at least nothing close to what would be considered standard in more developed countries).

As such, it is equally unsurprising that many common practices of nutrition professionals in Egypt are riddled with flaws.  One such practice that I find particularly problematic is providing clients with menus of certain calorie levels.  On the surface this may not seem like such a terrible idea (and perhaps that’s true in the right context), but the way the practice is being implemented is frankly archaic and largely ineffective.

What I’ve gleaned is that typically most appointments with nutritionists consist of little more than a 30 minute meeting where an appropriate calorie level for the client is determined.  Clients are then provided a menu that they are expected to follow.  There is little discussion about preference, food knowledge, allergies/intolerances, etc.  Basically if you want to achieve your goals, be that weight loss/gain, or to eat healthier, just follow the menu.  What’s also concerning is that if upon their return visit clients haven’t met their predetermined targets, the nutritionist blames the client for not following the menu properly.

Here’s a few reasons why you’ll never see me provide my clients with a generic menu to follow.

  1. Sustainable change is made through small, incremental adjustments.  It’s been demonstrated time and again that diets don’t work because people are unable to stick with them for the long term.  Part of this is because most diets are a huge deviation from what people are currently eating.  I would much rather start with the patient’s existing diet/eating pattern and make adjustments from there instead of basically telling them to scrap everything and start fresh.
  2. Diets need to be customized to the individual.  And by customized, I mean much more than just figuring out what an appropriate level of calories is for someone. What about that person’s food preferences?  Do they have allergies/intolerances?  Are they even familiar with the foods that are included on the menu?  Without taking these factors into account, you’re just asking for failure.
  3. Portion distortion.  Individuals consistently underestimate their portion sizes.  Even if the menus include exact quantities, unless there have been instructions for weighing/measuring all foods (which can be incredibly tedious), chances are the clients will serve themselves more than they should.  This is not necessarily the fault of the client as societal norms and food marketing have distorted how big portions should really be.
  4. Life happens.  Another reason why diets fail is that they are often too rigid.  Life doesn’t follow a menu.  It can be demoralizing when you’re expected to follow a menu diligently and for various reasons, it’s just not possible (ie. family/social gatherings, celebrations, etc.).  Unfortunately life happens and strict adherence to a menu is not always going to be your top priority.  And that’s okay.  I’d much rather teach my clients how to make the best choices they can, instead of expecting them to be perfect all the time.

At the end of the day, I want my clients to be successful.  Expecting them to strictly adhere to a menu that hasn’t been customized to meet their needs is far from the best way to do this.  If menus like this worked, there’d be no need for people like me to provide dietary counselling at all – just hop online and find the right menu for you.  Unfortunately, things are a little more complicated than that, and the faster my fellow Egyptian colleagues recognize this, the healthier (and more successful) their clients will be.

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I’m back…

I’m back from another unanticipated break from the blogosphere.  There been a few things that have keep me away this time, not the least of which has been that my Nutrition Consulting business at CSA has taken off a lot quicker than expected.  It’s definitely a good thing, but unfortunately it leaves me with little time to write.

Anyways, this week I wanted to dive into an AWESOME video I came across discussing healthy eating and weight loss entitled “What’s the Best Diet? Healthy Eating 101” by Dr. Mike Evans.  With all the misinformation out there about this stuff, it’s frankly something that everyone should watch.  Make sure you’ve got some time before starting – it’s a little over 15 minutes long.

Below are a few of the things mentioned in the video that are worth discussing in a little bit more depth.

  • We live in an obesogenic environment.  In the industrialized world it is way too easy to have high caloric intakes and low energy expenditures.  I have often argued that while this doesn’t absolve people of their own responsibility for their health, it is important to recognize that where/how we live does not always make it very easy to be healthy.
  • Diet success is a product of its sustainability.  If you’ll be unable to stick with a diet over the long-term (ie. indefinitely) don’t waste your time starting with it. Because even if you lose weight while on it, as soon as you revert back to your old habits, so too will your weight.
  • Often with diets people tend to focus on very particular macronutrient compositions (low carb, low fat, high protein, etc), however what seems to be much more important is the quality of the macronutrients you’re consuming rather than the exact percentages.  Great quote from Dr. Brain Wansink “Think more about what’s healthy to eat, rather than what not to eat”.
  • The Brazilian dietary guidelines are mentioned.  I’ve previously written about how much I love these.  What’s so great about these guidelines are how they shift the focus away from specific nutrients and onto overall eating patterns (sitting down for family meals, eating unprocessed foods, minimizing restaurant meals, etc…)
  • Choice architecture (or redesigning your environments) is important for successful healthy eating.  This requires self-knowledge about what might trigger unhealthy habits for you.  For example, some easy solutions might be not having “problem foods” in the house or even buying smaller plates.
  • Having social support is critical.  If you’re trying to improve the way you eat but have people in your life who aren’t supportive (spouses, children, friends, employers), it will be much more difficult.  Identify potential barriers and do whatever you can to get them on board.
  • Finally, healthy eating is not about perfection but rather consistency.  One bad choice/bad meal doesn’t need to sabotage your overall goals.  Remember to take a step back and look at the whole picture, because that’s what’s most important.

….The other reason I’ve been away for a bit was that my wife and I spent 8 days in South Africa.  What an incredible country!  We’ve traveled to quite a few amazing places the past couple of years, but this trip is one we won’t soon forget.  It will be difficult to top the great food, beaches, mountains and wildlife anytime soon. And the bungee jumping, shark cage diving, cheetah walking and ostrich riding were pretty cool too!

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On the summit of Table Mountain

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on our sunset cheetah walk at Tenikwa in Plettenberg Bay

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Bungee Jumping from Bloukrans Bridge (216m)

Great White Shark Cage Diving

Great White Shark Cage Diving

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Ostrich riding at Highgate Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn

Ugh… more ‘Fat Shaming’

‘Fat Shaming’ hit the news again this week.  For those of you who may have missed it, a YouTube comedian named Nicole Arbour put up a video entitled “Dear Fat People”, where among other things she argues that fat shaming is not a “real thing”, makes numerous derogatory assumptions about people who are obese and tells a story of her encounter with a “fat family” at the airport, all while claiming she is only saying all this out of a desire to help.

I’m loathe to give her anymore publicity, but I think it’s worth being able to see exactly what we’re talking about here:

Apparently at some point YouTube decided to take the video down before it was eventually re-posted (although some suggest it was Arbour who did so herself so that she could drum up additional controversy).

Understandably the video garnered a lot of backlash.  Here are just a few of the more popular responses uploaded within days of her posting.

In interviews and social media since the video came out Arbour has claimed the whole thing was intended as satire.  I don’t know.  She’s clearly trying to be funny throughout the video, but the tone, at least to me, comes off as being mean-spirited more than anything else.  The fact that she has since appeared completely unfazed by the negative reaction is what I find really unsettling.

And honestly, regardless of whether her video was intended as satire or not, the underlying messages are still there.  It’s pretty clear that Arbour subscribes to the notions that “You’re fat because you’re lazy.” “Fat people eat whatever they want.” and “People who are overweight have no idea that their excess weight is impacting their health”.  Not only does this demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the determinants of obesity, it’s just a jerk thing to do. This is also saying nothing of the fact that shaming about their weight actually drives people away from pursuing behaviors that may improve their health.

It’s encouraging to see so many people speaking out against this video, but as a quick scroll through the comments section of any article covering this story will show you, we still have a ways to go.

In the meantime, I implore you to simply have empathy for others.  You don’t know their history or their struggles.  Don’t judge someone without ever having lived a day in their shoes.

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