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Follow up to size-shaming and the harm of calorie restricted diets

I feel like I need to do a follow up post to my last blog because some people misunderstood what I was saying. The main point of the blog was to talk about size-shaming. It’s a huge problem across the board, but I’m speaking in the context of my own community (vegan/raw/plant-based). Anything outside of that I have no idea about because it’s totally off my radar.

So can you be an overweight vegan and be healthy? Of course! I know many people who would be considered overweight from a BMI chart but have no health issues. I see overweight people in the plant-based community who have great blood work from their doctor and feel great. I don’t think you can be obese and really be at your best, but my last blog is more about the fact that BMI charts aren’t necessarily accurate especially when it comes to vegans. We do tend to be healthier even if considered overweight. You can’t judge someone’s health purely by their weight or size.

simple_meal

I was discussing these issues with Gena Hamshaw (of Choosing Raw) who is one of the smartest people I know and as a certified clinical nutritionist (C.C.N) she works with many clients who are trying to get healthy or recover from eating disorders. Here is what she had to say on the issue:

“There is a modest portion of individuals who can be “obese” on the BMI charts while also maintaining good health, or perhaps they do have health conditions, but the weight isn’t the direct cause. Adding to all of this is the fact that, if you inherit a genetic predisposition to be obese, you may inherit other dispositions at the same time, but in this case being obese isn’t the direct cause of the illnesses. And of course thin people can still be at risk for heart disease, diabetes, etc. I think we need to be more cautious about saying that weight is the cause, because a) it marginalizes people who are overweight and healthy, and b) can make it seem, to the public, that dieting is a solution for disease prevention, when in fact the causes of disease are so much more nuanced, as are the solutions.”

My point is also to point out that many people in the community use veganism and plant-based diets as a cure all to getting thin. If someone is not thin then they “aren’t doing it right” or “if you just gave up oil and nuts you would lose the weight” or “cooked foods make you fat; go raw”. These are the kinds of judgements and attitudes that are not helping people in our community reach their health goals.

What that blog post didn’t talk about is what are healthy foods and how you can be healthy. At no time have I ever encouraged people to not eat healthfully or to take the steps they need to if they have a serious health condition. There are many paths to health and health is a relative term with differences in opinions of what or who is considered “healthy”. In the 10+ years that I’ve done my work I have encouraged people to eat healthfully, eat more greens, think about where your food comes from, be conscious of eating seasonally and locally, etc. I have not, however, put food in categories “good” and “evil”. You are not going to die if you eat a vegan cupcake everyone once in a while or saute your veggies with oil on occasion. I wholeheartedly believe in moderation for healthy people. If you have cancer or a serious health condition your diet is going to look different than someone like me who is at a healthy weight and has no health issues. There is no reason for people who are healthy to follow restricted diets or to get in the mindset that a certain food is evil.

That is why I’ve always taught the Good, Better, Best Policy and the 80/20 Rule. It’s kind of crazy that almost three years later I’m still talking about the same thing! Wow how time flies. And my diet has changed over the years. I’m now an athlete and bodybuilder so my diet has some different elements to it than it did even last year. And yet I’m still in the best health I have ever been, my bloodwork is pristine and I can run circles around the gym. If oil was emphatically evil then I would have keeled over by now!

This is where the term orthorexia plays a huge role. There’s a difference between eating for health and being obsessed with everything that goes into your mouth  and angry with others who don’t follow the same diet as you. It’s funny how the people who think orthorexia isn’t a real thing are the exact people who follow and promote rigid diets. If someone has an eating disorder the first thing they do is deny it. So if this new health obsessed eating disorder wasn’t real why would there be people who are openly admitting to the behavior?

I feel like I could write a book on why restricted calorie diets aren’t helpful or safe, but thankfully many people have already done that for me. If someone tells you that the way to health is to eat a diet that is rigid, eliminates food groups or deems certain foods evil, and encourages you to restrict your calories then run the other way. I’m not talking about a carefully planned diet from a professional to help you reach your weight-loss goals. A slight calorie deficiency coupled with a healthy meal plan and proper exercise can do wonders for those trying to lose weight or even maintain health. But there is no magic number that everyone should follow to reach their goals.

Unfortunately for all the unsuspecting men and women using MyFitnessPal, if you tell it you want to lose weight it will spit out 1200 calories for you to follow. It doesn’t take into account your height, weight, BMI, occupation, or activity level. Now if you use an online calculator like this one to get your estimated BMR (basal metabolic rate) you will find that it’s above 1200 calories. You can also see based on your activity level how much you should be eating for fat loss or maintenance. 1200 calories is far too low for anyone to follow unless you live a completely sedentary lifestyle. If you get out of bed or do any form of exercise you must eat to fuel that activity. There is no reason at all to eat that few calories. Don’t believe the hype.

Some very serious things that can happen if you follow a low calorie diet long-term:

Metabolic damage

Hair loss

Weight plateau with eventual weight gain

Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies

Bone deterioration

Muscle loss

Mood instability

No energy to perform daily tasks

Believe me, these things are not worth it. Gena has a wonderful series called, Green Recovery, where women share their stories of eating disorders. While calorie restricting may not lead to a full blow eating disorder it’s definitely not something you want to let get out of hand. If you need to lose weight in a healthful way I have a list of reputable Registered Dietitians that can help you reach your goals in a way that doesn’t require you to ruin your metabolism.

This conversation is definitely not over! These topics are very important to me as I move forward in my own journey and continue to help others reach their bliss. The new year has a lot in store for us!

I happened to do an interview tonight discussing all things health, fitness, and wellness! Click here to view it!

Posted in My Blog on 12/12/2013 11:16 pm
 

19 Comments

  1. one of the first things I noticed about your recipes is that they do not include nutritional information (calories, sugar, etc) and I LOVE THAT. I also am really loving your recent posts. Oh and my birthday wish came true: Blissful bites in my hands. YAY!

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  2. I’ve been a long time lurker, and I have to admit that these past 2 posts really made me so sad. Especially that you are putting down and using bullying tactics to get your point across and to put down others, everyone is just trying their best, and it’s just not very nice you have been so upbeat and positive, that it is just sad to me that I’ve lost another she-ro to look up to in this plant-based world which I’m trying so hard to navigate. I think everyone has a little bit of truth, some more than others. It seems that the people who are vegan for ethical reasons just want people to be vegan no matter what, even if their health suffers, and that makes me distrust people. When people are recommending you eat down right bad food even if it is as a treat, I don’t trust them, makes me think they have another agenda. Before you weren’t like that, I followed your book and writings and you were always very outspoken about things that were bad for you. I’m assuming that because you are an athlete now you just can get away with a lot more, so you think everyone can.

    You do understand that what you are recommending for some people could be downright dangerous? I don’t know anyone who is advocating a super low calorie restricted diet especially long term, you are projecting your own feelings in that. And maybe for some that works because they are not a super athelet like yourself.

    You have to understand that some people are sick, very sick. They can’t get away with how you eat because they are sick. Many have passed the moderation party a long time ago, and everything is nearly a matter of life and death. MOST people are in that situation, if you like it or not, or if it doesn’t fall into the truth that you want to believe. It’s not an eating disorder to eat very healthy, and most people given the choice between avoiding all the food that got them there and dying an early death will pick the first. Don’t judge me (or others) for aiming to eat what you think is a hard way to eat.

    I know it’s hard for you to understand, I find it funny that all the people who make these claims have never actually struggled with weight, not in the ways that ideal-weight people claim to, but I’m talking about actually being obese and sick. Once you are obese and sick, you might understand but I hope that never ever happens to you. Although if it were to I’d hope there would be people loving and caring enough to tell you the truth about what was going to save you even if it was hard to hear.

    I know you mean well, but this post makes me so sad, because you don’t seem like the loving, caring, healthy person I started following many years ago. I have your book and I’ve loved it, it is filled with healthy recipes, I hope that you go back to that and wanting to inspire people to get healthy, not necessarily just go vegan -which by the way is what most people are talking about when they talk about orthorexia, it’s used all the time against vegans, I know, I’m a social worker and work with teens and if a teen says they are vegan it is the first thing that is thrown at them. So unless you want to lump yourself into that, I’d say to be very cautious about accusing anyone of having that very serious disease that has nothing to do with what you are talking about, unless you are a doctor or psychologist I’d stay far away from something you are not an expert in.

    And as an FYI – MOST people can’t be obese and healthy. You do understand that obesity and excess fat around organs is very dangerous, leads to insulin resistance (look up how diabetes actaully occurs Dr. Neal Barnard has a great book for that), causes increased risks of all cancers, and many other diseases? There are a very few people who fall into the problem you describe, but telling people they can be obese and healthy is not responsible.

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    • Jackie and Jan, again you seem to be reading something into my post that I’m not saying anywhere. I understand that people with health conditions have different diets than me, which I specifically said in this post. Also I’ve never encouraged people to eat unhealthfully or “bad” as again I’ve expressed in this follow up post. The person I was when I wrote my book is the same person I am today and I still cook the same way and encourage people to eat in a healthful way. That has never changed. I’ve been saying the same thing for years now, which I also brought up in the post!

      I do understand the complexity of disease as I’ve been working with cancer patients and those with other serious conditions since the beginning of my career. So I do understand perfectly that I am blessed with good health at the moment and other people may not be. I have a different opinion than some of what can and can’t work for those conditions. I don’t understand why me having a difference of opinion means I’m judging people for their diets. I am not. I think everyone should do what works best for them but there isn’t one way. And when people heal themselves from disease they can enjoy more moderation in their diets. I’ve seen it thousands of times! If you think there is one way to health than it’s you that is doing the judging of others not following that path. I totally encourage everyone to do what works best and to explore different ways. That’s the whole point!

      Nor did I say that people can be healthy and obese. I think people can be overweight and healthy. Being overweight according to a BMI chart; I know hundreds of people who are “overweight” and are VERY healthy. Being overweight and being obese are two different things. And it’s a very complicated issue.

      My whole point in talking about these issues is to get other people thinking and to show compassion to people regardless of their size. If you can’t agree with me there than I think you’ve missed the boat.

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  3. There is so much incredibly wrong with this, but I don’t think it is your fault. Jackie, I’ve been following a long time as well and truly believe that Christy means well, but maybe just doesn’t understand all the facets of health and weight loss, that’s not her fault, I believe she’s doing the best she can, and doesn’t mean to come off as being mean spirited.

    This alone shows that you just don’t have a good grasp on the complexity of health: “If oil was emphatically evil then I would have keeled over by now!”

    You are not someone who has heart disease or another serious illness. You are fortunate to be healthy, fit, and have the genes that made that so in a lot of ways. You are making the biggest mistake that health and fitness guru’s like yourself fall into, you assume because YOU don’t have a problem no one else does. Talk to someone with advanced heart disease, who has gone to see Dr. Esselstyn and ask them if oil is “emphatically evil” after they have reversed their heart disease, and avoided a heart attack or bypass. Whether we like it or not most Americans, yes including vegans are sick with diseases that were caused by excess, some don’t have the luxury of doing what you do. If I were you I’d maybe look into books like “Whole” or “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” (For starters) to understand the complexity of this subject. If you ask Dr. Campbell he is totally against oil as well, are you saying he is wrong as well?

    Just because you can get away with things doesn’t mean the rest of us can. I hope that you can resolve this in your heart, because I think you are a really wonderful person, who just is getting angry over the wrong things, encourage people to do what works best for them, not discourage them and encourage them that the ways that are healing to them are wrong.

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  4. Yeah I definitely took what Christy said directly as, if you’re dealing with serious health issues (like heart disease), then of course this is a completely different circumstance of what is best for you to be eating.

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  5. Marty Rynearson

    I’m trying to understand if I’m even reading the blog post that Jackie/Jan seem to be referring to. Her central point as I see it is:

    “My point is also to point out that many people in the community use veganism and plant-based diets as a cure all to getting thin. If someone is not thin then they “aren’t doing it right” or “if you just gave up oil and nuts you would lose the weight” or “cooked foods make you fat; go raw”. These are the kinds of judgements and attitudes that are not helping people in our community reach their health goals.”

    How is that bullying? It seems the opposite to me.

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  6. Thanks so much for this great article, Christy! I too am baffled as to how it could possibly come off as bullying. Christy is not a bully – she works very hard (and often without compensation) to help others get healthy in a sane and balanced way.

    I really appreciate your approach and I always learn something new from you! XOXO! : )

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  7. Ok, I will appologize then.What I thought you were saying was that you were against diets like McDougall, Dr. Esselstyn, and that you were telling people that those diets were too dificult or would lead to eating disorders and you were putting down people who encouraged people to eliminate food groups, like oil, like as mentioned above, even Dr. Campbell says not to have a drop of it, and I thought by doing that you were putting down people who HAVE to eat that way and don’t have much of a choice.

    I would like you to give at least an example of one of the thousands of people who have reversed their disease and now can eat junk food in moderation, that would be helpful.

    And any other studies to back up your claims for the things you listed above. All of the doctors, like Campbell, McDougall, Esslestyn have many long term studies backing up their work and it works, it’s not just based on feeling good or some nice stories, it’s actual science, I’d love you to get into the science, rather than just some stories you heard about. But studies that are long-term, peer reviewed and if you disagree with Dr. Campbell I’d love to hear why and what research you have to counter act what he says.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding, I thought you were putting down doctors who encourage people to give up things like nuts, oil and junk food, and in doing so, the people who follow that way of eating and do very well with it.

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    • I’m totally for all plant-based diets and vegan diets especially ones that help people with chronic health conditions (I don’t diet-shame which is something I see across the many factions of plant-eating). I even include the work and books of those doctors in my resources for clients. I lean more toward the macrobiotic way and the Eat To Live philosophies personally. But who I am addressing with my posts are NOT those people with chronic health conditions. They are in a different category of eaters all together. I’m talking to people who are healthy or have achieved great health through a vegan/plant-based diet. I don’t believe that healthy people have to follow super rigid or restricted diets to continue a life of health and wellness. I know and work with far too many people who are very healthy and don’t follow those kinds of diets. That’s the point. It’s my opinion that there isn’t one way and no one way is “best” for all people and conditions. I encourage people to explore and experiment and if they do find that those rigids don’t work for them that they don’t give up on veganism all together. This is happening A LOT, but is just starting to be talked about.

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  8. Thank you Christy!! This is how I feel about meat! Not everyone has to give up meat completely. I am a very healthy athlete with pristine numbers and I’m sick of people demonizing meat. I don’t eat fast food, I eat organic very high quality meat. I stay away from food that is truly bad for you like sugar, processed grains, fried food, it’s just common sense of course not to put that poison in your body! I was a vegan for a little while but I wasn’t able to gain the muscle I do now as a moderate meat eater. And I definitely don’t feel like being judged by the people that you are referring to, everyone is different and there is no one way to good health like you said. I eat plenty of vegetables and greens and I love your cookbook, even if I add a little lean, organic protein to the recipes. Thanks for not being a judgmental vegan and understanding that there is not just one way to be healthy!

    Beth Ann

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    • Hi and thank you for your comment. Like I said in the beginning of the post I’m speaking to and about people in my own vegan community. I do not believe that eliminating animal foods from one’s diet is unhealthy and I’m living proof that you can reach all your fitness goals on a properly planned vegan diet! I’m not saying that I think it’s ok to eat meat, though I do realize that people who do it small amounts can be healthy. So while I’m not going to judge you for your diet, as an ethical vegan I will never encourage people to eat animal foods. Health is not the biggest factor as to why I am vegan and refrain from eating animal foods. Hope that makes sense!

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  9. I’m new to your blog, I also am not a vegan and I really like the past 2 posts and how eating this way can lead to an eating disorder. I read The China Study this spring and it catapulted my eating disorder into full restriction mode. I became vegan over night, and I used the info in the book as an excuse to restrict lots and lots of food. I am now a healthy meat eater. I’m careful that I buy the best ingredients. However you are right, people in this movement like Dr. Campbell are causing a lot more harm than then know in people getting eating disorders, no one should eliminate an entire food group, that is what causes an eating disorder. Even though you are vegan I’m glad you understand this and warn people against it. You are 100% on target that eating this way is NOT for everyone!

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    • Hi and thank you for your comment. Like I said in the beginning of the post I’m speaking to and about people in my own vegan community. I do not believe that eliminating animal foods from one’s diet is unhealthy or will lead to an eating disorder. I’m not saying that I think it’s ok to eat meat. My posts are directed at my community and I’m talking about eliminating food groups in the vegan diet. So while I’m not going to judge you for your diet, as an ethical vegan I will never encourage people to eat animal foods. Sorry for the confusion!

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  10. As usual, another vegan with double standards. You keep saying you aren’t about judging but then judge meat eaters now. Veganism is the cause of eating disorders, that is proven. You claim that people shouldn’t eliminate anything completely, like junk food which is unhealthy and why vegans are not healthy, advocating eating white flour cupcakes?? Just so you can stay vegan? If vegans can’t get through life without junk food there is a bigger problem and proves they are missing out on key nutrients. I eat a very healthy diet that includes animal protein and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I’ve lost weight, my cholesterol is probably better than yours, I’m fit without having to kill myself in the process, and I don’t crave junk food like you seem to. You do realize that by suggesting people go vegan you are telling them to eliminate food groups, right??? How is that not encouraging an eating disorder? This is why the plan I follow works, I’m honest about it, and I don’t think people need to have junk food to make their diet work. Like I said, another double standard.

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    • I don’t see Christy as making any judgement towards those who eat meat. She is pointng out that this blog post is addressing the vegan community and the ways of eating within that community.

      I think it can be said that ANY diet can cause eating disorders, whether they are vegan or not and vegan diets are not the only reason or cause of eating disorders.

      Also, vegans aren’t cutting out food groups; if you consider meat a food group, vegans don’t think of animals food. The more appropriate term would be “protein” and there are plenty of plant-based options to consume enough protein.

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  11. Thanks so much for this post (and the previous one on body acceptance within the vegan community), Christy. I know that you aren’t the only person who writes about these issues in the community, but I think that every time another respected vegan talks about them, it’s a plus because while I know that women struggle with body issues, I think that it is more pronounced for those vegans who don’t have bodies that match the status quo-type of body.

    I have a lot of love for your cookbook, and my respect for you has grown even further after reading these posts.

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    • Thank you Melissa for reading and “getting it”. I’m glad more and more vegans are talking about these issues. Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s most recent podcast talks about it too. Take a listen!

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  12. YES! I loved this post and your response about protein being a food group NOT ANIMALS! This is how I also feel about fat. People tell me all the time that I’m crazy for giving up oil, OIL IS NOT A FOOD GROUP! Fat is! And you get all the fat you need if you are eating a diet filled with whole food, no need to add pure fat with no nutrients to get fat. Also SUGAR is not a food group, no one needs to be eating sugar. People just don’t get it, that whole foods are complete, the way God intended, you don’t have to mess with them at all. Thanks for the great reminder, that is how I’m going to tell people about fat and oil now, that it’s just not a food group! You are great Christy!

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