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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Tag: dieting

06 Oct

All of the Things that Irk Me in One Single Subway Ad!

Advocacy 1 Comment by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

For anyone that knows me in my non-virtual life, you are likely aware of my frustration around Halloween. A few years ago I would have called it my “disdain” for the holiday, but I’m working on modulating my feelings about this day and recognizing that there may be some redeeming qualities. Like adorable children in costumes with chocolate smeared on their faces.

But back to my frustration before I get too sappy about this over-commercialized day that’s become based on things I generally detest: scaring people for fun and the sexual objectification of women and girls.

I’m just really not a fan.

Amazingly, Subway restaurants has managed to take my irritation to the next level by combining this holiday (in fact, the exact aspect of it that I despise) with both unsubstantiated nutrition advice and dieting pressure.

I think my head might explode.

Just watch the commercial:


So what we have here is clearly a case of “how the heck do we get people to continue fretting about their weight now that it’s sweater season?” From that standpoint, it’s a relatively clever marketing effort. But since I’m not a marketer and more on the side of a media literacy advocate, I’m going to tell you how utterly crappy I think this campaign is.

It’s utterly crappy. The woman in the ad explains to her presumable co-workers that you need to stay fit for Halloween costume season, specifically the costumes that all women are obviously dying to wear — attractive nurse (because how could I possibly catheterize you if I’m not a “10″?), a sassy teacher (because we haven’t seen recently in the news various reports of  child sexual abuse by educators), and — oh, yes — the foxy full-back (I mean, how tone-deaf can you possibly be right now?!?).

To stay fit, the trio should obviously be eating Subway sandwiches rather than the dreaded burgers. But when we take a closer look, Subway doesn’t pan out to be a much – if at all – healthier option than McDonalds. A UCLA study showed that adolescents purchasing meals from the two chains consumed about the same number of calories and even more sodium at Subway. So there’s that.

Another ad promoting the objectification of women, unsubstantiated health information, and weight-stigmatization? I know, yawn, right?  But this one really peeves me I think because of the Halloween tie-in. (Call me a cranky Halloween Scrooge — I can take it.)

If you’re as irritated as me, consider speaking up by leaving a message via the website, posting on social media, avoiding Subway, sharing this post, or starting a petition.

Trick or treat!

09 Sep

Hey Schools, Quit Sending ‘Fat Letters’ and Mind Your Own Darn Business

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

With that introduction out of the way, let me back up a second to say that I think you have our children’s very best intentions at heart. I really do. I honestly commend you for the incredible work you do for our youth, often with very few resources.

But speaking of resources, I wish you’d use the limited ones at your disposal to focus on the important mission you have — educating and nurturing our future leaders.

In 19 states, children of higher weights not only had to worry about trying to find back-to-school clothes in larger sizes, but they had to face potentially demoralizing letters sent home to their parents about their weights. As if the standardized academic tests, gym class fitness tests, and, heck, the lunchroom, weren’t stressful enough for our kids, now you’re printing out their BMIs on letterhead and sending it home like a demerit.

Let’s first start with the fact that BMI is flawed. It never has, nor will it ever be, a great measure of an individual’s specific health status. For one, it does not differentiate between the sources or distribution of weight. We know, for example, that body fat around a mid-section tends to be more problematic, but BMI can’t tell you this information. Research tells us too that BMI does not need to necessarily be reduced in order to improve health outcomes. So if it’s not a good measure of illness – or health – why are we so obsessed with it?

There are plenty of kids in our educational system who could benefit from less time in front of their laptops and more time on the playground. But those kids come in all shapes and sizes. If we are so concerned with the health of our children, we could put our resources toward addressing barriers to physical activity — like lack of safety in communities and availability of parks and play spaces. We could provide educational initiatives directed at parents on how to engage children in a healthy and varied approach to eating.

Parents have a lot on their plates – pun totally intended. You may think that sending letters to them telling them their kid is fat is helpful, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not. A letter doesn’t give parents the tools they need to inspire family changes toward health. It feels shaming, and shame leads to inaction, not action.

Finally, your however well-intentioned but misguided attempts to quell this obesity panic may have some unexpected consequences. By age 10, a third of girls and a fifth of boys say their weight is their number one worry. Number one! Not how they are going to get to Jamie’s house after school or even whether their parents are going to stay married, but their own weight. This anxiety about weigh can have dire results. Specifically, huge numbers of children are turning to dieting, which presents a big risk factor for children in developing unhealthy and dangerous eating behaviors, and sometimes eating disorders.

So we know that BMI is a poor indicator or health, all kids need help in creating healthy lifestyles, and a focus on BMI can lead to dangerous eating habits. So can we please rethink our focus here and start building playgrounds and improving the cafeteria fare instead of sending ‘fat letters’ home to vulnerable kids?

02 Sep

The Cookie Monster tries to teach pre-schoolers self-control. Huh?

Current Events 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Seeing as how my son shares his name with a certain curmudgeonly green dude who occupies a trash can, I’ve been looking forward to sharing with him the wonders of Sesame Street that added color (and numbers) to my own childhood.

I have to be honest — pre-baby, I haven’t kept up with the Sesame Street curriculum recently. So when Yoni Freedhoff shared this recent video, I was a bit taken aback. Okay, you know me better than that… I was extremely taken aback. And by taken aback, I mean my jaw dropped and I was seeing red (like apples or stop signs… an color brought to you by the letter R).

Take a peek:

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the pre-2000s Cookie Monster was the picture of health after whom we wanted our children to be modeling their eating habits. And I think Sesame Street’s 2007 response to community concern about childhood weight concerns was reasonable and responsible: Cookie Monster began incorporating a variety of foods, including vegetables, and called cookies “a sometimes snack.”

To me, that feels balanced. Cookies aren’t bad — they’re part of a healthy approach to eating. I eat them sometimes. Just like I eat carrots and rice and nectarines sometimes.

But now the Cookie Monster is teaching self-control around eating. To three-year-olds.

In my work, I hear day after day from individuals — of every size and shape — that their “internal cues” are broken. They report that after years of cycling between restricting and binging, they no longer have the capacity to tune into their body’s wisdom about what it needs. So they turn to things like calorie counting and food rules to regulate their intake. And their stories so often start with being told as a child, directly or indirectly, that they cannot trust themselves.

The truth is, most of us reading this live in a society that is food-abundant, plus some. We are constantly bombarded by opportunities for food consumption or images that are designed to promote consumption. So I get that it seems we need to teach “self-control” in our food-obsessed world.

But restrained eating leads to binge eating, and binge eating leads to physical discomfort, shame, and isolation. And often more restrained eating. The cycle is brutal and it’s led to a total disconnect between our bodies and the food that fuel them.

I don’t personally think that teaching pre-schoolers “self control is something me must learn” is the answer to our childhood health issues. While patience is a quality I hope to instill in my child one day (and I applaud efforts to help me do so), it’s a slippery slope to suggest that three-year-olds should start regulating their impulses. If we as a society and as parents had a healthier approach to food, we wouldn’t have to ask our tots to control themselves as if they are ravenous wolves.

We’re not born wanting to eat to excess — we actually have pretty amazing natural physiologic systems to handle energy input and output. It’s in times of famine (i.g. when we deprive ourselves) do our bodies react by wanting to consume as much as possible to store up for the future.

So instead of a monster giving conflicting messages about aggressively downing cookies and then telling us to control ourselves, we can show our children a healthy approach to eating involves eating a variety food and stopping when we’re full. We don’t need more stigma born out of the assumption that fat people can’t control themselves.

If Sesame Street wants the Cookie Monster to make a change in what he’s teaching children, they can start by cleaning up his grammar.

What do you think of Cookie Monster’s new video? 

23 Jul

Do diets work?

Ideas to Consider 6 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

It’s sounds like a simple question, and you might think you know my answer. I’ve talked about ditching dieting for years here, and I’ve expressed my distinct disdain for our culture’s obsession with weight loss.

But, honestly, it’s more complicated than a simple yes or no.

To answer the question, we have to first define what it’s asking, exactly. To start, we have to understand what we’re considering a “diet.” There are about a million and two commercial weight loss programs out there. There’s Atkins and Paleo and eating worms. Those we can easily put into the “diet” camp. They’re diets with a capitol “D.”

But what about your seven day juice cleanse or your doctor’s advice to cut back on carbs and salt? Are they diets? What about attending Overeaters Anonymous meetings and following the 12-step tenants. Does that mean you’re on a diet? And what if you’re in treatment for an eating disorder and are told to eliminate binge foods from your life? Did your therapist put you on a diet?

It gets complicated, as you can likely see. For our purposes, we’ll consider a diet any change to your dietary habits that involves reduction or restriction of intake for the purposes of weight control. So, eating a certain number of calories per day or cutting out a food group count as diets. Not eating meat on Fridays during Lent or drinking more milk to strengthen your bones does not.

Now the next question to be answered is what is meant by “work”? Essentially, how are we defining success.

This is where things get ugly.

Diet plans taut widely varying definitions of success. Some proclaim that your efforts will result in you being energized and strong, while others suggest you’ll be slim and suddenly sipping cocktails with A-list celebs. For most of us, we consider a reduction in weight to be the definition of a diet “working.”

But how much?

Most medically supervised weight loss programs don’t advocate for much more than a reduction of 10% of initial body weight. For some, that seems like small potatoes. But in actuality, it’s not. It takes a lot of effort on the dieter’s part and, according to many in the medical field, results in significant improvements in health.

So, say we take 10% of initial body weight as our definition substantial loss. How long does it need to be off before we can establish whether one was successful?

The answer, again, is complicated. For some, the second the scale hits the “magic number” is the moment when a diet is considered successful. Others use the definition of a year. Still others, myself included, believe that the reduced weight would need to be stable for two to five years for weight loss to be considered “maintained.” This is in part because we know that this is the period of time in which weight cycling often occurs. And we know that weight cycling is quite harmful to the body, and can be more dangerous that being a higher body weight.

So, with these definitions, when we go back to our original question — Do diets work? — we would think we could examine the research and have a final conclusion.

But we don’t! The majority of the research I’m familiar with suggests that long-term follow-up of individuals who have lost weight shows that weight is regained (and then some, for some). However, obesity researchers point to other studies that suggest weight loss can be maintained with proper follow-up.

So where do we go from here?

Maybe whether diets work is not the right question as all. Maybe we need to be asking, if they do “work,” are the risks associated with them (e.g. triggering eating disorder symptoms in some who are vulnerable, leading to weight cycling, etc.) worth the benefit?

That question might be a more personal one, and individual circumstances are always going to be an important part of the answer.

What do you think — Do diets work?

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