10 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Health

Our society is highly focused on health and reaching the pinnacle of wellbeing. It is difficult to exist in the United States without coming across messaging about weight loss and diet pills, the newest workouts, social media posts about the nutritious foods friends and celebrities are eating, and photos of glistening athletes smiling as they exercise. While these are the things we associate with vitality and wellness, there is far more to the picture. We buy into many lies about our health that are simply not true. Some of these lies are slowly being exposed as people realize there must be a better way, and even with social media moguls such as JP Sears creating mock accounts to highlight some of the ridiculous exaggerations we believe.

Health is often portrayed as a cookie cutter way of living that we are all expected to live up to as a means to prove our worth in this world. Little space is permitted to think about our own bodies and what they are telling us about what we need and whether we are okay. While the messages we are subjected to about health and wellness are unlikely to change, let’s investigate where these lies are being shared, recognize that they are untrue, and refocus on caring for our whole selves and the many aspects of our beings that allow us to achieve what we feel is healthy for each of us, individually.

Share in the comments below about any other lies you have come across in your quest for health, or successes you have found in in combatting the health lies in you world.

  1. Health has to do with weight and fitness only. The World Health Organization (WHO) (LINK 1) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Though this definition can be (and has been) criticized as categorizing most people as unhealthy due to the use of the word “complete,” it does highlight the importance of a multi-faceted view of health that includes more than just the physical body. Weight and fitness are the most commonly used assessments of health, but mental and social health are also critical factors in a person’s total wellbeing.
  2. A person’s health is indicated by their body size. False. The only thing that the size of a person’s body reveals is just that: the size of their body. Body size does not demonstrate whether a person is kind, has high blood pressure, sits at home and eats cake all day, runs marathons several times each year, loves their body, cares for themselves, is able to find love, has valuable friendships, is intelligent, is mentally healthy, or literally anything else other than the size of their body. Progressively more research supports the idea that people can be healthy at a variety of shapes and sizes. Just because someone is in a larger body doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy, and someone in a smaller body is not necessarily healthy. The Association for Size Diversity and Health is committed to the principles of Health At Every Size ® (HAES) and works to disseminate research demonstrating that people can be healthy in bodies of all sizes (LINK 2).
  3. We have to be on diets to be healthy. There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food – all foods are created equal and all foods fit a healthy diet. A term coined by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating is a method of tuning into one’s body and caring for it based on those cues, rather than external stimuli, rules, or restrictions. The research is supporting this, too: as more research is conducted on Intuitive Eating, we are learning that it is a great way to find physical health, and to relieve the mental stress of dieting (LINK 3). Anyone who has ever gone through the agony of a diet can attest to the mental and social strain of following strict rules and struggling to enjoy a meal out with family or friends, and many have thought there must be a better way. Intuitive Eating is a better, liberating way.
  4. Health requires intense, painful exercise. In a world seemingly bursting with ultramarathoners and extreme CrossFit athletes, it is hard to believe there is a way to be healthy without immoderate fitness ventures. Human bodies need to move, however, these movements don’t have to be as taxing as commonly thought. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity (think: breathing harder than usual but still able to hold a conversation) exercise 5 times per week for a total of 150 minutes (LINK 4). This can include going for a walk, swimming, dancing, horseback riding, bicycling, and really any activity that includes movement for your body. Listening to our own bodies is the best way to go. Pain is not something to be ignored and “pushed through,” rather, it is an indicator to check in with our bodies to determine whether we are causing damage with the movement we are doing.
  5. Health is dependent on willpower. This is just not true. If we are relying on willpower, we are forcing ourselves into unnatural, non-sustainable behaviors and labeling them as “healthy.” What makes these behaviors non-sustainable? Research shows that our willpower gets worn out. The Cornell Food & Brand Lab has found that, on average, we make over 200 decisions about food every single day (LINK 5). It is easy to see how that could lead to decision fatigue, in which our ability to make food choices diminishes as we tire (LINK 6). The more we depend on willpower and “discipline” to make health and food decisions, the less success we are likely to have as a result, as our brains tire of making these choices. By listening to our bodies, the pressure to decide is relieved and instead we simply respond to internal cues.
  6. If you are healthy, you are more virtuous than someone who is less healthy. This is just nonsense. In our society, health is tied up with being a good person. The healthier you are, the better person you are – especially if you are also busy with a career and family. In that case, you are considered an exceptionally good person if you are also able to maintain health. Truly, however, our health has absolutely nothing to do with our character. They are separate aspects of one whole being, and they do not inform each other. In fact, the National Eating Disorder Association explains that, for those who suffer from an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating termed Orthorexia Nervosa, recovery includes a realization that healthy eating does not make the survivor a better person (LINK 7). Given how reverently we tend to think of those who demonstrate strict health behaviors, it is clear how a person could take this to the extreme of an obsession and disordered eating.
  7. Your health is completely in your control. There is a whole lot about our health that science has yet to figure out. Just read any news on nutrition – it is confusing and seems to constantly change because there is a lot we don’t know yet and a lot we are continuously learning. Additionally, our genetics play a big role in our health, and sometimes, there just is not a whole lot we can do to change that. The WHO explains that several noncommunicable diseases and some mental illnesses are heavily influenced by a person’s genetic predisposition (LINK 8). While there are some lifestyle factors that may impact those genes, it is not possible at this time to know from one person to the next whether or at what dose those lifestyle factors will or will not cause disease.
  8. Weight loss is healthy. There are all kinds of ways to lose weight, and let’s be honest: most of them are unhealthy. Any type of diet that promises rapid weight loss or requires broad cuts of entire food groups is sure to be unhealthy in the long-term (LINK 9). Additionally, there are numerous disease states in which weight loss is rampant (cancer, AIDS, and for example) and clearly does NOT benefit health. It just leaves the sufferer even weaker and less able to combat disease than before. Also, remember that Health At Every Size research from before? It applies here, too (LINK 2). There is no proven way to lose weight and maintain weight over time that will not eventually cause a nutrient deficiency or malnutrition. Further, strict diets are stressful and difficult to follow for long periods of time, not to mention they are frequently expensive and can result in financial strain.
  9. Health looks the same for everyone. Absolutely not. There are myriad ways of being healthy. So you do not like kale? No sweat! No one food will make or break anyone’s health. There are lots of other nutritious options out there. There is no nutrient that is found in only one food, and no one food contains every necessary nutrient in sufficient quantities. That means that, as long as we all eat a variety of foods (LINK 10) to consume the nutrients we need, we do not all have to eat the same foods. Maybe one person prefers to get their Vitamin D from salmon, and someone else prefers to get it from eggs. Either way, both are getting the vitamin. The same goes for exercise: not everyone is able to do the same workouts, and not everyone enjoys the same kinds of body movement. The goal is to move our bodies in ways that we like, which makes us more likely to continue and develop a habit of movement.
  10. Health is important to us. Nope. Our health is not important to us. That sounds outrageous, right? Think about it this way: we want health, but not only for the sake of being healthy. We want health so we can have more time with our families, enjoy our lives more, and feel better while we do the things we actually want to do. We want health as a means to accomplish more with our lives. We want health as a means to achieve peace of mind free of concerns about medical bills and appointments. University of Wisconsin Health encourages people to focus on what gives their life meaning (LINK 11). Health in the here and now really does not benefit us without serving its purpose as a stepping stone to all those things. We each get to choose our own path and decide what matters most to us, and which health behaviors help us reach get there.

LINK 1 http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/

LINK 2 https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/about.asp

LINK 3 http://www.intuitiveeating.org/resources/studies/

LINK 4 http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#.WZuVr62ZPq0

LINK 5 https://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/research/mindless-eating-200-daily-food-decisions-we-overlook

LINK 6 https://cspinet.org/tip/decision-fatigue-can-lead-poor-choices-what-buy-and-eat

LINK 7 https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa

LINK 8 http://www.who.int/genomics/public/geneticdiseases/en/index3.html

LINK 9 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/fast-weight-loss/faq-20058289

LINK 10 https://www.choosemyplate.gov/variety

LINK 11 http://www.uwhealth.org/news/why-do-you-want-to-be-healthy/47566

 

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Why It’s Impossible to Fail at Making Healthy Changes

Why It's Impossible to Fail at Making Healthy ChangesFear of failure. We’ve all been there. We’ve all balked at intimidating undertakings because we’re concerned about failing.

What about making lifestyle changes to improve health?

Fear of failure is frequently cited as a reason for avoiding making changes. Those changes seem overwhelming and people claim to be concerned that they will not succeed.

 

Let me pose a hypothetical question: What if, instead of fear of failing, the real fear is that of finding greatness?

That probably sounds bit (or a lot) crazy, so let me explain.

As I said before, health-related lifestyle changes can seem extremely daunting. Most people are pretty comfortable in their current lives: eating in a comfortable way, exercising at a comfortable frequency and intensity. For some, that may mean giving limited thought or attention to food or exercise at all. Others may feel comfortable focusing greatly on their eating or exercise habits. No matter where a person is in their health journey, additional changes can feel like a step into the realm of discomfort.

Implementing positive changes is often challenging…at first. It is hard to limit the number of times eating out each week. It is hard to learn to cook more nutritious food. It is hard to wake up early to go to the gym, or take the dog for an extra-long walk in the evening when you’re used to spending that time on other activities. Those changes alter our routines and make us think more about what we’re doing.

Here is where I argue the fear of greatness comes in.

If making a positive change sounds uncomfortable now, the thought of being great at that change might sound like the discomfort will be prolonged – maybe forever. The thought of dining at restaurants fewer times per week for a member of a family that loves to go out to eat might seem like a plan that is bound to fail eventually, because greatness would result in a direct effect on that family time. For someone who likes to stay up later in the evenings, the thought of being great at exercising early in the morning before work might seem like more than they feel they can handle. My point is that the fear of greatness is related to reluctance to feel the initial discomfort over an extended time period.

Here’s the thing: It will get easier. It always does. It takes 21 days to make or break a habit. After those 21 days of implementing a change, it won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be easier (“-er” means more!). The discomfort won’t last forever. Not only will the new, healthy behavior become habit, a person’s life overall will likely change to accommodate their new changes. Maybe the person whose family goes out to eat frequently will start hosting healthy family dinners. Maybe the person who struggles to wake up early to exercise will begin falling asleep earlier (and sleep better, as a result of their increased physical activity), ultimately feeling more well-rested.

And what if the healthy changes don’t become part of the lifestyle? What if, after a few weeks, or longer, those changes just don’t work out?

That still is not failure. The positive effects of those changes exist. The time spent making those changes is time that less healthy behaviors were not taking place. That leads me to my second radical statement: You cannot fail at making healthy changes.

Habit is habit and not to be flug out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.
To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.
Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

In the world of nutrition and health, there are good guys who altruistically look out for your well-being, and there are bad guys who try to trick you and take advantage of you.

Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

As a soon-to-be-dietitian, I get several questions such as, “Is such-and-such a good diet for weight loss?” There are loads of fad diets and diet books out there claiming that they can help you lose weight, and it’s important to equip yourself to know which ones are worth your time.

In my opinion, there’s a simple answer and a complicated answer.

The simple answer: Don’t bother with anything labeled as “diet.” No one needs anything called a DIET to lose weight. What everyone needs is a healthy eating PATTERN.

The complicated answer:

There are a few (I repeat, a few) diets that are backed by research and recommended as heart healthy diets. These include the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. These diets are intended to improve heart health and reduce cardiovascular disease risk, but as they represent overall healthy eating patterns, weight loss may be an additional benefit.

What about all those other diets? The ones that are advertised on TV and the ones that are described in books and the ones that claim to have you slimmed down in no time?

Here’s the skinny on which weight loss diets to say “no” to:

  1. Any diet that promotes a pill, drink, or other supplement to lose weight. It’s just not necessary and the company is just trying to make money.
  2. Any diet that calls for extremely restricted calories. While everyone is different and calorie needs should be determined by a professional on an individual basis, think twice before going on any diet that limits calories to less than 1,200 calories per day.
  3. Any diet that promises rapid weight loss. A weight loss rate of 1-2 pounds per week is recommended as safe and sustainable, as it is often achieved by genuine lifestyle changes rather than crash dieting behaviors.
  4. Any diet that cuts out entire food groups. Each food group provides an array of important nutrients, and your body can make best use of these nutrients when they come in different combinations from a variety of foods.
  5. Any diet that is masked by client testimonials. If the diet tries to sell itself mainly on rave reviews from clients instead of legitimate science, be wary. There are likely lots of other people out there who hated the diet and had a negative experience.

myplate_greenThe bottom line is, weight loss takes time, effort, and lifestyle changes. The process of ‘yo-yo dieting’ (losing weight on a crash diet, then gaining it back, just to attempt to lose it on another diet) is a harmful to your body and will cause higher body weight in the end. No weight loss diet system is going to do it for you. Rather, follow a healthy eating pattern including foods from all food groups in moderate portions, and incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine.

Spend your time with the good guys and your weight loss journey will be much healthier and more pleasant!

 

Sources:

Liebman M. Nutrition & Weight Control Course Manual. 2012. University of Wyoming.

Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process.

Hand B. 12 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet: Identifying Weight Loss Scams. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=395. 2015. Accessed April 2015.

ChooseMyPlate. www.choosemyplate.gov/about. USDA. 2011. Accessed April 2015.

The Meaning of TRY

The Meaning of TRY

As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”The Meaning of TRY

Far be it from me to disagree with the character of Yoda, but within the realm of health goals, I disagree with this particular piece of advice.

“All-or-nothing” thinking is a common problem among those who have health goals. It is the idea that if you’re going to eat healthy, you’ll have nothing unhealthy, and if you slip up and eat something less nutritious, you give up and stop eating healthy foods altogether. Another example is if you were to set a goal to go to the gym for an hour 5 days a week. If you only have time to work out for 30 minutes, you won’t go at all.

You can see where the all-or-nothing mindset is problematic. Often, you’ll find yourself worse off as a result of all-or-nothing thinking than if you had just allowed yourself a treat and continued on with your healthy behaviors.

From my perspective, Yoda is encouraging this all-or-nothing thinking. And while that may be sound guidance in other aspects of life or in a galaxy far, far away, it doesn’t have a place in health goals and behaviors. In this area, this IS ‘try.’

Try covers the middle ground between do or do not. Try is what you do when you don’t know what you’re capable of and you want to move forward. Try is how you accomplish the small steps to reach a bigger goal. Try is how you keep yourself on track even after slipping up, and try is how you avoid making yourself crazy by being super strict with yourself. Try is brave, because it’s an attempt in the face of possible failAs long as you are trying - honestly trying - it will get easier.ure.

Here’s the tricky part, though – how do you know that you’re trying? It’s important to make sure that you’re truly making an effort and actually taking real steps toward your goals, rather than just skating by on old habits instead of making the decisions to do better, wishing things were different, and labeling it as “trying.”

Try Check-in:

  1. Do you feel satisfied with your effort, or do you feel like you could easily have done better? If you’re at the end of a workout, feeling like you’re making no progress toward your goal to run a 5K, but you still have plenty of energy, maybe you could have run a little harder or a little longer.

  2. Are you using mini-goals as stepping stones to your big goals? If you are a chronic soda drinker and you quit it cold turkey, but find yourself picking up the habit again every time you slip up and drink one soda, it would probably be helpful to set mini-goals to cut out one soda a day each week.

  3. When you have a bad day or a slip-up, are you able to regroup and continue making progress? Health is a lifelong journey, and abandoning good habits because you ate too much cake at a birthday party or you ate out every day while on vacation will be detrimental. Cut yourself some slack and get back on track.

Do and do not certainly exist. But for all the times in between when you don’t know if you can make it from do not to do, there is try. Skip the all-or-nothing mindset. As long as you are trying – honestly trying – it will get easier.

How do you try to meet your health goals?

 

Sources:

Anderson D. Moderation in All Things: How to Avoid the Diet Blues. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=729&page=3. Published 2015. Accessed April 2015.