A “Healthy Weight Week” Reality Check

Baby on ScaleTake out your compass. I am celebrating Healthy Weight Week – the 20th Annual – and that means it’s time to focus on eating problems that originate from our media-fed perceptions of “healthy” weight. The images of women in the media are much too thin. They feed into our confusion about reference points and what is weight normal.

We have a Skinny Girl Fetish

Our society is primitive when it comes to  objectifying our idols. We expect them to attain and maintain unattainable slimness, and we settle for nothing less. Consider the unfortunate  Jennifer Lawrence, a 22-year old actress, nominated for Jennifer-Lawrence-Bikini-1Best Actress in a Leading Role, Silver Linings Playbook (trailer) Jennifer recently told ELLE Magazine, “I’m considered a fat actress.” “I’m Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach.”  A Google search runs five pages deep into the topic of of Ms Lawrence’s weight. The real problem is our notion of a healthy body. Jennifer is perfect, but our view of women’s bodies is f—ked up.

Why Are the Natives Fat?

Do you ever wonder why the well-fed, native people we see in National Geographic Magazine are kind of chubby by modern Western standards? The natives don’t have mirrors or scales, or junk food, or cars; yet, they are not thin. In fact, the natives are like Jennifer Lawrence. Note: nature prefers a little meat on the bones for a rainy day. That meat is muscle and fat, not too little, not too much, just right. Reality check: Photographs of healthy native women.

The Next Step?

In South Korea, notions about perfection have led to the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world. Eyelid surgery, nose reshaping, facial contouring – Asians want a westernized face. See this article from Jezebel, I Can’t Stop Looking at These South Korean Women Who’ve Had Plastic Surgery. Reality check: celebrities have plastic surgery all the time. The shock is in the trickle down to the masses.

Korean_1

Your thoughts: How will you celebrate healthy weight week? Everything counts.

Gut Bacteria, Obesity, and HAES

Link

I love reading about gut bacteria. I really do. We have ten times more bacteria living in us than we have human cells, yet we had been unaware. (What else don’t we know?) This month, I wrote about the research exploring the relationship between gut bacteria and obesity for Diets In Review for Vidazorb  in Altering Gut Bacteria to Manipulate Weight Could be the Next Big Thing in Obesity Management.

I’ll always remember my first time.
The first time I read about gut bacteria and obesity was in 2006. It was August at Wildwood on the Jersey Shore and I had time to leisurely read a New York Times Magazine article about the microbial theory of obesity. Fat Factors by Robin Marantz Henigmind will blow your mind. It was so far ahead of its time that it is still au courant.

HAES
This is a good time to bring up “Health At Every Size“, a movement to accept and respect the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes. HAES acknowledges that “good health can best be realized independently from considerations of size. It supports people—of all sizes—in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.”

Every case of obesity is not so easily explained. In clinical practice, I’ve seen people who couldn’t lose weight despite their best intentions. (Believe me, I’m not easily duped by patients.) Individuals vary in the way they store and burn body fat and in how they adapt metabolically to weight change. The studies of microbes and obesity show how little we know. Meanwhile, everyone, regardless of size, should focus on health and not  only on weight.

A penny for your thoughts….

Which Silhouette Are You?

Now that summer is here and the clothes have come off, I like to use my favorite nutrition assessment tool. It is the Stunkard Scale, a series of images of progressively heavier body types labeled 1 through 9, with 9 being the heaviest. It is mainly used in research to measure body image perception. Subjects are usually asked to choose the silhouette that most closely resembles how they look and how they would want to look.
Silhouette 4 corresponds to Body Mass Index (BMI) 23, the upper half of the healthy weight range. Women are most satisfied with Silhouette 3, whereas men prefer to be heavier. Silhouette 1 is too skinny to be healthy, and for some, Silhouette 2 is as well. Silhouette 5 rests on the border of the healthy to overweight range. Silhouettes 6 – 9 are too heavy and, as such, increase the risk for disease.

A Matter of Perception

People who live in societies that put a premium on thinness often see themselves as fat when they are thin. For instance, my beautiful, healthy daughter saw herself as a bit heavy while living as a nanny in the skinny minny Hamptons. On the other hand, according to a study from Quebec, children with heavy parents and peers are more likely to underestimate their weight than those with healthy-weight parents and friends.  Underestimation of body size is more common among African-Americans, Hispanics, and heavy people who are active, although research shows that people with education and higher incomes are not more likely to perceive their weight more accurately than less educated people who make less money. People who lose weight commonly continue to see themselves as larger. Presently, I am Silhouette 3 or 4; however, I felt scrawny while visiting one of America’s fatter states.

Your thoughts: Which silhouette are you?

Helping Cassey Ho

Cassey Ho is a Pilates instructor, YouTube fitness guru, blogger and online community leader, and designer of yoga bags. When you count her blog subscribers and social networking fans, she has around 185,000 followers. Cassey is an exceptionally hard-working young woman who will probably go far in the fitness world. I met Cassey online a few weeks ago when I helped her with a dilemma.

Cassey wrote: Lately, some of my fans have attacked me for “triggering” their eating disorder and body image disorder tendencies because I’ve been talking extra about weight loss and dieting because it’s bikini season. The blog that started it is Best Celebrity Bikini Bodies…thanks to PILATES!  Some have said that I may have an eating disorder or body image disorder myself! They’ve even gone as far as to say that I should have my posts looked over by a psychologist to analyze the potential messages I am sending out. As a professional, what do you think?

I wrote back:  I think “triggers” are everywhere for people with psychological disorders. I believe that anyone who feels vulnerable should beware of potentially triggering experiences that they can control (e.g. don’t buy fashion magazines, don’t visit certain websites or watch certain TV shows, etc.) The really difficult triggers are those stressful life situations, including trauma and loss, that they can’t control. Ideally, a trigger will start a conversation. It is rich material for mental health therapy.

As to whether celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Cassey Ho have disordered eating patterns, I cannot say without a proper assessment. But Americans, and the world for that matter, like their celebrities to be thin. Most celebrities exercise an lot and are very careful not to over-eat. How else could they look that way? They have millions of dollars resting on it.

But when does self-care – a desire to exercise and eat right – turn into a disorder? When a person’s “love for diet and exercise” precludes enjoying a variety of wholesome foods in the amount needed to maintain a healthy weight, and when someone’s exercise program is so intense that it leads to injuries, exhaustion, and irritability, then that’s a problem. But, if not, then go girl! Cassey’s readers, and anyone, should take The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26), the most widely used, standardized self-report measure of concerns and symptoms of eating and exercise disorders. It is a screening test that indicates a need for professional evaluation.

The Dilemma

Heck, I owe my bikini (or one piece swimsuit) body to Pilates. I go to Pilates three times a week and try never to miss. But for non-celebrities like me, after a certain point, say 60 minutes of exercise 5-6 times a week and healthy eating 85 percent of the time, chasing the perfect body has diminishing returns. After health habits are in check, time is better spent working on inner qualities and making the world a better place. How about helping the SPARK Movement, a girl-fueled activist movement, to demand an end to the sexualization of women and girls in media. They are collaborating with hundreds of girls ages 13 to 22. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take diet advice from a celebrity! As I told Diets In Review, Miley Cyrus Stays Trim Following a Gluten-Free Diet is not a good idea. Every modified diet, including vegan and raw food diets, carries a nutritional risk because so many foods are omitted.

Cassey had many more questions, and you can read my answers at Bringing it to Light: Eating Disorders on Bloglates.com. I thank Cassey for trusting my professional advice, and I wish her smooth sailing in her work to bring health to the masses.

Your thoughts: Have you ever wondered if you have an eating or body image disorder?

Click on the Cleavage

My readers know that I care about women’s issues: body image, fat bashing, and the growth of Internet porn. That’s why the segment on New York Public Radio’s ON [THE MEDIA] got my attention, Attack of the Reply Girls!

You need to know that You Tube places ads on their well-performing videos and shares the ad profits with the video producers. The Reply Girls have cracked Google’s algorithm as a legitimate way to make money. They identify videos as they go viral and then make a ‘response video’ that shows up on the right-hand side of the screen as ‘related’. Related videos make a chunk of change, usually for the producer of the original video who showcases his other (related) videos. But now, the Reply Girls are squeezing out the profits because they are so click-able.

Reply Girls create their response videos while wearing low-cut tops and push-up bras. Their heads may be partially cut-off, but their boobs are front and center. The Reply Girls copy all the tags from the viral video to make sure they always show up on top. Each Reply Girl makes 5 to 15 response videos a day. The UK Daily Mail online reports that a response video can earn $100 and up to $1,000 for those that draw 500,000 hits. The lead Reply Girl, Alejandra Gaitan from Canada, has been viewed 12 million times. Alejandra turned to You Tube because she was living below the poverty line.

Reply Girl videos don’t add meaning to the conversation, and the You Tube community, largely a boy’s club, is up in arms. One member, Skweezy, complains that “Titties are like Venus fly traps…We men can’t help it.” (Dude, take a cold shower.) Besides grabbing the money, critics say Reply Girls enforce negative stereotypes about women. But if American Apparel, Calvin Klein, Pepsi, and every Joe Schmo can make money on boob candy, then why can’t the owners of the boobs? The Reply Girls are simply working the capitalistic misogynistic system, and that’s how the slippery slope slides. All bets are off. But they better work fast because Google is rewriting their algorithm to treat the Reply Girls as Spam. Watch this Fox News report, Reply Girls are PARASITES.

Your thoughts: What do you think of Reply Girls?

What I Don’t Get About SPANX

You might have seen the recent headlines about Sara Blakely, inventor of SPANX, when Forbes named her the Youngest Self-Made Female Billionaire in the World. Isn’t Sara a smart cookie to realize that women actually want to wear corsets?  Bloggers everywhere are confessing to their SPANX collections. No surprise there. Sara’s billions of dollars had to come from somewhere.

I own the full body shape-suit (Slim Cognito®). It does the trick but it makes it hard to pee. I read that Gwyneth Paltrow wore two SPANX at the same time after having a baby. (I want to say that Gwyneth is too much, but that would be unkind.) Still, we should take it for granted that lots of women have the In-Power Line Super High Footless Shaper under their jeans. And men, don’t go too far because there is SPANX for men too. Men can use the Gut Gauge to determine how much compression they need.

But there’s one thing I never understood about SPANX, apart from the full body suit: What happens to the fat that gets squished out the other side? Wouldn’t the High-Waisted Body Tunic make backfat and saddlebags worse? And don’t Power Panties® create fat rolls at the waist and thighs?  I don’t get it.  Is the fat Photoshopped away?

Your thoughts: Help me out. Where does the displaced fat go?

Susie Orbach Tells It Like It is About Women and Beauty

Woman Is the Nigger of the World~John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Weren’t they the best at getting our attention?  The words are appropriate because today is March 8th, International Women’s Day, a day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, they get the day off.

In honor of the celebration, Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst, author and feminist (mentioned in my blog, My Intuitive Eating “Aha” Moment) delivered a speech, “Body Image in the Media: Using Education to Challenge Stereotypes,” to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City last week. Susie compared the self-starvation, surgical cosmetic procedures and the use of appetite suppressing pharmacological agents to all forms of violence practiced against girls and women in the rest of the world. You can read the transcript of her speech at Any-Body.org, Susie Orbach Speaks at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She explains that beauty’s tyrannical hold zaps females of their energy, dollars, and sense of self.  In her speech, Susie Orbach says,

“The beauty companies, the fashion houses, the diet companies, the food conglomerates who also of course own the diet companies, the exercise and fitness industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the cosmetic surgery industry combine together, perhaps not purposefully or conspiratorially, to create a climate in which girls and women come to feel that their bodies are not ok. They do this through the promotion of celebrity culture, through advertising on every possible outlet from billboards to magazines to our electronic screens, through the funding of media outlets which can only exist because of their economic support.”

Don’t you love it?  All people, women and men, have a responsibility to rally against using the female body as a profit center. It’s especially important this year as basic rights like birth control are being challenged. We need the energy spent on beauty to protect our rights!

Your thoughts: How much beauty-time is too much? Do you share Susie views?

Orthorexia Nervosa, Cleaner Than Need Be

One of the hardest parts about wanting to clean up your diet is learning where to draw the line. At one end of the spectrum is a careless diet of non-nutritive, highly processed foods and at the other end is ‘clean eating’ to the point of malnutrition and social isolation. Some people have orthorexia nervosa, an extreme obsession with eating healthy food.  Their righteous eating patterns are mixed up with low self-esteem, OCD tendencies and other anxiety disorders.

I wrote about the unofficial eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa, for Calorie Count. See  my article, Orthorexia: Obsessed with Healthy Food. What I like most about that article is the 7-item (non-validated) tool from the book, Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating, by Steven Bratman, MD.  Here are the questions; if you answer “yes” to two or three, then you’d better loosen your grip on food – and get some help from a psychotherapist and registered dietitian who specialize in  eating disorders.

1.    Are you spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food?
2.    Do you always skip foods you once enjoyed in order to only eat the “right” food?
3.    Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?
4.    Do you look down on others who don’t eat your way?
5.    Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
6.    When you eat the way you’re supposed to, do you feel in total control?
7.    Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
8.    Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
9.    Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?

Your thoughts: Do you know someone who might have orthorexia nervosa?  What makes you think so?

Ode to The Statue of Liberty

When I heard that it is the Statue of Liberty’s 125th birthday (I know how she feels), I decided to write my first blog.

I have always been in awe of Ms Liberty’s physical characteristics. (That’s the nutritionist talking.) She’s just so strong and so healthy and so perfectly proportioned. Even featured, truly physically attractive, but I especially love her arm.

Back in my Rhode Island office, I had a picture of the Statue of Liberty taped onto a mirror. I used her arm as a reference point for what an arm should look like. I figure that, if construction started in 1875, then there were no media (okay, photography was invented), but there were no bathroom scales and, seriously, how many people had mirrors?  And there was no processed food, and no super-abundance, and no energy-saving conveniences.  And that’s what the epitome of beauty looked like?  hmm-mm

I’d say the Statue of Liberty, has a BMI of 23-24, but who can say what’s under that dress, and as we all know, muscle-is-heavy.  But, really, her standard for beauty is no longer ‘in’.  How many media personalities have her arm?  None. Their BMIs seem to be 17-20. What a shame.

Either way, I hope that, going forward, you’ll remember the Statue of Liberty’s arm. I’m also glad I moved to New York City so I can be closer to her.

Question:  What’s your take on the Statue of Liberty’s arm?