The internalised messages of needing to be in a particular sized body are very strong in our culture. And extremely damaging to women's mental health and wellbeing.
Have you heard that weight loss diets don’t work, but only 95 % of the time? Its true- statistically, they actually pretty much all backfire long term. But because they all tend to work in the short term, dieting is a perfect way to make women feel inadequate and guilty for not being strong willed enough to continue. Dieting has also caused so many women to have eating disorders that these have become normalised. Do we even remember what it is like to eat ‘normally’, as we did as kids (if we were lucky)?
I have been through a bit of a revolution in my own thinking around weight issues and diets recently due to my own experience, and doing some reading and research. I love to research and learn (and unlearn) things that completely change my thinking around a topic, especially a health topic.
Doctors and other well meaning people including natural health practitioners, often can’t see past a weight issue and presume fat people are lazy and overeat, wheras that isn’t usually true at all but is a cultural sterotype and bias. Rather than focus on health and the reasons, often financial or social for poor lifestyle patterns, health professionals often focus mainly on weight loss for health issues in people who weigh more than the societal ideal, which actually doesn’t work. This approach leaves people feeling disempowered, unheard and unseen, and further prone to self ridicule that they can’t do something they think other people can do- lose weight.
Pretty much no one can continue a calorie restricted diet indefinitely, because the body has such deeply wired survival mechanisms to defend against starvation.
These survival processes include:
Slowing down the metabolism when we eat less, making us cold and sluggish
Making us hungrier than ever, literally
Making food taste better than ever, especially the high caloric forbidden ones
Making us obsess about food
Lowering our mood
These mechanisms frequently induce a bingeing impulse to balance the starvation effect. Familiar?
The science around dieting is actually pretty clear. Restrictive dieting (of calories, of whole food groups such as carbs or fats) doesn’t work long term. We cannot in the long term usually override these primal, evolutionary mechanisms which are designed to make us find food and eat it, now, when we have undereaten.
So, after the first high from the enthusiasm, good intention, excitement and determination to finally become the ideal size we want to be, and the rush of positive feedback from initial weight loss....it becomes gruelling, and we become miserable, but we hang in there for varying lengths of time, telling ourselves it will work this time and we can eat like this forever.
This can last for weeks or even months, even a couple of years for some. But 95% of people do not maintain their weight loss and have returned or exceeded where they were before dieting, within 5 years. Not because they are weak but because their body is doing what is is designed to do, and doing it very well. It is designed to survive! It can override our conscious mind quite easily. We are not weak, we are perfectly normal. In fact, we are the descendants of the people who didn’t starve because these mechanisms were so strong!
So why do we want to lose weight in the first place? For many people it is because of an ideal in our heads that was put there by the advertising and fashion industry, and then reinforced by the medical industry. We are not all meant to be the same size, and the BMI scale is not so scientific as you might think.
Why not focus directly on the health issues....and the lifestyle, dietary, exercise prescriptions and social support that will support the health issues...rather than the weight? Telling people to lose weight hasn’t worked yet- why do we keep doing it?
It is possible to be healthy and weigh more than the BMI scale tells you is healthy. In fact, carrying some extra weight improves longevity and recovery from illness, according to good studies. The science behind everyone needing to be slim for best health is not actually solid at all, but it is so entrenched in our culture that even despite evidence to the contrary, health professionals keep teaching it and focusing on weight rather than health and wellbeing. And when the issues are often social and economic disadvantage, it completely misses the mark.
Self love, self kindness, self acceptance, are so much healthier for us than disordered eating patterns will ever be. But ask any teenage girl and half of them at least will be on a diet of some sort. It starts young, and it is the antithesis of self love, and it leads to disordered eating patterns. And when we eat in a disordered way, listening to external authorities and ideals we have internalised, instead of our own natural appetite, we have lost touch with what our body wants and needs.
We have lost touch with what normal eating looks like and replaced it with ideals and beliefs (which change regularly - low fat, low carb, vegan, keto etc). Normal eating means we eat when we are hungry and sometimes we eat when we are not hungry. SOmetimes we naturally eat more such as when feasting or in social situations, and we eat what feels good to us- and we are in touch with what we feel like eating- we eat intuitively, naturally. Our weight does stabilise and our appetite varies. We listen to our bodies. We enjoy our food but it becomes a normalised part of our life, not an obsession. We don’t think about food all the time, or about our weight all the time. We don’t obsess about what we can’t have, or how we should look. We enjoy our bodies, our natural appetite, food and movement, in a more natural way.
I was on a post-menopausal diet (to lose a few kgs). I considered it was working and beneficial and had the initial weight loss and even maintained for a year. Then I became obsessed with food, and ridiculously hungry. My next meal was all I could think about. I realised something was not right about this, and my picture of what I should look like and weigh was skewed and not worth the food obsessiveness. And it wasn’t working anyway after a while. I could feel my metabolism slowing down, and I had to eat less and less to maintain the lower weight. Something in me recognised I had to let go and follow my natural appetite and let my weight fall where it will. Then I did some reading (such as the books I have listed at the end) and recognised myself in them.
When we deprive ourselves of what we crave, we can become obsessed with it (which can lead to bingeing). When we have permission to eat what we want, it loses its power over us- although it takes a leap of faith to trust that it will. Of course, we also eat for emotional reasons, which is natural....and if the disordered eating patterns are triggered by trauma, or started in childhood, or extreme, it can take some unravelling and healing, perhaps even needing counseling and trauma work. What is clear though is that believing that the disordered eating and dieting culture will resolve the underlying trauma and “weight issues”, or that focusing on weight will resolve health issues in the long run, is misleading. It just doesn’t.
Here are a few books if this topic intrigues you, and you would like to be free of yo yo dieting and disordered eating, and come back to enjoying food and eating normally.
I am a practitioner who is embracing this way of thinking, and I wish to support people of any size and weight to be healthy, to resolve health issues including those traditionally associated with excess weight and to feel relaxed and free of weight loss fixation, the diet industry and unrealistic ideals. This may involve some unravelling of conditioning, and some re-learning to love and accept ourselves as we are, and only from here can we be free and comfortable in our own bodies, and kind enough to ourselves to respect and listen to the wisdom of our bodies.
Body Respect : What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out and Just Plain Fail to understand About Weight by Linda Bacon PhD and Lucy Aphramor PhD
Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole
Health at Every Size by Lucy Bacon PhD
The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner
Body Beautiful by Anuschka Rees
Some of the preventable risk factors for disease in Australia are:
Smoking represents 9% of the total disease burden in Australia, more than any other single risk factor. Just under 15% of Australians smoke daily, more men than women, and these rates are fortunately decreasing. Smoking is more common amongst the disadvantaged than the affluent. It is associated with several cancers and many other conditions.
Drinking alcohol more than recommended is over 5% of the disease burden - 20% of Australians average drinking more than the recommended, although overall this risk is falling. It is however a risk factor more common with affluence than disadvantage.
Over half of Australians do not get the minimum recommended amount of exercise. The disadvantaged are less likely to be sufficiently physically active than the affluent.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for 1/3 of Australians and this may be related to weight but particularly to lack of exercise and diet, irrespective or weight.
5% os Australians have diabetes (85% of them Type 2) and another 3% have impaired fasting glucose, and this is much more common with disadvantage, especially in Indiginous communities. Half of these do not get the recommended amount of daily exercise. Overall, this condiiton is increasing and is predicted to become 10% of the population by 2040.
Nutiritonal factors account for around 7% of the disease burden, according to the Bureau of Statistics. Half of Australians do not eat the recommended 2 serves of fruit daily, and and 93% do not eat the recommended 5 serves of vegetables. Yes, that is 9 out of 10 people do not eat enough vegetables recommended by the rather conservative government recommendations.
Teasing apart the risk of obesity and its consequences is not so easy because by itself, its not necessarily a risk factor, although it seems like it is in most statistics- this is more because of bias than anything. Obese people are less likely to be active, but if they are active and eat well (and about a third of them do), their risk falls dramatically. And many who are normal weight, have higher risk factors because they fall under the radar if they don’t exercise or eat well, or if they smoke, which is the case for many.
These are the basics, and a lot of this is to do with disadvantage. However, affluence is not preventing most Australians to not eat enough vegetables, and half to not eat 2 pieces of fruit a day. And alcohol is a risk factor prevalent with affluence.
This cannot be solved with telling people to exercise more and eat better, when causes are tied up with disadvantage- it is more complex than that. But those of us who can, can make sure we eat our vegetables, get enough basic exercise, and drink in moderation.
Have you been told you have Adrenal Fatigue? The term "adrenal fatigue" is probably not an accurate way to describe the symptoms it is referring to. And this term is criticised by the medical profession and is not a medical term or diagnosis.
However, fatigue is real. The term "adrenal fatigue" usually refers to the deep exhaustion and often associated physical symptoms, after a period of stress and/or trauma. Some people just cannot function normally or are even bedridden, just from fatigue.
Adrenal insufficiency IS a diagnosable medical condition (Addison's Disease), but this is usually not what we are referring to when we talk about adrenal fatigue.
The issue with the term "adrenal fatigue" is that it is referring to the adrenals sort of burning out and it's not quite like that. The adrenals, hypothalamus and pituitary glands are all connected (HPA axis) and there are feedback mechanisms in the body which regulate all hormones. When we are stressed for months or years- and this is becoming increasingly normal- the body is continuously flooded with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin.
Long term exposure to these hormones is not good for the body, so it downregulates their production after some time. It stops producing so many of them- it is actually an intelligent mechanism by the body to stop long term damage from being flooded with hormones which are meant to only be produced for short periods.
But when there are less of these hormones in the system- and these can be measured in blood and salivary tests- we feel exhausted and just can't keep functioning at the level we were functioning before. Adrenaline and cortisol make us hyper-functional for a while ( in order to run away from that tiger)- but eventually, we do collapse and feel exhausted and wonder why we can't keep going like before.
Can you see this is the body's protection mechanism- to keep us safe and to slow us down? And do we listen? Usually not! We just want a magic pill to be able to get back up and keep going! We take herbs and supplements and do the minimum of rest in order to "get back to normal". As if the symptom is the main problem.
If you use herbs that help support the adrenals and build tolerance to stress (adaptogens).....to avoid taking steps to reduce stress in your life, or change the way you handle stress....you will only head toward a deeper burnout further down the track. Herbs need to be respected too. They have their place but they shouldn't replace a good evaluation of one's stress levels.
Stress breeds stress. When we are stressed, we feel we HAVE to keep going at that pace. But it's rarely actually true, it just feels like it. And if it is true, then there are many ways to ameliorate the stress. Fatigue after long term stress is a gift. It is the body's message, hey, its time to slow down, this isn't working any more.
So I suggest we stop using the term "adrenal fatigue" and just refer to it as fatigue. Deep fatigue, from being stressed or going through trauma.
Fatigue can also be related to so many other things of course- chronic virus infections, or many different health conditions. But "adrenal fatigue" as it is commonly used, refers to that fatigue that happens after long term stress.
This level of fatigue is becoming more and more common, unfortunately.
We have been messing with the microbiome on the planet for at least the last hundred years, with antibiotics, antiseptics, pesticides, fungicides and an attitude of annihilation. Now, relatively unknown species, once no threat, are rising as a major threat (drug resistant) because what used to hold them in check - other species of microbes - have been wiped out with powerful pesticides, fungicides & antibacterial products. In the case of the drug resistant fungus, Candida aureus, talked about in this New York Times article, it is believed that fungicides used in agriculture have led to its explosion to become a major threat in hospitals world wide.
Although the article doesn’t mention Australia, I did find that it is here, and is a notifiable disease of concern. It has been detected in Western Australia. It is certainly being taken seriously.
At this stage, these opportunistic microbes, such as the recent Candida aureus, are usually only a threat to the weak and vulnerable..newborns, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, many of whom can be found in hospitals.
As a Naturopath, I certainly encourage people to take this seriously and take the drugs the doctors prescribe, if infected and detected.
From a Naturopathic perspective... keeping the immune system healthy is the best form of prevention, and also treatment if conventional drugs fail, or alongside them. This can be done with a healthy diet, low sugar, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of sunshine for Vitamin D (without burning), and managing stress levels to keep them low as much as possible.
Then we can make sure our zinc levels are adequate, that we get plenty of Vitamin C, check our Vitamin D status, and take herbs such as Elderberry, Echinacea, Cats Claw and Medicinal Mushrooms.
Essential oils such as tea tree also have their place but need to be used with care as they are toxic in quite small amounts, especially for children and babies. They are however complex molecules to which microbes can find it difficult to build resistance.
But let's not be part of the mentality of trying to kill off all the microbes in our environment- they keep themselves in check if the environment is basically healthy, with fresh air, regular basic cleaning and washing with soap and water, and sunshine where possible. I allow the sun to shine on my bed every morning through an open window, just because I can. Sunlight is a wonderful antiseptic. (Of course, hospitals are not normal environments and need a different approach.)
This is the real world we are living in nowadays. I feel it's worth thinking about and acting preventatively and proactively. The medical world is struggling to deal with the uprise of resistant microbes. Perhaps this will be an opportunity for us to work together, to acknowledge that the health of the immune system can be influenced by diet, lifestyle, and herbal and nutritional supplements….and we can step aside when they need to pull out the big guns of powerful new medicines, when needed.
Are you perhaps lonely? Loneliness is being considered an epidemic in recent studies. Sure, many people have many online connections, but there is a tendency to have fewer real life face to face regular connections, poorer solid social networks. Social media is, of course, one reason but its been heading this way for decades in western countries.
Loneliness is associated with a shorter life span- the equivalent of 15 cigarettes a day shorter, and even more of a risk factor than obesity- and with coronary heart disease and strokes. It is a risk factor for many diseases.
The elderly are particularly prone to loneliness, but it can occur at any age, of course. Loneliness causes stress. When we feel socially isolated, subconsciously we feel we must be more aware of threats in our environment, and this triggers stress. When we feel connected to and surrounded by people who care for us, that we can rely on to be there when we really need, that builds a sense of safety. Stress however leads to a cascade of physiological changes such as increased inflammation and blood pressure and lowered immunity.
Research has shown that in countries where social media use is highest, loneliness is also the most pervasive. Talking to people face to face is quite a different experience for the whole person, than chatting on social media, and social media connections cannot compensate for the human need for real connection. It builds real resilence on a personal and community level.
One of the best things we can do for our health and wellbeing, and the future of ourselves, our kids and extended families, and our whole community, is to build meaningful connections with other people, face to face. It is just as important as stopping smoking, eating well, getting enough exercise, drinking enough water and all the other things we tend to focus on. Loneliness is so pervasive that we don't even think about it as a health risk factor, but we need to.
Do you have plans to connect with at least one other person who you care about and who cares about you, face to face, this weekend?
One of the things I have learned over the years is how much my body-mind loves rhythm and routine, and how calming that can be for my nervous system.
As a culture, we tend to have become quite disconnected from the rhythms of nature- the daily rhythm of light and dark, the seasonal rhythms, the monthly cycles. We stay up late under artificial lights, we eat at erratic times. Many people live in a sort of constant chaos, with an overly overstimulated nervous system.
Research has shown that people who have been through trauma- which is most of us, but some are more extreme - can really benefit from simple things like regular meal times, and bedtimes. Children especially benefit from the sense of stability that routines provide.
Learning to make 3 regular meals a day for Dave, my husband, and I, has meant we resort to take -aways, restaurants or poor food choices far less often. It does take a bit of organisation to have food in the house and some plans of what to do with it, and it has taken me years to refine that, and set up systems, such as a weekly organic box of fruit and veg being delivered.
We go to bed at a similar time most nights. We have a morning self-care routine before we start work for the day.
It sounds so simple, but it can make a big difference to a dysregulated nervous system. It is a shift from being buffeted by chaotic mental energies, to tuning into the natural world we are part of, and the needs of the body.
Do you resonate?
How close are you sitting to your WIFI router right now?
I just had a client who was sitting right next to hers all day every day for work. I have an electrosmog detector and it flashes warning (amber) within 3 metres of the wifi router, and red lights with siren sounds within 1 meter of the router. Of course, it is in a place as far from where we spend most of our time as possible.
The EMF detector also flashes red when placed on my mobile phone- even without a call happening- and close to my computer or iPad screens. I sit as far from any screens as possible when using them, because every cm of distance counts.
It's worth considering your cumulative daily exposure to EMFs, as we are surrounded by them in public and private places everywhere, and most people are married to their phones at the minimum. We don't know the long term effects but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of negative health effects.
Please don't give your small children your phone or iPad to play with, if it is still connected to the internet. Their systems are so open and sensitive, baby's skulls are still soft. Turn it on aeroplane mode and let them play with a downloaded program if needed.
Just because everyone is doing it and they all seem ok, doesn't mean it's ok, really. Just because science hasn't had the funding to prove health issues beyond doubt, doesn't mean its not true. We are guinea pigs living in a sea of electromagnetic smog we are not evolved to deal with, and awareness of it is at least a good beginning.
Are you a woman n your 40s or 50s, even 60s, and struggling with perimenopause or menopausal symptoms? Do you get the sense it just shouldn't be this hard? Our female ancestors didn't seem to have it this hard, so why do we?
Two things....stress, and an overloaded liver.
When the ovaries start to shut down the adrenals take over producing some of those hormones. When we are chronically stressed- which is completely normalised in our culture- our adrenals become overloaded and their capacity is stretched. So its a time when women often burn out and they simply can't cope with everything they could before, or they get depressed, anxious....its different for every woman.
The other issue is that it is our liver which processes the hormones in our body,. It breaks them down for excretion. Our liver also processes every toxin we bring into our body, including in food, in the air, in cosmetics and hair products, in sunscreen, in water......far more than any previous generations had to deal with. So our livers are overloaded. Just one of the symptoms of liver overload is hot flushes.
So....they are the two main areas that need lots of support for many women dealing with unpleasant menopausal symptoms. And it comes back to......
Looking after ourselves. Putting ourselves as a priority. Letting go of unnecessary obligations and focusing on what brings us peace and joy. Dealing with unavoidable stress by building our resilience, taking time for ourselves. And eating really well, supporting our liver by helping our detox processes.
It's a big topic, but a wholistic Naturopathic approach is to deal with the underlying issues, not just the symptoms. So it's also quite simple. It expresses slightly differently for every woman, but most of us are overloaded with toxins and stress.
Menopause is a sort of initiation for many reasons, but one is that we can't get away with putting everyone else first any more, our bodies won't let us. We have to look after ourselves as a priority. THEN, when we have adjusted our lives for more balance, we naturally step into our beautiful older woman power and beauty with grace. Our essence shines, and is no longer willing to be compromised.
Does this resonate for you?
Herbal remedies can be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs, for mild to moderate depression. In an examination of the previous studies on saffron, it was found that saffron is “superior to placebo” and “not inferior to antidepressants” for mild to moderate depression. https://www.thieme-connect.de/…/abstract/10.1055/a-0660-9565
St John’s Wort is more well known and also effective, and in some products is now being combined with saffron for depression. Yes, that’s the same saffron we use in cooking, that turns your rice bright yellow. It is the stamen of a beautiful crocus flower.
Herbs never have just one effect, like drugs are designed to do, and both of these herbal medicines have a wide range of wonderful uses. And very few side effects, unlike pharmaceutical drugs.
Even if one is not classically considered “depressed”, these herbs can help balance the nervous system, gladden the heart, and are wonderful for times of unrest and upheaval, and I often think of them for during menopause. They can help with rough sleep patterns.
What’s more, there is not really any risk in giving them a go, unless you are already on antidepressants. Then, while St Johns Wort is contraindicated, saffron can still be used.
Of course, there are many other factors to consider and the whole picture is always important. But its good to know these wonderful medicines exist, is it not?