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

 

Advertisements

Four Common Thoughts about Exercise that are Actually Unhealthy

Remember being a little kid, poking or pinching or prodding at a perceived injury and telling your parent, “It hurts when I do this!” The parent unfailingly responded with, “Well, don’t do that.”

I recently read an article in which the writer was comparing her exercise preferences to her friend’s. The friend preferred yoga, while the author mentioned that she typically only did yoga when she was injured from CrossFit. What got me was this – she was injured from CrossFit frequently enough that she had a routine. It reminds me of what my parents always said when I was little, “Well, don’t do that.”

stairsThere are lots of false notions about exercise, such as that exercising to the point of injury means you’re doing something right. Many of these ideas are indicative of compulsive exercise, a disorder in which a person has a perception that they are only okay/healthy/worthy because they exercise, and because of how much they exercise. A compulsive exerciser uses exercise beyond the point of achieving health benefits to a point where exercise can become both physically and mentally unhealthy.

Here are four common thoughts about exercise that are actually unhealthy:

  1. “I have to exercise to burn off the treat I ate” OR “I have to exercise so that I can go out to eat later.”

Thinking of exercise as an exchange for food is very typical. This thought is perpetuated by “motivation” such as, “Before you eat that candy bar, think of how many minutes you would have to exercise to burn it off!” This may seem harmless, but it cheapens exercise to simply being a means to manage weight by disregarding the other health benefits of exercise. Additionally, thinking of exercise as punishment or permission for eating can be damaging to mental health by growing into an obsession in which a person eats only if they have or will exercise to balance out the calories from the food.

  1. “I should run/CrossFit/etc. to be healthy.”

Some sort of exercise and body movement is important in a healthy lifestyle for many reasons. However, people often get caught up believing that one specific exercise is the best or only way to achieve health.  Even if they dislike running, a person may believe they have to run. The same goes for CrossFit, or any of a number of other exercises. This can be harmful to health in two ways. First, a person may not exercise at all because they dislike CrossFit but they believe they must do it, and thus end up not exercising at all. Another possibility is that a person believes they have to do Olympic weightlifting, and participate even though it is not something they enjoy and may actually dread. This person might develop a negative association with exercise and their overall happiness and well-being may suffer as a result.

  1. “I have to work out every day no matter what” OR “No excuses.”

This is where the obsession piece of compulsive exercising becomes a bit more clear. A compulsive exerciser takes the “no excuses” mantra to the extreme, possibly missing important events such as with their family, or forcing themselves to work out even when distressed such as experiencing loss of a loved one or a divorce. While it is important to prioritize exercise and include it in your lifestyle frequently and consistently for stress relief and other health purposes, this extreme can reach a point of being unhealthy as the person may be using exercise to avoid dealing with other stresses or concerns in their life.

  1. “If I don’t go ‘all-out,’ it isn’t worth exercising.”

Extreme workouts have become very popular in recent years. Exercising to the point of exhaustion and injury is starting to be seen as noble. While we have to push and challenge our bodies to make gains in strength and speed, there is also benefit to be gained from gentler exercises. Taking a walk, playing with children, or going for a leisurely bike ride or swim all count as exercise and are all worth the time to glean well-being value.

Achieving and maintaining balance with exercise can be a struggle. Unlike other addictions, exercise cannot and should not simply be removed from one’s life. Rather, an ongoing re-evaluation must take place to determine whether exercise is being included enough or too much, and in appropriate ways that the individual enjoys. There is no one way to be healthy; many different means of choosing health can be right for any person.

 

For more information about compulsive exercising, please visit the following links:

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/compulsive-exercise

https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/orthorexia-excessive-exercise

 

Have you or someone you know experienced compulsive exercise thoughts or practices? Please share in the comments section below!

 

Adventures in Cooking: A Dietitian’s Discoveries in the Kitchen

Y’all, I’m not a cooking dietitian.

Whew! Glad that’s off my chest.

Really, though. There are MANY dietitians who are great and cooking and passionate about cooking. In fact, a love of cooking is often cited as an attraction to entering the field of dietetics and nutrition. However, cooking has never been my strong suit or something I really enjoyed very much. I always fumbled a bit when patients and clients asked me for cooking tips because I had none.

Recently, however, I have made a point of learning more about how to cook. In addition to my inability to advise others, I am motivated by my own lack of interest and inspiration in the few meals I am capable of preparing for myself. I want to eat veggies in some for other than raw or steamed (because those are the easiest ways to avoid cooking). I want to eat new and different things. I want to create and I want to learn!

I’ve begun my adventure of discovery with meal prep. This way, I only cook once at the beginning of the week, and I usually don’t have to cook again until the next week. (I have yet to overcome my lack of desire to actually cook frequently.) In just a few weeks of consistently doing meal prep, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that have really opened doors for me!

img_1030-copy

  1. I’m not the first person to try (or struggle!) with meal prep!

It seems obvious, I know; but to be honest, I felt sort of alone and anomalous among dietitians as someone who would rather hand over the knife and spatula than wield them herself. Simple internet searches, though, revealed so many resources from dietitians who LOVE meal prep and are totally willing to share their favorite tips and tricks! It also helps to remember that what I do doesn’t have to match anyone else – I can use the hacks I find most useful.

  1. A new recipe is only new once.

I find myself intimidated by new recipes. It only just dawned on me recently that a recipe is the hardest to make the first time. The initial making of a recipe takes F O R E V E R and it’s uncomfortable because I don’t really have the flow of the thing. I’ve realized, though, that all subsequent preparations of that same recipe are much easier. This “First Time Challenge” is why I…

  1. Pair one new recipe with one familiar recipe.

It’s much easier to [relatively] efficiently cook my lunch and dinner entrées for the week at the same time if I am comfortable with at least one of the two recipes. This way, I can build my recipe repertoire but cut down on the amount of intimidation and overwhelm I feel about doing my meal prep.

  1. Make YUMMY foods!

Duh. Why wouldn’t you?! Well, I didn’t. I made a whole week’s worth of salad-in-a-jar that I wasn’t even excited about at the outset. I was impressed by the nutrition in the recipe, it called for ingredients with which I was very familiar, and it seemed like something I ‘should’ like, so I made it even though I didn’t really want it. And you know what? I didn’t really care for it. It’s pretty disheartening to put in the time to do meal prep and not even like the results. I’ve since found more salad-in-a-jar recipes that seem more challenging but that actually sound good to me, so I’m going to be trying those instead!

  1. Convenience can be well worth the cost.

I had a thought at first that I wasn’t doing meal prep “right” unless I made everything from scratch. It seemed like the most foodie/cooking-dietitian way to do it. Maybe someday I will do everything from scratch, but it isn’t likely. For me, it’s worth it to use a pre-made pie crust for quiche, or to use frozen chopped spinach instead of buying fresh and chopping and cooking it myself.

  1. Lastly…

I’ve learned that my week is SO much easier when I don’t have to worry every night about what lunch will be the next day (or, let’s be honest, every morning when I’m getting ready for work). I’m learning as I go, and the most important part is that I’m DOING it and setting myself up for a nutritious week!

Have you learned any tips, tricks, or hacks for meal prep? Please share them along with your favorite make-ahead meals in the comments!

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.

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition WandThere is no magic nutrition wand. And no, I’m not hiding one in my desk drawer while telling you this. Good nutrition is a lifestyle, not a rule book. It’s a moving target for every person since every day is not the same and there are constantly new foods and new choices. No single food will make or break your health, eaten in moderation. As a mentor dietitian once told me, “I never give my patients meal plans because I want to teach them how to eat, not what to eat.”

I come from a background philosophy that every food fits a healthy lifestyle. There are parameters, though. Portion size is one of those. A person can’t gorge them self on less nutritious foods daily and expect to be healthy. A few chips with a sandwich at lunch, though, or a small bowl of ice cream once in a while are fine. As long as you don’t have nutrition-related health problems or metabolic disorders, there is not necessarily any need to strictly prohibit any particular food. But you still have to be mindful of what else you eat and how much you eat.

The question “Can I eat __________?” will often be met with, “That depends.” It depends on several factors: what else you eat and how much as previously mentioned, but also how often you eat that food, how much exercise you do, the health risks you may have, and what you’re trying to achieve, among others.

Nutrition is simultaneously unclear since it is not black-and-white, while also being much simpler than how it is generally perceived. A varied diet of foods from each food group is a great general rule of thumb, and figuring out the details is where things get a bit trickier. That’s what I am here for, to help give you the tools to navigate the choices available in world full of food. So even though there is no magic nutrition wand I can share with you and I won’t tell you what you can and can’t eat, conscious decisions about food choices can lead to a healthier, more nutritious lifestyle.