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Going Hungry Episode 3: Misinformation

Howdy again from YMCA of the Rockies. This was our sunset last night. ❤️

More details about my days and eats to come. But first: ever heard anything that sounds like this?

“Mash boiled beans and add low-fat milk or vegetable broth to give them the texture of refried beans. Try fat-free condensed milk or fat-free half-and-half instead of cream in coffee and puddings.”

“Ask for a to-go box as soon as your meal is served. Put half your food into the container for a second meal. That’s two meals for the price of one.”

“Don’t eat by the TV.”

“Pace around. Fidgeting burns 200+ calories a day. Your skinnier friends are probably fidgeters.”

“Step away form the nuts.”

“Limit salad toppings.”

“Always prefer broiled, baked, stir-fried or grilled.”

These quotes come, not from fashion magazines or women’s glamor magazines or beauty culture, but from “health” websites (public site for the National Academic of Nutrition and Dietetics) and Health Magazine.

In America and many other nations and cultures, we associate weight loss with health, weight gain with illness, portion control with good character, large portions with character deficiency. Calorie burning = healthy. Calorie consumption = unhealthy.DSCN0285But it’s not that simple. Not nearly that simple.

Where are the disclaimers, the “full story,” the data admitting that studies on weight loss are inconclusive at best, and contradictory at worst? They’re there, of course, but it takes a while to find them. I’m so thankful, for instance, for the lovely organization “Health at Every Size.”

Since becoming a young adult, I have prided myself on being a healthy person who takes care of her body. I still pride myself on that. But for several years, I had a very unrealistic idea of what that meant.

This is the third story in a series of posts I’ve been doing about my journey with eating disorder. You may want to check out parts 1 and 2 to get the full story.12074691_10153791813518149_1969058560258425247_nWhere we left off, I had started to make exercise a part of my daily routine. My body had been changing, becoming slimmer, and I was proud of that. I wanted to work as hard as I could to maintain that.

Was it a vanity thing? Of course it was, in part. Many folks with eating disorders are concerned with their appearance. But there have also been times in my life when I’ve disclosed my history of eating disorder and got responses like, “Oh! But you’re so beautiful!” as though my only motive for undereating was how I looked.

But it’s also I think it’s really, really important to communicate to people how much misinformation there is out there about “health.”

Just as an example, I like to eat low-sugar cereal (such as bran flakes or Cheerios) with low-fat milk and fruit for breakfast. A healthy meal? Of course!DSCN0761 (2)On the other hand, cereal and fruit is often only 300 to 400 calories. That might sometimes be enough to get me through the morning, but if I go to the gym and work out, or if I worked out yesterday and my metabolism is revved up, or if I end up eating a late lunch, or sometimes for no reason at all other than that I get hungry, I might need another snack mid-morning. But as my undergraduate years went on, I became less and less willing to eat a mid-morning snack, and more and more convinced that if I did eat a snack, such as nuts or a banana or a granola bar, that I was “sabotaging” my healthy breakfast.

As another example, let’s say I ate out for a meal. Let’s say I didn’t even finish my plate. Let’s say we got an appetizer, so I ate some chips and guac before my chicken fajitas or whatever came.

So much guilt. So much anxiety. It would be all I could think about when I went to the gym the next day, and especially all I could think about if I didn’t make it to the gym the next day.

I remember trying to study late in the afternoon before a trip to the gym, hungry and unable to concentrate. Still, I would hold off getting a snack until finally, feeling desperate, I would cave, go get some veggies and dressing, and then feel anxious about the veggies and dressing while I was working out.DSCN0358I believe that, at least in part, this anxiety stemmed from the enormous pool of misinformation I was being fed each and every day. I was getting message after message about how to lose weight or avoid weight gain, how to burn more calories and eat fewer of them, without any warnings.

A Google search for “healthy weight loss” yields 85.1 million results, whereas a search for “healthy weight gain” results in 17.7 million.

No one told me that undereating was probably why I was so cold all the time.

No one warned me that my amenorrhea was dangerous and causing my bones to slowly deteriorate.

No one told me that, just because I wasn’t losing any more weight, didn’t mean I wasn’t undereating. (I wasn’t super-skinny. In fact, I weigh less now than I did in this photo in 2013, when I was really struggling with food- and body-related anxiety and disordered eating.)8-9-2013 017No one told me that eating too little is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than eating too much.

No one told me that I’d lose my ability to concentrate.

No one told me that I’d have a hard time sleeping.

No one told me that I’d be grouchy and short with my friends.

No one told me that I’d be obsessed with food, and that to overcome the obsession, I needed to be eating more, not less.october 31 2013 003

No one told me that the correlation between weight and longevity is very weak, and that many studies have shown that folks with BMIs in the overweight or obese category live just as long if not longer than folks who are “normal” weight.

No one told me that over 10 different scientific studies have shown that folks in the overweight or obese weight range with chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease live longer than “normal” weight individuals with the same illness. (source)

No one told me that many people who attempt to lose weight experience weight cycling, which puts them at higher risk for health problems than those who are overweight but never attempt to diet. (source)

No one told me that weight loss appears to increase the risk of premature death. (sources here, here and here)

No one told me that the vast majority of folks who try to lose weight end up regaining the weight or even reaching a higher weight than their original. (source)

No one told me that misinformation about the benefits and attainability of weight loss lead to stigmatization of the overweight and obese, even among health care professionals. (sources here and here)

I realize this is more of a rant than a personal narrative, like the earlier posts in this series have been. I wish to include this segment of my story, however, because I think it’s really, really important.

When I had an eating disorder, I lived in a world in which low-calorie and skinny equalled healthy, and almost no one challenged that belief. Why would I think I had an illness when, by eating my low-fat breakfasts and skipping my snacks and working out hard 5 days a week, I was doing exactly what everyone believed was “healthy.”

Exclusively skinny models and actresses and size one mannequins in department stores are a problem. But weight loss rhetoric in “health-related” communication is also very, very dangerous, especially when presented with no context.

So yes, certainly, eat your whole grains, your proteins, your fruits and vegetables, your healthy fats, your dairy or dairy alternative. Get your exercise. But eat enough, for God’s sake, and eat often.






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  1. Ellie says:

    Misinformation is so sad! It’s also upsetting that for every study saying one thing, there is another study saying the complete opposite. I try to remember that everyone is different and has different needs.
    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    1. Joyce says:

      It is sad, and I think pretty dangerous, especially for those of who tend to like to follow the letter of the law. I remember a phrase you used–athletes eat and train, not diet and exercise. I think that’s so super-wise of you.

  2. Cora says:

    You have some fascinating statistics here – wow. It’s a tough balance in our society – there is an obesity problem, I know, so there does have to be knowledge given about “healthier” ways to lose weight. But the line is scarily thin (no pun intended) between what knowledge is needed and what is unsafe. I don’t really know what I’m saying. All I know is it is really, really hard to be in this world that epitomizes thinness as healthy when you struggle/have struggled with an eating disorder. I wish everyone knew these facts you just gave us. Thanks for sharing your story and knowledge, Joyce.
    “But your so beautiful!”—> ugh that killed me

    1. Joyce says:

      I know, right? #1 thing not to say to someone with eating disorder.
      I’ve really been wanting to read this book:

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