69: Busting Nutrition Myths—Exploring Weight Loss, Adrenal Fatigue and More
You know as well as anyone about the fact that there are differing and clashing recommendations about food and nutrition science in general. Myths about nutrition are everywhere and are often perpetuated by well-intentioned, yet uninformed, people. This episode is all about taking some of the most common nutrition myths and debunking them, mythbuster style.
I invited my friend, Jessi Haggerty, RD, CPT to come on the podcast to talk about some of her most recent blog posts where she's tackled some of these controversial issues within the world of nutrition. Together we explore the myths of weight loss, menopause, belly fat and adrenal fatigue.
This episode is not intended to replace any individualized medical care from your treatment team and as always, you are advised to seek care from a qualified medical team for your specific needs.
Jessi's website: http://www.jessihaggerty.com/
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You’re listening to Nutrition Matters Podcast with Paige Smathers, Registered Dietician Nutritionist. Hey everyone! It’s Paige, your favorite nutrition podcaster and dietician. Nutrition Matters podcast explores what really matters in nutrition and health with a sensitive and realistic approach. This podcast relies on the support of listeners like you and needs donations to keep this project running. To help support the podcast, please consider making a donation at paigesmathersrd.com/podcast. If you find this episode interesting, engaging or helpful in your life, please consider donating, sharing with friends and family and leaving a review on itunes. YOu can leave a review from this podcast straight from your podcast app. Search Nutrition Matters Podcast, click Reviews and then write a review. You can also find me on Instagram and Facebook @Paigesmathersrd if you’d like to have a little more food for thought. Thank you for listening.
Paige: Hey everyone! Welcome back to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. My name is Paige and I am your host and today I have Jessi Haggerty with me who is a registered dietitian and personal trainer in Boston and some of you might already know her, she has me come on her podcast a few months ago and then I released the episode on my podcast too just so that you could get to know me on a different level and her.So that episode was called, “Getting Practical with Intuitive Eating” So Jessi’s already somewhat been on the podcast before and today we are talking about some myths, some nutrition myths that we want to bust, so to speak, and I need to put a little bit of an intro here. First of all this is not medical advice, none of the episodes on the podcast are intended to replace qualified individualized medical care from your physician, form your pharmacist, from your dietician, your therapist, etc. So, that’s something that, I”m sure you already know, but that’s something I feel like I need to say on this particular episode and really we are not intending for this episode to feel super prescriptive of do’s and don’ts or right and wrong or shoulds and shouldn’ts, really what we are trying to do here is talk through some of these issues that we come across a lot and just talk through: is there logic to this? Is there science backing this up? Does this work for us on an individual level? So, there’s potential for this episode to really bother some people. Some people might be bugged with these conversations. Some people might disagree and I just want to say right at the beginning, that is okay! If you disagree, that is 100% fine. I want you to do what works for you and I don’t really care if that’s a little bit different from what I talk about on this podcast or what Jesse might say. So, keep that in mind, this is just intended to open up a conversation and a dialogue around some tricky and controversial issues. For those of you who have been listening to this podcast for awhile now, you know that I am someone who tries to really avoid black and white thinking and I like to take a nuanced approach to life and I like to ask more questions than I provide answers. With all of that in mind, when we talk about myth busting it can kind of feel like we’re saying, “here is the myth and here is the actual truth” or “Here’s what you should be doing” or “Here is the right thing”. I want to just encourage you to take this for what it is which is just a conversation, nothing intended to become another form of black and white thinking. So, one of the biggest things that people say to me in feedback about the podcast is that they get bugged that I sometimes have more of a nuanced approach and sometimes don’t say things exactly by the book or whatever. What I’m trying to do here is I’m trying to model my conversations with my guests the nuanced approach in the way that I talk with my guests about various issues. So, we, meaning the community of non diet dieticians are trying to encourage nuanced thinking and not black and white thinking about your relationship with food and nutrition and body image and exercise and then what happens is sometimes is we end up having conversations that are very black and white about those issues. So, I really try to avoid that in my conversations on this podcast. I try to model a nuanced approach with these things that we’re trying to create more nuanced and flexibility in our own lives. So, with that all being said, this is not prescriptive, this is not intended to tell you exactly what to do, but what this is intended to do is bring a conversation and help you feel more confident in your ability to navigate some tricky issues. So again, you don’t need to agree with every little thing we say, but I hope this brings up some interesting points for you to consider and ponder really and figure out what’s working for you in your own life. So, with all of that, I hope you enjoy this episode.
Okay! Well Jessi, welcome to Nutrition Matters Podcast.
Jessi: Thanks for having me.
Paige: Your episode that we did together that you published on your own podcast and then i republished on my mind, I haven’t done that before, so some of the listeners will be familiar with you already, but I haven’t had you exactly on my podcast yet. Anyway, I wanted to invite you on this podcast for lots of reasons. One of them is, I think, whenever someone is doing great work, I like to expose my listeners to that and i know my listeners are eager to consume this type of information so that’s a big reason is to let people know about your podcast and we’ll take some time at the end to let people know how to reach you there. And also, Jesse, you have been publishing blog post after blog post about controversial issues and I am just like, “You go girl!” So I just wanted to have you on to talk about some of those things because one of the biggest requests I’ve had from listeners about this topic wise on the podcast is people really want to hear more about myth busting and so when I saw you coming out with those articles I thought, “Oh Jesse might be a really good fit for that” I’ve been looking for someone like that for awhile that wouldn’t shy away from controversial issues, if that’s not a fun intro, I don’t know what is guys. It’s going to be great.
Jessi: I think it’s just because writing about topics that you hear about a lot, but don’t really understand it’s a little bit cathartic to dig into the research and then think, “is this really a thing we need to worry about? One more thing we need to think about?”
Paige: Exactly, and I remember what really brought me into the field of nutrition and what made me so interested in it, was I felt that way, I felt that I was hearing a different point of view everywhere I turned. My mom would say one thing, my coach would say another, my whatever would say another thing and I was just so confused I really wanted to feel like I knew what the actual truth was. I think that’s a myth in and of itself. You never really know the “truth” about science, you’re always learning new things and that’s what sometimes frustrates people about nutrition science in particular is one year it’s fine to eat eggs another year it’s terrible to eat eggs, [etc.] that kind of thing. So I do think a lot of consumers feel that way where it’s like, “Okay, what the heck is the truth about this controversial issue that I’ve heard a million different points of view on” And that’s what we’re trying to do is talk about those things that come up a lot in our practices and just talk about what we’re clear on in the research, what we’re unclear about and why this potentially is an area where sometimes people take advantage of vulnerable people and how to not fall into those traps. So, does that sound like a good plan to you? Does that kind of align with what we talked about earlier?
Jessi: Yea, sounds like a plan, I’m ready. Let’s busts some myths
Paige: Alright! Let’s do this! So, let’s just start with a bang, let’s not hold back here let’s start with weight loss. I’ll let you roll with that. Oh! Actually before we get into that, I want the listeners to know that Jesse and I most likely are going to agree and align on most things we talk about today. I think that it’s most interesting for listeners to hear a bit of a devil’s advocate and in this discussion instead of us just saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah, totally, uh huh…” I’m going to take that roll on, I just want to encourage the listeners to not think that I’m arguing with Jesse or you know, clueless as a person, but what I’m trying to do is anticipate what listeners will be wondering about and what questions I’ve gotten before. So, just expect that in this conversation. I’m going to kind of take on that roll as I’ve done before in past episodes. Okay, so let’s talk about weight loss, setting the stage, basically, I don’t know, gosh, this is such a big topic, we could spend the whole time just talking about this. People are told that if you lose weight you will finally get all the things in life that you’ve always wanted. You’ll connect, you’ll be successful, you’ll have money, whatever it is, so there’s all these, subliminal message we’re sold about weight loss and i think it’s pretty easy to see that those are lies. Dieting could never really give you that fulfillment and that comes from a different place and that could be another podcast episode, but from a scientific perspective, I want to focus on a scientific perspective of what are the flaws inn promising weight loss across the board? Did I do a good enough job kind of setting the stage?
Jessi: Yeah. Well, first I’ll speak from my own clinical experience because I think that if I thought about saying something like this a few years ago, I would be like, “Oh my gosh, I could never expose this!” But it’s the truth so, I’ve been a dietician for five or six years, I worked as a trainer for almost twelve years and within that time, I’ve never successfully helped anyone lose weight for a sustainable period of time. Maybe they lost a little bit and then they ended up gaining it back, but after doing that for so many years, I thought, “something about this is not working. This is not right” No matter how many ways I twisted and turned my approach, there was still nothing that was going to be helpful. There was nothing that was going to be helpful to help someone lose weight sustainably. And then I looked into some broader research that was more than just my own clinical experience. And that’s the experience of people across the board. So I always like to start with that when someone says, “okay well I get all the other stuff you’re trying to do, but I still really want to lose weight.” I always say, “there’s just no proven way to help someone lose weight for a long period of time and keep it off.” So, if that’s the case, why are we going to waste our time trying to do this?
Paige: Yeah, and that can really frustrate some people sometimes, you know? It can make them feel discourage, it can make them feel like, “well then why even “try” Why eat healthy and exercise and do all these things, if it’s all for nothing?” How do you deal with someone who expresses that type of feeling?
Jessi: I don’t think it’s all for nothing. I think that a lot of people who come in with concern or the goal of wanting to lose weight, a portion of it, sure is for superficial reasons, but more importantly people are more focused on feeling healthier feeling better, and there is research to support that if you’re nutritiously and you're taking part in movement everyday and you’re sleeping well and you’re drinking water, and all of these little basic things that we can start doing, that does have an impact of how you feel and your overall health and it doesn't’ mean that you have to follow this super strict diet or meal plan. The biggest factor that have been studied are: eating fruits and vegetables and sleeping at night and exercising; and that can mean going for a walk it doesn’t mean going to crossfit three times a week or anything crazy like that.
Paige: Right, so the research supports health. Pursuing health rather than pursuing weight loss and I think anyone who’s ever pursued weight loss, if they were being honest with themselves could relate and understand on an intuitive level how nutty pursuing weight loss makes you. YOu try to cut out whatever and you try to kill yourself with exercise and next thing you know you are like, “if this is what I have to do, count me out, it’s too hard.” Whereas if you are pursuing health you come at it with this more gentle approach that ends up actually leading to better health regardless of what the scale does, and you know what? I’ll be the first to admit, we are not anti weight loss. We are not saying, “You should not lose weight and if you do, you’re a terrible person.” What we’re kind of trying to say is, that some people, when doing those things that you just mentioned of: Eating when they’re hungry, stopping when they’re satisfied and full, moving their bodies, drinking water, getting adequate rest, managing stress; some people when you're really trying to focus on all those areas of self care, will you lose weight. Some people will gain weight. Some people will stay exactly the same and that sort of what we’re trying to say here with myth busting the whole weight loss thing. YOu shouldn’t feel ashamed of yourself, so to speak, if that’s on your mind, how could it not be in the world we live in? What we really are trying to say is, try to not make that the focus and the reason because it only leads to crazy things. What would you say to that, though?
Jessi: Oh, I totally agree. I think that the problem is that, like you said, it’s so normalized. Someone might be feeling crazy because they’re just so focused on what they’re eating and when they’re exercising and how they’re exercising.it could be that they’re following a specific diet, or it could be that they’re simply looking at food as good or bad and not following a specific diet. It could be more of that mentality around it and it’s so normalized that someone might feel like, “I hate this, but that’s just part of life. Life is about weight loss. Life is about dieting and so we just kind of have to deal with this.” But I think that it’s important to also, when you’re looking at health to take into account your mental and emotional health too. That does not help with stress management. It doesn't help with anything to be that hyper focused on weight loss or even weight maintenance. It just kind of takes you away from things that are actually important in your life, which kind sad. Who wants to do that?
Paige: No, that’s so sad. I totally agree. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with one on one who I’ve successfully convinced to take a chill pill about food and just eat til you're satisfied. Have a gentle idea of balance, but don’t let that rule your life. It’s okay to eat something imbalanced. I can’t tell you how many people come back and say, “Paige, I’ve been living my life this way for so long for no reason. I let go and nothing happened except I feel better and I have more time and energy to do the things I care about. I’m sleeping better, I’m happier, I am less stressed and by the way, I haven’t done what my worst fear was on the scale.” It’s just interesting. I’ve had that sentiment so much in my office, of, “Well, if I don't do these behaviors, then what will happen to my weight?” And so often, when you take that leap of faith, that doesn’t really happen and you have all these benefits, you know? That’s something we can promise for every person, because like we said, some people will gain weight when they do that because maybe their body needed to, maybe that was right for them.
Jessi: Right. I think also, a lot of what I see and I definitely experienced this myself; just being in this field can make you prone to this. There’s a lot of times, like you said earlier, changing our life we want to kind of uplevel, we want to do something different, we want to try something new, we first go to this idea of weight loss. Every movie you see with someone that goes and changes their life there is always a montage of them, cooking healthy, working out a lot and instead of trying to focus on trying to focus on other things that might actually improve your entire life like being more creative or getting more sleep at night or making more regular dates with friends and family members. Those are the things that actually uplift me versus something like, “Okay, Monday I’m going to start this new diet or this new program.” But having other things besides your body to focus on is so helpful and health promoting.
Paige: Exactly. And there’s so much good research supporting everything that you just said. You can find different studies that can say different things, but in general the consensus is pretty clear that around 90-95% of people who go on rigid diets for weight loss end up gaining the weight back that they lost and usually then some and most people listening who have ever been on a diet can relate on that level. When you’ve pursued weight loss you’ve probably ended up less healthy in every way, right? And I’m not just talking in terms of weight, I’m actually talking more in terms of mental health and your relationship with food; it’s so damaging. You don’t trust yourself, you think you’re a terrible person and all these things that really detract from your overall health and well being.
Okay, so another statistic talks about how yo-yo dieting and weight cycling associated with yo-yo dieting is actually associated with a greater instance in diabetes, hypertension, insulin sensitivity and mortality. Really that on again off again nature of diets is really not helpful long term and can lead to more harm than good in terms of your health. So, like you said, when we think about, “I want to get healthy.” The first thing people think of is, “Let’s diet and exercise.” Really, that’s just another extreme and what we’re really aiming for is this middle ground. We’re not aiming for another extreme. We’re trying to find a middle ground, where sure, you can plan meals a little bit better, and grocery shop a little more and make sure you have foods on hand that you can whip up dinner instead of going out every single night, right? That's okay! Are we only eating vegetables and not eating any carbs? Are we doing some of these behaviors that are super extreme? Are we feeling [starved] all throughout the day? Are we over exercising? If we are doing these things, this is not going to lead to health long term.
Jessi: Right, and I think that going back to the yo-yo dieting, that can also happen… I think a lot of times when people think of yo-yo dieting it’s like, “I’m either going to be on a diet for a period of time and then I’m going to be totally off of it.” But it can also be on a much shorter time line which can be like daily where it’s, “I’m going to eat a really good breakfast and then after dinner I’m going to be so hungry that I’m going to be completely going off of it.” And then, “start fresh” tomorrow or “start fresh” Monday. So, that can have a really detrimental effect when it’s happening on a daily or weekly basis when you’re kind of going in and out of these black and white, good and bad extremes. And also, to be hyper focused on food in any way is just going ot make you feel insane. So having to go to a family function or a BBQ and having to think, “I don’t know if they’re going to serve x, y, and z. I’m going to feel like I need to eat all of it.” The goal, at least for me, when I’m helping people is just to help people feel relaxed and normal around food and not have it be something so amazing or something so horrible, but it could just be this thing that’s there and it’s going to fuel you if you need it.
Paige: Totally, I saw something recently and this is something I say all the time in my office too. But I saw someone on instagram post something like, “It’s way less healthy for you to be beating yourself for days about a cookie you ate. That’s way less healthy than eating the dang cookie.” We are so hyperfocused on this one area of health when really we need to zoom out and look at ourselves as an entire person and what we eat is just part of that, but it’s not everything. I’ll tell you what, I really think I became a way healthier person when I started eating more sugar. When I let myself just chill out about food, I was a healthier person,you know? I could talk about that forever, but I totally think we miss the mark so often and focus so much on the “what are we eating” rather than thinking about the “why?” or “how?” and “with whom?” and all these other areas that can actually give us more insight and help us hone in on how to take better care of ourselves. Weight loss.. In general from a psychological perspective, it messes with you and it leads to not great things in your life. From a physiological perspective; starving yourself day in and day out and depriving yourself of adequate nutrition in the name of a certain body size or a certain number on a scale that is not healthy for you. Taking good care of yourself and just letting your body do it’s thing is how I sort of summarize my recommendations for people typically.
Jessi: Right, because your mind is not in charge of what we weigh. So, no matter how much we focus on it or calculate or plan, your body makes the rules. You don’t get to call the shots and I think that’s where this bottom line of weight loss idea is; we could intellectualize this all day long, but the truth is your body is going to do wants to do. Really what’s it's doing is everything that it possibly can to keep you alive. So if that means making you gain weight because you’re not feeding it enough or making your weight stabilize because you’re not feeding it enough, or making you crave more carbohydrates because you’re starving yourself of sugar, then that’s what it’s going to do. So any type of feeling your getting of like, feeling out of control around food or having cravings or, I don’t even like that word, but we’ll use it. It’s your body’s way of telling you, “No, we’re going to fix this.” Listening to that even if it means eating a food that’s “forbidden” or “bad” is I think the easiest first step you can take.
Paige: Air quotes for “forbidden or bad” Okay, well that’s a topic, I think, we could just talk about forever, but hopefully we’ve done that justice. Do you want to add anything else or summarize weight loss as a myth?
Jessi: I think that was it.
Paige: Yeah, I would just say diet and weight loss promise all these things that they can never fulfill on a mental level, on a physical level, on a connecting with others level. That is not how happiness exists. And when you attribute a certain number on a scale to happiness, you’re always going to be disappointed because that’s not where it comes from and again that's a really philosophical question. Actually, I talk about that on the episode where we talk about mindfulness. We talk about happiness and we talk about where that comes from and joy and gratitude and all these different things, but anyways; that's a long conversation. The point is: weight loss and dieting associated with it don’t give you the things that is promises and it’s a really way to take advantage of vulnerable people. Coming from a marketing standpoint, it’s so easy to sell all kinds of things to people who want to lose weight because they associate it with all these things and it can never really deliver on, you know?
Paige: Okay, so let’s switch to another topic that we want to sort of discuss. So this is one of the things that you came out with, one of the articles that you came out with and that is adrenal fatigue. So, tell us about how that article came about and what you found out in your research and what the response has been.
Jessi: Yeah, so I can already sense some back lash and I think it’s good that we started with weight loss because I think there are a lot of people in the health profession now that are trying to take the focus away from weight loss, but unfortunately they’re putting their focus on other things that, like you just said, take advantage of vulnerable people or people who are just not feeling well. I started finding this a little more and more. I went to the doctor a couple years ago for a physical and I won’t get into details, I’m just going to be very vague here. I had a blood test and one of my levels of out of the normal range and it kind of freaked me out a little bit so I started doing some research and all this stuff about adrenal fatigue started coming up. I kind of felt like, at the point, I was kind of in this category of I was a little bit vulnerable I was feeling like I wanted to do something about it because my doctor was like, “I wouldn't worry about it, you are totally fine.” Same thing that I was telling people, eat vegetables, get more sleep, drink water; but I wasn’t buying it, I thought, “No, I want to find out more about this.” And all of this stuff about adrenal fatigue came up and I read a little bit about it at the time and I kind of just calmed down and took my focus away from it. Nothing bad happened, I’m still alive, I still feel fine. But then I kept seeing it pop up more and more and I kind of wanted to see if there was any validity to this research. What I found is that there is no research. There is really nothing really that supports this diagnosis, or false diagnoses, of adrenal fatigue and there has actually been studies done to say that adrenal fatigue is not an actual diagnoses. There is no way to really prove that it exists. Really, if you’re adrenal glands, which are just these two little glands that secrete the stress hormones cortisol, if they were actually fatigued, if they were actually not working you would be hospitalized. You wouldn’t be walking around with faulty adrenal glands. You’d be in the hospital getting a whole bunch of other tests and lab work done.
Paige: So, some people are going to be like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! What about if you cortisol levels are off? What if you have really low cortisol? What if you have really high cortisol?” What’s the difference?
Jessi: So, first of all, cortisol is not bad. I think it’s been really demonized, right? It can help us control blood sugar levels, it’s our fight or flight hormone so we need cortisol in our blood in our body. The problem is if we are having chronically high cortisol levels, which are probably an indicator that we’re under chronic stress. Unfortunately, we can’t always foresee the difference of if there’s a bear running towards us versus if we’re really stressed out at work all day long. And that’s usually what’s happening. No one is really running for their lives every day or running from wild animals, at least. I think that really the antidote is stress management, not going on another diet that’s really stressful. I guess I should have prefaced that by saying a lot of the programs and stuff being sold as a solution to “adrenal fatigue” are very restrictive diets that are basically eliminating large food groups that are common in most people’s diets and in the american diet and also eliminating all processed foods and it’s very restrictive. I think that could, depending on the type of person, could add a whole other levels of stress to your life that’s completely unnecessary.
Paige: You’re only making the problem worse. The more stress you have especially when talking about the adrenal glands; that’s not improving… Even if it was a legitimate thing and the diet legitimately helped it, we would still have to question, Is it worth it with the amount of stress that the diet causes on the body and the mind? Running on assumption of it’s real, it’s good and this is the exact answer of what you need to do, because it’s so interlocked with stress we really have to take a look at the individual and how much stress that’s causing in their life. For most people, dieting, from a psychological and a physical level is a very stressful thing.
Jessi: And it’s again, it does really take advantage because, 1. Even if you were to get your cortisol levels tested, you’re only testing it for a period of time in your day. So, there a might be a point of time in your day where they’re really high, there might be another point where they’re really low.
Paige: Right. It’s a snapshot.
Jessi: It’s a snapshot you can’t really get a number that’s going to give you a diagnosis. Also, there is no way to diagnose adrenal fatigue; I’ll just repeat that point.
Paige: So, how are people diagnosing it? I’ve heard this too, but I don’t really understand if there’s no medical way to diagnose it, how are people coming up with this diagnosis?
Jessi: From what I’ve heard it’s similar to what I would imagine an IBS diagnosis, except IBS can be a diagnosis, where it kind of says, “There’s nothing else really going on here. There’s nothing really wrong with you, but you’re experiencing these symptoms, which could be fatigue, chronic stress, there could be a couple other things going on…” I think most of it sounds like it’s fatigue or weight gain, potentially could be one of them and it seems like it’s definitely more prominent in the holistic health fields and I’m kind of using that term lightly. I hear it a lot from acupuncturists and naturopaths, health coaches and when I wrote the article the acupuncturists that work in my suite read it and she [said], “I’m so glad that you wrote that because people always say that acupuncture is great for adrenal fatigue, but adrenal fatigue is not a thing!” I was so glad she agreed with me! There are other people out here that know that this is a hoax! This is not a real thing.
Paige: So what you are saying is it’s potentially for some practitioners, sort of [explain] like, “Oh you have some things going on; we don't’ know why and here’s sort of a catch all, umbrella term that we’ll use for it.”
Jessi: That’s what it seems like.
Paige: Okay, hard to say since you’re not one of the people that’s diagnosing it.
Jessi: Right, I’m not diagnosing it, but I also know that there are acupuncturists or health coaches who might kind of assuming it, but they’re not ordering blood test.
Paige: And there isn’t even a blood test to prove it.
Jessi: Right. They might assume that that’s what’s going on based on other factors or other things that their clients are saying. I’m not saying that chronic stress is a good thing or even a neutral thing, I think that is something that we can help our clients with, but not by recommending a really strict, stressful diet. That’s the part that kind of drives me nuts.
Paige: That’s a really good point.
Jessi: Yeah! I had a friend of mine who is a physician's assistant [and] it’s fun, kind of, because she’s definitely trained under that medical model and I always like getting both sides to this, right? She read the article and her and I were talking about it and it was really fun, and I'm going to repeat anything she said, because I don’t remember, but she was kind of breaking down the physiological processes that influence the adrenal gland and then what the adrenal glands influence. [She was saying,] “blood pressure affect this, and your adrenal glands affect your kidneys” and going through this whole thing and she said, “If someone actually had defected adrenal glands, they would not be walking around. They would be bed ridden. They would not be able to function.”
Paige: There would be a whole bunch of things wrong with them, right? So, I mean, kidney issues, blood pressure issues….
Jessi: Yes, exactly.
Paige: It wouldn’t just be isolated to, “Oh your adrenal glands are not doing great..” It would be your whole body would not be functioning because of how important hormones are, especially cortisol is in regulating all of the systems of your body. This is a pet peeve of mine. We often think about each system of our body as being so separate. So like, here is the digestive system, here’s the respiratory system, here’s the circulatory and they all influence each other. You can’t have something thrown off in your digestive system and not expect to see that in your skin or in your, you know... whatever and that’s where we can kind of get into trouble with nutrition and take it too far and say well… Anyway, where I was going with that was sometimes people who bruise easily and that seems so unrelated to the digestive tract, sometimes those people are undiagnosed celiac disease. And that’s not saying cut out gluten today to see if that improves your bruising, that’s to say go see if that’s really what’s going on, you know, medically. Not necessarily self diagnosed.
Jessi: Yes! Exactly. And I would even argue to say I kind of hypothesize this in my article again this is just a hypothesis, but if your adrenal glands were actually faulty, something was not working with them; I would probably say they probably wouldn’t be secreting cortisol when you were under high levels of stress. That would be a huge red flag to be like, “oh you’re under stress, but you’re not secreting cortisol to help mitigate that.” That would be a problem of stress and we could help you, but it’s not going to be by going on an elimination diet.
Paige: Totally and the main point there is those are so stressful in every way; those diets. Yes, okay, awesome. Let’s move on to controversial issue #3. Let’s talk about menopause. You wrote a great article about this too. I get this question a bunch and here I am, young and like, “oh, here let me talk to you about this.” It gets awkward because I know it's hard to hear it from someone who obviously has not gone through it. Let’s hear what you learned and let’s discuss it together.
Jessi: Yeah, I have to preface this with what you said as well. And I feel like this is one of my pet peeves because I feel like I’ve gotten this for a long time just because I started in this field really young, I feel like, and a lot of people are just like, “Well, just wait until you’re my age, just wait until your body does blah blah blah.” And so I was determined to not stress out about my body because I think it’s just a waste of time. So, I have not gone through menopause so I can’t speak from experience, but I can speak with clinical experience and from doing some of the research and I’ve seen a lot of people kind of talk about how their bodies have changed after menopause and how that might be triggering or stressful and when I went online to look up some of the reasons why, really all I could find were, “Don’t worry, we have a solution for that.” And it was another weight loss program or some workout to get rid of belly fat and I [thought], “No! If every single woman in the world is experiencing this, there is a reason for it. It’s not like our bodies are going to implode after 50. There’s something else going on and what I found was that your abdominal fat, or actually all of your adipose tissue, but especially your adipose tissue around your abdominal area actually becomes responsible for estrogen production after you go through menopause, which is when your estrogen levels decrease. And that’s what kind of keeps your basic functions and your metabolism and everything running efficiently. So, if you’re not producing estrogen, then you’re actually putting yourself at a high risk for some of those co morbidities that we talked about earlier, rather than just letting yourself have a little bit of fat on your stomach.
Paige: Yes! So, in other words, weight gain in those years is protective and important and healthy.
Paige: Right, and the research supports that. So for anyone that doesn’t know this, you know, the BMI scale is totally flawed. We all know that it’s not at all a measure of health, but we still use it, obviously; we meaning the medical community. What the research says about that particular age, menopause and up age, even in men, even though men don’t go through menopause. It is actually healthier and associated with a decreased risk of mortality to be in a higher BMI class. So, the overweight or obesity 1 category; and again, I know some people that really hate those words and really get kind of riled up when we talk about it, but it’s important to know that it’s all so subjective the way that we look at these BMI scales and say, “This is healthy. And a .1 difference means you’re automatically in a different category.” But really from a health perspective, especially the older you get, that’s actually a good thing. And one way that I relate to this, even though I have not gone through menopause, is remember when you were going through puberty and your grandma or your mom sat you down and said, “Your body’s going to change and it’s going to be so cool and fun.” And you are like, “Ahh! Don’t talk about my body.”
Jessi: (laughing) That was not my experience, but go on.
Paige: What? That was not your experience?
Jessi: I said (laughing) That was not my experience, but go on.
Paige: Anyway, the point is people try to explain that it’s fine your body is going to change and don’t worry about it. And then you go through it and it’s scary and you’re like, “Whoa, my body looks so different this year than last year.” But you grow into it and it’s the way that your body is suppose to look and basically what your body is suppose to look like and function as in order to be able to reproduce right? And so, it’s sort of easy to look back at being 12 years-old and be like, “Oh yeah, that was scary, but it wasn’t so bad.” But then another change like that is happening in our lives that’s similar where it’s like, “it's natural, it's fine. You’re going to gain weight. You’re going to gain it in your midsection and nobody expects you to look like a 25 year-old when you’re 50.” I guess there are some people maybe nobody is the round word. Big eyeroll for the people who are listening, but anyway, your body is going to look different at different stages of life. I’ll tell you what, it looks a lot different after you have a baby too.
Paige: And it’s not better or worse. It just is. And I wish we looked at it more like that. Also, you know, I know that as you get older things start to kind of obviously not function like they did when you were 25 and so having a little bit of extra fat is helpful to maintain core body temperature, which get harder as you get older; circulation gets not quite as efficient. Also, you’re a whole lot more likely to get sick when you’re older and I know 50 is not old, but I’m talking older, into your later years in life and having some extra weight on your body is helpful. I worked in a hospital and I saw so many elderly people get admitted with pneumonia and be in the ICU on death’s door and the people who had a bit extra on their body did a whole lot better than the ones that didn’t, you know? We really worried about malnutrition in those older years. I hope this is all making sense. What are you thinking Jesse? What do you want to add?
Jessi: Well, I think it’s just that I think that when I wrote that post I started writing it about why all the reasons why having belly fat, just in general, but like after menopause was health promoting and was actually your body’s way of supporting you after that change, but really this is not an issue of body fat. It’s body image and our body does change at so many changes of our lives like puberty and going into adulthood like in your early 20’s and then after you have children and I feel like there’s always this messaging at every single stage to try and get back to to the body that you had before, “Get your body back.” You always hear that after a woman has kids like, “Okay, you gotta get your body back now. What are you going to do to get your pre baby body back?” No, if you want your pre baby body back you have to not have babies and that’s not what we want. That’s not what most of us want. I think that a lot of this work is just kind of how to look at the body that you have today and be accepting of it versus trying to get back to a certain way that you were before or trying to change, or have this idealistic image of what your body could look like in the future and just being like, “This is what it is today and it might be different tomorrow or might be the same, I don’t know.”
Paige: Oh Jesse! That’s so awesome. I love everything you just said. That was so good. It really isn’t an issue of body fat it’s an issue of body image. I love the way that you said that. That’s a really really important distinction that we just don’t talk about in our world. It really is, “Get your body back. Don’t be like everyone else who physiologically needs to gain 10 or 15 pounds in…” Well, I don’t even know, is that what the research says? 10-15 pounds in menopause is probably pretty normal?
Jessi: I don’t remember. I don’t think I looked up any specific number, because I think it is totally different for everyone. It could be that your weight stays the same you just carry more of it in your midsection.
Paige: Right, it kind of redistributes.
Paige: I think it’s reasonable to expect that. If you’re kind of thinking ahead into the future, “What is my body going to change like in this decade of my life?” It might be reasonable to mentally prepare yourself for gaining some weight and maybe it won’t happen, and maybe don’t even weigh yourself. Just don’t make it that crucial and that central to your life, but also at the same time just a little bit of awareness of that’s normal and that's okay and that’s protective, I hope can help some people listening. You know, women, for their own bodies, but also men [be aware] for the women in their lives so that they don’t make any of these issues any worse with pressure or with anger or any of that around body image.
Jessi: Yeah, I mean this is something that men struggle with in a different way. I’m always probing my boyfriend because he played soccer when he was in college and a little after college and now he coaches so he’s around a lot of collegiate athletes and I think his instincts are, “Well, I’m going to try and keep up with them.” And I’m like, “Why don’t you slow your roll. You don’t have to do that.” And I think that my experience seeing this in men is with people who were more athletic and their bodies were keeping up with a totally different way of life. They’re training six hours a day and they’re competing and they’re around people who are also doing those things and then you kind of get into your more day-to-day adult life where you don’t have six hours a day to exercise, which is fine! And you’re not only eating to keep up with your exercise. You kind of have a little bit more balance with that and your body does change. That, again, is normal, but I think that it’s always really easy to think that’ it’s bad or is shouldn't be changing.. And I think that, in my experience, men tend to be a little more stubborn around that ideology too.
Paige: Yeah. It’s so interesting and so important to talk about men in this conversation too. Men’s body’s change throughout their life too and that’s okay. I think we do tend to kind of make it a female issue, but when we do that we really do a disservice because the men in our lives also have bodies that change in the different decades of their life. I wouldn’t have it any other way and that’s sort of what we’re trying to do here in this conversation. It’s not the end of the world to gain some body fat or belly fat. In fact, letting your body do it’s thing throughout your life is really important and I think just an underlying trust that your body knows best is a good way to live. It’s how I choose to live my life in terms of body image in terms of nutrition, just kind of trusting that.
Jessi: Yeah, I love that.
Paige: Cool! So, do you want to hit one more?
Jessi: Yeah, I’m ready.
Paige: Alright. Let’s talk through one more myth and this is interesting because the word ‘myth’ is sort of a dichotomy word, right? It’s like, “You thought this thing was true, but really this other thing is true.” I think the ironic thing here is we’re not trying to be prescriptive. We’re not trying to say, this is how to do things, but it’s just kind of trying to say, “Let’s think this through a little bit more.” This example is one of those issues where we’re going to have a very nuance conversation about it, I’m assuming. So let’s talk about tracking, Jesse. What do you think of tracking?
Jessi: Um.. Well, yeah more nuanced. I definitely have very mixed feelings about it because I think it is so individualized. I think that there is a lot of blanket recommendations that get made about it, like, “Oh, if you track what you’re eating, you track your steps, you track or exercise; you’re more likely to “stick with it.”” Whereas I feel like I typically work with a population and I think you do too that like tracking that consistently might end up being a disservice because it does make you so hyper focused on food and exercise where it might be more beneficial to focus your efforts on something else in your life.
Paige: It might just drive you crazy in the process too.
Jessi: Totally, yeah! But that being said, I can speak from personal experience [that] there are days where I can just come to work and park it and be sitting all day and you know, I’m wearing a fitbit right now, and sometimes just having that on can be a little reminder to get up and go for a walk and then [I do] go outside for an hour and I’ll feel exponentially better because I haven’t been sitting at my desk all day. I think that one of the things I don’t enjoy about a lot of that stuff is that it’s designed to be very competitive so you can become friends with people and then you feel like you need to keep up with another person. I feel like a lot of the work I do, personally, but then also with my clients is to take the comparison out of food and exercise and just do what feels good for you. So, if I’m on there and I'll see like… I mean, my mom walks a ton and I’ll think, “Oh my gosh! she’s already lost so much today!” But I kind of just have to let that be and just think, “That’s her.” And my day just doesn't’ look like that or vice versa. I think that, yeah, I think there are definitely pluses and minuses to it.
Paige: Yeah, and in our world, I think a lot of people do say blanket statements like what you just said, but then also blanket statements like, “Tracking is the worst thing ever. Don’t ever do it! It will lead to this, this and this.” And you know what? That is true. It does lead to some really negative consequences for lots of people, but I’ve also seen it be helpful like you said. It's Maybe unfair to have a blanket statement like, “This is the answer to all of your problems and questions.” But it’s probably also unfair to completely vilify it too. You’re mentioning kind of what you do and part of your work or a big part of your work is trying to take the comparison out and I totally agree with that. I also think that part of my work that if I could sort of boil down to what I’m trying to do with people is I’m trying to give them the freedom to be curious about what’s working for them and keep the things that work and leave things that aren’t working. And so, with that nuanced not dichotomy approach, you’re really able to say, “Okay, when I wear a fitbit”, for example, “What does this do for me and what does this affect in my life? How does this make me feel?” And you get to make the decision of, “Is this working for me?” There are some people who could potentially track calories and maybe not feel like it completely detracts from their life. I’m not promoting calorie tracking. I’m not saying, “Everyone should do it, it’s an amazing thing!” But I’m also not saying, “If you do that you should be ashamed of yourself” It’s sort of like, you have to just ask yourself “what’s working for me?” And you have to be really honest to get a good answer there. It’s way more about the intention behind your actions than the actions themselves. Because the two very same actions for two different people; one could be completely disordered and one could be completely functional and good. So you and I could both have fitbits and you could be fine and it could just remind you and be like, “Hey! Get up, you’ve been sitting down for 8 hours. Go ahead and get outside for your lunch break..” whatever. And for me it could be like, “Oh my gosh, Paige you’re so terrible you only did x amount of steps today instead of yesterday and I’m stressing about it and I can’t sleep and I’m restricting my calories because of it. “ (Side note: I don’t do these things) but I’m just giving an example and so we oversimplify by saying this behavior is bad and this behavior is good and we’re really missing the mark because it’s way more about intentions and how it’s working for you. So, I’ve never spoken publicly about tracking because it’s so controversial and it has the potential to really make certain people mad at me for trying to be nuanced about it because there are a lot of people out there who are like, “No! It’s terrible, don’t you dare do it!” I just refuse to be completely dogmatic about one way or another. It was fun to talk to you about that here. I’m glad we got to discuss it.
Jessi: I know, well, I think it’s what you said; you have to be really honest about what’s working and what you define as working too because some people might think, “Oh, if I’m losing weight then it’s working.” And, I guess it really also depends on what is it that you’re trying to track and what’s the outcome that you're looking for from it?
Paige: That’s such an important distinction. Totally!
Jessi: And one thing I don’t like about, especially, the food tracking apps is the actual the numbers that they give you as your allowance are very unrealistic from what I’ve seen and so I think that if you are going to go that route I think it is important to have a dietician or someone to help you figure that out because it’s sometimes really extreme, the goals. They just let you set these really extreme weight loss goals and I’m like, “Ahh!!”
Paige: Totally. Yeah! I think that’s an important distinction, you know? Defining what’s working for you and when I said that really what I was meaning was, well if something’s working for [you] it’s functional it’s creating peace in [your] life, it’s feeling in balance, it’s helping [you] be aware and mindful and a good human being. That’s sort of what I define as what’s working for me, but it is important to recognize that if your whole motivation for any behavior is weight loss that might be something to take a look that, like, “does that really function well for me when that’s my only motivation.” I’d argue that most people that have weight loss as completely the motivator for various behaviors tend to eat and behave less healthfully than when that’s not the real focus. It’s really ironic. Letting go of that as the focus tends to give all this room for just being your best self in every way rather than so focused on this one aspect of you. I find that people actually end up eating and exercising and taking care of themselves better when weight loss isn’t the focus.
Jessi: Yeah, definitely!
Paige: It’s really interesting. And that kind of circles us back to the beginning. I think we really try to have these conversations around nutrition and food and mindset and behaviors and lifestyle that feel functional and that feel realistic and practical and that are gentle, right? But I think that sometimes we avoid this topic of weight loss because it’s so controversial and people get so mad and people have such opinions about it, it can be really intense. But I’m glad that we did this today, Jesse because there’s only so much dancing around and issue that you can do. Sometimes you just need to talk about it and so, we talked about weight loss, we talked about adrenal fatigue, menopause, abdominal fat and then tracking and my take home message here is: Just giving yourself permission to do what’s functional and what works for you and really pay attention to how that's affecting you as a whole human being and it’s okay if what you do looks a little bit different than what someone else does, but just be honest with yourself and continually be mindful and aware of your behaviors and see what works. What are you taking from it, Jesse?
Jessi: Yeah. I think that with all of the myths that we talked about here and anywhere else that you read that are similar to this is anything that is trying to sell something as like, “the answer” or, “this is the best way!” should have a giant red flag on it. Yes, losing belly fat after belly fat or going on an a adrenal fatigue diet or program or weight loss as the gateway to health and happiness… I think that just being able to use some critical thinking skills around all these topics and just question everything and use that as a way to make choices that are going to be best for you. And like you said, honestly best for you; not just short term weight loss, look great for the whatever good for you.
Paige: I think people should also question anything that’s ever said on this podcast too. We’re not just saying question the people who say, “Go on this crazy diet for this particular condition.” Question what we say here and question intuitive eating and question everything! That’s how you settle into your great space that works for you. I think anyone that says, “this is the exact way, this is the exact answer…” even if that does end up being the answer for you, you have to come to it yourself and you have to experiment with it and see what works. I say all the time, and I know Tony Robbins, I think, says this too, but I’m not a guru. All I’m trying to do is teach you some things that work for some people, but I also want you to question that and I want you to be your own expert like not me. And so that’s an important thing that you brought up, but I just wanted to circle it back to even what we’re talking about here. We’re not people’s guru’s for this. We’re just trying to have a conversation to open people’s minds to hopefully allow for some more space for people to question and to individualize things for themselves.
Jessi: Yes 1000%. And I’ll just add one more thing.
Jessi: That is one of the reasons why I don’t share a lot of my own personal practices because ti’s a huge pet peeve of mine when I see health bloggers or whatever being like, “This is what I drink in the morning and this is what I eat for lunch and this what I…” whatever. And that’s awesome if that worked for you, but that might not work for everyone and if you’re kind of selling it in a way that’s like, “This is the way.” Then it’s very seductive. So I really try to pose more research and pose more research to get people to figure stuff out for their own or, like you said, be their own expert instead of being like, “Here’s what I do, now you’re going to try it too”
Paige: More questions, less answers right?
Jessi: Yeah, totally! Which is frustrating
Paige: Yeah, I know! We could talk about that forever too. That’s a big sort of way that I try to live my life as that as a foundation. Just ask more questions, provide less answers in conversation with other people, in trying to make sense of the world and your relationship with food. It’s so much more enlightening and powerful to ask questions than to just be like, “Boom! Here’s the answer.” Well, this has been awesome. I’m excited to share this with everybody. I think this is going to be a fun episode. So tell my listeners how they can get in touch with you and anything you have coming down the pike in terms of your offerings and things like that.
(You guys, I’m editing this back and listening to it and I realized I did some bad grammar there. It should be “fewer answers, more questions” Not “less answers.” So for all you grammar studs out there, please forgive me.)
Jesse: So, everything about me is on my website, jessihaggerty.com And then, one thing that I’m working on now, I know you and I talked a little bit about this, but it’s a nutrition and body image coaching skills workshop for personal trainers.
Paige: I’m so excited about that! When is that going to be ready?
Jessi: I’m going to do some live workshops here in Boston in the fall
Jessi: And then after the live workshops I’ll offer them as a self study class online. That will all be on my website still.
Paige: I know I have quite a few personal trainers that listen so keep your eye out for that, personal trainers.
Jessi: You’ll get continuing ed. Credits too
Paige: Yes! Which is something we’re always looking for, right? So, tell everyone what the name of your podcast is, just in case…
Jessi: Oh yeah, I forgot I had a podcast (laughs) It’s the bodylove project and yeah, it’s going strong. You had a lovely two episodes
Paige: I’ve made two appearances on it
Jessi: Two appearances which has been fun.
Paige: Awesome. So, well that sounds great. So people keep your eye out for your course coming up if you’re local in Boston, connect with Jessi and listen to her awesome podcast and follow, you have a blog too...
Jessi: Yeah, it's on the website.
Paige: Yeah, a blog on the website so follow that for more controversial myth busting.
Jessi: I’ll have to think of more ideas.
Paige: Oh I’ll send them your way. I always have ideas that I’m not brave enough to tackle myself. Alright well, thanks so much, Jessi for being here I’ve really enjoyed talking to you so much!
Jessi: Thank you! Yeah, love it!
Paige: Well, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation. If you haven’t already please go ahead and leave a review on itunes. Thanks again so much for listening and we’ll see you soon for another episode