This Is Not Okay

This pissed me off.

I mean, I don’t even know where to start with all the things that are wrong here. First of all, it’s a gift card. Meaning it’s intended to give to someone else. And why exactly would you decide to give this card to someone? It essentially suggests that a) they might need to go on a diet, or b) they are suffering through the 36th iteration of their yo-yo dieting cycle and there must be some sort of camaraderie in that suffering (how tragic!).

And then there’s the much larger issue: this card suggests that being ashamed of the way your body looks should be motivation to eat less food. AS IF JUST EATING LESS FOOD EVER MADE THINGS BETTER. Here’s the thing: there is not an inverse relationship between how much food you eat and how happy you are. Eating less (and/or exercising more) to lose weight will likely not make you happier, and might not even help you lose weight (if that’s your goal). Sadly, many of my functional medicine patients have fallen prey to the (failed) eat-less-and-exercise-more model. Often, simply eating less (by focusing on limiting calorie intake) contributes to future weight gain (through increased stress and impaired thyroid function) and a lower quality of life (due to subtle, long-term undernourishment). Yeah, read that part again. Being underfed and undernourished can make you fatter. It’s a real thing.

But I have to go back to the major problem I have with this shame-as-motivation idea. It kills me. Being unhappy with the way your body looks in the mirror should not trigger you to eat less of the same low quality food you’ve been eating. If you want to look better, get healthier. If you want to get healthier, make healthier food choices. That almost always involves tweaking what you eat, and only occasionally is a cut-and-dried “eat less” plan. Getting healthier (and probably getting hotter along the way) almost always involves eating higher quality (more nutrient-dense) food, exercising to emphasize functional strength and general physical activity (not loads of traditional “cardio”), sleeping more and better, reframing your relationship with technology in order to prioritise face-to-face connections with people, and altering the way you respond to the inevitable stressors of life through taking care to being present, mindfulness/mediation, deep breathing, etc.

Stress is a major driver of fat storage, and you know what’s stressful? Negative self-talk about the way you look, and using the mirror as your feedback device for “progress”. The mirror is just like the scale – a device for self-torture and a trigger for distorted behaviours. That’s one of the reasons that I don’t support before-and-after pictures, or weekly bikini/shirtless selfies in the mirror to monitor “progress”. It makes people focus on looking different instead of being different. Anyway, I digress.

Please, don’t eat naked in front of a mirror. Don’t stand semi-naked in front of your mirror and take “progress” shots. And don’t use how your body looks in the mirror as reliable data to guide your nutritional choices. It’s simply not a reliable guide. Instead, make better food choices rather than simply limiting your food intake. (If you’re not sure where to start with that, read my first book, It Starts With Food.) If you’ve been chasing weight loss for months or years by limiting your food intake (or by limiting your carbs, or fat grams, or blocks, or points, or calories), there’s a good chance that you’ll actually start losing weight when you emphasize nutrient density rather than limiting your total calorie intake. And even if you’re not interested in any of that, please… don’t let the (lying, cheating) mirror talk you out of eating enough nutritious food to make you a happy, healthy human.

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