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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!

Why the non-diet approach or thoughts on You Becoming the Boss of You

I used to be a big believer in meal plans. Eat this and lose weight. Simple as that. And if (when) you gained the weight back, well, you shouldn’t have stopped eating the same thing over and over and over again.
But over my years of experience I began to wonder, “Is that all there is?” Was I really helping people? That was, after all, the whole reason I became a Registered Dietitian.
Twelve years of being a dietitian began to change my way of thinking. During that time I counseled Soldiers and their families, including being the Dietitian for a Bariatric Program. The people I was counseling were honest and disciplined. Their very livelihood depended on maintaining a certain weight. They couldn’t sustain it. Registered Dietitians and Dietetic Technicians I had worked very closely with were active and ate well and didn’t have a perfect BMI. They had years of schooling and experience and in some ways their livelihood depended on it. They couldn’t even attain or sustain that ideal BMI. Could it be Nutritional Science had been influenced by the diet industry? What was missing?
When you dig into the data the numbers are not pretty. The vast majority of people who lose weight gain it back. Including this new study that made the rounds about the method but totally missed the point that pretty much everyone gains it back. Very often, that slim minority that maintain resort to heroic measures, i.e. recording every single morsel of food consumed. To paraphrase Linda Bacon, PhD there’s a fine line between being a good dieter and an eating disorder.
It’s time. It’s time to stop looking for the next diet or the next magic pill. It’s time to let go of attaining a number on a scale or clothing label. Let go of attaining a thigh gap, eliminating cellulite, getting rid of the baby weight, etc, etc. and focus on health and self-care It’s time to focus on health not weight. It’s time to focus on habits that will build you up, not tear you down. It’s time to learn to take care of you. Let all that stuff go and let you become the Boss of You.

Always, Never, Sometimes

“Stretches every runner should do.” “ Foods you should never eat.”
I think these are called “click bait” which Urban Dictionary defines as;
An eyecatching link on a website which encourages people to read on. It is often paid for by the advertiser (“Paid” click bait) or generates income based on the number of clicks.

What these “stories” have in common is that they are mostly someone’s opinion. Sometimes the opinion is valid, rooted in the scientific method. Sometimes the truth lies somewhere in between. Sometimes they are so nonsensical they defy logic. What these absolutes do have in common is that they are extrinsic. Relying on someone else to tell you how to exercise and what to eat. Again, I look to babies as an example. No one has to tell a baby to move. They know when they need to wiggle! Music comes on they are shaking their little bodies. Likewise they never choose food based on its ORAC count or saturated fat content. They eat what they like and stop when they are full. Have you ever tried to coax a baby to eat just one more bite (a very bad thing but a topic for another day)? She will either clamp down her little jaws so tight you will not get a spoon in. Or, if the child is less opinionated, she may eat the food only to vomit it up a short time later. Over time we learn to override our internal hunger and satiety cues by “finishing our plates” and “waiting until meal times.” But what if we all just “tuned in and tuned out” (to borrow a phrase from my parents generation? We tuned in to what our bodies are telling us and tuned out all the noise that doesn’t help. We’d become the boss of ourselves and give ourselves the permission to eat, love, move and live!


Great big, DUH, right? I like to call it drive-by eating. It may not even be guilt ridden, “wish I hadn’t eaten that…” But it certainly isn’t consistent with mindful eating principles of being in the moment. Mindful eating doesn’t say “don’t ever eat candy.” Instead, it says is “eat your candy – and enjoy it!” Perhaps this drive-by eating is what leads us to over indulge. It takes more and more to satisfy because the act of eating is so unsatisfying. I like to rephrase the popular phrase about a person on his deathbed who wishes he would’ve worked more (instead of spending time with his family). I usually say, who wants to be on her deathbed stoically recounting all the chocolate truffles she resisted. Nonsense, right?
Slow down, breathe in, center yourself, enjoy your food.

Exercise, body fat and sugar

I’m required by my job to maintain a certain level of physical fitness. Yearly, my fitness is assessed utilizing three fitness type components (a timed run plus two events that measure strength) in addition to a measurement of my abdominal circumference. For most of my life I have been active. I played sports in my youth, helped out with farm chores and as an adult love gardening and hiking. There have been times in my life when I was very active (such as training for a race) and times when I was not as active (hello grad school and concurrent internship). In reflecting on this I can tell you I don’t believe I ever exercised for the way it made my body look. No, I think it has almost always been for the way it made me feel; strong, empowered, energized or relaxed (depending on the type of exercise.) Now approaching middle age (shhh!) post two knee surgeries and with chronic IT band inflammation I find myself enjoying running less and less. At this point in my life I exercise primarily for the mental health benefits. It relieves my stress and gives me clarity of thought.
Contrast this with my husband, 9 years my senior (firmly in middle age) who has been a serious runner since his mid-teens. Now, I was not a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist when I met my husband and I distinctly remember him telling me (early in our relationship) he ran so he could eat whatever he wanted. Having been raised in a very health conscious home I was not a big believer in this method. He has nearly never asked for nutrition advice from me though I know some has soaked in over the years. I can say his nutritional habits have caused me some concern, primarily in the form of sugar consumption. I am not in the “sugar is toxic” camp but I do believe the pervasiveness of sugar in our diets (in the USA) is problematic. This guy wouldn’t touch a diet drink with a ten foot pole. And, bless his heart, I don’t think he can go to sleep without his milk and cookies (almost) each night.
Last week I said I had not run at all since my most recent Fitness Assessment but had been diligent with my time on the elliptical. This is primarily due to two reasons; 1. My dog died in May and I don’t like to go alone. 2. I can catch up on the miniscule amount of TV I do watch when I’m on the elliptical. To this second point my husband (who is not a kinesiologist or exercise physiologist) told me I am not really working out. I was a little taken aback by his accusation. I check my heart rate several times and I am always within my target heart rate zone. But more importantly, I feel better after I do it.
Contrast this with the recent body fat analysis of my husband. This was performed using a bod pod and measured him much higher than he thought (he is well within his “ideal” body weight). I knew he was having the test performed but did not ask the results. He revealed the results when I told him I was going to make homemade ice cream which he politely requested I not do. I gently brought up his sugar consumption; beverages and desserts. This was advice he had recently decided to heed. I guess he was listening after all.
Lesson here: Just about everyone has advice to give. It is generally well intentioned but think about the source of this advice. Here’s an analogy one of my Dietetics Professors used to give. When a bridge is being built, do you want a civil engineer heading the construction or a guy that read a book about bridges? Or a guy than drove over a bridge once?
Likewise for the advice givers. I know the intention is good but a person has to be in the right place to hear it and it has to be helpful and most importantly evidence based.

4 Good Reasons to Ban Superfoods

1. Superfoods perpetuate the good/bad paradigm that is pervasive and harmful in our culture. Superfoods won’t make you live forever any more than ramen will kill you dead.

2. It exploits the Natural Resources of other countries (Social Justice).
Food is about pleasure and culture at least as much as it is about health. No matter how mainstream quinoa becomes it will never have the cultural significance it does to the people for whom it is a staple food. The “science” that catapults these foods into national prominence as a “super food” are often small “studies” are small, retrospective, epidemiological, etc. This is not “science” enough to become “law” (correlational).

3. Ignores the fact that our diets aren’t made or broken on one food, one meal or even one day.

4. Ignores the other aspects of health like movement, rest, spirituality and however else health is defined by you.
Life is a balance. If you’re tipping the scale too far in favor of “superfoods” what are you missing?

There is no magic bullet. Eat what you love. Leave the hype behind.

If you have to announce you’re a lady…

If you have to announce (insert thing you are trying to impress upon someone) then you probably aren’t. I was reminded of this saying today when I was asked about a combination self-help/cookbook. I have not and did not read the book but “not a fad diet” was splashed across the cover. Trying too hard? One reviewer stated that this was done because it is recommended the program be adopted for life. How paleo-esque. Here’s the thing… If you are restricting food/food groups/times you can eat/advocating extreme exercise/etc — YOU ARE A FAD DIET! Simple. As. That.