Healthy (and Positive) at Any Size

A few weeks back, my podcast, The Table Chat Show, had an episode where we explored the topic of Health At Any Size (listen here). We discussed what the term means to us as dietitians and health professionals, as well as providing some myth busting on common misconceptions of the term. I’ve been thinking about what we discussed ever since because I definitely had a lot more to say. At the end of the episode, we mentioned a few people we looked up to or followed on social media for inspiration. I mentioned Crystal Renn (pictured below) because she was one of the first women out there, besides my mom, whose messaging really hit home with me.

My parents divorced when I was 10 years old which seemed to be the icing on the cake of the most hormonal part of life, puberty. Suddenly, on top of the swarm of emotions I felt, I became acutely aware that all of my friends and other girls at schools were smaller than me. They could wear certain clothes that I could never fit into. Their hips didn’t seem to jut out as much as mind did. I seemed to take up much more space. Oh, the thoughts! My mother, who was also a curvy woman, knew the struggle I felt and would always help me find stylish clothes that fit me well. I couldn’t shop at American Eagle, but we would scour TJ Maxx, the Misses department of Kohl’s, Lane Bryant, and the newest Torrid that opened in my local mall. Also around this time, I started playing tennis which helped me become more active. I started eating more vegetables and less Cosmic Brownies, and developed more muscle tone. I had a bit more confidence, yet, I was still considered a “plus-size” by teenage standards and overweight according to my BMI. That bothered me.

Most nights after school, if I wasn’t playing tennis, I’d come home, grab a snack and zone out with one of the many, many magazines I received in the mail. Oh, the days before smartphones. Despite my constant struggle with finding clothes that I liked and that fit well, I was obsessed with fashion and magazines, specifically the newly released Teen Vogue (circa 2003-ish). One afternoon, I noticed my mom had earmarked a page in the latest edition, and attached a post-it note saying, “Read this, honey.”

I know that models shouldn’t be looked at as something to aspire to, re: Photoshop, makeup, angles, lighting, clothing, etc, but at the time, Crystal Renn became my new hero. She was featured in a story surrounding her journey to being a plus size model and body positive advocate. Crystal talked about her love of living a healthy lifestyle, being a plus size model in a world of straight size, but also discussed how much compassion she focused on showing her body and her mind, after years of being told she needed to lose weight. I remember thinking that this seemed like the perfect mindset to have! How freeing of a concept. Since then, Crystal has actually been the target of criticism because she’s lost weight over the years. Apparently you’re not supposed to be the ruler of your own body. Since her time though, there are now even more “plus” models who share similar sentiments, like Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence, Robyn Lawley, and more.

As years went on, my weight fluctuated, and I landed in the nutrition and healthcare field, I discovered that most of my colleagues don’t discuss this dichotomy of health and being a larger or smaller size than the “norm.” They’re afraid to, I think. Just like the fashion industry! We’re set on establishing this ideal health model, yet ideal health is going to look a hell of a lot different for everyone. Aka, the non-academic world. Yes, there’s a time and place for weight loss or weight gain, when a person is uncomfortable, there’s inherent health risk, or they want to establish a new routine, but that’s not the only answer. I landed in the field of nutrition, not just to help others make better food choices, but to focus more on finding that sweet spot where healthy habits and compassion exist, like Crystal’s article I read over 13 years ago. It wasn’t a research study, but it’s a mantra I’ve learned how to practice in my own life and help others do the same. I’m also still considered overweight according to my BMI, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.

Like we mentioned in our episode, you CAN be a larger or smaller size and still be healthy. There’s no  type of “real” woman. Hell, we’re all real and full of different shapes. Health is multidimensional and not solely focused on weight or physical activity. There’s no one-size-fits all, perfection way to live and be a healthy human being. You can focus on a variety of habits to perhaps bring you to that more comfortable weight (wanna chat?), but don’t feel like you should live your life always thinking you NEED to lose or gain weight. Look beyond that. There’s much more to life than restriction and being obsessed with food. The love you share for yourself, in this very moment, and not when you get to a certain weight, is what matters in the long-run.

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What are your thoughts on health at every size? Let me know in the comments below!

Confessions of a Low-Maintenance Cook, Pt. 1

Otherwise titled as “Why I Don’t Post A Lot of Recipes.”

I’ll be the first to admit that most nights, I’m not exactly living it up in the kitchen. Most people I meet are a bit dumbfounded by this. You’re a dietitian though! Don’t you have your own vegetable garden (maybe someday), can your own salsa (nope), and make your own yogurt? (nope, but always wanted to try!) I consider myself a bit more “semi-homemade.” Not the Sandra Lee “Cocktail time!” and Kwanzaa Cake kind of Semi-Homemade, but more like meals that include various convenience ingredients and can be made in under 30 minutes. So maybe the good parts of Sandra Lee with a dash of Rachael Ray. I can almost hear Anthony Bourdain crying right now…

Working with my clients, I’ve learned that many feel the same way. While most more or less know what to do in terms of nutrition and have every intention of incorporating healthier routines into their lives, they’re just not doing it. Then we start to work on the why. Most of the time, it boils down to one simple reason: life gets in the way. There’s a lot of stuff to do and not enough time to do it. There’s work, school, children, animals, the list goes on and on, and what ends up happening is that the day gets away from us and we wind up over-eating or making poor choices mainly out of exhaustion, stress, or the dreaded “hanger.”

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One thing we focus on is letting go of the guilt of not having enough time in the day. Seriously. This is often the hardest part! Then, learn to embrace a simpler approach, and focus on being honest with yourself about what’s reasonable and what’s not. This is the hardest part! Take a good hard look at your goals, and your daily life, and figure out how to make it fit. It’s ok if your meals aren’t 100% from scratch. This dietitian won’t haunt your dreams if you buy a pre-made chicken, or *gasp* go through the drive-through. Let’s look at some of my go-to combinations:

Microwaveable brown rice + Rotisserie chicken + Frozen vegetables + lemon juice + pumpkin seeds

Whole wheat pasta + garbanzo beans + frozen spinach + jarred marinara sauce

Boxed, low-sodium chicken broth + Pre-cut mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion) + (more) rotisserie chicken + diced, red potatoes

Brown rice noodles + frozen shrimp + pre-cut or frozen vegetable blend + Soy Vay Teriyaki sauce + chopped cashews 

Frozen turkey burgers + pre-washed mixed greens + sliced avocado + diced tomatoes + diced cucumber + balsamic vinaigrette

Pre-made pizza dough + jarred marinara sauce + diced low-sodium turkey breast + pre-chopped peppers + jarred olives + pre-washed spinach + pre-diced onion

For Part 2, I’ll share with you my favorite go-to brands and products (like those above) that have great nutritional stats, and also fit your budget. In the meantime, let me know some of your go-to, simple meals that keep you from turning in the Hanger Beast!

P.S My sister sent me this picture a while back on Snapchat (add me: eceegee). Sums up my approach quite nicely.

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Insta-Perfect & Tapping into Childhood

Back when my friend Rachel and I were planning our podcast, The Table Chat Show, we noticed quickly that we both shared the same childhood haircut. The same, straight-across the forehead bangs. The type of haircut that your mom gives you on the back porch, preferably shirtless, with one simple pair of scissors. I laughed so hard at this because it’s such a vivid memory. I can smell the scent of the strawberry, Suave shampoo, feel the water droplets running down my back, and hear my mom shouting at me to “HOLD STILL!”

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It’s simple memories like those that I hold near and dear to my heart. It’s also a haircut I’d rather soon forget. Thankfully I’ve moved passed those days, but it also reminded me of the carefree life of being a kid.

My childhood was far from gourmet and I’m ok with that. As my mom would also say, “you turned out JUST FINE.” We ate a lot of spaghetti, hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury crescent rolls, doctored up cake mixes with help from the actual Cake Mix Doctor, bologna sandwiches, fruit roll-ups, my German grandmother’s noodle kugel, Domino’s take-out specials, and meatloaf, so much meatloaf. I actually still eat some of those foods (meatloaf for life), I just put my own spin on them.

With the world of Instagram and all social media, it’s easy to get caught up thinking all of your meals need to be perfectly placed, perfectly portioned, and perfectly perf-perfect. Too many perfects. I think if my 4-year old self had an Instagram, I’d probably have pictures of my comic book collection and the Oreos I had as a snack (which actually sounds like the present version of my Instagram).

But what does “perfect” Instagram worthy eating really look like? For starters, there’s no such thing, and second, health looks different for everyone. Crescent roll wrapped hot dogs and noodle kugel included, there’s room for a lot of different food in the diet and to still be a “healthy” individual! What matters most, and I have to keep reminding my clients about this, is how we approach the day. Not everyday will be the same, and sometimes you’re not going to be in the mood for that salad you planned for dinner. So eat what you truly want, savor it, and move on with your life.

If you think back to when you were a kid, like me in the picture above, you didn’t care about diets and eating “perfectly.” You were, in that very moment, most likely happy with your life. You had pages to color, people to meet, and most of all, many new things to learn and place to explore. You didn’t have time to let negative thoughts cloud your brain. Your life was carefree. While we can’t transport ourselves back to childhood, take the time to tap into your inner-child from time to time.

+ Explore more. As adults, we tend to focus on learning to solve urgent problems. A child, on the other hand, doesn’t have pressing problems that need immediate solving. They’re focused on exploring possibilities and options. For adults, trying new things will make you think in different ways!

+ Be mindful. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, and children are naturally engaged and present with the world. They’re living and experiencing life as it is with whatever comes their way. Take some time each day to bring some mindfulness into your life, like paying attention to your breath. Even if it’s just for a minute. Take a walk and notice how your body moves – legs, feet, arms, muscles. Prepare a meal from start to finish, cutting, slicing, and dicing ingredients one by one.

+ Do something just for fun. Kids don’t have agendas, only unless they’re told to do something. They also just do things because they want to. When was the last time you did something for no good reason other than you just wanted to do it? Go treat yourself to a pedicure, go see a movie by yourself, or go enjoy that ice cream cone because you want to, and you’re a damn adult who doesn’t have to ask mom for money.