Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just an Observation

I often read articles in the Health section of the New York Times. Most of the them end up parroting today's received wisdom: "eat less move more"...even though we know that usually it doesn't work, especially in the long run. But once in awhile, there are some interesting, thought-provoking articles.

I also read a lot of the comments to these articles and there's a trend that I've noticed. Now, what I'm about to say is anecdotal. I have no scientific studies to back up what is purely an observation on my part. Here's what I've noticed:

Inevitably, one, two, or several people write in to say that they--or someone they know--have lost significant amounts of weight by simply cutting down ever so slightly on the amount of food they eat while adding a bit more moderate exercise to their daily lives. Aside from the apparent effortlessness of this weight loss, there's something else all these writers have in common: they're all men (or women, reporting on their husband's weight loss success).

Well, you can add me to that list.

Last year, after several years of gentle prodding, I finally convinced my husband to go to my GP for a general check-up. His resistance had nothing to do with cost. Since we live in Canada, a medical check-up is covered under our universal health care system. No, he was just lazy and perhaps a little reticent to hear what the doctor might have to say.

He came home from this visit with a prescription for a low dose of blood pressure medication. He didn't tell me anything else that the doctor had said except that she wanted to see him back in a month, presumably to check on his BP.

A month later, he went back. When he came home, he told me that he'd lost 11 pounds. Now, my husband is neither a tall nor a very heavy man. Yes, he does have a bit of a paunch, but we're not talking huge. Eleven pounds was a pretty impressive number.

Over the course of the past year, I started noticing that he'd changed a few habits. Nothing radical, mind you. Just a few little habits. He used to have a small glass of unsweetened fruit juice in the evening. That was gone, to be replaced by one or two large glasses of water. He used to take second helpings at supper quite often. This stopped, though he continued to fill his plate with one generous helping of food. He started using the elliptical trainer in the basement while watching sports on TV, maybe two or three times a week, for 1/2 hour at a time. He continued to walk about 45 minutes, 5-6 times a week. No change there.

Yesterday, he went back for his annual doctor's check-up. She said he looked ten years younger. She forgot to weigh him, though he and I both agree that he's probably lost another 15-20 pounds. (He still refuses to weigh himself.)

My husband doesn't have to wear a suit to work. Recently, he had to wear a suit to some sort of event and the pants were so big on him that he had to cinch his belt to the point where he looked a bit like a homeless man who was given someone's cast-off clothing. Fortunately, the suit jacket hid how badly the pants now fit.

Over the course of the year, my husband has not made a peep about the various small changes he's instituted in his life. His just does what he does. And no, he doesn't deny himself the odd dessert or treat. His life hasn't changed that much. Yet he's lost a lot of weight. It seems to be a guy thing. Oh well...

And BTW, he's still on the BP medication. Some things don't change.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Greatest Danger of "Weight Loss = Health"

Before starting this discussion, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that health is a personal thing. Though I prefer to err on the side of (what I consider) healthy, if my neighbour wants to engage in what I consider unhealthy behaviours, (which include, but are not limited to: a steady diet of junk food, bingeing, food restriction, limiting or attempting to eliminate entire food groups, orthorexia, sky-diving, taking Ecstacy, etc., etc.), I really can't do much about it.

Many people proudly and happily report improvements to their health in the wake of a (sometimes significant) weight loss and certainly, if health improvement is your goal, results are something to be celebrated. I suspect, however, that those who don't see the appearance of any much longed-for improvements after weight loss just keep this fact to themselves or blame themselves for having done something wrong, in particular for not having reached the holy grail of the 24.9 or lower BMI.

And what of those who aren't losing weight? In other words, what of the 95% of those who try and fail, who try and yo-yo up the scale, or who have decided that trying is no longer the preferred option? Are these people doomed to ill health? And even more to the point, what do they often do to make the previous question a self-fulfilling prophecy?

They give up.

No, I'm not talking about giving up dieting, I'm talking about other, probably more important long-term, health-promoting behaviours.

When people only equate health with weight loss, behaviours and habits that are generally accepted as being health promoting fall by the wayside. Why go for a 30-minute walk when the scale doesn't budge? Why take the stairs at work when you haven't lost an ounce? Why continue to eat less processed, more nutrient-rich food when you feel that you're not getting any healthier because you're no thinner?

In fact, even when tangible changes do manifest, like for instance, slightly looser pants, or an improvement in blood pressure, they are not enough to encourage the person to keep up his or her new behaviours. Why? Because they haven't made a dent in the ONLY sign that they are becoming healthier: weight loss.

A minority of thinking people have come to the realization that weight loss, and more importantly weight-loss maintenance, are--for 95% of individuals--probably just a pipe dream, whereas improving one's health is usually (and there are definitely exceptions) an achievable goal. Most people are still stuck in the either/or mentality. I am either "on plan", which usually means constant food restriction, accompanied by a strict physical activity plan, or "off plan", which can often mean stuffing one's face with "bad" food and moving as little as possible. For both groups, a healthier, overweight body just does not compute. And the diet industry (or "cartel", as my new BFF, Dr. Steven Blair calls it), pardon the pun, feeds this fallacy to the tune of $60 billion per year. Business has a lot to lose, if people decide to put their health, and not weight loss, first.

Better health is different for everyone. For me, it mainly involves working on my level of stress and accepting my physical limitations. It also means moving to the best of my ability without troubling my fragile physical equilibrium. It means living mindfully on all levels, and that includes the way I eat.

In today's world, decoupling weight loss from health is a tall order. Every day, we are bombarded with the simplistic, flawed messages that you are healthy if, and only if, you are not overweight. You are automatically unhealthy if you are overweight. And with the cards seriously stacked against weight loss and weight loss maintenance, we give up when in fact, there are so many other things we can do to improve our health.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Truly Awesome Video

Thanks to Dr. Deah for introducing me to this truly awesome video:

A few random thoughts:

I have pretty much banished fat talk from my own personal discourse. It's sometimes difficult, but it can be done. The next step, though, is challenging fat talk that others engage in. I have yet to consistently do so. You may recall, I tried it once recently (see this post) and it went over like a lead balloon. I admit that this was when I was in the throes of a Graves disease relapse so my righteous indignation was perhaps overshadowed by a strident, shaky delivery. Oh well. I shall keep trying.

I actually know a former fashion model who is still stick thin and who, despite trying for years, never did get pregnant. Yes, it happens to women of all sizes.

Anyway, enjoy the video and stop the fat talk!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I Love Dr. Blair

Last week, I went to hear a talk by Dr. Steven Blair, a world-renowned researcher on the role of physical activity in maintaining good health. Dr. Blair has done extensive research on physical fitness and reducing heart disease and is one of the most cited exercise scientists in the world. Last week he was awarded the Bloomberg Manulife Prize for the Promotion of Active Health. Click here to learn more about Dr. Blair's research and his tips for healthy living.

I was told that the talk I heard will be available on the website, but I don't think it's been posted yet. It's well worth watching and I'll keep an eye out for it. As soon as it's posted, I'll provide the link. But in the meantime, here are my impressions of what I heard...and saw.

Readers who are dedicated weight-loss mavens are probably scratching their heads and wondering how this short, portly gentleman could have anything intelligent to say about good health. The man is FAT. And everyone knows that FAT = UNHEALTHY. Well, my impression of Dr. Blair was that he radiates energy and excellent health. I assumed he was in his early 60s. He's actually 72. His face shines, he's got a pleasant, strong voice and there's not a trace of breathlessness or any other indication that his weight is slowing him down.

In fact, Dr. Blair was, up until recently, a dedicated runner. His wife, who was in the audience, and looks like your aunt Rosie or your wonderful grandma who had that nice comfy lap you sat in as a child, continues to run. Dr. Blair now "only" walks 5,000,000 steps a year. Yes, that's 5 million steps. It works out to an average of 13,600 steps a day. Definitely not someone who lets the grass grow under his feet.

But now, on to the talk:

Dr. Blair's message was clear and simple: your state of health depends first and foremost on whether or not you regularly engage in physical activity. And the physical activity you participate in does not have to be excessive or "hard core" in the least. In countless studies, morbidity is reduced by 50% simply by engaging in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days a week (Dr. Blair also suggest two sessions per week of strength training). Those who engage in significantly more exercise will further reduce their morbidity by 10-15%. In other words, those two hours a day of heart-pounding, sweat-producing running, weight lifting, rowing, rock climbing, karate, etc. etc. will make a relatively minimal difference in your health. It's the 30 minutes of walking (and no, you don't have to speed walk, just try to walk fast enough to pant a bit but still be able to keep up a conversation), housework, gardening, swimming or whatever gets you up and moving that will make you truly healthy and enable you to remain bright-eyed and bushy tailed as you age.

He cited countless studies to support this contention and I'm not going to go over them here. I'm not fast enough at note taking to have recorded everything he said. Again, I'll post the URL as soon as it's put on the site.

What really thrilled me about Dr. Blair's talk, though, was when he got angry. On several occasions, he referred to the weight "cartel" that's desperately trying to convince us that the only true measure of health is weight. It was thrilling to hear him debunk this myth. He clearly stated that fitness, not the lack of fatness, keeps us healthy. He railed against the bias and discrimination that overweight people--himself included--are subject to. I specifically asked for his opinion on the State of Georgia's campaign to fight childhood obesity, which features posters of sad looking fat children with captions that muse about their longevity (likely to die younger than their parents), their eating habits (overeating, not big bones, made them that way) and future health problems (diabetes). Dr. Blair said that he didn't know about this specific campaign, however he believes that such attitudes simply foster discrimination and do little to improve health.

The last question of the evening was the one "everyone had been waiting for". After giving an entire talk about the fact that all the research points to a strong link between being unfit and being in poor health rather than any link between simply being overweight/obese and being unhealthy, a relatively slim woman raised her hand and asked, "but can you really be obese and fit?" Calmly, Dr. Blair asked her whether you can be thin and unhealthy, thin and nasty, or thin and unfit. He said we should forget about weight and stop focusing on it. Essentially, he asked why we continue to flog a dead horse (my words, not his), in other words making weight loss our foremost (if not only) goal, when we know that the vast majority of those who lose weight can't keep it off and--more importantly--it doesn't play a critical role in improving health. He said that we should be concentrating on healthy eating, stress reduction and improving fitness if we want to see a real improvement in our health.

Hearing Dr. Blair speak was a wonderful experience. But it was depressing too, knowing that his message of regular, moderate physical activity for fitness and good health is being absolutely drowned out by the weight-loss cartel. It is truly a tragedy that so many people spend so much time and physical and mental energy chasing the mirage of the so-called healthy BMI while often totally ignoring simple, positive activities that have been shown to have a much more significant and lasting effect on their health.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Earth is Flat and Other Truths and Heresies

The earth is flat. We all know that. If the earth weren't flat, the level you or your handyperson used to hang that picture in your living room or install your new kitchen cabinets just wouldn't have worked.

If the earth weren't flat, people living in the prairies wouldn't be able to see for "miles and miles" (as The Who used to sing).

If the earth weren't flat, people in Tierra del Fuego would be standing on their heads all the time. For that matter, so would we, seen from the perspective of Tierra del Fuegans.

Right? Right! Wrong.

The thing is, any four year old (at least living in the First World) has seen a 3D version of our world in the form of a globe and knows for a fact that the world is round. Although some people still belong to the Flat Earth Society, I think there is a very broad consensus shared by both lay people and scientists alike that our planet--the world we live in--is actually round.

Notwithstanding this truth, I suspect that over the years, many people were even burned at the stake for daring to say that the earth was round and not flat.

In fact, it took thousands and thousands of years for humankind to admit to this simple fact. Why? Because our eyes don't lie...even though they do.

Controversy is a normal part of the human condition and today's controversial, "out of the mainstream opinion" often becomes an accepted, scientific fact, though it may takes centuries to do so.

Take global warming, for instance. It seems quite obvious to me that global warming is a real phenomenon. As I look out my window this January morning and see the brownish lawn and leafless trees that forty years ago marked the beginning of winter--not the middle, as is the case today!-- I feel quite sure that global warming is something to worry about. But then again, for many (including, I suspect, some of you reading today), global warming is still just a theory--and a very questionable theory at that.

What does all this have to do with weight?

Here's my opinion, based on what I see as the most serious, honest science: when it comes to asserting that losing weight is the only legitimate path to good health, we're still living in the Middle Ages and the world is still definitely flat.

"Common sense" tells us that the lighter we are, the healthier we are. "We all know" that obesity is a sure sign of ill health. "Everyone knows" that there is an obesity epidemic raging out there, and that "for the first time in human history" our "significantly fatter" children are set to live shorter, sicker lives than their parents or grandparents. "You can't deny" that people just weren't fat a hundred years ago.

So says the mainstream. So say Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Dr. Dukan, the myriad of weight loss companies out there, the newly slim stars who shill for these companies, the newly re-fat stars who now shill for their own weight loss systems that THIS TIME will make them finally and irrevocably thin because WE ALL KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that SLIM = HEALTHY.

If I had a penny for every time that I read or heard, "I'm losing weight to get healthy", I'd be a rich woman indeed.

In fact, if I had a penny for every time I repeated this mantra to myself, I wouldn't be worried about paying for my kids' education or making sure I have enough money to retire without having to live on dollar-store pasta, canned sauce and cheap, yellow, chemical-laced margarine on white bread.

Unfortunately, and despite a growing body of research to the contrary, our society has reached the apex of the slim = healthy mania. We are bombarded with this message. The media, the "experts", our mother-in-law, our doctors, our friends and neighbours all know the truth. And the truth is that you are fat because you are a lazy, ignorant, weak-willed Twinkie eating slob and you are unhealthy (if not today, then tomorrow or next year) because you are fat.

Remember: all the above is TRUE. And please keep in mind: the earth really is flat.

Tonight, I'll be attending a talk by Dr. Steven Blair, a professor in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina and winner of the "Bloomberg Manulife Prize for the Promotion of Active Health". The talk is entitled "How 30 Minutes a Day Could Save Your Life". I'm really looking forward to going and intend to take copious notes. Then I'll report back on why when it comes to weight and health, the earth is actually not flat, no matter what our eyes (and the media and our friends and neighbours) tell us.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Paul Campos's Latest Article

Professor Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth, has published an excellent article on why shaming fat kids for their weight will not make them thin.

Read it here.

One warning though: do not read the comments, 99% of which go even further with the shaming and blaming than the vile anti-childhood obesity campaign in Georgia that he is writing about. If you haven't realized it already, all fat people are lazy, gluttonous slobs. Or so the comments tell us.

I just wanted to cry...or perhaps rip their smug throats out.

Read the article. Skip the comments. Do your blood pressure a favour.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Like all good bloggers, I feel the need to recognize the new year and say something profound and thought-provoking to get us all on our way. LOL

Seriously, I wish you all a wonderful new year. May it be one of health, peace (both personal and worldwide) and self-acceptance for one and all.

I do not have any resolutions to announce.

It seems to me that if you feel that a change is necessary or useful or just plain fun to implement, you should begin it whenever it seems appropriate and not on some mythical date like January 1st. As you know, I began implementing some important mental health habits about 6 weeks ago and, though I have not seen any earth-changing turnarounds in my life, I feel that I have set out on a better, healthier, saner road and will continue to travel on it to the best of my abilities. My physical health concerns are still there, but I am working towards accepting them with more calm and equanimity. This is really important.

This year started out a bit rocky for me. On New Year's Eve, I was feeling just slightly "off". We were supposed to have supper that night at the home of friends who have two small children and around 10 p.m. we planned to head over to a new year's eve party that we've gone to for several years running. My normal appetite just wasn't there, so I ate very lightly at our friends' place. I began feeling very cold, but thought it was just because they live in an old house (similar to ours) and kept the heat down to save on energy costs. I asked for a throw blanket and snuggled on the couch. We were having a wonderful discussion and time flew by. We missed getting to the party and toasted the new year with our friends.

By this time, I felt pretty crummy and realized that there was no way we were going anywhere else but home. Fortunately, our home was only a block away. We got in the door around 1 a.m. and I promptly went to the bathroom and threw up...several times. It was not pretty. I haven't had something like this happen to me in many, many years. It was probably some kind of 24-hour bug rather than food poisoning because I was the only person to get sick. I got up at 8 a.m. to take my thyroid medication, sat down in the bathroom, got the shakes and started sweating, got back into bed and by late morning I felt a lot better.

I barely ate anything yesterday and what I did swallow really burned going down. It made me wonder how bulimics manage to throw up on a regular basis. My oesophagus felt like it had been burned to a crisp and I had only had one barfing session.

The good news is that today I feel fine.

All the best for the new year!