The Importance of Sleep

The Importance of Sleep

In todays achievement obsessed society, sleep is often thought of as a luxury, or just an afterthought. I used the think the biggest consequence of inadequate sleep was feeling cranky and wasting too much money at Starbucks. It wasn’t until I started working at the VA with many veterans who had a difficult time sleeping due to PTSD, when I started to dig into the research and understand the importance of sleep.

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How To Cope With Negative Emotions, With Or Without Food

How To Cope With Negative Emotions, With Or Without Food

Emotional eating gets a bad rep. People talk about diving into a box of cookies when you're feeling sad like it's on par with stealing a kids bicycle or kicking a puppy. Food and eating is just one of many ways to cope with negative emotions. Instead of worrying about stopping emotional eating, we should be talking about how to build a well rounded set of tools for coping with emotions that includes food. Learn how to cope with negative emotions, with or without food. 

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15 Things You Can Do When You're Not Dieting

15 Things You Can Do When You're Not Dieting

Dieting steals time and energy, our two most precious resources, and puts them towards a futile pursuit, trying to temporarily force our bodies into a smaller size. If everyone considered what they're giving up by dieting, I wonder if people would continue to try and lose weight? Here's 15 things you can do when you're not wasting time and energy dieting. 

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Intuitive Eating Is Not Letting Yourself Go

Intuitive Eating Is Not Letting Yourself Go

Intuitive Eating is not letting yourself go. Along with body acceptance, intuitive eating is one of the most powerful acts of self care. By letting go of what you can't control (your weight), it gives you space to focus on what you can control - creating sustainable, health-promoting behaviors that nourish your healthiest self. 

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How NOT To Do Self Care

How NOT To Do Self Care

When self care feels like work, it isn't working. This post is all about how NOT to do self care. Sharing a bit about why I stopped doing yoga and meditation for a period of time, because it had become another item to check off my to do list, rather than a nourishing way to take care of my physical and mental health. 

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Wellness Wednesday: Health Conscious or Disordered Eating?

Worried your healthy eating could be heading into dangerous territory? Read on to know if your eating is health conscious or disordered eating.

Health conscious or disordered eating? Read on the learn if your healthy eating is getting into dangerous territory.

Two years ago, vegan blogger Jordan Younger shared a stunning (at the time) secret.

She was suffering from an eating disorder called orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.

At the time, most people had a very narrow image of what an eating disorder looks like, a skeletal young woman, wasting away without food. Not a bubbly, happy (according to her instagram pictures), healthy and athletic appearing woman who gleefully shared pictures of her salads and green juice for the world to see. But behind the filters, she had restricted her food to vegetables, fruits, green juices and occasionally whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. The obsession wasn't with getting thin, it was about getting pure.

It's long been recognized among eating disorder specialists and dietitians that people, men and women, are suffering from more eating issues than just anorexia and bulimia. Some have names, like binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, and orthorexia. Others struggle with combinations of emotional eating, obsessive calorie/macronutrient counting, and chronic dieting. And while these struggles may sound less severe, just because someone isn't starving in a hospital doesn't mean they aren't in pain.

One of the most difficult things about getting people who are struggling with disordered eating the treatment they need is the fact that disordered eating is so common. I've heard recovery described as trying to survive in a society that has it's own eating disorder. That description couldn't be more accurate - one study found 75% of women have disordered eating behaviors. It's totally normal to talk about dieting, good/bad foods, extreme exercise and body hatred like you would talk about the weather! But just because disordered eating is common, doesn't mean it should be considered benign.

Now, don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with eating healthfully or making a conscious effort to eat more healthy food. The problem comes when those efforts are detracting from your overall physical and mental health, and quality of life.

Not sure if your health conscious eating or exercising is verging into disordered eating territory? Take this quiz, developed by Dr. Steven Bratman, who coined the phrase orthorexia, to find out.

Health Conscious or Disordered Eating Quiz:

1. Do you spend 3 or more hours a day thinking (or talking) about food?

Is your day consumed by reading nutrition blogs? When you hang out with your friends, does the topic of conversation quickly go to dieting? Is there a pile of nutrition books and cookbooks by your bed? Do you waste your mental energy obsessing over what you already ate or thinking about what you will have for your next meal? Thinking about food is normal. Obsessing about food is a problem.

2. Do you plan your meals in advance?

There's nothing wrong with meal planning or prep. I highly recommend it as a way to make eating nutritious and tasty food easy. The problem is when planning comes from a place of control and turns into an exercise in crafting the "perfect" diet. Is your meal plan rigid, or is there flexibility? Are you planning around food you enjoy, or planning around limitations and restrictions?

3. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?

Nutrition should plan a role in your food decision making, but taste and pleasure should be the main factors.

4. Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?

When you're obsessed with your food nourishment, it's hard to have energy or make time for the other things in life that nourish you - friends, relationships, self care, sleep, hobbys....getting over emotionally invested in the olympic games. 

5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately?

First it was sugar, then it was dairy, then it was white flour. As you layer on more and more food rules, less and less foods are considered healthy to eat, until your diet gets to the point where it is nutritionally inadequate.

6. Does your self esteem get a boost from eating healthfully?

Do you feel morally superior because of you healthy eating? Being a healthy eater is considered a positive trait in our society and others may look up to you for your willpower. The praise you're showered with gives a big confidence boost. But, of course, there's danger in your self esteem riding on your diet is that the second you go off your diet, your self esteem takes a hit.

7. Have you given up food you used to enjoy in order to eat the food you think is right?

We all have foods we love that might not be health promoting from a nutrition standpoint, but are nourishing in other ways, through providing pleasure, nostalgia, or nourishing social connections.

8. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, leading to isolation from friends and family?

Would you cancel plans with someone if they picked a restaurant that couldn't cater to your nutrition needs? If the thought of breaking your food rules is more distressing than missing social events, then there's a problem.

9. Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?

When your self esteem is linked to the purity of your diet, the guilt and shame experienced by any deviation can feel overwhelming. But in reality, eating a cupcake is pretty low on the scale of moral lapses. I mean, unless you stole said cupcake, there's nothing to feel guilty about.

10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthfully?

Having complete control over what's on your plate gives the false illusion of having complete control in life. But life is messy, complicated, joyous, painful, challenging, serendipitous and absolutely, positively, impossible to control.

Health conscious or disordered eating? Take the quiz to find out.

If you answered yes to 4 or 5 questions, then you may have some food issues to do deep thinking about, or better yet, work with an experienced dietitian or therapist on. If you answered yes to all or most of the questions, you may have a serious obsession with food that you should seek help for.

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If you feel like your eating habits and relationship with food are detracting from your quality of life, I am happy to work with you. My goal with all my clients is to make nourishing their body well effortless and fun so you can rediscover the joy that comes from eating. We are also running the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life group intuitive eating program again in early October and would love to have you!

Another fun new way to get support - starting next week, I'll be answering your questions live on facebook each Wellness Wednesday. Send me your questions on intuitive eating, nutrition, health, body positivity or even a personal question and I'll pick one each week! And of course, it's anonymous ;)  If you have a burning question, send me an email at AnAvocadoADayRD@gmail.com with the subject line "FACEBOOK QUESTION." If I pick yours, I'll shoot you an email in advance and let you know. Hope this is something you all enjoy and please let me know of any other suggestions!

P.S. Apologies in advance for any video awkwardness! This will be new to me!

Did any of your answers to the questions in the quiz surprise you? 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Four Reasons To Stop Weighing Yourself

Are you stuck in an unhealthy relationship with the scale? Learn four reasons why you should stop weighing yourself. Most important reason - you are more than a number. 

Waaaay back in the day before starting my private practice, when I was first hired as a hospital outpatient dietitian, I was assigned to babysit a four week weight loss program while they hired a new dietitian to run it. Since then, I've learned the power of intuitive and mindful eating versus dieting and have shifted my focus to behavior, not weight. But at the time, I viewed the scale as most people do, a mostly accurate marker of progress.

Each class started with a weigh in. The participants lined up and hopped on the scale one by one as I marked their weight in a chart. It made me feel SO awkward, and I knew it was even more uncomfortable for them - even back then I recognized how demoralizing it was. We just accepted it as a necessary part of the weight loss process.

Even though I shudder thinking about it now, in a way, I'm glad I had the experience because it opened my eyes and made me realize how shitty the scale actually is.

During weigh ins, the scale frequently fluctuated without explanation. And this was a pretty fancy schmancy $1,000 scale. Time after time, someone would hop on, excited after making big changes to their eating and exercise habits the week before, only to see the scale nudge upwards from last week, sometimes by a pretty significant amount. I would explain water weight, but you could see they were completely dejected. Frequently, they would give up, sometimes skipping the next meeting, falling back into old eating habits or engaging in what I call "eff it eating."

Even though I spent class talking about small, sustainable changes and losing weight slowly but steadily, the scale became a bit of a race. People were disappointed to lose only half a pound or a pound. Or, initial excitement over weight loss quickly faded when someone else in class lost more.

I saw how short term "success" was inversely correlated with sustained weight loss. One guy lost something like 30 pounds in the four week program. Even though rationally I knew that this was WAY too fast, I have to admit I felt really excited for him...and for myself. I had helped this man lose 30 lbs! I was basically Bob Harper. When I turned in that month's weights, both my boss and our director gave me special praise. Rachael, Super Dietitian.

Nope. A few months later I saw him for an individual session. He had regained most of the weight and was taking in less calories than I ate on a normal day.

How often do you weigh yourself?

If you've never dieted and managed to grow up without internalizing society's pressure to be thin, then by all means, feel free to check your weight on occasion. If you're one of the 5% of people who has lose weight through dieting and kept it off more than five years, then studies show weighing yourself regularly will help you maintain. But for everyone else, I urge you to step off the scale, consider your relationship with it....then smash it to pieces!

Four Reasons to Stop Weighing Yourself

  1. The scale is a trigger. Consciously or not, the number on the scale has a profound impact on how you eat. Was the number "good?" In that case, you might treat yourself to some ice cream, because hey, you lost weight and you deserve it! Or maybe you wonder since you lost X lbs this week, maybe you could lose X + 1 lbs next week, so you restrict yourself further (which, of course, will inevitably lead to overeating, binging and/or emotional eating). Do you remember the last time you weighed yourself and got a "bad" number? How did you feel the rest of the day? How many times have you been making positive changes, feeling really good physically, only to step on the scale and get a "bad" number? All of a sudden your day (or week) is ruined. Those positive changes that would have eventually led you to health and your natural weight inevitably go to the wayside because they weren't "working." "Bad" weights also lead to what I call "eff it eating," the eating that occurs when you say "eff it," give up, and eat something you were previously restricting, usually in much larger quantities than you need.

  2. The scale is not your doctor. Does weight affect health? Sure. But it's a lot less important than you might think. There are many other factors that play a much greater role in health - stress, fitness, eating habits (regardless of weight), socioeconomics, etc. It's a mixture of behaviors, genetics and your environment that determines health, not the weight on the scale. There are many thin people who are very unhealthy. Conversely, there are many fat people who are perfectly healthy. If your goal is health, then get healthy, don't lose weight! In your quest for health, as a side effect your weight will settle at it's natural point anyway.

  3. It's not very accurate. There are so many variables that affect the number on the scale. Hydration is a major one. Did you know 2 cups of water weighs one pound? Even if you weigh yourself first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom, your hydration status will still vary based on time of the month, sodium intake, weather, previous days activity, sleep and so on. Are you hooked on the idea of losing weight quickly? Most of it is water weight, especially if you're losing weight by reducing carbohydrates. Low carb (and low calorie) diets force your body to turn to protein for energy. Seventy percent of muscle is made of water, so a pretty significant amount is lost when it's broken down. Since muscle is a more metabolically active tissue than fat, this rapid weight loss can significantly slow down metabolism over time. Two other surprising factors that affect weight - poop (when did you last go to the bathroom?) and gravity, which can vary slightly based on where the scale is located, time of year and time of day.

  4. It's a distraction from internal cues. The goal of intuitive eating is to listen to your internal cues and let that guide your eating decisions rather than relying on the outside rules and regulations of dieting. Experience and research shows that the rules involved with dieting generally results in rebellion. Relying on internal cues with mindful and intuitive eating is your best bet for reaching your happy weight (not to mention your best bet for achieving health, happiness and freedom from food). But how can you get in touch with your body's cues if you're constantly weighing yourself? Small, often arbitrary variations in weight, will make you to second guess your reactions to your body's cues. How many times did you deprive yourself after noticing your weight was high? Would you still eat your mid afternoon snack if you had a "bad" weight that morning? How would you reward yourself for a "good" weight loss? With food, right? By weighing yourself, your eating will simply become a reaction to a number on the scale, not a reaction to your body's actual needs.

Smash the scale

Ditching the scale is really scary, especially if you've relied on it for a long time. It feels like getting out of a relationship that isn't serving you. Even though you know it's a bad relationship, there's still that fear about the future. What if you gain weight or get out of control without the scale to keep you in check? An understandable fear, but in my experience, the scale is much more likely to CAUSE your eating to get out of control than keep your eating in control.

Remember, the scale does not measure your self worth, your health, your relationships, your achievements, or really anything other than your relationship with gravity at a single point in time.

You are SO much more than a number.

How does the scale impact your eating behaviors? What would happen if you ditched the scale? 

Wellness Wednesday: The Thin Myth

Do you subscribe to the Thin Myth? The idea that life will be better after you lose weight? Todays post is a reminder that fantasy isn't always reality.

This American Life is one of my favorite podcasts, so when I learned their recent episode was about rethinking fat, I had to listen immediately. Other than a twinkie joke that was in very poor taste, I thought it was really well done. They included interviews with two authors who discussed their experience being fat, as well as a piece on a weight loss program at a Christian college which basically could have been called pray the fat away.

Sandwiched in the middle was a piece featuring Elna Baker, a writer and stand up comedian who shared her story of losing over 100 lbs. I don't want to give too much away, but I could share every detail and it wouldn't be anywhere near as heartbreaking as hearing it come from her own mouth. You can listen it here or read the jist of it here.

Her story starts as many weight loss stories do. She grew up in a larger body, and although she had been pretty content with life, she hit a place right out of college where she was struggling to find a job in the TV industry and realized that despite having lots of male friends, she had never been in a serious relationship. She saw her thinner friends get boyfriends and jobs and all the things she wanted and wondered, "is it because I'm fat?"

So, she went on a diet.

In a short period of time, she lost a lot of weight. Soon after, she got some of those things she wanted, including an intro level job at a TV show and dates with cute guys. But it wasn't all happy. Despite getting these things she wanted so deeply, she was so heartbroken and disillusioned after realizing she had been treated differently because of her size all her life.

The part that made me cry (while running outside no less..it got weird), was when she realized that although she got so many of the things she wanted, she actually felt less secure in her body. Part of it was the extra skin for which she had four excruciating surgeries to remove. She notes "I still look like a flying squirrel when I raise my arms." But the biggest source of her discomfort was the fact that she still felt like "old Elna" was the "real Elna." At one point she says she would feel more comfortable wearing a fat suit. Based off a few conversations with clients and friends, I think this is a common feeling among those who have lost a significant amount of weight. I imagine it's similar to the feeling of being a lottery winner or becoming famous. Suddenly, you have this thing that other people want. People like you and want to be around you, but is it genuine? Do they like the real you?

In the end, she wonders if she would have been happier had she never lost the weight.

"I was happy when I was overweight. I had no idea I should feel sad. I was free before. I had trained myself not to care what other people thought, and I had done a good job of it."

She had recently read Lindy West's book, Shrill. Lindy was the fat acceptance activist who opened the show. In reading her book, she realized Lindy got all the things she had wanted - an attractive husband, a highly desirable job, a book deal. She got these things after choosing to accept her body as it is, not dieting.

Essentially, every day since I became a dietitian (and many days before), I have talked to someone who wants to lose weight. Some want to lose pretty minuscule amounts. Others have more significant goals. Some say health is their motivator, others say aesthetics.

Everyone who wants to lose weight has some dream of what life will be like in their new, smaller body. Some have pretty intricate fantasies, while others are tied to the loose notion that life with just somehow be better. In reality, as someone who has been 10 pounds heavier and 10 pounds lighter than I am now, I can tell you 10 pounds doesn't change a damn thing. Having never been in a heavier body, I hesitate to comment on that. From what I know from the experiences of others, while some aspects of life may improve, it often brings a new set of issues to light. Elna's story is the perfect example. 

The thin myth is dangerous because it's why so many people get wrapped up in weight loss goals to the point where they do dangerous things to achieve it. It's why health takes a back seat to a number on the scale. Not only that but daydreaming about this thin fantasy life is a complete and total distraction from present day life, which is probably quite nice if you're actually living it, undistracted by dreams of a thinner life. When you can see weight loss for what it is, just living in a smaller body with all the good and bad of your present day life, you'll stop wasting so much time fantasizing and actually start living.

One thing that's always life changing for the better? Choosing self acceptance and making lifestyle changes that honor your health.In my practice, we put weight loss to the side and focus on nourishment, health and making peace with food. 

Are you stuck believing in the thin myth? Ask yourself what specifically do you think you'll gain by losing weight? Get as detailed as possible. Now, fact check. Are these really things you have to lose weight to achieve, or could you start to pursue them now? Be honest with yourself. What would you lose or compromise or lose by going on a diet? Is it worth it?

When you critically think about the thin myth you've been telling yourself, weight loss starts to lose it's aura of importance. Deprioritizing weight loss isn't the same thing as giving up, it's simply giving yourself the space to discover a genuinely happier and healthier life, not one in which health and happiness relies on an arbitrary number on the scale.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

What My Dog Taught Me About Intuitive Eating & Binges

Learn what my dog taught me about intuitive eating and binges. Otherwise known as the time I wrote a blog post as an excuse to share pictures of my dog. 

Meet Charlie.

Charlie, short for Charleston, is our Saint Bernard. We got him a month or so after we got married. Scott really wanted a Newfoundland, but during his search he found Charlie at a local rescue. I wasn't sure we needed another dog, but after keeping him overnight on a trial run, we were smitten.

Charlie loves everyone. When I say love, I mean LOOOOOVE. He can’t be in a room with someone without being right next to them, usually with his giant, slobbery head in your lap, staring and nudging until you pet him. He also likes to snuggle in bed. If you’re in bed and accidentally make eye contact, to Charlie that’s a signal to hop on up. There’s been at least two occasions when Charlie jumped on top of me in bed, pinning me down to the point where I couldn’t move and had to call Scott for help.

Charlie is also a little bit blind and probably a little bit deaf. Or maybe he’s got perfect vision and hearing and just isn’t very bright…we’re not too sure. He really loves cats, but we don’t know if he loves them wants to play with them or loves them wants to eat them. When we walk, he geeks out every time we see something that kinda, sorta (err, not really) resembles a cat – trash bags, jack o’lanterns, recycling bins, lawn ornaments. Like I said, not the brightest crayon in the box.

When we first adopted Charlie, they told us judging from his weight loss, eye infection and matted fur, he had probably been on his own, roaming around Columbia, for a couple of weeks. He was about 10-15 lbs lighter than he is now, so he probably didn't have much food...except possibly cats. It’s really pretty sad to think about.

For about a month or so after we got him, it was an endless battle to keep Charlie from getting into the food. We always left Savannah to roam the kitchen/living room when we were at work, and planned on doing the same with Charlie. That was until one day, a few days after adopting him, I came home to find our beige rug covered in giant splotches of red and orange. I was confused, until I noticed two cantaloupe seeds on the rug. As it turns out, Charlie had pulled 5 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, an onion, and an entire cantaloupe off the counter and ate them (on our nice rug and not the hardwood floor, of course).

The next day, we took all the food off the counters and stored it in the pantry or other places he couldn’t access. That worked for a few days, until I came home to find the garbage can tipped over and most of it’s contents sorted through for anything remotely edible.

This is when we realized we probably needed a gate to keep him out of the kitchen. We went to Home Depot and grabbed your run of the mill baby gate, which worked about as well as you might imagine a gate designed to block a 20 lb toddler would work for a 135 lb dog. So, we wised up and got a fancy gate, the kind that’s nailed to the wall. Sure enough, a few days later I came home to find Charlie, wagging his tail on the other side of the gate, trash everywhere. He had leaped right over.

Everything we did, Charlie would outsmart us. It’s like his need for food imbued him with extra IQ points. We finally decided the next time he got into the food or the trash, we would keep him locked during the day in the tiny hallway between the kitchen and our bedroom, something we really hated to do.

But, there never was a next time.

After about a month or so of feeding him consistently, the same amount in the morning and at night, he finally learned and began to trust that food was always coming. Now, we let Charlie wander free during the day. We can leave food over the countertop and the trash can overflowing and he won’t touch it. He knows tasty food and the occasional treat is always coming, so there’s no need to binge on trash he doesn't even enjoy.

It’s much the same with humans. When our body doesn’t trust that it’s going to get enough or certain types of food again, it reacts by binging as soon as food is available. There’s a biological reason. In human evolution, during times of scarcity our bodies were designed to crave and consume food as soon as we could get our hands on it. It was a survival mechanism, but it doesn’t work in our favor in this world of plentiful food (feast) and diets (famine).

When I see clients who struggle with binging or eating well past the point of fullness, almost always they've tried to control these behaviors with more restriction. Keeping "trigger" foods out of the house. Cutting back on portions using points or calorie counting. Counting certain foods off limits. Exerting more willpower. But all that does is set up the next binge. Because bingeing isn't doesn't stem from a lack of control or willpower. It stems from hunger. Hunger for adequate calories. Hunger for carbohydrates. Hunger for whatever food you've been depriving yourself. Or emotional hunger, such a need for love, friendship, compassion, or quiet.

Instead of deprivation, try nourishment. Provide your body with regular meals that satisfy. Fulfill your cravings. Set no food off limits. Engage in regular self care. With time, you'll build trust in yourself and the fact that food will always be there. And with trust, you'll no longer find yourself standing in the middle of the kitchen, gobbling down cookies....or digging through the garbage can for last night's leftovers (ahem, Charlie).

Also, here's a picture of Savannah cause I didn't want her to be left out ;)

More on intuitive eating: 

Diet's Done Work. So What Does?
Diet's Done Work. So What Does?
Tuning In To Hunger And Fullness Cues
Tuning In To Hunger And Fullness Cues
How To Never Cheat On Your Diet
How To Never Cheat On Your Diet