Monday, March 15, 2010

THE WEIGHT OF WELLNESS

As a promoter of wellness, I am sometimes asked to have a booth at wellness fairs, and I had the opportunity to do so yesterday. My colleague and good friend, Debbie, was one of the organizers at the 2010 Wellness Day at her temple, where they've developed a wonderful program to promote enrichment and renewal throughout the year. This particular day combined a fantastic line-up of workshops with a variety of vendors.

When I arrived at temple I had to set up in a hurry - I had completely forgotten about the time change and was just deciding what to wear when my husband informed me that it was an hour later than I thought! Thank goodness I had packed up what I needed to bring the day before.

I displayed my handouts, brochures and books to teach people about the non-diet approach, and enjoyed the many conversations with attendees who stopped by to ask questions and share their experiences. As people left the room to attend a slot of workshops, I finally had a chance to look around.

Next to me on my right, there were two female doctors, primarily advertising skin care services, and I immediately noticed the botox brochures. I can't help having a reaction to that - it just makes me think about the constant focus on looking younger. One of these women came over to my table and asked about my services. After my explanation, she said, "we help people lose weight too." Hmmm....is that what I said? She picked up a copy of The Diet Survivor's Handbook and asked if she could take a look. "Sure," I said, hoping that would clarify my message. Apparently it did. She dropped it back off at my table, and never made eye contact with me again.

That interaction got me thinking. I wished I had asked her about how she helps people lose weight and what the results are. I am so reactive to people prescribing any kind of diet, that I generally just avoid the conversation.

So I decided to get curious. Instead of just feeling tense - and making all kinds of assumptions - I figured that in the quiet time between workshops, I would talk to other vendors and listen with an open mind.

I started with Herbal Life. I asked the woman behind the table to tell me what she was offering. She explained that she drinks these drinks (there were samples available, but they looked awful; my mind - and taste buds - weren't that open).

She made it clear that this was not a diet because, she agreed, diets don't work. Instead, she has a machine to check how much protein you need for your body, and you can then get however many grams it tells you are right for you through their protein drinks. I asked her why not get the protein through real food, and she told me that there were a lot less calories in the drink than food. On this not-a-diet plan she has lost 30 pounds since August and runs a program out of her home to help others do the same. I asked her if she had any statistics on how people were doing at sustaining their weight loss five years out - the standard set through the National Institutes of Health - and she told me that she didn't know, but that she thought it was a great question. I invited her to stop by my booth - she never did.

I returned to my table proud of myself for having the conversation, but feeling no relief for my tension. On my left, there was a social service organization that serves teens, and on their table was a large basket of stress balls. "Do you mind if I take one of those?" I asked the young woman at the table, "I could really use it." "Sure," she said. I chose a purple one and squeezed many times.

My next stop was kitty corner from me in the room where a woman was advertising her personal training program. She greeted me as I walked over and offered me a t-shirt, which read, "Have you seen yourself naked?" "No thanks," I said. "I wouldn't wear that." Despite my attempt to stay open minded, I couldn't help myself as I launched into an explanation.

"I think that makes people feel shame," I told her. "I think it gives the message that you don't look okay, and you'd better do something about it. I spend much of my life trying to counter that idea."

"No," she responded, "I thought people would think that too, but they love it."

Forget the stress ball. I needed a massage and took advantage of one of the vendor's knowing hands on my back. Ten minutes later, I was a bit more relaxed, and decided that I had made enough observations for one day.

But then I saw the chocolate guy! You may remember my previous blog about my love of chocolate. This guy's shirt said something about healthy chocolate, and unfortunately, the word "healthy," is always a buzz word to me for "diet." However, it was now that time of the afternoon when I craved some chocolate, and even though I had my Dove chocolates in my bag, I decided to go on one last adventure.

The chocolate guy explained to me that chocolate, which comes from cacao, is actually a vegetable! I didn't know that...but I did know that chocolate is said to have healthful benefits. One of these benefits, he explained to me, is weight loss. Here we go again!

I spent a lot of time talking to Scott about his chocolate product, which actually tasted good. He explained the history of chocolate to me, which was quite interesting. He says that the process of manufacturing chocolate strips it of most of it's beneficial compounds, which apparently include a high concentration of antioxidants (according to his materials, three squares of xocai chocolate "is equivalent to eating 1.6 pounds of spinach or 6.5 pounds of tomatoes.") Maybe this is a type of chocolate that people would like to know about and have access to - regardless of whether they lose weight by using it.

I think it's time for me to clarify my view of weight loss. I consider myself to be weight neutral, which means that I do not have expectation of what a person should weigh, or a determination that someone is "successful" if they do lose weight. It's not that I'm against weight loss - it's just that I object to it being a stated goal of a program, since while any type of diet produces weight loss in the short-run, there is absolutely no proven way to help the vast majority of people sustain weight loss over time (if that research existed, we'd all know about it!) And, it potentially causes physical and emotional harm when used as a primary motivation for change. If - or when - weight loss does happen, I view it as a side effect of whatever journey a person is on to enhance their wellness. I hope that everyone will end up at whatever is a natural weight for them.

As I returned to my booth, I realized I had learned something new from the chocolate guy, and it got me thinking - if people frequently feel they're not supposed to eat chocolate because it's a "bad" food, and now they're actually told to eat it three times a day because it's a healthful food, what happens? Does the deprivation end, allowing people to take pleasure once again in this truly pleasurable food? I think the chocolate guy got excited by my curiosity and thought that I might be interested in it for my clients. I like to think that my clients, when they're hungry for chocolate, will make sure to get some. If this particular type of chocolate feels like a good match - for whatever reasons - I hope they will make sure to have some.

On the way home from Wellness Day, I was describing the day's events to my husband. He asked to see the brochure of the fitness program with the tag line, "have you seen yourself naked?" and liked what he read about it. Her model of personal training seems helpful, and the actual title of her business promotes empowering one's body - what a wonderful idea. But the weight loss references are all over the place.

I can't help but wonder what the experience was like for people at the wellness fair as they moved from vendors promising weight loss to my booth - which proclaimed that diets don't work, and the focus on weight loss is counterproductive. Is it possible to "sell" wellness without promising weight loss? Let's just say that as I continue to show up and promote my view of wellness whenever I can, I'll be making sure to have my brand new purple stress ball easily accessible.

Eat well! Live well Be well!
Judith






4 comments:

Debbie Gross, LCSW said...

I love this blog. I keep wondering how will we ever help people overcome the obsession with weight in our society. At that same fair, I actually had a friend tell me that if I wanted to continue with my "delusion" that it wasn't about weight - 'go ahead'. I tried to explain that it was our best interests to focus on healthy living at any size - and that weight loss might be a side effect of that living (exercise, caring for our bodies, eating when hungry, stopping when full) - and I truly believe that a good self image, no shame for who we are or what we 'look' like, would actually lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life.

I am happy that Judith has led me to my 'delusional world'. Thanks for putting me on the path!

Diet Survivors Group said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diet Survivors Group said...

Debbie,
Thanks for sharing your experience and your wise words. I would say that the question of who - and what - is delusional is open for debate give that we have a 50 billion diet industry with a 5 % success rate!

I'm glad you're on this path with me and always appreciate your willingness to put your views out in the world.

Diet Survivors Group said...

BTW, the deleted comment was my own - I had misspelled a word and didn't realize it would actually show up as a deleted comment permanently...
Blog and learn!