My Big Fat Fabulous Life – Season 2 Wrap-up: Reaction from Whitney’s Dietitian

Season 2 of “My Big Fat Fabulous Life” just wrapped up with a special interview with Whitney Thore and TLC execute producer Mike Kane. Did you watch it? If not, check for reruns on TLC. This show is hysterical, and highlights the best parts of this season, including keys to finding health with PCOS and pre-diabetes.

*Spoiler Alert* We know that Whitney was able to decrease her blood sugar, because her A1c (a graduated 3-month average of blood sugar) went from 6.4% to 5.4%. How did Whitney move toward health? She moved away from fear as a motivator, stopped using weight-loss as progress, and looked more into behavior change.

My favorite moment from the show: Whitney said that she moved toward health because she approached change differently. When the show started, she saw herself as a “fat woman with a good weight loss story”. Now she sees there is so much more to life than just losing weight. I’m grabbing tissues just thinking about it!

I reacted to a lot of the conversation between Whitney and Mike. Here are some of my thoughts.

Diabetes is not a death sentence

In my first 6 or 7 years in nutrition, I specialized in diabetes, becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE).  The education and experience showed me diabetes is, indeed, NOT a death sentence. Our society has long held beliefs that a diabetes diagnosis means losing limbs and blindness. Of course, this can and still happens, yet the frequency has decreased significantly. Why? Because diabetes research has helped us understand how to control blood sugar via food, self-care, movement, and medicine. Also, we no longer wait until someone has fasting blood sugars in the 200 and 300s to call it diabetes before we do something about it. Instead, we use a blood test called an A1c, which provides a longer-term picture of blood sugar levels than daily testing.

Fifty percent of women with PCOS develop diabetes or pre-diabetes by the time they reach forty years of age. Don’t let this statistic paralyze you — let it keep you informed. Before Whitney met with me during season 2, she was frightened by her pre-diabetes diagnosis and ready to cut out just about every food choice. Whitney is not the only one who’s tried to change her eating habits quickly because of health fears. Many move toward fear as a motivator, something that ends up hurting people in the long run. Fear tends to promote impulsive decisions, fad diets, and the seeking of quick results rather than health.

There’s another way fear keeps people from controlling blood sugar. Because of the stigma that comes with living in a larger body, many of my clients with PCOS feel too much shame to get regular medical check ups. I wish more health care providers communicated empathy and health solutions instead of just harping on weight loss. I’m working on that, and so are many others. In the meantime, no matter what your size, get your A1c checked each year, so you’re kept in the loop. Knowledge is power!

Get away from the number on the scale

If you and I had just one conversation about healthy eating and weight, I would want you to know these two secrets: 1) stop pursuing weight loss and 2) instead focus on behaviors that energize your body and you enjoy.

While viewing the MBFFL season wrap up, I had tears in my eyes hearing Mike say words like “get away from the number on the scale” and the number “doesn’t dictate your health”. Let me say ⎯ AMEN!

During our first session together, I told Whitney that “weight loss is not a behavior”; it’s a result of our behaviors. Behaviors are the foods we choose, the way we move our body, and our self-care habits. How our body reacts to behavior changes is dependent on an immeasurable number of variables, which may not show up on a scale as we had hoped.  Even more, if you experience PCOS, multiply these variables by 100. High testosterone and insulin levels, left untreated, can make the scale not move or go up.

There’s more to this than just behavior change. The more we focus on changing the scale, the more long-term health-markers worsen and weight goes up. More on this here.

Make health changes via eating, movement and sleep

When someone tells me that they’re going on a diet, I respond, “Oh, are you trying to gain weight?” I know I’m being a jackass with a comment like that, yet recent research supports the notion that dieting predicts weight gain.

How do we move away from high blood sugar, without focusing on weight loss or dieting?

  • Eating choices: Move toward mindful and attuned eating practices. I have written on these, extensively, in relation to people who have PCOS and those who don’t.
  • Movement: Instead of no pain / no gain, consider how your body enjoys moving. Whitney loves dancing. Do you? Or, do you enjoy walking, swimming, kick boxing, yoga? Or is it a mystery? Here’s more on finding the movement your body enjoys and helps improve health.
  • Sleep: I have two young children, and I’m obsessed with sleep. From what I hear, I’m not the only one who’s sleep-deprived. This sleepiness is hurting our health. If you’re affected by PCOS and sleep deprivation, this may be greatly contributing to blood sugar and insulin abnormalities. Here’s more on this.

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Thank you for welcoming me into your living rooms!

Thinking about all the kind words you’ve emailed, tweeted, or written to me about my time with Whitney on MBFFL fills my heart with gratitude. I’m energized knowing that speaking about weight stigma empowers you to advocate for yourself and reconnect to a healthy relationship with food.

I’m also thankful for the not-so-kind words, letting me know your disagreement with telling Whitney, a large woman, to not diet or cut out food groups. Both groups have motivated me, even more, to spread the message of body positivity and food peace. I hope that you’ll check out my podcast, coming soon. It’s the Love Food Podcast series, and I’ll bring to you these same messages I brought to Whitney. Check it out!

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Take care friends.

Warmly,

Julie

 

Your eating lessons from My Big Fat Fabulous Life: Food as punishment

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Whitney and Glenn Thore on My Big Fat Fabulous Life meet with Julie Duffy Dillon dietitian discussing food myths and truths.

I sat down with Whitney Thore and her dad Glenn Thore of TLC’s My Big Fat Fabulous Life. The session was filled with laughter, tears, and a loud grumbling stomach. In case you missed it, here’s a link to the show and information on this episode 6, The 5K.

The 90 minute session edited down to just a few minutes allowed you to hear lessons important for everyone. Over the next few weeks I will explore key points and teach you how to incorporate them into your own food experiences.

When I work with someone with pre diabetes or PCOS, food reward concerns come up quickly. Clients feel ashamed of eating experiences that feel out of control or binge-like. They believe this behavior is hurting their insulin levels and causing further disease.

Do you experience this too?

I think it is natural to blame the food rewards or bingeing yet I disagree. I told Glenn Thore he appeared to be using food as punishment. His cycles of starvation PRECEDING the food rewards were the cause. In order to change the cycle, he needed to stop starving. He needed to stop dieting and stop focusing on weight loss. More on this process here. If you have PCOS, here’s one especially for you.

Whitney mentioned her dad used food as a reward and culturally, this type of system ran through their family. It does for many of us! She and Glenn went through his typical routines ignoring hunger and waiting to eat until the work is done.

I find many of our nutrition problems are rooted in what we don’t see. The Thore Family saw the food reward system and thought that was the source of disease (pre diabetes).

I disagree. The point of disease inception stems from food avoidance and self-care neglect.

The times Glenn and any of us neglect hunger we are punishing ourselves. I find this especially to be true for those who are in fat bodies (or bodies thought to be fat). Our society speaks:

Fat bodies take up too much space. They need less food. Even if that hurts. Less is better.

I petition we help society do a 180.

As humans we are designed to need food for fuel. This includes fat bodies too. Human physiology doesn’t include earning rights to the metabolic equation. We need food to live.

Everyday. Many times a day.

Our bodies constantly churn and process to keep our noggin clear and our muscles moving. Even when we sleep, our muscles and brain need fuel.

How cool we can know how much fuel we need just by this nudge of hunger. And how perverse our world is teaching us to ignore or worse, distrust it!

Here’s the secret: the more we punish ourselves and restrict/diet/starve, the more we will reward ourselves with food. The food reward is not the cause nor the problem. This is just the human body being a successful human.

Next time you binge, emotionally eat or overeat take a step back.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When did you last eat?
  • Was it enough?
  • How much food have you allowed yourself today?

Most binges start by not eating enough earlier in the day. More on this here.

Have you neglected hunger like Glenn? Do you even notice hunger anymore?

If relying on hunger sounds scary or impossible there’s a way. Consider experimenting with info here.

Your eating lessons from My Big Fat Fabulous Life and Whitney Thore

I sat down with Whitney Way Thore of My Big Fat Fabulous Life. I am honored she trusted in me to guide her toward health. Plus, we got to share the visit with you during episode 2.

Whitney Way Thores's dietitian Julie Duffy Dillon.
Laughing and crying with Whitney Thore during season 2 of My Big Fat Fabulous Life on TLC.

I found Whitney to be a kind, genuine, charismatic woman who got me in stitches with her goofiness. Do you know why Whitney is so captivating to watch on TV? She is like all of us: afraid for her health, feeling the pressure, and not wanting to lose herself.

I gave Whitney pointers and here are ways you can incorporate them into your life.

Are you afraid for your health?

Whitney tearfully described her fears of diet prison. She was terrified of the all too familiar head space where she’s afraid of anything she eats, a slave to the gym and chained to the scale. Whitney is not the only one who has tried to change her eating habits quickly because of health fears. Many move toward fear as a motivator. I find this type of motivator hurts us in the end. Fear tends to promote impulsive decisions, fad diets, and quick results over health. If you have walked in Whitney’s shoes and experienced that same terrifying head space, read on.

Weight loss is not a behavior

When My Big Fat Fabulous Life premiered, the cast got together to celebrate. I met a fabulous young woman named Samantha. She described doctors refusing to treat her medical conditions until she lost weight. That would be fine and dandy if weight loss was really calories in calories out and a proven method to work. BUT it is not. Surprised? Read more herehere, and here.

I told Whitney “weight loss is not a behavior” because we cannot control what the scale does in reaction to eating, exercise, and self care habits. Behaviors = the food we choose and the way we move our body. How our body reacts is up to an immeasurable amount of variables. Even more, if you experience PCOS multiply this by 100. High testosterone and insulin levels left untreated will make the scale not move or go up.

When Samantha told me doctors refuse to treat her medical conditions UNTIL she loses weight I wanted to scream. Doctors, I appreciate you have good intentions, yet you are keeping this young woman from finding health. And, this practice is discriminatory.

Say NO to the Food Police

Black and white thinking, in the psychology world, is referred to as a cognitive distortion. It is distorted and pathological because not much lives on opposite sides. Rather, our world has continuums and shades of grey.

Sadly, society losses sight of this concept with food. We categorize it as right or wrong.

Good or bad.

All or nothing.

Black or white.

This is a trap my friends.

When we set up food as ____is good and ____ is bad we are setting ourselves up to fail.

Here’s why:

  • Nutrition science is a fluid science. This means it is always changing and never exact. Most nutrition research is based on correlational methods. This can only suggest a relationship NOT cause and effect. Next time you read “Eating sugar causes diabetes” or “Eating fat causes a heart attack” note the error. And send the author a Research Methods 101 textbook. I will pitch in.
  • Good versus bad food ideas relate to morality. I teach my children and my clients the only bad foods are the ones we steal. If you pay for it, it is good. I think it is easy to call a food good or bad yet it is inaccurate. Stop using lazy terms and go for accuracy.
  • Relating food to morality harms our ways of relating to food. This is especially true for children. Those genetically predisposed to eating disorders learn this cognitive distortion and can find an eating disorder waiting eagerly around the corner.
  • Using all or nothing thinking about food sets up a perfectionism that does not exist in nature nor is necessary. Eating one Twinkie or Donut will not cause diabetes or kill us.

Eating less is not better!

Eat less often or fewer calories has been twisted to equal healthy for everyone. As I mention in My Big Fat Fabulous Life, eating too little is harmful. Keep in mind:

  • Every binge starts with not eating enough earlier.←Tweet this Don’t blame the “tempting” food or a lack of willpower. Binge eating starts with a diet and overly restrictive eating habits.
  • Eating infrequently stresses out our body. I explain to Whitney that it makes our body go into a starvation mode. This means it taps into primal brain communication demanding us to eat and EAT NOW! This will feel out of control or binge like. It isn’t in reality. It is just being human. More here.
  • Eating infrequently sets up the body to want to binge which then pummels our body with glucose then insulin. These spikes are exhausting to our physiology. Insulin and blood sugar spikes hurt body systems like blood vessels. And, the more insulin spikes, the more weight goes up since insulin is a growth hormone. So if you aren’t interested in gaining more weight, stop dieting. Restriction/dieting predicts weight gain. Tweet this Skeptical? That’s ok. Learn more here.

Your body has the answers

Burn your diet books. Walk away from boot camps. Stop looking outside of you for the food and exercise answers. Each of us has our voice inside letting us know how to eat for health and pleasure. Don’t hear it? Doesn’t matter because whether you are looking or not your body is still communicating. Before you eat your next meal or snack pull up a chair. Listen. Open yourself to the options.

Warning: saying no to diets may feel wrong. It may even feel neglectful. Many people tell me it feels like letting yourself go. It’s not letting yourself go. It’s letting yourself Be.←Tweet this