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weight, weight, please tell me

This is a post about weight–weighty matters, the weight of the world, mainly the ongoing conundrum of there being too much of it. It is a topic I think about sometimes–trying to wrap my arms around it to contain it properly.

Actually, you will see that I don’t have much to say about it, but am sharing the brilliant voices of others who do. It seems these stories have recently, coincidentally collected in my little basket of big dilemmas.

Before I proceed, and attempt to offer something up on this largely considered nutritional–but so much greater– matter, let me digress for a moment to share something about me and my nutrition work and my nutritionist status. I have a little explaining to do. IMG_0309

I have experienced a lot of changes in the past few years. Some of these are profoundly personal while others are professional. I will stick to the latter and how they have influenced what I write about–perhaps some of you who follow me have noticed–but they are both intertwined.

When I began writing this blog in the fall of 2010-wow-I was perched in a clinical setting that continued to make me privy to the upfront and personal stories of individuals’ eating lives. I had been doing nutritional counseling for many years at that point in time. My clients’ issues strongly reflected, what I refer to in My Story, the massive changes in our food culture and highlighted the intimate art of eating in response to the personal and cultural milieu. The nutritional crises of our time, including the obesity crisis and its shadowed sister–eating disorders–were about twenty plus years deep in the making.

Professionally, I had been riding this unforeseen wave since its onset in the early 1990’s and felt I had something to say to personalize and humanize what was projected as a faceless statistical trend. Having worked with so many people, I was able to synthesize the common experiences that were impacting us all. I could also relate some true experiences of my clients in my writings. I would juxtapose these experiences alongside the larger impacts of poverty, trauma, environmental changes, food adulteration, community access, societal messaging, etc.

But, what I never stopped to share, was that two and a half years ago, I stepped out of direct care. I began doing nutritional program development and administration for a statewide program serving childcare centers–the preschoolers, families and educators. It is a good program. Though its implied mission is to prevent childhood obesity, I strongly prefer a redirection of intention to support the full health potential of all our children and mitigate the effects of what I am wont to refer to as nutritional violence and size stigmatization. Anyway, at that time, the nature of my posts changed and their frequency decreased. I had less material and more other things to tend to.

And now, I have just begun a new position. I am working for a breastfeeding support organization. This is a nutritional and health issue I am passionate about, but for essentially the first time in my career, I am not carrying the title of Nutritionist. I seem to be welcoming this change– it is a natural extension of my life work and public health orientation that fits well with my current circumstances. But it also stirs some emotion. Due to a combination of my personal experiences and the fact that I have not done direct care for a few years now, I no longer feel I can assist others with the acute health challenges of our time and the precise nutritional approaches they demand. So, along with other big changes I am now facing, I think it may be that I am no longer a Nutritionist.

So, my dilemma asks me, “Then what’s with the name of your blog?” For now, I will answer that until I have time to reconsider it, it will stay the same. I am still deeply interested in nutrition and how it relates to our individual and collective health. I am still paying deep attention and I still want to be part of the larger conversation. And, I still want to help people. I may present more concise offerings on my Instagram page which is now called, Lifeseedlings: Budding perspectives and occasional haikus on food politics, nourishment, body respect, eating and cooking. Join me there.

And so, back to the issue of weight which I raised as the focus of this post. I wish it wasn’t all that it was and is. I wish it didn’t dominate the headlines and pervade our thoughts. I am bothered by my own sometimes prejudiced assumptions and that despite my somewhat larger awareness of its complicated nature, I still conflate weight with health and want to help ease and prevent the physical and emotional burdens it encumbers. But it is about time for all of us, those with or without the business to do so, to stop believing that banishing this weight, this unruly fat, is similar to scrubbing dirt and grit off a coal miner’s body–some effort no doubt, some soaps better than others, but once undertaken, the job would be done.

From my observations, I think MAYBE things are changing. We may finally be realizing that plain out calorically restrictive diets of any ilk and fat shaming just don’t seem to be working to solve the problem in the long run nor are they doing anyone much good.

And, while not entirely new, more voices–powerful, angry and/or tender voices, are emerging that challenge the once firmly held ideas and attitudes held by our scientific and medical communities, our society and even our personal selves about the ‘weight problem’. Their words and advocacy may be shifting our perspectives, sharpening our sensitivities, and providing new approaches to care.

Here is a short little syllabus of what I consider to be very interesting insights on the topic. It includes:

  1. Where the story often begins. A post by Your Fat Friend, a personal story about the implications and consequences of early childhood weight interventions; and a discussion on What Harping on A Child’s Weight Looks Like 20 Years Later about the importance of fostering body appreciation for everyone, by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen on her website, Raise Healthy Eaters.
  2. What No One Ever Tells You About Weight Loss. A powerful and personal look at how expectations about ways to lose weight imply a process that is both isolating and not sustainable, by Nick Eckhart in What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Losing a Lot of Weight.
  3. How Even Well-Meaning Assumptions about Fat Athletes Can Be Misguided. Here, Ragen Chastain (whose blog Dances With Fat I have written about before) deconstructs such assumptions in her post, What Fat Olympians Prove (and What They Don’t).
  4. Really? Just five amazing stories from an episode of This American Life, entitled, Tell Me I’m Fat. (Transcript or Audio).

This is not required reading, but I hope you find something thought-provoking, attitude- adjusting or maybe even life-changing within. And, though I don’t have Carl Kasell to answer my phone, you can leave me a message here.

Thanks for listening, following/subscribing, sharing and supporting my writing.

Elyn

 

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MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Haiku

Pick your own today

Happy kids in wide-brimmed hats

Sweet summertime fruit. by Nan (Blessings on her new little grandson, Orion!)

 

 

 

 

peacock feathers

Recently, I received an inquiry from a writer named Mel D., asking to share a piece of her own story on my blog–to impart her experience and shed light on an eating disorder related condition that is not commonly appreciated or understood–body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). As I give space to compassionate discussion of eating disorders, I was glad to honor the request.

In considering the manifestations of BDD, I was drawn to the image of a peacock–such a splendid, mysterious and almost mythical creature–and thus named this post. Not surprisingly, peacocks, and their resplendent feathers, are rich in the symbolism of many cultures, and interestingly, their symbolic and spiritual meanings represent compassion, kindness, patience, all seeing knowledge, resurrection, renewal, and the reminder to show our true colors. I wonder if perhaps the peacock asks, How stunning must we be to honor our beauty; how much self compassion required to accept our flaws; and how not show our true and lovely colors?  

Prior to becoming a writer, I had a career working in finance. It was a job that naturally came with a lot of stress and time pressures. During my teens and twenties, I had suffered with what I now know to be classified as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS, but at the time I had little idea what was affecting me.

The symptoms of my eating problems developed when I was studying at university and straddled the anorexic spectrum. Anxiety and high stress from being in school prevented me from eating properly and I began to calorie count to gain control over my life. Unlike many other anorexics, I knew I was too thin, but felt powerless to stop what I was doing. I began to also develop symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) alongside my eating issues.

BDD is a disorder wherein a person becomes obsessively preoccupied with how some aspect(s) of their body looks and is fixated on trying to correct or cover up the perceived flaw. There’s a clear link between poor body image and eating disorders, although the relationship between the two becomes a vicious circle rather than a linear development.

When poor body image leads to a strong desire to change the appearance, and often this focuses on losing weight, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia can either become triggered or more entrenched. Those who suffer lose sight of the connection between the food they eat, their body, and their physical and mental well being.  Although on the surface eating disorders seem to be about losing weight, the weight loss and other physical effects are really just symptoms of the underlying issue, which is rarely about weight at all.

As with all eating disorders and associated BDD, the key to regaining mental and physical health almost always requires professional help—a residential or outpatient treatment program offering multiple therapies.  It’s also often useful to learn to think of food in new ways, to allow the person to start focusing more on nutrition and health, rather than on weight and appearance. Thinking of food in terms of nutrients, rather than calories, and acknowledging all the amazing things that our bodies do with the nutrients we feed them can be a useful tool in recovery.

It was only when I left the world of finance– after a period of time out sick from stress–that my illness was properly addressed. I can’t claim to be fully well, but after time spent in therapy and rehab, I now understand what my triggers are and can better control my behaviors. Having walked away from my job, instead choosing to become a freelance writer, I now try and to write on the topics that are important to me and that may hopefully help others. 

For more information on eating disorders and BDD, check out this article at Bulimia.com. As these are very serious health conditions, please seek appropriate care promptly. You deserve to heal and be well.

In health, Elyn

Antiques 2 027

Susan’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

In the dark places

I ask courage to believe

I am beautiful.  by Anne-Marie

I Speak for the Fat People

Although I have taken a little writing hiatus, the nutritional discourse continues unabated. The stories of our communal incarnate experience resonate with frustration, guilt and misunderstandings. This is an older piece that I hope offers some response with a bit of healing balm. Some of its points have been raised and debated among those in the scientific community rather recently. I have published it in three parts previously. Here it is mended back together. Soon, I will return with some new posts. Thanks for waiting.

I speak for the fat people. Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax who spoke for the trees, someone must speak for the fat people. Unlike the trees who needed a spokesperson because they had no tongues, you would think that the fat people would be able to speak for themselves. Of course fat people have tongues. If they did not have that taste bud-laden sensory organ, they would not be fat. Given the current weight of the world, this group should not be particularly hard to hear. However, in the huge public dialogue about weight and obesity, the fat people are merely statistics. There are no real people behind the statistics, and this is where they have lost their voice.  Therefore, they are stripped of any ability to speak with authority on the topic.

I am not a statistic. Though I have had some years where I toed the chubby line, for the most part I have done my part in tipping the scales toward societal svelteness. Besides my obligation as a citizen to keep the fat numbers down, as a nutritionist it is my professional responsibility to pull people out of the fat pool and to keep them from falling in at all.

It is no big secret that the medical and nutritional community has not done a great job in their role as bariatric (the science of obesity) lifeguards. I myself do not have a great track record of turning people into mere shadows of their former selves. But, I have spent my career as a nutritionist hearing the stories and struggles of the fat people and observing the ways of food and eating that define this turn of the century. I am a spy in the house of girth.

The fat community does in fact have some spokespeople. There are magazines, journals, books and websites–written mainly by  women–who have spent one day too many in the deprived and depraved world of dieting. There are individuals who are doing incredible and poetic work about re-informing and re-educating on misconceptions about weight and health and respectful self-care. Still, many of these efforts are marginalized or featured in venues that only topic-obsessed people like myself pay attention to. Even Roseanne Barr once said, “It’s OK to be fat. So you’re fat. Just be fat and shut up about it.” For every undertaking that sings the praises of body love and acceptance, there are thousands of counter-voices screaming the imperative to whip this fat away.

Therefore, I believe I must use my credentials to speak out. I hope that the fat people can accept me, a thin person–who is often cold and prone to osteoporosis–and an ex-stress and emotional eater to be their voice. Born of thin mother and fat father, I will try to do the cause justice.

Let’s begin by putting  the issue of overweight into perspective. If we look at weight historically, I’m pretty certain that from the beginning of time, there have been fat people. We have all seen the pictures of early Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men. Even those quintessential hunters and gatherers seemed capable of packing on a few pounds. After them came Confucius, King Henry the Eighth, Mamie in Gone with the Wind, Jackie Gleason, Pavarotti, Aunt Bea and my grandmother. Chances are your grandmother was fat, too.

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadiu...

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadium, 15/06/02. Cropped version. Français : Luciano Pavarotti au Stade Vélodrome de Marseille, France, le 15 juin 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since our early beginnings, human beings have come in varying shapes and sizes and large-size was not necessarily an aberration of medium-size. It is good that there are large-sized people. A world without them would mean a world with fewer great opera singers, chefs, women of ample bosom, football players, construction workers and cuddly grandmothers.

It is not very difficult to become fat. You do not have to go out of your way to try. If Chinese youth can become fat, then anyone can. Only about 4% of the population has naturally model-thin bodies.That means that many models are starving themselves in order to be models. It also means that the rest of the size 2 wannabes are expending a lot of physical and mental energy in the pursuit of thinness.  Carolyn Knapp, in her book Appetites, tells the story of a woman who describes the angst she feels putting on her stockings every morning. She wonders what she could have accomplished in her life with the time she has spent worrying about her weight.

There are the naturally skinny–and then there are the neurotically and pathologically skinny; and the metabolically hyper-activated skinny–those who sustain themselves on a steady diet of excessive caffeine and nicotine—or maybe extensive exercise. For the rest of us, the possibility of becoming overweight is just around the corner. We are physiologically and neurologically wired to pack it on. The ability to store fat came in pretty handy a time or two during our multi-millenial evolution. We have about 107 compensatory mechanisms that prevent us from starving to death. A bunch of those certainly kicked in to save our forefathers when they were unable to kill a bison. In people who attempt to starve themselves toward thinness, the body fights back–it regains the lost weight plus more, and then absolutely refuses to budge.

In addition, we are wired for comfort. Research shows that the food habits that sustain us are those that we developed while still wrapped in the loving veil of early childhood. Whether that happened to be gazelle, chicken soup, mashed potatoes or cheeseburgers, you will probably turn to those foods as an adult. Believe me, the corporate world certainly knows this. The Happy Meal ensures that today’s toddlers will become tomorrow’s adult fast food consumers. The concept of comfort foods is one I hear a lot about during my spy missions. Women have confessed to me that they would choose a good loaf of bread over sex. The quality of the sex is not indicated in this context.

Then of course, there are our natural temperaments as well as good old genetics. I listened once to a tender story of a woman who was adopted as a child. She never met her birth mother, but she possessed a very old, poor quality home movie that she believes is of her mother. Though she struggles to see the face better in search of subtle resemblances, it is the woman’s thighs that confirm her finding. She states, “Look at the thighs. Those are my thighs.”

On top of all this, let’s sprinkle on a life change, or just daily, chronic stress. Take your pick. Break-ups, abuse, graduate school, poverty, working long hours, care giving, illness, depression or menopause are possible choices. And, God forbid you should simply possess a deep sensuous life affirming passion for cooking and eating. Throw any of these on your plate and if your primal wiring wasn’t enough to enlist you, then current circumstances will. Even the once-thins can become the now-fat–especially in this current milieu where food is literally out to get ya. Not even the high school cheerleader is immune. Any emotional state that is heightened increases for many the desire to seek food for reward. When one is working their way up the weight chart, it is because they are possessed by physical or emotional hunger, or physiological changes that they can neither understand nor control.

I can hear you begin to protest that it has to be more than just this.  Aren’t we soooo bad?  We ate the piece of chocolate cake (and we loved it). How could we? How dare we? That translates into four hours of floor mopping according to the calorie expenditure charts.  That must be fair penance for the crime. As a spy, my days are peppered with the monologues and dialogues of self-hate and recrimination that people utter like a mantra before and/or after each foray into eating. The guilt is palpable. We must have all been ____________ in a previous lifetime. (insert your own response.)

I was heartened to hear once, a man describe his joy-spreading tactic. Essentially, he spends half of his time acquiring special little chocolates and the other half, gifting them to people as morsels of universal love. I am either becoming a very cynical nutritionist or a very empathic human being. The collective psyche is longing for the morsel of joy even at the expense of the perfect waistline. The truth is that we have appetites and hungers because we are merely human, not because we are bad people. However, when all of these human tendencies accumulate into extra pounds, getting rid of that weight is very difficult.

A few years ago, I attended a conference on an obesity-related topic. As a group we were to brainstorm how to counsel a postpartum woman with a BMI of 30. The exercise had me squirming from the get go. As the attendees were getting rather  dead-ended in their attempts to master this case-study, the presenter, a physician and researcher at a major university said, “Let me offer this idea. I am often in my office at my desk and on the phone. I could just sit there and talk on the phone, but instead I stand and pace as I am talking.” My agitated brain said, “Yes, let’s file that idea to use.” Not with my clients but in this article. I could picture Homer Simpson stuffing one more donut in his face while muttering “Ah, vigorous pacing. That’s the ticket.” I wondered when was the last time this guy got out of his office and realized the experiences of real people, real fat people.

Hardly are all defined cases of overweight problematic. Some in the field maintain that the goal is for all individuals to attain an “appropriate” BMI.  Short of that, they will be at risk for various health problems. My intuition and much science beg to differ.  Many people are fine–if not perhaps better off–with a little extra weight on them. Pavarotti once said, “The reason fat people are happy is that their nerves are well protected.” My own observations reveal that the neurotically thin tend to be more frayed than their rounder counterparts. Besides, BMI is just a tool. At times it is a cruel tool—or at least a not very nice one.  It makes no allowance for age, fitness, or even natural body type. Whether we like it or not, our bodies will shift and change as we age. Nature, with no ill intent, seems to want to round us out a bit as we mature. That is how we get to be grandpas and grandmas. Appropriate BMI does not necessarily confer lack of health risks–only ones of a particular nature. Last long enough, and we tend to eventually shrink.

Do not get me wrong. I am not undermining the seriousness of the obesity crisis that we are facing. I understand its consequences perhaps more than most. I see the implications of weight that people struggle with on a daily basis and I strive to alleviate the challenges through educational, lifestyle and nutritional support. I bemoan the forces that are propelling our society into ever-expanding levels of girth, especially those that are now affecting our children.

Still, I feel a need to call TIME OUT! To stop the madness that makes those who are the statistics speechless. To stop pointing the finger merely at the individual without an understanding of the deeper forces that are at play. There are multi-factorial causes that lie at the root of the weight gain epidemic. Many are so abstract or insidious that it is very difficult even for the experts—let alone an ordinary individual–to understand what is going on. Though overeating, bad eating, food addiction and poor lifestyle choices are definitely a part of it, the magnitude of the communal weight gain doesn’t seem to make sense based on calories alone. In the causative mix lie politics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, poverty, nutrition misinformation, dieting, food sensitivities, sensory science, profits, changes in the components of our food, environmental toxins, personal and spiritual alienation and lifestyles spinning out of control. There are strange bedfellows in each and every fat cell.

Now, back to our friend the Lorax. For the record, the Lorax, our venerable spokesperson, was rather portly himself. Based on his picture, I’d put him at a BMI of about 29. I’d describe him as neither apple nor pear-shaped but rather pickle-shaped. According to Dr. Seuss, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish and mossy.” The final message of the Lorax in his plea to save the environment was UNLESS. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I too, am rather shortish. Oldish, brownish and mossy may someday also describe me. For now, my intention is not to imply an ultimatum. It is, however, to bring a greater sense of compassion and understanding–and a broader lens to the discussion and to the approaches to care.

I do not intend to deny the role of personal responsibility—be that for everyone. It is a big piece of the puzzle. Though it is critical that we address the current weight epidemic–we should not do it with an assault on the fat people. We must not slap everyone silly in an attempt to squeeze them into a size six dress or Speedo swimsuit. Besides, who would be left to sing the blues? And though I’d have been happy to find my grandmother at the gym, it could not replace the experience of cuddling up on her big, warm lap with wonderful smells wafting in from the kitchen.

In health, Elyn

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Adirondack lake

Soothes us  from the heat–weightless

We float like feathers

By Elyn

obesity, oh wait a minute

I have something to get off my chest. Well, really off my dresser. I’ve had this scrap of newspaper lying there for two months. It’s an article headlined, “Town renamed for sandwich”. I hope I don’t embarrass myself here because this is about Arby’s and Reuben sandwiches, two things I know hardly anything about. Apparently, the Town Board of the somewhat nearby town of Coeymans, rechristened itself Reubenville as part of an Arby’s Reubenville Challenge. By tacking a red and white banner that said “Welcome to Reubenville” over the regular town sign, the town received 5,000 free coupons redeemable for a Reuben sandwich at an Arby’s in another town fifteen miles away.

The Three Graces

The Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is Arby’s famous for Reubens? Last I knew I thought they made roast beef sandwiches. I suppose they could make Reubens as well–doesn’t seem that far a stretch–but I am pretty sure they didn’t invent them. Though I have been rather ignorant of meaty matters for about forty years now, I once did know my way around a good corned beef sandwich–and was vaguely aware of its non-kosher cousin.

A perfunctory visit to the “Welcome to Arby’s” website has just revealed to me a picture of the Reuben, embedded in what is supposedly a marble rye. It doesn’t look like a New York marble rye to me, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I am now hip to the 640 calories, 30 grams of fat and 1,610 milligrams of sodium that this town name changing sandwich contains–as well as its plethora of both real and hard to even imagine ingredients. I must commend Arby’s for listing the nutritional information for its complete menu in a very clear and accessible way. If you would like a quick lesson in fast food gastronomy I suggest you take a peek yourself. I only wish the town council members would have bothered to do the same before getting that banner made.

I am still pretty bewildered. Does Coeymans have anything to do with Reuben sandwiches or with Arby’s for that matter? Named after its early settler, Barent Pieteres Koijeman, Coeymans’ roots are strongly Dutch. Is there some confusion in the town between the possible German origins of the sandwich and the German-Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, known for his beautiful paintings of voluptuous Rubenesque women? Rubens apparently died from heart failure related to chronic gout. Is that what this is all about? My bigger question is, why would any municipality waste its time and efforts responding to such a bogus challenge which serves only to promote the purposes of a corporate food giant and does nothing to protect or promote the lives of its citizens?

Interestingly, physician David Katz, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and a prolific writer on many things of nutritional interest just happened to speak to my burning questions and larger perpetual conundrum about personal health in the context of culture in a piece he posted this week titled “Culture, Power and Responsibility“. This piece is part of his Personal Responsibility for Health (PRH) Chronicles.

Katz writes, “I think we know what it is, and it’s all about power-and culture. Culture is a powerful influence on us all. When personal responsibility involves defiance of the prevailing forces of one’s culture, it becomes a very tall order indeed. Unfortunately, that is just the order associated with personal responsibility for health.

In a commentary published in the Lancet in February of this year, a group of scholars made the very point that the power of culture, and profit, is all too often oriented in opposition to health rather than in support of it. We might ask people to take responsibility in spite of it all, but that’s a bit like pitching someone off our boat and assigning them responsibility for keeping afloat- whether or not they’ve ever learned how to swim. Relevant power is prerequisite to responsibility.”

If you know it’s important to control your weight and attend to your health, but almost everything in your environment and your culture conspires against such efforts- how responsible are you, personally? Are you truly personally irresponsible if you go with the prevailing flow?

How can the whole of our collective responsibility for health be so much less than the sum of what we expect from its parts? Do we truly expect every individual- adult and child alike- to compensate with personal responsibility for the collective abdications at the level of culture, and corporation?

Oh, blessed be. I could not agree more. Yes, I believe that it is the cultural, corporate and governmental abdication of responsibility that displaces much of the onus on an unwitting and poorly equipped populace. And, this is why the actions of both the Coeymans Town Board and the Arby’s Corporation drive me insane. This is also why I feel the ubiquitous conversation about obesity must be redirected.

The collective chatter about obesity is still amplifying. Travelling widely around this nutritional universe as I do, I am bombarded with meteoric messages about fighting, fixing, flagellating, and fracking obesity. The mandate is to leave no obesity behind–neither its grown-up or childhood varieties–adorable pudgy babies and grandmas included. Millions are being spent on the ammunition to obliterate this planetary scourge. The aims appear community-based, but individuals are the intended targets. The drones attack both bodies and psyches alike, unable to discern the difference. For my own safety I have taken to wearing a helmet–well, at least when I am biking.

The increased prevalence of obesity is a physically evident symptom of a culture whose motives ignored or overrode its responsibility to protect the  birthright of health for its citizenry. However, generalizing obesity as a health crisis is complicated by the fact that its definition is too broadly applied, its prevalence poorly defined, its detriment still debatable and its cure misunderstood. There are many other equally important markers of compromised health and well-being. However, by focusing only on the obvious, the approach has been to throw massive resources at obesity programs with uncertain outcomes while abiding the cultural insults.

Rebuilding or restoring our country’s health will necessitate more than these bombastic approaches that seem similar to our political mindset of problem solving. It will require some deep introspection regarding the constructs upon which we structure personal and public life. It will beg that our corporate and political leaders as well as our policy makers take a serious and sensitive look in attending to the environments that either foster or hinder health. There is much to be undone and redone. I have a few ideas of my own.

But while we continue to work toward meaningful change, I will think about the dear people down there in Coeymans in the aftermath of their brief moment of irrelevant fame. I wonder how many of the 7418 citizens even cared if they were one of the 5000 somehow chosen to drive thirty miles for a sandwich. My sincere wish is that those folks may have either a large dose of relevant power or access to good affordable health coverage, because neither their council members nor Arby’s is going to pick up the real bill for that Reuben.

Do you know what I mean? I would love to hear from you.

In health, Elyn 

erin's plate

erin’s plate

My Plate Haiku

Lagoon watercress

Peppers my tongue

With spring joy.

by Roxanne

(Gratitude to Roxanne, who provided a beautiful dinner of field greens with a maple vinaigrette dressing, and brown rice with wild mushrooms and tofu during my Memorial Day weekend bike trip to Martha’s Vineyard.)

under the waning gibbous moon

Tonight, as sleep calls to me, while the waning gibbous moon that illuminates the night sky is 88% full, I take an excerpt from a previous post, Muse of the Girl, in recognition of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. A gibbous moon is one of the phases of the Moon, when the size of the illuminated portion is greater than half but not a full Moon.

Waning gibbous moon. Français : Lune gibbeuse ...

Waning Gibbous Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to discuss the war that doesn’t get covered, that wages within many girls and women–of all ages and sizes–who hate their bodies and therefore deny a large part of their selves. Or, who, by not loving themselves, direct a lot of abuse toward their physical temples in both thought and action. Though they often wish they were invisible, we see them walking around in all sizes– including those we deem acceptable and those we envy. Persons, whose self-worth has long been determined by the numbers on a scale or by an image in a mirror.

The war, where the collective pain and problems are as profound as those we ascribe to obesity–and the physical consequences are often more severe or deadly. Here, confusion and dictates about food and eating scar the bountiful landscape. Here, much potential is lost and much love is denied. I think we all have wandered into and many have lingered in this place where reality is distorted and self-flagellation and deprivation seems deserved.

This is the ignored epidemic. Not many resources are designated, but I have apparently been assigned to cover this front. My field notebooks are filled with stories and quotes that are usually too intimate for me to share. But, they reflect the reality that too many females (and increasingly, males) believe that without perfection they cannot be whole and should not take up much space on this generous planet. It is heartbreaking to witness this.

Having been touched by the lives of so many amazing, intelligent, gorgeous, creative, warm, gentle, caring and funny individuals who have been broken in this battle of self and body, these are some things I wish would receive front page headlines:

Bodies change, contours soften, bellies round, babies fill, bloat happens, hunger informs, weight is not absolute, judgmental words injure, beauty shines, food nourishes, wisdom evolves, body protects, hormones ebb and flow, pleasure is permissible, fat is often just a feeling in one’s head and restriction revolts.

If you are living this, put down the staunch resistance, begin the surrender and trust your inner feminine voice. Please know you are all so beautiful and you possess that which really matters. Take a moment to put your hand on your heart and belly and send love to yourself. Take a deep slow breath and be thankful to your body. Send a healing thought out to other women, because I assure you, you are so not alone. Hold the daughters and ask to be held. Reclaim your place. Change the internal tapes. Know there are many paths to healing available. The world needs everything you have to offer.

How fully illuminated is your feminine moon?  What else might you wish for others to know and trust?

Any sharings will be welcomed and respected.

In love and health, Elyn  

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Deep scarlet red beets

 Reveal your sweetness to me

 Slip out of your skins  

By Elyn

michelle, my first lady

Dear Michelle,

I have been worried about your husband Barack’s eating habits. From following him on the campaign trail during these very arduous times, it seems that news items abound about him chowing down on ribs,  chili dogs, pizza and pastries. Yes,  I know  that  he needs to go meet and greet his constituents and that he is eager to support small business owners around the country. This does mean that he must go and find where the people gather–and that is often in settings that involve the communal act of the serving and eating of food. I deeply appreciate that he is of the people and can get down and chow down with the common folk. I also I know he is a very generous guy and stories have reported that he is sometimes buying goodies to bring back to his hard-cranking campaign workers or public servants in the numerous locations where he has touched down.

pumpkins grown by farmers, carved by zena and tomas

I do not mean to undermine his profound need for nourishment to keep him going, but it seems that a lot of yellow and red light foods are speeding their way down his own gullet–with obvious gusto–and with no traffic infractions being incurred.  Just for those of my readers who don’t live in the world of childhood nutrition education, the traffic light metaphor refers to a system of identifying foods as either green, yellow or red light signifying always, sometimes or rarely ever to be eaten.

I am reminded that when Barack’s friend and mentor, former President Bill Clinton was in office, his legendary appetites were the subject of much attention and downright mockery.  I believe he lusted for Philly Cheese Steaks. So, why are your husband’s eating habits not garnering the same scrutiny?  Unfortunately, unlike pudgy Bill, it is because he is thin–actually, it is worse than that.  He is skinny. I say unfortunately, because being skinny can sneak up and bite ya.  I imagine it must have been a bit disconcerting for you when that burly pizza parlor owner, came right over and just picked poor Barack right up off the ground with that big bear hug.

With all the attention on obesity, we forget that the non-obese can suffer health consequences as well and are equally vulnerable to the effects of poor diet, smoking and stress–which I know are issues your husband contends with. These can be more detrimental than just extra pounds alone. I think I heard that he has quit smoking–so that is good.

I will assume that when at home, our dear President consumes lots of White House grown organic vegetables, and grass-fed, hormone-free animal products prepared by some of the best chefs in the land. And, that he plays basketball and does other activities to stay fit. Hopefully, he also has a team of massage therapists and other holistically-oriented practitioners to assist with his well-being. Maybe he just eats these red light foods when he is on the road–like kids who go crazy for sweets at other people’s homes when such foods are forbidden in their own.

Believe you me, I do know that it is  impossible to control our husbands’ behaviors. Here I am a nutritionist, and my own hubby has quite the pedestrian sweet tooth. No amount of my homemade kale chips can keep him from occasionally going out and finding a bag of Cheeze Doodles and the perfect dish of ice cream. I bet Hilary knows what I mean. Still, I am wondering, if given your highly touted platform and efforts regarding the urgency of improving nutritional status and decreasing the burden of illness on our nation, whether Barack could and should be modeling more healthful eating behaviors.

I was troubled by a story I heard on the radio just last week. NPR reported on what Obama and Romney were doing to sustain their non-stop high-energy requirements on the final leg of the campaign. This was right before Hurricane Sandy changed the agenda. They  interviewed some campaign assistant who started out by saying that when Barack got off the plane that morning, he headed right over to get some Krispy Kreme doughnuts. You probably don’t know that I have a little, shall we say, vendetta against Krispy Kreme, so you may want to read my posts, Kicking Butt with Krispy Kreme and Magic Doughnuts–The Nutritionist’s Nemesis. So, upon hearing that, I was all ears.

It got worse. I was shocked to then hear Barack himself saying something to the effect that all that nutrition stuff is your thing, but he doesn’t care. It is an election year and the White House will be giving out lots of candy for Halloween. My, I don’t know how you felt about that, but I was disappointed to hear such an off the cuff remark that indicated to me a disregard of the real importance of proper nutrition in improving the health of our citizenry. To really turn the tide on the dire consequences attributable to the standard American diet  (SAD) will take more than lip service. It will take courage to exhibit true leadership in this matter–and leading by example. Sugary sweets are not a substitute for the relief this electorate truly seeks; and perpetuating good-natured excuses and exceptions for our food behaviors will not reduce our massive health costs and its drain on our economy. That quick sugary fix will ultimately lead to a massive crash in mood and energy.

Never you mind. Your husband still has my vote. Yet, I am writing this with trepidation as the election is still a few days away. I do wish for him to have four more years–healthy years– in office. I hope it will not take a quadruple bypass surgery for him to appreciate and attend to the benefits of a healthful and vegan diet as it did his friend Bill. It would have been nice if while stumping in North Carolina he had stopped in at that wonderful restaurant, The Laughing Seed Cafe that I mentioned in Forks on the Road.

Though Barack might not need them, the future of health care, Medicare and Social Security are seriously on the line right now–and we need him to make sure that those programs are there for those of us who will. Perhaps too, with a second term, he can work to integrate some more holistic preventive health measures into Health Care reform.  Please, keep up your good work and see if you can get Barack to eat his beets. I read that he does not like them. Do let him know that betalain-rich beets are blessed with many healthy benefits. Great for the cardiovascular system and the lowering of high blood pressure. And, that makes those beautiful red gems a nice little aphrodisiac food too–wink wink.

Respectfully,

In health, Elyn

PS.  As you ready to advance your agenda for the upcoming term I hope you consider the work of chef, food justice activist and author Bryant Terry whose inspiring work is focused on opening the doors to a future where everyone in this country has access to tasty and healthful food.  http://www.bryant-terry.com/

Trick or treat?  Thoughts or comments?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/01/obama-doctor-president-st_n_480450.html

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121010160411-203080237-x-ray-vision-carrots-changing-how-our-children-eat

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/11/pizza-shop-owner-scott-van-duzer-on-bear-hugging-president-obama.html

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/president_barack_obama_diet_7PxbdwfaMCyEKla9ZEc8HO?photo_num=14

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?

by Julie

by the time i got to woodstock

There I was having a mindful eating moment.  Though I teach others the importance of this technique frequently, I rarely slow down enough to practice it myself.  What it took for me to have my own blissful experience–where you sit in total oneness with a food or a meal fully attuned to the multi-sensory act of eating–was the result of a harmonic convergence between my teenage daughter and not one, but two teenage boys.   

It was a beautiful warm Friday in April when Zena and I found ourselves perfectly aligned to spend the afternoon together on the last day of her school spring break. Easily, the legendary village of Woodstock presented itself as the mecca for our little excursion.  Morning obligations tended to, we hopped in the car and headed out.  About a third of the way there, Zena decided to see if she could reach her summer camp friends, Ethan and Josh, who live there.  Despite the fact that the two had school that day, and were actually in it when she contacted them, in vague teenage boy fashion they arranged that they would meet her somewhere after track practice.

It was the kind of day where you celebrate shedding the cumbersome clothing of winter and first drive with the car windows down.  Whenever I go to Woodstock, the songs of The Band drift easily into mind, as I was once fortunate to see them perform there–in their adopted hometown.   Little did I know that just a few days later, word of band member and Woodstock resident Levon Helm‘s death would pass a cloud over this sunny musical epicenter.  But that day, it was all sunshine as Zena and I browsed the little shops, bought T-shirts and sunglasses and walked our way into that wonderful space where appetite is earned and asks to be rewarded with something special.  We checked out a few little spots, yet in Goldilock fashion, it was not until we came to the Garden on the Green did we find the cafe that was just right.  http://www.gardencafewoodstock.com/

Though the beautiful outdoor garden area was closing down for the afternoon, inside provided just as warm and welcoming a place to pleasure my palate.  Every inch was aesthetically charming.  Ah, but there was more.  The menu consisted of purely vegan offerings created from local provisions.  We were giddy.  Though I am no stranger to vegan and vegetarian restaurants when available, eating out in most places usually entails rapid eyeball movement over the menu to find the few non-meat selections.  Here, every choice was seductively available.

We sat at the table by the large front window overlooking Woodstock’s little village green and ultimately decided to share a warm lentil pecan pate with sage, a tuscan arugula and white bean salad and a wonderful black bean and roasted corn quesadilla.  We settled in looking at all the  pretty things that surrounded us.  However, just as the food arrived, Zena said, “Oh, there’s Ethan!”  and went running out the door to greet him.  I turned to find her in that kind of exuberant silly hug that teenagers enjoy with one of those Skinny Boys.  She ran back in and asked if I would mind that she go hang out with him, concerned about leaving me alone to eat.  I said I didn’t mind. We asked the waitress for a to go container and I packed  up a little picnic box for her to take outside–complete with the nice silverware–which we returned later.

So there I was, alone with this beautiful food.  Right away, I knew what I needed to do to fill my time.  I had already embraced my surroundings–taking in the other diners, the waitresses and trying to interpret the Spanish conversation coming from the kitchen.  I now needed only to address all of my attention to this amazing meal.  With each sense engaged, I looked at, smelled, and lingered over every single bite.  I considered the textures–the creaminess of the pate along with the crunchy crust of the bread it spread itself upon, the lovely bitterness of the arugula mixed with the tender softness of the white beans.  I chewed incredibly slowly, which is not something I ordinarily do and really appreciated the unique meal.  And, yes, as I tell my clients is apt to happen, I sensed my satiety rather quickly.  I was actually a little bummed.  I could have easily eaten all of the food that was before me while I waited for Zena to return, but with careful listening, my body said it had enough.  I was determined to honor it.

Right about then, I looked out to the window and my maternal lens caught a view of Ethan loping away in one direction while Josh came bounding in from another.   Zena came heading back into the cafe.  She asked for more time, mentioning something about guitar lessons.  On most other days or in some other place, my patience might have waned, but not there and not then.  As she skipped out again I perused the very vegan dessert offerings and extensive tea listing and chose a Chinese Sencha Tea with which to extend my experience.  I had recently read about specially harvested Sencha teas and was excited to try one.  I stayed committed to my mindful intention and inhaled the pleasant aroma with each tiny sip.

Not too long after, a parent-propelled car pulled up in front of the cafe and whisked Josh away–and Zena rejoined me.  Though the teenage boys had vanished with a cinematic flourish, my satisfaction lingered.  Since then, I have been more conscious to calm myself and to eat more slowly when I bring myself to the table.

Time and again in my work I am reminded how important mindfulness is in regard to eating.  Mindfulness, or simple but exercised awareness, is essential for a balanced relationship with food.  In the big dietary gestalt we tend to focus the problem on what we are eating and to seek answers in changing dietary content.  I myself am apt to tend and mend in this way as well.  However, commonly what  is revealed in the real story of eaters, is that a deeper conflict exists. Even in those whom I assume must have their inner compasses precisely calibrated and their plates all balanced, I eventually divine the agita, angst, stress and shame that accompanies how people feel about how, why and how much they eat.  This is often more so the problem that is seeking attention and assuaging.

Slowing it down and paying profound attention ultimately can change the patterns, often dysfunctional, that repeatedly dictate our feeding relationship.  From thoughts to actions, mindful eating can be a powerful tool for increasing compassion towards ourselves, helping to reassign food to its proper place and for improving physical health.  In its most simple sense it will increase the ability to truly taste and savor food.  More profoundly, it can provide more information than most diets do; affords permission to eat and decreases deprivational feeding behaviors that usually backfire.  Ultimately, it allows one to derive more pleasure with less intake.  It can be practiced with one tiny piece of chocolate or with an entire meal.  It can be explored casually or studied diligently.

Two books that are in my midst these days that address mindful eating are, Eat, Drink and Be Mindful a workbook by Susan Albers; and Peaceful Weight Loss Through Yoga by Brandt Bhanu Passalacqua.  I recommend them both.  I also invite you to choose a moment this week to eat mindfully.  I would love to hear about your experience if you care to share it in a comment.   Who knows, you may find that you shall be released and or that you begin to know better the shape you’re in.

Enough with the obtuse song references.

In health,

Elyn

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Spread peanut butter

On whole grain sweet dark bread

Raspberry jam-yum.    by Barb