Monday, April 30, 2018

Low-Carb Diets

"What do you need a qualification for? To talk common sense? Why do you have to study something that is outdated, that is industry backed, that is biased, that is not getting the results? That would be insane to study something you're going to waste your time with. That's just crazy," - Pete Evans, celebrity chef & creator of "The Magic Pill"

It seems like not that long ago someone told me I should watch a documentary about going vegan. I reluctantly did and cringed thinking about all the people who believe, incorrectly, that if something is in a documentary, it's true. This isn't always the case. I watched "What the Health" and decided it was not all bad, just not well cited and filled with a good amount of misinformation. At the suggestion of a friend, I also watched "The Magic Pill", a documentary that's also filled with inaccuracies. When there was talk about certain vegetable oils being poison and toxins in the film, I had to roll my eyes. The film is actually identical to "What the Health" right down to the guinea pig trials in which several people who are on loads of pills, have all kinds of illnesses, and are eating all the "wrong" foods try a diet for two weeks and are magically cured of everything they ever had. I don't think anyone would argue that taking a child off a diet of sheer junk and adding pretty much any real food would likely produce beneficial results, but since this is a film about a low-carb diet, that's the one that gets credit for the improvement in one young girl's health.

Almost right out of the gate, there were a bunch of lies in the film "The Magic Pill" that focuses on the Paleo diet, not necessarily the Keto diet, though there is some overlap with low-carb diets and their effects (or lack thereof) on health. Still, people conflate the two, so I will do my best to make the distinction when possible and necessary.

At the beginning of the film, we are told that there are no fat wild animals, which discounts the fact that some animals need to be fat in order to survive their cold climates. It's a slight error, but not the greatest way to start a documentary. Can you imagine a skinny seal doing well in the Arctic? Obviously, this is relative fat and not quite the same as being overweight, however, bears and other wild animals get fat seasonally to prepare for hibernation. If rodents get lucky and find a luxury wooded area that supplies loads of nuts and berries, they, more often than not, get fat. Most animals are too much on the go and can't afford to carry a lot of extra weight, so they are very lean. The movement and lack of an abundant, steady food source are what keep them lean more than their actual diet. Elephants must eat a tremendous amount, so it would be almost impossible for them to be outright fat. They are large animals but relatively lean. Again, this is a minor error but sets the tone for more misleading information to come. But I digress...

Diet for some people is like religion. For many, science doesn't matter when they believe in a way of eating. I'm fine with people digging in their heels and insisting on eating a certain way, but I'm not OK with people spreading lies in an effort to support their ways of eating. Perhaps I'm being harsh, however, the science around nutrition is evolving and largely based on anecdotal and observational data, not hard evidence. It almost has to be. Controlled human studies are rare mostly because they are incredibly expensive, and it's not always considered ethical to place humans in disciplined conditions to run experiments. One problem with observational data and surveys is that they can't control every aspect of a given person's life, even if people were 100 percent honest about their diet and exercise and general lifestyle habits.

Surveys and anecdotal information can be useful in terms of encouraging more credible studies to be done, but even then the promising studies have to be recreated in order to really suggest any kind of cause and effect. Simply noting a possible correlation doesn't mean there is. Vegans are notorious for twisting bits of fact about studies or incorrectly calling surveys studies to support their beliefs. The idea that milk causes cancer is a big one that's not accurate, for example. Now I see that the Keto and Paleo communities are doing the same thing, even though there really are some promising studies relating to insulin sensitivity, obesity, and even heart disease they could be citing instead, though there have yet to be any reliable long-term, repeatable and reputable studies done. A word of caution is that nearly every study relating to heart disease and this kind of diet shows an increase in cholesterol before any notable drop.

Despite the fact that Gary Taubes, an American science writer, is very careful about calling what he promotes in terms of diet a hypothesis and acknowledges that science hasn't yet proven the direct correlation between carbohydrates and sugar and fat storage, people still take this possible link as fact. Most of us can agree that eating more whole foods and less refined sugar is probably beneficial, but there's more to eating Keto and Paleo than that. And people love to take a small bit of truth from a flawed study and twist it into something to support the way they want to eat. For more on that, this article addresses what some of the critics are saying about the whole Paleo movement.

So much of the information relating to diet is based on flawed studies, partly because it takes flawed studies to generate enough interest to get anyone to fund more controlled studies and duplicate studies. Let's face it, though, if the Keto or Paleo diets really worked, obesity and diabetes would be on the decline, not increasing. One of the biggest issues with low-carb diets is that they're difficult to adhere to long-term, so many people get into yo-yo dieting, which wrecks havoc on both the body and mind. A balanced diet is much easier to follow, and general lifestyle is also important. Diet, exercise, sleep, and mental health all play a role in overall wellness. It's ridiculous to think that addressing only one of these would lead to complete health or drastic changes in health.

If the film focused only on diabetes, obesity, and sustainability (and there were some errors in the film regarding that last department as well) I probably wouldn't have felt the need to write such a long blog post. The fact that people try to claim a low-carb diet cures everything from autism and asthma to genital warts (not really) makes me want to write for days, and given all the bullshit in this film, I probably could. On that note, I couldn't help but notice a large number of Dr. Oz types associated with this production. It's funny that TV and celebrity doctors are taken much more seriously than most credible ones, but we live in the age of reality TV.

One of the main contributors to the film, William Davis, author of "Wheat Belly" is fond of claiming that wheat has changed, become some kind of Frankenstein grain that makes people addicted and makes their bellies explode into fatness. This, of course, is based on a study of one, himself, cutting wheat out of his diet in an effort to address his own diabetes and weight. Actually, there was one other study he cited that was done on dead rats. Oh, he also heard a few other people were successful after doing the same, cutting out wheat and becoming superheroes.

When it comes to Dr. Davis' claim that this new wheat is addictive, according to Joe Schwartz, a chemist a McGill University, food, or really the peptides that are created after a person digests food, can bind to opiate receptors in the brain but do not produce a morphine-like effect. I will address so-called food addiction in a separate post, but sorry, Dr. Davis, your theory isn't completely accurate. Also, Dr. Ravi Chabbar, the head of the Saskatchewan project, confirmed that even though wheat has been modified to produce high-yield crops, the basic structure of the grain including the gluten and gliadins is the same as it was in "ancient" times. Strike two. Strike three against Dr. Davis' claims could be some information about low-carb diets being correlated to a higher "all-cause" mortality, but I haven't done enough research to stand by that one yet, though it seems legit.

When it comes to diets curing cancer, "The Magic Pill" uses another anecdote and a hell of a lot of speculation, my God there is a lot of speculation in this film, to suggest that a low carb, high-fat diet can cure cancer. Many research titles are shown, but if you look at the results of these studies, they are not clear-cut. Showing titles like that is misleading. Some of the results of the studies shown read like the following below, promising but not definite. Others aren't even that favorable, and showing the title only, not the method, results, or conclusions, tells viewers zero, absolutely zero:

Although the mechanism by which ketogenic diets demonstrate anticancer effects when combined with standard radio-chemo-therapies has not been fully elucidated, preclinical results have demonstrated the safety and potential efficacy of using ketogenic diets in combination with radio-chemo-therapy to improve responses in murine cancer models. These preclinical studies have provided the impetus for extending the use of ketogenic diets into phase I clinical trials that are currently ongoing.

I admire people a hell of a lot when they are honest and choose whatever kind of diet they do for ethical reasons or simply because, fuck it, life is short and who doesn't want to eat bacon? Whether it's the Keto, Paleo, or vegan diet that calls to you, most people can admit that these are not necessarily the easiest to follow or best diets for the health of every single person worldwide, though some will try to persuade you otherwise.

In conclusion, just like with "What the Health" there are a few good takeaway points with "The Magic Pill." Unfortunately, both films are too filled with dishonest reporting to be all that useful. Take what you see and read with a grain of salt, or wheat, whatever floats your boat.

Oddly, I believe that the producers of these two films probably mean well, but they are so set in their beliefs that they twist the facts. In an interview last year with Sam Harris, I thought Gary Taubes did a good job of being fair. This article sums up a lot of what others think about his take on diet. He always cautions and lets listeners know that he is presenting a hypothesis that needs further testing, which I appreciate. He might be right, but the science just isn't there yet when it comes to overall wellbeing. He got a lot of flack for not properly quoting individuals in his famous New York Times article and misrepresenting some of the findings in various studies, but I have more respect for him than I do many of the others who promote low-carb diets.

I have no dog in this fight. If someone told me this or that diet would make me feel great, run the way I would like to, keep me healthy, and the science was really there to back it, I might give it a try. There are too many conflicting voices in the nutrition and science of nutrition worlds, and none of them address our spiritual or emotional side.

Maybe I do eat too much sugar and refined foods, and that's something I can work on. I'm not going to discount the part of me that occasionally needs food for comfort. I believe that's OK when we are aware, but I also acknowledge that a good diet can make us feel emotionally better, too. It's a lot to consider, but I don't think I will start my day with eggs, bacon, and cheese tomorrow or anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April Revisited

It's hard to believe another April is quickly rolling to a close, which means I survived another year without my little Romo and managed to avoid another bout of meningitis, which will probably be the norm from here on out, as it's pretty much unheard of for anyone, especially an older individual, to be struck by that kind of illness three times in a lifetime. Compared to the last few months, April seems to be moving along more smoothly.

While I'm not 100 percent injury free, I'm able to put in some solid running and even ran a strong tempo run recently at the CU cross country course in 28:35, not a fast time but a decent one, all things considered. For the first time in a very long time, I didn't feel in over my head on the second lap and ran it with a dose of good sense. I've had a bit of a rough time recovering, but I'm trying to be smart about resting, too. I'm forever battling fears and worries, but I do my best to get out and run anyway.

Despite a bad endometriosis flare-up, a small skin basal cell carcinoma removal, a terrible bout of depression, and a missing IUD that was later found slightly embedded in and later removed from my tilted uterus, things are OK. A few of these issues still need to be addressed, but I'm taking everything as it comes. My job is still going well, and I'm surprisingly optimistic about possibilities in at least some areas of my life.

Obviously, there's not a lot to report here, but I'm trying to be better about noting any improvements, no matter how small. After dealing with a nagging and painful injury over the winter, being able to run at all at this point feels good. I have a long, long way to go before I try jogging with other people, but at least I'm getting outside now and then.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Well, That's Disappointing

I understand more fully why people in the recovery community are upset with Geneen Roth. I was disappointed to find out that she will be participating in some sort of feel-good summit this summer. There are several keynote speakers that, on the surface, look like they have some decent credentials. The problem with this particular event is that it looks more like a good old-fashioned weight-loss camp than anything promoting actual wellness. The website is filled with all kinds of trendy catchphrases that are sure to intrigue you, and right before the claim that it will be a judgment-free zone, there's a nice little bit of bullshit about willpower, more specifically your lack of it that keeps you from experiencing life at its best.

Mark Hyman, who boasts about his ties to Dr. Oz, among many things, leads the Feel Good Summit and offers a "clean food" designer meal plan (red flag) for those attending. Right away, this doesn't sound like an individualized program that takes into consideration people's food preferences or actual needs, and it doesn't sound like the method Geneen Roth previously used and promoted as a way to break free from compulsive eating, quite the opposite, in fact. No diet plan can be predesigned for anyone. Every day, your nutritional needs change, and, more importantly, what you or your body craves does too. If you're given a meal plan designed by someone who doesn't know you or your history, a plan that's exactly like everyone else's, how likely are you to continue eating that way once you're not in a camp-like setting? How restrictive is that plan? How much freedom are you getting through controlling portions and types of food, eliminating "junk" food and opting for "clean" foods instead?

This guy states outright that you shouldn't eat ANY crap. Is that realistic? He insists that if you eat crap, you will feel like crap. Is that accurate for you? It's not for me. I often eat some cookies or chocolate or french fries and feel physically and emotionally good later. Clean food. Shit, dust off a twinkie and eat it if you want and need. Fuck clean eating. It's such bullshit, a marketing tool and nothing more. A healthy diet can include what you want it to. Yes, nutrient-dense foods will give your body a good dose of what it probably needs, but what about enjoying life and feeling good about your choices, even if you choose to eat a bowl of ice cream?

There's a lot of talk about feeding or nourishing yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself possible, or something along those lines, but promoting wellness can be done without frowning upon those who don't follow a clean-eating plan. Overall health is not about skipping dessert. If you haven't figured it out by now, this kind of retreat is a great way for anyone there to sell you their product, a new book, a diet plan, a wellness program, therapy sessions, or one-on-one consultations. They want you to believe that they have the answers and experience profound energy, happiness, and wellness on a daily basis. Oh, one or two will admit they aren't perfect, but the overall message is that you can be as socially accepted as they are, and all you have to do is pay a bunch of money and eat and exercise the way someone else suggests.

Nobody trying to help others lead a healthier life should be promoting the idea that any food is bad or dirty or sinful. Everyone has the right to eat what fuels their body, mind, and soul. Yes, good nutrition usually does help you feel good, but nobody else can define what healthy means for you. The problem with these kinds of restrictive and measured diet plans is that they don't teach awareness. The focus is on eating certain types of foods and avoiding others instead of trusting yourself in your choices and being able to weather whatever emotions and fears come up after you have eaten.

The whole thing seems a little too controlled, but the magic is supposed to happen in three days at the cost of $2,500+, the amount and time it takes to completely transform your life. These kinds of retreats are designed to target people who probably need something deeper, not a weight-loss or "feel-good" plan. Of course, the advertisements aren't addressing weight-loss per se, but there are subtle and not so subtle clues that are obvious to anyone looking. Plus, Mr. Hyman likes to bring the conversation, no matter what's being discussed, back to diet. That's what he's selling, all his fad-diet books including those on detox diets, eating fat and getting thin, and the ultra this and ultra that diets. His speakers promote the bulletproof diet, the archetype diet, genius foods (foods that make you smarter AND happier), and one that suggests you can eat your way to better health. I won't go into the one author who, if you buy her book, wants to tell you how to make every man want you. Is anyone else feeling queasy yet?

Years ago, a friend of mine went to something similar. She was always on a quest to improve her life and lose weight when she didn't really need to, so she signed up for a three-week raw foods retreat. She left a strong, healthy individual and returned looking dangerously thin and so weak that she could no longer run with me and couldn't even complete the hike we did as a substitute for running one day. She insisted she felt great, but she didn't look or act like a specimen of health. I was concerned and let her know. She eventually gained back the weight she lost plus a few extra pounds that she complained about but looked just fine on her body. She was also back to being healthy and able to exercise again.

When I look at retreats and seminars like the Feel Good Seminar, I can't explain all the reasons why they make me cringe. There are so many. I get a physical reaction to all the bullshit they're trying to spread. There's always an air of fat phobia and not a lot of diversity with the presenters, all lean, smiling citizens with extra white teeth and abnormally wide eyes.

I'm sure some people benefit from retreats. If you happen to be looking for more positive ways to spend time away from home, try Women's Quest. Colleen runs programs that are designed to actually support you, not sell you gimmicks.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Same As It Ever Was II

I'm lucky that my job doesn't require me to stand out on social media. Basically, if I aim to do my best in terms of being honest, kind, helpful, and knowledgeable, it usually translates into doing well at work. When I look at how people who rely more heavily on being in the public eye behave, it makes me realize how far we as a society have to go in order to even begin to change the unhealthy but terribly ingrained habits that form the often dangerous beauty standards we constantly see. Most of us are still so very unaware how we contribute to cultural assumptions and norms.

I was late seeing some of the more bizarre takes on the "if you don't love me at my XXX, you don't deserve me at my XXX" meme phenomenon that's occurring on Twitter at the moment. The original quote is: “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” - Anonymous. People initially made some cute or funny memes based on this, but, as they often do, those who crave the spotlight had to join in because everyone else was doing it. Then, all of a sudden, too many people took the opportunity to draw attention to bodies, women's bodies in particular, showing one supposedly less satisfactory image and one glammed up image side-by-side. It didn't take long for pretty much everyone to jump on board with their versions of worst and best, and I noticed a large number of people simply posting images of themselves at a higher weight or slightly less toned contrasted with a more socially accepted image.

My tipping point and why I wrote this post rather than engage with anyone on a social media platform was when someone who has been interviewed as an eating disorder recovery advocate and partnered with an expert to teach a virtual class on body image in 2017, presented an older image of herself shortly after having a baby but still in shape enough to be engaging in a high-intensity sport next to an image of herself looking extremely fit in a fashion show for a women's athletic apparel company. Since a few people already said what I was thinking, there was no need to beat a dead horse and get involved in any direct conversations. It was surprising that she posted something like this, and there was a lot of explaining afterward about how it's really a good thing, somehow aimed at progress, which I fail to see given the meme movement and the images themselves. When a few people called her out on what appeared to many as an odd way to support body positivity, what followed from both her and the clothing company was more than a little concerning. I couldn't help but have a reaction, one that I felt deserved a more measured response on my blog.

Before I even get into what was tweeted, let me remind everyone that it's widely accepted and has been for years that there's a strong correlation between social media and body image concerns. We already know the line between fitspiration and thinspiration is a slim and often blurred one, and the content of the two is often indistinguishable. I'm not going to get into how common it is for images to be stolen and use as pro-ana content. That's a separate issue, but it happens and is one more reason people should be more concerned about the types of images they post. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable when it comes to being influenced by the messages and images found on social media, but it's not limited to women and girls. Boys and men are also affected, as are people in the LGBTQ community.

Blasting others with images of your body in such a way that draws disproportionate attention to the body itself will always have the potential to negatively affect those who are prone to compare themselves to others and seek approval through their weight, size, or fitness level. This kind of image with a strong emphasis on looks is obviously different from an image of someone simply engaging in a certain activity or enjoying a moment in front of the camera. In the case of the former, excessively promoting images that fit into the narrow definition of our society's warped definition of beauty is likely to negatively influence some, and contrasting two images that focus entirely on the body is certain to cause at least a few people to engage in unhealthy comparisons.

Most individuals post images on social media without thinking about the potential damage they can cause. What's surprising is how many individuals are unaware and uncaring in this area. Can we please just stop it and shift the focus away from women's bodies, period? We don't need new and different ways of looking at the aesthetics of a woman's body. This isn't helpful in the long run because the focus is still on looks rather than wellbeing, health, or anything deeper. Why must everything come back to this?

I know this seems like an impossible task. Everyone has rights and wants and needs, and many people want to get some validation through the images they post. The argument is that everyone wants to look good and be their best versions of themselves, Oprah style, which is all fine; just stop shoving your body parts, toned or not, in our faces and intentionally drawing attention to them at the expense of real content. Nobody should be supporting or encouraging people who post memes and images that very clearly send potentially harmful messages, even if the intentions of the poster are... the best. I'm sure some people will misinterpret what I'm saying and think, incorrectly, that I'm for a world with no images of bodies at all be it in fashion, athletics, or in general. That's not what I'm saying. If you feel that posting images of yourself somehow betters the world, by all means, post away. All I'm doing is presenting another side.

Let me spare you more ruminations and just post some of the thread responses along with my thoughts in red.

Q1: Why is her natural post-partum body at her worst?

(Exactly what I was thinking. Shouldn't this be a highlight in life, especially if you have a child and are able to return to the activities you love?)

 A: Our interpretation of the meme was not that the first image equals worse but more what is real - and not traditionally shared (as LF’s original blog points out). Either way, thank you for the comment.

(Despite the original quote very clearly stating "worst/best," we are somehow supposed to magically know by looking at the images that the OP had a different interpretation. In addition, aren't we the fools for not having read every single word of the OP's blog, especially posts dating back to 2013 and 2014. Shame on us, but since it has been brought to your attention that it's unlikely that anyone would take the images in the way they were supposedly intended, what now?) 

Q2: I think this trend should just be "if you don't love me at my don't deserve me." The implication of "non-ideal" photos/bodies as "worst" & "beautiful" photos/bodies as "best" is not a healthy subtext

(This is one of the best responses I have seen. Yes, it's not healthy. I wish more people would understand this.) 

OP: I see it as a powerful way to say “take all of me or have none of me.” I think it subverts rather than endorses simply by encouraging the posting of a range of images as lovable. To each her own!

(OK, fair enough, but what about the message the images send without the added explanation? How many people are going to look at the images and then take the time to read all the responses to get to this explanation?)

Q3: "So let's review this," he said, incredulous. "Oiselle uses strategic lighting and angles so that its athletes look maximally lean and ripped for its ads, and now it's imploring its own target audience to be real about women's bodies."

 Q3: "I really think you should replace your entire marketing department," he said with unconcealed scorn. "I thought the 'Drink Responsibly' crap from booze-peddlers was patently hypocritical, but this is several levels worse."

 OP: For the record, both are my actual body :). And it is worth pointing out that the meme never says “worst” or “best” in reference to the images. Could be “candid” or “posed,” or any number of things. It’s telling that many assume “worst/best!

(Again, the original quote specifically states this, and the answer below couldn't be better, right down to the third-person panache.) 

 Q3: "I didn't assume anything!" he thundered. "But only a fool could fail to note what's implied by this juxtaposition. Oiselle is like virtually every other women's active-wear company in trying to have it both ways. It's as simple as that."

 Q4: Have you looked at their advertising lately? Oiselle makes it a point to have models of various shapes and sizes and clothing to fit them. Maybe you should become informed before you speak.

 Q3: "Well, isn't that sweet!" he trilled. "But the use of bigger models elsewhere has nothing to do with THIS post, which implies that it's OK to look 'normal' IF 'normal' is a temporary condition. I 'get' the intent, but trust me, it backfires."

I don't claim to have all the answers. Free speech includes freedom of expression, and anyone who wants can flaunt her body in any way she sees fit. I just wish more people would consider how easy it is to reinforce unhealthy or unrealistic standards of health, fitness, and beauty when the online audience is so vast. My concern is that if those who consider themselves knowledgeable about eating disorders are unaware of how potentially damaging certain kinds of memes and images can be, you can imagine how little is known about the toxic side of social media in the general public. Given this, it's likely we are going to see more and more people developing eating disorders. And that's why this kind of trend is so upsetting.

Few people take the time to consider the impact the images they post can have. Images send a message in an instant. You don't always have the luxury of looking away before an image pops up in your feed, and whatever message comes from it is internalized quickly. With some posters -- and I'm not suggesting this is the case with this particular situation but I'm sure it happens a lot -- as long as they're getting whatever benefit posting brings them, and as long as they get those reinforcing "likes," it's doubtful anything will change any time soon. One can hope, though. Damn, one can hope.