Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Why Is Everyone a Nutrition Expert?

If you're recovering from an eating disorder, sometimes scrolling through social media can be a recipe for disaster.

I've noticed recently that my Facebook feed is filled with women advertising (on groups I've joined) their multi-level marketing businesses. They're selling shakes, body wraps, and beach body programs, touting their own success and before-and-after pictures as proof.

When I joined a group of local vegetarians, it wasn't long before the posts devolved from restaurant recommendations and meetup opportunities to members' advertisements for boot camps and diet shakes. Why must we conflate a lifestyle choice with a drive to lose weight?

Health and nutrition coaches abound. Pilates instructors are offering pre- and post-natal nutrition coaching. Personal trainers are serving up meal plans and chefs are counseling people on the "psychology of eating."

For those in recovery, the barrage of weight-loss/thin-ideal material is triggering and hard to ignore. For the general population, this practice turns out potentially dangerous misinformation. The fact that nutritional counseling is largely unregulated creates a bunch of pseudo-experts advising on a topic that can have significant negative consequences. Diets don't cause eating disorders, but they can trigger someone who is susceptible. I've had a number of patients through the years report that their symptoms began - or intensified - when they sought out the services of a personal trainer who prescribed them a rigid meal plan.

We need to leave nutrition to the experts, the registered dietitians who have the education, training, and certification to stand behind their recommendations. Even within this group, there can be great variability regarding an understanding of disordered eating, the emotional connection to food, and sensitivity to weight stigma.

Let's educate the public to seek out properly trained individuals on matters of physical and mental health. Nutrition is a science, and while it might be a hobby for some, imposing this hobby on others can have often harmful effects.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Fitness at Every Size

Did you hear about The University of Washington's advice for prospective cheerleaders? The infographic, published last week by the university, suggested that coeds show up for tryouts with "curled or straight hair," false eyelashes, and bare midriffs - and created quite a stir in the body image community.

It's clear that the university - and likely not the only one but maybe one of the only to advertise - was looking for a female prototype to populate its squad. Might women of color have a shot? Would women of diverse body types or varying degrees of femininity have any chance of nailing an audition? Unlikely.

While we might take aim at any one of the stereotypically confining pointers they recommend, the one that jumps out most to me is the hint, "Be physically fit, with an athletic physique." What might happen, as I'm sure will be the case, if a woman shows up for tryouts who is physically fit but who doesn't have the "athletic physique" that the squad requires? Might she have a shot to dazzle the captains with her fitness and skill? Doubtful.

What exactly is an "athletic physique," anyway? One word connotes function, the other form. In reality, athleticism has no look. It's possible to be perfectly athletic without sporting the "athletic physique" most of us are brainwashed to prefer.

The Health at Every Size® movement proposes that healthy behaviors be considered independent of body size. I'd add a special emphasis on fitness, as indices of fitness (e.g., strength, endurance, flexibility) can be accomplished regardless of shape or size. A thin body is not, by definition, fit. 

So, might the cheer captains at the University of Washington take note of a truly athletic woman, who can tumble and jump but who has a bulky midriff? Fat chance.

But, there's a lesson in this for all of us.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at BarnesandNoble.com