What I Learned After Losing 44lbs

The first time I decided to lose weight, as explained in my post “Why Being a Holistic Nutritionist Isn’t for Me” , I went totally gung-ho and ate only as much as I worked out. Then I upped it a mere 1.5x, lost 40lbs in 3-4 months, and got down to a weight in which I need to be hospitalized for. I could chalk it up to being 16 and stupid, inexperienced, or genetically predisposed to an eating disorder, but I’m going to simply leave it as it was: something that went much, much too far.

There is positive determination, and there is negative determination. That was certainly negative.

However, this does not mean all weight-loss journeys are negative. The second time around certainly started as one, but that’s simply because mental illness was still there. Mental illness and then some.

Why did I gain weight again? I got depressed. Not only that, but I discovered I had an auto-immune thyroid. Sleeping a lot is generally semi-normal for me, but sleeping 17 hours a day to function is totally not normal. So I went to a doctor and found out my TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, naturally occurring in the body) was elevated. They started me out on 50mcg of Synthroid and everything was supposed to be okay. It wasn’t. I didn’t feel any different whatsoever. Then I wanted something more ‘natural’ and started Erfa. Things changed, but in the absolute wrong direction. My TSH swung from 5.5 to 0.3 in a little over a year. I went from hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism. Instead of sleeping a lot, I was anxious all the time and could not sleep whatsoever. Instead of being sluggish and depressed, I was constantly moving and could not stop thinking. It was just as bad as the other side of the spectrum, except instead of feeling lifeless, I was feeling ‘cracked out’.

Then my doctor and I made the decision to stop all my thyroid medication and oddly enough, it sorted itself out. (A word to the wise: I do NOT recommend you stop or tweak your medication all by yourself if you have something wrong with your thyroid, as it can have dangerous results). This phenomenon surprisingly happens in about 30 – 70% of patients, depending on the severity. My thyroid is still auto-immune, as the antibodies often still remain, needing to be periodically measured throughout the rest of my life.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, being the only thing I had to worry about — as I was twice suspected for hyperparathyroidism as well, which often requires surgery), during the entire fiasco, I managed to gain about 40lbs, and was too distracted to do anything about it until everything was sorted out. Not only was I getting blood tests every 2-3 months, but I was also working full-time, doing college, and had moved 500km shortly after I was diagnosed.

When I finally decided to do something about it, a year and a half after my original diagnosis, it was like taking my training wheels off.

Here are some things I learned during the process:

90% of the time, the only person stopping you from doing anything is yourself. That’s right. I have read a lot of forum posts and websites where people lament that because they have thyroid problems, the weight won’t come off, and it never will. Many of these posters end up simply giving up after such a conclusion. This saddens me. In fact, I believe it delayed my decision to lose weight. But then I decided to try anyway. At first I went about it completely wrong (not tracking my food at all, just going to the gym 3x a week without a specific plan in mind), but ended up losing 8lbs the first couple months anyway. This kick-started a whole lifestyle change and the realization that no, it wasn’t impossible, and I needn’t make excuses for myself based on either worse cases than mine, or people who wanted to make excuses for themselves (note: I’m not saying a medical condition is an excuse, but in most cases, it is controllable; I’ve been there. In others, it isn’t. That’s when you go to your doctor).

It doesn’t fix everything. A lot of people have a vision in their mind of themselves becoming skinny and suddenly popular. Or that fitting into anything they want will suddenly fix every problem they have. Sorry to be a bubble buster, but that’s not going to happen. I still have days where I am absolutely overwhelmed and burdened by the pressure of my homework, chores, errands, and living arrangements. I still have wide shoulders (always have, always will) and a larger bust (spoiler alert: weight loss will shrink your proportions, not completely change them), so I will probably never look good in most sleeveless or strapless things. I never have anyway. That’s life.

It’s not a test. You don’t need a 100% grade. When you start to diet, you look at the future with agony. Endless months  of eating less than you’re used to, exercising, being exhausted and slaving over your body, measuring, counting, etc. In reality, it really isn’t like that. Yes, some people may take things way too seriously and not even have cake for their best friend’s or spouse’s birthday (or even their own birthday), but that’s totally not necessary. Heck, I recently took an entire week off of dieting, just for the heck of it (and yes, there was cake !), and immediately went back on track. Was there any downsides to that? Maybe I delayed my ‘goal’ by a week (I don’t even have a concrete goal anymore; more on that later), but I didn’t gain any weight, go on a binging trainwreck, or anything of the sort. So yes, you can have a cheat day or even a break without negative consequences if you go about it properly (such as not treating it like an eating contest). I know the “it’s a lifestyle, not a diet” thing is completely overused, but it’s true. You’re not being graded on it, so “good enough” is absolutely fine in most cases (as long as you’re not prepping for cardiac surgery or anything), if you’re still getting progress.

Your goals will eventually become obsolete. When I began losing weight in July of 2014, I wanted it all gone, and quickly. I wanted to be down at least 40 of the 60lbs I wanted to lose by January; no ifs, ands, or buts. When that didn’t happen (I had lost 35 by January), I was surprisingly calm about it. Why? Because a part of me knew my goal was unrealistic, and I was happy that I had learned something about my expectations. The heavier you are, the easier it is for you to lose weight. I could lose 4-6lbs a month easily when I first started, sometimes up to 8. Now I am lucky to lose 3. The closer you get to your goal, the harder it will be. Sometimes, you realize that your original goals were a bit stupid in the first place. When I started, I was obsessed with being 120lbs for some reason (borderline unhealthy for my height, 5’7.5″). Now, I am quite content at just under 136lbs, and my goal is to gain muscle and shed fat. I don’t really care if I get to 120lbs now, because I might need to be heavier than that to have an athletic physique. I’m still losing weight just to see if I’m happy with it, but I expect to stop eventually. There are many women my height who lift weights and are 135-145lbs, so I might even have to gain weight once I’ve lost more fat. I know it’s been said time and time again but weight is just a number. It does not measure your health.

Another thing I’d like to add is that you’ll probably make mistakes, and you’ll probably regret them. When I first started losing weight, I parked my calories at 1200 and didn’t exercise at all. I wasn’t losing weight fast enough so I tried varying between 900-1250 calories to ‘trick’ my body. That stopped working too. Now I eat between 1300-1500 calories a day and exercise about 6 days a week (and not excessively either, between 10 and 45 minutes a day). It’s working slowly, but it’s definitely working. The difference is that it feels a lot easier, probably because I’m not sitting on my butt all day and starving. My biggest regret was that I actually didn’t eat enough in the beginning (that seems to be a trend with me, huh?) but this time, I corrected it. Starting slow is extremely hard for those with a really high motivational drive, but sometimes you need to listen to the advice everyone keeps trying to tell you. There are reasons for it (aka screwing up your hormones and metabolism, which is why I now believe in taking a week off every now and then — my next one will probably be in May).

All in all, weight loss is a marathon, not a 100 meter race. Some people want to lose it all in a juice fast, but that’s extreme and often potentially dangerous. So come prepared, try to approach it with a level head, and accept that there are things you didn’t anticipate that might just slow you down. That doesn’t mean you need to quit, that just means you need to rethink your approach. There might be people ahead of you in the marathon, there might be some behind, but none of that should effect you. You’re running your marathon for you, remember that.

The DASH Diet: A Review

A-Little-DASH-Will-Do-You

Astonishingly, it was just recently that I hear about the DASH Diet in an e-mail. It sure has been getting a lot of publicity lately; being posted about on popular websites such as Livestrong, The Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and even our friendly neighbourhood quack, Dr. Oz (I’m not sure I can call a surgeon a quack, but his TV show and websites have certainly been called out on its quackery numerous times).

So, does the DASH diet have any merit, in my opinion?

Yes, absolutely.

It also has its downsides, as does any diet.

The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is just as it says in its namesake, a diet created for the purpose of preventing and helping to reverse hypertension, aka high blood pressure. The DASH Diet is known for being rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, while being low in red meat, added sugars, and added fats. It’s recommended by both the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, as well as the USDA.

It has some studies associated with it, some of these studies being 14 years old, which is odd, considering the not-until-recently blow-up of the diet on many health pages. One such study says that the DASH diet is even more effective while subsequently lowering sodium intake, leading to a reduction in blood pressure from 7.1 mm Hg in those without hypertension, and 11.5 mm Hg in those for whom it is already diagnosed. Add exercise and caloric control, and you can expect to reduce yet another 2.4 – 5 mm Hg. Interestingly enough, the diet can also be beneficial in preventing bone loss and can decrease risk of kidney stones.

What are the cons, then, you might ask?

Personally, while I think these are extremely good outcomes, and I, for the most part, am a supporter of the diet; I find some of the diet examples to be slightly lacking. Such as this one I found online:

DashDiet

For example, included in each ‘breakfast’ is a glass of juice. As we all know, most juices these days are pasteurized, filtered, and stripped of both their fibre and nutrients; the only benefit being Vitamin-C in the added-back form of ascorbic acid. In that case, you would likely get a similar benefit from drinking Vitamin Water (not that Vitamin Water is healthy for you either), as I highly doubt most people juice their own fruits or vegetables.

I also frown slightly at the addition of ‘jam’ on the whole-wheat English muffin. I know we can’t all be perfect, and not everyone can give up their vices; but why not list double-fruit jam, no sugar-added jam, or fruit-sweetened jam? There are many alternatives out there and you need not necessarily put a combination of pectin and pure white sugar on your bread anymore. Why not just spread your English muffin with low-fat cream cheese and top it with a handful of berries? The diet is trying to be ‘low in added sugars’ but clearly contradicts itself within the first meal of the day!

In addition to this, it lists ‘dinner roll’ as an additive to lunch. What sort of dinner roll? White bread is about as nutrient-dense as cardboard. I’d prefer they specified whole-wheat, whole-grain, or substituted it with a better alternative like Squirelly or Ancient Grains bread; bread that has 5g each of fibre and protein per slice. Then again, it’s not realistic that people will get used to such ‘dense’ bread, or even enjoy it .. but when you’re looking at fighting something that leads to heart disease here, do you really deserve to be half-assed in your examples?

They also have, vaguely, ‘chicken waldorf salad’. That is fine and good, but full-fat mayo straight from the container, stabilized for shelf-storage, is not exactly the best for you either. I feel like this dietary plan is going for ‘good enough’ rather than ‘best’, sadly.

In the dessert section, we see apple crisp. Apple crisp contains fruit, it must be healthy, right? Well, that all depends on how it’s prepared. Some people prepare it like sliced, baked apples with a small smattering of granola. Others prepare it like a calorie bomb with half a cup of added butter and sugar. Frozen yogurt, as well, probably contains added sugar. While it certainly has less fat; why not have it with a side of honey-sweetened low-fat Greek yogurt; or heck, regular sugar-free yogurt? At least then you can control how much sugar is in it. I know I am probably sounding like a dietary nazi, while I myself like to practice moderation; but again, you can’t tell someone that their potentially diet-ruining dessert is suddenly okay, even saving their life.

I do, however, applaud the addition of olive oil for the second day’s dinner; and the more simple dessert. In contrast, I shudder at the ‘smothered in cranberry sauce’ for the lunch of the day. How many sugar-sweetened condiments or additives do we really need to make this diet palatable? Because the cranberry sauce that comes out of a can in the form of a loaf is certainly not something people should be adding to their diet too regularly, nor in ‘smothered’-level amounts.

Also, why the cinnamon raisin English muffin for day 2? Why the obsession with English muffins? Most cinnamon raisin breads/English muffins/bagels are certainly NOT whole wheat. They often also have added sugar. While they are okay to have sometimes (I admit to having some mini blueberry bagels in my freezer at the moment), there are better alternatives out there. I do, however, like that they recommended it be spread with cream cheese instead of jam, as I pointed out the bread itself is already sweet. That I have to give them a thumbs-up on. Perhaps there is method to their madness after all.

How would I fix the diet, though? Well ..

Day 1:

Breakfast

Oatmeal with Applesauce

Whole Wheat English Muffin, Spread with Fruit-Sweetened Jam

Fresh Sliced Pineapple (or Canned-In-Water) mixed with 1/2 cup Low-Fat Cottage Cheese

Lunch

Grilled Chicken Salad

High-Fibre Crackers (such as Wasa) or bread (such as Squirelly or Ancient Grains)

Baby Carrots

Nonfat Milk

Cantaloupe

Snack

Light String Cheese

Kiwi

Dinner

Roasted Chicken Breast

Boiled Sweet Potato

Asparagus

Tomato Spinach Salad with Olive-Oil and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Baked Apples Topped with Frozen Yogurt


First of all, why the cottage cheese with the fruit? Cottage cheese tastes good with fruit, and that way, you don’t have to add sugar to it, like many yogurts already come with.

I put ‘Grilled Chicken Salad’ in for lunch because it is more difficult to screw up a Grilled Chicken Salad than it is to have something already stewing in mayo. Not that I’m saying Waldorf Salad itself is unhealthy – it totally can be, provided you use a reduced-mayo recipe (such as a few tbsp) and/or an olive-oil based mayo. Heck, using plain yogurt in place of mayo would make it an ideal meal for most diets. I simply changed it because some people take things quite literally, and having a Waldorf Salad with 1/2 cup of mayo and a handful of raisins does not make it the best it could be, especially for a diet supposed to reduce the chance of heart-disease. I also replaced the roll with something that has more fibre.

For dinner, I only made a couple changes. I switched the dressing out to specify that it should contain olive oil, as many grocery-store dressings out there these days are made with a soybean oil emulsion, which could certainly be improved upon health-wise. I also replaced the baked potato with a boiled sweet potato, as they have have a significantly lower GI and are full of Vitamin A, of which white potatoes have none. Why boiled? A boiled sweet potato doesn’t have gelatinized starch.

I switched the dessert out to baked apples because a baked apple does not have as much surface area to be loaded with frozen yogurt, and it is more difficult to get as much butter and added sugar into a baked apple as some people add to their apple crisp. Then again, I could be wrong. However, this was a risk I was willing to take in this case. If it were me, I’d add a good recipe for them too, just so people know what amounts are appropriate to use.


Day 2:

Breakfast

1 Orange

Wheaties® with Skim Milk Topped with Ripe Raspberries

Whole Wheat English Muffin with a Schmear of Light Cream Cheese

Lunch

Turkey and Light Swiss Cheese on Whole Wheat

Topped with Romaine Lettuce Leaves

Clear-Broth Vegetable Soup

Snack

Nectarine

Handful of Almonds

Dinner

Whole-Wheat French Bread Dipped in Olive Oil

Grilled Salmon with Lemon Pepper

New Petite Red Potatoes

French-style Green Beans, Dusted with Crushed Hazelnuts

Hearts of Romaine Lettuce Spiked with Grape Tomatoes, Olive Oil Vinaigrette

Very Berry Sundae

(Strawberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries on Light Vanilla Frozen Yogurt)


Well, it’s not the best it could be, but it’s certainly better. Why swap out the minestrone? Minestrone is often made with white pasta. While not necessarily evil, especially because it usually doesn’t contain that much pasta (but some recipes or brands certainly do), with how many carbs are already being added to the diet (such as breads, cereals, starches with the potatoes) — adding minestrone seems a bit unnecessary.

As for the salmon, many barbecue sauces contain a high level of sugar, even worse than ketchup. A well-prepared piece of salmon does not need to be covered in sugary sauces to make people like it. A dash of lemon pepper keeps things simple, without the sugary condiment. I also swapped out the Italian Bread for Whole-Wheat French, which is generally easy to find in supermarkets these days.


Keep in mind, however, all these recommendations came from a diet book, which had its own recipes. Hopefully the recipes it provided already had my suggestions in mind; lowering added sugars and fats and nixing optional ingredients such as the raisins some people add to Waldorf Salad.

Unfortunately, I have seen some diet plans online that are just as bad, such as this one:

DashDiet2

Corn flakes are already a simple carb. Why have them in there, and why add sugar on top of them?

Why fruit cocktail? That stuff often has tons of sugar.

Why dried fruit? Why flavoured yogurt? Sounds like they’re recommending the stuff with sugar in it.

And why chocolate milk? 2 squares of dark chocolate may be higher in fat and lower in protein, but they have 6g sugar as opposed to 24g, with the added benefit of antioxidants.

As a lot of research has shown, replacing fat with sugar is no better for us either.

So, in summary, while at least we are getting somewhere with nutrition on a national level, I believe we still have quite a ways to go before the USDA quits ‘chasing their tail’.

Thanks for reading!

Is Organic Food Necessary?

Generally, whenever you try to bring up the organic vs. conventional argument, people will put their fingers in their ears and go “La la la la la la! I’m not listening!” or “I don’t really pay attention to that kind of stuff” or spout something about you having to eat organic or else you’re a cultist pet sacrificer or something.

However, have any of you objectively thought long and hard about it? Is organic food really necessary?

My opinion is both yes and no.

Yes, because in one of my past posts; I have pointed out evidence that it can uncover techniques for more eco-friendly farming practices. These are practices that all farms could be using and that everyone could benefit from. Would we have discovered them without organic farming? Eventually. When people are willing to pay more for their produce, I’m guessing that gives the producer a lot more leeway to being careful about the growing methods they use, and I like that.

With that, though, comes the almost religious-like transcendence of making a good decision. Some people seem to get a ‘spiritual high’ from it. That can be a good thing in its own right, except when said people proceed to nay-say anyone who does otherwise; calling them “shills” and “sheeple” and that they’re poisoning their children if God forbid, they ever let a conventional morsel pass their or their family’s lips. Some people think that by eating organic, they have become a deity. Others are more cool about it and have their favourite organic granola bar but don’t frou-frou those who still eat Kraft Dinner from the pot, because that’s their choice, and they understand that. However, this argument is not solely about people being judgmental about food, so let’s try and set that one aside for now.

Interestingly enough, there may in fact be more nutrients in organic food. Other studies say it’s not enough to make a difference in blood plasmaOne study says it may have lower levels of organophosphorus pesticides, but then again, I don’t tend to trust studies that come from ‘3 days of parents keeping a food diary’, because that doesn’t seem like an isolated scientific experiment to me. People can say or write just about anything in a loosely controlled study. Still, it is intriguing nonetheless.

Organic crops may have up to 34% less yields than conventional. Not a good thing when the world is currently increasing in population by about 80 million people per year. Thankfully, population growth is on the decline, which may give us time to think about how we can fix that.

Organic milk may have a more favourable fatty acid contentand organic pork may have more fat marbling, a lower pH, and redder meatThese studies also point out that there are numerous factors to consider when it comes to different nutritional content of animal products, so the results may not always be the same. Some of these factors can be implemented by conventional farming as well, such as removing synthetic amino acids from feed.

When it comes to taste of organic vs. conventional, there are many similarities (I love the blog I just linked, btw!). Many people may not even be able to tell the difference (and I like how some people get so angry about it that they feel they need a justification; like in the video about the guy rambling about ‘moral choices’, and some in the comments accusing them of being paid actors).

So do organic foods have benefits? Possibly.

Are those benefits worth a mean cost of 68% more  than conventional produce?

That decision is up to you.

This Ingredient Leaves Advertisers STUNNED!

Right now, in your pantry, you have an ingredient than can make slugs melt.

It’s the combination of a highly-reactive, unstable metal, and an element that is one electron away from lethal chlorine gas.

This ingredient can raise blood pressure in humans, making it dangerous to those with heart disease, high cholesterol, and those at risk of stroke.

This ingredient can kill you.

However, we also need this ingredient to live.

What is this ingredient? It is salt.

And that is exactly why this ingredient leaves advertisers stunned. Because I can make just about anything sound horrifying, like a controversy, or the Illuminati of supplements if I happen to word it in such a manner. And these advertisers happen to know that. They use this exact method to try to get your attention so you’ll buy their product.

Right now you probably also have an ingredient in your pantry or cupboard that can kill your pet cats or dogs. That ingredient is chocolate. Pets cannot process it. Yet many people eat it quite regularly. Do you think twice about it? Probably not. Should you? Probably not. But when I make the direct link that it can kill your pets, do you begin to doubt that chocolate is healthy, even for a fraction of a second? Possibly. That is exactly the lies and manipulation these ads try to coerce you with.

Did you know, even drinking too much water, too quickly can kill you? And it can kill you in a matter of hours. So, using that logic .. theoretically water can be more lethal for you than fast food, in an immediate manner. Are you scared to drink water? No. Should you be? Absolutely not.

So why do people believe in that sort of advertising? Because they want miracles. Miracles that don’t exist. They want purity. The epitome of health. The epitome that doesn’t exist yet, because everyone is different, and has different dietary needs. Yet people don’t know that, so they keep believing these blanket terms that are just confusing them about their food choices.

This is why we should believe in moderation. However, should moderation include handfuls of the latest supplements touted on some sort of TV show that just wants to make money? (I’m looking at a certain doctor here, mayhaps one better left in the Wizard of Oz, if you know what I’m saying). Should moderation include reading every website blindly, believing that absolutely everything is harmful to you?

No.

What is harmful to you, may not be harmful to me. What is harmful to me, may not be harmful to you. I mean, I could go ahead and tell everyone to avoid penicillin because I’m allergic to it, it harms me, and therefore it must be bad. But that’s a complete and utter lie. Penicillin is not bad for some people. For some people, it is the first line of treatment.

So theoretically, you can take green coffee bean if you want to. I mean, studies have had to be retracted because they’re probably bullshit, and the beans can be tainted with penicillumso it’s probably not the best idea for me .. but if you believe it works, free country, right? And maybe one day the evidence might change, and more studies might come out. So who knows?

Setting the bullshit aside, there does not exist a supplement that can raise your metabolism more than a few percent without risk of killing you. That doesn’t mean that they result in certain death (ECA stacks — ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin — may raise your metabolism up to 10%, and are vastly used by bodybuilders .. however, they have also killed people who were not careful about over-consumption or overexertion), but in some cases, they do, such as the DNP I just linked in this sentence; that can raise your metabolism a whopping 50%, but has most certainly killed people. If a website or TV show cited it as a miraculous dietary aid today (which it was believed to be in 1938 until it was pulled off the shelf a year later, yet people are still obtaining it, using it, and dying) — bragging about its miraculous ability to increase your metabolism more than any other substance, and its way of seemingly melting fat (leaving out the part that it literally causes your cells to overheat themselves to death in the meantime) .. how many people do you think would probably buy it? My guess would be millions.

That doesn’t mean you can’t raise your metabolism naturally, the hard way — aka proper diet, exercise, spicy foods, lifting weights and having a high muscle mass, etc. That just means that this isn’t what most people want to hear. That’s why clickbait exists. That’s why people order these shitty, sketchy products from these shitty, sketchy websites. The same people also go to these shitty, sketchy websites for food recommendations.

So people are against GMO’s, gluten, and pesticides, but they will unknowingly take capsules full of weed-killer (exactly what DNP is made for), ordering them off of third-party websites as a weight-loss aid. Where do we find the balance?

Certainly not all clickbait is bad. Heck, science even does it from time to time (well, news websites do it about science .. there could be a small link to something in a cancer study and on the news it’ll say ‘New Cancer Cure Found at ____ University!’). It’s all about views, really. But that doesn’t mean you should believe everything you read. Even if it has a catchy title. Because they’re probably just doing it for money (read: ads), not science. Even if it has some science-y stuff in it. A lot of advertisers will sponsor a small-scale study just to link to as ‘proof’, even though the results are likely entirely skewed. Such as the green coffee bean study I linked above.

What separates the fact from the bullshit? Time. There has always been diet aids, but they are forever changing. Green tea has been out there a long time, and has a lot of evidence that it may work. So the longer something is out there, the more likely it will get more studies which have more things in common, to help sort the wild bullshit claims from the concrete evidence that occurs more and more often. And who knows, maybe that green coffee bean will have more valid claims linked to it one day.

And once you finally see these advertisers repeating their claims more and more (hint: many won’t, because they still want your attention), such as trans fat being bad for you .. well, they might actually be right for once. But that’s probably because they’re parroting information for a decade ago.

That’s ads for you.

Why Being a Holistic Nutritionist Isn’t for Me

I first started getting into nutrition about a decade ago, when I was 14. I had been a competitive athlete since the age of 6, and decided that learning about nutrition might give me an edge. However, because I was a disinterested teenager, the thought stayed at the back of my mind until I was 16.

After a summer of a little bit too much World of Warcraft and Chinese food, I found myself floating from my in-season weight of about 120lbs up to 143lbs. I know that’s not that big of a deal for most people, especially when you’re my height (I’m now a little over 5’7″ tall), but it was for me. It was devastating. I was a size 10 who was used to wearing a size 4. Even my dad had told me I had begun to get a bit tubby.

So what did I do? I began to read pretty much every diet book ever. I started with the Atkins diet book, the GI Diet, the Abs Diet, etc (the latter 2 I still find to be acceptable books to this day, so it’s not all bad). I remember trying to eat cabbage soup for a week. The soy-flour muffins on Atkins tasted awful so I tried to doctor them up with cocoa powder and pecans, not knowing that was adding carbs or calories, because I didn’t know how to count those at the time.

But once I did figure out how to count calories, I went overboard. I started at 700, then moved up to 900. I spent a few weeks only eating back the calories I burned — so unless I went to the gym for 2 hours in the morning, I didn’t eat. Once skating started again, I realized I couldn’t function on 900 calories a day, so I upped it to 1350. However, because I was no longer ‘counting’ exercise, I didn’t know I was burning at least 700 calories a day in-season. As a result, I was only consuming 700 net calories a day for 8 months.

Soon my weight slipped .. 137lbs, 125, 119, 112. I stopped getting periods. My bones stuck out. Even got some pressure wounds from being in the bathtub because my spine would grind against the porcelain while I was bathing.

My saddest memory was writing a Christmas list in which I asked for a heated blanket, heated slippers, sweaters, and warm pyjamas. I didn’t even realize it until I got better, but I think that may have been my body crying for help. In fact, I cried all Christmas. Late November I was given a very dire prognosis. Nobody knew what to do until I could be hospitalized; but there were no openings for another month. They weren’t sure I’d live past another couple weeks. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. I just wanted to live.

112 was when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. All in all I sunk to about 100lbs.

The wake-up call happened when knee slipped out of place during practice because I didn’t really have muscle to hold it in anymore. I spent a month and a half in a straight-legged brace, and had to quit figure skating.

Once my knee was healed, I was hospitalized for EDNOS (eating disorder non-otherwise specified … I had classic symptoms of anorexia, but was more obsessed with the counting calories than anything — even my weight). The hospital staff was very worried about me at first, but I managed to become healthy in a mere 2 months. I gained 20lbs in that time by eating a second dinner most nights. Whenever a patient left the hospital and their food tray was sent in, I decided to have it. I had completely given up my restricting, voluntarily. I had given up the will to fight against myself. I just wanted to heal.

Because I healed quickly and still knew a lot about food, people began to recommend I get a degree in nutrition. It took until I was 21 to decide I should (I had gotten over my eating disorder by the age of 17).

I was excited at first. After being an athlete for 10 years and surviving an eating disorder, I thought I could save the world.

Unfortunately, I believe that Nutritionism is the wrong route for that.

Don’t get me wrong, it is the right route for many people. And it can help many other people. However, in other ways, the industry that has been created by Nutritionism can be harmful.

I believe it is an honest mistake. They want to help people, they truly do. But I believe that by using unscientific methods such as iridology, recommending unneeded enemas, ‘food typing’, and using products for cleanses and detoxes that aren’t necessarily FDA approved — they may sometimes be doing more harm than good. Some of them, that is. Not everybody uses those methods or recommends such things. In fact, in the degree they strongly recommend you look up studies and learn how to read them properly. Ironically, though, they still provide many texts with the course that are anti-vaccine, anti-modern medicine, and even anti-FDA and anti-hospitals.

I’ve seen people (colleagues, I guess you could call them? People in the same course as me, either way) advertising on Facebook that cancer patients should use their juice cleanses instead of going through with chemotherapy. Things like that make me very, very sad. In fact, I often wish I would’ve opted for the route of a Dietitian instead, when I see things like that.

Some of you may be wondering what the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian is.

Dietitians hold a bachelor’s degree, Nutritionists do not. It takes approximately 2 years to become a Dietitian, 1-2 to become a Nutritionist. That doesn’t mean Nutritionists may not hold other bachelor’s degrees if they decide to pursue other fields — it just means they don’t get one with the Nutritionist course.

Nutritionists take their courses at private, privately funded colleges made for Nutritionism only; Dietitians study at a University.

Nutritionists also study the spiritual and holistic side of things; from your sleep schedule, down to your chakras. Dietitians do not. However, Dietitians often formally study Agriculture during their course. They also go way more in-depth when it comes to medical stuff.

They both require a little bit of biochemistry, as well as anatomy. My anatomy textbook in my Nutritionist course was my favourite, as was my chemistry one. They were the only ‘serious’ textbooks I got, in my opinion. They had the facts and nothing but the facts, as well as a number of proper studies.

They are both board certified (at least in Canada); however, Nutritionists are more privately certified, while Dietitians are government certified, as far as I’m aware.

Becoming a Dietitian often has strict prerequisites, such as partaking an undergraduate program. Nutritionists can go into their course with nothing but a high-school diploma or GED.

The term ‘Nutritionist’ is so unregulated in places, you can’t even legally use the prefix ‘Registered’ in Alberta, because they reserve that right for Dietitians.

Dietitians can work alongside doctors and in hospitals. Nutritionists are not legally allowed to treat or diagnosed anyone (although that doesn’t mean they don’t bend their words to try — like how I mentioned above, trying to cure cancer with juice fasts or ‘Gerson therapy’ — which is $65k a year to down chopped raw liver and receive coffee enemas).

I believe a lot of people go into Nutrition with pure intentions, like I did.

However, after being provided with textbooks that said such horrifying things (there was even a holistic magazine provided with the course, used for study, that said you shouldn’t bring your kid to the hospital if they have a high fever, even at 104*F — the temperature doctors unanimously agree starts to become a danger to mortality). In fact, that book further recommends you should put your kid in a hot bath or wrap them in blankets to aggravate their fever. I told myself I would burn that book after I finished my course, I was so appalled.

Another was anti-vaccine. So vehemently so that it tried to say you were poisoning your child if you gave them one. And yet another said the same about GMOs (of which I will discuss the pros and cons of another day — but I believe that in general, they can be helpful … indeed, they did save the lives of 1 billion people in drought-ridden countries shortly after they were created, but more on that later. It is still a very controversial subject).

The more and more I ‘learned’ from the Nutritionist course, the more and more I studied and taught myself the opposite, because something just seemed ‘fishy’.

It has gotten to the point where I failed my final and I’m scared to re-try it because I just don’t know what to say anymore. Half of the time I fill out answers I feel like I’m making stuff up; like the section of the course where I was supposed to predict which chakra someone had damaged by what crisis they were having in their life. I had never re-read a book so much to get an answer. I honestly felt like I was pulling things out of my ass. I have nothing against that sort of thing. Indeed, I found the book generally enjoyable to read, and consider myself quite open-minded. (For those of you who don’t know, chakras are basically invisible spiritual channels in your body that can effect different body parts, often based on ‘chi’ or ‘qi’ — invisible ‘life force’ energy from traditional Asian medicine. There is no evidence they exist. They’re kind of a spiritual/religious thing. No hard feelings to those who do believe them — I just believe it’s difficult to do a test on something I can’t really quantify.).

But basing a test on it? Exhausting. I felt like I was getting my degree in being a psychic, not helping people eat better. It may be some people’s cup of tea, but it was not mine, at least not at the time.

Indeed, some Nutritionists go on to get higher educations. Some may study on their own time for hundreds of hours, like I do. Some may be very educated, even more-so than Dieticians in some cases. A degree doesn’t define you as a human, nor does it define the limits of what you can learn — it merely provides you a platform with which to study. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ folk of all degrees — doctors, lawyers, teachers, policemen. Some are more learned than others. Some got better marks. Some are more passionate. Some are more indifferent.

The point is, I believe I got started on the wrong foot. That doesn’t mean you did. That doesn’t mean I’m discrediting all of Nutritionism. I simply believe it needs vastly more updated texts and regulations before people should begin to take it more seriously. That doesn’t mean you or I are bad at our jobs. It just means that, evidence provided, I feel the Nutritionist degree is lacking. And if you have a passion for it, I believe you should further your education in other ways — rather than trapping yourself in the holistic dogma often associated with it.

Thanks for listening, and I hope this post didn’t anger anyone. I just wanted to be honest for a moment, as well as tell my story. Again, what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. If you want to go gluten-free, go for it. If you want to believe in food combining, go for it. If you want to have a consultation by a Nutritionist, go for it. I’ve had one before (back before I knew what a Nutritionist was, let alone attempted to become one). Heck, I’m the one here downing the protein shakes, so why should you be listening to me? 😛

I believe it is absolutely wonderful that people have such a wide range in freedom of choices. It’s just when that wide range has corners that may or may not be trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, that I feel I need to speak out about it. And that’s exactly why Nutritionism isn’t for me.

The Ecological Impact of Too Many Choices

These days, people want it all. We want regular potato chips, baked potato chips, all the flavors we’ve had in the past, and new ones too. We also want juices that are unpasteurized, pasteurized, half-sugar, no sugar added, regular, sweetened with sucralose, or stevia and erythritol for those who don’t like the idea of sucralose. We also want full-calorie, low-calorie, low-fat, sugar-free, low-carb, and gluten-free foods. We want the option to have cheap conventional coffee as well as shade-grown and fair-trade coffees so we can choose between saving money and feeling better about the environment.

On top of this we also want the option of electric cars, high gas mileage vehicles, giant trucks, or those that can seat a small army of either children or commuters. We want the latest iPhones and we want them NOW. We complain that things coming from China are terrible in regards to labour but do we ever stop and think of the ecological impacts of too many choices in other regards, such as with food and ethical labelling?

We must understand that in order to have regular food, organic food, and non-GMO food, we must make more and more crops in order to adhere to people’s widely varying modern preferences. Now we’ve got crops of regular corn, organic corn, non-GMO corn, and the odd biorhythmically grown corn crop as well. All of these crops must be separate to meet said demands, because consumers don’t want their organic corn contaminated by conventional growing methods, and their biorhythmic foods must not be grown during the wrong orbit.

Some of these things are positive, such as organic farms using less energy and more nutrient retention in the soil. Some of these things are not, noting that the same study cites that organic farming needs more land for their yields, has the potential to cause more water pollution, and has a more acidifying effect on the surrounding environment. This being said, it still has an overall lesser impact on the environment than conventional growing. The problem being, however, that with lower yields, there is the tricky balance of being better for the environment but still needing extra land cleared for crops. Thankfully as studies like this continue to surface, these issues are being acknowledged and worked on.

Another worrying thing is that, in addition to wanting non-local foods year round such as coconuts, pineapples, bananas, mango, and dragon fruit — we also want exotic specialty ‘superfoods’ such as noni, mangosteen, acai and goji berries, and so on. The list seems to increase every year, trying to sell us something exotic from afar and promising it as a new ‘fountain of youth’, when we have foods like that in our own climate such as blueberries that we sadly ignore while increasing our carbon footprint for the far-away promise of health.

Demographers predict that the population could either hit 11 billion by 2100 or cap off at 8 or 9 billionIf the former does occur, will we really be equipped to provide food and residence for a growing number of people while we continue to screw around with land … trying to up-sell things to people who are just getting fussier and fussier, blinded by the notion of health (or lack there-of) or labels?

And it’s not just our fault. A lot of our crops go towards feeding livestock. However, with a lot of people strongly refusing to reduce their intake of meat, what does this have to say for the future? As revealed by the infographic article linked earlier in this paragraph, it seems the US is trying to get more milk from fewer cows. This efficiency is actually better for the environment, as there becomes less waste as less cows are needed. It also reveals that corn may be more efficient for this than grass. It challenges popular concerns: food transportation may be beneficial in some cases, as more local trips may be necessary to get the mass quantities of eggs needed for a supermarket, stacking on the miles opposed to longer transportation of a higher volume of eggs from farms that are further away. However, all these things have downsides such as the possible use of antibiotics and hormones, as well as animals becoming sick.

Regarding fruits and vegetables, are we really okay with the fact that cutting down forests is the most popular method of creating crops? And seeing as Canada may be one of the places that will have their crops least affected by climate change, are lots of our forests going to be cut down in sacrifice of higher population and global emissions? How would people cope when they realize that Canada’s climate can’t support many of the foods they want? That a lot of things may have to be greenhouse grown considering many places in Canada have 6-8 month periods of snow?

Could we fix this by eating less, considering that 35% of adults in the US and about a quarter of Canadians are obese, and that 15% of food that is thrown out isn’t even opened? Or is the remedy simply more exercise?

Either way, whether or not we’re overeating, while we’re still tossing that much food, do we really need even more choices when it comes to processed and packaged foods? And do we really need more exotic foods shipped in from overseas? Where does freedom of choice versus resource management come into play?

For the time being, perhaps compromises on both sides are needed. Less specialty health-food, and less new flavours of soda and chips. But until we stop our massive habits of consumption, only time will tell how much of that silver spoon will be left in the next few decades.

Are artificial sweeteners evil?

Sweetener

Are artificial sweeteners evil?

It is a debate that has been going on for decades.

Oddly enough, the word ‘artificial’ creates hostility on its own. Many people associate ‘artificial’ with something bad. You know what is artificial? Flying on a plane and getting to the other side of the world in 16 hours or less. Driving a car. Eating cereal that came in a printed, pre-packaged box. Having a skin graft or a lung transplant. Taking medicine. Having a blog.

Are half of these things bad? No. But they don’t have the word ‘artificial’ in them, so they seem less likely to be misconstrued. Call it ‘artificial transport’ and then see what people say after a few years. Probably either hostility defending it, or a lot more people choosing to walk.

However, I digress. I must admit to being the neutral party when it comes to the actual subject matter. I believe artificial sweeteners are both good and bad.

Why?

The good:

They can help with weight loss and blood pressure reduction. Alternatively, though, so can reducing your sugar intake. I would call it a moot point, then, but do acknowledge the fact that they can indeed help dieters with poor impulse control when it comes to sweets. This may be a good thing for those with a risk of diabetes.

The aspartame -> brain tumour ‘link’ is likely a fallacy. There were simply not enough potential causes isolated to garner it a real concern.

Sucralose is proven safe to consume, even in ridiculous amounts. A packet of Splenda contains 12mg of sucralose. Scientists were having subjects safely consume up to 500mg per day (that’s 41.6 packets in a day!).

Men who drink diet soda instead of regular soda might have a reduced risk of heart disease. However, this seems to depend on other factors as well, so I wouldn’t call it the be-all end-all to your current soda habit.

The bad:

They might actually make you more hungry. Artificial sweeteners have no effect on ghrelin, the hormone that makes us hungry. Real sugars, however, can reduce it; making us less hungry. Marginally so, but still enough for a statistical difference.

They might cause you to eat more fat. They are also not very useful when it comes to people who aren’t dieting, as they will usually end up ‘eating back’ the ‘missing’ calories later in the day.

Artificial sweeteners mixed with alcohol cause you to get drunk more quickly than their sugar-sweetened counterparts. Why is this bad? Those who ‘go big or go home’, or are known to start a party with a rapid succession of alcohol consumption may be at higher risk of alcohol toxicity without even knowing it. In fact, this effect may be even worse when caffeine is addedsuch as in the case of mixing diet cola and alcohol.

There is also some evidence that those who regularly consume artificial sweeteners may not feel as satisfied when they consume real sugars, causing them to over-indulge. They may even lose interest in less-sweet foods that may be necessary for good health.

There are other things out there to discuss as well, such as how they purportedly increase incidences in cancer. However, I did not find any studies concrete enough about that for me to feel worthy of linking. There is still a lot of controversy about it, even in the scientific world, it seems. I suppose we’ll just have to wait to find out more.


So should you consume artificial sweeteners or not?

Well, that is completely up to you.

As noted by my introduction postI believe in moderation. I think they’re fine, but I prefer having them in foods where they’re already mixed in – I still use sugar in recipes. When I consume artificial sweeteners in ‘regular’ foods, my preferences are varied. I might put a packet of sucralose-based sweetener in my oatmeal every couple weeks, because stevia can taste like vomit to me (at least in oatmeal .. oddly enough, I am fine with using it in hot chocolate or smoothies). I use both sucralose and stevia-sweetened protein powders equally enough. When it comes to sodas, I prefer sugar alcohols. They seem to make me crave less sweet stuff afterwards, compared to acesulfame-potassium. That is just me, though. You could be completely different in your preferences, and I am a-okay with that.

Whatever you do, just make sure not to over-do it. That goes with both sugar and artificial sweeteners; as both have their upsides and downsides.