Category Archives: Advice

Who is really telling you to lose weight? (And why they might not always be right)

This post has been sitting with me for awhile, not because I’m afraid to talk about what follows, but because I want to give it the time and discussion deserves. Today we’re talking about diets and the people who tell you to go on them. My idea for writing this came from a recent visit to my home gym in Pittsburgh. I went there all the time during high school, and while the bathroom had a scale, it was never super weight loss oriented. Things seem to have changed since I came back. I may be more sensitive to the issue now that I’ve recovered, but I also think that the gym went a little nuts. They hired a supposed “weight loss professional” who promises that the key to happiness is to lose a few pounds. Her magic weight loss plan works not through healthy diet and exercise, though, but simply by having breakfast for dinner and vice versa.

Um….what? That kind of sounded sketchy…and quite possibly like it wouldn’t work. I looked further into her credentials and found that while this woman is a “certified life coach” she has no training in nutrition or dietetics, nor is she a group exercise instructor or personal trainer. Yet, she was posing as an expert in weight loss and nutrition (and by working in the gym, exercise), when she truly had no credentials. I was startled….any person off the street can tell people what’s healthy weight loss? And they can write a book about it? Insanity!

So, I started looking into the people behind the diets we follow more. Houston, we have a problem. Weight Watchers, perhaps the biggest weight loss business in the U.S., hires the local group leaders based merely on whether they lost weight using the program. So when you attend these programs, you really aren’t in the safe hands of a nutritionist who can track what HEALTHY and SAFE weight loss is. Rather, you are working with someone who found success using a point system that may not work for everyone. Yes, I am aware the program works for many people – I cannot bash that. The issue is, though, that they hire people whose only qualifications are having lost weight to handle the weight loss of others. They may not understand the psychological effects of weight loss, or what happens when someone loses TOO MUCH weight.  That’s a problem.

The trend continued when I noticed a girl who I graduated high school with selling “weight loss supplements” (aka dangerous diuretics) on Facebook, promising huge weight loss in less than a month. She, despite having no nutrition or fitness credentials, was offering free consultations to people so she could tell them how to use the pills. Not only are diuretics unsafe to begin with, but to have someone touting these as a safe way for people with different anatomies and disease profiles to lose weight was totally wrong.

It happened on a national scale recently too, as well. Dr. Oz, ever the promoter of this new gimmick and that new method to lose weight, went to Congress to share information on removing bad diet pills from the U.S. market. He apparently forgot that he constantly implores his audience to lose weight, but Senator Claire McCaskill called out the lack of science behind his claims.

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called ‘miracles,'” McCaskill said. “When you call a product a miracle, and it’s something you can buy, and it’s something that gives people false hope, I don’t understand why you need to go there.”

Yes! Finally, someone in the government talking sense on weight loss. You can learn more about the issue here, but the point is, this isn’t just an issue stuck in my tiny town in western Pennsylvania. And, to be frank, the issue isn’t simply solved by only allowing “professionals” to tout weight loss. First, you have to realize that people are making unscientific, unsafe claims about ways to lose weight. Every body is different – different bodies respond differently to different foods. There is no universal HEALTHY way to lose weight…that’s for a person to figure out for themselves. Secondly, these same people telling us to lose weight hold the belief that weight loss is equivalent to health, which isn’t true. Markers like cholesterol levels, movement abilities, blood pressure and blood sugar – things doctors and nutritionists measure – are far better indicators of health.

Because the gym is for so much more than weight loss!

Because the gym is for so much more than weight loss!

As someone who loves to eat healthy foods, and as a fitness instructor with responsibility to protect participants from these flawed messages, I want this to change. We, as healthy eaters, as fitness professionals, as humans on planet earth, can the tout health benefits that come from food or exercise, but we cannot make claims about weight loss, weight gain or miracle supplements that claim to “cure” fatness. The truth is that each person’s body operates differently. Some will thrive on a low carb or gluten free diet – others will become emaciated. And, better yet, fatness isn’t something to be cured. Diseases that often, but not always come along with obesity are though. Instead of pressuring others to buy into your diet, think first. Then, change the conversation. Think about touting health benefits over weight loss. And if you must bring weight loss up, say this worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. And for the love of god, please remember, the lower number on the scale doesn’t always mean better health.

What are your thoughts? Has someone ever told you to lose weight who wasn’t qualified?

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When you can’t work out

I’m going to start this with a little disclaimer – I was afraid to post a piece about exercise on a food-focused blog. I was feeling wary about this post because in my life, both as a fitness instructor and as a functioning member of society, I try SO HARD to emphasize that food and exercise are not as related as the media makes them seem. While yes, you may feel hungry after working out, it does not mean that you directly worked off the chili cheese dog you ate earlier. You didn’t need to work it off – it was already fueling your daily activities like breathing and walking to class.

That being said, this blog isn’t just about food. It’s about living with allergies and about going to college and most importantly, about dealing with life. And sometimes dealing with life means dealing with working out. Or, in my case this week, not. Right as finals began, I got a terrible cold/sinus infection/pre-pneumonia situation that knocked me the hell out. My asthma has come back in full force, and after years of not feeling a wheeze (unless I was reacting, but that’s another story), I’m sucking on my inhaler like it’s a crack pipe. Just kidding…I think. So my about 4x weekly workouts are definitely a no go, and to be honest, it’s been more difficult than I expected.

A while ago I really worked to shift the focus of my workouts from weight loss or calorie burning to more important things, like becoming strong enough to support my body throughout the day and the happy endorphins that come with a workout. It has made my relationship with fitness so much better, and I’ve actually started to really enjoy the time I spend on fitness classes, walking, running and, of course, dancing. And it’s come with so many better results. I can actually run on a treadmill without feeling like I’m going to pass out, and I do tuck jumps like nobody’s business. You better believe I’m proud of this. Not because I look rad in a bikini (though I totally think I do, stretch marks and all!), and not because I feel like I’m being “good” when I work out, but because I’ve worked hard at appreciating my body for what it can do, rather than how it looks.

The running shoes that get me through it all.

The running shoes that get me through it all.

But what happens when you can’t appreciate your body in these ways? When you’re sick, these methods of appreciation sort of go away, not just because you can’t work out, but also because your body kind of turns into a blob. Well at least mine does. Maybe you’re a glamorous sick person. In that case, teach me your ways!

When I was sick and focusing so much on when I could get back to the gym, I realized these thoughts were a little nuts. My body is my body, in sickness and in health. I need to understand that it’s not always going to feel like a machine, pumping out crunches or sit ups at the gym. Yes my body is strong, but my body is beautiful in different ways. It’s hardworking, even when I feel like it isn’t. It can fight off infection. It can fight off allergens (kinda…). And what about that brain growing in my head? It can still work pretty hard, even when my body can’t. Is the way my body can move the only way I want to value myself? What about how my mind thinks, or how my organs work?

It’s important to remember, even if you can’t work out, that your body is strong. And it’s important to accept, even if you can’t work out, that your body is beautiful. Accept your body how it comes to you. After all, it’s never going to be exactly the same twice!

How do you deal when you can’t work out? In what ways do you show your own body some love?

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On Ditching the Scale

I mention in my About section that an eating disorder took up much of my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. While allergies had their own role in this, I want to write today, not about my food allergies or to share a deeee-licious recipe, but to discuss weight, scales, BMI and how you (yes you!) can stop abiding by their rules and regain control over your life.

Back in the dark ages (I so affectionately call those eating disorder years) I weighed myself every single time I went to the gym, which was almost daily. Between those days, my weight would go up and down, but it tended to average out to a pretty small number. Regardless, on days I thought it was too high, I restricted my diet, and on days  I thought it was low, I felt a smug sense of pride as I completed my upteenth set of crunches.

How (excuse my French, y’all) fucked up is that? A tiny digital number that told me how much space I was taking up would literally dictate how happy or sad I felt in a day. And don’t even get me started on the scale at the doctor’s office. I was convinced it was rigged and would add pounds to my weight so that when the doctor told me my BMI was in a “healthy” range, I was upset. I wanted to be underweight.

I went through recovery (intensive counseling and group therapy at my university) and one very recent week, I realized that number no longer mattered. During recovery, I had avoided the scale like the plague. At the doctors office, I would step on the scale backwards and ask the nurse to not tell me the number on the scale. While I knew I was protecting myself from the meltdown that always came with seeing my weight, I think doing this also made me really fear what the number actually was. But two weeks ago, I had to go to the doctor. I did my blind weight as always, but I accidentally peaked and when I saw the number, I felt nothing. I didn’t feel that crushing defeat of the number being higher than I expected (it was pretty much the same as ever, actually), but I also didn’t feel ecstatic that it was low. For the first time in my life, I felt freed from the scale.

Ditch the scale

So here’s my challenge for you. Regardless of whether you read this blog because you’re an allergy kid like me, you really just like making pretty food, (or you’re my mom), I challenge you to ditch the scale and to free yourself from the power these numbers have over your life. Here’s how!

1. Accept that this will take time.
Unfortunately, breaking a habit won’t happen overnight. If you weigh yourself on a regular basis, it will not be easy to stop. While for some, stopping cold turkey may work, for others it may work to cut back on weighing. Set a goal, like three times per week, rather than twice daily. Continue to reduce as time goes on!

Another thing that works is setting a timer before you weigh yourself. Start with two minutes and continue to add time. During that timer, distract yourself by reading a book or going for a walk. The wait makes weighing yourself less compulsive and more of a thoughtful process. Usually after thinking some, the desire to weigh goes away. Don’t beat yourself up, though, if you do decide to weigh yourself. Next time, you may not have to after you wait.

2. Think about what the number actually means.
Does weighing less make you a more valuable person? Why? What things that aren’t weight-related make you feel valuable? Along with time, ditching the scale takes a shift in values. When you have thoughts of losing weight, think about things that you can gain when you don’t focus so consistently on weight.

3. Do something therapeutic with your scale.
Since your scale is starting to take up less headspace, it’s often helpful to do something therapeutic with it. Many people like to smash their scales. The act of destroying something that has had so much power over you for so long can feel so amazing. Southern Smash is a great way to do it in a group! Others decorate it, creating art, rather than making their scale seem so terrible.

4. Blind weights are better than blind dates.
So you’ve ditched the scale at home, but what happens when you have to be weighed at the doctor’s office or for other important appointments? The best thing to do is to ask for a blind weight. This means that you face away from the scale numbers, and ask the nurse to not tell you your weight. Most are amazing about this – they really understand not needing to know a number. Only once I had a problem, which happened when a nurse implied that the number my weight was at was something to be envied. I was frustrated, because I wanted to devalue weight, but I had to realize that not everyone understands this. When you have an appointment, be willing to advocate for yourself. After the first time, it gets easier. Now I can happily say, I have no clue what I weigh! It feels great 🙂

What are your thoughts? What ways are you ditching the scale? 

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Vacation’s All I Ever Wanted

Ahhh the beach. The sandy shoreline is, for most people at least, the most relaxing place on earth. When asked in yoga class or therapy to visualize the most relaxing place on earth, so many people visualize the beach, and for good reason – it’s calm as hell. But the thing is, going on a beach vacation – or any vacation for that matter – is not so relaxing when you’ve got multiple allergies. Because of this, so many people with allergies cower from vacations. But that, my allergy friends, is what I like to call letting your allergy rule you. You CAN go on vacation, just like you CAN have a life (as I’m sure you know). Planning ahead is key, but once you do it, you’ll find that going away with an allergy is not so bad.

When Eating Out…

1. Do Research

The internet is a life-saver. I thoroughly recommend looking up the menus of local restaurants before eating out, that way you don’t have to hunt when you’re starving and end up settling on something that might not be so safe. When you have questions about a menu, calling ahead can do wonders. Here in South Carolina, my family called one of the restaurants, the Jasmine Porch Restaurant ahead of time to ask about certain menu items. When we arrived, the staff was so knowledgeable and kind about our needs that we ended up having one of the best meals of the week.

I ended up with an allergen free meal! A tomato tasting to start...

I ended up with an allergen free meal! A tomato tasting to start…

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Lavender pasta with a tomato béchamel cream sauce for an entree…

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And a sorbet trio for dessert!

2. Don’t be afraid to speak up

Always tell a waiter your allergy needs so they can alert the chef. If you feel like the waiter doesn’t understand exactly what you need, don’t be afraid to ask to speak to the chef. A little extra talking goes a long way. Many people have pre-made business cards with their allergy information written on it. This can help you so much in a foreign country too, where the word for nuts could be something like noix.

Something like this is very easy to read!

Something like this is very easy to read!

3. Trust your gut

If a restaurant feels unsafe, unknowledgeable or even unkind, I urge you to trust your gut. That overly unconcerned waiter? Yeah, he probably forgot to tell the chef about your allergies. And those peanuts just sitting on the table over there? Well they’re not going away any time soon. If your gut is telling you that eating out isn’t the best plan, please please please follow it. It’s the difference between an allergic reaction and staying safe.

Don’t be afraid to eat in a few times…

1. Have a simple, adaptable meal!

Local vegetables are the best find when going away from home. When I travel to the south, I am always eager to pick up tomatoes months earlier than my garden at home would yield them. These veggies can help make a quick, adaptable and delicious meal, too – grilledvegetable pasta.

Garden vegetable pasta

Garden vegetable pasta

Here’s how!

Grilled Vegetable Pasta

Any type of fresh local vegetables

Gluten Free Angel Hair Pasta (cooked and drained) – enough for four people

4 Tablespoons olive oil (divided in half)

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 Tablespoons Parmesan Cheese (omit if allergic to dairy)

1. Slice the vegetables into bite sized pieces. Slice peppers into strips, zucchini into round disks and tomatoes into chunks.

2. Turn on your girl and set it at a medium heat.

3.  Toss vegetables with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Cook the vegetables on the grill, about 5-10 minutes until well done.

5. Combine the cooked pasta with the vegetables and remaining olive oil. Top with parmesan cheese if desired and enjoy!

2. Find a local farmer’s market

These peaches were to die for!

These peaches were to die for!

So you have this great, adaptable dish you want to make. But where will you find the vegetables? You can always visit a local grocery store, but, as many of you foodies know, farmer’s markets are where it’s at. And by “it,” I mean fresh produce that is both cheap, and probably the best thing you’ve ever eaten. These markets give you a chance to try local favorites, and to support small business. And, for those nut allergy kids out there, these markets are about 100 times safer for you to visit than a grocery store in the south. (The open containers of nuts everywhere in Piggyly Wiggly are cute and all, but they can also be pretty scary!)

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As always, be sure to check with the vendors to make sure anything baked, fried or cooked is safe. If they don’t seem knowledgeable, don’t buy it.

3. Bring certain essentials from home

And, finally, bring certain things that you know are hard to find from home. Where you’re staying might not have the great gluten free store that’s just down the road from you, and the local grocery store may not carry lactose free yogurt (hell, the grocery store I was visiting didn’t even have mini Chobanis!). When you know something essential is hard to find, always be safe and pack it in your car. A little cooler pack goes a long way for those things and helps make sure you are well-fed all week.

How do you stay safe on vacation? Where are your favorite allergy-friendly spots to visit?