Archive for the ‘Consumer Confusion’ Category

Love the Message – Conflicted About the Messenger

March 30, 2016

Recently I stumbled upon an ad that Nestle’s Lean Cuisine brand aired earlier this year for it’s “Weigh This” campaign. The two-minute ad features women who are asked about their greatest accomplishments in life and their answers range from family and other important relationships in their lives to school, career and travel. The catch phrase is “if you’re going to weigh, weigh something that matters.” They also have a “diet filter” where you can sign up to have the word “diet” blocked from your media.

I love this ad and this message (haven’t tried the diet filter yet but like the concept). What’s not to love? I believe we (especially women) spend a ridiculous amount of time worrying about our weight. And because our culture has so completely fused the ideas of weight and health, if someone makes positive lifestyle changes that could improve their overall health and wellbeing, but they don’t lose weight doing it, they often give up on those changes. What’s the point if it doesn’t lead to weight loss, right? Ugh.

My dilemma about this ad is that it comes from a food company that specializes in frozen meals and has been solidly part of our “diet culture” for decades. Sure, this campaign is to re-spin the company toward health and wellness vs. dieting, but let’s be clear, pre-packaged frozen meals deliberately low in calories are still supporting a diet mentality and approach.

It is great that Lean Cuisine has reformulated their recipes and taken out some of the nasty or at least questionable additives that do a lot more for food manufacturers (via longer shelf life) than for eaters. It is also great that they are supporting a Girls Leadership organization. But I’d be a lot more excited about this ad campaign if it was put forth by a farm that produced high quality fresh food or a local farmer’s market. Sigh. (My farmer friends are now laughing hysterically at the idea they would have that kind of cash for advertising!) I prefer the trend towards eating more whole, fresh foods and preparing more of our own meals to buying packaged frozen meals. I realize however, that convenience is still in the top 3 reasons why people eat what they eat.

With a mix of optimism and trepidation I share this ad campaign. I do appreciate the small steps toward change. As I tell my clients “aim for progress not perfection.” I celebrate that at least someone (with a big advertising budget) is supportive of non-diet messages. The Lean Cuisine website states a goal to “ignite a relevant and authentic social conversation about weight and value perception among women” and that is a conversation I want to have more often!

 

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I Had No Idea: a “healthy” passion can become a problem

February 26, 2015

Passion drives many athletes and outdoor enthusiasts here in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Surrounded by rugged mountain ranges and access to raging rivers, this recreational Mecca is a sort of proving ground for athletes who want to push their limits skiing, rock climbing, boating, biking, running and more. There is a strong subculture here that sets a high bar for “normal” exercise.

Passions Can Become Problems

Passions Can Become Problems

More than 20 years ago during my early years in Jackson a friend and I did a 24-mile day hike up in Grand Teton National Park, a major feat for us east coast transplants. We got an early start and crested the top of the divide feeling pretty good about our accomplishment until a couple of local friends came jogging up the trail and passed us wearing fanny packs with water. If you climb or ski something here someone has climbed or skied it faster, or as part of a multi-peak day, or they first biked from town, swam across a lake, and were heading down to reverse their route after passing you. Seriously.

This Uber-athlete mentality makes it difficult to define “excessive exercise.” Disordered eating patterns that often accompany problem exercise are also normalized here. Sometimes eating takes obvious disordered forms such as severely restricting all food intake or bingeing and purging food. Less obvious disordered eating can be adhering to rigid food rules such as “eating clean” or following any number of fad diets that are socially accepted. This does not mean anyone who is consciously eating well to improve health or athletic performance has an eating disorder but points to the difficulty in identifying problems in subcultures like ours where extreme behaviors are normalized.

A group of friends on a long backcountry ski tour together may have no idea one member of the group has not eaten for 12 hours because she “ate too much” yesterday. Or she needs to hike, skin and ski first to “earn” her next meal. Or she “feels too fat” to eat. Or the food available doesn’t meet her strict guidelines of acceptable food. And with the exercise itself, if someone works out despite illness or injury or never takes a rest day, she is badass, dedicated, someone to be admired.

Excessive exercise as a form of purging in Bulimia Nervosa was added to the DSM-5 (the manual that outlines criteria for a variety of mental illnesses including eating disorders) in June of 2013. Exercise has long been recognized as a problem in a variety of eating disorders but it was not previously defined as a form of purging in place of other purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting.

Unfortunately, the general public health messages that encourage people to “move more and eat less” don’t acknowledge any downsides to either of these mandates. “Earning” meals or treat foods with exercise is commonly encouraged and the fine line between balancing calories and physical activity or obsessing about these habits is often blurred. Exercise habits can’t be adequately assessed based simply on the number of hours or days each week, the type of activity, or even the intensity, we must look at what drives the exercise.

Is it enjoyable?

What happens if you miss a day of working out?

Has exercise replaced time you spend doing other things you enjoy or time you spend with friends and family?

Do you fuel and hydrate to support your activities?

Do you feel better afterwards or do you just feel relief that you exercised?

All of these questions must be considered in the context of the whole person. An elite or professional athlete may have to train on days conditions are less than ideal and training can appear compulsive to an outside observer and a recreational athlete who sometimes overdoes it may not have a problem. The point is we need to know that despite all of tNEDA - Exercisehe positive benefits associated with physical activity, exercise can have a dark side. People who exercise while malnourished and underweight can experience accelerated bone loss and exercising after food restriction or other forms of purging can cause dangerous electrolyte imbalances.

If you suspect someone you care about has no idea that their passion may have crossed a line into dangerous territory – seek support. NEDA has a free Coach and Athletic Trainer toolkit with ideas that may apply to recreational athletes who are not being coached. Also from the NEDA website are the following risk and protective factors for athletes that may be helpful to consider in the broader context of appropriate or “healthy” exercise.

Risk Factors for Athletes:

  • Sports that emphasize appearance, weight requirements or muscularity. For example: gymnastics, diving, bodybuilding or wrestling.
  • Sports that focus on the individual rather than the entire team. For example: gymnastics, running, figure skating, dance or diving, versus teams sports such as basketball or soccer.
  • Endurance sports such as track and field/running, swimming.
  • Overvalued belief that lower body weight will improve performance.
  • Training for a sport since childhood or being an elite athlete.
  • Low self-esteem; family dysfunction (including parents who live through the success of their child in sport); families with eating disorders; chronic dieting; history of physical or sexual abuse; peer, family and cultural pressures to be thin, and other traumatic life experiences.
  • Coaches who focus primarily on success and performance rather than on the athlete as a whole person.
  • Three risk factors are thought to particularly contribute to a female athlete’s vulnerability to developing an eating disorder: social influences emphasizing thinness, performance anxiety and negative self-appraisal of athletic achievement. A fourth factor is identity solely based on participation in athletics.

Protective Factors for Athletes:

  • Positive, person-oriented coaching style rather than negative, performance-oriented coaching style.
  • Social influence and support from teammates with healthy attitudes towards size and shape.
  • Coaches who emphasize factors that contribute to personal success such as motivation and enthusiasm rather than body weight or shape.
  • Coaches and parents who educate, talk about and support the changing female body.

 

Beyond Broccoli’s Response to Article: “6 Things I Don’t Understand About the Fat Acceptance Movement”

December 29, 2014

This morning I read a blog post by Carolyn Hall entitled “6 Things I Don’t Understand About the Fat Acceptance Movement.” I realize that as with so many contentious current issues, people on all sides are so entrenched in their own views they struggle to step back and look at the whole picture. We all do this – we judge what we see and hear based upon our own life experiences. The bigger problem occurs when we are not open to changing our preconceived notions. As I tell my university students – if we want to be part of the solution to our current problems we must learn to communicate with people who don’t think like we do. This post is an attempt to do just that.

frozen creek

Though I felt frustrated reading this article I recognize Hall’s questions are shared by many who are unfamiliar with the nuances of the HAES (Health at Every Size) approach and provide an opportunity to respond with my take on these questions. I assume this author genuinely wants to hear a different view point and respond to her 6 points accordingly. Each response is based on my 14 years of work as a Registered Dietitian with a major focus on a non-diet approach to health, and a specialty working with problem eating all along the continuum, including eating disorders.

1. America is extremely accepting of fat.

Only someone who has not lived in America in a fat body could make this statement. To be clear, despite feeling fat most of my life starting in preadolescence, and going through periods of being 20-25 pounds or so above what is considered “healthy” for my height, my work with clients in larger bodies has shown me that I do not really know what it is like to be fat in our culture. I am haunted by their life stories however, and I can assure you this statement is not accurate.

I do agree with Hall that our culture accepts and even encourages many of the factors that contribute to unhealthy lifestyles, including excess weight and inadequate physical movement. As a whole (with some very vocal exceptions) we accept a food system that produces and promotes a plethora of unhealthy foods and makes them cheap, convenient, and accessible 24/7 for most of us. We accept that our “busy lives” don’t include time to prepare and eat health-promoting food at regular intervals and without distractions. We don’t encourage people to connect with their internal cues of hunger and fullness or with how their physical and mental health is linked to their eating habits. We accept a fear-based approach to education about virtually everything, including nutrition, and then blame people who don’t make sustainable changes based on fear (a topic for another post).

2. “Body positivity” should include health.

I cannot speak for every member of the Fat Acceptance or Health At Every Size Movements but I can tell you as a longtime advocate of a non-diet approach to health, and an eating disorder professional, my motivation to do this work is a focus on health. As with all social “movements” I suspect there are advocates with extreme and more rigid views than mine but having read many books by HAES proponents, any suggestion that health is not a key part of this movement is a misinterpretation.

The problem I see is that weight and health are so intertwined we overlook the fact that many lifestyle changes related to food, exercise, stress resilience, and more, can improve health with little or no change in body weight. Even if weight loss can increase health benefits, which is likely to be true in the extreme cases of morbid obesity the author refers to throughout her article, as long as positive lifestyle changes are tethered to weight loss, we encourage yo-yo dieting and unsustainable changes linked to metabolic mayhem that are not likely to yield long-term health benefits.

Body positivity does not mean you love being fat or want everyone to be fat. Accepting that you are a human being with worth that extends beyond your appearance is body positivity. In my experience working with people who struggle with food, weight and body image, the preoccupation with body weight, shape and size occurs in underweight, overweight and healthy weight individuals, male, female and transgendered. Shifting the focus toward what Connie Sobczak calls “intuitive living” in her excellent book Embody, is about self-care in every aspect of our lives. As long as we are only focused on a number on the scale we are not truly engaged in sustainable self-care.

3. “Health at every size” seems physically impossible.

Again, Hall is hung up here on the extremes – as many critics of the HAES approach are. As stated above, the main idea is that we need to shift the focus from weight to health, for everyone. Weight gain, or loss, may be part of the bigger health picture for people at the extremes of anorexia and morbid obesity. However, I see clients on a regular basis who are within a “healthy” weight range and routinely engage in unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to change (or maintain) the way they look.

I cannot count the number of times clients report compliments about how “good” they look or how much weight they’ve lost after days of erratic eating, purging, starving themselves, or exercising in dangerous ways. They not only hear this positive feedback from friends and co-workers but health professionals – doctors, personal trainers, and yes, sadly, nutritionists. All of us can be blind to the physical and emotional health consequences of a weight-focused vs. health-focused culture.

4. People are allowed to not be attracted to certain body types.

I have no issue with this statement. Attraction is thankfully diverse and individualized. My issue is that the fat shaming prevalent in our culture is an accepted form of discrimination and prejudice. Though I don’t believe we are anywhere near “post-racial” or beyond any other form of discrimination widely accepted earlier in my lifetime, I see examples on a regular basis of serious discrimination based on weight that is totally accepted in mainstream culture. Even people who still believe race, ethnic background, sex, gender, or religious preferences are undesirable, don’t express such views widely (except of course on the internet). Yet somehow there is a general acceptance of negative comments made about someone’s weight. As a society we allow fat to be a code word for lazy, stupid, weak, and other harmful judgments.

Promoting the idea that people come in different shapes and sizes does not mean we all suddenly have to be attracted to fat people. This is more of a social justice issue than a personal attraction or general health issue.

5. Food addiction is a real medical problem.

A complete response to this point is easily an entire blog post unto itself. In brief however, the concept of “food addiction” is controversial, particularly if we attempt to address this “diagnosis” as we do addictions to other substances. There are many issues that contribute to both what and how much we eat on a regular basis. While biochemistry and neuroscience can explain pieces of this complex puzzle, any attempt to reduce problem eating to “simple addiction” is not helpful.

Foods that are highly processed and bypass our internal cues of hunger and fullness are a problem. As stated previously these foods are cheap, convenient, and accessible. They are also heavily promoted using results from billions of dollars of food psychology research. I fully agree we need to address these issues.

To understand eating problems more completely however, we need to include the biochemical aspects of our response to food, along with our long-established neural pathways or habits, various influences in our food environments, and other aspects of human behavior. Evolutionary psychology can also help us better understand our currently maladaptive tendencies with the curiosity and compassion we need to make significant and sustainable changes to our behavior.

Like it or not, eating habits are complicated and reductionist “solutions” must be recognized as such. The HAES movement may not focus on all of the points I mention here but it does recognize the “answers” to the “obesity crisis” are not simple.

6. Childhood obesity is something we can’t be accepting of.

I could not agree more on this point. I know many health professionals who endorse non-diet and HAES approaches and none of them are “pro-obesity” of any sort, especially among children. Raising children to eat based on fear – don’t eat this or that because you will get sick, or worse, get fat, is not helpful. Continuing to advocate a weight-focused vs. overall health-focused paradigm will not help our children. They need to know that eating nutritious foods and moving their bodies daily is good for their brains, bodies, mood, energy levels, and overall health. But they also deserve to know that thin does not equal healthy; that as they transition from childhood to adolescence and then into adulthood, their bodies will grow and change, and these changes don’t mean they are unacceptable when they don’t fit narrowly defined ideals of beauty.

Our children need to know there is no “perfect body” or “perfect diet.” In fact it would be great if they abandoned the notion of perfection altogether. Striving to do the best they can is awesome. Chasing the illusion of perfection can be dangerous.

It is our responsibility as adults to provide an environment for our children that supports good health and a sense of well-being. In our current culture this is no easy feat. It is clear however, that what we have been doing for the past few decades is not working. Focusing on short-term fad diets, succumbing to the trappings of modern society that support unhealthy lifestyles and then blaming people who gain weight or don’t exercise enough, using fear-based tactics in an attempt to change people’s habits, are not helpful strategies to produce the changes we want to see.

I don’t like the phrase “fat acceptance.” I prefer “human acceptance” which gets more to the core of our various health problems linked to weight. In fact we know that the statistics related to weight and health also apply to socioeconomic status and health. This doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to these relationships but hopefully it means we try harder to understand the complexity of the issues beyond what we see on the scale.

There is no single way out of the mess we are in related to poor health as a society. Blame, shame, fear, anger, and a lack of compassion for ourselves and others are not working to make us healthier physically or mentally. What I am drawn to in alternate paradigms such as Health at Every Size (HAES) is the refusal to reduce our current health problems to weight alone, nor to continue clinging to approaches that don’t work. It is time for a fresh perspective and frankly I don’t care what we call it as long as it takes us in a more positive direction.

Overweight and in Recovery from an Eating Disorder

November 17, 2014
Photo from a client in recovery

Photo from a client in recovery

Last week following a presentation about eating disorders to a group of mental health professionals a participant stood up and shared that a relative of hers had just returned from eating disorder treatment and was overweight. What should she (the relative in recovery) do?

Each time I hear this question my heart sinks. We live in a culture where the primary metric for health is weight. If someone does not meet clinical criteria for a “healthy” weight range she is encouraged by everyone around her, often including her health providers, to “diet.” It astounds me that even when a person has struggled with a full-blown eating disorder the focus remains on weight, and too often “dieting” is the recommendation. Keep in mind that a “diet” for someone with an eating disorder is like a drink for someone addicted to alcohol.

Responding to the question about what to do next is difficult for many reasons. First, I know nothing about this person’s eating disorder journey – how it began, the form it took, the treatment she received, current support, etc. What I do know is that no matter what her journey looks like, working with a combination of outpatient therapist and dietitian with training and experience in eating disorders is the ideal next step. I’d like to say this type of follow up care is essential based on the many stories I’ve heard from my eating disorder clients about working with professionals not experienced with eating disorders. Unfortunately the reality of living in areas where specialized services are not available makes this an ideal scenario rather than an essential one.

The long term nutrition goal is to create a positive relationship with food (body and emotions too but these are more in the psychotherapy realm). Here are my top 3 next steps for nutrition in eating disorder recovery after some type of residential or inpatient treatment:

  • Seek support related to a more intuitive and mindful approach to eating. There are several books and websites on these topics. For Intuitive Eating resources Evelyn Tribole’s website is great http://www.evelyntribole.com/resources/intuitive-eating-articles-studies-support-groups/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating and for Mindful Eating guidance Michelle May, MD has some really good resources http://amihungry.com/resources/about-the-mindful-eating-cycle/
  • Be aware of any type of food restriction – especially if your eating disorder includes binge eating. This is one of the most counter-intuitive aspects of eating disorder recovery for those who struggle with binge eating. This is also commonly ignored among dietitians and other health professionals not experienced in eating disorder treatment. The focus is too often on the binge rather than the food restriction that can begin a cycle of disordered eating. Skipping meals and snacks, avoiding certain foods or food groups, only allowing yourself to eat at certain times, or arbitrarily determining portions sizes rather than relying on your body to tell you what and how much you need, are all forms of food restriction that can be harmful in eating disorder recovery.
  • Watch for “always” and “never” thoughts and statements. These words are red flags for “black-and-white” “all-or-nothing” types of thinking that support disordered eating behaviors of all kinds. These words are rarely true when it comes to food and can help you identify struggles that lurk beneath the surface during your recovery journey.

There are many more issues to address in support of long-term, sustainable eating disorder recovery and a positive relationship with food. If you are overweight as you face the next stage of your recovery these steps can help you stay focused on health and well-being while you support your body’s return to a healthy weight range tailored to your individual needs.

“The Jungle Effect” as Antidote to Fad Diets

February 14, 2014

Many of you have heard me rant about various fad diets. I lament how easily these temporary promises of a better, thinner, healthier version of ourselves take hold in our often anxious and preoccupied minds. I know humans innately crave a mix of new experiences (and foods) as well as the comfort of familiar routines (and foods), so I get why at least some of these fads are appealing. We know at some level we will never look like the celebrity du jour touting this fad as the secret to her success. We understand that no matter how much we long for simple solutions to our problems, it is unlikely the complex layers of our issues will be unraveled simply and with minimal effort.

Yet we can’t help ourselves. The power of our imagination is so great that we enter each new fad wide-eyed with possibility. Maybe this time we will lose weight, gain health and self-confidence, and all of the problems we think are tied to our weight and appearance will magically melt away.

I am reminded of my favorite nickname of a hockey teammate in Seattle – “Dream Crusher.” Though I understand very well the myriad reasons all of us are attracted to different fads at some point or another (this extends beyond fad diets for those who think this post doesn’t apply to you), I am here to crush that dream. There are no quick fixes to solve complex problems related to weight and health.

Lucky for you I am not particularly comfortable with the moniker “Dream Crusher,” as appealing as it is for a defensive partner on the ice in the context of a hockey game. I prefer to inspire hope and to support the process of change that leads my clients toward their goals and whatever it takes for them to live in harmony with their values. So I have put together a class called “The Jungle Effect” to appeal to your sense of adventure while honoring your need for comfort and the familiar.

“The Jungle Effect” is a phrase coined by integrative physician Daphne Miller. Miller observed several patients who experienced health problems when they transitioned away from their traditional way of eating and adopted the ways of our modern, industrialized society. One client in particular spent time in a traditional community in the jungle as a child and when she returned to this place for an extended visit years later, many health issues she developed as an adult resolved.

Intrigued by this idea that returning to a simpler way of eating and living could reclaim health, Miller explores five areas in the world where populations still follow a mainly traditional way of life, including eating habits, and enjoy an unusually low incidence of various chronic diseases and conditions that plague much of the developed world.

There are many aspects of Miller’s approach that appeal to me. First, she uses stories of real people to introduce us to these exotic places and to give us ideas about how we can integrate traditional ways into our modern lives.

Next, there is a lot of nutrition myth-busting that occurs throughout the book, especially related to our annoying tendency to reduce nutrition to specific nutrients as a guide to a “healthy diet.” While she does introduce information about components in foods that have powerful health benefits like the omega-3 fats found in fish, she presents a broader picture of nutritional benefits. Popular ideas such as simply eating “too many carbs” is a general problem vanish as we learn that the people of Copper Canyon, Mexico eat a traditional diet that is composed of roughly 80% carbohydrates and enjoy one of the lowest rates of diabetes in the world.

Perhaps the best part of the book for me though, is that Miller provides a picture of each culture that extends beyond what they eat. There is no doubt the “what” is important, yet through Miller’s presentation of cultures as diverse as Crete and Iceland we are encouraged to look beyond what is eaten and contemplate how food is produced, prepared and shared, along with many other aspects of daily life in these communities that benefit their health.

“The Jungle Effect,” and more specifically the idea of pursuing more traditional ways of eating, is the closest thing I think we will find to a “simple solution.” By definition a culture that continues its way of life, including eating habits, over centuries is going to have a more simple approach than our post-industrial modern society.  The challenge then becomes reclaiming simplicity in a complex society, no small feat as many of you know.

Next week’s class through our local branch of Central Wyoming College is based on some of the important concepts from Miller’s book, complete with foods that represent these special places – Copper Canyon, Mexico, the islands of Crete and Okinawa, Cameroon, West Africa, and Iceland. We will explore some of the key concepts common to this diverse collection of cultures that contribute to good health and longevity.  Best of all, we will embrace the excitement that comes with trying something new while uncovering the comfortable, familiar aspects of this simple approach that require no special talents beyond our own inner wisdom.

Beyond Broccoli Holiday Nutrition Tips:

December 10, 2013

Tired of the same old holiday nutrition tips that promote a focus on calories, fat grams, weight gain, and other negative consequences of dietary indiscretion, here are some ideas that fit more with the Beyond Broccoli nutrition philosophy and approach.

  1. Be kind to yourself. This does not replace the giving to others we emphasize during the holiday season – compassion for others is linked to self-compassion. You cannot give what you don’t have and you take the best care of what you love. You do the best you can and that is enough.
  2. Check in with why you are eating. The holiday season presents endless opportunities to graze mindlessly. Sometimes the simple question “what do I really need/want right now?” can stop or at least make you aware of eating for non-hunger reasons (emotions, environment, peer pressure).
  3. Eat slowly and intentionally. Identify pleasing flavors and textures in the food you eat and give your brain the 20 minutes it needs to identify fullness. It helps to eat sitting down with minimal distractions (not an easy task for many of us!).
  4. Notice how your body feels after you eat. This primitive instinct once let us know which foods (or amounts of food) caused digestive discomfort so we could avoid (or eat less of) the food the next time. Understanding which foods nourish our bodies best can empower us to make better choices.
  5. Eat regularly throughout the day. When we go too long without eating we set ourselves up to overeat. This is basic biology – part of our hard-wired survival instincts, now mismatched with our abundant food supply. If you are going to a holiday dinner or party in the evening you can make healthier food choices during the day, but skipping meals and arriving at your special occasion ravenous is not a good idea.
  6.  Stay hydrated. Our need for fluid increases with many environmental extremes including hot, cold, dry and high altitude. Many of us are conscious about drinking more water when it’s hot but forget we need more when it’s cold and/or dry too. Soups and hot tea are great ways to increase fluid on cold days.
  7. Strive to include joyful movement in your busy holiday schedule. Physical activity can take many forms – find ways to move that you enjoy and you are more likely to keep this as part of your holiday self-care regimen. Forcing yourself to squeeze in a gym session can create more stress than it relieves. Dance at holiday parties, acknowledge that holiday shopping and cleaning are opportunities to be active and “count” as physical activity.
  8. Savor food you perceive as special treats. Choose your special treat foods, knowing that in our modern world most foods are available any time of year so identify the truly special foods for you. Notice that when you give yourself permission to eat and savor these foods you may “need” less of them to feel satisfied.
  9. Shared meals provide benefits beyond physical nourishment. Food connects us as humans – we all must eat to live. There is research that supports many benefits of family meals. Taking time to share meals during the holiday season can help us feel grounded, connected to each other, and in charge of our lives vs. stressed out about how out-of-control this season can get.
  10. Remember to breathe. Deep breathing has many benefits, especially related to stress resilience. Stress is an inevitable part of life and our ability to work through stressful moments or events is important for many reasons, including the ability to not use food as an antidote. Just 3 deep “belly breaths” can change the blood flow in your brain from your “fight or flight” response to your more “rational” thinking.

Eating Beyond “Superfoods”

November 22, 2013

“A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”     – P. J. O’Rourke

Recently as I perused the produce department of my local grocery store, a man asked me if I knew anything about juicing – he pointed to a bunch of fresh beets and chunk of fresh ginger root in his cart. He wondered if the bunch of fresh  greens in his hand from a bin marked simply “greens” was okay for juice, or if he should use kale. Just then a produce employee arrived on the scene and informed us the mystery greens were mustard greens. So I explained to the man that all of the dark leafy greens were very nutritious and the mustard greens have a spicier flavor so the choice of greens to juice is more a matter of taste preference. The produce employee interrupted us to encourage the man toward kale because – “it’s a Superfood.”

Irritated on several levels, (and I am not proud of my next move) I pulled the “I’m a dietitian” card with the hope the annoying employee would go away, which he kind of did. But now the man holding the greens perked up and asked if I knew another dietitian here in town, and when I replied that I did know her, the man beamed as he pointed to his cart and said “she’d be proud of me wouldn’t she?” I agreed, and wished him luck with his juicing adventure. As I walked away, he tucked a bunch of fresh kale next to the bundle of beets and headed toward the cash registers, not realizing mustard greens are also “Superfoods” they just don’t have a publicist yet.

Sigh. Mustard greens are cruciferous vegetables in the Brassicaceae family – along with kale, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, brussel sprouts, Kholrabi (my husband calls this the “alien vegetable”), bok choy, and cauliflower.

This produce department incident is actually brimming with blog material but right now my focus is: “Superfoods.“ I know this isn’t a new concept. We live in a culture that LOVES superheroes, and celebrities, so it really isn’t a surprise we apply this concept to foods. In general there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to expand their culinary horizons to include whichever food currently has the best PR campaign or celebrity endorsement. Generally these foods are rich in beneficial plant compounds or some mix of nutrients we don’t get enough of, but somehow I find this trendy obsession irritating. I googled “celebrity kale” and came up with an Us Weekly headline “Stars Who Love Kale” followed by a long list of articles, blogs and websites where apparently celebrities gush about this leafy Brassica. Sigh again.

I  guess I should start with the fact that I have nothing against kale. In fact, I really enjoy kale – starting several years ago when I was a work-share for a season at the Cosmic Apple Gardens, a local CSA over in Victor, Idaho. Prior to that summer, kale was simply a popular garnish used in many of the restaurants and banquets I’d worked in my former food and beverage career. (Current kale enthusiasts would cringe at the thought of the millions of pounds of this vegetable superhero tossed in the garbage of restaurant kitchens after serving its aesthetic purpose.)

I was also thrilled to discover this member of the cruciferous family, a group best known for cancer-fighting powers, grows beautifully in the harsh soil and abbreviated growing season here in northern Wyoming. Even I, brown thumb who generally does best with plants like cactus that thrive on neglect, can grow kale!

But here’s the thing, if we focus on a narrow array of “Superfoods,” we not only miss out on the variety of tastes and textures that make eating pleasurable, we burn out on whatever the latest thing is. I mean how many times a week can you eat kale before you are over it?

Not to mention that I can buy broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts for half the cost of a bunch of fresh kale (especially if I go organic).  And, better still, incorporating more variety allows me to make a delicious cabbage salad with toasted pumpkin seeds to go with Mexican main dishes, broccoli (or even more fun – broccoli rabe) with pasta, a mustard greens and goat cheese omelet, and by the time I get to the kale and white bean soup I’ve been in cruciferous heaven for days! Admittedly I stumble a bit with cauliflower and brussel sprouts – not my personal faves. Though I have found ways to make these two palatable, it takes a bit of extra effort (and a lot of garlic – or a grill) so I choose them less often.

I guess my point is – it is difficult to find a vegetable or fruit that isn’t a “Superfood.” Nutrition research shows again and again that eating more fruits and veggies of all kinds (non-starchy anyway) offers a whole host of benefits from lowering our risk of heart disease and many cancers, to helping us achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Just because Gweneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston aren’t raving about broccoli (and let’s not forget George Bush Sr.’s anti-broccoli tirade) doesn’t mean we need to forgo the (broccoli) trees for the (kale) leaves! And what if broccoli actually had a PR campaign? Check it out http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/magazine/broccolis-extreme-makeover.html?ref=health&_r=2&

Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us

November 15, 2013

I am no stranger to the genre of Food Industry Horror Stories, both in book and film forms. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation was my first plunge into the seamy underside of our industrialized food system and its myriad cultural implications. Sadly many others have expanded on Schlosser’s work, including the latest contribution from investigative journalist Michael Moss called Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

Moss shares what he learned from food industry researchers and executives themselves about how foods are specifically designed to entice people to eat past the point of normal fullness; calculated “bliss points” are used for added sugars, just the right texture and amount of salt for a “flavor burst” to maximize the rush to the brain’s pleasure centers upon hitting the tongue, and fats that add both flavor and a quality called “mouthfeel” – a powerful combination that does not seem to trigger messages to stop eating.

For those of us who encourage our clients to work towards normal or “intuitive eating” rather than restrained eating, Moss’ reminder about the many foods engineered to derail this internal system is both frustrating and important. People who struggle with compulsive overeating, binge eating, or restricted eating that stems from fear they will not be able to stop eating once they begin, at some point need to know that their behaviors are not entirely emotionally based or a sign they are somehow bereft of willpower. This is exactly what food manufacturers want all of us to do – eat what they produce, in excessive amounts, and often. These so-called Food Giants also spend billions of dollars to market highly processed, ultra-palatable foods, and to make sure they are available nearly everywhere we go.

My hope is that the information in Moss’ book will help us be more aware when we eat processed foods, knowing they are deliberately hard to resist overeating. If this deeper understanding about how processed foods are made and marketed so we will eat more helps us let go of the guilt that often comes with eating these foods, particularly if we eat more than we planned to, then I am all for this type of consumer education.

I am concerned however, that yet another of these dire warnings about our food system will reinforce rigid all-or-nothing thinking about what we eat (or don’t eat) based on fear. It is one thing to strive for more whole or minimally processed foods that support good health and another to be so fearful of processed foods that when our options are limited and that is the only food available, we either don’t eat at all, or we are overly anxious while eating (not good for digestion or absorption of nutrients not to mention the increased release of damaging stress hormones).

I guess I’m a bit of an idealist in that I prefer to inspire change rather than jam it down people’s throats with a heavy dose of fear. But I have to admit, I like the idea that when we eat more whole foods and prepare more of our meals at home rather than outsourcing this important work to big food companies (restaurants, ready-prepared or frozen meals in grocery stores, etc.) we are effectively rebelling against a modern food system in dire need of repair.

“Good Food,” “Bad Food,” Wait – Why Am I Eating?

November 8, 2013

The idea that food is either “good” or “bad” is one I have struggled with for years. I don’t mean that I can’t decide which foods support good health and which do not, though dietary trends at any given time try to complicate this picture. What I struggle with is the moralistic labeling of foods, and ultimately how we view ourselves when we eat these foods. If we eat “healthy” we feel virtuous and if we eat “junk food” we feel guilty. The reality is that our overall eating habits are what matter most, including the why, what, when, where, how, and how much we eat. To boil all that down to “I ate French Fries so I’m bad” or “I ate a salad so I’m good” just isn’t helpful for people who struggle with health or weight issues, and it’s not an accurate picture of health for anyone.

So, for years I supported not labeling foods as simply “good” or “bad,” until I learned about how the food industry co-opted the “no bad foods” mantra as a way to peddle more highly processed (and profitable) foods with little (or no) nutritional value. While I do believe there is room in a healthy overall diet for some less-nutritious options, and I also believe foods are not inherently “good” or “evil” – food is just food, hawking the idea that there is no such thing as a bad food from a nutritional perspective is ludicrous. Furthermore, billions of dollars are spent to market these less nutritious options that are usually cheaper and more widely available than more nutritious foods, and in many cases these foods are engineered to override our internal hunger/fullness regulators. Suddenly the “all foods fit” model is more difficult to embrace.

Now, however, I believe the bigger problem with the oversimplification of foods as “good or bad” or stating “there are no bad foods” is that we accept these reductionist ideas without much thought. In fact we have become so focused on what we eat (or don’t eat) that we give little attention to all of the other aspects of eating mentioned above (why, when, etc.). As it turns out, some of these other factors have a major impact on both what and how much, we eat.

We humans eat for a variety of reasons and always have. Those of us in the developed world have more food available than ever before, so merely having enough food is not the issue it was for our ancestors. Even so, we have this idea that food “should” only be for nourishment. The reality is that even primitive cultures that did not have a consistently adequate food supply used food for fuel or sustenance, sometimes medicine, as well as social reasons such as celebrations.

To limit food to only fuel or medicine (“good food”) is not realistic for most people. While some may choose this path to the table, most of us want food to be more versatile. So what if we first ask ourselves: why am I eating this food? Or why do I want that food? We could then have the honest, open conversation with ourselves about our overall eating habits. Sometimes we may answer: I’m hungry and this food will fill me up or I don’t feel well and this food will nourish me. Other times we may say: I like the taste of this food or I want to be part of this celebration with food.

With this ‘why we eat’ approach we can take the judgment out of eating so we are not simply “good” or “bad” because we ate or chose not to eat a particular food. We can learn more about why we choose the foods we do. If we find ourselves making many of our food choices for non-hunger reasons – we are bored, frustrated, happy, sad, or lonely and food is a way to distract, soothe, comfort, numb, or reward ourselves, then we can address these other issues. If what we really need is something other than food, no amount of food will satisfy us. If we are eating because the food is in eyesight or we just saw an ad for a food we like, then we can think about ways to limit those visual cues or at least acknowledge we are influenced by them.

The “why am I eating?” approach can also help us re-connect with when we are hungry and when we have had enough. As we learn more about what we really need, we don’t have to rely on others to tell us what to eat because we will know what makes us feel good – physically and mentally. Instead of asking ourselves “is this food good or bad” we can ask “is this food what I really need or want right now?”

Beyond Broccoli is Back in Wyoming!

October 9, 2013

Back in Jackson, Wyoming, and my dream job – Beyond Broccoli Nutrition Counseling and Education. There is so much to share with you from my four plus years in the Seattle area. Luckily I don’t need to squeeze it all into one blog post so I’ll begin by sharing some of the highlights.

First, as many of you know, eating more whole and minimally processed foods to improve our health is part of my nutrition philosophy and approach. The endless stream of dietary fads pushes me more firmly towards simplifying what we eat, taking back control over preparing more of our food at home, learning to make nourishing foods taste delicious, finding ways to eat well amidst our often insanely busy schedules, learning to wade through the marketing hype that awaits us on nearly every grocery store shelf, and finally, creating sustainable daily habits that support our health and well-being. So, teaching at Bastyr University the past four years was an incredible experience.

I was thrilled to be part of a nutrition department that shares my holistic views related to the importance of whole foods and an integrative approach to helping people improve their health. Bastyr began as a school for naturopathic physicians and expanded to include herbal science, acupuncture and oriental medicine, midwifery, and many options that combine nutrition with exercise and sports science, culinary arts, and clinical healthy psychology. So my students had a variety of interests and most were eager to change the status quo in the fields of nutrition and health care.

Over the past four years I encouraged my students in a variety of classes to rise up to the challenge of changing our broken or too often inadequate food and healthcare systems, and to expand the increasingly narrow view of nutrition and health that underlie these systems. In my cultural foods classes students explored the important role that culture plays in determining what, when, why, how, where, and how much we eat. My Food & Society class delved even deeper into the subject of what shapes and determines our eating habits, with forays into the mismatch of human biology and our current food environment; food psychology that can interfere with our best intentions to eat intuitively and mindfully; food politics that influence many aspects of our food system including nutrition recommendations and education; and the many elements of our industrialized, globalized food system that makes the idea of sweeping changes daunting.

In all of my classes I found opportunities to challenge my students to think beyond simply telling people what to do, whether they are working with individual patients or clients to change lifestyle behaviors, or trying to reach a class, audience, or readership about changes that need to happen within our food system. Change is difficult and on all levels change requires a mix of collaboration and motivation – or in my ideal scenario, inspiration!

This brings me to another core belief: eating is one of the basic human needs that connects us all, and I believe it should be enjoyable, especially for those of us fortunate enough to have an adequate, consistent supply of food. Sadly, too many people currently make food choices based on fear, or beat themselves up for not making changes they “should” make. We are bombarded with messages suggesting there is some perfect way to eat to insure optimal health, and worse, that there is one path to health (and it’s lined with kale!).

My work over the past two years at an intensive outpatient clinic for eating disorders was a stark reminder of what can happen when we approach nutrition narrowly defining health in terms of weight, rigidly adhering to generally prescribed rules of eating, and accept our modern culture’s preoccupation with outward appearance as paramount to success in life. The lessons I taught my students about change applied in the clinical setting as well. My goal was to engage my patients and to collaborate with them, and support them through the long, difficult process of trading their eating disorder for genuine and sustainable self-care. Of course being part of an amazing multi-disciplinary team of medical, nutrition, and mental health professionals all working with our patients toward common goals, was incredibly helpful for our patients and satisfying for me.

So I return to Beyond Broccoli more determined than ever to help my clients and patients find what will help them reach their nutrition and health-related goals, and to support them in the pro

cess of making changes in ways that are individualized, effective, realistic, and of course sustainable for the long-term. I continue to get fired up about using creative ideas and experiential learning techniques when possible, like cooking, grocery shopping, and whatever else my clients need in terms of skills and ideas. I still believe amidst the hard work of changing nutrition and other habits we can have some fun. I look forward to sharing more of what I have learned with all of you, here in Wyoming and beyond, and to hearing from you!

So happy to be back in Wyoming!

So happy to be back in Wyoming!