Anti-diet

my post-vacation detox plan

Similar to my last post, this one is inspired by a recent trip I took. At first, I thought how odd it is that they both inspired me to write something here considering I really don’t travel very often- then I realized it’s really not that odd given all the bullshit diet culture ideas I harbored around food and travel, all the articles I used to read about how to “stay on track” while traveling and the best way to detox and reset our bodies when we get home.

So I wanted to share a little bit about how I’m detoxing this week after a weeklong vacation. If you follow me, it will come as no surprise that I find most detoxes and cleanses to be bullshit, forcing you to pay hundreds of dollars for something your liver and kidneys are perfectly capable of doing (even if you do have any issues with renal/liver function, a week of $300 juices is not going to be your cure). There’s no need to cleanse or detox- your body is very well-equipped to rid itself of toxins and absorb nutrients when you eat something. No lemon cayenne fire water is going to make that process any more efficient.

food travel tips + more road trip thoughts

food travel tips + more road trip thoughts

If you've ever struggled with disordered eating or have been stuck in the diet mindset, you're likely familiar with the panic/anxiety/fear that comes with any sort of trip or vacation. And I get it- there are so many things that make traveling a challenge when you have a poor relationship with food. Recently, I found myself on a 10-hour road trip (when I say recently, I mean 5 weeks ago and this post has slowly but surely been in the works since then) and I was reminded of how several years ago, spending multiple hours sitting in a car without access to my "safe" foods was my worst nightmare.

The Case Against Fitness Trackers

Lately, I've been seeing an onslaught of Fitbits and Apple watches (and when I say lately, I mean the last 3 years). I've been discussing it more with clients and friends. It's actually become a part of my regular intake questions when I'm working with someone new - do you have a device that keeps track of calories/steps? Because if so, I want to talk about it. 

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing super clear: I am not trying to shame anyone for owning one of these devices. I don't want you to feel bad if you wear a fitness tracker every day. My point is to highlight the ways diet culture and the fitness industry have tricked us all into thinking these are all something we need to have to be healthy/fit and how that's kind of bullshit

My biggest issue with fitness trackers is the most obvious: the fact that they count every single step you take and compare it to some arbitrary standard and take away your ability to judge how much movement your body needs on its own. In an ideal world, the relationship we have with exercise, like food, should be intuitive. We are all born knowing when/how to move our bodies and when we're tired. But as we get older, diet culture stifles that intuition until we're trying to track every single calorie, minute, mile and bite. And I'm not on board with that; I want people to live their authentic lives and it's tough to do that when you're trying to quantify every moment of your day. When people go for walks I want it to be because it's nice out, because they want to appreciate their surroundings or connect with nature or to improve sleep or reduce stress- there's a plethora of valid reasons why taking a walk is beneficial (if you're medically cleared for exercise) but "because my wrist is beeping at me" isn't one of them. Competing with ourselves is a slippery slope - especially if a person has eating/weight concerns. This is especially relevant to people with a history of disordered eating or compulsive exercise, but I would argue that it has a certain degree of risk for the general population as well especially in a culture that loves to make everything a competition (seriously look at any reality TV show and tell me our culture doesn't love a good competition).

Secondly- these devices have a huge margin of error. This study showed that on average, fitness tracking devices were off on their measure of energy expenditure by 27% - with some devices being off by 93%. I'm no statistician but those are not great odds. I find it alarming that people are basing their health (or at least the way they feel about their health) on numbers that are essentially meaningless. Not to mention that weight is not as simple as calories in vs calories out (a post for another day). So even if these devices were accurate, they really don't tell us much. 

"But wait!", you may be thinking, "it's not just about calories!"

That's true. It's not. They also tell you how well you're sleeping. But I gotta tell ya- I have never owned a fitness tracker and I always have a relatively good idea of how I'm sleeping based on my energy levels. They also can track your periods (apparently)! But so can a hundred other apps (and regular old calendars). They can play music! They can connect to Bluetooth and GPS! They can tell you the time! Yes, yes, and yes. But there are plenty of other ways to do these things without potentially sending yourself into a spiral of obsession and shame. Also, I don't want a piece of plastic beeping on my wrist every hour telling me that I'm not good enough. Because even if you haven't taken a single step today, you are still enough and no device can ever take that away from you.

Look. I get that new devices and technology can be exciting. I also know that the capitalism game is sneaky. I do not believe for one single solitary second that the folks at Fitbit give a damn about your health. They just want you to fork over $200 so they can line their pockets. And the thing is- these companies are really skilled at marketing their products. And they really want you to believe it's about health. But it's worth remembering that at its peak, Fitbit was worth $11 billion (with a b). And it were up to me, every single one of those dollars would be included in the diet industry. Because more than anything, these watches take away your ability to sense your own body's needs. They trap you in rules and numbers...which sounds an awful lot like diet culture to me. 

I want my clients (and society at large) to know their bodies well enough to trust their own intuition about movement. I want people to take a rest day when their body is tired. I want people to be able to go out for a spontaneous dinner with friends even if they haven't "gotten their steps in" or be able to go for a walk on the beach without worrying about how many calories they're burning. I want people to allow for flexibility when it comes to movement, which can't happen when we're trying to live up to someone (or something) else's standard. I want people to rely on internal cues rather than external validation that what they're doing is "enough". Because you are always (alwaysalwaysalways) enough. And don't let any expensive piece of plastic tell you otherwise.

P.S. Don't get me started on introducing these devices to children. I was horrified when I went on their website to do a little research for this article and saw a device recommended for children 8+. Eight and up! When I was eight years old, I had very little concept of what walking a mile looked like and I wasn't engaging in "step challenges" with my friends and I sure as hell wasn't "tracking my progress". When I was eight years old, I was running around with my friends and riding bikes and building forts and smashing rocks (my favorite childhood past time). I didn't yet have a concept of exercise as a means to control my body and I hope I can say the same for my kids one day. I'm not going to pull out the research about what focusing on weight does in pediatric populations (right now) but....yikes Fitbit. Get it together.

 

Cover photo by Ben O'Sullivan 

Not Everything You Eat Has to be a Superfood

Something I’ve been thinking about and talking about a lot with my clients recently is letting go of the idea that every single thing you put in your mouth has to have the most nutritional value. In our culture of “wellness” and “superfoods” and green juices, it’s easy to get the message that everything we put in our bodies has to have the most nutrition possible. Why have a sweetened yogurt when you could have plain instead? Why have whole milk when you could have skim? Why drink regular milk when you could have almond juice? Why have white pasta when you could have wheat?

Well…because maybe you don’t like plain yogurt. Maybe you think it tastes like sour milk and it makes your mouth cringe in a weird way (am I speaking from experience? Maybe.) Maybe you just love the way whole milk tastes in your latte (also speaking from experience). And maybe you just think whole wheat pasta tastes like damp cardboard.

And all those reasons are totally valid reasons to avoid something. As a dietitian, I don’t want to force my clients to eat whole wheat pasta when they’re going to be grimacing the whole way through. I want them to eat something that they are going to be able to fully enjoy and feel satisfied by. If you’re craving pasta and then force yourself to eat a substitute that you don’t even like in the name of “health”, then you’re going to be left physically and mentally unsatisfied.

I don’t want you to feel unsatisfied. It’s my job to make sure food is satisfying and nourishing for you.  

And if you’re thinking “but sometimes we just have to force yourselves to eat things that we don’t like!”, I get where you’re coming from but I don’t agree. I don’t think we have to force ourselves to eat anything we don’t want to eat or do anything we don’t want to do. If we use the pasta example, whole wheat pasta has more fiber and a little more protein than white pasta. If you were my client, first I would help you determine if you really needed to be concerned about protein or fiber (it’s possible you’re already getting enough). And if you do, my hope as a nutrition therapist would be to help you find other ways to increase your fiber and protein intake without it being unpleasant or deprivation-based.

It’s okay to eat things just because they taste good or because they sound good or because they’re nostalgic or because they have special meaning or because it’s what you have access to. Not everything needs to be a superfood (and while we’re at it, “superfoods” are a totally made-up concept that have no definition). We don’t always need to optimize our food choices for maximum nutrition benefit. Because health is more than food and health is more than our physical body; it includes mental, emotional, and spiritual health which can all be fed (no pun intended) when we have satisfying eating experiences.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to incorporate some gentle nutrition- in fact, that’s one of the tenets of intuitive eating (and worth noting that it’s the last one for a reason). But it can be easy to get sucked into the world of “wellness” and to obsess about ingredient lists and protein content and nutrient profiles but I urge you to take a step back from that. Take a few minutes to think about what sounds satisfying to you and listen. You can start small. You can pick one eating occasion to test it out on. Try what it would feel like to listen to your body’s cues and take time afterwards to process how your mind and body feel.

I want the people I work with to be healthy but I also want health to be looked at as a broad concept; it’s so much more than how many grams of fiber are in your meal. Ditch the labels, let go of judgment, and eat what you enjoy.

If you’re interested in an affordable introduction to the tenets intuitive eating, check out my program Finding Freedom. And if you’re not already, make sure you’re signed up for my email list to get anti-diet inspiration twice a month.

Until next time,
Meghan

 

Cover photo by Wendy Rueter