Be the best you in 2015!

coach study

I recently earned my Health Coach certification through the American Council on Exercise. Since I’m already a Registered Dietitian and have a good knowledge base about exercise it was a fairly easy credential for me to earn. I did take about six months to study/review and I was nervous to sit for the exam. I passed the exam on the first try with a solid “B.”

The title of Health Coach is a fairly new title and as of now is unregulated. This means anyone can call themselves a “health coach” whether they’ve earned the credential through an accrediting agency or not. Contrast this to the title Registered Dietitian which, in most states, is protected by licensure laws from anyone from hanging up a shingle with the title Dietitian.

The title “coach” may sound silly. Does it make you think of a person with a clipboard, whistle and “coach pants” encouraging you to eat your veggies? But the term coach has expanded beyond sports teams to business mentors and now to health. That image of a coach as a sports mentor is probably what most people are familiar with. I have the greatest respect for coaches. I played sports for most of my childhood and teen years. And I was raised by a coach. In fact, when I talk to childhood friends they don’t ask about my dad. They ask about coach.

Coaches in this capacity mentor, coordinate, and motivate individuals and teams to give their very best. They inspire achievement!

How does this translate to what a health coach can do for you? Achieving and maintaining health is a fairly new phenomenon. I doubt my grandparents (all born in the early part of last century) thought much about their health until they were septuagenarians. At least not as we think of it today. They were all ranchers/farmers so health was more about injury prevention and infection avoidance. Contrast this with now. Numerous government agencies, our employer, our loved ones, blogs, etc. all give advice on getting and staying healthy. How did it get so complicated? There are exercise and dietary guidelines. There are recommendations on sleep. There are recommendations on sun exposure. The list goes on. And on. I suppose I am biased in that I think nutrition is the most important. But maybe not in the way that you might expect. I am not an absolutist on nutrition. I don’t believe in “clean” eating or paleo, or WAP guidelines or anything else. Know why? It’s much more complicated than that. There are social, economic and other factors that factor in to what we eat. Additionally, research has not yet identified the ideal diet.

It is similar with exercise. There isn’t a “right” way to exercise. Though there certainly is a wrong way to exercise. Well, at least in the purest sense. What I mean by this is that I will not tell someone that “just” walking the dog is not exercising. I believe in movement. Period. If square dancing (yes, it’s still popular here in Oklahoma) is your thing then by all means keep doing it! Depending on goals we can certainly move beyond this form of cardio to add strength training and flexibility. Again, depending on goals.

As for the other factors that affect health; sleep and lifestyle choices (substance abuse, seat belt use, etc)… Those things tend to fall into place when we honor our bodies by making choices that honor our health.

So, if you’re ready to be the best version of you in 2015. Hire a coach!

You’ll notice *weight* does not factor in to health from my perspective. I am a weight neutral HAES(tm) dietitian.

A Tale of Two Grandmothers; the legacy of body image and eating disorders

The one year anniversary of my grandmother’s death is fast approaching. At this time I’m reflecting on her life. All my dear grandparents have departed this world now. I miss them. Neither of my grandmothers was famous. But they both left an amazing legacy of family, love, honor, tradition, and skill in home crafts.

My mother’s mother, Granny left us 13 years ago. She came from a fairly affluent family by frontier Oklahoma standards. They were largely self-sufficient and weathered the great depression and dust bowl just fine. Granny was what can only be described as “stout” for as long as I can remember. I have seen pictures of her as a young woman and she was not as round as I remember her. Yet, I never once remember my Granny saying anything disparaging about her body. Truly her body did amazing things like bear 5 children, “Doctor” countless little bodies with her knowledge of folk and herbal remedies, sew too many little dresses to count, grow thousands of pounds of food in her lifetime. Quite the contrary, I remember her having a good sense of humor about her roundness and complimenting all of us once we finally “fleshened out.” Having lived through troubled times I can understand how, for her, skinny = unhealthy and “fleshy” = affluence. One time in particular I can remember her sitting at the table, still with her apron on. She pulled up her shirt, for whatever reason, and laughed at the “inner-tube” around her middle created by the band from her bra and the top of her apron. It wasn’t looked at as something to be despised or changed. It just was.

Her relationship with food was one of waste not. The specifically odd things I remember her eating were chicken feet, lungs, and homemade head cheese or as she called it “souse.” Her cooking was hearty and simple. She was one of those cooks I’ve worked hard to become, one that can make soup from air.

My father’s mother did not have the same relationship with her body or with food. Her family was not as affluent. They were tenant farmers for the most part. That coupled with a family dynamic that I don’t care to disclose on a blog led to her complicated relationship with food and body image (in my analysis).

When I look at pictures of Grandma as a girl and as a young woman I see such a glamorous beauty! Seriously, she rivaled any movie star of the day. She too, worked hard. She raised four children and in her later years cared for my Grandpa who became more and more frail. She was an amazing and adventurous cook. Fried catfish, biscuits, black-eyed peas and all manner of cookies are what I remember most fondly but really, it was all delicious. She canned, crocheted and baked. She cared for grandchildren and volunteered at her church. But her struggles with eating were always there; binging, purging, and refusing to eat. She seemed to bounce between anorexia and bulimia and her health suffered for it. As much as I love my Grandfather, and I know he loved her, I do believe he exacerbated the problem. I say this because I can remember comments he made to her and to my two sisters who inherited her body type and struggled with disordered eating. I was spared these comments because I inherited my mother’s body type. Quite the contrary, I was complimented for my “skinniness.” This skinniness despite the fact that I ate more than both my sisters put together. I don’t think, had he known how harmful these comments were, he would’ve said them. He really was a kind person and I think he thought it was helpful, or at the very least benign. But there is no way (short of surgical measures) one can alter the body through sheer will. Not through exercise, not through dieting.

So now, with two daughters of my own, I’d like to be able to just make body talk off limits. Many experts recommend it and I agree in theory. But given my family history, and the world we live in, I don’t think that’s possible. Instead we try to frame body talk not as how our bodies look but how they function. Your fingers are so long, you might like playing the piano like Grandma Betty. Or, your legs are so strong, see how fast you run.

Food tastes good. It doesn’t all have to be “good for us.” It’s a challenge, when classmates were “dieting” as young as 6 years old. We talk about how to be nonjudgmental and helpful given that my children do have a deeper understanding of nutrition than many children their age. I try to shift the focus away from bodies and food to things that matter like their favorite school subject and their interests outside of school. Those things that, unlike weight, actually matter!

Would you trust the bridge design of someone that had once driven over a bridge?

That’s an analogy from Marilyn Waters, PhD a Dietetics professor at the University of Central Oklahoma. She was fond of saying it in response to some of the junk science out there. That was 15 years ago and I dare say it is much worse now.

One of the best things (I can imagine) of not having rigorous university training, licensure and practice guidelines is the freedom to make outlandish claims to sell things. There is no governing body that regulates nutritionists, journalists or “activists.” They can say and do whatever they want. A Registered Dietitian however who, by the way, has an actual university degree, must pass a board examination, maintain competency via continuing education and faces policing by other dietitians (a board) against doing harm to the public.

Contrast this with nutrition practitioners, many of whom have no university training in dietetics or medicine, sometimes not even a self-study course, nothing more than marketing expertise. I think of one high profile blogger in particular. I am just continually dumbfounded that she is taken seriously. She has no training whatsoever in dietetics or medicine. What she lacks in scientific training she makes up for in marketing savvy. Frighten consumers (also without scientific training) with scary sounding “chemicals” in their food. Sell them a solution. It works. She appears to be making money hand over fist. Were there any type of professional rigor she would’ve been shut down years ago.

Information given by Registered Dietitians may seem repetitive and no frills. That is because there really isn’t any magic to healthy living. We don’t invent things to make a buck. I could sell, or give you a list of foods, and I used to do this. I’m certainly qualified to do this. But over time I grew weary of this approach for several reasons. One, I can only imagine the boredom of this repetitive way of eating. Two, people do not tend to stick with it very long. Three, it is prescriptive and unless you have a medical condition that requires a nutrition prescription YOU DON’T NEED ONE! And lastly, I believe it could lead to an emerging eating disorder known as orthorexia or an obsession with eating “right.”

True, our advice often seems a little boring; eat more veg & fruit, move your body in ways you find pleasurable, limit added sugars, and eat when you’re hungry, stop eating when you’re full. It’s not the least bit exciting and seems very repetitive. But nutrition is a science. There are rarely any breakthroughs in science (despite what Dr. Ahhhs would have you believe.) No, science moves at a snail’s pace. Take the topic of antioxidants. I encourage people to eat a diet rich in antioxidants (not pills, though) which is a diet rich in foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains. But the research that it prevents cancer is inconclusive. But generally, people feel better when their diet is rich in these foods. Is it psychosomatic? Perhaps. But it isn’t harmful and I can keep my code of ethics intact.

Activists profit from what we essentially admonish toddlers for doing (disliking something because it looks or sounds yucky).

Case in point, pink slime. Maybe it does have an ick factor. Especially for people used to eating meat without bones (i’m looking at you boneless, skinless [tasteless] chicken breast.) But to me this is genius. Manufacturers have taken something that would otherwise be put in the landfill to rot and turned it into a usable food product. For people with a lower food budget it means they can have nutritious protein in their diet. It reminds me of the saying from my grandpa during hog killing time, “we ate everything but the squeal.” So I ask. No, I implore you. When you see a random meme in your facebook feed that tells you to eat this or avoid that. Just use some discretion. If you want to put lemon in your water do so. But not because of it’s detox or fat burning ability (which is nonsense). Do it because you like the way it tastes.

Take care of yourself. You only have one health!

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday. Does that leave Sunday for Detox?

Today my internet search of the word “detox” came up with over 67 million hits. The subcategories include detox diet, detox tea, detox smoothie, detox juice, detox cleanse, detox fast, etc. Branching off of that are detox baths, detox yoga, detox brushing. The list goes on.

I do want to differentiate this post is not discussing detox from substance abuse of alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs.

In my area of expertise, dietetics, the pseudoscience of detox never even comes into our training. Well, actually that isn’t exactly true. We do extensively study biochemistry, physiology and advanced human nutrition. Most specifically the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin and the role they play in excreting the byproducts of metabolism. Of course the colon has a role to play in that excretion as well. These byproducts are not exactly toxins in and of themselves but if allowed to accumulate they would certainly be toxic and detrimental to the host.

Team detox will tell you your food is full of toxins (which are never defined or clarified) and that these toxins build up in your bloodstream, fat cells, colon, liver, etc. leading to excruciatingly vague symptoms like fatigue, bloating, dark circles under the eyes, brain fog, sugar cravings, etc. Instead of advising an appointment with a person’s Primary Care Provider to rule out any potentially serious illness the answer is detox. If you elect to undergo detox you will be presented with, of course, a list. The list will include foods to eliminate (usually for a specific amount of time) and foods to incorporate, which often are juiced or pulverized into a smoothie. I have yet to see any specific mechanism of action for how cayenne pepper, lemon juice, or grade B maple syrup (commonly included detox ingredients) detoxify the body. Know why? They don’t. But this prescriptive “diet” is actionable. People feel like they are doing something. Conveniently, the side effects of this detox which are most assuredly from ketosis or inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract (according to the peddler of nutrition “facts”) are signs it is working. This, of course, is based on the years-ago-debunked theory of autointoxication. Autointoxication is the theory that rotten components in fecal matter were absorbed into general circulation and were the cause of disease. Science has not given this theory any credence since the 1920s. A logical person will tell you that if one were concerned about keeping the colon healthy one would feed it rather than starve it. It is known that starving a digestive tract will cause it to atrophy which WILL cause the bacteria in the digestive tract to leak out into the rest of the body. This is one of the reasons people in a coma are fed via a feeding tube. It’s not just about delivering nutrients (that can be done via the bloodstream) but also about preserving the integrity of the digestive tract.

What is the non-diet approach to detox?

The non-diet approach would not specifically tell you “not” to do these things. You are, after all, the boss of you. But this dietitian would definitely inform you of the risks both short and long term. You would be informed of the prescriptive “bossy” nature of these techniques that do not honor your internal hunger and satiety cues. You would be informed of the lack of scientific rigor behind these claims. They would be identified as another “diet” – meant to keep you locked into the cycle of believing there’s a specific correct way to eat. Forgiveness would be discussed. Perhaps judgment was clouded by the recent holiday. Perhaps you didn’t eat mindfully and let the festivity, the joyfulness, the celebration skew your honoring of self. It’s okay. Accept it. Learn from it. Then let it go.
There are more holiday gatherings to come in the next few weeks. Don’t fall back on those old “tricks” of water loading, fiber loading or any other formerly used compensatory techniques that denied your body the nourishment and your soul the full engagement in the festivities. Try the delicious food that many of us only eat at Christmas time (I’m looking at you Aunt Bill’s Candy).
Do it with the full engagement of your senses to maximize the pleasure and minimize the guilt!

Enjoy your food, enjoy the festivities, and enjoy your life!