Today is a rare treat in my household. My husband and children are home in observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. Monday holidays mean, unlike weekends filled with extracurricular events and other holidays that revolve around gatherings and traditional celebrations, there is absolutely nothing scheduled today. We slept in, my husband and youngest daughter made waffles from scratch, and we ate breakfast around 11am consisting of a batter of all-purpose flour, eggs, milk and coconut oil and topped with butter, maple syrup and, for a few of us, whipped cream out of a can.
Was our breakfast high in fiber, lean protein and antioxidants? Nope. But, we sat together to share a meal made with love and joy, filled with light-hearted conversation and laughs. And we enjoyed every delicious bite, unrushed and without stress, regret or guilt.
Now I’m back to planning and monitoring our meals. Are we getting enough complete proteins? Are most of our carbohydrates coming in the form of the complex, whole variety with little to no added sugar and made with healthy fats? From a micronutrient standpoint, are we getting enough B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, iron, folate, antioxidants, fiber and omega-3s in our diets? This is an important responsibility and I take it seriously.
Seriously? Yes. Obsessively? Absolutely not.
We’re constantly exposed to such things as Carol Alt’s raw food diet, Gweneth Paltrow’s Goop Detoxes, or the interview with Tom Brady’s personal chef who revealed that the Brady-Bundchen household doesn’t include dairy or gluten, won’t cook with olive oil, rarely has tomatoes, and bans eggplant, peppers and mushrooms. We know about these things because we’re a celebrity obsessed culture and, when a celebrity shares what s/he eats or does for exercise, every media outlet, from national news websites to gossip columns, shares it.
This obsession with extreme diet and exercise for the purposes of achieving and maintaining a thin physique is unhealthy in every imaginable way. Many will try to tell you their goal is health, not thinness. But don’t let them fool you even if they’re fooling themselves.
Extreme diets deprive the body of essential nutrients and extreme exercise raises the risks of overtraining which leads to injury, chronic pain and even serious illness. This super-obsession also leads to a great deal of unhealthy stress surrounding food and exercise. Worst of all, it can spiral out of control to disordered eating, including orthorexia which stems directly from the type of diets the Alts, Paltrows and Bradys of the world are following. There is nothing fit or healthy about this and the statistics and science prove it.
We can rationalize that they’re adults, if they choose to consult false nutrition and exercise “experts” and follow accordingly, who are we to care? For one thing, many of these celebrities are marketing their regimens, even taking on the title of expert despite having no education or training in the fields of nutrition or exercise. And, thanks to our celebrity and body-obsessing culture and social media, our kids are being exposed to this stuff.
The message delivered with the exposure is clear: this person has a desirable body + this person is rich, famous and happy + this person eats this, doesn’t eat that and does this for exercise = you will be happy like this rich and famous person with a desirable body if you eat this, don’t eat that and do this for exercise. The message is extremely powerful to young people, girls in particular.
How to counter this?
Thankfully, the same internet and social media that puts these celebrity lifestyles on our phones and at our finger tips 24/7 also gives us easy access to informed, science-backed articles on fitness and exposure to emerging social media stars who have made it their mission to counter the diet, exercise and body-image obsessions.
As an example of the former, I came across a column by Sarah Tamburrini entitled “5 Rules I Break as a Food and Body Image Coach” from The Huffington Post. Her message is powerful, here are just a few of the highlights:
- “Having experienced disordered eating, I know what it’s like to feel out of control around food. From yo-yo dieting, to diving head first into a jar of cookies, to living off juice cleanses, to feeling guilty after eating an apple because of the “sugar.” …Now that I’ve managed to turn my “mess” into my message, there were some “rules” I had to break, all in the name of health, wellness and importantly sanity.”
- “When I read research on the pitfalls of dieting I knew that I’d have a far better chance of achieving permanent weight success adhering to anything but a diet. …In other words eating in a way that was rigid, restrictive and rule based was not beneficial in keeping the weight off. It was time to do the “real work” which involved improving my relationship with food rather than ‘fighting’ food.”
- “Truth be told I eat sugar… I believe and have experienced first hand that when something is off limits it’s only a matter of time (and human nature) before we’re diving head first into the food that we’re trying to control. No amount of willpower, self control and motivation can starve off the biological response that kicks in when our body feels deprived. Key message: Food will only have power over you if you give it power.”
- “…My self worth, in other words my strengths, qualities and attributes, can’t be weighed. I made a decision to never again let a number on a piece of machinery dictate how I get to feel about myself. The best advice I can give you is to throw away the scale or do what I did: Take to it with a sledge hammer.”
- “Whenever I ask my clients why they exercise they tell me it’s because they’re afraid they will get fat/ remain fat. Duh! This tells me that many people (like I used to), exercise out of fear of gaining weight. The day I decided to prioritize feeling revitalized, happy and nourished from exercise rather than prioritizing weight loss as the goal, was the day I actually started to enjoy exercise again.”
There are also lots of fitness experts populating social media touting healthy, sensible approaches to diet and exercise who are gathering thousands of followers. Blogilates, Authority Nutrition and Fitness Blender, just to name a few. Check out this video from Fitness Blender posted on You Tube last week that has nearly 100,000 views:
My family’s breakfast this morning may be banned in many a celebrity’s household. But I wouldn’t trade it for Carol Alt’s legs, Gweneth Paltrow’s tummy or the Brady household’s net worth, not in a million years. I believe my family is fitter and happier for it.