April 22, 2014

There's a Fine Line Between Weight Loss and Eating Disorder

Yes, I haven't posted much since December. Yes, I have been busy with work and my internship as a clinical counsellor.  However, I have experienced a bit of chronic frustration lately that I couldn't help but post.

Over the last few months, I have been teaching courses on healthy eating and emotional eating...and have collected a few "groupies" along the way. These are people who, although they know all there is to know about eating healthy, will sign up for every course, workshop, and presentation I give (and although I appreciate the support and constant positive feedback I am starting to wonder).

There is a line you can cross between a focus on healthy eating and an obsession with it. I firmly believe that nutritionists, fitness trainers, and health promoters may be responsible for turning a healthy interest in eating well into a fear of the "bad" foods.  There is no such thing as a "bad" food...if you disagree you may want to examine your own beliefs.
I also meet with people who are interested in losing pounds. From those who are battling "obesity" to those who feel they need to lose ten pounds "for the health of it", they pop their heads in my office, schedule and reschedule appointments, all the while (many of them) looking for that magic pill or super food that will help them along.

Over the course of the last few months, however, I have met one person in particular (let's call her Anne) who has taken every course (over and over again), has read the books, has scheduled her meal plans with me, and has made a few positive steps to loose a few pounds. My question is....when does a weight loss program transition into an eating disorder? When one does whatever it takes to lose fat (from ordering tape worms online to eliminating gluten, fat, sugar, and all the fun stuff in the name of sexy) but continues to meet with me to learn more about healthy eating...there's a big disconnect happening (not to mention the moments of self disclosure detailing the run-in with a carrot cake or fruit tart......).

Unfortunately, I am not a counsellor (yet) and my scope of practice for health promotion does not include working with those who have deeper issues with food and body. So I'm tasked with the job of discerning between weight loss programming and eating/body image disorders. I guess my reason for this post relates to my frustration with people (not just Anne) who, on the outside, appear to be truly interested in healthy eating but their behaviours scream "just give me the answers to weight loss"!

Why does this matter? Simply put, a focus on fat loss never leads to life long fat loss but a focus on health will...in time. But we (the global we) do not want to wait that long. So what happens? We end up falling off the wagon and going back to old behaviours only to gain it all back again. Not news anymore...we should all realize this. But the drive to fit into a size 10 stills motivates this fat loss movement....and is what keeps the diet and fitness industry alive and very well. 

I wish I could shake Anne (and others like her) awake so she could truly understand, but unfortunately, you cannot change anyone else but yourself. Maybe she will never get it and continue to live a life full of self-hate, binges and purges, and feelings of failure. I certainly hope not.

I believe that weight loss programs and plans are fueled by emotional eating behaviours that end up blocking our successes over the years. I believe that a true weight loss is only achievable when we are able to address these underlying issues (i.e. feelings of low self worth, trauma, etc).  Of course, when the desire to look good now is so strong, I'm doubtful people will sign up for a weight loss program that begins with looking at the influences of emotional eating...."just eating salads and running every day" is all many want to hear.

That's all I have to say about that.


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