Several months ago I wrote a blog post about why I am not a fan of the TV show The Biggest Loser (TBL). Last week I heard that first lady Michelle Obama might make an appearance on the show to promote her (in my opinion) misguided but well-intended Let's Move campaign. And when I heard this news, my heart broke.
I'm going to get right to the point. TBL stigmatizes fat people. Stigmatization leads to discrimination. And when people feel stigmatized their physical, mental, and emotional health declines. Just to prevent any confusion, I want to clarify a couple of things:
- I support the pursuit of health
- I support making lifestyle modifications that lead to more nutritious eating and physical activity
- And most importantly- I support behavioral changes that are EFFECTIVE and not harmful.
And this is why I cannot support TBL. It is entertainment that is harmful because:
- Research is clear, TBL increases anti-fat attitudes and weight stigma
- All the research we have indicates that when viewers watch TBL it doesn’t actually lead to positive behavior change such as increased exercise
- Contestants on TBL actually experience a severe drop in metabolism, burning fewer than 504 calories on average.
- A recent study showed that as many as 90% of contestants on the show purportedly regain all their lost weight
- Contestants on the show are at risk of developing eating disorders since they are asked to engage in severe over-exercise while consuming a semi-starvation diet
- TBL advocates for such extreme behaviors that actually put people at risk for future weight gain
Please consider joining with me to oppose the first lady, Michelle Obama, from appearing on TBL. You can:
- Share this blog post or video
- Sign this petition
- Share these pins on Pinterest
- Commit to boycotting the show
Metabolic Slowing with Massive Weight Loss despite Preservation of Fat-Free Mass
When Science Met the Biggest Loser
Weighing in on NBC's The Biggest Loser: governmentality and self-concept on the scale.
No clear winner: effects of The Biggest Loser on the stigmatization of obese persons
The effects of reality television on weight bias: an examination of The Biggest Loser
Learn More About the Health Consequences and Research on Weight Stigma
Metabolism, simply defined, is the energy your body uses up to keep you alive. Our culture is kind of obsessed with speeding up metabolism. Miss Jillian is only one of many examples I could have posted here. And you want to know what's crazy, the same culture promotes ideas that actually slow your metabolism down! Seriously.
Take the example of dieting and exercise. Turns out cutting your calories quite low and adding exercise on top of it actually slows your metabolism down. Don't believe me? Check out these studies that illustrate this phenomenon over and over again.
Thompson et al. Effecs of Diet and Diet-Plus-Exercise Programs on Resting Metabolic Rate: A Meta-Analysis. Intl J Sport Nutr. 1996(6):41-61.Resting
Metabolic Rate (RMR) decreases significantly when an individual participates in a diet only program....exercise…does not return RMR to baseline levels.
Gornall J and Villani. Short-Term Changes in Body Composition and Metabolism with Severe Dieting and Resitance Exercise. Intl J Sport Nutr. 1996(6):285-294."..
4 weeks of resistance training did not prevent or reduce the decline in fat-free mass and RMR observed with very low calorie diets"
DEUTZ RC et al. Relationship between energy deficits and body composition in elite female gymnasts and runners .MEDICINE & SCIENCE IN SPORTS & EXERCISE. 2000.
Study indicates that starvation, famine, or energy restriction may cause a reduction in energy metabolic rate and a relative increase in fat storage from the limited energy consumed.
Martin CK, et al. Effect of Calorie Restriction on Resting Metabolic Rate and Spontaneous Physical Activity OBESITY Vol. 15 No. 12 December 2007.
The results of this study indicate that Resting Metabolic Rate adapted or decreased beyond values expected from changes in weight and body composition as a result of energy deficit that was achieved through a food-based diet (25% Calorie Restriction) after 3 months and a food-based diet plus structured exercise (25% total Calorie Restriction) after 6 months. Additionally, Resting Metabolic Rate decreased beyond expected values at month 6.
Doyle-Lucas AF, Akers JD, Davy BM. (2010). Energetic efficiency, menstrual irregularity, and bone mineral density in elite professional female ballet dancers. J. Dance Med. Sci. 14(4): 146-54.
This study was conducted on 15 professional adult dancers and 15 non-dancing age matched controls. Despite having a similar fat-free mass, dancers had a significantly lower resting metabolic rate (RMR) as well as lower RMR relative to fat-free mass. Energy intake was significantly lower among dancers compared with controls and the authors conclude alterations in RMR may be an indicator or low energy availability (nothing new) and that larger scale studies are warranted to investigate this possibility.
Want to know the best way to support a health metabolism?
- Moderate exercise
- Eat enough to fuel yourself during the day. This means honoring, rather than ignoring your hunger.
- Get plenty of rest
…but I never push. (As it turns out, attempting to push, force, control, insist, or fix people just doesn’t work – and it wastes a lot of energy).
However, I have noticed that almost all of my clients that have sustained any semblance of longer-term recovery, balanced living and wellness have one thing in common: a mindfulness practice. They do something, consistently, that involves A) being in their bodies and B) being in the present moment. Yoga just happens to be one of the easiest and most accessible ways to accomplish this, but is – by no means –the only option.
So why does it work?
Okay, first we have to go back. Way back. As lovely as it is to run around in our designer heels and fancy cars, we have to remember that our ancestors were cave people. We developed, biologically, from these very primitive and less sophisticated ancestors. Parts of our brain are primitive, and as sophisticated as our thinking can be, we still have our limbic system, firing away, in a similar fashion to our ancient relatives.
Imagine that you are a cave person and your survival depends on your ability to A) eat and B) not get eaten by a saber-tooth tiger. Imagine that you are out in the sunshine on a beautiful day, with the sun shining on your face, and feeling the soft breeze blowing in your cave person hair – and then BAM!!!!!!!! You hear a rustling in the bush. Immediately, you are prepared for danger because that sound may be a predator. You’re ready to run, or to fight – sending your parasympthatic nervous system into fight or flight response. Adrenaline pumps, and stress hormones are shot into your bloodstream so that you can survive.
Okay, so what?? We’re not cave people any more, so how does this apply to me and my life today?
Science has shown that our brains continue to demonstrate this negativity bias. In a split second, even when there is an infinite amount of positive stimuli to attend to, our brains with naturally, automatically, and because of evolution, zero in on the perceived threat, the “negative” experience, the rustling in the bushes.
And at one time, this saved our lives.
As the psychologist, Donald Hebb, put it: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our thoughts, feelings, memories and behaviors leave behind lasting impressions on the brain – a lot like the grooves created by a stream flowing down a hill. These grooves are pathways, of sorts, that create the lens in which we perceive reality – both ourselves and the world. So very simply, our brain grooves set us up with a lens to perceive our reality in one of two ways: views that make us suffer, or views that lead us to happiness. Your experience matters.
As the intersection of science and Eastern philosophies continues to develop, the exciting news is this: there is a scientifically supported rationale for being nice to yourself. If your experience matters, this creates a substantiated argument that creating and experiencing more wholesome, calm, joyful, pleasant, and satisfying experiences will change your brain.
This is where yoga comes in. While there are many ways to access the elusive and healing “present moment”, we typically don’t learn them. We are top-heavy learners, relying on our rational minds, our intellect, and our reasoning to develop. We sit in desks and eat at scheduled times instead of moving our bodies and learning to trust our hunger cues. We learn to trust “what we are told” instead of our own intuitive sensations, essentially leaving the present moment behind over and over again to examine the past or to predict the future.
As Tara Brach points out, “the only place that is ever REALLY safe is this present moment.” And as for as our neurobiology is concerned, that is true. Whatever type of yoga class you sign up for, there is one unifying characteristic – breath. All yoga is (or at least should be) an exercise in finding the breath, yoking the breath to movement, and –alas- using the breath as a vehicle to come back to the present moment. That’s why yoga works. Eventually, the brain starts to change, and the cumulative effect of our nervous system registering the safety of this moment right now takes effect. I could sing praise for all the physical benefits of a regular yoga practice: joint health, muscle recovery, flexibility, and appetite regulation – but for me, the mental and emotional benefits have been profound.
We have a very exciting Twitter chat coming your way this month! We are honored to have Sharon Peterson, the director of Eating Disorder Network of Maryland (EDN Maryland) talk with us about the genetic component of eating disorders as well as how clients and therapists can learn to manage personality traits that may be hindering recovery.
If you're new to Twitter, here's a primer on how to participate. It's simple, go to www.tweetchat.com and enter the keyword "#endED" and it will appear as if you're in a chat room. Watch the tweets stream live and join in on the conversation. Be sure to follow @MarciRD and @EDNMaryland
We hope you can join us on July 25th th at 8:30 EST. Feel free to RSVP on Facebook as well!
Earn your mac n’ cheese tonight.
You have probably read something like this and other similar obnoxious advertisements at your local gym. And it annoys me every time. Can you imagine telling a child that they have to run 5 laps around the back yard to earn dinner? NO! Of course not. So why do we do that to ourselves? We often think in terms of:
30 min of biking for 2 pieces of chocolate
You can’t blame yourself for this type of thinking. It’s taught to you in just about every women’s magazine out there. But what would happen if we flipped our thinking?
2 pieces of chocolate for 30 min of biking
While I’m being a bit playful here, I’m serious about the principle. We have to start thinking about fueling our bodies for our busy days and physical activity rather than burning off our food and the associated guilt from eating. From a psychological and emotional perspective it is totally unproductive because it fuels the notion that eating is bad and is a sin that must be “atoned for.”
Why don’t you try turning your food/exercise equation on its head and let me know how it goes!
At the moment I have a book project I’m developing (in my brain for now). It’s geared towards helping people repair their relationship with exercise. If I was to write such a book, what would you want covered?
* In order for my exercise "to count" it has to hurt
*In order for my exercise "to count" I have to do it 6 days a week, for at least an hour
*In order for my exercise "to count" I have to feel worn out after
*In order for my exercise "to count" I can't eat anything "bad" after
Ok, do any of the above statements sound vaguely familiar? When you see it written down, doesn't it looks somewhat abusive? Many people create totally unrealistic expectations of what their exercise should look like. And when they don't live up to those expectations, it's thrown out the window all together!
The Center for Disease Control has posted exercise guidelines for healthy adults. It states that in order to reap the health benefits from exercise, try to aim for 30 min of moderate exercise most days (not all) of the week. THIS INCLUDES: walking, riding a bike, doing water aerobics, mowing the lawn...perhaps hula hooping?
NEWS FLASH! You do not have to rake your body over the coals to benefit from physical activity. So lets let go of unrealistic, black and white goals around exercise. Your best bet to "making it count" for the long run is to find exercise that you not only enjoy but can sustain.
**Note: I tell all of my clients that a pre-requisite to any physical activity is consistent, adequate nutrition.
What are you feel-good exercise tips?
*Note: the post below is written by a client of mine, who happens to be extremely passionate about swimming. This article (in a longer form) appeared in the July/August 2011 New England Masters newsletter. She shared it with me and I was extremely eager to share it with you. Enjoy.
Recently at the pool I admired a guy swimmer’s newly peroxided hair. The guys around him said, “Yeah, we call him the Blond Baller now.” “Argh!” I screamed. For weeks I had been trying to come up with a female swim power phrase, the equivalent for “macho.” Our language doesn’t have many, or any, female swim power words.
The Blond Baller is a superfast sprinter, so I assumed the “Baller” part of his nickname referred to his fast (swim) stroke. I posted my female swim power language dilemma on the US Masters swim forum and got some interesting suggestions, many of them, ironically, from men—Piscine Goddess, Aqua Aphrodite, and Buff Babes—but none met my criteria of using body language words to convey power. I had my own pitiful list: Ball Busters (later on that one), Water Sweepers (thinking of housekeepers), Power Surgers, Tough-Breasted. Bleah.
Meanwhile, another thread on the masters swim forum was talking about Janet Evans’s possible return to Olympic swimming. A few guy masters swimmers close to her age began worrying that she would be able to beat them. One guy posted, “I used to think I was safe from being ‘chicked’ by masters women roughly near my age in distance races.” Another guy then suggested the term “outchicked” as a way to describe a powerful female swimmer, but this suggested a relational kind of power (aka “Ball Buster”) rather than pure female power.
I found some good nicknames for Olympic female swimmers: Faith Leech, a 1956 Australian Olympic freestyler, was known as the “Flying Fish” because of her streamlined length and “elegant” technique. Mary T. Meagher was known as “Madame Butterfly,” and AP quotes described Janet Evans as “a Force of Nature,” “a whirling dervish of a swimmer,” “perpetual motion.” There was one female-only suggestion from the masters swim forum that I sort of liked: “bitchin,’” as in “bitchin’ sprinter” (though it still has a slightly negative ring).
In the back of my mind, though, I kept thinking “Big Girls.” At a lot of swim meets, the really powerful female swimmers are big. Big shoulders, big arms, big backs, big quads, big muscles overall. They aren’t the majority, but they aren’t the minority either. I think of swimming as a sport where it’s OK to be “sized.” Big Women doesn’t do it for me—it’s gotta be Big Girls, to tie in to the link from childhood on that girls are supposed to be small. Petite. Svelte. Even if very strong, you can’t look it, else you risk being called manly or compared to former East German steroid-enhanced female Olympic swimmers.
I’ll take Evans’s “Force of Nature” any day, but I also want to say to every girl and woman who swims (or does any type of physical activity for that matter): Be Big. Take up a lot of space. Be a Big Force of Nature, a Big Whirling Dervish, a Big Powerful Bitchin’ Swimmer who doesn’t care about “outchicking” guys, but just wants to move with power and strength.
Be a Big Girl and be proud of it.
In the space of 7 days I had 3 clients tell me that they recently discovered that they truly loved getting physically active. Yes, I mean exercise (a dreaded word for some of you, I know, bear with me). And I had to blog about this because all 3 stated that they started loving exercise when two things happened:
1. They were eating enough on a consistent basis. They were no longer overly restricting but getting adequate fuel to be able to sustain a workout.
2. They were NOT doing it with the intention of trying to lose weight. They were exercising because it was fun and felt good.
Now that, my friends, is what makes my job feel totally worthwhile. So many people, particularly women, dread working out. And I’d gamble that those women who hate exercise choose an activity they hate (does 60 minutes on the elliptical sound like hell to anyone else?) and are overly hungry (ie on a diet and trying to lose weight).
Just imagine what would happen if you had enough energy to dance your way through a zumba class, hike through the mountains, go for a stroll with a friend, take a restorative yoga class. If this sounds like something only dreams are made of, consider my tips for finding peace with exercise.
1. Don’t call it exercise if you hate that word.
2. Don’t do it in the name of weight loss. Check out this blog post for more detail as to why this point is so important.
3. Select activities that rejuvenate your body, not exhaust or deplete it.
4. Make sure that the types and amounts of exercise you are doing alleviates mental and physical stress, rather than contributing to or exacerbating stress.
5. Find the things you genuinely enjoy and NEVER with the intention of providing pain or punishment.
While my 5 tips may fly in the face of the advice in every Shape magazine article ever written, they just might help you find a happier, healthier balance when it comes to keeping your body strong and healthy.
And now, I gotta’ get out of my office to take stroll!
Or a "beach" body, or a "bikini" body?
Why not a "rake-the-leaves" body or a "shovel-the-snow-then-go-cross-country-skiing" body? While we're at it, how about a "clean-the-house-then-go-grocery-shopping-and-carry-the-case-of-water-yourself-'cause-you're-just-that-strong" body?
And just how IS a summer body supposed to look when compared to a winter body? Assuming you even have a "winter" body in the first place (whatever that means).
The assumption is - at least in this part of the country, where we spend a good 6 months buried beneath layers of heavy sweaters and bulky parkas - that a "winter" body is a mess.
It's worthless and disgusting. It doesn't deserve to appear in public sans layers of heavy sweaters, and is ill-suited for display during the summer months without starving or over-exercising it into some magazine editor or diet pill/book/drink/meal company's idea of a "summer" body.
And we know what THAT looks like. . .impossible to achieve (photoshopping, anyone?), maintain (never again eat chocolate?), or even aspire to (genetics, remember those?).
Why waste all that energy trying to have an impossibly "perfect" body for just a few, short months? Why not work toward having the healthiest, strongest, happiest body you can, 365 days of the year?
Trying to make your body be someone else's vision of perfect will never, ever, ever, no matter how badly you want it, be doable.
If you're unhappy in your own skin, even the perfect "summer" body isn't the answer. . .you'll soon find another flaw. Then another. Then another.
I challenge you to embrace your physical uniqueness and kick that "summer" body idea to the curb.
This post was brought to you by Cathy Leman MA, RD. Cathy Leman is the founder and owner of NutriFit, Inc., a nutrition counseling, consulting, and worksite nutrition services business located in Glen Ellyn, IL. She is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, and holds a masters degree in health psychology.
Exercise. Just say the word and notice what feelings and thoughts come up for you. If the word exercise is accompanied by a lot of negativity, you aren't alone. In addition to my role as nutrition therapist, I am also a certified personal trainer. And I have learned quite a bit while helping many people re-construct and find their own happy place with both food and exercise.
The reality is that our bodies, minds, and spirits need and crave movement. But many of you are battling busy schedules and damaged relationships with your bodies. How many times has an over-zealous exercise regimen been accompanied by a rigid/restrictive diet? And you wonder why you hate it?!
If you would like to work on mending your relationship with exercise, the Weightless blog is a wonderful place to start. Margarita offers some pearls of wisdom, along with practical advice. Here are a few of my own suggestions to get you started:
* We take best care of the things we love. Appreciating and showing kindness to your body are the first steps to taking better care of it.
* Choose activities which are fun and make you feel good. Your friend may love the challenge of running a 5K but chasing your kids around the playground may be a much better option for you.
* It's ok to be selfish with your "me time." Making time for a little exercise often means other things (and other people!) may have to wait...and that's ok.
Have you mended your relationship with exercise? If yes, I'd love to hear what you learned. Send your thoughts my way: marci at marci rd dot com.