November 30, 2017

"Embrace" the Revolution...and Fuck the Rest!

It took a while, but I finally sat down to watch "Embrace", a fabulous and inspiring documentary on body image and acceptance by activist and social media celebrity, Taryn Brumfit.  You can find this doc on Netflix and follow her on Facebook.  Based upon my 25+ years of watching documentaries on eating disorders and body hate, I have come to expect the same old, same old. Yes, we know girls and women (not to mention boys and men) hate their bodies. Yes, we know the media has something to do with that. I wasn't expecting anything different from "Embrace".

I don't know if it was Brumfit's painfully honest, in your face, approach to this subject matter or I am at a place in my life where I am really ready to allow it to absorb into my DNA, but something happened.  I felt sad, angry, and above all united with so many others (women) in the world. At the end, I was committed to the revolution of body acceptance and appreciation and anything else was abruptly rejected.  You want to sell me a diet or exercise program? Fuck off! You want to talk the latest in food combining for weight loss? Fuck off! You want to know the best way to loose the last 10 pounds? Fuck off!

One of the most impactful messages I picked up and have integrated into my life is the notion of supporting women (instead of berating or judging them).  Instead of wondering why she wore that blouse with those pants, I support and appreciate that woman. Instead of balking at a women's hard core approach to exercise and diet in pursuit of perfection, I will understand and support her (while feeling sad that she is practicing exercises in body hate). I will exercise more compassion and less judgment. I will understand that, for most of us, we continue to be imprisoned by the beliefs of a pro-anorexic society.
...and just think of all the problems
that could be solved in the world.

Unfortunately, now that my blinders have completely been removed, I see pro-anorexia everywhere.  I hear it in the lunchrooms, on the street, in the clothing stores, in the fitness centres, and all the advertisements and social media messaging.  It's so prevalent it isn't noticed by many.  In fact, these constant messages of imperfection and offerings of solutions to fix our problematic bodies have normalized the belief that if we aren't working towards body perfection, we are giving up on ourselves or losing control.  Fuck that.

I am now officially a bitch on purpose. I refuse to enable these behaviours but try to offer alternative ways of being in the world (in a support, kind, and non-judgmental manner).  I won't sit and listen to pro-anorexic talk or be exposed to messages that push eating and exercise disorders.  I may be the most unpopular health promoter in the town or on the committee, but I'm certain that others will join in this revolution and soon, very soon, we will see real change....

....and then we can start focusing our energy on contributing to our communities versus how we look in our jeans.

We may not love our bodies over night, but we can certainly work towards appreciating what they do for us.


October 23, 2017

Are We Emotionally Attached to Weight Loss?

Everything about this poster is screaming "body image disorder"!
Yet, we have normalized and internalized this message to the point
of no return...perhaps.
Does anyone else see the problem with this? I am (at this moment) sitting in the back of a large conference room in the middle of Ontario, Canada, with "my people" in the health promotion field.  Over the course of the day, I have been exposed to some of the most boring presentations of my lifetime (I will NEVER get that time back).  If this isn't a reason to quit my day job, I don't know what is.

During a break, a poster on the newest (and most amazing) weight loss program caught my attention. It boasted a proven and effected program for blasting off those unwanted pounds. My cohort around the table were celebrating this innovated idea and saving themselves copies to take to their own workplaces.  For me? As per usual, major bells rang in my head, my heart sank to a new level of disappointment and I proceeded to share why these programs are problematic, promote disordered eating and exercise, and shouldn't be offered.  When asked what I would put in its' place I offered the idea of hosting a body acceptance program while focusing on healthy practices in balanced exercise and eating. Of course, after that, I only heard crickets in the background.

I offered my usual reasons for this including, health and fitness is not directly related to body shape, that weight loss will only lead to weight gain over time.  I offered what we know about the brain and its' shady behaviours of promoting appetite and decreasing the metabolism (sneaky little beast).  I offered the facts and dispelled the fallacies and all I got in return was, "Well, I think it's a great idea!"

At that point, I lost the attention (and probably the respect) of many health promoters around the table.  Another reacted by commenting, "If you are so against weight loss programs, why aren't you trying to change the culture?".  My answer? I've been trying to change the culture over 20 years through education, training, writing, presenting, constant reading/research, always challenging our notion of "good" and "bad" foods, challenging our need to do 2 hours of exercise per night! I've been working to change this culture for most of my professional life....and all I get is crickets.

What is getting in the way of changing our approach to health? I'm thinking it must be more than just education and awareness.  There is an emotional attachment to weight loss.  Perhaps we (the global we) cling to this hope that someday we will lose the weight and damn anyone who suggests we must accept our bodies the way they are (how scary is that thought).  Perhaps our identities are so immersed in this notion of weight loss that we can't see past it. Perhaps we have been so programmed as health promoters that we are blind to anything else.

OMG...I hope not.

That's all I got...for now.

October 19, 2017


I am at a loss at how I am to begin this blog post.  Since this twitter trend began I have been thinking about how I would address my own experiences.  It wasn't until I started teaching a workshop on sexual harassment and assault that my own story even started coming into my consciousness.  Up until that point, I never thought that my experiences could have any influence on my behaviour, attitudes, beliefs, or emotional health.

My first experience with sexual assault happened in a public pool when I was 11 or 12.  To put my story into perspective, this was at the end of the 1970s when, what I can remember, sexual assault was something families pushed under a rock in the backyard, at least mine did.

I review this Gender Violence Pyramid step by step in my workshop.  Each time I receive push back, sarcastic comments, and people (both men and women) who believe a joke is still just a joke.  We have a lot more work to do.

I was at a public swim with a childhood friend when we met a man in the pool who appeared friendly and kind (albeit his penis was dangling out of his speedos). We were curious kids and had no clue that we were in the presence of a sexual predator.  Instead we started rough housing with him in that pool. Although I cannot speak for my friend and what she experienced, I was sexually assaulted that day and proceeded to go home and tell my parents.  I don't remember thinking anything about this.  I don't remember feeling violated, or ashamed, or scared.  I left this pervert in the pool after he told me he would be back next Saturday. My parents told the police and the police asked for my help in setting up a sting.  I was to go back to that pool to meet my perpetrator and point him out to the authorities.

I did just that.  The police marched in, took him by the arm, sat him down in a room near the pool and.....told him never to come back. Could you imagine if this happened now? Back then it was just a stern talking to. I never thought of that until now.  I remember hearing a news story about something similar in that same pool only a few years ago.  After that day my parents never spoke of it again.

Since that day, I've been strangled by a boyfriend twice, flashed a few times, catcalled at nauseum until the point of never wanting to walk on the sidewalk by myself. I grew up fast, I attracted the older men, I thought this was a good thing. I believed my value came from my appearance.  I never thought these experiences had any influence on who I was or how I felt about myself as a woman in the world.

Since picking up a few things over the years, I now know that, for many years, I accumulated my sense of self worth through the attention I received from men.  I put myself in terrifying situations to prove I was worth it.  I get that now. I also see this behaviour in the young girls and women these days.  Nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is people are talking about it more and maybe (just maybe) that pervert in the pool will get more than a wrist slap.

This is another way of presenting the Gender Violence Pyramid as it relates to the ripple effect.  Sexist attitudes and the objectification of men and women can influence the violence.  Once we understand how it all connects, maybe then we will start taking jokes and sexist comments seriously.  
Sexual assault and harassment continues to be a woman problem.  When will men start asking what they can do to support girls and women? It has been my experience (and I have taught over 500 men in my workshop now) that if they aren't a perpetrator of this behaviour, they don't have to talk about it.  It takes balls to stand up to friends and family when a man hears a sexist or demeaning joke against women.....but we need those men to stand up. We need men to understand that a joke isn't just a joke; that joke has a social ripple effect. It keeps the stereotypes alive, it gives men permission to continue to treat women like objects.  It makes this behaviour normal.

It's great that women are beginning to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment but it won't do a thing unless men start standing with women and not against them.  When men start understanding that this is a man's issue (and not a woman's), perhaps we will see a decrease in this behaviour. I am certain it will not be in my lifetime nor my niece's.  So when?

I feel a little exposed and hope I haven't over shared, but there you have it.


October 13, 2017

Body Acceptance Blows Minds!!!

I have made it my mission in life to try and change the way we think about the body.  At a time when social media and popular culture relentlessly push messages of exercise and diet for weight loss and body changes, it is harder now than ever to challenge this message.  During my mission, over 20 years now, I have only picked up a few "partners in crime" to help me convey this message of body acceptance.  One in particular, we will call her Patricia, is a counsellor and a dear friend of mine.  For the time we have worked together, we have talked this subject to death.  We have shared our own frustrations of challenging society's message of thin, beautiful, and young. 

So this morning, as I was re-connecting with Patricia, she was sharing a story with me about her latest professional development training she participated in last week.  Picture a room full of addictions counsellors, medical professionals, and the like medicalizing mental health (and feeling good about themselves the entire time....another beef for another blog post). She was tasked to work with two other counsellors in an exercise that asked them to use a process called "motivational interviewing" to assist people in moving towards goal achievement.  The exercise profession has used this forever but someone had the brilliant idea of packaging it up, naming it, and making a mint off of it (but I digress yet again!). 

So Patricia started by asking one of her two partners what he would like to change.  He answered, "I would like to eat smaller meals." To Patricia, one that understands we live in a pro-anorexia society and the practice of meal size reduction (or food restriction) is a part of this, responded by asking about his motivations behind this. To no avail.  The next person Patricia worked with, when asked what she wanted to change, responded by saying, "I would like to start running."  Again, in an attempt to go deeper to uncover the honest motivations behind running, the interview fell short. 

So now it was Patricia's turn to be asked the same question.  When asked she replied, "I would like to learn how to accept my body the way it is." .........silence.......... .  Both counsellors looked as if they had been dropped on their head. One spoke up and asked about her relationship with fitness. Patricia assured her that she was fit (in fact, Patricia is fitter than most and has the strength of 10 men).  For the time Patricia played the client roll, the counsellors working with her could not figure out why she wanted to accept the body she had and not want to make a change....and these are counsellors.
...and men aren't safe from this anymore. 

In fact, most people, when presented with the idea of accepting the body they have now, would rather undergo dental surgery without anaesthetic before they "give up" on the idea of weight loss.  Some day, they think, they will lose the weight and they will be happy with themselves.  The sad reality is that 99.9% of these people will never lose the weight (or they will but they will gain it all back again).  Unfortunately, during this time, they may experience depression, guilt, shame, and even the more darker behaviours that may lead to diagnosable eating disorders....for what? To fit into a norm that has been socially constructed without any reasonable reason or research to prove that thin is healthy.  

Our society enables eating and exercise disorders. Our society promotes ideals that only lead to mental health issues.  Our society values appearance over health. Our society is sick.  

Does anyone want to join my revolution?

That's all I got.

October 10, 2017

Trigger Warning!

Warning:  Some readers may find the following post disturbing.  Reader discretion is advised.

For the last 11 years I have taught a course on managing anger.  In this course, we examine the role our personal triggers play along with a list of errors in thinking that can cause frustration and anger.  For example, if I believe that all people should hold the door for each other and say "please" and "thank you", I would be a very disappointed and perhaps angry person. That's on me. That is my own thinking error (or faulty belief).  

Same goes for my personal triggers.  If I'm at a party and someone makes a comment that I find offensive or feel triggered by, it's my responsibility (as we teach in anger management) to assess my own triggers and do what I can to change perspective or, at the very least, manage my own emotions. In other words, my emotional reaction is not at the mercy of anyone nor can be controlled by anyone. I have the skills, tools, mental fitness (or whatever you want to call it) to control my own emotional reactions.  Or so I thought....

The trigger trend has not only become an every day occurrence as seen in the media (i.e. advertisements that get pulled by public reaction or students that shut down a public talk on campus) but it is starting to shut down healthy conversation.  

Case in point. I facilitate a conversation around sexual harassment and assault with groups of (predominantly) male participants.  These people come from every walk of life and generations.  They represent all cultures and the beliefs and attitudes that come from them.  If I'm going to be successful at "planting the seed" of change, I'm going to have to meet them where they are...not expect them to come to me.  In other words, if I hear that women deserve to be assaulted because of what they are wearing, I cannot trigger or emotionally react to that, I need to meet that comment (as disturbing as it may be) with curiosity and not judgement.  

It has been my experience that people shut down when faced with the threat of triggering others or breaching the political correctness of our time.  What would happen if we could have a frank (yet respectful) conversation around such topics? What if we could take more personal responsibility for our own emotional reactions and not lash out at others expecting them to make the change and not us? I believe we can have those difficult conversations in a respectful manner.  We may need a safe, controlled and facilitated space to do it, but it is possible. 

If we continue to allow those who cry "trigger" to control the conversations we will be a very resentful and angry society who may go as far as electing a reality show star.....oh wait, we've done that already.

Never mind.


October 8, 2017

The Simple Evils of Health and Fitness

Interested in losing weight? Simply eat less and move more! Want to improve your health? Just quit the bad stuff and start doing the good stuff! Want to look 25 on your 65th birthday? Try bathing in human placenta while visualizing your new bikini body!

Sounds too simple to be true? It is.

While our TV and YouTube commercials are still touting the simplicity of behaviour changes, people continue to fall off wagon after wagon resulting in the same self-disgust, shame, and guilt as they had before.  Even large organizations filled with some of the most "brilliant" minds of our time (yes, I use quotations for a reason...although they may have a PhD behind their name, some of as dim as that last pathetic flicker of a dying bulb) they create health promotion programming based upon these simplistic (and did I mention completely incorrect) beliefs.

Unfortunately, the truth is expensive and time consuming and we would have to address our medical system, ways of economy, stigmas of mental illness and fat, stress, anxiety, the demands of the office, and the rising cost of living to make a dent in the health of North Americans.  It's too much to ask, so we resolve to blaming the individual if he or she "chooses" to watch Netflix with a bowl of chips rather than go for a run (insert heavy sigh here because I'm sick of this notion that running is a healthy option).

Michelle Foucault (a philosopher from way back) wrote about the birth of health promotion at a time when the medical system decided to shift much of the responsibility on the individual for their health care and place less on the doctor.  As fast as you can say, "it's all your fault for getting sick if you insist on eating meat and laying on the couch all day" the health promotion field was born.

How does this relate to the simplistic message of health and fitness? If the "experts" tell us that we must exercise this much and eat more veggies that much while reducing our waistlines to fit into a template that has no validity or reliability in the first place (now I'm getting off track...what was I saying?). Right.  If the experts tell us what we must do to be healthy they can now blame us if we don't do it....ya picking up what I'm putting down?

We can now blame those that don't help themselves. Those that "chose" to live sloth-like lives, those that "chose" to eat white bread and process cheese, and those that "chose" to become addicted to smoking, drinking, drugs, and the like (never mind that the entire continent is addiction to their smart phones...that's another post for another rant). The theory of choice is bullshit but we still hear this message day after day.

Before we begin this insidious blame game, let's go back to the determinants (all those factors I listed in the beginning).  It's noted (very strongly I might add) in the literature that income, environment, neighbourhood, genetics, psychology, work, injury, dislocation from our culture, abuse, and even transgenerational abuse (abuse that has occurred over generations) has everything to do with our health behaviours.

So before all you "experts" decide to judge me for eating soda crackers dipped in margarine while I binge watch Game of Thrones all day....stick that in your organically grown marijuana pipe and smoke it (for mental health reasons of course).

That's all I got.

A Shift in Perspective

Okay. I'm back. Maybe I was a little hasty in my decision to shut this blog down.  I truth, I'm putting together my second book and much of it is a collection of the essays found in this blog.  This idea came to me in the summer when I decided to visit Real Life Health to check out the visitors to the site.  I spent some time revisiting some of my old posts and found myself laughing holding back the urge to pee myself.  I'm a fucking hilarious writer (if I do say so myself).  So I collected my favourites and writing a book on Real Life Health...go figure.

At any rate, I do find myself wanting to write an article here and there as it comes up and if you are still interested, I would like to give it another try.  I realize there are going to be trolls writing comments about the next penis enlargement or placenta diet that will promise youthful beauty, but what the hell.

I welcome your comments and conversations and patience as I start my rants once more. These days there is so much to talk about I don't know where to begin.

That's all I got.