March 19, 2018

Netflix Nervosa

Remember the days when you would have to schedule to watch your
favourite show AND have to get up to turn the channel (with only 12
channels to choose from?). I mean, how did we survive?
I tend to joke about it, I love to talk about it, but I'm starting to wonder if I should be concerned about it.  I'm talking about my relationship with Netflix.  After a long day or exhausting week, there is only one thought that can keep me intact like nothing else and that is the thought of curling up on the couch with my furry comforter and coffee while I binge on the latest AMAZING Netflix series.  Last week it was Broadchurch, the week before the Grace & Frankie.  Last year (about this time....) it was finally sitting down with Orange is the New Black (and I'm starting to get hopeful it's coming back).

If the marker for addiction is an increased tolerance (having to watch more for the same calming and euphoric effect) in addition to feelings of anxiety when forced to turn off the TV then I don't believe I have a problem.  If choosing Netflix over having to go out and face the world on the weekend is bad I don't want to be good. I mean, where do you draw the line between passion and addiction? Do I use Netflix as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, and all the other ugly feelings? Maybe. Do I use Netflix to procrastinate about doing the things I don't want to do? Sure.  Would I rather watch The Office than socializing with people? Okay. But does that make me a bad person ?   No....but maybe one that is self medicating with the latest streaming of the second season of The Santa Clarita Diet (coming on March 23!!!!).

We hear of people binging on Netflix or other streaming providers (Prime's pretty good) and we chuckle or poke fun, but should we be more concerned? If I spent the time writing that book I've been working on forever, rather than watching one episode of Stranger Things after another, I'd be published and on the road to fame and fortune (or so I would like to believe). I guess it's more comfy to blame Netflix for my lack of success than on myself.

Now that spring is here (at least on the south part of British Columbia), I do find I would rather be outside than on the couch, but I know that by the end of August, I will be panting for those rainy, stormy days spent inside, on the couch, with a coffee, and the next season of whatever amazing show I can't get enough of.

That's all I got.


March 7, 2018

Teens and the Gym; Healthful or Harmful?

When I was working in the fitness industry, I seem to recall and age limit to participation in fitness classes and weight rooms.  I never saw a pre-teen or teenager under the age of 18 years working out with the free weights or in my spin classes.

But lately, I have been hearing stories of parents who have exposed (or in their words, invited) their teen to join them for the latest in HIIT training or pilates or yoga.  At first glance, and I am very sure the motivation behind the invitation, it is a good introduction to physical activity, but from my perspective, it's the equivalent of handing them a lit cigarette, or worse, an energy drink.

I have been very critical of my own perspective, wondering if I'm just done with the fitness industry but after some serious soul searching, I do believe we are asking for trouble when we take our teens into adult oriented fitness.  It's not so much the activity but the culture of fitness that I see as the health hazard.  We now know that weight bearing activity in pre-adolescents  / adolescents isn't harmful anymore (they used to think it would stunt the growth plates of growing bone). We know that group fitness offers an enjoyable group exercise experience that many teens enjoy.  What we don't consider however, is the exposure teens get emerged in an environment focused on body aesthetic, fat loss, and the social comparison that goes with the fitness culture.

Fitness leadership, for example, continues to focus on fat blasting and spot reducing activities that place the focus on the extrinsic rewards of exercise (versus the intrinsic rewards of better health).  An impressionable teen (say...a 13 year old girl), learning more about how she is viewed by others and what is going to lead to positive attention or define her as a "good, moral citizen" may internal the inevitable messages of the fitness environment and literally (and figuratively) "run with it".

Unfortunately, parents are not equipped with the knowledge of what a fitness culture is or the harmful effects it may have on both adults and kids.  I do. I've worked in it and studied it for over 20 years. So I write this post with the objective of sharing this information; to support parents in making healthy decisions when suggesting physical activities for their kids.

Nothing bad has ever come from a bike ride in the woods, a swim in a like, or a dog walk with family.  For physical activity to become a life long habit, we have to focus on the intrinsic, health related rewards we receive versus the best exercise that will blast the fat or "get lean" from.  That's only moving our children down the path of negative body image and shame.

That's all I got.

March 3, 2018

Where's the Line Between Eating Clean and Eating Disorder?

At first glance, this is a lovely health promotion message. It's
only when we get into labelling food "good" or "bad" that it
can turn sinister.  Labelling foods this way may not appear
harmful, but can, as I'm seeing in many young people, lead
to a disordered relationship with food.  There is no such thing
as a bad food.  Unless we start seeing trends in eating dirt or
unfiltered swamp water as a way to health. That's just nasty.
 I had the most delightful conversation with someone this week who was all about the fitness training (muscle building) and whole foods "clean" eating.  She was in her teens and reported that a parent had gotten her interested in high intensity training when she was 13 (another post for another time).  Although she loved training she was finding that the more she focused on her nutrition, the less she ate (and the more she obsessed about it).

Her calorie counting was taking over her day while her fear of putting anything "bad" into her mouth was causing much anxiety and getting in the way of her living a normal life.  I was pretty impressed by the amount of self-awareness she had for such a young person (and one so immersed in the fitness culture).  When I had asked her to define what a "bad" food meant to her she listed all processed, high sugar, and refined carbohydrates; like any good health promoter.  Her list of "good" foods included whole and healthy foods like vegetables, legumes, fish, and the like.  Seriously? Who was I to argue?

So there I am in agreement with her list, but strongly opposed to labelling foods as good or bad, while trying to envision that line in the sand, once crossed, can lead us into disordered eating and even eating disorders.  Is it even possible to place such a focused on eating "cleanly" while keeping a healthy sense of self and body intact? Speaking from my own experience, I know I have crossed that line many times and had to pull my self back (and my head out of my ass) to avoid going down that very slippery slope.
Here's a Pinterest clip I found the other day.  You look
at the foods in the background and they look perfectly
healthy.  Yet the signage is all about losing fat fast.  Unless
the focus is on health (versus losing fat) you are playing
with fire..and will only find those missing pounds again
once you reject the diet...which is inevitable.  

I check out Pinterest and all I see are half naked, tanned, and ripped bodies touting will power and self control (and even suggesting that fat can cry) and these role models for health and fitness are influencing young people to 'eat clean".  So if "eating clean" comes with a look and a lifestyle, perhaps this health promotion message should also come with a warning (like on a packs of smokes).

Caution: A concentrated focus on healthy eating can lead to eating disorders, exercise addiction, and a nasty body image.

Or maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill?

That's all I got.

February 28, 2018

Weight Watchers for Teens?

Just think. If we stopped spend all this time
logging points and counting calories, we
could change the world!
So last night I was driving home listening to the CBC.  It was late, I was tired, but I always appreciate listening to the hot topics presented by Anna-Maria Tremonti's "The Current" (OMG...I'm turning into my father). At any rate, I was woken up by a steady stream of cortisol mixed with the enhanced blood circulation anger can only promote.

Weight Watchers now offers a program for teens! 

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Where have I been? I guess I was so far down the path of body acceptance, I failed to see we have gone back in time.  Since when is it okay to offer a weight / diet program to teens? What's worse, a child and family counsellor was weighing in on the debate in full support of this program.  Citing she, too, was in need of such a program as a teen.  Sick. I couldn't believe a counsellor said this...I was yelling for her license to practice as I sped down the highway (probably looking completely insane).

Thank God a pediatrician chimed in and sounded the alarm.  I was feeling kinda sick as I pulled up the driveway and couldn't sleep all night.  This really has me rattled.  With everything we know about diets (they don't work) and fat (it's isn't bad for you) and teens (they are impressionable) and eating disorders (they begin with food restriction, calorie counting, and record keeping).  What the hell is everyone smoking?

Then I remember...isn't Oprah involved in Weight Watchers somehow? I thought I read that she bought shares into the country. Certainly Oprah can't be in support of this? I have yet to find my answer, but I'm holding out for a hero.

Here's the thing...

If you want to establish unhealthy relationships with food, body, and exercise in your teenager at an early age go ahead and get them on Weight Watchers.  The weigh ins, constant chatter about calories and points coupled with success stories around pound lost will most certainly influence disordered eating and negative body image as they move into fat-fearing adulthood.

But if you want to see your teen grow up healthy, secure about themselves while enjoying the benefits of a intrinsically driven positive self worth and enjoying a wide variety of foods without logging points or stressing about "bad foods", a focus on healthy behaviours is the ONLY path to go down.  Health at every size, exercise for enjoyment, eating for pleasure / nourishment / and energy, and loving their body no matter what size it is.  THAT's a healthy program.

I am still very angry at the idea of WW opening their doors to young people.

To Weight Watchers and everyone that supports this program or normalizes diet behaviour as "healthy", if you spent more time reading the latest research and less time worrying about your body fat, the world would be a more happy and body diverse place!

That's all I got.

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.