Baby girl, I wish more than anything that I could protect you from any pressures you may feel to be a certain size or look a certain way. I wish I could be there to cover your ears when you hear other women talk about how dissatisfied they are with their bodies, how they wish they wore a bigger bra size and how they wished their thighs were smaller. I wish I could cover your eyes when you see models in the mall or on TV who are an unobtainable version of thin. I wish I could walk you through the halls of school and whisper in your ear to ignore the boys talking about what a girl’s “perfect body” looks like. I wish I could protect you from the girls who bully and gossip and I pray that you don’t ever stoop down to their level.
As your mother I want you to stay innocent and shelter you from what our society interprets as looking perfect. I don’t want you to feel like to you have to look a certain way to please someone. I don’t want you to feel that your weight defines you. I don’t want you to compare yourself to others and wish you looked more like them. I don’t want you to look in the mirror and find things you wish you could change.
I know you are growing up, and one day you will start to notice these things. I pray that you can rise above what you feel society pressuring you to do and refuse to change the way you look. Your heavenly Father made you to be unique, someone completely different than anyone else in this world. He designed every little detail, right down to the color of your eyes, the way your eyebrows scrunch up when you don’t like something, and your infectious smile. If someone doesn’t love you for who you are, they aren’t worth it. Don’t let it get you down and don’t try to fix things to please them. It’s not worth the energy and you will never be able to please everybody.
It’s your inner beauty that matters and that will define you. When you strive to look perfect it can become to be an obsession. You may try harder and harder to change yourself but will never be satisfied. I don’t want your relationships with people you love the most to fail because you are too focused on making that number on the scale go lower and lower. I don’t want you to feel your self-worth is in the type or size of clothes you wear. There is so much more to life than fixating on these things. I know it’s hard to take advice from your mother and I understand that you have to figure some of these things out on your own. But I don’t want you to fight the battle I fought. It’s grueling, it’s relentless, and it strips you of everything- relationships, energy, love, the simple joys of life. Miss Carli Joanna, you are perfect in every way. You are beautiful. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of an eating disorder, early intervention is crucial to prevent it from turning into a full-blown eating disorder. This can not only save a life, but can prevent years of struggle with disordered eating. Eating disorders are serious and raising awareness is important to recognize the signs, triggers, causes, and treatment. Visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ for more info.
The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines were released earlier this year and although I do think that Americans are becoming more conscious of improving their eating habits, we have a long way to go. Not surprisingly, the report concluded that Americans are:
Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
Consuming too many calories
Exceeding recommended intakes of salt, saturated fat and added sugars
Not consuming enough healthy fats and calcium rich foods
The consequences of under-consuming nutrient-dense foods and over-consuming foods high in empty calories usually lead to a variety of health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension…just to name a few. What can we be doing differently and how can we make these adjustments in a fast-food world?
I’ll start with fruits and vegetables. We all know they are good for us, but we don’t eat them often enough (shocking, I know). Why? I could write an entire post on the excuses people give me for not eating fruits and vegetables. They don’t taste good. They’re too expensive. I don’t have time to prepare them. Fruit is too high in sugar. I’m not a rabbit. The list goes on…however it is resulting in very poor intakes across Americans. Over 80% of the population isn’t getting the recommended amount of vegetables in their diet (2-4 cups per day for most adults, depending on caloric need). Vegetables play a huge role in overall health, including reduced risk of many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and may even be protective against certain types of cancer. This is largely due to the phytochemicals vegetables contain, which are health promoting nutrients (in a nutshell). These beneficial nutrients are also found in fruits- another food group that is under-consumed by Americans. The only population that is currently meeting the recommended amount of fruits daily is young children- and sadly this is largely in the form of fruit juices. Although 100% fruit juice is considered a fruit, I don’t recommend it. Most juices are high in added sugars, not as filling as an actual piece of fruit, and lack the fiber and phytochemicals that whole fruit has. Yes, fruit has naturally-occurring sugars but eating fruit does not make you fat, nor is it unhealthy. The nutrients that are occurring in fruit are highly beneficial and if consumed in the recommended amount (1.5-2.5 cups per day based on caloric needs) can be helpful for weight loss (if they are replacing foods high in added sugars and calories).
How can we make shifts to include more fruits and veggies in our diet? Including more veggies in combination dishes is a good start. I like to cut out half the required amount of protein and starch in a recipe and replace with more vegetables. Start serving side salads with dinner. Designate a day of the week (I usually do this the day I grocery shop) to cut up your veggies and place in containers in front of the fridge so they can be easily seen to grab as a snack. If you don’t like eating raw veggies plain try dipping in yogurt-based dressings or hummus. I personally love the frozen steamable vegetables, they are perfect for a busy weeknight! Fruits can be easily increased in the diet by having it replace dessert (try adding a little whipped cream or yogurt dipping sauce if the kids complain- strawberries with a light dark chocolate drizzle is a good option to try as well), blending in smoothie, or having for a snack.
The second concern I mentioned is that Americans are consuming too many calories. Obviously this is an issue, otherwise we wouldn’t have the problem with obesity that we do now. My biggest concern is that this is becoming a problem in children as well…nearly 1/3 of children in the United States are either overweight or obese. I don’t like to classify children by their BMI percentile, and just because your child is in the overweight or obese percentile doesn’t necessarily mean they will be obese as an adult. If your child is overconsuming calories, especially in the form of added sugars and empty calorie foods, then it is very probable these habits will continue on into adulthood and weight (along with various other comorbidities) will be a concern. We need to make a shift to consume more foods that are naturally low in calories (such as fruits and vegetables) and less foods that calorically dense and not nutrient dense (candy, soda, french fries).
The foods we are eating most of are high in what we need less of…sugar, saturated fat and sodium. This is a result of eating too much processed foods, sweetened beverages and fast food. Most are getting their protein needs in the form of ground beef, chicken, pork and processed meats. Intakes of seafood and legumes are below recommended intakes. Animal proteins all have saturated fat, some more than others depending on the type (dark meats and red meat are highest). Getting more protein in the form of vegetable proteins (such as nuts, beans, soy) and fish will decrease saturated fat intake and increase fiber and healthy fat intake. Sodium is found in everything, but is in especially high amounts in processed food and fast food. Stick to those outer aisles when grocery shopping folks, it will save you thousands of milligrams of sodium per week (your heart will thank you too!).
Although we are eating too much saturated fat, we aren’t eating enough healthy fats. Oils shouldn’t be added to the diet but should REPLACE solid (saturated) fats. For example, cooking with canola oil instead of butter. Oils are found in commonly extracted from plants (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, etc) but are also found naturally in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocado. The fats in these are essential fatty acids and are beneficial to health. Too many people think these fats should be added to what they are already eating (for example eating an entire avocado for a snack, eating a cup full of nuts before bed) but this will only add an exorbitant amount of calories to your total daily intake- most likely resulting in weight gain. Instead, replace fried chicken with grilled salmon, ranch salad dressing with an oil based salad dressing, avocado for cheese when eating Mexican, or a couple tablespoons of nuts for a handful of chips.
And finally…dairy. There are a lot of mixed opinions on dairy, even from dietitians. Although some may not want to include dairy in their diet, whether it’s because they are lactose intolerant or think it’s unhealthy, we do need to consume more calcium-rich foods. Dairy foods do provide a lot of key nutrients that Americans are lacking (Vit A, Vit D, calcium, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin B12) but the recommended intakes of these nutrients can be met if you are consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables (especially if you are getting multiple colors of fruits and veggies each week), fish, meat, and whole grains. Calcium can be found in quantities similar to cow’s milk in soy, almond, coconut or rice milk, and can also be found in yogurt, cheese and in non-dairy foods such as collard greens, broccoli, kale and soybeans. Calcium intake is especially important for bone health and if milk or a milk-equivalent is consumed in the recommended amount (2-3 cups per day), it can prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Because osteoporosis is more prevalent in women, teenage girls need to be getting the recommended intakes to build and preserve bone health
Once we start filling our bodies with products of nature and not science, our nation will become much healthier. Unfortunately with all the added salt, sugar and fat that the food industry is putting into their products, real foods no longer stand a chance on the taste scale. Start with simple steps, such as adding more vegetables to your recipes or replacing dessert 3 times per week with a piece of fruit. Making a long term change is hard but can be done if you’re willing to set the short-term goals to get there.
“I’m addicted to chocolate.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this statement during one of my counseling sessions. It’s something that’s easy to joke about, but I have seen those who seriously struggle with cravings for sweets that are so intense they will do anything possible to get their hands on chocolate, ice-cream, cookies…anything to get their fix. Is sugar addiction real? Is it something that can be treated? Or is it just a matter of having good willpower?
There are physiological and environmental factors that influence our drive to eat. This starts with metabolic sensors in our body that are controlled by internal fat stores, blood glucose levels, nerves in our gut and hunger/satiety hormones. Physiologically, food intake is also influenced by the pleasure we get from eating. There is a pleasure-reward circuitry in our brain and when we eat something that is highly palatable (such as a food high in sugar) this causes the release of opiods (“bliss chemicals”- includes endorphins) that make us feel good. Sometimes even the anticipation of food can release these chemicals and give us pleasure! Ever been to a Christmas party and see the arrangements of sweets on the table and feel the need to eat one as soon as possible? Just the external stimuli of highly palatable foods can cause the release of dopamine (another one of those bliss chemicals that when activated can stimulate the pleasure “hot spot” of the brain, which just magnifies the pleasure we feel during activities like eating, sex and nurturing) in such a small amount that it teases us into wanting the full effect. Studies have actually shown that continuous consumption of foods that are high in sugar can stimulate the drive to eat more even when there is no physiological need for food. Overconsumption of these foods can lead to a greater release in dopamine (which results in greater pleasure). There is actually a “dulling” effect of the reward system in our brain when we overeat these highly sugary foods which results in a need for eating even more of these foods to bring dopamine signaling back up to pleasurable levels. This can lead to a vicious cycle that results in the need to eat more and more sweets to get the feeling of gratification, leading to addiction to that particular food (or anything in general that is high in sugar).
Amazingly, sugar addiction is caused by activation of the same regions of the brain that are activated in response to drugs that are highly abused. There is evidence to show that repeated exposure to large amounts of foods high in sugar can alter the brain similar to the way drugs do to promote constant consumption and loss of control. The excess consumption of these foods also downregulate pathways (as mentioned before), so continued intake becomes necessary to relieve stress or seek comfort. It becomes much like drug usage, continued intake is needed to prevent withdrawals.
So what makes a food have addictive qualities? It’s highly processed foods that are made by science (typically accompanied by chemical additives and flavor enhancers) not products of nature (fruits and vegetables, grains that are not processed) that trigger the release of dopamine and opiods into our system, similar to the way that recreational drugs do. Foods especially high in sugar can be highly addictive because of their rapid absorption into the bloodstream, causing a spike in blood sugar resulting in a spike of dopamine, followed by a crash of the two resulting in hunger and the need for more sugar to get that “sugar high” again. High fructose corn syrup (added to sugary items such as soda) can make food even more addictive because fructose is associated with reduced levels of appetite suppressing hormones. Fructose consumption can actually increase food intake by promoting sensations to increase hunger despite metabolic needs. Finally, artificial sweeteners such as splenda can increase our addiction to sugar. Usage of these confuse the brain- it thinks we are getting something sweet but we are really not getting any calories from consuming them. This leads us to being unable to read our internal hunger signals which can disrupt our ability to eat intuitively. The intense sweetness of these sweeteners also increases our sweet threshold which can result in increasing our preference for sweet flavors.
While highly processed and sugary foods have addictive qualities, foods naturally high in sugar do not. I’ve heard so many people say they don’t eat fruit because their diet won’t allow it, it’s too high in sugar, they’re avoiding carbs….the list goes on. Fruit does have fructose but the quantity is substantially less than that found in processed foods. Fruit also raises blood glucose levels, but at a much slower rate than processed foods high in added sugar, which results in a much slower release of dopamine. Fruit also is high in fiber and phytochemicals (health benefiting nutrients), something that highly processed foods with added sugar do not have.
So how can you conquer or prevent sugar addiction? There are stages as outlined by the Food Addiction Institute:
1). Stop getting high on trigger foods- any of these are false fixes that lead to a short-term reward.
2). Choose healthy fixes- These include physical activity, nourishing food choices, and positive interactions. Eating more of these “whole food choices” help to recalibrate brain chemistry. Good choices include lean protein to promote satiety, healthy fats (especially foods high in omega 3 fatty acids) and carbohydrates that are not processed but high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans). All of these positive fixes can boost dopamine response.
3) Expect withdrawals- Know that it may take 2-5 days for cravings to subside. It’s important to have a good support system during this time
4) Know that your taste buds CAN change- but gradually- it can take 8-12 weeks for recalibration to occur. Be patient and stick with it. Eventually you can train your brain to appreciate and enjoy the taste of healthful foods.
5) Learn how to deal with emotions and stress in ways other than eating. Exercise, prayer and a strong support group are all good outlets.
6) Make realistic long-term goals to work toward, and set short term goals to get there.
7) Do NOT diet!!!! I cannot stress this enough. Diets don’t work and mess with our ability to eat intuitively. Dieting induces neuroadaptations in the reward circuitries of the brain that were designed to favor survival in times of food scarcity. This can result in behaviors that lead to binging, obsession with food, and the increased desire for highly palatable foods. This is why I always recommend staying away from dieting and focusing on developing a healthy relationship with food and peace with your body.